New Homes
July 23rd, 2003 | View Post
23rd July 2003
New Homes.
I would like to appologize for the lack of updates in the past 4 or 5 days. It seems that finding places to live, moving into these places, and meeting lots of new people has taken the majority of the day. The rest is left to sleeping (which does, remember, consume about 1/3 of your life). Both Tisa and I have found our own places and they are quite nice. Tisa is living with 3 other girls whom all seem wonderful and have made adjusting for her very easy. I have had the same bit of luck and am living with 1 guy and 2 girls whom are fantastic. Everyone seems incredibly nice and highly inquisitive about our lives in the United States. It is rewarding to be able to set some of the misconceived notions about the country straight - this seems especially true about guns. While everyone knows that the United States has some strange gun policies, Kiwis tend to believe that we all walk around armed.

If you would like our home addresses, please feel free to email us and we can send them to you. Otherwise, feel free simply to send mail to our postal address listed on the home page. I will get some pictures of our homes and flatmates online as soon as possible!

Photo Gallery Updates:
Sorry it took so long to get Queenstown online!
Queenstown
New Zealand FAQ
July 22nd, 2003 | View Post

Technology and Computing


Where does New Zealand stand technologically?
It seems about 2 years behind the US. While they certainly have the same technology that we have in the States, it is simply more expensive. As of now, mid 2003, broadband is not entirely common yet and while there are internet cafes spread through and through, I would not expect to see a broadband connection in many peoples homes. I have yet to see what it is like at the University level.

Have you seen any interesting computing devices in New Zealand?
Two so far. They are both regarding coin operated computers. The first one I noticed when we were staying at Lake Rotoiti in St. Arnaud. The hotel / restaurant where we had dinner had a coin operated computer that actually dialed up their local ISP when $2.00 NZ (~$1.20 USD) was deposited in the machine. This gave you only 10 minutes of dialup internet access. Very expensive. Though to some credit, the dialup access was very fast.

The second one was at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Kaikoura. They simply had a device that would give power to the monitor whenever money was inserted (or so that was best I could tell). It seemed that the monitor plug went into this coin box. There were, however, two computers. So anyone with a little experience could have simply unplugged one of the computers and used its power cord to power the other monitor.

What is broadband access like?
It is certainly not the speeds that we have been accustomed to in the past few years. Every so often I will experience about 30+ kbs though it seems that my average is around 15 kbs. I believe that they actually have the speed, its just a matter of how the internet cafes are hooked up. When there is only one connection for 30 computers and the place is full (not to mention me on my laptop working doubletime), it can get a little slow.

Have you had trouble using your laptop in internet cafes?
Yes and No. In the more populated cities (50,000+) it does not seem to be trouble at all. When we have stopped at some of the smaller towns (2-10,000), they are not very willing to let me plug in a laptop. I have been denied use in a few places in the city, but all in all it seems to not be a problem.

Is there anything you have found that makes computing a little easier?
In most every town we have passed through, someone has setup a gaming shop. In most towns they are quite plentiful in fact. Counterstrike seems to be the game of favor but there are obviously many others. These gaming cafes are delighted to give you access to the net and I have found that these are the best places to go. In general, the people working there have the most computing knowledge, the computers are designed for gaming and thus very fast, and the networks are designed to handle a great deal of traffic. They may cost an extra $1.00/hr, but it seems well worth it to me.


Food and Dining



In general, what is the food like in New Zealand?
While I have probably not had enough time to make a fair judgement, in the relatively populated areas, there is a restaurant to fit anyones taste. We have yet to really not be able to eat what we want. The grocery stores have everything that we have in the US, just different labels and brands. The only thing that I have found about eating out which is certainly different from the US is that salad does not seem common. It seems rare you can eat out in the US without being offered a salad of some sort. Not the same here. We have only had one salad so far and that came from the grocery store in Palmerston North.

Are there any favorites so far?
Indian food seems to be our favorite in this country thus far. It is delicious and plentiful. A simple dish of butter or mango curry chicken with steamed rice and nann bread goes along way for a fair price. Each restaurant has their own unique variety of the same meal and it is fun to compare.

Could you describe a dining out experience?
It is similar to the US but there are a few differences that, in my opinion, make it much more enjoyable. We are seated as in any other restaurant with our menus. The waiter/waitress takes our drink order and quickly brings it. Note that soft drinks are not served with ice and are non-refillable. They come back a few minutes later and take your order if you are ready, if not they come back when you are. They bring you your food a little while later and that is it. There is little waiter/waitress to patron interaction. If you need something, you grab their attention and they are happy to bring it to you. When you appear finished, they take your plates and bring your bill. There is no tipping in the country (as a general practise) and so that is it. I enjoy not being hassled every few minutes to see if I need something else or to be asked the ever so hollow question, "...is everything fine?". On the flip side of that coin, the waiters/waitresses seem much happier as they are being paid decently to begin with, and do not have customers (and the desire to be tipped) lingering over their heads.

How do the prices compare to the US?
We have really only sat down to a nice meal two or three times but it seems that the dining in experience is similar to slightly cheaper in New Zealand. For example, the other night we went to a very nice Indian restaurant for dinner. We each had a flavored chicken curry dish, a large bowl of rice, three large pieces of nann, and two softdrinks. The atmosphere was very nice and the food was delicious. The bill was about $44.00 NZ (~$26.40 USD) which seems pretty cheap having each spent about $13.00 USD to eat out. Remember, there is no tip to pay. I would also like to note it is a little cheaper for us because we purchased a travellers Top 10 Holiday Park card. We receive a 10% discount at many restaurants, hotels, and campgrounds across the country (and Australia).

Any noticible differences in the food taste?
I have taken quite a liking to Coke, a soft drink that I rarely touch in the US. It seems to me this is because all Coke in New Zealand is made with pure sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. It tastes distinctly different. Fries (known in New Zealand as chips), seem to have a very different taste. We have yet to figure it out, but the best we can come up with is that they use a very different oil to deep fry them in. It is not a bad taste but it differs quite so from what we are used to back home.

What are the grocery stores like?
Just like the US. As aforementioned, they have everything that we have, just with different labels and brands. The most common grocery stores seem to be Woolworths, Pak N' Save, and we have recently come across one called Chopper, whose motto is "Chopping grocery prices". It was a good laugh; you can imagine their ads.

Is there tax on food?
As with most everything else in the country, there is the standard GST (Government Service Tax) included. This is a 12.5% cut to the government.


People and Culture



What are the people like?
We have been asked this question a number of times and the best answer is that they are incredibly friendly. Everyone seems happy to help you with any most anything. You are always greeted with smiles and friendly voices and people seem to express a great deal of gratitude when you help them with something. Most people are quick to ask where we are from and enjoy asking questions of where we are going, what we are doing, and for how long. It is very enjoyable.

Have you learned much about the Maori culture yet?
Sadly, we have come across only a few people that have told us things about the Maori's and their culture. Most of our present knowledge comes from books, the Te Papa museum in Wellington, the Canterbury museum in Christchurch, and from having watched the new independent movie, "The Whale Rider" (which was very good and will probably be in US movie stores soon).


Weather and Terrain



Any interesting facts about New Zealands terrain?
I am told that you are never further than 90 miles from a coast at any point in New Zealand. It seems that that is because of New Zealand's irregular geographical shape. There are certainly points where the island is wider than 180 miles, but in such places there is water to the north or south.

What is the weather like?
We only have near three weeks of data at this time, but the North Island seems comparable to California, while the South Island seems more similar to the Northeastern States. In the middle of winter most of the North Island was very pleasant and while we had to dress warmly, there was no need to entirely bundle up. This was true of everywhere except for the center of the island where it does get much colder. I am told it commonly freezes and snows around Lake Taupo where we stayed. The South Island is wonderful. It seems a bit drier and certainly colder than the north. As we have travelled further south we have reached snow in Christchurch though you can easily see that all of the mountain ranges to the west have been covered in snow for quite sometime.

Can you compare New Zealand's geography to anything in the US?
*Laughing* No. It is not possible. The terrain stretches far beyond what we encounter in the US. Many of the towns remind us of a Denver or Boulder, Colorado feel, but aside from that the countryside is more beautiful than any road we have ever driven down in the US. Honestly, The Lord of the Rings movie does a very good job showing off the terrain. While there is much computer work present in that movie, the terrain is exactly as it appears here. It is actually humorous seeing the movie trailer after seeing the land because you can see the comparisons so clearly.


Photo Gallery



Why are some of the pictures very dark?
Well, there are really two answers to this question. The first being that some pictures may be slightly underexposed. Although we have a digital camera with us, it is still a manual digital camera and it has taken a little while to tweak the apeture settings and whatnot. The second and more natural answer is simply that it is dark. As of now (mid 2003), the sun is setting just after 5pm. That means that starting around 2pm or so, you can see the onset of dusk. On top of this, given that it is now the center of winter there is a ton of cloudy weather and the skies often take on that grayish wintery color.

Are those all of the pictures that you are taking?
No. While I am sure it will slow down once we are settled somewhere and not exploring the entire country, we are shooting about 60-90 pictures every new place we go in full resolution. These are stored locally on my laptop though I will need to begin burning them to CD's shortly.

What is your general procedure for adding photos to the gallery?
In general we are taking pictures throughout the day. When we arrive to our campsite at night we plug in the laptop and download the pictures from the camera. This usually takes 10-20 minutes depending on how many photos we have shot. (Note: Each photo is 2-3 mb times avg. 80 pics using a USB port - I forgot the firewire cable). Afterwards we go through the pictures for our own enjoyment and then once again deciding which ones we should put online. These are then batch processed and scaled to 31% giving them a resolution of 793x595 with 21% JPEG compression. The batch process also renames them to ASMOKE0000.JPG where the numbers are sequential to what we are putting online. Any photos that were shot vertically are manually rotated once the resizing and renaming is complete (usually takes 2-3 minutes). Then once we find an internet cafe, the directories are uploaded to the server.


Getting to Antarctica



Have you found out how to get to Antarctica yet?
No. The US International Antarctic Centre is located in Christchurch. I am waiting to talk to them.

What kinds of jobs are available in Antarctica?
It seems that there is actually a wide variety. I am hoping that my skills and the fact that I am already situated near the point of departure will help in my quest to find a summer job there. Note that by summer I mean Oct-Feb.


Living in a Dunedin House



How big is the house that you live in The house that I live in is very large. I probably have a larger bedroom right now than I have ever had in my entire life. While it seems that my house is slightly larger than most around here, in general, they are very good sized. This is even more the case when you compare what the actual rent here is. I am paying 75 NZ$ / week to live in a very large 4 bedroom and 1 bathroom house with 3 other people. There is also, however, a large backyard, a fireplace in each room including the living room. A good size front patio with a small stoop. Stained glass windows, large front bay windows, a washer and dryer as one single unit (does both without human intervention), and all standard kitchen accessories (fridge, stove, etc.) All of this for roughly 180 US$ / month. I am also having to pay about 30$ / month for power and telephone.
Website Needing Repair?
July 19th, 2003 | View Post
I have heard from a few people that the main page is beginning to get a little slow, especially for those sad enough to still be using a dialup connection. While it will still be a week or two off, I am planning a few changes for the website. I will most likely be turning off the block messaging system as it is rarely used and a pain to keep up with. I will instead just be using this style that you see in front of you. I will also be placing the camper van experience on a separate page and hopefully be adding maps to show our journey (pending me getting graph-x programs). In the more distant future, I am planning on designing a custom theme for austinsmoke.com. It will most likely have a greenish style to it, but that is still a ways off. Sorry to anyone having to wait awhile for this main page to load up. Hopefully the problem will be corrected very shortly.

Photo Gallery Updates:
Please note that the pictures from Queenstown should be available tomorrow.
Camper Van
Animal Encounters
Larnach Castle
Bluff
Southern Scenic Route

Avalanches Ahead
July 17th, 2003 | View Post
After hitting lots of bad weather on the Southern Scenic Route from Invercargill/Bluff towards Te Anua, we stayed a night in Te Anua in the pouring rain, even losing power for awhile. Without much change in the weather, we headed out to Milford Sound (what we are told is one of the most beautiful places in all of New Zealand). It was about a 120km drive and upon the last 20km, the bridge and tunnel were closed due to extremely high winds and avalanches that had covered the roads. We stopped for awhile in the Hollyford town campsite but ultimately just had to turn around. At least we know where to come back to.

Since forth, we have arrived in Queenstown. I would like to bite some of my words a bit at this point and note that the skiing here looks fabulous. I am dissappointed that we were told Queenstown skiing is so expensive. While the town itself is certainly more upscale than Methven, the ski rentals are actually a little cheaper and the lift tickets the same price. I am pondering doing one last day of snowboarding just to get a feel for the Queenstown mountains.

Photo Gallery Updates:
NOTE: NEW PICTURES HAVE NOT YET BEEN ADDED!!
Due to the slowest internet cafe that exists in the modern world located in Queenstown's Mall, the pictures have not yet been uploaded to the server. They should find their way onto the server sometime tomorrow evening from Dunedin. Sorry for the inconvienence.

Camper Van
Animal Encounters
Larnach Castle
Bluff
Southern Scenic Route
Campervan Hire Extended
July 16th, 2003 | View Post
In order to do a little more exploring in the South Island, specifically Milford Sound and Queenstown, we have hired out the camper van an additional 2 days. It is now due back on Friday the 18th instead of tomorrow, Wednesday the 16th. The original plan was to hire it for another 4 days and drive up the west coast to Greymouth and then drive it across the mountains back to Christchurch where there is a rental office. Apparently though, there is a 150.00 NZ$ fee for doing this since our original agreement was to deliver the camper van to Queenstown, so we have chosen against that option.

On another note, we were unable to visit Stewart Island as originally hoped. There is apparently only one departure per day and it leaves shore at 9:30am from Bluff. Had we known, we probably would have gotten up extra early to make it there, but we did not know. Perhaps better left until later anyways, we could not have taken the camper van across, as there is no ferry and not really any roads to speak of on Stewart Island either. It seems it would be more enjoyable as a warm weather weekend trip whenst we could enjoy the waters and thick foliage harbouring the exotic wildlife.
Penguins Anyone?
July 13th, 2003 | View Post
While driving the outer banks of the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin last night, we happened to see a little critter crossing the road in front of us. Sure enough, it turned out to be a Blue Penguin (the world's smallest penguin and a native of New Zealand).After following a windy road down towards the shore, we came across a whole colony of blue penguins.

We were able to see them as they walked in front of the car, and in some cases we caught a few in the brush just along side of the road. This made photographing them very easy. I believe it is a general rule to not use bright flashes and such while photographing them, so we were lucky to find them walking across our light path! You can find them in the Blue Penguin Colony section
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