South Africa

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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Pets Who’ve Owned Me

During a recent email exchange with my publicist, we were discussing fun facts about the author—the author being me. While ruminating on my travel experiences, my mind wandered to the pets I’ve had in various countries throughout the years, and some were not your normal ones. read more…

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South Africa: The Ceres Earthquake 1969

Wellington, South Africa, September 29, 1969

The Ceres Earthquake

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8270787@N07/6040711387/

September 29, 1969: Ten-thirty p.m. I shut my textbook with a loud snap and sighed. Tomorrow I’d take one of my last tests for graduation. English. I felt confident. I had studied hard. I stared at the blue textbook sitting alongside my notepad but didn’t open it. Yes. Algebra. I wrapped my bathrobe tightly around me to ward off the chilly night and puttered down the hall to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

I was washing my hands when a distant rumble caught my attention. A train? But no trains ran through the area. The lights went out, and the rumble grew louder. I spun, ready to make for the door, but suddenly the room shook so violently that I couldn’t reach it. Then I was thrown against the tub. Holding on to the towel rack for support, I finally made my way to the bathroom door, opened it, and tripped on the threshold, landing hard on the hallway floor. “Earthquake,” my father shouted. By then, I had come to the same conclusion. I jumped up and ran for the kitchen, where my parents and brothers had already gathered. We made a hasty exit out the back door, afraid the house might collapse.

Outside, we watched in astonishment as the ground shifted and a three-inch crack appeared in our driveway. This corroborated my brothers’ stories of the floors in their bedrooms feeling hot beneath their feet when they leaped out of their beds to flee from the rooms. Later we discovered the linoleum flooring in some parts of the house had melted.

Centered in the Ceres area, the 6.3-magnitude earthquake was the most destructive in South African history, damaging even well-constructed brick homes and cracking nearly all of the roads in the area. Fortunately, our rental home suffered minimal damage.

Numerous aftershocks shook Ceres and the surrounding towns, the most severe of which was a 5.7 on the Richter scale. However, when another serious tremor struck on April 14, 1970, we no longer lived in Wellington but had moved to Puerto Rico, where Dad had been assigned to a new job. Ceres was my second earthquake, (the first was in Mexico City), but there would be more to come, all of them occurring when I moved back to the States.

With sadness, we packed up to leave Wellington for the US. We had grown fond of the country we had lived in for just shy of a year and could have stayed there, quite happily, for many years to come. Because our return flight from South Africa to the US routed through Europe, Dad decided we should take a short vacation.


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