Riding out Cyclone Lusi

It is sunday afternoon, March 16, 2014. The storm that was tropical cyclone Lusi has long ago been reclassified as a tropical depression, unworthy of a name. It sits off the North Western side of the South Island, after having struck the North Island a significant blow, and bounced off again. It is expected to pass through to the East this evening. I sit on the North West coast, comfortably out of the weather in a small cabin, and watch the progress. We originally expected the peak of the wind and rain to occur this morning, it looks like it was some hours late in coming. There was a strong wave last evening, around 18:00, which was fitful with a lot of energy. I thought that if it increased in intensity from there for twelve hours, it would be truly worrisome by morning. Instead it subsided to nearly nothing. Another wave started today around mid morning, but it was not as strong. Now, it appears that the strongest wave yet is in progress, and it has no indecision about it. The wind and the rain are constant and heavy. I have been able to catch up on my Facebook and email duties, and my sleep. When this wave subsides, I will go down to the only store in town, in the same building as the reception area for the holiday park, and order Take Away. They have the usual menu. Several kinds of fish, squids, and sausages dipped in batter, and chips (french fries), all deep fried. The quality varies, but the small town stuff is usually the best. I bought a bottle of wine there yesterday. The guy at the counter said ‘drink it all at once or it won’t do any good’.

Holiday Parks

The Holiday Park is something new in my experience, and i like it a lot. Perhaps because of Scottish cultural influences, the tourism industry caters to the thrifty. The Campervan is quite popular, and you see a great number of them, almost all rentals. It’s a camper made from a conventional van, Nissan for example, often with a raised roof area like the old VW bus campers we used to see in the states. It has the two seats in the front with a sleeping platform in the rear, under which are storage compartments accessible via the side and rear doors. It’s outfitted with curtains for privacy, although the springy suspension sometimes gives clues as to the activity inside. Larger ones based on Mercedes Benz or VW chassis represent the high end, but there are no city bus sized RVs as in the states. Back to the Holiday Park. It’s a complex with a range of accommodation options, all the way from motel rooms with private toilet facilities, called En Suites, to Standard rooms and cabins with shared toilet facilities, to bays for campervans with electricity, to tent sites. The grounds are often caringly landscaped, making me think it’s a business well suited for the avid gardener. Amenities include toilet, shower and laundry facilities, kitchen with fridge and freezer, coin operated internet facilities, and always, a TV room. I have pitched my tent in several of these Holiday Parks, twice in elaborate gardens. The fee has been 20-23 kiwi dollars, but I get a lot for that. I can cook with their fuel (camping fuel is expensive), charge all my batteries, freeze water for the chilly bin (that’s four bucks right there), and take a hot shower. Internet service is usually 5 dollars extra for 24 hours, which i can stretch over a two night stay. It is not uncommon for people to sleep in their cars. A young man and woman both somehow slept in one of those teeny Fiats one night. I’ve only done it once, because of the cold down south, but also as an experiment. It wasn’t bad, but my bedding in the tent is more comfortable, and has since then justified the setup and teardown.

Fellow Tourists

I meet few American tourists. The largest group are German speaking. The Austrians and Swiss fooled me at first, but a young German man told me that they do speak German, but with a strong accent and use many words the Germans find archaic. The next grouping would be the French speaking and about the same number of middle eastern sounding languages, which i do not recognize. Some of the French speaking are probably Canadian. I met a couple from Nova Scotia, and we puzzled over the switches on each electrical outlet in NZ. If a wall plate has two outlets, it also has two switches, one for each outlet. Wondering at the reason for this additional expense, I suggested bribery from switch makers. The wife said ‘same as our home’, and the husband, knowing I was American, said ‘we adopt all your ways, good and bad’. There are a number of Japanese, about as many as Americans. The Americans and Japanese may be on the Tour buses, however, since i did see one unload a herd of elderly Japanese. But when it comes to younger people tramping and camping, it’s mostly Europeans.

Pride and Prejudice

I just finished Pride and Prejudice. I have a friend in Rochester who belongs to a Jane Austen society. That was the immediate catalyst, but I had noticed historians like Paul Johnston often refer to Austen’s work for details of English Society of the times. The clergy as a politically appointed source of income for a nobleman’s sons. The passing of fortunes and estates to one’s heirs, the practical considerations of marriage. In short, the relationships between one’s position in society and financial opportunities for him, and most critically for her. I had recently read an article in Harper’s on the Romance category of the print media industry. It is by far the largest in terms of sales, outselling the nearest contender, Inspirational, by $700M. It’s authors are the best paid in the industry. The article reported on a convention sponsored by the industry with workshops, for a fee of course, on how to write best selling romance novels. The plots all share common elements, centered around the Happy Ever After ending, referred to in the industry as HEA. The successful novel, it was reported, would have the first part of the book developing obstacles and hurdles to HEA, and the last part having the hero and heroine striving like mad to overcome them. Well, P&P wasn’t much different in that regard, but the language usage was delicious, and I loved it for that reason. Reminded me of a summer spent in the hammock reading Moby Dick. Two very different stories, same delightful language usage. “as arrant topers, freshly landed from the sea, the liquor soon mounted to their heads, and they began capering about most obstreperously”, that sort of thing, as i still remember from Moby Dick, cracks me up.

It continues to storm with much energy. This wave has lasted several hours now. I look forward to what Monday morning will bring. Overall on the trip so far, the weather has not been the best. The day I arrived was cold and rainy, with a high around 10degC. The next two weeks were mainly sunny and warm. I developed a moderate sun burn which peeled and gave way to bronze summer skin. When i left to tour the South, it was cold and rainy again. The whole reason for starting in the South was to catch it early in the cycle when it would be the warmest. Although it rained each night in Dunedin, and the mornings were chilly, the days were nice and sunny. The trip from there down to Invercargill was intermittent rain, and nearly constant strong headwinds. I sat out the rain in Invercargill for two days before going to Stewart Island in a short sunny and calm window, and sat out another two days when I returned to see if it would improve enough to tour the Fiordlands. It didn’t, i gave up, and passed through Queenstown for a night before heading up the West coast to the parks on the North coast. I had about a week of nice weather through the Southern Alps and glacier country, and on into Nelson, where it started raining again. I holed up there three nights before heading for Totaranui in the Abel Tasman National Park. I had a window of two really nice days there. It was in Nelson that I first heard of Lusi. She turned out to be not nearly as well organized as the last cyclone to hit the Golden Bay area ten years ago, which took out roads and caused many slips (landslides). Still, she had energy enough in her to blow and rain hard these last 36 hours. Regardless, I have had enough good weather to see plenty of the incomparable beauty of this country. One of the reasons I came for three months is to have enough time to contend with the inevitable ups and downs of the weather. Tonight, I am very happy to not be in the tent. The forecast is for improvement throughout the upcoming week.


Luci’s gone, now, leaving the locals disappointed at not getting more rain. The last few days have been sunny and warm after the passing of the Cyclone. i toured the Farewell Spit area, and am going back to a Holiday Park i found near Wharariki Beach that is off the grid, so i’ll be out of touch for a while when i do that. If i like it i’ll spend a couple of days longer. I walked some of the tracks in the Pohara area. A waterfall thunderous with the flow of the cyclone aftermath. Going up a rocky ascent to some interesting caves, I tweaked something in my right knee, perhaps a ligament. I wondered if i was building up or tearing down with all this hiking i’ve been doing, and I suppose it’s a little of both. Went today to the Cobb river valley in Kahurangi National Park, but limited myself to a couple of hours on a relatively flat track along the river. There was debris on the track from the Cyclone, but not much real damage. The Cobb reservoir is dreadfully low, even after the storm, so it’s hard for me to feel sorry for myself when it rains. The access road is a 40km one lane gravel cliff hanger. If you meet somebody, you just have to hope there is a turnout not too far away so one of you can back up to it. This happened once after coming to a grinding halt, bumper to bumper. The other two cars I met were luckily at wide enough places in the road to pass. Knee feels just a little sore, but not bad, so I hope to try for the caves again tomorrow.

First Month

First, some new photo albums.


Southeast Coast

Stewart Island and Invercargill

First Month in NZ Already

The weather was fantastic the first two weeks plus, less so lately. The locals say it’s unusual, but cite the strange weather worldwide: American Northeast, England, Texas. Half of Australia seems to be on fire. I’ve had a wonderful sampling of the scenery and tracks in the Queenstown area, then spent ten days or so touring the South and am tonight back in QT. It has turned cold and rainy, but Vicki reminds me it is now officially Autumn here. Had to give up on the Milford Sound for now, a premier tourist destination. There is a strong low pressure area, almost a cyclone, off the East coast of the South Island with forecast winds there of 120-140km/hr, making the winds i experienced in the South seem like gentle breezes by comparison. Luckily, I have plans to head up the West coast from here, putting the Southern Alps between me and all that. The forecast temps look much better, so here’s hoping. The next posts should have plenty of rugged mountain scenery and glaciers.

Scatter Shooting for the Geekily Inclined, and Other Potentially Interested Parties:

Addendum to Units and Measures

Calories versus Joules

how many calories in a tablespoon of this peanut butter? The label says: serving size: 15g, Energy/Serving 358kJ, Energy per 100g 2380kJ. The Joule is the unit of energy in the metric (SI) system. We are used to referring to energy in food as calories. Some of us may not even be aware that we are referring to energy, but use ‘calories’ in an abstract score keeping system for weight management. Unfortunately, due to characteristic linguistic laziness, all this usage is technically wrong. What we routinely call calories are, in fact, kilocalories. This has been accounted for by the notation calorie (nutritional), which is one Kcal (thermodynamic). bottom line – 100 calories (nutritional) are about 420kj.

it gets worse. we calorie counters are used to specifying them per oz, or tablespoon, or some unit of volume. joule counters are used to specifying joules per gram, or unit of weight. that means there is no general conversion possible between cal/oz and j/gm. you must specify the material in question.

1 tablespoon of water weighs 14.79 grams
1 tablespoon of table salt weighs 18.25 grams
1 tablespoon of butter weighs 14.19 grams
1 tablespoon of oil (canola or soy) weighs 13.62 grams
1 tablespoon of sugar (granulated) weighs 12.5 grams

So in the case of the label on my jar of peanut butter, 15g is pretty close to a tbs.

Tire pressure

I decided to check the pressure of my tires in a small town after filling up with petrol. The young lady attending the register handed me a hose with the proper fittings and showed me the air line outside to hook it up to. Then I thought, pressure in pounds per square inch was not metric, and i didn’t know the conversion to Pascals. Fortunately, the gauge on the hose read in both units. From the scale, I made the mental note: 30 psi is about 200 (207 to three significant digits, thank you Google) kPa. Hope I remember that in the event the gauge isn’t as accommodating next time.

Addenda to Driving on the Left

When we meet someone on the sidewalk and wish to avoid collision, we dodge to the right. When a Kiwi encounters the same situation, they dodge to the left. This has awkward results when American meets Kiwi on the sidewalk.

Two other things that are not habitual and take focus away from the steering of the car: shifting the manual transmission with the left hand and operating the turn indicators which are on the opposite side. If I don’t consciously think about it, rather than signalling a turn I activate the windshield wipers. Luckily, it’s been raining a lot.

Another thing to remember: when we are habituated to driving on the right side of the road and want to cross the street, we will look to the left for oncoming traffic. Over here, that’s a good way to get run over.

speed bumps = judder bars

ice chest = chilly bin

parking lot = car park

Kiwi Television

is no more interesting than American TV, to me. I can’t get interested in the grayhound races and buggy trotter horse races that seem to be on at all hours, presumably for the benefit of compulsive gamblers (Chinese). There is always a Maori channel. I did get interested in the finals of some sort of Asian badminton world series on the Chinese channel, but one of the finalists in the men’s open sustained an injury. The play appeared to be most strenuous, players sweating as much as any boxer. finally, after trying to resume with an elaborate bandage, he forfeited. no joy.

Kiwi money

The smallest coin in circulation is the 10c piece (edit: originally i thought it was 20c). Registers round everything to the nearest 10c. Doesn’t that make sense? It all averages out, and the government doesn’t have the expense of minting all those smaller coins.

Kiwi politics

Vicki told me pharmaceutical companies can no longer give ‘gifts’ to doctors, pharmacists, etc., not even pens and pads with pharma adverts on them. Imagine a government that actually governs in the interest of the people, rather than in the interest of the multinational corporations that contribute to their campaigns! Mind boggling, that.

Buying a Car

There is a weekly rag here in QT similar to greensheet, penny saver, etc. It was the easiest place to start looking for a car to buy. The issue current when i arrived had several of interest, and further inquiry found them all to be sold. I therefore made it a point to jump quickly when the next issue was published. One ad stood out, a 98 Mazda Familia, 4WD 1.6L manual with low mileage; 118Kkm, about 80K miles. The owner, a front desk clerk at a motel, said it had been imported used from Japan by a friend, and that he was the second owner in NZ. For various reasons, none the least of which is the ridiculously stringent vehicle inspections in Japan, cars are routinely imported into NZ after they had been used several years in Japan. Bruce test drove it for half an hour, including some highway miles, and we couldn’t find anything to worry about.

NZ has a much more comprehensive vehicle inspection regime due every six months called a Warrant of Fitness, or WOF. One requirement for my car was that the WOF be good at least until i left so i would not have to renew it, and on this car it expired in June. The registration expired in late April. It’s somewhat costly, but can be purchased for three month terms. Amazingly, the first car i looked at seemed to fit the bill. We arrived at a price of 3700NZD, about $3000US, and shook hands. The owner wanted to wait until the weekend to turn it over, because he had a deal cooking for it’s replacement, a car with an automatic transmission more likely to be drivable by his wife.DSCN8537

The next day I texted the owner to get the tag, or ‘rego’ number, and ran it on an excellent online service called Motorweb that pulls from the WOF database. It charted the odometer readings from when the car was imported in 2004 to present, and confirmed no funny business with the odo. It had been steadily but lightly used over the past ten years. I wondered how I would come up with that much NZ cash. We walked into a random bank and asked. The representative said we could try my bank card in an EFTPOS device on his desk, and it willingly produced a large number of bills. I asked if there were any fees, and he said not from his hank, but that my bank would probably charge me. They did, about 3%. I met the seller in a grocery store parking lot Saturday evening, and handed over the dough in exchange for the key, and drove it home cautiously following Bruce.

I had to wait until Monday to register it in my name. This involved taking a one page form with the rego number, my passport information and a mailing address to the post office, and paying a nine dollar fee. Took about five minutes. I wondered what would keep someone from stealing a car and doing the same, but apparently there is a database of some sort keeping track of reportedly stolen cars. A seller must complete a similar form and file it. Insurance is not required by law, but we thought it a good idea. There is an outfit called AA in NZ, with an affiliations with AAA in the US, that sells insurance. It can be done over the phone, but could only be purchased for a term of one year. Happily, they will refund the remainder when i cancel it in two months or so. $20M of liability coverage cost $102NZ/yr.

Tuesday I went to get petrol. The previous owner had left very little. I sympathized when i paid $110NZ to fill the 45L tank. That’s over $8US/gal. After that i drove for practice with Bruce. It is maddeningly difficult to drive on the left side of the road. It requires my total concentration. There is such a force of habit, that if anything else requires part of my brain, I tend to automatically revert to driving on the right. Driving straight ahead isn’t really hard, it’s the turns. Left turns are easy, no oncoming traffic. Right turns are harder into oncoming traffic. It takes concentration to pick an opening, and that takes focus away on turning into the left lane. There is an instinctive red flag that goes off because when you are used to driving on the right, you never cross lanes to turn right. Shouldn’t anyway. I headed toward a right lane once on a right turn and Bruce had to yell at me. Manoeuvres like backing out of a driveway onto a perpendicular road require much more deliberation to avoid backing into the wrong lane to face oncoming traffic.

Wednesday I went shopping for provisions for camping. I packed up the car Thursday, and went back for more provisions. Batteries are really expensive. AAs are about $2 ea. Getting a spare key made wasn’t. Chicken and cheese are a fair bit more expensive. The chicken was on sale, regularly NZ$25/Kilo down to NZ$15, which is about $7US/lb. I’m ready as I’ll ever be. Tomorrow, Friday, I’ll have tea with my wonderful hosts and head for Dunedin and on to Invercargill and Stewart Island on the Southernmost end of the South Island. It is becomming apparent that I will not have time to see the North Island on this trip. I’ve spent over two weeks in the greater Queenstown area, and havn’t really exhausted everything here. Not even close.