Departures: New Zealand 2004: San Francisco to Nelson

In late 2004, I was changing jobs. Footloose, I wanted to travel. But where? I had about three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas--time enough to justify a long airplane flight. I wanted to go someplace I hadn't been before. I wouldn't have time to study a foreign language ahead of time.

Australia fit the bill perfectly. I sketched plans for an Australia trip. By coincidence, my parents were taking a class about Australia at the Fromm Institute. Week by week, this class covered all of Australia: natural history, human history, politics, etc. Thus, one evening over dinner they told me about Australia's natural features: the world's most poisonous animals. I decided not to tell my parents about my Australia plans that evening. I didn't want to frighten my mother. Next week, at dinner they told me the early-exploration part of Australia's history: explorers went into the interior and died of poisonous animal bites. I didn't have the heart to tell my mother about the trip then. Would I ever get a chance? Would this class ever stop talking about poisonous critters?

I looked at a map of Australia wistfully. Then I looked right.

I decided to go to New Zealand instead. New Zealand had no poisonous creatures to speak of, so it wouldn't frighten my mother. Tom Lester and his brother Matthias had had a great time in New Zealand. Look at how tiny New Zealand was: I could see the whole thing in three weeks, no problem.

Yes, I made the lame tourist mistake of underestimating the size of the region he planned to visit. Other lame tourist-y things I did:

Brace yourself for a tale of great laziness and luxury in foreign climes.

Sun Nov 28 2004

In the San Francisco Bay Area, at the Pleasant Hill BART station, Toby Lester handed me the useful bits from Tom and Matthias Lester's New Zealand trip: travel backpacks and travel guides. He also handed over a MENSA puzzle calendar to celebrate our recent adventure at the Shinteki Untamed treasure hunt. Thanks to Toby, I was ready for anything.

That evening, I boarded an airplane.

Mon Nov 29 2004

Monday was a casualty of the international dateline and air travel.

Tue Nov 30 2004

[Photo: Low island covered w]
[Photo: Sandstone cliffs by ]

At the Auckland airport I failed to find someone who'd sell me a battery charger. I did find the plane to Nelson, so I took that. As the plane flew into the Nelson region from the water side, I looked down on a coastline and high hills covered with forest.

The cab ride from the airport went on the coast road. I looked out on the water where low sandy islands sported stands of tall trees. I looked at creased cliffsides dotted with plants. Gorgeous. I told the taxi driver, "I just arrived and I'm already glad I came."

I checked in to the nice Trafalgar Lodge. Thanks to the international dateline, I'd arrived early in the day. I was worn out from traveling, but determined not to rest. Remembering my difficult time shaking jet lag in Paris, I stubbornly decided to keep local hours.

So I kept busy. I walked along the local high street until I found a camera shop that sold me a battery charger. I sought out Broccoli Row where I had a fine lunch outside under the watchful gaze of hungry birds. I started to drift off to sleep. I had to keep moving. I'd originally planned not to try to do much on this day, but I hopped up for a walk.

Sightseeing Commences

[Photo: Redwood]
[Photo: Nelson Cathedral obl]

I went groggily walking through the suburbs along the ridgeline by the coast. My randomly-chosen route had stumbled onto a tourist site--here was a sign with interpretive text. I had arrived at my first genuine New Zealand tourist spot. Looking around, I wasn't sure what was so special. Then I read the interpretive text: I stood at the base of an exotic California Redwood tree!

For this, I'd flown thousands of miles from California? This was the Britannia Heights redwood, the Sanger (Songer? (I have terrible handwriting.)) tree. The locals had planted it as a landmark for ships at sea--it was much taller than the local trees. Sure enough, in my later walks around Nelson, I would spot the Britannia Heights redwood out of the corner of my eye a few times.

I got lost, got found again, and made my way back to the Nelson City Center. I clicked some photos of the cathedral, since it was one of the things to see in Nelson. It was art deco--but then, there was plenty of art deco in NZ. I visited the Bootsoff Internet Cafe, where I noted and recorded my web site's three millionth hit. I figured that I should keep walking around to stay awake. Then again, the people at the Bootsoff had some good jazz playing, and maybe that would keep me awake. I stopped exploring the city and started exploring the internet.

Danielle Berry said "No one ever said on their deathbed 'Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.'" Still, I wish I'd walked less that day and spent more time in the internet cafe. Everyone told me to slop on sunblock while in NZ. There's a hole in the ozone down there, and it gives terrible sunburns. Unfortunately, jet lag had made me forget all that. I'd been walking without sunblock; I looked like a cooked lobster.

I decdided to burn my insides to match my outside: I picked up some tasty take-out from Plaza India. Then I headed back to the Trafalgar Lodge, where the surfer movies "In God's Hands" and "Blue Crush" were on. I let images of pretty waves keep me awake until 8:30 until the tide of unconsciousness pulled me under.

Wed Dec 1 2004

Centre of New Zealand

The next morning, I awoke bright and early. I set off for the Centre of New Zealand, concealed somewhere in the wilds of Nelson's Botanical Garden. Nelson is bordered by several parks. If you head inland, through the Maitai valley, there are parks. If you head east along the coast, there are parks. The Botanical Gardens were a tree-covered hill adjoining both the Maitai valley parks and the East parks. But I didn't know this at the time. I crossed the Hardy Street bridge, crossed a sports field, and was surprised that the "botanical gardens" were on such a steep hill. I was just wearing my open sandals, not my walking shoes.

[Photo: Spoor of the Hash Ho]
[Photo: New Zealand Flax pro]

Soon I was clambering up the hill, somewhat lost, hoping that I could spot the Centre from the top of a hill. But I spotted something more interesting: a chalk arrow.

Surely this must be the spoor of the Hash House Harriers? At my previous job, my co-worker Gerry Kane had told me about the Hash House Harriers, the drinking club with a running problem. Their purpose in life was to play a follow-the-leader game, where the leader had a few minutes' head start on the "pack". The leader (the "hare") drops handfuls of flour or confetti to mark his course--but not at every intersection. Frontrunners of the pack, when they figured out the correct course, drew chalk arrows to help the rest of the pack find the true path. In general, this true path would wind past a couple of places where one could drink large quantities of alcohol.

I decided to follow the trail of arrows for a while. It led me uphill, to a crossroads at a saddlepoint of hills. There was an "HH" on the ground there. Perhaps this had been some part-way goal of a recent hunt. And here was a sign, telling me that the Centre of New Zealand lurked on one of the nearby hilltops.

The Centre boasted a fine view, suspiciously fine. It would be quite a coincidence if the geographical center of New Zealand happened to be at such a scenic spot. This was not, in fact, the geographical center of New Zealand in any sense. Of course I saw the Sanger (Songer?) redwood. Other sight-seers showed up. We said hello at each other.

So I'd seen the Centre. I was finished with my morning plans and the day had barely started. I headed back to the saddle point. A trail headed eastward along a ridge through something called Warfard Park. (Something like Warfard Park. I have terrible handwriting.)

Warfard Park turned out to be the grazing area of some gastronomically-active sheep. I didn't see those sheep, but I did see quite a bit of their poop. Did I mention that I was wearing open sandals? I stepped carefully through Warfard Park.

Eventually I emerged from Warfard Park. From here I could go back, or head further East, out of town. Did I want to head east out of town? I hoped to head westward in the afternoon. A couple of locals sitting on a bench observed my plight. One of them suggested that I keep heading east a little, but take the first path heading down the hill. So that's what I did.

That path was great, winding through a eucalyptus forest which might have been called Sir Stanley Whitehead Park. There was no grazing land here, no sheep poop to dodge. Instead of watching the ground, I watched tall eucalyptus wave in the breeze, enjoying the shade they provided from the sun.

I emerged at the bottom of the road. The path was not marked--I would not have spotted it if I didn't know to look for it--a trail headed up the hill just east of Iwa Road where it hits Atawhai Drive, close to the Founder's Park windmill.

Founder's Park

[Photo: Early Sun Workstatio]
[Photo: Phones on display in]

Founder's Park wasn't on my itinerary for the day, but the day was young. As you might guess from the name, this park featured historical displays. Some of my notes follow. Unsurprisingly, a fair number of them treat with local maritime history. Note that this place did not have the many old ships mentioned--but it did have models and paraphenalia from several, plus interesting interpretive text.

Though I don't mention it in my notes, I remember clambering around inside that freighter plane. The cockpit was made for people smaller than me.

World of Wearable Art

[Photo: The World of Wearabl]

You might wonder what the World of Wearable Art is.

Every year in Nelson, there was an art/fashion show/contest. Local and visiting designers created wearable works of art. They were gorgeous. The World of Wearable Art was a museum displaying past winners and contenders. (When I got back to the Trafalgar Lodge, Georgina the proprietor told me that the show was moving to Wellington--it had become too big and popular to fit in Nelson.) Unfortunately, the museum did not allow photography. Thus all I can do is present my notes and encourage you to visit their web site and maybe order one of their picture books or videos.

On the way back to town, I shunned the main roads and walked on the Railway Reserve, a dirt bike path, which started at the intersection of Totara and St Vincent.


Checking out at a supermarket.


"Sorry, what?"


"Uhm, one more time?"


"Oh! OK."

Okay, I was a dork, still getting used to the local accent. But this was a tougher converstation to figure out than you might think: the register display said "2.79". It turns out that there are no pennies in New Zealand.

Thu Dec 2 2004

[Photo: Hare spoor--On the s]
[Photo: Pit Stop! (Close eno]

I'd done everything I meant to do in Nelson, so I decided to hike along the Maitai River Valley. I packed sandwiches, headed out the door, and started walking south along the river. There were chalk arrows on the Hardy Street Bridge, but I wasn't going to get distracted by the Hash House Harriers--this was probably the same trail I'd already seen. Better I should stick to the lowlands, see something different.

Soon I emerged from the city center. Now one side of the river was green, free of houses. Every so often, I spotted a chalk arrow on the ground. Apparently, I still followed that old Hash House Harriers trail. In addition to chalk marks of the follower "hounds", I also spotted the occasional clump of confetti dropped by the leader "hare".

When the harrier trail diverged from the river, I dithered. Should I follow the trail or the river? In the end I followed the trail. This turned out to be a short cut--it rejoined the river, skipping a meander. But then it headed along the river the wrong way. What was going on? I followed the trail--and it headed back to where it had diverged from the river in the first place. The tricky "hare" had left a twisty trail. I followed it to a spot called Branford Park. I remembered that name from my walk on the Botanical Garden hill--those spots were connected by a trail.

I wearied of meandering and doubling back. To heck with the harriers, I would go back to following the river upstream. But I'd use that shortcut. Now there were few houses; now there were more fields.

The trail went through a cow pasture. An occasional raindrop fell. Rain? I wasn't really ready for rain. I decided that if it started raining, I should seek shelter under a cow. It wouldn't be great shelter, but it was the best nearby. I started walking faster.

[Photo: Wooded hills remind ]
[Photo: This pipe marks the ]
[Photo: Maitai River, which ]

Past a golf course, through a sheep pasture, past the lumber road marked "Carter Holt Harvey / Forests / Hira Forest / Groom Road". It was sprinkling now. I dedicated a few neurons to keep track of my most recently passed shelter so that I'd know where to run if the sky started dumping.

Over a stile, following a sign that seemed to point out a trail--but the trail turned out to be a pipe heading up a steep hill. Was this really a trail? By the time I got about halfway up the hill, I was pretty sure this wasn't really a trail. But by then, going back down seemed more dangerous than continuing up, so I continued up. Finally, the pipe reached a bit of level ground--a ledge that followed the contour of the hill. I walked this ledge a short ways, hoping to find a less-steep way down. But the ground cover was pretty thick, and the ground was pretty swampy. I finally gave up on finding an easy way down and just made my way down next to the pipe. Part of the way I had to go on all fours, crabwalking down. It was that or overbalance and roll down. It was a steep hill. As it was, my shoes slipped a couple of times, and I fell on my butt.

At the bottom of the hill, I looked at the sign that had pointed me at the pipe. I figured out that someone had turned the sign 90 degrees from its original position. I rubbed my ankles and contemplated mayhem.

I walked to the Poleford Bridge, and there was more rain and I decided to head back. Part of the way I went through that Carter Holt Harvey-owned forest. It was pretty, but I didn't emerge with any anecdotes.

[Photo: Puzzle Hunts are Eve]

Puzzle Hunts are everywhere. On the Nile Street bridge, I strip of paper taped to a rail post. Curious, I read it--"7. Who sat in the corner eating his Christmas pie? 2 pts". I said "Little Jack Horner", but there was no Game Control to hear me.


Back at the Trafalgar Lodge, I asked the lady at the front desk (Georgina's daughter?) where I could buy a wristwatch. She pointed me at the Warehouse, a big discount place. I went there--it really was big like a warehouse. I needed help from someone who worked there to find the watches.

Craving cheese, I went for a cheese lasagna at Lambretta's. This was fine for what it was. If I hadn't wanted cheese, Lambretta's would have been less fine. Back in the lodge, I caught the end of the Charlie's Angels sequel movie. That was pretty cheesy, too.

I was ready for a little less civilization.

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