Saturday, February 25, 2012

At the staff table at Duo Restaurant, Invercargill

View from room at hostel

The pilot on the Doubtful Sound boat trip advised, "If you end up in Invercargill, you've got to have dinner at the Duo Restaurant on Kelvin Street......  Let me back up.  We got to Invercargill at 2 minutes to 5:00pm and arrived at the tourist office minutes before it closed for the day.  Since Invercargill is a town of 50,000, we figured here's one night when we don't have to reserve a hotel room.... right?  There was an agriculture convention in the town that week.  One room in the whole town was available - in a backpacker hostel hotel in a seedy part of town.  So, we swallowed our pride, parked the car in a tiny car park behind the hotel, crossed our fingers, locked it up and went to the room, which really was OK - clean and with a private bathroom.  Then we remembered John's (boat pilot) recommendation.  The Duo Restaurant was not more than a 5-minute walk from the hotel.  And of course, they were booked.  But the waitress who greeted us decided we looked "nice" and offered us the staff table in the back, next to the rest rooms, fire extinguisher and the kitchen.  We said "Sure!"  The chef, wandering around in the back, took one look at us and groused that he had to clean up his language, but he provided a superb meal, probably the best on the whole trip.  We had an excellent bottle of wine and two awesome seafood entrees - salmon and blue cod.  A memorable evening.

Hanging out on Stewart Island

View of Oban from motel
Kakas on our balcony
 When we took a cruise on Doubtful Sound and shared with the crew that we planned a one-night stay on Stewart Island, they said that we absolutely must stay at least two nights.  So, we did!  Stewart Island is a natural oasis the size of Singapore with about 400 full-time residents living in the one town of Oban.  Most of the island is either a national park, or wild life reserve with an endless number of tracks for day or overnight tramping.  We took a water taxi to Ulva Island nearby, that is a bird sanctuary with many well-maintained trails - spent about four hours there.  Between the isolation and the absence of predators, the birds were unusually comfortable with humans and the vegetation was very unique.  We also took a late evening boat ride to another side of Stewart Island for some "kiwi spotting".  Kiwis, with the body size of large turkeys, are diurnal, but the best time to spot them is at night when they can't see us - otherwise, they are quite elusive.  The town of Oban looked like a Scotland village from about 30 years ago - absolutely charming, with dogs ambling around, cars and pickups no newer than 1980, kakas the size of parrots, and one great pub. 

Kiwi feeding on the beach

Peace on Doubtful Sound

Milford Sound gets most of the attention in Fiordland National Park, while Doubtful Sound is bigger and more remote, and absolutely enchanting.  We made the wise decision to bite the bullet and sign up for an overnight trip on the Sound via cabin cruiser that slept only 12, including the crew.  It took a van ride, a ferry and a van ride over a pass to get down to the mooring.  We crossed the length of the fiord that afternoon to where it met the Tasmanian Sea, with rock/islands covered with seals and birds.  On the way back, we stopped to kayak, fish from the boat and check on some crayfish traps.  The fishing and the traps provided dinner that night, which was incredible.  That evening, we stationed ourselves on the roof of the boat with some good wine, found the Southern Cross and stared skyward at the dazzling display.  Unforgettable.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Milford Sound

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

On the way...
Near The Chasm
The Chasm
We drove from Queenstown South around a mountain range, West and then North to Te Anau on the edge of Fiordland National Park.  This is home to hundreds of fiords that stretch West to the Tasmanian Sea.  Nothing but water, mountains and critters.  Milford Sound is probably the major draw, as it is stunning, and there is a road to it.  So we arrived in Te Anau and then took another gorgeous drive to Milford Sound.  Then we stayed the night in Te Anau, had a wonderful meal at Recliff Restaurant, one of those awesome, accidental finds, and left for an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, a bit bigger than Milford Sound, and more remote.  More on that with the next post.....


The road to Glenorchy
Just had to say a few words about our drive up to Glenorchy, about 90 minutes North of Queenstown.  Apparently, this is the area where some of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.  The drive up was stunning (I had my first turn at right-hand drive), we walked around town a bit - very quiet, and then drove back.  As you can imagine, the pictures don't come close to the impact of this scenery as when it is witnessed in person.

Queenstown, NZ

Hiking near Queenstown

Amisfield Winery
Getting behind updating the blog with our New Zealand adventures.  Have been unpacking, doing laundry, catching up.  But enough of that.  Here are some picks of Queenstown, an outdoor-junky mecca in the south part of South Island.  We flew in and out of there from/to Sydney.  Stunning setting on a lake surrounded by mountains and a first-class wine region next door.  The first night we found a funky bar out in wine country, by a campground - seemed like a kiwi outpost from the 60s.  Had some beer and some great fish and chips.  Next day,  we went on a beautiful hike outside of town, and then went back to the wine region, to Amisfield Vineyard for a wonderful lunch, outside, gorgeous day, lavender nearby, great wine, of course.  Then took a drive to Glenorchy (see next post).

Enjoying a beer 
Time Warp
Waterfront in Queenstown

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lord Nelson Brewery

 Chris and I like old, funky, smelly, neighborhood English-style pubs, and Lord Nelson Brewery in Sydney was the ticket.  Established in 1841, it was an updated bar, but still had the feel of an old place with alot of character.... and characters, so Chris and I fit in pretty well....  And we weren't the oldest ones there!  So, we had a pint there, dinner somewhere else, took a water taxi on Sydney Harbor, got lost, came back to where the boat started, then took a cab back to the hotel.  Off to NZ the next day.
Chris and a pal

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dog Hash!

 We went to a dog hash last night, which was A HOOT!  Had never heard of the "hash harrier" concept, where a "hare" sets a trail through the woods... well, here, it was the JUNGLE.  Normally, the hash is for humans - a run, then beer drinking, and singing and bantering and rather raucous, yet civilized revelry, then eating.  This hash is for 
Before the run - notice how everyone is clean?

Notice the beagle being lifted up the river bank
humans and dogs, possibly the only of its kind.  Start and finish was next to a cul de sac in a park somewhere near the Malaysian border.  So, we went tromping through the mud for an hour, came back, washed up as best we could, then stood around for heckling, singing and then a hot meal.  The T-shirts I think are a yearly thing, as it was the group's 10th anniversary hash. As soon as we pulled up to the starting area, it looked like big fun, as folks were signing up, getting ready and dogs were unleashed, just wandering around, saying howdy do, getting patted.  It was great.  Lucy had a blast, and had no trouble scrambling over vine-choked logs, under mammoth ferns and across muddy streams.  She was up to her hips in limb-sucking mud at one point, got out on her own, brace and all!  I tell ya, hiking in Summit County during mud season was great training for this!

After the race - Lucy's brace is really black; Chris' leg is really not brown...

Notice the happy face next to Ricky's left leg...
Newbies drinking from dog bowls

On the trail
Happy kid!

Chingay Parade

Well, this should be the last post related to Chinese New Year - there was just so much going on!  Singapore's Chingay Parade was held this weekend, with literally a cast of thousands, or it seemed.  Lions, dragons and swans, oh my! .... sorry.   Anyway, it was quite the spectacle - a 3-hour parade on the grounds used for last year's Grand Prix.  The parade route was flooded, due to the advent of the Water Dragon.  I think the participants enjoyed it as much as the spectators, as you can see from the pictures.

Singapore's Youth Movement

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lo Hei

In Singapore, a boss is encouraged to hold a Lo Hei for his employees during Chinese New Year.  A Lo Hei is a feast that begins with a traditional salad of auspicious ingredients, arranged on a large plate or bowl, and then is collectively tossed by all at the table, using chopsticks.  This is performed with much shouting and rowdiness (see the video below).  Chris hosted a Lo Hei with about 35 employees at a local restaurant.  We all stood and tossed the salad, trying to toss it as high as possible without flinging on top of the group.  The higher one tosses, the more luck and good fortune comes to the participant - at 6'4", Chris figured he is in fairly good shape for the New Year.... This was followed by an incredible Chinese meal, including a whole marinated and grilled grouper.  Gung Xi Fa Cai!