Thursday, May 18, 2017

All's Well That Ends Better

The Ring of Fire trip, September 2nd, 2013; Day Thirty-One and Thirty-Two of Thirty-Two.

The next day after I caught my flight and and made it back to the farm with no issues, this time. I was going to try to ride one of the horses on the farm but decided it would be way too much rushing around and I simply wanted to relax. It was nice to catch up and hang out with the other travelers to compare stories.

It was quite a long way home to Maryland. I had 3 flights in 3 days, so was especially sick of flying by the end of it and had traveled nearly 20 hours with a slight delay on my connecting flight from Las Vegas to Philadelphia (my only flight to be delayed the entire trip). I had my first flight from the South Island to the North Island on Wednesday and was picked up by Malcolm and Shlomi. That night we ate a traditional Jewish meal to celebrate the Jewish New Year and Skype Roni’s parents. It was all new and exciting to me but such a fantastic trip.

After a few hours, Malcolm and I left for the airport after saying our goodbyes and stopped at a local shop. The shop had many unique items made of green stone. It is mined on the south island and has some value to it as it is unique in itself. Anyways, I bought a few souvenirs, including a Maori (the ancient tribe still on the island) hand weapon to add to my collection of unique weapons from different countries. Once I made it to the airport and said goodbye to Malcolm I went into the gate. I had $40 Australian left over from being there and knew the airport would take it. So, I bought some NZ chocolate and a few gifts for people at home. Yes, not the best timing on the gifts but they were fairly similar just about everywhere I looked anyways. I had a short 4 hour flight to Tahiti. I wish I could have spent some time there (who knows if I will ever make it back, right?) but it was just a layover. Maybe, for my next disappearing act. I did have the luxury of having a row of seats to lay on during this flight so that was superb; the added bonus was that we were outside in a courtyard so I at least go to get some fresh air.

The next flight was eight hours and the seat next to me was empty. However, this flight seemed to drag on forever. It was most likely because of the combination of being overnight and simply a long time to be seated. Eventually I made it to Los Angeles where my Aunt Karen picked me up and grabbed some. After a five hour nap, we had a delicious home made meal and she dropped my off for the flight the next day. Therein I flew to Vegas, and then to Philadelphia; getting in two hours later then I expected (midnight) where my parents gladly picked me up! On the flight to Vegas, I met another traveler and we discussed whether the Green Bay Packers would win more or less than 9 games. Anyways, I said no way that they would be less, cause Aaron Rodgers, of course. However, Rodgers ended up getting hurt that year and they lost more than 9. I still don't know which way he bet but it was good fun talking about it. Anyways, it felt so nice to finally be home and sleep in my bed. As one of my friends said, traveling is awesome but the travel to get to the destination can be a pain. I was able to hang out with family that I don’t get to see very often, and made many new friends in Australia and especially New Zealand. Although many of the people in NZ were not from there, it means I met people from all over the world.

I cannot stay still so after just two-three days (getting in midnight Friday) I was off to New Jersey to visit my relatives with my father on that Monday. Good thing i love to travel!

Here are a few stats from my whole trip:
  • Flew on 12 different planes (booked 8 different flights)
  • Flew 28,120 miles (the equator is around 25,000), so I essentially circled earth 
  • Drove around 1,700 miles (mostly in New Zealand) and rode a few hundred more 
  • Hiked a total of 64 miles (only includes trails and hash runs)
  • Gained upwards of 22,630 feet of elevation on my hikes (and yes, if you go up that much you generally go down the same amount) which is comparable to Mount Kilamanjaro but not nearly as strenuous
  • On vacation for 32 days (41 if you count the week at the beach before I left)
  •  Spent $3,730 (as close as I could figure) on my whole trip, 100% worth it!

This blog is dedicated to my late cousin Toby (pictured above), who would do anything for anyone in an instant. I am grateful to have spent some time in his company. The hash runs are something I will never forget.

Read the full trip chronicles, here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lake Tekapo

The Ring of Fire trip, September 2nd, 2013; Day Thirty of Thirty-Two.

In the morning I could not believe where I had parked. There were mountains to two sides of me, and a nice, pristine river below. It was quite the beautiful and peaceful place to wake up to; no wonder i slept great! I decided to head to town to get some gas and figure out my route. As I was leaving the gravel car park, I was having trouble going forward. So I got out and checked the tires, they were fine. I got back in, went into reverse to a less rocky area, and was about to drive off fine. There had been an exclamation light in parenthesis on the dash and I was low on gas so I figured it was telling me to get gas right away. I made it to the gas station, pumped some gas and again went to drive away. Then I remembered I had put the parking brake on the night before since I was on top of a hill. Good thing it’s only a rental. I guess I wasn't thinking too clearly this morning.

After getting gas, I decided to check out one last LOTR location and then to Lake Tekapo.The LOTR location was the mountains surrounding the city of Edoras, however, it was private property so I couldn't get as close as I wanted to unless I paid for a tour. The mountains provided the most amazing backdrop across the shrub covered fields and it felt like I was in the middle of middle earth, but more realistically nowhere. I decided not to venture too far as Myriam had educated me on the beauty of Lake Takepo in our brief encounter.

The lake was an astonishing blue color and it was another gorgeous day outside. No matter how much you see the blue waters, it never ceased to entrance me. The mountains with snow covered peaks only enhanced the blues of the lake and sky above. The Good Shepard Church was right off the water and is the foreground to many beautiful pictures of NZ. I did my best to capture the beauty but it just won't compare to being there.

After walking around and taking many pictures, I headed up to the astronomy observatory on the hill above the city. The views again were amazing but this time I was able to drive up. The observatory is one of the top five places in the world to star gaze as there are mountains all around and very little light from the city far below. I would love to be up there to get some pictures, but it’s later than I want to stay and $125. I also met a couple up there from Australia who did it and didn’t think much of it, but Myriam had great pictures. She also has a great camera and did a little photo editing, I believe.

Back down to the beach I decided to finally use the stove to cook sausages by the water on the stone covered beach. I was able to set up a little seat and level out the stove but would have preferred sand. The stove worked pretty well but I didn’t have anything to season the sausages with so they were kind of bland. As I was driving away, I gave a family the four remaining sausages as I had no time to eat them, nor did I want to and they gladly accepted. It is quite the amazing little town.

I found myself lying on another beach nearby to relax before I had to head for Christchurch. I wasn’t sure what my plan was but I had to return the car the next day so I wanted to get closer. On the way I stopped in a little town called Fairlie and got a triple chocolate ice cream. Then went next door to a restaurant, where the girl agreed to give me the password for the wifi.

After checking in for my flight and what not, I made my way to Christchurch and began to search for a place to park. They are somewhat strict on freedom camping, so I came up with a plan: camp right next to the car rental place. I will fit right in and no one can tell the difference between the two cars. So, here I am, and I fly back to Auckland tomorrow. No better time than to watch a little LOTR before I catch some sleep for my flight in the morning.

Read the full trip chronicles, here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Zealand's Hiking: Roys Peak

The Ring of Fire trip, September 1st, 2013; Day Twenty-Nine of Thirty-Two.

While at the bar, Catherine and I had both wanted to hike up to the gondola on top of the mountain that overlooked the city. Doing it before the sun came up seemed like a good idea, so I woke up at 6, picked her up, and headed to the trail. We started our way up, ended up going up the wrong trail at one of the many splits (there were also mountain bike trails), but made it to a midpoint eventually where there was a map. However, it had taken too long to get to that point and she had to be back by 8:15 to prepare and leave for skydiving so we hung out a little, took the right trail down, took some pictures, and saw some cool waterfalls plus a nice view of the mountains with the sun not quite up yet. I had failed, yet again, to catch a sunrise in NZ, but still had a fun morning hike.

After dropping Catherine off, I made my way out of the city and to the first commercial buggy jump bridge. It was a 47 meter jump and I was tempted to try but didn’t want to spend the $180. There was even an optional water touch, where you dip into the water before bouncing up. I saw one guy do it and it looked fun but just not worth that much money to me. In hindsight, I wish I had the funds in the budget for it but I will save it for another trip.

A little town called Arrowtown was next; where I found yet another location of from The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). There was also a tour group mining for gold there but I don’t think they had any luck. It was neat to see the side of the river that the black riders were in the attempt to capture Galadriel and Frodo whom have waded out into the river. Fun fact: in the movie, the other side of the river is in a completely different location. Yes, I nerded out on this trip quite often.

Anyways, Lake Wanaka was calling my name and it was about an hour north; I had heard it was stunning from Myriam. Also, Una  and her friends were going up there at some point that day too. Upon arrival I saw what all of the fuss was about. The blue water stretched out in front of me as it weaved around islands as far as my eyes could see. I would have loved to have rented a boat for the day to explore more. It was a magical place, even compared to the rest of NZ.

I continued into to town to find the tourist information station and to jump on a quick hike to take in the area from above. Roys Peak jumped out at me instantly and I honed in on the details. It was a 16 km (10 mile) hike and was from the base (water level) to the top of a mountain. It was a six-hour hike and so leaving at 1:50 I was a little concerned about the time since it gets dark by 6:30–7:00. However, as an experienced hiker and with a torch in case it got dark, there was no changing my mind; I had to do this hike.

Shortly before I left, another guy was just about to start the hike so I knew there was at least someone else that was as crazy as me. He got a head start as I made a quick PB&J and packed my bag for the trek; I ended up catching up to him and hiking the rest of the way up and down with him. His name is Eric and was a great hiking partner. Solitude is fun for a bit but I always enjoy making friends and hikers are some of the easiest people to befriend. He was from the same area in Missouri that I used to live in and owned a gutter cleaning business. Apparently there is a lot of demand in that, a lot more than you would expect, at least. We made it to the top in 2 hours and 20 minutes and were overtaken by the views from the top as we could see 360 degrees of mountains, lakes, snow, the town, islands, and even the smoke from a small fire a ways off. Our tiny cars sat below as we watched people break into them and loot what little possessions we left behind. Only kidding but it was a real possibility with my van screaming tourist. I could see the views the whole way up the mountain but seeing them in every direction adds another element. The water was vividly blue and inviting as the sky matched the scene and the local shrubbery created a yellow-brown contrast that made everything pop even more. Eric and I took turns going out to a peak to nab one of the best shots in all of my trips. It is the defining shot of one amazing hike.

To cut down on the time going down we decided to hike along a ridge and then slide down what looked like loose rocks. After going off trail for a bit and making it to the rocks it was far more dangerous than we suspected; we may have been cliffed in but we were not going to give in so easily. So, we kept following the ridge and kept searching. The bushes we slick, like a long grassy bush, and on a slope it was easy to slip. However, the fall was flocculent so it was fun in a sense. We made it to a fence and followed it down to the trail. It was steep so we held on to one or two wires, leaned back and sidestepped down the slope. It helped immensely and we made it down to the real trail. From the top to the bottom in 1 hour and 50 minutes. We had taken 2 hours off the estimate and I maybe could have done it quicker on my own but wouldn’t have been anywhere close to as fun or enjoyable.

At the bottom we said goodbyes, exchanged info, and split. I headed into town to find wifi and a pizza for dinner. No sign from my other friends so I headed out on the road drive a little in the night. I may have missed some of the scenery but I would rather be hiking and exploring than driving in the day. I will have to return to Roys Peak for a shot at a sunrise hike. I had a very tight "schedule" to keep and only one more day on the south island. Two hours later I pulled into a little town called Twizel and found a place to camp outside the city. At this point, I was pretty tired, so I picked the first place that seemed adequate and dozed off quickly.

Read the full trip chronicles, here.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Infamous Milford Sound

The Ring of Fire trip, August 31st, 2013; Day Twenty-Eight of Thirty-Two.

I had to be at the bus stop for my tour at 7:30, so it was another early morning. The bus was about five minutes late but finally arrived. It's always fun standing out in the cold with a bunch of strangers waiting for a bus. The bus driver cracked a few jokes and played some music while he picked up the rest of the people. After listening to him talk about different places and mountains for a while I decided to write some of my blog and take a nap. I eventually ended up talking to a girl sitting near me named Myriam, from Austria. When the bus stopped we got some stuff at the grocery store and sat next to each other for the rest of the two hours (it was a four hour trip). She had just graduated from college in Australia and was doing some traveling. Since she was into cinema photography and in general knew how to work a camera much better than me, I learned quite a bit about what I could do in different situations and saw some of her travels in around the country during the trip.

We also talked to a girl from Missouri, named Catherine, at some of the stops the bus made to take pictures and see waterfalls. At one of the stops the water was drinkable right out of the river from the snow melt; it was cold but mighty refreshing. It seems to be much easier to talk to other travelers than the locals and you meet people from everywhere. Of course, that depends on the culture of the country. Eventually the bus arrived at Milford Sound and we boarded the boat. The sights from the dock itself were stunning. There were waterfalls hundreds of feet tall and we went nearly under one at one point.

So of course I had to get the GoPro camera out for that and hide my good one to protect it. Unfortunately, in awe, I dropped my camera but it only fell about a foot before hitting the bench. The mountains looked as if they came straight out of the water and all of the scenery was surreal. Like nothing I have ever seen, maybe in a movie like Jurassic Park but much better in real life.

I would love to stay there for weeks just exploring and taking pictures from above. The area is world renowned and hikers come from everywhere to hike there; winter treks in the mountains requiring professional gear and knowledge. After an hour and a half, that went much to fast, we landed back on the docks.

I ended up sitting next to a lady from Ireland named Una. She was traveling with two other people from Auckland where she worked as a nurse. We ate some delicious crisps and talked about travels, while the movie, The Blues Brothers, played on the bus. When we arrived back in Queenstown, she gave me the rest of the crisps and parted. Another awesome person that I met. For some reason people like to give me food, maybe I look too skinny? I don’t know, but food is always good.

After changing and walking around the city I met up with Myriam, Catherine, and a guy named Alex. Catherine was doing a study abroad in Sydney and was on holiday so decided to hop over to NZ. Alex was an engineer from England who was working in Christchurch but was on vacation currently. He was also on the bus and was pretty cool. We ended up going to get a few drinks to chat it up.

Around 11:30 I headed out, back to the DOC campground to get some rest. While at the bar, Catherine and I had both wanted to hike up to the gondola on top of the mountain that overlooked the city. We would attempt to make it to the top before the sun came up, so it would have to be another early morning. As someone who generally likes their sleep, I do tend to make the most out of my vacation days by waking up early and going to sleep late!

Read the full trip chronicles, here.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Moeraki Boulders are the Best Boulders

The Ring of Fire trip, August 30th, 2013; Day Twenty-Seven of Thirty-Two.

Waking up we decided to head back into town to get breakfast and see the buildings in their full light. After a delicious breakfast and a quick call home we toured the town of Timaru and took pictures. We also happened to catch a train coming in town. It was an older train with some classic coach cars, worth seeing but not too special. Just south were the Moeraki boulders; perfectly round and mythical stones to the New Zealand people. The boulders erode from the hill above the beach and gravity takes over from there. They are perfectly round as the water carves and shapes them over time. Eventually, they may erode away entirely as you can see in a few.

There were around 30 on the beach, that we could see, since the tide high but not too many people. So we spent some time walking around, jumping between the rocks and of course taking pictures. It was a very unique and seemingly magical place to hang around. I would have loved to get a sunset picture but I wanted to make my way to Queenstown before nightfall. My goal was to book a tour of the famed Milford Sound for the next day. We said our goodbyes and I headed on my way. They were a fun group of travelers and had a lot more time to see the country than I. Plus, they had already been to the city. We said our goodbyes and I was on my way.

After a four hour drive and a few stops to take in the scenery and relax, I made it to town. It’s the most expensive town in NZ and is no doubt a ski town. I was a little surprised that there was snow on the ground but I still felt fairly comfortable walking around in shorts, so it wasn't crazy cold still. There are about 10,000 permanent residence (and many more travelers that pass through). After booking a tour for the next day and finding a place to park I made my way to a eatery called Ferg Burger. It is well known for having filling, delicious burgers. So I ordered one and had to wait around a half hour to get it. In the mean time I headed into a ski shop to check it out and waste some time. I ended up meeting a guy that worked both winters in Colorado and New Zealand rotating back and forth, which sounds amazing. Even more interesting was that he grew up in the same town I did in Michigan and went to the same high school, just 9 years before me; pretty crazy. Back to the burger place I had to wait a little longer and ended up talking to people from France and Australia. People in a queue are very easy to start a conversation with and you never know who you will run into or where they will be from. Once I got my burger and found a seat under I heater next to the people I was talking to, I dug in. The burger filled the plate and the fries filled my stomach; probably one of the best I’ve had. As if I had died and gone to heaven.

The people from Australia had ordered way too much food so they offered the French guy and myself some onion rings, calamari, and French fries. People can be so awesome once you get to know them a bit and other travelers especially. It was starting to get late and had an idea of where I wanted to camp but still wanted to find it and get settled in. Driving around and camping where you please is referred to as freedom camping and is forbidden in the town of Christchurch, so I had to be about a km outside of the city. About ten minutes from the city I found a DOC (Department of Conservation) camp ground and park there for the night. It is fun to camp in new places all the time, but I was definitely aware of who and what was around me. Again, the stars were burning the sky and so very mesmerizing; I would be a fool not to take them in. I snapped a few pictures before getting in the van, watching some of the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers and fell into a deep sleep.

I love this beautiful country.

Read the full trip chronicles, here.