Archive for April, 2010

The Easter Ferry

April 8th, 2010 No comments


Normally I’m not a huge fan of daylight saving time, but it’s hard to argue with an extra hour of sleep in the morning when you’re traveling. We got up at the usual time (which, due to the fact that it’s fall here, was an hour later than before), and had the fantastic continental breakfast at our B&B. Afterward we went back to the room and packed up our stuff to head out. Today we were saying goodbye to the South Island and heading across the Cook Strait to the North Island.

We made good time along the road to Picton, and arrived a couple of hours before our ferry crossing. That was just as well, as it gave us some time to catch lunch and check out the shops around town. As our crossing time approached, we headed over to the ferry building, but Garmin gave us terrible directions, and we had to backtrack before we found the proper location. Fortunately we had planned enough extra time, and we were ushered onto the boat with no wait at all. Our van stowed in the ship’s hold, we headed upstairs and scoped out a nice two-person couch to hold us on the three-hour crossing.

The crossing itself was uneventful and actually pretty boring. I suppose I could have gone outside and watched the land go by, but I was just plain tired. Sitting and vegging out seemed just fine to me. They showed two movies during the crossing: “Up” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” I partially paid attention, but didn’t really watch. “Up” seemed cute, but “Where the Wild Things Are” seemed shallow and annoying.

A few hours later saw us back on solid land in Wellington. We drove off the boat and out into the city. We had no idea where we were going to stay for the night, and finding lodgings was out top priority. Dore found a likely candidate on the GPS, and we set off towards that end of town. We had a bit of trouble finding parking, but finally managed to get into a parking garage downtown. Unfortunately it was quite expensive, but I was just happy to be out of the car and the traffic. I found that I had become used to the slower pace and fewer cars on the South Island, and the traffic in Wellington — even though it was a holiday and few people were out and about — was somewhat overwhelming.

We walked to the hostel, but found that they didn’t have any rooms available. I started to worry that perhaps we’d made a tactical mistake, and that everyone would be booked for the Easter school holiday. Dore came to the rescue, however, calmly assuring me that there was no problem and that we’d find something. This was especially funny to me, since our roles are usually exactly reversed. I took a deep breath and had to agree that she was right: something would be free. We pulled over to a table in the hostel lobby and called a couple more hostels that we’d heard about. Lo and behold, the first one that picked up the phone had a room available. So there really wasn’t anything to fret about, and I was just freaking out for no good reason. What’s that, Dore? Yes, I know you told me so.

Lodgings secured, we walked around and found a place to eat (which was no mean task due to the public holiday). We finally found a Thai restaurant, where we had a nice, cheap meal of spicy pad kee mao. We walked back and picked up our van, the drove to the hostel, where we turned in early for the evening. We watched a cheesy Hugh Grant romance on the TV and went to bed.

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Good Grapes

April 8th, 2010 1 comment


Dore and I woke up to a very nice continental breakfast at our B&B, where we met up with the rest of the guests. There was a couple from Colorado who had been in Abel Tasman for a few days on a kayaking trip, and another couple that had just flown in from London. The couple from London looked surprisingly chipper, considering their 12 hour time change. Yikes.

After breakfast, we got cleaned up and headed out to a fantastic farmer’s market that we’d heard about from both the tourist brochures and and from our hosts. The market was really awesome, and we ended up finding gifts for several of our family members while we were there. (Just a few gifts to go now, and we’ve got all of our family members covered!)

We watched the time as we walked along the many stalls, and a little before noon we headed over to the YHA youth hostel next to the market to meet up with a wine tour we’d scheduled the day before. The van pulled up a few minutes later, and we were off on our grand wine adventure.

The tour was much like the wine tours I’ve been on previously, with a few notable differences. First, the organization of the tour was very well managed. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the area wineries, and obviously knew the staff at the vineyards quite well. He actually did most of the pouring, bringing bottles of wine out to our tables and presenting the wines to us.

Second, the tastings were a bit smaller than we were used to. On the one hand, that meant that we were not completely buzzed by the end of the trip, and were still able to tell a decent wine from vinegar. But on the other hand we weren’t completely buzzed by the end of the trip and were still able to tell decent wine from vinegar, if you know what I mean. One thing they did that was a bit odd was that they limited the number of tastings that you could have, but if you had two people together they would pour one wine in one glass, and another in the second, and then each person could taste a bit of each. It sounds good in theory — you get to taste more wines — but in practice it felt like we were getting even smaller tastings. I didn’t really get enough to feel like I got to know each wine, and I think our buying showed it. We only bought two bottles of wine during the trip.

Third, the selection of wines was a bit different than I was used to. New Zealand wines are dominated by the whites. I think about two thirds of our testings were of white wines, with reds being somewhat an afterthought. The reds also tasted a bit watery and thin to me, with little of the bold, dry spiciness I was used to in California reds. The whites, on the whole, were quite nice. But I found myself not really noticing much difference from one to another after a while. I’m usually more into red wines, which may have made some difference, but it seemed that the New Zealand whites were dominated by very light, fruity wines that, while being quite drinkable, did not have much to distinguish one from another.

That being said, there was one unique varietal that Dore and I did really like (and ended up buying a bottle of). It was called a “blanc du noir,” and was a white wine made from pinot noir grapes (which are almost always used to make red wine). It actually ended up having the faintest bit of blush coloring to it, but was definitely not a rosé. It came from the Richmond Plains winery, which is one of only a handful of certified organic wineries in all of New Zealand.

On the tour we met a really fun couple named Murray and Rachel (I’m sorry if I’ve misspelled their names!) that were both originally from the north island. They were both around our age, and were really just good fun people. Dore and I had a blast talking to them about everything from wine to cooking to why the toilets in New Zealand have two buttons for flushing. (Murray politely explained that they were for “half” and “full” flushes, to which Dore immediately responded, “Oh, you mean for number one and number two!” Yeah, the tasting pours weren’t that small.)

Despite our… ahem… openness, Murray and Rachel invited us to go to dinner with them, to which we delightedly accepted. After the tour wrapped up, Dore and I went back to the B&B and got cleaned up, then took a quick nap before walking to their hotel to grab dinner. We had a really great meal and talked for several hours. We were really reluctant to end the evening, but we needed to get home, as we had to get moving early to make our ferry crossing the next day. We swapped email addressed with them, however, and I feel that we’ll be keeping in touch.

We walked back through the town, which was quite a bit more lively than the night before. Our B&B was on the other side of the bar and nightlife scene of Nelson, which was going pretty strong as we passed, I think in part because of the Easter holiday. As we walked home a group of girls celebrating the occasion leaned out of a car window as they passed and yelled to us, “Wooh! Happy Easter!” I’ve personally never been hung over on Easter. I don’t know how that would feel, but somehow I think “Happy Easter” wouldn’t quite describe it. I wish those girls the best of luck.

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Public Holiday, You Say?

April 6th, 2010 No comments


The guide books mention that New Zealand celebrates several national holidays. But what they fail to mention is exactly what that means. Dore and I found out first hand how Kiwis handle public holidays when we went in to the Nelson city center for breakfast.

As we drove in to the city center, I was a bit surprised at how few cars there were on the road. I didn’t really think much of it, though. Who knows how much traffic one might expect in a new town at ten in the morning on a Friday. But I did think it a bit odd that street parking was so easy to get. Surely someone must want to park in these prime locations?

As we got out of the van things got clearer. I don’t think a tumbleweed actually blew across the road, but if this were a cliched straight-to-DVD western it sure might have. There were no people about and all of the shops were closed. The city felt oddly quiet and… deserted.

After a few minutes of walking about, Dore and I finally came to the realization that it was Good Friday. And apparently Good Friday is a public holiday in New Zealand. And apparently that means that everything — and I mean everything — is closed. (We were later to learn that everything except for gas stations and a few restaurants are actually required by law to be closed, although it seems that a few shops stay open despite the law because it’s cheaper to risk the fines that to lose business.)

All of which I think is pretty cool. That is, unless you happen to be a tourist. Then it pretty much sucks. And that’s where Dore and I were.

So we drove around for a while, getting temporarily lost with some crappy directions from the GPS, and wound up back in the city center, wandering around looking for breakfast. We finally did find a bakery that was open, and got something to eat. Now no longer starving, we took stock of what we had available, and decided to head out to Abel Tasman National Park to go hiking. As Dore put it, “They can’t close nature… can they?”

Fortunately it seems that nature is allowed to continue doing business. And it’s a good thing, too. We had an absolute blast hiking around the park. We only got to do a little bit of the beginning of the Coastal Track, but even that was amazing. The native bush was really awesome, and there were tons of secluded breaches and inlets along the way. I’d really like to go back and do the full track at some point.

After a few hours of hiking, we headed back to town to check in to our B&B for the night. We stayed at the Sussex House B&B, which was a beautiful old Victorian house set right next to the little river that ran through the town. It was only a few blocks away from the city center, so it was easy walking distance to everything.

Once we had our things in the room, Dore and I got some tea and took a quick breather before setting off to dinner. After consulting with our hosts, we decided to head in to the city center to try to find something that was open. Fortunately, we had more luck than at breakfast, and found a nice pub where Dore got an enormous cheeseburger and I had a fantastic pork roast with all the trimmings. We shared a table with a couple from Wellington that were down for the weekend, and had a fun time talking about our trip, rugby, and New Zealand in general.

After dinner we walked back to the B&B, checked our email, and headed to bed.

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An Ancient Symbol

April 6th, 2010 1 comment


Today we drove up the last of the west coast of the south island from Greymouth to Nelson. That’s really about all that happened, so I’ll keep this short.

After getting up and eating the last of our yogurt with a bit of jam, Dore and I headed out of the campervan park and in to the town of Greymouth. Our mission was to explore the greenstone (jade) galleries they have here in search of pendants. We eventually found a very nice gallery, and spent a while looking for exactly the right ones for each of us. Dore found a very nice modified fish hook design with lots of little swoops and frilly things, and I found a dark green matte fish hook.

Having not quite spent enough money for the day, we headed to lunch at an Irish pub in town. I had a very nice warm lamb salad and Dore had some fried calamari. Afterward, we hopped in the car and headed north again.

We stopped about an hour later to get gas. The traffic was pretty light, so we decided to take the plunge and have Dore drive on the open road for the first time. We both crossed our fingers, took a deep breath, and set off. We needn’t have worried much. Dore continued her streak of driving like a champ, and we were on our way in no time. There were a few times where we switched into the wrong gear here and there, but for the most part Dore’s driving left nothing to be desired. I was a bit worried when we started into some curves and hills, but she just kept on trucking with no problems. I quickly relaxed, and we kept on all the way to to top of the pass overlooking the drive down into Nelson.

At the top, we stopped for a few minutes to stretch our legs and use the facilities. But soon we heard an ominous buzzing. A few seconds later we found out where it was coming from: an enormous honey bee was buzzing around Dore’s head. She stiffened, hoping it would go away, but instead it landed: right on her new pendant! She could feel it on her, and I’m amazed she didn’t freak out. But then the bee flew off, only to land right on the tip of Dore’s nose. The bee was so big that its body completely hid her nose. I knew this was going to be too much, and I could see Dore start to lose it.

Quick as I could, I sprang into action, swatting the bee from her nose. Luckily for both our sakes the slap landed true, and the bee spun off into the air. We both immediately ran from the site, waving our hands above our heads frantically.

We tried to take a little walk, but more bees kept pursuing us, and we quickly returned to the car to escape. We decided that Dore’s pendant must be an ancient Maori symbol for beekeeping, but we wanted no more of it. We started up the car and got the heck out of there. I drove the rest of the way to Nelson, where we pulled into a holiday park and took a breather after the long day’s drive.

After a few minutes of resting, we walked to a pirate-themed restaurant called “Smuggler’s Cafe,” where we had a nice dinner of smoked salmon and blue cod, a couple of beers, and a delicious brownie for dessert. Full beyond belief, we walked back and got ready for bed. We wrote some notes and read before turning in for the night.

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Icecapades and Other Shenanigans

April 6th, 2010 1 comment


Dore and I woke to a cloudy, but blessedly dry day.

We powered through our morning routine in record time, getting out of the hostel nice and early. We didn’t want to be late for our glacier hike adventure. We went outside and made some sandwiches to take with us on the hike. Next we found the check-in spot, then headed over to a cafe next door to grab a little breakfast.

After breakfast, we went over and checked in for the glacier hike. We had packed and worn all of our cold weather gear, so we felt pretty prepared to go on the hike. As it turned out, however, our gear wasn’t really good enough, but fortunately the guide company provided everyone with appropriate gear. We were issued waterproof over-pants, not-so-waterproof boots (which were, unfortunately, damp from the previous days’ hikes), wool socks, crampons, and rain jackets. We both had perfectly good rain jackets, but the guides were concerned that they were too thin, and might get torn on the ice. I wasn’t going to argue with them, so we took their gear and stowed our jackets in our packs.

I had worn my long underwear bottoms thinking that I might get cold with just my thin hiking pants on, but once I was fully geared up, I realized that I was going to roast to death if I kept them on. As quick as I could I stripped down in the bathroom and took them off, then threw everything back on and ran out to catch the bus. A minute later we were off. I adjusted my socks and re-laced my boots on the short drive.

About ten minutes later, we piled off the bus and into the parking area for the glacier. It was surrounded by the same dense rain forest that we’d been in for the past day. If I hadn’t seen glimpses of the glacier on the way in, I’d never guess that there was a 5 km long river of ice just a few minutes walk from us. Our group of about twenty five hikers set off along the wide dirt trail, and in a few minutes came our of the forest and in sight of the glacier.

The glacial valley itself was pretty incredible: At the bottom sits a long flood plain full of gray silt, rocks and boulders, with a milky-gray rushing stream winding down the middle. Along the steep-walled sides of the valley are a number of gorgeous long waterfalls and dense native forest. Here and there huge moss-covered rock cliffs break the forest. And at the head of everything lies the enormous jumble of blue ice of the glacier. I still can’t get over how odd it is to see a glacier in such a lush setting.

The glacier has been receding (on average) for a number of years, and we had to hike up the flood plain for about one and a half kilometers before we got to the head of the ice. As we walked, Dore found that her boot was rubbing against her heel, and she was almost to the point of getting a blister. We stopped to readjust her socks and tighten her laces. After the adjustment she was feeling much better. We caught up to the group a few minutes later. After a brief stop, the guide showed us past the ropes that kept the general public out of harm’s way, then climbed a long hill of dirt and mud before stopping just short of the ice to fit our crampons over our boots.

I’d never worn crampons before, but found it to be pretty intuitive. They’re just big cleats on your shoes. Ours were relatively worn, so we weren’t in much danger of stabbing ourselves. Not that you’d really want to step on your toe even with dull crampons. They’re still inch-long steel spikes.

A few minutes later we were on the ice. I was pretty surprised how solid the ice felt. I had envisioned that the glacier would be something like the permanent snow fields I’ve seen before when hiking: a layer of heavy, wet, packed snow on top with harder ice underneath. Instead, it was much more like walking on a giant ice cube. The ice on top was almost perfectly smooth except where it had been scraped by previous hikers or cut into steps by the guides.

I was also surprised how solid the footing felt. Given how smooth the ice was, I was expecting the footing to be somewhat treacherous. But the crampons gave plenty of purchase, and both Dore and I felt perfectly comfortable on the ice.

Our hike took us up through several crevasses, up sets of stairs cut into the ice, and along some long stretches of open ice. The pace was pretty slow, as the guide had to continuously work on the track as we went, but that was fine. We took lots of photos along the way. We finally stopped about a half kilometer up the glacier at a wide open area. We ate lunch standing up. (There was a slight slope to the ice, so we would have slid, and the surface was wet and cold anyway.) Dore and I had felt fine on the climb, but were starting to get cold once we stopped moving.

After a few more minutes we started back down. We took a different route on the way down, which was cool. I actually think the down climb was considerably cooler than the climb up. We went down a couple of long, steep stairways in the ice that followed a large crevasse, then slid our way through a large crevasse that listed to the side. At the bottom of the crack we had to slide under a large chunk of ice that had fallen into the crack and formed a tunnel. It was super cool, but also a little bit wet. We were glad that neither of our cameras got water on them.

We climbed down a bit more, then we were off the ice. I was a bit sad to leave, but also pretty tired. I don’t think I could have done too much more, so I was satisfied with the length of the hike. We hiked back to the head of the valley, climbed back in the bus, and headed back into town. There we divested ourselves of all of our borrowed gear, and got back into our own nice, dry clothes.

So what do you do after you’ve hiked up a giant block of ice? Have a nice hot soak, of course.

Dore and I walked back to our van, grabbed our swimsuits, and headed to the opposite end of town (a whopping ten minute walk) to take a dip in the hot pools there. The pools were really nice. They are set in amongst native trees and plants. You feel like you’re soaking in the middle of the jungle. Very relaxing.

After a bit, we decided to get out of the pools and head on our way up the coast. We changed into driving clothes, then set on our way. We drove a couple of hours up the coast to Greymouth. The landscape changed as we moved North. We left the dense rain forest and came to more open, grassy fields, dotted with sheep, cows, and even deer. Finally, we reached the town just before the light faded and checked in to a campervan park. We pulled out the little gas cooker from our van and cooked up some fantastic steaks, baked beans, and salad. We cracked open a bottle of wine, and had a lovely dinner in the van.

Just the end of a another great day.

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A Day of Extremes

April 6th, 2010 No comments


I want to get this out of the way right off the bat: bungy jumping is not nearly as scary as it sounds. Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole experience. Sure, it’s pretty scary when you get out to the edge, look down at the river rushing by over a hundred feet below, and think, “My God, I’m going to jump off this ledge.” And then there’s a rush of adrenaline when you’re hurtling toward the water, the sound of the wind rushing past your ears mingling with the roar of the river. But then it’s all over, and you’re being flung way back up into the air on the end of a big rubber band, and falling again (but not as interestingly this time), and you bounce, bounce, bounce to a halt and they start lowering you to the raft waiting in the water below.

Total time from stepping out onto the ledge: about 15 seconds. Thirty seconds, tops, if you include the “look at the cameras so we can take your picture and try to sell it to you later for $45” bit. Even if you generously call it a full minute, that’s still over US$100 per minute of action. That’s expensive! But even disregarding the price, it’s just over too quickly to really be that fun. If I’m going to go out of my way to be scared out of my wits, I want it to last until it hurts, darn it. I want to feel the panicked claws of terror tearing at my chest. I want more.

Okay. I’m sick.

But for my money, I’d skip the bungy jumping and stick with sky diving.

But now I’ve gone and got the narrative out of order. Let me back up for a moment. Dore and I woke up bright and early at our camp site in the mountains, just in time to catch the last bit of pink and orange mountain glow in the clouds. We made good time breaking camp, and drove through Queenstown to make it to the bungy jumping center. We did our jumps, then packed up and headed in to town for lunch. (That’s New Zealand for you. Wake up in the mountains and go bungy jumping before lunch.) We had Thai for lunch, and it was actually quite good. I still had a bit of lingering sinus congestion from the cold, and the spicy food helped.

Next, we dropped by the i-Site center again and booked our spots on a glacier hike for the next morning. That done, we were pretty much done for the day. Wait, no, there was one other thing. Now, what am I forgetting? Let me check my notes… Oh yes, that’s it. That glacier was about six hours drive from Queenstown, over a pass and through hundreds of kilometers of the densest rain forest, steepest hillsides, and windiest, narrowest roads you ever imagined in some of the most remote country I’ve ever seen. All during a downpour.

Actually, the drive was about equal parts stunningly beautiful, exhilarating, and awe inspiring. The first hour or so wound up out of Queenstown through high mountain meadows. I’ve never been to Scotland, but if ever anything looked like Scotland I think this did. Eventually we got near the west coast of the island, and the road turned north. Here the landscape rapidly changed to temperate rain forest. The deepness of the greenery was incredible. When the hillsides weren’t so steep as to be almost cliffs, the forest was completely impenetrable. We looked at the forest at the side of the road to see if we could see in, but it was impossible to see deeper than about six feet, tops. There is absolutely no way you could find any sort of path through that.

The only breaks in the forest were the myriad waterfalls that tumbled down the mountainsides for hundreds of feet in all directions, and the roaring creeks and rivers that crossed or were crossed by the road. We must have seen over a hundred waterfalls, and crossed dozens of bridges. Most of the bridges were one-way, which was disconcerting at first, but there is a well defined right-of-way system that, combined with the very few cars that were on the road, makes them actually quite trivial to navigate.

As we drove, the rain came and went, ranging from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the roads were wet, wound every which way up and down the mountainsides, and had next to no shoulder, the driving was not too bad. No, really, I mean it. We found the roads to be incredibly well maintained, with any trouble spots clearly marked. It really helps that all of the tight turns are clearly marked with a “suggested” speed that, by and large, is not too conservative. I found that as long as I kept within about 10-15 kmph of the suggested speed things were just about right. It was really nice to have one less thing to worry about!

We drove for a long time (I think it was about six hours, total) and finally made it to our destination: the tiny township of Franz Joseph, which lies a few kilometers shy of the glacier itself. We originally planned to stay in another DOC campground that was up the road a bit, but with the rain we decided that it would be much more comfortable to say in town. We only had to inquire at two places before we found a double room available. I’m really loving this shoulder season travel thing. I think we’ve only had one or two things that we couldn’t do because they were booked solid. We dropped our stuff in the room, then caught a quick dinner at a bar/restaurant next to the hostel. It was pretty awful.

After dinner, we went on a little adventure. The hostel manager had told us of a short hike nearby that had glow worms that could be seen after dark. We hadn’t done anything physical all day, and I was a bit antsy, so I convinced Dore to come with me. We borrowed a flashlight for Dore from the front desk, and I grabbed the flashlight that I had brought with me, and we headed off into the darkness.

We found the trail head just where it was marked on our little township map. The trail led into the forest right off the side of the highway. There were a few lights along the road, and in the dark the trail looked like a gaping hole in the wall of trees. We looked at each other, turned on our lights, and went in.

It had mostly stopped raining at this point, but the air was very damp. The trail was like a tunnel, and drops of water fell occasionally from the canopy above us. Dore and I shone our lights around to the sides and above us, but the forest was too dense to see anything beyond a few feet. It was quiet, too, with only the sounds of dripping water and the crunch of wet gravel under our feet.

Dore was pretty freaked out at first, and I have to say I was a bit outside my comfort zone. I’m definitely glad we had two lights; it was pitch black at the bottom of the forest. I was also glad that there are no large predators in New Zealand. I definitely wouldn’t have been comfortable if there were lions or leopards or something about, however rare they may be.

After about ten minutes of walking, we came upon a little wooden footbridge bridge crossing a stream. This was as far as we could go, since the other side was damaged by flooding. We turned off our lights and waited in the darkness, letting our eyes adjust. It was a bit spooky, but at the same time really cool. I felt extremely adventurous. Slowly, we started to see some faint points of light in the forest, near the banks of the stream. We’d found the glow worms! The glow worms were pretty neat, but actually a bit anti-climactic after our trek through the rain forest at night. We turned on our lights after a few minutes and started back.

On our way out we ran into a few more people that were headed up the trail, obviously for the same reason. We were really glad that we didn’t see them until the end of our trek, as we realized that most of the adventurous feel of the place was due to the fact that we hadn’t seen anyone else the entire time we were hiking. I think that I would have been really bummed if we had encountered someone on our way up the trail, and I feel really blessed that we were able to see it as we did. I’m a bit sorry that the other folks didn’t have the same chance, but there’s really nothing I could have done about that. C’est la vie.

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Off the Beaten Track

April 6th, 2010 No comments


Thankfully, my fever broke overnight, and I woke up feeling alive again.

Dore and I were a bit sad to leave Dunedin. There were a number of things we still wanted to see, and we loved the town. But we needed to keep moving in order to make it to all of the other places on our trip. So we packed everything up, settled up our B&B bill (only $330 NZD — or about $230 USD — for all three nights), and hit the road.

We made really good time, to Queenstown, enjoying the fantastic scenery on the way up into the mountains. We drove past gorgeous lakes, fast-flowing rivers, and steep-sided grassy hills filled with sheep. We stopped briefly at a picnic area right next to a gorgeous river for a quick lunch, then continued on.

We made it to Queenstown about 2:30, and decided to find a place to stay before doing anything in the town. Dore found a DOC (Department of Conservation) camp are on the GPS, so we started driving toward it. After a few kilometers, we started into the mountains, and after a few more turns the road turned into a single car width dirt track. Dore was really apprehensive, but the road looked quite well maintained, so I felt pretty confident that there was something up ahead. The more trepidation Dore had the more excitement I did, as the road wound up the valley and the mountains became higher and higher.

After a few more kilometers we finally found the campground at the end of the road. It was little more than a wide grassy area in the valley at the head of a medium-sized lake. Huge mountains loomed on all sides, and there was only the barest signs of human habitation. In a word, it was heaven.

We made sure that there were at least outhouses, and then we made the decision that yes, this would be a pretty cool place to stay the night. It was a bit early for that yet, though, so we headed back into town to check it out a bit more and to grab some dinner.

Along the drive back, we were stopped by a farmer, his three dogs, and a herd of sheep covering the road. We stopped to talk to the farmer, who asked if we wouldn’t mind waiting a few minutes while the sheep got over the next hill. Grinning, we assured him that it was no trouble. We sat in the car eagerly watching the dogs herd the sheep across. It was really cool to watch. After chasing a few sheep off the road on our way down, we made it in to town with no further delays, and went to have a bite to eat.

After dinner, we dropped by a pharmacy to get some NyQuil equivalent (my cold had turned into a raging head cold) and went by the i-Site information center to book bungy jumping for the next morning. We were both excited to go, and a little bit apprehensive, but we decided to take the plunge at the original bridge that they started doing jumps in 1988 (man, it’s crazy to think that that is twenty two years ago now). Jumping is quite expensive, it turns out, but I’m a bit glad that we were able to separate paying from doing. If things do go horribly wrong, I’d rather not have my last thought be of how expensive this whole thing was.

Bookings complete, we returned to the car and headed out to the camp site again. Once we made it to the dirt road, Dore and I switched places, and Dore drove the rest of the way out to the campground. This was her first actual road experience with the stick shift, and again I was really impressed with how well she managed it. We stalled a couple of times, but we were more or less solid the whole way. Awesome!

At the campground we rolled around for a few minutes until we found the perfect spot by the lake, then took a little walk along the lake shore to take in the beauty around us. It was incredibly gorgeous, and we were both really happy we came. As the light faded, we walked back and sat in our camp chairs, drank a beer, wrote in our notebooks, and watching the night slowly draw over the valley.

Just before bed we went to the bathrooms, and were amazed to find a full moon lighting up the valley. The moonlight was brightness that you can only see when everything else is completely dark, and is almost like a dimmer version of daylight. I ran and grabbed the camera, and spent a few happy minutes trying to capture the amazing light. I think I actually managed to do a decent job of it. I’ll have to post a few shots later when I get a chance.

As I worked on a few shots by the lake shore, I heard a rustling in the grass near me, then, flicking on the flashlight, saw that it was a hedgehog. The hedgehog looked at me with dazed, blinky eyes for a few seconds, then turned and waddled off into the grass. I could hear him rustling around for a few more minutes as I worked. It was a fun, snuffly sound that brought a grin to my face, though I don’t suppose anyone would have been able to see it in the dark.

Shots complete, I went back to the van, climbed in, and went to sleep, content and happy.

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