Re-entry & Recent Reading


I’ve been back home just a week.  My head is still lingering over some distant ocean, and the time in New Zealand becoming a memory.  The four weeks seemed longer, and now I’m trying to process all that we saw and did.  Probably two things stand out from everything else:  1) it’s an incredibly beautiful country with a range of topography from beautiful seacoast to stunning snow-capped mountains to undulating fields and hills in multiple shades of green; and 2) the people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve met anywhere.

Beach at Kaka Point

I came to expect that when we arrived at our accommodations, we would be warmly received, but that we’d also get something of the history of the place along with the personal back story of the general manager or host.  Making it from the reception area to our room took at least 15 minutes. Upon leaving Arrowtown, Kathy, the hotel owner, insisted in the nicest way, of bestowing hugs on both of us!

Other tidbits:

  • We frequently saw the exclamation symbol, !, by itself on road signs, where there was road work,  but sometimes just as a warning of an upcoming change in the roadway.
  • With one exception of the last few kilometers into Wellington, all the roads were two lane ones with lots of twists, turns and curves.  Often very winding and narrow.  No interstates to speak of.
  • New Zealand is very environmentally conscious.  There are strict regulations about not bringing in food or pests from other countries (lots of bins in the airports for tossing out food items with strongly worded signs about the large fines for not doing so.)  Recycling and other green practices are a standard part of the culture.
  • Smaller towns were a step back in time to the 1950’s.  No fast food chains, but cafeterias and order-at-the-counter places like the Ten o’ Clock Cookie (love the name!)
  • Wineries all seemed to have their own bistro restaurants and were classy destinations for lunch or dinner—and some of the best meals we ate.

    War Memorial in Oamaru
  • New Zealand lost many men in the world wars, numbers out of proportion to its small population.  Every small town had some sort of WWI monument to fallen soldiers, and sometimes also recognition of those who fought in WWII and later wars.
  • Boarding internal flights in NZ was remarkably egalitarian.  There would be quick mention of premium status folks first, but then everyone just got in line to file out to the tarmac onto the plane.  Not the six levels of priority we see here.
  • I visited bookstores in Auckland, Wellington, and Oamaru, and discovered that most of the fiction on the shelves was from the United States or the U.K. with the U.S. predominating. I  browsed the few short shelves of fiction by New Zealand authors and bought one novel which I started, but didn’t finish and left behind.  It occurred to me that with such a small population, it’s probably not unreasonable that there is not a huge literary output.



The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas PrestonPreston’s nonfiction account of the search for what was often referred to as the White City or the City of the Monkey God is an archaeological adventure story.  Except it’s true.  Over a period of more than five years, some determined adventurers who had deep pockets, along with friends with deep pockets, attempted to locate this ancient city in the Honduran rain forest.  With the help of some very sophisticated new technology, they were able to map a potential site hidden beneath thick vegetation.  Once mapped, the plan was to go and spend a couple weeks clearing the rain forest to see what was there.  The challenges included lethal fer de lance snakes, sand flies, mud, the possibility of looting (making it crucial to keeping the exact location secret) and political wrangling of various sorts.  Against great odds, Preston, hired to write about the expedition, and the team of archaeologists, photographers, and others were successful, but not without serious risks to their health and well-being.  (~JW Farrington)


Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.  This is the first book by Anthony Horowitz that I’ve read, but I’m a longtime fan of Foyle’s War, which he created, and have also enjoyed the quirky Midsomer Murders (he was one of the screenwriters).  Although it’s a murder mystery, Magpie Murders, is unlike most others.  You have the umbrella story of Susan Ryeland, author Alan Conway’s editor for the mystery series he writes about detective Atticus Pund.  Then you get all of Conway’s latest book, appropriately titled “Magpie Murders,” except it ends without the last chapter and without resolution.  Our fearless editor, Susan, then goes on a tear to find the missing pages while real life deaths occur and mystery fiction and fiction fiction become intertwined.  Throughout, Horowitz has fun with puns, inside jokes about his own series, and allusions to famous mystery writers like Agatha Christie.  If you’re looking for something different in the mystery line, then this might be it. I found it clever and fun.   (~JW Farrington)


Note:  Photos by JWFarrington (some rights reserved).  Book jacket from the web. Header photo taken at Amisfield Winery near Queenstown.


Down Under: Parting Shots


Our time here is almost over, and it seems appropriate to gather together some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Note:   All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved.)

Ate more chips this trip than ever!
Auckland near lots of law offices
Waiheke Island view
Around Napier
Urban Winery
Oamaru Public Gardens
From the Navigator, Doubtful Sound cruise
Mt. Cook in the background
Sunset over Te Anau
Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu
Arrowtown, historic Chinese Settlement
Arrowtown, Lakes District Museum exhibit
At Arrow Thai, yummy green curry with chicken!
Moeraki Boulders
More sheep!
Picton waterfront
In Wellington
Banks Peninsula
Tussocks, Lake Tekapo
Marlborough region
Queen Charlotte Sound
Brancott Estate Vineyard
Wellington Wharf
The Boatshed, Waiheke

Down Under: Arrowtown


We drove from Manapouri on Wednesday, after our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, to Arrowtown, which is about half an hour from Queenstown. It wasn’t a long drive, but it rained much of the way and the last 45 minutes or so were on the now familiar narrow, winding roads around the mountains. A very narrow one lane bridge was a bit unnerving since it wasn’t really clear who had the right away. We arrived in charming Arrowtown and the Arrowtown House Boutique Hotel around 3:00 pm. When the rain let up a bit, we decided to walk into town.  


Arrowtown is a former gold mining village and sits in a valley surrounded by more beautiful mountains. The flowering trees, cherry and apple, are in full bloom and many houses have elaborate gardens of rhododendrons, tulips, and, what I would call, wild roses, but are probably just another subspecies of rose.

Many buildings date from the 19th century and are wood framed and well preserved.

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
Masonic Lodge

The main street is not that long, but is dotted with plenty of upscale galleries and gift shops, an inviting wine store, a small museum which we plan to explore, and more restaurants and cafes than you might expect in a town this small. There was a mix of people on the street, older and young, walkers and backpackers, and Asian (Chinese and Indian, it would appear) as well as white. There is also a historic Chinese settlement here that we will also visit.


We dined our first night at La Rumbla, a delicious tapas restaurant where we had fun bantering with our French waiter about the food and what wine by the glass we should choose. For lunch the next day we tried Mantra, an Indian restaurant. 

The interior is beautiful with magenta on the chair seats and wall and pink flowers in tubs.

We opted for the lamb rogan josh thali, which meant the delicious lamb came with basmati rice, lentils, potatoes and peas, raita, spicy pickle, and both poppadums and poori. Some of the best Indian food I’ve had! 

Thursday night, on the recommendation of our hotel, we went to Postmaster’s Residence, a cozy restaurant with a wood stove in its main room. We were the first to arrive, but soon the side room was full of diners old and young. The pan-fried fish of the day (gurnard, I believe) was excellent, served with capers, perfectly cooked broccoli, cauliflower and carrot rounds, and roast potatoes.


It is so near we figured we had to make the short drive over to Queenstown. Thursday was sunny and we stopped to take a few more photos of the lovely shades of green on the mountain before going into the center of town to a parking garage. Navigating a tight garage when you have to remember to always be left is a definite test for the driver!

We wandered around Queenstown for about an hour noting how busy and lively it was (especially compared to Arrowtown), the large number of hikers and back packers, and along the lake, the many options for jet boat rides, wind gliding, and other water sports. The skyline was gorgeous on this bright blue-sky day!

The public garden also fronts on the water and we strolled up the hill and immersed ourselves in spring in the beds of bright pink and yellow tulips. We’re glad we made a point of seeing Queenstown, but were very happy to return to our abode in Arrowtown!

Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved.)

Down Under: Doubtful Sound


To experience Doubtful Sound, you have to be willing to put up with several stages to get there. It’s located on the coast of southwest New Zealand, and you first have to get yourself to Pearl Harbor in Manapouri. Lake Manapouri is another of the very very deep (1400+ feet at its deepest) glacial lakes here on the edge of Fiordland National Park and about 20 minutes’ drive from Te Anau. We reported to the Real Journeys ticket office around 11:30 and exchanged our voucher for boarding passes and then went downstairs to the café for a bite to eat. Not many options, but a few calories before we boarded a boat to take us across the lake to West Arm. Lake crossing very smooth.

At West Arm, site of the massive hydroelectric power plant that made these excursions possible, we got on a bus for the drive through Wilmot Pass. The decision in the 1960’s to build a power plant here required the creation of a road that would enable heavy equipment to be brought in to construct the plant. Hence the road that leads from West Arm to Deep Cove.

It was an interesting drive on a narrow road with commentary by Keith, our bus driver.  He described the alpine vegetation, heavily evergreen and beech trees that stay green all year; noted that the area gets between 6 and 9 meters of rain a year (that’s between 18 and 27 feet of rain, folks!) resulting in many thread-like waterfalls; and pointed out the occasional native bird, one being the waka. The trip through the pass took 45 minutes or so with stops for photos. 

We then arrived at the wharf at Deep Cove where we boarded Real Journeys Navigator, the vessel on which we would spend the rest of the afternoon and overnight.

The Navigator was purpose built for these waters and can accommodate up to 70 people, some in staterooms with bath, some in bunk bed quads with a shared facility.  We were fortunate that our group was less than 40 people which made for a less crowded experience.  We had cabin #12 which consisted of a double bed, one night stand, and a very tiny bathroom. You weren’t meant to spend any time there!  But, amazingly, the little shower actually worked and delivered an adequate supply of warm to hot water to get clean while not spraying the rest of that space!

Doubtful Sound’s name is attributed to Capt. James Cook who, when he saw Doubtful Sound, “doubted” that his sailing vessel would be able to get enough wind to sail through it and so he never did. Doubtful Sound is really a fiord, meaning that this finger of water was created by the action of a glacier, but the term “fiord” was not as much in use then.  Many visitors to New Zealand choose to go to Milford Sound which is more accessible, but it’s much much smaller in area than Doubtful and a lot less deep.

We boarded the Navigator just before 2:30 pm and after the required safety briefing, introductions to the crew members, and assignment of our cabins, we were offered hot soup—a choice between mushroom or gluten free (yes, that is a menu option here) curried vegetable. We opted for the vegetable soup and it was delicious!  About two hours into the cruise, anyone who wished to could go exploring in a kayak or see more in a tender that held up to 18 people. It was cloudy, cold, and raw outside; hence we and several others stayed on board during this pause. Overall, the cruise was quite smooth except for one 20-30 minute stretch when we made it out to the Tasman Sea. My head didn’t really like that rocky, rolling and sideways motion!  Once we turned back into the sound, it became calm again.    

Carol, the nature guide on board, made frequent comments on the islands we passed, the waterfalls, and any sightings of wildlife. We did stop to view a seal colony and, for the very sharp-eyed, there were sightings of dolphins and the occasional penguin.

Food on board was plentiful (brownies and jelly cakes after the on-the-water excursion) and the dinner buffet tasty—everything from four different salads to several hot vegetables and rice, chicken, carved lamb and beef roasts and desserts and cheese. Wine and beer were on you, and I had a glass of an excellent Chardonnay from Martinborough, a town we had planned to stop in, but didn’t when it was raining hard. We anchored for the night and all was peaceful making for a quite a good sleep. We were the first arrivals for breakfast at 7:00 am.

The remainder of the voyage included several other stops to view more penguins and, something I really appreciated, an interlude of quiet. The ship’s engines were turned off, and everyone was requested to stand quietly on deck with no talking and no camera clicking and to just listen to the sounds of nature. I heard the rush of waterfalls and the occasional bird tweeting, but that was it. Just Mother Nature in all her beauty.  

Doubtful Sound is made up of muted colors—dark, almost black water, looming dark mountains, lots of mist, gray clouds, ribbon-like waterfalls, and here and there shades of green on the lower elevations. We had mostly heavy cloud cover until, several hours after sunrise, we got a bit of sun which enhanced the greens. The mist and the gray add an element of mystery to this remote place.  There are no people living here and no boats; it’s just nature.

Back at Deep Cove at 10:00 am, we disembarked, boarded the bus and retraced our path back across the pass to West Arm where we got on the smaller boat to cross Lake Manapouri back to Pearl Harbor. 

We collected our car and then had delicious hamburgers for lunch at The Church, an old church, now a pub complete with pool table.  We then drove east, through a landscape empty except for sheep, toward Queenstown and Arrowtown, our destination. The last half hour in the rain was another winding, twisting, up and down road with many roundabouts around Queenstown.

Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved)