(A shot of Otago Bay from Larnach Castle in Dunedin, New Zealand.)
Partly to celebrate our upcoming 20th anniversary in August, partly because the kids have wonderful grandparents who are happy to watch the kids for a few weeks, and partly because I’ve come to believe that these sorts of adventures are good for both the body and the soul, Heidi and I spent two weeks touring in New Zealand followed by four wonderful days soaking up some sun on the Fijian Island of Malolo. (A brief aside: A conversation with a workaholic friend years ago when I was about to go on another adventure, who snorted that he couldn’t even remember the last time he took a vacation, made me start using the phrase “go on an adventure” rather than “take a vacation” when explaining a jaunt like this, which is a better descriptor, I think, of why I think it’s important to break free from your routine and shake things up now and then on adventures both near and far — even when, or perhaps especially when, you’re somebody like me who pretty much enjoys all the “work” he does, both in my writing life and my university life.)
Crossing the dateline and losing a day in the process, we flew into Christchurch, a beautiful city still picking itself up from the terrible 2011 earthquake, drove to Mt. Cook, where we stayed in the wonderful Hermitage resort, right in the national park and with a fabulous view of both Mt. Cook and many of the Southern Alps that run the length of the South Island. After that, we drove south along the east coast to the beautiful port city of Dunedin, where stayed in Larnach Castle and managed some close encounters with the Albatross, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, and other wildlife.
Then it was on to Queenstown, where we made a jaunt to the stunning Milford Sound and went on a fun tour of many of the locations used in the Lord of the Rings films. A short flight to Rotorua, in the North Island, allowed us to visit the Hobbiton tourist attraction — 14 acres that were leased from a family farm in the area, which actually exceeded my expectations in really making me feel like I was in Middle Earth. We also made stops at the Waitmu Caves, to take a boat trip through absolute darkness to see the glowworms, and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, where we both hiked and boated around geysers, hot springs, and a unique ecosystem that felt like something out of the Jurassic era. Then an early morning flight out of Auckland — where about a third of the 4.5 million people who call New Zealand home live — took us into Nadi, Fiji. A bus, another bus, and a catamaran boat finally brought us to own private beachfront “bure.” Here are a few digital postcards from our trip, some of which might show up a bit better if you click on them for the larger versions:
(The happy couple beginning their journey with a shot from the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch.)
(Another shot within the Botanic Gardens.)
(The one’s from our room at the Hermitage at Mt. Cook.)
(A couple glasses of wine, the biggest mountain in New Zealand, what more could you ask for?)
(This, called the “Clay Cliffs,” was just one of those random stops that wasn’t on the agenda, proving that New Zealand has something remarkable almost everywhere.)
(Not the best shot in the world because of the light, but this is Larnach Castle in Dunedin (where the first shot above was taken — high up in the hills over looking Otago Bay). Most of the locals use the word “castle” with a wry grin; you can read the local history if you want to know why.)
(The view of Otago Bay, from Larnach.)
(Two panoramic shots of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Click for a larger version. The top one was from our room at Hotel St. Moritz, where we learned that many of the cast and crew of the LOTR movies stayed when they were filming in the area. The second is a shot at dusk from the top of the gondola.)
(Heidi standing behind a hot springs in the Government Gardens in Rotorua.)
(Me in the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, waiting for the dinosaurs to appear . . .)
(Lots of shots of Hobbiton, which was about an hour’s drive west of Rotorua. What made the place so remarkable was the landscape around the area, which really made you feel like you were in the Shire. I don’t think I could have afforded Bag End, but I could have been pretty happy in Sam’s hobbit hole.)
(Sunset at Lomani, our resort on the island of Malolo.)
(A shot from within our room, me standing on a fairly private strip of beach, since we were on the far end of the resort, near the point.)
Other highlights? Though remembering to drive on the left side of the road was always going to be challenging for an American like me, I really loved just driving through New Zealand, in all its beautiful and varied landscapes. Like a lot of people, I became intrigued with the country after the original Lord of the Rings filmed came out over ten years ago, and I have to say that it didn’t disappoint. Heidi and I even started joking, when we came around a corner and saw yet another amazing site, that “yes, it’s beautiful, but by New Zealand standards …” That’s right, it’s a country so beautiful that it needs its own scale to measure it. In many ways, Oregon is like a “hobbit size” version of New Zealand, at least in terms of the variety of landscapes (the total land area is almost the same, about 100,000 square miles, and our populations are about the same, too). Oregon has more variety in climates and topography than just about any state in the union; New Zealand just has greater extremes of it — and of course a lot more coastline.
Two weeks was far too short a time for New Zealand — we barely touched on the North Island, for example — which gives us a very good reason to go back, and I’m sure we will. The question, of course, is when. So many other places to see . . .
In other news, I’m back writing the third Vale book. A lot of you have emailed to ask when the next Gage book will be coming along, and all I can tell you is that there will be another, and it won’t be too long, but I can’t say more than that. When it comes to the books, I don’t do deadlines these days. I just write my five or ten pages a day and let the chips fall where they may. That may change someday, I certainly recognize the value of deadlines as a motivational tool, but with the family and the university work, I’ve got enough stress in my life without adding a bunch more for no reason. The writing’s the thing for me, after all. Publishing, as important as it is, and as much as I appreciate my readers (and boy, do I, after many years laboring with very few of them), is in some sense merely a byproduct. So as long as I keep plugging away at the pages, eventually a book emerges.
Since I don’t have a publication schedule, I do encourage you to take two minutes and sign up for my “no spam ever, new release email newsletter.” You won’t get more than a handful of emails a year, and I make sure my newsletter subscribers — over 2000 strong now — are the first to know when a new book is published.
It also looks like I’ll be teaching a new online course for the educational technology master’s program here at Western Oregon University this summer, one called “Publishing in the Digital Age,” focusing heavily on all the changes in how information and entertainment is distributed — not just with the printed word, but with music, video, and even comics. I’m still fleshing it out, but it should be a lot of fun. There’s no better way to further your own learning on a subject than to teach it.