Down Under

New Zealand 2014: Christchurch and Aoraki Mount Cook


Christ’s College was built in 1925 in the Gothic and Tudor perpendicular style. The structure was reenforce against earthquakes in 1987 and only suffered minor damage during the 2011 earthquake.

As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts, I am not a fan of long flights. After three hours, I’ve hit my limit for sitting in one place. But the flight from Brisbane to Auckland was quite pleasant—the seats roomy, the service excellent, and the food tasty. For once, I was a tad disappointed when we landed three and a half hours later.

And what I dislike even more than a long flight is riding in a puddle jumper plane. David tries to appease me by saying, “It’s a regional jet.” Regional jet or puddle jumper, being sandwiched in a seat on a small plane for more than an hour is murder. Thankfully, the “regional jet” from Auckland to Christchurch landed just twenty-five minutes over the one-hour limit. But who was counting?

With back-to-back flights and a layover in Auckland, we arrived in Christchurch at 8:00 p.m. and drove straight to our hotel—the George. Tired and hungry, we wanted to dump our luggage in the room and grab something to eat. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant, Pescatore, but we wanted light fare, so we ate at 50 Bistro—tomato bisque followed by grilled scallops. We finally climbed into bed at midnight and I snuggled up to George, the keepsake teddy bear left on our bed during the first-night turndown. A nice touch. I still have George and he is such a good traveling companion, always well-behaved and welcomed at lodgings worldwide. You can follow him on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheGeorgeBear.

Christ’s College

We woke to a chilly, overcast day and walked into downtown Christchurch. There were still some signs of the 6.3 earthquake that hit the town in 2011, and I thought about the two thousand people killed in the quake. One shop owner shared her story and the deadly details hit home, as I’d had my share of earthquakes over the years—Mexico, South Africa, and a number in Southern California. We spent the morning exploring Christchurch and wished we had allowed more time for sightseeing. But a reliable source (David) told me we will return soon to explore some more.

In the afternoon, with David behind the wheel of our rental, we motored onto State Highway 8, the Inland Scenic Route to Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, about a four-and-a-half hour drive. Before we set out, the receptionist at the George said, “This is New Zealand. The journey is as exciting as the destination. Take your time and enjoy.”  And indeed we did, driving past acre upon acre of farmland, pasture upon pasture of countless sheep, cattle, and deer farmed for domestic sales. I fell in love and wanted to take home a lamb.  

David will be the first to admit that he does not have the “farming gene,” so he surprised me when he said, “I could live here and I’d farm.” What? I asked him to repeat that statement, and he has, many times in the past three years. In fact, he liked New Zealand so much that we plan to return in 2018. And I can’t wait to head Down Under again.

For one, I missed out on visiting Lake Tekapo, an alpine spot at the foot of Mount John. I was captivated by the deep turquoise of the lake’s water, which is created by rock flour from the surrounding glaciers that is suspended in the water. The glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into a fine dust as they make their journey down toward the lake. Lake Tekapo is set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountain peaks—a magnificent blend of white and turquoise. I also wanted to see the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo, so both the lake and the church are on my must-see list for trip two.

Nestled in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Hermitage Hotel was the perfect base camp for our hiking and ATV adventures, which is why we chose it. The building is not the typical log or timber lodge you’d see in the US or Canada. The commercial looking, blue-gray steel structure rises from the valley floor like a metal giant, and not everyone thought the modern architecture was appealing. “Military barracks,” I overheard one visitor say. Personally, I found the style intriguing, and we had a wonderful stay.

The first night, we ate in the Panorama Room. The porcini mushroom appetizer was good, but the entrées stole the show. I had smoked salmon with a potato mousse and baby peas. David ordered the venison with blueberry and juniper sauce and grilled vegetables—both meals cooked to perfection. For dessert, a sampler of homemade ice creams.

Damage to Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake.



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Australia: Port Douglas – Part 3 

By day four in Port Douglas, I was getting antsy for a change of scenery. I’m not much of a shopper and I don’t load up on purchases at the beginning of a trip, especially if it means buying more luggage, and we still had three weeks of travel ahead of us. And I’m definitely not much of a lounger—beach, poolside, or even at a sidewalk café. But on day four I found myself doing all four. I told myself it was a good way to refuel, but I wasn’t convinced.

We started the day with a beach stroll, followed by browsing the shops, and later a long walk on the wharf and through town, stopping at Payless Rental & Tours to inquire about a rental car for Sunday, before we browsed more shops.

We lunched at Cafe Ziva, people-watched for quite some time, and then returned to our hotel to lounge poolside for the afternoon. David read while I jotted notes for a future Darcy and Bullet thriller to be set Down Under and updated my travel log.

For dinner, we ate at Bucci. Besides loving duck as an entrée, I am also a big fish-eater, as I was spoiled by fresh seafood caught by my father, an avid fisherman. I ordered Mooloolah River swordfish char-grilled on lemon leaves and served with a fresh tomato and herb salsa, and David had the pan-seared Cone Bay barramundi with a chili-pickled beetroot salad with whipped feta, onion confit, and walnuts. For dessert, a snifter of grappa, guaranteeing we would sleep soundly that night.

Early Sunday morning we collected the keys to our rental vehicle from the shopkeeper next door to Payless Rental and found our Mitsubishi SUV parked on the street, just as the rental owner had instructed. There was no way, he had informed us when we filled out the paperwork, he would be working that early on a Sunday, but he was willing to make other arrangements to accommodate our wishes. We offered to pick up the car on Saturday, right after we signed the contract, but he said there was no reason to pay for an extra day, and besides he had no rentals available. He concluded our transaction with a smile and a question: “Why do Texans always carry guns?” I replied, “Well, we don’t always carry guns. We aren’t carrying them now.” I smiled and left David and the owner to their discussion of surf fishing and moseyed over to the adjacent shop, curious as to what models of ten-speed bicycles they were selling.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at our hotel to gather a few things for our day trip to Daintree National Park, the largest rainforest in Australia. We spent hours in this tropical wonderland, hiking and snapping photos as we visited Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Village, a laid-back rural town situated on a bend of the mighty Daintree River, where we spotted two crocodiles skimming the waters. Although we were warned, we didn’t see any cassowaries. Cassowaries are large flightless birds. They resemble emus and are shy, but when provoked can inflict serious, sometimes fatal injuries. The warning reminded me of a similar one about ostriches many years ago when I lived in Africa. If cornered, the frightened bird can deliver dangerous kicks capable of killing a lion. Rule: Don’t provoke the wildlife, any wildlife.

Back in Port Douglas, we dropped off the rental car and headed to our hotel for a short nap to reenergize before we walked across town to the docks to find our boat for a sunset sail around the harbor. On board, we sipped wine, nibbled appetizers, and watch the sun sink on the blue horizon.

Our conversation turned to the Daintree Rainforest, and what we might do if we revisited it. Maybe a guided fine feather tour? Australia has so many beautiful birds. Or a river cruise, getting up close and personal with the crocodiles. We had done something similar more than once in Florida, but saw no crocs, only alligators, and in a much smaller boat. Yikes! We also enjoyed the Mossman Gorge and the aerial walkway on our way up to the Canopy Tower. As suggested, we kept our eyes open, hoping to spot a cassowary, but only saw an amethystine python camouflaged in the foliage of an Australian fan palm that towered over McLean’s Creek.

For dinner that night, we decided on Thai food and ate at Siam by the Sea. Most of the reviews were four or five stars with a few twos and threes. Our seafood meals were delicious, and I loved the pineapple fried rice.


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No Such Thing as FREE!

Someone paid for it.

FREE in the context of this blog post applies to material things, which means there is a financial cost involved, as opposed to “the best things in life are free,” such as inner peace. But even the latter could have come at a cost.

Some time ago a fellow writer, Ray (not his real name), asked me to lunch. He wanted to celebrate the release of his current novel, the third in his science fiction series. He had just received a print proof of the book and the excitement in his voice was obvious. But he didn’t look at all happy when he arrived at the restaurant.

We ordered and our server brought our drinks, iced tea for me and wine for Ray. “What I really need is a stiff drink,” he said as the server left to place our lunch orders. I couldn’t imagine what had soured for him in the three days since he had invited me to lunch.

After a gentle probing on my part, he said, “I love the book cover. It’s not that.” I agreed, the cover looked great. “It should,” he went on to say. “The book designer charged me a small fortune.”

I smiled. “Come on, Ray. There’s no such thing as free. You knew that when you made the decision to self-publish.”

He glared. “I know. So why does everyone else expect something for free?”

“Okay, unload.”

“First, I had to pay to have my website professionally designed. Then it took me a year to do the research and another two to write and polish the manuscript before I had a professional editor edit it. Then I hired a book designer to design the cover and the interior layout. I paid to have the print book typeset and to have it converted to an e-book. And, I paid to have the book proofread.”

Wondering where all of this was leading, I said, “But you uploaded both editions to Barnes and Noble and Amazon at no cost, right?”

“Yes, but I paid ebookpartnership for worldwide e-book distribution and IngramSpark for print distribution. And, I paid to have the book reviewed and to enter a contest.”

“All optional costs.”

“I know, I could’ve done that myself and saved the money, but the point is I’ve paid and paid.”

“But look at what you have.” I motioned to the print proof sitting on the table. “From what I can see, you’ve accomplished your goal of a quality product, so what are you angry about?”

“I haven’t even begun to promote the book, never mind sell it, so I hired a publicist.”


He swigged his wine. “It all started with my website designer. He asked for a free copy of the book. He’s in Canada. Do you know what it costs to mail a book to Canada?”

“Off the top of my head, no, but I know there’s no media rate on international shipments and Canada is considered international. And worse, you have to fill out the custom paperwork.”

“It cost me $13 to mail it, and the book sells for $13.99. Not to mention standing in line for over a half hour to mail the damn thing. What’s the old saying? Time is money?”

I nodded.

“Backtracking, when I got the contract from my editor, it states that she’s entitled to a free book once it’s released, so she can put it on her bookshelf.” He rolled his eyes.

Our food arrived and our server freshened our drinks.

Ray held up his hand. “I’ll cut to the chase. The book designer wanted three free copies of this book and three each of the two previous books to be sure the series had continuity.” He took a sip of wine. “God bless my proofreader, who did not ask for a free book, because that afternoon my publicist emailed asking for all three books in the series so she could bring herself up to date. In the next paragraph of the email she said I should offer the current book as a giveaway on Goodreads and offer my first book free on my website—to build my mailing list. And she would need at least twenty-five ARCs—advance reader copies—to give to reviewers, right after I signed the printer’s contract and provided him with a credit card number so he could print the ARCs. Oh, and she had ten other reviewers who were willing to accept the e-book edition.” He set down his glass. “Ten free e-books. She signed off by saying she had entered me in four contests, and to be sure I mailed their free copies by the end of the week. They want print editions.”

“All I can say is, as an author I empathize.”

“And Amazon will pay me 70 percent royalties minus the printing for the print edition, minus this, minus that…”

I flagged our server.

“What really set me off was bumping into an old friend as I was entering the restaurant. He bragged about lending my second book to six friends who enjoyed it as much as volume one, which they also passed around. ‘Beats buying fourteen books,’ he quipped. But here’s the clincher. My publicist said she wouldn’t be attending any writers’ conferences this year, because all people wanted to do was pick her brain on how to promote their books. I quote: ‘Everyone wants something for nothing.’”

Our server arrived. I ordered a refill for Ray, refused more tea, and asked for a glass of wine.

I consoled Ray for an hour, paid for our lunches, and drove home. The first e-mail to pop up on my computer screen read, “Are you really taking a hiatus from blogging, or are you taking a break?” It was from a blog subscriber. “A hiatus sounds like you’ll be gone for ages, while a break sounds like a short absence. Regardless, what will you do with all that free time?”

I’ve never viewed time as being free. It’s a priceless commodity. Harvey Mackay, a businessman, author, and syndicated columnist, said it best:

“Time is free, but it’s priceless.
You can’t own it, but you can use it.
You can’t keep it, but you can spend it.
Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

He also said, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

So what was I going to do with all of my free time during my hiatus? Let’s see. I have a dream, a goal with a plan, and a deadline for book four in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series. I guess it’s back to work on CLON-X and my next blog post where we head Down Under.


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