Monday, November 30, 2009

On Close Calls

We have not been in any physical danger while driving yet, but we have been in danger of being stranded in the middle of no where without any gas... twice. Yeah, we're just awesome like that. The first time was when we drove up to Milford Sound. We had just over half a tank of gas and there are no services at the Sound. So we had to make the return trip on what we had. We rolled in that night with just over an eighth of tank. It wasn't as close as I thought it was going to be. There was a point on the way there in the morning that I was sure we were going to run out of gas 25-50 kilometers from Te Anau. Luckily, I just I had the wrong distance figures in my head.

Our second close call was on our drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef. We nearly had to coast in with our gas light on and about 1/16th of a tank of gas. This one actually turned out to be a closer call than we were expecting. But all is well, and we have not needed a tow... yet. There is still time to mess this up. Franz Josef to Christchurch tomorrow. It's go time.

On Pretty Birds

New Zealand is home to the one of only species of alpine parrot, the kea. Here is a nice little shot of it hanging out on the glacier.

This one is a little (read, a lot) blurry, but it give you a good idea of the awesome plumage on the underside of its wings.

On Catching Our Breath While Taking Yours Away

We spent the day on ice. Literally. We did an all day glacier hike on the Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast of New Zealand. Awesome could be a word used to describe the hike, but it would be grossly inadequate. A quick view from the ice...

"But Les," you say, "I see a little bit of ice, a cool mountain and a cloud. We have seen most of that before. We want to see some AWESOME ICE!" Okay, okay, I guess I can do that... Here take 'em.

This is actually, a good bit away even though you can't tell in the picture. Huge ice waves FTW!

Did I mention that we hiked down and through crevasses? I didn't? Well, we did, like this one. It was probably 10 meters or more over our heads and also awesome.

After such a great day on the ice, we stopped by the Glacier Hot Pools for a relaxing dip in the 40 degree pool. An hour in there and we were ready for bed... well... after we had dinner at Speight's. Great day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On Reinforcing Stereotypes

In Queenstown we had the opportunity to meet quite a few people from different parts of the globe, but surprisingly, the majority of them were from Canada and Germany of all places. Good thing I had my Canada hat to blend in, hey? "Hello, my name is Philip, and this is my friend, Les, and we are from Toronto...hey?" That didn't really last very long, and they picked up on our American accents quite quickly.

At one point, the conversation with the Canadians turned into "let's complain about America" time. They started moaning that Canada doesn't have much history, and as a result, they were forced to learn about American history in most of their social studies classes. The rest of the dialogue might explain why everybody hates Americans so much, so I apologize for dragging you along with me...

Them: Did you guys ever have to learn any Canadian history in your social studies classes?

Me: Ummm... No. We learned about you (Canada) in geography class though!

Them (excited): OH! Yeah, like the names of the provinces, and where they are located?

Me (smiling): No, just that you guys are north of us...

They didn't appreciate that remark, and I can understand why. Fortunately, Les came to the rescue with his stunning smile, winning charm, and magnificent beard which made them feel right at home in the empty tundra they live in. He didn't even need a flannel shirt!

But, seriously though, when is the rest of the world going to understand that the United States of America is the center of the universe?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On Auto Repair

Stupid Toyota with stupid sporty low ride front bumpers. During our first day of driving in NZ, we managed to bottom out and rip some of the plastic wheel covers for the front wheels. After driving for a day we could hear them scraping the ground and flapping in the wind as we drove across the hilly country. Instead of getting it fixed, we decided to stop in front of an auto shop, buy some duct tape, and tape it up like the brilliant engineers that we are. It miraculously lasted a week before we had to stop again on the side of the road on our way to Franz Josef, and now that it's all taped up again, it should last until we head out on Wednesday.

Well, now we're in Franz Josef safely, it's 9pm, and we haven't had dinner yet. Why we are still on the internet, I don't know. All the places are probably closed now, and we'll have to eat the gummy colas that I bought in Queenstown.

On Late Nights

The bars in New Zealand stay open until 4:30. I know this for a fact. And because of this knowledge, it was rough getting up this morning to get on our way to Franz Josef. We had a 5 hour drive and a 3 hour hike (Rocky Mount Summit, 12km west of Wanaka) to get done. We did it, but it wasn't the prettiest thing we've done so far. We meet up with some Canadian girls that we had run into while sky diving. Janelle and Vanessa then introduced us to the crew of other Canadians and other travellers (Denise, Mallorie, Lina, Marcus, Alex and Terrance). They were all on the same Magic Bus tour and had been hanging for a bit in other places. By far the best group of folks we have met yet. All the best to them in the travels.

On One Lane Bridges and Highways

The New Zealand highway system is *interesting* to those who have grown up with the US interstates. While I don't bat an eye at have 6 lanes going in one direction in the States, the fact that in NZ the only time there are two lanes going the same way is with the occasional passing lane is novel. Not only are all of their highways one lane in each direction, most all of the bridges on said highways are one lane... shared by both direction of traffic. Again, I say *interesting*.

And just because I can, this is me standing in the middle of highway 6.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On Inequalities

New Zealand YHA Hostels >> All European Hostels

There I said it. The YHA hostels we have been staying in so far in New Zealand are simply amazing. Great locations, great staff, good prices and the feel of a pretty nice freakin' hotel. I am sold on YHA down under from here on out.

It also doesn't hurt that this is what we see when we walk out the front door of our hostel here in Queenstown...

On Keeping Busy

So, yes, we went sky diving, and yes, it was awesome, and yes, energy levels are low after our bodies have gone through just about all the adrenaline they could handle for a day. But, it was only 3:30 when we got back, so what better way to finish out the afternoon than to play a little disc golf,

followed by lawn bowling,

followed by massive hamburgers at Fergburger, a popular hangout, in Queenstown. The night is young, though. It's 8:30pm and the sun is still above the mountain tops. Now what?

On Being Worse Sons

Here you go Moms... We went skydiving today. It was awesome to put it mildly. We jumped out of our perfectly good airplane at 15,000 ft. AGL (above ground level) which is actually 16,200 ft above sea level. It turns out that this is the highest point on earth that you are legally allowed to commercially skydive from.

No. Big. Deal.

Oh, did I mention that the views were breath taking? Well, the views and rushing towards the ground at 200 kph...

Les dropping like a rock from 15,000 ft.

Phil's spectacular exit.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Taking a Break

Nature has suggested that we take a break from adrenaline pumping, endurance testing, and sanity affecting activities. It's raining here in Queenstown, but fortunately after we had the chance to freefall off some jagged rocks. This is the perfect time to do laundry, call the folks and say Happy Thanksgiving, and watch an episode of Gavin and Stacey, a BBC comedy series that two people from Leeds, UK put on in the common room. You could definitely pick up on the British humour (that's how those Brits spell "humor"), but I thoroughly enjoyed the American pop song that they decided to end the episode with...

On Being Good Sons

It is the 27th here in New Zealand, but it still is Turkey Day back home in the States. Being the good sons that we are, we decided to give our moms a little ring. The best part was that we had told them that we wouldn't be able to call at all. :o) Surprise Moms!

On Being Bad Sons

Soooo... We probably should have told our moms that we were going to do this before we did. Oh well... Here are some videos of what we were up to. You'll need to fast forward to 1:30-2:00 minutes in before you see the good stuff.

This is me jumping off the platform backwards

This is Phil's awesome hand stand right off the edge.

If they don't like this, they sure won't like what we have planned for tomorrow...

On Free Internet While Waiting to Go Bungee Swinging

They have free internet at the company that does bungee swinging here in Queenstown, so I thought I'd say a quick hello, and a quick goodbye as we wait to get chartered out to the jumping location. The jump is a 60m freefall and then transitions into a 200m arc swing over one of the gorgeous canyons around this area. This is just a warmup for our 15,000 ft. skydive tomorrow. By the way, I just realized that they are advertising the skydiving in feet. Definitely catered to silly Americans seeking thrills like us...

And it worked. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Tracks, Tramping and Walks

When it comes to outdoor activities, they have a different way of referring to things down under. For example, where we might say "trail" in the States, they refer to it as a "track" in New Zealand or Australia. Also you don't go on a "hike," you go on "walk," and one of you favorite pasttimes wouldn't be "hiking," instead it'd be "tramping." So find yourself a good track to go for a walk and get tramping. That way you can see awesome things like this...

On Skipping Rocks

Everybody likes to skip rocks. You're hanging out on the edge of a lake, looking for just the right rock... not too big, really flat and sits perfectly in your hand. We had the chance to spend some time doing just that today on our way from Te Anau to Queenstown. The only difference between you and us is that when we are skipping rocks, we were doing it here...

On the Photo Shy Natives and Trust

Outside of our Milford Sound adventure this morning there were a few other things to report. We saw a wild kiwi crossing the road. It ran off into the forrest before we could throw an E-brake U-turn and get the cameras out. I know, I know, it didn't happen if there aren't pictures. Hence the post's title. In addition to the kiwi, we did the Te Anau glowworm cruise. This was pretty sweet and also unphotographed. There was some cool cave walking with low overhangs and rushing waterfalls. The glowworms themselves glow a nice blue-green and when you have enough of them together you can actually see by their light. The reflection in the water was also pretty cool. All in all, we saw them, a kiwi and the glowworms. They were awesome. And you'll just have to take our word on it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Waterfalls

We went to Milford Sound today, and there are roughly 1,392,304,867 waterfalls within the Sound (which is actually a fiord since it was created by a glacier) alone. We had to jump back and forth from one side of the boat to the other just to see them all and to avoid the rain. Unfortunately, our cameras are not cabable of capturing every single waterfall in the same shot, so here are 4.

...And one more!

In addition to seeing lots a awesome waterfalls, they pretty much parked the boat under one so that you could feel it as well.

On Taking Photos

Les is the king of taking photos. It's been 3 days, and he probably already has 800 photos taken. Ah, the digital world we live in. While Les is snapping shots left and right, I have balanced my time between my own photos and what is called a "moving photo".

We both have been having a blast playing around with a tiny HD video camera, and hopefully, when we get a chance to revisit and edit the video, some of the shots give a feel for what we are seeing out here.

On Staking a Claim

Everything that I see from here will one day be my kingdom.

(This is taken from where Phil is standing in the "On the Size of the World" entry.)

On Photos for Mothers

As my dad pointed out, there aren't any picutres of me up on the blog yet. There is a good reason for this, all pictures of me are on Phil's camera. To remedy this problem, I have stolen Phil's SD card (i.e., ask him politely for it) and you get this awesome shot of us from the first day while doing the Rainbow Reach part of the Kepler Track.

On the Size of the World

It's small. That's really what this is about. Last night we were eating pizza and we ran into some people that lived in Los Altos. Seriously? We go just about as far away from California as you can get and we meet some folks that live 30 minutes away?

That's not a good enough example you say? You think that one more will show you that is truly a small world? Then why don't you pick up what I am about to put down. On our hike of huge proportions today we ran into some girls from North Carolina. Huh. Phil is from North Carolina. Still not good enough? How about if I told you that they grew up in the same small town that Phil did (Cary and Apex). Boom.

Small. World.

And since we're talking about Phil...

Another brief note about these Southern Bells we ran into. They were looking good even though they had been camping on the side of the roads for the last few days. Each was rocking a little bit of makeup and one obviously wouldn't be caught dead without some pearls. She had a couple of big ones in her earrings.

On The Last Hour

Most of the tracks out here in Fiordland National Park are either out and backs or huge loops (like 40+ miles huge), so when you are crushed and broken like we were today, that last hour of tramping through brush that you have already seen is tough. Your feet are screaming at you, you're probably ready for a meal and a nap or bed and as mentioned before, you've already seen this stretch of the track. I'm not saying that these sections aren't amazing and awe inspiring, just that you've already had your awe inspired by them 8 hours earlier and the only thing you are going to be aweing at is a nice juicy bacon cheese burger. Done and done, BTW.

Pretty picture just because...

On Mistimed Meals

Man... Fail on my part. There is about a two hour section of the Kepler Track that we did today that was more or less vertical. 3500+ feet gain over two hours. We were cruising up it on track to finish it in half the posted time, two-ish hours instead of four and a half. We were both starting to feel the pains of hours of hard tramping and not much to eat. We were shooting to try and clear the brush line before we stopped for lunch, but I was starting to see things that weren't there, like falcons dive bombing me, so I called a stop and we grabbed some chow. Not five minutes later we cleared the brush line and stumbled across this vista...

Needless to say I was disheartened and a bit bummed that we didn't get to eat our lunch looking out over this, but it turns out that amazing sights like this (and a bit of food) do wonders for sore legs and energy.

On Toast

Phil is not capable of making toast. He burned it and caused two different smoke alarms in our hostel to go off. An epic win to start off the morning.

Monday, November 23, 2009

1 word...

BROKEN. Our bodies hurt. A lot. It's day 3 in NZ, and we have been pushing aggressively. After ignoring the suggestion of jetlag, we have been moving forward at a blistering pace. This morning, Les' iPhone alarm decided to go off at 5:30, and it contributed greatly to a day haunted by fatigue. Jetlag? No sleep? Bah, no time for such hindrances. We had scheduled a hike, and by golly, it was going to be conquered.

We were going to try to do two hikes down by Manapouri, but one was only accessible via charter boat (runs NZ $350 by the way), so we decided to try something else.  The hike we ended up choosing for this glorious day was part of the Kepler Track that began at a little above sea level at the control gates for the lake and climbed to about 1200 meters (that's roughly 4,000 ft. for you silly non-metric system Americans) where we would stop at the Luxmore Hut for a rest before coming back down. That faint snow covered peak way in the background... that's the one we hiked to from the car park this was taken from.

No. Big. Deal.

On the way up, I swear that I almost witnessed Les cry for the second time in my life. It was a challenging hike, but the views were the most spectacular that we probably have ever seen. At the top, you could see all of Middle Earth, and we even got to venture into some caves at the top.

As beautiful as the hike was, there is a penalty that came with it. We are sore. Mucho. We can't even walk. We are hunching over like 80 year olds, and our strong, powerful strides now resemble those of an infant taking its first steps. But onward ho. Milford Sound awaits do more hikes.

On Falcons and Flying

Sooooo, we were hiking today on part of the Kepler Track and decided to take some sweet pictures. Unknown to us, the native falcons were nesting close to the trail and objected to us taking picutres of their lovely countryside. Seriously, they tried to and succeed in running us off. We got dive bombed by the falcon twice. Twice. Screaching beak and deadly talons missing us by mere feet. Good thing Phil and I are (were) runners. We bolted. Oh and speaking of Phil, he can fly too...

On Sheep

Everywhere. Litterally. These creatures are over running the countryside. If I go 5 waking minutes without seeing one, I start to think that something is wrong.

On Driving...

It's not nearly as difficult as I was expecting it to be. No major mishaps yet. The worst thing that has happened is that Phil keeps turning on the windshield wipers when he is trying to signal for a turn and we keep trying to grab the seat belt from over the wrong shoulder. That and we have had a small need for a duct tape repair...

Day 2 - Seriously It's Only been Two Days

For some reason it hasn't sunk in that we have only been here for two days.  It's weird.  It feels like we've been here for four or five days already.  I think it is the fact that we're driving everywhere.  Anyways, Day 2 has been every bit as successful as Day 1.  We rolled out of Dunedin around noon thirty and got to Te Anau around 4.  The drives are simply amazing.  That is about all there is to it.  It has been an absolute treat driving around the South Island.

After some dinner and some provisions procurement, we were ready to head out for our first hike in Fiordland.  We did a portion of the Kepler Track (which is on of the Great Walks in New Zealand).  We started at Rainbow Reach and trekked out to the first set of huts around Shallow Bay.  It was absolutely amazing.  We took a bunch of pictures.

We did a little trail running, some for fun, some out of necessity (see "On Falcons and Flying" for the necessary running story).  Three hours later it's 9:00PM and it's still light outside.  We make it back to our hostel and then grab some dinner at a pizza place that is open from 9am til "late" (which turns out to 10:15PM).

We got some busy days planned over the next few days.  Time to hit the sack.

The New Blog "On ..." Segement

We're gonna start adding some new content to the blog.  The idea is to have something other than just the daily reviews, so we're going to have what I am calling the "On ..." segment.  They'll be quick little notes about things we see or hear around town.  They may be a sentence a picture or a paragraph.  There maybe one every other day, or 5 in one day.  We'll see.  Look forward to it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Time Travel and Day 1

Touchdown in NZ. I never thought we'd get here, but after 13 hours to Auckland, watching 4 movies to mindlessly waste time, a 2 hour layover, and a 1 hour flight to Christchurch, we have made it! We got in at 8:30am on a Sunday, and our first order of business was to hop in a car and drive 6 hours. It might sound like we are idiots, but when you see some of the pictures and video that we got, you'll realize that we are, in fact, geniuses.

Our plan was to drive from Christchurch down to Dunedin (pronounced duh-knee-din) and spend the night there. This will get us closer to Fiordland National Park, where we plan to spend a good couple of days. We stopped in Oamaru along the way down to Dunedin, ate some crappy fried food (corn dogs, french fries, and mutton pies), and toured the little historic town. We checked out this pretty awesome little art gallery called The Forrester Gallery. They had an amazing steampunk show going on that would make Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing proud. Obviously, we kept getting distracted on our way down to Dunedin, took pictures of schtuff (like incredibly round boulder down on a beach) and ate a great dinner at Lone Star Steakhouse, which we concluded was the New Zealand version of Outback Steakhouse...but better.

We rounded out the evening with a hike down a massive sandy hill to a beach where we could watch yellow eyed penguins come back from the ocean after a long day's work. (If you check out the Google map, you can see exactly which sandy hill I ran down that Phil flew, almost literally" down.) It was gorgeous -- the waves were big, sea lions were sleeping on the beach, and we fortunately got to catch a few penguins make it on shore. Then we had to hike back up the sandy hill, and for a second, I thought Les was going to cry. But he was actually tearing up because he wished I was one of the many chicks that he could share this awesome experience with. Sorry to disappoint Les.

Well, we just woke up in Dunedin, and it's on to Fiordland National Park where the real fun begins. Not that we're not having fun right now, but seriously. This is going to be awesome.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Phil and I are headed off to New Zealand and Australia today. Gonna be a long flight followed by a long drive followed by pure awesome. I think we can handle it. Next time you hear from us, we'll be on the other side... of the world!