Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - The longest day of my life

My Kiwi Quest 2010 travel blog is dedicated to my Grandma. She didn't live to see it finally finished, but she loved all the entries she read, enthusiastically followed my trip vicariously from home, and it's from her that I get my love of travel.

Photos: 1) Uncle Ross & Liz bid me a fond farewell at the airport in Auckland 2) Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge 3) Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco 4) Can I take this plane home? I'm tired of waiting... 5) Currency confusion back home: (L-R) Australia, US, New Zealand, Canada

March 2, 2010 is officially and literally the longest day of my life thus far. By the end of this calendar day, I will have landed in four different countries, spending about 22 hours in the air along with about 15 hours on the ground. I know that adds up to more than 24 hours, but I crossed numerous time zones as well as the international date line so while I will leave New Zealand on March 2, I will also land in Toronto on the same day. I still can't wrap my head around this.

Alas, it's that time. It's 0520, but it's also my last day in this country until I come back. I'm full of mixed feelings today. I'm still sick with this horrid sore throat so there are parts of me who just want to go home, get hugs from my parents, and sleep in a familiar place, but I've had such an incredible time here that there are other parts of me that clamour for more time! more time! I've done so many things in the last 3.5 weeks: finally seen California, Australia and New Zealand, counted more sheep than ever before, gotten to know my uncle and aunt much better, met some really cool people from all over the world, pushed myself mentally and physically much further than I ever thought I could, feasted my senses on an incredible country, and even learned bits and pieces of a new language. It's really hard to realize it will probably take me some time before I can get back here for another visit. My to-do list for my return is growing by the minute.

One more shower to come to my senses, a quick breakfast, much grunting and heaving of luggage out to the car (where did this third bag come from?!), then Ross, Liz and I are whipping off to the airport. Thankfully, the check-in process goes smoothly and we've got good time left for some shopping. Seriously, these airports are really good places to shop! It's a previous unknown to me and I'm glad I brought that extra bag with me. I get a little worried when Liz presents me with a pop quiz about the postcard in her hand, but as soon as the word "pohutukawa" rolls easily off my tongue, she presents me with the postcard as a prize, a smile of delight on her face. You see, three weeks ago, I couldn't say that word properly to save my life, and now it feels nearly second nature to incorporate Maori words into my vocab.

Uh-oh, time to say good-bye. This part's always hard. I barely knew these kind family members of mine when I came here, and they took a flyer on having me stay with them, so I'm incredibly grateful to them for helping make my first trip to New Zealand such a great and memorable one. One more hug, one more heartfelt thank-you, and I'm airside, looking up to see them waving me off. I'll be back, don't you worry :)

I must have done something right today: I have two empty seats beside me! Can I tell you again how much I love flying with Air New Zealand? I love my hot pastry breakfast (free) and I'm entertained by watching "Up In The Air" as well as re-watching "The Hangover" for some laughs.

Hey, look! It's the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge! Ok, they're a few thousand feet below me, but they're still really super cool. I think I even see Nemo! And I'm quite sure that's Louise down there waving at me. I've got a 6 hour layover here and have thought about seeing a bit of the city like I did in Amsterdam a few years ago, but in my travelling haze, I accidently stay airside and will need to find a way to occupy myself in the departures area. Grrr. Oh well, I'll just have to come back and Louise can show me 'round. Lucky for me, the airport in Sydney is pretty good for killing time with free internet at kiosks and lots of shopping opportunities. The only annoying part is that I'm having a lot of difficulty figuring out how to call home on my calling card. Time for tea and to read my book.

My concentration is soon interrupted by some commotion at a nearby gate. A man with a Mexican passport is not being allowed to board a flight to Vancouver because he doesn't have a Canadian visa. Oh dear, he's REALLY upset; no screaming or threats, but I'm certain he's on the verge of tears, most likely compounded by the fact that the rest of his party has already boarded without problem. Air Canada tells him repeatedly that they're very sorry, but if they let him deplane in Vancouver without a Canadian visa, they face a $10,000 fine and he faces jail. Eeep! I can't watch this anymore. He's crying now.

My spirits lift a bit later (after some shopping for er, therapeutic reasons) when the overhead paging system starts announcing to the specific passengers missing from a flight about to leave that because they haven't shown themselves at the gate, the ground crew are now unloading their luggage. You've got to love their honesty. Reminds me of some of the weird and entertaining announcements I hear on the paging system at the hospital where I work. The other cheery part about this airport is trying to figure out why their air traffic control tower across the way has what looks like a covered slide winding down around the outside. Is it a crazy carpet slide? A waterslide? A fun way to spend a break from a stressful job?

At last my flight to San Francisco is boarding, but not before I've had to go through an additional security check complete with bag search (in the Departures lounge, as in I've already been through security with a bag search there) and had to get a different boarding card unexpectedly. I'm really tired and I just want to sleep for this 17 hour segment. I get some good luck with an empty middle seat beside me as well as a blanket and pillow waiting for me, but it's somewhat offset by the loud Canadian woman behind me complaining about everything to the two Canadians beside her. Am I seated in the Canadian section? I can't even pick what movie to watch because this United flight only has the old-school overhead screens that show you what they feel like watching. Sleeeeeeeep......where are you? I stare out the window at the Pacific Ocean for hour after sleepless hour.

Ok, what the heck country is this we're landing in? Let's see: heavy fog, rain, water, a red bridge.... I'm hoping this is San Francisco, another first for me. By now, it's March 3 in New Zealand, but it's still March 2 where I am now. I only know the actual time by the announcements because my watch is on NZ time (and still is although I'm writing this in May - I can't quite bring myself to change it back yet), but thankfully I've only got a three hour layover here. That should be time enough to find my gate and get some food. Tired + hungry + sick = cranky.

First, however, I have to get past the US Department of Agriculture people to whom I am directed by the US Dept of Homeland Security (that's what their stamp in my passport says) after I indicated that I had been on a farm in the last couple of weeks on my customs card. What now? Please tell me I don't have to dig my hiking boots out of my giant pack again like I did when I landed in New Zealand last month. Nope, they just want to wash my running shoes. Hey, I like this gig! I stand around for a while in my socks, watching various people attempt to hide illegal things they're bringing into the country (WHY would you tell them you didn't pack your bag yourself, you idiot!?), then when my beat up shoes are relinquished, I squelch off to my gate. I think this is cleanest my shoes have been since I bought them.

Time to board, line up with the cattle class to watch the important people go first. Wait a minute, they're coming back off the plane. What the hell? After a while, the gate crew announces that there's a mechanical problem with a circuit breaker and we'll resume boarding again "soon". I wish I spoke gate attendant better - I'm not sure when "soon" is so I daren't wander too far afield. I eavesdrop shamelessly on other people asking when "soon" is, but when the answer is "soon", I give up and try to find a seat. I can't concentrate enough to read so I call my parents who are meeting me in Toronto to advise them of the delay. I pace the boarding lounge, I pace our end of the terminal, I listen to my iPod for the first time since leaving Canada weeks ago, I watch a DEA agent patrol the terminal with his dog, I watch the rain falling outside, I watch luggage fall off unnoticed from luggage carts whizzing across the tarmack, I watch my plane sit there for hours. Three extra ones, to be precise. Is this day ever going to end?

When we finally board for real, I assume that some other airline lent mine a new circuit breaker after we were told that the maintenance crew would have to go scrounge one at some other airline hanger because Air Canada doesn't have a base in San Fran. I don't want to know if they just decided to go ahead without a new part because at this point, I just don't care. Once again, I have an empty middle seat beside me and I settle in diagonally to watch "The Blind Side" which I really enjoy. This is my 10th flight in less than a month. I know how to occupy as much extra space as I can to my benefit without distrupting the other person in the row. I touch my screen gently because the lady behind me is pounding on hers and it's bouncing my head somewhat. I'm too tired to tell her off.

At last! we are landing in Toronto and I can recognize the highways around the airport in the dark. I'm something of a customs expert now, and although I'm a bit worried that they'll confiscate my new bowl made of reclaimed kauri wood, I'm prepared to deal with it because I'd be stupid not to declare it and risk getting busted. I saddle myself with my ridiculously heavy bags and stagger towards the customs dude. He asks me if the bowl is finished, I silently praise myself for spending the extra bit of money on the finished one and reply yes, then I'm out the doors and looking for people who gave me their DNA. It's about 11:30pm on March 2 so I have completed this journey home in one calendar day to officially make this THE longest day of my life. I hug my excited parents hard and mutter, "There's no place like home"...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kiwi Quests 2010 - Old MacDonald's Kiwi farm

Photos: 1) The auther unknowingly about to get splattered by the Pohutu geyser erupting in the background 2) Maori warrior coming out to challenge us during the cultural performance 3) It's very important to respect Papatuanuku 4) Our sheep herding demonstration in action 5) Carbon dating a ewe who is about to be sheared 6) The ostrich who tried to swallow my finger 7) Kiwi fruit growing in the organic orchard.

I can't believe this is my last full day in New Zealand. Where have the last three amazing weeks gone?

It's 0520 and my alarm is ringing to tell me that yep, my throat is still killing me. Must. push. on! I didn't come all the way to the (near) bottom of the world to be sidelined by some exotic germs. Liz kindly offers me a selection of painkillers for breakfast (the aspirin marked "Jakarta 1998" gets chosen out of sheer curiosity) and Uncle Ross even donates his own supply of medicine now that he's feeling much better. I buy myself a tea and some throat lozenges at the bus station and am soon greeted by a very friendly bus driver named Colin who looks eerily like Mr. Bean's twin brother. Colin is much chattier than Mr. Bean is portrayed so I shall tell them apart by their different accents. He's quite pleased to have a Canadian on board for the day, and updates me on the Olympic hockey games I've missed thus far.

Today's journey will take me south of Auckland, but not to the South Island. A nice warm blueberry muffin treat later and we've arrived at our first uber-tourist stop: Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. Normally, I wouldn't be seeking any kind of close-up experience with worms, but these ones are reputed to be super cool so I'll give it a shot. The Waitomo glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand. After descending deep into limestone caves, you'll have the opportunity to see thousands of these little worms giving off their luminescent light. You can also see their sticky threads dangling from their perch in the ceiling. These threads are how they catch insects and bugs which fly down into the caves from outside. As you glide silently (unless the people next to you feel compelled to ignore the rules and talk about shopping for some reason) along the stream in the dark, look up overhead to take in the glittering beauty of hundreds of thousands of glow worms. They look like stars twinkling in the sky, but far closer at hand. It's a bit disorienting in a good way - I could swear that they were far away yet close enough to touch, at the same time. It's just incredible and really something that needs to be seen in person.

A quick detour to the gift shop for more postcards, then we're back on the bus with Mr. Kiwi Bean, heading to the Agrodome. There's a reason they call this place, "The Unique NZ Farming Experience". We start with a tractor ride to see the farm - animals and produce alike. They have a lot of different animals here - alpacas, llamas, the ubiquitous sheep, various cattle, pigs, red deer, dogs, emus, ostriches, etc. It's kind of like touring Old MacDonald's farm - if he had a Kiwi accent. I like this place because we get to hop off the "train" (being towed behind the tractor) and get close enough to the animals to touch them. We're warned, however, not to touch the cows because "Big Mac" (his real name, and he's HUGE) is ornery. The pigs are also off limits to hands because the father in the pen has a bad reputation for biting anything and anyone, and the ostriches don't get much patting because they peck. A lot. It's great fun to interact with all the other species, and I have a bunch of them eating out of my hand, literally. By now, I've had an ostrich attempt to swallow my finger, been pecked hard on my palm by an Australian emu, had an alpaca make threatening-to-spit noises at me, and watched a sheep suddenly kick another. At one point as we were back on the "train" and about to leave a paddock, I suddenly felt a warm body attempting to stuff itself between my legs as a stowaway. Looking down, it's a big, brown sheep, and I quickly take a photo before kicking it off the "train". Nice try, little buddy. I too wish you could come home with me.

Our next stop on the "train" tour is the organic orchard where they grow kiwi fruit (Kiwis are New Zealanders whereas kiwi are the national bird), olives and feijoa, a type of fruit that I have yet to try. Much to my surprise, I discover that kiwi fruit grow on vines, up and over in a canopy under which I can duck to get a respite from the merciless sun beating down on my fair Northern Hemisphere skin. Soon we're sampling some kiwi fruit wine (my ignorant palate doesn't wince so it's good) and some kiwi fruit drink with aloe vera in it. I don't like that one as much, but it's probably better for me than too much wine. I wonder if it doubles as a sunburn remedy?

Now it's time for another sheep herding demonstration. I haven't seen one since the South Island so I'm looking forward to it. Our demo dog today does a great job of staring those sheep through their paces, outlining to us what skills are required to compete at Sheepdog trials. Our dog is herding 3 sheep because that's the ratio in the trials. The handler fellow uses a series of different whistle blasts and shouted commands to direct the dog while the sheep repeatedly attempt to go AWOL. The dog successfully herds them through a variety of obstacles and finally into a pen where the handler shuts the gate. At the Agrodome, the working dogs (ours is used primarily for tourist demos because he's semi-retired, but would still happily run all day if given the chance) aren't rewarded with food so our dog takes off across the paddock and hops into a big tub of water for a quick bath. This is his reward for an excellent demo job, and it's his favourite thing in the whole world. The sheep blandly resume grazing when they are let out of the pen.

Mr. Kiwi Bean is herding us back on the bus following an exciting shearing demonstration because it's time to head to Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao (abbreviated to "Whaka" by locals), a geothermic area near Rotorua. This was the site of the Maori fortress Te Puia which was first occupied in 1325, and Maori have lived here ever since. First on the agenda is a marvellous Maori cultural performance, truly a very interesting peek at Maori history and not to be missed. It begins with the powhiri (welcoming ceremony). Our audience of many elects a "chief" who is given a quick coaching by our Maori guide. Good thing he has the Coles notes because here comes a very fierce Maori warrior to challenge our group! If our chief does not accept his offering, then we're declaring war. Um, I'd rather not go to war while on vacation, thanks. Our chief elect decides to accept to indicate that we come in peace. Now we're allowed into the wharenui ("far-en-ooh-eee" meeting house) to listen to more drumming and singing, and to get further explanation about Maori, their culture, history and way of life. I seriously recommend this if you have an opportunity.

Following the cultural performance, we put our shoes and hats back on, and troop off to find our next Maori guide who will take us round to see the geysers in action. As we walk around the grounds, she gives us all kinds of information on the history of the area and how the geysers work. We also get a stern warning not to attempt to cross the fences into the mud pools. The mud is between 80-100 degrees C, and you won't last long if you decide you need a beauty treatment. No one will come to your rescue either! The Prince of Whales geyser is erupting as we near it which means the Pohutu geyser is getting restless nearby. These geysers are really cool to see and I don't even notice the smell of rotten eggs after a while. I do recommend keeping your camera under your shirt or some other dry place because when the wind shifts, the steaming sulphurous water being thrown up to 30m in the air will splatter you. If you're like me, you won't care about smelling bad or being damp; you'll just think it's entirely too cool! I half expected this area to look like the moon, all grey and bleak and desolate, considering that it's full of geysers, alkaline pools, and scalding mud, but I'm pleased to see how much greenery abounds between the active areas.

Off now to the kiwi (bird) house where, for the first time in my life, I will finally see a live kiwi!! This is truly a thrill because these nocturnal, shy, flightless birds are very difficult to spot in the wild. My early bedtime also works against me. The kiwi house at Whakarewarewa protects a male/female couple, and we have to be very quiet inside the dim building so as not to disturb them. Luckily for us, the female is out of bed and running around hunting insects. NEAT!! She's a bit hard to spot because the light is very low and her brown feathers camouflage well, but I manage to see her a few times, even with all the other tourists pressing into my personal space. The Maori have a special relation with the kiwi: they believe that the kiwi are under the protection of Tane Mahuta, god of the forest, so they no longer hunt the birds because they consider themselves their guardians. The kiwi feathers are still used in ceremonial cloaks, but the feathers are gathered from kiwi who die naturally or under other circumstances.

Yawn! I can't believe we're already headed back to Auckland. That means I'm leaving tomorrow! A very sad thought indeed although sleeping in one place for more than 3 days at a time is of interest to me. Mr. Kiwi Bean kindly calls his friend to find out the score from the men's Olympic hockey final, and both of the Canadians on the bus let out a hearty roar of approval when word of the gold medal reaches us. I'm glad to see Uncle Ross at the bus station to cheerily greet me at this late hour, and Liz cooks a fantastic dinner for my tired self. Eventually, I stagger down to my room to pack a few last minute things, and set my alarm for "horribly early" again. I'm really going to miss it here.......

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Olympic tsunami!

Photos: 1) Dining nook at the Postmaster's Lodgings in Rawene, a 150-year old Kauri house 2) The wharf at Opononi 3) Ross & Liz take in the view of the wild Tasman Sea 4) Tane Mahuta, the oldest living Kauri tree in New Zealand 5) Uncle Ross dramatically introduces me to a tree that I've forgotten the name of.... it was great entertainment.

Well, today is a bit of a mash-up. While Uncle Ross is finally starting to feel better, by the end of today I will have come down with a sore throat.

The day started innocuously enough. While Ross and Liz enjoyed some leisurely morning reading, I amused myself by watching a bit of Olympic action on the telly. Being away from home during the entire Vancouver Olympics has been a bit difficult for someone who loves to watch them as much as I do, so whenever I have the chance (they are few and far between!), I am transfixed by the moving picture box. All was well and good until my Olympic fix was rudely interrupted by a tsunami warning for the east coast of New Zealand, triggered by the recent earthquake in Chile. I find myself somewhat disappointed that we're now on the west side of the country.

After a delicious breakfast out on the deck in the sunshine with my new feline friend (I hereby name you Achoo! because that is what you do to me) and a view for miles, it's time to pile back in the car to continue our journey back to Auckland. Our first stop is in Opononi on the Hokianga harbour, naturally just down the road from Omapere. According to Wikipedia, their combined population was 477 on the 2006 Census. Perhaps you've also heard of Opo, the orphaned wild bottlenose dolphin who became famous in New Zealand in the summer (our winter) of 1955-56 when she would play with the children of Opononi. Sadly, she was found dead on 9 March 1956, and was buried with full Maori honours in a special plot next to the town hall.

This part of the Hokianga harbour is magnificent! Liz and I walk out to the end of the Opononi wharf to watch some Maori kids jumping off, and I read a big sign back at the beach which warns mariners all about the real dangers of the (sand) bars at the mouth of the harbour. They're really quite serious about these bars. There are 8 things you must do prior to crossing, while number 9 on the list says to stay away if you're in doubt. Looking toward the mouth of Hokianga harbour (twelve thousand years ago this was a river valley), I can see massive - and I mean massive by Ontario standards, my only frame of reference - sand dunes which help to explain the bars underwater there. Those dunes are so beautiful. I wish I could dash across the water to surf down them!

Instead, we're headed out to Arai te Uru Recreation Reserve, a little way down the road from Opononi, where we'll get great views of the whole harbour and the wild Tasman Sea outside these sheltered waters. The rocks out here are quite neat with swirls of orange-brown colours in them. Lots of cream and orange and brown and green, with sandy gravel paths underfoot. If I step nearly to the edge of the cliffs we're on, it's a l-o-n-g way down to some lovely sandy beaches by the crystal clear water. I take a few photos of the plunge to freak my mom out later.

I'm exploring the Waipoua Kauri forest with Ross & Liz now after we feel obliged to pay the guy sitting in a truck to keep an eye on the car. Feels like a bit of a scam, but whatever. We're here to see, in part, Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. Coincidently, he's also the oldest living Kauri tree in New Zealand, about 2,000 years old. To give you an idea of just how massive he is - because photos really don't do him justice - his trunk height is 17.7 meters (about 58 feet), his total height is 51.5 meters (about 169 feet), and his trunk girth is 13.8 meters (about 45 feet). He's a big, B-I-G boy. Like me, you will get a kink in your neck gazing up at his absolute splendor. That's why these brilliant DOC (Department of Conservation) people have built a second viewing area a little further from him where you can get a better idea of his enourmous self. From this second viewing platform, the people at his base are so teeny tiny! No wonder he is the son of Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatuaunuku (the Earth Mother).

The Four Sisters are another important part of this Kauri forest. They are four Kauri trees which grow in very close proximity to one another in the Waipoua Kauri forest. They reach gracefully to the sky as we circle the viewing platform in wonder below them, straining our eyes upward while listening to the calls and cries of birds nearby. A quick stop a bit later gives me a chance to climb up the Forest Lookout - a former fire lookout that offers spectacular views of the endless forest beneath me. I can't get enough of all this greenery!

Stopping in Dargaville for a bite to eat, Liz and I linger at the Blah Blah Blah Cafe while Ross explores the local museum. The wooden carving of a kauri gumdigger in the foyer pays tribute to the people of Dalmation descent who came over in the 19th century when kauri logging and gum digging were popular. I amuse myself in the bathroom by spotting a clever map of the world on the wall - the traditional map is inverted so that New Zealand is no longer at the bottom, or no longer Down Under.

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig. We're toiling down the east coast road, enjoying the scenery rolling past such as the flourescent pink sheep (a live one running around in a paddock by the road) at Sheep World, but are detoured at one point by a reputed accident which has closed part of our route. This means we don't get home until after 7pm and I am wiped. I'm sick and tired, but never sick and tired of New Zealand, if you know what I mean. I slowly repack all of my belongings because I'm on a long day trip tomorrow, and an early flight the following day, so this is my last chance to get organized. I stare at the heap of clothes, souvenirs, and chocolate covering the floor and bed, and I wonder if I will ever sleep tonight...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Ocean vs. Sea @ Cape Reinga

Photos: 1) Planting my native species at Te Rerenga Wairu 2) Battleground of the Tasman Sea (left) and the Pacific Ocean (right) 3) The massive Te Paki Dunes down which I sandboarded - my new favourite sport! 4) The author dips her feet into the cold, wild Tasman Sea 5) A Maori headstone in the graveyard at Te Waimate Mission.

It's an early day here in Bay of Islands. I'm on a bus trip to Cape Reinga today, going to check out the (almost) northernmost part of the North Island. I figured it would be a fun thing to do since I've already been to the (almost) most southern point of the South Island in the same trip. There's a bit of tour bus confusion among the gazillions of us waiting out at the street in front of our hotels. I finally find myself on the correct bus although the driver warned me that I'd be travelling with the "older" crowd unless I wanted to wait for the next bus. Heck, I'm used to being a younger one already so why not again today? I bid Liz and Ross a great day of R&R in Russell and climb aboard. The sun is coming up beautifully behind some clouds out over the bay as we head north along the coast.

Passing through Kerikeri (say like "keh-ree-keh-ree), I admire the extensive groves of citrus trees and the massive walls of bamboo growing along the road. The first time I encountered such towering bamboo was in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, then again in the Windward & Leeward Islands in 2006/2007, but I still find myself floored by how tall they grow and how pretty the stretch of greenery looks. This is the first time I've been in such bamboo groves when it hasn't been a gazillion degrees of dripping humidity.

We're in Puketi (say "puh-keh-tee") Forest now for a chance to stretch our legs and crane our necks while checking out massively towering kauri trees in this subtropical rainforest. The fourth largest living kauri, Te Tangi o te Puketi, with a height of 50.9m (167 feet) dwells here. This area of delicious greenery is 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of beauty, and along with the Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland:

After passing through gorgeous Coopers Beach (a little bias here) in Doubtless Bay, so named after Captain James Cook sailed past the entrance to the area in 1769 and recorded "doubtless a bay" in his journal, it's time for a BBQ lunch at Houhora Big Game & Sports Fishing Club, perched at the edge of the water in Houhora. No doubt my cousin Teddy would enjoy a day out with these guys - it's all about fishing here! According to their website, you haven't lived until you've fished Houhora. Regardless, the seafood-free lunch is delicious and I stuff myself accordingly. After 11 days of tramping in the bush, I haven't yet kicked the new habit of filling myself at each opportunity due to uncertainty of when the next meal will arrive. A few minutes to myself in the hot sun after lunch, then we're herded back onto the air-conditioned coach for more time to admire the gorgeous passing scenery.

At last we've arrived at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga)! We don't have much time here so I take a quick side trip to plant a native tree as part of the restoration project taking place here. It's an ecologically sensitive area, home to many rare and endangered plants and animals, along with being one of New Zealand's most visited sites, drawing over 120,000 visitors a year. Te Rerenga Wairua is also very important to all Maori as the departure place for spirits on their final journey to the homeland of Hawaiiki (distinctly different from Hawaii, for the record). The Maori name, Te Rerenga Wairua, means leaping-off place of spirits. The cape is the point where spirits of the dead enter the underworld.

Another fascinating thing about Cape Reinga is that it is the point where the Tasman Sea to the west meets the Pacific Ocean to the east. You can see a distinct area of turbulence where the two waters collide which is pretty darn cool! If you look closely, you can spot whirlpools and swirls, not to mention differences in shades of blue. I hike out to the lighthouse which shone for the first time in May of 1941, and was automated in 1987. If I cross my eyes and squint hard, I think I can see Sydney! I wish I could see some's another sunny, sweltering day of summer here.

Time for a quick loo stop in the eco-toilets, then our bus is lumbering down a streambed (with water in it) to the MASSIVE Te Paki Dunes on our way to 90 Mile Beach. These dunes are ri-di-cu-lous-ly tall! As you can probably tell, I've never been to a "real" desert where dunes of this magnitude are probably commonplace. Even better, we're going sandboarding down the dunes!!! I've just hit the entertainment jackpot. After a quick demo and safety advisory by our bus driver, I find myself hiking up the side of the dune in slow-motion. It's slo-mo for two reasons: there are a lot of people in line ahead of me as there are numerous buses stopped to disgorge their tourists, and stepping uphill in the sand means that your foot slides back nearly to the point of departure so it's really more like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back which makes for a different kind of hiking. Finally, it's my turn and I'm so excited! I lie belly-down on my boogie board, upper body propped up by my arms which are bent at the elbow, hands pulling up on the front of the board to avoid jamming it into the sand by accident. No high-speed sandy face plants today. My legs trail behind me off the back of the board as my feet will be the brakes. Ha! Brakes are for wimps, I say! My guide gives me a good shove, I close my mouth while applauding myself for keeping my sunglasses on to protect my eyes, and whoosh!! I'm flying down a giant hill of sand, headed straight for Te Paki Stream below, and I'm having so much fun!! I trail my feet in the sand for about 2 seconds of braking, then abandon all attempts to slow myself and am eventually launched across the streambed for quite a distance, sending up a giant spray of warm water all around me, and having the time of my life. I finally slide to a giddy stop to applause from my fellow bus people, and discover that I'm not even wet, just kind of sandy. Oh, if only we could stay here for hours....!

Sitting behind the bus driver does have certain advantages as we plow down 90 Mile Beach. I get to pepper him with questions and learn things like the fact that 90 Mile Beach isn't actually 90 miles long. It got named way back when people travelled this area with horses, and it took 3 days to cover the length of the beach. With an estimated average 30 miles/day of travel x 3 days, it was assumed that the beach was 90 miles long. Technically, the beach is only 55 miles long (88 kilometres), but since Australia has an 80 Mile Beach and what Kiwi wants to be outdone by the Aussies?, the original name stuck. The travel of 90 Mile Beach by coach has to be timed carefully - they have that tidal thing here, and the tour buses can only drive the beach at low tide. We stop about halfway along to plunge our feet in the cold Tasman Sea and check out pretty shells, then all too soon we're back on the bus and having our afternoon tea stop at Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a most excellent place to do a little shopping too:

Reuniting with Ross and Liz back in Bay of Islands, we swap stories about our fun days as we head across Northland to our eventual overnight destination on the west coast. On the way there, we stop to stretch our legs and check out Haruru Falls where I spot some gulls having a bath in a pool above the waterfalls. We also wander around the grounds of Waitangi House, a rich spot for local history as this is the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Another stop for history buffs is at Te Waimate Mission House, the second oldest building in New Zealand. We don't technically go in the house, but I enjoy wandering around the graveyard with Liz, checking out some beautiful graves and interesting markers. To some it sounds morbid to say I like graveyards, but I wander them around the world in order to appreciate how unique each one is, and to learn about local customs. I found some really pretty graveyards by accident once in Verona, Italy, when I was looking for Juliet's tomb. They're usually fairly quiet too, making them a nice spot for a picnic on a road trip as my mom can attest to from her childhood.

A stop for some pizza and views of a gorgeous sunset while watching children play hide-and-seek in a yard with virtually nowhere to hide, then we're finally at the Post Master's Lodgings in Rawene. Their logo has an uber creepy-looking fellow on it, but I'll forgive them because this fabulous kauri house is made entirely of kauri wood and is about 150 years old. We have a great room for ourselves with an ensuite bathroom, and I'm the perfect height for my little bed tucked in one corner. Sometimes, being the short one in the family pays off....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - I heart NZ ice cream!

Hooray! Uncle Ross has been pronounced fit enough for travel.

Photos: 1) A Maori carving to greet your entry to Ruapekapeka Pa 2) A view of the remaining ditch and bank defenses 3) Exterior view of the most famous toilets in New Zealand 4)The gate to the ladies loo 5) Sunset in Paihia (Bay of Islands)

Well, although I suspect he doesn't feel fit enough for travel, the doctor has give carte blanche for Liz and I to drag my poor uncle to the Northland part of the North Island for the weekend. Hopefully, the beautiful scenery will help him mend quickly!

Our first, and arguably our most important, stop of the day is in Waipu (say "why-poo") for ice cream. This isn't just any ice cream; this is very critical and very delicious ice cream! It's another hot day of summer here so ice cream plays a terribly important role in helping our bodies stay cool in the sun while we drive. Liberal application of sun cream on my Northern Hemisphere pale body is also on the list, but ice cream is first. This time, I opt for two scoops: coconut marshmallow (a rather alarmingly unnatural shade of pink) and cookies n' cream. I did have my eye on my favourite down here (Goody Goody Gum Drops), but I'm trying to keep expanding my culinary horizons away from home. Besides, I can't go back to Canada and sing the praises of delicious NZ ice cream if I've only ever tried one flavour.

Liz and I slowly amble down the main street in Waipu, carefully ingesting our medicinal ice cream and passing a prostrate Ross in the car. Poor guy. We find a little park and sink down onto some great benches in the shade of a big tree. Boy, it's hot here! I may not be the world's slowest eater (I have a friend who could compete for that record), but I am a pretty slow consumer of cold treats and Cadbury cream eggs, so eventually we start back to the car while I try to keep up with the pink trail of ice cream heading down my arm.

Our next stop a little further north is in Whangarei (say "fen-gah-ray") where it's time for a spot of tea at a little roadside coffee shop. We haven't had much for lunch yet (ice cream doesn't count because it was for medicinal purposes) so Ross and I share a piece of pear & blue cheese quiche. Oh dear. This is really going to test my taste bud limits! You see, my dad is quite fond of cheeses that smell like dead animals or hockey equipment that hasn't been washed in months, but I'm quite picky about cheese and tend to stick with bland ones that I know well like mozzarella, marble, and cheddar. I've already tried edam and goat cheeses on this trip, so I feel that I should try this gnarly-looking blue cheese. I put 3 rice-sized pieces on my fork, stab a giant piece of pear, and chew frantically. Maybe if I swallow fast enough I won't notice the cheese flavour? Nope, my mouth tastes mouldy..... {gag}. Well, at least my dad will probably be proud of me for trying.

Our next stop in this beautiful country is near Kawakawa to see the Ruapekapeka Pa, a Maori warrior stockade left over from their battle against the British in January, 1846. You can still make out the ditch and bank defenses, and luckily they've put a fence around the well because it sure looks like a long way down. The great thing about this Pa besides the interesting history is the view! It only makes sense that a defensive position should have long sight lines, and now the visitors get to drink in the beauty of the surrounding forests. There are lots of signs around to inform and teach all that you want to know about Ruapekapeka Pa, or you can also look here:

Since Mother Nature is a part of daily life, we now find ourselves in Kawakawa, home to the most famous toilets in the whole country: the ones designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived in the area from 1975 until his death in 2000. I first encountered his fabulous bright and cheery style when I was in Austria and Germany in 1992. Being a lover of colour myself, I was drawn to his plentiful use of it, along with the simple lines and recycling of materials long before the three "R"s became so popular. I was a bit sad when I discovered he would no longer be creating such fun and entertaining art pieces, but I did have fun exploring the toilets in Kawakawa, made even more special after I learned that they were his last project, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. You can learn more about the artist and his work here:

What ho! At last we are in Paihia in Bay of Islands, a beautiful place to rest our heads for the night. Although they have a Swiss Chalet Lodge, we've chosen other arrangements, and once we get Ross settled for the night, Liz and I strike out to find some dinner and take in the lovely surroundings. After noshing on some delicious cream of leek with bacon soup, salad, hot chocolate, and key lime pie (I should eat dessert more often if it's always this good), we took ourselves on a tour of this tourist town, including a stop down at the ferry terminal for photos of the sun setting, as well as up into the hills to check out the fancy houses and fantastic views. Tomorrow, I'm on a solo bus trip for the day to Cape Reinga while Ross & Liz take a break across the water in Russell, but in the meantime, here's a piece of New Zealand historical knowledge for you to mull over: Te Tiritiri o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) was signed here in the Bay of Islands on February 6, 1840.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hello again, North Island!

Photos: 1) Chinese Lanterns in the park in Auckland 2) Civic Theatre in downtown Auckland 3) Lime-flavoured milk....yum? 4) The most entertaining legal-ese I've read on an energy drink. It's a bit murky, but quite funny if you can read it.

Well, today got off to a bit of a rough start when one of my 5 roommates stepped on me while climbing onto the top bunk in the middle of the godforsaken night. It would appear that using the ladder for such a task has fallen out of vogue; rather, it's more fashionable (practical?) to march all over the bottom bunk (and its occupant!) while struggling to heave your adult-sized self up a couple of feet in the pitch dark, most likely after being out drinking half the night. I got doubly annoyed when said upper bunk mate left his two backpacks blocking mine although there was a ton of available space at the bottom of the bed and around the other side. I hope he found his packs later after I moved them out of my way...

Good thing I'm used to getting up early. The shuttle bus is here to whisk me to the airport so that I can return to Auckland today. Since it's a domestic flight, I feel safe taking my apples and orange in my carry-on for breakfast. I treat myself to a chai latte in the boarding lounge while I stare transfixed at the television in the corner which is showing Olympic updates. Olympics!!! How I miss thee! Heck, at this point, I've missed nearly all of the Games, but I do manage to get wind of a few recent Canadian medals and I secretly cheer every time the Kiwi hosts mention Canada.

I do like flying with Air New Zealand. Have I mentioned that yet? They have fantastic cutlery, as close to the real thing as you can get in the cattle class these days, their accents are super entertaining along with their edgy safety videos in which none of the actors are wearing clothes, and they serve great food. For example, this morning I'm noshing on muesli with yogurt and fruit after which I surreptitiously stash my sturdy spoon and fork in my backpack. It's almost enough to offset the ferociously squealing baby nearby.

As we approach Auckland, I can see some pretty fierce-looking dark clouds around the city, but my New Zealand geography isn't good enough yet to determine how much they'll affect my day. My bag made it to Auckland, yay! With 10 flights in less than a month on this trip, I'm always a bit surprised when my luggage follows me correctly. Liz & Ross are both here to pick me up, and it's back to the house for a pretty low-key day after we drop Ross to work.

Ahhhh, laundry again! I never thought I'd be so happy to be doing domestic chores, but a clean pair of underpants sure does cheer me up. Time now to book my two upcoming bus tours: Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga on Saturday (two days hence), then Auckland to Rotorua and Waitomo (the complete opposite direction) on Monday. I had written Cape Reinga and Rotorua/Waitomo down as ideas of things to do on this trip, but after talking with a few people and realizing that I only have about 4 more full days here (darn you, February, for only having 28 days this year - I counted 31...), I figured I'd have to choose between the two locations. I haven't quite got the hang of estimating time required for travel here either. Back home, I calculate distance in how long it takes to drive there (I live 2 hours SW of Toronto), but here everything is in km and my brain is struggling.

Uh-oh, Ross just called home for an early pick-up from work as he's feeling unwell. Liz and I head off to fetch him, and I take the opportunity to get back downtown to do a few more errands. They're setting up for the Chinese Lantern Festival in a big park so I take my time walking through there, admiring the different displays. A longer-than-intended stop at an internet cafe cuts into my intended shopping time as the shops here are not open as late as I am used to back home. Oh well, I guess I'm saving money. A stop for some chicken-flavoured potato chips (which do, in fact, taste like chicken) on the train ride back to Point England, then it's a late dinner and some time for reading before bed. Tomorrow, providing Ross is well enough, our little trio will head north to Bay of Islands.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 11

Well, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Today is the last day of the hiking portion of my Kiwi Quest, and essentially my last day in the South Island.

Photos: 1) The crazy narrow bridge to cross a canyon first thing this morning. Maximum load: 1 persons. 2) The rest of the group is WAY up on the windy ridge. Photo taken with 5x zoom because I'm way down the side of the ridge. 3) The Tri-Falls at the Emerald Pool 4) Snack break behind some rocks as shelter from the wind. 5) Neat building in Christchurch.

We're up at 6am today because we've a lot to do before we bid adieu tonight. First challenge: eating porridge for breakfast with no utensils. Ha! This is fun stuff. We got practiced while eating pasta without utensils last night so we're prepared for this morning. I used my one-finger method of scooping food to my mouth, but it proved to be too slow and painful for the others to watch so eventually I was ordered to use one of our wooden cooking spoons which sped up the process quite a bit.

Juli and I are going to hang out at the hut while the rest of the group is off to explore a nearby water cave of some kind. It's rather cold this morning, and pretty darn windy too, so I didn't relish the idea of hiking out to the truck in wet hiking boots. I was also pretty tired and really didn't feel like adding an extra hiking section to my day. From all reports, the caves were pretty cool and no one got wet feet, but Juli and I had a nice time chatting and relaxing while the group was gone.

A quick tidy of the hut, then we're marching off down the path heading back toward the van via a very narrow bridge spanning a small canyon. Don't look now but the maximum load is 1 person at a time! As the first person across, I was quite tempted to jump in the middle a bit (my favourite bridge activity), but I sensed I'd probably get in a fair amount of trouble if I damaged the bridge and stranded my comrades on the other side of the canyon. Besides, I didn't have the van keys either...

Everyone's safely across now and the sun is coming up which means we should warm up soon. Keep in mind, I'm hiking in shorts at this point and we're in the mountains. Brrr! Lots of uphill today as we're on a different route from yesterday. I'm slow and huffing and stumbling as usual, and eventually I force my way up to the group who are having a snack break on the side of a ridge near a section called "School Bus Overhang". If I weren't so tired from slogging uphill so far, I'd be faster at whipping out my raincoat to protect me in my sweaty clothes from the cutting wind. As is it, I huddle shivering behind my backpack for a bit of shelter while I wearily chew on some trail mix and gulp water. Last one in to snack breaks gets the least amount of time to rest so I've got to get some food and water into me quickly. I'll heat up when we start moving again which almost always feels way too soon.

Eventually, we're through with picking our way across sheer rock faces, and back to the tussocks that I enjoy. We're heading more overall downhill now so I'm able to keep up better. The grasses are still so useful as brakes when I lose my footing and start to roll in the dirt. Although most of the group is way ahead of me, and the waist-high grasses are often hiding the wee narrow trail we're following, it's pretty easy to stumble ahead in the general direction of the group since the terrain is so open at this altitude. The sun is shining brightly and it's pretty warm even with the strong wind.

We all get a chance to rest and snack again at the point where the trail diverges. Some photos, some water, then I decide that I'll take a turn at the front of the group since the trail is pretty easy to follow now. Across some more tussocks, now we're in some more rocky terrain. Hup, hup, hup! I'm pushing myself hard to keep a good pace for the fast hikers that I can hear right behind me. I check back a couple of times and everyone seems to be keeping up well so eventually my minds drifts while my body marches on autopilot. This happens to me fairly often on this trip. I think it's a protective mechanism in a way: the primitive part of my brain is still keeping an eye on the trail for me, but the more developed parts of my brain are off thinking about things other than my aching feet or the painful muscles in my back or how tired my legs are.

I come out to the top of a ridge, a very rocky area still above the tree line, and it's as though the wind factor just jumped by 10! It's a very narrow area we're marching across, maybe a foot of room to each side, and the trail meanders through the rocks so there's very little room for error. It would be fine most days, but today the wind is blasting so hard that I am literally being blown from side to side. I'm bent forward against the wind and I'm no shrinking violet in size so you can imagine just how strong these gusts were. The whole group is staggering as though drunk out of our gourds. I'm blazing down the trail as fast as I can to to get the heck down to the trees for some shelter. I follow the switchbacks down the steep side of the rocky ridge, slipping a little on some scree, scraping a leg on a particularly large rock. I'm about one third of the way down, almost entirely deaf from the roaring wind, when I think I hear my name called. I pause and look back up the ridge. Where the heck is everyone else?? Oh, there they are, waaaaaay up on the top of the ridge still! They're shouting at me and the wind is ripping their words away. I shout back that I can't hear them. We switch to charades. I still have no idea what they're indicating so I sit down to wait for them to catch up.

Eventually, the whole group makes it down to the forest intact, and all too soon we're crossing the last bridge back to the parking area. Now it's hot again! There's almost no wind down here, definitely nothing like the gale-force on the ridge, so it's a good time to repack all of our bags for the last time. Oi, this should be interesting. I've got to condense all of my gear into just the two backpacks I flew down here with! I managed to gift some travel shampoos to Kirsten who is staying in New Zealand for another few weeks, but I'm left with the rest of my extensive belongings. Why did I go shopping in the South Island?? I sit on my big pack and snap the final buckle in place, then it's time to enjoy Mirjam's delicious pancakes for lunch. No one really wants much of all our leftover food so Sophie will donate it to a shelter in Christchurch tomorrow. What a great idea!

One final clean-up, one final stop for ice cream, then we're on the road and headed to Christchurch. Everyone's pretty quiet at this point. Perhaps they're reflecting on the new friends they made, or the crazy stories we've created, or all of the great photos we've taken of this beautiful country. We make plans to meet for dinner in Christchurch, and before I know it, we're at the front door to my hostel. Ahhhhh, showers!!! How do I love thee after 3 days in the bush?

Clean again, having repacked my bags for the nth time, I dress in clean clothes and head out to find an internet cafe before dinner. I'm in a dorm with 3 sets of bunks although I'm hoping they're not all full by the time I get back. I update my blog quickly, check my email, then find the others who showed to dine. Amazing! I don't even recognize them at first since we're all so showered and wearing clean clothes. Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to say good-bye to Kirsten and Sean as they were meeting family, neither do we find Jane for a chance to say adieu to her. The rest of our motley crew enjoy a nice dinner together before a few final farewells. Wow, it really is over! I offer to walk Louise back to her hostel since it's around the corner from mine, and we end up talking for another couple of hours while seated in a planted area in front of some random building. Good times, good times. I'm going to miss this hiking trip.....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 10

Photos: 1) Old coal mining cart at the Blackburn Mine. Looks like it had a little accident... 2) Our skinny little path with cute looking rocks to trip you up if you get too absorbed in the beautiful scenery. The grasses are pretty soft to land on. 3) Woolshed Creek Hut next to....Woolshed Creek. I bet you didn't see that coming. 4) Tomorrow, we'll cross this bridge when we come to it. Don't look down!

I am sad that my hiking trip is nearly at an end, but glad that I still have more time in this great country.

Today, we got to sleep in until 7am. Hooray! We've got a bit of a busy day ahead of us with lots to accomplish, but we also don't want to be rushing too much because it's another beautiful sunny H-O-T day. It's more of a dry hot like Vegas was in August (as opposed to the wretched drippy hot that was Cuba in July), but by early afternoon we'll feel as though we're standing in front of a blast furnace with the door open.

Our project this morning is to get the van, trailer, and tents cleaned up and out. We've tracked a bunch of dirt and rubbish into the van while the tents are kind of "slept in" and the contents of the trailer need to be sorted and tidied. I grab some of our food bins to wipe and sort while others are unpacking the gear from the trailer, sweeping out the van, and rewashing all of our dishes and utensils. Wow, it's amazing how much crap is required to drag 9 people through the bush for over a week!

Finally, everything is put back in much better order, the filthy dish water is flung in the woods, and I quickly retrieve my clothes from the pine branch where they had been drying after my dip in the frosty lake yesterday. I'm already sweating but at least I smell a bit better now. We pile into our cleaner van and take off for our starting point for our final overnight hike to the Woolshed Creek Hut.

Enroute, Sophie informs us that she knows exactly where to find the best ice cream in New Zealand, and that a) it's on our way and b) a GIANT scoop (what we would consider 2 scoops most places) is only $2.00NZD {less in CDN!}. Sold! We sprawl in the minimal shade outside the store, panting in the heat and attempting to finish our most delicious ice creams before they run down our hands too much. I got a flavour called "Goody Goody Gum Drops" which tasted like bubble gum and had gum drops in it. Y-U-M!

If I had to guess (because I didn't have a thermometer handy), I'd say it's more than 30C today with minimal cloud cover. We've reached the Woolsheed Creek picnic area and those who were unfortunate (like me) to be in the back of the van are nearly prostrate with heat fatigue. The windows were open, yes, but the airflow doesn't really reach the back of the van. My only saving grace is that the sun was on Sean's side of the van. Pant, pant, pant...let me out!

Since it's W-A-Y too freakin' roasting to even contemplate hauling ourselves and our packs up a mountain for at least 3 hours without much shade beyond the forest section, we put our picnic table on some rocks down by the river under some trees in an attempt to cool ourselves a bit. Another round of sandwiches, re-application of sunscreen, then Kirsten, Louise and I decide to brave the river. Eeeeep! The water is very clear and beautiful, but when the air is so hot, the water feels so cold!! It's a wee bit difficult for us tall girls to dunk ourselves much when the creek is at most knee-deep, but somehow Louise and Kirsten manage to do so. Eventually, I end up sitting in a little pool with a nice cool soaking wet hat on my head, splashing little waves of water over my legs and arms.

Brilliant me! When I realized just how hot it was by the fact that I didn't really need to towel dry after my dip, I realized that I finally had a use for the bandanas I'd thrown in my bag so many days ago. I take one down to the creek and a soaking wet bandana tied around the neck (along with another soaking of my hat as it's already dried itself) proves to be a nice relief from the pounding heat. Louise told me later that my offer of an extra bandana was a life-saver for her. I recommend!

We're doing the Miner's Track (see link above) to the Woolshed Creek Hut and it's projected to take about 3 hours. We'll be eating a late dinner tonight because we're not setting out until about 4pm due to the sun and heat. We're travelling as light as possible again since we'll be able to sleep indoors tonight. After heading into the forest, we pass the site of the old Blackburn Mine where coal was once taken. so Sophie decides to take the shaded side trail to try and keep some greenery between us and the unrelenting, blinding sun. Yikes! This trail is narrow and tricky as all get out as it steeply winds steadily uphill, snaking back and forth on itself while we heave ourselves up and over slippery roots, giant rocks, and uneven gravelly patches. I think we're blurring the line between climbing and hiking, made even more entertaining by our packs getting caught on branches or causing sudden staggering shifts in balance. If you have issues with heights, I don't recommend looking down the plunging hillside about 3 inches past the outside edge of your right foot...

I'm gasping for air, sweat is streaming off every part of me, my legs feel like painful, heavy rubber, and the group has disappeared somewhere ahead. Just another hiking day in my life. Grunting, heaving, cursing quietly, and tripping occasionally, I finally reach the top of the giant cliff of forest and am pleased to discover that it's snack break before we leave the shelter of the woods. I lower myself carefully to the ground on shaky, hurting legs where I begin to gulp water at a rate that alarms Juli so much that she begs me to slow down. I think it was the gasping between swallows that set off her physician alarms. I don't have the energy to tell her this is how I usually drink but I heed her advice. It's too hot to make someone have to save my life if I choke.

We're out of the woods, literally, which means no shade anymore. Hup, hup, need to keep up! Juli and I have a moment of consternation when the group vanishes ahead again and we can't figure out where they've gone. A quick "Coo-ieee!" and we find them again. More tussocks here which means more opportunity to get my feet snagged on beautiful grasses since my lower appendages are too fatigued to lift more than 2mm off the ground. I can see for miles! We're in Lord of the Rings country too which would probably mean more to me if I had any interest in those books/movies. I can see why they wanted to do some of the filming here.

Haul myself over more rocks, up some more hillside, pick myself off the ground and safely assume that no one witnessed that accidental barrel roll since I'm last in line again. At last, we reach the "high" point of our hike at Trig R which is a measly 934m above sea level. I scoff because the Unknown Peak that I conquered two days ago was about 2,000m so now I can climb anything! A quick few photos while Sophie points out our hut in a valley far, far below along with the wee little bridge over a canyon that we'll be crossing tomorrow morning on our way back. My aching feet think that hut looks very far away....

Slip-sliding down more rocks and sandy dirt, add another scrape to the collection, stomp stomp stomp, keep up to the group, my knees are still mad at me for the 5 hours of downhill hiking recently. Everyone's moving quickly now with our dinner destination in sight, but I suspect it's more the idea of shade and a chance to lie down out of the heat that has us so motivated. I can't even remember what it's like not to sweat and I really don't even care anymore. I yank up my droopy shorts once more and keep trudging, hat pulled low to absorb perspiration and keep the sun out of my eyes. I've unintentionally lost weight on this trip and it's not because the food was bad. When I bend over or crouch down, I have to yank my shirt down over my lower back because my bottoms are looser than they were when I left Canada. Turns out tormenting myself halfway around the world for 1.5 weeks is the secret to slimming down!

Yay, we have the place to ourselves! No farting old English dudes, no sandflies either, lots of bunks to spread out on. It's a hut made in heaven. As our bags begin to vomit our belongings and we search for our share of the common items, we discover exactly how light we're travelling: Sophie forgot our spoforknives! These clever utensils are a spoon at one end and a fork with a serrated edge that is used as a knife making up the other end. Much to our own entertainment, we end up eating a fine dinner of linguini with red sauce out of our blue bowls with our fingers. We each seem to have a different style, ranging from plonking ones' face right into the bowl and sucking up noodles to elegantly pinching a few noodles and dangling them into our mouth from overhead. We're laughing as much as we're eating which makes for a really nice final dinner together. Try as we might, we're having a hard time coming up with a meal that would be impossible to eat with our hands. Our best idea is lasagna as the layers would be pretty tricky to navigate. Any other suggestions?

After washing up the bowls, it's time for some chatting by candlelight (DOC huts don't often have electricity), then we all turn in for a good night of sleep after exerting ourselves so much in the heat today. Tomorrow is the last day of hiking.... :(

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 9

Photos: 1) Spectacular sunset at Lake Pukaki 2) The Hooker River with Mount Sefton on the left and Aoraki (Mount Cook) straight ahead 3) A windy day in the Hooker Valley at Mount Cook National Park. That's Mount Sefton behind me. 4) Spaniard. A plant you should avoid touching if at all possible. It will draw blood, trust me. 5) The Hooker Glacier dwarfed by the 3,754m Mount Cook. This was our view at lunch.

Well, today was a little less strenuous than yesterday, but the scenery was spectacular as always.

Up "early" as usual at Buscot Sheep Station, we are rushing to meet our departure time that we had agreed on the night before. This is because there are two hikes taking place today, evenly divided among us as it turns out. Sophie will be taking Louise, Gerald, Mirjam, and Sean up to the Sealy Tarns - and hopefully Mueller Hut - while Kirsten, Jane, Juli, and I will be left to our own devices in the Hooker Valley, tramping our way out to see the Hooker Glacier. For me, there was no waffling over which trek to choose: the Mueller Hut hike is basically non-stop uphill for hours (in the sun) and it was strongly reinforced to us that whoever is doing that hike MUST stay together. I would have liked to have seen the views from on high, but I knew right away it wouldn't be on this trip. That's alright. Glaciers are pretty cool and now I have another reason to come back :)

Soon we're all piled back in the van, heading down the road to Mount Cook National Park, the jumping off point for both hikes. Since the Hookers will be expected to finish our hike first, we get entrusted with the van keys. Hoorah! Oh wait, it's kind of hard to joyride a right-hand drive van towing a big green trailer... Well, we'll just have to behave ourselves then. A quick making of lunch and distribution of snacks, rapid lightening of packs and reapplication of suncream, then the Mueller group is off to refill their water bottles and tackle the mountains. Good luck, guys!! We'll see you in about 6-7 hours.

The hike through the Hooker Valley is described to us as pretty flat terrain, an out-and-back on a well-marked trail populated with plenty of tourists, and is expected to take us about 3 hours. After yesterday, all I heard was "flat". I'm even wearing my running shoes today and my still-tender feet are quite grateful. It's a nice sunny day, still pretty hot in the high 20s (maybe even 30C), so we don't want to linger too long without shade. We're humping day packs today which is also a nice change. Water? check. Suncream? check. Raincoat? check. Wool sweater? check. Lunch? check. Let's go!

Right away, this hike is different from our previous ones. We're stopping often to take lots of photos, explore little side trails, and laugh at ourselves trying to climb onto giant rocks. There are lots of people around (we're not used to seeing almost anyone on our hikes!) and I'm not at the back of the group for once. It's nice to have a more leisurely pace because it gives more opportunity to really appreciate all of the beauty that surrounds you. Hey, look! My old friends spaniard and madagari are here too.

Soon, we come to a bridge spanning a river full of very grey, rushing water. There's a lake over there, near the base of Mount Sefton, and it's grey as well. We realize that the discoloration is due to the high sediment content of the water coming down from the mountains all around us. Thankfully, we don't need to use this water to refill our drink containers. It's pretty in an unusual way but looks unappetizing. The trail is a bit up-and-down, a wee bit of scrambling over rocks too, but overall, it's pretty easy. We pass a number of people wearing all kinds of footwear from hiking boots like the rest of my group to flip-flops, or "jandals" as they're called down here.

Whew, it's windy today! I'm going to have to abandon my hat soon for fear of losing it. At least the wind is helping to keep the heat down. Now we're picking our way along the side of a mountain, high above another river, but at least there's a fence on the outside of the path here. We did pass a sign that says not to stop in this section because of the danger of rock falls, but do they really mean those things? We have to stop at the end of the path here where another bridge crosses the river to let the people coming toward us clear off the bridge, then it's our turn and boy, it's great fun! I try jumping a bit to see if the bridge will move, but it's pretty solid. I look down over the sides at the river rushing underneath, and we stop in the middle to take a few photos of Aoraki/Mount Cook who is coming into better view.

Hiking, hiking, up and down some low hills and berms. Stop next to the river for some photos and posing on rocks, then back down the path and eventually across a third bridge, this time over a lovely clear blue stream. We take a few minutes to sit in a shelter hut and use the facilities, then back on our feet to get to the Hooker Glacier for lunch because we're close and getting hungry too. It's not very often that I get to dine in the company of an 11-kilometre long glacier that is the source of the Hooker River, at the foot of Aoraki.

We're there! Wow, what a view!!! And holy crap, the water still has ice floes in the middle. I stick my hand in at the edge: yep, bloody awful cold. We huddle behind some big rocks for protection from the wind and haul out our semi-squished sandwiches in the glorious sunshine. We really have been very lucky with the weather on this trip. A few last gulps of water, some more photos of the spectacular scenery, then we're hot-footing it back to the van for some shade and more time to rest. We're still physically tired from yesterday, especially in the knees, so we're looking forward to a relaxing afternoon while we wait for the other group.

Finally, back at the van in the blazing sun, we get a surprise when we discover Sophie waiting for us. Um, why aren't you halfway up that huge mountain over there and where's the rest of the group? Turns out Sophie got quite ill not long after they started hiking uphill, and eventually decided to return by herself, leaving them with her cell phone, the emergency GPS locator, and the first aid kit. Yikes! This is serious. Sophie never shows signs of pain or fatigue or illness so we're rather anxious when she crawls into the van to lie down. Thankfully, our group has both a doctor and a nurse in it so we're in good hands.

After fetching some water to make a cup of tea for Sophie and to wash the dishes we have left over from breakfast, I decide it's time to mend some of my footwear with trusty duct tape as I've been meaning to do for days, as well as sort out all my belongings once again, something I do almost daily as I am living out of 3 different bags in the trailer. Well, there's no one parked near us in this lot so I spread everything out and begin trying to keep track of what I need to keep where and when I will need it next. Not an easy task with the wind and heat, not to mention the fact that people keep driving by and staring at us. I'm sure their interest has nothing to do with the fact that it appears as though I'm having a yard sale, or that I happen to be wearing one green running shoe and one brown hiking boot with pink striped socks that reach nearly to my knees. You see, I need to mend a hole in one of my running shoes, as well as part of the lace system on one of my hiking boots, so since I spilled water on the shoe, I'm wearing the other of each pair until my shoe is dry and fixed. The rest of the group finds the outfit as well as the sorting process of my gear uproariously amusing for some reason.

After a while, my gear has been more carefully returned to the different bags (where it will no doubt be churned up again by the morning), and I am quite pleased to discover far more pairs of clean underpants than I thought I have left. Sometimes, it's the little things that make a big difference... Now we're scrounging for bits of shade in and around the van, and discussing various topics, when suddenly we spot some of the rest of our group returning! We're very excited to talk to them and to see how far they got. Mirjam is missing, but turns up a little while later after having taken a wrong turn. The four of them are thrilled to have reached the Mueller Hut, and as well they should be as it sounded like quite a feat. Kirsten and Jane are quite disappointed that their sore knees did not let them partake in that experience, but both plan to return to try another time.

Sophie's feeling better so we pack up the van and head off down the road to our camping spot on the shores of Lake Pukaki for the night. It's so beautiful here! The lake is a nice light blue (glacier-fed lakes often have beautiful colours from the mineral content and sediment) and we've got a spot that is sheltered from the wind still ripping around. Our closest neighbours are around the point so it's as if we've got the place to ourselves. Boy, is it hot here once the wind is taken out of the equation! We're sweating buckets as we labour to get our tents up and the food out for dinner. A few brave ones go for a swim, and by the sound of their yelping, the lake is pretty cold. I go down to the water to explore and wade in up to my knees to check the temps. Feet? Are you still there? I can't feel you anymore! Those in the water are practicing the jump shot while I take their photos, and eventually I'm so hot and sweaty and stinky that I am persuaded to doff my shirt and wade in deeper. Hooooooooo!!!!! It's freezing!! But, actually, once you go under and keep your body underwater, you quickly go numb and it's really not that bad anymore. This is the theory they sold me on.

I change into my thermals after the freezing cold water and head off on foot to look around. As I explore the little peninsula, I see a total of 7 rabbits hopping madly about in the grasses and trees. I come around the corner from our beach and see the lake stretched before me with Aoraki and numerous other mountains visible in the distance. Un-be-lieve-able. I'm so not in Kansas anymore. Snap some photos of myself and the views, then it's time for dinner with the group and an amazing sunset that reflects quite nicely on the lake. Tomorrow, we get to sleep until 7am!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 8

Seriously? I don't know how I survived this epic day...

Photos: 1) Watching the birth of a new day from somewhere around 1000-1500m above sea level is an incredible experience 2) Good morning, cute little tarn. The soft light becomes you. 3) Sophie demonstrating our "path" up through the rock fall 4) I conquered Everest before lunch! 5) A beautiful sunset to end a very long day...

We had our first warning that this day would be challenging when Sophie kept describing it as "epic". In my world, "epic" is a term normally reserved for tremendous mountaineering feats such as ascending Everest/Chomolungma or climbing the Matterhorn with your eyes closed. It would also be a long day for us as the outline for the trip indicates we'd be covering about 14km, or roughly 7 hours of hiking.

Well, after a bit of hilarity in our tent last night when Louise's cell phone song couldn't be cancelled, all too soon our multitude of alarms were going off. Good. Grief. It really IS 4 in the freakin' morning. How did I let myself get talked into this on vacation? And how do those Everest climbers cope? Dragging on random articles of clothing, it's time to shove my poor feet into my hiking boots and emerg from the tent to discover that I'm not the only who must feel like a train wreck. The rest of the group is stumbling around in the dark too, throwing a few last items into our lightened packs and refilling water bottles with the help of head torches and flashlights. My brain dimly registers the fact that there's no sign of Sophie yet which is a bit odd since she's usually up before us getting the stove going for breakfast. Meh, she's probably down the path "in the bathroom".

By now, it's nearly 5am and we're alert enough to be concerned about Sophie's absence. More importantly, we're hungry and no one else knows how to use her stove to heat the water for porridge. Suddenly, Sophie darts from her tent, profusely apologetic for accidently setting her alarm for 4:45. I hate to think what time it was supposed to have been set for! but now everyone is safe and accounted for. We gulp breakfast quickly before anyone can gather the energy to crawl back into their tent for a nap, then we're trudging out of camp in the pitch black, leaving behind all of our unnecessary gear in our tents. This is a bare-bones trek, an up-and-back in a few hours, so we're carrying a only few layers of clothing, water, suncream, and muesli bars/snacks in our big packs.

In a matter of minutes, we're out of the forest and carefully picking our way uphill across tussocks. Not everyone has a torch so we've subconciously organized into an "every-other" line of lights. As usual, I'm bringing up the rear so I try to keep my head torch focused on Louise's feet in front of me since she hasn't got a light of her own. This is tricky ground to navigate in broad daylight, with long grasses, random plants or roots, rocks, occasional tiny streams or deep cracks, but fortunately, the sky is lightening incrementally so visibility is improving. As we stop for a few minutes to strip off layers of clothing, I can almost distinguish landscape features around me. Oops, sorry for blinding you. I forgot about the light on my forehead when I heard my name.

A new day is dawning and we're somewhere between 1000-1500m above sea level, traversing the side of a ridge in a valley of the Ohau Range, on our way to bag the Unnamed Peak for our snack break. I couldn't have picked this scenario out of a hat if I'd tried. It actually seems quite unreal to write it down. We stop for a bit to watch the sun creep up over the horizon, way off in the distance. Lake Ohau below us is becoming more clear, the peaks around us are gaining more definition, the lights of the towns so far away are becoming dimmer, and the sky is all kinds of epic colours. Dark blue, nearly black, softening into a lighter blue, purple too, here comes some pink and orange; such delicate blends of colours just aren't justified with words alone. They really need to be seen in person and I treasure that morning in my memory banks. For these few moments alone, it was definitely worth getting up at the cold, dark hour of 4am.

But, with the daylight comes the sun, and since it's summer here in the rainshadow, with the sun comes some impressive heat so we get moving again. Toiling steadily upward, the group is getting ahead of me again, my feet hurt but at least I can see where I'm going now without my head torch, don't focus on the physical parts, part of my mind drifts off to other places, and eventually I catch up to the group again. We're at the bottom of a huge rock slide section with thousands of red and grey rocks of all different sizes scattered about. I've drunk nearly 1L of water already and I no longer really notice the sweat streaming down my face or how my shirt clings to me. Survival is more important at this point. Once we enter the rock slide section, we won't have any more water access until we return to this point so Sophie and the fast hikers take empty water bottles to fill downhill at the creek while the rest of the group starts through the rocks. There's almost no vegetation from here on up, just rocks and dirt, mostly reddish in colour, and I start to wonder if this is what Mars looks like.

Scramble up onto big rock, steady self with pole, step down onto rock that suddenly shifts position, lean precariously to one side and stab frantically for firm surface with pole while hopping to the next rock to avoid catastrophic fall. Slip a bit, steady she goes, which one is more stable? just go, says my brain. Where's the group? Are they following any kind of path? Can there be a path across a rock fall?? That one's huge, I'll go around it, my thighs are screaming and I'm sure my calves are 3" shorter than they used to be. I'm panting and sweating and looking and hopping and skidding and just a scrape then, nothing bad. Are we there yet? Focus on the end, keep the top of the rock fall in sight, ok Gerald is already there so head toward him. Heave sigh of relief upon reaching group, carefully lower self to big rock for rest while Sophie and the fast hikers head toward us with our water. Damn, they ARE fast!

Gulp some water, give thanks for hat keeping beating hot sun out of my face, soaking up the sweat on my forehead, and preventing a scalp sunburn, rise on shaky legs and pay attention to Sophie's instructions on how to best ascend the scree wall behind and above us. Scree is best described in this case as many, many, many teeny, tiny rocks with precious little holding them in place, in a vertical setting. There's the odd bigger rock to use but it's going to be slow and tricky. We're kicking steps in scree to anchor our feet just like you see people doing in a wall of snow. Unreal. There are a number of Chomolungma parallels here, including getting up in the middle of the night, and I can't help but feel that this is one of my personal Everests. Sophie suggests zig-zagging across in a switchback pattern as opposed to going straight up the wall. I'm constantly worried that my feet are going to lose their tenuous purchase, but short of sitting down and refusing to continue, there's not much I can do that I'm not already doing, so I try not to think about it. The rest of the group save for Julie is already up on the ridge. My legs are burning beyond belief and I'm panting like crazy. Stop for a breath or two to lean on hiking pole, slam boot into ground for next step, and the next step, and the next. Sophie is helping Julie find the best way up the last section; keep going, says my brain. Call back to Sophie that I'm ok and can carry my pack by myself, she points out a path that my addled brain finally sees. Head down, keep shuffling forward, be sure of my footing, repeat, hey, I'm finally on the ridge!!

A quick stop for some water and photos, then Sophie points out the rest of the route up the ridge to our goal which is still a bit hidden. I admire the sheer vertical I just climbed and feel a bit pained at what still lies ahead. My legs each feel like a painful, knotted, 2-ton pile of jelly and I don't know if they'll continue to carry me. Must. Have. Faith. In. Self. Plod along ridge, barely able to lift each foot off the ground. Lift, plant, shift weight, that sun is really bright, thank goodness there's some wind because it's like a furnace otherwise, repeat. Check periodically to keep group in sight, let mind wander to another place to keep from thinking about physical discomfort. Another rock slide section, massive boulders I have to climb over, hop to the smaller ones, go around the biggest ones, and finally......... I find the group sitting in the shelter of more rocks!! I made it!! I'm on top of the Unnamed Peak, about 2000m above sea level, in the bright sunshine. I stagger over to an empty spot and heave my pack to the ground before collapsing beside it. I admit it: there were times (plural) when I really doubted I could get here. I just didn't know if I could physically do it, and I didn't know if I could mentally push through the physical pain. But the proof is in the photos and I did it!!! I feel as though I just conquered Chomolungma herself.

I'm so tired I can barely find the energy to open my pack and drink some water. Someone passes the group snacks to me and I eat some trail mix and take a few pieces of chocolate. I dig a muesli bar out of my pocket and slowly begin to devour it. I'm not necessarily starving but I need the energy from it if I'm going to get up again and go back down. Dig two more bars out of my pack, pull on my wool sweater and raincoat plus gloves for protection from the wind. When your shirt and bra are as soaked as mine are, the wind chills you very quickly. Another reason to be wearing the gaiters too as they help to keep my legs warm which are only clad in shorts and boots otherwise. Feeling a little like Lazarus, I rise at last and convince someone to take a few photos of me on top of the world. More water, more snacks, stash a muesli bar in my pocket, doff the raincoat and stuff it back in my pack because we're about to spend the next 3 hours hiking downhill, and it's a steep downhill too. We'll also be out of the wind again soon with no shelter from the blazing sun and I'll be working up a sweat.

If you thought going up the scree wall with barely anything to set your feet on that didn't move underfoot sounded challenging, try going down it! What you should do is go to a ski resort in the summer, say Whistler (because I'm feeling patriotic from missing most of the Olympics) in BC, find their steepest run (without any trees or bushes on it), and cover it with loose gravel. Now hike down it, I dare you. Your feet just might move faster than the rest of you. In fact, figure that will probably happen, and you might accidently slide partway down. Your pack will protect your back luckily. I plant my hiking pole firmly the whole way down and only slip a few times. No one careens uncontrollably which is a good thing. Sophie is pretty much running down the wall but it's a studied, practiced approach. My toes are smashed into the front of my hiking boots, my knees are starting to hurt a bit, my thighs are burning and shaking, my hand is scraped from saving a fall, but I'm finally at the giant rock fall at the bottom of the scree wall.

We're back in the big boulders. I've got company for once as Kirsten and Sean are both favouring their knees behind me. Hop, hop, stretch, steady self, trip, stagger, wobble, save, hop, agh! THUD. I just fell off a giant rock onto a pile of rocks below it in the blink of an eye. Ow, that really hurt. Sean and Kirsten stop to check on me and I assess myself for damage: multiple scrapes, scratches and bruises on both arms, my elbow is bleeding a bit. Both legs are banged up too between my gaiters and my shorts. My posterior is smarting where it took the impact, there's a big gash in the back of my right thigh which is bleeding a bit, but overall, no head injury, nothing broken or permanently damaged so I'm good to go. My pack probably saved my back from numerous bruises and scrapes for which I am thankful as the rest of them start to sting fiercely. I pick myself up, thank the other two for checking on me, and off we go.

When I snowboard, I usually gauge my fatigue level by how shaky my legs are which translates to how often I fall. When I start to fall too often, or in situations when I wouldn't normally fall, I call it a day to prevent any fatigue-related injuries. Well, I just reached that point, but I can't call it a day. I need to pick myself off some more rocks, ignore the new scratches, and keep going. Not only are my muscles taxed, but all the sleep deprivation of the last few weeks isn't helping. We stop briefly at the bottom of the rock slide to regroup, reapply suncream, and rehydrate. Press on because we're sheltered from the wind and it's at least 30C with no shade for a while yet. We still have to get back to camp, pack everything back up, and get back to the truck which is a 2 hour hike from camp. This sun has no mercy.

We're staggering and stumbling across tussocks now. I'm not the only one who looks drunk or whose body is hurting. Louise is skidding ahead of me, whoops - she's down in a pile of grass, back up again. My foot is in a hole that I don't remember seeing this morning. I catch my foot in some grass and topple ungracefully into another pile of grass after rolling for a few seconds. Pretty soft landing. I can barely lift my feet out of fatigue so I'm tripping a lot. Face-first this time, no harm done. Getting up is slightly awkward with the pack and sometimes I feel like a turtle. Downhill again, I don't remember stepping in that creek by accident this morning, slide halfway down hill when my foot takes a step that isn't there, pick self up and continue. I can see the forest ahead of me just before I fall down again.

Back to camp, time to pack everything up so we can get the heck out of here. Daren't take my boots off because I'd never put them back on again. Camp is repacked, we've had a bit more snacks and water, descending through forest now. Everyone's knees hurt and I'm sure more toes are jammed like mine. I'm moving faster now for a change. We pause at the edge of the forest for another break and photos. Only about another hour to the truck although it's all open terrain again. Savouring our last moments in the shade, we struggle back into our packs and continue. I'm motoring now. My head is someplace else and I'm basically on autopilot. I can make conversation when required, but no one's got a lot of extra energy. It's like hiking in an oven. My feet are so sore that every step hurts.

We retrieve Louise who took a wrong turn, I'm churning up the wall of this ditch, somewhere in my brain it registers that this is an improvement for me, keep going and keep pace with Sophie because she has the keys to the van. One last stretch, I'm ahead of everyone else, I can see the ski hut!!! We did it!!!! We take turns at a toilet break where I realize that I've drunk 2L of water today and haven't needed to pee since 4am. It's about noon now, an 8-hour interval, which is a new personal record for me.

I don't even remember lunch this day. I know we ate it but I don't remember where or any details about it. I know that we drove to Buscot Sheep Station to camp in the yard for the night and somehow we got our tents up in the baking heat and scorching sun of the afternoon. We scrounge for shade in the yard, unload the food needed for dinner and breakfast, and vie to be first to use the showers. My stuff's a mess so I wait. I collapse in the tent for a rest where eventually I am joined for chatting by Kirsten and Jane. I dimly realize that we've managed to fit 3 people into our 1.5 (technically 2) person tent. I don't even care if bugs are getting in the open doors. I'm wearing the same clothes as yesterday, I'm scratched and bruised and stinky and filthy, but I'm too tired to give it much priority. We're all in the same boat. After a while, I gather my wits and rise to limp for my turn in the shower. The bottom of my feet feel bruised, as if I'd jumped flat-footed off a 2-storey something and landed barefoot on concrete. I shuffle around in my unlaced shoes and I hate when people shuffle their feet. My knees feel like someone is driving a stake through them if they get bent past 45 degrees so crouching to get in and out of the tent or sit in a chair is lots of fun.

After a nice hot shower and some clean clothes, I feel a little more human and head to see if the dinner prep gang needs help. Venison burgers on the menu tonight. I skip the burger part, but take one of Gerald's mangled fried eggs off the BBQ. Kirsten and I take turns putting on a show outside the kitchen window for our group mates who are washing the dishes, shouting put away instructions through the window, much to our own amusement. Take some photos of the fantastic sunset happening, limp to the bathroom one more time, shuffle into the tent and set alarm for "early" again...... it's been a VERY long day.