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Tom Leslie
Toronto, Canada

Sunday, August 17, 2008
Anne and I just returned from a wonderful two-week vacation in BC, Seattle and Oregon. The high point of the trip was my parents' 44th wedding anniversary, which became a big Leslie family reunion, with the U.S. Leslies and Allistons joining us for the event. Butchart Gardens was kind enough to supply us with a spectacular fireworks show to mark the occasion! The photos are in my new photo gallery, which is here!

Sunday, May 18, 2008
New St. Mary Magdalene's t-shirt slogans:

"Will sway for five thousand dollars"
"Just be reasonable(tm)"

Thursday, January 04, 2007
Ok, now working backwards, let me pick up the story of our drive northwards and the ferry to Wellington. We had decent weather for the Nelson to Picton drive and took the winding scenic route along the coast, which was, indeed, very very windey. Had some lovely pictures but didn't really stop for much on the way. Picton is dominated by the ferry port and otherwise seems like a pretty boring place. For some reason Avis wanted their car back here, so we returned it and boarded the ferry as foot passengers.

The ferry was a huge 8-story car ferry, which it seems that Interislander bought from the English Channel service. Its name (Challenger) is painted over an earlier title, Spirit of Cherbourg. There's every chance I might have taken it ten or more years ago! Anyway, it was a comfortable crossing, with some rain and a lot of cloud. It was raining pretty steadily when we got to Wellington, where Avis duly gave us another car, thankfully another automatic. (I really should learn to drive standard one of these days.)

A quick check of the map later and we were off for the short drive downtown to our hotel, the Quest Wellington Suites. We had a furnished apartment whose main attraction (well, to us, anyway) was the en suite washer & dryer. It was comfortable, not especially clean, but well situated and a reasonable cost. And it had a Starbucks less than 50 feet from the front door!

After settling in we walked downtown for a bit, down a fairly deserted street (we'd forgotten the map in the room) and eventually were directed to Cuba Street, a pedestian street with several decent food options. After a nice dinner we retired to watch Lord of the Rings on TV in our room. (Part I.)

The following day was grey with signs of rain imminent. In the morning we found a huge bookshop near the hotel and bought a couple of things, and then took the cable car up the hill to get a panoramic view of Wellington harbour. Pretty nice, even with the cloud. Then we had a walk back downtown, ending up at the immense and wonderful Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. We had a few great hours there, and learned a lot about NZ art, geology (including earthquakes and volcanoes), natural history, and Maori culture.

We left the museum to pouring rain, but had just a short run to a restaurant we'd passed on the way to the museum. We were pretty early (6pm) so they were able to squeeze us in before their reservations filled the place. We had a wonderful meal, and bought the chef's cook book as a souvenir!

Then, being boring folk, we went back to the hotel room and watched more hobbits. (Part II).

Ok, the Internet cafe is closing so I'll post the other couple of days when I get the next chance.

January 5, 2007
Waterfront Cafe, Russell, Bay of Islands

We've been a few days without internet access now, and in addition to a slight case of the shakes, I've started forgetting what we've done. Trusty pen & paper have come to the rescue. Here's the synopsis of the story since the last post:

Dec. 30 - ferry from Picton to Wellington, picked up a new rental car, found the hotel, found a Starbucks, got some dinner
Dec. 31 - took the Wellington cable car up the mountain, walked back down, spent the afternoon in the (wonderful) Te Papa museum, and had a New Year's celebratory dinner at Zibbibo
Jan. 1 - longish drive to Tongariro, checked in to the glamorous Chateau, glared at the heavy cloud cover
Jan. 2 - slept in, glared at the cloud cover some more, rebooked our plans to stay an extra day, gassed up the car, got supplies, did a workout in the gym
Jan. 3 - Tongariro Crossing! Great views of lunar volcanic landscape, sulphurous steam vents, poisonous lakes & streams
Jan. 4 - very long drive to Russell in the Bay of Islands. The most traffic so far this trip (not saying very much, however). Didn't stop in Auckland. Nice dinner at Gannett's.
Jan. 5 - getting ready for a sailing cruise of the Bay of Islands on the catamaran Straycat.

So that was this morning's notes. Now back from the sailing cruise, which was lovely: a small cruising catamaran with a comfortable cabin, four other adult passengers and two children, plus two crew. The weather was glorious for sailing and we had a lovely long cruise back to Russell with the engines off the whole way back.

Friday, December 29, 2006
December 30, 7:55 am
Sussex House B&B, Nelson, NZ

We're just packing up to leave Nelson but not, we hope, to leave the sunshine behind. We had lovely weather here for a hike yesterday and had a lovely hike to take advantage of it: between Tonga and Torrent Bay on the Abel Tasman Great Walk in the park of the same name. It's about 60k from Nelson, with some lovely winding roads to get there, and once we arrived on the park's doorstep we then had to get to and from the trail. That trick is commonly done by water taxi, which is what we did. We had a high-speed motorboat drop off at one of the gorgeous golden beaches of the park, followed by a wonderful hike through dense palm tree jungles, another beach and a swim at lunch time, further hiking with the sun coming through the forest cover as we went, and a final swim before the water taxi loaded us up for the trip back to the car and the beach.

Today we're off to Picton, where we will board the 1:15 ferry to Wellington on the North Island. We've had a fantastic time in the South, and we're hoping some of the good weather mojo comes with us as we head towards Tongariro and the Bay of Islands!

Thursday, December 28, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 9:20 pm
Sussex House Bed & Breakfast, Nelson, NZ

After three highly fattening days over Christmas in Queenstown, we now find ourselves at the top end of the Southern Island, almost ready for the crossing back over to the North Island. Much activity to cover over the last few days, of course!

Boxing Day progressed largely as predicted in our last post. Deer Park Heights is a strange kind of private petting zoo, spread out over a fantasticly beautiful rocky hill overlooking Lake Wakatipu, with Queenstown on the right, and remarkable mountains all around. (The Remarkables are to the left.) It has been used for several film shoots, and has a fake small North Korean-styled prison still standing near its Western peak, from a straight-to-video Disney production in the 80's. Deer Park Heights was also used by Peter Jackson for filming several scenes from the Two Towers, most notably the flight of the Rohirrim towards Helm's Deep and the fight against the warg-riding orc scouts sent by Saruman. It has a driving track leading up the hillside, and several very large field areas with various animals, most of them more or less used to humans coming up to them and feeding them. (Feed stations are conveniently provided for buying large canisters of feed.) The animals included deer (not so used to humans), llamas (somewhat pushy), opacas (a bit aloof -- I might be mixing them up with the opacas though), goats (who mobbed Anne for food while I was off climbing rocks for views), and a few others I don't recall right now. We had a fun couple of hours driving and hiking around to see most of them and then headed back to Queenstown.

From downtown Queenstown we got on the 2pm sailing of the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship that's been sailing Lake Wakatipu since 1912, and still equipped with twin steam engines powered by coal. We had a nice cruise across the lake to Walter's Peak, a working farm whose main business is giving tourists an introduction to New Zealand farm life, including a sheep dog demonstration and a sheep shearing. It's pretty staged, and it was hardly a private experience as the Earnslaw took 50 other people along with us, but it was still reasonably entertaining.

We ended the day with a very nice Thai dinner at Thai Siam in downtown Queenstown, and went back to the B&B to get packed.

Yesterday (the 27th) we said goodbye to Bill and Kari and set off (after another gut-expanding, four-course breakfast!). We drove east a bit and then up the mountain road north from Queenstown towards Wanaka. The morning started with scattered cloud, which still hadn't fully set it by the time we got to Wanaka, and we stopped there for a couple of photos across that town's beautiful lake, and an (expensive) visit to a woolen goods shop. And a couple of coffees.

Onwards, still heading north and eventually west towards the coast. As we crossed over the Haast Pass, the clouds descended thickly and the rain started coming down in sheets. We made our way to our overnight stop at Fox Glacier, which we were fully prepared to believe didn't exist, as the clouds prevented any views at all.

And that was last night. The Fox Glacier Lodge was fairly spartan, but comfortable, clean and warm. We got up at 7am to see sunshine, but with clouds on the horizon. So we quickly dashed off for an hour-long walk around the nearby Lake Murcheson for some nice views of the mountains, before returning to finish packing and get some breakfast! Then we resumed our trip up the west coast to Nelson, stopping for some cool watery geology features at Punakaiki: the famous pancake rocks and blowholes.

Into the afternoon on this, our longest driving day of the trip, and towards the end of the day we had passed from the west coast to the central region and up into the suburbs of Nelson (pop. ~50k), where we're staying now. We'll be here for two nights, and we're looking forward to a nice hike in the Abel Tasman National Park tomorrow -- along with a whole lot of New Zealand's own tourists, as this is a favourite holiday location in this, one of the busiest holiday periods of the year.

Monday, December 25, 2006
Tuesday, December 26, 9:50 AM
Pencarrow B&B, Queenstown, NZ

So... full..... Must... type blog... before slumping into... food coma. The pressure! Must... loosen belt.

We've had a very relaxing time at the luxurious Pencarrow B&B, whose hosts, Bill and Kari, have gone to extremes to make us feel welcome and well cared for during our stay. They even gave us Christmas presents under the little tree in our room! And the breakfasts have been gourmet heaven: eggs on a cloud yesterday followed by flapjacks, and today baked eggs (wonderfully spiced) and bacon, followed by belgian waffles. And this followed our Christmas dinner out, at Gantleys, a local fine dining establishment:

Clevedon oysters and wild medley mushroom soup with creme fraiche, drizzled with truffle oil

Lamb tenderloin cooked medium rare, served with minted green pea potato cake, fresh asparagus, topped with rocket pesto and finished with a roasted garlic and lamb jus, mint coulis

Pink grapefruit sorbet

Langoustine and tarragon butter ravioli topped with buttered leeks, wasabi caviar, finished with a foie gras sauce and blood orange reduction

Ham with bourbon molasses and pecan glaze, stuffed turkey fillets wrapped in smoked bacon with a spicy cranberry and dried fruit chutney and cider sage gravy

Sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, white chocolate creme caramel with orange shortbread biscuit, vanilla bean ice cream encased in a pistachio nut tuille ring

Tea or coffee with pistachio, raspberry and white chocolate biscotti

Needless to say, we were still full this morning. We were also very thankful that we'd gone for a nice walk up Mount Crichton yesterday afternoon.

On today's agenda we will be driving around to Deer Park Heights, a nearly park where a number of Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed, and feeding the goats there; and this afternoon we're taking a cruise on the lake on an old steamship, the TSS Earnslow, with afternoon tea and a farm trip to see sheep being shorn. The weather is still largely overcast, but it doesn't look like we'll get much rain today if any, and there are patches of blue sky.

Merry Christmas to everyone! We're having a great time, and hope your holidays are going well also.