Monday, March 31, 2008

Fox Glacier

After spending the night in Fox Glacier, we woke up on Tuesday morning and visited the glacier. The title picture is of me and Rachel at Fox Glacier. Tim shot the picture to the right as we went in. It is a great reflection of the mountains off of the water.

We hiked in about 1/2 mile to the glacier. We had to cross a stream, by stepping across rocks, which was perilous for someone with a lack of balance, like me. Luckily, we all made it to the glacier completely dry. This picture is the rebellious Liz stopping where the sign clearly says not to. Apparently, they have rock slides in this area quite frequently. I had to include it, because anyone who knows Liz knows that she has never broken any single rule in her life... UNTIL NOW!!!

This is a good video that Tim took of Fox Glacier.

Reflections - Hobbit Hunting

In case you did not know, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was shot in New Zealand. While there, we saw many of the sites where various parts of the movies were filmed. The movie documents the tale of a hobbit, who is tasked with bearing a symbolic burden. Hobbits are peaceful and very small.

"Newzies" are very fond of hobbits, and if you visit, you should ask them as many questions as you can as frequently as possible about hobbits. They are so fond of them in fact that they post signs everywhere about them. This sign means "Caution Hobbits, Wet Floor".

This particular sign warns hobbits of potential rock slides. It turns out that Liz did not break the rules after all. It only applies to hobbits, as the rocks are very small.

Hobbits are notoriously poor swimmers. At the end of the first movie, Samwise Gamgee, friend of Frodo Baggins, almost drowns because he jumps in the river to follow Frodo, but cannot swim. This sign warns other hobbits of the potential to drown in a glacier wave.

This sign shows that hobbits are normally friendly. It shows a woman walking with a hobbit. Hobbits and Maoris have been completely integrated into New Zealand society. It is quite the opposite of the aboriginees in Australia, who were alienated and persecuted.

Most people know that New Zealand is a very environmentally focused and peaceful society. Most residents would likely align themselves with the "left" in the U.S. This sign warns of right-wing hobbits. These hobbits like to hunt and generally do not like paying 50% of their income in taxes.

This sign is for Americans driving through New Zealand. It warns that there are hobbits in the area riding Shetland ponies. Please do not hit them.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to spot hobbits in New Zealand. They are generally shy and try to stay out of touristy areas. We hoped to spot one and capture him/her on film during our adventures.

I thought I spotted one in the bushes above. Not quite.

Finally, while at Fox Glacier, we spotted a real hobbit. She almost ran off camera before Tim was able to shoot the picture with his Blackberry. It was an amazing experience.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Punakaiki and the Drive to Fox Glacier

Monday morning, we left Kaiteriteri and headed down the western coast of the south island. We began in fields and farmland. We saw LOTS of sheep. After a few hours, we ran into the coast.

The coast was beautiful. It reminded me a lot of the coast of California, in that we were driving on the road on the sides of hills overlooking the ocean (not like the flat beaches on the east coast of the U.S.).

I think that I liked the New Zealand coast even better than the California coast, because there were lots of huge boulders along the coast, but in the ocean.

Punakaiki National Park is known for the Pancake Rocks, shown in this picture. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you will see the lines cut in the rocks, making them look like pancakes (thus the novel name).

There were also many caverns cut by the ocean tides. It was fun to watch the waves crashing into the banks.

This is a good shot of Tim and Liz with the shore and the pancake rocks in the background.

The video shows a panoramic of the area.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Kaiteriteri, NZ

Friday afternoon, we took the 3 hour flight from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, located on the southern portion of the north island. We really did not see much of Wellington, other than the Starbucks down the street from our hotel, but it looks like a pretty neat little city.

On Saturday morning, we woke up, headed back to the airport and caught our puddlejumper over to Nelson, on the northern part of the south island. It was only about a 30 minute flight.

From Nelson, we drove about an hour and a half to Kaiteriteri, which is located on the northern part of the western coast. Along the way, we stopped at a KFC for lunch (nothing says NZ like KFC). We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast run by a retired ship captain and his wife. Their names are Tom and Allyson, and Tim and Liz have developed a relationship with them, having stayed at their B&B several times before. Our house was really cool. It was actually voted one of the Top 10 NZ B&B's by the London Times. It was designed to look like a ship, as shown in the picture. Inside, the floors were wooden, and the kitchen cabinets even had floor level lighting, like a ship. The shower doors were hinged one-piece units that worked like a ship shower. It was really a cute place.

It rained most of Saturday afternoon, so we just layed around in the house and relaxed. We had stopped at a grocery store along the way, so we even stayed in for dinner. Tim and I made the girls watch the digitally remastered Star Wars movie, and Rachel found a puzzle-game called Tantrix, which was developed in NZ. The picture to the right is the view from our house.

Sunday morning, the weather was much improved, so we drove across the street to the lookout for some pictures. There was a memorial there designating where the British captain first came ashore, who originally founded Nelson. It turns out that he is a direct-line ancestor to Tom, who I will discuss more later.

After lingering at the lookout for a few minutes, we headed down to the beach in Kaiteriteri (shown here behind me and Rach).

Here, Rachel takes in a wave against the rocks at the beach. We played around for an hour or so, and then went across the street to the market for lunch. After lunch, we headed down to Abel Tasman National Park, about 20 minutes away.

Abel Tasman is a bit of a mini-Appalaichan Trail, in that it takes several days to hike the whole trek. Several backpackers camp along the way. We did the hike during low tide, so there were lots of crabs on the beach, digging into the sand. It was pretty fun to watch. There were also several pesky bees in the area - not so fun. We only did the first 3 kilometers of the trek, as we were pressed for time. We were invited to Allyson's house for "tea" at 5 PM.

The video below was taken during our hike. There were several ducks swimming around in the tidal pools. They were fun to watch. I don't know if they were bathing or what, but they kept flipping their wings like this one.

At 5 P.M., we headed up to Tom's and Allyson's on top of this hill. Their house is magnificent!!! It looks like any mid-America house you would see, only it is situated on top of the hill, overlooking water on three sides. The land has been in the family for over 150 years. Tom and Allyson plan on selling it in the next few years, as their sons cannot commit to living there. (This picture is of a California Quail, which was introduced for game when the settlers arrived).

Unfortunately, Tom was not there on Sunday afternoon. He and his 17 year old grandson had gone to a weekend-long boat competition a couple of hours away.

The video below shows the views from Tom and Allyson's house.

REFLECTIONS - The New Zealand Vowel Shift

Everyone knows that in the United States that there is a big difference in accents across geographies. People in Philadelphia sound very different from people in Chicago and VERY different from people in Knoxville, TN. I was surprised to learn that the same is true in England, when I lived there. People in Liverpool have a "scouse" accent, which is very different from the London "cockney" accent. The scouse is also difficult to understand for those of us who were brought up hearing all London accents from the English movie stars on television (scouse is much faster, slangier and difficult to comprehend".

I am proud to report that thanks to our resident linguists, Tim and Liz, we were able to learn the differences of a Kiwi (NZ) accent vs. an Australian accent. Allyson, pictured with all of us here has a very thick New Zealand accent. You can hear it clearly in the video below.

The New Zealand accent:

1) Shift the short "i" sound to a short "u" - Ex: ship = shup
2) Shift short "e" sound to short "i" (why they can pronounce a short "i" when they should pronounce an "e", and not when they should be pronouncing a short "i" is beyond me. Ex: leg = lig

When we left for New Zealand, my goal was to get as many Kiwis as I could to say "Fush and chups". When I got there, I found out it was much more entertaining to let them say things on their own.

During our tour of the B&B, Allyson informed me that the wooden floors were meant to resemble "shup dicking" (ship decking). In the video below, she says "ut" instead of "it" a couple of times. Near the end of the video, she also tells us how gulls don't like to have anything over their "hid" (head).

I laugh at the accent just as everyone in the U.S. laughs at mine. It is good-natured fun-poking. Allyson was extremely hospitable to us, and it was incredibly kind for her to invite us into her home for the afternoon. We had a great time talking with her.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Didgeridoo and the Opera House Too

Friday morning February 29, Rachel and I took the "Early Bird" tour of the Opera House at 9 AM. It worked out very well, as it was not only cheaper, but there were only 6 other people on our tour. The Opera House is, of course, the most famous building in Sydney. We also learned on the tour that it is the second most photographed building in the world, behind the Taj Mahal.

We first toured the outside of the building, where we were able to get good views of the Sydney Bridge, also called the "Coat Hanger" (pictured to the right). The Sydney Bridge is home to the "Bridge Climb", which will be the subject of a future blog. We also had nice views of the harbor, the fort in the harbor, and Circular Quay and downtown Sydney.

The Opera House itself is certainly an impressive architectural piece. Unfortunately, I must say that it is more impressive from a distance than it is up close. It is starting to get some age on it, and the roof tiles are dingy and need replacing. Still, the building is very large and houses multiple theaters, not only for opera, but also ballet, plays, modern dance, a concert hall, and an experimental theater. Kate Blanchett is currently the Chairman of the Board, and they are preparing for over $300 MM in renovations.

The inside is dated, but beautiful. We were unable to see the Great Hall because of a meeting of young heads of state being held there. We did get to see the Opera Hall though, and it was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, the architect focused on the "artistic" and not the "functional" (which, as an engineer, drives me nuts), so the building was built from the outside in. Therefore, they wedged all of these auditoriums and concert halls into spaces not truly designed accoustically. Some of the renovations are supposed to help this.

As in many projects of this nature, the original architect went over budget and over time. He was asked to leave and has not actually seen the finished product. He is now 90 years old, and they are trying to get him to Sydney to see it.

After our tour, we headed back to the Nagy's apartment to finish packing for New Zealand. As we passed through Circular Quay, we stopped to watch the aboriginees perform. There are 2 or 3 groups of them performing at the harbor every day. The guy here is playing a didgeridoo, which is a wooden aboriginal instrument. Ironically, I don't think the guy playing it was aboriginee (maybe a 3rd cousin, once removed), but a couple of the guys were. The didgeridoo makes a very unique sound. I'm surprised that no rappers have tried to use one in their tracks.

REFLECTIONS - The Age of Innocence

On Friday afternoon, we flew to New Zealand with Tim and Liz to begin our 8 days there. New Zealand is what I anticipate America must have looked like in the 1950's or 1960's. We did not see a 4 lane road the entire time we were there. It is sparsely populated, although we did not visit Aukland or Christchurch, which are the larger cities. New Zealand does not even have an Air Force; they suspended it several years ago and rely on Australia's Air Force for protection and the belief that George Bush has no intention of invading them (let's hope they are right). I don't remember ever seeing a police officer the entire time we were in New Zealand.

The largest display of their innocence though occurred when we flew from Wellington on the North Island to Nelson on the South Island. Since it was a domestic flight, we never passed through security. That's right... you heard me... we were never scanned, X-rayed, physically searched, or even mildly scrutinized. It was very strange to experience, especially given where the rest of the world is relative to airport security.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Rocks and The Sydney Aquarium

On Wednesday, we took it a little easy following the hike. We were scheduled for the Bridge Climb, but a thunderstorm that afternoon forced us to reschedule for later in our trip.

Before the weather moved in, we walked down to the shopping district in downtown Sydney, called "The Rocks". It's an old cobblestoned area with many neat shops and cafes. We stopped at one of the cafes for a late lunch and were provided the entertainment shown in the video below.

These birds are rainbow lorikeets. They are the prettiest birds that I have ever seen in person. We got to see these two up close (at the table next to us). They were taking the salt packets and opening them with their beak.

On Thursday, the weather was still bad. Luckily, we had saved the Aquarium for a rainy day. After lunch at "Lime" a wonderful cafe that Liz recommended, we set out for the Aquarium. The highlight of the aquarium is the enormous shark and fish tank that is shown in the videos below. Great whites, hammer heads, reef sharks and many smaller colorful fish inhabit this tank. It is quite impressive.

In the first video, I got a shot of the great white swimming directly towards us (showing his teeth). He was large!!!

The second video shows the many fish in the tank. We just sat and watched for about 15 minutes.

The Aquarium was well-arranged around 5 ecosystems. Each ecosystem had a "primary" attraction. The large fish tank was one of them. They also had ecosystems built around penguins, "salties" - crocodiles, seals and platypus (forgive me, but I am not sure what the proper plural is for "platypus" - Could it be platypuses, or platypi). The platypus exhibit was very disappointing. Apparently, they are shy animals, so we were not able to catch a glimpse of one. The signage around the display pointed out places to look where they might be hiding, so it must be a common occurrence that nobody sees one.

The final picture is of the coral reef tank. The Great Barrier Reef will be the subject of a later blog. I thought this picture was really pretty.

REFLECTIONS - Urban Legend?

In 7th grade, I was told by my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Cato, that toilets in the southern hemisphere flush counterclockwise, unlike here (northern hemisphere), where they flush in a clockwise motion.

I obtained proof of the northern hemisphere clockwise flush motion in one of the men's restrooms in Terminal B of the Philadelphia International Airport. Something about taking a camera into the bathroom made me feel like a U.S. Congressman.


At any rate, this difference could be explained by the coreiolis effect. Rather than explain it here, I will allow you to do some independent research of what it is.

Unfortunately, Aussie and Kiwi toilets are designed in such a way as there is no spin. So there is no way to conclusively prove if this is true or untrue based off of the toilets I saw.

I now hand this task off to Becky Cassill, as she has and will continue to see toilets on several toilets on 3 continents in the southern hemisphere. Her blog is linked on mine, if you would like to read about her travels.

P.S. I know the answer as to whether this is true or not. Send me a comment or email me, and I can tell you

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spit to Manly Hike and Doyle's on the Beach

On Tuesday, Rachel talked me into catching the bus (not the part she had to talk me into) over to the Spit Bridge, the starting point of our 9K hike (the part she had to talk me into). For those of you who are not up on the units of the Systeme Internationale, that is about 6 1/2 miles. Let this demonstrate my love for my wife, as I would not do this for anybody else. You will notice that I am conspicuously missing from any of the posted pictures. That is because I was completely wet with sweat, about the time we got off of the bus.

The hike meandered around the harbor. Perhaps "meander" is not quite the correct word, as we climbed up and down many, many, many stairs throughout the day. Some of it was along beaches, some through subtropical rainforest, and some through neighborhoods. It was really a beautiful hike.

Along the walk, we were able to take in several views of Sydney.

We also got to see some cool wildlife. This is a picture of a water dragon that Rachel walked right next to before she saw it. They are not poisonous, but they are fairly good-sized lizards. Click on the picture to blow it up to get a better look at it.

As we walked further towards Manly, we were able to see views of both the North and South Heads of Sydney Harbor. This is a good view of the North Head. Rachel calls this her "artsy" picture, because if you click on it, you will see that the camera is focused on the grass in the front of the picture.

This is a picture of Rachel in front of the North Head.

About 7K into the walk, Manly came into view. It is a trendy suburb of Sydney where a lot of college-aged Europeans live while traveling. The harbor is on one side of the burb (this picture was taken from the harbor). On the other side of Manly, is Manly Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The title picture for this entry is of Manly Beach.

During our walk, we encountered a couple of Aussie retired university professors. They are preparing for a pilgrimage hike of several hundred kilometers in Spain. Michael, the gentleman pictured here in Manly with Rachel, was extremely nice to us. He had visited Philadelphia in the past year, and was excited to meet some people who lived there. He said a couple had taken really good care of him at the Mummers Parade the year before and he wanted to take care of us to pay it forward. He gave us a tour of the town and recommended a cafe to us for lunch.

Following our hike, Rachel and I took the ferry from Manly to Circular Quay to Tim and Liz's, where we cleaned up for dinner. Tim booked us at Doyle's on the Beach, which is a famous seafood restaurant in Watson's Bay, a Sydney suburb.

We had a great dinner. We were served by a waiter who spends half of the year in Sydney and half of the year in the U.S. It would be really nice to live in Sydney, Australia during American winter. What a life!

REFLECTIONS - Aussieisms

An "Aussieism" is something that is quirky and not quite right. It is close, but not quite there. An excellent example of an "Aussieism" is Hungry Jack. As you can see, it is like Burger King in all ways, yet it is not quite Burger King. The menu is the same, the worker uniforms are the same, but the logo is not quite the same.

Some of my favorite Aussieisms include "How you going?" instead of "How are you doing?", to which one responds, "I'm going well." Instead of "Knock on wood", Aussies say, "Touch wood." "Yabbies" are crawdads (crawfish for you non-southerners out there). My favorite Aussieism is "Chook". This is a picture of a "Chook Crossing".

This is a picture of a "chook". A "chook" is simply what we Americans would refer to as a chicken. And of course the Aussies have an expression for "running around like a chicken with its head cut off." It is "running around like a headless chook."

My favorite Aussieism of all are all of the signs that adorn the roads outside of the cities. Instead of "manure" for fertilizer, Aussies sell "poo". I have always wanted to dedicate a Reflection to talking about poo, but I never thought I would have a legitimate chance... but... I do now. Aussie farmers sell cow poo, horse poo, pig poo, even alpaca poo, and yes, of course, Chook poo. I think that covers all of the poos we saw.