Monthly Archives: April 2015

This Museum Really WOWed Me

Before I was WOWed

“If you don’t do anything else in Nelson, promise me you’ll go to the WOW Museum,” suggested the friendly middle-aged walker we met while cycling along Ruby Bay.

She had just finished taking a picture of Eric and me (a good one I might add) and we were busy exchanging condensed 15 minute versions of our life stories. She’s caravanned across the US, found distant relatives in Canada, recently bought a larger mobil home, cycles to be with her husband….

So when she gave us her tourist tip, I knew I would steer Eric to the World of Wearable Art if it took the bribe of an extra espresso to do it. Luckily, the creators of WOW were smart and attached a Collectable Car Museum to the same building.

This dress is made entirely of balloons. I love it!

After Eric breezed past the first two AMAZING creations, a delightful evening gown made entirely of small, un-inflated balloons, and a gauzy-looking cocktail dress made of fine grade wire while I was still lingering over their construction and creativity, I politely suggested we part ways and meet in the cafe’ (pronounced “calf”) in an hour. He could head to the cars and I could languish in the beauty and style.

It’s hard to believe this dress is made of bamboo and wire

Here’s some background on this very creative museum: Over twenty years ago the city of Nelson played host to the World of Wearable Art Fashion Show. This event draws participants from around the world – men who make dresses entirely out of wood, costume designers for theater, artists, etc. The event has become so huge and well-attended that it’s been moved to the city of Wellington on the North Island. But, this relatively new museum has been built in Nelson to showcase creations from the past as well as present winners from this year’s fashion show.

These wearable art pieces had to glow in the dark. I fit right in.

The “art” is displayed on mannequins but was originally worn by runway models and dancers. After seeing the clothes on display, I was then entranced by the video of actual fashion shows modeling these pieces of art. The music and choreography that accompanied the show made it an extravaganza similar to watching Cirque de Solei or Cher perform in Las Vegas changing into costumes made of zip ties, parachute material, plastic bags, old suitcases, wire and string.

A quilt knitted with electrical wire. 

There was one down side to the museum for me. With the creativity, the fantastic sound track and the original choreography to the dance, I felt a longing (homesickness maybe?) for being creative besides cooking in backpacking pots, playing or listening to music beside song birds chirping in the forest, and dancing to the music with my friend on a warm summer night after a bottle of wine.

“Thank you, New Zealand woman on the bike path, for the great suggestion! Wow, what a museum!”

The Gift I Never Knew I Needed but Now Can’t Live Without

I have a very thoughtful husband who always remembers birthdays in a big way. Even when I say, “Don’t buy me anything, just cook me a nice dinner,” or “Just being with you is a birthday present enough,” he doesn’t listen to me. This year he could hardly contain his excitement for the “small” gift he had in mind. He said he’d been thinking about it a long time and he “knew” this was the gift for me.

The suspense was killing me…..

He said that we need to stop in a sports store for the “little” surprise.

I couldn’t think of anything I needed except perhaps another pair of wool socks. But, Eric just doesn’t seem like the sock-giving type of guy.

We were wandering through a sports/bicycle/camping/hiking store in Wanaka when he directed me to the Swiss Army Knife display.

Eric: Penny, I really want to give you a Swiss Army Knife for your birthday.
Me: (bursting out laughing) Is this for me or for you???? (I know I’ve never given the slightest hint that I would like (or need) a knife)
Eric: Well, I’ve felt really bad about breaking your plastic spork (combination fork and spoon that I’d been using to make our daily peanut butter and honey sandwiches )and I really think you could use a good knife. Which model do you want?
Me: I don’t really want a knife. But if YOU would like a knife to replace the knife that the security confiscated at the airport in Sydney then go ahead. Pick out the one you want.
Eric: No, this REALLY is for you!
Penny: OK. then. Let’s see….the I’ll take this one (pointing to the least expensive, simplest model with a knife and corkscrew.

Fast Forward two Weeks…..


I have used this knife EVERY day and sometimes 3 or 4 times per day since my I got it. I slice the cheese for our lunch picnics. I slice open the hard-to-enter packages of muesli and salami. I slice the vegetables for our dinner. And, tonight, I used the hidden can-opener feature for our can of beans.

There are some hidden features to my pocket knife, as well. I can pluck my eyebrows with the tweezers if the campsites ever have a mirror where I can beautify in private.And, I can pick my teeth with the toothpick feature when I run out of dental floss in the remote national parks of New Zealand.

I’m even making friends with my new pocket knife. A fellow camper walked up to me in the kitchen yesterday and said, “I have it on good authority that you can help me open my can of beans!”

I really must admit that my life is much better with my Swiss Army knife and I thank Eric every day for recognizing a need that I didn’t know I had.

Cash for Cappuccinos

Keeping toasty in my new possum fur socks

More stories of the NZ possum problem/industry.

My fascination with the New Zealand possums . What I thought was a joke when I wrote in an earlier blog about possum hunters is not. Possums are serious business here. As a matter of fact, today I learned that the NZ government spends $1.5 million per week …PER WEEK…trying to solve the possum problem. Possums have no know predators and like to eat the juicy green leaves of many of the indigenous trees. Naturally, having met possum hunters, I was curious about who bought the fur and then what it is used for.

In the past couple of days, I’ve gotten my answer. In Fox Glacier and Hari Hari – names of two towns we’ve recently cycled through – I read signs like this: “Possum Fur Buyer – Good Prices paid for Fur- Inquire Within”. These signs are in front of the local market/cafe/helicopter ride company/bus station. These signs are in prominent tourist locations which makes me wonder if just anybody like retired cycle tourists or backpackers or fly fishermen can bring in a possum fur for some extra cash.

I’ve seen lots of entrails of animals which I assume to be from a possum lying on the side of the road, but the fur is missing. These piles of guts make me wonder if the driver who caused the “road kill” immediately jumped out of his car, brandished his hunting knife and skinned the beast right then and there, knowing he would make some cash for a cappuccino at the next town. As a matter of fact, Eric and I have even joked that we could skin some of the dead possum on the side of the road to help with expenses.

Then, with all the possum fur being bought, I was wondering what it’s used for. Today, in Hari Hari, at a cute store called “Crafts” I learned the answer. Possum fur is soft, light weight, and quite warm. Mixed with Merino wool and a little silk, possum “items” are a real functional and pricey souvenir for all those tourists shopping for NZ Made. There are scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters, and socks. And, today, thanks to the heavy, eight-hour downpour and the strong southerly winds bringing an Antarctic blast of cold air, I decided join the ranks of tourists who buy an item made with possum. I’m currently warming my toes with my new 40% possum, 50%merino, and 10% silk socks. According to the KORU label, these socks provide “extreme warmth, comfort and natural antibacterial (this really sold me) properties.” I’ll let you know how they work out.

Glow Worm Encounter

We recently camped in Fox Glacier. When I say “camped” I really mean we slept in a rustic cabin and walked to the community bathroom and kitchen facilities. We use these “cabins” in stead of our tent when we expect rain. The campers in the cabin next to ours were also cycle tourists. Being cycle tourists we are all friends and we all like to drink beer so Eric automatically invited them to our cabin for a beer later that evening.

I like these impromptu get-togethers because I learn a lot. Often I benefit from everyone else reading the guide books and learn all the things we should see and do without having actually read anything. Happy hour with our new German cycling friends was no exception.

Cycling Friends: Have you seen the glow worms?
Me (What are glow worms?!) No. We haven’t. Are they neat?
CF: We don’t know. We’re going tonight. Maybe well see you there.
Me: Maybe.

Our cycling friends left the comfort of the Adirondack-style chairs in front of our cabin to meet a friend for dinner. I walked to the community kitchen to cook ours, an assortment of the only items I had found left at the tiny grocery store – beef sausages, mashed potatoes and broccoli. Because I’d already drunk a large beer, I poured the majority of the second into the tiny saucepan to flavor and plump up the sausages.

We savored our sausages with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and were relaxing in the mellow after-dinner feeling of food and alcohol when I remembered the glow worm conversation.

Me: Let’s walk to the glow worm dell!
Eric: (eyelids at half-mast) Do we have to?
Me: Yes, come on. It’ll be fun.

We started the ten minute walk through town to the glow worm path. Within 30 seconds of leaving our campsite it became so dark we could barely see our feet in front of us. (NZ prides itself on no light pollution keeping its dark skies for stargazing and planetariums.)

Me: Should we go back and get our flashlight?
Eric: Nah.
Me: We’ll, I’ve got my cell phone (remembering the battery is under 30%)if we need a little light.

Soon we arrived at the trail head located just off the main highway into Fox Glacier. We walked through the entrance gates and into almost total darkness. We stopped for a few minutes to let our pupils adjust for night vision. We heard some happy voices nearby with “oohh” and “aaah” and “here’s some” so we knew we were in the right place.

Eric: I can’t see anything. Let’s go back.
Me: Relax. Give your eyes some time to adjust.

I shuffled further into the dark abyss using my feet to feel the way and my ears to hear to children’s voices just ahead.

Eric: Stop! Where are you?
Me: Here. Hold my hand.
Eric: I feel like an old man shuffling along.
Me: That’s part of the fun.

Together we shuffled a few more feet around a bend in the path. By now my eyes were adjusting and I could make out the top of the very tall, large pine trees if I looked skyward. The setting was magical and spooky
A few more shuffles and we came among the most beautiful, twinkling white lights dotting the wall of mud,ferns and foliage to our left. There were several lights sprinkled in the trees and ferns on our right. I felt like I was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Eric: I don’t like this. Let’s go back.
Me: Relax. This is fun.

By now we’d passed the other tourists heading out of the dell. We continued to shuffle into more darkness. I could hear a small steam beside us. I could feel larger rocks marking the edge of the path. I could see twinkling lights all around. It was cool.

By now Eric had both hands gripping my shoulder blades and was shuffling behind me like we’re playing choo choo train.

The deeper into the dell we walked, the darker and spookier it got. I imagined ourselves getting lost. “Cycle Tourists Found Lost in the Glow Worm Dell. Didn’t Bring Flashlight” I did pull out my cell phone a handful of times to check that we were on a path hoping that the low battery would be sufficient to guide us to safety.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering what a glow worm is. I was, too. So, I googled it. I learned a glow worm is a soft-bodied beetle with luminescent organs in the abdomen, especially the larvalike wingless female, which emits light to attract the flying male.

Well, I may not emit a luminescent light but my good night vision did keep Eric gripping my shoulders during the walk.

Let’s Talk About Sandflies

I’ve been singing New Zealand’s praises for almost six weeks. I love the people. I love the scenery. I love the cycling. And, as of today, I love the sandflies.

Here’s the deal. The NZ tourist brochures don’t give you the full picture about the blood-sucking, thirsty, pesky, annoying sandflies. Sandflies, in case you don’t know, are smaller than a mosquito, have the sting of a no-see-um, and leave the itch of a super-charged horsefly. They leave welts the size of pennies and cause sleepless nights due to itching. On the flip side, sandflies don’t cause malaria.

An occasional “Welcome to NZ” brochure or tourist handbook might mention the presence of sandflies. Those same brochures might even suggest wearing long sleeves and tucking your pant into your socks. It might recommend applying bug repellent liberally. Some brochures even have a humor section calling the 5.6 billion New Zealand sandflies an endangered species. Haha. Very funny.

What those brochures don’t mention is the prevalence of sandflies at most of the scenic picture-taking spots we’ve visited. They don’t mention that picnicking is almost impossible unless hopping and swatting while gobbling down a meat pie is considered a picnic. They obviously don’t mention the profitability of small business owners selling “The Best Sand Fly Spray Ever- Guaranteed!” at highway robbery prices.

But, even with their pesky nature, I love sandflies! I love them because they get Eric loaded up and on the road faster than all my nagging and prodding combined. Today, surrounded by hundreds of thirsty, pesky sandfly friends, Eric was ready to ride before me…Hurray for sandflies!