Posted by: Matt | February 26, 2009

Oh yes…we jumped off a bridge

…with a giant rubber band attached to our ankles. The Kawarau Bridge Bungy was the first commercial bungy operation in the world. It was developed by AJ Hackett, a pioneer of bungy-jumping and is the grand-daddy of a family of jump locations offered by AJ Hackett all over the world. There are three in Queenstown alone.

It was a spectacularly sunny day as we were laced up one after another to take the plunge. Jones dabbled his hands in the water of the mighty Kawarau River, Pilan got straight dunked. Liz and I both screamed like girls and Lindz asked the bungy operator for a moment to collect herself only to be told, “this is not the time to take a moment, Miss.”

free falling

free falling

It was one item on a long list of great moments during our trip around the South Island with Lindsay, Pilan and Jones, but I think it was a highlight for all of us.

In addition to taking the plunge, we spent some time touring Aspiring National Park, eventually making it out to the West Coast where we sampled the best fish and chips of our New Zealand experience to date. In addition, as we were wrapping up our lunch of grease-filled goodness, we turned around to spot a penguin strolling across the street on his way back into Jackson Bay. We also learned the answer to the age-old question of, why does a penguin cross the road? Answer: To get away from Pilan in full tourist mode.

We sailed on an America’s Cup yacht in the lake surrounding Queenstown on one of the windiest days of the year. We visited every winery we encountered, and drank every bottle of wine we purchased. We kayaked Milford Sound. We ate way too much food.

All-in-all it was a great trip and we were glad to see some great friends and introduce them to the country we’ve called home for a little while. We’re getting ready to wrap up our time in Queenstown and then it will be time to get back on the open road. Lots of things to see still before our Kiwi year is finished!

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Posted by: Matt | February 11, 2009

There are many kinds of fun

There are many kinds of fun. Well, I think there are really two kinds of fun. There’s happy-go-lucky, smiles and giggles fun. And then there’s “you’ll be glad you did it when it’s over” fun. We all know happy-go-lucky fun, it shows up on sunny Saturday afternoons in the summer, often accompanied by good friends and family, perhaps with a cold beer or two. I think we all know the other kind of fun as well. Anyone who’s ever spent an afternoon on a golf course invariably knows this second type of fun.

Saw Pit Gully hike in Arrowtown

Saw Pit Gully hike in Arrowtown

Liz and I are slowly becoming masters at the “glad I did it” fun format, but it’s not something that doesn’t come without a lot of practice. Liz was a member of her high school cross-country team and road cycled competitively all through college. These are both prime training grounds for “glad I did it” fun appreciation. I’m willing to bet there’s no one that looks at a teammate during a road race and says, ” golly isn’t this lovely.”

My “glad I did it” initiation took place in the form of the Appalachian Trail after college. My hiking mates and I regularly slogged 16 miles a day with full packs over a trail that took us 6 months to complete. During the route we developed new and previously unknown methods of complaining, but I don’t know anyone that would trade the experience for anything in retrospect.

Jumping for joy at the summit of Ben Lomond

Jumping for joy at the summit of Ben Lomond

To that end Liz and I have brought our “glad I did it” fun experience to New Zealand and here we’re regularly testing it to the limit. Each of the last three days we’ve been hiking or trail running through the area surrounding Queenstown. On Sunday, Liz walloped me on a trail run around a local lake, on Monday we trudged up the highest peak in the area in the rain, and on Tuesday we hiked through a gorge near Arrowtown. All jaunts that are fun as soon as they’re over, but during the outing there are times when you say to yourself, or out loud, could be sitting by the lake right now.

Speaking of lakes….I’ve recently taken up fly-fishing. This is easily one of the best examples of a “glad I did it” activity. I’m not willing to say that I am a fly-fisherman yet, unless you count catching numerous tree limbs and rocks on a given day as a successful outing. However, I will say that I’m picking up on all the colorful phrases very quickly, which should count for something. But in the end, I always come home ready to head out for the next excursion. Hoping to catch a NZ fish before we head back stateside.

Fly Fishing south of Queenstown

Fly Fishing south of Queenstown

Once we leave Queenstown we’re going to embark on a number of multi-day tramps as well as reside out of the back of our van that is quickly approaching middle-age in people years. I think it’s already well over the hill in van-years. It should be a great series of “glad I did it” activities. We’ll keep you posted.

Posted by: Liz | February 5, 2009

A day in the life…

There are heaps of reasons to come to Queenstown, NZ. People of all shapes and sizes make the journey. It’s hard, as a local (so-to-speak), not to people watch or strike up a conversation with a random traveler. My latest hobby is tourist watching (no, I’m not a stalker).

Super Bowl watching at Monty's with Brett & Lauren

Super Bowl watching at Monty's with Brett & Lauren

Last week I met a US army soldier, currently stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, who was on an all-expense paid trip to “anywhere in the world.” He chose New Zealand and furthermore chose to base himself at the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown. This soldier did it all. The A.J. Hackett Thrillogy (3 bungy jumps in one day), JAGAIR (wicked G’s from a stunt plane), hang gliding, jet boating, sky diving, and the list goes on.

Adventure activities aside, the US army soldier also experienced a different kind of thrill. He happened to be in the right place at the right time because New Zealand Prime Minister Mr. John Key was also staying at the Crowne. I was fortunate enough to be in the lobby to watch their exchange. The soldier approached Mr. Key, introduced himself as a member of the US Army and explained that of all the places to travel in the world he had decided to travel to New Zealand.

Following the photo-op the army soldier pranced around the hotel lobby while analyzing his digital camera view finder. He shared the photo with me and I could easily see that this experience was far more important to him than his bungy jumps and skydive. His trip now seemed complete after sharing a quick hand shake with the easy-going Prime Minister. Just another day in the life of a New Zealand tourist…

View from Wai Creek

View from Wai Creek

Posted by: Liz | January 27, 2009

Take a challenge

For all of you who are considering traveling aboard, taking a new job, or simply contemplating a new life decision – if you can swing it, do it.

I’ve received some notes from friends and acquaintances back home asking questions about our journey to New Zealand. I gather that these individuals are considering a similar trip and want to learn as much as possible before making a life-changing leap. My advice: try something new for a little while even if a change seems daunting.

Belaying down at Gorge Rd. climbing area

Belaying down at Gorge Rd. climbing area

New Zealand is incredibly laid back and inviting. Kiwis open their beautiful doors to us travelers from all over the world. My yoga class, for instance, is filled with students from Brazil, Ireland, England, Australia, Canada and the US.

Living in a new place for a decent chunk of time has allowed me to really experience and understand a new culture (I love the Sunday afternoon sausage sizzles and passing hardcore outdoorsmen wearing shorts in cold, pelting rain).

North Mavora Lake

North Mavora Lake

It’s easy sometimes to take life in New Zealand for granted but recently I’ve been tackling challenges – activities that make me scared or nervous, but after the fact always either bring a strong sense of accomplishment or allow me to ‘tick them off my list,’ never to be done again. Mountain biking down a steep jagged hill may be one that I leave in the “not for me box.” Alternatively, hiking, camping and climbing are activities that are often challenging at the time but provide a strong sense of accomplishment when completed. This past weekend Matt and I explored Mavora Lakes, an impressive landscape of mountains, forests, rocky beaches and beautiful lakes, tucked away just south of Queenstown. It was incredibly peaceful and I found myself really embracing the outdoors.

check out the new fly fishing rod - Matt is tackling his new challenge!

check out the new fly fishing rod!

Now is the time to tackle challenges, even if its something small like learning how to cook (which I am, slowly). For those of you who have asked about working or traveling in New Zealand I’d recommend checking out BUNAC’s website – www.bunac.com (the organization we used to secure our visa’s). However it is also possible to obtain a visa through the NZ government. Happy soul searching – keep the challenges coming.

Posted by: Matt | January 17, 2009

Mt. Cook and Sir Ed

We finally got to see it up close. We’d driven past on six occasions and only once did we even get half-a-look at the peak, but this week we finally made it up to see Mt. Cook and we were paid off for a little persistence. Mt. Cook, known in traditional Maori as Aoraki, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and a seriously gnarly peak. The mountain itself tops out at a little over 12,000 feet, which wouldn’t even put it on the map in someplace like Colorado, looking simply at the elevation of the area doesn’t do it justice. This is a mountain range where climbers and mountaineers have migrated to for years, and now we can toss our names in the mix too, right beside Sir Ed himself.

Driving in towards Cook

Driving in towards Cook

Sir Edmund Hillary is, of course, the first westerner to ever ascend Mt. Everest, and Mt. Cook National Park is where he trained for the accomplishment. He was originally from Auckland, but the whole Mt. Cook area oozes with his presence. He is probably the most well-known face in New Zealand history and his picture is on the five-dollar bill here.

Instead of trying to follow ol’ Ed’s tracks up the side of Mt. Cook, we went for a slightly less strenuous route up neighboring Mt. Olliver. This is the first mountain Hillary ever climbed and today there is an awesome alpine hut (Mueller Hut) just shy of the summit where you can watch the sun set and glaciers cracking and falling from neighboring cliffs. Oh yeah, this place is laden with glaciers. There are all sorts here from the earth moving mother-of-all-glacier sorts to the hanging ice shelves. On a sunny day, with a little persistence and some warmth, you can watch the glaciers crack off and fall from their cliffs or into the moraine lakes created by the summer melts.

Knackered, with Mt. Cook in the  background.

Knackered, with Mt. Cook in the background.

Our hike took a little over five hours and then we spent the afternoon hanging out on the top taking in the views. We ate good food (relatively speaking), slept well, and hiked out the next day. On the way home we stopped at our favorite salmon farm and picked up some of their finest fresh and smoked varieties. I’m not sure if our journeys will take us back up in the direction of Mt. Cook, but in the words of Sir Ed himself, “we knocked the bastard off.”

Posted by: Liz | January 8, 2009

New Header Image – Summer scene

It’s definitely summer in New Zealand and we are loving the long days (huge change from when we arrived in New Zealand back in July). The daylight hours are 5:30am in the morning until 10pm or so at night. The temperature ranges from a cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit to a balmy 85 or 90. The tourists, backpackers and locals alike are flooding the streets from all over, and on NYE there wasn’t a single hotel, hostel bed or campsite available in Queenstown, Wanaka or Arrowtown.

The new image on our blog is our view from The Boneyard climbing area just outside of Queenstown. Five of us climbed and swam in the lake for a solid half day just two days before Christmas. The sunset on the night was absolutely spectacular, therefore I thought I’d share the photo on our blog.

Here’s one more, just for fun!

Matt, John, Jeff, Ady and I chillin' after a long day of climbing

Matt, John, Jeff, Ady and I chillin' after a long day of climbing

Posted by: Liz | January 2, 2009

Top 10 events from NZ (so far)

2008 = the year of living, working and playing in two hemispheres. Never in my wildest dreams (pre-2008) did I picture myself experiencing life in a new country – what an amazing year.

Matt and I have covered a lot of ground in New Zealand, however, there is still much to see and do. That being said, I thought I’d take a deep breath and recount my top ten favorite New Zealand experiences (so far).

10. Touring Wellington, cosmopolitan style – I’ve never been happier drinking flat whites on lazy weekend mornings before joining the hustle & bustle of NZ’s capital city. Ahhh, Welly!

working hard as crew on NZL 14

working hard as crew on NZL 14

9. Sailing on board NZL 14, the 1992 America’s Cup race boat – I’ve now graduated from a Butterfly Scow to the big leagues. There are only 6 America’s Cup boats commercially sailing in the world and I feel honored to have skippered (for a brief 3 minutes) one of them.

8. Penguin viewing at Nugget Point, the Catlins – John and I were fortunate to view from afar a yellow-eyed penguin hobbling from his nest to then “penguin” dive into the sea (no Zoo required for this natural phenomenon).

7. Snowboarding at the Remarkables – There’s nothing better than watching the snow flakes fall one day, then rising the next for 20 cm of fresh pow-pow. Hitting the slopes in August and September was quite unique.

6. Jet boating through Skipper’s Canyon on the Shotover River – From wind to rain to sunshine, I’ve seen it all in Skipper’s Canyon. The off-road drive in on the old gold mining track is even more frightening than the “Hamilton spins” on the jet boat, but that’s another story.

Abel Tasman in August

Abel Tasman in August

5. Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track – I loved the contrast of sandy beaches, deep rainforest-like trees and bright starry winter nights. This was one of the finest maintained tracks I’ve ever seen (very posh as my English flat mate would say).

4. Hiking the Routeburn Track – Two out of three days rain aside, I will forever look back on the Routeburn and be very glad that I conquered the track. I’m definitely craving more “Great Walks.”

3. Surfing: Raglan in July / Porpoise Bay, Catlins in November – I think I’ve got it! I can finally stand up on a wave. Maybe next time I’ll progress from a large foam board to a sleek fiberglass one

Up high with Lake Wakatipu behind me

Up high at the Boneyard with the lake at my back

2. Rock climbing / swimming at the Boneyard – Thanks to John & Matt I now have a new favorite hobby. It will be hard to top climbing over Lake Wakatipu with the surrounding mountains in the background when I pick the sport up back in the states

1. Boat cruise through Doubtful Sound – This will always remain my favorite experience because it was my first real trip into the outdoors and natural beauty of New Zealand. Milford Sound is fabulous too but Doubtful Sound is the place for ultimate serenity.

What will 2009 bring? I’ll keep you posted. Cheers for reading and responding to our blog – we’ve loved sharing our OE with you so far.

Posted by: Matt | December 19, 2008

The Routeburn

We’ve just returned from the Routeburn Track, it is another of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” People travel from all over the world to walk these trails and experience natural landscapes that are truly magnificent. That is, of course, if you can see these landscapes. For our part, it rained almost constantly during our three-day hike and then, like a perfect drive after a crappy round of golf, turned gorgeous at the last minute leaving us with an overall good experience.

Basically, in one statement per participant, here is how our trip commenced:

Liz (the optimist): “I think the rain is letting up.”
Matt (the realist, practicing his British): “I’m well soaked, I’m pretty sure it’s going to keep raining.”
John (the Coloradoite): “This is so ridiculous, I haven’t seen this much rain in five years!”
Ady (from the UK, having spent way too much time with three Americans, in her best “valley girl” impression): “Like oh my gosh, is it ever going to stop raining?”

John and Ady, happy and just slightly damp.

John and Ady, happy and just slightly damp.

Needless to say, we had a great and memorable time. When the clouds did attempt to push off for a moment, or a patch of sunlight burst through caught a glimpse of the magnificence of Fijordland, and hiking through it is definitely the best way to experience it. In some ways, hiking through the clouds may be the best way to experience an area like this. The walls of the mountains were so shear that you literally could not tell how high they peered above the mountains. It is possible in a scenario like this to really let your imagination run wild.

Sweet yoga poses.

Sweet yoga poses.

During the evenings, we had great dinners surrounding our little camping stove. For dessert we pulled out rounds of hot chocolates and Twix bars. Afterward we would retire to our sopping wet tents and attempt to get a bit of sleep. All things said and done, I think we’re all ready for our next great hiking adventure. Maybe next time we’ll stay in the huts.

I leave you today with an analogy that recently presented itself to us. A man was to dine with a group of friends and family, and mistakenly believed that the restaurant was at the top of a steep hill that had to be walked up. After climbing the hill, he came to realize that the group had only made the walk to take in the views before returning to the bottom for dinner. However, the view and the sunset were amazing and he was glad he had made the trip.

The good stuff on the last morning.

The good stuff on the last morning.

So, keep believing in the restaurant. Even if what we expect isn’t at the top of the hill, hopefully the trip will have been worth it. That’s the way the Routeburn was this week. We weren’t expecting what we got, but it was still worth the trip.

Posted by: Liz | December 7, 2008

Kiwi Holiday: Dad’s Tale

Upon landing in Queenstown, Liz (aka Betty) and Matt had us out on a jet boat the same day in a driving rain storm on the Shotover River in Skipper’s Canyon. The Hamilton spins were a blast for most and the river ride and view was amazing, not to mention the winding “goat track” road to and from Queenstown.

Hamilton Spin on the mighty Shotover RIver

Hamilton Spin on the mighty Shotover RIver

The next morning was the big event, the Canyon swing, doing the pin drop; 60 meters of free fall and then an incredible long arcing swing over the Shotover River. The guys running the jump were hilarious and our fellow jumpers were quite entertaining as well, but that is another story.

Weet-Bix pin drops into the Shotover River

Weet-Bix pin drops into the Shotover River

The day was complete with an evening cruise on the 1912 TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu. We were back out on the lake the next afternoon in NZL 14, an America’s Cup class sloop built for the 1992 event. Perfect wind and a great sail on the most beautiful lake I have ever been on.

While the Queenstown experiences Liz coordinated were exhilarating, the Southern scenic route from Milford Sound down through the Catlins to Dunedin was amazing. It truly is a beautiful country. We got to watch Liz and John surf at Porpoise Bay (one of the southernmost surfing beaches in the world, 46°40′ S).

Surfing in Porpoise Bay

Surfing in Porpoise Bay

I kept being struck with the impression that NZ’s South Island remains somewhat “undiscovered.” Then on to Larnach Castle and our hobbit hole in the stables which were framed by rain and fog.  It was very appropriate for the Scottish flavor of the Otago peninsula.

Two highlights in our Christchurch stay. First was the hour long walk up the cliff from the Sumner surf beach to see Taylor’s Mistake. Olaf led us up the cliff and over the bluff. Thinking we were headed to a restaurant on the cliff, I was confused the whole walk, believing our destination was “just up ahead a little.” In any case it provided a great view of the South Island’s east coastline. Second was our actual dinner destination at The Ruptured Duck in Sumner. Though the restaurant’s name referred to a wrecked boat, it got me researching the phrase as it was one I have heard often before. WWII vets used it as a comment on the “honorable discharge” cloth insignia depicting an eagle inside a wreath.

The final legs to Lake Tekapo and back to Queenstown wrapped up the best vacation we’ve ever had. Here is one final pic of the team at journey’s end (Weet-Bix, Tam, Marmite, Mum and Tim).

bathhouse

Posted by: Liz | December 5, 2008

Kiwi Holiday: an introduction

For those of you who may not know, Matt and I just finished an amazing whirlwind tour of New Zealand with my parents and brother, John (who is staying ‘down under’ with us until the end of December). What an amazing 12-day holiday we had. While most of you were gobbling down Thanksgiving turkey and watching football, we were dining Kiwi-style with suculent chicken, pumpkin, asparagus & Pavlova, and road-tripping through the scenic south island.

Matt and I frolicking in the Lupin garden in Lake Tekapo

Matt and I frolicking in the Lupin garden in Lake Tekapo, NZ

The journey was an experience of a lifetime and definitely exceeded our wildest dreams. We’re looking forward to sharing our holiday with you all in our blog. Over the course of the next week Matt, Mary, Bob, John & I will be sharing bits and pieces of the trip. We hope you enjoy! Stay tuned for exciting tales from ‘the land down under.’

Family photo overlooking Taylor's Mistake in Sumner (a surf town outside of Christchurch, NZ)

Family photo overlooking Taylor's Mistake in Sumner (a surf town outside of Christchurch, NZ)

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