Friday, August 28, 2009

Singing in the Rain

NOTE: We've started to run into some limitations with internet, so our entries are somewhat delayed. We're working on catching up, but at the same time we're trying to actually do some traveling rather than sitting in front of the computer the entire time. Apologies for the delays in getting the good stuff up here :)

And this pretty much summarizes the crap weather here

Rain that just won’t go away

It was a short, two day stay in Greymouth, as we continue trekking northward towards Auckland. My roommate Shannon had warned me prior to our departure that it would be raining A LOT in New Zealand. Up until a day ago I found myself mocking her comment as we were enjoying crystal clear skies in Queenstown and Christchurch. I was convinced she was full of shit. Well, turns out I was wrong. Enter Greymouth, a quaint little town on the west coast with beautiful scenery, or so we’re told as it’s kinda hard to see anything through sheets of rain.

Guess what...more rain in Greymouth

On top of that, we didn’t have any kind of rain gear, so it was a wet couple of days. There were, however, a few moments of sunshine (both literally and figuratively.)

Wednesday in Greymouth

As Jason pointed out in his last post, the activities on Wednesday were to include a (indoor) tour of the local Monteith brewery. We hopped on the free bikes from the hostel

Lawton's riding his bike on the wrong side of the road!

(yes, that’s Jason riding a bike on the left side of the road) for a quick tour of town, free internet at the library, and then off to the brewery. The 45 minute brewery tour included a through explanation of the brewing process (FACT: Monteiths is one of the few remaining breweries still practicing open fermentation), tasting of a variety of roasted barley (taste ranges from Muesli to burnt toast, which brought back childhood breakfast memories for me – sorry Mom), checking out super cool brewing equipment (it was almost like being back at the refinery, although most pumps used packing instead of mechanical seals), and quizzing the super nice Kiwi tour guide on whatever was on our mind.

That's our tour guide in the background

Process control panel

Look mom, a pump!

The chill room where finished beer is stored before bottling...

We highly recommend the tour of this 7 person operation (yes, just seven people work there full time, down from over 80 back in the day), as it was personal, informative, and chalked full of little stories including innovative inventions by their very own engineer/tinkerer, Jeff. The most memorable ones were a de-palleting machine built from a couple of scrap trucks (did it for under $20k vs a commercial machine quoted at $250k) and the invention of a keg repair machine (below) that allows the brewery to take damaged kegs and re-condition them, eliminating the cost of purchasing a new $400 keg and having to sell the damaged scrap for $40.

The custom keg fixing machine

The tour concluded with a tasting of their products (with recommended food pairing), including a top secret cider that is to premiere this upcoming Monday (shhhh!) To finish it off, we got to pour our own beer from the tap, documented below. I had their original ale, Jason went for the Radler (look it up, it’ll make sense).

Swiss tries his hand at pouring a glass from the tap

I pour also

"Casual conversation"...right?!?

Great fun, great tour, and only NZD 15 (around 10 us bucks, not too shabby.)

Student discount?

In keeping with the crummy weather, we decided it was time to warm up a bit using hot water. As luck would have it, there was a brand new community aquatic center (not centre, Jason) about 3 blocks from the hostel. For NZD 3.50 (ok, it was actually 5, but we opted for the student discount, using the justification that we’re currently students of the road), you get to use their spa, sauna, and pool. I would add to that the two water slides, which after sampling both I discovered that you technically need to buy a $5 wristband to use, so scrap that statement. Luckily I managed to elude the life guard police, and upon experiencing said revelation I ceased the use of the slides. But they were, like, totally fun as the ~20,000 teenagers at the pool would say. All warmed up, we headed back to the hostel for stir fry and good times, which was only slightly offset by the tour bus that joined us for the night.

The Hostel and facts about getting hurt in New Zealand

In keeping with our stellar hostel streak, we decided to sample Global Village Backpackers. Holy crap, it was nice. Tons of space, clean, brand new bathrooms and showers. Downsides included no free internet/wifi and being a tad far from downtown (a handicap magnified during monsoons but otherwise offset by the place providing free bikes and kayaks for people to use on the nearby roads and creeks.) During our stay we met a bunch of couple cool people from the US, UK, and Germany, all of which offered up helpful tips and great stories. See next section for a sample. We opted not to mingle too much with the tour bus crowd, which included one dude who seemed to be tripping on some kind of drug and managed to rob about a combined 20 man hours of sleep from our room. Although it was quite funny watching him looking for his stuff while his head lamp was pointing straight up at the ceiling (imagine a dog chasing his tail or a cat chasing a laser pointer – where did the light go????), and struggling for a solid 5 minutes to open the bedroom door at 3 am. You had to be there, I guess. Don’t do drugs.

So for worried Moms, we wanted to share some good news in the event we fall off a cliff, get hit by a bus (they drive on the left here, so look right when crossing the road), are bitten by a sheep, etc. Check out the pictures below of the aptly named “Getting help if you’re injured visiting our country” brochure:

Zoom In, that's details on FREE Health Covereage for ANY injury in NZ

More Insurance Details

More Insurance Details

In sum, you’re pretty much fully covered if you get injured, no matter who is at fault, a program that started in the 70’s to alleviate growing concerns of people suing for compensation after an accident. And here I was readying myself for a nice slip and fall at the community pool to help finance this trip. Bummer.

Transportation in New Zealand

Being bummed out by the weather and somewhat isolated to the hostel, we talked to quite a few of the people as to where they were coming from and how they got here. One of our roomies the first night informed us that he was renting a car for NZD 25 per day, which seemed pretty reasonable. We then asked if any of the rental companies do one way rentals, and he said they not only do that, but oftentimes will provide you with a free (or near free) rental if you drive from Queenstown or Christchurch up to Auckland, and activity that saves the car rental companies from having to hire drivers to return the vehicles from travelers driving from the north island to the south island (think conservation of mass.) Sure enough, after a quick search online, there were quite a few of these deals going on. Unfortunately we had already left Christchurch, and there were no rentals available in Wellington, our next major stop. But for future budget travelers reading this blog, consider this a potentially helpful tip to secure cheap transportation. A flight from Auckland to Queenstown is around $100 US, and if you can get a cheap rental, it seems like a great (and potentially flexible) way to experience the country. For now, we’re sticking to busses, trains, and ferries. Not a bad thing by any means.

The following day we ran into a very nice couple on vacation (ok, holiday) from Germany. Their approach to traveling was to buy a camper van, travel for 6 weeks, and then sell it. They had done this on a prior 3.5 week trip and actually made money (bought the camper for $3k, sold it for ~$4k) in the process. All you need is a address to register the vehicle (apparently quite a few hostels are willing to do that), score some insurance, and off you go. We are considering doing this (me more than Jason, but he’s warming up to the idea) by buying a car in Cairns, Australia, driving it down to Sydney, and then selling it. If it works out (that is, we can find a decently cheap/reliable car in Cairns), we will be arriving in Sydney right as the busy tourist season starts. Granted there is some risk, but I’m really tempted to give it a shot, if for no other reason than to say we tried it :) More to come on that. In the meantime, we continue to enjoy New Zealand, even as I’m getting slightly car sick typing away on my netbook on a bumpy bus ride to Nelson.


Unknown said...

Is this Radler anything like the Radler they drink in Germany? If so, they make a pre-mixed one down there in NZ?

Swiss said...

it's exactly like the Radler in Germany, except they brew it with lemon so it's 5% vs the watered down stuff they serve elsewhere

Post a Comment