Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Silly Signs Ten: The NZ Edition

New Zealand is celebrated for a lot of awesome stuff: amazing marine life, unusual birds, delicious food, friendly people, and stunning landscapes. But you know what? Somebody needs to recognize that that country has some of the most epic signs in the world. For your consideration:
The world's most awesome animal crossing
Come on, people! Penguins need privacy too!
Seriously. There's a fur seal army over there, and they don't like the look of you
Are you a train?! Yeah, I didn't think so. Get outta here!
Is it wrong that this makes me giggle?
Is it wrong that I kind of want to see someone do this?
Well...I mean, don't sugarcoat it or anything.
One light for cars, one for people, one for bikes!
Not messin' around about the tired drivers stuff.
A little reminder for all of us dopey tourists used to driving on the right side!
Oh, by the way, you might fall to your death down an unmarked mining shaft.
No big deal.
Oh, and this is an avalanche zone,
so if the unmarked mineshafts didn't kill you, this might.

I'm not sure what this next one was all about, but we saw these signs along a lot of hiking trails in New Zealand. It seemed  to be something of a hot-button issue in the country, because we also saw huge signs in people's yards about how chemicals were destroying some of New Zealand's countryside. I don't understand the issues behind it, but the signs sure were intimidating!
We were extra careful not to munch on any random animal carcasses

They seem to do "blunt" pretty well in New Zealand:
Givin' it to you straight
The giant crocodile tears really drive the point home

See, didn't I tell you that New Zealand is jam-packed with some of the most fantastic signs ever?!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Zealand Day Nine: Back to Christchurch

Are you tired of hearing about New Zealand yet?! There's still more! But, sadly, not much more.

I woke up in our cozy cabin in Arthur's Pass, with the fire dying out in the living room. I was surprised to hear Bryan already moving about, and he brought me a cup of coffee and told me that he'd already been out exploring. Our cabin was full of posted information about the kiwi, New Zealand's national bird, a big flightless wonder. Apparently the woods around our cabin were inhabited by kiwi, and Bryan had gotten up early to see if he could spot some. He didn't get lucky, but I think he had fun looking.

We hung around in the cabin for as long as possible, reading a bit more by the fire and sipping coffee. Once it was time to check out, we made the 30-second drive into town and stopped at the Arthur's Pass Store/Cafe to get some breakfast. As soon as we got out of our car, we were greeted by one of the cheeky local kea, who perched right on top of our car! I was worried about him scratching our rental car, so I waved an arm at him, hoping he'd be startled and fly off. No such luck. He just looked at me like I was batty and continued his investigation of our roof.
Struttin' his stuff on top of our car
Erm...excuse me...could you not be on our car?! Anywhere else will do, really

Once the kea had realized that there were no delicious snacks to be had on the roof of our car, he flew off and we went inside to get some breakfast. We chomped down hearty meals of eggs and toast while we watched a few of the birds through the windows. I always think of birds as being graceful, but the kea are a notable exception to the rule. They kind of totter around, and we saw a couple lose their grip on gutters or car windows and have to recover by flapping their wings frantically.

After breakfast and kea-watching, we headed down the road to the edge of town, where there was a trailhead. We parked the car and began down the trail to Devil's Punchbowl Falls. Right away, we crossed a bridge and were rewarded with some stunning views. It was especially nice to see the sun shimmering brightly on the water after all the rain the day before.
What a day!!

It was pleasant in the woods. Everything was vibrant and green after the rains of the day before, and there weren't many people around, so it was very peaceful. We hiked along for a while without seeing any other people or animals. We heard the falls thundering in the distance long before we reached them. When we got there, the falls were very impressive!!
WOW! Big falls!

There was a good view of the falls from the path, but there was a viewing platform up closer. We hung out on the platform while Bryan snapped away with the camera and we both got misted by icy water coming from the "punchbowl."
On the viewing platform

It hadn't taken us long to get to the Devil's Punchbowl Falls, so we decided to continue on to another waterfall we'd been told about by a ranger at the Visitor Center in town. That path was also more or less free of other people, so we had ample room to stop and admire the plants and the few birds we saw, too high up in the trees to be photographed. Bryan did take some photos of the forest itself, since it was dense with some of the strangest mosses and lichens I've seen.
So dense! And it had that great, earthly forest smell!
So much green!!!
Extreme moss CLOSE-UP!

Eventually we got to a viewpoint for the next set of falls, which was called...BRIDAL VEIL FALLS! Yay!!! Perfect timing!
I can see where it gets its name!

After many ridiculous attempts by me  to position my head so it looked like I was actually wearing the falls as a veil, we moved on, heading back down the path toward our car. As we walked, we got a nice viewpoint of Arthur's Pass village. You can see how small it is! It's the kind of town that my dad would refer to as "just a wide place in the road."
Arthur's Pass's there, I swear! Just get a magnifying glass.

We stopped again as we crossed the bridge to appreciate the view one final time before we headed out of Arthur's Pass for good.
Wishing we had another week to stay here!!
Who would want to leave this?!

Somehow we managed to tear ourselves away from Arthur's Pass village, even though it was one of the most inviting places I've ever been. We had a plane to catch the next day and an All Blacks game to catch that afternoon, so we made our way to Christchurch. It was a lovely drive and we had great weather. There were a couple of memorable moments, for instance when a HUGE pheasant unexpectedly flew out in front of our car, causing me to scream like a little girl. It was actually a very beautiful bird, but unfortunately I was too busy flipping out to snap a photo. A few minutes later we were sitting quietly when I said "HEY! THOSE ARE REALLY FLUFFY SHEEP!" and Bryan looked up just as one of my "sheep" lifted its head and proved itself to be a llama. Smooth. Anyway, eventually we pulled into Christchurch and checked back in to the Ashford Motor Lodge, where our trip had first started. We knew that they had bathtubs and we'd be ale to watch the Rugby World Cup on our TV, so it was a pretty easy decision.

After checking in, we walked up the street and picked up some beer to watch the All Blacks play Canada. I made sure we were back in plenty of time for the start of the game so I wouldn't miss my favorite part- the All Blacks haka!!!

The haka is a traditional Māori warrior dance. The dance isn't the same every time, but it usually includes stomping feet, slapping of the arms and/or legs, and tongues sticking out. It's lots of fun to watch, especially when it's being performed by the good-looking All Blacks!! The All Blacks do the haka before every game, while the opposing  team is forced to stand and watch. It's pretty funny to watch as the other team just has to stand there and be intimidated!

The game itself was eventful, but not particularly nail-biting. The All Blacks destroyed Canada with a final score of 79 to 15.

Watching the All Blacks stomp all over Canada made us hungry, so we walked down the street and revisited Spagalimi's, where we'd had dinner at the beginning of our journey (back when we weren't even engaged yet!). On the way, we passed a wedding gown shop, and I stopped and ogled through the windows for a few minutes while Bryan waited very patiently. But not even princess dresses can keep me away from good Italian food, so we moved on. Spag's was pretty empty, and we had a quiet and delicious meal.
Wishin' we had a Spag's in Jurong East!

So that was pretty much our trip. We went back to our room that night and took turns using the bathtub, knowing it would be awhile before we had that luxury again (our apartment, like most Singaporean apartments, doesn't have a tub). The next morning we got up and dropped off our car before catching our Singapore Airlines flight back to Singapore. Again, the flight was most excellent, and it was a nice way to end a trip that we'll remember the rest of our lives- the time we went to New Zealand and got engaged!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Zealand Day Eight: Arthur's Pass

Well, our plans for a morning hike to Franz Josef Glacier were thwarted when we awoke to the pitter-patter of rain on our roof. When we looked outside, it appeared that it had been raining steadily for awhile, and it certainly showed no signs of stopping. Rather than poking around the little town all day or hoping for the rain to let up, we decided to just go ahead and get on the road, hoping we might be able to drive out of the raincloud.
Farewell, cozy Chateau Franz!

It rained pretty steadily all morning, but we dodged some raindrops to get a couple of pictures. We drove past lots of lush green pastures, and we actually saw cows instead of sheep for once!
Cows toughing out the rain

The pastures were also occupied by some very strange birds. I recognized them from the bird guides we'd been leafing through. They were pukeko, also known by the hilariously awesome name of PURPLE SWAMPHENS! They were pretty large, about the same size as a chicken, and they had this strange, rough patch of red skin on their faces. Like chickens, they fly and land rather awkwardly, so they generally try to stick to walking.
Most elegantly named bird in all of New Zealand: the purple swamphen

We stopped in a small town called Ross for lunch. Ross was a place just bursting with character. The Cardrona Hotel had me thinking of Clint Eastwood, but Ross was a little more showy and maybe even cheesy, making me think more of a Wild West show at Disney World.
Gold Town General Store. I think the rain just makes it look more Old West!
Billiards Hall
Roddy Nugget Cafe

Apparently Ross was more authentic than it looked. Info posted in the Roddy Nugget Cafe told us that the place was named for the fact that Ross was the site of the excavation of New Zealand's largest gold nugget (weighing at over six pounds) in 1907! The chunk of gold was named the Honourable Roddy, and the cafe was named after it. A pretty neat claim to fame. The cafe itself was pretty great, and we had a fantastic brunch there.
Most serious stack of blueberry pancakes I've ever had
Guess what Bryan had!
If you guessed something with bacon, you win the prize!

Half of the Roddy Nugget was a bar and cafe, and the other half was a hodgepodge of stuff: there were computers where you could pay to use the Internet, antiques for sale, and storage for the restaurant. There was a whole shelf of old bottles, and my Dad loves that sort of stuff, so we bought him one (Happy b-day, Dad!). I'm guessing they hadn't sold anything off of that shelf in about twenty years, because the waitress we handed our money to looked at us like we were bonkers.
Random antique bottle collection in the Roddy Nugget

We drove on through the rain for a couple more hours until we reached Arthur's Pass Village. We'd discussed staying there overnight, so we stopped on the side of the road to make a decision. We consulted out our trusty NZ guide, which informed us that Arthur's Pass boasted affordable, stand-alone cabins with fireplaces that we could rent out for the night. That sold us on staying there. Just as I was closing the book, I heard a sound and looked up, wide-eyed. "UMMMMMMMMMM," I said, surprised. "What?!" asked Bryan. I pointed out his window, where a huge parrot was perched on his side-view mirror!!
Look closely. Holy smokes! Giant parrot on our car!

We were afraid of the parrot's talons damaging the car, so we pulled slowly away, and it flew off. Arthur's Pass Village is about five buildings along the side of the road, so you can drive right on by it in about 10 seconds. That made it easy to find Mountain House YHA Backpackers & Cottages, the place where we were hoping to rent a cottage with a fireplace. Unfortunately, there was no one in the main office, so we headed across the street to have some coffee at the Wobbly Kea.
A real kea on the sign for the Wobbly Kea

Hanging out at the cafe turned out to be a great choice- the cafe was very homey, and we curled up on a comfy couch with a view out the front window. The woman working there was friendly and more than willing to tell us a little bit about the local kea, which appeared to be hanging out all over. In fact, when we sat in front of the window, one of them became keenly interested in our coffee. It reminded me so much of a monkey!
Hey! Are you guys eating something?! I love eating!
Pay no attention to all those DON'T FEED THE KEA signs...
Pretty please can I have some?! :::bats eyes:::

Eventually the kea figured out that it wouldn't be getting any food from us, and it flew across the street to the Arthur's Pass store. I asked the waitress about the feeding situation. She said that, despite the abundance of signs asking people not to feed the kea, it still happens quite frequently. She expressed frustration at the situation, and I heard more than a little of myself in her as she described marching across the street earlier in the day to scold a photographer who was feeding the birds. The reasons not to feed the kea are numerous, but here are just a few:

Don't feed the kea because:
1) Feeding the kea makes them more drawn to human civilization, and therefore more likely to investigate (and damage) cars and buildings.
2) It makes them more likely to approach humans for food in the future. This puts people in danger of scratches from sharp beaks and claws.
3) Drawing kea closer to human civilization makes them more likely to become victims of roadkill.
4) In the wild, kea live off of a lot of plant material, and human food can have serious detrimental effects on their health.
5) Kea have a conservation status of "vulnerable" and feeding them isn't helping to make that status any better.

Be a responsible tourist and don't feed the kea!

OK, I'll get off my conservation soapbox. But the kea are pretty amazing animals- I've never looked at a bird and seen such intelligence in its eyes. I hope efforts to conserve them in their wild habitat are successful. They're also stunningly beautiful animals. They're a gorgeous shade of green, but the real surprise comes when they spread their wings.
Their wings are RED underneath!!!
Pretty fantastic, huh?

Eventually we saw the office guy return, so we went back across the street to inquire about renting a cottage for the night. We got all squared away pretty quickly which was nice, since it was still pretty early in the afternoon. We drove around the corner to our cabin, which was out of the way on a back street.

The cabin was amazing. As soon as we pulled up, we were excited.
Our cabin in the sunshine of the next morning

As promised, there was a fire roaring in the fireplace. There were also two fluffy couches, a fully-stocked bookshelf, and windows with great views of the wilderness all around us. I was all ready to just move in and never leave.
It took me about five seconds to get comfortable
The bedroom had big windows with views of the mountains
My view whenever I looked up from my book!

We lounged around for a few hours, listening to the soothing sounds of rain on the roof and a fire crackling in the fireplace. We sipped red wine while Bryan read Planet of the Apes and I dug into A Game of Thrones, one of the best books I've read in awhile. It was the ideal way to spend a rainy afternoon, and I couldn't believe that we happened to luck upon such a great cabin on the one day that it rained all day long. At around 7 PM, we headed back into town with the plan of picking up some basics at the little store to cook dinner in our kitchen. As it turned out, Bryan and I have spent too much time in the big city and it hadn't occurred to us that the only store in town would already be closed at 7. We ended up back at the Wobbly Kea for dinner, munching pasta and drinking red wine.
Still showin' off my new bling
Relaxed after a laid-back day
We wrapped it up early to get back to our cozy spots by the fire. Besides, as we learned, there's not really anywhere to go in Arthur's Pass after 8 PM!