Entry #053: Thursday, January 16, 2014 (Wellington, New Zealand)

One island down, one to go! Well, technically there's the Cook Islands, but those are legally their own country. But yeah, I am now on the North Island, so maybe we'll be getting slightly more summer-like weather here than I've been having for the past month. Maybe? Hopefully? In any case, the last few days haven't been necessarily the most action packed (in fact, two of them were almost exclusively dedicated to travel), but that doesn't mean they haven't been interesting? Or does it? Maybe you'll have to read through to see. I've forgotten, that's for sure.

Sunday was washed out, literally and almost totally. I woke up and it was raining. Heavily. And it continued raining - heavily - for about 10 hours. And when I say "heavily", I'm not typing with my California sugar-skin fingers. There were a couple of times where I had to go outside (like, as though to go to a bus stop), and within two minutes, I was completely and utterly drenched. Like, wringing-out-my-pant-legs drenched. Thank God I didn't have anything planned for that day because it most assuredly would have been cancelled. Indeed, everywhere I looked today, I saw the faces of disappointed people, their ice walks and helicopter rides not gonna happen. In any case, the rain somewhat precluded me doing much of anything spontaneous through the day, so it ended up being a relatively dull one. In the morning, I packed my bags and had breakfast in a very crowded kitchen, which confused me until I rationalized that it was likely due to the weather. And after putting my key in the check-out box, I still had some time to kill, so I just waited in the lounge for a little bit, checking some things on my phone. At the same time, a couple of people were watching the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which I've heard much about but have never seen until now. I saw, peripherally, two episodes of it, and I can say it is absolute garbage. Absolute trash, and fairly insulting to boot. So I guess that's a Wandering Loon anti-recommendation?

Anyway, I decided to wait for the last hour-point-five at the cafe where the bus would be stopping at, so I left. The hostel owner asked me if I was heading out, and when I said I was, he told me, of all things, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." I'm not sure if he knows that's meant as an insult or what, but I didn't like this guy much anyway, so I just grunted and headed out. After running to the cafe (and becoming soaked in the process), I ordered a hot chocolate and sat down, using the available WiFi until it was time to go. I stood outside the cafe with a couple other folks and waited. And waited. The bus ended up being a half-hour late, which was a first, but not a particularly surprising one, considering the weather. I ended up using that time to brush up on my Spanish, and once the bus did show up, we all rushed on. A half-hour of thrilling driving later, and we made it to Franz Josef, but not before a radio report came in saying that the return road was closed, meaning that anyone going in the opposite direction (of which there were at least 20 at the bus stop) were going to have to find emergency accommodation in some midway town.

After orienting myself, I quickly went across the street to the grocery store and bought a stop-gap frozen pizza dinner (I was a bit annoyed that the only options for pretty much all brands were Hawaiian or Meat Lovers; not much on the wholesome side). I then ran to the hostel, which I should note, was only three minutes away, but that was enough to again get myself and everything I had soaking wet. But upon arriving at the new Glow Worm Cottages hostel, everything seemed okay, as they offered free popcorn (and really, that does make everything okay). I went to my room, met a couple of my roommates (one Nordic guy with an utterly unpronounceable name, a nice Australian girl, and another girl who does nothing but give me dirty looks). I then spent the next couple hours going through more photos, and this batch (from Milford Sound) required extra work, as I had to adjust the tone for a lot of them (see, I may have a lot, but I make sure to put effort into them).

I then just relaxed around the place until about 6pm, when the rain suddenly and blessedly stopped. I used this opportunity to take a walk out, into town, and around. I saw that they had a wildlife center where I could see some kiwi, but it seemed pretty pricey just for that (maybe I'll try a zoo in the North Island). I also couldn't really go much of anywhere, because most of the destinations were either further away than I was willing to walk (partially because I was afraid the rain would return at any moment), or were blocked off because the land was owned by some helicopter tour company. So, a bit disappointed, I returned to the hostel, where I cooked my pizza (having a small conversation with fellow close-to-San-Francisco-er who was living here), and had dinner. Actually, I had a bit more than that, because the hostel provided free homemade soup, as well as pastries from the local bakery. When I asked what the occasion was, they informed me that they did it every night. How thoughtful! Between that, the free popcorn, and the free and unlimited (but unfortunately a bit slow) WiFi, this place had a lot of nice little features, though I'm not entirely sure it made up for their two toilets to handle forty people, or the fact that they used those cheap metal bunk beds that creak and taunt breakage every time you crawl into them.

I then went back to my room, where I met another of my roommates, an older (like, 65+) woman who seemed a bit perturbed that she had male roommates, as she thought she would be in an all female dorm. Why a lady her age wouldn't just get a private room is beyond me, but there you go. I ended up filtering through more of my photos, and I am, as of this writing, up to date! Yay! (That is, up to date on my own computer, not the the rest of the world, but yay still!) I then did a bit of writing. It was at this point that I realized that this area, like Milford Sound, has a number of sandflies (not nearly as many as Milford Sound, but a few nonetheless). I ended up victim to a few bites myself. Later in the night, I heard a bird call, and I thought it may have been a kiwi, so I took another walk, only to find out it was actually a kea making the noise. I got back to the hostel, where the old lady was already sleeping and the rest seemed to be somewhat preparing for bed at 10pm, and just sat around for the remainder of the night before going to bed myself.

My alarm woke me up the next morning, but it seemed as though I wasn't the only one getting up, and I definitely wasn't the loudest of everyone who was getting up, so I didn't feel as bad as I crawled down my creaky metal bunk bed, grabbed my stuff, and went to the main building. I had a quick, simple breakfast (for all the popcorn and soup and pastries they offered the in the evening, their breakfast selection was pretty slim, by which I mean nonexistent; they didn't even offer tea). I then sat down in the lounge, as I had a good hour before I needed to worry about heading out. I just hung out a bit, charging my devices (as I didn't have good access to an outlet the night before) and looking at some of the books they had on their shelves.

(On a total side note, when I get back to the States, I am totally, totally starting a website where books are condensed to their first sentence and last sentence. The results to this are sometimes funny, sometimes surprisingly insightful, and sometimes completely nonsensical, but inexplicably, such a site doesn't exist yet. Unless someone reads this and starts it before I do, in which case...good on ya, pal!)

When it was time to go, I grabbed my bags, and then headed to the bus stop. To my great pleasure, not only had the rain I had heard when I woke up stopped, but it was actually pretty darn sunny, which was a nice surprise. So, I didn't get wet on my way to the bus stop, and we weren't going to have to worry about the kind of crazy road conditions that would make a bus late. What I would have to worry about, though, was the simple fact that this was going to be a long bus ride. For some reason, I had had it in my head that it would be about five hours, but the bus driver told us it was going to be closer to nine. So, it was going to mainly be a day of me sitting down on my rump.

Now, it was times like this that I wish my Zune - my poor, beloved Zune - was still working. Being a dedicated media device, it could give me upwards of, I dunno, 20+ hours of music, and maybe five hours of video. More than enough for this. But my phone wouldn't be able to do anything like that normally, and this day, it was acting particularly strangely, having the battery being sucked down despite being in airplane mode with no apps running. I mean, it wasn't dramatic (maybe 12% total over the nine hours), but considering that the drainage should have been closer to 1-2%, it was really odd. In any case, I didn't use my phone, or really anything, to keep me occupied on the trip. I just looked out my window for about two-thirds of the trip, and then dozed off intermittently for the other third. I did also take some pictures here and there, but this was occasionally hindered, either by the rain that came in during the middle portion of the trip, or by the fact that all the landscape - beautiful as it was - looked like so much of the other landscape I had already seen.

In any case, we did make a couple of half-hour-ish strops on the trip, the first of which was in this fairly sleepy little burg called Hokitika. I took a quick walk around the place, mainly by their riverside quay. Being lunchtime, I decided to have some lunch. I had two options: the leftover pizza from the night before, or Mystery Sandwich. Now, one thing I neglected to mention before is that there was a "Free Food" basket in the hostel in Franz Josef, as there usually is in every hostel's kitchen. Usually it's some leftover rice or pasta, occasionally a jar of peanut butter. But this one had Mystery Sandwich, which was one of those pre-made sandwiches you buy at a grocery store, which come in those plastic, triangular clam-shell cases. This one, a chicken-and-brie-with-cranberry-relish, was completely unopened, and was ostensibly good until the day of the bus ride. Whose was it? Why did they leave it? How long has it been there? Was it still edible? Hence, the name. I decided that the pizza, worst case scenario, would last until dinner, so I took Mystery Sandwich, and fastidiously examined it. I checked the cheese. Was the skin of the brie growing some sort of fuzz, or was that my imagination? I just chucked it out, to be sure. I smelled the thing over and over. It smelled...neutral. I put the pieces back together, and took a single cautious bite. I don't even think I had gotten any of the main parts of the sandwich, but it didn't matter - I started gagging on the absolutely putrid taste. Lord only knows what the actual chicken or cheese would have tasted like had it gotten in my mouth (or what it would have done had it reached my innards). I promptly disposed of Mystery Sandwich and ate the leftover pizza.

The second stop was at Punakaiki, a coast-side village which was home to the Pancake Rocks, called as such because, through "unknown" processes, these big limestone rocks get ridges that make them resemble horrifically large and misshaped pancakes. Not terribly much to say for that. But it was still a more happenin' place than Barrytown, where I was considering a side-trip for a forge-your-own-knife activity (because that sounds pretty awesome, no matter how you slice it). But that wasn't even so much a town as a collection of a few houses; I don't think there was even a grocery store. And I would have had to spend two days there, due to bus schedules, so I think I dodged a bullet. But speaking of grocery stores, when we stopped in another town (whose name I can't remember), I bought some of the crispest, juiciest apples I have had in a long time. I don't know why, but having a good apple seems almost more satisfying than any other fruit, sans maybe watermelon. We also made a couple other stops in some other towns, but these were ones in which we didn't get off the bus, and even I have standards of the mudanity of content I'll put in this blog.

Our driver had told us when we began the trip that we'd get into Nelson at 6:45, and we parked at the Nelson stop at 6:45 on the dot. I got my stuff, but waited a little bit before I headed to the hostel, just to check out a couple of things. And again, carrying my larger backpack as a traditional luggage bag was not terribly enjoyable for the mile-plus walk, making me think that maybe, just maybe, I should switch it back to its preferred form for these kinds of walks. Once I arrived at the hostel, I had a hell of a time finding the reception, mainly because the place was a bar, restaurant, hotel, and hostel all rolled into one, with entrances everywhere, and nothing specifically noting a reception desk. It wasn't until about three different people showed me where to go (the first two pointing me to the wrong place) that I was finally able to check in. Once getting to my room, I discovered that I probably shouldn't have dallied after getting off the bus, because I had missed getting the bottom bunk of the room by a few minutes, by another passenger of the same bus. Oh, well.

The hostel was a pretty nice one, and one of its cool features was that - at the cost of wearing a silly wristband - you were able to get $10 dinners at their restaurant (and cheaper alcohol, but that's irrelevant to me). I couldn't be bothered to do anything else for dinner tonight (and didn't have the materials to cook), so I decided to go with that. I ended up getting a sizeable platter of fish and chips, followed by a slice of red velvet cake and ice cream. For $10 (or a little over US$8), this was actually one of the best food deals I've seen on this island so far, being at least half the price you'd pay for the same thing elsewhere. After finishing that, I went back to my room, where I spoke with Beatrice, the (wait for it) German girl who had gotten my bottom bunk. She mentioned that she wanted to take a walk to the geographic center of New Zealand, and asked it I wanted to come along. I had nothing better to do, so I just waited in the hammock outside our room (which I found to be a really cool feature) until she was ready, and then we headed out. To my surprise (and her's as well, I think), the walk was quite uphill. I rather enjoyed this, but I imagine I was the only one of the two who did, mainly based on the fact that she flat-out said she didn't like going uphill. When we got to the top, we found their pencil-shaped statue that marked the center and watched a sunset light up the clouds over the city and surrounding hills. We then went back down the hill, speaking with a German guy who totally had the googly eyes for Beatrice, so much as asking for her phone number when we parted, fifteen minutes after meeting. (She noted that, as a German herself, she was getting tired of meeting other Germans.) We walked back to the hostel as the night got darker, having a nice conversation, mainly about language, with me busting out all my etymologe knowledge.

We got back to the hotel, and when I finally logged onto their free WiFi, I saw that they had set up a blocking system to prevent people from using too much bandwidth, which not only included blocking YouTube (for being a video sharing site), but even innocuous sites like, I dunno, the community site of my old company. Yes, despite the fact it's mainly a blog and message board, Capcom-Unity was declared a "Gaming" site, and was therefore blocked. So that was a shame. But thankfully, my time in China had prepared me for draconian Internet tactics, and so I had a VPN system to completely cheat (and I do mean "cheat" in the absolute scumbag way that's intended) the system. But for the most part, I just chatted with my roommates and relaxed for the remainder of the evening.

We all got up around the same time the next morning, which was just as well; breakfast in the hostel was only served between 8am and 9am, a ridiculously short period. Still, there was an upside, because it was a genuinely decent breakfast. In addition to your cereal and toast, they had a make-your-own waffle bar. Yeah, it was just a couple waffle irons and some batter, but still! Waffles! I sat down to eat, and Beatrice sat down with me. She asked what I was going to do, and I said I didn't really have any concrete plans. I had considered going and doing this walk called the Harwood's Hole Track (which led right to the edge of a sinkhole, which you could go down if you were an experienced caver [I'm not, unfortunately]). One of us noted that they offered free bike rentals to hostel guests, so we decided, hey, maybe we could do a bike ride together. Before that, she had to pack her bags, as she needed to move into another room because of booking conflicts. I watched her - or more accurately, her bed - like a hawk while she was packing, and at my first opportunity, moved my stuff into the bottom bunk, claiming it against all on-comers. She then left her stuff at reception, and we asked to rent some bikes. I asked about if you could get to Harwood's Hole with them, and the guy winced and said, "Not with those bikes." He then informed me that getting there took something like an hour driving, and considerably longer with any other mode of transport, meaning it was probably wasn't worth it for an hour-point-five walk. But he showed us some places we could go, and then gave us seats and helmets. He also said that because they weren't in particularly high demand, we could eschew the two-hour limit and keep them as long as we wanted.

So that was nice. But it wasn't until I got to the bike, put the seat on, and sat down, that I realized the issue. I had cycled for three weeks on a mountain bike. I could do mountain bikes. But this...this was a...I don't even know what the proper term for it is. An errand bicycle? It had a basket on the front, which was it's only benefit. On the other side, it had really wide handlebars, no gears, and only a front-tire handbrake (the back tire brake was the hold-back-on-the-pedals-like-an-eight-year-old type). It was really awkward to ride, really slow, and I wasn't a fan. Even so, we rode down the side of the river until we reached the beach (which can only generously be called a beach). We stayed there a bit, and then continued on until we reached a Japanese garden. We stopped there and had a walk around, and then decided to go to the Founder's Village, which was somewhat recommended by folks at the hostel. We were in luck, because said village was, like, 500 feet down the road. We went in and got some tickets. Our goofy wristbands actually were supposed to let us get some sort of deal where we got a free beer tasting, but when it was mentioned to the lady at the reception desk, she didn't have the foggiest idea what we were talking about. Not that it made a difference to me, anyway. We got in and walked around the place, which was basically a facsimile of what it would be like to live in Nelson at...some point in time; it depended on the building. Some represented the late 1800s, some the early 1920s. Thing is, the place was incredibly dull. I saw it as a bit of an expansive museum, but for the most part, everything was just a building with a glass pane separating you from everything inside, and very few descriptions about the items on display. If you wanted to know more about something...too bad. There was also a small train that went around the village, which we wanted to go on to get the most out of the $7 we spent. But nope, that was $5 extra. Nuts to that! All in all, the most interesting part of the entire place was a huge book filled with old (40's/50's) newspapers. Partially because it gave you a real insight into the life of the world, one day at a time, and also because you could flip from page to page.

And, as I discovered in Italy, being able to touch things is what can turn a museum into so, so much more. It makes the past become real. But I won't go into that rant again.

We left the Founder's Village, and headed back to the town center. This was actually no easy feat, because we were going headfirst into hugely powerful winds on pitifully weak bikes. I tried sticking to my normal M.O. and staying in back, but Beatrice's pace was just too slow for me, so I eventually got in front (and had to stop every now and again for her to catch up). Once we got to the town center, we walked around, she did some grocery shopping, we looked for a place to have lunch (though I was actually planning just to have a PB&J sandwich at the hostel), we saw a guy painting a huge squid mural on a building wall (which, according to one local paper, was a source of "black-and-white opinions", with one guy hating it, and everyone else in town liking it). One funny exchange: Beatrice asked me if there were many gentlemen in the US. Confused, I replied, "I think the ratio is probably the same as in any other country." When I asked her why she inquired, she said that it was because I offered to carry her bags, and helped a store-owner whose signs had fallen in the wind, and that she didn't know if all Americans were like me. I just said my mother taught me well.

We eventually rode back to the hostel and dropped off our bikes. I had a late lunch...whoops, no, I had no lunch, as my sandwich bread had become squished and, more relevant, moldy. So I just had a couple apples and hung around for a little while. Before too long, though, I became a bit antsy and decided to go on a hike. I asked the guy at reception if he had any suggestions, and he more-or-less pointed at a mountain in the middle distance and said, "Try that one." So I did. I walked to the mountain, and then took a path upwards, which took about an hour or so. I got to a viewing spot, which had a nice view of the city and surrounding areas, but nothing too special (it wasn't terribly different from the view at the center of New Zealand). I then went up a little further to the summit, which had no view, but instead a tall radio tower. It, of course, had a sign saying "No Climbing", but I will admit I was tempted, probably because of the whole life-in-my-own-hands feelings I'm now kinda yearning for. However, climbing up that thing on that day would have been especially risky, as it was super windy. I mean, it was howling up there, even at the bottom of the tower. So, I listened to the angels of reason and went back down the mountain, down a different path than I took up (actually, it kept splitting into many different paths, and I just chose my course at random). I ended up, more or less, on the other side of the mountain, and had to walk an extra four miles or so to get back to the hostel.

When I got back, I put my stuff down, and then had another $10. I was a bit disappointed that it was fish and chips and red velvet cake again, but then, it was still really good food at a really reasonable price, so I wasn't going to complain. While I was eating, Beatrice sat down with me, having settled into her new room, and seemed to be stressing over what she was going to do the next day, because she wanted to go on the Abel Tasman walk, but didn't have anything planned, so could only do a day trip, and should she do water taxis or kayaking, and will she have enough money to do other activities in other cities, and all sorts of other concerns. I tried playing devil's advocate to help her decide on something, but when she asked me which of her potential activities I'd do, I had to answer honestly: "None of them, probably." Thankfully, she ended up coming to a decision with or without my help, though I went back to my room before I found out what that was. I got some work done (mainly trying to top up my phone plan, which was going to renew the next day, only to screw up and add too much money to something I wouldn't use in another three weeks). I also looked into a rough itinerary for the following day, which I planned to be a fairly relaxed, culturally-based day around town. We had a new roommate in the room, which I didn't mind until I found her hair literally everywhere in the bathroom. In the sink, on the toilet seat, and Lord, so much in the shower. Please clean up after yourselves, ladies!

Anyway, I had a good night sleep (and I think I had an interesting dream, though I don't remember a single dot of it). I then woke up nearly exactly at 8am, just perfect to get some breakfast. The queue for waffles seemed longer, but I had nowhere to be in a hurry, so I wasn't to concerned. While eating, I didn't see Beatrice, so I could only assume her decided plans had already started for the day. I went back to the room and milled around for a bit, as my two chill Australian roommates went to the wine country, and the hair-shedding girl checked out. I then headed out myself for my day's activities, which started at the Queen's Garden, a nice little park with some ponds and sculptures and manicured plants. It was a nice little place, and probably very pleasant to have a picnic in, but I'm not quite sure it lives up to a name so lofty as to invoke the queen of an entire kingdom. I then continued to the Hallowell Cemetery, one of two historic cemeteries in Nelson. As anyone who's paid attention to previous entries knows, I really like cemeteries, particularly old ones, so the prospect of visiting two excited me. This one was quite hard to find, though, as it was tucked away on this one street, accessible only via a staircase nearly obscured by the two adjacent driveways. And when I finally got there, I saw that it was...different than I imagined. It was tiny, and there were no graves. It just looked like a plot of land that had gone untended for a decade. Even the nearby bench was caked in dust and spiderwebs. But other than that, you just had to go on faith that it was once a cemetery.

After that, I took a quick jaunt to the nearby Christ Church Cathedral (not to be confused with the Christchurch Cathedral). I went inside and paced around a bit, listening to the sound of a choir singing (at first I thought it was a rehearsal in another room, but soon realized it was a recording; very pleasant regardless). A kindly woman gave me an informational pamphlet, and I sat for a bit, enjoying the atmosphere. I even read a little bit of the bible that was in my pew. I actually stayed there for a good little while. I don't even know what I was thinking/reflecting on, but it felt good to just have such an opportunity to step back from the rest of the world's bustle. Say what you will about churches, but they are definitely good for that.

I then left, looking for the second historical cemetery, the wonderfully named Quaker's Acre Cemetery. This actually proved harder than the first to find, requiring me to make several trips up and down a hill and around a block before seeing a small, old sign mentioning a Quaker Cemetery, timidly placed next to a car mechanic's garage. Thankful at the chase being over, I walked up the small path and...it was even more innocuous than the first cemetery. Smaller, and with even less evidence that anyone was buried there. There were just a couple benches where you could sit and reflect, with some guy on there now, reflecting on his rice and curry lunch. Needless to say, I was a tad disappointed with these cemeteries. Not in the sense that I think they're bad in any way, mind you, but more that I had set myself up.

It was around 1pm or so, so I decided to have lunch. By no likely coincidence, there was a McDonald's near the cemetery, and I had noticed before that, even though I had already tried their Kiwibrurger, there was another item being advertised. "The Kiwi Legend is Back," the signs said (I'm assuming it's their equivalent to the McRib). It was the Georgie Pie, which I assumed was maybe a lamb pie, or something. Anyway, to fully commit to My Disgusting Quest™, I had to have it. So, I went in and ordered one. I also saw a sign for "Cheesy Macaroni Snacks" (fried triangles of macaroni and cheese), so I had to get that as well. As for a verdict, any credit I can give McDonald's for their Kiwiburger has just gone down the drain with these train wrecks. I kind of expected the fried mac&cheese to be bad, but the pie was just mince and cheese, both of which were horribly processed to a goo. I mean, it's no McFondue, but it made me happy that there are Subway's here.

I then walked to the Nelson Provincial Museum, a quaint little place near the central business district. It had two floors of exhibits. The first floor was dedicated to the history of the Nelson district, and was actually quite good - they had a variety of display types to keep it from getting too monotonous (including Haunted Mansion-style reverse busts of some historic figures). I also like their sense of what I'll call "realness" there. They had an old stuffed owl, an extinct species, and noted that while it's rough and faded, it's one of only a few in existence. Then, near the end, there was a suit of samurai armor. Why do their have samurai armor here? I wondered. I then looked at the sign, which read, "Why do we have samurai armor here?" (The answer is that they were showing the kinds of exotic exhibits that museums like this used to have.) The upstairs had two temporary exhibits: one was an exhibit on plants, which was hopelessly boring (though it was also for kids, so who know); and the other was for a NZ artist named Graham Percy, whose work I actually did enjoy, in particular a piece called "Kiwi in Venice" (look it up).

I left the museum, and then checked if I could go to the "World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum", which apparently was pretty cool. Turns out, I could...but the walk would take an hour and a half, leaving me with eight minutes to explore the museum. Cross that off the list, then. I did see, to my pleasant surprise, a self-serve frozen yogurt place. I should have been driven away by the paltry selection of four flavors, or the price (equaling US$.75/ounce), but I gave it a shot. No toppings, though; I couldn't afford it. Also, they wouldn't accept any of my cards. But maybe it would taste good...nope. Worst frozen yogurt I've had in a good long while. Now, if there's anything you can do to upset me, it's get my hopes up for frozen yogurt and then dash them in every conceivable way. So I tried calming myself down by meandering around town, stopping in the occasional second-hand book store, just to browse, before heading back to the hostel.

I sat down and did some writing for a while, when my two roommates came back in, and we chatted. I then remembered I had to do my laundry, and thankfully, someone had left some free washing powder in the laundry room for me to use. I continued writing while the clothes washed and dried. I could have saved three bucks by air-drying them, but the fact is, I don't like air-dried clothes; they feel wrong to me. Conversely, I love little more than taking fresh clothes out of a dryer. (Man, I wish I had tossed some sweatpants in there, just so I could take them out and put them on.) I set the clean clothes on my bed and then went to dinner. The meal was, happily, different today, but still a good deal: bangers (sausages) and mash (mashed potatoes), with some peas, corn, carrots, and a slice of raspberry meringue pie. I saw Beatrice there, so I sat down and we discussed what we had done in the day. I then saw that she was frazzled again, this time because she was supposed to go to Picton the next day, but did not have either bus or hostel booked. And the NakedBus that I was taking there was full. Though I tried to help her find some alternate option, this inwardly made me feel quite vindicated (if a bit smug) about my fastidious planning, and the number of people who said I need to be more relaxed and just go day-by-day. Fact is, I felt relaxed, and a day-by-day person didn't. I then went back to my room, said a quick hello to the new German girl who was in the top bunk, packed my bags, and continued my writing for the night before going to bed.

I was woken up by my two Australian roommates leaving for the day, but was able to go back to sleep until my alarm woke me up proper. I quickly got up, packed my remaining items, and then went to breakfast. I made myself the last waffle I'd probably have for a good long while, so I loaded it with just a little eplaguesxtra syrup. I saw Beatrice eating there to, so I joined her until she had to leave to catch her bus. We wished each other well as she left, and I just hung around a bit more before leaving myself. I made the decision today to unzip the strap cover of my big backpack and wear it like - gasp - a backpack. This turned out to be, to very minimal surprise, an excellent idea, as I would wear my big backpack on my back, my little backpack on my front (a little goofy looking, but it's designed to work that way), and my grocery bag in hand. And lo and behold, my arms did not feel like falling off after walking for a mile. So that was nice. I got to the bus, which was a small, kinda cheapo one, but whatever, this wasn't going to be a long trip.

That said, it felt like a long trip, mainly because I've had a kind of relapse of those allergies that plagued e earlier on this trip. Not as bad as what I experienced in Kaikoura, but no fun regardless. And lemme just say, it is hard to keep up a cool, composed persona when you are sniffling, of having your eyes water, or having to keep a tissue at hand like some sort of old woman in church to wipe your nose when it runs like a leaky pipe. Or sneezing. Really, I don't think there is a greater indignity your body puts you through than sneezing; a total loss of control and composure. So, in addition to looking embarrassingly fragile, I also just felt lousy. This kind of stuff is, no lie, putting a bit of a black mark on New Zealand for me. Like, it's a great country, but I don't think I could ever live here if I would have to face allergies like this (I type while my eyes and nose get all watery).

Anyway, after a little more than two hours, the bus arrived in Picton, specifically at the ferry terminal. I had about two hours before the ferry would be leaving, but I didn't want to risk going into town proper (a good distance away) to either sight-see or do grocery shopping. So, I just decided to have lunch from the nearby Subway. I then went into the terminal, where some WiFi was available, and used that until they started making the initial boarding, about forty minutes before takeoff. One of the funniest moments (in a not-terribly-funny kinda way) was when I wanted to look up where I was staying for the next four nights, as I'd booked long ago and plumb forgotten. I looked online and saw that it was...the Base Wellington Backpackers. ...Oh....damn. If you've forgotten, Base was the backpackers place in Queenstown that I stayed, and that I felt was the worst place I've stayed at in all of New Zealand. There must have been some reason why I didn't book a BBH place here, but the thought of spending four nights in one of those places did not inspire much confidence.

Sighing at my luck, I got onto the boat - well, the ship, really; it could hold 1600 passengers - and made my way up to the sundeck. At first I thought it silly that you could  pay extra (like, $45) to get into a VIP lounge, but then I realized that this was actually a nearly four-hour trip, so I guess it makes sense. Still, though, they don't get a great view like I do on the deck. Except that when you're on the sundeck, you also get the sun. Even before the boat had taken off, and even with the clouds in the sky, I could feel my skin start to cook (Hole in the Ozone, folks!). I put on some sunscreen, but after maybe 20 minutes after taking off, I decided to go inside. I sat down at a table in their cafe, and plugged in my computer, where I played for about an hour a new game I had just got (in fact, it was one of the first games I have ever backed on Kickstarter, so that was pretty exciting). I then folded that up and went back up to the sundeck to see what the view was like. Basically, it was a lot of ocean, a few mountains in the various distances, and some cool clouds in the sky. I walked around the deck for a bit before feeling like I'd gotten my fill, and went back inside. I went to the on-board iSite, where I tried to get some information about the goings-on around Wellington, mainly the cheap/free stuff provided. I then kind of moved back and forth between the different parts of the ship, just to see what was around. No real agenda or anything, and not much of interest to talk about. Except that I saw women's rugby on one of their TV's inside. I didn't know there was such a thing.

I got back onto the sundeck as we cruised into the Wellington harbor, and then scrambled my way down to the exit, to make sure I was one of the first people off the ship. In fact, I was, but that didn't make much of a difference, because my big bag, which I had to check, was one of the last items to come out of the baggage claim. This, in turn, caused me to be further back in the line to get onto their shuttle out of the ferry terminal and into the town proper, meaning that I missed the first shuttle and had to wait an extra 20 minutes. And even then, I had a half-hour to walk before I reached the hostel. Even wearing my backpack properly, the front/back arrangement was none too comfortable for that amount of time; I can only imagine how unpleasant the alternative would be. I also passed by numerous other backpackers, which I could only imagine would have been nicer than the one I was actually staying at.

I finally arrived and checked in with little fanfare, trying as hard as possible to hide the symptoms of my allergies from the guy at the desk. I then brought my bags upstairs and went into my room. To my dull non-surprise, it was half-full, and all bottom bunks were taken. I flung my bags atop my bed and then took my food into the kitchen, which was crowded like nobody's business. Really, this may be the most crowded hostel I've stayed at thus far, which doesn't earn it any stars in my book. (Honestly, I don't know how people can stand to travel all over like this. It's such a different mindset from my own.) I then took my reusable bag and headed out into town. I looked into something for dinner, and after some brief considerations, decided to again go to a Subway, where I got a slightly different sandwich. First of all, being here has reminded me how much I like Subway. Also, I think I needed these past couple days to cleanse my palate a bit of all the PB&J sandwiches and stuff, because more are coming. In fact, I bought new jars of both peanut butter and jam (which, I worked out in my head should last me until I leave NZ), as well as other miscellaneous foodstuffs. I then brought this back to the hostel, and put it away wherever I could find space in the horrifically stuffed fridges.

I went back to my room to settle in a bit more. I spoke a bit with Tamara, a NZ local who was travelling for...I don't remember the specific reasons, to be honest, but she was not really planning to be here, and was leaving in a couple days. Unfortunately, she would be the first of the three lower bunk folks to be leaving, as the other two were off after I was leaving (the girl under me actually worked in Wellington, and so was living in the hostel ["the poor thing," I commented]). I made no attempt to hide my dissatisfaction with this hostel brand, and the fact that pieces of my bed were literally coming off did nothing to assuage my feelings. She gave me some tips about things to see, which I was thankful for. In the course of our conversation, she also had some...colorful (by which I mean "racist") comments to which I could only smile placatingly. I then bought some of the hostel's WiFi (there was a Telecom setup just down the block, but I tried to think if I'd really want to go downtown with my laptop at night; not that I'm afraid of robbery or anything, it just seems like a damn hassle), and sat down, finishing up this blog entry.

I'm probably going to be going to the Te Papa National Museum tomorrow, but other than that, I don't really have any set plans in Wellington (as has been the case in most of the places I've been here). So it'll be interesting to see how it all plays out. Will I go absolutely insane in this hostel before leaving town? Very possibly. If that's the case, this may be the last entry I ever write. So I'm going to be awkward and not give it a proper ending. Hope that's

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