Australia and New Zealand (December 2017)

My husband and I went along with his parents on part of their whirlwind trip through New Zealand and Australia. It was one of the longer trips I’ve ever been on (8 to 27 December).

We covered a lot of ground in planes, trains, and ferries, though I feel like what we saw in Australia was just the tip of an iceberg—or rather, a continent.

I took 2270 photos.

There are lots of landscape photos, flowers and birds, a selection of Christmas trees, some architecture (including earthquake damage and graffiti in Christchurch), interesting textures, signs, and selfies with (among other things) various trees, a plush wombat, and the Sydney Opera House.

Since (even after weeding out the less good ones) there are still an overwhelming number of photos, I’ve split them up into different posts chronogeographically.

I went skydiving!

My husband Aquinas did, too. There are no photos and no video, though, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine us skydiving. You can have a look at Nzone’s Instagram photos or their promo video; that should help. After all, one person in goggles and coveralls falling from the sky and grinning from ear to ear is much like another.

See below for my notes on why we went skydiving, what it was like, and why I’m glad I didn’t record the experience.

Continue reading I went skydiving!

Rocks from New Zealand

The iridescent marbles at the top left are magnetic hematite from Hettie’s Rock and Crystal Shop in Queenstown.

The polished green thing that looks like a miniature bookend is a piece of New Zealand greenstone (jade) that I bought at ReflectioNZ, a shop and cafe in Fox Glacier.

The ten rocks in between are rocks I picked up on the Fox Glacier trail we went on.

The rest are from the wharf area in Queenstown.

The drive to Queenstown and Queenstown

People go to Queenstown not to hang around the town itself but to explore the surrounding area. Many of the shops in town are souvenir shops, but even more of them are glorified concierge desks where you can book activities like boat tours and sightseeing flights. Oh, and skydiving. (I went skydiving!)

Below are 42 photos of the scenery on the way from Fox Glacier to Queenstown, including a stretch of road delightfully lined with purple wildflowers; an unbelievably precipitous stretch of road; gorgeous mountains by the lakes; and a genius construction traffic light.

Then there are also a few (15) photos in Queenstown itself, including photos of birds, flowers, and signs.

Continue reading The drive to Queenstown and Queenstown

The Black Cat Bookshop, Queenstown

Okay, so Queenstown has some pretty interesting things to do.

For example, you can strap on a device that uses pressurized water to propel you into the air.

“Flyboard. Fly like a superhero.”

Alternatively, you can splash around in one of the lakes in a strange submarine jet thingy that is painted to look like a shark.

“Hydro Attack. The ultimate blend of shark and machine.”

I did not sign up for either of those activities. I don’t like water.

If you ask me, the most exciting thing to do in Queenstown, New Zealand (apart from skydive) is browse among the used books at Black Cat Bookshop.

When I arrived at the shop and saw these paperbacks out front, I wasn’t sure whether I would find anything to my taste, but looking through the books on the shelves was sure to be an *interesting* experience.
I haven’t read any books by Murakami, and I don’t think I’d necessarily like them if I did, but I heartily approve of this quote: “If you only read [the] books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
In the end, I bought three books as to give as gifts plus this one for myself.
After exiting the mall I noticed this second-floor sign.
For those who might overlook the second-floor sign, there’s a sign on the sidewalk that says: “Help! Booksellers trapped inside on a beautiful day! Come buy all the books so we can escape.” Why would anyone want to escape from a room full of books, though?

The drive to Fox Glacier and Fox Glacier

I’m not a rock climber, hiker, trekker, or mountaineer, but I love mountains. The silence, the trees, the mist and clouds, the twisting, rushing rivers in valleys full of rocks… it’s all more magic than a harsh, empty, burning bright beach could ever be.

New Zealand is full of mountains, and some have snow or ice on them all year. We didn’t walk on or fly over any of the glaciers on the South Island, but I was happy we had the chance to stroll up near one of them.

There are 42 photos below.

Continue reading The drive to Fox Glacier and Fox Glacier

Tiny rubber kiwi

You won’t see a live kiwi in New Zealand unless you’re a dedicated birdwatcher or you go to a zoo. Unlike kea parrots, seagulls, and ibises, kiwis don’t hang out around humans and swoop down from the air to snatch crumbs from your lunch. They’re nocturnal. Moreover, they can’t swoop.

Nevertheless, tourist shops are overrun with kiwi bird keychains, t-shirts, mugs, shot glasses, paperweights, coasters, playing cards, baseball caps, fridge magnets, and figurines made from plastic, wood, glass, and metal.

Although I like animal figurines, and the kiwi is obviously the iconic New Zealand animal, I refrained from buying a kiwi figurine until I saw this inexpensive, tiny, rubber, made-in-China creature. Perfect.

Kumara and Hokitika

Kumara is a town of approximately 300 people, yet it has a hotel with a remarkably good restaurant… From there we visited Hokitika, a town with about ten times the population. It had a lot of shops selling New Zealand greenstone (jade).

In honor of the holiday season, someone put some extra letters in front of the “Hokitika” sign so that it said: “Ho-Ho-Hokitika”. Among the 25 photos below, sadly, I do not have a photo of that.

Continue reading Kumara and Hokitika

Christchurch

The visit to Christchurch was emotionally draining. I’d never seen the effects of a natural disaster up close the way I did there.

Earlier this year I was worried that Hurricane Irma would hammer my hometown (Atlanta, Georgia). It did a lot of damage elsewhere, but unlike Opal, it mostly left my parents’ city alone. Hurricane Andrew was bad, as was Katrina, but Atlanta just isn’t close enough to the coast to ever get the worst of those storms.

Probably the closest I’ve personally come to experiencing a natural disaster was at the Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where I and my 8-year-old classmates nervously rode out the deadliest of the dozens of tornadoes that struck the region while were on a field trip. That night, us kids had fun playing with our flashlights because our hotel had no power. The next day I remember seeing buildings with their walls ripped away leaving raw gaps in the architecture like the gaps in a child’s smile, but a lot less cute. What force could do that? I didn’t know it then, but twenty people had died.

When in 2011 Christchurch was struck by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February, it left 185 people dead and thousands injured.

Shift happens.

The Quake City museum in Christchurch is an educational tourist attraction, but it’s hard to call it entertaining. I’m pretty sure going to the museum was the right thing to do, but it colored my experience for the rest of my brief stay in the city. Everywhere I looked, there was rubble, construction, graffiti, and a sense that everyone who hadn’t just up and left was making an effort to stand strong. It was a painful object lesson in the fragility of normalcy.

Below are 41 photos.

Continue reading Christchurch