Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2009

dsc_0032

We spent part of last week in a little town called Blenheim in the north of the south island.  Blenheim and the surrounding area (called Marlborough) is known and famous for its many wineries.  There are 40 wineries within 6 miles of Blenheim.  That’s right, FORTY!!!

So of course we had to spend a day hitting up many of those forty.  We  started at 11am and made it to 7 different wineries by 5pm.  Yes, we could have made it to more, but we did try 45 different wines and 3 beers from those 7 wineries.  We did have to eat a bit at a few of them as well to remain standing.

Also, my wife somehow reverted back to Spanish at one  of them when ordering.  It came out of absolutely nowhere and she got a very funny look from the lady helping us.  I had to explain to her that we just spent the past five and a half months in South America, so it just comes out sometimes.  She got quite the chuckle out of it, and Megan was embarrassed, but not nearly as embarrassed as when she did it AGAIN to the same woman about ten minutes later.  It was hilarious (and happened on only the fourth winery of the day).

The day turned out to be a beautiful sunny day after some morning clouds, and with it being New Zealand of course the surrounding scenery was absolutely gorgeous.

It was a nice relaxing day before we headed over to Abel Tasman National Park.  We did a two day sea kayaking/hiking trip and stayed on a houseboat in a bay of the Tasman Sea, which was an absolute blast.  We have tons of pictures and a bit of video of the seal colony we saw up close and personal.  We are in Picton right now, hoping to do some more sea kayaking tomorrow if the weather holds up before heading up to the north island in a few days.

Read Full Post »

First,  since everyone has been asking, here’s a picture of the Spaceship (I’ll get some better ones of the inside and post them in our next post.

The Spaceship

The Spaceship

When we were in Patagonia visiting glaciers on a regular basis, one thing we really wanted to do was hike on one.  Believe it  or not, taking part in that in Argentina and Chile was really expensive and beyond our budget for that part of the trip.  We told ourselves that if it fit into our New Zealand budget, we would definitely take advantage of it.

When we drove up the west coast of the south island, we knew both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers were looming.  These glaciers are both a bit unique in that they sit between a rainforest and a beach and ocean, not exactly where one would think they’d find a glacier.

One thing Megan has been talking about wanting to do for a good portion of this trip was learn how to rock climb; it’s just something that has really interested her and something she wanted to learn how to do.  We were planning on taking an introductory rock climbing course in Queenstown, but the weather didn’t cooperate, and we had to scratch it.

When we looked into our options for glacier trekking on both glaciers, ice climbing was one of them.  The thought of not only walking on a glacier but climbing one intrigued Megan (I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive), and after she talked me into it, we decided to give it a shot.

After meeting up early and getting all our gear, we were off to the glacier.  We had a short hike ahead of us to the glacier face, and then it was time to put our crampons on and get started.  It was a bit disconcerting at first walking on a big giant sheet of ice because we thought we were going to fall over and slide around at any point.  But the crampons did indeed serve a purpose, and it was quite easy to maintain our grip and walk around.

Us on Franz Josef looking back down into the valley

Us on Franz Josef looking back down into the valley

On the way up

On the way up

climbing-up-1

climbing-up-2

megan-on-the-way-up

Close ups of the glacier

Close ups of the glacier

Looking up at Franz Josef

Looking up at Franz Josef

Looking back down into the valley

Looking back down into the valley

After about an hour or so of hiking on the glacier, we got away from all the other tours and came into an area of crevasses and walls, where we were set to do our first few climbs.  The guides went about setting up all the safety ropes as we eagerly watched and got psyched to try it out for the first time.  They set up two different climbs in the same area, both about 10 meters (30 feet) straight up.  It didn’t look very high at first, but when actually getting up there and getting  started, it felt much higher.  Also, it had been raining nonstop for the previous three days, making the ice extra hard and much more difficult to get our ice picks and crampons wedged in to support our body weight.

Even though the first few were tough for everyone in our group, it was great fun scaling the side of a glacier, and our guides were great in encouraging us, telling us that right now the conditions are making much more difficult than normal, and we would descend the glacier for our next few climbs where the ice was a bit softer.

Setting up the first two climbs

Setting up the first two climbs

Megan's first climb

Megan's first climb

Megan getting close to the top

Megan getting close to the top

Adam's first climb

Adam's first climb

Adam reaching the top

Adam reaching the top

After the first two climbs, we descended down the glacier a ways to get to an area where the ice was softer.  The guides both informed us that it would take much less effort to get our ice axes and crampons into the ice but that the climbs would be more difficult, higher, and more technically challenging.  We were all a bit apprehensive because while the first few were really fun, they were quite difficult and more physically challenging than any of us had anticipated.

One of the guides took off before the rest of the group to get the ropes started so we wouldn’t have to wait a long time.  When we approached, we turned a corner and saw a small speck on top of a huge wall.  That speck was our guide getting everything ready for our 20 meter (60 feet) climbs.  Yikes.

You can faintly see our guide on top of the wall in the top middle of the picture

You can faintly see our guide on top of the wall in the top middle of the picture

We sat down and had some lunch to get our energy back up while the guides finished setting everything up, then it was time for our next two climbs, both about twice as high as the first ones.  The softness of the ice made a huge difference in the ease of getting stabilized to hold our body weight, and I cruised through the first half of it, thinking how much easier it was.  Then fatigue set in, and it seemed like hours before I reached the top.  Upon finally reaching the top, though both exhausted, it was a huge sense of accomplishment, and we were rewarded with great views of the entire glacier and surrounding valley of rainforest.  The fun part of absailing back down came next, which was super cool and added another activity to our ever-growing to-do list.

Adam making his way up

Adam making his way up

Adam's third climb

Adam's third climb

Up at the top of a 60 foot ice face

Up at the top of a 60 foot ice face

Megan's third climb (she's the first one)

Megan's third climb (she's the first one)

Megan nearing the top (the people on the ground should give you a perspective of how big this one was)

Megan nearing the top (the people on the ground should give you a perspective of how big this one was)

At the top

At the top

Absailing down

Absailing down

After climbing both, it was time to start descending back down, and our guides informed us that we were taking a detour.  Though everyone was exhausted, we were so glad we took the detour as we went down tiny, narrow staircases that our guides had made as we went along, through maze like passageways and through wee crevasses of thick, bright blue ice that was simply brilliant (the Kiwis are having an effect on my speech, giving me a whole new vocabulary that I plan on bringing home to the US).

Descending

Descending

descending-1

Ice detail shots

Ice detail shots

ice-detail-shots-1

ice-detail-shots-2

ice-detail-shots-3

ice-detail-shots-42

All in all it was a very successful day.  We completed two activities that were completely new to us, and we both may have found a new hobby in climbing.  While it was very challenging, it was also really, really cool, got the adrenaline going, and was just a completely new activity.  We are definitely going to keep our eyes open for rock climbing availabilities and give that a shot at some point down the road.

After the glacier we headed away from the west coast and towards the northeastern part of the south island.  Fortunately we passed through  a town that is known for their natural hot springs and enjoyed that the day after ice climbing, resting our sore muscles and relaxing.  We are currently in Blenheim, which is home to wineries, about 40 of them within a 6 mile radius of this one town alone.  If we make it through that without destroying all of our brain cells, the next post will be about our winery adventures.

Until next time…

Read Full Post »

One of the best things about having Asteroid the Spaceship is being on a month-long road trip.  The fact that the views everywhere  in New Zealand are absolutely breathtaking also makes it that much sweeter. There are no Kansases or Illinois’ getting in the way.  With the whole country of New Zealand (both north and south islands) being about the size of the state of Colorado, the drives are pretty short.

The only downfall is that these really short drives take a really long time because we are constantly stopping to take pictures and check out the views.  Also, since New Zealanders love their camper vans and tramping and road trips, there are little picnic areas constantly off the roads, all with stunning views.  Since we have the Spaceship with a stove and all our food, we like to take advantage of these beautiful places to have a bite to eat if we are on the road around lunchtime, plus it saves us a few extra bucks to spend on all the activities that are available here.

Instead of tallking about all the different drives and doing several different posts about it, I just decided to compile our favorite pictures of all our drives thus far (that haven’t been parts of other posts) and post a gallery here.  Like always with the galleries, you can click on each little thumbnail to enlarge them.

Inexplicably, since we have been in smaller towns lately, we have had much better internet access, so this post will almost catch us up.  We do have a few pictures from my bungee adventure, which was absolutely insane and awesome.  I’ll get those up soon.

We are currently in Franz Josef, home to the famous Franz Josef Glacier.  Since we didn’t get a chance to actually walk on a glacier when we were in Patagonia, we decided to do that here, and then some.  We are making our first sorray into climbing, which was something we were hoping  to do in Queenstown, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so we are stepping it up a notch and doing an all day glacier trek complete with ice climbing.

We will take plenty of pictures of course and get back at everyone soon.

Until next time…

Read Full Post »

When we last left you, it was Easter, and we spent a wonderful day on the mystical Doubtful Sound. We left the next day and headed to Queenstown for a few days, just enjoying being in a city again, both of us taking an adrenaline fueled “swing” over a canyon and river, and me taking a plunge off the third highest bungee jump in the world, at 440 feet high.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself though. On our first night in Queenstown, we stumbled upon an Irish pub and decided to go in for a much needed Guinness, as I had only had a few since we left the US in October. Well, one drink turned into about six hours at the pub, but luckily for us some good came out of it, other than the nice buzz we had when leaving.

We met a good amount of people there, including a college student from St. Louis of all places, who was there with her parents who came to New Zealand to visit her while she is studying abroad. It was nice to be in a bar talking Cardinal baseball and home in general.  But we were also lucky enough to chat with several locals, who told us that we HAD to take a drive to the nearby town of Glenorchy the following day.

Since we had already booked our Nevis Swing and my bungee jump for two days after, we had a day to burn, and the forecast was for warm weather and sunny skies. After taking a trip to the information office the following morning, (side note: there are these things called Isites that are dotted everywhere in New Zealand; basically they are information centers that have people working in them, free pamphlets, and just a wealth of information about whatever area they are in, absolutely fantastic and completely free) the workers stressed what a beautiful drive Glenorchy was and strongly urged us to go.

With all the local advice, we figured we better take advantage of the beautiful day and take the short 45 kilometer drive along Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy. Luckily it did not disappoint. The drive was through windy and narrow-laned roads along the lake, and although it was only about 27 miles, it took us close to two hours because we stopped constantly to take in the views and snap photos. The guys we met the previous night spoke of the “Million dollar view”, saying it was unsigned, on the left, and we would know it when we saw it. They spoke the truth.

After arriving in Glenorchy, we took a short hike around the lake on boardwalks, taking us to small, mirror-like ponds with gorgeous snow-capped mountains in the background. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and was quite relaxing before the following day of swinging over canyons and jumping off a gondola with a giant rubber band attached to my ankles.

Read Full Post »

Doubtful Sound

Had we been at home this past Sunday, we surely would have spent the day with family, watching the kiddos search for easter eggs, gobble chocolate bunnies and run around like lunatics from the sugar buzz.  Since we were missing out on that bit of entertainment, we decided to take a cruise on Doubtful Sound in the Fiordlands National Park.

The Fiordlands, an area of deep bays carved thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers, has been so well-protected by the people of New Zealand that a visit to the area can feel like you’ve stepped back in time.  The area we visited gets an astounding ten to fifteen meters of rain per year, so the lush green hillsides are often covered in roaring waterfalls or completely shrouded in mist.  It has such a mysterious feel to it that we wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see a loch ness-type monster rise out of the water at any moment.  While there were no Nessie sightings, we were lucky enough to spot some other wild things.  The resident pod of bottle-nosed dolphins, which we were told only makes an appearance once a month or so, decided to put on a show for us, swimming and playing alongside our boat.   And just when I thought that I was out of luck on seeing seals up close, the boat captain pointed to some rocky outcrops in the distance and said, “See all those dark spots on those rocks?  That’s a colony of fur seals.”  As we drew closer to their colony, we could see the pups running and playing,  with a few watching our approach curiously.

The area had such a magical feel, and the light was constantly changing, so we took gobs of photos.  We did our best to choose our favorites, but this is still a pretty big gallery.  Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Best view ever?

Best view ever?

When we last left you, the weather was not cooperating with us and had hindered our first few day aboard Asteroid (the name of our Spaceship, emblazoned on the side).  However, summoning the Pachamama from our time in South America seemed to do the trick because the next two days were absolutely gorgeous, and the scenery was something out of a fairytale.

Unfortunately the internet here in New Zealand is abysmal and expensive, so updating and loading pictures is going to be a challenge while we’re here, which means we will most likely be frequently behind on the blog (not to mention the fact that there is just so much to do, whenever we do have a connection the last thing we want to do is sit on the computer).  We’re writing and going through pictures as we go along, but we’re just not able to post, so you may get a flurry of posts at once, but rest assured we will keep up the good storytelling format and keep everything in chronological order.  Some posts just may be a bit old.

Enough with that though.  After getting Asteroid in Christchurch and spending a wet night in Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, we started heading south.   We spent much of the next day just driving on the Inland Scenic Route, which is hands down the most beautiful afternoon of driving in my 30+ years on Earth.  As you’ll see in the pictures below (all the ones labeled “Inland Scenic Road), the stark contrast of bright green grass, dark green forest, and huge, rocky, snow covered mountains created a unique landscape that is just not seen in very many places in the world.  If this country wasn’t so damn far on the other side of the world, I would start looking for places to live and move here immediately.  But until a teleporter is invented, I will settle for our month here and just vow to return (I seem to have said that about many places we’ve visited).

Even though there are outdoor activities aplenty here in New Zealand, we both talked about how we could just spend our 35 days here just driving.  The fact that neither of us had driven since October, coupled with the fact that we love road trips, and adding the “Oh My God’s” around every turn, it would not be out of the question if we did decide to do this.

We checked in to the “Top 10 Holiday Park” campsite (these things are great and are everywhere around New Zealand; they have huge kitchens, super hot showers, sparklingly clean bathrooms, pools, and beautiful campsites) for the night, cooked a really nice dinner outside Asteroid for the first time, watched Lost that we had downloaded in LA last week, and called it a night.

With it getting dark at about 6:30, there being nothing to do at the campsite once arriving, and the frigid temperatures, bedtime comes early in Asteroid.  We were both wide awake a little after 6am, and we decided to get on the road early and actually do a bit of hiking.  We decided to keep heading south, eventually making our way to Te Anau in the southwestern part of the South Island.  Since we got on the road so early, we were able to make a side trip to Aoraki (the Maori name of a famous New Zealand peak, but like nearly everything in this region of the world, it’s also  named Mount Cook after the famous Captain James Cook).

This trip has definitely spoiled us to a certain extent, as evidenced by what I’m about to type.  This drive, though beautiful, just didn’t have quite the same pizzazz as the previous day (please don‘t take this as a lack of appreciation because I assure you we both enjoyed the hell out of it).  The further south we got, the more bright green we lost (which I have discovered is my personal favorite).  We did get closer to the mountains, and lakes started popping up left and right, which was similar to certain parts of Patagonia.

We drove past a few different lakes, one of which we spanned the length of while going to Aoraki.  We had seen Aoraki looming in the distance for most of the day, and it was pretty cool to see it getting bigger and bigger  as we approached.  We arrived and did a short few hour hike to a lake and small glacier at the foot of the mountain, then headed back on the road and found a free campsite to crash out for the night.

The quickest way for us to keep updating is to load a gallery of pictures at once.  I know it’s not as aesthetically appealing (oh, who am I kidding, who doesn’t like pictures to along with words?), but this will probably be the format of most New Zealand posts  (we have more pics, but this is going to have to do for now).

The next day (which was the Saturday before Easter, a HUGE holiday weekend in New Zealand, much like Labor Day in the US where loads of people have long weekends, with Monday off, and head off one more time before winter comes) we continued on south to Te Anau.  Te Anau is Fiordland territory, jumping off point for trips into Doubtful Sounds and the more famous Milford Sounds.  The Milford Track (which we are not doing) is said to be among the finest multiday hikes in the world.  After all the trekking in South America and the somewhat limited time we have here with all there is to see, we decided to forego the five day trek and settle for a boat cruise around Doubtful Sound, which was absolutely breathtaking and will be the topic of our next post.

We are currently in Queenstown, which is the adventure/extreme sport capital of the world.  I am braving one of the highest  bungee jumps in the world tomorrow, leaping from about 440 feet above a river.  My wife is a bit smarter than I and will only be a spectator.  We have tons more to tell you and write about, but this will have to do for now.

Until then…

Read Full Post »

After just a few days in New Zealand, it may be time to harken back to our time in Peru and summon the Pachamama again because the weather gods have not been on our side thus far.

After a beautiful first day in Christchurch (of which we spent 2.5 hours in a bar watching the national championship game–YES TAR HEELS!!!!!), the rain came that night.  And after 36 hours, it hasn’t really let up, including a little bout of sleet this morning.  Luckily we have been cozy and dry in our Spaceship (pictures will be forthcoming when we get a better connection).

We picked up our transportation/ “room”/ home for the next month our first day in Christchurch, and it’s basically a minivan that has been “pimped out” with a bed, chiller, tv and dvd player, stove, and plenty of storage.  Sure, there are more luxurious camper vans here in New Zealand, but this one is easy to drive, and the bright orange color makes us part of a nice little club.  I now know how  my dad feels while riding his Harley around.  Whenever we see another Spaceship on the road, there’s a friendly honk and wave, and if we run into anyone, we get to exchange DVD’s.  It’s a pretty cool club to belong to.

While we haven’t really gotten to enjoy the beauty of New Zealand yet because of the weather, we do have a pretty good grasp of what’s ahead of us for the next month.  New Zealand is a outdoorsman’s heaven, with tons of tramping (what the Kiwis call hiking), camping, water activities, and extreme sports at your fingertips.  And the views are nothing short of spectacular, despite the gray skies and rain.  I can’t wait until the sun comes out.  Think Coffee Country in Colombia meets Lake District and Patagonia in Argentina and Chile, and that’s what New Zealand has looked like thus far.

With the Spaceship we stay in camprounds, which are a little different than what we’re used to at home.  First, there are areas in the middle of cities where camping and parking our Spaceship are available, which is pretty cool.  Also, many campgrounds have HUGE kitchens that are available for our use, which has been great these first few days as our stove folds out to the outside of our Spaceship, which can be problematic when it’s pouring down rain.  Also, they have had pools (which we haven’t been able to utilize, yet, but  it’s nice to know they’re available.  And the bathrooms and shower are much nicer and cleaner than the hostels we’ve grown accustomed to staying in.

Then there’s the people.  I’m not quite sure who sent the link to thewanderyear.com to the citizens of New Zealand, but someone must have because they are seriously trying to outdo the Colombians for nicest and friendliest.  That’s one of the coolest things about this trip, the people.  With all the bullshit we see and read about on a daily basis on the news, it’s nice to be removed from that and remember how great most people are.  We get skewed because of all the horrible things we’re used to hearing, and we forget that it’s the minority of people causing problems, and that the majority of mankind is caring, kind, friendly, and willing to help at the drop of a hat.

So while we haven’t been able to fully enjoy what New Zealand has to offer, once the weather clears, it’s going to be a glorious month and a nice change of pace from South America.  Internet is available anywhere, including wireless accessible in most campgrounds that we can use in our Spaceship, but our connection at the moment is painfully slow, so no pictures, yet.  So we’re going to say a quick prayer to the Pachamama (hopefully she’s accessible from where we’re at) and hope this weather clears, and you’ll be hearing from us soon…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »