Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Adam exploring Craters of the Moon

There’s a story in my family that my parents really enjoy telling when it’s time to demonstrate how adorably nerdy I was as a child.  I was eight or ten, we were on summer vacation in Michigan visiting the Great Lakes.  The beaches were very rocky, but all of the rocks were round and smooth, sparkling with quartz and polished from being tossed by the waves.  When we arrived back in St. Louis, my dad was unloading the bags and nearly fell over when he tried to lift mine.  My parents promptly discovered that I had filled my bag with stones from the beach, the ones I had deemed the prettiest, some as big as grapefruits, the smallest the size of golf balls.  Some kids collect seashells, I had gathered heaps of rocks.

My fascination with all things geology related didn’t exactly fade with time.  When Adam and I visited Cafayate, Argentina earlier on the trip, I enjoyed visiting the wineries, pedaling our bicycles through the vineyards, but I was really fascinated by the strange layered rock formations and canyons outside the city.  When we climbed Volcan Villarica in Chile, I had a wonderful time climbing and sliding back down the volcano, but after the fact, I had one regret–that we didn’t manage to get any pictures of the solidified lava floes at the peak of the volcano.  When we went ice climbing in Franz Joseph glacier here in New Zealand, Adam could only laugh when he reached into our daypack after the hike and found a small rock (pumice on one side, shiny metallic rock on the other–very cool).  Yes, I’m still at it.

Hi, I’m Megan and I’m a nerd.

Knowing all this, it should come as no surprise that our visit to Rotorua, a town in the heart of New Zealand’s geothermal activity, was a real highlight for me.  Wandering through the strange landscapes created in these geothermal zones, I really felt like I had been transported to the far distant past, when the earth was still forming.  Steaming waterfalls; pools of bubbling mud, spurting and tossing globs of soupy clay in all directions; steam vents escaping from the ground everywhere you look, reeking with the acrid smell of sulfur from the volcanic gases in the steam; huge silica terraces formed by mineral-rich water pouring out of the ground–all of this set amongst gigantic fern trees and thick native bush left me wondering what prehistoric creature  I might meet around the corner.

Happily for budget travelers, my favorite geothermal experience was free.  Outside of the Wai-o-Tapu geothermal park, there are mud pools on Department of Conservation land.  They don’t show up in the guidebooks, but are well signposted.  They were the largest mud pools we saw in New Zealand, and certainly the most active.  The still photos above of the pools are cool for capturing the flying mud, but video can’t be beat for listening to the sounds of the constantly bubbling pools.  Luckily for us, Adam was on the job.

Overall, New Zealand was a great place to visit and a nice respite from the chaos we sometime experienced on the first part of the trip.  That said, I am ecstatic to be here in Southeast Asia, smack in the middle of the chaos, the energy, the smells, sights, sounds and flavors.  It’s amazing here and you’ll probably be hearing more from me (as opposed to the all-Adam-all-the-time show that was New Zealand) now that we’re  back in backpack mode.

~Meg

*When we arrived in New Zealand, we were surprised to be met with recognition when we mentioned that we were from St. Louis.  Turns out that Kiwis are aware of our fair city, thanks to none other than Nelly.  We even got a “St. Louis?  Do you know Nelly?”  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to give a little hat tip  to Nelly for getting St. Louis on the map with the Kiwis.  I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Neither of us realized that it had been so long since our last post.  That’s kind of what happens here in New Zealand.  There’s just so much to do, and we’ve been so busy the last few weeks, that we didn’t even notice how long it had been.

Before I get to the topic for this post, here’s a really quick rundown of what we’ve done in the last week:

Crossed from the south to the north island on a ferry; Spent a few rainy days in Wellington, going to one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been to, seeing a really good play with only 4 characters and one scene/set, and eating a lot of good food; Went down a 40 meter abseil (about 12o feet) into a cave, where we proceeded to go on a zipline through the pitch black, go black water rafting, see thousands of glowworms, and rock climb back out again; Went to Taupo and Rotorua and saw countless geothermal sites; Did the Zorb in Rotorua (google it or wait for the upcoming post–with video); Went whitewater rafting, including plumetting over a 7 meter (21 foot) waterfall, the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world; and Went to a Maori ceremony and feast.

Now we are in Paihia, in the northern most part of the north island, where we hope to do plenty of kayaking and snorkeling, provided the weather cooperates with us.

But now to the topic of this post.   About a week and a half ago, we took a two day trip in Abel Tasman National Park, which is a beautiful area on the coast in the north of the south island.  We decided to try our hands at sea kayaking, which it turns out we were pretty good at and enjoyed a whole, whole lot.  Unfortunately the weather has canceled a few planned trips since, but we hope to do it at least once or twice more in our final week here in New Zealand.

After catching a water taxi  up the coast to a beach and our starting point, we got all geared up in our neoprene, and after a quick lesson we were off.  There was an island off the coast of the beach we were on, which became our first destination, and also became one of the highlights of our time here in New Zealand, and quite possibly of the trip.  The island was called Tonga Island and was home to a seal colony.

We were able to paddle inside a cove of the small little island, which was filled with seals, including bunches of little pups.  Megan was quite excited about seeing seals, and I quickly found out what the hubub was about.  It turns out that seals are quite playful, and our presence in their home didn’t intimidate them in the least.  Being so close to the water in our kayaks, we were lucky enough to have them swimming all around us, under our kayaks, “waving” at us, and just generally playing, which you will see in the video below.  The rest of them just lazed around on the rocks looking cute.

The trip we took was a two day trip which involved all day kayaking the first day, an overnight stay on a houseboat, and a hike out of the park the second day.  Because we had so much time, we stayed around the island checking out the seals and having a relaxing paddle around.

The park is dotted with white and yellow sand beaches that are secluded and mostly empty, and after having our fun with the seals, we paddled down the coast taking in the views, eventually stopping at one of these beaches for lunch.  After being fed and resting a bit, we were able to hike to one of the nearby beaches for some more beautiful views.

After lunch it was time to get back in the kayaks, and we were off again down the coast.  The waters were nice and calm and the weather was beautiful (which has not been the norm here in New Zealand).  It turned out to be a great day on the sea, and we seemed to have found yet another new hobby to add, along with ice climbing (and you’ll soon find out, white water rafting).

After another few hours, we made it to our destination, a small little houseboat near a small beach inside a lovely little cove.  We had a great group of people staying with us on the boat, including five people from Ireland, a woman from Portugal, and her German husband.  Again, it was awesome to be around so may different cultures, just talking and eating and drinking and hanging out and learning more and more about each other and our respected countries.  Nights like these continue to be highlights, and they just never get old.

We were all exhausted, and after spending some time on the outside deck of the boat checking out the bounty of stars illuminating the sky, we were all off to bed for a good night’s sleep before heading out the next morning for a nice, leisurely four hour hike out of the park.

We will have more posts expanding on the list from the beginning of this post as our time in New Zealand is coming to a close believe it or not.  We have less than a week here before heading off to Thailand where we will meet up with my mom and sister and begin a leg we are very, very excited about; Southeast Asia.

Here’s a short video of the seals and plenty of pictures, so until next time…

Now to the topic of this post, which goes back nearly two weeks to when we were still in the north island.

Read Full Post »

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 »

Older Posts »