Friday, November 28, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Penultimate Day 7

After the stellar, cake-stealing, can’t-get-better-than-this Saturday I had, I couldn’t believe that Sunday would still hold surprises in store for me. But this was New Zealand. I should have known surprises waited around every corner. Pleasant surprises.

Sunday was my last day in French Pass, and I was more than melancholic. I’d come to love this rugged section of the southern island, its steep “hills”, teeming waters, bright bush, and gentle pace. I didn’t want to leave.

There was one glorious surprise left for me – the lighthouse. The French Pass lighthouse has had a long and colorful history. Today, it is a national landmark which isn’t privately owned, but lived in. I met the present occupants - Grace and Lawrence - at the French Pass Road book launch on Wednesday in Okiwi Bay. They are none other than Americans who’d moved to the Pass three years before via Australia. Stories abound in New Zealand. Everyone’s got one, even the people restoring the lighthouse.

Grace very, well, graciously offered to give me a tour, and let me down to the lighthouse. It’s off limits to the general public today thanks to the incredibly steep 101 stairs leading down the “hill” that the lighthouse sits snuggled against. Fortunately, I had the French Pass “connections”.

Oliver, Ulla and I took off after breakfast for the lighthouse. Grace had just made pancakes and their light aroma hung in the cool air around the house. It had gotten pretty run down during the prolonged tenure of the last actual lighthouse keeper, but Grace and Lawrence had begun the long and delicate process of stripping the building, restoring the foundation and breathing new life into the historic one-storey structure. It’s now painted light blue and white and reminded more than anything of a neat fisherman’s house somewhere in Scandinavia. Gorgeous and warm with broad windows looking out over the extreme drop off just in front of the house and across to the green bush of D’Urville Island. After a tour of the house, Grace unlocked the gate to the stairs and Oliver, Ulla and I began the steep descent.

There is no better view of the Pass. The lighthouse and the lighthouse beacon sit directly on the edge and in the middle of French Pass. The waters sweep by the white lighthouse, the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean raging against each other in an ageless nautical tug-of-war. But the waters were so calm when we got there. There was no foam or roar. For days now when I'd gone running in the morning, I'd heard the roar of the French Pass from the road hundreds of feet above it. Today it was so seemingly calm. How bad could it really be? I wondered, and was tempted to dip a foot into the eddying currents and find out how fast they really are.

Until a boat approached, and I watched how the current swept it through as if it were no bigger than a toy, listing to one side in its strong pull.

There was, of course, adventure – and lunch – waiting for us in the rocky coast surrounding the small lighthouse. Next thing I knew, Oliver was pulling up the famed green-lipped mussels I’d tried not four days ago in Havelock. He’d found lunch.

Only in New Zealand.

Honestly, how could I actually want to leave this place?

But the mussels - now safely secured in a makeshift bag that Oliver had created from his shirt - were far too tempting to leave hang about all day waiting for me. So, we took a few pictures. I breathed in as much of the Pass as I could, trying to register its might and prowess with all of my senses before beginning the steep ascent back to the white and blue home a hundred feet directly overhead.

While lunch was far from a somber affair, my heart was heavy. These generous people - Bill, Ngawai, Oliver and Ulla - had become like family to me, and I really didn’t want to leave. Yet research called. I had one last stop on this trip, Nelson.

Oliver and Ulla live in Nelson, which couldn’t have been more perfect. Nelson was the big sheep and wool market for French Pass farmers during the 1800s. I had to see it. It actually plays a role in my novel.

I wasn’t disappointed. Nelson has one of the few naturally occurring harbors. A boulder bank cuts off a long stretch of the coast from the Tasman Sea, creating a safe haven for ships. It was a cloudy day when we visited, but I got a few goods pictures, trying to imagine what it was like for cutters that traveled from French Pass loaded down with bulky wools bales or livestock to sell them at market. How that all must have looked.

Dinner was another fantastic meal of fresh fish, fresh bread and all things delicious. I curled up into bed - the rain now finally unleashing its wetness upon the low lying "hills" around Nelson - knowing I only had one day left in New Zealand. What would it hold in store?

In other incredible news, my book was reviewed by author/reviewer, Brianna Grant. What an amazing review. I am so honored, and thrilled that the story left such a positive impression on her: "Nyikos has a powerful gift for storytelling that comes to life in Dragon Wishes. She magically weaves together two stories to create one unified reading experience: the present-time story of a girl and her little sister coming to terms with their parents' tragic death, and an ancient story handed down through the generations about a girl who calls on the power of dragons to save her village. The transition between the two stories is seamless." To read the full review, click here

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 6

I had had five stellar days, one after the next, since Qantas flight 26 had touched down in Auckland on Monday. But Saturday took the whole cake…and by whole, I mean icing, filling, plate and fork.

Saturday, Oliver, Ulla, Bill and Ngawai took me out for a day of hapuka fishing and scallop trawling. And while I was thrilled at the prospect of catching another amazingly delicious dinner, it was more where we were going that had my heart pounding in my ears.

The Chetwode Islands.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Pelorus Jack, both legend and historical fact tell that Jack lived in a cave located just off the Chetwode Islands. It was also there that the dolphin picked up steamers coming from Wellington in the East leading them across the bright blue bay up to French Pass and vice versa for ships coming through the Pass from Nelson, headed toward Wellington.

So what did that mean for this particular fishing trip??

No other than that we were tracing the path Pelorus Jack had followed for twenty years!

My imagination got the better of me as we neared the Chetwodes, and I began – against all rationale and adult I-know-better-than-this perspective – to keep a steady watch for Pelorus Jack. According to Maori legend, Jack was no regular dolphin. He is a taniwha, a god of the sea. Although he had left the area in 1912, legend has it that he will return when he is needed. I can’t say I needed him that day, but boy did I want to see him.

I was going to have to wait, however. We were going hapuka fishing. Hapuka are grouper. I didn’t know my grouper from my flounder before I’d gotten on board that day, but I dutifully dropped my line. And dropped it. And dropped it…

And dropped it.

There were huge weights on the line and hooks the size of my fists. I was having a hard time telling if something was biting on my hook – which felt like it was about a thousand feet below the boat – or if it was just the water pulling across the weight.

Ulla – born in Sweden and an expert fisherwoman – had no troubles. She hooked a hapuka within minutes.

Now the problem with hooking a hapuka isn’t losing it from the hook – that can happen – or having a barricuda come along and nibble on your catch until you get it up to the boat – that can happen too. Those are child’s play in comparison to the BIG problem – hauling the line back in.

Remember, it had dropped to what felt somewhere close to the other side of the world – think, Cincinnati – and Ulla had to haul it up. I slowly began reeling mine line in so that I could get a better glimpse of the fish she was pulling up. Honestly, I have no idea how she managed to pull hers up. Mine had nothing on it and by the time I’d gotten the end of the line back to the surface of the ocean, empty hooks and weight in tow. My arms, however, felt as though I’d hauled up a boulder the size of the ship itself.

Ulla had all of that to pull up, plus a mighty fish who was fighting the line. It had pointy fins, a huge mouth, and was at least three feet long (Note: There are no pictures for obvious reasons – they endanger the obligatory and wild exaggeration that goes along with fish tale telling).

By the time she got her mighty fish on board, we had to change positions. The current kept pulling us away from the secret fishing hole we were hovering over. With all of my intense watching as Bill positioned us back over the mysterious hole some million feet below us in the dark depths of the Pacific, I seriously doubt I could have ever found it, even with a compass and a GPS. Bill, however, was a pro. He’d check the coast, the depth finder, the position of the islands, gun the engines little, pull us around, cut her, and then we’d all quickly drop lines. And it worked. Ulla and Oliver both hooked a hapuka. I hooked a ginormous blue cod and a red and white striped fish that would have proudly been a “keeper” back in any lake I’d fished in Michigan. Here, it became bait.

I am a Texan by birth, and Texans swear everything is bigger in that glorious state, but, in all honesty, they haven’t been to New Zealand. In New Zealand, it’s not just the “hills” or the green – anything green and growing – it’s everything teeming below the surface of the water as well. Even the bait.

And the hunger. I’d dropped my line maybe half a dozen times, maybe, but I was already starving. Fortunately, my hosts took pity on me and stopped for lunch.

What did we have?

The leg of lamb I’d managed to prepare the night before – without burning or drying it out to tinder shavings – while Bill and Ngawai had gone to town to pick up a few north island rams that had come in. Maybe it was my enormous appetite, but that mutton was the most delicious meal I’d ever had. So was the wine.

After this culinary delight, it was back to business – scallop trawling. As we picked up speed and made our way to the scallop grounds, I began to search the waters for Jack, but he was an elusive dolphin that day.

And I had work to do. Bill and Oliver were in charge of the cage and the trawling, but Ulla, Ngawai and I were the scallop inspectors. As soon as the catch was dumped onto
the deck of the boat, we went through the scallops, carefully measuring them, throwing back the tiny ones and keeping the honkers whose shells had grown to the specified length. New Zealanders are amazing conservationists. Not only do they have but they also follow follow fishing rules to the letter, carefully measuring fish, scallops, mussels, you name it, to preserve their oceans, as well as their land life.

The day was almost over and we were getting ready to head back. There was a tugging at my heart. I hadn’t seen Jack. I mean, okay, maybe I’d expected too much, a sea god rising up from the depths to come and greet me an American city-slicker.

It was just when my faith was beginning to falter that Jack took pity on me, in his own way. The most amazing pod of dolphins burst out of the ocean just behind us. They were likely hectors dolphins with black, grey and white markings on their bodies. And while it wasn’t King Jack – as he was nicknamed in the late 19th century – it was definitely a full team of dignitaries. They soared upwards and out, turning flips, plunging for fish we’d likely scared up with our trawling, racing under the boat and up to the bow, and sending me back to age seven. I screeched with delight racing around the ship with my camera, trying to capture them on film. While I did get a few jumps, they pale in comparison to the electrifying feel of the air, the spray of the water, and the pounding of my heart that accompanied each one. They stayed with us for at least five minutes, racing and soaring inches from the boat. My heart was overfilling to bursting with excitement at it all.

The fresh fish dinner that followed, the last castings of the lines a few more times, and the warm journey back to Anaru farm listening to New Zealand election results – they’d had their elections that very day – were amazing, but the dolphins…the dolphins had been mystical. They’d frolicked, played, and mesmerized me with their grace and beauty just like Pelorus Jack had done more than a century before. My story, I knew with absolute certainty, would be all the richer because of them. I had tasted the glorious thrill of what had pulled people from all over the world to this lonely stretch of water over one hundred years ago to watch with eager anticipation for Jack. Seeing dolphins play in the wild and follow me with their own curiosity is an experience I won’t ever forget.

As we lugged our heavy arms, heavy legs, and even heavier catch from the boat to the house that night, I sighed as I stared up a sky awash with luminous stars.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said out loud.

Four other heads nodded. They knew. They'd known it for a long time. It was I who'd finally understood. This was the real New Zealand - raw, pure, and unbelievably incredible.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 5

Friday started out breezy and cool, but burning expectation cut through the chill like butter.

We were going mustering! Never been? Neither had I. I’d barely ever seen a sheep, other than at a petting zoo, let alone herded one from one enclosure to another. But this was a week of firsts, so why not add mustering to the bill?

Bill, Ngawai, and Bill’s brother, John, have been mustering sheep and running Anaru farm for over forty years. I can only imagine their chagrin when their cousin Oliver told them that the American author wanted to muster sheep, even shear them if she could. They never let on, but I imagined them grinning behind closed doors at my eagerness to do both. Still, they took me along.

Anaru farm sheep live on acre upon acre of rolling hills. Actually, if you look at them, I swear they look more like mountains. In fact, where I come from – the sprawling Midwest – we’d definitely categorize them as mountains. I really think calling them hills was an early marketing scheme to get doubtful English country folk to come over and work the New Zealand land. These were no hills.

But then, the sheep didn’t mind. And neither did the dogs.

Kiwis began breeding their own sheepherding dogs at the turn of the last century. Today, you’ll see little else than huntaways and herders on the sheep farms there. These dogs are a mix of Irish Setter, English Hound, Old English Sheepdog and Labrador. Their looks vary from dog to dog. Some look like border collies, and others, like labs, or simply kinda Heinz 57-ish.

No matter how they look, they are indispensable on the steep “hills” of a New Zealand sheep station. I figured that out after I hiked up and down the first one following Bill in search of lost – or unwilling – sheep. His dogs, Judy and Jill, were much faster at taking the hills, finding the sheep, rounding them up, and basically, sparing Bill’s knees…and mine. What’s more, the dogs were more than eager to do their part.

Tongues a lolling, they flew down ravines, up steep inclines, and through native brush after obstinate sheep. I huffed along behind.

Everything was going fine, until the mini-revolt. Three “grand dames” wanted nothing to do with mustering. They stared sheepishly at Judy, while the dog barked and barked. I could only imagine what she was saying, what I’d be saying if it were me: “Get a move on you, bloody sheep!”

Their reply: The silent treatment.

Judy got even louder. I began to worry. I’ve watched this tactic tried a time or two when a language barrier proved steeper than a New Zealand hill. So far, I’d never seen it work.

But Judy wouldn’t give up. She got louder. She nipped at them, pranced on her front paws, and yelped at them until, to my amazement, the sheep, practically sighing, finally turned and ambled off after the rest of the mob. It was then that I knew, I was just along for the ride. Judy and Jill were the real heroes. I couldn’t even get a sheep to look at me, although I did, at one point, take on the job of standing at the side of a hill to keep the sheep from going back over. They looked at me dubiously, as if they could see I knew nothing about herding sheep. Then Judy save me. She bounded up the hill, barking at the sheep, as if teaching them their manners around na├»ve American authors. The sheep shrugged and then sauntered off in the direction I was supposed to be sending them in.

At the same time, Bill was working on the sheep (and I was huffing along behind), Ngawai and her dog rounded up some of the cattle in the same paddock. The cows had calves that were supposed to follow their mothers into the new paddock. I got to watch after Oliver picked me up in the jeep. I’d like to think that he did in to show me what was going on and not because I’d proved incredibly useless at mustering sheep.

At least I had company. Two young calves barely inches from the gate from one paddock to the next just weren’t quite the sharpest horns in the lot. Their mothers staring them down from the center of the gate itself – even lowing at them to hurry along – these two “blokes” batter-rammed the fence, trying again and again and again to push it down and escape to the new paddock, rather than just amble around the open gatedoor to Mummy.

The doting mothers finally went back through the gate to get their confused young.

But instead of following Mama back through the fence, the boys ran off, and the mothers after them. I began to wonder if I should get out of the car to help. But the dogs came flying up the hill, barking at the calves.

The mothers hightailed it through the gate. And the boys?
You guessed it – batter-rammed the fence just inches from the gate…again.

It was a long day of lesson learning for them and for me. They finally made it through the gate, and I finally learned that if you want to muster sheep, you better have a fine New Zealand herding dog.

Even if I wasn’t a natural pro, I had the time of my life just trying. It was a sight to hike the ravines, snake along tinkling creeks, push through thickets of ferns, and then, to see the huge mobs of sheep coalesce together from left, right and middle. In a wave of creamy white they flowed through the gate and into the next enclosure.

It was a sight I’ll not soon forget – the taste of fresh wind, the burn in my calves, and the Spring sun on my face. That was mustering New Zealand style.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 4

It was as if the gods of fate were smiling on me my whole trip to New Zealand, and on Wednesday, they really outdid themselves (or so I thought. I hadn’t gotten to Saturday yet and what a day that was!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and provide some background to why Wednesday was such a stellar day.

French Pass was, until 1956, completely cut off from the rest of New Zealand as far as roads go. Quite simply, there were none. The only way to or from the Pass and Admiralty Bay was by ship. Then, in 1956, the Transportation Dept began the French Pass Road. And 51 years later, on November 5, 2008, the debut book about the road was released.

And guess who was there????

What are the chances?

The book was launched in a little town, Okiwi Bay, that is near French Pass. Oliver, Ulla, Bill and Ngawai took me there the next morning. The author was unable to attend, but it wasn't such a huge loss because the people who put the work into the road did. And did they have stories to tell! One man got up and told a short tale about a guy working on the road. It had to bull-dozed through the bush, then leveled, and finally, graveled. The guy accidentally cut his finger one day. He looked down at the dangling tip of his finger and said, “That will just get in the way.” And then chopped it off!!

The room roared with laughter. They said the story completely fit the man in question.

I could only shake my head in awe and the knowledge that I’d never have the nerve to do that, no matter how annoying the cut might have been. I’m such a city slicker, I realized.

After the speeches and the stories, second tea was served. I thought Tolkien was only joking about second tea in the Lord of the Rings with the hobbits. But there is such a thing! And what a delight that is. Meat pies, pastries, cookies, finger sandwiches, tea – of course – and coffee. After my second meat pie, which, by the way, was entirely scrumptious, I was really beginning to wonder about that whole “calories don’t count” in New Zealand thing. But then I shook my head, dismissing the worry, and reached for a pastry instead. It was in the name of research after all.

It would have been a red letter day right there, but Oliver and Ulla had way more in store for me. We were going through the Pass.

THE Pass.

I could hardly believe it. After all of the shipwrecks in the Pass that I’d read about, I have to admit, I was a wee bit nervous. But this was why I was here. I had to go through the Pass. How could I send my character through it, if I wasn’t even willing to try it out.

We drove back to Bill & Ngawai’s, changed, grabbed some lunch, and then headed out to the beach. We reached the launch vie rubber boat, and I managed not to fall into the Pacific Ocean, which is saying something. I think I’m a bit of a klutz on ships.

The trip to the Pass took maybe ten minutes. Today was an easy day. The water wasn’t roaring.

“It’s not the foam you have to worry about,” Ulla told me as Oliver guided the boat into the narrow Pass between the lighthouse and a beacon attached to a bit of reef in the middle of the strait of water. “It’s those.”

She was pointing at really calm sections of water that looked flat – no waves, no foam, no anything.

“Why?” I asked.

“That’s where whirlpools occur."

My somtach dropped. "Whirlpools."

"Oh, yes," Ulla assured me. "Whirlpools. They spin the boat around. It can be very dangerous.”

Oh boy.

I was really really really glad Oliver was so familiar with the Pass. Needless to say, we swerved left and right around some of the bigger placid bits of water, and within seconds emerged on the other side.

“Have you ever fished for blue cod?” Oliver asked. He’d stopped the boat over something called Jacob’s Hole, which turned out to be a super deep hole in the ocean floor where blue cod liked to live.

“What are they?” I asked.

He only smiled and handed me a fishing pole with the biggest hook I’d ever seen on it. Granted, as a kid, my parents took me and my brother fishing on a small lake in Michigan called Christie Lake, so I wasn’t a novice. But I’d never used a hook that big for anything other than – oh, I don’t know – building a house or something.

But I wasn’t about to admit it. So, dutifully, I took my pole. Oliver showed me how to let out the line. There is no casting. And then how to wait for the fish to bite. He generously baited the mega hook for me too.

And so we began.

I nervously let my line out, waiting until it touched bottom, then set the line and waited, hoping I’d at least catch something and not look like the city kid I am.

Apparently, I’m not as bad as all that. Within ten minutes I’d hooked two blue cod. You’re only allowed to catch three. Of course, that third one was actually the very last fish we hooked about an hour later, but still. I think I won a little respect from my New Zealand guides ☺

Fishing finished, we visited the shores of D’Urville Island, which is a bird preserve, ran the Pass a few times, and then headed home, where I ate the best blue cod I’ve ever eaten. I think catching it sort of helped, but even if I hadn't, it really was out of this world delicious.

It couldn’t get any better than this, I thought as I enjoyed the spoils of my hard work that day.

Then again...I hadn’t mustered sheep yet. Not to worry. Bill and Oliver were already planning my sheep mustering initiation for the very enxt day. How would this city slicker do? Tune in on Friday!

In other news...Cynthia Leitich Smith featured me on her cynsations blog about most important lessons in writing that I've learned so far. If you get a chance, please stop by and check it out! Click here

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 3

I wanted to post this earlier, but have been away in California to speak at the CLA convention, and just got back last night. So, here it is, Day 3 of my adventures in New Zealand:

Wednesday was the day. THE DAY. The big kahuna. The one I’d been waiting for almost a year. This was the day I would go to French Pass and finally see where my character, George Grey, and the real Pelorus Jack, lived.
For once, I had no trouble getting out of bed.
And I was on time for the ferry.
It was a red letter day already.
The Interislander ferry travels between Wellington, on the North Island, to Picton, on the south. It was a gorgeous trip. The ride takes about three hours, during which, the boat plows along the shores of both islands. Once it hits the south coast, the scenery is even more astounding that on the north island. The south island is far less populated, and there is more New Zealand au naturale – lush with towering mountains, opal blue sounds, and cozy mussel farms tucked into between the towering hills and narrow bays.
I took pictures and pictures, which is saying something for me. I’m horrible at picture-taking, but this was the most amazing landscape I’ve ever seen. Hills – which in any other country would definitely merit the title, mountain – covered with native bush – ferns, palms, white pines, and a lot of other trees I don’t know. Sheep farms dotted with so many fluffy white bundles of wool, from a distance, they look like rocks. Mussel farms dotting the deep blue and opal green waters and air so crisp and clean, it was nothing short of breathtaking.

Nervously, I debarked from the ferry in Picton. It was here that I was to meet my New Zealand guru and virtual guide from the last year of my life, Oliver Sutherland, and his wife, Ulla.
In retrospect, why I was nervous, I don’t know. Oliver and Ulla treated me like another of their children. I was instantly family, and at the same time, got nothing short of the red carpet treatment. Like I said a few days ago, Kiwis are nice to the factor of ten. What’s more, it’s twenty-four carat genuine. I was in more than good hands.
We started our journey to French with a side stop in Havelock, the green-lipped mussel capitol of the world. Where, of course, we had green-lipped mussels. I’ll never look at a mussel the same way again. I love seafood. LOVE IT. And these mussels were just out of the bay and into the boiling water fresh. Top that off with a little New Zealand white wine, and I could have stayed right there and eaten my way through the rest of the week.

But French Pass called.
So we hopped back in the car and made our way out to the remote and rugged Pass between D’Urville Island and the northern tip of the southern island.
It was a fantastic drive through dense bush on a partially paved, partially graveled road that hadn’t been built until 1956. Until then, the only way from French Pass to anywhere in New Zealand was by boat, or a narrow track that led through the dense bush.
We passed through tiny bays, inlet waterways, towering views, and palm upong fern upon white pine native bush. I was captivated.
But as amazing as it was, it paled in comparison to the moment we came crested the rugged hills/mountains and came upon the marker for Anaru Farm, French Pass. This was where I’d set my story. This was where everything had happened in my mind. This was it.
I held my breath as we came round the last bend in the road…And then there it was, French Pass. The narrow strait of water spread out before me like a page in my book opening up and revealing itself in colors and textures I could never have imagined – blue, rushing waters, white capped waves, brown coral reefs sticking up between the bubbling foam, and the roar of two oceans locked in battle over the Pass. I…WAS…HERE.
I was really here!

It was a short minute’s drive from the Pass to Elmslie Bay, where I stayed. The bay is home to the Anaru station house where Bill and Ngawai Webber live. Every bit as friendly and genuine and wonderful and Oliver and Ulla, Bill and Ngawai immediately welcomed me like long lost American cousin.
We lost little time settling in and setting to making dinner. And drinking wine. It the day wasn’t amazing enough, it also happened to be election day in the U.S., and I was eager to follow the results. New Zealand had numerous correspondents stateside, so I got to watch all candidates’ speeches, and, even better, my hosts were as eager to hear them and follow the results as I was.
It was an amazing day.
When I settled into bed that night, actually where I’d imagined my character to be for so many months, I realized, being here myself, was even better. I could hadly wait for the next day to start.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 2

My second day in New Zealand began with breakfast at the Tinakori Lodge where I was staying. The Tinakori is a B&B run by Neville and Linda. Really great place and really really nice people. I have to say, I didn't meet one un-nice person while in New Zealand. They are like Americans in the area of niceness, but with a factor of, say, ten. While at breakfast, a cozy affair, I met a couple of Holland that had just toured the South Island and two American women from California who had just toured the North Island. Each set was headed in the opposite direction and had some really great stories to share about what they had seen. I was told, since I was heading South the next day, not to miss the small town of Havelock, mussel capitol of the world. If I wasn't excited enough already about embarking on the South Island, that really whet my appetite. I love mussels.

Breakfast was over way too soon, and I made my way back to the Turnbull Library. I had one day to collect the rest of the information that I needed. First, I hit the newspaper microfiche and met an incredibly nice librarian named Mary who helped me search for quotations from Mark Twain during his visit to New Zealand in 1895. She was so helpful she actually called a woman who used to work at the Turnbull, Tania Atkinson, and who had written a picture book that deals with that time, Pelorus Jack: The Story of New Zealand's Famous Dolphin. She also, although in no way connected with the Turnbull anymore, was more than willing to help.

After swimming in microfiche for so long, my eyes were beginning to swim, I headed up to the stacks to read more accounts of pioneering days in New Zealand. The present day generation has done an incredible job of documenting and preserving the struggles and triumphs of their great grandparents. I learned and found more than I had hoped for.

From there, it was to the reading room, where I was greeted on a first name basis. It was getting to the point that I think every librarian in the Turnbull had either helped, been called to help me, or was soon to help me. And they were all really amazingly nice and helpful. If you're looking for a country to research, do New Zealand, if for no other reason than that their librarians are incredibly helpful!

At 5:00, though, the library closed, and when I got back to my room, my luggage had arrived!! New clothes. I cannot tell you how happy I was. I immediately changed into my running clothes to take on the botanical gardens. This was complete efficiency/tourism in action. Seeing the sights while exercising.

Now, what I didn't know before I got to Wellington is that it is one of the windiest cities on the planet. Sorry Chicago, but they've really got you beat. And on this particular day, a real gale was blowing. But, in the name of research and seeing the sights, I took off anyway. The Botanical Gardens were so very worth it. They are some of the most amazing sights in Wellington. Just gorgeous, even with gale force winds. Just a heads up, though, they are either all uphill or downhill. Wellington is very very hilly. Now, I'll get back to that word later, but it is a bit of an understatement. In the U.S., New Zealand hills would be referred to as mountains. So, here's a great thing they came up with, a cable car to the top. I, of course, huffed it for my heart, but the cable car is definitely a more relaxed way to make it up. Then you can stroll down at your leisure, without the huffing and puffing.

My run complete, I had a quick change and then it was off to dinner at a couple's house I'd never met. When I say New Zealanders are friendly, really, it's no understatement. For about a year previous to my trip, a retired entymologist turned historian, Oliver Sutherland, had been helping me collect information on the French Pass, where my story takes place, and his family, which has farmed the Pass for over 150 years. It turns out, Oliver and Ulla's son, Bjorn, lives in Wellington. Mind you, I'd never talked to Bjorn until Tuesday, but he and his dad had graciously and kindly already arranged for me to have dinner at Bjorn and his wife, Jackie's, house. Complete strangers cooked an extravagant dinner for me - beef stew, kumara, mashed potatoes, bread, veggies, and then these to-die-for chocolate brownie/something even chocolatier in them dessert. Ohmigod, it was so good. And we talked and drank wine into the wee hours of the morn. That's how friendly Kiwis are!

That night, as I curled up in my warm blankets with the winds howling and beating against the Tinakori Lodge, I was pretty certain that no matter how many calories slid down to Antartica, a few had definitely found a spot on me. I'd had two helpings of everything. But then, it was all in the name of research, right? One must suffer for her work.

I was tired that night, but almost too wound up to sleep. Tomorrow, I would be on my way to the South Island and French Pass, a place I wrote, dreamt and studied about for a year, but never seen. I could hardly wait. Tomorrow was the big day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 1

I haven't blogged for a good week, and although I feel like I should be visiting a virtual confession to save my cyberspace soul from getting lost in the folds on a nanochip somewhere, I have a really good excuse.

I've been in New Zealand, mate.

It's half a globe away. On the other side of the world. Way way down under, which means, really far away from my blog.

That's not to say that they don't have internet in New Zealand. Far from it. I could check my email just about anywhere. The only thing was, I, um...well, I didn't. Can you blame me? I was in New Zealand!

Now that I'm back - sigh - and chained once again to the writing desk to work all I've learned and experienced into my present work in progress, I promise to blog daily about the trip and share some of the wonder I experienced (and avoid that mountain of revisions looming over me for as long as possible).

My adventure began when Air New Zealand landed in Wellington, after a bazillion hours of flying. My luggage, much as it wanted to accompany me straight to Wellington, decided to make a detour and go to Australia for a short stint. It didn't tell me this, so I was on my own with nothing but the clothes on my back (and that handy credit card) for two days before my luggage caught up with me, looking distinctively Aussie, I have to say.

While waiting for it, I spent my first day in the stacks at the Alexander Turnbull National Library, picking up loads of really amazing information for my book, Pelorus Jack, a YA set in 19th century New Zealand and based around the true story of a dolphin that was given the same name.

That afternoon, when I could read no more, I met up with Kiwi children's author, Maureen Crisp - visit her blog at - and her beautiful two-year-old daughter for a bit of tea and scones. Not ordinary scones, mind you, with clotted cream. No sir. Huge cheesey ones, and oooooh!, so tasty. Plus, I've been told that since I was down under, calories don't count. It's got something to do with gravity and the tilt of the earth - very scientific and all that - but basically, if I've understood correctly, calories just slide straight down to Antartica, rather than getting stuck in New Zealand. So, I had two scones, to be on the safe side. I didn't want to starve to death with no calories.

Maureen and I spent a good couple of hours comparing notes on being a children's author in New Zealand vs. U.S. Much too soon, our visit was over. Maureen had kids soon coming home from school, and I had the Te Papa that I wanted to see. That's the New Zealand National Museum. It sits directly on the harbor in Wellington. Amazing. The sand man caught up with me halfway through the exhibits, but I battled him off with a humongous piece of chocolate cake. I didn't even want to think how many calories were in that thing, even if I was in New Zealand, but this was art, no....research I had to do. So I forced myself to eat every delicious morsel.

I finished off the day with a stroll back to my hotel, past parliament that is called the beehive, and really looks like, well, a beehive. But don't believe me. Take a look.

Still sans luggage, I had a quick shower before cozying up under my thick blankets for a read and a very long sleep. Day 2 of my trip was to hold more adventure than even I could imagine.

Stay tuned!

In other news, Dragon Wishes officially launched on Tuesday of last week. Yes, my baby greeted the world on election day. Despite many last minute calls to both campaigns, I could convince neither candidate of the electoral power that my book would carry for them should they just hold it up once briefly during their campaigning that day. I tried :-) I'm being interviewed all this week on 2k8's blog. Please stop by and learn all about the making of Dragon Wishes: