No Spring Chicken #38

Here is a link to a rather large scrapbook of pictures on Facebook about this trip (79 photos and 4 videos):
Facebook Album of Pictures & Videos

General Observations:
  1. New Zealand has such a beautiful countryside, and a lot less city than the US. Lots of hills and valleys, even mountains. But all I've seen so far has been green - much like Western Washington or the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
  2. The default road speed limit in NZ is 100 kph. It may be reduced for towns, construction, or certain corners, though. But like Washington State, you can usually go around a corner at 15-20 over the listed speed without stressing anything. But the 8 lane highway, the 2 lane back road, and the one lane gravel logging road have a 100 kph limit if there are no corners, construction, or towns to cause a slowdown.
  3. There are the usual crazy drivers in NZ who have to pass everything in sight, and the usual slow drivers who have to do 15 under the speed limit, even when it is 30 kph, and the leavening of normal drivers who want to go the speed limit or a tad under, or whatever seems safe to them.
  4. The people of NZ are generally extremely friendly and helpful. There are also a few who prey on whomever they can for their own benefit. In other words, they are a mix of the usual humans. Perhaps their friendly society generates a few less of the predators.
  5. Driving on the left side of the road was not as tough as I might have thought, with two exceptions. First, the turn blinker is on the other side of the steering wheel. I can't tell you how many times I turned on the windshield wipers when I meant to turn right! [Left turns turned the wipers off, so they didn't matter.] Second, my father taught me so long ago that I had forgotten to think about it that if you don't want to wobble a lot you look as far ahead as you can along the road and you will make smaller corrections and therefore drive more evenly in your lane. When the road is straight this doesn't make much difference. The difficult part is that when turning I learned years ago to look near the left lane marker, but I was now sitting on the right side of the car, so I needed to learn to look near the right lane edge when turning. After driving over a drain vent outside the lane I finally figured out why I was always too far left on corners.
  6. Dave is an old friend that I met in an online game (Space Project), and we then went to another game (Astro Empires) together. We've been friends for more than a decade now, but until this time had never seen each other in person. Funny thing is, we've both been in computer software since the '70s and could (and did) talk about bubble sorts and other esoteric aspects of software development in the old days when hacking was honorably using the best method of solving the problem, not to be confused with cracking, which is breaking into systems that you have no business getting into. Before this trip I had never met Dave, nor exchanged more than a couple of brief exchanges with Aidan, Chloe & Natalie in the games.
  7. New Zealand names are quite strange in some cases and normal in others. Some names, like Pukenui, are easy to pronounce and sound the same when the locals say them. Some names, like Taumarunui, are not so easy to get right the first or second time, and the natives tend to pronounce them with one less syllable than I would guess. The locals also speak quite quickly when speaking these names, and the poor visitors have to try to understand what they are saying. It doesn't help that we (Janet & I) are getting beyond the first blush of youth, and don't hear as quickly as we used to.

13/Oct/2016 Seatac Airport, Federal Way, WA, USA
Today we begin another big adventure. We are travelling to New Zealand's North Island for a few weeks. We almost finished packing this morning, then did some running around. First to church to drop off a card table they will need for the Bazaar that will happen just before we get back, then into town to put some last minute things in the mail (bills due before we get back), check that the boat is properly tied up (storm coming), then grab a quick lunch we didn't have to prepare or clean up after. Then we came home and finished packing (we think - we'll see as we go) and waited for the taxi to take us to the ferry. Then we waited for the ferry to take us to Seattle where we will catch the shuttle to the airport. Normally we might walk to the light rail, but the rain and our extra luggage (have you ever tried to pack waders and fishing gear?) convinced us to get a shuttle from the ferry terminal to the airport. So here we sit on the ferry on a cold rainy day in Puget Sound, eager to get there! I think I'll read for a bit now.

Sitting in the LA airport waiting of our flight to Auckland. The trip to Seatac was pretty uneventful, as was the flight to LA. But we left Seatac at 5:30 and will be leaving LAX at 11:10, so a meal was needed. Some airports have rules about the price of a meal in the airport being no more than 10% higher than their other restaurant. Not here. $37+ for two burgers and two sodas. I'd say it was highway robbery, but it is more like flyway robbery! I wanted to charge my iPad for the flight, since that is where the book I'm reading is. But I only burned through 10% of the battery on the 2+ hour flight down from Seattle, and I have a back up battery (or two) with me, so I won't wake the kid sleeping at the charging station.

15/Oct/2016 Auckland, NZ
The flight from LA to Auckland is over 12 hours. That is a long time to be on an airplane, and especially in seats that don't fit. The headrest on the seats hit me in the shoulder blades, as usual, so it wasn't particularly helpful for bracing my head up for sleeping. Nonetheless, I did get a little sleep on the plane. I also read 1 1/2 books since leaving home on Thursday (13th). Then we had to go through customs, then through bio-security. The Kiwis are very particular about their biosphere, and don't want it polluted, so I had already purchased new wading boots for my waders, since the old ones had felt soles, which are almost impossible to clean for the particular biohazard (using the term loosely) that NZ is leery of introducing into their streams and rivers. Then, we went to the wrong baggage carousel at baggage claim. Eventually we got through all of that and out to find Dave O'Rorke awaiting us. Pleasant to see a friendly face, which I recognized from pictures Penny (his spousal unit) posted on her facebook page. He gave us a ride back to his place, where I met Penny, too. Now, I've known Dave for about a decade from some online gaming. But this is the first time we've ever met in person. I also gamed with his triplets in one of those games, and with one of them in another. So it was good to meet Chloe, Aidan and Lauren (the younger daughter), too. The only one we didn't get to meet is Natalie, who is off with her boyfriend elsewhere at this time. Not sure if I'll get to meet her when we see Dave and Penny on our way out. We went to see the downtown area of Auckland and look at the city from the Sky Tower today, and have a great lunch on the waterfront where they put in a lot of docks for big boats and shops to trade on the Kiwi victories in the America's Cup races. It is interesting that from the Sky Tower in Auckland you can see the ocean to the East of the North Island, and the harbor that connects to the ocean on the West side of the North Island. I don't generally think of a country as being that thin - that you can see the ocean in both directions form one tower in the largest town. It turns out that Dave, Penny, Janet & I all worked in various parts of IT during our careers. Penny is now a librarian, and since Janet & I are bibliophiles, we got along great in that respect, too. It didn't hurt that I worked in the library in Jr. High & High School, nor that Janet runs the church library, either. Tomorrow we are headed down to Hobbiton. I'm off to bed now, after only a short nap this afternoon and otherwise being mostly awake for ~40 hours.

16/October/2016 Auckland, NZ
Dave & Penny have a very nice house with lots of room (with four children they needed lots of room). So I'm sitting here at 8:19 local time sipping my tea from a cup I think is left from the kid's childhood (thin plastic, but large - the size I like) because I couldn't find where the regular mugs are. But at least I found the tea and how to work the water boiler. I have my browser open (almost always) and am listening to the Washington IMG Sports Network's radio online to see what time the game is on. I probably won't be able to hear it, since we are going to be traveling to Hobbiton today. [Late Note: the Huskies had the weekend off.]

I'm downloading a neat app called "Camping NZ". Actually, I already downloaded it on both iPads I brought. I'm downloading it on my iPhone right now. It lists all of the campgrounds in NZ, complete with what facilities are available and how much space and costs and ratings if anyone has done them. But the cute thing is how it does stuff. In most apps there is a watch or an hourglass indicating that we are waiting for things to happen. Not this one. It pops up a dialogue box that says "Counting Sheep", and the number is the % done. So when it reaches 100 sheep it is done. Then there is the button to close the box. In most of them it is "Close" or "OK". But in this app it says, "Sweet As". I'm told this is a very Kiwi expression, and it seemed pretty self evident to me, too. Penny has just gotten up and is setting about breakfast preparations. I'm about to go help, but Janet & Dave just got up, too. Guess I'm done doing quiet computer things for a while.

Hobbiton was great, but even with the 1.4:1 New Zealand:US exchange rate, I suspect Peter Jackson is making more money off of the tours than he made off the movie. But it is still worth the trip. Janet, Penny, Lauren, Dave & I went on the tour and had a great time. Lots of interesting facts about the movies and the set. They asked the NZ government for help in building the road to the set, but the gov said they couldn't provide financial aid. But they did allow their army to come help build the road, and do one other important task - the Orcs were played by the NZ Army. Part way through Peter had to ask the army guys to tone it down a bit because they were too into the parts! There are little clotheslines with hobbit clothes hanging on them, and before shooting "The Hobbit" they paid a woman to walk back and forth to each of the clothes lines until she had worn a path to each of them from the appropriate house. She never got credited in the movie, but she was fine with just being part of the spectacle. Lots(!!!) of that kind of trivia from the movies and their background.

Got to have a scrumptious Beef & Ale pie at the Green Dragon Inn, too, along with an old English ale (nice and dark). Yum. I took a bunch of pictures of the hobbit holes, including one of me at Bag End, and another by the Keg Cart. Just my cup size!!! I also got some pictures inside the Green Dragon, including one over the food-service bar. Compare that to the Green Dragon flying that follows, but is in my home, brought there from my trip to Ireland in '94.

Another scrumptious dinner, this time lamb with potatoes, sweet potatoes (although the Kiwis call them something like kamuri[?]), with green beens & broccoli. We didn't stay up very long after dinner, since there was a good bit of walking involved in the tour. So, early to bed and late to rise!

17/October/2016 Uretiti, NZ
Yup. We got to sleep in a bit. Dave had a 10:30 meeting that was quite important, so he went to do that and then came back to take us to the RV rental. We got there around 11:30am, and got out by 1. Then we went to do our grocery shopping. That took a while, since we had a huge list, but didn't bring it with us (long story), so we had to try and remember it all. Then we had lunch at a local oriental place. Janet had the BBQ Pork on rice. I had the BBQ Pork Fried Rice. Mine came about the same time she finished eating. So we had a long time before we were both done. Then we walked around the mall looking for a sporting goods store where I might find a fishing license, but no luck. That's OK, I had one already in the maps program, so we went driving for it. After the driving directions program told us to take the exit right after the exit went by three times, and told us we were there while still on a freeway, but not when we were in the area on the ground, we gave up on it and set out to leave Auckland for points north and find a fishing shop there. Now, I set the directions program for a place on the highway we wanted that was outside of the main Auckland area, and we set off following her (yes, it was the usual Apple woman) directions. Three times (again) she got us off of the highway we were on and onto side streets to move us forward about 5-6 blocks, then back onto the highway. Each time the highway was flowing freely and she got us back on where it was backed up. That didn't sound right to me, and I was about to kill the machine when she finally got us off the highway and then spun us around and back on going the other way. It seems we'd come to the place where I had set it to go and gone by it. Sigh. So, after getting back on the highway (and killing the route director) we were on our way. The rest of the drive up to Uretiti (your-eh-tuh-tea [the "eh" is not the Canadian pronunciation!!!]) Beach Camping Park was basically a breeze. Driving on the left? No worries, mate! Having the turn blinker on the right side of the wheel? Ouch! Kept turning on the windshield wipers when I had to make a right turn in a hurry. If I had time to think about it I almost always used the right hand. In a hurry caught me by surprise, though. Fortunately, the windshield wipers wouldn't signal a left turn (that was the off direction for them).

So, we arrived and learned about packing things for the night, making the bed, fixing dinner (no plates on board). We also got to see the magnificent beach, the southern stars from out in the open dark countryside (first trip below the equator for either of us), watch a beautiful full moon rise over the bushes betwixt us and the water, and have a peaceful, if cool, night.

This morning we found the stove won't light, so we are preparing to deal with that. We called them up and will call again tomorrow. First, their instructions for lighting it were wrong. Second, their sparker doesn't work well, if at all. We are making due with wood matches to light the stove. Since we did this on the boat, it is no biggie. But the alcohol burners on the boat were different from the LPG burners on this stove, so Janet is having troubles with them. At our age we don't adapt too quickly, but I've had to work with white-gas, LPG, alcohol, and wood stoves in the past, she hasn't had to work with LPG much, and those were quite different from these, and only a little with white-gas.

We found that there is only one fork in the RV. So I ate my spaghetti with a spoon. I must have been hungry, though, because I still finished in half the time Janet did with her fork. If you want an exercise in frustration some time, though, try spaghetti with a spoon and no knife or fork. Now I'm updating this, while Janet is packing the leftovers in the fridge. This may involve some severe cleaning of herself, the stove, and God knows what else. And she hasn't even finished her first glass of wine. But the "leftovers" containers we bought hold about 6 fluid ounces each, so it was difficult to get the leftovers in them in the first place (no serving spoon in the RV, either), and Janet's aim isn't all that good to start with.

Now, as to todays travels - we spent last night at the Uretiti campground on Dream Bay (just south of Whangarei). During the day we drove up to Cape Reinga (northern most point of NZ, and where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific come together). You can see the line where the two seas/oceans meet, and while it has been windy over most of NZ where we've been, it was pretty calm where the two tradewinds meet. I opened a web page and checked the distance, and it said I was 6907.3 miles. That is more than twice the distance from the NW corner of Washington State to the SE corner of Florida! That is a lot of open ocean. So I've got some pictures of myself standing there with nothing but 6907 miles of open ocean behind me on the N by NE direction that points to Neah Bay. Why Neah Bay? It is the town (and bay) on the opening point of Juan de Fuca Straits, the entry to Puget Sound, and the path (via water) to where we live and our boat is located. One picture taken by Janet and one as a selfie taken by me. Both at the proper angle to point towards Neah Bay according to the chart I found. I also got a panorama and a movie taken from the lighthouse of the full angle of open water there (close to 270°). The panorama quit partway through because it didn't think I was moving the camera smoothly enough. Sigh. Technology only works if you do it their way. Some programmer was too full of himself. That or he couldn't handle correction software. As a guy who once did a software UART that would correct for speed discrepancies in the transmission rate, I think he fell short of the mark as a programmer. Then we set out southwards to where we have a campsite booked for the next two nights. It is in Pukenui, by the inner harbor of Rangaunu Bay. With a powered site we have more options for the night - light without wearing out the house batteries (they don't drain the starter battery), heat if we need it, internet (since we paid for it), a water boiler and toaster for cooking, etc.

The trip to Cape Reinga was interesting (like the Chinese curse) in that we had to stop in Whangarei to get a fishing license, groceries we had forgotten, camp chairs, an ice chest (collapsible so we can take it home with us) because the refrigerator won't hold any food if we put part of our liquids in there to cool, and we need to refrigerate a lot of food, and sundry other things. The Apple maps program is not too accurate in NZ, and so it led us a merry chase to find several things we needed, including the way out of the city. Then, when we decided we wanted to stop and eat lunch (made from the supplies aboard), we followed the signs to a "Scenic View", which turned out to be a drive, not a place, and wound up driving all over the place until we finally ate on a corner of the intersection of two roads. Then the program took us on the scenic (not quickest or most direct) route back to our highway of choice, and we had to stop to get some propane (didn't need it) and diesel fuel. In all, we finally arrived at the cape around 5:30, and the camp site around 7:20. Next on the list (besides having a beverage) was finding out if the stove will work. Got that done, then on to cooking. Now we've had dinner, Janet is finishing cleaning up and we'll then set up the bed, since it is 10:45. A long and tiring day for the shoppers, the driver, the navigator, the cook, the dishwasher, the negotiator (with the rental company about what they didn't supply or sell us that we asked for, as well as what didn't work), the maintenance guru (who worked the LPG stove problems) and the network administrator (who had to work around some security issues to get on certain websites). Fortunately, we worked the bugs out of setting up the bed last night so it should be easier tonight.

Goof off day. Had to explain that term to one of the Kiwis when she asked what we had planned for the day. Walked down to the Pukenui wharf to look at the huge bay that has a bit of river running through it (where all the boats are anchored because the rest is too shallow). Then up the the local hangout (two old duffers sitting there drinking beer and talking at first, then the local road crew showed up to eat lunch there) for a couple beers & a pizza (yum - tasty, even if I did have to take a pill to eat it because of cheese). Then back to the RV for a nap, then some dinner and then a bit of reading before bed. Ah, just what the doctor ordered. OK, we also filled the water tank and charged everything in sight (I've got two iPads for reading, an iPhone and a Mac laptop that all need to be charged now and then).

A lot of driving that didn't cover too much distance, because we drove into the wilds to get to what is supposed to be good trout fishing on the Mataraura River. Well, after a long time of driving slow on gravel roads where they have lots of signs warning you of logging trucks, we got where we were supposed to be able to work our (well, my, Janet doesn't fish, or wander in heavy underbrush or walk on river rocks) way up and down the river. After a precipitous decent from the road to the river I tried throwing a fly into the waters. It only took me about 10 minutes to hook it into a tree, and the removal broke the line where the leader ties to the tippet. Now, I did not remember how to tie the tippet on (proper knot), so I decided to look around at a few other spots on the river to fish, and then look for a better way back than the almost unscalable wall I slid down to get to the river. After scouting a bit and finding a couple of possible spots (but not a lot), I tried a bypass getting back to the road. By the time I got there I had totally scratched both legs from thigh to ankle on the fields of waist high Himalayan Blackberry bushes. I was fine until I found the spot where there was some kind of snake vine that tied them all together so stomping down on some brought all the others around leaning in. Sigh. So I wandered back to the RV and we sought out a good place nearby to spend the night. I decided, in light of the vast fields of blackberries that I'd rather fish somewhere I could get to the water without risking life or limb. So we planned for a trip south on Friday to get ready for some sight seeing the next day.

"Today was a corker!" Janet said, while summing it up over drinks as we sit in the caravan getting ready to prepare dinner. Now, you don't hear that expression too often. But it was suitable for today. We expected an adventure. We did not expect today.

It started with sunshine after rain the previous night. So I took off the long sleeved t-shirt I had set out the night before and got out a short sleeved t-shirt to wear (3.14% of all Seafarers are πrates). Within 15 minutes it was raining and we managed to leave the side door not-quite-closed so the bed got wet. Just one corner of the mattress, but we can only hope it dries before bed time tonight. Then sun and rain alternating as we set off over the mountains (3 full mountains by my count), on gravel roads, to get back to a highway and head towards Auckland. Partway through this journey Janet wanted to go up a road that led into the Mataraura Forest, just to see a New Zealand forest from the inside. Well, this was a really windy road that was narrow enough that it took a couple of miles before I found a place I thought I could turn around without getting stuck in the muck off the gravel portion of the road. The forest, BTW, was in the process of re-growth after clearcut and replanting. So there wasn't really much to see that we couldn't see at home. Sigh. So, just about the time we got started down the second mountain a logging truck was coming the other way pretty fast and I dodged him, more than I needed to, got into the soft stuff of the shoulder and as it collapsed I got stuck in the ditch. The logging truck just zoomed on by. Of course, it started raining just then. And we had no cell coverage. So we sat in the cab until the rain stopped, then I put on my fleece (it was cold up there) and grabbed my rain jacket (it was going to rain again, soon, I could tell) and just as I was getting out of the car a pickup came by. The guy in it didn't have a chain or rope to tow me with, but he went looking for a farm house that might loan him one. While he was gone another guy and gal came by in a pickup and he had a tow-strap. So we hooked it up and with only a little effort he pulled us out of the ditch. Whew. As we were untying the tow strap the first fellow came back and we thanked him. Thanked the other fellow, too. Got a couple of "Sweet As" comments about how easy that was, and we were off on our way, again. When we got back to flat land, again, I saw a sign for a gas station coming up, and stopped there for petrol and ice (for the icechest). Now, you have to understand that in the US all gas pumps have a black handle on the pump. The diesel pumps have a green handle on the pump. I know we have a diesel RV, so I grabbed the green handle and started pumping. Oops. I noticed part way through that it was gas, not diesel, so I stopped. Fortunately, this station was the old fashioned kind where there is actually a mechanic on duty. So they towed us around back, pumped out the mixture of petrol and diesel, poured in 5 liters of diesel, manually pumped the fuel up to the engine (I didn't even know that there was a built in hand pump for that!) so it didn't get a vapor lock. Then, fill the tank with diesel and off we go down the road, just a few dollars poorer. Then a bit of a drive to a place south of Auckland, with a short stop for lunch at a nice little hotel for fish & chips. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the end of the drive included getting caught in Auckland's Friday afternoon traffic. Sigh. But we are tucked in for the night, now, with, "No worries, mate!" Who knows what tomorrow holds. Tonight I get to snuggle with my best friend, out of the rain, in a camper that is warm enough, and on a bed that is soft enough. Let the problems of tomorrow await tomorrow!

We slept in. On vacation this is such a shocker, I know, that you probably are having a hard time believing it. Then we had a quick breakfast, cleaned up the van, packed stuff up, dumped the holding tank on the porta-pottie, and refilled the water tank and were out of there by 10:15. The checkout time was 10, but we were out of the slot by then and at the dump and water stations the rest of the time. Then we beat feet for the Waimoto Glowworm Caves. That was an interesting tour. They have a cathedral like cavern where the sound is exceptionally good and I was told ahead of time we should sing there if we have any musical skill. In fact, I was told, the Beatles sang there many years ago. So on the tour, when the guide asked if anyone wanted to sing in that cavern, there was a pause, then I broke into "The Honey Wind Blows". I stopped at one verse, though. Got a nice round of applause from the tour group, though. That is the second stage I've shared with the Beatles, though never at the same time. For which they are probably all glad. The glow worms are cool, and the tour was cool, if a bit over priced. But it occurred to me afterwards that I sang the wrong song. I know just a short bit of an old Mills Brothers song I should have sung. Can you guess it? If you guessed Glowworm you are correct!

After that we travelled to Taumarunui where we found a campground that is right on the river, and I can fish without moving the camper or crawling through blackberries. Woot! We'll see about the fishing tomorrow, but I suspect it will be great. Not that the catching will necessarily be great, but the fishing is what matters, not the catching. They also have wifi, so I've caught up on my email.

Yes, it is Sunday the 23rd here. But it is Saturday in the US and I'm keeping up with the Huskies vs Beavers football game. It is 31-0 at the half and it doesn't look like the Beavs are going to score before the Dogs' 3rd string defense is in. I love a good blowout of the Oregon teams, and two in a row is just icing on the cake! Talked to a couple of guys who came up from the river in waders and carrying flyrods. They were fishing streamers (sinking fly-lures), but allowed as how the dry flies I'm working with might be good in the evenings. They also told me of a good place to get to the river a ways from the camp where we are parked. If I can't catch something in the river right out front here, I'll try that next. Meantime, I'm just killing time until the evening fishing. After that we'll call the RSA (Retired Servicemen's Association) for the complementary transport to their pub in town (and drop in a donation for the ride) for a couple beers. No worries about driving then, and we can leave the camper/van in place in the camp. Tomorrow we may need to go in for a bit of groceries, and we are deciding which day to run over to Rotorua for some more sight-seeing. If the fishing is good (regardless of the catching), we may spend most of the rest of our time here in this nice, quiet park with lots of amenities.

We fixed a nice breakfast of eggs, spam, and toast, with tea, and while cleaning up a couple of the NZ folks staying in the park overnight asked us about US politics and how we could possibly wind up with two such awful choices with no other options. So I told them about other party candidates, and they asked why they didn't hear about them. I explained that most of the media companies are part and parcel to the politics of the Reps or Dems, and didn't want the public to know they had other options so they were doing their best to only cover the candidates they wanted you to choose from. They were worried about what would happen to the US if either Trump or Clinton were elected, and how it would affect them and the rest of the world. They wondered how much it would affect our lives personally, and I explained about the next president possibly appointing up to 3 Supreme Court Justices, how many executive decrees could be written and that Congress has made it a policy to allow that to go on, and how our foreign policy could have repercussions financially for everyone in the US. Then we discussed how the US would affect the rest of the world. No body was happy with the possible results.

After breakfast we packed up the van and went into the town of Taumarunui to get groceries. While there we stopped at the "Training Coffee Shop". The sign inside says, "Training in Progress". Great gluten free brownies, and damn fine pot of tea, too. The "Tea for two" was just the right amount, with each of us getting a tad over two cups. We then walked the town and found a lot of shops and all the banks and the school closed. So, since it was Monday here (albeit still Sunday in the US so we had to get back to catch the Seahawks scores online) we began to wonder if it was part of their weekend. On my way back from fishing (after the Hawks game) I ran into Phil (of Phil & Helane, who run the Taumarunui Holiday Camping Park) and we talked about a few things. One was that it is a "bank holiday" - their Labor Day. Another is that I should be using an olive fly, not the black wooly bugger I had tied on. So he went through my fly box and picked out a couple that would be good.

In the middle of the night something crawled onto my neck. It turned out to be something like a cockroach. I don't know for certain, because before things settled down I had smashed it into the sheets, which are in the dryer right now and I need to go get them. It was pretty hectic for a few minutes, there, with me shining a light to see where/what the heck it was and swinging indiscriminately with my other hand, and it scuttling for safety and dodging my slaps at it. Not the best way to sleep through the night and it took a couple hours before I quit feeling things crawling on me. Anyway, the sheets needed cleaning because a lot of stuff had been tracked into them over the 8 days we've been in the van. Now I'm updating this little missive and Janet is taking a break from sudoku (since she ran into a tough puzzle that neither of us could fill in a single spot on) and is reading a magazine. I'll be back to reading the rules for Gnome Wars in a bit. But since it is raining we will probably spend most of the day inside. I think it is time to put on a pot of tea!

We had an interesting and eclectic group of campers in the park last night. There is a pair of ladies from NZ (I haven't figured out if it is older/younger sisters, mother/daughter, good friends, or a couple, but they are staying in an even smaller van than we are in. There is also a group of 3 couples who speak French (last night) and German (this morning) and are traveling together in three separate vans (they arrived at the same time) but are staying in the cottages for rent, and a couple of unknown origin (and language - haven't heard them speak) who are riding bikes and packing tents and sleeping gear on their bicycles. Funny dynamics. Last night there were two guys in the kitchen area, and five women. I was cooking and the other guy was watching. This morning there were three guys cooking (yes, I was one of them), and no gals, at first. Then three of the gals came in and cooked or helped. Not sure if the difference is that guys do breakfast and gals do dinner, or if the ladies saw me cooking and washing dishes in the evening and asked their guy why he didn't.

Another day of goofing off, conversations with other travelers, some fly fishing, and reading. Talked with a German couple (from Frankfurt, but he is originally from Munich). They also discussed the US presidential options. It seems the rest of the world can't understand why we can only choose between the worst two candidates available, and all of them are worried what will happen to the US and how the repercussions will affect the rest of the world.

Janet & I took a walk to see where the trail we had started the first day went. It was supposed to be 3K long. But I'm pretty certain we went further than that. We had just started back when Janet got tired. She doesn't get too tired to walk. She gets too tired to walk straight. Since the path was narrow and the grass along side was wet due to the rain the previous night, we were walking single file, but that didn't last beyond where she veered off the path. So my feet got a bit wet, but we made it back safely, albeit with some rest stops.

Left Taumarunui this morning, on our way to Rotorua and the Rainbow Trout Creek Park. While there we will visit the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Park and see something about the NZ flora and fauna. The "creek" is 5'-10' wide, depending on where you are, and wanders through a suburb, so it isn't really anything to fish or wade in. It flows into the lake, and I found a couple of guys fishing at the mouth of the creek, but they hadn't caught anything today.

Left Rotorua and the Rainbow Trout Creek Park this morning. But we stopped and visited Rainbow Springs first. Saw lots of interesting things, got some good pictures of huge trout [not as good as I thought] (and made a few short movies of them for Sasha), learned about Kiwis and how big their eggs are in proportion to their bodies. Then went out to find our van's battery dead because I had left the lights on. Older van - they don't shut off. Older battery - even though they were not bright enough for us to see that they were on against a fence 3 feet from us, they killed the battery in 2.5 hours. Sigh. Roadside assistance, jump start, leave the engine running for at least 30 minutes to recharge battery. The usual.

Pirongia tonight. A very simple park (gravel lot with plugs for power, a single toilet, and two showers that need a key). The main business here is the cafe (which has a pretty nice selection of baked goodies), and we need to be on their lot to use the WiFi. This means hanging the device over top of the hedge to get the signal. But it is free for 500MB or 2 hours, whichever comes first, daily.

Went looking for fishing spots in the area today. None easy to get to, and all of the waters are muddy. The wind was blowing up a storm, too. Sigh. So we went to Te Awamutu to replace the frying pan we left behind at Taumarunui (along with the rest of our spam, eggs, garlic salt, and cooking oil). Got the supplies we needed and came back to the camp (had already paid for the night) and spent the rest of the afternoon reading, playing and relaxing.

We've been in touch with Dave about picking us up at the van rentals when we get back and we've agreed on noon. That way it works over his lunch time. We need to pack up today so we are ready to vacate the van when we get there, but we are only about an hour from Auckland, so we should be OK for time. We were worried about getting up early enough to get there at the 10:30 he suggested originally. We just haven't been up before 8:30 all trip!

We pulled in at the Lake Hakanoa Huntly Motor Caravan Park (where most of the spaces are little one-person cabins that are about 8' square - one bunkbed and a chair each) that is right on Hakanoa lake. I had hoped to do some trout fishing here, since this is a big trout area, but apparently (according to a sign in the park next door) there are no trout in this lake. Four kinds of eels, several other fish, four of which do not require a license to fish for them, and three that do, but trout were not listed. The lake is tremendously muddy, too. There have been some heavy rains lately, and they have muddied the rivers and lakes. Sigh. Guess I won't catch any trout this trip. But I got to spend many hours standing in water up to my waist casting some flies at Taumarunui. The good news is that I don't have to clean any fish, either.

I think I'm totally up to date on this little missive now (I had missed a few days), and probably won't get a chance to update it until we get home. Tomorrow we will pack things up, drive up to the rental agency and unload all of our stuff, then discuss with them the shortcomings of the van they rented us. Dave will pick us up and take us home, then he'll go back to work. That evening we are taking his family out to dinner (Indian food), then Dave will drop us at the airport on Tuesday before he goes to work so we can catch our 7:35 am flight home (via Sydney & LA). We should touch down at Seatac around 1:05pm, having spent 25 hours en route. That would give us about 4 more hours to get home, and maybe we'll order in a pizza when we get there, since I know there is nothing in the fridge that could spoil.

We returned the van to Lucky Rentals today after driving 1912 kilometers. Dave picked us up there at noon and took us to his house. He had to go back to work, so Janet watched a few hours of news and I took a nap. We took Dave, Penny, Aidan, Chloe & her beau Wesley, Natalie, and Lauren out to dinner by way of thanks for the hospitality. It was pretty good Indian food, although the service was a bit on the shaky side. Then, after the trip back home we chatted with Dave & Penny for an hour or so then went to bed. We had an early morning planned, with two alarms set for 4:20am.

We both woke up around 3:30am and while I read Janet lay there and asked me every 15 minutes if it wasn't time to get up, yet. At 4:10 I gave up and we got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, finished packing (mostly done the night before), and Dave joined us at 5:15 to take us to the airport. We arrived, said good bye, and then began the slog that should have been a 25+ hour trip to Seatac airport, which would then be followed by 2-4 hours of bus, ferry, and taxi to home. The plan was to fly to Sydney on Qantas, then LA on American Airlines, then Seattle on Alaska, all under the auspices of American Airlines, with whom we booked the tickets.

We hit no major snags in the Auckland airport, except that they could not issue the boarding passes for the third leg of the flight. I suspect this was because it was the Qantas agent, and they didn't have access to the Alaska boarding info.

The flight to Sydney was uneventful. We arrived in Sydney and deplaned, then had to go through a security station to get to our flight (as though we had just arrived at the airport from the street. Hmm. Usually once you are inside the security loop you don't have to go through it again. So, while waiting in line, Janet & I chugged the two quarts of water we had with us. OK, I drank 1.5 quarts and she drank .5, but I'm used to drinking a lot. Especially water, as anyone who has seen me drinking out of my gallon jug knows. Next, we had to find our departure gate, and they didn't list it right away, but they did note that the plane designated to leave at 10:15am (Sydney time) was delayed to noon. Finally, they told us gate 8 and we went there. Gate 8 wasn't open, even though there were workers there, and people waiting, and no one else using the gate. I explained to one of the workers that we had to get our boarding passes for the LAX -> Seatac flight, and they said that they would do that when we got in. They opened the way to the gate about 20 minutes before noon, and let us get in line for either "Express Boarding" (you know, all the VIPs and special people) or "Standard Boarding and Assistance" (yup, everyone else and those who needed to process something, like other boarding passes. Then they opened the express lane. Finally they opened the standard lane, but every time they came across someone who was in the express lane and shouldn't have been they took them directly to the front of the standard line and got them taken care of immediately, leaving those of us who got in the correct line to wait for all those who didn't. So, the bald American Airlines gate worker has convinced me that if I am ever foolish enough to buy tickets for an AA flight again I will deliberately get in the fast lane, whether I belong there or not. The worst that can happen is that I'll wind up where I was this time. But the best that could happen is I'll get to skip to the front of the processing line. Eventually, we got on board, but the gate lady working assistance said her computer had frozen and she would bring the tickets down to us on the plane. Due to mechanical problems with the plane it is now 1:20pm. We haven't left the gate, yet, but they just turned on the fasten seat belt sign. We don't have boarding passes for the trip to Seattle. We still have to go through US customs when we arrive in LA, and the delays have overrun the 4 hour layover we were supposed to have in LA. Ah, well, as we have said at each little step along the way, this trip is an adventure! God knows when we will get home. But I'll keep you updated from whatever part of hell we wind up in while riding in this handbasket! Not that I'll be able to send it until we get into the US where my phone can pick up local service or my computer can find WiFi. But you don't want to receive it until we get to the end of the trip so you can read the end of this tale, anyway, right?

Oh, and just so I'd have a souvenir from down under, I picked up a swell Aussie hat at the airport.

12.5 hours later
We are approaching landing at LA (101 miles out with a 460mph true airspeed and a 472 mph ground speed. Long flight, with a big guy in the seat in front of me who kept his seat leaned back as much as he could the entire flight. This reduced the (already cramped - think "cattle car") seating area by 5"+ at the top of the seat, which made it difficult for Janet to squeeze by. Not that she is wider than I am, but she is not as stable on her feet. Yes, it is 12.5 hours later than when we left Sydney, but it is actually six hours earlier the same day. These things happen when you cross the international dateline.

Thank you Wallace Carothers! For those who don't know, Wallace Carothers is generally acknowledged as the man responsible for the invention of nylon, which led to lycra, which led to yoga pants. Not everyone who wears yoga pants should. But when you see that body that just begs to be shown off in yoga pants wearing them, you need to thank Mr. Carothers for the kindness he has done to men the world over. There were several young ladies on the flight who fit that category. There are always several in any airport, too.

They snuck butter into one of the rolls with dinner last night, and cheese into the scrambled eggs this morning, so I've used up the last of the Lactase pills in my pockets. I'm sure I have some more in my knapsack, but I won't be able to get to them until we get into the airport. I should not need them, though, until we are on the flight to Seattle, and then only if they serve something with dairy in it that I am not expecting. Sigh. My mother always said, "Getting old isn't for the faint of heart, but it beats all other options."

Sitting in LAX awaiting our row boarding the plane to Seattle. So far we have been through baggage check in twice and baggage check out once, customs in New Zealand (outbound), Australia (inbound, even though we didn't), USA (inbound twice), TSA or the equivalent in Auckland, Sydney and LA. We have been travelling for 27 hours at this point, and have a 3+ hour flight and 2-4 hours of bus, ferry, and taxi left to go. It is 11:50am PDT, but 4:50am New Zealand time (where our day started). We are a bit frazzled around the edges. They finally called our row to load, so Janet is in line as I type this. I'm joining her now.

We thought the flight from LA to Seattle was fine, although another local on the same flight was disturbed by all the bumpy air (I didn't even notice). Caught the shuttle to the ferry terminal, caught the ferry with no wait (and no running), caught a taxi who drove about the slowest path to our house that you can (although there are no fast routes when the 4:45pm ferry from Seattle arrives on a weekday) and got home! Yes! Janet spread her arms out and spun around just to prove we had the room! After 3 weeks living in a van, then 33 hours (from 5am NZ time to 6pm Seattle time the same day is the same as from 9am Seattle time one day to 6pm Seattle time the next day) in airports, cars, planes, busses, cabs, etc. that was amazing! First things first - I turned the heat up from the 65 we had turned it down to while we were gone. Then I turned the hot tub back on (all those hours in airline seats built for midgets) and set the temp to 101°. Next, we ordered in a pizza (we had missed them), even though it meant taking a pill for the lactose, tried to watch a little TV (hadn't done any of that, either), but we both were falling asleep, so we went to bed around 8pm.

Today we'll be doing laundry, cleaning up, getting some groceries, searching for a new electric blanket (the old one does not heat), and possibly running around a bit more. We slept in and I just got up at 1pm. If I get around to it I'll upload a bunch of pictures from the trip to facebook and post the link to that album in this message, get Janet to proof read it, then send it out. Cross your fingers! OK, you can uncross them now, because if you are reading this you got the message!

Glad to be home, but boy did we relax on this trip!!! So we are going to attempt to bring some of that "vacation" attitude to our daily lives, since we are retired.