Friday, April 17, 2009

Windy Welly


The last week of our trip we spent in Wellington. Initially, we were planing on visiting Rotorua in the North Island, but we got tired, didn't feel like squeezing another park in and liked Leri's house too much :)
We ended up spending the entire week in Wellington at our friend Leri's place. We know each other from San Francisco where we were neighbors for a while and it was very nice to see him again. Thank you Leri, you are an awesome host.

Downtown looks a little like a Lego land. It is colorful with a mix of different architecture that does not really go together, but in the end the mix looks cool. Wellington feels very artistic and has a hippy feel to it. You see young people walk around barefoot.
In Wellington we walked around a lot, going back a couple of times to the cool Cuba street. It is a mixture of the Union Square on one end and the Haight street on the other end. There are great coffee shops, little boutiques and cool street art. The Botanic Garden was very pretty too with great views of the city.

Our favorite visit was the Te Papa museum, which has a great permanent exhibit on the Maori culture. Visiting the museum, you could feel the pride of this cultural background in New Zealand. We did not know that the Maori language was the official language in NZ. Or that the Maori were not defeated by the British but signed a treaty. Their art is integrated in architecture and design. It is present everywhere.
At Te Papa they had another great exhibit "Blood, Earth, Fire", which is about the pride and respect for the land, its beauty and people. There was a great 20 minute video "Our Place", presenting a patchwork of people from different backgrounds and origins, in different parts of the country, urban and rural. Each person was telling his or her story and their bounds to the country. It was really well done, pretty to look at and very funny at times. If I were a Kiwi, I would be so proud of being from there after watching this video.

Leri was not the only person we knew in Wellington. Two old GKR crew members Dan and Adam, and 5 old Tippetters: Todd, Jance, Yasmin, Joe & Austin, work at Weta now. The company which created the effects for "The Lord of the Ring" trilogy and "King Kong". It was very nice to see them all and a little weird at the same time. It was like we were back in San Francisco again.
The day I met up with them at the office, waiting for them at the reception gave me a knot in my stomach......WORK!
I know I will be happy to animate again when I go back to SF, but I am afraid of the day when I will have to give again 75% of my life to work. Right now a 100% of it is mine, and I am so happy!

On one of our walks, we had crepes at a French creperie. The owner was from Camaray, Bretagne and 9 months ago moved to Wellington with his wife and three boys age 11,14 & 15. He just wanted a new life. Never traveled anywhere before. He thought about moving to England but it was too close to home. He wanted to go far. It was funny to listen to him. The reasons why he moved were the exact same reasons why I moved to San Francisco. There is no appropriate age to change direction in your life. It does not especially start freezing as you get older. All of these people we have met on this trip are so inspiring to me.

Well, I can say it again and again. I loved NZ. Would love to go back and visit more (we only saw the South Island), maybe even live there for a year...
People seem to be easy going and very friendly. Maybe because there are only 4 mil of them. If you compare the size of NZ & density of population to the UK:

New Zealand
land area: 103,734 sq mi/268,671 sq km
population: 4,154,311
density per sq km: 15 :)

land area: 93,278 sq mi/241,590 sq km
population: 60,776,238
density per sq km: 652 :0

It was so nice to be on the road and have it all to yourself, or go on a hike and be alone. Probably because there are less people, there is less crime, problems, less pressure, everybody is more relaxed and happy.
One thing that fascinated me about NZ is that there are no predators, no large mammals. The largest mammal on the island was the blind bat, then the Europeans brought cows, sheep, deer, rabbits, possum (now a huge problem in NZ).
They have a social system. Their prime minister drives himself to work.
It probably isn't all that great there. Maybe I'm idealising too much.
We did hear a few complaints about NZ and the first one would be - lack of things to buy. Apparently, NZ is not good for shopping. Things are just not available as in the US, so you have to order and wait that they make it. Our friends did mention that it helped them save a lot of money :) Exactly, that is how you save money, you just stop buying stuff!
We also heard about the TPS - tall poppy syndrome, people here don't like it when someone stands out from the rest, either because of their talent or achievements, so their mates openly critisize and resent them.

Long time ago when I lived in Germany with my mom, we were looking into different countries to immigrate to and NZ was one of them. We ended up moving to the US, but being here I keep wondering how different my life would have been had we moved here instead. I would probably be married with children by now :)

On the 26th of March we left NZ for a new continent.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

La Nouvelle Zelande c'est vraiment trop beau


If you ever go to the Milford Sound, everyone will tell you that the best part is the journey there from Te Anau and the many stops along the way. When we arrived in Te Anau, it was raining. Again. We camped somewhere along the road and the next morning we got very lucky to see that it had stopped raining :)
As we started a hike to the Key Summit, the sky opened up, revealing the mountains. The view from there was spectacular. According to the park ranger we met, it was the first time the sky opened up in a week. So lucky. The first ones to get to the Summit and enjoy it all by ourselves.
Great start.
After, as we were driving toward the Milford, the landscape gradually changed from farmland to mountains. At first, round and green, the hills became higher and sharper. Like massive walls rising around, closing us in. The sky became clouded and dark again. Then we arrived at the tunnel which was built during the depression in the 30's. It felt like a door to the Milford Sound. It was very dark and when we came out, we were high up in the mountains, looking at yet another dramatic landscape.
We were already excited.
Then we arrived at our final destination the Milford Sound, and its very moody & atmospheric scenery. It reminded me of the last King Kong movie. I think it was party shot here.
We ended our journey on a high note - a 2 hour boat tour, along the sound out to the open ocean. Blue sky and shinning sun on one side, and darkeness on the other. A must do if you go there.
We took one of the smaller boats at 4:30 pm after all the big tour boats were already gone. Plus, we got to see the dolphins swimming around the boat. This made all the passengers (including us) go crazy, running to the bow of the boat, armed with the cameras, shooting in any direction. Miko is making fun of it but it was really incredible. The dolphins were big and the water dark, and they would jump right in front of the boat and I even saw a mama dolphin and her baby dolphin swimming side by side and jumping out at the same time. And guess what: it was beautiful.
What a great day!!!


On our way back to Wanaka from Te Anau, we briefly stopped and froze our asses at Glenorchy, a tiny town 40 minutes west of awful Queenstown (another great drive by the lake). It is a good place to go trekking but we did not have luck with the weather and the water pump in our van broke. We only spent one night and one morning there before heading back to Queenstown to fix our pump.
There we finally got a confirmation that we can extend our camper van rental, so Hana called the airline to change our departure flight from Christchurch to Wellington. To her big surprise they did not have a reservation in our name. She had purchased tickets for a flight on February 13th instead of March 13th! Oh well, we would have lost the tickets anyway, at least we did not show up at the airport and realized the mistake then.

The next short stop was Arrowtown. A cute, little, western looking town full of old people. The visit to the Chinese Settlement in the center of the town was very moving. We learned about the difficult lives of the Chinese miners, who have left their families, looking for a fortune only to be completely isolated and disliked in a new country. All of them wanted to earn enough money to go back to China and buy land. Some did go back but there was about 30 old men who after the Gold Rush was over stayed in Arrowtown and died there alone. Their huts were small rooms, made of rocks, with a dirt floor. The New Zealand government would not give them pensions so they lived growing vegetables in their little gardens and getting help from the Chinese community.

"I told you so" said Hana :)

Then we were back in WANAKA, in our favorite campground. This time the weather was nice so we did a couple of hikes in the area. The first one was a 3 hour hike in the Diamond Park to Rocky Mountain and second a 6h hike to the Mt. Roy. Very long and strenuous, but so rewarding. The views from up there: beautiful, beautiful, beautiful - see the photos.
After that hike we had a little mishap. The biggest one in the entire trip in NZ. One night we went to empty the toilet cassette from the camper van, and Hana dropped the lid into the poop pipe.... We tried getting it out with a stick, it broke. Finally Miko got fed up and rolled up his sleeve and put his entire long skinny arm in the poop pipe to reach it. Hana felt bad for dropping it, but he was in a hurry to get it out and guess why - because we were going to be late for a movie! Could that be considered good luck?!

By the way, Wanaka has a great, little theater "Cinema Paradiso" where you can sit on couches, order food and drink wine, or just eat giant, warm, home-made cookies during the intermission.

Our last but not least activity in New Zealand was Paragliding! After Miko chickened out (hi, hi) on bungy jumping, he decided to do paragliding with me. It was not scary at all, it felt so normal to just run off the cliff and then be in the air. It was very peaceful and kind of trippy. You are just happy floating around, enjoying the view from above for 20 minutes. Wish it had lasted longer :(

Our view everyday from the van at the Outlet Campground



After Wanaka we camped at the bottom of Mt. Cook - nice, but the best part was the drive there by the milky-blue Lake Pukaki. The next morning we went to see the turquoise blue Lake Tekapo. It was very pretty but too touristy. We were more impressed by the Lake Pukaki, so for our last night of the road trip, we backtracked 50km to stay by the lake. A beautiful, free camping spot like the one we had almost two weeks ago facing the Fox Glacier. This time we were on the other side of the mountain range, looking at the Mt. Cook from the other side. It was exactly what we wanted for our last night in the South Island. There, we saw the Milky Way above the milky lake.


We were really sad when our trip was over and we had to return the camper van. It was nice to be sleeping in the same bed for so long. We loved our little evenings when we would find a stop to camp for the night. Watch the sunset, have apero, and start cooking. After dinner, we would listen to the music, read or write. Those evenings were never long enough.
We loved the South Island. Wherever you look, it's beautiful, the landscape keeps changing from sandy beaches, through wetlands, into icy mountains, glaciers, and fiords. They really have it all and in a such a small space. So sad to leave...

Au revoir Beautiful South Island :(


* New Zealand is a country you can travel in at any age. We have seen many young, old and middle age travelers on the road. The only difference is that the older the people, the bigger the camper van becomes. Which puts us in the grandpa and grandma's category.

* Between Wanaka and Queenstown:
Traveling here you understand how New Zealand was the perfect location for "The Lord of the Ring" movies. The mountainous landscape and its large diversity (rounded, green, sharp and scary) mixed with a "temperamental" weather create amazing scenery with dramatic lighting.