New Zealand – Land of the Kiwis and Hobbits.

So we haven’t made any blog updates in quite some time however we can assure you that we are doing fine.  We’ve been rather busy and for awhile there we did not have access to both the internet and our computers.  So, we’ll try our best to update you so this post may be a bit longer than usual.

 We left McMurdo in the middle of February on a C-17 which brought us back to Christchurch (and the first night time we had seen since October 22). They dumped us off the plane and funneled us through customs to arrive back at the place where the adventure began, the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC).   We offloaded our polar clothing into a massive pile, picked up the backpacking gear that we had left back in October, and spent the evening enjoying a bottle of champagne.

The next morning we went back to the CDC to determine what gear we wanted to leave while we were ‘tramping’ around New Zealand.  Once we had figured that out, we spent the day wandering around the beautiful Christchurch Botanical Gardens.  We easily spent an hour smelling the roses…literally.  After not smelling much of anything at McMurdo for five months it was absolutely wonderful indulging in roses for a bit.  Afterwards we met up with a friend from Flagstaff, Anna Mae and spent a couple days with her. By a lucky chance, she is working on her Ph.D in Christchurch. Of all the places in the world that these two gals from Arizona should cross paths again unexpectedly and by random chance, no one knew.

Anna Mae offered us her car to drive to Akaroa while she spent the day working.  Naturally, we often found ourselves further over to the left side of the road than we should have been so our common response was ‘Bitch in the Ditch!’ Standard protocol. Both the drive to and the town of Akaroa were stunning.  It is an old French colony that sits on the shores of a beautiful harbor.

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On our way to Akaroa. Kiwis are the nicest people, until you put them behind the wheel of a vehicle. They drive faster than a bat outta hell and love to pass you at the most dangerous time possible. Compound that with us not having driven in 6 months and having to drive on the opposite side of the road; it was a miracle we survived the trip. Well worth the risk of our lives though – we picked up some local wines and cheese and I ate the best veggie burger of my life here.

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Akaroa.

We had decided to purchase 21 day rail tickets to get ourselves around New Zealand while we were there.  Between the cost of the rental car plus the cost of fuel, it was actually going to save us money, along with not have to worry about driving in congested areas on the opposite side of the road. Probably safer for both us, and whoever we happened to be driving past.

We took the train up to Arthur’s Pass and spent four days camping up there.  It’s a wonderful area in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, however the Department of Conservation (DOC) campground happens to lie directly between the highway and the train tracks.  So sleep was hard to come by. Despite the lack of sleep we were delighted to see plenty of Kea.  Kea are parrots that are native to New Zealand and they are incredibly cunning creatures.  Throughout the evening they would check to see whether we were awake before attempting to steal stuff from right under our tent.  They tore a hole in my backpack to get at some cashews and at one point even started to drag my shoe away.

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Up on the top of picture is the infamous Kea. They’re parrots that terrorize the community of Arthur’s Pass. They outsmarted us constantly at night while we were sleeping, stealing our shoes and opening the zippers on our bags to eat the food inside. They’ll tear apart vehicles and take food from your plate. They’re endangered (and therefore protected) so you can’t really do much to them other than wave them away, which they don’t particularly like.

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Kea in Arthur’s Pass. A few moments after we took this shot, he tried to steal my bag. When I attempted to stop him, he nearly took a chunk of my finger off. Despite all this, they’re goofy and entertaining. Not to mention, really beautiful.

While we were there, we ran into Marc Ankenbauer who was also from the ice.  We hung out with him for a couple of days and learned about his goal to swim in every named lake in Glacier National Park.  He’s been raising money for the Children’s Oncology Camp Foundation and you can check his progress over at www.glacierexplorer.com.  As of this writing he only has 11 left to go.

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Devil’s Punchbowl in Arthur’s Pass.

After Arthur’s Pass we took the train out to Greymouth just to see a bit of the countryside of the west side of the South Island before heading back to Christchurch.

We met up with Anna Mae again before heading up to the North Island.  Back to the train depot but this time onto the northbound train.  It was foggy in the morning which led to some nice photos of the farmland north of Christchurch.

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Shadow of our train going over a bridge a couple hundred feet above the ground – awesome views.

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On our way to Picton. The accommodations were quite cozy.

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Picturesque Picton.

In Wellington we stayed at a hostel and picked up the groceries.  Hostels had their charm back in our twenties, when you wanted to party with other Western travelers and swap stories, maybe even get lucky. However, being a married couple who have both experienced this form of travel, a hostel wasn’t exactly our idea of a nice evening. People partying all night, sex noises, street arguments, filthy communal bathrooms – we’ve all been there.

So over to the Wellington train station and on to Tangoroa National Park.  The ride up to Tangoroa, while still beautiful country, was much more commuter style than the trips on the South Island.  It was rather amusing when we got to National Park because when the train pulled away we had no idea what to do.  None.  We hadn’t done any research whatsoever and assumed that there would be some sort of a National Park office there.  Nope. There wasn’t anything. There was a restaurant at the train station, but it was closed. There wasn’t a single soul other than us at the station. There was no sign of life in any direction as far as the eye could see, no buildings, no cars, no homes. Anywhere. We hadn’t really noticed this while we stepped off the train. The light bulb started to flicker after the train abruptly departed, leaving us in the middle of nowhere. This is probably a form of entertainment for the train operators, watching ignorant tourists scratch their heads in bewilderment as the train hastily speeds away, leaving them between Nowhere and Where the Hell are We. Apparently, National Park is the name of the town that is outside of Tongoroa National Park.  Quite a bit outside of the National Park at that. There was a single road that we could follow. We had a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right direction to head. Eventually, after walking several miles in one of the two directions we could, we found a hostel that we could camp at and set up shop for the day, while trying to figure out some logistics.  We found a DOC campground about four miles up the road and decided to hoof it there the next day.

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 We refused to pay the $30 bucks to shuttle to the campsite in National Park, so we trekked it along the roadside. The crater in the background is Mount Tongariro – or at least what’s left of it. There have been a couple massive explosions from this one. The entire back side of the mountain is closed from a recent eruption.

Another peak in the National Park area on the north island. This one is Mount Ruapehu.

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Kiwi sculpture of iron and driftwood in National Park.

We also noticed a sign for a local glow worm tours.  Glow worms have been on my list of things to see in life, so we signed up for the tour.  Allen (our guide and local to the area) drove us out in his van and we spent the night conversing with him. What a great guy!  Allen talked to us quite a bit about the geology of the surrounding area along with the history, as well as American politics.  We got to the location right as the sun was setting and as we walked down an abandoned railroad cut we noticed that they were starting to come out.  It was such an amazing experience seeing hundreds of these tiny insects lighting up the wall of brush on both sides.  They looked like light blue stars everywhere.  It was beautiful.

*Update: Over 4 years have passed since this blog and we’re still friends with Allen. 

The next day we hiked over to the campground and set up our portable ‘palace’ where we would be staying for the next three nights.  There was a nice hike through some wetlands and also a creek that we could swim in for about 30 seconds due to the frigid temperatures.

We decided that we should see a bit more of New Zealand’s North Island, so we took the train up to Hamilton which is just south of Auckland.  We weren’t feeling adventurous enough to make the trip all the way up to Auckland and neither was our budget.  Hamilton is a university town with an agricultural background and it was refreshing to get back into cultured society for a bit.

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A common scene; us waiting at a train station.

After Hamilton we figured it was about time to head back down to Christchurch so we took the train down to Wellington, skipping the hostel and opting for a hotel instead.  It was $50 (NZ) more but we had our own bathroom and no bickering neighbors which made for a much more enjoyable stay.  The next morning we got back onto the ferry and headed south to Picton again.  This time we were delighted to see several albatross in the water  and got to check off his list.

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Kaikoura has a gorgeous black pebble beach with azure waters.

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Kaikoura.

We wrapped up the traveling part of our trip in Kaikoura which is a wonderful beach town on the east coast of the South Island. We spent one afternoon with friends playing lawn bowling, and the rest of the time spent on the beach or wandering the shops.

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We bumped into friends who were fresh off the ice while we were in Kaikoura. We spent the day sipping White Russians and playing lawn bowling – a pastime the Kiwis take seriously.

Finally, back to Christchurch for our last night in NZ. We spent the evening with Anna Mae and her British roomie (Lizzy) eating a great meal, sipping champagne and soaking in a hot tub. Not too shabby.

Now we’re back in the States. We’ve been wrapping up odds and ends in AZ and getting outdoors and climbing when we can. We took a quick trip out to New Jersey for family and then we’ll be off to Colorado and Utah for some fun in the sun.