Walkabout: Travel Life and Photographs

Happy New Years for 2006!

Wow, has time been flying by! It’s already 2006 and I’m not even sure when I last wrote on here. Ever since my girlfriend Rachel arrived on the 21st of December time has slipped right on by. It feels like she just arrived, but sadly she has just departed two days ago on the 4th of this month. I hope everyone out there had an enjoyable holiday like we got to have here and got lots of nice pressies! Like I was just saying Rachel arrived a couple of weeks ago and we all traveled long and hard to make the most of her time, all the while hopefully making the most of it. Her first day in we didn’t even waste I picked her up by myself at the airport in Auckland early in the morning and we drove to Waitomo Caves from there. Waitomo was one of my favorite places and I thought she’d like it too, and as her Christmas present (since I couldn’t think of anything better) I signed us with a local company who dressed us up in some sweet, smelly dry suits with headlamps and white rubber boots. They then took us rappelling down into a cave where we grabbed tubes and hiked upstream through an underground river to begin our black water rafting adventure. As the current swept us downstream our group was instructed to turn our lights off and we were then greeted
by thousands of little blue lights made by glowworms. I’d seen glowworms before, but these were by far the most abundant and amazing to see. We past our starting point and kept going down the cave on our tubes until the guide stopped us for a chocolate and hot orange drink before we made our way back. Once back to where we dropped down into the cave we ditched our tubes and harnessed into a safety rope to climb our way out. It was a great time that we got to experience with a local guy (the guide), two Irish girls (one of which had a hell of time in the caves that kept tripping, losing her tube, and even accidentally caused her friend to fall and go spilling over some rapids face first on her stomach), and a Canadian guy.

After that we did a couple of hikes to Mangapohue Natural Bridge and Marakopa Falls to add to the Ruakuri Caves trail that we did earlier in the day before the tour.

The following day we drove to Lake Taupo where we met up with my parents for my 23rd birthday. Dang I’m getting old! Our first stop for the day was just down the road from where we were staying, Taupo Bungy. If there’s one thing New Zealand is known for besides it’s beautiful landscapes it would have to be it’s extreme sports, and there’s a few I felt compelled to do before my time here is up. I’d been telling Rachel for months that she would be jumping with me, despite her large hesitation or want not to she did! And so did both of my parents! My Mom was the bravest out of all of us and went first to the blue, blue river below us, followed nextby my Dad, and finally side-by-side with one arm around each other we jumped tandem screaming (I think) all the way down. It was an awesome ride and well worth it I thought to do at least once. A little yellow raft came out from shore and picked us up to courier us to the rivers bank where we made our climb up to watch our daring leaps of faith on video. We also got pictures taken, but haven’t had time to get them scanned, otherwise I would have loved to put them on here. Until I do though these ones will have to do.

Following that we drove up to Rotorua where we went zorbing. Those of you who don’t know what zorbing is it’s a large plastic ball with another plastic ball suspended inside it. You climb into the inner plastic ball filled with warm water, push the thing over a hill, fall down, and go laughing the entire way down. Prolly doesn’t sound all that great, but it was actually a lot of fun and better than I thought it was going to be. My parents rode in one zorb together and Rachel and I rode in another together.

To finish out the day we arrived at local Maori village where we could observe them doing traditional things like weaving baskets with flax, playing games, cooking, and so forth. They then took us inside where they performed on a stage singing songs, telling Maori legends, and the women showed their talent by demonstrating there use of “pois” (I think) which is small, white pom-pom attached to a long string back to a handle. At one time each of the four ladies had four separate pois of their own swinging around in succession with one another in different directions without hitting anything else. Really quite impressive, hard to explain too, and a nice change on birthday from the usual dinner and movie routine since nothing is ever open on Christmas Eve.

The next day was Christmas and we didn’t want to waste a day, even though I think everyone would have liked a day to rest we drove south of Taupo to hike part of the Tangariro Crossing, which I hope everyone found worth wild. We went as far as Red Crater (pictured below) where we could see blue lake, three emerald lakes, two volcanoes, and the far stretching valley below all from this one vantage point. That night we had a nice dinner where we stayed followed by opening pressies.

On the 26th we left Taupo to catch the ferry from Wellington over to the South Island. We left early because my Dad wanted to stop at a place called “Gravity Canyon” to ride the “Swoop” or as they called it the “Flying Fox”. My Mom didn’t want to do it so he easily persuaded Rachel and I to join him. After making a daunting climb up to the top of the canyon wall we were coaxed to climb into two safety harnesses each complete with matching glasses. When our turn came up we walked up to a platform which raised us high enough for the operators to fasten us in. They checked and rechecked everything and sent us on our way. All of us were attached together on a single suspension cable with our stomachs parallel to the ground and faces forward as it swooped us down through the gravity canyon, dropped us 175 meters, and caused us to reach speed in excess of 160kph. What a rush! And then we got to do it all over again in slow motion as they slowly reeled us back to the to

The ferry ride wasn’t as fun as the swoop, but was beautiful as ever passing through Cook Straight and entering the Marlborough Sounds of the South Island to the port city of Picton. We got in late and were thankful to find a place since the ferry was full and everyone else was scrounging for accommodation. Rach and I ended up having to camp for the night, which was fine, but I “forgot” to tell the place I was traveling with her since I’m so used to traveling alone and this seriously upset the manager who noticed it the next day. I tried to explain the situation to him, but I don’t think he bought it and said he woulda “tossed” me out if he noticed it the night before and I was “lucky to get any sleep”. I nodded accordingly and paid the man an additional 14 bucks. I kind of find it ridiculous that there’s no discount for additional people in a party because it’s not like that tent is taking up anymore space regardless if there’s one or two people in it.

Oh well.  We split company with the angry man and went on to Christchurch stopping off in Kaikoura along the way where I took everyone to a walk around a peninsula where fur seal colonies hung out on the oceans jagged, rocky edge. My Dad got a little close to one of the seals causing it to yelp and growl in a discouraging fashion telling him not to come any closer. Other than that we had a great time hanging out and watching them play in the water or sunbathe on the open rocks. My Dad even liked the town so much that he wants to return there on our way back for a couple days.

In Christchurch we wondered downtown to Cathedral Square for some evening “nibbles” as my Mom likes to say now and drinks at a local Irish bar.

On our way out to Franz Josef Glacier the following day we stopped at Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area. I had a hard time explaining this place before and I’m still not sure how to go about it. From a distance it looks like it could be ruins of an old city, but upon closer inspection you’ll see its only large limestone rock formations. It’s a rather big, spread out area filled with hundreds of nooks, crannies, and tunnels to hide in and climb about. Making for a nice place to hang out for a day, and would be awesome if you had a lot of people to play hide and seek in or sardines.

We also went to Arthur’s Pass for a picnic outside, and where I was hoping we’d get to hike up to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, but due to time we had to drive to make it Franz Josef Glacier. We didn’t make it in time though because the whole town was booked up when we arrived causing us to backtrack to an earlier town for the night. This turned out all right because we got to eat the local delicacy “wait bait” at a restaurant and have a “jug” of beer. Rachel asked the bar tender lady for pitcher of beer, but only got wide eyes in return. She had never heard that word in life she said, so with a series of pointing gestures she got what she was asking for across and found out they call them “jugs” here.

To my dismay we found out the glacier tour companies were booked up and couldn’t take us on. The holidays here are much different from what I’m used to here. Coming through before earlier by myself I never had to book anything ahead. Accommodation and tour companies always had room when you showed up, but from Christmas to New Year’s it’s as if the whole of New Zealand takes off and backs everything up during that time. We always made due with what we could get though and made the most of it. Although we couldn’t hike on the glacier we did hike up to it and got close enough to walk over chunks of ice that had fallen off. I found the warning signs to be a lot fun and tried mimicking the black stick man’s body actions in them. Driving on from Franz Josef we stopped in one of my favorite towns, Wanaka for a few days. My Dad kind of wanted a day to just hang out so Rach and I took the car up to Mount Aspiring National Park and she got a chance to drive through the fords! =) She did quite well seeing as how we didn’t get stuck and I’m writing this here today. We took the hike up to Rob Roy Glacier through what looked like a subtropical rainforest covered in moss with a large river cutting through it. Once in the Rob Roy Valley we of course had our patented PB&J sandwiches and were joined by Kea birds. One thought he was oh so clever and sly and managed to poke a hole in our bread bag, knock the peanut butter jar down the mountain where he tried to break it open without success, put a few notches in my backpack’s cup holder, and almost made off with our bag of cookies. Prolly sounds kind of pestering I’m sure, but they’re quite entertaining assuming they don’t make off with any of your stuff. The glacier was beautiful as ever with its numerous waterfalls and cracking sounds echoed throughout the valley.

We needed a day to rest ourselves and relaxed on New Years Eve day taking in the sun, ultimately getting burned (which is easy to do since New Zealand doesn’t have an ozone layer above it), and playing in the lake. That night we managed to find a Mexican restaurant which was awful and followed it up with drinks back at our place. Among my drinks I managed to drink 3 beers! I’ve never drink that many beers (because I hate the taste) in my life, and broke my previous record of 2 beers that I set when I was 15 in Mexico with my parents trying it for the first time. Man was I proud of myself and still am. Don’t have any plans to drink it again, but still proud. Oh yeah, they shot off fireworks at midnight over the lake. Rach and I ran down to barely make it in time. Cheers to everyone for 2007! I mean 2006!

As a last thrill ride we headed to Queenstown the next day in hopes of riding the Shot Over Jet Boat up the Shot Over river. However they weren’t operating that day, and weren’t yesterday either because one of their boats caught on fire. They of course didn’t tell us why, we had to find out in a local newspaper article why. With the weather turning stormy we ducked into a local theatre to watch the New Zealand made movie, King Kong. It was good, but definitely overdone in a few spots.

Mount Cook was a place Rach wanted to visit while she was here, and one I hadn’t been yet. Leaving the parents in Wanaka for a couple days more we moved on in that direction. And of course Mount Cook Village was booked up solid, except for one room that ran $660 bucks a night that just so happened to be half p
rice. Usually being a sucker for ½ priced goods I wouldn’t to jump on the offer, but thinking better about it we stayed in a town called Twizel. It worked out well because clouds hung over the mountain range the entire time, but it was clear in Twizel. We decided to do a hike to Mueller Hut and up to the peak of Mount Oliver, the first mountain Sir Edmund Hillary climber. We didn’t make it however because rain and eventually heavily falling snow cut our hike short. With that though we concluded we had experienced every type of weather possible during our time here: rain, dry heat, humidity, snow, sleet, overcast skies, high winds, clear fine days, and so on.

Overall though Rachel’s time here was met with some of the best weather I’ve seen. So all in all a really great time with her that I wish didn’t have to end, but all good things must. I took her to the Christchurch International Airport on the 4th of this month. I won’t go into it, but it was a long and hard goodbye, followed by an even longer drive back to Wanaka by myself, but prolly not near as bad as Rachel’s flight from Christchurch to Auckland to LAX to Washington Dulles to Charleston, North Carolina.

Now we are in Te Anau and my parents just got back form a cruise in Milford Sound. I stayed behind today as I’ve already been up there and need time to figure out a couple things like selling my car and changing my plane tickets to leave soon. Our time here is almost up! My parents are booked to fly out the 18th! They’ve almost been here 6 weeks already.

Hope everyone is doing well back home and enjoyed the holidays. Cheers once again for the New Year!