Friday, February 27, 2009

2/17/2009 - Chocariffic

Up at a reasonable time. Grab some breakfast with Erik and Kris, and we say our good-byes. They are planning to head to the library for some Internet mooching and to check out a fairly rare book on bicycling Australia. I am going to check out downtown Dunedin and get a haircut. Over the weeks, I have become more and more like Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

I head down around 11AM with Zod. Parking is difficult to say the least, and they definitely like charging for it. I eventually find a spot and head to the i-site.

One thing piques my interest above the rest. Cadbury has a tour down here, as this was the origin of chocolate in New Zealand. Oh, baby.

Head to the library and catch Erik and Kris there. Internet is severely limited there, so I head out. Second good-bye for the day. Find a very nice little barbershop that does a nice job for NZ$12, and I leave a new man.

It is not hard to find the Cadbury factory as it is only about a block away, massive, and mostly purple. I walk in, and my initial expectations of a Gene Wilder-like experience are partially fulfilled. It is a slick place with motorized (maybe REAL!) elves popping out of a massive pile of Cadbury chocolates.

IMGP1829.JPGI do not see root beer that makes you fly, but I figure that's later in the tour.

They even have a nifty display where you can try raw chocolate, with ambient bird and jungle noises.

IMGP1830.JPGChoc-tastic! But sort of like trying to eat raw coffee beans.

I eagerly pay for my ticket and we are met by a young guy dressed, for all intents and purposes, like Bob the Builder (except in purple). He also has apparently gone to the Disneyworld school of courtesy, because he is sickeningly nice. You get the feeling that he has to compensate for this overextension by indulging in hardcore drugs in his off hours. Actually, probably his work hours.

Mr Oversize Cabbage Patch Doll takes us to another room where we watch a ten-minute brainwash on Cadbury chocolate. I am pretty convinced by the end of this that consuming mass quantities of Cadbury chocolate would solve the Middle East crisis once and for all.

Our group of about 14 is handed hairnets and required to put these on. We are now allowed to make it into the magical world of Cadbury, where I'm sure that the Oompa Loompas are doing cartwheels of excitement in anticipation of watching us swim through a river of chocolate and pick sugar treats from the magical Licorice Trees.

IMGP1831.JPGThis piece of sexy fashion advice was brought to you by the National Lunchlady's Union.

No cameras, though, are allowed. I guess there must be a trade secret in the way that the Oompa-Loompas care for the Marshmallow Mushrooms or something.

My excitement builds as we walk thorough a hall and stop, then are allowed into the "factory floor". This same excitement is crushed, though, when I see what is inside.

The workers here are not Oompa-Loompas. As a matter of fact, they all look as though they were just forced at gunpoint to EAT an Oompa-Loompa that had not bathed in some time. There is not a joy in making chocolate as much as an automaticity of robotic action that matched the machines.

We do get to see some cool machinery, and they have a "waterfall of chocolate", which is a ton of liquid chocolate recycled over and over again in an abandoned silo that is poured down about 50 feet to impress the tourists. It's cool until I realized that chocolate that's been nice and warm and around as long as this probably would confine you to the bathroom for three days or so, much less taste good.

We do get some samples of chocolate bars, and learn some of the ways chocolate is produced. They do try to spruce the tour-area up a bit by putting large pictures of happy Cadbury elves around, but the general air from those working was that they would rather put the happy cutouts in the chocolate press before actually cracking a smile, so it wasn't quite as effective as it could have been.

I think I have put this tour in more of a negative light than it actually was, but it probably wasn't worth NZ$18 even with all of the candy bribes we received along the way.

Once back to the reality of the street outside, I find a closeby grocery store for lunch fixings and find Kris and Erik again. We say good-bye for a third time today and I head to Zod.

Leaving Dunedin is interesting. I climb the steep and long hill out, and within the space of a kilometer, it goes from city to rural sheep ranches. Amazing how quickly it happens.

The drive out is pleasant, and the day is partly cloudy. Eat a little lunch of hummus and avocado sandwiches (Damn your vegetarian virus, Kris and Erik!) The land is not terribly hilly as I follow the coast, and is mostly grassland and ranch.

IMGP1832.JPGI have a thing for lighthouses. So sue me.

Soon enough, I head inland. I am heading for Lake Tekapo, and that means some serious climbing. Again, it doesn't matter that Zod gets passed by everyone - I don't have to personally struggle up these hills, and it feels great. I do, however, miss it a little, even though it hasn't been but a week since the hard core biking. There is something addictive about regular exercise that my body continues to crave, and I reflect at times how good it feels when I have beaten a hill or earned a nice, comfortable downhill. Ah, well.

I finally cross over the pass. The road has been severely rural as the terrain gets more rugged, only seeing a car every 10 minutes or so. The few towns I have passed through have been tiny blips.

This is all OK with me. As much as I love this country, I do prefer being able to get out and away from people, and things are set up so that in most parts, there are lots of smaller towns all over. The south and west of the south island are different, and I am now finding that the interior of the south island shakes this trend as well.

IMGP1833.JPGJust before crossing over the pass. Cloudy, cool, and feels remote.

IMGP1834.JPGLiterally just after crossing over the pass. It was like breaking through a cloud wall. Suddenly I feel really alpine.

The road winds through flatter country now, but with a suggestion of sudden transition ahead as the mountains loom under dark clouds in the distance, and the road is heading right for them.

IMGP1836.JPGI just can't escape power lines, even this far from the city.

After around 30km of this comfortable drive, the road makes a sharp left in front of the fantastic Lake Tekapo. This is a glacial lake giving it a deep blue that is reminiscent of the sky.

IMGP1837.JPGThis bush was AMAZING!

There is a little town here that has a small grocery store, all perched right on the lake shore. The people here are very helpful and give me directions to the road leading to Mt. John. I've been tipped off that there are some good, hidden places to free camp right on the lake from this road. I pick up some avocados, bread, milk, and hummus. I really hate to admit it, but the vegetarian hummus and avocado sandwich is really delicious.

Zod and I are soon off again, passing the other tourist who are walking with their suitcases toward the large and fancy-looking hotel here. Lake Tekapo is right near some prime skiing regions of the south island, and I suspect that this acts like a lodge.

The smaller road is well-marked and very circuitous. It gives some excellent, closer views of the mountains and lake.

IMGP1839.JPGLooking over the lake, the mist was pouring actively into the valley. Try to imagine molasses overflowing and you get the idea of the speed.

The road climbed a few hills, then looked down onto what would be camp for the night.

IMGP1842.JPGShould be nice, clear skies for checking out the stars tonight. I think I have mentioned that Lake Tekapo is working to become a refuge for preventing artificial light, allowing unfettered night sky viewing. I'm betting that the Mt. John observatory people here have something to do with that movement.

I descend toward the lake, and find a small gravel rut heading toward the shore. Zod has 4WD, but it's actually dry and easily driven with just 2WD. Set up camp right next to the lake as the sun goes down.

The great thing is that "setting up camp" involves putting Zod into "park". That's it. No need for a tent, and my sleeping mattress is already pumped up in the back. Rock on.

It is a very relaxing evening. I also learn a bit about choosing avocados. Bright green means that, if thrown, they could knock someone out from 25 feet, not that they are "fresh". No avocado tonight. Hummus sandwiches it is.

IMGP1845.JPGTen seconds after stopping, camp is up. Refreshing!

As twilight stretches to night, I can start to see how cool it would be to have an area without any artificial lights around. Then I start thinking about the Blair Witch movie, and decide that having some light is, perhaps, a good thing also. The moon soon provides this. It's very relaxing.

Tomorrow, heading toward Kaikura, which is famous for being a spot to swim with dolphins and some cool rugged coastline.

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