Kiwis, Anyone?

Who in their right minds would want to be called Kiwis? But the New Zealanders love the label. And our hosts are as enchanting as their extraordinary country. Their terrain, especially the South Island, is an encyclopedia of outdoor Wows: wild coastlines with pancake-shaped rocks, glacier-laced mountains, rainforests with teeny-tiny orchids…and of course iconic green hills saturated with sheep. Impossibly beautiful, says Randy.

No regular blogging from here – it was hard to get the glowworms, fur seals, and alpine parrots to explain themselves along the way. But I thought I’d throw out a few fun snippets and 20 of Randy’s pictures. Not a perfect match, but you’ll get the idea.

New Kid on the Block: Unlike Australia, with a 40,000 year history of Aborigines, NZ was first inhabited just 700 years ago – by Polynesians who clearly got lost. Parochial me always referred to Australia and New Zealand in the same breath but, at 1400 miles apart and very different histories, they are (duh) 2 really different countries. But there’s a mysterious common root in the rugged guys and captivating accents.

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Possum fur: There were no land mammals here until recently so wingless birds flourished until scoundrels like possums and groats were introduced. So the Kiwis are determined to eradicate these pests through possum bounties….and possum fur for sale everywhere. Love my new possum socks.

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Eco on steroids: How do I not make this sound cynical? Let’s just say that NZ makes Oregon look like an Arrowhead Stadium refreshment stand. You have never seen more environmentally correct products or eco-lodges. Made me want to throw trash around and smoke cigarettes. And don’t get me started on eco-activities – white water rafting, heli-hiking, trail running. What about dull, quiet hiking? We’re so retro – mostly.

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It’s all cricket: Despite the eco-bent, there are signs of more civilized society here, like cricket in Auckland (darling white outfits, I must say) and terrific wine. Actually, this observation is much less interesting than Auckland’s being built on 50 volcanoes, several of which are active. Wonder if the next eruption will upset the cricket game.

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Made-up species: When the early naturalists were here they had either limited knowledge or limited imagination. They saw something that looked like a cod so they called it a cod. Looks kinda like a robin? Let’s call it a robin. Turns out the new species were WAY different but the old names stuck so it is all very confusing. Thank goodness they renamed the alpine parrot the kea (which can impressively unzip backpacks looking for treats). Naughty Kea.

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Shrek, the rogue sheep: Unlike his 28 million NZ sheep buddies, Shrek escaped the shearer by hiding out in a cave for years. You can see from picture below (guess which one – not Randy’s) why he has been the darling of NZ.

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Glowworm Inspiration: What an amazing, other-world spectacle! To go into a cave or a ravine in darkness and see zillions of tiny glowing lights! Honestly, I could have ended the trip after that evening and felt it was all worth it, especially after hearing this Kiwi rhyme:

I wish I were a glowworm
His life is never glum
How can you be grumpy
When the sun shines out your bum?

And some random pix

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Weird, Dude

From the tree ferns with strange unfolding stems to the tallest hardwoods on earth (300-ft eucalypts) to giant purple bottle-brush like flowers, the vegetation is other-worldly. In fact, 60% of the flora/fauna in Tassie are found no where else.

Of course, the Hudsons are in hiking heaven, with a different national park each day. Adding to the fun are hopping wallabies on the trail, snouted hedgehog-like echidnas guzzling ants, and day-glo orange lichen. And Stan, Tassie naturalist extraordinaire, whom we met in the woods. Great color all around.

 

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Where the Really Bad Boys Went

If you thought Australia was far south, go south some more – to the island of Tasmania. Viewed by 19th century Brits as the end of the earth, it was a last stop penal colony. Thousands of convicts in Britain were sent to prison outposts in Australia (seen as more humane treatment than the gallows – hmmm).

But some continued to misbehave so they were sent on to Tasmania. 75,000 very bad boys ended up here. So “Tassie” has evolved with a funky mixture of tortured history and isolated, natural beauty. Perfect Gothic vibe.

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Melbourne: Street Art Gone Wild

Back on the blog – inspired by the strange world Down Under. The winds are taking us to Melbourne, Tasmania, and New Zealand and I’ll try to capture a few of the unexpected treasures.

Street Art Gone Wild
Melbourne is a lovely, cosmopolitan city (no fewer than 6 people reminded us that it had been named yet again the Most Livable City in the World). The parks, food, waterfront and friendliness contribute, but it is the ubiquitous street art that charms us. (OK, the wrought iron decoration on all the Victorian-era houses, even tiny ones, is cool, too. Apparently there is more iron wroughted here than in New Orleans – the product of iron ship ballast and the need to gussy things up 13,000 miles away from England.)

But back to Street Art. Controversial for many years, it is now embraced and celebrated with festivals, galleries, schools, etc. So come to Melbourne to fuel your inner angst.

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Need something a little more soothing, if not strange? From the Gardens…

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