Almost three weeks ago, I had a short day at work, tidied everything up as best I could, and headed for LAX with Dan. His parents were to meet us there but were delayed, so we checked in before meeting them at the hotel where we were going to park. Brilliant idea actually: book parking at a hotel, check in as early as humanly possible (park at the terminal for a few minutes to do that), head out to dinner, then drop off the car at long term parking and breeze your way to the airport with no bags to check in.
Had dinner at some greasy spoon in El Segundo that Dan remembered from his Air Force days: lukewarm tortilla soup and kinda crappy pasta "gourmet" circa 1990. Still, great to see his folks. Spent $10 to hang out at the brand spanking new reLAX lounge which was fantastic - they even gave us free passport holders - but then misjudged the time AND misheard a last call boarding announcement, leading me to run the length of the Tom Bradley International Terminal in my socks to try to make the Air Pacific flight to Nadi, which was very unnecessary.
On board, dinner was perfunctory, but Ambien blew away seven hours of the flight, which was rad. Stupidly, I blew out my back whipping around to chew out a spoiled valley girl who was kicking my seat, which is causing me pain even now.
Landed in Fiji, got an Avis rental car, checked in to the Novotel by the airport. Got a faboo suite with lovely views of the countryside, slept a bit, showered, had breakfast, then went and saw Raymond Burr's orchid garden. Drove around for a while, saw Denarau island (the tourist area, looks just like Maui), decided I'm not one for beach resorts. Had a look around downtown Nadi, didn't buy anything, was somewhat flummoxed as to what to do next. Spotted a Fijian restaurant and has amazing food: mutton with taro greens, cassava pudding with browned sugar and milk, grilled mango, and raw fish in lime juice and coconut milk. Delicious and worth the stopover.
Went back to the hotel, had an ice cream bar and a beer and called it a night. Checked out the next morning, bill was off by $25 at least but who cares, great place. Returned the car, got in line for the flight to Christchurch amongst a hundred Indo-Fijians headed off to relatives for the holidays. Short, pleasant flight to CHC, where all international flights funnel arriving passengers through duty free (they have the most generous liquor allowance in the world, it seems). Met up with Julian and Keryn, picked up a Toyota Rav4 (great car!). Drove to the Antarctic Experience, decided $48 was absurd, didn't go. Checked in to our apartment - Huntley House, still overpriced at the half price special price we paid, unfortunately - cleaned up, napped, and then went to the botanic gardens for a nice long walk in the park. Had a quick squiz downtown - Christchurch is so wannabe English it hurts - then went to Countdown for dinner supplies. Keryn cooked up a lamb roast with kumara which was fantastic. We drank Cristal, Osoyoos Larose, and some other wines.
In the morning, up and out early. Went to AA to get maps, got stuck with an American retiree just hired who had no clue what he was doing, so it took ages. Kathmandu next door, looked at sale goods, nothing special. Stopped by Canterbury outlet, nothing good there either, sadly. Headed south towards Dunedin, saw a sign for a winery I'd heard of, followed it, no winery there. V. frustrating. Kept going, long boring drive, went to Peel Forest and went hiking amongst old totara and other big trees. Saw first of many, many German tourists, these ones from Silesia. Drove some more, saw twee country towns with crafts. Looked at Moeraki boulders, had dinner at Fleur's. Dan had an awesome fish. Demand pictures. My stew thing not so great, but not bad. No wine, just lemon lime & bitters (I was driving). Got into Dunedin late, wonderful apartment, Chinese-Kiwi owners, went walking at 9pm and it wasn't even remotely dark. Had some more wine. Slept.
In the morning, bought allergy medication and had the weirdest granola ever. Toured the Cadbury factory, went to the Otago museum. Lovely. Drove south via back roads in the Catlins, went to Slope Point, the southernmost place on the south island. Saw an ancient petrified forest. Got to Invercargill: worst town ever. Ate Hell Pizza and slept in a post office. Honest. Opened a fancy bottle of Oregon pinot to find it corked and undrinkable, but Julian brought NZ and French reds that were fantastic.
In the morning, checked out the tuatarium and drove to Manapouri to catch the overnight Doubtful Sound cruise on Xmas eve. Wonderful, wonderful cruise with perfect weather and ridiculous amounts of food. Had a pink and a red from a winery we later referred to as Frass Canyon, nothing great. Got my first dozen sandfly bites, ouch.
In the morning, more of the same, then eventually back to the car, a stop in Te Anau to look at the boat where Julian and Keryn got married, then into Queenstown. Checked into apartment with beautiful view, cleaned up, then took a chairlift up to a scenic restaurant for a lavish buffet. Ate way, way too much and thoroughly enjoyed it. Also went on a few luge rides. Wooohoo!
Boxing day was full of nothing and therefore awesome. Had a hot tub, walked around Queenstown - why is there a Louis Vuitton shop there? - bought dinner supplies and Keryn cooked again. Awesome! Had some excellent wines too such as Cayuse and Wendouree. A lovely day.
The 27th was busier; we spent all day going wine tasting and finished up with a lavish dinner at Amisfield, where they initially said I had no reservation. Oops. Not great planners, those people. But it all ended well.
In the morning, J and K headed home and we left way earlier than they did. Went to Puzzling World in Wanaka where I did a maze that really, really hurt my back. Ouch. Then took a scenic flight to a remote trailhead, hiked a few hours, then took a jet boat back to the car. hurt my back even more, ouch. Beautiful if rainy. Then a long, long drive to Franz Josef, home of a lovely motel room and a super fucked up pizza order from Guzzi takeaways. Wonder who got my anchovy and caper pizza? Bet they weren't happy about that!
Stared at glaciers briefly and decided to head up the alpine pass to see tiny plants there (good idea). Saw live kiwi in Hokatika or Greymouth or something, not bad, not great. Got back to town to go on the Monteith's brewery tour and have the worst barbecue ever with a beer I didn't finish (driving again!). Got in to Punakaiki very late with an inkeeper who seemed anxious that I wouldn't show and pay for the room, was odd. Turned out to be a 1960s paradise, not luxurious, but amusing. Hrm. Again, lots of sandflies.
Next morning, saw nikau palms hurriedly before embarking on a cave rafting trip. Rivers totally low due to no recent rains, so everything kind of marginal in terms of enjoyability, but at least they really tried their best! Still fun. More sandfly bites though.
Followed it up with amazing meat pies in Westport and a long, dull drive to Blenheim. Had great difficulty finding our apartment there, but eventually figured it out. Had some marginal sauv. blanc and some very good Chinese takeaway.
Spent all of New Year's eve going wine tasting. Had two bottles of bubbly and called it a night before being woken up by fireworks. Leftover Chinese takeaway again; lunch was at Montana/Brancott and sucked (terrible hamburger AND sandflies).
Drove to Motoueka on New Year's day via some low key nature reserves; went shopping for shirts in Nelson and checked in to a very surly motel. Started to get that "OK, we're done sightseeing" feeling.
On the 2nd, did some wine tasting and looked at Pupu Springs. Checked in for our flight way too early but Air NZ staff gave us the code to the first class lounge which was rad. Finally got to Auckland to see Neville, who graciously picked us up at the airport. Went out for dinner but decided to skip it in favor of a beer with Grant and Brian, who generously treated us to free beer. Awesome! Not so awesome: the Chifley Suites, which were cheap at NZ$125 but had no air conditioning, which really sucked on a warm, stormy night. Ugh.
Saturday, spent the day with Neville going to see some wineries and other random touristy things. We even got to sneak a peek at the university collections he manages, and then we retired for dinner at his house with his partner Tim. Totally amazing chicken, kumara, salads, and some delicious wines made me one very, very happy bear. I miss them quite a bit already.
Sunday, packed up our stuff and Neville kindly picked us up again. Went to the museum, the wine shop, the botanic gardens, and then to the airport; checked in for the flight, had some terrible Indian food in the terminal, hugged Neville goodbye, then boarded the flight back to Fiji. Got stuck in a line waiting for boarding passes for eighty minutes in 90 degree heat with near 100% humidity, which was not at all amusing, especially as it left me with about 5 minutes to get my shop on. Bought some Aussie rum and some kava, which I'll probably foist on my friends at a part soon enough. Fell asleep shortly after takeoff, woke up after the meal service (a first for me!), took Ambien, passed out again until we reached LAX.
Breezed through customs, picked up the car, headed to the Trader Joe's in Hillcrest to buy milk, and then we were home. Tim B had taken care of the kitties (thanks Tim!) who were very content and happy (yay!), so all we had to do was unpack the car, shower, and hit the hay.
End of trip!