Taking the ferry between the North and South Islands

To get to the South Island we took the ferry which runs from Wellington to Picton.  We returned our car at the ferry terminal in Wellington.  Although you can take cars on the ferry the rental companies do not wish you to do so.  To me it was odd in that you park your car in a certain area of the lot and drop you keys in a return box.  I felt some degree of anxiety about the car company saying there were issues with the car but it works out fine.  On the other end in Picton the car rental agencies are right outside the terminal doors.

The ferry terminal in Wellington is not near anything of interest so once you are there you are stuck.  They did have a little snack counter but not much else.

The ferry ride was nice and smooth.  I stayed on deck most of the time to catch the views and to take pictures.  We had opted for the upgrade and so had plush seats.  The upgrade also includes food and drinks.  Since I do not drink all that much and did not wish to drink that early in the day we did not eat and drink the extra cost.


On the drive from Napier to Martinborough (about 1 h 13 minutes from Wellington) we stopped at the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Center.  A big part of their effort is conservation and working on preserving the native wildlife.  Like many other places the introduction of mice, rats and other mammals has devastated the native birds.  In a number of large enclosures they had native endangered birds.

In Martinborough we stayed in a house made of straw bales.  At least according to the literature these can last if made correctly (preventing moisture).  Martinborough is an interesting town.  It has a resident population of 1600.  In the town center are a surprising number of very nice restaurants.  This whole area is wine country and a number of vineyards are here.

The drive from Martinborough to Wellington is 81 km over a very twisty mountain road.  Takes a degree of concentration with all the turns on the narrow lanes.  One day we could not go into Wellington because the winds made the driving treacherous winds of over 60 mph.

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and sits on the Cook Strait.  The area is known for its strong winds. Our first adventure into Wellington the weather was not great so we went to the Museum of New Zealand rather than the botanical garden.  Although I would rather be seeing the city than a museum this was a fine alternative.  A lot about the history of course.  I can not imagine the first people arriving here over 800 years ago.  It would have require long travels over open ocean.  I mean how long do you travel without seeing anything before turning around and if you do turn around how do you find you way back.

After the museum we went to Mount Victoria Lookout.  This offers very scenic views of the city.

On another excursion to Wellington we traveled along the ocean to Te Kopahu Visitor Center.  At the end of the road you can walk along the beach which made for a nice day.

Another excursion was to Cape Palliser on the South-East coast of the North Island.  This is a scenic drive and not widely taken.  I should mention that the last part of the drive is over gravel roads.  Just have to take it slow. 

At the end there is a lighthouse – it is over 250 steps to the lighthouse.  With the wind and my fear of heights I only made it half way.  On the way back to Martinborough we stopped at Lake Ferry for lunch.  The Lake Ferry Hotel is noted for their fish and chips so we ate there.  A quite nice beach area is there with various birds and fur seals making for a very pleasant and restful time.


Napier is about a 3 hour drive from Rotorua on the east coast of New Zealand in the Hawke’s Bay region.  This is where we learned the lesson about getting gas again.  On the drive, the region from Taupo towards Napier has NO gas stations (about 90 miles).  Even the gas stations in Taupo are not so obvious.  We actually back tracked to Taupo to get gas because we were unsure if we had enough.  And if you do run into problems you cannot even call because there is no cell service.

Napier was destroyed by an earthquake on February 3, 1931.  It was rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the time and that is the big attraction of the downtown area of the city.  It is also noted at a wine area.



One of the things I had really looked forward to before the trip was a visit to Hobbiton, the movie set used by Peter Jackson for the making of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  I know this is completely artificial but …  I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings while in college – my friend Joe had suggested I would enjoy them and I really did.

The location is near the city of Matamata.  Many tour buses will take you to the site but since we had a vehicle we drove there.  It is in a very pretty rural location.  Buses take you in groups from the parking area to the actual site and a guide takes you through.

I really enjoyed the tour.  They have maintained it very well.


Rotorua is in the Bay of Plenty region on the North Island and about a 3 h drive from Auckland.  It is famed for its thermal activity.  It is also noted for its sulfur smell, but this was not that noticeable (I must admit I do not have the most acute sense of smell).

At the Maroi Burried Village you get an idea of what the town was like before the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886.  Apparently the tourist used to come for the hot springs and to see the White and Pink Terraces.  These were destroyed in the eruption and the tale is told at the village.

We also visited the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village.  The major part of the tour was seeing the geysers and hot springs.

They also have a cultural performance but we missed it.  I have very mixed feelings about cultural shows.  On the one hand it seems to be so artificial because they perform dances or acts that are culturally significant for them for tourists.  But on the other hand I once was talking to an elder on another trip who was responsible for his village’s cultural show and he explained how this was how they were able to pass their rituals to the younger generation.  The opportunities for the true purpose of the ritual were now very limited and modern life had made their enactment very rare.

Side trips from Auckland

We ventured north from Auckland to Whangarei. A pleasant drive with rolling fields and trees.  After lunch our stop was Whangarei Falls.  A lot of people also there.  Nice little walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls.

From there we continued North-East to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  It was here in 1840 that the Maori chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown.  The fact that the wording of the treaty in English and Maori do not agree was pointed out as one of the reasons for a number of the problems between the Maori and the British.  The buildings and boats we saw came much later but the narration of the guide was quite interesting.

It was a long way from Waitangi Treaty Grounds to our apartment in Auckland and we wanted to get to the grocery store before it closed.  Just made it but on the final few miles back to the apartment our gas light comes on – this totally freaked me out as I never let the gas get that low.

Another side trip we made was to the Miranda Shorebird Centre.  We were really there at the wrong time of day and saw nothing but it did allow us to see more of the area.

From the Shorebird Centre we continue up the Coromandel Peninsula.  This is a very pretty drive.  We turned around at the town of Coromandel which is quite small.


Our adventure began in Auckland.  This is the largest city in New Zealand with a population of about 1.5 million which is over 30% of the population of the entire country.  Several things struck me.  One is that old here means from the late 1800s.  The second is that it is attractive to the hostel crowd.  Certainly saw a number of hostels and restaurants who cater to that group.  As we went around the country we encountered a number of young people who were from different countries, many in temporary jobs to support their travels.

A beautiful view of the city if from the top of Mount Eden.  This is an inactive volcano and you can see a number of cones of other inactive volcanoes from the top.  With a car you have a bit of a walk to the top but tour busses seem to be able to drop people off at the top.

View of Auckland from Mt. Eden

View of Auckland from Mt. Eden

The harbor area has obviously undergone extensive renovation in recent years.  It is now quite posh – fancy hotels and restaurants.


We also did an Auckland Heritage Walk which was along Karangahape.  The library had a very nice brochure about the walk and information on the buildings which date from the 1880s.  I do not suggest doing the walk if you are not staying in the area, not all that fascinating.  I would also strongly recommend getting the brochure because otherwise you have no idea about the history of the buildings.

Easily the most visible structure in Auckland is the Skytower.  It is 328 meters tall (1082 feet).  You can even do a jump off the structure or do a walk at 192 meters (633 feet) up.  We did neither – I am glad because with my fear of heights it would not have been fun.

It seems that wherever one travels there is a US fast food chain and certainly that is true here also.  But they also had food courts that were populated by choices from different Asian countries – I remember Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and a number of others.  I certainly enjoyed that.

New Zealand vacation part 2

What is nice in Auckland is that the car rental agencies are really near the exit from the terminal.  No need to figure out shuttle buses to remote car rental agencies.  The cars seem to be mostly automatic.  One of the things I had done is bought the sd card with New Zealand maps for use in my Garmin GPS.  I know I could do this with my phone (at least in theory).  In retrospect I am not so sure because there were many areas where cell service was not available.  I had the Garmin GPS, was comfortable using it and it had a much bigger display that my phone.

Driving in New Zealand is on the opposite side from the United States.  I have driven inEngland where that is also the case and did not find it much of an issue.  In the past I have had problems navigating the roundabouts but with the GPS it was not a problem.  What was a problem was that the turn signal and window wiper levers were reversed from our American cars!  I do not know how many times I would turn on the wipers when trying to signal a lane change or turn.

A comment about the roads in New Zealand.  They are generally nice – certainly did not see the pot holes common here in Chicago.  But the major highways outside the cities are one lane in each direction for the most part.  Probably more of a concern was that the shoulder in many cases was small.  Making sure you stayed in the center of your lane was a constant concern.  Of interest is that often the bridges were just one lane!  And quite a narrow lane at that (why did they choose not to build a 2 lane bridge?).  The saving grace is that the traffic is light outside of the major cities.  It was quite interesting that you could drive quite a while on a major road and not see a car coming in the opposite direction so arriving at these one lane bridges did not cause major delays.

Now for the subject of gas.  The stations are not as frequent or as prominent as in the United States.  In fact I cannot remember seeing a station that was not in a town.  Since the towns are widely spaced you can travel for quite a while without finding a station.  There are no indications on the road where the next station may be.  Word to the wise - when you leave a city fill up.  We actually got this advice from a native of New Zealand and that was what she did.

A recommendation I would make when traveling is get a 220 volt power strip.  Finding enough outlets is often a challenge and one has so many things that need to be charged up.  And make sure you have the proper plugs – the configuration of the plug is New Zealand is different from others I have seen.

A number of years ago I had gotten my cell phone unlocked so I could get a local sim card when traveling to foreign countries.  It was quite easy to get a Vodafone sim card at the airport.  Could I have saved a few bucks elsewhere?   Maybe.  But one of the things I try to do when traveling is reduce stress wherever possible and getting the card right away allowed me to check it off my list immediately.

New Zealand vacation

In January we went to New Zealand.  Why New Zealand?  One big reason is it was winter in Chicago (day we left the high was 20 F) and summer in New Zealand (day we arrived upper 60s).  A second reason was I had never been before.

First off New Zealand is a LONG WAY.  We took off from Chicago at 5 pm for Los Angeles, about a 4.5 hour flight.  Our flight then left Los Angeles at 11:10 pm (1:10 am in Chicago) for Auckland and arrived at 9:30 am Auckland time losing a day.  This corresponded to 12:30 pm in Los Angeles.  How does one cope with the long flight?  No great words of wisdom – I try to sleep, usually with mixed success.

New Zealand is 19 hours ahead of Chicago.  How was I going to handle a 19 h change?  Well I thought of it as a loss of 5 h.  This I could handle.

I do not know when they changed this but it turns out one way tickets were about half the price of round trip tickets.  This was important because we were going to start our return journey from Queenstown.  We also wanted to stop several days in Los Angeles on the return.  It made it a lot easier to book one way tickets.

Joy of learning

I have always enjoyed learning new things.  Now in edu-speak it is lifelong learning.  Learning new photography techniques, new processing techniques, etc is fun.  In a way this is one of the reasons I loved being involved in research.  You were always learning new things. I loved the fact that what I was doing was different from what I had done 5 years before and probably was not even imagined 10 years before.

Leonard Cohen

Among the news was the report that Leonard Cohen had died.  I remember when I first heard his music and how it moved me.  It was in 1968 and I had gone with my roommate to his host family for dinner.  Playing on the stereo was the song “Susanne”, but not the popular Judy Collins version. The host explained that it was by the writer of the song, Leonard Cohen.  Those were such different times.  No internet (or personal computers) so the only place you would hear music was on the radio.  AM was very limited in what they would play.  FM was just gaining ground.  FM receivers were not all that common – most people did not have a FM receiver of any kind.  Underground radio was in its early stages and that is where you would hear a wide range of material.  In fact I can remember stations just playing an entire album from beginning to end.  Although money was tight I went out and bought Leonard Cohen’s “Songs from a Lonely Room”.  It still resonates with me.  Over the years I have been moved by his music – even “Hallelujah” in spite of its popularity with every singer on “American Idol”.  It is something when a singer is relevant for 50 years. RIP

Ode to paper maps

Is this day and age paper maps are passé.  I miss them.  I used to love pouring over them.  Seeing what was along the route or in the area was so much fun.  I used to get TripTiks from AAA to plot my trip.  Now we use computer maps and GPS.  Computer maps do give you the ability to dig in to minute detail.  With a computer you have access to every street in the world.  How often on a trip do you come to a city and realize you do not have a street map.  With GPS you can find places which might not even be on the paper map you have.  Indeed I have driven in Europe with paper maps and with GPS and GPS is vastly superior.  Have you ever tried to find a street name in Europe?  Have you ever tried to navigate streets were the names are not in English?

Take more pictures

One of the things I have learned is to take all the pictures I wish.  I have never regretted taking a picture, I only regret not taking pictures.  The key is only showing the pictures you are happy with.  I came to this mind set when I read how many pictures National Geographic photographers take on assignment.  I was astounded.  This was in the film days.  I would never take that many pictures but realized it was foolish to not take enough pictures to ensure I got the best shot I could.  My basic strategy is to take a picture to make sure I got something then work on getting a better one. The trying to get a better one than the second and so on until I decide to move on or the scene is lost.  Especially with wildlife sometimes the first picture is the only one you will get.  So often the bird with just take off if you try to get a better position.  But at least you have the memory.

What is success and what is failure

I can remember in grade school one of my teachers constantly telling us “It is your I DO not your IQ which is important.”  This made a lasting impression on me.  It was only later that I learned that this was a reworking of the Calvin Coolidge quote “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”  I realized to achieve I had to work really hard.  I never could tolerate being mediocre when I knew I could have been better.  I had nowhere near the athletic talent, strength, size, or speed of my friends growing up but I worked much harder than many of them at the sports I was interested in.  I actually had a great sense of accomplishment because I was far from the best on whatever team I was on but I knew I was as good as I could be.  Thus I was successful.  In my career as a scientist I certainly never achieved like many others but I look back and can say I gave it my all and therefore I was a success.  Trying but not reaching the peak is not failure, failure is not even trying to reach the peak.

Science is not hard

As a scientist I was always troubled when someone said science was hard.  Obviously they did not mean physically.  As a molecular endocrinologist I rarely lifted anything over a pound, I was inside all day in a building that was pretty well maintained at 72 F and did a lot of my work sitting down. So I guess they mean the subject.  But what they really mean, I think, is that they are overwhelmed about all that is known.  What they do not realize is that we learn a lot about a very narrow area and have a very shallow understanding of related areas and an informed lay knowledge of other areas.  Certainly there are many areas of science about which I know very little or nothing at all.  In that category I certainly would put earth science.  I never could memorize all the types of rocks or keep the geological periods straight.  You know what?  I do not care.  If I need to know something I can look it up!  Yes all of science is vast but to be a scientist you are only focusing on a small sliver of a huge pie – that is not hard.  I forget where I heard this (I think it was Rick Sammon) but he told the story of a child who came home from school saying he had an overwhelming task of learning all the birds.  His father told him the way to do this is one bird at a time.  So in science you have to break the whole into manageable pieces and learn that piece.

On your own vs. organized tour

I have traveled with organized tours and without.  Of course there are some places that you just cannot go without an organized tour (Antarctica being one).  But how about when you have a choice?  On your own you can go where you want and spend as much time there as you desire.  The problem of the organized tour is that you are on their schedule.  But they have already made the decisions on the itinerary so you are not wasting time deciding where to go.  You also are not having to drive if that is how you are getting around.  You have the time to interact with the people if that is your thing but when you do not speak the language and especially when it is not latin based it is nice to have someone there to interpret for you.  Yes it is possible to use translation apps to get something across but when you do not understand their alphabet how are you going to type in what they say.  There is a certain joy in researching a place, choosing the places to stay, the sites to visit but it is also really nice when you are busy with a career to have someone else take the time to do these things for you.  How much is your time worth?  One of my fears on a tour is being with people I just do not enjoy.  Yes I have met many whose company I found delightful.  I have also been on tours where there are people who just rub me the wrong way.  Now in a large tour group it is pretty easy to avoid them but in a small tour group it is quite a bit harder.