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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

12,000 miles to New Zealand

After a 17-hour, 12,000 mile flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Kathie and Dick Purmal now are in New Zealand with their son Brett, a digital animator on the film AVATAR. “Our carrier was Australia, a new carrier Down Under owned by Sir Richard Branson,” Kathie writes. Both got $650 round trip fares from LA to Sydney, and while en route watched three movies, four TV sitcoms and a documentary on individual screens at every seat. “You can even chat seat-to-seat so if there is a really good-looking guy you can log on, figure out his seat, type in a conversation and hit send, crossing your fingers that he’s as bored as you,” she writes. She said the seats are wide but have little leg room.
During the night they crossed the international date line, losing Wednesday, Dec. 16 entirely.
After arrival in Sydney on Thursday, they needed to fly another three hours to Auckland, at which point they discovered their luggage was 20 pounds overweight — all Christmas gifts.
“We landed in Auckland and there he was,” she writes. “All 6 foot, 3 inches of him, decked out in an AVATAR tee shirt, shorts and a Santa hat: Our son Brett.”
(It's midsummer Down Under)
Brett surprised them with the news that they had another four-hour drive ahead of them. They needed to catch a ferry for their surprise destination and their bed for the next two nights. If they missed the ferry they would have an additional 90 minute drive in the dark over dirt roads, they learned.
Heather, Brett’s significant other, who was tracking their progress on Google, told them by cell phone that at their current rate of speed they would miss the ferry by 15 minutes.
“Brett pushed the car to the limit, flying around switchbacks on the dark mountain roads north toward the Bay of Islands,” Kathie wrote. They zoomed to the ferry landing and boarded, only to discover that it was just a five-minute ferry ride.
They soon reached the beach cottage Brett had rented for them in the village of Russell. “We were in the Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand,” they learned, before falling into bed.
“It’s a tiny town like one that might be found in New England, but the backdrop is Tahiti. It’s a magical place,” she writes. After a good night’s sleep the Purmals went exploring into the hills and down along the coast, passing “exquisite little beaches tucked into nooks and crannies and rock outcroppings.”
As they passed a local school Kathie thought she saw a play house. “Turns out the New Zealand government strongly believes the original Maori culture needs to be preserved,” she wrote. “So schools have these miniature Maori learning huts where students of Maori descent can go to learn the songs, stories, dances and other expressions of their culture. Is this not a great idea?”
Their small group boarded a boat to follow the Cream Run, which replicates the trips boats from Russell made to the outlying islands to deliver provisions and mail and pick up cream from the various island farms.
“They announced that should we come upon a pod of wild dolphins we would stop so people could don a wet suit and jump in with them,” she wrote. “About ten minutes later, there they were, leaping, playing and grinning at us.” She said a group of young women got into wet suits and went into the boom net, a large net suspended off the side of the boat that was lowered into the water. The girls - who were swimming above the dolphins without seeing them- were instructed to “look down” by those still on the boat. ”In the end, the girls returned to the net, half frozen because the water was about 60 degrees,” she wrote. “We watched while the dolphins swam to another boat and proceeded to leap and swim with their divers.”

Next: The Purmals are joined by the rest of the family and learn more about Brett's role in the making of Avatar.


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