Monday, October 19, 2009

New Zealand Finale

We departed New Zealand on the 18th after spending our last day touring the city of Christchurch, doing some much needed laundry and catching up on emails. Oh yeah, we lost $4 in the Christchurch Casino playing penny slots, its a tough life at the top. In short, New Zealand was more than we had imagined it would be. The beauty of the country was seared into our minds and the warmth of the people will stay in our hearts for years to come. Our last days on the south island were fast and furious.

After leaving Queenstown we headed north to Wanaka and got there by crossing over the Crown Moutain Range on highway 6a, the steepest road we had encountered on the whole island. As Deb snapped pictures out the window I was negotiating hairpin turns and watching for rock slides. The view from the top was spectacular as we could see for miles in all directions, well worth the white knuckle driving it took to get there! Cruising into the town of Wanaka we stopped along the lake that was coincidentally named Wanaka as well, creativity reigns in this region...We found the hike we were in need of at Mount Iron, a 543 meter monster that had our legs burning pretty good when we made the summit.
Again, as usual, the views were breathtaking and well worth the carbs we burned to get there. All around us the signs of spring were evident, baby sheep everywhere! Seriously, they are worse than rabbits. Hawks, birds and blooming flower trees made the valley look like a painting and the walk down was hardly noticed as we were entranced with the views.

We drove from Wanaka along the coast of the Tasman Sea, at this point on the island there is no land between NZ and Antarctica, another fact that I have stored away for random trivia night when we get back home. The island is home to numerous ecosystems and within an hour of leaving the mountainous terrain of Wanaka we were cruising by the coast and it felt like we were driving out in California along the Pacific. We made a few stops to snap pictures and build a Wronka road marker on the side of the road that thousands of other folks had done previous to us. At one point we stopped to watch locals White Bait fishing in the pools formed by the high tide. A friendly Aussie couple allowed me to sample their morning catch, it was fantastic! Like Walleye with some salt, so says the Bobby flay in me. White Bait are really small, like 2 or 3 inches and are netted along the shore. It is considered a delicacy and many of the people fishing would go on to sell there haul for about $150 per kg.
I thought of using our socks to catch some and finance the trip, but the smell emanating from them was not good bait in my book.

Arriving in the town of Fox Glacier (named after the local ice sheet we would soon tour)we found a nice campervan site for the evening and settled into some dinner and most importantly the opportunity for me to get my barbeque on! I grilled myself up a nice NZ porterhouse, it was delicious and perfect. Deb enjoyed rice and canned beets, like a filet mignon for vegetarians I guess...We woke up to rain and lots of it, we decided to forgo the guided hike on the glacier and do some self exploring. For those that have not seen a glacier up close, you must! Walking out to Fox Glacier was awesome, we literally crawled, jumped and scampered our way within 100 feet of it before rope barriers (Darwin downers in my book) kept us from actually touching the glacier. It was enormous, having carved out the entire valley for thousands of years and currently receding into the mountain it shows the awesome strength these massive ice cubes have. We were pretty well soaked at this point,
(Fox Glacier) but happy we made the trip so we hopped back in Wally and drove to Franz Josef glacier where we made a similar trek to the base of that behemoth wall of ice and rock. Thoroughly impressed with mother nature again we hit the road for Hari Hari.

On the recommendation of a friend who traveled the island a few years ago we stopped in at Wildside Backpackers that is run by Dan and Kathy, a pure New Zealand family. They were not open yet for the season, but remembering our friends Blake and Erika they opened up their home to us. I also think it helped we were absolutely drenched from our walk to the glaciers, they thought we had driven a motorcycle thru the rain, that is how wet we looked. Giving us warm tea, a hot fire and good conversation we felt right at home with this lovely couple. They have two kids, 2 year old Shea and 1 month old Dylan to look after as well as their business which is an operation without rival. They live completely off the grid, the only electricity they use comes in the form of three lights in their house and the power comes from a diesel generator out back. Dan is an expert craftsman although he claims the ubiquitous title of “jack of all trades, master of none”, fitting for sure! They grow, hunt or trade with others in the area for all of their food and recycle just about anything into useful items. Dan's carpentry skills are out of this world and we got a personal taste as they put us up in a beautiful cottage that was just finished. A wood burning stove kept us warm throughout the night and heated our shower water. The floor was lined with animal skin to keep the feet warm and the bed must have been stuffed with a couple of geese because that thing was comfortable! Dan took us out to some natural hot springs for an afternoon soak. We dug our own personal hot tub on the banks of the Wanghuni River and enjoyed the thermal bath thoroughly. After getting the classic NZ spa treatment Dan and I went out to the coast for some White Bait fishing, it was a top 10 lifetime experience for me. We drove thru, I will say that again, we drove thru the river to get out to the Tasman Sea as the sun was setting for a couple of hours of White Baiting. For a first timer I think I did pretty good on my 4 passes down the shore with the net. We caught and later enjoyed a delicious dinner of about 200 White Bait. It was an amazing afternoon and made all the better by the company I shared it with.

Departing Hari Hari in the morning we made our way to Arthurs Pass for our last night on the road. Stopping in the seaside town of Hokitika we enjoyed a long walk on the beach in search of the elusive and very valuable Jade stone. We picked up anything that looked green or was on that part of the color wheel only to have our dreams of being rich dashed when a local told us that Serpentine is very similar to Jade and that our stash was made up completely of the stuff. Penniless in the sense that we had no Jade to sell local dealers we soothed our hurt pride with an ice cream cone on the way out town. Arriving in Arthurs Pass for our last night we realized the campervan options were pretty limited and opted to freedom camp down by the river. Yes, I made numerous Chris Farley jokes the whole evening about living in a van down by the river. Deb's amusement level was at an all-time low after the 30th
comment and Farley would have been embarrassed as well. That evening we had visitors in the form the Kea, a parrot looking bird that scientists claim is the smartest animal in the world. I won't argue that point, but I will say that it can also be put in the running for the most annoying animal in the world. Shortly after arriving, we pulled out the chairs and set up the propane stove to boil water for pasta and tea. The birds (think Hitchcock movie now) literally went after anything we pulled out, the bag of pasta, tea bags, a spoon and most maddening to me, my beer bottle. It took everything in me not to peg one of the little bastards with a rock, but I figured Deb would not appreciate Kea on the BBQ on the last night. We finished dinner, took a walk along the river which was swollen with snow melt from the nearby mountains and called it a night as the sandflies, a cousin of the mosquito, came out in battalions and ravaged our ankles and necks. Sitting in the van at 8:30pm and playing cribbage was a good way to end our trip, especially since I was winning, but alas the good times came to an end when the Kea I called “Hoppy” because he had a broken leg and hopped on the good one alighted on the hood of Wally. Old Hoppy began to chew and peck at our windshield wiper and before I could scare him off with a slam of my fist on the window he successfully ripped the wiper blade in two. The drive home the next day was made a bit more interesting as it rained the whole way, we had one working wiper and there were no stores to buy a new one. Kea's are smart and vengeful animals, beware!

So, the trip to NZ was a huge success and we will most definitely be back as the time we had was not enough to explore it all! We recommend your next international adventure be in New Zealand as it will surely knock your socks off or at least a windshield wiper...

We arrived in Bangkok late last night, after a 12 hour flight from NZ. Today was about sleep and getting prepped for the coming week of orientation. We are staying at the Louis Tavern Hotel about 25km from central Bangkok. A short walk around the area led to lots of strange looks from the locals and a sobering moment for us as we realized we are now the minority. Its going to be great though, there have been plenty of laughs already, just ask us one day about our taxi ride from the airport to here! More to come on our time here as we open up another round of adventures in the coming months!

1 comment:

  1. New Zealand sounds amazing! I think it's great you got to drive through so much of it. Baby Tyrer has been moving like crazy while I've been reading. He/she must be a future traveler! :)