Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stewart Island: As far south as you can go

Stewart Island. © by Judy Wells.
 When you've gone as far south as you can go, head to Bluff, the southernmost point on the island mainland and the oldest European town in New Zealand, and catch the ferry to Stewart Island.

Tip: There are nine steep steps to the ferry deck but there are rails on both sides.

Stewart Island is reachable only by boat or plane and boasts a population of 400 at its busiest. You could fly or helicopter in, but the hour-long ferry ride is pleasant - assuming the Roaring '40s aren't going wild, in which case the plane and copter wouldn't take off. Ferries have been known to cancel trips too, but not that often in late spring and summer. The weather is very changeable so don't go over without something warm and rainproof.
The weather changed frequently in one day. © by Judy Wells.

Tour offices on the way to Oban. © by Judy Wells.
You'll land at the wharf in the look-and-you've-seen-it-all-town of Oban. The walk from dock to main street is lined with tour offices in case you haven't made advance arrangements.

Real Journeys puts together a good package that includes the ferry, a tour of the island by van and can arrange overnight in an upscale lodge. Kiwis prefer to take one of the many cottages dotting the island for a week or so.

Stewart Island end of "Te Puka,' the anchorstone. © by Judy Wells.

Any tour will take you to the link sculpture that speaks to Maori legend. The island's original name is translated as "The Anchor Stone of Maui's Canoe," referring to an early Maori chief and his crew who caught the great fish, the North Island, from their canoe, the South island. Invercargill artist Russell Beck sculpted the chain, one end beginning in at Bluff, the canoe, and the other ending on Stewart Island, the anchor.

Bluff end of Te Puka. © by Judy Wells.

Tip: You can see the Bluff end with no stairs but the Stewart island half requires 23 steps to and from the beach.

South Sea Hotel. © by Judy Wells.

Do stop in at the South Sea Hotel bar, the only one on the island, toward late afternoon. It's the social hub here and the restaurant produces a fine fish (blue cod) and chips.

You'll love meeting the locals at the South Sea bar. © by Judy Wells.

KFC on Stewart means Kiwi French Crepery, one of the few places to eat in Oban. © by Judy Wells.

Will this be your beach? © by Judy Wells.

Tip: The Oban area is relatively flat but elsewhere on the island the elevations can change uncomfortably. Stewart Island, like the rest of New Zealand, excels in beautiful vistas. It's also a true getaway - no cell phone service or ATMs and a tiny, three-block village, Oban. Some 35,000 visitors come here a year for its 755 kilometers of coastline with roughly one beach per person.

Ulva Island
One of many fishing albatross we saw en route to Ulva Island. © by Judy Wells.
I can recommend Paterson Inlet Cruises for the boat trip over and walking tour of Ulva Island. Our captain did a grand job of putting us within camera range of albatross.  

Ulva Island © by Judy Wells.
Guide Ann Pullen. © by Judy Wells.

No one lives on Ulva Island except for its birds and critters, but there are guides and do-able walking trails so you can get up close and personal with the flora if not the fauna. Learning about it all from Ann Pullen, a dedicated and a delightful guide,  was one of the highlights of my Stewart Island day.

The beach walk. © by Judy Wells.

Tip: It's an easy on/off from the tour boat to the dock. Along the standard 45-minute tour, you'll have a walk on the beach, 17 steps with rails from the beach to path, another 21 with no rails. A pleasant walk on a good path then another 21 steps followed by 11. Another 7 stair steps and you're done.

The steps on Ulva. © by Judy Wells.

One of three kiwi crossing signs on Stewart. © by Judy Wells.
There are kiwi here and on Stewart, but the elusive national bird is nocturnal and nighttime excursions in search of them are pricey and come with no guarantees.

© by Judy Wells.

There are too many other things to see and do in New Zealand for me to have spent more than a day on Stewart Island, but you'll encounter some lovely beaches and a way of life that's hard to find anymore.

© by Judy Wells.

When you dock back in Bluff, chances are you'll be a bit tuckered so I recommend a trip to the tip and a nosh and a beverage at Land's End, a comfy inn with a sweet pub.

Where shall we fly now? © by Judy Wells.
Then you can decide where to next.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

April is for Foals and Other Equine Fun in Lexington

Racing at Keeneland
Thoroughbred foals will be romping across the pastures as their grown up cousins prepare to race and compete in Lexington, KY.

2012 Spring Meet at Keeneland Race Course
Live Thoroughbred racing gets underway at Keeneland Race Course Friday, April 6th and continues through Friday, April 27th.  Racing is scheduled Wednesday through Sunday with post time daily at 1:05 p.m. The gates open at 11:00 a.m.  General admission is just $5! The annual Kentucky Derby prep race, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, is Saturday, April 14th.

Tip: The ground is pretty flat for hilly country, there are a few steps up to the stands but there are also elevators. All in all, it's a good track for Levelers and a fun atmosphere for the whole family.

In addition to a full line-up of graded stakes races throughout the meet, there are a variety of special events.

• Each Saturday morning, head out to the track for Breakfast with the Works.  This family-friendly activity begins at 7 a.m. with breakfast served in the Equestrian Dining Room, paddock demonstrations at 8:45 a.m., and free handicapping session at 11:30 a.m. 

• Looking for the perfect Kentucky Derby hat? Visit the Christine Moore Hat Trunk Show Wednesday, April 11 at the Keeneland Gift Shop.

For more information about the Keeneland Spring Meet, visit www.keeneland.com.

Stadium for dressage and final jumping event.
World Class Dressage, Cross Country and Stadium Jumping
The excitement of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Bridgestone, and the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup return to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, April 26-29.

This year's Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event features selection trials to choose the U.S. Eventing team for the 2012 London Olympic Games.  The nation's best horses and riders will be competing in the hopes of earning places on the team for this summer's Olympics.
This year's Event also features the 15th Rolex USEF Four Star Championship for the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation Pinnacle Cup, and is part of the HSBC FEI ClassicsTM.  Horses and riders from around the world will join their U.S. counterparts in competing for their share of $250,000 in prize money as well as a shot at the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.

This is awarded to any rider who wins Rolex Kentucky, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton and Land Rover Burghley Four Star Events in succession.  Former Rolex Kentucky champion William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, who won his record sixth Burghley championship last fall, will be seeking to win a second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam at Kentucky in the hopes of joining Pippa Funnell of Great Britain, who won it in 2003, as the only rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam. Visit www.rk3de.org for more information.

Tip: Dressage and Stadium Jumping portions are held in the stadium and they've taken the hills out of the access paths.

Following the Cross Country event can involve a lot of walking over hilly terrain. However, one of the first jumps you come to entering the course, the Lake Jump, is also one of the most exciting to watch.
Jumping into the lake.

Horses approach, jump a large, brush-and-rails into the lake,
Jumping back into the lake.

gallop to shore, turn, jump back over a log into the lake then out and to another jump, all of which you can see from one vantage point.

Heading across the lake toward the yellow rail jump (far left) on the other side.

If you get hungry, Lexington has many fabulous restaurants. See post here, Aug. 17, 2010. For that sweet tooth, Stella Parks, pastry chef at Lexington's Table 310, has been named one of the Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Nation by the editors at Food & Wine! Read Stella's blog at www.bravetart.com and try her delectable creations at Table 310 in downtown Lexington.

Leia Mais…
Friday, March 16, 2012

Invercargill: Almost as far south as you can go

Beach across from The Pavillion.
 Invercargill is a tidy city, capital of the Southland, with a horse racing track and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, known for its breeding program with the tuatara, a "living fossil," the only survivor of a strain of reptiles that lived along with the dinosaurs.

Tip: Invercargill is blissfully flat.

My home away from home was the Ascot Park Hotel, near the track and more motel than hotel with an indoor pool and a good restaurant. Rooms were large and well equipped and the staff as friendly and helpful as any encountered in New Zealand, especially Peter Risdale, the genial executive manager. An avid hunter and fisherman, he even raided his own freezer so our group of travel writers could sample the Southland's wild delicacies. We might not have appreciated the locally esteemed mutton bird, but we adored his enthusiasm and generosity.

Southland Museum.


Baby tuatara.

You can't miss the Southland Museum - it's in the largest pyramid in the Southern hemisphere (try that for a bar bet). I'm told it has some great exhibits but I went straight to the tuatara area where we met curator Lindsay Hazley and his protege, Henry, a sometimes affable lizard who is the patriarch of the breeding group. Hazley filled us in on tuatara (pronounced too-ah-tah-rah) lore.

Female tuatara peeking out from her burrow.
Patience is required in the breeding of tuatara. After all, it could be the least evolved creature on earth, having hardly changed since it shared earth with the dinosaurs 250 million years ago.

Once every two to five years the female will be ready to mate. If she's interested in the male sitting outside her burrow they will mate and eight or nine months later she will lay and bury six to 10 eggs. Then it's an 11- to 16-month wait for babies to hatch. If the soil around the eggs is warm, most if not all will be males. If it is cool, look for females.

Harry has a shy moment.
Hazley soon had us laughing over Henry's plight. After being mate-less for so long Henry went wild when faced with a number of compliant females, becoming a father for the first time in 2008 at the randy old age of 111. However, so busy did Henry become that fewer and fewer of the eggs his ladies laid were actually fertilized. Henry was enthusiastically going through the motions but shooting blanks.

One of Henry's male "helpers
Quality rather than quantity is a hard lesson to get across to a lusty lizard. Fortunately, Henry is no longer alone in the mature male department and little tuataras are springing up regularly.

Once hatched the tuatara is here to stay. They mature sexually in 15 to 20 years and can live to be over 100. Perhaps we could, too, if we could do without water, breathe only once an hour and had a third eye on the top of our heads. And, dear readers, that's no doubt the most lizard lore you'll ever encounter in a travel story.

Speedy Burt Munro Indian
You may not care an oil can about motorcycles, but do stop in at E. Hayes & Sons, Ltd. It's the home of the original Indian, owned by Burt Munro, on which he broke so many land speed records. The speedy Southlander set the World Record class S-A 1000cc with an average speed of 183.568 (one way 190.07 mph).  That was at Bonneville in 1967. Monroe had done all the  modification work himself. The bike was 47 years old, Monroe was 68. The record still stands.

Bikes and birdhouses share space at E. Hayes.
The Hayes family's collection of classic motorcycles and cars is interspersed with their stock, the likes of which you probably haven't encountered under one roof. It ranges from every tool and machine part you have and haven't heard of and camping gear from tents to shoes to kitchenware, fine linens, porcelain and crystal. Their block-sized store would leave Wal-mart green with envy and you won't find it easy to leave. I was lucky to have emerged with only Munro memorabilia for the motorcycle and speed enthusiast on my Christmas list and a Warhol-like sheep motif dish towel for myself.

The Te Hikoi, Heritage and Cultural Centre , Southern Journey Museum, is about 25 minutes from Invercargill and well worth a visit.  Start with a movie in the sailing ship theater and learn about the area's past and the wealth of characters who filled it.

Owen McShane's products.
 Owen McShane, for example, was famous for brewing beer and distilling cabbage tree rum and whiskey - Cooper's Schnapps and McShane's Chained Lightening to the whalers who bought it. One of the area's many characters, the Irishman came here in the mid-1800s but never got rich, drinking up most of his profits.

The Pavillion.
Carrot cake at the Pavillion.
While you're out that way, stop in at The Pavillion on Colac Bay for more beautiful scenery and some really good food. If they have carrot cake, don't miss it.

Leia Mais…
Friday, March 9, 2012

The Catlins: South Island, NZ's Southern Scenic Route

View across from the coffee house as we started along the Southern Scenic Route.
Spectacular views, sea lions, waterfalls, lighthouses, fur seals, surfers, a hippy Rube Goldberg-style artist, penguins, a fossil forest, museums, good food, even Niagara Falls (!) - what more could you want?

I'll tell you what: More time than I had to explore the Catlins and someone else to drive so you don't miss a thing. Well, one out of two isn't bad. I was with some members of the Society of American Travel Writers and we had a driver/guide, a perfect combination.

Count the shades of green if you can.
We stopped for a photo opp. at the Kaka Point overlook with its wild and windblown vistas sporting more shades of green than Webster's has names for.

Then it was on to Nugget Point and its picturesque lighthouse.

Walk if you want.
Tip: Don't bother to walk to the lighthouse; nothing's there that you can't see from the overlook except a few boulders - the nuggets - scattered beyond the mainland.

Again, more spectacular vistas. The penguins, seals and sea lions were out fishing but there were plenty for our professional photographers to focus on.

Owaka Museum is small but packs a lot of info.
Owaka Museum - Wahi Kahuika, the Meeting Place -  in Owaka is a small but very well done museum that brings you insight and anecdotes into the lives of the characters who settled this area, from the indigenous Maori to the rough and tumble rascals and opportunists who followed.

From the young branches of the Rimu, Red Pine, Captain Cook made spruce beer, a remedy for scurvy.
Purakaunui Falls was a pleasant diversion from the high cliffs and sweeping Pacific Ocean although no less photogenic.  You walk through a striking rainforest with ferns and trees out of a Dr. Seuss fantasy. The difference in atmosphere and temperatures is remarkable and sets you up for the three-tiered waterfall.

Purakaunui Falls
Tip: You'll walk five or eight minutes - depending on how many stops for photos or to read the I.D. info on the plants and trees - to the falls along a mostly flat gravel path until reaching the first tier of the falls. After the second glimpse of the cascading falls the downward slope is a bit steeper and  you'll encounter steps (there are handrails for all but the last five) to see the falls falling full on. I thought it was worth it.

Take one VW van, add imagination and you get The Lost Gypsy Gallery.
Blair works on his wall.

If you can pass by The Lost Gypsy Gallery en route to Papatowai, you haven't an ounce of curiosity. I recommend a stop to see how many wild directions the brain and creativity of Kiwi Blair Somerville have reached.

Centerpiece of the wall.
Everything does something. Wind this one up and the skeleton pedals the bike, the gull flaps its wings and the propeller spins.

Wind-up automotons, a sculpture garden full of wry, deep and other thoughts - there's no telling what you'll encounter. Inside the almost totally transformed VW bus there isn't a surface left untouched. The New Zealand tour guides usually don't list it but I'd definitely put it on an itinerary. Spend a minute or an afternoon; it'll give you fodder for thought.

Desserts are big enough for two at Niagara cafe.

The one-at-a-time gate.

The Niagara Falls Cafe is a good place to stop for lunch or dinner. You'll soon taste why it's so busy. Portions are large and desserts are good for splitting. It used to be a schoolhouse and the gate in the white picket fence was designed so that only one student could go through it at a time. Crafty, those teachers. There's a beautiful beach across the road.

Fossilized forest at low tide.
The beaches at Curio Bay Fossilized Forest aren't covered in stiffly standing tree fossils as you might expect, but if you go out on the "beach" at low tide you can see the fossilized wood grain of trees that aeons of wave action have uncovered. It's one of the most extensive and least disturbed examples of a Jurassic fossil forest in the world.
Scenic but slippery down below.

Tip: It's slippery on that fossil surface and there are some long stairs down to sea level. I chose not to risk it but others less sure-footed did. Luckily, no one fell.

The tiny penguin is to the right of the guy in the black shirt.
Standing at the overlook I had great fun watching tourists and our photographers scramble when a yellow-eyed penguin, the world's rarest penguin, decided to go from nest to sea for an afternoon snack. Careful to remain the proper distance away yet anxious to get "the money shot," they slipped, slid and scrambled as quietly as possible while the hungry bird totally disregarded them.

Surfers are just tiny dots beyond the surf line from the Florence Point overlook.
Tautuku Bay at Florence Point is where the surfers hang out, although the ones I saw didn't stay up on their boards long enough to get a photograph. The overlook will give you the view without climbing down to the beach. If you have the munchies, there's a small snack bar up at Dolphin Bay; the Hokey Pokey ice cream - vanilla with honeyed almonds - is quite good.

The "mighty" Niagara Falls, Kiwi style, on the Waikawa River.
What about Niagara Falls, you ask? It's on on the Waikawa River. Here it is, named after the North American giant by some tongue-in-cheek Kiwi. Good on ya, mate.

Leia Mais…