Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a tourist town with preference for tourists with money to burn. Nearly everything costs and is more dear than it should be, which is how it is in tourist towns. The town sits at the elbow of glacially-formed Lake Wakatipu, which has an interesting Z shape viewed from above. We may view it from above when we leave tomorrow from the Queenstown airport.

The main activities in addition to shopping, eating and hotels in Queenstown involve action sports such as skiing and bungie jumping. There’s a gondola car system to the top of the large hill behind the town where you can take in the views but also race around on a luge in a wooden cart. And there are theme tours such as Lord of the Ring tours. The town didn’t start this way. In 1860 a man named Rees and another named von Tunzelmann started sheep stations in the area. A few years later, there was the mid-60’s gold rush and Rees turned his sheering shed into a hotel, bending to twig that shaped the tree.

The town now boasts the most expensive real estate in New Zealand due to scarcity of land for development and appeal to foreign investors.

One of my fellow travelers and I went tramping (hiking) in the botanical garden called Queenstown Garden, with an additional excursion through the shopping areas. The Garden was established in 1867, with the usual intent to test which European and North American species of trees could be challenged to grow in the area for commercial purposes. Thus there are many very large non-native trees such as Douglas fir and Sitka pines. The setting is beautiful, on a peninsula extending into Lake Wakatipu, with views toward Cecil Peak, Walter Peak and the group of mountains where the ski hills are, called the Remarkables.

Cecil Peak from the Lake Wakatipu wharf, Queensland, New Zealand

The park trails are easy walking, surfaced partly in asphalt and partly in gravel. It is getting cool here in the South, with morning temperatures in the 40s F and highs of about 55F today, with sun and clouds. It’s colder when it’s raining, which it does often at this time of year.

Queenstown Garden pathway

Hokitika, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Hokitika was the jumping off point for a gold rush in 1864. It is located at the mouth of a river of the same name, and the would-be miners used the river to get to the gold fields, at least at first. Hokitika was a big, wealthy town, briefly. After the gold rush finished, which they inevitably do, Hokitika fell back to a small community supporting the lumber, farming and remnant gold industry. It shrank to a one-horse town, essentially, and has remained so. In fact, after logging of native species of timber was highly restricted, the West Coast was in some economic distress, such that the government stepped in with investments to develop tourism in the area.

Hokitika is still on a river (currently grey with silt due to the heavy rains) and is still a one-horse town, but has some statues and an hour and a half guided tour. As you can imagine, the tour doesn’t cover much ground, and you don’t want to go there. We found good food this evening at a pub, and some street art and beach art to enjoy.

The gold mined properties around Hokitiki were inexpensive for many years. A community of eclectic free souls, artists and other off-grid people developed there, alongside the farmers, loggers and such. Currently the town has at least 6 jade stone jewelry stores and even more carvers that supply them, plus stores selling stocks, camping equipment, souvenirs, blown glass objects, photographs, wood carvings, and so on.

Although it showered throughout the day, we decided to trust our usual good luck with weather and took our coach (bus) up to Hokitika Gorge path. The rain stopped long enough for us to walk down into the gorge and back. The path is maintained very well, well graveled, stump and rock free, and well drained. There is a very sturdy suspension bridge across the gorge and a well-situated lookout over the river at the end of the path. The river is grey with silt that has washed down from the mountains in the center of the South Island due to the great amount of rain that has been falling. The path is a walk through a temperate rainforest.

Wellington Harbor

Wellington harbor has great places to eat, walk and shop. It has a boat painted with penguins and seals, each unique and personalized. (Do they each represent individual people?) It is a charming contrast to the military boats, yachts, working boats and ferries, a caution against taking ourselves too seriously. If the penguin-seal boat is not sufficient to deliver the message, there is the painted piano, the painted bollard (that thing you moor a ship to), and a graphic graphic explaining the location of the gentlemen’s loo.

This strikingly painted food truck below sells very popular street food called a fritter (but actually a kind of pancake) containing your choice of chopped abalone, a tiny fish called whitefish, or chopped mussels – specifically, green-lipped mussels. The fritter cake is served on white bread of the “wonder” sort that has been heavily buttered. The green-lipped mussel one is open-faced. I can testify to that because I ate one.

The national museum, called Te Papa Tongarewa (“Te papa” means “our place” in Maori) is on the harbor, too. It is attractive outside and inside, and costs $20 per person. It tries so very hard to tell the story of the Maori and the history of white settlement, so the walls are thick with signs. I won’t try to explain the Maori settlement or the British invasion, land theft and ethnic cleansing, since this is a blog not a book and I don’t know enough to get the facts and figures right. It is sufficient to note that the Maori, who arrived from Polynesia about 800 years ago, were nearly wiped out by the British, who arrived in 1840. The Maori wiped out the moa, the large flightless bird. The British nearly wiped out everything else, between the clear-cutting of forests and burning to create grazing fields and the introduction of everything from pinus radiata (California pines – which grow better in New Zealand than they do in California) to rats.

The objects below are Maori – a carved canoe, a piece of fabric, and a stone.

Wellington Botanic Garden and the City to Sea bridge

The Wellington Botanic Garden and the City to Sea pedestrian bridge are two nearly free places to visit in Wellington. Actually, if you don’t care to walk up a very steep hill, then the best way to reach the Wellington Botanic Garden from the central business district is by cable car. It will cost you $5 one way, but hey, the view at the top of the hill is spectacular (well worth $5), and the hill is Really Steep.

Wellington Harbor from the terminus of the cable car

The walk down the hill on which the Botanic Garden is perched is steep, tranquil and very green. There are many sections to the garden, including a fern garden, a succulent garden, a rose garden, and sections devoted to native plants. And if you follow the Orange Path through the garden, you will go through the Old Burial Ground, which has some very interesting monuments, including a naked guy right at the top of the hill.

Harry was the leader of the New Zealand Labor party, and a businessman and the owner of a newspaper. Which explains nothing at all about this nude guy.

The original purpose of the garden when it was started in 1868 was to serve as a trial garden to test out imported plants to see whether they could be grown as crops in New Zealand. Thus the garden began with plantings of conifers.

I wish I could tell you the botanical or even common names of the plants above, but there are no labels or identifying signs.

The photo above is of the Peace Garden, with an eternal flame in the pagoda shaped ornament in the middle of the pond.

The City to Sea Bridge, seen across the Whairepo Lagoon, looks from some angles like a patched together bunch of old weathered wood. It is a sculpture acting as a platform for other sculptures and artworks, in addition to reconnecting people to their harbor.

Windy Wellington

Wellington is one of the windiest places in New Zealand, due to its location on the Cook Strait that runs between the North and South islands of New Zealand. Wellington is at the southern tip of the North Island.

We arrived in Wellington at about 3PM and it took some time to clear customs and immigration. We reached our hotel by bus, riding along the bay. One hint of the windiness could be found in the three wind sculptures we passed on our way in to the central business district (CBD).

Tomorrow we will begin to get acquainted with New Zealand in much more detail.

Sydney’s sights

Early morning ferry traffic in Sydney Harbor

There are so many faces to Sydney and I have seen just a few. We toured the Opera House, led by a charming guide named Darryl. It was a great tour and the Opera House is quite a complex. It is not one “house” but a center with multiple performance venues from large to small.

The interior spaces are sculptural and refined, but a bit cool, not embracing. The images below show some of the public spaces – hallways, stairways, ticket counters, mezzanines.

The Rocks in Sydney is the area where the British convicts were deposited to survive or not, from the 18th through the 20th centuries. This area was nearly scraped to become a half mile of brutalist skyscrapers, but was saved in the end by activists who wanted to preserve the cheap-rent public housing there. The Rocks area has been quiche-ified into shops, restaurants and boutique offices. Some of the buildings are preserved, and there are narrow alleys and stairs where houses were built into the sandstone cliff.

The original paving of the Rocks, Nurses Walk

We walked across the Sydney Harbor Bridge this morning, which is a nice walk with great views of the harbor, the Opera House, the central business district, and the ferry traffic going in and out of Circular Quay.

Cooya Beach, Mossman – spear-chucking and painting

Port Douglas in the distance

From Cooya Beach looking south, Port Douglas where we have been staying looks like an overturned teaspoon. An Aboriginal mob (mob means tribe, clan, family group) called the Kukujulangi lives and works on Cooya Beach, giving tours to outsiders to explain aspects of their culture and history, and providing cultural experiences. We were tutored by a man in his 50s in the use of some of the seeds and insects – particularly green ants, which are good for stuffy noses – and the use of various bones, shells, woods and plant fiber for tools and useful items. We also had a chance to throw spears; although we were demonstrably lacking in inborn talent for spear-chucking, there were several of us who would have gladly spent the whole morning honing our abilities. Spear chucking is fun.

Spear-throwing class

Also, as a part of the experience, we were served damper bread spread with butter and drizzled with golden syrup. Damper bread is a traditional soda bread frequently associated with the Australian bush. It is a simple quick bread, and the golden syrup, which does not taste at all like golden Karo syrup, is a tasty addition. Karo syrup is a corn sugar syrup, while golden syrup is made during the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets. Golden syrup has a very mild hit of molasses, without the burnt overtone.

Damper bread with butter and golden syrup

The Aboriginal people in the Daintree/Port Douglas area have been able to use the legal system to gain control of some of their original land and have a focus on using the land in a culturally consistent way that also engages people from outside their community. The tour leader described how his grandparents, who had their children removed by the government, moved to be where their children were taken and worked to recover them, which required 10 years to get all of them back. They had the support of local farmers for whom they worked, which helped them recover their children and, as a result, built tight community bonds between the local farm community and the aboriginal community, such that they say they are now one family.

A 7-style boomerang, non-returning type

One object we were shown is called a burny bean. It’s proper name is mucuna gigantica, and it or related beans are found in tropical areas of Central and South America in addition to Queensland, Australia. It is called the burny bean because, if you rub it hard on cement or a smooth rock, it quickly becomes very hot. It was implied that it can be used to start fires, but there’s no documentation of that. Parts of the plant and the bean are toxic and were used to poison fish, but the inside of the bean can also can be treated to make an edible paste. It is currently used to make jewelry and keychains, typically painted with traditional-looking Aboriginal designs.

After our Cooya Beach cultural experience and a nice lunch in the town of Mossman, we visited an art gallery where we were shown a few techniques for painting in the Aboriginal style. We were each given either a boomerang-shaped piece of wood or a small canvas square, each of which had been painted black. The artist gave us pots of white (representing water), yellow ochre (representing sun) and red ochre (representing earth) acrylic paints and bamboo sticks with which to paint. To paint your item, you dip either the blunt or the sharp end of the bamboo stick into the paint and make dots, squiggles, etc. on your object. The dot technique seems to be the most traditional, with large dots and small dots in intricate patterns. My piece is a small canvas square. (The boomerang supply ran out.) My painting is about the importance of lakes, rivers and oceans in my life and my family history.

Side note: I have a partial black eye from the pressure of the snorkel goggles on the bridge of my nose. How cool is that?