When Bad Weather Happens To Good Travelers

When Bad Weather Happens To Good Travelers

“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”  Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

I’m a planner. When I plan a trip, I research the weather and I try to travel when the weather in that country is great.  I have always had good weather luck. The bad weather usually clears up before I arrive or begins after I leave. Until now. I just returned from a road trip through New Zealand. It is really the best way to see New Zealand. Whether you are staying in  a different hotel every night, camping or driving a motor home, as long as you can drive on the opposite side of the road, it’s the way to go. (Tongariro National Park)

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The first half of the trip was great. (Hawkes Bay)

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It was unseasonably cold for a New Zealand summer but sunny and beautiful.(Marlborough)

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 We had the ten-hour drive detour because of the damage from the Kaikoura earthquake  (me after ten hours in Methven) .

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I’m not a great passenger or driver so road trip were not words in my vocabulary. 

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Music helped. Prepare your playlists beforehand. Stretching and peeing every time you have a rest stop is useful. Your body will thank you later.  Bring food, snacks and water with you. I’m always prepared to be the lifesaver in a threatening situation.  Work out your anger before you sit in a van for two to four weeks. You don’t want it stuck in your head. If being a whiner is your normal state, try to get it under control. The thing about being in a van for ten hours is that  you are doing something, but you aren’t really doing anything. (Canterbury)

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The great part of road trips is that every day is different. Tomorrow brings new landscapes, new towns, new attractions, and new hotel rooms.  (Lake Tecapo)

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We drove the next day for several hours  to Mount Cook. I was looking forward to taking a helicopter to the top of that glacier. I was ready. I had my glacier hiking gear which I lugged from Los Angeles. The next morning it was raining, windy, and very foggy.

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It was not the kind of rain that was going to clear up in an hour.  It was animals lining up in pairs rain.  This was only the beginning. It rained for the next several days. There was snow on the mountains in summer. Activities were canceled. We kept driving.

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New Zealand  is all about outdoor adrenalin rush activities. There aren’t a lot of museums on the road and if  there are any, they are closed.  It is not fun driving for hours looking at nothing but rain and fog. There aren’t a lot of photographic pit stops. Having ice-cream blended with fresh fruit  served by a cute guy  was the highlight of the day. (Cromwell- the fruit bowl of New Zealand)

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Life’s trials will test you and shape you. When I got to Queenstown after two wet days of driving, I was riding up a mountain in a gondola with a Swiss mother and daughter. I was cold, wet and depressed. The last thing that I wanted to be doing was still sitting. They were smiling.” Why are you smiling?,” I asked. ”We are on holidays. We are having fun. We are happy.”

They were right. Optimism is a choice. It was funny, laughing about the road food, weather and the fact that everything was closed most of the time. Those are the travel stories. I got off the gondola. The view of Queenstown is magical and the rain gives it an other worldly middle earth quality. It took my breath away.

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At the top of the mountain, far away from the US  was a Jelly Belly store. For those of you who don’t know me, Jelly Bellys are my favorite candy. I never leave the country without them but they quickly run out. It was one of those stores with individual flavors that you can mix and match. I took it as a sign from God to get my act together. They were right. I was on holiday – just different from what I planned.  I carefully picked thirteen flavors (They were in packages). The girl told me that if I picked seven more it would be almost the same price (which was high for Jelly Bellys). I can’t resist a deal but I also knew I would make myself sick.  I saw two little boys  and told them it was their lucky day and to choose seven packets of Jelly Bellies. They ran into the store. Their grandparents followed and I explained why I did it. They laughed and the whole family started telling me things they loved to do there when it was raining.

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I walked back from the gondola to the hotel in the rain. It was Queenstown, full of young adventure seeking people and everything was open late. I found myself in front of Fergburger –  a Queenstown hamburger institution and got in the queue. I forgot for a minute how lucky I was to be in New Zealand and about to have the famous Fergburger.  Rain will do that to you if you let it.

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Fly   safe,

JAZ

Driving To Rotorua, New Zealand

Driving To Rotorua, New Zealand

“There came a time, he realized, when the strangeness of everything made it increasingly difficult to realize the strangeness of anything. “James Hilton, Lost Horizon

In theory, a road trip sounds very appealing. A road trip through New Zealand sounds really cool. Since I get carsick, I don’t have much road trip experience.  I was willing to give it a go to see New Zealand.

An hour and a half out of Auckland is the Karangahake Gorge. It is a great place to go walking and I wish I had spent more time there. There are hard walks, bush walks, easy walks, abandoned mines, railroad tunnels (bring a torch because they are dark and long), river walks and waterfalls. It is a hike (or tramp as they say in New Zealand) through history and nature at its best.

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You start by crossing a big swing bridge. It is always fun crossing a big swing bridge.

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In 1885 it was a prosperous goldmine. By 1920, the gold had run out and there are remnants of the machinery and buildings of a century ago.

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There are mining tunnels that you can explore built into the mountain but you should bring better light than just the torch on your iPhone. We found the train tunnel.

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It was dark, wet and the ground is uneven. I found it mildly frightening because you can’t see a way out.

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At first, it was adventurous using my iPhone torch to hike but it went on for a little too long for me.  I decided to retrace my steps and go walk by the river and find the waterfalls instead.

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We continue on to Rotorua. When early missionaries to the shores of Rotorua stumbled upon the great sprays of water that shoot into the air and the pools of bubbling, boiling mud, they must have thought they were getting a glimpse at the fires of hell itself – a view undoubtedly reinforced by what seems like the stench of rotten eggs that fills the region.

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Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland. There is a strong Maori presence in Rotorua. They saw themselves as the guardians of these lands.

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We go directly to the Hot Spring Pools which are located in Manupirua Bay on Lake Rotoiti. It is only accessible by boat.

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The boat is beautiful and completely refurbished  with an expert crew of women. The captain was pregnant. http://www.purecruise.co.nz

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There are different mineral-rich outdoor pools to soak in. These are fed by a natural spring and vary in heat temperature. They are just meters from the very cold lake edge. It is good to jump in a cold lake to get the sulfur off and close your pores.

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The next morning I opted for a mud bath and massage. How could you not go to a spa called Hell’s Gate? Hell’s Gate is the only Maori owned geothermal park in New Zealand. The English name came from the playwright George Bernard Shaw who visited in the early nineteen hundreds. He said that he was sure this must be the gateway to hell that his colleagues said he would pass through as long as he remained an atheist. The Maori kept the name. http://www.hellsgate.co.nz/

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It is owned by the Ngati Rangiteaorere tribe of Maori who have lived on this special site for over 700 years. It is on a volcanic plateau.

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You start with a walk through the mud pools, erupting geysers and hot springs.

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The signs tell the Maori myths and stories of those pools.

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It takes about forty-five minutes to do the walk.

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I was kind of in awe of the special landscape.

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I went on to the mud bath where I was given a container of mud to cover myself with. (sorry no photos)

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After twenty minutes, you rinse off in cold water and go into the sulfur pools, followed by a massage. Yes, your pores will exude sulfur for the next twenty-four hours from the mud but your skin will be very smooth and the area smells of rotten eggs anyway so no one will notice. It was the best mud bath experience I have ever had and highly recommend it.

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Volcanic activity over thousands of years created large craters that filled with water to form the  lakes throughout the Rotorua region. They are steeped in Maori history.  (Lake Tikitapu- Blue Lake)

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The geothermal theme park of Wai-O-Tapu is about 20 minutes’ drive south of Rotorua,. It is a Maori word and means sacred waters.

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Walking routes around the park take you past bubbling mud, sulphur waterfalls, exploding geysers, giant fern trees, steaming vents and lakes in neon oranges, yellows and greens.

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They are given their color by mineral deposits.

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The  lagoons fizz with steam and orange ,gold and green fluorescent bubbles.

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The park takes on a surreal, dream like quality. I shoot too many photos to remember the strange beauty of it all.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Kiwi, Kiwi and Kiwi

Kiwi, Kiwi and Kiwi

“If it would not look too much like showing off, I would tell the reader where New Zealand is.”  Mark Twain

The definition of Kiwi in an English dictionary  (yes, I still look it up in a book)  is 1-a flightless bird;  2 – fruit originally known as Chinese gooseberry and 3-a New Zealander.

Female kiwi birds lay one of the largest eggs in relation to their body size of any bird in the world. A kiwi egg takes up about 20% of the female bird’s body, and weighs about 16 oz. As the result of such a sizable egg, there is a higher percentage of yolk in kiwi eggs, which enables the kiwi babies to hatch fully feathered, healthy, and well on their way to independence. We got to see one after it was hatched in an incubator but no photos.

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Kiwi birds are among the few species that tend to live as monogamous couples, and often mate for life. Kiwi relationships have been known to last over 20 years – more than most Hollywood marriages. They are nocturnal, territorial, have great memories and razor-sharp claws that can do some damage.

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A good sense of smell is a rare attribute for a bird, but kiwis have highly developed olfactory senses. They are the only birds with nostrils at the end of their beaks,

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It’s common knowledge that kiwis are flightless, but their lack of wingspan isn’t without cause. Before humans arrived in New Zealand thousands of years ago, there were really no terrestrial predators endangering the kiwi population, so most flightless birds were relatively safe foraging and nesting on the ground.

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A fruit seed  from China was planted in New Zealand. Since then, the Bay Of Plenty has become the kiwifruit capital of the world, exporting gold and green kiwifruit to over 70 countries, creating a billion-dollar business for New Zealand. We had a tour of  a Kiwi country farm.

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The most popular species of kiwifruit is appropriately called fuzzy kiwifruit, but there is also golden kiwi with a smoother bronze skin. The golden kiwi is actually sweeter and more aromatic in flavor.

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Although kiwis have been native to China for centuries, practically no one in North America knew what they were until 60 years ago. They were first introduced to the U.S. in 1962 and called kiwi fruit by an American importer.  They caught  on quickly.  Most of the world’s kiwis are grown in Italy, New Zealand and Chile. You can eat the fuzz if you want.

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If a kiwi does not yield a bit to finger pressure, allow it to ripe by storing it at room temperature away from the sun.Kiwi ripening can be hastened by putting it in a paper bag with a banana, apple or pear. (Here I am once again eating kiwi fruit- clearly that is all I did.)

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Kiwi also refers to a New Zealander. 

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It has something to do with the first World War. The Royal New Zealand Air Force had a kiwi bird symbol and New Zealander is a lot to say.  They take pride in referring to themselves as an odd-looking bird most have never seen in the wild. It is a link to their past when they began to be something separate from the British. 

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Kiwis have a relationship with their land that is physical and spiritual.

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The Maoris have always had it and the  whites (pakehas) have developed it.

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Kiwis are easy-going and find humor in most situations.

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It’s a dry humor similar to Brits and Australians and often used to diffuse conflict and serious situations.

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They love to tell a really good lie when asked stupid questions. (who doesn’t?)

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When people take themselves too seriously they like to “take the mickey out of them” but they are also are the first to make fun of themselves.

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These tourist  questions and New Zealand answers were posted on the New Zealand tourism website.

Q: Will I be able to see kiwi birds in the street? A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Auckland to Wellington can I follow the railroad tracks? A: Sure, it’s only 660 kms, take lots of water.

Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in NZ? Can you send me a list of them in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown? A: What did your last slave die of?

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in NZ?A: Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Auckland. Come naked.

Q: Can I wear high heels in NZ? A: You are a British politician, right?

Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in NZ ? A: Only at Christmas.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Wait, It’s Because They Are Muslim?

 “The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?” George Orwell, 1984

The events of September Eleventh 2001 changed the world and the world view of the Muslim religion.The attacks brought more attention to the small population of Arab -American communities than they could have ever dreamed. Americans were scared and were turning their fear and hatred on anyone who resembled the attackers.

The following summer my daughter was invited to participate in a summer dance program in San Francisco. She was too young to stay in the dorm so I had to go with her. The dance studio was located in the not yet gentrified Mission district of San Francisco. It was mostly homeless people. Taxis did not go in that area and I couldn’t have her wait for the bus there alone. My driving skills did not include San Francisco hills and tight parking spots. I had to find a driver who would work for a reasonable amount of money  to help me. It was before Uber and before everything was on the internet. My cousin in San Francisco found us a driver. She told me that he was a religious Muslim. I consider myself a non prejudiced person but I had to stop and think about it in that new fearful post 9/11 world. I’m not proud of that moment. I spoke to him and he seemed fine. But would I have given him the job at that time if I had any other option? I don’t know.

Nine months after 9/11 Naji came into our lives. He was the first religious Arab Muslim person in the US that I knew. I went with him on the first day to take her. He was kind and courteous. He came from Tunisia and was planning on sending his children back to school there the following year. Naji went to the mosque five times a day. He had other clients and it often interfered with his work. Post 9/11 news put the fear of mosques in America – either because they were being attacked or as a breeding ground for terrorists. One day,  Naji called to say that he was at the mosque and could he send Mohammed to pick up my daughter? “Who is Mohammed?” I ask. “He is my friend from the mosque.” Hmmm.  Once I said yes, there were often friends from the mosque picking up my daughter. He always let me know first. They were all respectful and kind. One Sunday my daughter went out with her older dance friends and they left her at a nearby bus stop to go home. Naji drove by (San Francisco is not that big)  and told her to get in the car and drove her to the apartment. He said  to her “Call me when you need a lift. You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.“

I learned about Tunisia and where the best restaurants for Tunisian food in San Francisco were. The food is spicy and good. There was a thick chick pea soup, a tajine that seemed more like a frittata, kefta ( lamb meatballs), cous cous and  tomato pepper salad. From the other drivers, I learned about all the different, delicious Middle Eastern food. 

 We had one bad day. We needed to go  to Sonoma and Naji drove us. I’m not sure how it started. We were talking about the similarities between kosher and halal and suddenly he began to try to convince us to convert to Islam. He got kind of frenetic and it was a bit scary for a moment but it never came up again when I said no.  He and his friends took care of my daughter for two summers. I always felt safe knowing that they were there. I found out  from our other regular driver Mohammed (when Naji was busy) that one year before, Naji’s wife had been crossing the street with their baby girl and they were hit by a car. She was badly hurt and their baby died. With great tragedy, you need greater faith to get through it. Five times a day was probably not enough.

I alway found it such strange timing that while the world was learning a new word -Islamophobia, I was learning and meeting the most Muslims I had ever met. It seemed like something that everyone who was fearful should have been doing because fear and ignorance go hand in hand. 

Today, I am very afraid of fundamentalists of every religion. I am fearful of what will happen to my country which was founded on religious freedom. I am worried about my Muslim friends and afraid that other races and religions will follow. I am fearful of this unprecedented chaos in these first ten days.  I am afraid that a lot more things than buildings are being brought down now.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things I’ve Learned In New Zealand

Things I’ve Learned In New Zealand

“Roads go ever ever on, Over rock and under tree, By caves where never sun has shone, By streams that never find the sea; Over snow by winter sown, And through the merry flowers of June, Over grass and over stone,  And under mountains in the moon.”  JR Tolkien

The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa. land of the long white cloud’.

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New Zealand  is the least corrupt nation in the world (tied with Denmark), according to the Corruptions Perception Index.

A wee walk in New Zealand is a 10k. (Abel Tasman National Park)

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The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the British and Maori, making New Zealand a colony of the British Empire.

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In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give all women the right to vote.

You can drink delicious water right from your tap.

The longest place name in the world is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a hill in Hawkes Bay.

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No part of the country is more than 128km (79 miles) from the sea. Galveston is the most inland city.

Almost every town in New Zealand has a World War I memorial where the ANZAC forces were brutally slaughtered at Galipoli, Turkey. It was the first time New Zealand stepped out on the world stage and the Kiwi troops made a name for themselves fighting bravely with the Australians. (Queenstown)

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Small cities and towns in New Zealand close by five the latest. Starbucks closes at five- sometimes before. In fact, New Zealand is not open most of the time. 

All  the small towns look like movie set towns. (The Cinema Paradiso in Methven)

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Of all the population in the country, only 5% is human. The rest are animals, making it the highest animal to humans ratio in the world.

There are 9 sheep per each person in New Zealand, making it the highest ratio in the world and forcing New Zealanders to endure a lot of sheep jokes. Don’t worry they give it right back to you about your own country.

There are no land snakes, native or introduced in New Zealand. New Zealand was a land of birds. All four legged animals were brought here. 

The Kea, a bird native to New Zealand, is known for pulling windscreen wipers off cars and eating the strips of rubber from windows. In fact, many tourists suffer damages on their car rentals thanks to this little bird.

Here is why you need to learn to read, the kaka can not.

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The Kiwi, which is a little flightless bird native to New Zealand, lays eggs that are about 20% of the mother’s body. There is something poignant about a bird that lays such a large egg and can’t get it off the ground to protect it.

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The kiwi fruit is not native from New Zealand. It’s actually from China, but it was named after the kiwi bird.

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Sunset in the summer in New Zealand is at 9:30PM. That was the only summer thing happening with the weather when I was there.

New Zealand has three official languages: English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language. Signs are always in English and Maori.

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No seatbelt is a serious infractions in New Zealand. There are random police seatbelt checks. The fine is 150 dollars.

Border Pest control is another serious infraction. Biosecurity in New Zealand guards against threats to agriculture and biodiversity with strict border control measures being taken to prevent unwanted organisms from entering the country.  I waited in a queue at the airport in Auckland for two hours to be checked for illegal fruit. (Wellington museum)

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New Zealand has more Scottish pipe bands per capita than any other country in the world. There is nothing under those kilts – even when they were on their way to battle. (How do I know this?) As you go further down the  South Island the accents become  more and more Scottish influenced and harder to understand for me. Keetle is not kettle but cattle.

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I always learn new things when I travel.

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The first man to climb Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, was a Kiwi.

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Tramping is a popular activity in New Zealand. It is known elsewhere as backpacking, hill walking or bushwalking, A network of tramping tracks has been developed throughout New Zealand of varying lengths and difficulties. The most popular are the Nine  Great Walks. You will run into many people tramping with plenty of gear on their backs. They do not look happy.

Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, is the world’s steepest street.

About one-third of the country is protected national park. (Tongariro National Park)

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15% of New Zealand’s population are Māori. New Zealanders seemed to have a much more respectful history with the Maori than Australians and Aborigines. It is pronounced Mow-ri not May-or-ee.

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In the Lord of the Rings films, the beer drunk on camera was a custom New Zealand brew called ‘Sobering Thought’.

New Zealand broadcasted the first weather report in Elvish language in 2012.

The filming of these movies pumped around $200 million into the country’s economy. The New Zealand government even created a Minister for Lord of the Rings, to ensure the most money could be made from the films.

There is Lord Of The Rings art made from jelly bellies (my favorite candy) at the top of the gondola in Queenstown and a jelly belly store!!!! I was happy. 

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There is a lot of Lord of the Rings scenery in New Zealand. Now i have to see the film.

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The man who pioneered plastic surgery, Harold Gillies, was a Kiwi.

There are more vending machines in Japan than there are people in New Zealand.

When it comes to pies, think New Zealand. They are a staple and can be found anywhere -like sandwiches and hamburgers or green juice in LA. They are filled with sausages, meat, bacon, eggs, cheese, spinach, chicken etc. (Queenstown)

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New Zealand has more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Winemaking is fairly new to New Zealand compared to other wine regions in the world. (Waiheke Island)

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They are now producing wines that have international acclaim. The four main grapes are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

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Rugby is the national religion of New Zealand. (Auckland)

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The first commercial bungee jump was made by AJ Hackett in the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, back in 1988. AJ Hackett got inspired by the cultural “bungee” jumps performed in Vanuatu with just tree vines tied to their feet.

New Zealanders seem to love to jump off or out of stuff.

Manuka Honey is made by bees that feed the Manuka trees  in New Zealand, It has antibacterial properties and has been used by the Maori in their tonics and remedies for many years. Manuka Honey is graded with UMF rating. A rating or 20 or above will give you the strongest medical benefits. Under that number, it is still  expensive and tastes good and acts like other honey.

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The clearest lake in the world is Nelson’s Blue Lake, with a visibility of up to 80 meters deep.

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Mackenzie Basin is the driest most infertile place in New Zealand and has the most rabbits (which are pests)

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New Zealand is the third closest country to Antarctica, only after Chile and Argentina.

Young male suicide rate is up in New Zealand. There are  also many  deaths caused by homemade alcohol and most deaths in mountains are caused by ignorance.

A war has raged between the popularity of New Zealand marmite and Australian vegemite. New Zealand marmite is definitely an acquired taste and generally described as incredibly salty and savory. It is made from a potent mix of yeast, sugar, salt, herbs, spices, vitamins and mineral and is a popular breakfast spread. It’s been around since 1910 in New Zealand so while it’s a firm favorite for New Zealanders, it’s almost always an acquired taste for everyone else. (It is just as gross as Australian vegemite to me. I think it is a tie.)

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42 Below Vodka is one of New Zealand’s most famous alcoholic exports. The success of this vodka is also testament to good old-fashioned kiwi perseverance and ingenuity. The story of this vodka’s path to success has also been immortalized in a book about its humble beginnings. It’s called Every Bastard Says No by Geoff Ross. If you’d rather drink the vodka instead of read about it, 42 Below Vodka is available in a range of distinctly kiwi flavours e.g. manuka honey, kiwifruit.

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New Zealand is hoping to be smoke free by 2025. Cigarettes are up to forty-five dollars a pack ( good country for me –  I’m allergic to smoke).

In New Zealand  you will hear the word “Kiwi” quite a lot – on the one hand there is the native flightless bird and  the Kiwi Fruit but on the other hand it is also used as a slang term for a New Zealander.

New Zealand is filled with epic movie worthy scenery and just went you think it can’t get more beautiful there is a snow-capped mountain, clear blue water or a perfect volcano.(Tongariro National Park)

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Watching The Trump Inauguration In New Zealand

“A leader is best if the people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”  Lao Tzu

It was not all Trump all the time on Sky News. They  played a five-minute clip.  We saw Michelle Obama accepting Melania Trump’s gift with awkward newscaster banter about regifting. We heard that “Some Americans were not happy at Trump’s victory and would have preferred someone else” as they cut to a grim faced Hillary Clinton. They played a bit of the speech and commented that ” it was unlike any American inauguration speech that we have heard before.” They showed the first dance at the different inaugural balls.  I did not see KelliAnn’s outfit or Scott Baio till late at night.

What I did see was that our country is on display as a divided America.  Protest signs and Pro Trump T-shirts showed our Democracy until it erupted into violence.

There were big protests in Sydney Australia-not against Trump, but against the hatred and prejudice that was brought out.

Sky News makes no secret of their anti Trump views. This part of the world liked Hillary and wondered why Americans preferred Trump.

They often repeated that the new American focus is domestic. The newscasters say that they are hearing aggressive tweets and not proper strategies. His commitment is to transform Washington and create jobs. They believe he will be running a What’s in it for America  government.

Having low expectations is good for an incoming president. But what they didn’t hear in his Inauguration Speech was a call for unity as his policies continue to divide the country.

“A man who is used to beating to his own drum is now running the free world. He is about to write his own playbook.” We will have to wait and see what happens.

Fly safe,

JAZ