Thursday, March 23, 2017

Opal


The first thing you notice aboot Sydney is this is one large city. Over 5 million people live here, that’s as many as the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

The second thing you notice aboot Sydney after picking up your rental car is that the traffic is heavy, and is in a hurry to get where they are going. Our rental here is lots smaller than the one we used in New Zealand, and it doesn’t’ speak to us in a language that neither of us has learned to speak yet. In fact, says nothing at all in any language, but sill the streets seem narrower.
Boomerangs

Saint Mark’s Lodge in the district of  Randwick has been our home for the past couple of days here in Sydney. The lodge is an older building. Is immaculately kept, has most of the amenities that one comes to expect in this part of the world. Its locally owned and operated and the price is by far more favorable than the city center hotels or even the airport.   It isn’t walking distance to the Circular Quay, and that is where the harbor, the harbor bridge, and opera house sit.


King George


Not wanting to deal with the city traffic or having to find and pay for a parking spot for our car that has no voice, we decided to use public transit, and that put us on bus 373.

The buses here are spotlessly clean. Run frequently.  The seats are padded, not hard plastic. Lots of riders thank the driver when they exit the bus, and you pay for rides on all the public transit, buses, trains, and ferry boats with one card called Opal that you can get at almost every convenience store or from kiosks at the stations. You scan the card when you get on and again when you exit. The scanners tell you how much money you have left on your Opal, and when you exit how much the ride cost. You can “top up” the card at the station kiosks, or with a phone app. And the drivers besides wheeling their huge vehicles up and down these tiny streets have all been very helpful.



Our second ride on 373 to the quay we had a mission, to climb the Harbor Bridge.

For a couple hundred dollars you can go in a small group (eight) and walk up to the top of the bridge on the outer arch. You can’t bring anything with you like cameras, bracelets, or anything else that might fall off yourself. You must walk through a metal detector to make sure you left everything behind in the lockers provided.  You must take a breathalyzer to make sure you are not intoxicated. They outfit you up with straps for your glasses, a stylish jump suit, a rain jacket, headphones so you can hear your glide, a hat and a spiffy belt so you can be connected to safety cable that runs along the side of the catwalk.
The walk is not hard.  It has lots of steps, but you stop frequently to rest and learn a little about the construction and workers from your guide, in our case a very pleasant young lady who was never stumped by any questions.


The view is,  well the best one of Sydney and the only downer is that you couldn’t sit up there with your own camera and tripod and make your own photos.

 If you get here do The Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb.
Harbor Bridge


 

Monday, March 20, 2017

No Problem




Besides having the worst food of this part of the New Zealand trip the internet connection was poor also. At the hotel, my traveling compadre could never get her phone connected, and I was no help as my expertise with apple is having a nice crisp sweet one for a snack, and the New Zealand apples have not been a disappointment, but she never could log on.
The Post

Nothing left to do but check out and wander down to the local café, have a flat white with an extra shot and use their wi fi. The network needed a secret password but the waitress brought us each a printed slip of paper with the code on it. It worked.



Entering Ice Worm Cave


That completed we climbed into the car and using our dead reckoning skills we proceeded to attempt to get out of Raglan. A short detour thru a nice neighborhood and we spotted the main road only because a hitchhiker was thumbing on the corner.

Our rental with Japanese controls is large so we decided to give the young girl a ride. We figured she might know the way out. She didn’t. She was an interior designer from Argentina spoke just enough English to understand our just enough Spanish, but we had a nice time on the way back to Auckland, stopping for bano breaks, negotiating the road construction, and generally having a grand time until we got back to Auckland and my phone our navigation’s system would not connect to the network that it was loving being connected to just days ago.
Bear Tracks On The Black Sand Beach

It only took a couple of restarts but soon enough we had google back with us navigating the roundabout back to Scotties Car Rental.

They were nice enough giving us a ride back to the airport but I gave them a scolding on the survey they sent me. It’s just bad form to rent a car with the electronic controls in a language the driver, or navigator doesn’t understand, especially when it is the standard vehicle electronics that even the motor company uses on the new bikes.  Gee.

Once back at the international airport the Virgin Austrian counter wasn’t open yet so we looked around the terminal for some satisfactory airport food. What we found was okay, not as bad as Georges, and probably aboot as good as airport food gets

We got back down to the ticket counter shortly after it opened and walked the ropes to get into the queue Rod our agent was quite nice checking our passports and visas, and everything was going great until he told us we didn’t purchase a ticket that allowed for baggage, but we could purchase a ticket for our baggage for $133.00. That seemed like a lot but we must have our bags, so I told Rod to go ahead and charge me. Rod fumbled and swiped, inserted chip cards and fussed around for what seemed like forever, but finally managed to make the charge. I am suspicious that Rod might be supplementing his pension with overcharging tourists????

Boarding the Virgin 737-800 the most uncomfortable ride in the sky we passed our bags sitting in first class, and proceeded back to chattel, and unbeknownst to us also the screaming child section. The two-hour fright across the Tasman Sea  seemed longer than the ride to New Zealand,  and our ears were bleeding by the time we landed, but our baggage made it just fine.
Foggy Auckland From The Sky Tower


 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

No Ice Water




There were two things I did not like aboot New Zealand but I forgot what the first thing was, and the second was that our lunch wasn’t up to the quality of the other meals we have had. So, if you come to Regland do not eat at George’s

Coffee has been good. Plenty of espresso shops and when I have asked for a drink not on the menu I have always gotten a good drink. Today on our on our short drive here today we stopped for coffee at the Te Uka Roast Office.
The Roast Office


I ordered a flat white with an extra shot. it tasted fine, and sitting in the morning sun made it even better. When I poked into the shop to look around, I found the owner/ head roaster hard at work on his hand crafted small batch air roaster.
Owner Head Roaster

He told me that his first roaster was a blow torch and with some help from his brother’s metal shop they just kept building roasters that would work for them. Good coffee and good people.

Our next stop after coffee was another short drive up to see the local version of Bridal Veil Falls.

In the falls car park was the first place in New Zealand where I have seen any rubbish, and for some strange coincidence it was fast food containers from an amerikan fast food operation.

The trail to the falls started at the top of the falls and you walked down to the bottom on a well-maintained gravel path, wooden steps and boardwalk.  Vistas at the midway point and bottom offer a chance to take photos and on the way back up catch your breath.
Falls


All our lodging here has been exceptional. All the rooms have had hot pots, all have had microwaves, refrigerators, cutlery, cups, glasses, plates, tea, coffee, hot chocolate,  a ½ pint of milk, ground coffee, a coffee plunger  hair dryers, irons (that I actually used) Ironing boards free guest washers and dryers, spotlessly clean rooms, friendly helpful staff, and  nice towels, all for a price that is comparable to a room in amerika without half the amenities, thread bare towels, and bedding so worn that it was around before everything was made in China. 
Boots On The Ground


The time here was too short. We only looked at a small part of the North Island. The ever-elusive Royal Spoonbill remains elusive and un seen. The ship will bring us back around both islands in a couple of weeks, and we can watch the South Island sail by with ice in our water.

 

 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rails and Rhubarb



After a couple of days in Rotorua it was time to check out of the delightful Victoria Lodge and head out of town leaving our personal geo thermal pool behind.


A few roundabout’s later and we were back on the road heading to Mamaku to ride the rails.

The rail line at Mamaku used to haul both logs and passengers, and still connects to the main Kiwi rail line but was left abandoned, for  several years. When the current lease holders got access to the track it had to be hacked back out of the brush. All while they were clearing the track, they were also designing and building the track speeders that we hired and went for a ride in.

The 10 speeders are powered by gas hybrid engines, and charge their batteries on the way down to the turnaround station, the gas engine gets them back up the hill. Along the way your progress is tracked by gps and an onboard voice points out interesting things along the way. The speeder slows at the two crossings, you have a handbrake if you need to use it, but you can sound the whistle if you want to. For a rail fan this little adventure on the rails in your own speeder is about as good as it gets.

We had some more kilometers to cover, and with the aid of our phone gps we traversed across the green farm lands of New Zealand
Ever present cows tracked our progress, from the high green banks, traffic was light on the two lane, but hunger was beginning to take its toll. We stopped in one little town but could only find two restaurants offering take away, and that wasn’t to our liking.
Finally, off in the distance weary from travel we spotted a shining light in culinary roadside dining.
The door handle  of the Rhubarb Café is a part from an espresso machine. Some of the tables are antique red and green Formica top, the patio is covered and even has live Rhubarb, the food was excellent, but what really makes the place shine are the owners, Louise and Brian who cook, bake, serve and clean up.

New Zealanders have made espresso their own serving flat whites and blacks, but when I asked Louise to make me a doppio she just asked what that was and proceeded to grind tamp and pull a most excellent shot. Brian cooked our burgers that were delicious and offered up talk about the café racer he is building out of a modern Triumph
They also recommended as a must see the swinging bridge that is just up the road and spans over the outflow of the hydro plant. It was very cool and a must see.