Into the Wild

On or about Oct. 6, we booked our Doubtful Sound trip which included renting a car to drive 2 hours to meet the boat on Lake Manapouri at 8:30ish a.m. Yesterday was Oct. 15th, Sunday. So according to my calculations…Oct. 6th was quite a while ago. We were taking a gamble. We knew that. The weather here in NZ in the spring is completely unpredictable. And so…this is how our weather started out…
Here we are looking down on Doubtful Sound. To get to the sound, you meet at the lake and travel for an hour on the lake. Then they drag you to a hydroelectric power station that is located deep in the earth. And it takes the water from the lake, forces it into two huge pipes that run down inside the mountain and this turns turbines that generate electricity for an aluminum plant located south of here. The water is then pumped into the Sound. It was built between 1964 and 1972. An engineering feat that was so big and expensive, private enterprise could not afford to complete it, once started. So…the government finished the task and now they renegotiate the repayment to the government every 10 years with the aluminum company which is owned by Australia and the money is getting repaid to the government as we speak. (none of monetary info was included in our underground tour, I asked the guide about it). And did I mention it was really, really underground. Does buried alive mean anything to you? A bit eery but we did it without freaking out!!

But, I digress. Once we got on the sound, I snapped this picture. It illustrates our weather. Further, it shows how important light is when photographing.

Doubtful Sound got it name because Capt. Cook was doubtful that the opening from the Tasman Sea would lead to much. That’s because Doubtful has many islands in it and to the casual observer in a rickety old ship, you might not want to take the time to sail into a place that wasn’t very promising. With no GPS or, let’s say, map to follow…and quite possibly with people on board with scurvy, say, you needed to make every exploration count. So it turns out that the Spanish ended up being the mapmakers for Doubtful because they were the first to explore it. Looking for gold, I think.

So, our long journey from the place we took off from ,,,at the Sound to the Tasman Sea (our furtherest point out), the clouds were in abundance and few pictures merit viewing.

HOWEVER…sun was spotted over the Tasman Sea. The ocean was calm and the guides were really excited because they had only ventured out on the sea twice in the last two months. And away we went. And the sea got rough so we didn’t go too far. I think it was when our guide announced, “For those of you on the bow…you may want to move back as you might be hit by ocean spray”, I closed up my camera and headed inside.

Message interruptus.

We have just returned from our progressive dinner. It’s our last night in Queenstown, it is cold, it is raining and we had way too much fun. Our plan was to have fish at Fishbone, a local joint, followed by tapas at a place we ate at this a.m. So…we had a fabulous asparagus grilled salad and appetizer of mussels (me) and scallops (Rayman). Then we progressed to our breakfast place for tapas and it was CLOSED. So, we sauntered down the avenue in the rain and found another tapas joint. Who knew? Well, we had chorizo con tomate, judias blancasy aceitunas negro (or spicy Spanish chorizo sausage with white bean, tomato and black olive. Accompanying our dish was papatas con alcaparras y chili or olive oil pan fried gourmet potatoes with capers, chilies and chives. Finally, Goats cheese with truffled honey comb, balsamic figs and walnut toast. OMG. Fabulous. And we were two of four in the joint. The other two were busy on their electronic devices. We were busy admiring the small, comfortable room with a real fire roaring and birds flirting on the leafless branches of a tree outside a window. So…the progressive dinner was a big success. We plan on doing this more often.

And back to our regularly scheduled program. That is my story of yesterday.
The Tasman Sea entrance and a rock full of seals.
We were treated to a rare sighting of Crested Penguins. A bit blurry but it was very hard to photograph these with the boat rocking, the birds moving etc. However, aren’t they sweet?
So, here is another rare sighting. Ray sans wine glass. He’s drinking TEA. And look at that sky. That view.
Did you know that Sounds have arms? Well, yes they do and here is one. They are all named but my wine from dinner is interfering. Sorry.
Heading back the sun kept exposing all the sights we had missed going in for lack of sun. It was spectacular.


Below please find a picture of our guides. They were great!!


Here I am turning my back on what lies ahead. And below…well, what can anyone say about this? There aren’t words.



Lake Manapouri.
AND our new Minnesota friends, Jim and Mari (mary). We met them on the train trip from Picton to Christchurch. Their schedule was very much like ours. So, we invited them to ride with us and take the tour of the Sound, which they did. So, here’s a few interesting tidbits about our new friends. They have two daughters. One married a fellow from Alameda and they moved to Sydney for his work and they are visiting them. Jim has worked for the same firm for 42 years. That’s almost unheard of…and according to my calculations he entered the work force at about age 4. Isn’t that illegal? Mari is a scream. She managed to lock herself into the bathroom near the power generator and before Jim approached the restroom to save her, he said, “Is there anyone naked in here?” He swears that was a question, not wishful thinking. I have my doubts.

Jim loves old cars and heats his garage to 46 degrees so he can work on them. I’m not kidding. 46. I can’t even feel my fingers at 46.

When we were in Christchurch, we ran into them (a very small world) and went to Antarctica with them (the exhibit). While we were there, Jim (works in IT) spent all of our tea time (we took a break) trying to get a reservation made for the Doubtful Sound cruise using his computer. Every time he hit the “purchase” button, something went wrong. I think it was because he was using a DOS based computer. He did not give up. In fact, he missed the all-important feeding of the penguins trying to spend money on a cruise. And he works with computers all day. Just saying.

Oh, I kid Jim. He was a hoot.

But I digress.

As we were driving back from our cruise, we were all high from the scenery. Rayman was trying to perfect his driving skills…when a beep sounded. “What’s that”, Ray exclaimed. ( To save you from wondering yourself…it was the I’M OUT OF GAS warning from the Toyota we were riding in.) “Maybe we’re out of gas! The gas gauge shows empty.”

NZ is very sparsely populated. That is really the beauty of this country. You can drive for HOURS without seeing people. You see sheep, yes. People no. And gas stations are even more infrequent. “My RAV emits a sound and it means I have about 2 gallons remaining.” exclaimed Mari. “We are back at the lake, we’ll probably make it.” pronounced Jim. Rayman said, “Where’s a road sign showing how far we are from Queenstown? Why the heck don’t they provide more signs with distances?” Like that would help, I thought.

“Well, I’m confident we’ll make it”, Jim asserted while Mari added, “My RAV has two gallons remaining when it beeps at me.” To which I proclaimed, “Let me read the owner’s manual.” “There’s a car manual in the glove box”, Jim wondered aloud.

After flipping through the index and locating the “LOW FUEL ALERT”, it was determined that 1.7 gallons remained and that the car would, in fact, alert us in the event of low fuel. Having delivered this news, “How far are we? Why don’t they post more signs?”, Rayman intoned. “Oh, I’m sure we’ll make it. I mean we’re here at the lake”, Jim suggested again.

Then we came upon a one-car bridge with a traffic light. We had to stop. “OH, GREAT. I DID NOT WANT TO STOP.”, Ray snarled. The light changed. We were on the bridge and I murmured, “If we’re going to run out of gas, let it be here because we will get all the help we will ever need.” Snorting and snarling ensued.

Drifting in on fumes, we arrived at a gas station and it took $97 of fuel to fill the car. Does “just by the hair of your chinny, chin, chin have meaning to you?

Isn’t the driver of the car responsible for the status of the fuel? Just saying…now. Didn’t dare say it then.

The end of the story is more heart rendering. As we drove back, Mari invited us to dinner as a thank you for us inviting them to Doubtful Sound. We thanked them but thought maybe they could just buy us some gas (and in our defense, this was before we knew it would cost $97). So Mari remarks, “Well, it is my birthday”…(yada yada yada). IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY? OF COURSE, WE’LL LET YOU TAKE US TO DINNER!!! She had us at birthday. So, we had a delightful dinner with Jim and Mari followed by a complimentary dessert because the meat was too tough. Tasty but tough is how we all described it to the server. But it didn’t really matter. We have a perfectly lovely day and dinner and with our wonderful new Minnesota friends. And we sang happy birthday during the half time of the Rugby World cup semi-finals in which the All Blacks held off the Wallabies…and then we hugged goodbye. I think they were going to the bungie jumping place today to watch. Personally, I was planning on a major collapse. This involved sleeping in, eating breakfast late, publishing my blog, writing my new blog entry, having a progressive dinner and then throwing myself into be at 7:45 to relax, regenerate and repack my suitcase for about the 25th time so that we can head out tomorrow back from the most southern place I’ve ever been to Auckland for 2 nights, then Sydney for 2 nights and the, OMG, back to LAX on Saturday (which will be Friday for you) which I have marveled before allows us to take a 15 hour flight and arriving before we take off. And the highlight of all this just might be that Air New Zealand safety film at the beginning of our flight back to Sydney.

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