Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 5

Hooray, hooray, we're staying at Cannibal Bay...
Photos: 1) 3 sea lions on the beach at Cannibal Bay. The smaller, lighter-coloured ones are female. 2) View from the observation deck of the fossilised forest shore. 3) A lone Hoiho penguin coming ashore. 4) Our Hangi dinner of yum!

This Catlins Coast area of the South Island is beautiful! You should definitely come down here to see it for yourself. If you squint hard enough, you might even be able to see Antarctica!

Today was a pretty relaxed day which means we didn't have to shoulder our giant packs and trudge uphill for hours. Instead, we were released from the confines of the van by a nature preserve with instructions to enjoy a walk through it to the beach at Curio Bay. Ok, twist my arm. We walked along the gorgeous beach for a while until we met up with Sophie and the van again. Then it was off to see a fossilised forest nearby at a tidal platform. Check out this cool link for more info on how the forest got fossilised:
It was very cool to be down on the rocks at low tide and picking out long tree trunks preserved in the rocks. I even saw a big paua shell in one of the tidal pools. The channel off to the side was also neat because the waves would come crashing up to shore and be forced through the narrow channel, throwing up a swell of giant kelp and spray. We saw a Hoiho (yellow-eyed) penguin up the bank on the far side of the channel.

Next, we got dropped off again at what I like to call "Sea Lion Beach" although I'm sure it has another name. I call it that because as we walked along it (for a loooooong time because it was very big), we encounted at least 30 New Zealand sea lions and were allowed to get within 10m of them as long as we weren't bothering them or standing in their way. COOOOOOOOOOOL!!!! The first one we saw, a male, was GIGANTIC! The lighter coloured females tended to blend in with the sand and grass colours while the darker males tended to look like the giant piles of kelp. A lot of the lions were up at the top of the beach where the dunes with grasses came down to meet the sand so they were a little tricky to spot. Sean was posing with one big male in the background and had to move quickly when it started lumbering toward him. We thought it was pretty damn funny. One sea lion we came across was sleeping half on a pile of kelp with a flipper draped over it. Very cute.

We ended our long beach trek at Cannibal Bay, so named for human bones discovered there in the last century that were part of a Maori feast. It was time to pitch our tents next to an abandoned barn and get working on our Hangi project for dinner. Crap, here comes the rain! Quick, attempt to throw up a tarp in the blowing wind and rain with poles that won't stay in place and sticks that keep breaking. Next, huddle under the makeshift shelter and cover our table in lunch food for sandwiches. Keep a lid on things so they don't get wet. Squish the group under the sagging tarp to slap together some food before we tackle the rest of the work. Rain's letting up - time to dig for the Hangi.

Still wondering what a Hangi is? Check this out: Sean got elected to dig our hole since he's strong and durable. The rest of us helped with tents, lunch clean-up, food prep for dinner, and dragging rocks/sticks across the grass to the Hangi pit. Fire's going well, rocks are warming up. Pose for pictures with the basket of food, then watch solemly as Sean carefully buries it. Yep, we buried our dinner. Now let's go see some penguins!

Off we go to a nearby sheep farmer's property. This is one of the few locations in the South Island where Hoiho penguins come ashore. They are the rarest breed of penguins in the world too. The property has a little beach cove area as part of it, and the farmer built a viewing area up on the bluff at one side. You have to hike down through his land to get there and it's not open to the public. Secret South indeed! We took a little picnic and a lot of warm clothes with us since it was overcast and windy and we planned to be there for a few hours until dinner was ready. I ended up wearing thermal bottoms, pants over top, 3 layers of shirts including a wool sweater, a balaclava, winter hat, mittens, my fleece jacket and my rain jacket on top. I get cold. Sean couldn't stop laughing at me after he asked if I was on my way to the Antarctic. We assigned one person to keep a penguin vigil at the fence while the rest of the group huddled on the ground below wind level, eating cheese/crackers/pickles/meat and an awesome Cadbury cream egg as a treat. Mine lasted about 3 hours, much to the amusement of the rest of the group.

Eventually, the shout went out that a penguin was coming in. We all leapt to our feet and hurled ourselves over to the fence. Sure enough, way down below us, a little (from this height) Hoiho was just finishing his swim to the beach on the waves and started waddling up the beach to drier ground. Some grooming and preening, then he/she hopped, hopped, hopped up the grassy bank into the farmer's paddock where they stay. Sophie told us that in the spring, it's not uncommon to see penguin chicks and lambs mingling in the same paddock. Awesome! By the end of the next few hours, we'd seen another two penguins coming ashore and were getting hungry for dinner.

Unfortunately, I had a bad stomachache that night (probably from the everlasting cream egg) and didn't partake in the Hangi meal so much. Once we carefully dug it up, we unwrapped it to find some mouthwatering, steaming food ready for the taking. Lamb, vegetables like "pumpkin" (squash) and "kumara" (what we would call sweet potato), butter, yum! Kirsten did a bang-up job of marinating the lamb, according to the reports I got from the rest of the group who ate the meal. Hangi is definitely a "slow food" way of cooking, but appears to be worth the amount of effort required for it.

Quick clean-up of dinner, one last trip to the outhouse, then it was time to wedge ourselves 2 each into a 2-man tent that I'm still convinced was designed to fit 1.25 people. You get to know your tentmate pretty well very quickly....

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 4

I feel sorry for the two old English guys who shared our hut at Green Lake last night. First of all, some of us were snickering at their farts (luckily, I think they were already asleep), part of our group also snores, and we generate a lot of noise when 10 of us are getting up early, making breakfast, and repacking bags, all in the same big room.
Photos: 1) Sign at the beach to entertain my mother, 2) sunset view from the beach holiday crib that we stayed in, 3) Oi! Scary (normal) hair day in the Catlins, 4) waist-high grasses (and unseen bog) that we tramped through on our way out from Green Lake.

Another funny thing happened at the Green Lake Hut in the night: there were 6 mattresses to sleep on up on the top row of bunks (picture the bunks, top and bottom, as one long continuous stretch of wood with 6 mattresses on each layer), and 6 of us sleeping up there, but somehow during the night, 5 of us shifted down toward Louise until Jane woke up in the morning and discovered an entirely empty mattress between herself and the rest of us. No wonder I kept waking after bumping into people in my sleep! Poor Louise on the end of the squishy section ended up sleeping with her leg on the window sill for more space. Sean kicked me a few times in the night too. That'll be the last time I sleep beside him. He also told me later that he'd been reaching for my head torch in the night, and had accidently grabbed my big toe. When he reached again in a different direction, he grabbed my other big toe and quickly gave up. We both thought this was hysterical and I still have no idea how I slept through the whole thing.

I woke in a bit of a panic on this morning. Sophie was up before us as usual, and had started her little burner to heat water for hot drinks, but from my vantage point and half-delirious-with-lack-of-quality-sleep state, all I saw when I opened my eyes was the reflection of flames dancing on the wall across the hut. I sat bolt upright, thinking the hut was on fire, but thankfully, I was dead wrong. It's way too early in the morning for false alarms....

Eventually, we got ourselves ready and hoisted our packs to hike out to the truck, about 3 hours away. It was very misty and cloudy over the lake this morning, so we quickly bid a not-very-fond farewell to the sandflies and took off. Most of the hike out was fairly uneventful, but we did have to mash our way through some pretty muddy bog a couple of times. I don't mind mud, even when hiking. My gaiters that I had borrowed from my parents helped a lot too, both with water/mud-proofing my feet, and mostly protecting my lower legs from evil spaniards and scratchy bushes. At one point I was happily stomping through some particularly muddy bog when suddenly my right lower leg disappeared into the mud up to my knee! My momentum and big pack kept me lurching forward, but I managed not to faceplant and slowly hauled my lower extremity back to the surface.

After washing our boots and gaiters in a freezing cold but beautifully clear stream, it was time to drive to Invercargill briefly for groceries and postcards, and to bid an early farewell to Bob who was putting up with a very painful back problem. For those who care, Invercargill is the southernmost town in New Zealand, and nearly the southernmost point in the country too. It has a lot of Scottish influence, and Kirsten was able to provide the Orkney viewpoint on that immigration.

Heading out to the Catlins part of the South Island (time for Google maps or an old-fashioned atlas), we found our "holiday" beach house in Curio Bay. It was a gorgeous location, up on a bit of a bluff above a massively long beach, although the house itself smelled like old people. Sorry, old people, but it really did. At least we had access to showers again! And a full kitchen too that we didn't have to share with anyone or any sandflies. I spent some quiet moments down on the beach by myself, listening to the surf and watching the waves along with the weird little crabs that jumped around. I pitched one of our tents in the yard for the night, thinking the surf would help me sleep better than sharing a room with two girls, but alas, it was a crappy night. Oh well, at least the scenery was awesome! Too bad the sheep across the road didn't want to come over to the fence and visit...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 3

Hooboy! These hills are crazy. After today, I'm thinking Southwestern Ontario is pretty darn flat.
Photos: 1) Cloud coming over Green Lake as the sun goes down, 2) View down to Green Lake (I know, it looks blue) from the top of the world, 3) Tarns we hiked along with the grasses that saved my life more than once, 4) I MADE IT!!!!

Yep, up early yet again. Are you sensing a theme yet? To give you an idea, on this trip, "sleeping in" means alarms get set for 7am. Mind you, by the end of the day, we're so worn out from dragging ourselves up and down hills that we're usually in bed by 9:30pm. A lively bunch are we :)

To start our Boreland Saddle hike to Green Lake in the Hunter Range, we were in some pretty nice forest, mostly beech trees (don't quote me on that), until we came out above the tree line. A lot of tussocks, grasses, nasty plants like spaniards and madagari to stab you when you step wrong, but scenic. Always, always scenic which makes up for the blood that spaniards draw.

After a while of hiking uphill in the sun with no shade because there aren't any trees, I found myself staring at what appeared to be a black diamond ski run (sans snow) above me. Much to my amazement, the rest of the group were in various stages of making their way up it. Seriously! Since I'm almost always at the back of the pack, I have a very good vantage point from which to state that. Eventually, I overcame my urge to run screaming back to the van, hoisted my pack a little more comfortably, and started staggering straight up to heaven, zigzagging somewhat as my pack shifted and the path veered.

To be honest, I really doubted I could make it up that section. That's how steep it was. But I did, and finally joined the rest of the group on top of Mount Burns where we had lunch at 1634m above sea level. V-I-E-W-S!!! Could see for miles and miles once I stopped hyperventilating and my legs returned to not feeling like 2-ton jelly.

After a rest, we tripped and stumbled our way down through tussocks, spaniards, and long grasses that halted my uncontrolled, inadvertent, rapid descent more than once. Through the rainforest with Green Lake visible to the left, we dragged ourselves closer and closer to Green Lake hut, run by the Department of Conservation people. Oh, I didn't think I would make it. Do I really need to climb under this tree then over that one? Walk through mud? Sure, who cares if my feet are dirty at this point. I can't really feel them anyway, and they hurt like hell when I do since we've been hiking nearly 7 hours at this point. Sandflies? Meh, they never bite me anyway.

Some went swimming when we finally reached the hut; others, like me, were too tired to remember their name and tried to make an effort at unpacking their bags to dig out their portion of communal food for dinner and breakfast. Some delicious pasta with oil, cheese, and pesto into which I nearly fell asleep, then it was time to help Louise with the dishes. Small problem here: Sandflies like her. A lot. And we were washing dishes outside. Eventually, my job became drying the dishes and keeping the sandflies off her while she washed and danced to get rid of them. We found it pretty funny, but had a bit of a crisis when we couldn't get the pesto out of the bowls that were to be used for breakfast in the morning. You learn to eat pesto-flavoured museli without batting an eye when you're hiking...

Dishes done, we spent the evening learning card tricks and doing Tim Tam slams with Milo. Oh, gooey chocolately goodness!! I miss you. We shared the hut that night with two older hikers from the UK who put up with our giggles at their farts that everyone could hear since we were sleeping in one big room.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 2

Photos: 1) The paddlers let out of jail to kayak around Milford Sound, 2) The rainforest area in the backwaters, 3) A New Zealand fur seal giving himself a bath (juvenile males come to this area for a couple of years), 4) Lady Bowen Falls, 5) Valleys all around us, 6) Gorgeous views everywhere!

Well, for those who think I'm just lollygagging down here while you're working, feel glad knowing we started our second day of our hiking trip at 0545. Yep, that's about 15 minutes later than I usually get up to go to work back home. My headlamp sure came in handy as I stumbled to the bathroom, still mostly asleep and too tired to even shower. A quick breakfast and group clean-up later, then we were headed in the van to Milford Sound for some kayaking.

Fiordland National Park is absolutely stunning and I don't use that word lightly. In fact, I'm running out of adjectives for how pretty it is down here. Technically speaking, Milford Sound is actually a fjord, not a sound. If I had more internet time for free, I'd include some links to explain the differences, but for now, you'll have to put your google skills to work. Essentially, one is a V-shape while the other is U-shaped. The persons who named this area are responsible for the misnomers and misspellings which are now world famous.

Anyway, we drove through views of low clouds, green mountains, and more gorgeous clear rivers. Through a tunnel whose name I forget (the location where they have a Naked Tunnel Run - no joke), then a great vista of a valley with blue sky and sun (yay!). Down a steep winding road that my mother would not have really enjoyed to the kayaking spot.

The water in Milford Sound is plentiful to say the least. They get a ridiculous amount of rain, and since the cliffs/mountains are grantite, all the rain goes straight into the salt water of the fjord below. This creates a layer of fresh water on top of the salt water which is quite interesting for marine life. As we paddled around, we drank in steep, plunging cliffs and a view of Mitre Peak (1722m high). Indescribable. We also encountered 7 male juvenile New Zealand fur seals, two of which we got very close to in our boats. They were just sleeping and resting on some rocks mostly, although two came out to us in the fjord and were playing around our boats for a few minutes. We also encountered another section of rainforest in the backwaters where Sean accidently fed Kirsten some tree for lunch when he steered their boat awry. Jane & I were kayaking for Team Canada back to the boat launch ramp, but we settled for silver against the stronger Scottish team.

A stop in Te Anau for more groceries and ice cream (and for me to drop my pop on the ground where it hissed all over my pants), then it was time to head on a long and winding road to Lake Monowai where we repacked our bags for an early departure (sensing a theme yet?) and divvied up food and equipment in preparation for our overnight hike the next day. Yay, shower time!!

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 1

Oh my, where to start? I've been offline since Feb 13th down here, six days ago, and a LOT has happened since! I'll try updating this blog in point form since this internet cafe is not completely cheap.
Photos: 1) Morning comes E-A-R-L-Y but the views are great, 2) Socked in at the top of Key Summit (the frown is from concentration on self-portrait, not an indication of weather displeasure), 3) Our goal: accomplished!, 4) Gathering firewood at the side of the road. That trailer stored our gear and was our travelling kitchen. If you are 5'8" or so, be careful about sticking your head in the back compartment. If you straighten up too quickly, you will smash the top of your head into the metal door frame. Trust me, it hurts for a few days.

I'm on an 11-day hiking trip with Hiking New Zealand/Active Earth New Zealand, tramping between Queenstown and Christchurch. We started in Queenstown on Valentine's day (down here), and our group consists of a Kiwi guide (Sophie), 2 Aussies (Louise and Gerald from Sydney and Canberra respectively), Mirijam is from the Netherlands, Bob (left on Day 4 d/t bad back) was from Quebec while Jane is from Vancouver, Kirsten and Sean are a couple from the Orkney Islands (part of Scotland), and Juli is currently living in Bristol (UK). We're a bit of a mash-up group, but we laugh a lot.

Day 1: Drove from Queenstown to Te Anau (you'll have to google these locations. They're all in the south end of the South Island of New Zealand), passing sheep, cattle, cyclists, more sheep and more sheep. Beautiful mountains, lakes, a very windy road. A lot of the roads we've been on thus far seem about 1.5 lanes wide, often gravel, and often on a cliff or mountain edge. Yep, no pressure with oncoming traffic! Had lunch by a river at 45degree latitude (just north of the Antarctic), got our first intro to sandflies. Luckily for me, they don't seem to find me tasty. Everyone else hates me for that while they scratch and itch and seethe.

Headed to Fiordland (I know it's spelled wrong; the first person to name it did that by accident) National Park after lunch, hiked up and over Key Summit where it was lovely in the forest down low, but overcast, very windy, and drizzling up top. Here is where I would discover that I suck at hiking uphill, making me (usually) the last person in line. Oh well, I just hack along at my own pace and so be it. The rainforest at the beginning of the hike was SO beautiful, cloudy and green with all kind of vegetation of all different shades of green. We passed crystal clear blue/green rivers that just made me want to jump right in among the big river rocks. Mountains of green rising through the mist and cloud make me swoon.

We camped for the night at a rustic campground by a river that would have been even nicer had there not been so many, many sandflies. For those who are unfortunate enough to react badly to bites, they leave large welts that make one want to weep with itchiness........or so I'm told. Anyway, my feet were quite sore this night, and I was exhausted beyond belief. Once we finally managed to squeeze into the kitchen for our turn at cooking, I nearly fell asleep in my dinner. It was a getting-to-know you night as I shared a room with Louise and Mirijam in one of the little cabins. Our bunk beds were like hammocks and the room was just big enough to turn around in, but we get along well thankfully.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010: I have it baaaaa-d for this country

Have I told you yet just how beautiful this damn country is?! I know I haven't posted any photos yet, so you'll just have to take my word for it, but I think I'm in love. If this isn't the most gorgeous country I've been to so far, it's one of the top 3.
Photos: 1) Highland cattle (originally from Scotland) at Walter Peak Station, 2) My hand feeding hungry sheep, 3) The Earnslaw steam launch, 4) Kiwi statue by the waterfront in Queenstown, 5) Beach in Queenstown. I can't get over how clear and beautiful the water is here.

Well, this morning got off to a bit of a panic-stricken start. I had a flight from Auckland to Queenstown at 0720 so Uncle Ross was to drive me to the airport at 0620. I set my alarm for 0520 (I need time in the morning because I'm not a morning person) only to wake up at 0600 when I heard someone walking around upstairs. I seem to have turned off my alarm while sleeping. A few quiet, creative curses later and I was hurriedly hurling on some clothes and frantically double-checking all my vital documents. Thank goodness I'd made good use of my time last night to repack my bags! A quick goodbye to Liz who thrust a hasty breakfast at me, then Ross and I were whizzing to the airport. I got to check in by kiosk, and even put my own luggage tag on my big pack before unceremoniously dumping it in a bin on a conveyor belt and rushing off to my gate. Must have done it right because it followed me here.

When I boarded the plane, some old guy was sitting in my seat, but eventually his wife figured out he was supposed to be in the middle seat and I was able to claim my spot by the window. The weather out of Auckland was good, but there was a front passing through the South Island so lots of cloud and some turbulence on the way. After descending through the clouds in Queenstown, we came in for landing out of the mountains to meet a sunny albeit cooler day. It's about 13C down here, much less humid than the north too. I'm wearing my trusty ragged wool sweater again because it's a bit breezy too and we're right on Lake Wakatipu (wah-kah-tee-poo). It's jaw-droppingly scenic here!

After hauling my gear to the hostel, I headed back to the main part of town where I was signed up to do an excursion to a working sheep farm across the lake. I think I heard our guide say that Walter Peak is 2,000m high with the farm situated at the base by the lake. It's a vast farm, covering a LOT of acreage (numbers forgotten), and our guide/hosts were extraordinarily courteous and friendly. We got to feed various types of sheep by hand as well as some red deer (not Red Deer), watch a herd of sheep get rounded up by a dog, I held a 5-week old lamb in my arms, and we watched an unwilling ewe get sheared after a lovely break for afternoon tea. Our journey across the lake was in a 98-year old coal-fired steam launch which was fantastic. We could watch the men shovelling coal into the furnaces and it was certainly warm in the engine room! I also encountered an artisan's market outdoors down by the docks before the boat sailed so I poked around and bought an adorable little blue bowl (handmade ceramic, very nice artist man from Dunedin) with a bright, happy, sunshine yellow interior. Oh, and I've bought my first wool sweater too along with some NZ socks. Why am I shopping now when I've got to haul it with me???

Currently, I'm taking advantage of an internet cafe I found to update my blog and email while I have the chance. This may be my last post for a bit so be warned. Tomorrow morning, my newly-extended sunburn (I was in a rush this morning and completely overlooked sunscreen) and I are meeting up with the Active Earth New Zealand group to start our 11-day hiking trip to Christchurch. I've still yet to meet any other Canadians, but have chatted to Americans, Belgians, those of the UK persuasion, and an Aussie or two. I should have brought Dalrene with me - she managed to find all of the other Canadians when we went to Zermatt together a couple of years ago. I'll have an overnight in Christchurch (providing I survive the trek there), then back to see Ross and Liz for about another 5 days before I reluctantly head home. Can I stay here forever?

Kiwi Quest 2010: Adventures in Auckland day

Well, today got off to a rather slow start which isn't a bad thing at all. Even though I'm on the other side of the world, my habit of waking at 6-something a.m. has followed me here, so while Liz was at work and Ross was working on his email, I used the time to repack my bags for departure to Queenstown (South Island) tomorrow morning. Trouble is, my big pack seems to have a space problem now, even though I've taken things out of it to leave here while I'm hiking. What the heck?
Photos: 1) Lovely fern in the greenhouses in Auckland Domain, 2) Kiwi and egg (egg takes up something like 2/3 of the inside of the bird - largest egg relative to size of bird) at Auckland Museum, 3) Maori meeting (?) house at Auckland Museum. Very neat inside, full of carvings. Please leave your shoes outside. 4) I finally figured out what my uncle does down here, 5) Ferry Building in Auckland.

After a leisurely breakfast which included my cousin Martin (kind of), Liz dropped Ross and I at the nearby train station to get ourselves to central Auckland. Ross needed to work in his office at the U of Auckland, so we parted ways at the train station and I headed off to find an ATM, post office, and various other things. Thankfully, HSBC gave me some NZD so I now have 4 different currencies with me on this trip. The few NZ bills I've seen thus far are really cool because they have a transparent window in them. I'm planning to take a photo with all 4 currencies for fun so I'll post it when I get a chance.

After buying more postcards, I stopped at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum ( down at the water's edge. Ok, technically I never got past the gift shop, but I wasn't there because I was interested in boats. I was shopping. Anyway, it looks like a cool place to explore if you like floating stuff. The harbour is pretty busy and the Ferry Terminal is really old and cool from the outside (

After finally locating the post office, I quickly hiked up a giant hill to meet Ross at his office where we would head across to the road to lunch in a neat old building on the university grounds. Horribly, I forget the exact history of the building, but it's old and neat and they've made a small cafeteria in it for faculty and their guests. We ate in one of the side rooms that had a small bar at one end and tons of old photos on the wall. Liz joined us shortly after and it was time to hand the niece off to her for the afternoon shift.

Off now to the Auckland War Memorial Museum ( for some very cool Maori exhibits along with a simulation of what it would be like to live in Auckland if a volcano erupted in one of the harbours (scary - the floor moved!). They had exhibits about all kinds of stuff like more birds, a whole floor about different wars including some lovely stained glass tributes, dinosaurs and oceans. Sadly, I missed the gift shop because they kicked us out right at 5pm.

On our way to search out some caffeine in Auckland Domain, we found that the Hot House and Cool House (greenhouses) were still open so we quickly explored each one. I hope my photos of the flora and fauna turn out well. I saw a few items like Lobster Claw that I hadn't seen before. After a cup of tea and some banana-coconut cake, we had a quick but nice visit with my cousin Ben and his wife Bea - I've now met 2/3 of Liz's boys, but Julian lives in England so I won't meet him or his wife this trip - then back to pick up Ross and head home for dinner.

I've just discovered that my flight to Queenstown tomorrow morning is at 7:20 am. I'm an idiot! But on the bright side, I'll have the whole day to explore Queenstown, starting with a trip across Lake Wakatipu in a launch, followed by lunch at a sheep farm (including shearing demo) which should be a lot of fun. My hiking trip starts out of Queenstown day after tomorrow so be warned now that the blog will go for days at a time without updates while I'm tramping around the South Island wilds. I will have regular internet again when I return to the North Island on Feb 26th which will be Feb 25th for you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010: Greg, the bad Takahe

Today's adventure was to Tiritiri Matangi Island ( which was a rushed drive about 30 km NE of Auckland this morning. Bit of a late start but we did make the ferry so that ended well. I don't profess to know much of anything about birds or plants (don't tell my mom or my grandma; the family green thumb seems to run through them), but Tiri was a great day trip today.
Photos: 1) Feeder near the gift shop at Tiritiri, 2) Takahe! Keep an eye on your lunch. 3) Little blue penguins in a molting box, 4) The dutiful aunt and uncle with their niece. Trust me, it rained earlier. I'm not carrying a raincoat in the sunshine for decoration. 5) Pretty beach at Tiritiri.

I'm trying to learn another language while I'm here: Maori. It's quite prevalent so I'm learning some of it by proxy just listening to other people speak, and sometimes I'm learning it by trying to pronounce names of birds, plants, or places on the map. I pronounce them quite badly so far, but there seems to be hope for improvement. I feel as though I should know some Maori by the time I get home because my uncle here has quite the experience with numerous South Pacific languages in his role with the U of Auckland. []

So, back to Tiri. There is lots of info in the links I've included, but essentially the island is now an open nature preserve which means that anyone can visit it although there are numerous rules to keep it in homeostasis. When you visit, you mustn't bring with you any rodents, pests, soils or seeds because the conservationists have done extensive work to eradicate all predators on the island. You must also pack your lunch in rodent-proof containers, and take home any garbage you generate with you. "Pack it in, pack it out" If you're enjoying your lunch and a free cup of coffee/tea by the visitor's centre (near the base of the lighthouse), beware of Greg, the bad Takahe! He's quite a naughty fellow, often being gently shooed out of the gift shop by the volunteers who run it, or as was our case today, being intercepted by volunteers while trying to make off with a bag of garbage from a backpack left unattended for a few moments. There's actually a book in the gift shop called, "Greg, the bad Takahe" which is all about him getting into trouble on the island so don't think me mean for using that term :)

Following our return from Tiri on the ferry, we detoured briefly to Shakespear Park, then through Whangaparaoa (say "Fan-gah-pah-ro-ah" if you're me), down Beach Road in the North Shore area through numerous small beach towns to the tip of a narrow peninsula at Devonport for a drink and yummy dinner. From here, you can look south across the water to Auckland and enjoy the various boat traffic while the sun sets just out of sight. It was a lovely meal to end the adventure. Back to Liz & Ross's house in the darkening city, quick stop for gas and ice cream for dessert, then it's time to update the blog before I fall asleep after walking in the sun and forest and beach and rain and birds and greenery all day...........

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010: I slept through Feb 9th somehow

Photos: 1) Looking bleary in Sydney after flying 14 hours across the Pacific Ocean. Plane to Auckland is behind me. 2) Auckland from the air. 3) Illicit cola! 4) Weird sign at internet kiosk in Sydney airport.
Hallo from New Zealand! I've reached my ultimate destination at last, roughly 9 years after the first germ of an idea for this visit took root. "Good things come to those who wait" or something equally flattering to fellow procrastinators.

Well, it's been a little crazy since I was last able to update this in North America on Feb 8. After buying some postcards for $6.66 (seriously, but in Korea it's good luck so I'm safe according to the shopkeeper) and gorging myself on a delicious spaghetti dinner, it was off to the airport for another go round through security before heading across the Pacific Ocean to Australia overnight.

Nearly as soon as my 13-hour flight from LAX to Sydney took off, the kind attendants with United were serving dinner even though it was nearly 11pm PST. Shortly after I ate, I thankfully fell into a coma for some unknown length of time. Since I refuse to change my watch until I'm in one location for more than a day, it's still set on EST so I usually have no idea what actual time it is where I am, or how much time has passed while traversing multiple time zones. I woke in the darkness to the offer of a turkey sandwich happily received, and eventually struck up a conversation with my seatmate over hot breakfast in the light of the rising sun. He is originally from Sydney - on his way home for vacation - but now living in Prince George of all places. We only struggled a few times with accents and phrases and got on quite well to help pass the remaining time. As we circled to land in Sydney on Feb 10, I could see some sandstone cliffs making up part of a national park and some of the city although none of the "famous" landmarks were obvious to me.

After a flight of nearly 3 hours, I was finally landing in Auckland! The kind folks at Air New Zealand even fed us triple chocolate ice cream with our lunch choices so it was a nice introduction to the country. Security here is nearly on par with the US in terms of layers and paranoia except here they're up in arms about biohazards (like bringing in honey and other foreign no-no products) instead of terrorists. I actually had to dig out my hiking boots from my bag so that they could be inspected. Seriously. The lady even cleaned some dirt out of the tread of one of them into a biohazard bin about the size of recycling bins for apartment buildings. After that, my bags all got x-rayed. They probably have some strange disease by now after enduring x-rays in 4 different airports so far.

Considering I haven't seen my uncle since our trip to the Grand Canyon in 1993, and I haven't seen my aunt since our one and only encounter while I was living in Toronto in 2004, we all managed to meet up correctly at the airport. A nice scenic ride to their house later and I've got my first idea of what Auckland looks like beyond runways and security guards. Oh! and I got my first stamp in my new passport :) I'm sharing the house with my cousin Martin as well, but his attendance is erratic so we haven't actually met yet. I have met both cats: Greta and Gremlin. All in all, we're getting on quite well so far as a group. I've already even bought my first fun teas at the supermarket where they also sell Illicit Cola (I took a photo) and lime-flavoured milk (gag)....

"Nau mai, Haere mai ki Aotearoa"! (Welcome to New Zealand)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010: Venice Beach, baby!

Free internet in hotel lobby so must keep this short. First impression of LA: clouds are pretty, lots of lights (from the air); people here have $$$$$$ (from the ground).

Photos: 1) Strange behaviour on top of a swing set 2) Fun graffiti 3) Surf's up, dude! If you get into trouble, there's a H-O-T and very friendly lifeguard on duty 4) Canals in Venice, CA 5) Flexing my muscles (buried under wool sweater) at Muscle Beach, CA

Finally got to hotel after waiting for shuttle that doesn't actually exist, necessitating $30 cab ride to hotel in the end. I'm angry with the idiots in reservations for this place, but the hotel is quite nice and the kind fellow at the front desk last night must have felt sorry for me because he upgraded me to a suite of his own volition. I just finished gorging myself on free breakfast and am headed upstairs to get ready to explore Venice Beach for the day. My pockets are full of free food from breakfast.

.... Ok, I'm officially checked out of the hotel now so I'd better update and post this before they kick me out of the lobby.

Venice Beach so far: awesome!! Walked all around this morning from my hotel in Marina Del Rey to the canal area, then north through the canals (which are kind of green and scummy, but still really neat with some cool houses) to Muscle Beach, north a ways along Ocean Front Walk to a random spot, then I walked along the beach a bit and got my jeans wet in the freezing Pacific Ocean :) There are surfers out today so it can't be that cold. Truthfully, if I'd had more time and my bathing suit handy, I would have gone for a swim even though I don't really like swimming in the ocean. Walking south from my beach spot, I stopped to talk to a very cute (and friendly) lifeguard who is local and was happy to answer all my questions. I got his photo too but you might have to wait for it until I can find a way to upload. Stopped to watch some nice waves smashing beautifully over some rocks, then over to Muscle Beach to say I'd taken my baby pipes there at last. Doh! I just realized I didn't take a photo of myself. Alas, another reason to come back then. A few guys were grunting and heaving heavy stuff around, but my eye was caught by some guy way up at the top of a swingset who seemed to be looking to take a nap way up there. No idea.... but I have photos.

Walk south along Ocean Front Walk from Muscle Beach, checking out the crazy shops and gorgeous houses ($$$$$$$$$$$), walk up the big dune at Venice Beach and stop to soak up a few rays. I keep forgetting it's February! Sorry, I know you probably hate me for that comment. This is a great introduction to California for me. Stop to use sketchy public bathroom (oi!), walk out on Venice Pier. To the north, one can see Santa Monica Pier with the amusement park on it, to the south lots more beach with awesome houses and distant smoke stacks. Somewhere off to the west, about 30 miles out to sea, is Catalina Island, but it wasn't visible today. Trek back to hotel for quick shower and packing before they kick me out.

Now I'm going to write a few postcards and grab some lunch before I head out on foot to explore more of the area and find some stamps. My flight to Auckland via Sydney leaves in about 8 hours, I think....

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010: Today's the day!

Well, so far I've made it out of my place and to my parents' place. Since they're driving me to the airport, I'm that much closer to leaving. Thankfully, their place has WAY more food than mine did by the time I left. It's a bit difficult to make an appetizing meal out of cheese, pineapple, and pickles.

This morning, in a flash of inspiration between unexpected loads of laundry, I decided to unpack everything I'd already packed for my trip because I felt it wasn't packed in a user-friendly manner, and that little gap down near the bottom of my big pack was really bugging me. Don't ask. It took me a while, but eventually everything went back in the bags in a more suitable way, and I even managed to eliminate a couple of things I had been planning to take to make a bit more room. Strange though: when all the stuff was strewn from one end of the living room to the other in small piles (aka "packing"), I really didn't think I was taking very much for a vacation of more than 3 weeks in duration. Turns out that space in the bag gets filled pretty quickly when one is cramming in hiking boots, a sleeping bag, and rain gear. Now the little gap at the bottom of my big pack is no more :)

I just tried to check-in online with Air Canada, but to put another nail in their coffin (in my eyes), I got an error message saying that one of my flights is unavailable for check-in at this time so it kicked me out of the system. Sigh. Granted, I suspect the flight that is causing this problem is the one out of LAX to Sydney which doesn't leave until tomorrow night, so I'm probably being a little unfair to Air Canada in this case. Alas, I just hope check-in goes smoothly at the airport. At least the luggage handlers like me better now that I have a cover for my big pack:

I treated myself to a couple of other things while at the Burlington MEC today: a new red Nalgene (BPA-free, if you care), some extra shoe laces for my borrowed gaiters, 2 Cliff bars and 2 Luna bars for the planes, and a rain cover for my day pack, although because I'm not sure how big my biggest day pack is since MEC doesn't make it anymore, I bought 2 different covers and will return the other one when I get back. I want one cover to fit all my day packs, not just the one I'm taking with me.

So for now, kitty and I are relaxing in my mom's study where I've hijacked the computer to post this update. kitty is snoozing on the couch nearby with the waning sun draped across him; I, on the other hand, am on my second cup of tea and nowhere near sleep. My mom is a little manic and my dad is selling bike parts on eBay. Just another day at the Cooper house...

Tomorrow, I'm in SoCal!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - T-minus 5 days!

The groundhogs collectively predicted 6 more weeks of winter today. Bah, forget that! I'm heading to summer.

What is this thing they call "excited"? I haven't reached that point yet. January was a busy month for me and my mind is still too preoccupied with getting ready to leave to be excited. As is also my pattern, I usually don't let myself really get excited until I'm en route to wherever it is that I'm headed. Superstition maybe? More likely that I'm too worried about forgetting something key, and too busy repetitiously checking all my vital stuff, that stress is all I tend to know until I'm in the air/on the rails/out at sea when it's too late to do anything if something has indeed been forgotten.

Have I told you lately how exceedingly annoying Aeroplan (and Air Canada by association) is to deal with? Near the end of January, I was sure my flights were good to go and I had even blogged to that effect. Then, one Monday morning, I got an unasked-for revised itinerary from Aeroplan in my email.... perfect for a Monday. Upon reading it, I discovered that my 12-hour layover in San Francisco on the way home had been clipped to about 2.5 hours. At first, I was really mad because I had plans in place to make the best of that long layover - meeting up with a long-lost friend and getting in some exploration of a city on my "Go There" list. But, after I moaned about it a few times to a few sympathetic listeners, I realized that there were some positives to the new itinerary:

1) I will now be arriving back in Toronto on the same calendar day that I leave New Zealand. This means I'll be in 4 countries (and countless time zones) in one day which is pretty cool to say I've done. It also means I won't be so completely destroyed the next day because I won't be arriving in the wee hours of the morning after flying overnight.

2) I have a good reason to make a trip to San Francisco in the future in order to spend more than a few hours there. Road trip!!!

3) I didn't get charged $94.50 for this itinerary change because Aeroplan took it upon themselves to do it for me. Ha!

So, with 5 days to go, I've a heap of clothes and gear piled in the middle of my now-semi-tidy living room with the backpack into which it is all supposed to go being buried somewhere at the bottom. I think I've bought anything I was missing and my to-do list is shrinking although my packing list keeps growing. I'm even sewing buttons back on my shorts if you can believe it. I didn't feel like pinning them shut for 3 weeks. My apartment even nearly no longer looks like the site of some kind of explosion...