Hanging Out With Seals

I am in Wellington and having a good time. I have long wanted to visit New Zealand, and I haven't been disappointed with it one bit. The terrain is quite different from anywhere else I have ever been: for example, mountain ranges seem to just erupt from the sea; pine, palm, and fern trees grow next to each other in dense forests; and cities and towns seem to cling to the shoreline (and parts of them are even washed away). And Kiwis are even more laid back than Aussies, a feat that I thought was impossible for any other nationality.
My morning started out with a 45-minute wait for my tour bus to pick me up. When the driver finally arrived, he announced, "we are running a little late, but that doesn't really matter." We then drove around the SW corner of the North Island for eight hours. This particular tour advertised visits to "Lord of the Rings" sites, which turned out to include a stop at a gravel pit and two city parks, none of which particularly evoked memories of the movie. We did visit a park that had a section nicknamed "Rivendell," the site of the Elvin world in the first movie, which actually did remind me of the film...sort of. Anyway, the real highlight of the trip was our very long journey way out to Palliser Bay to see a colony of fur seals (that group of rocks in the upper right side of this picture, which I got from here). There were only seven of us on the trip and we were able to spread ourselves out among the rocks and watch dozens of seals and their teen pups frolic in the waters around us for nearly a half hour. It was absolutely amazing. Other highlights included lunch at a small cafe, wine tasting at Martinborough winery, and a perilous drive across the mountains. It was all fantastic!

I did catch up with some of my colleagues at the conference welcome reception at the end of the day, so I can say I did a little work. Tomorrow the conference really gets into full swing. I will have to try hard to keep my thoughts from drifting back to those seals.