About Carol Rolnick

Carol Rolnick

Carol Barbier Rolnick grew up in Japan and Southeast Asia, traveling extensively as a child through Asia, the Mideast and Europe on family vacations. Travel has continued as a priority through raising kids and continuing into retirement, extending adventures through the Americas, southern Africa, Asia, and repeat trips throughout Europe. Carol and her husband, Michael spent four summers based in Utrecht, The Netherlands, which has become like a second home. They are (still) aiming towards Australia-New Zealand and Antarctica to round off their continental travels.


Latest Posts by Carol Rolnick

Going Off-the-Beaten Path in New Zealand

April 7, 2016 by  

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IMG_9215_Lighthouse, Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula.JPG

Traveling off the beaten path without an itinerary or reservations can lead to some unexpected pleasures and adventures. this devil-may-care approach can and has landed us in unnerving situations, but in Otago, South Island of New Zealand, we found ourselves happily diverted to unusual events and sights. At least one — a sheep shearing contest — certainly isn’t on your average tourist itinerary.

Sheep Shearing in Balclutha, Otago

Finding ourselves with some extra days, we decided to head to The Catlins in NZ’s southeastern corner to see or ourselves the magnificent terrain. Entering the town of Balclutha, I spied a sign advertising a sheep shearing competition. We decided we just had to go.

The contest centered around an “international” competition highlighting the shearing prowess of native Kiwis against Wales’ best shearers. The competition was amazing. The entire process had hawk-eyed judges examining shearers’ technique (not good to nick the sheep too many times) and assure that no cheating occurred. (I wasn’t sure about the “no cheating” bit; is cheating leaving too much wool on the sheep or ripping it off the sheep with something other than the prescribed set of shears?)

Throughout the competition every clip and buzz of the shears was narrated by a man who sounded somewhere between a carnival barker and the guy who calls the Kentucky Derby. And wool was flying everywhere. It appeared that whoever sheared ten sheep first, won. The Kiwi who finished first sheared his ten in less than 20 minutes, which seemed pretty fast to me.

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What was interesting was watching the wool-gatherers — almost all women and no slouches — as they scurried around gathering up the shorn wool, sorting it in a mad frenzy of whirling arms into different baskets, or swiftly sweeping up those pesky remnants of wool balls all over the floor. I later found out that the wool-gatherers are also judged as to how well they sort the wool. Apparently you have to put the belly wool in one basket, armpit wool in another, dirty, backside wool in yet another. (OK, I’m probably exaggerating a bit here, but not much. there really are standards and rules for wool sorting.) In fact, there are a whole host of shearing rules that must be adhered to; an infraction leads to added points, and, as in golf, the less points you accrue, the better you are.

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Needless to say, the Kiwis won. The two Men in Black will advance to the National Sheep Shearing Competition.

On to the Catlins

Having amused ourselves with the shearing competition, we set off again for The Catlins, a scenic stretch of southeastern NZ coastline with peaks and bays, blowholes and rocks waiting to cause a shipwreck. Absolutely breathtaking.

IMG_9025_Roaring Bay, south of Nugget Point, Catlins

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IMG_9040_Taurakapanui Falls

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Onward to Otago Peninsula

We spent three delightful days exploring the Otago Peninsula in the southeast of NZ’s South Island, east of the city of Dunedin. The scenery was stunning, which we eagerly explored, but the real draw for us was the wildlife.

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I mentioned in the beginning the Royal Albatross Colony on Taiaroa Head, at the tip of the Peninsula. We hiked to the top of the RAC’s land to observe nesting albatrosses. The staff at the center take seriously their mission to protect this magnificent birds and assist in their breeding. On hot days such as the day we visited, rangers turn on sprinklers planted at intervals among the nests to give the laying birds a cooling mist.

The Royal Albatross is second only to the Wandering Albatross in wingspan; the RA  runs an average of a 3 m. span (9.8+ ft.). They generally lay an egg every other year; the juvenile albatross leaves the home territory at about age 9-12 months, and stays aloft at sea for five years before returning to the natal home. The juniors usually are usually about 7+ years old before they find a mate and begin to reproduce. A combination of their late breeding and the devastation in numbers during the 19th-20th c. keep their numbers sufficiently low to be considered vulnerable.

IMG_9172_Blue Penguins, Otago Peninsula

My favorite of the wildlife we observed were the Blue Penguins, the smallest of the 17 penguin species. Previously we had seen up close a molting Blue in Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, east of Christ Church, and, observed in Omaru the penguins’ ritual nighttime “parade” as they waddled ashore from a long day’s hunting out in the ocean. Otago is the only place in NZ where people are allowed to photograph these extremely shy birds, and only without use of flash.

IMG_8738_Molting blue penguin in nestig box

IMG_9202_Little Shag or cormarants, Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula

IMG_9257_Yellow Eyed Penguin coming in to shore in late afternoon, Otago Peninsula

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One other form of critter caught our attention, but not out in the wild but at the Otago Museum’s Discovery World Tropical Forest, a multi-story tropical rain forest biosphere full of butterflies and moths from around the world. I became a bit attached to them myself.

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IMG_9364_Paper Kite from SE Asia

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Running Around Sydney & Her Lights

April 1, 2016 by  

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Sydney Harbor without a doubt defines the city of Sydney, Australia.Distinguishing landmarks such as the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge simply help define this long, magnificent stretch of water. As symbolic as the Opera House is to the city, if it were not located on the harbor, much of its unique beauty would be diminished. Strong words, yes, but now having spent nearly 2 weeks in Sydney — much of it on or next to the harbor — I feel able to stake this opinion. Three factors brought me into the fold of devoted Sydney fans: the Opera House, the James Craig, an 1840 barque of the Sydney Heritage Fleet & the Maritime Museum, and the city’s harbor fleet.

Sydney operates a fleet of vessels from catamarans to refurbished tugs that are the harbor contingent of the city’s transportation system. The city is spread across the northern and southern shores for about 40 kilometers from the headlands on the Tasman Sea to where the Paramatta River empties into the harbor in the west, the ferry system is a complex web which is thoroughly enjoyable to travel upon. We spent many hours traversing the harbor on the ferry system, a very enjoyable and relaxing mode of transportation that shows off the harbor’s treasures.

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Sydney Opera House — simply none other like it.

View a picture of Jorn Utzon’s innovative Opera House and you immediately recognize the setting as Sydney, Australia.

The Sydney Opera House has become as iconic to Sydney as the Eiffel tower is to Paris. What most people do not realize, is that the Sydney Opera House came close to never being built.

For starters, Utzon’s simple schematic – he didn’t submit architectural drawings – initially didn’t come close to making the short list. When a fourth person, belatedly, was added to the original design committee, he insisted on reviewing all the submissions. Spotting Utzon’s design, he pulled it from the rejection pile and requested a second review.

And just like that, Utzon shot from obscurity as a minor Danish architect to front page news.

The road from acceptance of a basic line drawing to a finished, functioning arts venue was neither easy nor pleasant. While the construction followed Utzon’s original design, the interior was designed and made functional by other architects and engineers. “Professional disagreements,” or squabbles between design committee, architect(s), engineers, and others; massive cost overruns; hash-slinging in the media; led to withholding of funding and even project termination due to a change in government. The wrangling between Utzon, the engineers and other architects, and the project’s various powerful backers became so inflamed that Utzon left Australia in 1966, washing his hands of the entire process, never to return during his lifetime to see the completion of his greatest work

Nonetheless, the political issues, the architectural and engineering snafus and even the funding were smoothed out sufficiently for the Opera House to be completed and open its doors in 1973 – 14 years after construction began. The project at completion was also severely in the red. The solution? A national lottery. Over several years the special lottery raised over $105 million – debt paid. Even the feud between Utzon and Sydney was resolved 1999. Although invited back to Sydney to see “his” opera house, Utzon was unable to return to Australia due to fragile health in his declining years. However, his son, also an architect, has continued to work with the city — with Jorn’s participation before his death in 2008 – to lay out Design Principles to govern future  renovations or modifications to the facility.

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The exterior tiles of the Opera House are multi-layered ceramic of slightly different shades of both glossy and matte white, designed to radiantly reflect ambient light both day and night.

The third aspect that made Sydney special to us was the Australian National Maritime Museum and, specifically, our day cruise on the James Craig, a renovated 1840 square sailed merchant barque on loan to the museum. Rescued from a slow, rusting death in Tasmania, the ship was restored over a 20+ year period and is part of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. Usually a replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavor occupies this berth at the museum, but she was on exhibit elsewhere in Australia at the time of our visit. The James Craig  is the only known 19th century merchant vessel still afloat, under sail, and taking on passengers on cruises. We were lucky enough to do so.

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The James Craig as seen from the Maritime Museum’s 1920 lighthouse relocated from Queensland, Australia.

We spent nearly 5 hours touring the historic lighthouse and several retired commercial and naval vessels. When we were informed that a special cruise on the  James Craig was scheduled for the next day, we signed on. Guests could participate as they wished in the manning of the ship, and many of us did, from hauling on lines to raise or lower sails, or determining speed the old fashioned way with a knotted rope and wood plank, and ringing the hours on the ship’s bell (my forte). With perfect weather, the day was exceptional.

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Michael and other volunteers readying to haul on a line to raise some sheets (sails).

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Square-rigged sails lowered by the volunteer crew as we sailed into harbor.

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Just a pretty shot I wanted to include.

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As we returned to Sydney from the headlands of the harbor, it seemed that every boat in the region was taking advantage of the perfect weather and wind conditions to have a sail.

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Crew hauling in the sails and rigging.

And end to a perfect day — perfect two weeks — in Sydney. The James Craig battened down for the night.

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The James Craig at dock for the night.

 

New Zealand Nature at its Best: Meet Doubtful Sound & Mt. Cook

March 18, 2016 by  

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Mt. Cook, known also by its Maori name, Aoraki, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3754 meters. New Zealand is a small country yet chock-filled with natural beauty everywhere you look. It’s difficult to name any particular site as my favorite — and I certainly haven’t seen every square meter of NZ — but I’ve settled on two: Aoraki, also known as Mt. Cook, and Doubtful Sound, both on the South Island.

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

We spent three days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, hiking, sightseeing, and taking a thousand pictures. Aoraki absolutely captivated both of us. There are certain places in the world that capture the soul of everyone regardless of their background or beliefs. I believe Mt. Aoraki is one of them. The Maori name, Aoraki, means “cloud piercer,” and for centuries has been a sacred spot for Maoris. The great mountain certainly emits a form of raw splendor and an irresistible pull for people, regardless of whether they aim to climb it or simply bask in its beauty.

Aoraki is not a simple mountain to summit. Mountaineers deem it a highly technica, difficult climb. Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed Aoraki in January, 1948 and was part of the first team to scale the South Face of Aoraki a month later. Hillary prepared for the first succcesssful Everest ascent of 1953 by climbing Aoraki and other South Island Mountains.

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Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary as he was on the successful Everest ascent in 1953. It stands on the deck of the Hermitage Hotel in AorakiMt. Cook Village within the national park.

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Aoraki as seen from the foot of the Hillary statue. The weather often blows from the west and the Tasman Sea, often causing rapid and extreme weather conditions. Upwards of 70 climbers a year are rescued from the heights of Aoraki.

We hiked several trails (or parts thereof) in the park. One of the most popular is Hooker Valley Track, which winds past the Hooker Glacier and Lake Mueller in its initial stages.

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Hooker Glacier with Lake Mueller in the foreground.

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The left peak is Mt. Sefton; at far right is The Footstool.

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A huge moraine wall from the Mueller and Hooker glaciers. Mt. Aoraki stands in the background.

IMG_9938_Lake Tasman with glacier remnants, kayaks

Milky Tasman Lake at the foot of the Tasman Glacier, the longest in NZ. We tried for 3 days to go kayaking on this lake but the excursion was cancelled each day due to high winds.

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Aoraki as seen from Lake Tasman; this is the eastern face, from which it is easier to see the triple peaks of the mountain.

Aoraki is 3754 meters high, 10 meters shorter than it was 25 years ago. In 1991 a massive avalanche — a common occurrence on the mountain — shaved 10 meters off the mountain top and caused such a rumble that the slide caused a 3.9 earthquake.

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Our last look at Aoraki before heading to the Christchurch airport and Australia.

Doubtful Sound

Most tourists traveling to New Zealand’s Fjordland opt to take a 2-3 hour boat ride on Milford Sound, one of the dozens of fjords carved into the southwestern coast. We preferred to take an overnight cruise on a less-sailed fjord, Doubtful Sound. Deep Cove Charters, with whom we booked, carried no more than 12 passengers on its boat — a far cry from some of the fjord cruisers which have upwards of 100 people on their day trips. Our decision turned out to be a marvelous one. From the moment we departed the dock in Manapouri, we were on an adventure in a natural wonderland.

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Dusk on Lake Manapouri — easily one of my favorite lakes in New Zealand.

Getting to Doubtful Sound was a bit more complicated than hopping a tourist bus. We took a 1-hr. boat ride across Manapouri, then the boat captain picked us up and drove us to the far side of these mountains, where we picked up the boat on Doubtful Sound. The extra travel was well worth it.

IMG_9627_First glimpse of Doubtful Sound. Waterfall is in background right of center.

First look at Doubtful Sound from the top of the mountains’ pass.

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Another boat on the Sound — just to give some perspective.

After getting settled, the first order of business was lunch, fresh-caught lobster (or crawfish, as the Kiwis call it). And then the adventure began. The variety of landscape and wildlife within the Sound was amazing: penguins, dolphins, fish (and sharks), fur seals, albatross and seagulls, and waterfalls cascading off the steep slopes everywhere you looked. It didn’t matter too much that our two days’ were cloudy and ended in a light drizzle — the fjord was delightful.

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Crested Fjordland penguins.

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This penguin steadfastly held his ground despite gawking kayakers and boaters.

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Most of the passengers went fishing off the stern. For the most part, we caught perch, sea bass, and a few blue cod. One guy reeled in this 4-ft. school shark. The captain earned a lot of gold stars from me for hauling it on board to remove the hook (despite some very sharp, triangular teeth) and returning it to the fjord.

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A Buller’s Albatross. Several of these birds as well as some Stewart Island albatrosses followed our boat. The captain used some of the smaller perch we caught to toss to the birds, so we had an ample entourage of seabirds.

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A Buller’s in flight.

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A sleek-winged Stewart Island albatross in flight.

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A squawking Buller’s comes in for landing and free fish.

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The captain and mate pulled some set lobster traps. In one trap, an octopus showed up with the lobsters. When tipped out of the trap it rapidly crawled across the deck to the nearest scupper and disappeared overboard. We dined that night on fresh-caught fish and had some of these lobsters the next day for lunch. Lobster twice in 24 hours!

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Three adolescent pups were part of a huge colony of New Zealand fur seals near the mouth of the Sound.

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And so we said goodbye to Doubtful Sound, just one of the incredible sights in New Zealand.

Quirky Things Only Found in New Zealand

February 29, 2016 by  

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Part of the fun of traveling is to learn about new cultures and people. Learning a bit about the language, customs and peculiarities of a country adds to your understanding and appreciation. For the last five weeks we’ve combed the North & South Islands of New Zealand, and have come to love the country, its natural bounty, and, yes, those quirky New Zealanders. Except…they’re not called “New Zealanders,” but “Kiwis.” And this is where learning the ins and outs of New Zealand (also known as “En Zed” for “NZ”) becomes a challenge.
And that’s because a NZ’er person is a Kiwi…
whereas a kiwi is the national bird, despite being flightless, short-sighted, very shy, and on the edge of extinction:
There are two other kiwis, just to be confusing, but both are inanimate: There is the kiwi fruit, which, just to be clear, didn’t originate in New Zealand but in China, but nevertheless New Zealand is now a major producer of the fruit:
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And, there is the Kiwi Shoe Polish which was invented by an Australian who chose the kiwi (with a small “k”) bird as the name and logo of the polish to honor his New Zealand-born wife who was, of course, a Kiwi with a capital “K”.
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It is safe to say that Kiwis (the people) take kiwis (birds, fruit,  the polish and the kitchen sink) seriously.

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Chocolate kiwis for Easter.

But to return to the heart of our discoveries, Kiwis have a great sense of humor as well as practicality which result in surprising discoveries along the way — as well as colorful “Kiwi speak.” Such as finding a picture of Dino the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur displayed in an exhibit on earthquake monitoring in the Auckland Museum.

IMG_8200_Dino at a volcanic monitoring site, White Island

No one knows the identity of the prankster who left “Dino” next to the earthquake monitoring device & webcam. Schoolchildren all over New Zealand have enjoyed Dino’s own website which “reports” on geothermal activity at his new home on White Island.

The scientists found this amusing enough to leave Dino there and have used film footage from the web cam — and Dino — in educating school children about earthquake monitoring and geothermal activity.

Despite the frequent disruption of earthquakes and eruptions, Kiwis manage to accomplish quite a number of things: a Kiwi, Edmund Hillary, was the first man to summit Mt. Everest, Kiwis are acclaimed in the arts (Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fame), in the sciences eminent physicist Ernest Rutherford won the 1908 Nobel prize in chemistry (among other accomplishments he discovered radon and the first to split an atom); and sports — need we say more? The New Zealand All Blacks have ruled world rugby for decades. Maybe it’s their Maori haka (war dance) that scares the bejesus out of their opponents:

New Zealand’s world champion All Blacks performing their haka or Maori war dance before each game. As in war, this particular haka is supposed to terrify and immobilize their opponents.

And, Kiwis grow a whole lot of sweet potatoes, known collectively in NZ as kumara. There are so many kumara grown, especially on the North Island, that one small town, Dargaville, claims the honor of “New Zealand’s Kumara Capital.”

Kūmara capitalDargaville won the bragging rights for this title. Close to a dozen varieties of kumara are grown in the area; most varieties were developed in NZ.

Not to be outdone by such namby pamby fellow Kiwis, A.J. Hackett popularized the modern form of bungy jumping by performing the first bungy jump of the Auckland Harbor bridge in 1986. (A form of bungy jumping had been a ceremonial activity among Vanuatu men for centuries. However, in that traditional sport, the men had to strike the ground with their heads; he who lived, won. Hackett must have realized smacking clients’ heads on the ground from 100 meters up wasn’t good for his insurance premiums.) Bungy jumping is now a national past time in New Zealand, with intrepid souls leaping off all kinds of towering edifices, from the Sky Tower in Auckland and just about any bridge, building or ledge high enough to give one a thrill.

Bungy jumping off a mountain in Queenstown.

The surprises just kept coming with this country. A couple of British tourists we met on a wine tour encouraged us to use the public toilets in Kawakawa (North Island), and here’s why:

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Entrance to the public toilets in Kawakawa. The Austrian artist and environmental activist Friedenreich Hundertwasser, who relocated to NZ after WWII, decorated his adoptive town’s toilet facilities using recycled materials.

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Kawakawa now attracts a huge number of visitors just because of their colorful public (and free) toilet facilities.

Two other local sights deserve honorable mention:

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Chocolate kiwi birds on sale for Easter.

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The Silo Hotel in Little River, near Christchurch, South Island. Note the little balconies added to the sides of the silos and the bicycle motif.  And now for charming linguistic oddities. New Zealanders are unfailingly polite, so we didn’t learn any off-color phrases, but there are several colorful terms we came across:

Chilly bin — a cooler. (My absolute favorite Kiwi term!) AND the long drop — outhouse. Speaks for itself.

Flash — fancy, splashy, and not in an approved way. Then there’s Panel beaters — car body shop, a butty — a sausage roll, that delicious, irresistible, greasy sausage in pastry with cardiac-arresting amounts of fat and cholesterol. Can’t pass them up!

Then there’s a bach — pronounced “batch,” is a holiday cottage or dwelling fairly small and rustic. Probably comes from the longer term, “bachelor’s quarters.”

And of course Jandals — usually denotes flip flops but can also include other types of plastic sandals. The term originated in the late ’50s in NZ. Although there are competing claims as to who coined the term, all agree it’s a distillation of “Japanese sandals,” the phrase used for zoris in Japan. As a measure of how popular these flip flops are, New Zealand has “National Jandal Day.” Seriously. (And, seriously, the purpose of this unofficial national day is to raise money for coastal lifeguards & lifesaving training.)

And for the absolutely most tone-twisting word I’ve come across in 5 weeks in NZ, the Maori name of a small (305 meters high) hill on the North Island, aumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikmaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

But don’t ask how to pronounce it!

Exploring the World of Birds in New Zealand

February 28, 2016 by  

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Kiwi bird genome sequenced

New Zealand’s national bird, the Kiwi. Of the five extant species of this flightless bird, all are threatened to a degree and one species, the great white spotted kiwi, is severely endangered. Courtesy of kiwibird.org.

New Zealand is facing a crisis: without swift, radical measures for predator control, many bird species will be drastically reduced if not eradicated. The culprits: all are invasive species introduced by human inhabitants. Rats, stoats, brush-tail possums (not to be confused with the North American opossum), weasels, feral cats and dogs are the primary culprits.

Why there is such a problem with bird predation has a lot to do with how New Zealand has geologically and zoologically developed over the millennium, and with mankind itself.

  • The land forms which now make up the North and South Islands of New Zealand separated from the super-large Austro-Asian continent over 80 million years ago, leaving the island geographically isolated from other land masses.
  • There are no native land mammals to the islands other than bats. Thus, there are no large predators.
  • New Zealand has no snakes and no poisonous animals.
Maori hunters  posed with a facsimile of a moa to give perspective on size.

  • Birds were the most abundant fauna, with many avians becoming highly specialized. Two examples are the now extinct giant Moa, a super-large, ostrich like bird, and, the ground-dwelling kiwis, which range in size from a small turkey to a small hen. (The kiwi is also New Zealand’s national bird.) Over the millennia, both species became flightless with vestigial wings, most likely because they no longer had predators and therefore no longer needed flight as an escape defense.
  • The first human inhabitants, the Maori, arrived on the islands about 700+ years ago; Anglo-Europeans about 250 years ago. Both brought non-native animals with them: the Maori brought rats and dogs, the Anglos introduced many more invasive species.
  • Most of these non-native mammals were introduced with good but short-sighted intentions, but with present-day catastrophic results in this small island nation: with no larger animals as natural predators, stoats, rats, possums, ferrets and weasels are killing off New Zealand bird species at astonishing rates, some by eating eggs and chicks, the larger animals such as stoats and possums, killing adult birds.
The NZ Dept. of Conservation has listed the stoat as the country’s  Public Enemy #1 for bird predation.

The brush-tail possum was introduced from its native Australia into NZ to establish a fur trade. The marsupial has wreaked havoc among the bird population, and is thus a close second to the stoat as the major threat to many bird species. Courtesy of csse.monash.edu.au.

The “Battle for our Birds”

The Department of Conservation has embarked on a nation-wide campaign, “Battle for our Birds,” through predator control with intensified trapping as well as aerial applications of a biodegradable toxin of DOC lands, primarily in the lesser populated South Island. Additionally, many local governments and private conservation organizations have taken steps locally to reduce predator populations, especially rats, stoats and possums.

In the last two weeks we visited a few localities where bird conservation has become a serious mission. For the most part, these local efforts have a multi-step approach:

  • Eradicate the predators.
  • Restore native trees and other vegetation to attract and sustain native birds.
  • Where necessary, re-introduce native birds to the wild in protected areas, and if this is not possible, to establish sanctuaries. In this last instance, it may be necessary for sanctuaries to use intense mesh fencing or other means to prevent predator invasion, to continue to trap predators that do invade, and, to supplement the diet of birds within the sanctuaries. This last is especially true if the sanctuary is caring long-term for injured or older birds that cannot be re-introduced into the wild.

We visited a few bird sanctuary areas in the Bay of Islands, the Otorohanga Kiwi House in the mid-North Island, and Zealandia in Wellington. All were different in their approach but had the common goal of eradicating the predators and saving New Zealand’s native bird populations.

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A colorful rendition of a feeding kiwi on the outskirts of Otorohanga, advertising their Kiwi House sanctuary for New Zealand birds, featuring, of course, the kiwi.

Below is a photo array of some of New Zealand’s birds. Enjoy!

The great spotted kiwi is the largest of the five species of kiwi native only to NZ. The Kiwi House holds 2 of the 3 only to be held in captivity. The bird is the size of a small turkey, highly territorial and aggressive, but numbers no more than about 15,000 in the wild. The spotted great kiwi is considered highly vulnerable. Courtesy of  Dept. of Conservation, NZ.

The brown kiwi is the most common of the five species in NZ yet still considered vulnerable. Like all kiwi, it has poor eyesight but good hearing and an excellent sense of smell. Most unusually for birds, kiwi have external nostrils at the end of its long, curved beak. The beak is used to probe the ground for submerged insects, and the nostrils help locate the prey.

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The kaka is a large, forest-dwelling parrot indigenous to NZ. It is highly vulnerable to endangered in the wild. The kaka is an extremely smart bird whose intelligence is compared to that of the great apes. Photo by Carol Rolnick at Zealandia.

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The kea is a large, alpine parrot. Insatiably curious and “cheeky,” the kea likes to investigate backpacks and open car windows, often shredding packs and upholstery to bits with its sharp beak and talons. Photo by Carol Rolnick at the Kiwi House.

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A red-crested kakariki, a small parrot. Photo by Carol Rolnick at the Kiwi House.

IMG_8634_Takahe, highoy  called Terminator 2

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A kereru, or native NZ pigeon, is far larger than the average pigeon. Photo by Carol Rolnick at the Kiwi House.

The tui bird, a very colorful and talkative bird. Its most easily distinguished charactereistic is the white “ruff” or clutch of feathers at the throat. Courtesy of tuiscope.co.nz.

Anothere tui bird. From pinterest.com.

The hihi bird, characterized by its up-tilted tail. Courtesy of Heather Arthur from pinterest.com.

That’s all  folks — for now!

 

New Zealand’s Mt. Ruapehu, the Highest Mountain on North Island

February 27, 2016 by  

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Mounts Tongiriro & Ngaruhoe loom over Lake Taupo. Mt. Ruapehu (below) is the third active volcano overlooking the lake.

IMG_8472_ Mt. Ruapehu, the highest mountain on the North Island

Mt. Ruapehu, the highest mountain on New Zealand’s North Island. The multi-crested volcano holds snow on its peaks year round.

Lake Taupo sits astride New Zealand’s most active geothermal area. That’s inferring quite a bit of geothermal “activity” considering New Zealand is a land of earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, boiling mud holes, and steaming pools and vents. In fact, Lake Taupo is the caldera of extinct Mt. Oruanui which, when it last erupted 26,500 years ago, was the largest volcanic eruption ever. One guide states, Oruanui made Krakatoa “look like a pimple.” In its last explosion in 180 AD, red skies resulting from the sheer volume of ejected volcanic ash were noted in both Rome and China.

The Waikato River, NZ’s longest, flows from Lake Taupo (pronounced “toe-paw”). One of the first gorges the river winds through produces the magnificent Huka Falls, a stunnning turquoise 10 meter blue cascade that surges through the narrow chasm at a rate of 200,000 liters per second.

IMG_8451_Huka Falls, Taupo

Huka Falls flows through this narrow gorge at 200,000 liters of water per second.

IMG_8453_Looking down Huka Falls

Looking down river through the narrow gorge forming the bottleneck creating Huka Falls.

IMG_8460_200,00 l. per second flows through the falls' gorge

The brilliant color is a combination of glacier melt and sediment from pumice stone.

We spent a day in Tongoriro National Park, New Zealand’s first national park, and named after the multi-coned volcano of the same name. Mt. Tongoriro (1967 m.) is an active volcano which blasted away (more like volcanic spurts — nothing to sneeze at) in 2012. Neighboring, single-coned Mt. Ngauruhoe (2297 m.) which erupted 45 times in the 20th century, most recently in 1974-5 for 11 months continuously. The volcano is most famous, however, as “Mt. Doom” in Kiwi native Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. the tallest of this volcanic trio is Mt. Ruapehu (2797 m.), one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Ruapehu last burped in 1973, but is most famous for its disastrous eruption on Christmas Eve, 1953, when the volcano blew, causing a massive lahar (volcanic mud flow) down; its sides, sweeping away all in its path, including a railway bridge. Moments later a passenger train unable to stop, flew off the mountain side into a river gorge below, killing 153 holidaymakers on board.

Testing our luck and the fates, we decided to ride the chair lift up Mt. Ruapehu:

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The lower level chair lift ascending Mt. Ruapehu. The mountain side below is strewn with scoira, or volcanic lava rock. The multiple volcanic cones of the mountain loom above.

IMG_8498Mt. Doom & tongiriro

Impressive views of Mt. Doom in the foreground, and Mt. Tongoriro, behind.

There is a spectacular Crater Lake further up Mt. Ruapehu, but we were unable to make the 3-4 hour hike up from the last chair lift stop on the mountain. We spent the day walking or driving around various parts of the park, taking shorter hikes. No matter the angle, the views of these three volcanoes is stunning. As we were leaving, I spied a stream of steam rising from one of the flanks of Mt. Ruapehu:

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Yup — Mt. Ruapehu is still kicking — and steaming. I viewed this as a farewell venting from the volcano, just letting us know we were lucky that day!

 

Back at Lake Taupo, we visited the Aratiatia hydroelectric dam and gorge. The dam holds back the mighty Waikato River to cull some of its hydro power into electricity for the region. Because of the sheer volume of water, the engineers open the sluice gates several times a day, creating brief but powerful waterfalls and surges, filling the rocky gorge below the dam with spectacular rapids for several minutes before closing the gates again.

IMG_8515_Aratiatia Dam on the Waikato River

The sluice gates at the Aratitia Dam before opening.

IMG_8516_empty gorge & pool below the dam

The rocky gorge beyond the dam. Note how the gorge looks impassable due to the numerous, tall rocks.

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About 10 minutes since the gates were opened, the rising water has come partway up the gorge.

IMG_8528_10 min. into the dam's release, the seemingly impassable rock-filled gorge is mostly underwataer

The gorge is nearly full, and the river’s surge is still flowing.

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The gorge is nearly filled….

IMG_8536_The waters receding as the gorge discharges its pent up water to below where the river widens

About 15 minutes after the gates opened, the gorge has filled and begun to empty again.

IMG_8541_About 20 minutes after the dam gates open, the grge has filled and re-emptied to close to its rockiest

Twenty minutes later, the waters have almost entirely receded, only to start the cycle again in another hour or so.

The highly active geothermal zone on the North Island runs from the Lake Taupo area northwest through Rotorua to White Island off shore in the Bay of Plenty. We chose to stay in the Lake Taupo area for several days because of the sheer beauty of the lake and mountains. We paid a nominal visit to Rotorua, the “hot spot” of the North Island, just to check it out. Broadly commercialized and lacking any interest for us, we walked around the town a bit, just to see some of the vents and mud pits, then left. However, there are a number of geothermal “parks” (read natural geysers, vents, mud pools, etc.) which are available for tourists to visit; most have some sort of “draw,” such as “cultural” event featuring a Maori haka (dance) or hangi (traditional feast) to supplement the natural, geothermal sights. Just a sample of what we saw in Rotorua:

IMG_8541_About 20 minutes after the dam gates open, the grge has filled and re-emptied to close to its rockiest

IMG_8544_Boiling mud pool in Rotarua

Boiling mud hole in Rotorua.

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Steam rising from a thermal pool.

The Taupo region is filled with spectacular scenery and great geothermal activity. The area is considered highly unstable because of this geothermal zone, but, so is the rest of the country. New Zealand takes these threats seriously: museums in both Auckland and Wellington have extensive exhibits educating people about the causes and effects of this underlying geothermal activity. Each had “interactive” exhibits demonstration the sights, sounds and feels of a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. Visitor centers and restrooms in the Taupo area displayed posters of what to do if an eruption occurred.

The dangers of living in New Zealand are real. Christchurch, on the South Island, suffered two major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the latter of which caused massive destruction and killed 185 people. Of the 2500 commercial buildings then in Christchurch, about 1700 either were destroyed in the 2011 quake or subsequently torn down due to the accumulate3d structural instability. The severity of the first earthquake in 2010 substantially contributed to the structural collapse and loss of life in the second, 2011 earthquake. The city still, five years later, has unbuilt-upon city blocks a”buildings.”

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Five years after two earthquakes in 6 months, Christchurch still has many empty lots where buildings once stood.

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The Anglican Cathedral remains boarded up as the city decides whether to try to save the structure or tear it down.

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The Catholic church has only recently decided to rebuild its cathedral.

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Shipping contI

On February 15 — just one day after we left Christchurch — the already traumatized city suffered a 5.7 earthquake. Thankfully, no one died (although several were injured) primarily because the quake hit 15 km east of the city and on a beautiful Sunday when people were out of offices and homes. Nevertheless, the earthquake was powerful and violent enough to cause nearby cliffs to collapse.

The constant threat and occurrences of such natural disasters obviously hasn’t caused most Kiwis to leave their homes nor prevented tourists such as ourselves from visiting the region. For us, the beauty far surpasses the risk — for now. But these quakes and shakes of the land remind us that natural beauty also comes with nature’s cost.

Exploring the Best of Auckland New Zealand

February 18, 2016 by  

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Auckland from the harbor: the Sky Tower soars over all other buildings.

Three important tidbits of information from our driver pierced my jet lag fog as we shuttled into Auckland, New Zealand: (1) Auckland was founded by British so “everyone drove on the left side, so you Yanks watch out;” (2) Auckland was having a heat wave with unusually hot and humid weather (we later scoffed at their definition of humidity – and got royally sunburned in retribution); and, (3) Auckland sat on over 50 volcanoes, many of them active. Five wonderful but searing hot days later we left Auckland sunburned and alive despite constantly forgetting cars came at you from the right, and, with thanks to the still-quiet volcanoes.

The entire country of New Zealand has about 4.5 million people, one third of whom live in Auckland. The city is beautiful, incredibly clean and well organized, with a compact central business district bracketed by miles of waterfront and quaint suburbs perched on volcanic hillsides. The sprawling city straddles the narrowest strip of New Zealand, spreading between Manukau Harbor & the Tasman Sea on the western side, and at the core of the city, the eastern Hauraki Gulf leading to the Pacific.

IMG_8147_Rangitoto -- if anything will blow soon, this volcano will

Rangitoto Island, one of Auckland’s youngest volcanoes. It last erupted 650 years ago. Volcanologists predict if any of Auckland’s 50+ volcanoes will blow soon rather than later, it will be Rangitoto.

Self-appointed the sailing capital of the world, Auckland bristles everywhere with masts of Sali boats and yachts as well as “stinkpots,” a sailor’s term for motorized vessels. If the sea and island vistas don’t convince you, the thousands of sailboats, yachts, ferries, freighters – and more – will make the point: Auckland is entwined with the seas for livelihood, life and pleasure. They even have freighters that haul yachts to Auckland from around the world:

IMG_8121_Yacht Transport Frieghter

This freighter was carrying over a dozen yachts topside. No way of knowing how many were below decks.

Boats and ships were everywhere. Even if not on the water:

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A mixed-purpose structure built in a ship’s form. So very Kiwi!

The central business district (CBD) is very walkable, and you get quite a workout from all the volcanic hills once headed away from the harbor. The sea-to-city theme is always with you, whether in a museum viewing Maori culture displays of wakas (canoes) or pakeha (white Anglo-Europeans) sailing craft, or huffing at the top of Mt. Eden or other high points, marveling at the spectacular city-on-the-water views. And then there’s the Fish Market, where we bought fixings for most of our dinners in Auckland. Smoked broadbill (a large swordfish) is exceptionally tasty.

IMG_8128_Sky Tower at night

The Sky Tower glows with an evolving light show at night.

Another must-see landmark is the Sky Tower, which soars above its neighbors in the Auckland sky line. The Tower is where the more intrepid go bungy jumping, while the less courageous go on a tethered sky walk around a wide “lip” of the tower – still way high up there — while the true cowards among us go up the elevator to enjoy the views… Kiwis pride themselves on having a multitude of “adventure sports,” and claim that bungy jumping began in New Zealand.

Side bar: The original tethered jumping began as a rite of passage on Pentecost Island in Polynesian Vanuatu. A few centuries later, an extreme sports group in Oxford, UK, began the modern “sport” of bungy jumping. An enterprising Kiwi called A.J. Hackett saw a video by this group and developed his own harness rig to bungy jump off the Auckland Harbor Bridge. He subsequently bungeed off various high spots around the world, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He set up the first commercial bungy jumping business in Queenstown, NZ, which continues to claim (erroneously) to be the birthplace of bungy jumping.

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View from the Sky Tower: Far in the distance above the center is the Auckland Harbor Bridge, location of the first “commercial” bungy jump.

Back to sea level: Various signs in Auckland and even the two-story wall of one building detailed the history of New Zealand’s attempts and wins in the vastly popular America’s Cup races. The last 40 years’ history of this yacht race reads like a schoolboy’s tale of bullies in the sandbox, except these guys take each other to court. (National origin of these pugilistic, filthy rich yacht owners doesn’t matter – they all act like spoiled brats when vying for an advantage in the races.) Yet tiny New Zealand has managed to haul in the trophy a number of times. Just as a point of history (I’ll be brief), the trophy is called the “America’s Cup” not because the U.S. has won it more times than any other participating country (which it has), but because the boat that won the initial, British sponsored race in 1851 was called “America.”

The Maritime Museum carries on with the nautical theme, and it’s one of the best such museums I’ve ever experienced. Multiple buildings house various ingenious watercraft from early Polynesians to 19th-20th century vessels used by Anglo-Europeans. Partial replicas of famous racing yachts, among them Peter Blake’s controversial Black Magic, which swept the 1995 America’s Cup, are displayed; the reason for the partial displays, such as half the massive hull of Black Magic, is due to size and space considerations within the museum.

One clever interactive exhibits coached you on how to design your own ocean-racing yacht. Michael tried his hand at racing yacht design. Warning signs kept flashing at him saying, “Your boat is very stable but isn’t going to win a race any time soon.” So he’d extend the sail height and narrow the hull, and kept getting told his boat wasn’t a winner, until….

IMG_8207_Dunked and sunk

Whoops. A bit top heavy. Capsized.

In other words, don’t quit your day job.

Auckland has much to offer, and, despite spending five days there, we only scratched the surface. I haven’t given justice to the city, as I’ve focused on a maritime theme, which is my interest and inclination. There is far more to see than I’ve written here. Hats off to Auckland – a fabulous introduction to New Zealand!

IMG_8168_sunset over Auckland from Sky Tower

Sunset from the Sky Tower.

And on the way to our next stop, I noticed a sign saying, “Dutch Deli” and we just had to stop:

IMG_8212_Dutch Deli in mountain town

Ahhh…real Dutch cheese. We were in heaven.

It turns out that after WWII, Dutch comprised a huge number of immigrants to New Zealand, so Dutch cheese and other products aren’t as out of place as you’d think. Lucky for us!

 

 

New Zealand Boasts the World’s Oldest Hip Hop Crew

February 17, 2016 by  

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 Photo credit: http://www.hipop-eration.com.

Meet the Hipop-eration Dance Group of Wiaheke Island in Auckland, New Zealand.Their average age is 79. The oldest performer is 96. One person is on a walker. One person is legally blind, a couple others are partially deaf. Some of them have dementia. Several more have had joint replacements.  All of them have arthritis. Each has a stage name, along the lines of “Boom Boom,” “Two Cents,” “Mystic Diva,” and “Shameless Sheila.” Their creed is that if any one of them dies during a performance, the others will “step over their mate” and keep right on dancing. The show, of course, must go on.

And do they put on a show! They are the “Hipop-eration,” world-renowned hip hop dancers from Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. No lie. This energetic motley crew of mostly octogenarians has performed internationally, including at the 2013 International Hip Hop Competition in Las Vegas.

Where and how did these dancing geriatrics get their beginning? And why hip hop?

We first heard of this amazing troupe while on a wine tour of Waiheke Island. Our enthusiastic driver-guide and island native first waxed on about Waiheke’s reputation for boutique vineyards, then segued into such an intriguing story about “the World’s Oldest Dance Group” that we had to learn more.

The Story: After surviving a devastating earthquake in Christchurch 2011, Billie Jordan found herself asking, “If I’d died in the quake, could I say I had really lived life to the fullest?” Her self-assessment emphatically concluded, ”No!” She relocated from Christchurch to Waiheke Island, on the eastern fringe of Auckland harbor basin, an idyllic, laid-back island full of aging hippies and wine-growers.

Looking around for something meaningful to do, Billie noticed that many of the aging residents seemed to lack purpose and any form of activity, so she began the Wiaheke Island dance group with initial intentions of staging “flash mob” performances to promote fitness in seniors. Why hip hop? “Why not?” Billie retorts during a TED talk about Hipop-eration.

Billie told the group, “Whether you believe it or like it or not, in 8 months you will be competing at the international hip hop competition.” Their local performances swiftly morphed into “the world’s oldest” hip hop dance group with fans and shows all over New Zealand. They did believe, and in less than a year from their flash mob beginnings, they did perform at the 2013 world hip hop championship in Las Vegas. The World’s Oldest Dance Group may not have won the overall competition, but they sure brought down the house. I doubt Vegas will ever be the same again. Hip hop certainly won’t!

Lecture by group founder, Billie Jordan: www.TEDxAuckland.com

 

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