I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Saturday, April 30, 2016


This bird was behind wire netting, so it's not a great picture, but since it's the only one I have of a kookaburra, it's going to have to do.

I have to admit that when we walked into Featherdale and saw this bird, several members of our group (possibly including me; I invoke my right against self-incrimination) immediately began singing, Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree/Merry merry king of the bush is he.

I don't think birds are capable of rolling their eyes, but I swear he tried. He probably hears that song a hundred times a day.


Wallabies are like the compact, travel-size version of the kangaroo -- much smaller but almost as delightful.


No jokes here -- these are beautiful animals. And despite the notorious Chamberlain (a dingo took my baby) case, dingoes generally avoid humans and dingo attacks are rare.

The avid look on the face of this dingo has nothing to do with feeding time, and is actually directed at a ball her keeper is preparing to throw just outside the frame.

Time for some cuteness

Like all the best continents, Australia has penguins. Like all penguins, they are adorable. (Check out the eager gaze they are giving to the fish in their keeper's hand.)

Faster than a speeding bullet, more dangerous than a startled wombat

Not content with all the poisonous snakes and rogue wombats, Australia boasts two species of crocodile, one for saltwater and one for freshwater -- so basically, if there's a body of water, a crocodile can jump out of it and eat you. This is the saltwater version, the largest crocodile species in the world, pre- and post-feeding time at Featherdale.

And much as I love all animals, I have a hard time warming to crocodiles. They're just creepy. Those wombats look a lot cuter now, don't they?

Answers to questions you never actually asked

So, Kathleen, what exactly is a wombat?

Great question! I just happen to have a picture of a wombat from the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney here.

You can't really tell the size from this picture but they are about a yard (or a meter) in length, and though they are marsupials, like kangaroos and wallabies, they actually resemble big hairy pigs with short stubby legs.

A big hairy pig does not sound attractive. Are they cuter than they look in this picture?


At least they're probably not dangerous.

This is Australia. Everything is dangerous. Wombats bite, and when startled they have been known to charge at humans and knock them over -- imagine trying to explain to your insurance company that you broke your wrist because you were knocked over by a wombat. (Fortunately Australia has universal healthcare so wombat injuries are covered automatically.)

The good news is they aren't poisonous.


Another look at the Harbour Bridge, through the prism of a globe light by the Opera House.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The other icon on the harbor

Sydney's Harbour Bridge is often paired with the Opera House in pictures, but it's a beautiful piece of engineering in its own right. Here's a twilight image of the bridge on its own, taken from the Rocks.

It's the small touches as well

Just one more picture -- could these sinks in the bathroom be any more perfect for the location?

Inside looking out

Our last morning in Sydney, we took a tour inside the Opera House (yes, it was raining, but it didn't start until we were inside, and it miraculously finished just as the tour did.)

I love the way those wood and steel beams fan out to support the shape of the sails.


Although the sails appear white, they're actually tiled in off-white and cream. White would be too blinding under the bright Australian sun.

These curves are so beautiful. Imagine Frank Gehry's career without this as an inspiration.

Behind the sails

These are the views you don't see very often -- the stone pedestal and windows facing the harbor, and the front entrance. Those tall glass curtains tucked inside the sails are almost as dramatic as their concrete containers.


This is the usual view of the Opera House, with those curved concrete structures dominating everything else. They're usually described as “shells,” but the architect, Jørn Utzon, was inspired by the memory of sails on the water when he was a boy in Denmark, and I like thinking of them as sails over the harbor.

When Utzon's design won the competition in 1957 -- the story is that Eero Saarinen picked it out of the pile of rejects and insisted that it win -- no one, including the architect, had any idea how to actually build the thing. It took until 1963 to figure out that the sails had to be sections of a sphere, rather than the original parabolas, and sizing and placing them required the use of computers, a radical notion in the early Sixties. In 1966, after changes in government and ongoing battles over cost overruns and fees, Utzon resigned and returned to Denmark. He never saw the finished building, and when it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1973, his name wasn't even mentioned at the ceremony. But it did win him the Pritzker Prize for architecture, and he lived to see it declared a World Heritage Site in 2007.

Catching up at last

My biorhythms still maintain that the key hours in my day are roughly 12 to 1. Every night I snap awake somewhere around that time (although it is getting easier for me to fall asleep again.) And every afternoon I am suddenly so drained of energy I want to curl up in a corner and sleep.

But I've survived my first few days back at work and the weekend is here, so I can finally post some of the pictures I skipped over while I was traveling.

Let's start off with that Opera House. This was actually my first glimpse of it, from the footpath under the Harbour Bridge, curves at the end of a long line of squares and triangles.

Monday, April 25, 2016

End of the road

We only had one day in Auckland, and part of that time was spent packing, shopping for last-minute souvenirs, and having our final dinner together. So Toronto -- um, Auckland -- didn't get quite the attention it would have earlier in the trip. After three weeks of the unique and the exotic, we had a hurried drive around the harbor, a visit to the very good museum, and dinner in our hotel. We were distracted. We were leaving.

But I took this picture on my way to the airport Sunday, because it did summarize the influences that had me feeling vaguely Canadian/Hawaiian on the opposite side of the planet. Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world, but still has those English Empire roots.

If I left for the airport Sunday, it would follow that I'm home now. There were 26 hours of travel involved, I remember that, so I must have gone somewhere, and the enormous pile of mail waiting for me all has my name and address on it, so I do seem to be home. I just couldn't swear to any of it.

The only part of me that doesn't ache is my brain and that's because it appears to be missing.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

City of Sails

All those thousands of miles of coastline don't go to waste. One in three households in Auckland owns a boat, and they've hosted the America's Cup twice.

I could imagine many worse things than spending a sunny Saturday afternoon out in that harbor.


Hmmm, I don't see an Opera House, but otherwise doesn't this remind you a little of...Sydney?

From a distance, maybe. On the ground, Auckland actually reminds me more of Toronto -- international polish on good Commonwealth bones -- with the bonus of that magnificent harbor. Or, rather, harbors -- Auckland actually has two of them.

Friday, April 22, 2016


This is the sign for the Ed Hillary Walkway in Otorohanga -- a walkway that isn't much larger than the sign, but which displays many proud examples of “Kiwiana” -- items unique to New Zealand culture.

On the sign, in addition to the flag and Sir Edmund, there's a Buzzy Bee toy, a kiwi bird, a pavlova dessert, and of course, a sheep. Add the All Blacks and Hokey Pokey and you've got all the Kiwiana you need.

Sean the Barber and other sights in Otorohanga

Urban poetry

Well, urban may be pushing it, but I loved the sign outside this thrift store in Otorohanga, where we stopped for lunch after surviving the cave.

This was a charming town that looked as though it had been frozen in amber for 50 years or so, then revived and instructed that tourists coming through to visit the nearby caves would now expect fancy coffee drinks with their bacon and egg pie.


A claustrophobe walks into a cave...

There was plenty of opportunity to opt out of the cave visit and I was sorely tempted -- I am so claustrophobic that I would only take the New York subway in a matter of life and death, and metaphorical use of that phrase wouldn't count. And after the first time we had to duck to get through a passage where the ceiling was too low to stand straight, I was sorry I hadn't.

It didn't help that the only way out was to go back the way I'd come - short passages, narrow passages, and a long, long spiral ramp at the entrance. I don't have a problem with small spaces in general; it's only small spaces I can't get out of.

But I was mostly okay. It was beautiful: cones and curves and odd sheets that hung like curtains. Mix a little water with a little calcium carbonate and add a lot of time, and the results are quite magical. I took a lot of pictures, even though I knew they wouldn't come out because I had to focus manually (a less expensive camera would probably have done much better) but focusing on the light and the shapes kept me from thinking too much about where I was and deciding that I'd forgotten how to breathe.

Glow little glowworm, glimmer glimmer

This picture may not look like much, but it is the best of my many attempts to capture Arachnocampa luminosa, the New Zealand glowworm, in the Ruakuri cave on the road from Rotorua to Auckland.

This was from a section of the cave where there were only a few glowworms; there was another, much larger section where the walls and ceiling looked like that starry sky in the Outback, little pinpoints of blue and green and white light everywhere. There were no lights there, and we had to turn off our phones and cameras before shuffling into the pitch darkness like preschoolers on a field trip, each of us holding on to the shoulders of the person in front of us.

It was a little creepy and extremely clammy and not recommended for claustrophobes. I'm glad I did it anyway.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

For example

Some street scenes and architecture from Rotorua: mundane modern first-world country; half-timber pseudo-Elizabethan at the wonderful museum; Maori influence at the visitor center and the police station.

Regarding that cultural melding

Maori culture isn't nonexistent on the south island -- there are Maori programs on television, and crafts and carvings in the souvenir shop and the Maori greeting Kia ora is used everywhere -- but there isn't a large Maori population there.

Rotorua feels a lot like Hawaii -- very Polynesian and very Western at the same time. This picture is from a wonderful musical performance last night, before a traditional hangi dinner of meat slow cooked with heated stones.

Brimstone, anyone?

Earthquakes, volcanoes, and now geothermal springs: New Zealand is a tempermental teenager in geologic terms, at least compared to the ancient calm of Australia.

In Rotorua, they don't use the springs to heat houses anymore, but the heat still radiates from the ground. My hotel room became uncomfortably stuffy within minutes after turning off the air conditioning. And there are sickly-looking, sulfurous pools of thick bubbles in unexpected places -- behind a fence, next to a path in a park.

Even on the shores of the otherwise pristine lake.

In a movie, this would be the first sign that something disastrous was about to happen, but in real life they just build a luxury spa on top of the boiling mud and charge you a lot of money to sit in it.

Call Rotorua, that's the name

Demonstrating yet again that there's a large portion of my brain in which jingles, television theme songs and 70's pop anthems that no one ever wants to hear again, including the original artists, take up space that might be profitably devoted to things that actually matter, I have not been able to stop singing the Roto-Rooter song ever since we flew to Rotorua (on the north island) yesterday evening.

This sculpture, by Lyonel Grant, is called Waitukei, and represents the melding of Maori and European culture.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

More picture postcards from Queenstown


After our long trek out to Milford Sound and back, I abandoned my tentative plans to take a Lord of the Rings tour -- the last thing I wanted was to spend more time on a bus looking at pretty scenery.

So I spent our free day walking around Queenstown. It's basically a resort town dedicated to the consumption of that pretty scenery, often as a side effect of reckless behavior like dangling off a precipice with a giant rubber band around your feet or gliding hundreds of feet over the ground with only small parachute holding you up. I chose to ride the sky gondola to the top of Bob's Peak, which was more than enough to get my creaky adrenaline flowing.

Here's the view from the top: Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mitre Peak

You are not supposed to have perfect weather every day at this time of year in New Zealand, but we have been extraordinarily lucky. I didn't even bother with a jacket on a couple of the short hikes we took to break up the long bus ride.

This is Mitre Peak, which rises 5500 feet above the sound, but apparently most visitors never see it because it's clouded by mists or rain (Milford Sound gets 250 inches of rain per year, making it one of the rainiest inhabited places in the world.) If this means I've used up all my good weather karma for the year, I promise I won't complain.


Two more

Those brown lumps on the rock to the right of the waterfall are seals.

Speaking of Middle Earth

These trees have a witchy, Elvish look about them, and would have played the role of any forest in Middle Earth admirably.

Obligatory perspective shot

Pictures of cliffs and waterfalls always benefit from a reference point -- a house, a truck, a boat -- to give you some idea of the scale.

The cliffs here are up to three-quarters of a mile high, which is impressively tall when that cliff is looming over your head. We sailed out to the end of the fjord, where it meets the Tasman Sea, and that was just rocks and waves like a normal seacoast. But for the first eight and a half miles or so of the nine miles of fjord, you do feel like Frodo sailing down the river from Lothlorien.

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