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New Zealand — 2nd Thursday

I begin today’s post in great pain. I am writing this on Friday night (our time) about our trip from Geraldine along the east coast of the south island to the central portion of the southern tip of New Zealand. We traveled to Alexandra (Alex’s namesake!) and then on to Queenstown.

The rolling green hills of the farm we stayed at.

The rolling green hills of the farm we stayed at.

Imagine driving out of those wonderful green hills dotted with cows and sheep and having an abrupt change in geography six different times in three hours! It is amazing the changes in the topography and the mountains and valleys in this country! One minute, you are surrounded by lush green hills. The next, brown grassy hills covered with sheep and cows. Next, an emerald green lake surrounded by rocky, brown hills. Next, towering peaks with blues and greens and grays. Next, the southern Alps not yet covered with the coming snowy mantle of winter. Next, a virtual rain forest!

As a man said to me on the cable car in Wellington — the south island is scenery overload!

So, we paused several times to take pictures and there was this huge open plain of brown grassland surrounded by towering gray and blue peaks with a touch of snow on one side and harsh rocky brown mountains on the other. I recognized it instantly. I had purchased a Lord of the Rings guidebook in Wellington that showed were all of the scenes in the movie were shot. Here in the vast plain surrounded by mountains I once again imagined the oliphants, those giant elephant like creatures rampaging across the battlefield toward the Riders of Rohan. I saw the ring wraiths swooping on their reptilian beasts attacking the fellowship of the ring. Here was the location of the final battle in the third movie, The Return of the King. In this vast area somewhere between the towns of Twizel (Twhy-zull) and Methvyn this epic battle was shot using many of the locals as extras. So, we stopped and I stood by a fence that overlooked this area.

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The wind was amazingly strong. We started down the road and stopped again as we got closer to the mountains used as a backdrop for the battle. There, sitting just off the road was a huge boulder with an inviting flat top. I grabbed my camera and hopped up on the boulder only to be grabbed, I thought, by the claws of the nazgul, only to learn it was the wind and tossed off the boulder like so much chaff.

I fell onto my left elbow and my camera and dug the lens into my upper left ribs. I was stunned and in so much pain I could hardly breath. I just knew I had broken or dislocated by elbow and had cracked or broken some ribs. I still have an indentation in the skin from the lens of the camera. It is now blue and green.

So, I have been trying to recover from my fall on the battlefield. Where was Gandalf when I needed him?

We soon found a lovely tiny stone church sitting on the edge of a huge, emerald green lake. IMG 2257

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This was the Church of the Good Shepherd erected in 1935 and we later met, purely by chance, a young woman in Milford Sound (on our tour) who got married in this idyllic setting. Nearby was a statue of a dog erected in honor of collies and their hard work in the area. We couldn’t get a good picture due to the heavy tourist load.

Soon, we pulled into Alexandra, a quaint little town on the way to Queenstown. Alex was ecstatic and we drove around the small town.

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We traveled back toward Cromwell and stopped to take a look at the crossroads sign above the convergence of two rivers that created a huge lake.

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The Kiawarau River is a large body of water that dumps into this gigantic lake. Near Alexandra in the city of Clyde, this huge lake flows through a hydroelectric dam. This river was the sight of the Argonaths — the giant king statues on the water at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring.

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As we headed for Cromwell and on to Queensland, we encountered more geography and a very common road sign that is self explanatory.

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Here are some high speed pictures of the river near the area where the scenes were shot with Frodo, Sam, Legolas, Borimir, Gimli, and Strider in boats fleeing the orcs. The orcs were heard running along the edges of this river. The actually area used is on a private farm where the river cuts deep into the rock to make the tall cliffs seen in the movie. Portions of this area were used for the forest scenes in all three movies and the scene with Arwin on the river where she confronts the nine ring wraiths to save Frodo.

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And then, over a hill we started to witness the beginnings of the Southern Alps. These tall, majestic mountains were the sight of the opening scenes in the first movie as the camera soared over the snow covered peaks. These mountains had little snow this time of year, but you can still appreciate the sheer, amazing size of these mountains as the rose up from the flat plain to over 2000 meters!

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As our day drew to a close and my pain began to intensify, we checked into our hotel in Queenstown on its lovely lake and ate on the hotel’s veranda. This was our view as the sun set. I will post more pictures of Alexandra and the trip later as soon as my pain permits.

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New Zealand — Our Second Wednesday

The mail run on Tuesday ran longer than we planned. We were supposed to be back at our car by 430 for a 3 hour drive to Hamner Springs in time to “have a spa” meaning get in the hot tub! But, the mail run lasted until 6 PM and now we had a long drive along the east coast at sunset. What we did not anticipate was the rain, fog, and very winding roads.

Grant started out driving but he had been awake since 330 that morning so he switched out with Alex. I have been on many harrowing drives. I’ve bested the road to Hana on the island of Maui. I’ve been up the switchback out of Cade’s Cove in Tennessee. I’ve driven on Louisiana highways since age 15! But, this was like nothing we had ever experienced. Hairpin curve after hairpin curve assaulted our hosts first in the dark, then with rain, followed by FOG! I was hanging onto my shoulder belt in the back seat like a harness on a parachute! We prayed and Alex got us through this incredibly dark and stormy night with only 13 one lane bridges along the way. We pulled into this tiny but very nice motel at 11 that evening and had to rouse the host out of her bed to let us in. We were all exhausted.

Wednesday morning we set off for the Christchurch area and eventually to a farm in Geraldine. Along the way we saw many sights along the east coast. Christchurch is still recovering from a massive earthquake so we did not go into the city. In the tiny town of Geraldine, we set off into the country side for David and Nikki’s farm. Friends of the Stitchbury’s years ago, the couple now reside on a 400 acre farm. David raises cattle and deer. Yes, deer! Upon our arrival, we mounted up on ATV’s and David gave us a tour of his farm. The huge, rolling hills were amazing. Divided into paddocks, the farm has an area for cattle and an area for deer. There is a separate section with trees and brush. When fawns are born, the mother and fawn are put into this paddock so the mother can hide the fawn away in the bushes!

David and Nikki also have other activities on the farm such as kayaking, canoeing, and watching cows being milked, among other things. They took us down the valley to the pond where an eel lives. Fantail sparrows sang in the tree overhead while David cooked us a meal on an open fire. I don’t particularly like venison but his venison was outstanding! As the sun set, a three quarter moon rose over the hills. And shooting through the amazing dark sky was the Milky Way, something we never see up north. We returned to our cabins only to find that Alex and Grant’s cabin was infested with spiders.

So, let me pause for a a moment. We would never have survived the evening in Louisiana. New Zealand has no snakes! I kept glancing at the pond waiting for a water moccasin to crawl out. But, no worries! No snakes! And, they have no fire ants or ticks or bird sized mosquitoes! And, they have only one species of poisonous spider. No black widows! No brown recluses! But, the spiders in the cabin, regardless of their benign nature were too much for Alex and they soon joined us in our cabin. 

What a strange and wonderful experience! The next morning, Alex, Sherry, and Grant went to view the cow milking while I finished up editing my depression book manuscript for B&H Publishing.

For your enjoyment, some Kiwi sayings:

Tea, as I mentioned, means supper.

Crisps are French fries.

Have a coffee means lunch time. At lunch you can have a “pie”. This is not a fruit pie but a meat pie and it looks like a small apple pie only filled with beef or chicken and cheese and mushrooms and it is to die for! Definitely a trend we need to start in America. Kiwi fish and chips are served in plain butcher paper and you have to ask for (and sometimes pay for) tomato sauce (ketchup). Don’t bother asking for ice tea or yellow mustard. A schnitzel can be beef, pork, or chicken and is basically a chicken fried steak only with leaner batter. You always order your food at the counter and you always buy your drink from the bar. The water is self help. And, there is no tipping! That’s right! It took me days to get over this, but there is no tipping. Period. Nada.

You leave your vehicle in a “car park”. Stores don’t have bathrooms unless they are huge stores. Instead, there are public “toilets”. These are surprisingly clean and fresh. Some charge a fee. Others sing to you! And, they won’t unlock until you wash your hands. Most toilets are bigender — not particular for man or woman. And, I will say this. New Zealand is neat as a pin. Clean as a whistle (that’s for you, Alex). I have never seen a country so universally neat and clean. Everyone is proud of keeping things up. Everyone picks up trash and recycles. It is amazing and so refreshing. America could learn lots of lessons on this one issue alone!

And, every downtown area no matter how small or large has tiny, quaint storefront stores. Even the malls are integrated into the storefronts and are found inside the storefronts. It is like going back in time to Mayberry. There are even barber shops that still have the red and white rotating pole! And, of course, every 10 meters, there is some kind of coffee shop with the most amazing goodies to eat and coffee to drink. I don’t think I can ever go into a Starbucks again. Unless they start serving flat white!

One town so beautiful, so amazing awaited us and what a surprise it would be – Akaroa. More on that later. Here are some pictures:

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After losing a salmon to Gollum earlier, I found one that would choke even him!

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Safety first!

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A new experience for Sherry!

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One of the one lane bridges we passed in the dark the night before. It was used for bungee jumping!

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View before your last jump!

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Sherry says, “No way!”

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Rain clouds still brewing but they held off as we headed for Christchurch.

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Many rock formations look so familiar as they appeared in the Lord of the Ring movies.

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This amazing valley was farm land and we wove our way from that far mountain top all the way around until we found . . .

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Akaroa, just over the mountain top. A wonderful town perched on an inlet from the sea. This was an amazing sight and the photos don’t do it justice. We wound our way down the mountain side and around the lake to that far cove.

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I have my own hotel in Akaroa!

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The water side was dotted with lovely cottages beneath amazing mountains and hills.

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The water was even more beautiful than any I have ever seen in Florida.

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Everywhere you looked, you could make a postcard.

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I could easily make this my writer’s retreat!

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Finally, we tracked down the elusive pukeko (pooh-keck-oh) a wild bird that most Kiwis try their best to ignore!

More photos tomorrow as we leave the farm and head for the crown jewel of the south island, Queenstown.

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