Monday, April 28, 2014

Milford Sound: Breathtaking Fjord Land, and Home Again

  Remember all the bleating sheep I mentioned missing since I had begun traveling by car rather than foot? Yep, I'm talking about these guys and gals right here.  I know this photo looks photo-shopped, but really, getting the attention of an entire field of sheep for the perfectly captured photo op is quite easy. Honk your car horn :)  All bleating ceases while they pose for the camera.

  We were now making our way up the west coast toward Milford Sound, which every Kiwi or tourist you meet on the south island, as well as many parts of the north, will tell you is a place "you have to see!"  All directions to visit the fjordland are accentuated with raised expressive eyebrows and flailing exaggerated arm gestures to emphasize the importance of their suggestive urgency.  But to be fair, after having actually seen it, if you ever make it to the south island YOU HAVE TO GO SEE IT!!! (Insert rapid arm movements and raised expressive eyebrows here ---> !! )  You will soon see why it's a must.

  What isn't the most glamorous thing about traveling the beached areas of the islands, and particularly the west coast of the south island is the number of ferocious sandflies.  Think mosquito bites that itch more intensely and for weeks rather than days. Think waking up in the middle of the night having unconsciously scratched yourself into a bleeding frenzy.  Think tiny scars across your body, reminiscent of childhood chicken pox.  I'm fairly certain if there is a tortured place in the afterlife, then sandflies reside there, and are well fed.

   A beautiful creek for a lunchtime stop, and an even better creek, Jeff found out, to soothe the bites of the sandflies.

  We drove along the west coast heading north toward Te Anau which is basically the last town with options for road deviation.  From here you can only travel SH94 north to Milford Sound, east toward the center of the island, or back south toward Invercargill.  There is only this one road to Milford Sound and your timing must be precise to get the best photo ops since the tour buses start making their way towards the mountain passes very shortly following the sunrise in a procession reminiscent of a circus parade.  So unless you want a bus load of tourists gaggled in your photos, a collection of wondered travelers ill-equipped with appropriate clothing for the weather and overly burdened with cameras and impatience, you had better get a move on with the rising sun.

  We decided to camp in one of the DOC campsites very near the sound so the next day would be visually stimulating to its maximum potential.  We were NOT disappointed!

A road section of State Highway 94

I'm certain faeries and other magical creatures of the earth gather here under moonlight for festivals and dance.

    We posted up at DOC campsite Kiosk Creek and after having satisfied our bellies with dinner, went for a walk along the Eglinton River, marveling at the clarity of the glacial runoff as the cold air descended upon us and the shadows cast by the setting sun devoured the valley whole.  


Dusk and flora

  As quickly as the harsh cold descended upon the valley the night before, it lifted in a blanket of light, steam rising from the morning dew.

Daylight's ascension

    With the day's drive underway we stopped along the road for a grand view of the surroundings and were greeted by two Kea parrots.  Found in the forested and alpine regions of the South Island the Kea is the world's only alpine parrot.  They are known for their intelligence and curiosity, their ability to solve logic puzzles and their cooperative efforts in working together to achieve objectives…but they happen to also be very well known for chewing on any rubber part of cars they can get their beaks on.  Tires, windshield wipers, door trim…whatever they can get their beaks on! And boy did they stay true to their description.

  It was proving difficult to stay in the van, just a spectator to the beauty around, so we did clamber around some rocks and falls.  How could you not want to be a part of this!?

Falling Clarity
You drive for a bit up the highway already impressed with the sights and you come to a stop sign in the side of the mountain and wait your turn to travel through the pass.

It takes a couple minutes to drive through the dark, dank, wet tunnel.

And when you emerge these mountains greet you.  Glorious breath-takers of old.

So finely displaying the steepness of their magnitude.  

  Welcome to Milford Sound

Cloud hat!

    It was time to begin the journey back toward Christchurch, toward an airport, toward planes that would carry us home…which is strange to think of.  After being a part of a place for so long, this was my home…but when it is time, I suppose it is time. Forward and onward, the journey continues.

  We stopped to marvel at Mirror Lakes, but as our timing for optimal viewing wasn't quite right, it was just a lake amid the mountains.  And I stupidly responded to this sign by saying, "Man they need to go out there and fix that sign!"  My stupidity quickly pointed out to me, that once reflected on the water, it would probably read quite clearly…haha!!!

  One night of freedom camping in Fairlight, hidden among a nearby grouping of trees, resting along-side an old railway station.

    We had driven to Queenstown, land of outdoor adventures and tourist traps!  Jeff had described it perfectly as follows.  "It's a beautiful well manicured lakeside ski town, but during the summer there will be mountain bike trails full of people, a gondola that you can ride to the top of the city, paragliders, parasailors, bungee jumpers, jet boaters, trampers, and just about any other outdoor sportsman you can imagine."  He was right, and when the sun came out, the tourists and adventurers also came out in full force.

  Our time there was mostly spent eating, and people watching.  We camped at the largest DOC site I had seen yet, Twelve Mile Delta, which had enough space for 100 sites.  We nestled the van down into a gravel pit, which sounds awful, but it kept the neighbors at bay.  In the morning I woke to this beautiful sunrise. Look at it!!!

  I am not a fan of tourist towns and we had places to be, so, onward in a north east direction we drove.

Am I in Idaho?
  Across Lake Tekapo, a gorgeous view of Mount Cook which is New Zealand's tallest mountain.  Standing at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet).

  Regal countryside scenes at sunset.

  Idaho saddles the 44th northern parallel, so I was more than excited when we passed by this 44th southern parallel marker. And more than anything it made me want a 44 North collins.  44 North is an Idaho distilled vodka. Yum!!!  I felt as I was approaching my departure, signs were literally pointing toward home.

  One last night was spent in Christchurch.  We "napped" for a few hours and caught a shuttle to the airport at 4:15AM.  We were both flying into Sydney, but on separate flights.  After I got to Sydney I had the pleasure of being at the mercy of flying home internationally on the standby list for an airline a friend of mine works for.  This game takes a lot of patience, but it's worth it.  Let the game begin!

  With only two available flights leaving Sydney on this particular airline per day, it took me two days to get out of there, and I was the very last person accepted on the flight, and I was so thankful for it!  All I experienced of Sydney was the airport to and from New Zealand.  It's everything you would expect a huge international airport to be…minus the fact that it isn't a 24 hour airport.  So when I found out I wouldn't be able to board the last flight out, I had to make a game plan for sleeping arrangements between the hours of 11PM and 3:30AM.  They have a small room outside of departures where all the stuck travelers are corralled into for the night.  Cold hard seats lined the walls, each with a metal armrest partition, which is handy if you plan on sitting in the seats for a while, but interfering if you plan to try and sleep in them.  A collection of bodies gathered in this side room, for a sleepless night, surrounded by cleaning crews, shop vacs, mops, and luggage.  I was more than glad to have made it on the last flight out the second day and totally impressed with the amount of effort the counter agents offered all the standby travelers.  Kind people make every situation better.

  While I was in Sydney I called home to check in with my sister, who was the only person I told of my return, and she had been sworn to secrecy so that I might get one of life's rare chances at the art of surprise.  I had called my mom, and dad to tell them I had safely made it to Sydney, but had decided to stay a while with some friends I had met on my journey.  I justified this little fib by convincing myself that if I could make a friend while in the airport, then technically I wasn't lying :) Sneaky sneaky!!  After one very sleepless night I met two wonderful people on the flight to LA who were both kind and hilarious!  They made the 15 hour flight a piece of wonderfully delicious cake.  Thanks guys!!!

  I was in LA.  I was so close to being home, but was delayed one more night and was ever so thankful that LA is a 24 hour airport with partitionless seats.  Now if they could just figure out how to keep the temperature at night at least somewhere near above freezing they would have it made!  I paced to keep warm and in the morning watched a classic musical on Netflix, because when computers are on, they generally produce a small amount of heat.  Spooning electronics…maybe that will be the title of this chapter in my book.

  I got on the first flight out the next morning, again the last standby allowed on board.  The emotions were rising!!! How had I already gone around the world on my grand adventure?  It seemed a dream…or maybe I was just obsessed with the idea of sleep somewhere in my near future.  I made it off the flight and was greeted at the arrivals doors by my sister, brother in law and 3 year old niece, whom I hugged and immediately began a game of "chase" with after having set her down.  She hadn't forgotten her Aunt Sara!!!  We stomped in all the puddles we could find as we made out way through the airport parking lot.  What are aunts for?

They call me ante instead of auntie, because when it comes to playing I always up the stakes :)

  I concocted a plan with the help of my sister to surprise both my mom and grandparents, which is a priceless feat I wouldn't trade for the world.  I wasn't ready to be back.  I felt stronger than ever emotionally, but some things you just cannot prep yourself for.

  Take a look at these amazing goof balls and tell me you wouldn't have missed them dearly while being away.  Buncha' beautiful weirdos!!!

  Two weeks after being back, and still none of my friends knew, my sister helped me again.  I managed to gather my favorite ladies at a bar to surprise them as well.  They were more radiant, funny, talented and beautiful than before I had left.  I did not know this was possible.

  The month after my return I retreated to my mom's house out in Sweet where I could gather my composure and thoughts and better prepare myself for my re-submersion into Boise.  The countryside, a fire-side birthday party, and a trip to my favorite hot springs were all the medicine a homesick girl could  take to realize she was once again where she was suppose to be.  Life…could it be more beautiful?

   A special thanks to every single person who helped make this possible.  The yay-sayers and the nay-sayers alike, for pushing me harder than I would have pushed on my own.  I am consumed with gratitude…now I just have to write a book about it!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Onward to Bluff: The end of the TA trail.

  From Dunedin we continues South and headed slightly west, inland, on State Highway 8 toward the town of Beaumont.  Jeff had stayed there the year prior when he was finished with his season on the ice.  He wrangled up the coordinates for the exact location of what was lovingly and appropriately called the "Dope Camp Site," aptly named by he and his two fellow cohorts on their freedom camping adventures together.

  Freedom camping, be it in a tent or camper van, is when you camp in un-designated camp areas.  It use to be quite the norm in NZ, unfortunately due to the rise in the numbers of freedom campers and the unfortunate negative effect it has had on the green movement within the country, due to litter and improper disposal of human waste, freedom camping is now very sternly frowned upon.  Which isn't to say it doesn't still happen on a fairly regular basis, the campers have just increased their stealth and hopefully have also increased their conservation efforts.

  We drove for a couple hours, still astonished every day at how far we seem to travel across the map in such a short time, and familiarizing ourselves with just how small the country really is.  Jeff's excitement grew by the kilometer, his smile sneaking into a permanent fixture across his face.  He talked of the place as if it were paradise on earth.  The closer we got to the campsite the further forward he sat in his seat, as if sitting closer to the dash would help us arrive sooner.  Like watching a child approach an ice-cream parlor, his body wiggling with the excitement of things to come.

  We drove down toward the river, to the "Dope Camp Site" and strategically hid the van as best we could underneath a riverside tree.  It turns out it's fairly difficult to hide a full size van. Now imagine trying to hide a van with the paint job ours had.  We decided to face the bright pink side toward the river, and the more subdued image of the pimp toward the direction of the road.

  Jeff was right, this place was gorgeous!  The turquoise and emerald hues of the river were breathtaking against the forested limestone hills, and Jeff couldn't resist immediately jumping into the swimming hole.   Nightfall was fast approaching so we began the preparation of dinner before we ended up muddling around for food in the dark.

  As I mentioned earlier, freedom camping has been handled poorly by many travelers, giving a bad name to those who remember that we are guests on this earth.  Previous freedom campers had obviously forgotten every aspect of outdoor etiquette and had made a trash bin of the area.  When I was  a small child, any time my mother took us camping she would give us each a grocery bag to fill with litter to later properly dispose of.  She would always say "Leave it cleaner than you found it."  I keep those sentiments and gestures with me to this day.  So Jeff and I went to work cleaning the area.  Three unfortunate trash bags later we had made a decent dent in the damage that had been left behind and were feeling karmically cleansed and ready to enjoy a lovely dinner.

  I couldn't help but think of Idaho. What a beautiful place!

  I spent the following morning skipping about the jutting river rocks, watching the water rush past with force, until it was time to move onward. South toward the Catlins.  To Purakaunui Bay.

    This beach was stunning and a big hit for surfers.  Sandwiched between dramatically tall cliffs and amazingly textured, pitted beach rocks.

  We enjoyed the spot so much we stayed a second night and took a day to enjoy not having to drive somewhere. A vacation day :)  We walked on the beach and around to edges of the bay in a slow meandering exploration of the area.

  A couple underwater shots of the ecosystem living in a puddle atop the pitted rocks.

  The second night a storm rolled in.

  It rained most of the night and into the morning.  It was time for us to move on with the show, but we had a difficult start.  We had parked the van down a grassy hill.  Add several hours of rain and you have yourself a stuck van.  Jeff valiantly pushed while I tried to drive it out of the predicament we had found ourselves stuck in.  Keep in mind, this so far, is my only time driving in NZ.  Pedals where they should be, gears where they should be, but the shifter was on the left.  Slightly tricky, but not too bad.  We eventually recruited the help of two men to help push us out and over tire-spinning fun times we were free.  I must say though I did feel awful when I hopped over to the passenger seat and Jeff resumed his job as driver, covered from mid-stomach down to his toes in grass.  I wish I had gotten a photo!  The very image of valiance. And he didn't complain once!!

  We drove a couple hours to a place we both were anxious to get to.  Invercargill, and Bluff.  Invercargill is a city on the southern tip of the South Island and a place of interest for Jeff because he is an avid motorcycle enthusiast.  So what do motorcycles have to do with Invercargill?  It's the home of the world's fastest Indian.  For those unfamiliar, I will explain.

  Herbert James "Burt" Monro (1899-1978) was  New Zealand motorcycle racer.  Working from his home in Invercargill, he worked for 20 years to modify the 1920 Indian motorcycle.  He set his first New Zealand speed record in 1938 and later set seven more.  He travelled to the US to compete at the Bonneville Salt Flats, attempting to set world land speed records.  During his 10 visits, he set three speed records.  Munro was 68 and was riding a 47 year old machine when he set his last record.  The land speed record for under 1000cc, which he set at Bonneville August 26, 1967 still stands today.

  So, if you are into motorcycles, it's kind of a big deal.

The original World's Fastest Indian on display in Invercargill

And a very happy man

Jeff started laughing when he saw the sculpture and I thought it was for sure due to the look of what I interpreted as terror on Burt's face, but he was actually laughing at the mouse sculpted into one of the intake valves…at least I think that's what that valve is ;)

  Just outside the city of Invercargill is Bluff, the cities port.  The main reason people frequent Bluff is to catch a ferry to Stewart Island  It's also where the Te Araroa trail ends.  It's where I should have ended my trek.  I had to go see it.


  This giant chain link sculpture symbolizes the Maori legend where the South Island is the canoe of Maui, and Stewart Island is the boat's anchor.  The chain disappears into the ocean and has a companion sculpture on Stewart Island.

Jeff standing beneath the arrow pointing toward the South Pole, from where he had just come.

 ... and me, a mixed bag of emotions, because this was not the way I had imagined getting here.  But I was glad to have gotten here just the same.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dunedin: Campsites, "Caves," and Albatross

    Heading further south down the coast we spent the next couple of days traveling back and forth between a campsite called Trotters Gorge and Dunedin.  Speed was taking over my mind.  Speed and distance.   How was it possible to travel so fast, for so long? I felt like every second in the van was robbing me.  I felt like I was seeing in blurs.  Everything we passed was a fraction of an image at best and I wasn't feeling anything. I wasn't seeing anything.  I was missing it all.  I felt like the last player in a game of "crack the whip", being flung from place to place.  Getting in the van, out of the van, in the van, out of the van, whiz, zip, out of the van, in the van, pick some music, poor attempts at conversation because my mind couldn't focus on anything.  Everything was happening so fast, and it was all just too much.  

  We would drive into a town, and rather than having the time to immerse myself in buildings and street names and funny little nuances found along the street, I had just enough time to navigate directions to a store, or destination, then we would be there, getting out of the van.

  I am sure of the fact that I was not the best company.  I apologized often for my erratic behavior, but it was all just much too much, for much too long.  I wanted to be on my feet again.  I wanted to stroll through the streets, and smile at children as I passed, having watched them living out the thoughts in their heads, the greatest thespians of life.  I wanted to eaves drop snippets of conversations because conversations are thoughts and I revel in the windows people open to let light into their minds.  I wondered what the blurry edged scenery we flew past would feel like under my boots, and what it smelled like when removed from the roadway.  I missed the bleating of sheep and the curious stares of cows.  I couldn't hear the birds from the cabin of the van.  I had been removed from my comforts, and I was feeling trapped.

  We drove between the campsite and Dunedin for 2 days like madmen, running errands, stocking up on supplies, stealing showers from hostels and wifi from the library, while learning to read each others habits and moods.  It was a full throttle learning experience and I needed to once again evaluate where I was.  This was the next step of my journey, and I was not prepared to travel at such speeds, both physically and emotionally, yet they were happening, so I had to find ways, and tricks to adjust myself. My surroundings were not the issue, my mental state was, and I was holding onto the manner of travel I had been doing for the past several months like a child grips its blanky before it's thrown into the monstrosity called a washing machine, with an inner terror that it might never be seen again.  Life is nothing but a string of change and adjustment, it's the grace with which you handle those changes that exemplifies your character.  I was being a huge baby.  I am not proud of it, but it certainly was a learning experience.  So it may have taken a few days, but eventually I changed the vantage point from which to view this new way of travel, and thanks to Jeff and his immense patience with me, we managed through it, and had a good time…albeit, between panic attacks here and there. Like I said, life is a process.

  Trotter's Gorge was a campsite in thick bush setting amid limestone rock formations jutting out of mountain edges.  Just a 10 minute drive off the main highway and you could pretend you were lightyears from civilization.

  A walking trail of two connecting riverside tracks lead you to what they referred to as "caves," but from the vantage of an Idaho woman, they were nothing more than indentations in a rock face, either that or we somehow missed them completely.


I was hoping to find bats or glowworms, but I guess crickets will dew…hahaha…get it? Dew!!!
Try not to laugh, I dare ya.
  The Dunedin Railway Station is the most commonly visited sight in Dunedin, and I must say it was gorgeous both inside and out.  Considered a historic sight the station was opened in 1906.  New Zealand is so newly a westernized country, even more so than the US.  It's interesting, what is considered to be historic is at most about 150 years old.

  My favorite part of the architectural design were the sculptures surrounding the cupola of the clock tower.  Of course.  Blah, blah, blah, art nerd alert!  I know, I know.  BUT, if you look closely you will see something much more magical than you might have ever expected. The devil is in the details here.

  See it yet?

  Posted on either side of the four crests are two animals. One is a lion, of course. So regal, brilliant and strong. The other is a unicorn….A UNICORN!!!!!!! La la la!!! A unicorn, a unicorn :)

Unicorns, making everything they touch magical.  Forever and always.
    While in Dunedin for the day we drove along a seaside road, heading off storm clouds and watching the water wave across the asphalt, as we made our way toward a nearby albatross colony.

Looking back toward the city, a break in the clouds.

   We watched gulls, and albatross play in the cliff colliding wind, seaweed tumbling in the surf below.

The only solid shot I got of an albatross in flight. Massive beautiful pilots.