Coming Into Sydney

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I left New Zealand alone as I’d booked my own flights, stopping over in Wellington. It was sort of weird to be flying into a city I already felt like I knew, kind of like coming home and yet not at all the same. Coming into Sydney, on the other hand, felt like coming into Los Angeles. Beaches, water, surf, and city as far as the eye could see. Compared with New Zealand cities, which are generally smaller than 400,000, a city of 4.5 million was particularly sprawling. I was supposed to arrive 10 minutes after the rest of the group and was a bit worried about customs because I had no return ticket for leaving Australia, but customs was a breeze. Still, there was nobody there when I arrived. I worried a little then checked their flight and saw they were delayed and not due for another 20 minutes. About an hour later, they were peeling out of the gate and PC2 was rejoined, ready for Australian adventures.

We were supposed to take a Harley tour through Sydney to our hostel, but as is our custom when arriving in a new country, it was rainy and unpleasant outside, so we simply went straight to our new home in Manly. And what a home it was. Basically a bunch of condos with shared facilities, right on Manly beach, it was easily the best accommodation we’ve had to date. It was already dinner time, so I went out with Katie, Brad, Chris, Chelsea, and Lauren to a pretty decent Thai place by the wharf, walking along the strip crossing the peninsula. Then we grabbed some groceries for the group and hung out in our little nest for the evening. Another pleasant note about Australia, or at least Sydney, was that in that little walk we saw more pretty girls than in all our time in New Zealand combined.

The next day was still rainy – and Australia is supposedly in a drought. Still, it was warm enough and scattered enough that we went to the beach for a while and played in some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen, trying to body surf. Brad and I also found an internet café that easily beat any café we’d used up to this point. It was lightning fast, so much so that I ran out of photos I’d already captioned. We went back to the hostel to get on our bikes for the evening tour, and wouldn’t you know it, as I made my way back to the hostel the rain began. It drizzled initially but within 10 minutes of getting back, it was pouring. Still, danger or not, we were taking the Harley tour, so we loaded on our waterproof gear and hit the road. Thankfully, not literally. The tour was kind of interesting as it was in the rain, but otherwise we definitely missed out. We didn’t go into Sydney and so just toured the suburb of Manly and its various homes and freeways. Still, it was fun, but it would’ve been cool to roar across the Harbour Bridge. We stayed at home again tonight, and wound up watching the Academy Awards, which were actually pretty decent this year.

Finally, our third day in Sydney, and we were off to see the city itself. We took a ferry in the morning and checked out the opera house. Which isn’t white and painted at all, but is actually a mosaic tile that looks more yellowed unless reflecting the sun. It was surreal to be at the foot of this very foreign monument on the other side of the earth. We broke off into groups and Chris, Brad, and myself ventured around the city. We strolled through the botanical gardens seeking other views of the opera house and harbour bridge then made our way to The Rocks, an old quarter of Sydney. Though we well overshot it, stopping for lunch in the busy office district before finding ourselves at the end of Pitt St. in Chinatown. We supposedly had a pass for any transit, so we went to take the monorail back into town only to be scolded by a very angry tub when we asked her if our pass also worked for the monorail. I thanked her for being so polite, wished her a pleasant day, and we walked up to George St. to catch a bus back.

We looked around the Rocks, which weren’t all that incredible and stopped for a beer before heading to the middle of the Harbour Bridge. Brad had to get to class with his ignorant cultural professor (q: Why do we see more Canadians abroad than Americans? A: Because their country sucks.). Yup, she’s the one responsible for opening their eyes and minds to other cultures. Luckily, her students are more enlightened than she is. Anyway, Brad went back for more of that fun with her and Chris and I continued across the bridge to check out Luna Park. Which was closed but we were able to peek around because there was a wedding there. We found our way back and met up with Brad before deciding to head into Chinatown for dinner. But we hopped on the wrong bus and it took us across the harbour bridge and another into some suburb.

We debated exploring the suburb for decent and hopefully cheaper food and then some locals recommended we stroll along Darling St. to some decent restaurants. We wound up having Japanese food instead, walking about 8 blocks extra to bring our own wine in from a not-so-nearby shop. Dinner was good and reasonable and we’d certainly had an adventure to find it. This also marked the beginning of the Canadian drinking game. See, it’s considered rude to not lift a glass and drink when someone toasts, so basically you just take turns coming up with a lot of cheers. Pretty simply but potentially lethal. We got back into town and were making our way to the ferry when we passed these Scottish girls that started talking with us. We still had some time before the last ferry so we stopped and had a beer with them before escaping home, mostly unscathed. The ferry ride back was nice at night, Syndey has a beautiful skyline. We said goodbye to that skyline early the next morning, venturing to the Blue Mountains and a small Scouts’ hall near Katoomba where we would spend the next couple nights.

View Sydney Photos

Old Zealand

Sunday, February 25, 2007

We were back in Christchurch again to catch our flights to Sydney, Australia, which was met with a mix of excitement and sadness since it’s hard to leave a beautiful and amazing place like New Zealand. Still, more adventure ahead and I am certainly more excited than sad. I called up Mike again since we were in town on the weekend and we met up at the hostel after my first shower in ages (I bought a new towel!), dinner, and who knows what else. We went out with Katie, Meridith, and us boys and had a good time but were all fairly tired. We started at Sullivan’s, which had some pretty decent live music actually. Then Mike took us to a place called Concrete which was quiet but a pretty cool underground club. We (by which I mean Anthony and Mer) did a little dancing and hung around a bit before wandering into a place I’d spotted walking that was in an alley and also underground, somewhere along Hereford St. It was likewise slow but cool and we hung out a bit until I wasn’t the only one tired and then got some BK before calling it a night. The next day, though, Mike was taking us on another sojourn into the NZ countryside – a French town called Akaroa(?).

I got up at 9:30, just in time to grab the hostel’s continental breakfast, shower, and caption some photos. Mike offered to let me use the net at his house so I wanted to upload as many photos as I could there. This was our last full day in New Zealand too, and I had to print off my itinerary and e-ticket for my flight among other errands. But that was later. He met us and we left the hostel around noon, stopping for petrol as they call it and some groceries for the trip. Which, itself, took about 40 mins through some very nice scenery. Rolling hills and all the stuff I would be missing from New Zealand very soon. The town itself clearly had some French history but was pretty well English by now, so it was more of a novelty, but it still had some pretty sections. There is a restaurant there called C’est la Vie that’s meant to be quite famous and we were hoping to have lunch there before heading back. When we finally found the place, not knowing its name, location, or anything other than the fact that patrons write all over the walls about their experience, we were understandably disappointed to find it was closed for lunch and all booked for dinner.

I tried in horrible French to ask the chef who we could hear and see working away at prep what time they opened for dinner, and he came to the door and spoke in English to me. Whew. Embarrassingly, he’s not actually French (I’d been told they were, but maybe his wife was) but German, and I tried to secure us a spot at dinner. At best he had my number and put us down for a phone call should anyone cancel and recommended another place we might want to grab dinner (Ma Maison) in case we couldn’t get a spot. Our reservation was for 5:45 at Ma Maison and we were supposed to have heard whether a spot had opened up by 5, so that left us some time. More time than we realized, because my watch was lacking a setting for New Zealand time and the time had been an hour ahead on my watch since arriving and I forgot this when quoting the time to the others. We strolled around the town and took some silly photos, warmed up in the car and got some rest, drove around to nearby outlooks and gravel roads and driveways, went to hilltop parks of unusual quality, and basically killed time until dinner. It was a lot of fun despite having no driving purpose or deeper meaning.

We drove back into town a little before 5:00 and discovered that the placard outside which had so coldly proclaimed the restaurant full for the night now had a seating time and phone number to call. I talked to the lady inside and they had just had some cancellations (apparently the cook hadn’t felt it worthwhile to call us) and so we got a table booked. We cancelled our reservations at Ma Maison then came back for dinner. I had a nice steak topped with spinach and blue cheese and marinated in some other sauce as well. Quite delicious and definitely worth the wait. The only way to get a better steak here would be to fly in my dad. Which could be difficult given my ever-dwindling funds, but I digress. Mike also had the steak, and Chris and Brad had the venison, which was also great (but not as good as my steak). We all felt the meal was terrific and worth any waiting that we had to do.

We drove back into town and stopped at Mike’s house for me to use the internet. It turned out he had some episodes of Family Guy I hadn’t seen so he copied me a DVD (which I just realized I forgot to pay him for!) and we watched a hilarious episode while I did my internet things. Then back to the hostel and the boys went out, tired or not, and hit the town running with what is probably the cheapest wine we’ll ever buy ($4-$5 NZ bottles). We went all over and got a little more zany as the night went on, and boy did it go on. We were at the Holy Grail for a while, we went to some place on the strip, and who knows where else before Brad and Chris went for BK and Mike and I took off to the casino. As is my fashion, I did well at the start off my last $5 and then lost it all, but it was fun even if late. I got back to the hostel at 6AM, just in time to get two hours sleep before an 8AM meeting.

We had our meeting about Sydney and what was in store for our big move to Australia, cleaned out the vans, and got packed. My flight was different than the others so I went to the airport early with Katie and got myself sorted. Now I’m sitting here waiting in the Sydney airport for the rest of the group to arrive (I was supposed to arrive 10 mins after them but our plane made good time), and I’m very eager to get out of my sweaty clothes and into our condos, which I hear are good, and of course the Sydney rain and humidity. We got some nice views of downtown from the plane too, and it was exciting to see those oh-so-remote monuments like the Opera building or the Harbour Bridge just sitting there waiting. Now, speaking of waiting, I’m going to go back to it. Next time, Sydney. All it’s cracked up to be or more?

View Christchurch Photos

Sweet Franzy Joseph

Friday, February 23, 2007

It was a six-hour stint from Wanaka to Franz Joseph, home of the Franz Joseph glacier, ice climbing. We stopped midway for lunch at a salmon farm and had some salmon related luncheon paninis and such before arriving in Franz. When we got there we stopped by the activity centre to book our ice climbing and other options for those not interested. Unfortunately, there was only one spot left. I offered mine (quite reluctantly to be honest about it) to Lauren2 since she is a climber and though I had been looking forward to it since I heard about it she probably wanted to do it more. But there were others who also wanted to and she was also reluctant to accept, so we did a draw for the spot. Well, I won but felt pretty bad about it. Still, I suppose it was fair and in any case I was going ice climbing the next day.

The other Lauren swung by and invited us boys to happy hour at a nearby pub and so we went along and had some drinks with them. And then went elsewhere and grabbed some appetizers and dinner and, yes, more drinks. I went home a bit earlier with Lauren and Chelsea because I had to be ready for ice climbing at 7:45 and was in bed by 11:00, though I watched the last episode of the Office I’d downloaded before bed (Dwight and Oscar return). Chris came back towards the end and we watched one more episode, so I suppose I was asleep by midnight. In any case, I don’t know if I was nervous about sleeping in, ice climbing itself, or the room was hot and poorly ventilated (probably all of the above) but I got no sleep. Every hour or two I was up and debating going back to sleep or not, even though I’d eventually look at the clock and it would only be, say, 3 AM.

I got up to do some ice climbing on time regardless and hurriedly threw breakfast and lunch (bread and jam) into a container and walked over to the activity centre. We packed up our stuff, though I forgot to grab a rain jacket because I had the wrong-sized boots, and drove to the glacier. It was about 3 km to the glacier through rain forest and along the glacial stream all, I stress, in glorified ski boots. Not comfortable. Well, maybe they were a ski/snowboard hybrid but my point remains. We got to the base which I discovered had a staircase carved into it. Not my idea of ice climbing, I joked to myself. Not that the group was not friendly, they were all Scottish and quite nice, but I wasn’t up for being the outgoing one at that point. Remember I’d had no sleep, and anyone who knows anything about me knows that early mornings and bad sleeps are a bad mix.

We hiked another km up and into the glacier, arriving finally at our base where we’d do our climbing and set up. All said, we did 5 climbs, the last of which was actually greater than 90 degrees of slope. It was a lot of fun, though I think I like rock climbing better, and pretty demanding. I did the whole thing without ever falling though there was at least once where I was dangling by a single ice pick. It was a definite workout, however, and by the time we finished climbing, hiked back down the glacier and found ourselves at the van I was definitely beat. Still, we stopped by a pub on the way and I bought a drink for the guide that gave me his rainjacket and one of the guys on the trip that owns a pizzeria in Glasgow bought us all some pizza to munch on. All in all, I had a great time with these guys.

I didn’t bother with dinner back at the hostel because I pretty much crashed right through it. That is, after I cleaned up the sprinkled hearts and fake love letter off my bed and had a good laugh. Brad’s mom had sent him some valentine’s day stuff which I instantly recognized, so they didn’t actually fool me, but it was hilarious for all involved. I did wake up later (or else this particular blog post would have a lot more zzzzzzz’s) feeling refreshed and took a sauna with a few of the others which only helped more. That night the plan was a Lord of the Rings marathon which I definitely didn’t have the stamina for, but it was fun to sit in the TV room with everyone watching the first movie. Quite a few of them stayed up for the second (maybe half left) including Kate, Anthony, Brad, Chris, Dustin, and myself. Only Anthony attempted the third movie, though even he was unable to survive all those endings.

The next morning we left Franz Joseph behind and made our way up the coast to Arthur’s Pass, which brought us back into Christchurch once more. This was our last trip in the vans and we all were feeling a little sentimental. We stopped for lunch en route at a small coastal town and Norm, Chris, Brad, and myself grabbed some meat pies and sat on a really strange beach with all sorts of weird wooden sculptures and debris strewn about. We stopped again in Arthur’s Pass and got some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had from the same place that we’d stopped with Mike coming through with Chris, Simon, and myself a few weeks ago. Excellent choc-o-mint and caramel ice cream. And, something that has been somewhat lacking in my mind, we stopped again about 40 km past the town at a cave stream and wandered through it from one end to another. It was unguided and really quite a cool thing to do to break up the trip – I don’t imagine there’s anywhere else in the world where they’d just let you wander into a cave stream that could easily flood you out without waivers and ropes and so on. It was really only Brad, Chris, and myself that wanted to do it. I think Katie was on the fence because it was drizzling and cold, but we managed to get most of the people reluctantly on board. Well worth the stop and I hope this is the start of more off-the-beaten-path activities. We drove on and Norm passed Katie in Christchurch which meant I got to navigate us back to the YMCA, where we would spend our last two days in New Zealand before departing for Australia.

View Franz Joseph Photos

Wanaka Binnaca

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We rejoin our heroes in Wanaka, a small town about an hour north of Queenstown where skiing, biking, canyoning, trailing, and lake activities reign supreme. After the work of the Routeburn, this little oasis on the lake was a breath of fresh air (hence the title). En route we took a really steep road, were hitting the E on our gas gauge, and running the heat because the engine temperature was getting dangerously high. All part of the adventure I suppose. We got here late because we’d been out to luge in Queenstown which hadn’t been in the itinerary, and ran to the grocery store to get dinner and some wine. Brad, Chris, and I decided to do a boxed-wine night and we came back, had a chicken salad dinner which was actually pretty darned good, and then played charades in the hostel’s grass. I was on a team with Katie, Lauren C, Chelsea, and Brad and we did pretty well I thought. Chris, who was on the other team, was very far along through his wine and definitely feeling it. Roaring drunk and hilarious as heck. We got asked to be quieter and/or move the game inside and decided that it was bed time, so we had Chris drink some water and all retired… until I was awakened at 3 AM by a strange sound and screaming.

Well, okay, no screaming. But it sounded like water falling. And then Amy asked, “What the #$# is that?” in a tired and annoyed voice and then chunks began hitting the liquid and she realized about a second before me that Chris was pouring out wine and salad or, as Norm would put it, calling for Ruth. Him being on the top bunk, this was particularly troublesome for Brad below him, though Brad slept through it. Amy tried to get Chris to use the bowl, but alas. It was too late. The room instantly stunk, and more rancid than anything I have ever experienced – and I’ve worked in a bar. It was gagging us all and Meridith and Amy fled to other rooms. I woke up Brad because his face was maybe 20 cm from a puddle of vomit on his mattress and his hand just as close. Brad was suitably thankful. I had no choice but to sleep in the room so I did my best to clean up without getting touching or inhaling or in any way looking at it. In other words I used a ladle and looked the other way and then threw a sheet on it, opened the windows, and hoped the smell would be trapped.

The next morning came all too soon although it was nice to get out of that room. Chris had no idea he’d thrown up at all and didn’t have the hangover he so deserved. I guess because it all wound up on the floor. He had more cleaning and a tongue-lashing from the hostel owner, though and apologized profusely to all. We left early for some mountain biking which was essentially a long drive up the mountain and then coasting down some really dusty and loose dust. I picked the ghetto bike which would drop the chain if I even thought about changing gears. Luckily it was mostly downhill, so this wasn’t an issue. The view was nice, the guides were terrific, but the trail needed a rain badly. I did enjoy myself quite a bit, however, and definitely have to give Dan and Paul a hearty recommend. By next year they’re going to have a bunch of new trails open and it should be a biker’s dream here in Wanaka.

Afterwards, Brad, Chris, and I went for lunch and forced Brad to choose the venue. In the end it was gyros and we sat on a bench overlooking the lake and ate. Then we sat on the beach with some of the others, went for a swim, and Brad everyone dispersed when Katie left to take the students to class. I spent some long-overdue internet time, then I came back and grabbed dinner with the group at Speight’s – which had pretty decent prices for the portions they were serving – and we all had some drinks while we waited for tables. We finally had dinner (which was great but really filling) and then back to the hostel. We talked about doing a Routeburn commercial as though it were some sort of disease before heading out for a midnight swim. As the swim went on and the ranks faded, some of the remaining people decided on a skinnydip in the cool night before going home and to bed.

The next day was a free day which meant I slept in until almost 9:00. I guess I’m on an early-wakeup schedule. I had wanted to go canyoning, but it’s really overpriced here. So I spent some more time getting caught up on the journal/blog and talking with Norm about a nearby canyon. He found out it was only 20 minutes away and as most of the others had gone to the beach and I was interested in spending some time in a canyon anyway, he took Anthony and myself to check it out for Dave. And it was a definite find. We’d gotten there because Norm had made friends with Lisa, the head waitress from the night prior, and she’d told him about the spot. So it was pretty much a bunch of locals and us. I took the first turn jumping from the cliffs into the canyon and then Anthony followed and then Norm. The jumps were maybe 7-9 metres high and refreshing on such a hot day. Anthony and I made our way up the canyon, crawling through caves, and finally getting to a point where we had to stop going up the canyon. Then we turned around and made our way back, sometimes crawling on our hands, sometimes just flowing in the current, and in one case, I tried to stop myself but slowly lost my grip and went over a small fall, the water took me back-first into a boulder which didn’t hurt me more than a bruise but sadly scratched the heck out of my watch face. Hopefully I can get it fixed.

We came back to the hostel after a few more jumps and had a group meeting where we talked about things bothering us, positive comments, and then highlights. Aw, and don’t we all feel better. It was sort of neat though, because it reminded us of all the cool things we’ve done. It’s easy to lose perspective sometimes. Then, after the meeting, about 10 of us went mountain biking again, but this time in the forest. Dan and Paul took us out of the goodness of their hearts and it was really cool of them. We only paid $25 and got a great deal, mountain biking through the trees and in some really cool trails was amazing. Plus, there was up and down hill and it was a terrific workout. After the bike, we went to the beach as the sun disappeared behind a mountain, and Paul came by and took us in threes on his catamaran. I went with Chris and Kate and we actually got some good speed up not to mention a full float out of the water. We also jumped off of the pier before heading back.

Dinner was waiting for us, and it was a baked potato bar and delicious dessert. We sat around in the kitchen afterwards, Norm was showing us Cirque du Soleil things, Chris got a heart shaved in his head, I did a couple slideshows, girls pierced each others ears (we’re expecting complaining and infections any time now), and we hung around and enjoyed ourselves. We met some Sydney guys and I chatted with a girl from Holland, and then we called it a night. After all, I’m supposed to be making French Toast for breakfast tomorrow so I have to wake up extra early. Coming up next, Franz Josef glacier and some ice climbing adventure.

Wanaka Photos

Feel the Routeburn

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Queenstown faded in the rearview mirror as we set off for what was to be the most arduous part of our journey: a 3-day trek through the Alps. Backpacks loaded, we stopped in Te Anau for food and gas before leaving civilization almost for good. Our group had divided into two, with us starting at the Divide and the others at the Routeburn Shelter. Our group would start with a cruise through Milford Sound while the other would conclude with it. We made it just in time, stopping only to wait for a one-way tunnel through a mountain to give us the green light and nearly have Katie P’s sandal stolen by a roving Kia bird. They really like rubber and will pick apart cars if allowed to – they were particularly interested in my rubberized camera strap and would cautiously hop around me. And then a place listed as one of the ten most beautiful places in the world (according to Anthony): Milford Sound.

The cruise took place on a cloudy day and it didn’t quite live up to such lofty claims but it probably could. The slopes are covered in Rata trees that flower a brilliant red and on a sunny day at a different time of year the fjords and waterfalls would’ve been amazing. It was still quite pretty and we got to see seals lying on the rocks for warmth, Post Office Island, a little island where passing ships would drop mail to this remote area, and some very nice waterfalls not to mention the fjords themselves. The tea provided was itself memorable in that it needed more sugar than tea to make it palatable. Then we camped out on Lake Dunn, with some of the girls playing cards while Anthony and I played around with long exposures and using the headlamp to spell out things. Albrie, Anthony, and I played some cards. I have to say that Albrie is always upbeat, smiley, and this is very nice especially in a group that seems to mostly be grumpy.

The next morning I was up at 8:30 and besides Norm, Albrie, and myself, we had the morning to ourselves until 10:00 when Norm finally woke everyone. We didn’t get out of there for some time after, and Kristen was particularly annoyed they were in the van while Anthony and I cleaned up the table after everyone – we didn’t realize they’d loaded up. Regardless, we hopped in the van and then Anthony and I waited for the group for about 20 mins before setting off. The two of us just took off at our own pace because the girls seemed pretty grumpy and it was wrecking what was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the rainforest was alive with sound, and besides which I like to stop for photos and take side excursions off the trail which I have more time for if I walk ahead. We caught sight of an endangered bird and spent about a half hour trying to get a photo of it. It was hard in the trees because I couldn’t manually focus quickly enough and auto focus seemed to choose the surrounding branches over the bird.

The forest was really great and we found a log that looked like the log they hide under in LOTR and made our way up the steep trail. We got past the top and came upon Earland Falls, which was absolutely amazing. A big and high fall that was bearable because it broke on a rock about 100 ft. above us, which also spread the water along a rock ledge. The sun was at just the right spot in the sky to cast rainbows all over the falls and Anthony and I took a bunch of photos and had already been in and out of the falls when the rest of the group arrived. The waterfall seemed to buoy (pronounced like boy as in buoyancy, crazy Americans!) their spirits and we all hung around and had a snack before leaving this magical waterfall.

We made it to our camp just before 6:00, over at Mackenzie Hut. We went down to Lake Mackenzie which was pretty nice but suffering from Didymo and extreme cold and took a quick dip before having our pasta for dinner. We met with the other group here and it was sort of unusual to be back together with our different experiences. It seemed like everyone was kind of in an unusual state and there was some awkwardness. Brad, Chris, Anthony, Amanda, and myself looked at the stars on the lake and tried to get some photos but to no avail.

We set off early the following dawn, and after a little more head-butting with Kristen, went on our way for our longest hike – about 13 km with packs loaded and so on. We stopped for lunch at Harris Saddle, a small ridge between two peaks, and Anthony and I made our baguette with pepperoni, salami, tuna spread (mostly for moisture), olives, and chive and garlic cheese. This relieved us of quite a bit of weight and was the envy of most of the others I think, though we did share with everyone that wanted some. Then, off again. While the first day’s hike was mostly forested and shielded and thus cool, this hike was alpine, above the treeline, and we were quite subject to sun. We traversed a couple mountains, slowly descending and came upon an alpine lake which was pretty amazing. It feeds the Routeburn falls, which was to be our next meeting point with the rest of the group. As we made our way down, getting warmer, I was aching for a swim in one of these nice little streams we kept crossing. We did refill our water but Anthony was in need of a washroom so we pressed on.

Finally, we reached the top of the falls for which the Routeburn is named. There were quite a few pools breaking its fall and I told Anthony he could go ahead as I wanted a dip more than almost anything at this point. Remember we’d been walking for three hours with big packs in almost 30 degree weather. He didn’t want to miss out on the waterfall though and I had found a pool that was deep enough to jump into from the cliff above, though Anthony was skeptical. I put my canyoning skills to good use and showed him how it was done before he took a jump. It was cold as heck but really, really refreshing. I went from hot and tired to instantly energized. And it was a lot of the fun. Since we’d found this pool off the track a little ways (like I said, a good reason to walk faster) the rest of the group almost walked by us before I called them over. Everyone except Albrie (who I think is hydrophobic perhaps) took a jump after some coaxing and from that point on we were all in good spirits. We went down to the Routeburn Falls hut and hung around with the beautiful view before continuing down to our camp. After some cards, more pasta, and a nice long chat/massage circle on a small deck by the camp kitchen, we went to sleep and the Routeburn was almost over.

We awoke with a a 2.5 hour hike out to where the van was parked and we made good time getting there. I dropped my bed roll and had to go back about 15 mins to grab it from Norm and still managed to finish about 10 minutes ahead of the group. We had completed the Routeburn and all felt very accomplished. We loaded the van and took a picture by the sign with my dying camera, which snapped one photo and then died on timer for the second. Then, off to Queenstown for a Fergburger, a well-earned shower, and a meeting with PC4. A bunch of us went on the louge again, taking on PC4. Dave and I were neck-in-neck at one point passing a slow girl that wasn’t with us. We were coming up on a tunnel and the road narrowed and I was inching ahead and trying to squeeze in, thinking he’d relent. I was forced onto the bank and bounced down hitting Dave’s luge and toppling us both. Dustin, Katie, and Brad all came within inches of running me down as I tried to pick up my fallen cart and Dave did the same downhill from me. We got to the bottom and I was relatively unscathed but Dave had scraped his leg and arm well enough to have them both bleeding. The man is intense and I think I’d have loved to be on his tour, though I felt horrible about my half of his damage. Especially as I’d convinced him to buy us five luge rides and we’d pay our gondola fair when we were at the bottom. But we both survived and he was completely non-plussed by the whole thing, and we laughed about it later before our group took off for our next destination: Wanaka. Via, if I may mention, a road that is really windy, steep, narrow, and doesn’t allow trailered vehicles such as ours on it.

View Routeburn Photos

The King of Queenstown

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We arrived before Katie and the blue van by almost an hour, so Norm and I checked in and got everyone set up. I managed to finagle a room for just Chris, Brad, and myself, though Norm would soon join us the next day. I made some nachos and garlic bread for lunch and then Chris and I took a stroll into town to check it out and grab a few things – I’d left my toothbrush up at the top of a mountain, for example. Something I ate wasn’t agreeing or else extreme fatigue set in, but we came back up and I went to sleep and slept through dinner – which I had discovered after lunch was nachos anyway. Then Katie woke me up because we were having a group meeting to address the food issue. Which, really, is a non-issue and was basically a waste of time, and I was more than a little annoyed to have to listen to peoples’ gripes. Brown rice vs. white. Voting on meals. Groups deciding amongst themselves what to make. Pandemonium. It was a cacophony of voices talking over each other to say something worthless. But then again, maybe I was tired and annoyed at being awakened. Nothing came of the meeting except that we would use brown rice instead of white once in a while. The fascinating tale continues below.

I was feeling a bit better and we wound up going out that night. I didn’t drink really, but did have a great time. Rachel was out and got pretty wild, which was hilarious. Kristen also let loose a bit though she insisted she was only tipsy. Her and Chelsea had a splash fight in the fountain before running into the water and taking a little swim in their jeans. And then it was back home and to bed – we had a big day of bungy jumping ahead of us. The alarm was useless as I was up at least an hour early tossing and turning and thinking about throwing myself off a ledge. I don’t often get scared of these extreme sports because they are clearly designed to be safe and hundreds if not thousands of people do it every single day with no problem, but bungy was freaking the heck out of me. We got to the Kawarau Bridge, which incidentally was the first bungy jump in the world, and I almost felt sick I was so scared. Which I should probably not be writing, but it was terrifying. It probably didn’t help that I was taking photos and video of the others preparing to jump and sitting on the ledges and hesitating. Chelsea was the funniest, leaning back, holding on to the post, but eventually doing it. Lauren and Dustin went tandem as did Lana and Amanda.

Then it was my turn. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have the whole babyish ordeal on DVD, but as I stood on the ledge looking down and thinking that I was basically hoping a bunch of elastic bands wouldn’t snap and plunge me to my death, I froze. The guy lost patience with me, I think, saying, “What I need to know is if you want to do this or not. If you don’t, step back from the edge and we’ll get some other people going. If you do, then I’ll work with you and we’ll do it. So do you want to or not?” To which I answered, “No, I don’t, but I am definitely going to.” We argued about the speed of his countdown and methods of motivation. I really didn’t want to do it, but knew I had to. And so I did eventually go over the edge and bungy jump about 100 ft, being dunked to my waist. It was a huge adrenaline rush but so scary that it almost wasn’t enjoyable. I really regretted that I had signed up to do the thrillogy. I had done it (perhaps with a nudge) and I never wanted to do it again. It was far more scary than fun and the jump itself was really a blur that even the next day I don’t really remember. But I’d paid for two more jumps and I was going to do it.

We stopped for lunch at a place in town called Fergburger, which has all sorts of burgers, and they are delicious. Chelsea had the original Fergburger, I had the Sweet Bambi, and Anthony had a sweeter burger as well, with bacon (I remember the word swine in his burger name). My burger was great but a little too sweet (there was a thai plum chutney on it) for what I was after. The Fergburger had a nice beefy burgery taste and was probably my favourite of the three.

Then, off to Nevis, the second highest bungy jump in the world, jumping off a gondola suspended from a gondola over a gorge. I was a little more confident as I focused on the positive facts: hundreds of people do this everyday, this particular company has a 100% safety record (doesn’t that mean they’re due, a little voice in my head cried), I had done it once and it was just fine, etc, etc, etc. We went across to the suspended station in a little trolley car with an iron grate for a floor and it was pretty terrifying all over again. Straight down into a ravine 134 metres (440 ft) below. We got into the station and it was surrounded in glass, including a glass floor and some other fun. They were blaring heavy music which somehow helped relax me. I did this one without hesitation, knowing that if I didn’t go right away I would never go, and it was amazing and so much more fun than my first jump. After the first rush, it was actually really peaceful. Being yanked from the canyon bottom back into the air, floating for a few seconds and really looking around, hearing the water below, people cheering above, and the birds, and then falling again. THIS is bungy jumping. And I was so happy I had done multiple jumps at this point.

We had one more jump to do that afternoon, and it was from the ledge. We took the gondola up to the top of the city (about 400m above Queenstown) and from the ledge we had to run and jump into the abyss, which was what I had been wanting to do since hanggliding. Then we got talking about flips, and since I was last, I got to see where the bar was set. Katie started with one flip, Meridith made two, Dustin two and a half, and then my turn. I resolved to take everything I’d learned in my one diving class and few years in gym to beat Dustin and set the record for the day. Then I ran off the edge and jumped. 1…. 2…. 3…. and the cord tightened. It was a really fun jump and though I was a bit nervous this time, it didn’t compare at all to the bridge or Nevis in terror. I could see strapping up and doing that one again and again. I truly felt like the king of Queenstown. And I mostly added that line in so I would have a good title for this post.

We had dinner tonight which Albrie made, a chicken dumping soup and some vegetables which were good and needed. Some of the group had class, so I helped Katie and Norm finish the dishes while Lauren looked at my photos of bungy and the night prior. Then she kept going and went through old photos and started laughing at my high school pictures which drew attention, and then I went through a bunch of them with her and Katie, doubtless boring them to tears. Then Chris, Brad, and I went into town to have a quiet drink away from the girls. We were going to go to a lounge or quiet pub but instead picked up a six-pack and sat in the harbour drinking and relaxing. It was much needed separation.

The next morning, I had to be up early to do breakfast. Later today, we were heading out to do the luge high above Queenstown. We stopped first for another Fergburger and then Katie took Chris, Brad, Anthony, and myself to a couple vineyards a little ways out of town in the Gibson Valley. The first one also had a cheesery on site so we grabbed a platter of cheeses (my favourites were the bree and the blue cheese which was very mild and not much like what my dad enjoys, but tasty) and some wine and sat in the sun and peace. Quiet can be hard to come by, so this was very nice. Then we came back and did the luge five times. It’s actually a lot of fun and a really cool little track. Actually, two tracks. A slower scenic route and the high speed route. I actually did pretty well against the group if I may say so myself, and I also managed to get some video including Brad almost biting it when I had my camera on my back. Hopefully I’ll get some of these videos up soon.

Our wine group went for dinner at a place called Avanti which wasn’t really my pick but it was an outdoor café and the food was decent even if the service was not. Then the group went back to watch a video for their class and that left Chris, Katie, and myself to do what we wanted. Chris, however, wanted to see this video as well so Katie and I went to a chocolate shop and picked up some 71% dark Belgian chocolate (mine with Macadamian nuts, her with almonds) and ice cream. It was a nice shop and quite delicious. Then we went to a neighbouring pub and watched a band play covers most of the night. They were great for a three piece though I wasn’t a huge fan of his vocal reworking, the guitars sounded great. The one guitarist had an E-Bow which gave a really sweet pedal steel sound for a few of the songs, and they both played mandolin as well.

Then, the next morning, our last full day in Queenstown, I was dragged out of bed early for a group meeting on Routeburn, our 3 day hike through the Alps. I got put in Norm’s group which puts me with Lauren Sanders, Katie Phillips, Albrie, Anthony, Alli, and Kristen. It will be interesting because it’s pretty much exclusively people I haven’t spent much time with. I guess after four days we’ll all hate or love each other. Then Anthony and I went riverboarding with Mad Dog on some category 3 and 4 rapids. Riverboarding, for those sane enough to not know what this means, is going through some white water rapids with nothing more than a flutterboard. And in case you’re wondering, there are 6 categories of white water, category 6 being something like Niagra Falls, 5 being a big fall like we did in our raft that would be very troublesome otherwise, and 4 being sheer insanity on anything smaller than a raft. And it was insanity.

We got going and it seemed relatively tame at first. We learned to barrel roll, duck dive through waves, catch a whirlpool (by far the easiest thing to do), and squirt. We took off and eventually came to a standing surf wave. I wasn’t able to surf it the first time and walked back upstream a ways to try again. Anthony, on the other hand, was a natural. The guy is in his element on the water. The second time I paddled hard and far as I could, getting tired just in time to catch the wave. I surfed it for about 5 seconds before the front of my board caught, so I was still physically exhausted when I was pulled from the wave and underwater through the rapids. It all happened quickly and when I surfaced I was amazed to see how far downstream I’d gone underwater – these are not your little sister’s rapids. I was also amazed to see one of the guides who had come to grab me and keep me from going too far right in my face as she ran over me just as I went to inhale a much-needed lungful of air. Back under her board I went, and I’ll admit I was a little scared and later miffed. But obviously I’m here and it wasn’t really that bad in retrospect.

Then we came to the category 4 section. 3 metre waves, holes, all sorts of crazy stuff. This was wildly intense but a lot of fun. I managed a barrel roll off the top of one of the taller waves and caught some air before plunging into the trough for the next big wave. This section alone was worth it. Then we went back to our hostel, making it just in time for a BBQ (thanks, Brad!) and I made my dad’s baked apples for dessert. The next group (PC3) was there and we took them out for a night on the town much as PC1 had taken us out. Katie Phillips brought us to a place that wasn’t very popular and the group somewhat fractured there. Leader Katie and a few others went to this other upstairs bar where they served minipitchers out of teapots. A pretty neat idea though I can only imagine the breakage. Chris and I got them out there and brought the two groups together at Altitude, which was a fun time. A great night to celebrate our beginning the most arduous of our adventures the next morning, the Routeburn…

Queenstown Photos

Mount Mt. Cook

Sunday, February 11, 2007

It was a long but nice trek to Mt. Cook that was a bit hurried because we had to get there in time for our 3:30 glacier cruise departure. We stopped once en route at Lake Tekapo to check out a beautiful blue mountain lake as well as the church on its banks. Then off to Mt. Cook and our hostel in the village of it, with just enough time to drop off our stuff and change before heading out the door. We loaded on to a bus and drove down to what Brad and I would painfully discover was the Tasman Valley before getting off and hiking to the glacial melt pool. Because of all the limestone and silt, the water looked like milk, literally. It was white and thick and impervious to the sun and prying eyes. Which is too bad, because it is hundreds of feet deep and loaded with icebergs descending to the depths.

The cruise wasn’t what I was expecting – I was thinking a big, slow boat lazily floating to the glacier. Instead, three yellow powerboats sped into the harbour and we boarded them. Our guide was Canadian and from Calgary/Banff and we got right up to and against some of the icebergs, breaking off chunks and sucking on them like some sort of 100-year old candy: slowly, carefully, and making funny faces the whole time. But it was crystal clear. We jumped off the boats and walked around one of the bigger bergs, motored along to a natural ice arch where we used our wake to splash another of the boats, and then headed to the glacier’s tail – an imposing wall of rock and ice. We kept a safe distance from that because the rocks were tumbling into the water rather constantly and occasionally quite loudly.

We parked our boats on a bigger berg and some of the more daring souls took a plunge in the (literally) ice water. I had done this in Scandinavia a few times and that was enough for me to pass on it this time, but sitting in the sun surrounded by ice and water, I was getting hot enough to do it anyway. We rode the boars back, splashing other boats and getting splashed ourselves, occasionally by our guide who’d turn into the wind and hit other wakes. It was actually a lot of fun and far better than I’d hoped.

Before we’d gotten off the bus, a very pretty Australian guide from one of the other groups, Jo, popped on to let us know that the village bar had a Brazilian Carnivale theme going on and guys weren’t going to be admitted without being dressed as girls. So, we scoured clothes off the girls, they did our hair and makeup, and we went out. Us boys had some fun, but the girls were pretty much just sitting there and watching us, and it began to feel like we were trained chimps or something. Still, we didn’t let it slow us down too much. When you look at some of the photos, you’ll think there must’ve been a lot of alcohol involved, and I should probably tell you that there was and we were all drunk beyond recognition, but the reality is that at most we had two beer, and a few of the others also had a cosmo to play the part. And play the part we did, to the point that I was occasionally freaked out by the other guys and also myself when reviewing photos.

The next day was a free day, which some took to day hike (notably Lauren, Chelsea, and Katie), and most took to have a movie marathon in the lounge. Chris wasn’t feeling well and everyone else was wiped out, though from what remains a mystery, so Brad and I rented some brand new bikes (they’d just arrived that day) from the front desk and biked to what we were told were some beautiful blue lakes we could bike and then hike to and go swimming. We set off, being told it would take about 50 mins to get there and maybe 2 hours back since it was uphill. As we were winding down a sharp downhill that was going to be a pain to ascend later, it dawned on us both that we were voyaging to the exact place we’d been yesterday on our glacier cruise, and now we had paid $25 and had to climb this hill. Having gone this far though, we thought maybe it was different lakes we’d not seen and continued on, sure enough, to the place we’d hopped off the bus. We hiked the trails and took a different turn, excited to see the blue lakes.

Finally, we reached a clearing and could see the blue lake. I want you to imagine this scenario. We’d biked a fairly challenging ride (though it only took us 25 mins), and then hiked to come see the blue lakes, and the first one was, literally, a slough. There was nothing blue about it, there were leaves and plants growing in it (I called it an algae bloom), and it was tiny. Brad and I burst out laughing probably the hardest I’d laughed on this entire trip, and there have been plenty of occasions to laugh. Others who’d been likewise misled also found some humour in it and we took a few photos of the first blue lake before being told the other was even “better”. We hiked to it and it was really little more than a particularly dirty puddle. Laughing again and a few photos later, we turned back and rode our bikes to a waterfall I’d suggested we hike to on the way there.

At this point, the laugh alone had been worth the ride, but the hike up the waterfall was fantastic. It was completely untrailed and a bit rocky, but that made it all the more scenic. We hiked up along the stream and water splashing and parting on the rocks, and made our way up as far as we could before the gorge became too narrow. We sat and had some snacks and water then made our way back down. The water was crystal clear and very tempting, but apparently giardia is a big issue here and neither of us was quite up to taking a drink of it. We had come in our trunks to swim the blue lakes and then had hoped to swim in the waterfall pool, but it was both higher (and therefore more powerful) and more inaccessible than we’d guessed, so we swam in one of the small pools below. By swam I mean it took me several attempts just to get my head wet, between which I’d have to run out because my body was numb. It was glacial melt again, so the warmth was not overwhelming.

That night we watched Crocodile Dundee (which was highly overrated in my opinion) and A Clockwork Orange, which was twisted but I actually really enjoyed it. Then some local TV where they took a rugby team of idiots and set them to the task of trying to run a restaurant. It was really, really stupid and ridiculous. At the end they were rated on the evolutionary chain; the worst participant was the frog, the best was prince charming. Fantastically awful.

The next morning we got set to hike up Mt. Cook. We booked ourselves a spot in the Mueller Hut just in time, packed, and set off. The hike is easily the most grueling thing I can remember doing. We split as we climbed, with me falling behind all but two because I’d run off the path and to side paths to get photos. And I’d hurt my knee in a freak red rover incident. And my feet were red and burning with every step for some reason. Oh, and mostly because I’m terrifically out of shape. But we hiked up and up, into the cloud, over rock slides that offered all slip and no grip, an endless stair climb that makes the 1000 steps in Nafplio look like a walk to the corner store, and boulder fields that required bounding and scrambling with our packs. Finally getting to the top, the mist was light and offered glimpses of blue occasionally, and what a welcome sight that was. Then, the red hut appeared around a boulder looking like an oasis.

We were above and surrounded by the clouds and it was amazing. Absolutely amazing. I can’t believe there were people in our group (those who are ill excepted) that chose not to do it. Ostensibly because it was $35 for some (to which I call bologne – they spend that much on an average night drinking). Others wanted another lazy day, which at least was honest, but really, it was so worth it. I would easily have paid a couple hundred to have been there that particular day and night. We ate some food (my ham had gone sour and my bagels moldy – oops). I wound up eating an olive sandwich which was better than it sounds and two oranges. The others were offering to share, but I had enough anyway. Some hiked up to the top of Mt. Olivier, which was only 20 mins away but my feet were on fire by this point and we were ostensibly hiking there for sunset anyway. I sat on a big rock overlooking, well, everything but My. Olivier, and chatted with Lauren and then Kate and then Katie for a while.

Later that afternoon, we grabbed some garbage bags and pack liners and headed up the mountain slope to do some sledding. Or bagging. However you prefer. The slope was steep enough and packed enough (with a melt layer on top) that it was really slippery and great for bagging it down. Unfortunately, as I was walking through the snow to the slope along the rocks, I actually fell through a layer of thin snow and my left leg dropped about 3 ft. so that my non-red-rover-injured knee smacked into a rock and was cut. But luckily nothing more than another bruise and a small cut. We made our way up to the top and it was a wild ride. I took some video and photos and was almost run down by Alli, who came barreling at me out of control – I literally jumped over her. It was great fun and worth the hike alone to be sledding up in the clouds among the mountaintops.

A snowball fight erupted and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t exactly do Canada proud. I had some close calls but hardly hit anyone. Lauren mentioned that the sunset was cool over the valley and Brad and I went to check it out and hopefully get some photos. The valley wasn’t spectacular, but the setting sun by Mt. Cook cast the mountain pink and it was quite pretty. We found a narrow gorge with about a 40 ft. drop and took pictures hopping across it and then rejoined the others as they made their way inside. Although there was a moon that night, it hadn’t risen yet, so we had a bit of time with some really spectacular stars. We chatted with an Israeli amateur astronomer and managed to grab a few photos though with my 10MP sensor, they are less than impressive. Still, very beautiful, and you could even see the comet, though only by not looking directly at it. Up there we felt very close to the stars, which is ridiculous but true.

We woke in the morning in time to see the sunrise from our windows, packed up, and set off for the bottom by 7 AM. We had to get there in time for checkout at 10, so there wasn’t much time to dally. Venturing down, the sunrise became even more beautiful, as a blanket of clouds below unveiled itself and the sun shone on us above them in a perfect blue sky. We made our way into the cloud and below, the hike very taxing on our shaking knees (I wound up borrowing an extra walking pole from Alli) and made it back with an hour to spare. Then we set off for Queenstown, losing Katie and her van in the process, which left me as navigator. Everyone but Norm and I slept, it had been a tiring two days, and soon, after a stop at the bungee bridge to view our next challenge, we were rolling into Queenstown, adventure capital of the world and tourist