New Zealand, days 8-11

Well, we ended up staying in Queenstown another night instead of driving to Omarama. But we still got to go to some hot tubs! There was a little place just outside of town and we got to sit in the hot tubs while it was snowing outside. There was a wall of windows that opened onto a great view of the snowy mountains.

On Friday we left early for Franz Josef, one of the most well-known glaciers in New Zealand. And the weather was actually nice! So nice, in fact, that we stopped along the way and took a little trail to this waterfall.

20130623-220934.jpgWe also stopped at a scenic overview and saw the Tasman Sea for the first time.

20130623-221050.jpg After we got to Franz Josef and dropped off our luggage at the hotel, we went to the glacier right away while there was still daylight. The hike to the glacier was ridiculously windy, but at least it wasn’t raining!

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20130623-221553.jpg As it turned out, there were hot pools in Franz Josef, so several of us went to make use of those after supper. Not much in these little towns is open after about 5:00 or 6:00, but the hot pools stayed open until 9:00.

Our destination on Saturday was Hokitika. We actually drove past it a little way to go see the famous pancake rocks.

20130623-222703.jpg There were also blowholes where water shoots up though the rock formations, but the sea was too calm that day to have any effect.

20130623-222844.jpg Back in Hokitika, Matt and I got some good photos at Sunset Point.

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20130623-223123.jpg We ate dinner at a little restaurant where I got a very good phyllo “parcel” filled with roasted vegetables.

20130623-223956.jpg Today we spent most of our time driving back to Christchurch. We were invited to dinner by a local family whose daughter is goes to UT Martin. They really went all out to feed us! For an appetizer we had all kinds of chips, dips, cheese, and crackers. Next they served a tomato pumpkin soup with bread. The main course was salad, roasted lamb (and some other meats, too) roasted vegetables, peas and carrots. And for dessert there was New Zealand’s famous pavlova (a sort of meringue mountain), brandy snaps, meringues, and ice cream. I think everybody had a great time.

Tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Auckland and then have another overnight flight to LA. We’ll actually be spending the night in LA to avoid the alternative of an 11 hour layover followed by a red-eye flight, so we’ll have all afternoon to explore there if we want to. See you then!

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New Zealand, days 1-4

Hello from New Zealand! It’s a dark and stormy night, and we’re finally back at the hotel early enough for blogging.

We flew out of Nashville to LAX Wednesday afternoon and from there flew the 12 hours to Auckland. And we actually slept this time! Well, by “slept” I mean I woke up exactly every 20 minutes, but it was still much better than the flight to Oslo. It helped that the seats seemed a lot comfier on this flight. Air New Zealand is probably our new favorite airline. The cabin of the plane was so tall, you didn’t feel all scrunched over like on other planes. The safety video was actually entertaining. Everyone had a touchscreen with the standard entertainment selections, but you could also see when everything was going to happen on the flight (food service, lights dimming, etc), see the menu, and even order food and drinks!

We got to Auckland on Friday morning and took a short flight to Christchurch. And instead of the usual gross pretzel snack, there was a choice of cassava chips or a New Zealand-made Cookie Time cookie. Also on board the plane was a group of conspicuously good looking men wearing matching grey outfits who turned out to be the French rugby team. Our bus driver, Maury, described rugby in New Zealand as “a sport bordering on religion.” The French team played New Zealand’s famed All Blacks in Christchurch last night (the All Blacks won, of course).

When we got to Christchurch we checked into the hotel and then went up to the Christchurch gondola, a tram that takes you up the side of a mountain. Even though it was cloudy there was a great view from the top.

20130616-195239.jpg After the gondola we went back to the hotel for our first rehearsal. There are only 25 of us and we had very limited rehearsal time, so we’re not doing anything complicated. Some of the pieces you might be familiar with are Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus and arrangements of ‘Tis the Gift to be Simple and Tenting on the Old Campground.

Most of the hotels, including the one we stayed at in Christchurch, don’t have free breakfast, so yesterday Matt and I went to a little cafe for breakfast. Matt’s latte was so pretty that I felt obligated to take a picture.

20130616-201430.jpg I got the blueberry pancakes with grilled bananas. And no, that’s not a chocolate milkshake in the background. It’s my iced coffee.

20130616-201459.jpg After breakfast we all got on the bus and headed to the International Antarctic Centre. Along the way we stopped at the Cardboard Cathedral, the temporary replacement for the Christchurch Cathedral, which was devastated in the earthquake of 2011.

20130616-201803.jpg We were also able to stop at the real cathedral.

20130616-201853.jpg The Antarctic Centre wasn’t overly impressive having just gone to the Fram museum in Oslo. The best part as definitely going for a ride in one of the Haggland vehicles that they use in Antarctica. Matt ended up getting some possum (!) gloves in the gift shop. Apparently the New Zealand possum is not at all like the American opossum. For one thing, it’s adorable and looks more like a flying squirrel than a giant rat. But for another it is a pest and hurts the kiwi birds, so they use its soft fur to make gloves and scarves. The gift shop girl told me not to feel sorry for them, but who could dislike such a cute possum enough to turn it into clothing?

After our Antarctic adventure we had our first concert, at St. Michael’s Church. We had a good audience, even though it was small.

We left early this morning to start our drive to Dunedin. There were lots of cows and sheep to be seen along the way! New Zealand is known for their sheep, but the actually have an even larger dairy industry. In the afternoon we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders. It had been raining all day and was also quite windy by then, so I opted to view the boulders from afar instead of trekking down the soggy beach to see them. As soon as we got to Dunedin we had our second concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a great space to sing in (similar to Church Street) but it was freezing! The very small audience was bundled up in scarves and hats, but at least they had space heaters in the pews!

After the concert we went to our hotel and then had the rest of the afternoon and evening free. Being a Sunday most everything was already closed, and the weather was too gross to do anything outside. So we wandered down the street in the rain to check out the options for dinner and breakfast and eventually found a Starbucks (with several of our friends inside; what a coincidence). It even had a fireplace. I did not want to leave.

Tomorrow we leave for Te Anau, where we’ll get to tour the glow worm caves!