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Entries about new zealand

Franz Josef Glacier (to be pronounced GLASS-i-er!)

Our hike on ice and our sunset on the beach...in the same day

Two pictures taken on the same day in NZ…furreal:

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Once again, on our drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier, we were privy to some pretty damn picturesque views. Translation: lots of stops for photo ops on the side of the road. What made this leg of the journey particularly special was the variety of landscape and rapidly changing environs we passed through – mountains, lakes, snow, rainforest, sheep farms.

Some of the awesome views from the car:

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We were psyched to arrive at Glow Worm Cottages, our hostel in Franz Josef – admittedly, our standards had been lowered tremendously by our Queenstown digs – and discover a quiet, clean and rather pleasant vibe. Ahhhh, relief: nothing so peaceful as spending the evening over a steaming Cup o’ Noodles while lovely Swedes complete a jigsaw puzzle and politely sip Ovaltine in the background. We were a bit confused as to the actual location of the glacier as tremendous clouds disguised it above. The next morning, as we packed the car prior to our arctic hike, Marin asked Nikki to bring our packs out to the car, and then turn around and look above the roof of Glow Worm. There it was! The ginormous Franz Josef Glacier slicing the sky in half behind her! Here’s the view of the glacier from the end of our driveway:

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We arrived at the Franz Josef Glacier Guides building promptly at 9:15 AM. After getting outfitted with waterproof pants and jackets, clunker boots, wool socks, caps and mittens and fashionable fanny packs in which to carry our crampons, we headed to the heli-pad. The ride up to our landing spot in the heli was…out of this world. We got to sit in the front seat right next to the pilot! He flew us around the mountain on a scenic tour so that we could get up close and personal with the mile-thick ice peaks and caves.

Some views of/from the chopper:

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Highlights from the glacier hike:

1. Putting on the crampons (the spikes that you attach to your boots to grip the ice):

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2. Posing for pictures in ice caves

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3. Discovering the difference between white ice (has air in it) and blue ice (is the most solid)

4. Viewing a waterfall through an ice tunnel (the glacier changes so much that this wasn’t visible as recently as 2 months ago…we knew this was a tremendous sighting when our guide took his own camera out for a shot )

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5. Drinking glacier water right off the ice (and the large man who came on this rather pricey trip specifically to fill up multiple liters of empty water bottles)

6. Our very cute carrot-topped guide named Dean
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Pretty amazing that this thing just exists out there in the world. And we were able to walk on it.

After warming up with a “Flat White” coffee– this has become our drink of choice, it’s like a Latte but with less milk and more coffee -- at Full of Beans, the FJ local coffee shop, we hit the road to head up the West Coast towards Punakaiki, a secluded beach town. What we found when we arrived was probably the best accommodation we have stayed in thus far – waterfront property and ocean views from our room for $70 NZD/night! We couldn’t get over being on a beautiful beach the same day we’d hiked across a glacier. The sound of the ocean lulled us to sleep and felt fantastic on our run in the morning.

But, note to selves: do NOT run barefoot on beach that is flooded with Antarctic sea waters and covered in volcanic pebbles, prior to the sun’s rising and warming of said beach, no matter how romantic and lovely you are determined this will be. You will end up with numbed feet and opt for your sneakers halfway through the run, when you're already all sandy.

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Some shots of our lovely hostel and beach:

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Before leaving the next day, we made sure to visit the big tourist attraction of the town, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes (limestone boulders jutting out over the ocean that have been eroded by the waves and the weather into formations resembling giant stacks of pancakes). This is also where Nikki was nearly abducted by a strange man from East Florida – probably due to her donning the first tube top of the trip:

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Next episode: Sunny, sunny Nelson. Marin flies! And our trek through NZ’s most visited National Park, Abel Tasman. xoxo Marin & Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 01:57 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hiking new_zealand franz_josef_glacier punakaiki pancake_rocks Comments (1)

Queenstown…

“Which way to the bungee jumpers?” – Overheard by us, coming from an adorable 4-yr. old toe-headed Australian (say it again to yourself with the accent, this time with a high pitched kid’s voice, it’s fun)

The Drive – It was blissfully short and sweet and gorgeous as we approached Queenstown. That water that is the color of the Caribbean Ocean is actually fresh water – Lake Wakatipu. See for yourself:

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Our Lodging – First, let’s explain the circumstances leading up to this…how to describe…barely legal accommodation in Queenstown. For starters, QT is pretty much the most popular destination in NZ. It is also a place where you don’t do just a little bit of anything – everything happens to the extreme – i.e. extreme height, extreme speed, extreme consumption of alcohol (more on this to follow). Last but not least, we were there over the weekend.
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As you may recall, we were quite fatigued from our aquacize through Milford Sound the day before. So, we didn’t think to book ahead for accommodation in QT. We threw caution to the wind, backpacker style!!!, and waited until Saturday morning to inquire. Turned out a few other people wanted to spend the weekend in QT as well…

Time spent on phone (aka minutes lost from Nikki’s life): 47 minutes. Number of calls placed to find a vacancy: 8. Booking secured: A “twin” room, called “The Bungee Room” with bunk beds (we rock, paper, scissored for top bunk…Marin won!), $55 a night NZ dollar, which is about $40 US…for those of you who subscribe to the “you get what you pay for” religion, you’re right -- bathroom down the hall, but centered in the heart of QT. Oh wait, our room is right next door to the 24-hour kitchen and the common room, and this place is jammed to the rafters with teenage Australians and one middle-aged man/serial killer of unknown descent, well… okay… this won’t be so bad…

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Saturday night: We enjoyed a lovely dinner at an awesome Thai restaurant (amaaazing green curry) and headed back like true old people to retire before 11 PM. As we came in, we were a bit distraught to discover that “the kids” – the aforementioned thrill-seeking 18-yr. old Australians – were just on their way out for the night, bottles of brew in tow. Fast forward to 3 AM: “WHERE’S MY CHOCOLATE CAKE???!!!” spouted Drunk Lass, from the common kitchen just next door, after 10 too many ciders enjoyed that evening. Nikki’s retort, spoken like a chanting monk from the bottom bunk, in a tone angrier than the one she uses when I drive too fast and careen ever so slightly off the left side of the road: “GO. TO. BED. GO. TO. BED.” They did not go to bed until the wee hours of the morning – so imagine, if you will, this scenario repeating itself over. And over. And over.

And we’ve not even addressed the layer of crumbs, sticky jam, toilet paper, cigarette ashes and unidentified backpacker funk the place was covered in when we “woke up” on Sunday morning. Lucky for you, no pictures.

Our Activities – We had a rather funny stay in Queenstown because we decided this was the time to take a break from the adventuring and just have 2 days to sit still, not drive, and enjoy a bit of town living. The town is a lovely, upscale for New Zealand mountain town – kind of like a lower-key Banff or Boulder, CO. But funny because Queenstown is the adrenaline junkie capital of the world – every 5 feet you get an offer to go bungee jumping, sky diving, off-roading, jet-boating, canyon-swinging, paragliding or any number of crazy activities for which you need to sign your life away before undertaking. It’s amazing what bored but smart people will do with a few feet of rope and some rubber. During the day everyone is jumping out of planes – it’s not uncommon to look up and see a tourist mid-flight (see below) – and at night everyone is drunk, detailed above.

Instead of all this, we enjoyed a lovely jog by the lake and a walk through the QT Gardens with our fellow elderly:

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A trip up Queenstown Hill on the Skyline Gondola, thus fulfilling the extreme-height requirement:

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A luge ride – didn’t quite fulfill the extreme speed requirement, but fun nonetheless:

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Sunday night started out innocently enough, imbibing a few pints of NZ’s finest beer, Monteiths, at a neighborhood pub…but quickly descended into sinful debauchery: fulfilling our consumption of alcohol requirement, stumbling our way to the tourist casino and big wins at the Blackjack table!!! Unfortunately no pictures of this but it was grand, and paid for our dinner that night! This is where we got our adrenaline, and now we’re on the lookout for casinos in every city we’ll visit. Sunday night was more restful than Saturday, though Nikki did wake up with her infamous “meat sweats” from the 2-lb. burger that seemed like a fabulous idea at midnight as celebration of our big casino win high.

Did you know it was possible to hike up a glacier and then enjoy the sunset on a pristine beach in the same day? Tune in next time to hear all the deets. And yes Moms, we found MUCH nicer places to sleep. xoxo Marin & Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 00:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown new_zealand Comments (0)

We Dominated the s&*t out of Te Anau!!!!

Extra-long entry about some extra-special adventuring

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Our time in Te Anau, a sleepy mountain town with million dollar views of the alp-like Kepler mountains, began with a lengthy and sheep-filled 4-hour drive from the Otago Peninsula. Upon our arrival at Barnyard Backpackers, a hostel comprised of old, converted, log cabin-esque farm houses, we realized we needed to head back out to the grocery store, ATM, and gas station to take care of some necessary details (only a short 9km drive down the road). Too bad it was already 8PM and Marin and I were both blurry-eyed, famished, and cranky from our trek across the South Island of NZ. Trying to negotiate different brands of generic muesli in this state is quite a feat. Our meal planning that evening went something like this:

Nikki: “Does this one look good to you?”
Pause – one-one-thousand….two-one-thousand…three-one-thousand…four-one-thousand…
Marin: “Yeah.” One-one-thousand…two-one-thousand… “What?”
And so on.

After procuring the necessary supplies we headed back to our remote hostel to prepare some food in the communal kitchen. When we first viewed the kitchen and communal living area we were pleased to see an older married couple (older than us!) completing a crossword puzzle over a bottle of wine at the rustic wooden table in front of a roaring fire. These appeared to be the only other humans around. . .part of the appeal for us (especially Marin). When we returned from the grocery store, with one thing on our minds- ingesting some well-deserved split pea canned soup- the kitchen area had been transformed into a zoo of hungry backpackers. It was as if a tour bus had just arrived and poured its contents into our humble mountainside lodge. I was actually nudged out of the way by a pushy German woman at the stove who was all too eager to fry up her onions and eggs at 10pm – oh, sorry, 22:00. Luckily we have lots of experience subtly “throwing elbows” when needed – don’t mess with NEW YORK!

All this said, here was the view from our cabin-room when we woke up the next morning (you can see how it makes it all worth it):

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When we excitedly told The German (once again we were sharing kitchen space) about the rainbow sunrise, she replied, “Just one? I’ve been here for a few days now, and I am accustomed to waking up to three or four rainbows each morning. Just yesterday, on my hike up to Key Summit, a one-thousand kilometer climb, I was able to view a double rainbow at the apex.” OK, German. Cook your eggs and leave us alone.

Not to be outdone, we headed straightaway for this so-called Key Summit. Key Summit, or “The Divide” as the locals call it, is known for having amazing views of the surrounding mountains – sort of the gateway to the whole Milford Sound area. Keep in mind, this 3.5 hour hike to 1,000 meters was only our warm-up activity – we had already booked a 5 hour sea kayaking adventure for the same afternoon.

Eeeneyways, the hike was amazing. Picture the most lush rainforest, the sheerest and steepest mountains, multiple waterfalls and desert-like tundra – all rolled into one short hike.

Here are a few pictures from our way up and on the summit:

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Unfortunately, we felt a bit defeated and jealous of The German when we arrived at the pinnacle of our climb. A passing front socked us in with clouds and fog. In other words, no view. In addition, extreme weather conditions had set in. We were assaulted by the elements: high winds, piercing rain, and close to freezing temperatures (who knows though because of this whole Farenheit/Celsius thing…). I’d like to mention at this point that Marin insisted upon remaining in her yellow Patagonia men’s swim trunks (hey, these were high fashion at prep school in 1996). She insisted she was fine as long as she “kept moving.” So we did.

On the way down, after resigning ourselves to the fact that the main benefits of this climb would be fitness rather than a Lord of the Rings skyline, we were startled by a couple a few meters ahead who were waving madly at the sky and yelling loudly. It happened! The clouds broke, the fog lifted, and the awesome mountains rose up before us. Nikki has described this as one of the most amazing moments of the trip thus far. Pictures don’t do it justice, but nonetheless, here’s what it looked like – we were awestruck and on top of the world:

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Post-hike, we continued our drive towards Milford Sound. We were feeling a bit tired, but very excited for our next activity: sea kayaking in reportedly the most beautiful place on earth (it has been described as the 8th Wonder of the World). The drive towards it was stunning. Little did we know the drive would be a Middle-Earth-esque venture unto itself. From the car and the side of the road, we experienced some of the most stunning views thus far on our trip. A popular line from Marin has become, “Pull over. Just one more pic. I promise, no more after this one.”

Here are some pics from the drive in:

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And now, the kayak. . .how should we begin to talk about the kayak? Well, let’s just say this, Marin sent an email to our immediate families following our kayaking excursion in which she explained that although we saw some beautiful views within breathtaking Milford Sound, she was grateful that our marriage survived! Marin has confessed that she pictured us paddling amongst the warm golden sunshine on a still day in crystal clear waters alongside peaks carved by glaciers. Perhaps a dolphin or two jumping over the bow of the boat if we were lucky.

The reality of the situation was a bit different. While we were strapped into our two-person yellow vessel, after almost capsizing due to high winds twice, she said and I quote, “I thought this would be more luxurious! Where is the wine and cheese anyway?” Tosh, our Kiwi tour guide, was full of information about the beautiful waterfalls that we were sailing by; however she left a bit to be desired in the area of customer service. Unfortunately, Nikki’s extremities, which notoriously have been known to have poor circulation, acted up and downright froze on Milford Sound. When Tosh asked how we were doing, I replied, “my hands are a bit cold.” This was an understatement as I had lost feeling in 8 out of 10 fingers and my hands had turned a lovely shade of light blue. Tosh laughed it off and said, “Oh such a pity that I didn’t set you up with a pair of pogies (water resistant gloves), we have loads on shore. I didn’t think it would be this windy out here.” I smiled at Tosh and shot Marin a look letting her know that a temper tantrum would shortly ensue.

I managed to avoid the temper tantrum (almost) and we saw some pretty amazing sights! Tosh highlighted one waterfall in particular that was 4x the size of Niagara Falls. It looked like nothing as apparently it is very difficult to comprehend the scale of naturally occurring beauty when you are accustomed to looking at skyscrapers. Also, everything in the sound is so enormous – these peaks shoot up one mile into the sky – that huge things like waterfalls and cruise ships look practically tiny. Here are a few shots that attempt to capture it all:

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So yeah, you may have noticed the whitecaps in the background of some of those shots. Tropical and peaceful kayaking this was not. As we attempted to cross Milford Sound without completely capsizing (a feat that should not be underestimated), Nikki’s hands and feet got colder and colder until pretty much all sensation was gone. Which left me, Marin, to paddle our heavy tandem kayak solo. There were sore shoulders, there were tears, and there was massive, massive relief when we finally reached the end of our aquatic journey.

We got back to our hostel after a three hour drive in the dark and the rain…and a massive “STAY AWAKE!!!” sing-along to the soundtrack of In The Heights. Ate oatmeal for dinner and drank beer in bed and had the best night’s sleep ever.

Up next…Queenstown and our stay at the Bungy Backpackers hostel, which made summer camp look like 4-star luxury. No bed bugs…yet.
Thanks for reading – xoxo Marin and Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 01:16 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hiking kayaking new_zealand milford_sound te_anau Comments (4)

Thoughts and Prayers

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people and city of Christchurch. We also feel very blessed that we did not get our act together to travel any earlier than we did.

Family, we will be changing our itinerary -- no longer flying into Christchurch, I'm afraid. Will likely look into flying into Dunedin instead and exploring the south coast of the South Island a bit. We're going to give things a day or two, and then get in touch with airline, hotel, etc. Keep you updated as plans progress.

xoxo Marin and Nik

Posted by Marbert18 07:35 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand christchurch earthquake Comments (0)

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