Installing and Optimizing an SSD with Ubuntu Jaunty

written by bryan on March 23rd, 2009 @ 12:19 PM

With Anand's latest review of SSD's and Linus' endorsement of that review, it seemed like a good time to move my noisy hard drives to the basement and switch to an flash based hard drive (AKA solid state drive: SSD).

The 30GB Vertex SSD is currently CAD$ 160. Getting anything other than the smallest one seems very silly - I assume that prices are going to drop like a rock, so it'd be very painful to spend much more than that on anything that will be worthless in a year or two.

Luckily, Linux will fit very easily into 30GB. The plan is to put just about everything except for the operating system and work onto the NFS server in the basement.

The process did not go very smoothly at all. I highly recommend staying away from the Vertex drives for a few months to let them mature. But if you insist, here's the procedure I went through.

The first thing I had to do was upgrade my kernel to 2.6.29. The SSD worked for a little while, and then failed completely. It appeared to work on an Intel based machine, but my AMD 780G machine was not happy at all. I even went through the hassle of installing Windows XP to see if it worked there, but XP didn't even see the drive. Note that my other machine appeared to work fine with the SSD, so I think it's sort of SB700/SSD interaction. Others have reported issues on the forum as well.

The first thing you'll probably want to do is a secure erase of the drive. SSD's slow down as they're used, so starting fresh is essential. Warning, this will completely erase any ATA drive, so make sure you have that drive letter right!

hdparm --security-erase NULL /dev/sda

Following Ted Tso's instructions on how to properly align the partitions for maximum speed:

fdisk -H 224 -S 56 /dev/sda
# enter 'n, p, 1, 1, 5082' at the prompts to create a partition covering the entire drive
# enter 'x, b, 1, 256, w' to move the start of the partition into alignment
mke2fs -t ext4 -E stripe-width=32,resize=50G /dev/sda1
mkdir /mnt/ssd
mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/ssd

Now follow these instructions to copy your operating system over to the new drive. We're going to copy over everything except for /home/blarsen, which we're going to mount over NFS.

ls / > ~/root_files
vi ~/root_files  # remove proc, sys, mnt, home et cetera
tar --create --one-file-system --file - `cat ~/root_files` | (cd /mnt/ssd ; tar xvf -)
mkdir /mnt/ssd/proc
mkdir /mnt/ssd/sys
mkdir /mnt/ssd/mnt
mkdir -p /mnt/ssd/home/blarsen
chown blarsen.blarsen /mnt/ssd/home/blarsen

Let's set up our fstab to nfs mount /home/blarsen, and run tmpfs on /tmp and /var/tmp. The size parameter to tmpfs is a maximum size -- it doesn't use any RAM if it isn't needed. The default is half your RAM, so you'll probably want to limit down a bit.

cat > /mnt/ssd/etc/fstab
bulti:/home/blarsen     /home/blarsen           nfs             rsize=8192,wsize=8192,timeo=14,intr,noatime,nodiratime 0 0
none    /tmp            tmpfs     size=500M,mode=777,auto      0       0
none    /var/tmp        tmpfs   size=500M,mode=777,auto       0       0

Change your root partition in fstab:

blkid # to determine the UUID
vi /mnt/ssd/etc/fstab

Now, update the grub menu.lst. These instructions are missing from the tech republic link above. You want to look for the kopt= and groot= option lines. They look like comment lines, but they are actually instructions to update-grub. While you're at it, add "elevator=deadline" to your kopt.

vi /mnt/ssd/boot/grub/menu.lst # update kopt, groot UUID's.  Also add elevator=deadline to kopt
chroot /mnt/ssd

And install grub on the new drive:

grub-install --root-directory=/mnt/ssd /dev/sda

Let's save our SSD by logging to our NFS server. See these instructions from Sun.

cat >> /mnt/ssd/etc/hosts bulti loghost
cat >  /mnt/ssd/etc/syslog.conf
*.*;            @loghost
*.err;*.emerg   /var/log/messages

On your loghost, edit /etc/default/syslogd to add the "-r" option and restart sysklogd.

Switch your network interface away from network-manager so it comes up earlier in your boot cycle:

cat >> /mnt/ssd/etc/network/interfaces
auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp

rsync your home directory to your NFS server.

rsync -av /home/blarsen/ bulti:/home/blarsen/  # those trailing slashes are important

Reboot and enjoy!

January 17th (again!) -- Honolulu

written by bryan on January 25th, 2009 @ 11:15 PM

Bryan from Honolulu

It’s interesting having an article for the same day twice. But we’ve crossed the date line, and it’s January 17th again.

Our Honolulu adventure started last night with our taxi ride back from the airport, when Bethany realized that we’d left a bag at the airport. We’d been travelling with two bags for the entire trip, but we added a third bag yesterday. Maybe if it had ended up right beside our two backpacks we would have remembered it, but with the hassle of customs, it just slipped our mind.

That’s not surprising in my case, but Bethany isn’t absent-minded like I am! Not surprisingly, it was Bethany who remembered while in the taxi on the way to the airport. So we asked the taxi driver to turn around. Pre 9/11 we could have just picked up the bag on the way home tomorrow, but in today’s environment, abandoned bags are likely to be discarded with extreme prejudice.

Our final taxi bill for our ride home from the airport ended up being $110 – essentially 3 times what it should have been. To make things even more painful, that’s about NZD220!

Today is our only full day in Hawaii, so we really only have time to do two things. We decided that our top two would be Pearl Harbor and the beach. We took a quick look at the beach (since our hotel is only a 1/2 block away) and then booked a shuttle to Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor is very interesting to me – at once perhaps Japan’s biggest mistake, yet a stunning success for Yamamoto. For the Americans, Pearl Harbor was a huge loss that could have been easily minimized, yet in the end it mobilized the Americans and enabled their victories later in the war.

Pearl Harbor was viewed as an unjustified sneak attack by the American populace, yet it was entirely predictable. The Americans had almost completely cut off the Japanese access to oil. The United States has gone to war over much smaller disturbances to their oil supply. Talks to restore the oil had broken down, and the Japanese were directly threatening American territories in Guam and the Phillipines. War with the Japanese seemed inevitable. If it was inevitable, why was it surprising that the Japanese would attack the Pacific fleet?

The Japanese believed (erroneously) that an attack on British colonies in Asia would bring America into the war against them. They also believed that the American Phillipines were necessary for their plans. So even though Yamamoto believed that Japan could not defeat the US, he drew up plans to crush the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. He believed that this would give Japan a three year window to complete their Pacific war and to negotiate a truce with the Americans from a position of strength. On the other hand, Prime Minister General Tojo believed that the “weak and divided” Americans could be defeated despite their sizable industrial advantage.

By the goals of the Japanese, the attack was overwhelmingly successful. All of the eight American battleships received significant damage, with five of them being sunk. Both the Americans and the Japanese believed that battleships were the most significant part of any navy. By that standard, the US navy was irreparably damaged. The Japanese also did very significant damage to the Pacific Air Fleet. In the end, it was aircraft carriers and submarines that won the naval war for the Americans. Luckily, their two carriers were away on delivery missions. Yamamoto should have (and probably did) know that the aircraft carriers were essential – he was a master of their use himself. The Japanese did not significantly damage the American’s shore facilities, which very quickly repaired most of the battleships, and proved much more important in the end than anything directly damaged.

The Japanese believed that a stunning upset would fracture the Americans. They believed that the homogeneous nature of Japanese culture and race gave them a huge advantage and were gleefully watching the debates between those who would have the Americans join the war in Europe and those who wished to stay out. But it was Pearl Harbor that united the nation.

After visiting the Arizona memorial, we toured a WWII submarine. Unfortunately we did not have time to tour the battleship or the aviation museum before our shuttle was supposed to arrive.

And I say supposed to arrive: we were there on time, but the shuttle wasn’t. After waiting 40 minutes we shared a taxi back with another stranded group. After we got back, we walked along the beach until the batteries in Bethany’s camera ran out, so we ran back to the hotel to grab the spare because sunset was just starting. After sunset we were able to take in a free Hula dance on the beach put on by a local dance school. Nice!

January 17 -- Flying Away

written by bryan on January 24th, 2009 @ 01:39 AM

Bethany from over the Pacific

Well no horrible airport stories this time. Unlike our departure from Rome two years ago, it was an easy trip to Auckland International and our plane left the gate on time.

We have a spacious exit row seats. Well lots of leg room but narrower seats because of the table trays. After the emergency water landing yesterday of the American Airline’s flight into the Hudson, I did make sure that I knew how to open the emergency door. Strangely, none of the flight assistants actually came by to brief me.

Bryan is snoozing as per his usual on moving transport. I don’t think he was very impressed that we were up 4 hours before our scheduled departure of 10:30 am. This time we are flying during the day and will reach Honolulu in the evening. Maybe we’ll do a blog posting tonight from there so that we can title two entries as “January 16th”.

New Zealand has been a phenomenal experience and it is with reluctance that I boarded the plane. Maybe one day I’ll be back but there is also a great number of other places I wish to see. If I ever do want to go overseas to work, New Zealand would be a viable option.

We have done a lot over our four weeks in NZ – most of which we could have done very similar things back home. NZ has been a very easy country to traverse and is, in many ways, similar to home. Even driving on the left-side of the road was not overly intimidating. It probably helped, though, that we didn’t rent a car when we first arrived so we had some acclimation time.

New Zealand is a country that is still primarily agricultural-based but there is increasing friction between rural and urban. How familiar is this! We really spent very little time in the cities, but they each have a different flavour. Auckland has a definitely more “cosmopolitan” feel. Things are more expensive, particularly the cars and food and bigger. On the South Island, we noticed a higher level of older vehicles (and campervans). Many older vehicles had Japanese script on them which we presume means that New Zealand is one of the common markets for Japanese used vehicles. Bryan tells me that it is culturally incongruent for Japanese to drive used.

We have travelled New Zealand by many different modes: plane, shuttles, intercity buses, foot, bike, helicopter, boat, rental car, and kayak. And we have schlepped around our bags this whole time which have grown slightly with our main packs weighing in at 20 kgs today at the airport. We had no idea that we had so evenly pack our bags (less than 1/2 kg difference) and were skirting so close to the 20 kg weight restriction forf the flight. Of all the modes of transport, my favorites were the ones under my power. Sure it gave a sense of accomplishment (even the non-physical driving on the wrong side) but mostly it was nice to be free of motion sickness. The roads here are windy and up/down and bus drivers do attack the road with agression. They may start their drive nice and slow but at some point it becomes like a carnival ride. We do need to note that intercity bus rides are slow and fraught with frequent breaks. They are no Greyhounds. They do seem to be aimed more at tourists and sometimes stop for brief breaks at attractions and the bus driver will often, but not always, give a running commetary of the scenary and towns. We were fascinated by one driver who spoke so fast and threw in about 2 “ehs” for every real word such that we could barely understand him. And yes, Canadians do not have the monopoly on “eh”.

Back in the Otago, I had a conversation with a local about roads. They said to me “Oh, you guys must have that nice asphalt on your roads not like our horrible roads.” At that time, partially naiively, I praised the New Zealand road which is for the most part smooth and lacking of potholes and frost-heaving. It was once we had our rental car that we noticed the difference and longed for asphalt which is A LOT quieter. The roads in NZ are “sealed” or “unsealed”. Obviously unsealed would be equivalent to gravel or dirt roads and sealed to paved. From what we can gathered sealed roads cosistent of building up a rock and gravel base, spraying with tar, and then coating again with gravel which over time will be worked down into the tar. Now this is a guess. We did see recently resealed roads, which were pretty gravelly, and we saw roads being built up, but we never did see any road work involving the spraying of a substance on the road except for water once. Superficially these roads look paved but closer inspection shows slight pockets between the surface stones. Hence they produce more road noise. Asphalt does exist in places and became more prevalent the close we got to Auckland.

Most highways are single-lane with frequent passing lanes. Particularly on the South Island, the highway/road may even narrow to a single lane with signs indicating which direction of travel has the right of way. This would usually happen over a bridge (which from time-to-time may also be a branch rail line bridge) or along a cliff-hugging section of road. Most were straight forward but some were a little mysterious as the road would drop to a single lane but you couldn’t always see the other end of the section to know it was a clear.

Bryan asked me last night what my strongest memory of this trip will be. Strongest memory would have to be the sudden pain of impact after falling off the horse near the beginning of the trip. Obviously this isn’t the best memory. Best memory, I think would be the swimming with the dolphin. Bryan couldn’t really see the dolphin, though, as he was swimming without his glasses so the experience, for him, did not have the same impact. Worse memory – it might be that tragedy seems to be following us (or it could be we are more sensitive to it). Shortly after we left Queenstown a tourist died in a jetski accident in the area. And then Irina Yun disappeared and has been presumed drowned while trekking in Mount Aspiring Park. She was on the Rees-Dart Track on her way to do the Routeburn and may have disregarded advice to turn around due to surging water. And then a few days after our Fox Glacier walk, the Miranda boys died under tonnes of ice which fell from the terminal face. Sadly our guide had pointed out people standing in a very similar place as where the boys probably died and told us that they were in a very dangerous place and that it would only be time until someone was killed by an icefall. There are signs indicating the danger but are either missed or disregarded. And then the day after our Tongariro crossing, a man slipped down the 45 degree scree slope of an optional side-trip, falling 60 m with rocks landing on him. I believe that he is still alive and in hospital but Bryan understood otherwise. I never felt unsafe during any of our activities, but many did carry an increased element of risk.

January 16 -- Last Day

written by bryan on January 22nd, 2009 @ 01:43 AM

Bryan from Auckland

Our last day in New Zealand was pretty much our only day that was solely urban. We did have one recovery day in Christchurch, but we really didn’t see much of it.

The mission for today was souvenir shopping. Bethany’s parents had a specific request. We should have stopped earlier – we probably paid a little bit more here.

We walked through the University and a central park on the way to downtown. The University was in its 6 week summer session so it wasn’t particularly busy. It was interesting to see a Marae (a Maori sacred house) on the campus.

The park included a bunch of strange shaped tree. On one of them you could grab the top of the tree, swing up and climb “down” to the base. We figured these configurations were just a property of the native trees, but the oaks were all weird too.

After shopping all afternoon we headed back to the hotel to dress up for dinner, our last meal in New Zealand. Naturally it was a wonderful lamb dinner.

January 15 -- Pampered at Hell's Gate

written by bryan on January 21st, 2009 @ 12:06 AM

Bethany from Auckland

Alas our last New Zealand destination. Only two more sleeps and we are heading back over the international date line again.

Today was a little about pampering. Bryan and I were initially eager to try to see north of Auckland but realized that we didn’t have enough time left to see Northland properly. So we had all day to make the drive from Rotorua.

We started the day with a tour of thr Hell’s Gate geothermal area complete with the world’s tallest mud volcanoe. There were mud baths bubbling away at 120 degrees Celcius. We submerged ourselves in our own mud bath (of a non-cooking temperature) followed by a hot mineral bath. The mud bath wasn’t quite what I expected. I though there would be more mud! Instead the pool was mostly murky water with a thin layer of mud on the bottom. It did feel good to massage the mud over the body and I followed my self-administered massage by one done by a pro while Bryan read the paper.

After our spa experience, we hit the road. We passed through one of the prime kiwifruit zones and this was evident in the kiwifruits featured in the road safety signs. We did wonder if one sign stating “clvr kws dnt txt n drv”, wasn’t perhaps just as distracting as the activity they were advising against.

We lunched in Mount Maunganui and had a swim in the ocean. And then onwards to Auckland.

We booked our accommodation through one of the i-Sites, or tourist info sites. I have to say that they did a fabulous job as our accommodation last night and here in Auckland are worth more than we paid. Our place tonight is in an short-term apartment hotel which has just opened and was discounted because the building isn’t fully finished. But our “studio apartment” is fabulous – washer/dryer, kitchen with oven, dishwasher, and cooking utensils. Unfortunately I fear wireless internet is one of the hotel’s incomplete items. Bryan did wander the streets looking for a connection but in the end only looked silly and confused a few taxi drivers.

On TV we are watching Maori TV. Only word I can recognize is “waka”. But I do have some visual clues as currentloy airing is a 5-man canoe race complete with some pretty impressive 180 degree turns.

Tomorrow will come too soon.

January 14 -- Maori Experience in Rotorua

written by bryan on January 20th, 2009 @ 01:03 AM

Bryan from Rotorua

We arrived in Rotorua mid-afternoon. With some time to kill, we walked around some of the gardens in front of the museum. They were fairly English: a wide selection of roses along with lawn bowling and petanque courts.

Behind the museum along the sulfur lake shore the plants were more authentic. I’m not sure if they were all native, but there was a plant with a strikingly purple berry.

Next door was the Polynesian spa, which claims to have been rated one of the top 10 spas in the world. The appearance from the outside was not striking, but I’m sure guests receive a better impression. Bethany did spend a good bit of time inside – they had a good selection of swimsuits.

Our main activity for the day was the Mitai Maori experience. It started raining heavily as we arrived. Luckily they had ponchos for everyone. Unluckily they didn’t count correctly – Bethany and I were left without one and were dressed for warm weather. We suffered stoically though, always happy to be too cold rather than too hot.

Before the experience started they showed us our food cooking in their hangi, or earth oven. I missed that, because I was still looking for a couple of ponchos!

The experience started with the arrival of the warriors in their waka, or war canoe. This is surprisingly impressive. As they exited their canoe Bethany got to admire the impressively tatooed buttocks of the chief. His skirt thing only covered the front of his body.

They then led us under a roof to watch the performances for the evening. It started with a peace ceremony with a symbolic chief selected from the guests. They then performed a traditional welcoming ritual dance and chant. This welcoming made us part of the tribe’s extended family.

After our welcoming, they performed several other song and dances. Traditionally an oral culture, these dances had three main purposes: to educate, to tell stories, and for exercise purposes. These dances were part of the martial arts of the Maori.

One of the stories they told went something like this: One day a chief got very angry at his wife and hit her. Unsurprisingly, his wife ran away from him. He went looking for her to plead with her to return. During his long journey, he travelled through the underworld. In the underworld he encountered a man/spirit who was impressively tattooed. The chief was so taken with the tattoos that he asked to be tattooed himself. The creature said that would be possible, but that he would have to take the four birds that were travelling along with the chief. These four birds were then tattooed onto the chief’s face: the bat on the forehead, the parrot on the nose, the Kiwis on his cheeks and the Owl on his chin.

This story tells the origin’s of the Maori facial tattoos or Moko. It’s also a none too subtle reminder that one should not beat one’s wife!

They showed off the traditional instruments of the Maori, such as the conch shell, a hollow log drum, percussive sticks and a flute. He then showed off a “gewta”, which got a laugh from the crowd when he pulled out a guitar. It was then explained that the guitar helped save much of the Maori traditions and culture, because one of the elders used a guitar to set much of it to music when the culture was in danger early in the 20th century.

After the show, we returned to the tent for our meal. This meal felt surprisingly like a country community supper, complete with an old guy singing along to old-time American songs prerecorded on a synthesizer.

The only traditional part of the meal was the sweet potato. The rest of it was meat and potatoes buffet-style like you’d expect at a country community supper.

After supper they took us on a small tour to show us some of the native fauna, along with glow worms, eel and trout.

January 13 -- Robbed in Turangi

written by bryan on January 19th, 2009 @ 06:00 PM

Bethany from Turangi

Today we were robbed! Luckily nothing too important. Just some fresh cherries and Bundaberg lemon, lime and bitters (awesome drink) which we had put in the fridge overnight. Luckily the thief did not make off with our breakfast and lunch food as we would not have had the opportunity to replace it.

We caught a shuttle at 7 this morning to the far end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track. We arrived at 8 am. We were disappointed to find out the pick-up time at the Ketetahi carpark was 3:30 pm with no later option. This would give us time to do the main crossing but none of the optional side-trails. In the end that was probably good.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is frequently called the best day walk in New Zealand. It covers 19.4 km over steep volcanic terrain. We started at the higher (about 1100 m) and more popular end, Mangatepopo Valley Road, to minimize the climb. The path steeply climbs to the South Crater between Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (featured as Mount Doom in LOR Trilogy) and then climbs again to the track’s highest point of 1886 m at Red Crater, a still active and steaming vent. After a skidding downhill to the Emerald Lakes, it is across the Central Crater to another, but briefer, uphill section before descending to the Ketetahi hut and eventually the car park (about 700 m). It is a spectacular walk.

However, caving yesterday was harder on my legs than I anticipated and I started today’s walk with tired legs which lead to a steady but slow uphill on the uneven ground. I was definitely slowing Bryan down. And then with about 8 km to go, my right knee started to bother me on the descent. And it got worse. I was able to climb painfree but steep slopes, and particularly stairs, downwards necessitated a straight right leg approach. Downhill, which should have been quick and easy, turned into a slow and tortuous affair compounded by the time pressure of needing to meet our shuttle. In the end, we did make our bus with 10 minutes to spare. Unknownst to us at the time, there was a group of three Israeli girls who were 30 minutes behind us. Our shuttle driver did patiently wait for them to appear.

This evening we had dinner and then enjoyed relaxing in a private thermal pool at nearby Takaanu. The perfect relaxation after a day of activity and it did satisfy my longing for that elusive bathtub.

Tomorrow: it’s up in the air. Only 3 more full days left in NZ!

January 12 -- Waitomo Adventure

written by bryan on January 18th, 2009 @ 12:57 AM

Bryan from Turangi

After scrounging breakfast at Bruce’s place in New Plymouth, we drove out to Waitomo to visit the glowworm caves.

We had signed up for “full adventure” tour of the glowworm caves. The tour started with a 35 m rappel down into the cave, and then a zip line to get even further in. The rappel was fun, but I was a little bit too scared to fully appreciate it. On the other hand, the zip line, which was done in the dark with the glowworms shining above, was fully appreciated!

After collecting everybody we each grabbed a tire tube and jumped into the river landing on the tube from an 8 foot height (into a shallowish pool!). We paddled upstream for a while, and then collected together into a chain to float downstream with our lights off and enjoy the glowworms.

Our guide explained what glowworms are. They’re actually maggots which add an enzyme to their excrement to make their rear end glow. This glowing attracts insects, which then fly into sticky strands that hang down from the glow worm. After feeding on enough insects, the worm spins a cocoon and turns into a fly. The fly lives just long enough to mate and lay eggs, starting the cycle all over again.

After giving up our tire tubes, we started walking and swimming down stream. This was actually quite difficult – the surface was quite uneven and hidden under the black water. You were expected to fall a few times.

We then got to jump off a small waterfall. This was fairly cool except for the water up the nose, but even better was climbing back up through the waterfall.

By this time most of our group was shivering pretty good. We had wetsuits, but we were 65 metres below ground in very cold water. Bethany and I were thinking “finally an adventure in New Zealand where we aren’t overheating!”

To work our way back above ground we followed a small tributary back. This passageway was much smaller, it was rare that we got to stand up straight. Making the ceiling even lower was the glowworms – you didn’t want to brush against the sticky glowworm traps!

There were a couple of sections that required a good bit of climbing. The guides were there telling us to put your left foot here, your right hand here, and so on. But sometimes you couldn’t hear them over the roar of the waterfall you were climbing through, so you just clambered over.

Our last scramble brought us to a small entrance where we found out that the weather had changed drastically in the 3+ hours we were underground – it was now raining. This was pretty warm rain though, so we stripped off our wetsuits as we walked back to the shuttle.

I ended up the day with a sunburn on my shoulders: pretty strange for a day spent entirely in the car and in caves underground. But I spent a few minutes fitting my wetsuit and walking back to the shuttle. It doesn’t take long in this sun.

Tonight we are in Turangi.

Tomorrow: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

January 11 -- New Plymouth

written by bryan on January 17th, 2009 @ 01:55 AM

Bethany from New Plymouth

I believe I’ve already mentioned that part of my desire to travel to New Zealand came from my parents. While I was growing up, they often mentioned that maybe one day they would go and visit “Kiwi” – a New Zealander who worked with my dad in the 1970s. I only recently learned that “Kiwi’s” real name is Bruce. So in tribute to my parent’s dream and to my own curiosity, Bryan and I set off today to meet Bruce in New Plymouth.

First thing, though, is that we had to experience the Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. This is a fabulous museum something akin to the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau. Unfortunately knowing we had a distance to drive today, we only spent a couple of hours there. Just long enough for a quick introduction tour and some rumination.

As we have travelled around New Zealand, we have been aware of “exotic” plants and animals. And I don’t mean exotic like tigers and elephants but non-native. New Zealand is such a contained ecosystem that foreigness and now protection is evident: from arrival at Auckland airport and their “biosecurity checks”, to Dydimos (an algae) check signs near waterways, to numerous complaints regarding possums and stoats. Colonials and the Maori’s introduced many things – some for a good reason which went bad. The possum was introduced from Australia and is now considered a menace to native plant populations. There are currently 20 possums for each New Zealander and there is a very contraversial poisoning program underway. I’ve been taught to run possums over with the car if given a chance as this would benefit New Zealand.

Admidst all the very strange and dinosaur-era looking vegetation, Bryan and I have notice a few familiar trees, particularly willows, white pines and Douglas firs. Both of which flourish even better in the New Zealand climate. But seeing familiar things in a foreign landscape, really does make me wonder about what was introduced by mankind and what is native both here and at home. Anyway, Te Papa was a great place for discovery and we left it to discover New Zealand from the “wrong”-side of the road.

For those who do not know this, they drive on the left-side of the road in New Zealand. Generally, it wasn’t that hard to adjust. Although when I first start out, I do need to consciously think about where the car should be. We did rent an automatic as I didn’t want to be shifting with my left hand and driving left simultaneously. The driver’s cockpit in this particular car (Ford Focus) is otherwise the same as a right-drive car. Even the turn signal is “where it should be” although it can often be on the right-side of thed steering wheel.

From Wellington to New Plymouth it is about 360 km and it took us almost 4-1/2 hours given the windy nature of the road. New Zealand drivers may be fond of tailgating but they don’t seem to speed excessively. Road safety seems to be a government priority as there are numerous billboards reminding people not to drive if tired and not to speed. Running-lights are not mandatory which surprised me.

New Plymouth is in the district of Taranaki so named after the volcanic Mount Taranaki/Egmont which stands impressively alone. There is a Maori tale which explains that Taranaki stands by himself because of an argument with his brothers.

Bruce lives across from the sea in an efficiently modern apartment with a location which allows him to easily indulge in his passion of surfing. The location is fabulous and Bryan and I will be able to fall asleep to the crashing of waves tonight.

Bruce barbequed us some steaks for dinner and we caught up on our lives. Bruce’s ex Barb also came for dinner and it was a pleasure to meet her. After dinner, we experienced some of the Sunday night life of New Plymouth – in the form of a park planted with native trees and lit up with colourful light and glowworms. It was beautiful.

My dad remembers “Kiwi” as being energetic and on-the-go. Well 30-some years later, he still seems the same. It is a pleasure to be able to meet Bruce and Barb and stay at Bruce’s place. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to stay long enough for Bruce to attempt to teach me to surf.

January 10 -- the North Island

written by bryan on January 16th, 2009 @ 02:53 AM

Bryan from Wellington

We seem to have misplaced our “Sea Legs” anti-nausea drugs, so we were in kind of worried this morning.

After collecting our laundry from the line and packing up, we headed into central Nelson to catch the bus. We ran into a lady who was walking in the same direction and we had a pleasant chat with her. She offered to show Bethany where she could pick up another Compact Flash card while I picked up breakfast and our bus tickets.

Sure enough, the road to Picton was very windy and Bethany did not enjoy the trip. So when we got to the ferry terminal, Bethany set off in search of drugs. She did find some herbal stuff with ginger that helped a little bit.

The ferry ride was not as nice as it could have been. It was a very cloudy day and it was fairly windy. We ended up sleeping for most of the journey.

When we got into Wellington we rented a car – no more buses! After finding our hotel room we walked down Cuba street. Supposedly this is supposed to be party central, but I think we were a little bit early. We did encounter a couple of stagettes at the wonderful Mexican restaurant we ate at. If you ever get a chance to try goat cheese cake I highly recommend it!

Tomorrow we try out our new car to drive out to New Plymouth to see an old friend of Bethany’s father.

January 9

written by bryan on January 15th, 2009 @ 05:52 PM

Bryan from Nelson

Given our elaborate breakfast yesterday, we were expecting quite a meal this morning, but it was just a cold breakfast and toast. Nothing wrong with that, but I kept waiting for the egg or bacon to accompany my toast!

We started out this morning with a few clouds and a strong wind, so we expected it to be a little bit cooler today. Unfortunately it was muggy and it really didn’t feel that much cooler.

We had to fight the wind to get out of the harbour, but once we were out, it was mainly behind our backs. We didn’t get a chance to go sailing today, though, as the wind died down fairly quickly – which was good thing.

I didn’t actually do much paddling today. We decided that rather than get ahead of everybody and then sit and wait for everybody to catch up, we’d just trade off paddling and stay with the group better. However Bethany hogged the paddling so I didn’t do much! I did do some paddling while Bethany took some pictures in the calmer sections. And of course, we both paddled while we were fooling around.

After lunch we walked up the top of a hill for a better view. While walking up our guide pointed out several native plants. He pointed out a tree that was infected with an insect that burrowed into the bark. The insect excreted a hair a couple of inches long that extended from the bark. At the tip of this hair was a small drop of a very sweet liquid, which we all tasted.

We finished kayaking where our water taxi put into the water two days ago. We loaded our kayaks onto a trailer, and a small Case tractor took us to the kayak office. While we were waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel, we were able to enjoy a very welcome shower and shave.

Tomorrow: the North Island.

January 8 -- Anchorage

written by bryan on January 14th, 2009 @ 01:01 AM

Bryan from Anchorage Campsite, Abel Tasman National Park

We woke up this morning to the sound of crashing waves. After we packed up our tent, our guide Adrian served us a fabulous hot breakfast of french toast, fried tomatoes and fried bananas.

It was already quite hot, we could tell that it was going to be a scorcher. Luckily we were going to be spending the day on the water where a slightly inefficient paddling style would continuously splash water as a coolant!

We started out with a trip to the Tonga Island seal colony. This small island is home to 400 seals, and we arrived in the middle of calving season, so we heard and saw a few pups as well. These are a breed of fur seal unique to New Zealand and Australia. The male is twice as large as the female. He comes to the island early in the spring to stake out a prime area and then collects a harem of 4-8 females. However this strategy is not particularly productive as most females breed in the water with stray males they wander across!

After lunch we walked inland a little ways following a tiny stream to a waterfall. It was interesting how quickly the water cooled down as we walked upstream. Tiny little crabs scurried out of our way as we walked through the sand and let the mud squish between our toes. The source of the stream was a pool at the bottom of a tiny waterfall where we sat and cooled off while some tiny little fish nibbled at our toes.

After lunch the wind picked up substantially and we tried a technique called sailing. We brought all of our kayaks together, we “rafted up”. Bethany and I were on one outside edge with the guide on the other. Bethany happened to be in the back of our kayak at that time, so the sail was tied to the end of her paddle and I held another corner. Bethany held her paddle in the air and we let the wind do the work for us, and moved considerably quicker than we would have while paddling. We may have saved as much as an hour paddling.

Our guide caged some fridge space from the ranger at our destination, Anchorage Campsite, so we had cold beer and wine with our supper. This certainly felt good as we relaxed from our trip during New Zealand’s hottest day this summer so far.

January 7 -- Onetahuti

written by bryan on January 13th, 2009 @ 01:56 AM

Bethany from Onetahuti, Abel Tasman National Park

Any day that ends with swimming with dolphins is fabulous.

Bryan and I were awake early this morning to catch the shuttle bus to Montueka to start our 3 day kayak adventure in Abel Tasman National Park. We had heard repeatedly that this small and beautiful park was “the place” in New Zealand. That was if the weather was good. And indeed, for us the weather turned out to be great.

The shuttle bus dropped us off at the tour company headquarters at Marahau where we met our guide, Adrian, and fellow kayakers. We packed up our supplies for the 3 days and boarded the aqua taxi, which was a powerboat brought by tractor to the headquaters. We loaded up in the water taxi and headed for shore where the water was way out on the beach. There was organized chaos of tractors pulling boats to the water and then lining up awaiting their return. But before we were taken down to the water and launched, 4 double kayaks and a single were loaded at the back of the taxi. And then we were away and skimming over aqau water with the shore golden to white beaches. Fabulous. And we kept going and going past this scenary. I kept thinking it can’t be much further because surely we can’t kayak this distance in 3 days.

Finally we reached our starting point of Totaranui We loaded our boats and launched. It didn’t take very long for us to realize that we were the only group to have ever been in a kayak before as we quickly outpaced the rest of the group and spent a lot of time resting and waiting for them to catch up. But they improved quickly and I’m sure by the end of the 3 days they will be keeping pace with us – we started with some but not much experience ourselves.

The water was calm and the views amazing. We saw fur seals along the shore. We managed to be the only pairing to ground ourselves on some rocks. In defense of Bryan’s steering, they really were not that close to shore.

We beached and are making camp in Onetahui tonight. There is a small campground here that is used by people traveling by water or walking The Coast Track, one of the Great Walks. There is untreated water, picnic tables and a open cooking shelter. Our guide cooked us a meal of stirfry and also a very nice dessert.

While we were awaiting dinner we took a walk down to the beach. We were distracted by sudden panic yells “get out of the water” and turned to see a man huck a log into the water before grabbing his son and running for shore. It took us a moment or two to see the dark dorsal fin in the water as the dusky dolphin left the bay. The dad, unfortunately, thought it had been a shark. We could see the dolphin swimming around the head of the bay and figured it would not come back to play after having sticks thrown at it. But the children, now realizing it had been a dolphin, kept watching and some boys with scuba gear started to swim out. And sure enough they were soon swimming with the dolphin and trying to touch it. Just a lone dolphin. Bryan and I could not resist the chance to get close so Bryan took off his glasses and off we swam to join the boys – although we didn’t actively try to touch the dolphin. It came very close, probably within 3 feet of us (although just a blurry blob to Bryan) and once swam directly under us. We stayed probably for 20 mins or so and when we went ashore the dolphin was still circling the children. So we can now say that we have swam with a dolphin – and it was amazing.

January 6 -- Nelson

written by bryan on January 12th, 2009 @ 01:53 AM

Bryan from Nelson

We woke up very early again this morning – we had rebooked our helicopter flight for 7AM. We checked the sky – it was cloudy, but not enough to stop the flight.

Originally we had booked a cheaper flight, but the 7AM flight was the full meal deal, tours of Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, a flight up to Mount Cook and a glacier landing.

Our flight gave us glimpses of the three largest glaciers in New Zealand. Tasman is the longest, at 29 kilometres and is similar to a Canadian glacier. Fox and Franz Josef are unique, though. They live in a tropical rain forest environment, moving very quickly. Fox has a 6 by 6 kilometre nevé, or collection area. The base of the glacier is close to sea level, and the top of it is anchored by Mount Tasman, the second highest mountain in New Zealand at over 12000 feet. The mountain removes the moisture from the strong westerlies blowing in from Australia. The nevé receives 50 metres of snow every year which compresses into ice and slides 13 kilometres down the mountanside to feed a tropical rainforest.

When we started our ride they warned us that we may not get the full experience, but once we got above the cloud layer we had a fabulous view. I hope the pictures turn out so you can share the experience.

After our helicopter touched down we caught the bus to Nelson. The was an 11 hour journey to travel 560 kilometres. Part of the length was due to the winding road, but it was the very frequent, long stops that really made the journey long.

We had a sane driver this time who took a little more time going around corners. Bethany picked up some medication for sea sickness, so this was perhaps the first bus journey that Bethany did not get car sick.

Tomorrow we get up early again to catch the shuttle for our 3 day kayaking trip in the Abel Tasman park.

January 5 -- Fox Glacier

written by bryan on January 11th, 2009 @ 02:22 AM

Bethany from Fox Glacier

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and crawled out of the small tent for a bathroom run. The sky was clear! Which gave me some optimism for today’s activities: photos of Mount Cook, glacier walking, and a helicopter ride. The sky on a clear night is spectacular. I’ve managed to see it a couple of times but Bryan just rolls over and ignores my “you have to see this” comments. Orion is out but otherwise this is a mostly unfamiliar sky to me.

When we did get up later (almost with the sun but not quite), we breakfasted and called a shuttle to take us to Lake Matheson about 6 km away.

Lake Matheson is famous for its mirror-like surface which reflects the Mounts Cook/Aoraki and Tasman. The water is deeply coloured by tannins from the surrounding vegetation and tends to be calm – two features contributing to the mirror properties. Bryan and I enjoyed a written tour of the surrounding botany, particularly the numerous types of ferns. This lake is also home to long-finned eels. We didn’t manage to see any but were intrigued by their life-cycle. These eels live in freshwater for up to 60 years but breed only once in their, near the end of their life. They leave the freshwater lake and swim to treches in the Pacific Ocean about 5000 km away to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch and the transparent little eels are distributed by the ocean currents.

The lake was a mirror for us and I did get some, hopefully good, pictures of Mount Cook/Aoraki and Mount Tasman.

We then proceeded to glacier walking which we did as part of a tour. The Fox Glacier and nearby Franz Josef Glacier are unique in that their terminal faces are in a rain forest. We were on our tour for over 4 hours but only spent 1 hour on the ice. The rest of the time was spent climbing to and from the acess point. There was a heavy rainfall in the area on November 26 with 1/2 meter falling in 24 areas. This caused a couple of rockslides in the glacial area and the glacial river surged and took out the road access and parking area. It took several weeks to gain reliable entry to the glacier afterwards and they still haved heavy equipment at work moving rocks to protect the new road. Walking on the glacier was interesting – the snow/ice is really quite dirty and rotten with rock debris and snow particulate. There is water flowing over the surface and then dropping into the depths of the glacier. The guides have made the path on the ice easy by cutting steps. Really the glacier part of the tour was the easiest.

While we were on the glacier, the clouds started to move in. We were afraid that this was going to ground our helicopter tour – and we were right. We have rebooked for 7:15 tomorrow am which makes for an early and busy am as we have a bus to catch northbound at 8:30. Plus we also have to pack up our tent. We’ll see how this goes. Tonight it is early to bed. For the first part of this trip, we were going to bed early. Since New Years that pattern has been broken.

Addendum January 10th: A few days after our visit to Fox Glacier two young men (brothers) where killed in an icefall at the terminal face. Unfortunately, they disregarded the safety barriers and warnings as many visitors commonly do. May they rest in peace.