FiNZ 42 – High over Middle Earth

I’ve been avoiding sorting through photos from this past weekend because there’s just so many. Alas, I managed to pick out a “select” few and collage the crap out of all of them so they’d fit somewhat nicely here.

Friday was a precious New Zealand holiday – Waitangi Day, aka “the 4th of July New Zealand style.” Luckily, that gave us a head start to drive down to Queenstown and meet up with Kathy and Don Friday morning. Friday ended up being one of the most intense activity days we’ve had here.

To back up a bit, a freak cold snap had come across the country and Queenstown temps dipped to near 0 Celsius the previous two days. That meant that 1) the surrounding mountains were covered in snow in the middle of summer and 2) I was really glad I checked the weather and brought my fleece and winter hat.

Fortunately for us, Friday started to thaw the town up. Our first stop was the Shotover Jet–an activity Keith and I’ve been waiting until warmer weather (the joke’s on us) to do. I’ve heard its one of the “must-do” activities in Queenstown PLUS Prince William and Princess Kate participated when they were in New Zealand last April! I may have required the exact seat Kate sat in… Albeit a pricey activity at $130/person, if you’re going to do SOMETHING adventurous in Queenstown, pick the Shotover!

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Photos of our team and boat

We made it back to the center city just in time for…

THE RUNNING OF THE WOOLS!

which can only be further described through photos and video–

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Central Queenstown Running of the Wools

Soon after we were picked up and whisked away to the airport to do a Fiordland helicopter tour with Glacier Southern Lakes helicopters! Kathy had really wanted to do a helicopter tour but the weather had cancelled every trip until we arrived. We were more then happy to join and what an incredible experience–we landed at 3 planned locations and had to pick up a couple at the beginning in Glenorchy (because why get driven to the airport when the helicopter can pick you up outside?). It was the first time I’ve been in a helicopter and it was quite the first time!

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And we’re off!

Stop 1) Snow.

We were supposed to do a glacier landing but unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. Although landing in secluded Fiordland on top of a snow-capped mountain was pretty epic in itself…

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Stop 2) Beach.

We flew through Milford Sound, past all the tiny tour boats below, and landed on a deserted beach on the west coast. Once again, amazing–

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Stop 3) Milford Sound

You can’t come to New Zealand and NOT see Milford Sound. Despite the flocks of people, it’s simply necessary. This was Keith’s first time out here — I’m glad we finally both made it!

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Then we enjoyed a beautiful scenic ride back to Queenstown. I forgot to take more video along the way. The short clip below will have to do–

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It’s noteworthy that our trusty pilot, Alfie, was the lead pilot in all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming! I snuck a photo of him (far left) with Sir Peter Jackson. They’re surrounding the special camera they used while in flight.

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What a day. Possibly the most exciting day I’ve had in New Zealand. We enjoyed a well earned beer, had a great dinner at Cow, and bar hopped a bit the rest of the night.

Saturday we split up and Kathy and Don headed back in their campervan and Keith and I did some exploring on our way home too. We decided to check out Arrowtown and finally got our sheep photo we’ve been looking out for!–

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One of many excessive sheep+mountains photos

Then we decided to finally make the 10km journey to the clay cliffs. New Zealand has plenty of tiny tourist signs to natural wonders that people often zoom by. We figured we should finally check this place out and we’re glad we did. Check it out–

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And of course we ended our journey with yet another beautiful blue lake Pukaki, the water color is always so fantastic. Below you can barely see Mt Cook in the background through the haze. On to our next adventure!

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FiNZ 36 – Holidays Part 2

Post Kepler Track we wanted to stay somewhere a bit more “homey” for Christmas day. A while back we looked around for a nice little house rental but they didn’t really exist or were already booked. So we ended up living the life of luxury for a couple of nights in the Te Anau at the “Rainbow Lakeview House.” The house is actually for sale if anyone wants to go halfsies…or more like quarterlies on it–a mere $1.35 million. Although, if you ask me that is low in comparison to a beautiful piece of land like this in the States. A bit pricier of a rental than what we initially wanted, but given the fact that we had stayed in hostels or huts the past week, we didn’t feel bad about it.

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Lakeview Living Room

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Majestic mountains from the front porch

We made it to the grocery store right after we hopped off the Kepler Track and picked up a modest Christmas meal for 2– the tiniest ham known to man, a few potatoes for mashed potatoes, salad ingredients, broccoli casserole ingredients, and a box of brownie mix. It was quite the perfect couple meal!

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Christmas meal

It was a great, relaxing 48 hours of looking out the windows, playing pool, calling our families to wish them a happy holiday, or watching Christmas movies.

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Pool time

On Boxing Day (think, the Commonwealth’s version of Black Friday) we celebrated by treating ourselves to a tourist journey. We booked an overnight cruise with Real Journeys on the Doubtful Sound. Around New Zealand its pretty easy to do things on your own, but every once in a while, it is LOVELY to have someone do it for you. This was a bit of a splurge, but a few coworkers had done it before and vouched for it, and we really wanted to see Doubtful Sound (the fiord that lives in the shadow of its uber touristy neighbor – Milford Sound).

Here’s a quick map, below, of points along our cruise. To give you an idea of how remote Doubtful Sound is….we had to take a shuttle to Manapouri, an hour boat ride across Lake Manapouri, and then a 40 minute bus ride on a dirt road down to Deep Cove, population – 2 (yes, TWO) to get to the boat dock.

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Enginerd alert – once we pulled into the west bank of Lake Manapouri they pointed out the hydroelectric power station. This was built in the 60s and uses water power generated from the flow of water from Lake Te Anau and Manapouri, through a very long man-made tunnel, into Doubtful Sound. The power station COULD power the entire south island, but instead most of it goes to the nearby aluminum plant, and about 15% gets put into the NZ grid. The initial ideas of a power station really brought the country together in terms of environmental consciousness. The population (a petition with over 200,000 signatures was submitted – a TON for little New Zealand!) convinced owners to only build on terms that the lakes would remain at a normal level without killing the habitats surrounding them.

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We (about 50 of us) then all stepped onto the beautiful Fiordland Navigator, found our bunks, and set sail! Keith had a ball with my camera over the next 24 hours. It was quite hard to pick out only a few photos, but hopefully this is a good compilation of what we experienced!

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Riding in style

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Seal Colony

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We anchored in a small cove where we were able to participate in water activities. Keith and I jumped for the kayaks! The sandflies were BRUTAL–two got my in the eye and my face was very puffy for the next day; however, the kayaking, and running into a pod of bottlenose dolphins was very worth it!

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Keith then decided to take advantage of the “swimming” option…

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Top deck at nightfall

The next day we sailed into one of the southern “arms” of the sound which had the most beautiful scenery. At the end of the “arm” we stopped and the engines were shut off and we all stood there in silence for several minutes taking in our surroundings. I’ve been told this is usually a pretty epic part of the journey. However, for us, it started pouring at this point, which just meant we were listening to rain pouring everywhere while getting wet.

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Nerd alert–I was pretty excited to see a visible fault line area in nature. The picture doesn’t really capture it…but it’s there.

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“Flanders hiking(?) photo of the week”–

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Proof that we slept somewhere

Overall a great “touristy” experience. I would highly recommend Real Journeys Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. The crew really took care of us, the food was incredible (and plentiful!), and we got a very comprehensive tour of Doubtful Sound. I believe only one other tour company sets foot in Doubtful Sound, and I didn’t see them while we were there. So if you don’t want the crazy hype of Milford and still want to experience a beautiful fiord – I highly recommend Doubtful Sound!

We just got done with some great BBQ-ing back in Christchurch, and on to some more adventures tomorrow. This has been one heck of a blogging week!

FiNZ 35 – Holidays Part 1

I’m currently writing this when I’m not distracted by the mountains, sheep, lake, and nice breeze just outside on our house rental’s north-facing, unobstructed-view, porch. I may not get this up for a bit, the one downside of this rental is no wifi and a wired connection that doesn’t appear to be working…*5 days later*…

Keith and I finished our last work day of 2014 on 19 December and spent the night packing for our first half of our 2 week New Zealand adventure. Our plan was to drive to Queenstown Saturday afternoon and start our 4 day Kepler Track hike on SUNDAY. When I was printing out our week of confirmation emails, I had a major freak out when the Kepler Track booking said “thanks for scheduling your track journey, starting MONDAY.” It turns out the booking we made several months ago was for Monday instead of Sunday…oops. Well our Christmas house rental started on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) so we HAD to end our hike by Wednesday. After confirming from the Dept. of Conservation (DOC) there was NO WAY we could change our booking (the Great Walk huts book up MONTHS in advance especially during Christmas time), we decided we would hike almost all of the track in 3 days instead of 4 and skip the last night in the hut. Looking back, this honestly made our holiday even better — 1) we had a full day to just relax in Queenstown and leisurely drive to Te Anau (the jumping off town for Fiordland national park where the Kepler Track is) 2) the weather was more perfect a day later and 3) we were super tired by that third day and ready to relax.

Ok let’s back up and start from Saturday—we actually went swimming with dolphins! Pretty random, but I saw a GrabOne deal (New Zealand’s version of Groupon) a few months back and thought it looked like a cool experience. I think this is probably one of the few places in the world you can swim in the wild with dolphins, or at least with the rarest dolphin in the world. The dolphins in Akaroa are also the smallest dolphins in the world (the Hector Dolphin).

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Keith & his friend

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More Friends

Apparently the dolphins are typically even more friendly, so Akaroa’s Black Cat Cruises gave us all some money back (even though we already got a discount to begin with)! I was impressed with their honesty – I’d recommend them!

Then we drove the leisurely 6 hour drive to Queenstown, enjoyed the night and day there, and then headed to Te Anau to spend the night. Te Anau is a nice quiet town that caters to all the tourists visiting Milford Sound etc.

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We found a tree swing on Lake Te Anau

The next day we were up bright and early to eat a big brekkie at Bailiez–which definitely doesn’t look like much from outside, but was very cozy and served us great food and coffee on the inside. We then went to the DOC visitor center to pick up our hut tickets and we were on our way! The weather was great–my first trek with NO rain! Taking from my co-workers’s example during the Routeburn trek, we decided to take several video clips throughout and splice a quick video together. Feel free to watch below for a 3 minute overview of our 3 day journey. We picked our background music wisely with Keith Urban’s “Days go by”–

“We think about tomorrow then it slips away
We talk about forever but we’ve only got today”

 

If that didn’t cover enough, read on…

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Luxmore Cave explorations

When we got to Luxmore Hut it was another 1.5 hrs to Mt Luxmore’s summit. If it’s one thing you should know about hiking in New Zealand, when the weather is good – TAKE ADVANTAGE. We knew it could easily be miserable the next day, so we sucked it up and hiked even farther up.

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climbing to Mt Luxmore

This may be the oddest photo ever, but I really wanted to share what a great view the track bathrooms have…

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Bathroom with a view

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The second day of the Kepler Track was the most challenging day of I’ve done of the Greak Walks thus far–lots of up and down, up and down, crossing a ridge line for a bit and then a whole lot of down. The views made it all worth it!P1060473 P1060494 P1060496 P1060497 P1060499 P1060516

Warning…stepping on the soap box now…I’ve checked off all the Great Walks in Fiordland (3 of them–Milford, Routeburn, Kepler). It’s quite bittersweet. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past week and I can’t pick a favorite. They each have very unique qualities, and I had very different personal experiences hiking each of them that make them all amazing.

MILFORD (post here) is super popular. Some people don’t do it because of the popularity…however, you have to figure, they only book 50 people/night in a hut, and that spreads out throughout the day of hiking. I am always so amazed about the lack of people we run into on these trails even if it is the height of tourist season. It is a heck of a lot of work to get to it…taking a shuttle, taking a boat, walking, taking a boat, taking another shuttle. However, that just means you’re walking through one of the most remote places there is. The valley views are incredible, topped with the drive back on Milford Sound road. It was a lot of fun hiking with my big group of coworkers in the off-season. I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried in my life with all the avalanches coming down the night before we crossed the McKinnon pass, but it ended up being quite the epic experience. Milford = a big valley with huge mountains & waterfalls.

ROUTEBURN (post here) I think is the easiest to do in terms of time–it’s the shortest distance–however is a bit of a pain to transfer your car or figure out the bus schedule. Going down over that pass is another beautiful view. I honestly have no idea what this hike looks like from the highest point due to the blizzard I walked through while doing it. Luckily I wasn’t quite as worried as Milford, but still made for an awesome story and experience. Routeburn = a mix of terrain with a beautiful view on each end.

KEPLER is the most accessible being a loop track–no car transfer, boat, or bus required. Kepler, in my opinion, is the most physically challenging. I was so glad the weather was perfect (FINALLY!) for this hike, especially since we were on the mountain ridge for most of the second day. I could see this hike being far less enjoyable in dodgy weather. It was also nice hiking with just the two of us for once. Kepler = most accessible, with epic ridgeline views.

Alright, that’s my schpeel! Another blog post to come (probably within the next day) on the next adventures we had shortly after Kepler!

FiNZ 30 – “Lockers in the wild are pretty hard to find!”

If anyone’s flown on Air New Zealand, you know they have some pretty extensive safety videos. The one that’s been playing sporadically over the past year is “The Bear Essentials of Safety” – a man-versus-wild parody starring Bear Grylls. The whole video takes place on the majestic Routeburn Track–some pretty great marketing for New Zealand all while making sure everyone knows how to use an oxygen mask.

This past weekend Keith & I, along with 3 other colleagues, journeyed to Fiordland to tramp the Routeburn Track. This is my third of nine New Zealand great walks! I can’t wait to get more under my boots. [Milford Track here ; Abel Tasman Track here]

At this point I’ve had the pleasure? of doing a few multi-day hikes between New Zealand and the Appalachian Trail in New England. I have NEVER had consistently great weather. Routeburn was no exception. We monitored the weather throughout the week, and the day we left the weather service noted gale force winds on Friday night and Saturday. What we ended up getting was a bit of a blizzard. To give you a sneak preview to our situation, this is what the Department of Conservation depicts the Routeburn Track as…

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Propaganda! 😉

This is what we got…

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Blizzard

Thursday afternoon the 5 of us – Keith, me, Mike, Nick, Erin – squished our packs and ourselves into a Toyota Corolla and drove the 6 hours to Queenstown. Nick’s GoPro proved very useful for taking multiple selfies throughout our journey.

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Keith is the great walk planner. He put together a pretty extensive menu for the entire weekend, including chicken sandwiches for lunch pre-walk.

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The walk is one-way. We decided to start on the west side (“The Divide”) and go towards the east to Glenorchy. This way we would have a shorter drive home on Sunday. Because it’s a one-way track you typically either take a bus or do a car transfer. We picked up a lock box and hired a couple to drive our car to the other end. Another one of those only in New Zealand moments.

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Luckily Day 1 was pretty nice despite the weather report. A little overcast, but still got some great views up Key summit. If you only have a day, I’d highly recommend just doing the day walk up to this summit and back down. It makes for some great photo opps!

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This waterfall literally made everyone say “WOW”

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By the time the weather got worse, we made it to McKenzie hut.

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There was a nice little lake and a couple of side trails. We all decided to start the “Emily’s Pass” trail. This ultimately would have brought you over Emily’s Pass, but that was covered with snow and apparently required an ace ax…sounded intense. Instead we got a group shot in front of Emily’s Pass. Later on we had a hilarious hut talk by Clive, the hut ranger of 20+ years, and a nice toasty night with 30 of our closest strangers in the bunk house.

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After a night filled with gale force winds, thunder and lightning, we nervously gathered up our gear and prepared for the hardest day–the climb over Harris Saddle. You can’t quite see it yet, but it is snowing in this photo…

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…and it continued to snow. More and more and more.

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It took us a couple of hours to get to the saddle. I was a little overjoyed to see the emergency shelter where we ate lunch…

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The rest of the walk down was a bit frustrating since then it really started snowing and the rocks were a bit slippery. Nevertheless, we made it intact, and after the fact were pretty pumped of how epic our day was.

When we arrived at Routeburn Falls hut the wood was damp and a fire just wasn’t happening. I engineered a few of us hot water pads by boiling out water and dispersing it between Nalgenes. Keith & I awkwardly walked around all evening clutching our bottles underneath our clothing. Although awkward, it definitely saved me from being cold & miserable all night!

We woke up the next morning, left the bunk room, and BAM….

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This is what we were hoping for seeing on the Routeburn – beautiful views. We all knew we had to climb back up the trail and see what we missed. We didn’t go all the way back to Harris Saddle, but climbed up a bit to get that clutch view of the valley. Since the snow was still plentiful a snowball fight may have ensued…

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –

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We made it! Unscathed and with some great photos.

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One of the best parts about ending on the Glenorchy side is enjoying the drive post-track. Glenorchy is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Peter Jackson seemed to think so too since a good portion of Lord of the Rings was shot around here.

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Overall a pretty epic weekend with a good group of frolleagues to say the least. We drove back through Queenstown to all get our coveted Fergburgers (a tradition for Fiordland great walkers). Then we had a gorgeous drive back to Christchurch. This all just made me even more excited for our 2 week December break where we get to do more traveling through Fiordland! I doubt I will compose a better post than this for the next couple weeks but I’ll continue to keep you all updated. Plus, it is FINALLY getting warm out (currently 25C outside!!).

I leave you today with this YouTube “trailer” Nick whipped up on his iPad during our car ride home. Turn the music up.

New Zealand 26 – Following in Ed’s Footsteps

Cup and Show week will soon be upon Christchurch which means the fascinator sales have cropped up all over the mall. Unfortunately, I am leaving New Zealand before the event of the season, but I’m sure I can live vicariously through my NZ coworkers photos.

Best Dressed Competition – http://www.nzcupandshow.co.nz/

Anyways, onto this past weekend. I haven’t had much time to write a long post. This week has involved a lot of settlement preparation as well as packing to head out to Fiordland for a multi-day hike (for the first time since June we have a 3-day weekend!). This past Sunday I wanted to check off walking the Hooker Valley Track. This is the track that leads towards the base of Mt. Cook — the tallest and most technical mountain in New Zealand. New Zealand’s most famous resident, Sir Edmond Hillary, trained on Mt. Cook several times in preparation for Everest. Although not a very high mountain, the climb is a bit treacherous. Here are some photos to sum up the beautiful day myself, a coworker, and a fellow colleague enjoyed. (Note that there was NO snow to be found when we left Christchurch)

What we came across after 3 hours of driving south of Christchurch…

At first I thought there was a shooting range nearby, and then I looked up and realized the sound was from mini avalanches (luckily far, far, far away)

Into the snow we go…

Over the bridge…

Over some hills…

Made it to the money shot.

Can’t go anywhere without having a near death experience with some sheep.

That’s all for now. Next week’s post will be far more proper to detail our epic weekend hike. Until then…