Yesterday was Yes Day. Like super powers, Yes Day could be very dangerous in the wrong hands, but it can work quite well when used with care and discretion. What is this Yes Day, you ask? Simply put, on Yes Day all suggestions are accepted.
We didn’t plan it this way, but that’s how it turned out. It went like this, we’d pass a cool waterfall and one of us would say “Should we stop at this cool waterfall?” and the other would say yes, so we’d stop.
Then there was this short hike to what they call “blue ponds” but what it doesn’t say in the guidebook is that these ponds are the color of a chemical toilet. Somehow when glacial ice melts, it still appears blue (Glacial ice looks blue because it’s very dense, which makes it look blue. Glacial ice melt isn’t dense anymore, so why it looks blue is beyond me, but maybe it’s just me that’s dense). Then we stopped for eggs on the side of the road. I’d been wanting roadside eggs for days, and Janine said yes!
Then we passed an RV park set beside a lovely little lake. It wasn’t on our itinerary, but it was Yes Day. The place reminded Janine of her childhood experiences at summer camp, so we pulled over at the ungodly early hour of 2 pm and rested our not at all weary bones. Yay, Yes Day! Today we will surely revert to Maybe Day, or Let’s Keep Driving Day, but we’ll need to toss in a Yes Day every so often just to keep things interesting.
New Zealand is comprised of two islands, conveniently named the North Island and the South Island. We arrived in Auckland on the North Island and worked our way down to Wellington at the southern tip, where we drove our rolling home onto a ferry and made the three hour sailing to the South Island.
Our first stop on the South Island was the Marlborough region, where all that famous wine comes from. We really wanted to do some wine tasting, but I had bad visions of driving this massive contraption around on the wrong side of the road after hitting our fourth winery. Instead, we found a very nice wine tour and left the driving to someone cleaner and soberer. Over the years I’ve had a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the grape that the area is best known for, and I confess that they can start to taste the same after a while – very acidic with a famous grapefruit quality (although many would say they smell like cat pee). The fun thing about wine tasting is that it gives you the chance to focus on the subtle differences in the wines, and you also get to see where the stuff is made. We once visited a winery on the side of a cliff on the Amalfi Coast and every time I have a Marisa Cuomo wine I’m back on that cliff. I know I’ll feel the same about Marlborough.
Wine making regions tend to be pretty nice, and Marlborough is up there. It’s set in a lovely valley next to fairly steep mountains. There are cliché rolling hills, gently sloping vineyards, and picturesque back roads. The wineries we visited all knew what they were doing, too – the wines were exceptionally well made. They were crisp, bright, and absolutely delicious. They don’t only make Sauvignon Blanc here either. We ended up buying stunning Rieslings from Framingham and Bladen, Pinot Noirs from Nautilus and Bladen, an amazingly good Chardonnay from Fromm, and a classic Sauvignon Blanc from Serasin.
Most of these places are very small production outfits. Bladen was planted by hand as a hobby and now produces about 10,000 cases a year. Serasin is owned by Kiwi cinematographer Michael Serasin, who shot Midnight Express, Fame, and Prisoner of Azkaban, among other films. His wines were particularly interesting. Fromm and Serasin (which were recommended by our friend John) are bio-dynamic wineries that are not only organic but which plant according to some kind of planetary calendar or some such, and they let the wines ferment with whatever yeast is on the skins. And I think they dance around the vineyard and sing songs or something like that. Whatever they’re doing it’s working.
From Marlborough, we pressed on to the South Island’s almost cartoonishly beautiful west coast (the rest of the country is merely live-action beautiful), which is full of silly feats of nature. Over the course of three days we saw the following: 1. Crazy coastal blowholes at a place called Punakaiki that were created when limestone cliff eroded unevenly, forming little chimneys through the rock. When the tide is high and the seas are rough, the water comes screaming into the chimneys and out the top. You half expect to see a guy turning a valve somewhere.
2. A crystal clear lake formed by glacial runoff on which we kayaked very poorly. Among the many things Janine and I probably should not do together, I now officially add tandem kayaking to the list. I was in the back and thus controlling the rudder, but Janine was displeased by my ruddering so she would adapt her rowing rhythm to better reflect the direction in which she wished to travel, which may or may not have been the direction in which I wished to travel. Needless to say, this made navigation a bit challenging. For this very reason we avoided tango lessons in Argentina like the plague. I shudder to think what would happen if we ever attempted a tandem bicycle, or, heaven forbid, tandem skydiving.
3. We saw and then hiked on an actual glacier. This also involved my first helicopter ride, which was far too exciting to describe. The helicopter swoops in, you get in, it flies up to the glacier, lands on a piece of ice, and you get out. Then you hike for hours on a glacier. Crazy!
I confess that the irony is not lost on me that I would take a helicopter to a glacier, which like most glaciers these days does more retreating than it does advancing. The nice glacier people say they are purchasing carbon offsets to mitigate the problem, but still. Oh, and let’s not forget that we’re flying hither and yon on this great adventure. What about that? Shouldn’t we wear a loin cloth like Gandhi and walk from place to place with all our worldly possessions in a gunny sack? On the other hand, hiking a glacier is an experience that I will never forget. It’s at times like these that I wish I was born a Republican. Oh, what would the Ethicist say??
After carefully sidestepping our moral challenges, we pressed on in the direction of Queenstown, from which we thought we might proceed to either Doubtful or Milford Sounds, which are beautiful but far. Thanks to Yes Day, we hit the brakes at Lake Hawea, where we spent a joyfully unproductive day staring at the lake. The Sounds are looking doubtful, but we don’t mind. We’ll just blame it on Yes Day.