Wednesday, April 19, 2017

                                                                   
Sydney Opera House with the Harbor Bridge

Sydney

I grew up hearing, "We're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy".   Well Sydney is beautiful, but we were definitely "Not In" New Zealand anymore.  Nor Kansas for that matter.  Sydney is a big city, perhaps 6 million people in the metro area alone. That is one and a half times more people than in all of New Zealand (although it ties the number of cattle in New Zealand).    After 30 days of driving our camper van all over NZ, we spent 7 days in Sydney....walking....6-7 miles a day of walking.    We needed the exercise.

Even though we were staying in an apartment in the Central Business District, we discovered what everyone in Sydney knows.   They have some beautiful beaches just 20 minutes east of downtown. 


We took a walk along the Eastern Shore.  This is Coogee Beach on Good Friday.  Being a Holiday, I think the entire populace went to the beaches to hang out, jog, walk, surf, body surf, swim, kayak, eat fish and chips, ice cream, be seen, or looking for others that want to be seen.  It was busy.    In my opinion the Australians are very healthy and in great shape.  



We walked from Coogee Beach 7 km along the shore to the famous Bondi Beach.  The underwater bottom at Bondi is perfect to make pretty curls in the incoming surf,  beautiful deep blue, with that curl big enough for a surfer to fit under, that travels far into shore.    You can feel the power, hear it's thunder.  Over and over, and over.  Young and old, guys and girls, all were showing how it was done.   It was fun to watch in many ways.

Captain James Cook was the first Englishman to sail into Botany Harbor on his 100 ft. Endeavour, just south of today's Sydney Harbor in 1770.   This was the same trip, by the way, that he discovered that funny land to the southeast.... New Holland (New Zealand today).   The native people of the land were the Aborigines, and the Maori's in NZ.  But it wasn't until the 1860's when Britain decided that they could find a good use for this land so far away from the rest of the world.  Yes,  I know you know the history. They made it a prison.  The entire country.  Who could escape, right?   So basically the modern history of this island started with the worst of the worst prisoners from England, who could survive a six month trip, and the rough and tough guards to watch them.    I frankly think the British have done a better job of integrating the original people's of these islands into their society, as compared to our American Indian.   They clearly have had a positive effect on this rough and tough culture today of these islands.  

Unlike Europe where you can see churches that are 500 years old, most of Sydney is new.  There are a few government buildings, now museums, built in the late 1800's.   I guess I did not feel they were worthy of remembering, because I took no pictures of them.  I am sure that would really make some prisoner mad that I didn't think much of the building he built 130 years later.  The famous Harbor Bridge was built in 1930.  We walked across it, and it provides a spectacular view of the Harbor, the Opera House,  and all the Central Business District of Sydney.  That will be kind of special on the next New Years Eve to see the fireworks from that beautiful bridge.

BTW, we walked the bridge for free at the road level.  However, if you really want to burn up some money and calories, and have a better view, you can pay $300/person and walk up to the top of the arch.   We decided to buy some wine with that money.

Speaking of walking, Sydney is a very walkable city.   The 6-7 miles a day we spent was walking from our apartment on Hyde Park down to Circular Quay, from which all the ferries run.   For $15/day, we bought ferry passes that would provide us unlimited daily rides on the extensive ferry system all over the harbor.....Manly Beach up north, Taronga Zoo, Watson's Bay, and even12 miles to the east to the Olympic Village (built for the 2000 Sydney Olympics).   Our routine was to walk to the ferry (grabbing an expresso along the way), ride the ferry, come back and walk to a museum, or up to the Opera House, or the beautiful Sydney Botanical Gardens.  I know here I go again, about Botanical Gardens, but I have discovered a whole new me.  I love these parks...the trees from all around the world, flowers of every type, and beautiful open grassy areas to escape the hustle of the city.   Now I want a green house to grow these year around plants.

Golden Shampoo Ginger flower from India.  It was huge, and very firm petals.   They look soft, but they are not.





G
This is a Crinum Jagus from Africa.  
 Koala Bear at the Taronga Zoo

In all we spent 7 days in Sydney at the end of our long trip.   If I had to do it over, I would have moved 4 of those days back to New Zealand, and only used 3 days in Sydney.  It is a great city, but 3 days was enough for me.  There were a couple of places I would have loved to see in NZ, but we just ran out of time.  Now we know.  
So off we go on American Airlines from Sydney to Los Angeles.   (No bar in Business Class here) It is a 13 hour flight, where you start at 10:00 in the morning and arrive in LA four hours earlier.   So it's not even like you sat on a plane for that long.  Easy Peasy.   Did I tell you that Shelley is a germ freak.   Her rule:   wipe every surface around your seat like it is covered by ebola.   That airplane seat had never been so clean.   She uses one of these guys every time she came back from the restroom.  Plus she never touches a stair rail, tries to use her sleeve when she opens a public door, and never, ever touch the moving black rail on an escalator. 

I have always wondered why she is so damn healthy....never sick....never a cold.

I digress.  It was a great trip, one that we will remember for a lifetime.  New Zealand was the highlight, a traveler's paradise, and it should be on your bucket list.  Well worth the travel time.   










 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

                              New Zealand to Australia
                                    
The Chalice in Cathedral Square...Christchurch

I screwed up once in 30 days of driving.   It was the last day in Christchurch, and we had a few hours to utilize before our allotted time to return the camper back to Wilderness RV, and head to the airport.  So we decided to take a drive out into the country north of Christchurch to find a nice place to have an early lunch.  It happened.  First time in 30 days.   Very unexpected, as we were making our way out of the city,  I was making a left turn onto a busy through street, when I suddenly go "Oh #@*&" I am turning into the far lane, the wrong lane.   Yikes.  

What a dummy to suddenly be facing cars coming at you.   They all stopped and smiled nicely, while I am frantically backing up, trying not to hit anyone behind me, and then turn into the left side.   No harm, no foul.   No police office saw my offense, but damn I am kicking myself for being so stupid.   Sometimes, you just get your mind elsewhere, get all relaxed, last day and all, and you go into "Auto" mode.  I did.  I still cringe when I think about it.

Other than that, we had a great 30 days in New Zealand.   We turned our camper in with no incident, and they took us off to the airport for our late afternoon flight to Sydney.   This was a fabulous trip.   There are places I would come back to see, and some not.   But in 30 days, there were places we just could not fit into the schedule.  I would come back to see them and repeat some of my favorites.  It is an outdoor's paradise, with so much to see and do.   Not sure about Shelley.  She never will see the same movie twice you know.   For me, I would come back.


I booked our flight from Christchurch to Sydney on Emirates.   I love flying airlines that are known for their incredible class of service, and are not a typical US airline.   Emirates has a flight from Christchurch to Sydney, then on to Dubai, in a new Airbus A380.   This is the double decker Airbus with First class suites, showers, etc, really nice Business Class, both of which are on the top floor of the plane.   Then a massive economy floor on the bottom.  The price for an economy seat was the same as Air New Zealand, or Qantas, so I booked an economy seat on Emirates.  Two days before the flight, we received an email solicitation to upgrade to Business class for $250 each.  We declined, thinking we had lots of places upcoming in Australia to spend that money.  After all, it is only a 3.5 hour flight.  Much to our surprise as we check our bags and get our boarding pass, the handsome ticket agent tells us, "Congratulations, we have provided you a complimentary upgrade to Business Class for our flight today."  We thanked him, departed the ticket counter area, and danced a jig, we were so happy.  We had no idea what was in store.

                                                             
I admit, I am a real flying snob.  But this airline is incredible.  Better....much better the Singapore Air A380 that we took to Europe last year.  This plane was immaculate.  Business Class was huge, with every type of electronics at your fingertip.   Let's just say the color scheme was Gold.  In millions of miles of flying, I have never had a wine sommelier come to my seat to help me chose a wine to perfectly match my dinner selection.   I had a delicious salmon (it was excellent), and Shelley had beef.  She enjoyed hers, and she is very particular.  After dinner, I discovered this great bar (above) at the back of Business Class.  This really nice Flight Attendant from the Dominican Republic was our host and would make us any after dinner drink we could possibly ask for.   Would you like an aged Whiskey.  Done.  50 year old Port...done.   We got two glasses of Bailey's "Up" and were delighted to sip on that.  It was really fun.   She was a delightful hostess, which again, goes to show you what an incredible airline this is, down to every detail including their Flight Attendants.

But alas, all good things come to an end.  The flight was entirely too short, as I said, only 3.5 hours.   This is the kind of airline that makes a 14 hour flight a delight.   Guess I will have to put that on my list of "To Do" items.  They fly out of either Dallas or Houston to Dubai.  Ummm  Road trip anyone?   We were both laughing, smiling, and so thoroughly enjoying this entire flight, that as we departed, a nice Australian guy commented that, "you mates really seem to enjoy flying."     "Well mate, yes we do".  (Especially when you get into Business Class for free).

Now it is on to Sydney.   Shelley booked an Air B&B right on Hyde Park in the center of the city.   We took a 3 hour walking tour today to give us our first look at this city.  All I can say is that we are not in New Zealand anymore.  They drive on the left side the same, and have similar accents, but that is where it stops.  This is a big city.  




Saturday, April 8, 2017

                                               Christchurch
                                  

I don't do cold very well.   It is getting cold.   Fall has arrived, it is raining more, the trees are turning, and my only hope is that the sun comes out in some part of the day to warm me up.   It reminds me of being in Boston in November during my working years.   That cold air off the ocean cuts right through you.   I moved to Texas 13 years ago to get away from the cold.   If I wanted cold, I would move to Minnesota, and live like my cousins, who think 65 is a heat wave.    OK I am a thin skinned, but Rule # 4 on the boat was that if it is too cold, go south 100 miles.   If it is still cold, keep going.  Whoops, I am in the Southern Hemisphere, so that means I have to go north.   We are.

This is the last leg of our New Zealand trip.  The horse is definitely headed back to the barn.   Today (Saturday) and Monday will be our last here in Christchurch.   Tomorrow we are taking the Kiwi Alpine Express train from Christchurch over the Alpine pass and through the Southern Alps, then back.   It should be beautiful.

We arrived in Christchurch today, with just enough time to go to the Botanical Gardens.   I know, you laugh.  I waxed poetically about the beautiful Gardens in Wellington.   Heh, I like them, and so does Shelley.   Shelley REALLY likes them.   She talks to these trees, and these flowers.   Look how big the hydrangeas are!   She wants to grow these at home....but no.   Probably not in Texas.  Too hot.  Maybe in Lawrence.  These New Zealanders plant every type of tree and flower in the world in their gardens to remind them from where they come.  It is amazing it all grows here.   It grows Big.
                                                             
Look at the eyes of this tree looking down at you
This is a giant Eucalyptus Tree with a trunk 15 ft. across.   Just in this Botanical Garden there are:
Purple Beech, Red Beech, 3 types of Oak trees, 3 types of cypress, (including a really cool Algerian Cypress) Giant Redwoods, a Linden tree, a Ginko, and many more that we forgot.
                                                                     
This is the same tree as above, but with Shelley next to it to give you some perspective.

Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings (not sure which book) when the trees all came to Frodo's rescue.  They had massive roots, and you could see faces in their bark.     Look at the roots of this tree, and its bark all hanging and dripping down.  It is ready to stomp on some orcs rear end.    Really.

The sun came out this afternoon after a day of rain, so it was a nice time to be outside.   But it feels like fall, about to turn to winter.    It rained in the lowlands, but at a certain elevation, it was all snow in the mountains.

The Alpine Express will take us to those mountains tomorrow.  The weather is supposed to be clear, and hopefully we will see much of the Southern Alps that we missed due to heavy rain and clouds when we passed through them earlier this month.  It is just a day trip.   From there we plan to take all day Monday in Christchurch, walking the city, which is small enough to do that.  There is considerable rebuilding still going on after the massive earthquake (or a Shake as the NZ's say it)  hit this city hard 5 years ago, killing hundreds.   We're anxious to see the recovery and more of its history.  

On Tuesday we turn our camper van back in, and fly to Sydney.   It has been in the mid to high 70's in Sydney.   Yes!!  There is a bit of sadness to turn our camper back.   It has worked pretty well, and taken us safely all over these two islands.  Here are a few more memories she has afforded us:
Akaroa this morning on the Banks Peninsula, with a cruise ship arriving.

Robinson Bay and the Akaroa Sound are the sunken part of a caldera.   If you look at a map of the South Island, look at the round peninsula southeast of Christchurch.   It consists of two massive volcanoes, and then this caldera that collapsed.   Imagine the ocean rushing in to that fiery caldron.   Today it is a beautiful landscape, and cruise ships come to see it.  Us too.



Thursday, April 6, 2017

                                               Fiordlands
                                 
Doubtful Sound 

Well it does get better.   As we have moved from north to south through both islands of New Zealand, there has been no stop to incredible mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers, thermal pools, the ocean, rain forests, deserts, and then vineyards.   I could not imagine it getting better, but it did.  There is no way I can put into words to adequately describe this World Heritage Site, the southwest coast of the South Island, Fiordlands National Park.

We based our camper in Te Anau on Lake Te Anau at the eastern edge of the coastal mountain range that make up the Fiordlands.   The tour companies have this down to a science, where they can pick you up by bus in either Queenstown, or Te Anau.   From there they take you to Manapouri or to Milford, depending on which sound you are going to visit.   We chose to do Doubtful Sound.  From Te Anau we bused to Lake Manipuri,  took a nice catamaran boat across the lake, then a bus over Wilmot Pass and down to Doubtful Sound.  The above picture was taken from the pass as we got our first view of the Sound.   Once down at the dock, Shelley and I, along with 62 of our new best friends, spent the next 4 hours cruising around this spectacular fiord.  

                                                                     
 The sheer rocks initially pushed up by massive tectonic plates, then carved out by ancient glaciers are made up of very hard granite, gneiss, and schist,  have resisted erosion over thousands of years.   That is what defines a fiord.   Steep cliffs, narrow valleys, are created by glaciers and not by the ocean.   It was simply beautiful.  
                                                                 

40 km out from our dock, we reach the Tasman Sea
The water depth in the Sound runs from 350 to 400 meters deep throughout.  These cliffs continue straight down for over 1000 ft. below sea level.

It was a long day with all the bus, boat, bus, boat transfers, then do it all over again on the return, but it was so worth it.   I took many more photos, but there are just too many to publish here.  

Yes it was cold and windy but so many great memories.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017





                                             A Day In The Life
                                     

Over all, we have had really good weather  this month.   We had a couple of rainy days in Golden Bay that changed our plans, so  we went south.  Then yesterday and today the two islands were hit by an intense tropical depression that resulted in tons of rain, and high winds, with guts up to 120km.   We just finished three beautiful days in the Fiordlands, and it is absolutely the highlight of the trip.   That will be in the next chapter.   But I thought I would take a few minutes to give you a feel for what a trip like this entails.  (sorry for the big letters.  I'm not shouting)

As previously stated, this campervan deal is not for everyone.   You can rent a car very easily here, and travel to Air B&B's or hotels and see all the same places.  For many that would be preferable, albeit a more expensive route.   You pay for your lodging each night, as well as eating out all the time.  But you have a nice room, with your own bathroom and shower, and no communal kitchen.   Enough said for many people.

For us this has been fun, a bit of an adventure.  Its kinda like a boat trip.  So many cultures and countries target NZ as a top place for a Holiday.  Part of the fun is meeting, or at least observing folks from different places.  New Zealand is a really popular place for Chinese tourists, and many of them stay in Holiday Parks, especially here on the South Island.   I was washing our dinner dishes the other night and there were 5 Chinese ladies in the kitchen preparing the dinner for their families.   (My observation is they like to travel in big family groups)   I just sat back and watched, as it was quite the process.   There was clearly an Alpha lady in charge of dinner.   She was older and a bit taller than the rest, and whatever she said to all of them, they were jumping to.   Maybe she was the Mother, and these were her daughters or daughter-in-law.  I can't see Shelley holding court like this, but each to their own.  They were talking loud, and each handling a piece of the process to cook their lamb shanks.   One was doing vegetables, one was preparing the meat in the roaster pan with some great looking spices, one was doing rice, and one was cooking something of which I had no idea what it was.  It all came together as the Sargent barked her orders, but the end product looked delicious.   One thing is for damn sure, no one argued with her.   It was fun to watch.

There are some other things that jump out at me that I would not see in the US.  There are signs in each bathroom here with pictures of how to properly use the toilet.   You are NOT to stand with your feet on the front of the toilet seat and squat.   You are to sit.   You are NOT to throw your dirty toilet paper in the trash.  It goes in the toilet.  Now the toilet paper, I can understand in some circumstances.   We did that on Rock Chalk, because you just don't put paper down a marine toilet.   But I have not seen that on shore.  Different cultures, different styles, but that was a new one for me.

I have been cooking on the barbeque grill each night....a steak or lamb.   Shelley prepares the rest of the meal in our camper, and we have been eating in the camper at our nice table.   Plus it has been cold, so eating inside has been the only choice.   But if you really want to meet other folks from everywhere, you can eat in the communal kitchen.   That is where the bikers, (as in bicycle, not motor bikes) the backpackers, and the folks traveling by car cook their meal.  It is the center of the Holiday Park culture.   Lots of different languages going on here.   You also have to get used to the public toilets and showers.   We have been staying in what they call the chain of Top 10 Holiday Parks.   It is a franchise, and we discovered that they are much nicer than most.   Their standards are really high, so you have spotless bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.   It is raining hard today, so we are parked at the Timaru  Top 10 Holiday Park, and I am doing laundry.   Good way to wait out the bad weather.

Last night was not a nice night,  weather wise.   I was feeling for those in tents.   It was blowing, and raining hard.   It still is.   But that does not stop these hardy folks.   They were folding up their wet tents, packing everything that goes on their bicycle or their backpack, and off they went in the rain.  You gotta admire their spirit and drive.

Our little camper has become quite cozy.   It really has been very comfortable..   I like the fact that we unpacked once....in Auckland.   Shelley and I each brought only one carry on small suitcase, so we don't have much to unpack, but it was nice to only have to do it once.  We have traveled 4500 km so far, and done laundry three times, but have not had to pack and unpack every day of travel.  I like that.

One convenience of modern life is really important to us.   That is a good internet connection.   This camper has a great router.   So we have been able to use the internet, check email, pay bills, etc. just like we were home.   What is kind of weird in my mind, is that Shelley is on a Netflix kick.   Not movies I'll have you.   No.   It is food documentaries.   Really, our daughter in law, Trisha, would be so proud.   We have seen a three part series on three Australian chefs who threw a party for 250 people in Hobart, Tasmania using only locally Australian sourced food and wine.  Three hour long shows!
Then there was the Fannie Farmer documentary where a chef in America's Test Kitchen wanted to prepare a meal for 12 in his house, using an old wood stove and all the methods that our fore fathers used in the 1700's.   Tittalating.     Right now, I am getting ready to put some salmon on the barbie, and she is searching for our next big show.

                 







The entire back of the camper is a king bed with steps leading up
Shelves overhead for all our clothes

Shelley has always been very good from our boating years for cooking in a small galley.



And we are used to a small head.
This one is pretty creative in that the entire right wall which holds the sink and mirror swings on that middle pole to reveal a shower.    Cool

New Zealand has hundreds of Holiday Parks that I have described before.  You can plug in and have use of the showers, toilets and kitchens.   But you can also do what they call Freedom Camping in thousands of different places.   That sounds attractive and there have been several places where if it had been warmer, we would have stayed.   It sounded romantic, you know, complete freedom, stay on a beach or lakeside.   The trade off for me is that you have no hot shower, and the toilet is not so desirable a "Long drop" as they call it.   For $30 I'll check into a Holiday Park and make dinner with the world.  


Monday, April 3, 2017

                                               
                                                                     

                                              Queenstown

On the shores of Lake Wakatipu, this is a major tourist town on the South Island.   It has a major airport that brings in flights from all over New Zealand, as well as from Australia.   It is a happening place, and perhaps not my favorite.   Yes it is beautiful, and there are a ton of things to do, and some really nice restaurants and bars along the shoreline.  It is a favorite of the young, as they are everywhere.   Perhaps it is all the adrenaline rush activities around Queenstown that brings them in.    The crowds are just not my thing.
For example Bungy Jumping.
                                                                 
                                                Bungy Jump at the Kawarau Bridge.
This is the original spot from which A.J. Hackett started this enterprise.   You too could jump off the bridge and down to the river below for a mere $195.   They were lined up out the door to do it.   I was tempted actually.  I know Bob Speckman would have done it, and if he did I would.   Shelley....not so much.   We watched quite a few, mostly girls, jump off the bridge.   I have some neat videos, but this blog won't accept a video.    Too bad.
                                                               
 These two guys come to get you when you are hanging upside down over the river.   See the pole they grab your line with.   Pretty water,  huh.  Seriously this is a big business.   The parking lot has spots for large buses, all kinds of camper vans, and many hundreds of cars.  Who knew so many would pay $195 for an adrenaline rush.    Add to that the Zip lines, Jet boats that fly up the river at 50 km/hr., sky diving, hang gliding, Four wheelers out into the mountains, Jeep trips, and they even have this really cool jet ski built like a submarine that dives under the water and shoots up like a North Korean missile.

As I said, the city is a bit too touristy for my taste.   I love the views of the high peaks surrounding Lake Wakatipu, but after one night, we moved on.
                                                                     
Shelley checking out the people on the waterfront.

OK, we are really dating  ourselves, but here is what we actually found interesting.
Lawn Bowling
As we walked the Queenstown park, we happened upon the local Bowling Club.   There was league play going on, and these folks were taking their game seriously.  As we were watching the games and trying to figure out what the rules were, a nice Australian couple came up by us to watch as well.  Shelley struck up a conversation with the lady, only to find out that she was the National Bowling Ladies Champion of Australia.   We only found that out after asking every dumb question for 10 minutes before this lady quite humbly told us who she was.   We had a good laugh later, as we realized that Shelley first asked her when she walked up, "Do you know anything about this game?"  

I'd put my money on Allen Valliant for this game.   There is an idea.  He needs to put one of these in his side yard in Austin.  

One last experience today was pretty cool.   As we drove down the Lake after departing Queenstown, we ran into this local rancher moving his sheep along the major highway.   They were being moved down out of the high country, to this road that got them to lower fields for the fall and winter soon to come.    The sheep were literally falling off this steep slope down to the road.  Never one to be left behind, as soon as they would smash into the ditch, up they went to catch their leader.  

 It took us a bit of time, but we finally made it by the flock.
The older rancher was driving the truck in front of us.  It looked like he had his young son up on the hill "shepherding" the last few sheep to follow the leader.   The sheep were pretty considerate as they stuck to the far left side, to let traffic go by....slowly.
I'll leave you with some random shots as we traveled south and west from Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu.  We are headed to the Fiordlands, just over these mountains.  





Sunday, April 2, 2017

                         
                          Central Otago 

They tell you to divide your time in New Zealand,  One-Third to tour the North Island, and Two-Thirds in the South Island.   We are really starting to understand why.   The South Island is spectacular.   We keep saying to ourself, "Wow, this is really cool".   Then we drive another hundred kilometers and the next spot is just as beautiful if not more, then the next spot....You get my meaning.   Central Otago reminds me of Montana.   High mountains separated by broad valleys, rivers and lakes.   The soil is rocky, so this is one of the finest wine regions in the world.   That is always good news for us.  The Pinot Noir's are different than other Pinots around the world, and are really good.  Really really good.

Several years ago we were anchored on Rock Chalk in the Exumas, Bahamas.   As I was puttering around the anchorage there was another boat anchored near us flagged from New Zealand.   I stopped my dinghy to say hi and introduce myself, and met Phil and Donna from the small village of Bannockburn in  Central Otago, New Zealand.  The photo above is the view from their back patio, which is right next to their vineyard.  Also note the rugged "torn up" mound in the foreground.   That is the tailings of the Gold mining done in the valley below Phil's house back in the late 1800's.


Never tell a New Zealander whom you happen to meet in some far corner of the earth, to come visit you in your hometown, ......unless you mean it.   They are like Hobbits.   They are quite friendly, and they will show up on your doorstep.   

After meeting Phil and Donna in the Bahamas, and drinking a few beers for two days, we sailed off our separate ways as is so common when cruising.   Two years later I get a call from Phil asking if I remembered him, and by the way, they are coming to Austin and would like to stay at the house.   We laugh about it now, but yes, I was surprised.   He and Donna were off their boat, and touring the US by car, and just happened to have four tickets to the US Grand Prix in its inaugural year in Austin.  "Come on down" I told him, and they did.  

Phil is a huge Formula I fan, and has gone to many different cities around the world to see the races.   He has raced himself in Formula IV class for many years, and he is not shy to tell you that he is good...."I win most of my races in my class".   He has this really hot Honda in his garage with the 2000 cc engine, tail fin, big tires, and obviously all kinds of gizmos on his race car, about which I know nothing.  Surprisingly, there is a Grand Prix track for the smaller race cars (like Phil's) right there in Bannockburn.  Phil races there on a regular basis, and tries to attend at least one Formula I a year, typically up in Melbourne.  

Phil is also a former rugby player, and played at the highest levels of rugby in New Zealand.   He played until he was 40 years old, so he is a pretty tough ole bird.  

In preparation for this trip, I emailed Phil to let him know we were going to return the favor, and he was most gracious and insisted that when we got to Central Otago, we had to stay with them for several days and get out of that damn camper van and into a real bed for a bit.  We did.   

You know how expensive it is in Austin to get a "View".   The view out of our little condo in Lakeway is of my neighbors sidewall.    I could not take my eyes off this view.  The entire side of their house is windows, and my camera can in no way capture the beauty of the 180 degree view they have from their hilltop.    Their vineyard is called Kingsmill, and we sampled many a bottle of their fabulous Pinot Noir over the time we were there.  It is events like this that make trips abroad so memorable, and neither Shelley nor I will soon forget these days at Kingsmill.    We might even root for the New Zealand Blacks, next time we tune into international rugby.  
Thanks Phil and Donna.  (Phil was in his cellar getting another bottle of Pinot. )  

The 180 degree view from my iPhone Panoramic view