Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Classic Fighters

April 17, 2017 Leave a comment

On Saturday I went to the Classic Fighters Omaka 2017 air show in Blenheim, New Zealand. I had been intending on going to this show since it first started, but being at the opposite end of the island I just never quite made it. This year I was visting my in-laws in Nelson, so I thought the 90 minute journey to Marlborough would be worth it.

And despite the bad weather a lot of New Zealand (including Marlborough) has experienced recently, the day was brilliant. There were almost no clouds, a light (to moderate) wind, and a temperature of 22 degrees. Great conditions for watching warbirds (although maybe a bit less wind would have been good).

I have been to the other big South Island, New Zealand air show, Warbirds Over Wanaka, several times in the past, and have put reports from all of these, including photos and movies on my web site, so I will do the same for this one over the next few days.

Both air shows have a variety of aircraft, but Wanaka seems to specialise in World War II planes and Omaka in World War I. So there were plenty of Fokker Triplanes, Sopwith Camels, and other aircraft from that era (all replicas, of course) plus Spitfires, a Corsair, a Kittyhawk, and some Yaks from World War II.

My favourite display was the Yak 3 Steadfast, powered by the 1750hp Pratt and Whitney R2000 radial engine and capable of over 650 kilometers per hour. It had smoke generators on both wing tips and left twin smoke trails which formed all sorts of cool patterns and smoke rings in the deep blue sky.

The saddest part of the show (apart from it taking over an hour to drive the 100 meters to the car park exit) was the A-4 Skyhawk sitting in a hangar. This one had it’s engine stripped out of it to use as a spare part when the other New Zealand Air Force Skyhawks were sold.

I remember watching the Skyhawk displays in Wanaka back in the 1996, 1998, and 2000 shows and they were awesome. Of course, they were a bit of an obsolete aircraft by American standards, but at least the NZ planes had updated avionics and weapons systems.

So I’m glad I went to the trouble of watching this show. I really didn’t like it quite as much as the best Wanaka shows, but it was still very good. My only regret is that I didn’t get there a little bit earlier because I missed some of the first WWI displays.

As I said above, I will have a report on this show with photos and videos on my main web site ( in the next few days so check there if you are interested (and I apologise in advance if it takes longer – it’s surprising how much time the photo and video processing, researching facts, and general writing of those reports takes).


Xmas Travels 2012

January 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Before I get back on to my regular blogging topics such as politics, technology, religion, etc I will report on my holiday activities over the last 3 weeks. I just got back from a break in Nelson. If you are from another country you might not know that Nelson is a popular New Zealand holiday destination with some of the country’s best weather, beaches, etc.

Because we had some extra time this year we decided to make this a more leisurely trip instead of trying to do the almost 800 kilometer (500 mile) journey to Nelson in one day (I reported on this in a blog entry “Christmas Update” posted Christmas day 2012).

So we stopped overnight in the small Central Canterbury town of Geraldine on the way up, then spent 2 nights at Hanmer Springs before arriving in Nelson on the 24th. After a few days in Nelson we travelled over to Golden Bay for 3 days then back to Nelson and finally home via Hanmer Springs again.

The day in Hanmer and the first two days in Nelson were really hot – about 30 degrees – but then we had a bizarre mix of weather which is quite typical of New Zealand. It never got really cold but there was some rain and wind and cooler temperatures. The rain was only heavy once over night but on the West Coast – just a couple of hundred kilometers way – there was enough to cause major problems.

In fact, on the way home we had to take a detour because the main road from Nelson to Christchurch was washed out at Shenandoah Hill. But that was OK because we took a road I had never used before through the Buller Gorge and Reefton instead.

By this time the weather was really hot again and stayed that way to Hanmer, Canterbury and even back home to Dunedin where we were told it had reached 35.

So that describes the trials and tribulations of New Zealand weather, what did we do during our time away? Just the usual typical things really: sitting in the thermal pools at Hanmer, a few rounds of mini golf, some bush walks, exploring the local scenery, riding a giant flying fox, and a bit of “fishing”.

The main attraction of Hanmer Springs are the natural hot water springs and you can relax in pools ranging in temperature from about 34 to 43 degrees. During the winter when there’s snow on the ground the hottest pools are particularly appreciated, but in summer the cooler ones are usually preferred. There’s also a range of adventure tourism options available but these can be quite expensive.

Happy Valley Adventures near Cable Bay near Nelson operate a flying fox system where you fly 3 kilometers over a valley at a height of up to 150 meters and a speed up to 100 kilometers per hour. The view is great and it can be quite scary for some people. We hoped to ride quad bikes up to the top of the hill but there weren’t enough free so we took a mini bus up instead. There was also an informative talk about the native tress in the area.

If you are in a hurry and don’t have the patience for the traditional form of fishing you can go “fishing” at the Anatoki Salmon Farm where you really can’t help but catch a fish. We stopped at three fish which the staff there clean and smoke for you. It’s not real fishing, of course, but at least you get some results – unlike my 10 unsuccessful years of “real” fishing, trying to catch something in the Te Anau area many years ago!

When I get the time I will put photos and a full description of this trip in my web site. But first I need to get back to some more controversial blog entries so stand by for those!

Christmas Update

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Over the last few days we have had a leisurely trip from Dunedin to Nelson where we are spending a couple of weeks holiday over Christmas. Generally when we are making this journey (a distance of about 800 kilometers) we try to do it in 1 or maybe 2 days, but this time we decided to take our time. (For those of you from outside of New Zealand, two points: first 800 kilometers is about 500 miles; and second, distances here take longer to travel because our roads tend to be quite windy).

So on the first day we stopped overnight in Geraldine, then took the “scenic” inland route through Methven, Oxford, and Rangiora out to the main road and on to Hanmer Springs. We spent a day at Hanmer just doing the usual causal things: mini-golf, thermal pools, etc. The temperature started getting up to what you would expect for a real New Zealand summer (almost 30 degrees C, 90 degrees Fahrenheit) while we were there and we got the same driving through to Nelson the next day.

I’m writing this Christmas Day (as all true bloggers do) and it looks like it will be warm again today. I love Southern Hemisphere summers!

So it’s all pretty relaxing so far but a computer geek’s work is never done and I am currently in the middle of upgrading an old original iMac running Mac OS 9 to a much newer (but still kind of outdated) G5 iMac running OS X. Should be a fairly significant improvement for the user!

It did remind me of how far computers have come though: the flash drives I used had 10 times the capacity of the old iMac’s hard disk! And the general reliability of Mac OS 9 could have been better. I’ve had more crashes this morning than I would have in a year running OS X!

My friends and family seem to know me quite well: for Christmas this year I have received a whole pile or chocolate, some wine, and a variety of chilli sauces. Of course there was also the most useful gift I received: cash! Yes, that will be very useful to help out with home renovation projects.

As expected it has turned out to be hot again today but according to the weather app on my iPad we might be about to get some rain and thunderstorms for the next week or two! Yeah, New Zealand gets some great warm weather on occasions but it can change fairly quickly too!

A Few Days in Auckland

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

As I write this I am flying at about 10,000 meters on my way to Auckland (there‚Äôs my traditional opening for travel related blog entries, although the destination is not always Auckland of course). Yes, I have been back at work for a total of two days and I am away again already. Well, unfortunately, that isn’t quite true. The fact is that I am spending the next three days in Auckland doing some work on the computers at the Auckland Centre of the University of Otago, so it’s still work I’m afraid.

Interestingly I have spent a lot less time in New Zealand’s main city than I have in some similar places in other countries. For example, since I spent any time in Auckland last I have been to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney (several times), and San Francisco. I hope that I might have a few hours to look around between the time time spent sorting out computer issues, but that will have to wait to see just how dire the problems actually are!

It sounds sort of unpatriotic but I can’t see a lot of point in spending time in Auckland because anything it has Sydney also has, but more. And the travel time and cost to get to Sydney isn’t that much greater. But they say a change is as good as a holiday and Auckland’s weather has finally improved so it should be quite pleasant.

On the subject of the weather, I will be in a good position on that front during my visit. Generally our friends from the more northern parts of New Zealand like to make subtle (and not so subtle) comments regarding the superiority of their weather in comparison to ours near the more southern, cooler part of the country. But this year the south has got great weather over the holiday period so I can reverse the trend on them this time.

This second part of the entry is being typed from my hotel room on the second day of my visit. There has certainly been plenty to do here and I could probably stay a week to get everything sorted out properly but instead it has turned into a frenetic burst of activity to get as much done as possible.

I have also had a chance after work to have a bit of a walk around the city and down to the harbour and I have actually enjoyed being here more than I thought, although I still think Sydney’s better!

I’m flying out early tomorrow afternoon so I have about 3 hours in the morning to get a few tasks finished. I also hope I have configured enough remote access services so that I can administer some of the servers, computers, and other devices by “remote control” from back in Dunedin. Or maybe I should avoid that technique and aim for another trip here in the future!

Fiordland Adventures

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

As I write this blog entry I am returning from a few days in Te Anau. For those of you not familiar with New Zealand, it is a small town on the eastern edge of Fiordland National Park in southern New Zealand. Fiordland is well known for its wet weather, and is mostly covered with rain forest, but on this occasion the weather has been quite brilliant (it is mid summer in the southern hemisphere of course) which is particularly gratifying considering the poor weather in the rest of the country.

Fiordland is mostly wilderness and covered with dense forest and it has some of New Zealand’s best walking tracks, including the Milford and Kepler tracks. We aren’t into serious tramping but we did do a few shorter walks along these tracks and I got a few photos which I will post on the relevant sections of my web site when I get the chance.

The main walk involved a bus trip from Te Anau to a small harbour half way up the lake, followed by a boat trip to the head of the lake where the Milford Track begins. The track is about 50 kilometers long and usually takes 3 days to complete but we just walked a couple of hours up the valley and didn’t get as far as the big climb up to the pass and out to Milford Sound on the other side.

I walked the whole track many (and I mean many, like about 40) years ago but it is hard to remember what the experience was like so it was good to have a small reminder of it. Of course, I would have loved to have got up the pass for the awesome views and gone down to Sutherland Falls on the other side (one of the tallest waterfalls in the world) but that will have to wait for another occasion.

The main purpose of the visit was to catch up with the rest of the family and to celebrate my brother’s 50th birthday. So we had 18 family members for meals and other events including a rather pleasant al fresco dinner at an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed some good New Zealand wines in the sunshine until quite late.

I can write this blog entry now instead of driving like I usually would because my daughter is driving. That has turned out to be quite useful and she is not too bad a driver. Good enough anyway that I feel reasonably secure sitting in the back typing on my iPad.

Yes, I took my iPad on holiday with me but it does get worse because I also took my iPhone and laptop, plus we had another iPhone, two other iPads and two other laptops there as well. I don’t think it’s bad using technology like that as long as it doesn’t keep you too much out of the sun enjoying the great outdoors. And knowing Fiordland it could just as easily have rained most of the time and then the technology would have been really welcome! As it happened I just used the laptop to process photos in the evening after we got back to the house.

So that’s by quick report on my summer holiday. Unfortunately the rest of my summer break is most likely going to be spent more on programming work than relaxing but that’s my fault for starting too many projects I guess!

A Week in Sydney

July 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m writing this blog entry on my iPad as I fly back from a conference in Sydney. The conference ran for 3 days and I organised to have another 2 days after that. I have spent time in Sydney before of course, but I hadn’t been there for a while and this time I was unencumbered with family who usually seem to complain about two “annoying” activities I often indulge in while on holiday.

The first is my wish, while on holiday, to experience the place I am visiting instead of spending half of my life in shops (which are often very similar to those we have back home except bigger). In addition to that terrible proclivity I sometimes want to do things which might be a bit geeky (sorry, there’s the geek stuff coming up again) such as visiting technology museums and that sort of thing.

My second dreadful habit (which I must agree could get a bit tedious after a while) is wanting to take photos of everything, often from bizarre locations (just to get an interesting angle on the subject) and occasionally at odd times as well (I like doing photography in challenging lighting conditions, such as sunrise and sunset, where the lighting can give an unusual mood to the image).

So on this occasion I had the freedom to do what I wanted, except I was on a serious budget so it couldn’t cost too much. Well I wasn’t really on a budget but I did feel a bit guilty about going to Australia and leaving the rest of the family at home in the middle of the New Zealand winter (yes, it is winter in Sydney too but you would hardly know it because the weather was just beautiful every day I was there, although it did get quite cold once the sun set) so I decided that spending as little as possible might assuage my guilt somewhat.

Anyway, here’s a list of what I did in my two days…

I visited the Opera House and Harbour Bridge twice – once in the late afternoon and once after sunset – to get the quintessential great photo of those landmarks. And yes, I think I got some really good ones! I love that part of Sydney because it’s so scenic (not naturally scenic but scenic from a city perspective) and there’s always something interesting happening.

The last time I was in that area of Sydney I still had a film camera (yes, it was a while ago) so I was limited in the number of shots I could take. This time with the digital SLR I probably took several hundred photos with various exposure compensations, ISO values, apertures, and other settings. Of those I kept about 10% and trashed the rest. Because I didn’t have a tripod all of the shots were hand held which is quite challenging once the light levels went down. I should report that I was quite successful though.

Sydney Harbour Bridge South Pier

I also visited a couple of museums: the Powerhouse Museum which has exhibitions of old technology (railway engines, steam engines, old computer equipment, etc); and the Maritime Museum which has exhibitions of stuff related to the sea.

Maybe the best exhibit was the “Spirit of Australia”, the fastest boat on Earth. The story behind this was pretty cool. It was built in a Sydney backyard by a relative amateur, Ken Warby. He had acquired a J34 jet engine (as you do) to power the boat but was worried it might not produce enough power – so he ordered an afterburner for it! Wow, I would just love to call someone and order and afterburner. So this engine was a fire breathing monster and he set the world speed record on water with it, then went on to set another record of well over 500 kilometers per hour. After that he retired from racing which was probably a good decision if you consider the death rate of people trying to go fast on water!

There’s an Apple store in Sydney so naturally it was compulsory to visit that. Now this fact should impress you: I didn’t buy anything. Of course, as I said to the staff there, I own almost every product Apple has ever made already! The store is very impressive though with a completely glass front, a glass staircase, and plenty of cool Apple products with lots of people playing with them.

I also visited the Centre Point Tower which is the tallest building in Sydney. I got some spectacular views from the observation deck which unsurprisingly resulted in another pile of photos to sort through. The biggest problem I had in that situation was taking photos through the glass of the windows and avoiding the reflections and smeared hand prints.

I’m sitting in Auckland airport while I complete this entry and I have just heard that there will be no flights leaving for a while because of lightning in the area. It could take a while to get home yet! We often joke about how changeable the weather in New Zealand is but it’s only after spending a week in somewhere like Sydney (I had a similar experience in San Francisco) where every day is the same (sunny and warm during the day) that you realise how true that really is.

There was only a short delay for the weather and I am now in the air again. I will be back to work tomorrow and that could be a bit of a shock even though I’ve only been away a week. I’m not sure when I will be in Sydney next but I already have some more geeky and some scenic locations I want to visit when I do!

I Forgot to Mention

April 25, 2011 1 comment

I recently spent a short time (5 days) in Brisbane, Australia. Even though I wrote two blog entries while I was there (or flying to/from there) I didn’t say much about the journey itself, so now a week later, I thought I’d better do that.

I went to Brisbane for a three day iPhone programming course (which I have written a blog entry about, but haven’t posted yet) and only had half a day free at the end to look around. Unfortunately it rained heavily that morning (the rest of the time the weather was good) so I didn’t get to do much. Still, it had been many years since I had been there so it was nice to at least have an hour or two each day after the course to take a few photos.

In the short time I was there I grew to like Brisbane. It seems safe but is still lively, it is big enough (population 2 million) without being too big, and the climate is very nice (apart from the occasional tropical storm or flood). I like other Australian cities too: I have spent short periods in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide (but not Perth yet unfortunately), but places always seem better when you visit them, and what New Zealander hasn’t at least considered moving to Australia?

I got some quite nice photos of the city lights at night reflected in the water of the Brisbane River with the Victoria Bridge in the foreground. I have included a small version of one here (if you are on my main blog) and I’ll try to find the time to put some in the photo section of my web site in the future.

I got quite short notice of the trip and I found my passport had expired, and a new one only turned up a day or two before I left which caused a certain amount of consternation. But apart from that it all went well. The new passorts with electronic identification can make checking through customs quite a bit faster and I didn’t have much waiting in queues at either the New Zealand or Australian airports.

The iPad helped a lot. It is just the right size to use while flying (I find the laptop just a bit too big). I watched movies on it and wrote some blog entries. I also revised some basic programming courses (although you can only actually write programs for the iPhone and iPad on a Mac).

I had to resort to reading a real paper magazine during take-off and landing though because of the odd civil aviation requirement of turning electronic devices off at those times. I’m sure there is no real risk on a modern aircraft and I suspect the rule is either left over from older navigation systems or is designed to maintain the passengers’ attention if there was an emergency.

So that was my time in Brisbane. Most of it was spent in that rather intense course but that was also worthwhile so I guess not having much free time didn’t matter that much.