Stalking me in Las Vegas…

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I fly out to Las Vegas tomorrow for the trifecta of summer security conventions held in oppressing heat. BlackHat Briefings, BSides Las Vegas, and DEF CON 21. If you want to catch up to talk about attrition.org, OSVDB, or anything vulnerability related, look for the disgruntled person likely wearing a squirrel-themed shirt. If you would like to stalk me down to catch up, chat about anything, or shank me, this friendly guide will assist you:

Wednesday

I will be at BSides in the morning to catch a few talks, mingle, and generally harass the BSides staff. Because they didn’t have enough going on putting together the entire convention. In the early afternoon I will make my way to BlackHat to register, visit a few vendor booths, and then give a presentation at 3:30 with Steve Christey in Palace 1 room. The talk is called “Buying Into the Bias: Why Vulnerability Statistics Suck”. Hopefully we will demonstrate how vulnerability statistics have sucked throughout the years, ways to improve them, and more. After the talk and any Q&A, I hope to stick around for the Pwnie awards and BarCon, before heading to either the Adobe or Tenable party.

Thursday

I will be at BSides almost all day and hope to catch a variety of talks that sound interesting. Later in the evening I will be in various places for a dinner meeting, and then may swing by the Microsoft party to harass their security people before ending up back at BSides for the after party.

Friday

I will be at Defcon and Skytalks, likely lingering around the Skytalks room if nothing else going on. At 8P, the Defcon Documentary is showing, as well as Hacker Pyramid / Hacker Jeopardy.

Saturday

I will be at Defcon and Skytalks, until 3P where I will present the Defcon Recognize Awards with Russ in Track 3. Come see who the charlatan of the year is, among other categories! That evening at 8P is the screening of the new movie “Reality Hackers” in Track 2. After that, probably doing vile things at the 303 party.

Sunday

If you haven’t found me by this time, you failed.

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Fun Times, InfoSec, and No Wind in Chicago

I just returned from a brief trip to Chicago, where I attended and presented at Thotcon, as well as attended BSides Chicago.

Thursday: After a two hour delay due to “mechanical” issues, I arrived in Chicago. I am a bit surprised, as the flight crew in Denver did not give us a lot of confidence. We were told a “switch” needed to be replaced and it wasn’t switching or something. This led to them telling us that they would have to “rewind” the engine, which doesn’t seem logical. From the airport, a long and slow taxi ride made me late for the THOTCON speaker dinner at the Northdown Cafe and Taproom. This is where I found the ‘Curmudgeon’ beer pictured below. There is something very satisfying about ordering a ‘curmudgeon’ at a bar and getting a bottle. After the dinner, Space Rogue, Josh Corman, Banshee, and I went out looking for some good Blues music. We started at Kingston Mines but found the music to be too upbeat. Across the road at B.L.U.E.S. we found exactly what we were looking at. I had told my companions that I wanted a guy sitting on stage singing and playing the guitar, and it delivered. The $1.50 Jägermeister shots appealed to Space Rogue greatly.

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Friday: As happened a few times, the day began with or included a packed cab ride. The immediate surprise was the venue. The Ravenswood Event Center sounds like any other hall for a convention, but in reality is a unique space. Around the main conference room were a variety of old sports cars in immaculate condition. The third floor space reserved for speakers had high glass walls for a bright room with good views. Courtesy of THOTCON staff, the speakers could use this as a lounge for talk preparation, free booze, and a hosted lunch. I ran into Jeff Jarmoc again who delivered on his promise to bring us a jar of peanut butter for a stage prop. The picture of the Jif alongside the THOTCON wireless information was proof for Advanced Threat who doubted my presence in Chicago. Not to be outdone by Jarmoc, Banshee produced a stuffed squirrel who could enjoy the jar.

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The first keynote of the day was by Bruce Schneier, who treated the audience like a bunch of eight-year olds, going into the very basics of social contract by stretching it out 30 minutes via the speaking method of “repeat yourself using different words seventeen times”. Josh and I were both groaning throughout his presentation and I opted to take a ‘meta’ picture by photographing the event photographer. Of course, any InfoSec conference needs drama, and THOTCON’s was in the form of someone complaining about the “race card” that was being passed around. Of course, it had absolutely nothing to do with race, and everything to do with Mario Kart racing, but that didn’t matter. I thought the cards were hilarious. The other sticker that came with registration was potentially a trigger, but everyone seemed to love it as well as the shirts that said “Fork My Dongle“. Shortly before my talk, I jumped over to Track 2 to see James Arlen present on how to do a better presentation. His very brief talk was a boiled down version of a much longer workshop he gives, and it should be required viewing by anyone presenting, especially in InfoSec.

At 3:00PM, Josh Corman and I took the stage to give our “Cyberwar: Not what we were expecting” talk. With some new slides and updated material, I ran a bit longer than I should have causing Josh to hurry through the last bit. We really should have boiled it down a bit, or bribed someone for a 90 minute speaking slot. Part of the delay though, is fully on Corman’s shoulders. While I was talking, he quickly put on a squirrel mask and hopped across the stage at me. No, this was not staged. The main reason it “blue screened” me as Josh put it, is that I own one of these masks. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see it hopping across the stage at me mid-presentation. Well played Corman.

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For dinner, we headed out looking for whatever was good and close to the venue thinking we’d return quickly for the closing bits. Instead, we were lured into a long and hilarious German dinner at Laschet’s Inn. Our waitress JoJo, an “Irish-German-Texan” with a healthy southern drawl was hilarious and energetic. The group we ended up dining with, all coworkers at the National Association of Realtors®, were great hosts. They got the ‘boots’ of beer started immediately, before waves of appetizers and outstanding authentic German food. In the end, they graciously took care of the tab as well, completely shattering the image of Chicago being full of gun-toting thugs. As usual, a three hour meal about security, food, and everything between was as educational as it was fun.

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Saturday: We began the day at a ‘Recovery Breakfast’ organized by SecBarbie, at the Little Goat Cafe. From here most of us used the Zack Fasel cab service to get to the Abbey Pub for BSides Chicago. I had reservations going into this, as a ‘pub’ sounds like a small cramped venue for a bigger BSides conference. Upon arrival, I quickly noted how it was a perfect venue. Several rooms segregated to avoid noise issues, an upstairs overlooking the main speaking room for the CTF setup, and two bars to deliver libations all day long. Shortly after arriving, Space Rogue, Josh Corman, and I offered to do an impromptu ‘talk’ (a research project really) to gauge how alternate sources of information such as Twitter, IRC, or vendor press releases were picked up by more mainstream media. I will be writing a blog on the conclusion of that in a few days, stay tuned. After a great day at BSides, Josh and I headed to L2O Restaurant for an epic dinner.

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Sunday: After a leisurely morning and sleeping in, William Knowles took me to Lou Malnati’s for some authentic deep dish pizza, before a ride to the airport. Fortunately there were no delays due to sequester or switchy thingies this time. While I am not a fan of travel, this ended up being a great trip with good friends, new and old. THOTCON’s reputation for being a great con is well deserved, and the organizers are great. A special thanks to Nicholas Percoco for the outstanding hospitality given to THOTCON speakers.

Fine Dining, A Learning Experience

I have had my share of good meals, and truly enjoy them. I tend to go out of my way to eat a nice meal every so often. Locally, it generally means a meal at one of the three Richard Sandoval restaurants he has in town. In Vegas, it may mean one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. These are certainly nice places with accomplished chefs. Until this weekend, I considered them fine dining.

That changed with a trip to L2O in Chicago by Josh Corman and myself. Operated by chef Matthew Kirkley, he describes the dining experience as “… exploring the intricacies of fish and shellfish in artful compositions enhanced by the best ingredients available from land and sea.” The name L2O stands for “Lake to Ocean“. Last year, he earned 1 Michelin Star for his restaurant, and gained 2 stars this year. It is important to note that while Gordon Ramsay has been awarded 15 stars and currently holds 14, it does not mean that any came from his work at the restaurants I ate at. So dinner at L2O was significantly different.

The first and most important difference in this meal is that it is a tasting menu. You basically order one of two things; the Prix Fixe menu, or the Tasting menu. Rather than an appetizer, main course, and dessert like a traditional restaurant, you are given a variety of courses selected by the chef. For our dinner, the tasting menu included three courses that were not on the menu. Further, we opted for the wine pairing for our menu. Another major difference is that the meal is as much about presentation and ritual as it is about the food. The staff play an elaborate dance of formal movements, coordinated delivery, and scripted descriptions. Last, while I enjoy wine from time to time, I cannot emphasize the value of a sommelier putting together a pairing specific to the dish. Instead of relying solely on taste, they also play to the texture of a wine as much as the flavor profile.

In the spirit of truly enjoying our evening, we opted not to be like the stuffy people we saw around us (including one couple that was obviously in the middle of a loveless and emotionless marriage). While the restaurant “suggests” jackets for gentleman, I quickly lost mine when I noticed the guy next to us was only wearing an Izod and jeans. In addition to novice questions about the meal, I found myself throwing a wrench in their timing and delivery almost every course. Josh equated my questions and comments to a Denial of Service attack against their routine, but for sport. The banter Josh and I delivered certainly entertained the staff as much as it did us.

The (enhanced) menu we had is listed below, including the items that were not listed on the web page. The first few courses made us wonder if we’d leave the restaurant with a full stomach. By the end, especially with wine pairings and bread, we were both waddling like penguins.

  1. [amuse-bouche, not on menu]
  2. mussel tart, lemon, parsley
  3. geoduck clam, manila clam, lime
  4. langoustine, osetra caviar, cauliflower, poppyseed, meyer lemon
  5. nootka sound oyster, green apple, noilly prat, celery
  6. crab chip, old bay
  7. maine lobster, foie gras torchon, turnip, clementine vinaigrette
  8. crispy bass, escargot, pearl onion, chartreuse butter
  9. turbot, grilled squid, guanciale chips, scallion
  10. stuffed quail, sunchoke, smoked cherry, 23-flavor gastrique
  11. [Champagne granata, not on menu]
  12. lime parfait, avocado, tarragon, cara cara orange
  13. chocolate crémeux, lemon curd, brioche, olive oil
  14. [sweet snackies, not on menu]

While amuse-bouche is not technically a course, it is also something I wasn’t familiar with. Josh had to educate me on the term. This was called “Fruits of the Sea” and each was a melon ball container that had a distinct center, such as salmon for one. The first course officially on the menu was the mussel tart with lemon and parsley. Served on a cup of tiny intricate sea shells, Josh was quick to remind me not to eat them. In the low light, they did look like snacks. Third, we had Geoduck clam and Manila clam with a hint of lime. I don’t recall the exact method of preparation but it did not have the consistency of a clam at all. Fourth, we had langoustine, Osetra caviar, cauliflower, poppyseed, with meyer lemon. The picture below shows the cauliflower was dehydrated and mostly for show, but it still added to the flavor. As best I can recall, this was my first time having caviar, and I found it quite nice. It was not salty or potent as has been described to me in the past.

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Fifth on the list was a Nootka Sound oyster with green apple, Noilly Prat, and celery. The combination of the two shells were well done and remind me that I need to broaden my horizon on oysters. The sixth course brought us absolute joy. Not only for that tasting, but for the rest of the night. It also gave us tremendous respect for the chef. The menu listed a simple item; a crab chip dusted with Old Bay seasoning. The two crab chips were a reflection of chef Matthew Kirkley’s roots as he grew up in Maryland. What wine do you pair with crab chips? None. Instead, Kirkley insisted that it be paired with a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yes, a good old fashion cheap PBR. While the sommeliers, both of them employed by the restaurant, seemed a bit offended and would have opted for wine, the one serving us most of the night admitted that she agreed on the pairing. After giving her much grief, she laughed and agreed to pose for a picture as well. Josh and I both appreciated that in addition to honoring his roots, he was clearly thumbing his nose at pomp and pretense.

For the seventh, we had maine lobster, foie gras torchon, turnip, with clementine vinaigrette gelee (close-up picture). Despite seeing it on TV and in articles, this was also the first time I had foie gras. The eighth course was a dish of crispy bass, escargot, pearl onion, with chartreuse butter (close-up picture). The escargot was the third new food for me that evening.

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For number nine, we had turbot topped with grilled squid, guanciale chips, and scallions (close-up picture). The tenth course was a stuffed quail with sunchoke, smoked cherry, and a “23-flavor gastrique”. The presenter told us it was “23 flavors” and that we could “think about it”. Josh Corman immediately chimed in, “Dr. Pepper!” For those not familiar, Dr. Pepper has a reputation for its 23 mysterious flavors. Tasting one of the three dark dots pictured below (or close-up picture) certainly brought the flavor to mind. Josh commented that by not giving answers and just teasing the guests, it becomes a treat for the observant. He equated it with hidden Easter eggs within the menu. The eleventh course was a frothy Champagne granita, not listed on the menu. At this point, our sommelier brought out a second can of PBR on a small silver platter, so we could enjoy a nice cheap-beer break. This was an amusing touch and showed us that she was having as much fun as we were.

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Twelth on the list was a lime parfait with avocado, tarragon, and Cara cara navel orange. Despite the appearance, this was not an overly sweet dish and was a good lead-in to the next two dessert courses. Next up, the thirteenth course was a chocolate crémeux with lemon curd, brioche, and olive oil (close-up picture). This was perhaps the most rewarding course; not because of the wonderful dessert, but due to the banter and harassment. Upon seating, we were asked if we had food allergies or dietary restrictions. We said no, because as a diabetic I carry my insulin and take it according to the food I eat. Hours later, the last server who delivered this was not told of any restrictions obviously. After setting it in front of me, the conversation went like this:

Brian: “Does this have any sugar in it?” (said with a straight face)
Staff: “Heh heh, just a bit!”
Brian: “No really, I am a type 1 diabetic. Does this have any sugar in it?”
Staff: “Uh… heh heh, no you aren’t!” (clearly a bit nervous at this point)
Brian: “Yes, I really am, does this have sugar in it?” (I asked as I showed her the insulin kit)

With this, she covered her mouth, stepped back and looked as if she was going to pass out. I quickly reassured her that while I am, I was expecting the dessert and it wasn’t a problem. Josh is pretty sure she may have had a small heart attack. Anyway, the fourteenth and final course was a mix of macaroons, fresh caramel, exotic gum drops, and some other sugary delight that was also served with previous courses.

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At several points of the dinner, Josh noted that despite the differences in our professions, we could see some kinship with the chef as do those of us who take our trade so seriously. Hard work, pursuit of excellence, attention to detail, with a good dose of some hidden humor.

With this, we were done. We sat down a bit after 5:45P and walked out of the restaurant just shy of 9:45P. Yes, a 4-hour dinner and night of entertainment. For me, a dinner like this rarely comes along, and I am glad I took the opportunity to experience it. The final touch? One of the staff that had been helping us all night escorted us out to ensure we got a cab and thanked us for dining with them. Overall, and incredible experience.

This post and the extensive details are dedicated to my mom, who would have really enjoyed it, and wishes she could have been there.

Fish, but no Goats, in New Zealand

Went out to the Goat Island Marine Reserve, off the coast of Leigh, north of Warkworth. The protected marine reserve is home to a variety of fish and marine life extending over a considerable distance. Most people scuba, snorkel and swim between the beach and Goat Island itself for safety.

We spent just over an hour in the water. While the weather warmed up, there were alternating currents of warm and cold that kept it fun. The stronger currents kicked up more sand though, and visibility was limited for parts of the swim. The most plentiful fish were trevally, the largest I saw about 18 – 20 inches. I also saw a few schools of sprat, a couple kelp fish, parore and a snapper.

Swimming in the ocean for the first time in ages reminded me how annoying it is to catch a mouthful of water.

I’d also like to point out this is the third major case of fraud since I arrived in New Zealand. First, we had the Milford Sounds that was actually a fjord. Second, the Glow Worm caverns that actually had glowing maggot shit. Today, we went to Goat Island that had no goats. What the hell!

For those curious, the name ‘goat island’ was actually a pretty common name for small islands very close to a coast. The original explorers would leave a couple goats on such islands to provide food for any stranded people or shipwrecked survivors. According to the signs, there is no evidence that goats were left on this island. However, there were pigs left on the island for the same purpose, but they had the good sense to swim to shore during low tide.

Horses, Lions, and Gannets in New Zealand (tue)

Headed out west of Auckland to the coast to do a horse ride. Arrived and three horses were there, ready to go. Adjusted the stirrup length on the English saddle (bleh!) and off we went with Antoinette, our guide. I got ‘Grace’, a ~ 16 hand tall Quarter Horse. A bomb-proof horse trained to provide trail rides to complete beginners, this horse was impossible to control. She followed nose to rear and only adjusted speed if the lead horse did (with one exception). Just trying to steer her with reins was mostly futile, she would not even be guided to the center of the trail. The one time I got her into a trot on my own came after a ridiculous amount of heavy kicks (over one minute of escalating kick strength and frequency).

We started along the black sands of Muriwai Beach along the crashing waves of the west coast. Quickly left the beach to a trail running parallel to a gravel road, into a forest, across a meadow, back into the forest, down to the beach to finish up. Despite asking if we could cantor at the start of the ride and reminding her halfway through, our guide apparently forgot and we ended up at the trailer before we could protest. We only trotted a couple times for very brief periods (5 seconds and 10 seconds).

During the ride, she also talked a lot about topics I would have avoided with strangers (religion, politics), asked questions about my riding experience that made me think she has never seen a western saddle in person and offered overly-beginner advice for Blaise (not her first ride, but first time she trotted). I ended up giving her as many pointers as our guide did, and she is a trainer by profession.

I really wish my regular instructor Chelsea could have been here. I think she could have given Blaise much better direction in the two hours and made the ride considerably more enjoyable. I am sure she would have enjoyed the areas we rode in as well. I also wish I could have gotten a horse that was geared for experienced riders, so the ride could have had some level of technical challenge for me. Last, I wish she had offered me the choice of saddle, but I really doubt the company she works for even owns one.

After riding, a quick visit to one of the only two Gannet colonies in New Zealand. Next, we stopped by Coopers Creek vineyard so I could get a bottle of Fat Cat Chardonnay and Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush Sauvignon Blanc.

For our next dose of nature, off to Lion Rock at North Piha beach. Due to the unstable terrain, people are no longer allowed to hike the to the top. We climbed about 2/3rds of the way up and enjoyed the view. Even at sea level, climbing that many stairs (some natural, some made), it got my heart rate up and breathing going.

Bishop Fish & Chips in Green Bay provided a tasty snack before the ride home through late day Auckland traffic.

Birthdays, Penguins, and the Locale in New Zealand (sun/mon)

Sunday ended up being a day around the house. While Blaise’s birthday was Jan 1, most of her friends were on holiday (vacation) so she planned her party for today. She and her mother spent the afternoon preparing finger foods for the party while i ran up the road for beef low mein. The prep work resulted in a feast of snacks including:

asparagus rolls (asparagus wrapped in white bread with butter)
mushroom volauvents
pikelets (pancake with cream cheese, salmon and dill)
mini veggie springrolls
mince savories (mini meat pies)
brandy snaps
mini pavlovas
custard tarts with fruit on top
meatballs with Nicola’s sauce (brown sugar, lemon, tomato sauce, tomato paste)
cheese / crackers, patte
bacon wrapped dates (original recipe called for prunes)
booze, liberal amounts

Monday morning, we drove into downtown Auckland. Until now, I had only driven by via the motorway. Auckland is very much like any American city, it is not distinctly different like Tokyo or London is. We drove along the harbor to Kelly Tarltons Antarctic Adventure / Underwater World, with the promise of seeing a an unprecedented amount of penguins in two colonies, but in captivity. They have King and Gentoo penguins and one of the best habitats for them; they focus on offering variety to keep them stimulated and happy with their habitat. Feeding is not on a precise schedule, types of food vary, the habitat mimics the cycle of the day, etc.

Unfortunately, the current exhibit is very restrictive. You are forced to do an 8.5 minute ride in a small vehicle on tracks, looking at the penguins through dirty glass. Pictures are difficult to take, you cannot watch them for more than a couple minutes before being moved to the next exhibit and there is no way to watch them in any other manner. It’s as if Tarltons has decided that the sharks are the only worthwhile exhibit, and the penguins have been relegated to a backseat. In summary, the experience was a total let down. I specifically went to see the penguins (especially the Kings) and their superior habitat, but ended up getting a couple minutes of poorly constructed viewing time. Assholes.

We left Auckland and headed to Davenport, across the harbor north of downtown. The area is known for boutique shops and cafes, but seemed to be more cafes than stores from the last time Blaise was there. Found a couple things for friends but none of the cafes appealed to us. I think due to most being fairly crowded and us not in the mood to sit down and deal with it.

Next up, the Westfield mall in Albany, a typical shopping mall like you’d find in the states. There are a couple things on my to-buy list for friends that I was waiting to get, as the prices would be considerably more reasonable than a touristy shop down south. Ended up getting more than I had hoped, racking up a NZ$157 bill at Borders buying books that are specific to NZ, but will be of interest to friends back home.

The rest of the night was spent back at home, catching up on e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, watching TV and drinking Scotch. Blaise’s mom made us grilled chicken, corn on the cob, potatoes and peas/green beans. A meal that was largely made up of items she had asked me about earlier in the day.

The Dark Side of Rafting in New Zealand (fri/sat)

Friday: Drove out of Rotorua and headed to Huku Falls on the outskirts of Taupo. These falls are insane; the amount of water that channels through, the color of the water and the strength of the rapids will surprise anyone. Continued on to Taupo / Lake Taupo and spent the day with friends of Blaise. Shopping in town, drinks at an Irish pub, BBQ at their home and the night drinking and talking. Basically, a day off from vacationing and driving.

Saturday: Left Taupo and headed to Waitomo for the legendary “glow worm caves”. This expansive network of caves is known for the ‘glow worms’ that light up the cave ceiling and give it a unique visual splendor. First, they are not ‘glow worms’, they are technically a type of maggot. Second, the glow is from their feces, to attract the prey they eat (other bugs). However, the people of Waitomo realized that advertising “glowing maggot shit caverns” wasn’t a big tourist draw and went with “glow worm caves”.

I opted to experience the caves via the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and their ‘Black Labyrinth’ package. This involved a 1h15m trip through one of the caves, floating through water on an intertube. As the name implies, ‘black water’ rafting is due to being in a pitch black cave, except the glow worms and occasionally using small LED lights on our helmets. We were told that today was a great day to do this because of significant rainfall the previous week along with another 20ml or more the night before. This caused the water level to be about as high as it could be and still allow us to do it, making the cave that much more exciting.

The cave entrance (pics later) was confusing at first. Looking down the natural stairs, it looked as if a tiny stream disappeared into the ground. There was *no* visible opening. Crawling down further, it became apparent the opening was small, but under where we were standing. Entering the cave set the tone; it was not big. The first 20 yards to get to a chamber for our first meeting point required going through one point more narrow than my shoulder width, another that required ducking to the point of walking on all fours and walking through increasingly stronger currents. We entered the cave at one of seven points that water flowed into the main underground river.

After the first meeting chamber, we saw the result of the high water level as we had to lay perfectly flat on the tube to go under a small opening, and still scrape our helmet on the cave roof. From this point on, the cave remained considerably more passable. We went over two small waterfalls, the first maybe a foot and a half, the second about 3 – 4 feet. To do these safely, you are required to stand on the edge, backwards, intertube around your butt and jump backwards into the water, landing flat. The combination of that, mostly in the dark, in extremely cold water that would splash into your face and up your nose was crazy.

For the next hour, 12 of us were guided through the cave by Cam, Matty and Monkey, who were a riot. After more than an hour floating through the cave, we rounded a small turn and it instantly went from pitch black to well lit, as we came to the mouth of the cave and a lush green forest. Floating through the cave without lights, looking up at the ‘glow worms’ was definitely the best way to experience it. Blaise did a walking tour of two other caves. She said the first was neat and a good experience. The second however, was too crowded and partially closed due to high water levels, making their stay in the main room about two minutes.

Next time I visit, I will do the ‘Black Abyss’ tour. This is a five hour adventure that involves ‘abseiling’ (rappelling) down a long chute, taking a ‘fox tail’ (zip line) across a chasm and then black water rafting for a longer period.

thermal animals on luges in New Zealand (thu)

Started the day with a quick drive to the Waiotapu Geothermal Wonderland. A privately owned park covering quite a bit of land covered in thermal pools, a geyser and more. The park started out pretty tame, with some craters that formed due to thermal activity and water. The big body of water, Champagne Lake is wild as it releases so much steam it is difficult to see any water. The overflow area is full of a mix of colors due to sulfur, iron oxide and a dozen other minerals. The last pool of water was also wild, as it was neon green from an abundance of sulfur. Pics will be uploaded when
I return. We hiked 3 kilometers around the park, but just missed the 10:15a geyser by ten minutes.

Next, we headed to the Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park. Part zoo, part petting zoo, this place was a blast. One of the big draws is their African lion pride with 2 males, 4 females and cubs (most of the time). We arrived in time for the 2:30 feeding and got to see meat tossed over the fence to the lions. During this time, not only did we watch the lions fight with each other when a chunk of meat was contested, but one of the male lions tried to attack me twice. The exhibit lets you get up close, with only a chain link fence (with electrified fence on the inside) between us. The first time, the lion came up to me, roared and swiped once. The second time, he sprinted a few feet from where he was waiting for meat, roared and swiped at me again, but this time touching the electrified fence. The zap made him back off and he left me alone. Apparently, he likes American meat more than the other spectators, including a bunch of juicy kids surrounding me.

After the feeding, we went to the lion cub area and got to pet a lion cub. Once the cub was in his cage (with a fence that allowed visitors to reach through), he promptly flipped on his back exposing his tummy and waited for the parade of rubbies. It was obvious he looked forward to feeding / petting time. The rest of the park offered mostly more domesticated animals, many of which we could feed. The Fallow Deer lined up and my hand full of treats became contested territory. The wild pigs enjoyed treats, the Wallabees ignored us, ducks and trouts were frenzied. The goats and alpaca were agressive in getting treats, each eating out of my hand. At one point, a swan got outright pushy and snatched the bag of food from India’s hand, dragging it back into his pond. That scared the hell out of her, and the swan ate like a king for the day.

Next up, a trip up the Skyline gondola on Mount Ngongotaha, overlooking Rotorua. After a snack up top, we each did 5 trips down the luge. No, not the kind of luge you first think of, no ice or sleds involved. New Zealand style luge, apparently invented here, involves a four wheeled cart that you steer down a concrete track. Three tracks are available at this one; scenic (beginner), intermediate and advanced. You can get quite a speed going and the turns are sharp. During the run down the advanced course, I went into a turn too fast and couldn’t brake fast enough or make the curve. Ended up flipping on my side and scratching myself up good. I now have a set of war wounds to remember my luge runs. Oh, and I didn’t cry!

We grabbed food at Lovely India, where Blaise had buttered chicken for the first time. The Indian food here (based on the one restaurant) is much like America with a few small differences. Buttered chicken a tad sweeter (but really good), Naan a bit more greasy, no special green sauce served with papadun, etc.

Heading back to the hotel, we noticed a market down the road. As luck would have it, the Rotorua market is every Thursday night. Stopped to check it out, about half food and half crafts. Picked up a jar of Tamarillo jelly for Chelsea since she cooks so much and I don’t believe we have it in the US anywhere, as well as three bars of hand-made soap to better embrace my feminine side.

Finished the night at the hotel, cursing the hot weather, stifling humidity and heavy sulfur smell.

small flightless birds in New Zealand (wed)

Drove ~ 3 hours from Auckland to Rotarua for the first of a couple days. A relatively small town, but quite a bit to do here. On the way, stopped in Matamata for lunch and a few shops, but did not stop for Hobbiton. While the Shire is apparently mostly intact, it is apparently ass expensive as the farmer who owns the land charges considerably to let you on his property, making tours and such outrageous.

Arriving in Rotorua, you are immediately assaulted by the smell of sulfur. A stalk reminder of the natural hot springs all around. Checked into the hotel (wireless password is aaaaa11111, bedroom tv screen is same size as my laptop) and headed to Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park. They offer empty bottles for each person to visit, to fill up from their natural springs and drink while in the park. The park is half domestic (e.g., pigs, chickens, sheep) and half exotic (e.g., Kiwi, Kea, Kereru) and lets you get up close to many. The Kereru, or New Zealand pigeon, is one of the largest pigeons in the world. The Kea is a mess of a bird; curious, lively and none too bright.

We took the 4pm tour of the Kiwi exhibit and back scene area. This included seeing the incubation areas, temporary housing for newly hatched chicks and learned about the park’s efforts for Kiwi preservation. Cliff notes: these nocturnal flightless birds are native to New Zealand, that originally had no predators. As man introduced new animals (e.g., rats, stoats, dogs), the Kiwi became more threatened, eventually moving to endangered status. Rainbow Springs is one of several preserves that search for Kiwi eggs in the natural habitat, bring them in, ensure healthy chicks, raise the Kiwi to a certain point and release them back into the wild. This effectively removes the most dangerous part of the breeding cycle, when Kiwis are the most vulnerable.

After the tour, I sponsored one of the Kiwis at the facility. I contacted them over a month ago saying I would, and finally got to do it. I picked out ‘Oddbod’ from the available sponsorees and donated NZ$150 to the facility to help cover the costs for him. He comes from the Ohape region and was brought in Dec 23rd 2010, the egg weighing 415.2g. He was estimated to be 53 days old upon arrival and was incubated for 18 days before hatching on Jan 10, 2011. At birth, he weighed 355.6g and had no problems. Oh, by ‘he’, I mean could-be-she. Kiwi chicks are difficult to sex at such an early age and frequently have DNA tests performed on a wing feather to determine sex. Once he learns to eat and forage for live invertebrates, they will let him grow to ~ 1kg before releasing him back into the wild.

After the glorious Kiwi, we stopped at the natural hot springs near the center of Rotorua. An entire park dedicated to the hot smelly springs. Some with water and steam, others with mud spitting up. All with the same strong sulfur smell.

Next, dinner at “Urbano Bistro’, an upscale restaurant with really good food. I had Bruschetta with crumbled feta cheese and a plate of scallops in some delicious sauce. Left there to relax at the hotel a bit, then headed back to the Kiwi adventure for night time. Since Kiwis are nocturnal, the park lets you go in the exhibit as it turns dark and see them wake up. In the 45 minutes there, we saw 3 of the 4 Kiwis. Two of them spent time at the front of the exhibit, no glass between us, just a small wall. I got to stand there, just a foot from them (within petting distance) as they woke up and began foraging for bugs. Seeing them that close was really neat, something most New Zealanders never do.

The Kiwi is one of the most absurd flightless birds you will ever see, but also one of the most absurdly cute creatures you will find.

Observations, Slang and Facts in New Zealand (tue)

Taking the day off from vacation. Doing laundry, catching up on e-mail, cursing the poor connectivity between here and some web sites. Picked up the last book in the Hunter Games trilogy, started reading that. Finished the night with pizza (see below) and a sampling of New Zealand dark beers.

Some Kiwi’isms that I have noticed the last week:

  • they pump gas before they pay
  • they can park outside the airport while waiting to pick people up
  • the police do not carry guns
  • there are no speed traps and very few police on the south island. saw a single cop between Queenstown and Christchurch
  • New Zealand has a population of ~ 4.3 million spread over 103,483 sq miles. Compared to the Denver/Boulder metro area with ~ 3.1 million in close to 250 sq miles.
  • when they pronounce the letter ‘z’, it is said as “zed”.
  • their pizza is more adventurous than ours. for example, Hell Pizza
  • everything is rounded up to the nearest 10th cent. that is the smallest coin they have, NZ$2.00 is the highest

Kiwi slang that gets me every time:

  • “How you going?” instead of “How you doing?”
  • Want a lolly? Not just a lolli-pop, any kind of candy.
  • “Sweet as!” .. short for “sweet as pie”, but essentially means ‘fantastic’. slang, can be used in just about any situation
  • jandals .. not sandals. originally the brand was ‘Jandals’ which became slang for any type of flip flops / sandals.
  • if it looks really ‘flash’, that means upscale / high-end

Odd facts:

  • the ‘Remarkables’ mountain range outside Queenstown is one of two ranges that run North to South. the other? the Rockies..
  • Lake Wakatipu, the longest lake in New Zealand is almost 400 meters deep, putting the floor below sea level.