I began my day in the Fremont section of Seattle.  My plan for this morning was to head back to the downtown area to checkout something I had seen, but did not have time to tour yesterday.  On my way back into the city I stopped at the Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union.  The park is located on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant.  While the park itself is nothing great it does offer great views of Lake Union, the Aurora Bridge and downtown Seattle…..

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Yesterday morning I spent a fair amount of time deliberating on what to do.  I knew I was going to spend the day in/around Vancouver but I was trying to decide if I wanted to take a ferry to Vancouver Island (images) for the day or if I wanted to try and go whale watching.  On the one hand I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver Island, but I only had a day so I knew I would only be able to see a very tiny piece of it…most likely Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.  On the other hand I have always wanted to see whales (I tried once unsuccessfully in Maine), but it was late Oct. and the season for seeing whales in this area was just about over so it was 50/50 that we might not see anything.  (read on to see what I decided……)  🙂

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My second day in Vancouver started a little slow.  I had breakfast and then took some time to take care of a few things like laundry, groceries and cleaning out the Jeep…it’s been a long trip. 🙂  After that I set out to see a few things around the Vancouver area….  Please don’t leave. Click here to read more…


I woke this morning in the town of Squamish, BC.  My goal for today was Vancouver.   After making/eating breakfast I spent a little time at the Squamish Starbucks booking an Airbnb for this evening and doing a Facebook post.  After that I hit the road and headed south to Vancouver.  Please don’t leave. Click here to read more…


I woke this morning just outside of Whistler, British Columbia (BC images).  After waiting out the rain for the past 2 days  in Kamloops I was anxious to hit the trail and do a long hike today.  So I quickly made/ate breakfast and headed further south into Garibaldi Provincial Park (images) to the trailhead for the the hike I had I chosen for today….

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After my epic, and painful, hike up Hermit Trail (images) in Glacier National Park Canada (images) the next places on my destination list were Whistler BC (images) and Garibaldi Provincial Park BC (images).

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I woke early this morning next to Peyto Lake (images) and it was COLD!  The thermometer I have said it was 17!  It was getting light outside but the sun had not yet come up.  I went outside and walked down to the lake shore.  It was so beautiful…..

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I woke very early this morning to take care of a little business. 🙂  When I went outside I looked up (as I always do) and saw something really weird in the sky.  I thought maybe it was clouds but the sky was clear.  I kept looking at it and then I realized what it was.  It was something that I had always wanted to see, but had never seen before…..the Northern Lights!

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I woke this morning still feeling really energized by yesterdays hike and I was ready to head north again. After breakfast I topped off my gas and made my way back onto the Trans-Canada Highway (wiki). After about 5 miles I took the Icefields Parkway, hwy 93 north toward Jasper park and Jasper town.

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I woke early this morning, made/ate breakfast and, armed with the information I received from the very helpful park ranger yesterday, headed out for a long (and hopefully un-crowded) day of hiking.  When I reached the trailhead it looked promising as there were only 4 or 5 other cars. So I quickly loaded my day pack, laced up my “serious” boots and hit the “trail” (more on that in a moment)…..

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I made it to Lake Louise late yesterday afternoon.  As I had done in Banff I wanted to take a hike today that would provide good views of Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains. In looking at the map of Banff NP and doing some reading on line I decided to do a hike just up from the lake.  Although I knew it would probably be crowded from what I could see it looked like a great place to see the area….and it sure was!

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I woke in Banff this morning to a very clear and very cold day.  I ended my day last night by watching a large bull Elk walk through a parking lot in Banff just before I went to bed.  While not a big deal in Banff this is not something I see very often (never) outside of Philly (ha ha) so it still excites me.  Unfortunately he surprised me and moved through so quickly that I was unable to get any pictures….but I’m sure you can image.  🙂  However, I did manage to get a great picture of downtown Banff this morning…..

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I woke in the town of Banff Canada this morning. Banff was one of the towns that I was really looking forward to visiting as I’ve always wanted to come here (to ski).  I was supposed to come for a ski trip a few years ago but had to cancel, so I was anxious to explore the area.  My first stop, after breakfast of course :-), was the Banff Visitors Centre on main street Banff to get some information on the hiking trails around Banff.

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I woke up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada this morning.  The forecast called for periods of rain off and on all day so I had already decided today was going to be a “blog and laundry” day.

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Due to the weather and the fires I decided that, reluctantly (again), today would be my last day in Glacier NP.   I was planning to cross over into Canada at the Chief Mountain Port of Entry boarder crossing on a somewhat remote road (Hwy 17) about 45 minutes north of the Many Glacier area.  But before I left I wanted to get in one more hike in this beautiful park. So with that in mind I looked at my map and chose a remote hike that I could access from Hwy 17.  On my way to the trailhead I took a few more pictures of the Many Glacier area and got my first close look at Chief Mountain.  It was a gorgeous morning….of course it is, I’m leaving! ha ha

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I woke this morning near in the Many Glacier area and had my sights set on hiking the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail To Swiftcurrent Mountain.  I had my usual quick breakfast (it is the most important meal of the day 🙂 ), and headed to the trailhead.  Along the way I stopped for a couple of quick pictures of the Many Glacier Hotel (see previous post) and Swiftcurrent Lake…..

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I woke in the St. Mary area this morning hoping to do the Highline Trail (AllTrails).  But unfortunately, once again, mother nature had different ideas as the high mountains were completely covered with clouds and the forecast called for rain. I looking over the trail map I decided to do a trail in the Many Glacier area to Iceberg Lake.  Here is a map of the different areas within Glacier National Park to familiarize you with the park…..

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I began Day 23 by attending Fresh Life Church (website) in Helena.  As I was looking for a church to attend in Helena I noticed they had a connection with the Hillsong church (website).  I had attended the Hillsong main-campus church while I was traveling in Australia last year and really liked it.  Like Hillsong, Fresh Life is a multi-site church with several locations in Montana, Utah and Oregon. Also like the Hillsong church the Sunday morning service integrates both “local/on-site” pieces with other pieces telecast from the main location in Kalispell MT.  I had never attended a service with a telecast message but I have to say it was seamless and actually worked quite well.  I really enjoyed the service and had a great conversation with a lady I met after the service named Jewelya.  This is a place I would definitely feel at home if I lived in the Helena area.

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I had decided that today would be a “transition” day.  Although I loved hiking in the Grand Tetons the weather forecast was not good for the next 2-3 days so I decided to head north.  I spent much of the morning in a Starbucks in Jackson uploading pictures, blogging and making a video via Skype with the leader (Jon) of the missions trip I took to Indonesia last month.  I left Starbucks around noon and after filling the ole’ Jeep with gas and grabbing a quick bite I headed northwest on Rt. 22 with my sights set on Bozeman, MT about 4:30 hours away.

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The first thing I did when I woke this morning was check the weather.  The forecast for today was still very iffy with a 60% chance of rain/snow mix and highs in the 40s.  So, I decided to do another canyon hike that was recommended to me by a couple of people (thank you Walt Fromm) called Cascade Canyon (AllTrails, Images).  I arrived at the trailhead next to Jenny Lake and started my trek for the day.

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I woke early this morning excited to spend the day hiking in the Grand Tetons.  My first order of business was the weather forecast.  As expected had changed slightly overnight.  They were still calling for rain today but they had pushed the “bad stuff” back about 24 hours.  But they were still calling for a significant temperature drop and snow for the next few days.  So I decided to do a day hike today (vs multi-day back country as I had planned) and see what the forecast looks like later in the day.  With that in mind I had been told by a few people that the hike to Surprise Lake (AllTrailsImages) and Amphitheater Lake (AllTrails, Images) was a must do.  So I set my sites on that and drove to the trailhead.


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This morning I set my sites on another mountain summit.  This was a hike the couple of met while hiking Mt. Washburn (the woman whose father worked at Yellowstone) recommended.  So I woke early, made/ate breakfast and headed east.  Like yesterday, this morning began with another amazing sunrise…..

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I woke this morning before daybreak.  And although I had another busy day planned I couldn’t help but stop and take some time just to admire another gorgeous sunrise while listening to elk bugling in the valley below.  How is it that something that happens everyday never gets old or insignificant?  And all we have to do is slow down long enough to notice and appreciate it.

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I made & ate breakfast this morning beside a beautiful river between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village while watching a small herd of buffalo graze in a field on the other side. Now that’s my idea of how to start the day….

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I woke in Bighorn NP this morning to the sounds of silence and smell of fresh pine…ah, nice.  I made/ate breakfast and drove the 7 miles back to highway 16 and headed west.  The Western side of Bighorn was even more beautiful than the Eastern side as you descend for 7 miles through the canyon.

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I woke early today, made/ate breakfast and headed south to the highest point in Black Hills National Forest, Black Elk Peak (WikiAllTrailsImages).  It took about 35 minutes to get there. Now, what I didn’t know was that Black Elk Peak is “just” inside Custer State Park (I think it’s actually in Black Hills NP but the trail-head is in Custer) (Custer State Park, Wiki, Images) and of course the all access National Park pass I purchased doesn’t work in state parks. When I arrived at the state park gate there was no one there but it was $20 for a 7 day pass (and several of you already know where this is going :-). Well, I was planning to be there for less than 3 hours (maybe 4) and I wasn’t about to pay $20 to do a 3 hike! 🙂  So….I found a place to park just outside the park and hiked to the trail-head inside the park! (ha ha) I mean, come on…seriously?  $20 for a 3 hour hike…NOT! 🙂

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I woke fairly early this morning, ate breakfast and hit the road anxious to visit my first national park on this trip. But as I was driving down I-90 I saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (Minuteman Historic SiteWiki) at the next exit. It sounded pretty interesting and since I wasn’t on any particular schedule I figured why not.

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After doing the MLB tour for the past 5 days I decided that today was going to be a “down” day. With that in mind I didn’t have any big plans, expectations, or things I had to see or do when I hit the North Dakota state line and I’m happy to say that Fargo did not disappoint in that regard (my apologies if there are any Fargonites or Fargoians reading this. 🙂

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I woke this morning with the intention of touring around Minneapolis and St. Paul and then heading West to North Dakota late in the afternoon. But there was one “problem”…last night, while I was at the Twins game, I was texting with my cousin and he reminded me that the Dolphins were playing the Viking in Minneapolis tomorrow night (which of course is now tonight).  So for a little background information….although I have not followed them closely in several years I actually grew up a Dolphins fan, so it would be pretty cool to see them. But I was planning to leave Minneapolis today.

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I started early on day 4. I was still in Chicago and could not for the life of me stop singing “Go Cubs Go” (don’t you hate when that happens?). Before leaving Chicago and heading North I had one more stop….the United Center (United Center, Wiki) home of the Chicago Bulls.  Not that I’m a big Bulls fan but I had to see the place where the greatest player of all time (NC born and bread 🙂 played for many years….

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The morning of my second day began with a 2 hour drive from Michigan, through Indiana (short distance) and into Chicago. I considered leaving my car outside the city and taking the train in (to avoid the traffic) but decided to drive. So I reserved a spot in a parking garage close to Wrigley field, since I was planning to attend a Cubs game that evening. So I expected very heavy traffic, for a weekday, but was presently surprised when I drove straight in with no issues.  My route took me down Lake Shore drive and right past Soldier Field (Soldier FieldWiki).  Like the parks I visited the day before, as a lifelong sports fan, Soldier field is one of those legendary places that you hear about your whole life and see on TV so of course I had to stop and get some pictures…..

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“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,  Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.” – Song of the Open Road – Walt Whitman (Wiki)

After a year of waiting & healing (somewhat) I finally departed on my 9000+ mile excursion around the US and BC, Canada on Saturday.  As is always the case I spent the first 100 or so miles playing the, “what did I forget” game.  Aside from a few small things, that I can easily pick up along the way, the only potentially significant thing was a second ATM card (I usually carry two when I travel just in case).  Oh well, I was about 50 miles from home when I remembered so I threw caution to the wind (ha ha) and carried on without it.

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Welcome to the Planet!

This is a personal blog site that I created so anyone can join me as I travel the world.  Along the way we will see interesting places and things and experience local cultures, traditions and foods.  But most of all we will have the opportunity to meet, speak with and really get to know the people with which we share this place we call home.  These are our neighbors, whether around the corner or around the world we are all members of one race….the human race.

If you are new to this site I welcome you and greatly appreciate your comments, feedback and interactions.  If you look through the blog page you will see blogs from a trip to Australia and New Zealand. I recently returned from Indonesia but unfortunately I am a bit behind and have not yet posted those blogs (I hope to soon).  I am leaving soon for a trip around the US and Southwest Canada and I hope to post new blogs during my trip.

A couple of tips on the blog page…..I try to add relevant categories and tags to each blog to make them easier to find and sort.  Also, you can use the Search option if there is a specific word or topic you are trying to find….like Mount Kosciuszko (the highest mountain in Australia….which happens to have the highest “loo” in Australia :-).  Lastly, the Australia & New Zealand blogs were created in a different blogging platform and imported here so I apologize for any formatting issues or broken links with these posts.

I hope you enjoy you my site.  If so, please subscribe to the blog at the bottom and friend me on Facebook or follow me on Google+, Soundcloud, YouTube or Instagram.

Until next time remember…..it may be a big planet but it’s a small world.



After a good night’s sleep I woke to the sounds of countless birds all around.  One thing I have loved about Australia are all the “exotic” (different from the US) birds and their unique sounds and this (as you can imagine) was intensified in the rainforest.  I just laid in my bed and listened to the birds for 10-15 minutes…..it was a great way to start the day!


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I started my last day at sea with a good breakfast and a cup of coffee on the upper deck looking out over the ocean.  I “missed” the 6:30 dive again (darn :-), but was planning to do the other 2 dives before lunch and then heading back to Cairns mid-afternoon.

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My day started early (well, early for me), but not as early as it could have.  Breakfast was served at 7:30 so I woke up at 7:27. 🙂   There was an early morning dive at 6:30 (wake time 5:45) but anyone who knows me well would know….”Homie don’t play dat” (ok, who remembers that show?)…..

Before each dive there was a mandatory dive meeting to discuss the geography (we changed reefs twice a day) and go over the diving logistics (see yesterday’s blog).  After breakfast we had 30 minutes before the dive meeting….so I went back to sleep (7:30 is still too early for me).  🙂

Our dive location for the next 2 dives was Saxon reef (GoogleImages).  My dive buddy for this morning was one of my Belgium friends I met yesterday Stef.  Stef was a certified dive master and had dove many places around Asia and the Middle East.  He was a great guy and a really good diver.

We did two dives at Saxon reef before lunch and then moved to Hastings reef (GoogleImages) for the afternoon and night dives…..

Looking out over the reef is beautiful.  I love how the water breaks over the reef (in the middle of the ocean) and has a greenish turquoise color….

As for the dives, unfortunately the water was kind of cloudy today so the viability was not great.  In spite of that we still had some good dives and saw quite a bit of marine life (NOTE: The camera I had this day did not capture the colors very well.  The reef and fish were much more colorful than what you see in the pictures)….

Here are some pretty cool videos of the marine life….

Sea Turtle Eating Coral
Green Moray Eel
Cool Fish
And this was my favorite…..

Sea Turtle Swimming

After dinner we had another incredible sunset from the back deck of the boat…..

We did another night dive (with the sharks 🙂 and it was really cool seeing all the lights from other divers under the water…..

This was pretty cool…..the divers who were still working on their certifications could not do the night dive so they allowed them to lay on the dive platform with their mask and snorkel and get an up close view of the fish….and the sharks!  A couple came right up to them…..

Once we returned from the dive, put away our diving gear and got cleaned up and changed we sat in the lounge and talked for a while but we were all pretty beat from the long day so we turned in early.

Where Am I

After a restless night of sleep I woke early this morning.  I packed up, ate breakfast and was out front waiting for the dive bus by 7:30.  The bus arrived at 7:45, I climbed aboard and we took off for the dive center.

During the ride to the dive center I met another diver named Ramiro.  Ramiro was from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I immediately began a conversation with him as Argentina, and more specifically Patagonia, is #2 on my bucket-list of travel destinations (#1 is base camp of Mt. Everest).  Ramiro is a corporate lawyer who works for John Deere. He works in M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and said that he travels to the US frequently, usually NYC. Although I would estimate he was only in his late 20’s/early 30’s it sounded like he has had a very successful career.  He was in Australia for only 2 weeks but wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef….so here is was. 
As mentioned in a previous post the dive center I had chosen was Deep Sea Divers Den (see Day 52 post for more information on the dive center and the dive information).  After a short ride we arrived at the dive center (along with 3 other vans with divers) and went inside.   Each person had to sign in, show our dive certification cards and verify our dive package and payment. Once this was complete we loaded back into the vans for a 10 minute drive to the port where we made our way to the high speed “day boat” (Sea Quest) for the 1.5 hour trip out to the reef….

During our ride we broke up into three groups; those previously certified, those getting their certifications and snorkelers.  There were probably 50-60 people on the boat and about 10 certified divers.  The dive team gave us the information for the first dive (site geography, dive rules (time/return bars/etc)), and gave each of us a number.  They then broke us into 2 teams and we chose our dive “buddy” (you never dive alone).

After that we went to the dive deck, grabbed a wet suit, fins, mask and found our dive equipment (based on the number we had been given).  Since I know most people reading this have never dove (dove, dived, have doven 🙂 I’ll take a minute and tell you about the equipment.  The typical dive equipment consists of a tank (duh), a BCD or buoyancy compensator device, a regulator (connects to the tank (stage 1) and delivers air to your mouth (stage 2 – primary & alternate), depth gauge, dive computer, weights, mask and fins…..

We arrived at the first dive site, Norman Reef (GoogleImages), around 10 AM…..

Once we arrived things moved very fast. The certified divers are usually the first to go in so we were in the water in just a couple of minutes.  Now here is where the fun begins…….usually.

Before I continue I need to provide a little background information…..about 2 days before I left for Cairns I started feeling like I might be getting a head cold.  It’s a common diving recommendation that you do not dive if you have a head cold.  This is due to the potential difficulties of equalizing your ears as you decent and ascend.  So this absolutely could not have happened at a worse time since I had already booked, and paid, for 3 days at sea on a dive boat!

So I took a lot of vitamin C, echinacea, garlic, zinc and pretty much anything I could think of to try and keep from getting sick and it definitely helped. By the time I arrived in Cairns I could tell I had a little something but it wasn’t bad. Since I had already paid for the dive trip I decided to go and told myself if I had any issues equalizing my ears I would abort the dive and snorkel instead.

So now, we’re in the water for our first dive and we start down.  I get a few feet down and can’t get my right ear to equalize.  So I come back up and try two more times but still can’t get it.  The other divers in my group descended and were waiting, so rather than hold them up (since it wasn’t looking like I was going to get it) I decided to surface and sit this one out.  In 16 years of diving this was the first time I ever had to sit out a dive.  I was bummed but I didn’t want to push it.  I did some snorkeling and returned to the boat.

The next dive was scheduled an hour later.  I wanted to give it another a try and this time I was able to descend and equalize both ears with no issues…great!  Diving the Great Barrier Reef had always been on my diving bucket-list so I was excited to finally be doing it.  It was a good dive.  The colors of the coral on the reef were amazing and the variety of fish and marine life was equally amazing.

After the dive we had lunch and the folks who were doing the live-a-board (about 10 of us) transferred to a larger boat called the Ocean Quest….

Once we were aboard the Ocean Quest we received an orientation for the boat and were assigned our cabins.  As they were going through the cabin assignments they mistakenly had me and a girl who had also transferred over listed as a couple and assigned to the same room.  They said, “you’re not a couple” and we said, “we just met about 10 minutes ago”.  (ha ha)  So they left me in the first assigned room and moved her to a different room. It actually ended up working out great as I had paid for a double occupancy cabin but, because of their mix up, ended up having a room to myself the first night. 🙂

After checking out the boat I took a nap and got ready for dinner.  During dinner I met a couple of guys from Belgium and started a good conversation.  After dinner we had about an hour to hangout and watch the sunset……

Dive friends from Belgium and Norway

Our last dive of the day was a night dive.  In all my years of diving I had never done a night dive so I was pretty excited.  My excitement increased as I stood on the upper deck at the back of the boat and watched all the fish….and sharks, swimming under the lights around the dive platform (where we dove from)…….(the pictures aren’t the best as it was dark but you can clearly make out the sharks)

The night dive was pretty cool.  Many fish and marine animals are nocturnal so it’s interesting to see the different varieties at night.  Oh, and in case you are wondering the answer is “Yes”…..I do still have all of my appendages.  ha ha

When we returned to the boat we had a visitor who I think was probably a regular on this boat as he/she had no intention of moving and was definitely not afraid of us.  It was funny listening to him/her…..he/she never moved…..

After we got cleaned up and changed my Belgium friends and I sat on the back deck of the boat and continued our conversation from dinner.  We had a great conversation about everything you can imagine (our countries, our families, travel, politics, religion, relationships and on and on).  We ended up talking for almost 3 hours. I know we all wanted to continue the conversation but we reluctantly called it a night around 1 as we had a full day of diving tomorrow….uh, later today.  🙂

Where Am I

Today was another transition day.  After a week of rest and recovery from my marathon trip around New Zealand I traveled to Cairns Australia to dive the Great Barrier Reef and explore the Daintree Rainforest.

So this is what a travel day looks like……
I woke this morning, ate breakfast, got ready, finished packing and walked the 200 yards to catch the 155 bus.  I took the 10 minute ride on the 155 into Mona Vale where I transferred to the L90 for a 55 minute ride to Wynyard Station in CBD Sydney.  From there I got on the airport line train for a 15 minute ride to Sydney international airport.  I checked in at the Virgin Australia kiosk, dropped my checked bag at the desk, made my way through security, grabbed my “second breakfast” (name the movie…this should be easy) and headed to the gate.
The 3 hour flight to Cairns was smooth and I got my first views of the mountains around Cairns during the decent…..it looked very tropical….

Cairns (pronounced “cans” (the “r” is silent)) is located in the Northern East coast of Australia in the state of Queensland.  It is a popular tourist destination for it’s proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
After we landed I found my bus and made my way to the Travellers Oasis hostel (GoogleWeb) and checked in.  The staff was very friendly and energetic.  They showed me around the facility, gave me all the information I needed for my stay and told me about an Aussie BBQ that their sister hostel Tropic Days has every Monday night.  They said a bus would leave for the BBQ in front of the main building in about an hour which gave me enough time to walk down the street to grab a few things from a grocery.
The BBQ was great with all-you-can-eat kangaroo, crocodile, emu, fish and several salads and side dishes.  All for $14 AUD ($10 USD).  It was also a lot of fun as I had the opportunity to get to know several of the other folks staying at my hostel.  It just so happened that I sat at a table with 3 other Americans (a brother/sister from NY and a girl from Indiana) as well as a couple from Spain and a girl from Australia (Perth). 
After dinner a few of us took the bus to downtown Cairns, walked around the Night Market (GoogleWeb) and finished the night with a drink at the famous (at least around Cairns) Woolshed (Web).  I left the group early and headed back as the bus for the diving boat was picking me up at 7:30 the next morning. 
It was a beautiful night so I decided to walk back.  As I was walked I began searching for my door key.  I looked in my left pocket….no key.  I looked in my right pocket….no key……CRAP…..NO KEY!!!   UGH!  
I remembered reading in the hostel information there was a $20 charge for a lost key.  Ok, no big deal.  However, I also remembered that the office closed at 10 (it was almost midnight at this point) AND the front gate was locked and you needed what to get in….yeah, you guessed it, your door key! Double CRAP!!!
I knew I had it when I left for dinner and then I remembered, while I was at the other hostel I had laid on a hammock for 10 minutes or so after dinner and had felt the key in my pocket and thought to myself, “you better be careful or the key will fall out of your pocket while you are laying here”.  After that I guess most people would have checked for the key when they got up huh?  Yeah, but what “fun” would that be?  🙂  So, I assumed (hoped…prayed) the hammock was the most likely place to find my wayward key.
But now for the next hurdle….I couldn’t remember the name of the other hostel (yes, it is in fact tough to be me :-).  So I googled Monday night BBQ in Cairns, found the name of the hostel and looked it up on google maps (thank you Lord for smartphones!).  Fortunately it was within walking distance of my place…..unfortunately it was about a mile away.  So, off I went.
After about 20 minutes I managed to find the other hostel, but it also had a fence, and a gate, and of course it was locked and all the lights were out and there was no one around….crap!  Oh well, only one thing to do…..climb over the fence (yeah, this is getting good).  With the luck I was having I halfway expected an alarm, flashing lights, security cameras, guard dogs and a swat team to descend on me before my feet hit the ground.  🙂  Fortunately, none of that happened.  So I walked through the facility, past a couple of guys sitting at a dark table talking (fortunately they either didn’t see me jump down from the fence or didn’t care), walked back to the hammocks and felt around for me key (I couldn’t see a thing) and……there it was!  (thank you Lord!).  
Fortunately the gate opened from this side so I didn’t have to climb the fence again 🙂 and after a another 20 minute walk I was back in my room and ready for bed….
Where Am I

Today was Easter Sunday.  I woke early, ate breakfast, got ready and headed out….

It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, as I drove the 15 minutes to the C3 church (Web) in Oxford Hills, the church I attended my first 2 weeks in AU.  As I drove I began to think about last Sunday and the great worship I experienced at the Hillsong (Web) church and wishing I would have an opportunity to go again before I left.

When I arrived at the C3 church it was (as I expected) very crowded, so I parked in an overflow lot next to the highway.  Before I got out of the car, just for curiosity, I googled the directions to the Hillsong church.  I thought it would be 15 minutes further than it was from Rick’s but I found that it was about 5 minutes closer than from Ricks.  I knew the last service at the Hillsong church started 1 hour later than the C3 church so I knew I would have time to spare if I wanted to go.  After a couple of moments of deliberation and thinking this might be my last chance to attend Hillsong, I texted Rick (to let him know and make sure he did not need to car) and headed to Baulkham Hills.

Just as I had experienced last week the worship was great.  I also had the opportunity to hear their lead pastor ‎Brian Houston this week (he was traveling last week) so that was cool.  He gave a mostly typical Easter message but the way he delivered it was different….. He and a group of folks from the church had just returned (the night before) from a trip to Jerusalem.  While there, he had recorded his message from several of the historic sites around the Holy Land and they showed the recorded message during the service.  He recorded some of the message in The Garden of Gethsemane, some from outside The Garden Tomb, some from a small boat on the Sea of Galilee and some at a point just below the traditional site of Golgotha. It was a interesting way to add modern day tangibility to the 2000 year old Easter story.


It was a great Easter service and I was glad I decided to attend the Hillsong church again.

I spent the afternoon relaxing and hanging out at Rick’s and had a great Easter dinner with my Aussie family….complete with chocolate Easter bunnies from Rick and Linda (I’ve become the “son” they never wanted, ha ha).

Where Am I

It was another good day in Oz…..much the same as the last two….

Once again I spent most of my day sitting on the deck, updating the blog, watching Alaska and the birds and preparing for next week.  With the diving decision made yesterday my attention turned to the #2 reason for traveling to the Cairns area….the Daintree Rainforest.
The Daintree Rainforest (Google, WikiWebImages) is one of the oldest rainforests on the planet and is located about 2 hours north of Cairns.  When I began thinking about diving the GBR and traveling to Cairns I knew I wanted to visit the Daintree and (if possible) stay in the rainforest.  After doing some research I found (what I think is) a couple of cool places to do just that…..but more on that next week.
So Alaska and I had another relaxing day sitting on the deck, updating the blog (me) and keeping an eye on the local bird population (Alaska) 🙂 
Where Am I

Today was much the same as yesterday. Alaska and I sat on the deck writing blogs, getting information for next week and bird watching….

I did take some time to join Alaska in her bird watching when two parrots or lorikeets landed in the tree just beside the deck.  They stayed there for 10 minutes or so before moving on.  It was pretty cool…. 
In researching dive companies in the Cairns area I found that day trip dives were quite expensive.  I assumed this is due to the distance of the boat ride from Cairns to the reef which is about 1.5 hours each way (in a fast boat).  Pretty much all day trip packages included 3 dives.  Since I was planning to be in the Cairns area for a week so I was planning to dive at least 2 or 3 days.  
As I was looking at different companies I began to look at possibly doing a “liveaboard” trip.  With a liveaboard you travel to the reef on a day boat, do 2 – 3 dives and then transition to another boat that stays at the reef where you “live-a-board” for 2 – 7 (or more) days and do multiple dives each day.  I decided this is what I would do so it became a question of which company and how long.  After reading several reviews and looking at availability (several were already fully booked since it was only a few days away) I decided to go with a company called Deep Sea Divers Den in Cairns (GoogleWebImages) and do 3 days (2 nights).  I went ahead and booked it as there were only a couple of spots left. 
I felt good about having this booked as I have always wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef and that was the #1 reason I was traveling to the Cairns area.
I spent the rest of the day updating the blog with posts as I’ve been behind since New Zealand.
Where Am I

I woke today with no place I had to go and no place I had to be…..and it was pretty cool.  So I took some time to catch up on emails, FB and read some US news…

After breakfast I transitioned to my “office”, aka the deck….
The “office”
Alaska joined me to get some sun and do some bird watching.  We love sitting on the deck together…..

I sat quietly and I worked on my blog while Alaska “policed” the activities of the birds in the area as they flew from tree to tree.  It’s fun to watch how excited she gets when one flies close to the house and it’s also a little nerve-wracking watching her jump up and down and walk along the thin rail. I watched her like a nervous father wondering if she was going to fall.  🙂  We sat there until after lunch writing (me) and bird watching (Alaska…ok, me too).
Linda and Rick left yesterday for a couple of days and drove to a resort on the coast about 2 hours north and I happily agreed to help out with the “parental duties” in their absence. 🙂  My “duties” for today included driving the girls to/from school/work and making dinner, which I volunteered to do since I was making dinner for myself anyway.  So in the afternoon I drove to the grocery to get everything I needed to make chicken parmigiana and then returned to the deck for me writing (me) and bird watching (Alaska). 🙂
It was only me and their youngest daughter Natasha for dinner (their oldest daughter, Zara, was at work) but I think it turned out well (if I do say so myself :-).  Tasha said she liked it…but she is a very polite girl so ??? (ha ha) 
After dinner I spent some time on the internet looking for dive companies and preparing for next weeks trip to Cairns.

Where Am I

The first week I arrived in Australia I visited Sydney (Day 8) and purchased a multi-pass that included 5 attractions around the Sydney area.  There was so much to see that first day that I only made it to one of the attractions (Sydney Tower) so I planned to return later in my trip.  Well, today was that day…..

I got up, ate breakfast, took a shower, got ready and caught the 10:05 bus near Rick’s house. After transferring to another bus in Mona Vale I was on my way to Sydney.

The skies were blue and the weather was perfect as the bus made its 55 minute track from Mona Vale to Wynyard station in CBD Sydney.  Once I arrived I made my way to the Darling Habour (Day 10 post) area and my first stop the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium where I saw many of the aquatic life native to Australia including: sharks, rays, jellies, clown fish, penguins and Dugongs.  I really liked the Dugongs.  They are like Manatee’s only smaller and unfortunately, like Manatee’s are also endangered. 🙁

One thing I saw at the aquarium both surprised and saddened me.  However, after the information I saw at the Royal Albatross Center in Dunedin (Day 39 post) I probably should not have been surprised by this….

After the aquarium I grabbed some lunch at a nice outdoor restaurant in Darling Harbour with a great view of the city and the harbour…..

After lunch I walked around the harbour a little before heading to my next destination Wild Life Sydney Zoo.
The zoo, like the aquarium, had many animals native to Australia including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus, ekidnas, koalas, flying foxes (bats), reptiles and more.  If you’ve followed the blogs or FB posts you know that I’ve seen all of these in the wild over the past 2 months but it was pretty cool to get the opportunity to see some of them close up….like the koalas…..

I finished the zoo tour and somewhat hesitantly headed to my next and attraction for the day.  I say hesitantly because, although I’ve had opportunities go to these places before it never seemed like a place I would want like or that I had any desire to do.  However, it was included in the package I purchased (at no additional cost) and it was right beside the Wild Life zoo so I figured I would take a few minutes and walk through Madame Tussauds Sydney.  
If you’re not familiar with a Madame Tussauds they have wax figures of famous people.  Some are just ok but some are quite lifelike…..

And of course, like everyone who has ever gone to one of these I had to snap a few selfies of me and “friends” :-)….. 

Ok, so the last one needs a little explanation….you may or may not be familiar with the infamous Johnny Depp Australian dog controversy (I wasn’t until I came here).  Last year while he was in Australia filming the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean, he apparently “smuggled” his 2 toy terriers, Pistol and Boo, into Australia illegally (WebWeb2).  As a “closed” (isolated) country Australia has some pretty strict laws about plants and animals coming into the country and they require them to be quarantined for (I believe) 3-4 months.  Johnny Depp brought the dogs into the country without reporting them and they were spotted in the house where he was living.  The story went global when Australia’s agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce threatened to euthanise Pistol and Boo unless they were taken out of the country (oh my).  In the end a private jet was chattered and the dogs were flown, first class of course, safely back to the US 🙂 but it left some lingering animosity toward Johnny Depp for some Australians. 🙂
So as you can tell from the pictures I actually had a pretty good time in Madame Tussauds. It would be a fun place to go with some family or friends.  So I waved goodbye I left my new friends behind 🙂 and headed to my last destination for the day…..The Chinese Garden of Friendship.
The Chinese Garden of Friendship (GoogleWebWikiImages) is a small walled park near Darling Harbour that is modeled on the typical private gardens of the Ming Dynasty.  It features beautifully created pavilions, exotic plants, ponds, waterfalls and a traditional Chinese teahouse.  It’s kind of like a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city and there are many places to sit and relax.  I enjoyed it quite a bit and I know several of my family and friends who would really enjoy this place as well….

My final plan for the day was to meet two US friends who relocated to Australia 1.5 years ago for work. 
I met Dennis and Susan York several years ago through my good friend and band mate Chris Bird ( some of you probably remember Susan and Dennis from Common Bond shows and events). Chris and Dennis both work for Shoretel and Dennis got the opportunity a couple of years ago to do an assignment in Australia and jumped at it (I don’t blame him).  They live just outside of Sydney in a place called Mosman (GoogleImages).  Mosman just happens to be on the main bus line from Sydney to Mona Vale so it was pretty easy to coordinate.  We met and had a nice dinner at place called Radio Cairo (GoogleWeb, loved this restaurant) and had a great time and a great conversation.  Looking forward to seeing them again before I leave…..
After dinner I grabbed the L90 bus and headed home to Mona Vale after another great day in Oz.
Where Am I

For most of the day today I picked up right where I left off yesterday…..just chillin’.  🙂  Alaska and I sat up a little “office” on the deck and (I) began working to try and catch up on my blog posts….

While I was sitting there I had a pretty cool little visitor (luckily Alaska had moved inside for awhile)…..

I am definitely going to miss seeing all the “unusual” (for the US) birds and animals around here and the “strange” sounds they make…..

I had told Rick and Linda that I would make dinner for the family tonight so in the afternoon I headed to the grocery to buy the indigence for my “world famous” spaghetti sauce….which a “lucky” few of you have experienced first hand. 🙂  In the place of traditional pasta we used string zucchini which I’ve always wanted to try….it was delicious!  I’m happy to say that dinner went well and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

After dinner I retired downstairs and watched a movie before calling it at night.

Where Am I

Today was a get “somewhat” back to “normal” day (my “normal” for Australia).  I took care of a few things back in the states during the early morning (before everything closed in the US and everyone went to sleep), ate lunch, did some reading/research for my trip to Cairns next week and took a run.

As I was running I stopped to take a few (more 🙂 pictures of the bay and just happened to catch another rainbow (see below).  I’m thinking maybe this (and NZ) should be called the land of rainbows because I’ve seen so many since I’ve been here….

After my run I came back home and basically chilled for the rest of the day.  I know, it sounds like a really difficult life, and it’s probably not for everyone, but it suits me just fine for now.  😉

Where Am I

It’s Sunday and the only thing I had planned for today was to attend church in the morning and rest and relax around the house in the afternoon. And that’s just what I did….

I got up, made/ate breakfast, took a shower and got ready for church.  I was planning to attend the C3 church and was just about ready to leave when I had a thought…..

One of the things on my Australian “bucket list” was to attend the Hillsong church in Sydney (GoogleWeb).  If you’ve listened to any contemporary Christian music at church or on the radio over the past 15 years chances are pretty good that you’re familiar with at least one or more Hillsong / Hillsong United songs. While the Hillsong church came first (previously known as Hills Christian Life Centre) it’s the music from this church that has really catapulted Hillsong into a global mega-church. Today they have several church “extensions” around Sydney, more in several other cities throughout Australia and several in major cities around the world including New York and Los Angeles. They hold many conferences and concerts around the world every year.  

I’ve been familiar with Hillsong for many years and have played/sung many of their songs so attending the actual church was something I always knew I wanted to do if/when I ever made it to Australia.
So just as I was getting ready to walk out the door to drive to the C3 church I decided to look and see where the Hillsong church was located and what time the service started.  As it turned out the main Hillsong campus in Baulkham Hills is only 40 minutes from Mona Vale….and the last morning service began in 55 minutes. So I decided to head to Hillsong!
It was a pretty easy drive and I arrived with plenty of time to spare.  The campus is in a very nice and modern business park and the buildings pretty much looked like all the other businesses in the area. The parking area was huge and (as expected) there were a lot of people moving in and out from the earlier service and this service.  One thing I noticed, that was pretty cool, as I walked in was that they have their own fleet of buses to transport people around the Sydney area to/from church…..

There was a large patio out front with a coffee bar, food bar and lots of seating.  I walked through the entry hall and into the large auditorium and took a seat.  As with most contemporary churches the service began with worship music….and the worship was amazing!  They only did two songs that I knew but the music was powerful and spirit led……

The lead pastor, Brian Houston, was traveling so one of the student ministry pastors taught today. The service was really good and I was sooo glad I was led to come here this morning.

After the service I met a guy from the US who recently moved to Australia to attend school.  He started going to the Hillsong church in Los Angeles and was now attending and volunteering here. We had a nice conversation and in the mean time the parking area cleared a bit. 🙂

I took my time going back home and, as planned, spent the rest of the afternoon/evening resting and relaxing around the house.  It was just what I needed after almost 3 weeks of “running” around New Zealand.  🙂

Where Am I

While I was in New Zealand Rick told me that he and the family would be going out of town the weekend I returned.  They were traveling about 6 hours south to attend a birthday celebration for a lifelong friend so I tried not to take it personally that they left the day after I returned :-)…..

I woke early on Saturday to tell goodbye….and went back to bed. When I woke again I made breakfast and started the first of 3 loads of laundry.  I hung around the house doing a few odds and ends until the last load of wash finished so I could get it all hung outside to dry. While I waited I made a quick lunch and once I hung the last load I headed out to Palm Beach. 
Palm Beach (GoogleWikiImages) is the most northern of the “northern beaches” of Sydney and is about a 25 minute drive from Mona Vale.  It sits on a peninsula between Broken Bay and the Tasman (South) Sea and there is a lighthouse on the hill at the end of the peninsula with a stunning view. I had wanted to come here since the first week I arrived but couldn’t work it into my schedule so I was excited to see it.
When I arrived at Palm Beach I purchased a 2 hour parking pass and headed for the beach.  The weather was perfect, the beach was beautiful, the water was warm and the waves were big.  Believe it or not this was actually the first time, after being in AU for a 1.5 months, that I actually got into the ocean (more than just wading).  I stayed in for probably 30-40 minutes until I was beaten into submission.  🙂  Then I got out and just relaxed on the beach and watched the surfers for a while.

After I left the beach I decided to walk up to the lighthouse.  The path to the lighthouse begins on the beach on the bay side.  The beach on this side is much smaller and the water is much calmer, but it’s still very pretty…..

The hike to the lighthouse is short but steep.  As you start up you get a great view of the bay and once you get closer to the top you get an excellent view of the narrow, and quite beautiful, peninsula….

The view at the top of the Tasman Sea and Broken Bay are really beautiful….

After a while I returned to the car and drove back to Mona Vale where I stopped at the grocery, picked up some food and made a nice “surf & turf” for dinner…..

It was another really good day….and all within 30 minutes of Mona Vale. Yeah, Rick and his family live in a pretty great area. 🙂

Where Am I

Today was a designated travel day.  Although it was a very busy day for me, it was a very “blah” day on the “adventure scale”.  🙂

The place I stayed in Auckland was only 15 minutes from the airport and my flight did not leave until 12:25 so I took my time taking a shower, returning the car, checking in, eating brunch and hanging out at the gate.  For probably the first time I can recall I was actually early arriving at my gate so I sat peacefully and sipped a flat white coffee.  And my “reward” for arriving early…..the flight was late! ha ha.  I just had to laugh.
The 1:20 flight on JetStar back to Christchurch was smooth and we arrived on time despite leaving late.  I collected my bag and checked in with Emirates for my next flight to Sydney.  
The 3:30 hour flight over the Tasman sea was good and we arrived in Sydney on schedule. I collected my bag and caught the train to Wynyard station in the CBD.  I ran to the bus terminal and caught my bus just as it was leaving (there was another in 30 minutes but why wait).  It’s a one hour bus ride to Mona Vale.  When I arrived a walked 5 minutes to the Woolworths, contacted Rick who said he would come pick me up, bought some breakfast food, and rode home with Rick.
My “view” for the day…..

So after one rental car, two planes, one train, one bus, one walk and one ride with Rick I was back at my home base.  As I said in the beginning, a busy day for sure but not a very high on the “adventure  scale”.  Well, at least Alaska was happy I was back (ha ha, not really).
Where Am I

I woke this morning in Taupo wishing I had more time to spend here.  Taupo (GoogleWeb) is a gateway town to many outdoor activities and the volcanic national parks to the south.  It sits on the banks of Lake Taupo, a volcanic caldera (Wiki).  Dave told me the previous evening that the lake is filled with many thermals on the bottom and there is quite a bit of seismic activity in the area.

I also wished I had more time to spend with my hosts and had another brief, but pleasant, conversation with Dave (Sheryl was at work) over breakfast. But I had to catch a flight in Auckland tomorrow morning so I said goodbye to Dave and headed out.

My plan for the day was to take my time and do the 3 hour drive to Auckland this morning and then do a brief tour around Auckland in the afternoon.  Just outside of Taupo I stopped at Huka Falls (GoogleWebImages).  Huka Falls is on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo.  It’s famous for the volume of water that passed through a narrow canyon and not the height of the falls. The other thing you notice (aside from the volume) is the beautiful ice blue water color.  It was very pretty…..

I got back to the car just before it began to rain and it rained off and on for the next 3 hours as I drove to Auckland. About 20 miles from Auckland the weather cleared a bit so I drove into the city to have a look around.

Auckland (GoogleWebWikiImages) is the most populous city in New Zealand (32% of New Zealand’s population is in the greater Auckland area).  The CBD is situated between two large bays and the geography in the area has been primarily shaped by volcanic activity with some 48 volcano’s (all currently dormant) in the Auckland area (Web).

Before arriving in Auckland I had communicated with my Airbnb hosts and asked for recommendations on what I should try and see in one afternoon.  They suggested I visit  Mount Eden for a good view of the city and Viaduct Harbour for a taste of Auckland trendy lifestyle.  So my first stop was Mount Eden (hey, it has “mount” in it’s name….where do you think I’m going first, ha ha). Mount Eden is a dormant volcano that was formed 20,000 – 30,000 years ago.  It’s located just outside of Auckland CBD and is the highest volcano in the Auckland area so it offers great views of the city and surrounding harbors….

After walking around the park for about an hour or so I decided to try and make my way down to Viaduct Harbour (this is how they spell harbor in this part of the world).

Viaduct Harbour (GoogleWebWikiImages) is an upscale residential, commercial and entertainment district with lots of trendy restaurants, bars and shopping.  It’s kind of like the Inner Harbor at Baltimore only bigger and with many more mega yachts.

Unfortunately, while I was making my way down to the Viaduct area from one side an enormous black cloud was making it’s way there from the other side and just minutes after I arrived the sky opened up and it began to pour. I drove around, in the rain, checking things out and looking for a place to park but found nothing.  It looked like a great/fun area to explore, especially on St. Paddy’s day, but the rain showed no sign of easing up, it was around 5 and according to Google I was now 45 minutes from my room for the evening. So I decided since it was raining and I was planning to “celebrate” St. Paddy with a couple of pints I would head out of town and find a place closer to my accommodations.

I arrived at my place for the evening, met my hosts, got settled in, changed clothes and headed to a restaurant/pub that my hosts suggested called The Zookeepers Son.  This turned out to be a good call as they had live acoustic music (which of course I LoVe) and a good atmosphere.  I sat down and looked over the menu and saw what else but a “Philly Steak Sandwich”.  It sounded good so of course I had to try it.  While I was waiting for my meal a middle aged couple was seated next to me.  After some time the lady got up (I assume to go to the lady’s room) and after a few minutes the gentleman asked where I was from.  His name was Graham and his wife’s name was Nicky.  We talked for a couple of minutes until our food arrived.

As for the “Philly Steak Sandwich” (as per the menu) it had, “48-hour sous vide brisket, mushrooms, onion, green pepper and Swiss cheese”.  Although it was not like a traditional Philly Cheesesteak it was very tasty and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

After I finished eating Graham and Nicky asked me “the question”….the same question that I have literally been asked by 99% of every non-US person I have met on this trip…..”what do you think about Donald Trump”.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that I know politics can stir up the emotions and I DO NOT want to turn this into a political forum.  I am not going to share my political opinions or thoughts in this blog but only the facts of what I have experienced and heard from those I have spoken with over the past 2 months….

During this trip I’ve had the opportunity to have many great conversations with many people from all over the world.  I’ve not only spoken with many people from Australia and New Zealand but many from different countries in Europe, Canada, other parts of Asia and even South America.  Almost without exception each of them have asked me about American politics and especially Donald Trump.  What I can tell you, based strictly on the facts of my experience, is the world is very interested in this election and very concerned about Donald Trump.  I know first hand that he is getting a lot of attention in the world’s media as I’ve seen several news casts and newspaper articles about him and/or the election.  As a matter of fact, this was on the wall in the restroom at the restaurant that night….

 Again, I do not wish to get into a political debate or to share political opinions or perspectives.  I only share this as it relates to the conversation this evening and to say that the world is watching this election very closely.

Graham, Nicky and I ended up sitting there for almost 2 hours talking about many other things including travel, music, family, relationships and New Zealand politics.  🙂  I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and hated to see it end.  As our time together was winding down Graham reached over, grabbed my check and abruptly got up and walked away.  I tried to stop him but he would have none of it.  When he returned, from paying our bills, he told me I was a guest in their country and he was happy to do it.  I told him that certainly was not necessary but that I appreciated it very much.

What a fantastic way to end my time in this fantastic country!  I’ve met so many great people and seen so many amazing things.  New Zealand was everything I thought it would be and more and it is absolutely staying on my “to do” list as I WILL be back here someday!

Where Am I
Nicky & Graham Blackmore

I woke this morning in Owhango New Zealand…..about 10 miles from nowhere NZ. 🙂  The area is remote with only several national parks and forests surrounding it.  Although I was in the middle of nowhere, I was precisely where I meant to be for today’s journey…..

My accommodations for the night were interesting…..I slept in a strangers driveway. 🙂  Maybe I should elaborate…..it was an Airbnb for a small “Retro 1977 caravan” parked in their driveway.  It was the area I wanted, had everything I needed (a bed mostly) and the price was right, so it fit the bill just fine.  It was just kind of funny sleeping in someone’s camper in their driveway. I guess it was better than “sleeping in a van down by the river” (who knows this?).  🙂

After making/eating breakfast I set out for my destination for the day, Tongariro National Park, about 30 minutes away.  Unfortunately the weather forecast for the day was rain but although it was very cloudy, luckily it was not raining.

After about 20 minutes of driving the clouds moved away just enough for me to get the first look at why I came to this remote area on the north island…..Mount Ngauruhoe better known as “Mount Doom” in the LOTR movies…..

Where the south island of New Zealand is well known for the earthquake activity (see Day 29 post) the north island is known for volcanoes and geothermal activity (see Day 42 post).  Mount Ngauruhoe (GoogleWikiWebImages) is one of New Zealand’s most active stratovolcanoes.  It has the traditional volcano shaped cone and at over 7500′ can be seen for many miles. It is part of a string of active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park and lies between Mount Tongariro to the north and Mount Ruapehu to the south.  My goal for the day was to hike to the top of Mount Ngauruhoe.

I arrived at the Mangatepopo parking area and followed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track (GoogleWebImages) up the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.  The walk to this point took about 1.5 hours and traveled through several lava fields and amazing scenery.  I don’t know if they used any of this in the movies but they certainly could have as it looked exactly like what you would expect the “Mount Doom” area to look…..

At this point the track heads to the left. Mt. Ngauruhoe is on the right although there is no “official” trail to the summit as it is a rock scramble. With the weather forecast for the day the park service warned the summit hike should not be started after 10:30.  Of course it was 11:30 by the time I reached the base of the climb and it said it was a 3 hour return. While it was very cloudy and the summit was completely covered it didn’t feel like rain so up I went.  The climb was very challenging.  With every step you took forward your feet would “spin” in the soft sandy/rocky terrain so you ended up taking 2-4 steps to gain one step of elevation.  The way I described it in my FB post was…..take a soft sandy beach, turn it on a 45 degree angle, cover it with a billion of small volcanic lava rocks and hike for 2 miles. It’s really hard to tell how steep it was…..

Picture from internet of how steep it is 

By the time I reached the rim of the volcano it was completely cloudy but what I could see was super cool (note the people in the crater and the vivid red and yellow colors at the rim)…..

I loved the colors around the rim

Scale…there are 2 people in the crater

More colors around the rim

After about 30 minutes at the summit, and a brief conversation with a couple of guys (more on that later) I knew it was time to descend before I got caught in the rain….as hard as this ascent was the descent would be terrible in the rain.

Descending Mount Ngauruhoe was like no other descent I’ve ever done.  The sheer steepness and all of the lose sand and rocks made it very challenging to stay upright.  As I was climbing up I had seen several people going down who were basically “surfing” some sections of the mountain as they came down, so I figured I would try it.  If you could manage to keep your balance, keep your feet out in front of you and not hit any big rocks you could literally “surf” or “slide” down the mountain for 10′ to 20′ at a time.  Doing this where I could I managed to get down in about 30 minutes.

Once I made it back to the base I saw the 4 men I had seen at the top taking a break and we began to talk.  I asked them where they were from and they said Greymouth NZ.  I said, “I’ve been to Greymouth” and told them the story of the lost SIM card and my new friend Jon who helped me out. To my surprise one of the guys said, “Was he a big/tall guy” and I said yes. He said, “I know Jon”.  I was blown away.  It turned out that 3 of the guys knew Jon and his wife and had known them for years…..what a small world!  But I soon found out that wasn’t all we had in common.

In speaking with them I found out that they all went to the same church in Greymouth and every year their pastor (who was one of the 4) would organize a multi-day trip such as this with several of the men in the church.  How awesome is that!  Long story short, we ended up hiking together for another 1.5 hours or so and had some great conversations.  We hiked through the south crater, which I didn’t even realize was a crater because it was so huge, until we started the climb up Mount Tongariro (GoogleWebWikiImages)…..

NOTE: Be sure and check out the “Images” links in this blog so you can get an idea of what this area looks like when it’s not covered in clouds and you can actually see it.  It’s magnificent!

We continued to climb up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track and finally reached the top of the ridge where the track continued to the right and the summit of the Mount Tongariro volcano was to the left. My intention was to summit the second volcano (Mount Tongariro); however, by the time we reached the top of the ridge line it was completed covered in clouds and had begun to rain….hard!

My new friends at the top of the ridge

So I said goodbye to my new friends from Greymouth and watched them walk off into the clouds and I started the 2 hour hike back to the parking area.

It was raining so hard at this point that a small lake had formed by the time I made it back to the crater valley at the base of Mount Ngauruhoe.  As I waded through the water I turned and took one last look around this enormous crater/valley and headed down….

As I hiked back to the car the rain let up at times long enough for me to take a few more pictures of this beautifully rugged volcanic landscape as well as the flowering plants (further down) that came out after the rain…..

About 30 minutes from the car the sky once again opened up and it poured….and poured….and poured. 🙂  I was soaked to the bone by the time I reached the car.  So I changed clothes in the car, put all my wet clothes in a plastic bag and began the 1.5 drive to my stop for the night in Taupo.

Earlier in the day, while I was ascending Mount Ngauruhoe, I had promised myself a nice dinner if I made it to the top so when I reached Taupo I found a nice restaurant and had a delicious Orange Roughy with a tasty Monteith’s Bohemian Pilsner (a local NZ brewery)…..

After dinner I found my Airbnb for the evening.  I had been in communication with my host during my drive and they had told me they would not be at home when I arrived but told me how to get in and to make myself at home.  So when I arrived I threw my wet clothes into the wash and threw myself into a shower.

I was lying on my bed thinking that my day was just about over when my hosts, Sheryll and David, arrived home. They invited me to sit with them at the table and have a cup of tea or coffee and we began to talk.  About 2 hours later we were still sitting there talking.  What awesome people!  We talked about everything from volcano’s and the local landscape to US politics. I thought it was awesome that I had just hiked volcano’s today and Dave was a retired volcanologist!  He told me all about the landscape of NZ and all the places he had been. He was originally from England and he and Sheryll had met while they were both living in Africa.  They were so very interesting people, very nice and so easy to talk to. Once again I found myself wishing I had more time just to get to know my hosts better. I’m just blown away at all the really interesting and super nice people I have met on this trip!  I really enjoyed talking with them and could have easily sat there all night but we finally called it around 1 AM and headed to bed.

Despite the weather it was another great day in New Zealand.

Where Am I
hint – Mount Ngauruhoe on a clear day

After a good sleep I woke to an empty house (not uncommon at Airbnb).  I had made reservations for 11:45 before going to sleep and only had a 45 minute drive, so I leisurely made breakfast, sat on their amazing deck with a great view of Hamilton and ate and took a shower, said goodbye to Rocco (their sweet little dog) and hit the road.  I sooo wish I would have had more time to spend with Sue and Garry.  They were such great people and I thoroughly enjoyed being around them.  I truly hope I have the opportunity to meet with them again someday.

View from the deck

So my reservation was for a place that I kind of had some mixed emotions about visiting.  On the one hand I thought it could be kind of fun….on the other hand I thought it might be kind of hokey and I had read several reviews to substantiate both views. At the end of the day it worked out that I was traveling within an hour of it so once again I decided, “what the heck….why not”.

So my first stop today was a little village called Hobbiton (GoogleWebImages) or better known in the LOTR as The Shire (I’m sure they call it Hobbiton and not The Shire for copyright reasons). As I drove from Hamilton to Matamata (Hobbiton is just outside Matamata) I was still wondering if it was going to be hokey and if I had wasted my money.  But when I turned off the main road and started down the small, winding road that leads to Hobbiton the entire area looked just as The Shire does in the movies and I have to admit that I began to get a little excited as I drove through the beautiful, green, rolling hills.  I reminded me of driving through Ireland…..

When I arrived at the Hobbiton visitors center I stood in a long, slow line to get my tickets and went straight from there to the bus that takes you to the movie set (you cannot see anything from the road or the visitors center).  Each group has a guide that tells you describes everything and provides quite a bit of production and “behind-the-scenes” information.  On the bus ride to The Shire she told us the story of how Peter Jackson came to find this area, about the farmer who had little interest in speaking with his scout or even him when he came and how (supposedly) the farmers wife made the decision to allow the creation of The Shire and filming as the farmer himself was not really interested (he’s certainly interested now as they get 50% of all revenue from the tours….and they’re packed). Anyway, after a 7 minute bus ride we arrived at the unloading area but still had no view of The Shire only this….
We walked through the hedgerows (that were used several times in the movies) and got our first look at the hobbit holes in The Shire….and it was really cool!

As we walked through The Shire our guide continued to provide information.  Here are a few of the things she told us (that I can remember):

  1. The set was originally constructed for the LOTR series using temporary materials and was completely dismantled and removed after the filming.  The current set was constructed for the Hobbit series and was constructed using permanent materials. 
  2. There are 44 hobbit “holes” in The Shire
  3. There is nothing inside the holes (the inside scenes were filmed in a studio in Wellington…sorry)
  4. With the exception of a couple the holes they are only large enough to allow the doors to open so the actors can “appear” to walk in/out
  5. There are 3 different “scales” (heights) of holes in Hobbiton so they could allow some actors to look smaller (the hobbits) or bigger Gandalf while filming
  6. The current tree at the top of the hill (above Bilbo’s hole) is fake (the only fake tree).  Peter Jackson wanted a specific look for that tree so he had it constructed. It is made with steel, foam, rubber bark, and 250K fake leaves. After it was completed he didn’t like the color of the leaves so they hired people to paint each individual leaf a darker shade of green.  It took 2 weeks (I think) and the tree was used in the movie for less than 1 minute. 🙂
  7. The scene where Gandalf and Bilbo sit and watch the sunset was actually a sunrise played in reverse since Bilbo’s hole faces West and not East.  We were told that if you watch it slowly enough you can see 2 birds that flew through the shot flying backwards.  I haven’t confirmed that one yet but plan to try. Maybe someone can try it and add a comment to the blog. 🙂
During our 1.5 tour of The Shire I took about 100 pictures (seriously) and they are all on the “View Photos” link on the right (if you’re using a PC) if you would like to see more (they’re pretty cool). Here is a sample…..

“In a Hole in the Ground There Lived a Hobbit” – J.R.R. Tolkien

We finished our tour with a complementary Hobbiton beer at the Green Dragon (where Fordo and his mates hung out)….

After 20 minutes or so we made our way back to the bus and returned to the visitors center.  I have to say I really enjoyed this and was very glad that I decided to do the Hobbiton tour. I would definitely recommend this to any LOTR fans who find themselves in the vicinity of Matamata New Zealand.

It was a just around 1:30 when I made it back to my car.  I knew I had a 2:30 hour drive to my destination for the evening and had no interest in arriving early as it was pretty remote.  I had planned to go through Rotorua on the way but in looking at the map I thought it might be cool to go to Tauranga (Google) on the eastern coast and check out the view from  Mount Maunganui (GoogleWikiImages) an extinct volcano.  In looking at google maps I estimated that it should only add 1:30-2 hours to the trip so I figured “why not”.  So off I went off on another adventure. (The Hobbit).

Although it started raining (I was thankful it did not rain earlier) the drive to outskirts of Tauranga was easy and quick enough.  However, as I began to try and get across Tauranga I ran into an unbelievable amount of traffic.  I thought for a while I was in NYC rush hour…..it was truly insane. And to make matters worse school was just getting out so there were hundreds (maybe thousands 🙂 of kids running in and out of cars and crossing streets.  It took me longer to get across Tauranga to the peninsula where Mt. Maunganui was than it did to go the 53km from Matamata to Tauranga.  By the time I reached Mt. Maunganui I was quite late and so frustrated that I barely wanted to get out. When I did get out I found out that there was no direct route to the top and the return hike was going to take 1:30 hours. So, I quickly checked out the beach, snapped a few pictures and headed out of town as quickly as possible….which of course was not quick at all.

Mount Maunganui
The Main Beach

Leaving Tauranga was not quite as painful and frustrating as going across it as I was able to go south of town; however, it was still quite slow and painful for about 5 miles. The beach area looked like a nice place to vacation; however, I can say this is one New Zealand town that, based on my very limited experience, I do not care to ever go back to.  So I headed south to Rotorua.

If you recall my first blog post from New Zealand (Day 29 – Welcome to New Zealand) I mentioned that the country of New Zealand lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire and I wrote about all of the seismic activity in the South Island, especially around Christchurch.  While the Southern Island is known for seismic activity the Northern Island is known for geothermal and volcanic activity….especially in the central part near Rotorua and Taupo, my next 2 destinations (Thermal Activity).

Aside from knowing about the thermal activity and that I wanted to visit the town I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Rotorua (GoogleWebImages) until I arrived there.  I literally drove into town, parked on a street and began to google things to see in Rotorua.  And since I had wasted time in Tauranga it was now after 4 and many things would be closing soon.  I discovered there was a city park called Kuirau Park (WebImages) about 4 blocks from me where you could walk around and check out the geothermal activity so I headed over.

I walked around the park and checked out several of the bubbling mud pools and steaming ponds. Walking around the park reminded me a lot of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and the hot mud pools and steam geysers in Yellowstone National Park.  They also had two hot water wading pools that are naturally heated by the thermal activity in the park.  So I figured, while in Rome, and took a short break for a nice warm foot bath…..

After the park I drove down to the lake….Lake Rotorua (Google) and saw an old style paddle steamboat that is used for dinner cruises around the lake leaving the port.  I caused me to remember my childhood growing up in Kentucky when we visited St. Louis and took a cruise on a paddle steamboat on the Mississippi river.

After that I grabbed some takeout Chinese food and headed to a public parking lot on the edge of town beside the Silver Oaks Geyserland Hotel.  Well….where do you eat your Chinese food? 😉  Just in case you’re wondering :-)….there is a sizable geyser called the Pohutu Geyser (GoogleImages) at a park called Te Puia in Rotorua.  Unfortunately the park was now closed…and (more importantly for me) it was quite expensive…..just to see a geyser (I wouldn’t have paid it if the park was open).  So in my reading I read that you could actually view the geyser for free (through the fence) in the public parking lot behind the Silver Oaks Geyserland Hotel.  So that is why I chose this particular location to eat my takeout Chinese food.  🙂  And while I was there a family showed up….not to eat Chinese takeout 😉 but to also watch the geyser erupt.  So I don’t think it’s a big secret….

Standing there watching the geyser through the fence (for free) reminded me of the time my good friend Guy DeBellis and I stood outside the fence at Stonehenge in the Cotswolds in England and took the exact same pictures the people standing 5′ from us (on the “paid” side of the fence) were taking for….I can’t recall but I think it was probably $30+ each.  🙂  Rather than “cheap” or “illegal” I like to refer to it as “frugal” and “cost effective”.  ha ha   Anyway, I finished my Chinese takeout (it was good btw) and hit the road for Owhango, my destination for the evening.

Owhango is very remote and as I was driving through the darkness on the remote winding, mountain roads, with no cell coverage, I was REALLY hoping that the GPS on my phone knew where it was leading me. I have to admit that I questioned it more than a few times….”this can’t be right”….”are you serious”…”this frickin’ thing doesn’t know what it’s talking about or where the *%#$ I am!!!” :-). But in the end I have to give it credit as it led me straight (well, I guess it was straight….for all I know I did circles for an hour) to my Airbnb accommodations for the evening (more on that in tomorrow’s blog).

So for now, good night from Owhango New Zealand.

Where Am I

I woke this morning with a mission and a very strict timeline.  My mission, drive to and hike Mt. Sunday…the mountain used in LOTR as Edoras, the capital of Rohan.  The strict timeline….be on a plane at Christchurch airport this afternoon at 4:55 to travel to Auckland.  So the clock was ticking and I was focused…..

Mt. Sunday was one of several places that I absolutely knew I wanted to see when I started planning my trip to New Zealand.  As I loosely mapped out my journey around the South Island I planned to do Mt. Sunday on my way back to Christchurch.  However, that was of course before the multiple car issues that set me back 2 days and (quite frankly) caused me to be very paranoid about taking the car anywhere off the “beaten path”.  So I went back-and-forth in my mind for 3 days (prior to today) considering “if” I should do Mt. Sunday and if so “when” I should do it.  
You see the “if” part had to do with the location of Mt. Sunday and the access road.  It is pretty much in the middle of nowhere (seriously, look it up on a NZ map and there is nothing even remotely close to it) and on 16-20 miles of “unsealed” (gravel) roads. My rental contract sort of/kind of….ok, specifically said, “no use on unsealed roads”.  While that didn’t stop me from driving 16 miles on a gravel road to get to Rob Roy Glacier (see Day 33 – My “Oh My Gosh” Spot) that was before the busted rim, before the blown tire and on a day when I still had 2 weeks of travel ahead before I “had” to be anywhere.  If anything went wrong today it was pretty much a guarantee I would miss my flight this afternoon as it was 2:30 from Mt. Sunday to Christchurch airport.  So no pressure there. 🙂

The “when” part I decided yesterday as I was considering doing Mt. Sunday yesterday and just skipping Mt. Cook…..and man-oh-man am I forever glad that I did not skip Mt. Cook (if you read yesterday’s blog you know why).  So, it was today or not on this trip.

So what do you think I did?  What would you do in this situation?  I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever been a gambler so “rolling the dice” is not something I do all the time.  However, in this case, I decided to roll up my sleeves, grab dem ole bones (Why are Dice called Bones?) and give ’em a whirl….

So off we go to Edoras!

According to Google maps it was a little over 2 hours from Timaru to Mt. Sunday with the first hour being paved and the second hour not.  It was a gorgeous day and I made good time to Mount Somers where you hit the gravel.  I was hoping the gravel road was in good condition and not as bad as the one to Rob Roy Glacier (recall several fords on that road). While there were a lot of “washboards” and it was very dry and dusty the road was in good condition and fairly wide.  I’m sure a lot of people come to Mt. Sunday and I know there are tours of it (they use large 4x4s for the tours as I passed a couple).  I sped up where I could and slowed where I needed to but generally made pretty good time….so far so good.  🙂

The area was mostly dry farmland with some sheep and cattle.  You also pass through a small recreational area with some vacation cabins between two small lakes called Lake Clearwater (GoogleWikiImages).  I could image this area would be quite beautiful in the winter and some of the pictures on the Images link above confirm that.

After another 15 minutes or so I topped a hill and got my first look at Mt. Sunday and the beautiful mountains behind it.  It was really spectacular and enormously cool to be looking at a valley and mountain I have seen so many times in a movie (yeah, I’m a geek I’ll admit it :-)…..

Although it appeared to be “close” it was still 10 more minutes before I arrived at the parking area….+ 5 more as I stopped several times for pictures…..

And cows…..(more cowbell! 🙂

But I finally reached my destination…..YAY!

From here the information I had read said it was a 45 minute hike to the top…..but I didn’t have 1:30 to spend hiking this (remember we’re on a strict timeline) so in order to give me more time at the top, and to get some much needed exercise since I’ve been doing no physical activities on this trip at all ;-), I grabbed my pack and started running.  I ran all the way from the parking area to the beginning of the very steep (but luckily short) climb to the top. 
Once I reached the top the view was just incredible in all directions.  I know this was a fictional city but I could easily see why someone would have chosen this location for a castle….or a movie.  You could see for miles in all directions and with the mountains on 3 sides there was only 1 valley where anyone could approach.  It would have certainly made a good location for a castle….which I guess is why Peter Jackson chose it for the movie huh?  🙂

I spent probably 30 minutes or so at the top and then the dreaded sandflies (or their cousins the dirtflies) discovered there was “fresh blood” on the hill and I made a quick retreat to the bottom.  🙂
I stopped a few times on my way back to the car to take some more pictures of this beautiful valley….

I arrived at my car and began the 2:30 drive to Christchurch feeling very fulfilled and happy with my decision and my trip to Mt. Sunday.  Buy before I left the valley I had to stop for one (ok two) more picture….

Thankfully my drive back to Christchurch was uneventful and I made it back with time to get lunch, return the car and get to the airport.  I had a good flight to Auckland, picked up my rental car and headed south to my Airbnb for the evening in Hamilton, about 2 hours away.  Knowing that the restaurants would soon be closing I got off the freeway and chose a Thai restaurant called Muang Thai in a small town named Pukekohe (remember this name).  I went in, sat down and the waiter brought me a menu…..

My first thought was….uh, maybe I should rethink my choice?  ha ha  Then I was like, is this a Roman vomitorium?  🙂  Of course it means a restaurant in Pukekohe and I didn’t see any of the other customers running for the restroom or the front door so I assumed I was ok.  🙂  But I did have a good chuckle…at the table….by myself.  ha ha

Unfortunately I ran into several construction zones (I determined driving around NZ that literally every road in NZ is under construction and most are every 2 – 3 miles….seriously) and a couple of detours so it took longer than expected.  I finally arrived at my place for the evening around 11.

I had been in contact with my hosts along the way to keep them updated and as soon as I arrived they came out, introduced themselves, grabbed my bags and took them inside.  Their names were Sue and Garry. We made it as far as the kitchen when Sue turned to me and said, “You can probably use a drink after a long day and a long drive…beer or something stronger”. We opened a couple of local NZ beers and started talking and it was seriously like we had known each other for years.  They were such cool and interesting people.  They were both 61.  Sue had been a professional dancer and Garry was a drummer who had been in several bands…yeah, we had nothing in common. 🙂 They told me that I had just missed Garry’s band as they had rehearsed tonight for an upcoming acoustic gig for St. Paddy’s day.  I was sooooo bummed!!!  🙂  I told them I would have loved that.  We talked for about 30 minutes when I asked Garry if he would mind if I played one of his guitars that I saw in the living room when I walked in.  Well that was it….

Long story short, Sue said she would leave us boys to play and said goodnight and Garry and I sat up for over another hour playing and singing song after song.  It was a total blast and so unexpected. I’ve played a little since I’ve been here but haven’t had access to a guitar for most of it so I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this.  I know both Garry and I wanted to play all night but I was really tired and he had to get up for work the next day so we finally called it a night sometime between 12:30-1.

Needless to say, it was another great day in New Zealand!

Where Am I
not the exact angle, but you get the picture

I woke early this morning and looked out my window just before the sun came up over the ocean in Timaru. I was planning for another long day/night as I planned to drive 2:30 hours to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, do some hiking and then return to the Tekapo area to do some star gazing (more on that later).  So I was probably looking at another midnight (or later) return…

I left my room heading for the kitchen and ran into my host Sandy, who I had communicated with several times the day before.  She and I had a nice conversation about her Ford truck in the driveway. She loved US trucks with big engines. The particular one had been imported from the US and the steering column was still on the left side (US).  She told me that they do allow left side vehicles in NZ but they only give a small number of licenses each year.  She applied for one the year she purchased the truck and didn’t get a license so she left it parked until the next year, applied again and got one.  That’s dedication!  She also introduced me to her pet cockatoo who was being shy (or just rude 🙂 and didn’t want to say “hello”.  🙂

After breakfast I loaded up and headed out.

The first hour of the journey was pretty uneventful with not much to see.  When I reached Tekapo I stopped and got some information on the Earth & Sky (Web) star gazing tours at the Mount John Observatory (WebGoogle, Images).  If you’re wondering what the big deal is with star gazing in this particular area, a large part of the central South Island of New Zealand was recently recognized as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest reserve of this type in the world (WebGoogleImages). It is home to the darkest skies in the world and has been labeled as “one of the best stargazing sites on earth”.  And just in case you don’t know really dark skies is the difference between seeing a few stars and (literally) seeing thousands of stars….in the same sky (click on the “images” links above).

I’ve always been fascinated by the universe and love to star gaze so this was one of the first things I added to my list when I was planning my trip to New Zealand.  Unfortunately however, it was an almost completely cloudy day so they were unsure if the tours would be held that evening.  So I continued on to the Mt. Cook visitors center and told them I would stop by on my return and see how it looked.

When I arrived in Lake Pukaki (WebGoogleImages), about 20 minutes later, I got my first, albeit, very cloudy view of Mt. Cook (the bottom of it anyway) and the surrounding mountains (check out the “Images” link to see the view on a sunny cloudless day).  Incidentally (and I actually didn’t know this until after I visited) LOTR fans might remember Lake Pukaki as the fictional “Lake-town” in the Hobbit movies The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies (Web).  And as long as I’ve been here I still can’t get over the beautiful color of the glacier fed lakes….stunning…..

I turned right at Lake Pukaki and continued toward Mt. Cook stopping several times to snap pictures of the beautiful mountains….

When I arrived at the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitors Center (Web)  I spent some time checking out the multiple exhibits they had and familiarizing myself with the tracks (trails) in the area.  I decided to hike Mueller’s Saddle on the Mueller’s Hut track (Web) and drove to the trailhead a mile or so from the visitor’s center.

The track began with a 1/2 mile or so of relatively flat trail but that soon led to a series of very steep, seemingly never-ending stairs (over 1800) leading to the half-way point of the climb called Sealy Tarns. From here the view was already magnificent….

After eating a quick lunch I started up the unmarked trail to Mueller’s Saddle (what we would call a “gap” in NC).

So if I thought the first half of this climb was challenging (1800+ steep steps) it was actually just a warm up for the second part which turned into another vertical scramble over large boulders and loose rocks (recall the hike to the summit of Cradle Mtn. in Tasmania in the Day 19 blog) and of course, straight up. This was a challenge to say the least but when I climbed over the crest of the saddle I found myself on the rim of a high alpine valley with glaciers on 3 sides….it was incredible!  I hiked around the back side of the mountain that I had been hiking up and just sat and looked in amazement. Every direction was sheer beauty.  I was totally blown away.  And as if that wasn’t enough every few minutes I would hear (and even feel the rumble) the “thunder” of an avalanche as large chucks of ice fell to the valley below and echoed off the surrounding mountains.  It was massively cool….and kind of spooky at the same time.

Of course the pictures do not even come close to doing this amazing area justice.  I sat there and continued to listen to the “thunder” as some other hikers came over the saddle.  They asked if I would take some pictures of them so I asked them to do the same….

I didn’t realize they were so far away 🙂
Selfie with Mt. Cook “hiding” in the background
Here’s a pretty good blog I found of someone hiking the Mueller track to the hut (Blog).

So once again I found myself in an area that I did not want to leave.  However, it was getting late and I knew I still had a very challenging 1.5 hour hike back to the car so after an hour or so at the top I reluctantly said goodbye to this beautiful valley and started back down.  As I hiked down Mt. Cook decided to show itself (a little) for the first time today…..

I returned to my car, drove about 10 miles up into another large valley (on the other side of Mt. Cook) and took a quick (steep) 15 minute hike to a viewing area where I could see the Tasman Glacier.  As mentioned in previous posts the glaciers in New Zealand (like all glaciers around the world) are receding at an alarming rate and the Tasman glacier is no exception. There were several very large “icebergs” that had broken off of the glacier floating in a small lake at the base…..

 Looking back up the valley from the viewing area was pretty amazing too…..

And the backside of Mt. Cook….

By this point it was getting dark and I had just enough time to make it back to the Earth & Sky center so I ran back down the trail, jumped in the car and took off.

Although it had been very cloudy all day the skies really began to clear just before dusk so I was hopeful they would have the tours.  However, when I arrived at the Earth & Sky center they told me they had just canceled the tour due to cloud cover.  Apparently they only do the tour if it’s a completely cloudless night because it looked pretty clear to me. I was disappointed but I decided to grab some dinner at the only place still open (a pub down the street) and do a “self tour” of the night sky.  I ordered a nice salmon dinner and while I was waiting I went out back and started looking for the # 1 thing I wanted to see in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere…..The Southern Cross otherwise known as Crux (GoogleWikiImages).

For those who may not know The Southern Cross is not a song by Crosby, Stills & Nash (well it is but that’s not what I’m referring to :-).  The Southern Cross is a constellation located in the southern sky in a bright portion of the Milky Way.  Since it is viable year round in the Southern Hemisphere sailors have used it for thousands of years (the ancient Greeks used it) for navigation.

So back to looking for it…..there was some light pollution from the stores in the area and I had no idea what I was looking for so I wasn’t sure if I saw it or not.  So I pulled out the sky map app on my phone and found it in about 15 seconds…..WOW!  How totally freakin’ cool was this!!!!  At this time of the year the Southern Cross is almost straight overhead in this area and once I knew where to look it was easy to spot as 5 of the 6 stars (4 in the cross and 2 “pointers”) are very bright.

I went back inside and ate my delicious meal (I didn’t really expect it to be this good in a pub), paid and hopped in my car anxious to get away from the lights of town.  I drove about 10 miles outside of Tekapo and pulled down the first remote, gravel road I could find.  I shut off the car and stepped out into a totally dark sky….aside from the literally thousands of stars.  I know I’m a totally geek when it comes to this but I just stood, leaning back against the car for almost an hour just gazing up and around in all directions.  The Milky Way was as clear and bright as I’ve ever seen and I saw several shooting stars and satellites as they passed overhead (if you don’t know you can see some satellites as they pass overhead all over the world if its dark enough and at the right time of night (Google)).  The Southern Cross was clear and bright and I was totally mesmerized.  And I realized something…when the night sky is really dark (remember, I was standing in one of the most dark sky areas on earth) the sky is actually not completely “dark” as there is a short of “ambient light” from the thousands of stars “lighting” the sky. It was really cool.  Something else I noticed about a “really dark” sky….you can see stars all the way down to the horizon and not just overhead.  As I was driving back later I kept thinking I was seeing airplanes in the sky in front of me when it was actually bright stars very low on the horizon.

So after an hour or so of standing and gazing at the stars I reluctantly (notice a pattern here? 🙂 got myself back into the car and started driving home.  Before I did, I did my best to try and take some pictures of the Southern Cross but since you can’t control the shutter on my phone I got about what I expected (once again I found myself wishing I had a better camera for this trip) but you can make out 5 of the 6 stars pretty well……

And here’s an interesting tidbit that you may or may not have known….The Southern Cross is actually part of the New Zealand flag…..

During my drive back I saw 4 wallabies (the first I had seen in NZ…NZ actually does not have very many land based animals) and a couple of possums (different than the North American possum).  And I stopped at least 3 times…in the middle of the road (I only passed 3 cars in 1:30 hours), got out and just stood (in the middle of the road) and looked up at the sky. 🙂   I just could not get enough…..WOW!

I arrived back at my room at around 12:30 again.  So as I anticipated, it was another long….but absolutely fulfilling and totally awesome, day!

Where Am I
(can you even see me…ha ha)

I woke this morning ready for a good day.  After the past 2.5 days of dealing with the wheel issue I was excited to have a day free from car worries.  I had another good chat with my host Morgan while making breakfast and said goodbye to Josh (the black lab) and the foster puppy who they are thinking of calling Pixel (I like that)…..

Josh in “his” chair
Pixel…too cute

Then I hit the road for the Otago Peninsula outside of Dunedin (WebGoogle) .

The Otago Peninsula (GoogleImages) has quite a few things to do but the most popular are the Royal Albatross Center at Harrington Point (WebImages) and Larnach Castle (WebImages).  I drove up to the castle but only had time for one of the other so I chose the Albatross Center at Harrington Point.

The Center was very interesting with a lot of information about the local wildlife (not just Albatross). I will admit that I do not know a great deal about the Albatross so I was very interested as I took the time to read most of the information in the Center.  A couple of items in particular stood out to me…..one was the enormous volume of plastic rubbish floating in our oceans (I saw this again at the Sydney aquarium) and the amount eaten by wildlife and the other was the extreme distances that Albatross’ fly (this I knew)…..up to 1000 km (621 miles) a day!

This is very sad
This was alarming

When I walked down to the observation point (a cliff into the ocean) I was not disappointed as there were several Albatross’ flying around (they are huge birds) and a few seals in the water below…..

I spent a couple of hours at the Center and walking around the point and ate lunch looking out over the ocean.  It was a nice afternoon…..

My plan at this point was to tour around Dunedin for a little while and then take my time driving up the coast to my Airbnb reservation for the evening in Timaru, about 2 hours north of Dunedin…..yeah, that was my plan.

It’s about a 40 minute drive from the Albatross Center to Dunedin CBD along a narrow, twisty road that follows the bay.  I was enjoying the drive when, about 10 minutes from Dunedin, my left tire clipped something sticking out from the side of the road and within 10 seconds I heard the “clump, clump, clump” of a flat tire.  I was like, “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!!”.  I thought, “This can’t be happening”.  But I pulled off on a side street and sure enough I had a small gash in the side of the tire. UGH!!!!!  I immediately knew I was in trouble because, although I was just minutes outside a rather sizable NZ town, it was 4 PM on a Saturday afternoon and I knew everything would be closed until Monday.  DOUBLE UGH!!!!!!

So I quickly changed to the trusty space saver (yeah, the one with almost 200 miles on it already) and began checking for “tyre” (recall this is what they call tires in NZ) stores on Google.  I found about 15 listing and began calling them in order hoping that maybe one of them would be open until 5 today.  The first 7 were no answer or answering machine telling me they were closed until Monday.  I finally got a live person who was the “on call” guy for a shop but he clearly did not want to sale me a tyre.  So he suggested another place I could call which I did but they only serviced fleet vehicles.  So I called the guy back and he suggested another place to call (I’m not sure why this guy was “on call” for his store). So I called the other guy and he answered immediately and said, “Yeah, we can definitely help you”….thank you Lord!!!!  He told me is on-call guy would call me within 5 minutes, which he did, and it just happened that he was already on his way to the store for another customer so I made arrangements to meet him there.

When I arrived he was opening the garage door and motioned for me to drive inside. I got out, told him how very happy I was to see him and shook his hand.  His name was Nathan and we immediately hit it off.  It took him about 30 minutes to change my tire and plug the other guys tire (he was lucky) and of course, we had a great conversation while this was happening.  I told him about my travels and where I was headed and he told me about the area and said, “There is a big Highlanders game this evening….you should go”.

The Highlanders are a Super Rugby team in Dunedin (WebGoogle).  They got their name from the Scottish immigrants that helped found the Otago, North Otago, and Southland regions in the 1840s and 1850s and they are the defending Super Rugby champions.  Nathan and the other customer talked about the team, their opponent (South African Lions) and their new indoor stadium.

I told him I thought that would be fun but I had another 2 hours of driving and this incident had set me behind, so maybe next time.  I paid my bill, we finished out conversation and said goodbye and once again I headed out into the world with a “sound” automobile.  So if you’re ever in Dunedin and find yourself with a tyre issue on a Saturday afternoon call the good folks at Treads Tyre Service.

At this point I was running late so instead of “touring” around Dunedin as previously planned I drove around quickly and checked out a few sites.  I passed by the new stadium (I was curious after the previous conversation) and it looked really nice.  There were people preparing for the evenings game and some fans had begun to show up.  I was really wishing I could attend the game as I had never seen a live professional Rugby match but I knew I still had a long drive so I got on the road heading north out of town.  But as I drove I kept thinking more and more about the game so about 10 minutes out of town I pulled over and (just out of curiosity) googled tickets to see how expensive they were. I found they were surprisingly cheap (by US professional game standards) and my decision became even tougher.

After a few minutes of deliberation I decided, “what the heck” and turned around and headed back into town.  I drove to the stadium, purchased a great mid-field ticket and headed to my seat.

Just before the game began 5 guys came up and sat on both sides of me.  I later learned they were friends who had season tickets for many years and one of their other friends used to have my seat but gave it up 2 years ago.  Now they have a different (usually foreign with no knowledge of rugby) in this seat at each game.  They were great guys and took the time to explain things throughout the game and had several good laughs at me. 🙂

Dunedin is a college town with one of the biggest “unis” (AU and NZ call universities “unis”) in NZ. The uni is just up the street from the stadium so they normally get a pretty large college crowd at the games and this one was no exception.  They have an area behind one goal that the guy sitting next to me referred to as the “zoo” where the students sit.  I was so much fun to watch and listen to them all night as they did their cheers and sung songs during the breaks in action on the field (just as they would at a college game in the US).  One song they did that I never expected to hear (I tried to get a video but I was too late) was Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker or Old Crow Medicine Show.  They sang ever word to the chorus as loud as they could….it was so much fun!!!! (“rock me baby like a south bound train…..”).  🙂

Both fun and informative 🙂

Needless to say I had a great time at the game and really enjoyed meeting and talking with the guys sitting next to me.  I was very glad I met Nathan and very glad I made the decision to stay in Dunedin for the game.  It was a fun night!

After the game I drove the remaining 2 hours to Tamiru and got to my room around 12:30.  The place I was staying was kind of like a hostel/hotel so I did not have to go into anyone’s home late at night and I had contacted my host before I went to the game just to make sure it would not be an issue.

So it began as a good day, got a little rough in the middle, but ended strong.  Thank you again Liam and Nathan!!!

Where Am I

Today I had one primary objective….make it to Invercargill (safely) and get the rim replaced.  Phil at Parts World had told me that the rim should arrive by 10 AM so I woke at 8, made/ate breakfast and had a nice chat with my host Morgan who I did not meet the night before.  Morgan was a very interesting young woman.  She is a French teacher and very interested in the French culture and France in general…..

She and her partner James were both from the Dunedin area (about 2 hours away) but she had recently accepted a new job and they will be moving to Auckland later this year.  To prepare for her new position she will travel to France for 2 months and she was very excited about this.  She is a very ambitious person and she was excited about the move and her new position and I got excited (for her) just talking with her about it.  James is a project manager for a company who handles the large power grids for New Zealand.  I got the feeling he is a little less excited about the move but was looking forward to the opportunities that Auckland had to offer.  I wasn’t able to get a read on how Josh (the dog) felt about the move but he seemed to be pretty easy going so I’m sure he’ll be fine. 🙂
After brekkie (recall this is what AU and NZ calls breakfast), I loaded up and began my 40 mile journey to Invercargill.  At this point I already over 130 miles on the space saver so I was a little concerned that I was pushing my luck.  I said a prayer before I left and hit the road (not literally this time :-).  
Fortunately the drive to Invercargill went fine and I made it to Parts World a few minutes after 10. I met Phil and true to his word he had the rim in hand (thank you Lord!).  He had told me that they would be able to change the tire (fortunately the tire (somehow) was not damaged) and he directed me down the street to their garage and told me a chap named William would assist me.  One really cool thing about NZ is they are definitely more trusting than much of the US. He put the wheel in my car and directed me down the street without payment. I like that.  
When I arrived at the garage I met William, a very nice guy from Tahiti.  While he worked on my wheel we had a very nice conversation (surprise right 🙂 in which he told me about his family in Tahiti and in the US (Seattle and Texas). He told me about his move to NZ and his life in NZ and showed me pictures of his mother and cousins. And after a few minutes he shared that his whole family were Christians (awesome!).  He showed me pictures of his uncle who was a pastor back in Tahiti and showed me the church that he leads.  It only took he 10 minutes or so to change the tire but we talked for probably 30.  What a great guy with a great heart for his family and the Lord.  Although I was of course not happy about what had led me here (busted wheel) I was so happy that God had led me to this particular place and allowed me to meet another great person in NZ.  I believe all things happen for a reason and this reason was starting to come clear.  
We spoke for a while and exchanged contact information.  Since I am planning a trip later this year to the Pacific Northwest I plan to keep in touch with William and maybe stay with his family in Seattle as they own a small hotel there.  How cool would that be?  
I said my goodbyes to William, returned to Phil, paid my bill and I was on my way with a new wheel. 
My new friend William

You see what..eh happened was…..
I left Invercargill and headed southeast toward the Catlins Conservation Park (Google) on my way to Slope Point (the most southern point in NZ).  
I after a rather long drive on a gravel road (btw, google maps makes no distinction between paved (what they call “sealed”) roads and gravel roads and many fairly “major” roads in NZ are gravel) I arrived at Slope Point (WebGoogle).  After having been to the southern most point in Tasmania (AU) Slope Point was on my list of places in New Zealand.  As it was in Tasmania, it was pretty cool looking out over the Southern Ocean and knowing that the next piece of land was Antarctica….

While I was walking around Slope Point I met a group of students from the US who were all doing exchange studies in Dunedin.  They were from all over the US and had only recently met when they arrived in NZ for school. We had a brief but nice chat as we walked the 10 minutes back to the parking lot.
From here I traveled 10 km further east to a place called Curio Bay (WebGoogleImages).  Curio Bay is well known for 4 things….beautiful beach, wildlife, surfing and a petrified forest that is estimated to be 180 million years old.  The first thing that struck me was the beautiful beach and cliffs overlooking the ocean with huge waves crashing over the rocks (the rainbow below was from the spray coming up from the waves on the rocks….really cool)……

I walked around the top of the hill and down the other side and found these little guys drying off and stretching on the rocks…..

Note:  For those who have been asking for pictures of penguins there are many more on the “View Photos” link to the right.
I spent quite a bit of time walking around, sitting and just taking it all in.  The bay is well known for having a small school of Hector dolphins and being the home to New Zealand sea lions and there were several people sitting on the benches looking for them but unfortunately I didn’t see any of them the 2-3 hours I was there.
When I walked back to the hill area I came across these little guys (I literally almost stepped on the one laying in the grass)…..

These are known as yellow-eyed penguins or hoioho and they are native to this area. They are one of the rarest penguins in the world and (unfortunately) their numbers are decreasing due to human clearing of coastal forest in which the penguins nest. 🙁
I stayed at Curio Bay until almost sunset waiting to see if the dolphins or sea lions would return (they normally go to sea to fish during the day and return to the bay around dusk) but I had a 2 hour drive back to Gore and wanted to try and get back before all the restaurants closed at 8 so I reluctantly said goodbye to Curio Bay and headed back toward Gore.
Where Am I

My day began exactly where it left off with my the quest for a wheel. I got up, made/ate breakfast, checked out and drove back to the garage.  David, the guy I had been working with the day before was out on a call and they said he should be back in 10-15 minutes.  While I waited I received a call from the guy at Nissan.  He told me they could not get the wheel from Auckland before Monday….strike 2….

When David returned he called the distributor in Invercargill while I paced and prayed.  He spoke with him for a minute and said, “ok, let me put you on with the customer”.  He handed me the phone and I said hello to Phil who said……(wait for it :-)….he had found a wheel on the South Island (YAY)! However, he could not get it until tomorrow (Friday) AND I would have to get the car to Invercargill…..120 miles away….ugh!  I had already put over 50 miles on the space saver, there was not much between Te Anau and Invercargill and I had no spare at this point.  So if this tire didn’t make it I would be stuck on the side of the road.

I had an Airbnb room already reserved in Gore which was 80 miles from Te Anau and about 40 miles north of Invercargill.  I had contacted my host in Gore the previous night and made them aware of my situation and told them I didn’t know if I would make it or not and I would contact them today.  So since I couldn’t get the wheel until tomorrow and I couldn’t continue with my original plans for the day to go further south into the Fiordland National Park (WebGoogle, Images). I decided to take a little time and walk around Te Anau and think and pray about what I should do.

Te Anau is actually a pretty cool town (WebGoogleImages).  It’s a busy tourist and backpacking town due to it’s location at the mid point of the Fiordland National Park and it’s proximity to two of New Zealand’s Great Walks….the Milford Track (WebGoogleImages) and the Kepler Track (WebGoogleImages).  Te Anau sits on the East bank Lake Te Anau and it is very pretty…..

After walking around Te Anau for an hour or so and sending a couple of post cards I decided I would try and make it the 80 miles to Gore and, if everything went well, I would drive the remaining 40 miles to Invercargill tomorrow morning.  It was mid-morning and I wanted to leave plenty of time and daylight just in case I did have any problems. So I took off to Gore.

As I did yesterday I took it easy, kept it around 85 kmh (52 mph) and prayed.  About halfway to Gore I passed a backpacker looking for a ride.  I told him I could take him as far as Gore….as long as my tire held out 🙂 and he was happy.  He was a very nice guy from Belgium.  His name was Bernie, he was probably early 20’s and he had been traveling in New Zealand for 4 months.  He reminded me of some of my younger friends in Switzerland.  He told me that he was leaving to go home in a couple of weeks and he had a few more places he wanted to see before he left.  We had a nice conversation for the next 45 minutes or so and it helped to take my mind off of the tire. He told me how he had been robbed a few weeks earlier by a young New Zealander.  The police caught him and Bernie managed to get some of his stuff back but he had lost his laptop that had all of his photographs for the past 4 months.  I really felt for him as I know how many irreplaceable pictures I have taken since I’ve been here.  We talked more and before I knew it we were coming into Gore.  I took Bernie to the other side of town and dropped him off on the main road toward the south.  After getting his gear out of the back and taking a quick picture he was on his way and I turned back to town to find my Airbnb for the evening.

Bernie and me in Gore NZ

After dropping Bernie off I found my room for the evening, dropped off my gear and headed to town to find some dinner.  I had a pretty good meal at the Thai restaurant in town and headed back to my room where I met one of my host James, their black lab named Josh and a black puppy they were fostering.  I’m not intentionally choosing places with dogs but it’s really funny how many of them have had at least one or more.  It’s been great for me because I love dogs and I really miss Jack (my dog) :-(…..

After a good conversation with James and playing with dogs for a while I turned in for the evening.

Where Am I

My morning began very early (well, very early for me).  I had booked a cruise on Milford Sound (WebGoogleImages) at 9:45.  Unfortunately, there is only one place to stay in Milford sound and unless you book a year in advance the next closest place is Te Anau….a 2 hour drive. So, I woke at 6AM, ate a quick breakfast and hit the road.

So anyone who knows me knows that I am not at all a morning person. 🙂  With that said, I will say that I can, and do, very much appreciate the nice things early morning has to offer….like watching the sun come up over the distant mountains and the morning light as it breaks over fog covered lakes and dew covered meadows. I’m very glad I left early and gave myself plenty of time because I must have stopped 15 times to take pictures and just to gaze in amazement at the beauty before me…..

The drive to Milford Sound goes through some high mountains, several glaciers and a long tunnel.  The road reminded me very much of the mountain roads in NC and Europe….very sharp curves and a LOT of them.  This particular drive is made even more challenging by the large volume of tour buses going back and forth all day.  Despite all of that, it was a very beautiful drive and I was very excited.

Once you pass through the tunnel you descend quickly back to sea level and enter the Sound.  I actually learned later (during the cruise) that the Milford area is technically a “Fjord” and not a Sound.  “A Sound is created by a river, a Fjord is created by a Glacier. When Milford Sound was discovered it was mistakenly named a Sound because it was thought it had been created by a river. However it was really created by huge Glaciers, which carved through the rocks to create the dramatic rock formations of the mountains.”

Once you arrive in Milford Sound it’s a 10 minute walk from the parking area to the port.  During my walk I got my first glimpse of Milford Sound (below) as well as sign that I just had to photograph and include (recall my blog on Day 32 – The Attack of the Sandflies)….they are truly horrible!  🙂

I arrived at the Milford Sound center on time and while I was waiting for them to load us on the boat I met a great couple named Matt & Laura from Vermont. They were a nice couple who were in New Zealand on vacation for 2 weeks.  We boarded the boat and headed out into the Sound.

Matt & Laura
Milford Sound is amazing :-)!  Within 2 minutes of leaving the harbor you’re surrounded by scenery that just blows you away.  The guide on the boat said while there are 2 permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound there are….I can’t recall the number but it was in the hundreds (or maybe over 1000) waterfalls draining into the Sound when it rains….which apparently it does a lot.  But not this morning….it was gorgeous!

Just to provide a little scale…..the picture below appears to be a small waterfall.  However, it’s not until you see it with a large tour boat next to it that you really begin to realize the enormity of the Sound and everything in it.  Our tour guide told us that this “small” waterfall is actually as high as a 70 story building….

Milford Sound is yet another place, on the very long list of places around the South Pacific, that is created to being discovered by Captain Cook. Our tour guide told us an interesting story of how Captain Cook created a Spruce Beer that his sailors would drink to prevent scurvy.  It’s actually documented (Web) and the recipe he used is still being brewed in New Zealand today.  So I was standing at the bow of the boat enjoying the scenery when my new friend Matt tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a genuine Captain Cook recipe Spruce beer.  I looked at my watch and low and behold it was a quarter of five….US east coast time!  So I guess Alan Jackson’s song is true…it is always 5 o’clock somewhere.  😉
It was Delicious
We continued our cruise until we reached the end of the Sound and entered the Tasman sea and turned back into the Sound. Matt, Laura and I had some great conversations and I really enjoyed getting to know them.  On the way back we passed a few places with fur seals warming themselves in the morning sun…

And one of the glaciers that feeds Milford Sound….
And the waterfalls….

And one last look before we headed back into port…..

When we returned to the port Matt, Laura and I walked back to the parking area, said our goodbyes and I headed our own way.  It was only noon (another benefit of being an early riser) and I headed back to the mountain pass just beyond the tunnel to take a great hike to either the Key Summit or Gertrude[s Saddle with a fantastic view of the sound.  I started driving back up the steep, winding mountain road excited to start my hike…..but I spent 1 second too long looking up at one of the mountains I was headed to and BAM, I hit a small concrete curb that was literally 2 inches off the side of the road and I knew immediately this was not good. 
I pulled over (as best I could on this narrow road) and when I got out I found the left front wheel was badly damaged….UGH!  I turned around and nursed the car back to a pull off where I changed to the space saver and headed back up the mountain.  
When I reached the place where I was going to hike I pulled off and considered my options.  I still had a 1.5 hour drive (2 hours with the space saver) back to Te Anau.  One the one hand I could stay and do the hike as planned since I knew there was no way they were going to have the wheel in Te Anau.  However, it was Wednesday afternoon and if expecting they would need to order it and get it delivered the next day I would probably lose another day if I did not make it back to Te Anau before everything closed at 5.  After a painful deliberation (I was REALLY looking forward to this hike and view) I decided to head back to Te Anau and see if someone could order the wheel for tomorrow. 
The trailhead for my afternoon hike
Now, if you don’t know anything about using a space saver tire (or tyre as they spell it in NZ and AU) you are not supposed to drive it over 50 or so and should not drive it any further than necessary to get it replaced (no more than 60 – 70 miles or so) and it was 50 miles back to Te Anau.  I took my time, let a lot of cars pass and made it back to Te Anau around 4 pm and stopped at the first garage I came to.  As expected, they did not have the wheel and did not think anyone in Te Anau would.  So they called a used parts distributor in Invercargill (I larger city to the South)….and they did not have the wheel….uh oh.  So he sent me to another garage in Te Anau. They did not have the wheel and called the same parts distributor in Invercargill :-(.  At this point they said, “I don’t know where you’re going to find that wheel in the South Island”….oh crap! 
So I asked if they could call a Nissan dealership.  They did and the Nissan dealer did not have the wheel.  He checked and there was one in Auckland (on the North Island) but he didn’t know if they could get it to them before the weekend….and nothing happens on the weekend.  At this point I was really concerned.  Not only did I have plans for the next few days but I had to be back in Christchurch on Monday to fly to Auckland, and I was 7.5 hours from Christchurch with a space saver that certainly would not make it that far.  I gave the guy at Nissan my number and he said he would call me in the morning to let me know if they could get it before the weekend.  We also called the used parts distributor back and asked him to do a search around the South Island tomorrow morning.  He said to call him back at 10 AM the next morning.  So at this point I knew I had lost at least one day (tomorrow) but that was all I could do today.
Now by this point you’re probably thinking, “isn’t this a rental car….won’t the rental car company take care of this”….one would think right?  Well, I rented the car from a local NZ company and not one of the large international companies (a mistake I will not soon make again) and I knew, as per my rental contract, that I was responsible for any damage I did to the car, no problem. I called the rental agency while I was at the first garage and their basic response was, “we’re in Christchurch, there’s nothing we can do to help you in Te Anau, take it to a garage”.  As my good friend Rob Mergen likes to quote from that great classic Caddyshack, “Well tanx for nuttin” (said with a thick Irish brogue). So at that point I knew I was on my own.
Fortunately I had previously planned to stay in Te Anau this evening so I had a place to sleep (everything in Te Anau was booked). So I went back to my place, made dinner and began searching the internet for parts distributors in the South Island (the garages recommendation).  I sent my friend Jon in Greymouth (Day 30 – Cross the Great Divide) an email to see if he had any suggestions.  He called me about an hour later and told me that I should be able to find it somewhere in Gore (my next scheduled destination) or Invercargill.  He said someone in Greymouth might have one but it that of course would do me no good.  It was nice to speak with him again and he gave me some hope that I would find one.
So I finished putting together a list of parts distributors and turned in for the night.
Where Am I

When we left off yesterday I was none to happy that I had mistaken the location of my accommodations and therefore underestimated the amount time to travel between Wanaka and Kinloch (vs Glenorchy). It was dark and raining when I arrive in Kinloch the night before so course I had no idea of the landscape on my drive in or what the area I was staying looked like…..until morning.

I stayed in the Kinloch lodge. It is a combination B&B with a nice restaurant and a backpackers YHA (youth hostel accommodations).  Kinloch is very close to several of most famous tracks (trails) in New Zealand so many backpackers pass through and stay here as a “rest day” between Wanaka and Milford Sound. It’s a pretty lodge on the edge of the lake…..  
When I woke up and walked outside the skies were clear, the sun was shining, the lake (100′ from the B&B) was sparkling and the mountains (on the other side of the lake) were beautiful.  So the extra drive last night was worth it. I made/ate breakfast, loaded up the car and spent a little time on the computer in the dining area trying to map out my “agenda” (I use that term loosely) for the day.  
If you look on a map Glenorchy is pretty much in the middle of nowhere (and Kinloch doesn’t even show up on a map :-)…..
So why did I come here….good question.  Another Stephen “secret” for those of you who actually take the time to read this…..I will confess, I am a Lord of the Rings fan (as I know several of you are as well).  I have to further confess that when I begin to think about coming to New Zealand I knew from the get go that I wanted to visit some of the areas where they filmed the movie (as I did when I visited several of the Braveheart locations in Scotland several years ago).  And several of the scenes in the LOTR were filmed in the Glenorchy/Kinloch areas. In studying LOTR locations I knew that the Glenorchy area was very beautiful and it definitely did not disappoint….

The first LOTR location that I came to in this area (I’ve seen others in my travels before Glenorchy) was the valley in Middle-earth where Isengard was located.  Of course in the movie Isengard was a very dark and morbid place which is nothing like the actually location on  bright sunny day; however, if you look at the pictures from the movie you can definitely see it’s the same place…

Next I drove for a while on a gravel road called the Glenorchy-Paradise Rd.  It was appropriately named because it goes right through the middle of a place called Paradise (Google). From what I could tell Paradise NZ consisted of 2 house, a lot of pasture land, a lot of sheep and cattle and some magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.  And it’s probably also one of the biggest film making locations in New Zealand.  Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the movies, speaking of Paradise said, “This is the Middle-earth I had always pictured”….

I was driving to try and get a good view of Mt Earnslaw.  Mt. Earnslaw was used as the fictional Caradhas where the party passed in a snowstorm in the Fellowship of the Rings.  This is the best view I was able to get as unfortunately didn’t have time for a 4-5 hour hike today 🙁 (it’s the snow covered mountain on the right in the picture above)…..

After coming to a ford that was too deep to drive through, “You…Shall…Not…Pass” 🙂 (my fellow LOTR fans will recognize that), I turned around to drive back and just before reaching Paradise I spotted some trucks and confirmed with someone in town later that it was a film crew making a movie. After that I passed through the forest that was used as Lothlorien when the fellowship fought as they ran toward the river, so I snapped a couple of pictures of that as well…..

Before I left the Glenorchy area I stopped and snapped a few more pictures of this amazing 🙂 valley and mountains.  If  you like beautiful mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers it is Paradise….

I stopped to have lunch in Glenorchy and spent the rest of the late afternoon driving back through Queensland on my way to Te Anau.  It was a beautiful drive around the very long, emerald waters of Lake Wakatipu (Google).

Where Am I

Today my agenda included hiking the track that I did not make yesterday afternoon and then driving to my next destination Glenorchy.  I slept a little later than usual, got up and made breakfast and had a nice chat with the other guest who are from England.  My neighbors in PA are from England and this was the second English couple who had stayed here in two nights. This couple was actually doing a reconnaissance mission as they are planning to move to Wellington (New Zealand’s second largest city) in a few months.

After brekkie I loaded up the car and did the 20 minute drive to Mt. Roy (Web Page), my hike for the day.
I loaded my backpack with water, snacks and lunch, crossed over the fence and started up.  My host had warned me that this was a good pull and that it would be crowded.  Also, I had seen the mountain yesterday on my way to Rob Roy glacier and it (Mt. Roy) was completely barren with no trees and no green grass. To be honest I would have preferred another hike but this one was very close and had a good view at the top so I settled on it.
View from the bottom

The first 30 minutes or so was steep but mostly pleasant as I got my rhythm. I have to admit though, after about 45 minutes of nothing but straight up, in the sun, with no trees or green vegetation anywhere and no streams or rocks or anything to break up the monotony, I was getting pretty tired of this mountain and this climb.  From about halfway (where I was at 45 minutes) on up I had a very nice view of Lake Wanaka and the town of Wanaka and stopped a few times just to admire it.  

There were quite a few people going up and down but I had my earphones on (I was in “work” mode 🙂 so I nodded and said “hi” to everyone as they passed but kept going.  There were also sheep every now and then to keep weary hikers company; although I’m sure they were thinking, “stupid humans”  🙂  After the halfway point I begin seeing more and more people crashed out on the side of the trail resting, laying and sleeping. ha ha  It was hard not to join them. 🙂
As long as I’ve been hiking I can never recall having ever abandoned a hike short of the summit, but I have to confess that the thought did cross my mind more than once on this climb….more than once. But, I kept pressing on.
Eventually, after about 1:20 of straight climbing I was close enough to the top to actually see the summit.

At this point the trail split with the right side being more gradual and longer and the left being more direct straight up the ridge. Although the more gradual route was appealing my desire to get to the top ASAP won out so up the ridge line I went….

After about 10 more minutes of hard climbing I finally reached the summit and, as hoped, the view was stunning…..

After a few pictures I walked around to the other side and saw a couple and the girl had a UNC hat on so of course I had to ask where they were from. 🙂  Turns out they were not only Carolina fans but they actually live in Chapel Hill (for those who may not know the university of North Carolina is in Chapel Hill). So of course we had plenty to talk about and did for 15 minutes or so.  They were a really nice couple….

After eating lunch I took a couple of more pictures and started back down.  For those who hike you know that going down is sometimes as difficult (or more) than going up.  While not as physically exhausting you really have to watch your step on the very steep stuff or you’ll end up going to the bottom like a bowling ball….and that’s never a good thing.  🙂

After about an hour I made it back to my car and I set off for Glenorchy (GoogleImages), about 2 hours away.  I decided to take the Crown Range Highway (Web Page) to get some good views of from this famous mountain pass.  There was also a mountain along the way from which you could see some of the landscape where they filmed The Lord of the Rings.  But unfortunately about 20 miles outside of Wanaka it began raining hard with really low clouds so I knew driving to a mountain top in this would be a waste of time.  So I drove through to Queenstown (GoogleImages).

It was still raining when I arrived in Queenstown and about 5:30 so traffic was really bad. Queenstown is a nice, larger (by NZ standards) town with just about everything you need.  It is also a huge “outdoor” town and hosts many, many, many tourist, backpackers and hikers.  Queenstown was basically built in a gorge that opens into the ginormous Lake Wakatipu (Google).   Unfortunately there is no other way to get to Glenorchy than to go straight through Queenstown so I sat in traffic. Anticipating that there would potentially be no restaurants and knowing there would be no groceries in Glenorchy (I was booked at a hostel) I stopped in Queenstown to get some food for breakfast.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I also stopped for dinner at Burger King (they are called Burger King in NZ unlike AU) because they had free wi-fi and I didn’t think I would have any wi-fi or cell coverage in Glenorchy.

So about 7:30 I started the 45 minute trip to Glenorchy. The drive was nice and very curvy going around the lake (it reminded me of the Great Ocean Road in AU).  It had stopped raining but the clouds were still low on the mountains in the distance.  Considering this is the area where quite a bit of the Lord of the Rings was filmed it seemed kind of fitting that the mountains would be shrouded in clouds….

I finally reached Glenorchy just before dark.  I drove around thinking my lodge would be easy to find, since there are only 2 streets and about 8 buildings in Glenorchy, but for some reason I just couldn’t find it.  So after a few minutes I checked my phone (thankfully I had signal) and I discovered that my lodge was not actually in Glenorchy but was in Kinloch 25km (15.5 miles) further….UGH!!!!  By this time it was dark, I was very tired and it was raining again. I was not a happy camper but the only person I could be mad at was myself.  So, I turned left (on the only highway in Glenorchy) and headed to Kinloch.

Kinloch (Google) basically consists of the Kinloch lodge (where I stayed) and that’s it! It’s both a regular B&B and a backpackers hostel and it seemed to have a nice restaurant.  Anyway, I checked in, found my bed and my suite mates and went to the dining area with my laptop (fortunately they had wi-fi) to work on the blog and try and figure out what I am doing tomorrow in the land of Middle Earth. 🙂

Where Am I

I began my day with a short chat with my Airbnb host Dan while I made breakfast in his kitchen. Dan is a very interesting guy.  He’s 34 but has already retired from the New Zealand military where he was a helicopter pilot.  He and his wife used to live in Wellinton (the 2 largest city in New Zealand) but because of their passion for the outdoors they moved to Wanaka just last year. They are into just about every outdoor sport you can think of….my kind of people.  🙂

His wife is a doctor and he is currently working as a canyon guide and as of this week, an Airbnb host.  I, along with the couple from England in the other room, were actually their first Airbnb guests. I thought that was pretty cool. They have a great home and Dan did a fantastic job as an Airbnb host. I have no doubt they will be very successful with this evidenced by the fact that they were already booked solid for the next 2 weeks (I stayed 2 nights and actually wanted to stay another).
After breakfast I loaded up and took off to hike to the Rob Roy glacier. My intention for the day was to hike both the Rob Roy glacier and Mt. Roy on the way back to Wanaka with the Rob Roy glacier first.  
The trailhead for the glacier hike is about an hour outside of Wanaka.  This I was aware of.  What I was not aware of is that most of the drive (25km) is on what they call in New Zealand, an unsealed road (gravel). For the most part the road was good with a couple of bad spots and several fords (water crossings)….

Shhh…don’t tell the rental company. 🙂
It was a beautiful drive and I stopped several times to take pictures….

After about an hour I reached the trailhead parking area, packed my backpack and headed out. The trail began with a water crossing over a suspension bridge (they like those in NZ)….
After the bridge the trail immediately went into thick woods and stayed that way pretty much for the next hour.  It was a good trail.  Steep in places but not for too long.  I passed several people on my way up and about half way I passed a man wearing a TCU (Texas Christian University) shirt.  I asked him where he was from and he said, originally Texas but we’ve lived in Pennsylvania for the past 21 years.  I said, “oh yeah, where” and he said, “Audubon outside of Philadelphia”.  I said, “No way, I live in West Chester” (for my non-PA friends Audubon is probably 15-20 miles from West Chester. they are both suburbs of Philly).  About that time his wife and son caught up to us and he said, “he’s from West Chester”.  Their story is that their son Wade has been traveling for the past year in Southern Asia and now Asia Pacific. He has been living/working in NZ for the past 6 months and they flew down to visit him. We talked for about 10 minutes (several of the people I had passed re-passed me 🙂 and Wade gave me some good suggestions for my North island trip.  I didn’t get their first names but their last name is Million.  So their son is Wade Million.  I said, “Who knows, maybe someone following my blog knows you”….
We had a good conversation and told them maybe we’d talk some more at the top and took off to re-pass the people who had re-passed me. ha ha
After probably 10 more minutes I reached the lower glacier observation point.  From there you could see the bottom of the glacier and a beautiful water fall. I didn’t know anything about the lower or upper observation points other than the fact that there was another observation point and I needed to see it. 🙂  So I took a couple of pictures and then hit the trail for the upper observation point.
After 10 minutes I came to place where a large rock slide had cleared the trees for 30 yards or so.  On the right I saw some awesome mountain peaks directly above me and said (out loud), “Wow”! I grabbed my phone and started taking pictures. After a minute of standing there I noticed something to my left out of the corner of my eye and when I turned, strictly by spontaneous reaction, I said very loudly, “Oh My Gosh”!  At that very moment, 3 girls came hiking out of the woods across the 30 yards or so and started laughing and I knew immediately they were laughing at me. It was very funny.  I was so focused on the mountain peaks I saw to my right that I totally missed the magnificent waterfall and glacier on my left.  I was totally blown away!  
Mtn peaks to my right
Waterfall to my left

As the girls passed I told them what had happened and they said they did the same thing only their word was “Wow”!  We agreed that it was definitely “Wow” and/or an “Oh My Gosh” worthy.  🙂  They said, “if you think that’s good just wait”.  But I seriously could not imagine it getting better. At this point a girl who I had passed back and forth for the entire hike walked up and said, “Wow”!…seriously (for those who hike you know that it’s normal on long hikes to go back and forth around people who hike around your pace).  Of course I laughed and told her what had just happened with the other 3 girls and we both laughed.  I named this my “Oh My Gosh” spot and moved on up the trail.
After 7 more minutes or so I finally came to a clearing at the end, climbed some rocks and BAM…there it was…right in front of me…and I literally could not believe my eyes.  What I was looking at was literally unbelievable.  I climbed on a rock and started taking pictures and videos.  I climbed to another rock and took some more and then another rock with more and then…. :-).  I was totally in awe….

Rob Roy Glacier
By this time the girl who had been hiking around me showed up and she had the same reaction I did…”WOW”.  I told her about my blog and how I had started the one from Franz Josef glacier with “WOW”.  We talked for a few minutes and I found out that she was from Barcolona, Spain and she had been traveling for about a year.  Her name was Sofia and she was in NZ on a work visa.  She had worked on the North island for 4 months and was now traveling the south island for 2 months before she has to go back to work. Working to save travel money, traveling until it runs out and then working again is very common with “long duration” travelers. We talked for a few minutes and then I climbed up to a large rock and set a “table” for lunch….

And after lunch, of course I was thirsty and needed a drink….but where could I possibly get some cold, clean, refreshing water….

So as mentioned in the beginning I was planning to do this hike and then do Mt. Roy on the way back. However, as I sat there eating my lunch I realized with every passing minute that was not going to happen.  I literally could not make myself leave.  The scene in front of me just drew me in. Sitting there watching 15 waterfalls with the wind blowing a couple of them back and worth and listening to all of that falling water was just <mesmerizing>, intoxicating, calming, soothing, etc., etc. and I just couldn’t get myself to leave…or even move for that matter.  So you know what….I didn’t!  🙂

I sat there for a long while and then spent some time speaking with Sofia again.  Wade joined us after a while and the 3 of us spoke for a while. As with many (most) of my conversations over the past 5 weeks we spoke about a lot of different things…from travel (of course), family, politics (everyone seems to know about US politics) and several other things.  We spent the most time talking about something that is very dear to me and that I am a believe in very strongly….how one of the great things traveling and meeting people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds is that you learn that people are basically all the same (at our core) regardless of where they are from.  We all basically have the same needs, desires, fears, etc. When you take the time to sit with someone from a different country/culture/background and show a <genuane> interest in them and really take the time to get to know them with an open mind you quickly find that you have so much in common…it’s really amazing (there’s my word and this time I’m using it to describe people). In case you haven’t caught on by now, traveling to me is not just about the places and the things. A HUGE part of it (for me) is the people that you meet and (if lucky) get an oppertunity to know on a small level.  Seriously, just think about all of the people I have met on this trip (and written about). It’s not just happenstance. I mean sure, me running into someone from PA on a hike or a UNC fan on the top of a mountain (tomorrow), maybe that’s just happenstance.  But it’s not just happenstance that I keep meeting all of these interesting people and having these great conversations because I’m open to it and seeking it out.

I believe that God puts people in our lives for a reason. Some people are in our lives for our entire lives…others may only be around us for a 10 minute conversation on a bus or a 2 hour conversation on a rock, but regardless of the length of time, I believe there is a purpose for them “touching” our lives.  And I think there is something to be gleaned from each and every one of those encounters…however brief or long. I think our job is just to be open minded and available when I happens. Anyway, it was another great conversation in another amazing location.

We talked for a while and I decided to hike a little further and get some more pictures/videos of the upper falls. After that it was my intention to leave but as I started down the trail I saw another rock that was just calling my name and I had to sit for a while longer. When I finally managed to pull myself away I realized that it had been over 3 hours since I arrived at this place….it seriously seemed like 15 minutes.

Sofia had been sitting further up the trail and we had told each other good bye earlier but as she was walking down the trail to leave she saw me and asked if I wanted her to take some pictures of me so I said sure….


After that we both hiked out and chatted a little more on the way.  When we got back to the parking area we told each other how much we had enjoyed the conversation and said our good byes.  She had a camper van and was planning to stay there for the night (I was sooo jealous as that would have been a spectacular place to stay) and I started the 1 hour drive back to Wanaka.

I drove to my place, washed and changed quickly and headed back into town for some dinner.  I decided on a Mexican restaurant and ordered casadias.  When they arrived I asked if they had any hot sauce.  The manager came out carrying 5 different bottles (yeah baby…this is my kind of place).  Two were the in-house sauces and the other 3 were purchased at varying levels of heat.  He said, “we have one more if these are not hot enough for you. we keep it around just in case but I hesitate to give it to anyone because it comes with a warning label and can do serious damage”.  Of course I said, “Bring it on”….just kidding. 🙂  I ended up mixing 3 of the ones he had brought and my dinner was delicious!  Oh, and my waiter was from Texas.  ha ha

After that I went home and stayed up until 2 (again) writing my blog. 🙂  Speaking of which, good night all.

Where Am I

As we all know weather people are wrong what, at least 50% of the time?  Well, today was the other 50% (when they are right).  When I woke this morning it was raining and nasty….just as they had predicted. My intention for today was to hike Fox Glacier; however, I had already decided that if it was raining with low clouds (as it was today) I was going to skip the hike as there would be absolutely nothing to see……

So I got up, made/ate breakfast, checked out of my room, loaded the car and sat in the lodge and made good use of my free wi-fi by catching up on 2 days of blogs.  According to Google maps I had a 3:30 hour drive to my next destination Wanaka, so I was in no hurry.  I finished the 2 blog around 12:45, filled the car with gas and decided to have lunch at a local cafe before leaving.  I got on the road around 2:30 and expected to be in Wanaka around 6, just as I had told my host.

I started driving and everything was going as planned.  I stopped and read some information placards when I passed through Fox Glacier and dreamed of what could have been. ha ha

Just for fun I drove to the view point
This was the “view” today. 🙂

Then I got back on the road.  Somewhere after Fox Glacier I passed a hitchhiker standing in the rain, in the middle of nowhere, with a backpack. At first I thought this was odd then I thought it may have been someone I saw at the hostel in Franz Josef the night before.  Regardless, I couldn’t leave them standing in the rain, in the middle of nowhere.  So I turned around and went back.

Now I know what some of you are thinking and no, although I have been known to pick up a few people in the US in the right circumstances, it’s not something that I do every time or even often. However, hitchhiking in most of the rest of the world is different than the US. Especially when it’s in a heavy outdoor/tourist/backpacker area like the Southern Alps region of New Zealand (I’m sure Mike Tanis knows what I’m talking about). Even though, I will confess to having some hesitation but I felt it was the right thing to do.

When I got back I discovered it was a girl (I couldn’t tell with the rain hood).  She had been back country hiking, got tired of the rain (being a backpacker I can totally relate) and had just hiked out to the nearest road. I told her I was headed to Wanaka and she said she was as well.  So I got out to open the trunk and help her load her gear.

I had just put the last piece of gear (her tent I think) in the trunk when I felt something biting my right leg.  I looked down to see my legs (I was wearing shorts and flip-flops) covered with black flies and by this point I was feeling a lot of bites.  I started swatting and knocking them away and ran for the car.  She got in the other side and we sat there for a couple of minutes killing black flies as a ton of them had followed me into the car.  We took off and continued to kill more flies for at least 5 miles. By this time I had dozens of red bite marks all over my legs and then the itching began.  It was, with out a doubt, the worst itching I have ever experienced in my life!  Oh my gosh, I was going out of my mind.  I had some cream in my bag and put that on but the itching did not stop.  I scratched and scratched and scratched non-stop for literally the next hour.  Finally after an hour or so most of the itching subsided but the red bite marks were all over my legs.

She told me they were called Sand Flies, that they do of course bite, but they were harmless as they do not carry anything like mosquitoes.  She said she had been bitten before but that she did not have the itching like I was having.  Oh well, no good deed will be left unpunished huh?  🙂

So my “guest” and I began to talk (in between me telling her how bad I was itching 🙂 and I found out her name was Maiwenn and she was from France.  She had always had a dream to travel alone (specifically alone) and she had been traveling for (I believe) 4 or 5 months.  Over the next few hours we talked about everything from our families to politics to careers and of course lots of talk about travel. She said she was going to try and find a job in Wanaka or Queenstown to work through the winter so she would be able to stay in New Zealand.

I passed a couple of places along the way where I would have liked to have stopped for pictures but I saw people swatting at something (I presumed they were sandflies) so I stayed in the car and kept driving.  I told Maiwenn they couldn’t pay me enough to get out with these flies around. 🙂

By this time the steady rain from the morning had changed to small pockets here and there and it was definitively getting better as I drove further south.  As I passed pull off spots I noticed that no one was swatting so I assumed we had left the flies behind and it was now safe to exit the car.  🙂  So I pulled off at a couple of beautiful waterfalls and scenery to take some pictures….

As I continued to drive south I entered the area between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.  This was a very beautiful area and I found myself stopping about every 1/2 mile to take pictures.  🙂  Here are a few with many more on the blog site (notice the beautiful turquoise color of the lakes)…..

We finally made it to Wanaka about 2 hours later than I anticipated (from all the picture stops around the lake, ha ha).  It was about 7:45 and I’ve learned in AU and NZ that even in the larger towns, many (or all) of the restaurants stop serving dinner at 8.  So the first order of business (since I had no lunch) was to find dinner.  Maiwenn wanted fish & chips but I wanted something else so Maiwenn ate her dinner while I was looking around Wanaka for a restaurant.  I chose Korean (of course I thought of my great friend Young) and Maiwenn and I said our good byes.  I finished a great dinner….

I made another lap around the very picturesque town of Wanaka and headed to my Airbnb room for the evening.

Where Am I

WOW!  What a day!  And I’ll say it again….WOW!  When I woke this morning I honestly had no idea what I was going to do today and literally knew nothing about any of the things that I ended up doing…..and WOW, what a day!!!  🙂

So I guess it’s fair to say that today actually began last night; although I didn’t know it at the time. Let me explain…..last night I arrived in Franz Josef village and checked into my room. I was staying at a hostel in a four bed shared room (I’ve been mixing between hostels and Airbnb depending on availability) and one of my suite mates was talking about what she was doing the next day (for those who may never have traveled outside the US and/or stayed in a hostel (I’ve stayed in quite a few, mostly in Europe) it’s not uncommon to have “mixed” suites (men and women)).  She mentioned she was taking a helicopter to view the glacier.  At the time I didn’t think anything of it as I planned to hike to the glacier viewing area.
When I woke this morning I checked the weather forecast and it called for mostly sunny this morning with a chance of rain in the afternoon and rain for the next 3 days!  I was like ugh, there go the mountain views.  So I got up and ate breakfast and headed to the village information center.  I have to say this is one area (among many) where New Zealand really have it together.  Since the tourist industry in NZ is such a large part of their economy they really go above and beyond to assist travelers….even lowly backpackers staying in hostels.  🙂  Throughout NZ they have these centers marked with a blue lower case “i”.  The people here are very knowledgeable about their areas and can assist with accommodations, site seeing bookings, trail (or as they say in NZ track) suggestions, etc. 
So, I went to the “i” and assuming everything would already be booked for the day asked if there was any chance of getting a helicopter ride today.  He said, “yeah, you should be able to get something today, what time did you want to go”.  I said, the sooner the better (knowing the weather was supposed to get worse in the afternoon).  He suggested a local (NZ) owned company and showed me their different packages.  They had one that went to Franz Josef Glacier, landed on the glacier and returned.  One that did only Fox Glacier.  One that did both….and one that did both plus flew over the entire divide with up close views of Mt. Tasman (GoogleImages), NZ second highest peak (11,473 ft) and Mt. Cook (GoogleImages), NZ highest peak (12,218 ft).  Since seeing Mt. Cook was literally at the top of my NZ list (you know me and mountains) I asked if he could contact them to see when if they had availability for the “the works”, thinking they probably did not.  So he called and asked if they had an opening for 1 and said to me, “They can get you in at 10:20”, it was 9:45, without hesitation I said, “Book It!”.  
After that he gave me a suggestion for a good, challenging, somewhat off the beaten path hike to the view the glacier (for safety reasons you cannot hike to the glacier) and gave another suggestion for a shorter hike to a tunnel/cave in the mountains to view glow worms (more on that later).  I thanked him for his help, and drove the 3 minutes (Franz Josef village is not that big 🙂 to the helicopter operator.  I checked in and walked across the street for a “flat white” (Wiki)….my new favorite drink. 🙂
I returned on time, they gave us some quick safety information and led us (myself, a couple from AU and a family of 3 from Japan) to the helicopter.  I’ve flown in a couple of helicopters but never over 12,000’+ mountains or landed on a glacier.  Needless to say I was very excited.  
I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it was absolutely, unbelievably amazing! 🙂  It’s not something you’d want to do if you were afraid of heights because man-oh-man were we up there but holy cow what spectacular views!  I was a little concerned before we took off as, from where we were, the tops of the mountains were already starting to disappear into the clouds. However, when we got up into the “real” mountains it was very clear except for some pesky clouds hanging around the top of Mt. Cook.  As we flew I know I had my finger on the picture button probably 37 of the 40 minutes of the trip 🙂 (I posted them on the View Photos link).  I was in sensory overload between the beauty of what my eyes were seeing all around me, the exhilaration of flying and the slightest bit of fear from being so high as the helicopter hit turbulence every time we got closer to the big mountains.  It was just incredible. Here is a small sample of pictures.  Click the View Photos on the right to view all photos….
The Tasman ocean in the background
Fox Glacier

We landed on the glacier and got to spend about 10 minutes taking pictures, throwing snowballs and just having a good time…..
My attempt at snow angels 🙂

I had a good conversation with our pilot while we were on the ice.  He was from Scotland and served as a pilot in the service there.  He has been in NZ for 22 years and used to do this full time but only does it part time now. He was a really nice guy and very informative.
When we took off he headed down the valley zigzagging back and forth across the width of the glacier so everyone would get sick (just kidding), so everyone could see from both sides and get some good pictures of the ice flow.  He told us there are more than 3000 glaciers in New Zealand and only 3 in the world (Franz Josef, Fox in New Zealand and one in Argentina) that extend from a mountain into a tropical forest.  It’s pretty unique that these glaciers are just a few air miles from the ocean (you can see the Tasman sea in several of the pictures).  

What an amazing experience.  I’m so thankful the weather held out (it did cloud up and eventually rain later in the afternoon) and that I was able to get in with such short notice.
After I returned I was floating about 10,000 off the ground just from the euphoria of what I had just experienced.  I was pumped baby!  ha ha
I went back to my place, grabbed my hiking gear and headed out for the Roberts Point Track.  I was told it was a good technically challenging track of about 12km (7.5 miles) and would take 5:30 round trip.  I set out to do it in 4.  
Before you get to Roberts Point Track you take a short track that takes you past a place called Peter’s Pool.  When the water is calm, as it was today, you see a beautiful reflection of the mountains….

The sad thing about this area is that as recent as just 1954 you could see the glacier from Peter’s Pond (see below).  Now it’s a 6km hike from Peter’s Pond just to get to a place where you can see the glacier from probably 5km (or more) away.  Our pilot told me that the glaciers have been reseeding dramatically since the early 2000’s.  It’s the same with all glaciers around the world and not just in NZ.

After you leave Peter’s Pond you are quickly reminded that the area you are hiking in (to a glacier mind you) is in fact a sub-tropical ecosystem as you walk through lush, thick woods with palm trees and huge ferns….pretty cool….

Once on Robert’s Point Track you are warned that this is your last chance to turn back (ha ha)…..

How hard can it be???

On the Robert’s Point Track you cross several, really cool, suspended bridges.  Most are wooden and vary in length from probably 100′ – 200′.

But the mac daddy of the suspension bridges on this track is the newly completed (2015) Roberts Point Swing Bridge that measures 364′. Oh yeah baby, that’s cool!

The next cool feature you come to on this hike is a long winding set of wooden steps anchored to the rock cliff and suspended a couple of hundred feet off the forest floor….

I’ve gotta give it to them, these Kiwi’s do know how to build a good track.  🙂

So after roughly 1:45 of pretty hefty hiking (or tramping as they call it here) with some good uphill rock scrambles, I reached the glacier viewing platform and man-oh-man was it worth the hike….

The track is an out-and-back which means you return the same way you came.  I returned quickly as I had one more thing that I wanted to complete today. I made it back to the parking area is just under 4 hours (my goal) and drove back to the village.

My last thing on my agenda for the day was to hike up the mountain on the other side of the valley to an old tunnel that was dug in the early 1900’s to provide water for a gold mining operation.  The tunnel is over 1/4 of a mile straight into the mountain.  Now the draw for this walk is not the hike up the mountain, although it is good, nor is it to walk through a tunnel (I’ve been in quite a few mines, tunnels and caves), the draw for this is to see glowworms (Doc). New Zealand has a lot of places where  you can see these tiny little creatures usually in caves or tunnels.

So I headed up the mountain for my last adventure of the day.  The people at the information place told me I would need a headlamp, which I had in my bag.  However, they did fail to tell me one very important thing (more on this later).  I climb the mountain to the entrance of the tunnel….

So I donned my trusty headlamp (actually Rick’s trusty headlamp as mine are 8000 miles away) and headed into the tunnel.  So here’s the piece of important information that did not tell me….the tunnel has water flowing through it….up to your ankle’s in some places actually.  I went the first 300′-400′ trying to rock hop and stay close to the sides but that wasn’t working too well.  I only have the one pair of hiking shoes with me so i did not want to get them wet.  So after about 300′-400′ feet I was faced with a decision….turn back…..or take off the shoes.  Now, for those who know me (well) you know that turning back is not an option….so, off come the shoes. I left my socks on because I do have rather tender feet 🙂 but I can tell you that some of those rocks were sharp and that water was COLD!  I made it almost to the end and thought I had seen something (glowworms) but wasn’t sure.  Then I met some people coming back and they told me that to see the glowworms you have to turn off your headlamp…..yeah, this just keeps getting better and better.  So, off it goes.

So here I am, in a tunnel, 1/4 of a mile into the mountain, carrying my shoes, wading through ice cold water in my socks, walking in absolute complete and utter darkness, using my right hand (the one not holding my shoes) to feel my way through and looking up at the ceiling for glowworms.  Yeah baby!  🙂  But I have to say, that did the trick because as soon as I turned off my light there they were.  There wasn’t a ton of them like you can see in some pictures on the internet but in some areas had quite a few.  The only way I can describe it is that it was like looking up at the sky at night and seeing a few stars dotting the sky.  It was like looking at a constellation in some places. It was pretty cool and something that I am really glad I experienced.  I tried to take some pictures but it was difficult at best. Here are a couple with some of the brighter ones….

On my walk back to where I was staying I passed an old bus with a trailer behind it parked on the street and just couldn’t help to take this picture because I thought it was so funny….
Of course it wouldn’t be funny if I was the one stuck behind him for 10 miles on one of the mountain
 passes. 🙂
So what an incredible day.  In the morning I was 12,000′ above the earth, in mid afternoon I was hiking on the surface of the earth and in late afternoon I was 1/4 mile below the surface of the earth. As I started this blog WOW…..just WOW!!!
Where Am I


This morning I started early (well, early for me 🙂 as I had a 5 – 6 hour drive ahead of me.  I headed West from Christchurch on highway 73 rather known as The Great Alpine Highway (Web Page).  I drove for an hour or so before I began to see the mountains on the horizon.

I had read (and now I know firsthand) that the land on the eastern side of the divide was more arid, the grass is brown and farmer’s use irrigation systems.  But once you pass over the divide it turns into a subtropical environment with lush green plants…..all in the span of a 100 miles or so.  So as I drove on the eastern side these are the types of mountains I saw…..

The mountain areas of New Zealand (I am learning) have a lot of very large river valleys.  However, I assume these river valley’s are probably full of water in the early spring as the snow begins to melt on the mountains and/or when there is a large rainfall.  However, during this time of the year (late summer) they are mostly dry with a creek running down the middle….

The mid-way point on the Great Alpine Highway is a place called Arthur’s Pass (Google).  It’s at this point that I got my first glimpse of a snow covered mountain (remember it is late summer here so like late August/Sept on the US east coast).  From this point the land begins to change, the grass is green and you begin to see more tropical vegetation….

One of my favorite pics of the trip thus far

Of course New Zealand is an island and not very large (east to west).  So it only takes less than 3 hours to drive from the east to west coast.  Once you drive through the mountain pass you quickly pass into the beach area. Like most coastlines around the world the west coast of New Zealand’s South island has many small towns. One of the “larger” one’s is a place called Greymouth.  So I decided to take a short (if I only knew then….) detour and checkout Greymouth.  It was a great little town with plenty of small shops and right beside the ocean.  I was having a good time until I had a classic Stephen “moment”.

It all began so innocently (as most Stephen “moments” do), I was going to change the SIM in my phone to see if I could get better reception.  Ok quick sidebar….for my US friends who have never traveled outside the US….using a US phone outside the US is VERY expensive and not practical if you’re traveling for more than a week.  There are two ways to work around this….buy a foreign phone in the country you are traveling to (too expensive) or have your US phone “unlocked” (which I did) and purchase a local SIM in country for a couple of bucks.  Then all you need is a prepaid plan (usually less than $50/month) and you’re good to go.  I was originally planning to suspend my US number while I was here (as I did my internet/tv at home) but decided to keep it as I found that, since it was not tied to just one local network, it would sometimes get better signal than my local provider. So since I’ve been in AU and NZ I now have a US SIM, an AU SIM and a NZ SIM.  Ok, so back to my Stephen “moment”…

So I went to change my SIM and dropped my US SIM on the floor of my car.  No problem right. Just bend down and pick it up right?  Yeah, probably for 99% of people….but not for Stephen.  Long story short….35 MINUTES later I was still looking for that freakin’ SIM!!!!!!  Needless to say I was fit to be tied!  After 10 minutes or so I figured the only thing that could have possibly happened was that it feel under the carpet under the seat and was sitting on the floorboard of the car.  I pulled the carpet as far as I could and felt everywhere I could reach (under the seat) but nothing.  And of course, it couldn’t be the AU or NZ SIMS that could easily be replaced…..no…..it had to be the US SIM that was impossible to replace in NZ or AU….of course. 🙂   So after 35 minutes I drove to a gas station and asked if they knew any mechanics in town who could remove the seat from the car so I could retrieve a tiny little piece of plastic. 🙂  The lady laughed, said she does stuff like this all the time and directed me to a place called The Muffler Shop where she said they have all of their work done.  I thanked her and left for my next “adventure”.

When I arrived at the muffler shop they were very busy.  As I stood and waited my turn I thought to myself, “there is no way they are going to be able to help me right now”.  When it came my turn I told the lady my problem and what I needed (to have the passenger seat removed) and she said, “yeah, we can help”….Thank you Lord!  So she walked me out to a guy, told him the situation and he directed me to pull the car into a bay.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is Genesis 50:20 where Joseph told his brothers, “What you intended for evil God has used for good”.  I love that because it reminds me that good things can (and often do) come from things that we often see (at least initially) as bad.  So is the case with my Stephen “moment” in Greymouth New Zealand when I lost my phone SIM and, as a result, met an awesome guy named Jon.

Jon asked me where in the states I was from and I told him.  He said that he has lived/worked in California for a while and that he and his wife had been to about 40 US states just touring around and it started from there.  We talked about the US, about NZ, about classic cars and the import business to NZ, we talked about the area, the weather and on and on.  It only took Jon about 10 minutes to get the seat completely removed (it wouldn’t have taken that long it the back nuts required a special driver that he had to look for) and literally within 10 seconds of him removing the seat I had the SIM in my hand.  Yep, I knew where it was and what I needed to reach it…I just didn’t have it in Greymouth NZ….but Jon did!

We talked for at least another 5 minutes after he had everything back together (even though there were other cars waiting) and then he took me into the office and told the lady he removed the seat and just to charge $10 or so.  I happily paid her, met her new puppy (cute) and went back out to remove the car from the bay….but not before talking with Jon for another 5 minutes.  If it had not been for the fact that it was the middle of a working day (for Jon) and I still had 2.5 hours of driving I would have loved to have bought Jon a beer at a pub and talked to him for hours.  What a great guy and what an answer to prayer!  It certainly wasn’t how I planned to spend 1.5 hours of my life today….but as I drove away it all made sense and I was happy to have met Jon and thankful for what led me there.

So if you ever find yourself in Greymouth on the west coast of New Zealand you should stop by The Muffler Shop and meet Jon.  You’ll be glad you did.

Lastly, I asked Jon for his email address and I am going to include him on the blog updates.  So feel free to leave a comment for Jon if you’d like.

I was thinking yesterday (as I was hiking…more on that later), God has certainly blessed me with a LOT of people who look after, care for/about and generally take care of me. I am so thankful for each and every one of you and am thankful that He just keeps putting people, like Jon, into my life at just the right time.  🙂

So with SIM in hand (actually in phone) I headed south for Franz Josef Glacier.  On the way I stopped at a couple of interesting little towns (only briefly). One was Hokitika (GoogleImages).  I drove around and parked and walked to the beach entrance in the center of town.  I immediately saw some really cool driftwood “sculptures” and then saw a sign saying it was part of a contest that ended at the end of Jan.  I like a town that decorates in driftwood! 🙂

I drove for 2 more hours stopping at a lot of single lane bridges (most are single lane)….

And under many of these bridges flowed a beautiful blue/green, turquoise water…

I later confirmed with a local that this was correct (Wiki,Google).

So about 7:30 I arrived in the village of Franz Josef Glacier, checked into my room, made some dinner and spent 2 hours planning my next 2 days and trying to find places to stay.  The west coast of New Zealand is very busy right now so finding places to stay, where you want to stay, is proving somewhat challenging.  This is one reason why I am running behind with the blog because the time I would normally spend on the blog has been spent mapping my travel and finding places to stay.  Oh well, it’s all part of the adventure aye.  🙂

Where Am I (duh 🙂

I had purposefully planned today as a “take it easy” day and for the most part that’s what I did.  I spent some time in the morning figuring out where I wanted to go in New Zealand.  I had a general idea but did not know any specific places/sites/towns.  I planned my route to Franz Josef Glacier (more on that later), made breakfast, loaded up and struck out to see Christchurch.

Since I was not planning to rent a car until I left Christchurch (tomorrow) I choose a place close to CBD (central business district) so I could easily walk.  So I walked from my place down Hereford St. and came across and interesting looking church.  I took a few minutes to tour the church but was actually more interested in what was behind the church.  But before I get into that I need to provide some background information…..
For a long time I was aware that the country of New Zealand lies on the Ring of Fire (GoogleWiki)…

Pacific Ring of Fire

If you’re not familiar with the Ring of Fire it is a ring of volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean that result from subduction of oceanic plates beneath lighter continental plates. There is a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity, or earthquakes, that form a horseshoe around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. Roughly 90% of all earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire, and the ring is dotted with 75% of all active volcanoes on Earth. Ok, so that part I knew.  

What I didn’t know was that Christchurch had a sizable earthquake (6.4 I think) on Feb 22, 2011 that caused a large amount of damage to many of the buildings in the CBD (Google). They have a project called “Rebuild Christchurch” (Google) and almost everywhere you look there are cranes, construction equipment and construction workers. I say “almost” because many of the old historic structures have been fortified but are not being rebuilt at this time.  I’m not sure if they plan to leave them this way, they are trying to raise money for them or if they are just not the priority right now.

So that was 5 years ago.  But more recently a 5.7 quake occurred on Feb. 15 (I saw that one on the news in AU) and another 4.3 on Feb. 29 (the day before I arrived).  Now these are just the quakes that people actually feel.  There are dozens of small quakes that occur in that area every week that no one feels.  They have a web site where you can track the quakes (Web Page).  My host, who has only been in Christchurch for a couple of months, told me about the 5.7 quake and his German guest who slept through it. 🙂  Anyway, needless to say earthquakes are a part of the everyday life for the people in Christchurch….like millions or other people in many of the other cities that lie on the Ring of Fire.
So, with this background information I can now tell you what is behind the church….I wasn’t aware this was here until my host told me.  A block behind the church, prior to the 2011 earthquake, there was a multi-story office building that also had a day care (maybe for the employees children?).  The building came down during the 2011 quake and 185 people (including several children) were killed. As I “temporary” memorial (until a permanent one is built) they placed 185 white empty chairs where the building used to stand (Google).

 Needless to say it was quite moving to stand there and think about what happened at this spot 5 years ago (almost to the day).  It reminded me of standing at Ground Zero shortly after 9/11.  I was impressed that each chair had a fresh flower on it (see pic 4).

After this I spent some time wondering through the CBD and checking out the shops and little side streets.  I have to say that in spite of the geological stresses on this area Christchurch is a cool town and someplace I could see myself.  It’s big enough to have everything you need but not too big so it’s easy to get around and not too crowded.  Also, being in New Zealand there is a HUGE outdoor activity vibe to it with lots of outdoor shops and hiking/camping stores and information everywhere.  Yep, my kinda town.  🙂

 Ok, so I’m going to let those of you who are actually taking the time to read these things in on a little “insider Stephen secret”.  🙂  I’m sure this came from my mother and/or my great aunt and also has something to do with why I love the outdoors but I have a big appreciation for plants and flowers. So much so that I have taken the time to tour all of the botanical gardens I have come across in my travels (Sydney, Mebourne, Hobart, Christchurch).  And I have to say, with all due respect to the others, I have definitely (hands down) been the most impressed with Christchurch. They have a large park with a fantastic botanical garden.  Now, insider Stephen secret #2, my favorite flowers are the Lilly and the Rose (due mostly to smell but also beauty).  I LOVE smelling Lillies and Roses. And it just so happens that the Christchurch botanical gardens has 2 rose gardens!  So yes, at the risk of imparting a tacky cliche I did in fact take time to “stop and smell the roses”.  🙂  Actually, I not only stopped once but had to leave to go pick up my rental car before they closed and I came back to the park just to go through the rose garden again.  All together I probably spent 2 hours in the botanical gardens. So yes, that’s me.

Here are a very few of my favorites (there are many more if you click the View Photos to the right)….

Here are a “few” of the other things I liked (and photographed) at the botanical gardens….

I took the fern pictures for my mother.  I know I inherited my love of ferns from her. 🙂

One last thing I saw before leaving the gardens and I just could not believe my eyes.  I haven’t researched this but I think this may be the first time this has ever been captured on film….I honestly can’t believe my luck (and yes Heidi I was “punching” myself, ha ha).  
To the untrained eye this may not look like much but this is actually a picture of the slowest people on earth eating ice cream while standing on a bridge!  
Yeah, I mean, can you believe how fortunate I was to be in that exact spot….FOREVER, while they stood and ate their ice cream?  I mean, I didn’t even know ice cream could last that long in 70 degree weather.  I just stood there (and stood there, and stood there, and stood……) and couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.  The amazing (you didn’t think I was going to go through a whole day and not say it did you, ha ha) things that I just keep seeing on this adventure.  What luck.  😉
Where Am I

Today began very early (for me anyway).  I woke up at 6, made and ate breakfast and finished packing the clothes that were still drying when I went to bed 5 1/2 hours earlier.  When I checked in last night they said that passengers with checked luggage needed to be at the airport 90 minutes before boarding and no checked luggage 60 minutes before boarding.  I was a little surprised by this since it was an international flight and I had luggage to check (I expected 2 hours) but it said 90 minutes, so there you go.

Rick came downstairs and I told him 90 minutes and he said we would leave at 7:15 to give ourselves some extra time.  My flight was at 10:15 and the drive to the airport is usually 1 – 1:15 so leaving at 7:15 gave us an hour and a half.  Good deal.

We got on the road and everything was going well for about 10 minutes. Then we came to a 4 lane road with traffic as far as you could see and Rick said, “Ok, so it’s going to be one of those days”. Long story short, we arrived at the departures terminal at 9:15!  Rick did the best he could but there was absolutely no where to go so it took almost 2 hours to get there! When we passed the 90 minute before boarding mark I thought, “ok, my bag may not arrive with me but I can just get it later”.  Now, when we passed the 60 minute before boarding mark I thought, “ok, not only is my bag not going to make, I’m not going to make it”.

So Rick pulled up and we said our goodbyes and thank you (I huge thank you to Rick for driving me!!!) and I started running.  Of course the Emirates check-in counter was at the other end so I was hurdling little old ladies and children and doing spin moves around old men with walkers and families pushing strollers.  I turned the corner at the Emirates desk and they were removing the temporary posts for the lane markers and closing everything up and my heart sank.  There was one lady standing at a counter with probably 15 check-in stations (all vacant) so I ran to her.  She asked if I was on this flight, what my last name was and if I had checked in on-line. I said yes and asked if I could still check in.  She said we were seconds away from closing, but we can check you in.

If I had been 60 seconds later she would have been gone and I would not have made the flight!  Ok, even for me this is getting CRAZY! (reference the other what, 5 times this exact thing has happened on this trip…the latest being the ferry to Bruny Island).  So she hurriedly checked me in and took my bag.  Ok, first step complete, but for any of you who fly through major airports you know I am far from out of the woods (especially for an international flight).

So next I run the 3 miles (what it seems like) to stand in the customs line (or queue as they call it in AU).  No normally this moves pretty fast for US citizens (and some other countries) in AU due to the electronic facial recognition they use; however, today they were having issues with the system and for those unfortunate enough to get a machine that was having issues (me of course) they put us into another line for manual processing.  Are you freakin’ kidding me!!!! 🙂

So I finally made it through customs and then proceeded to the security line.  Fortunately that did not take too long and I was once again hurdling small children and farm animals (ha ha, just wanted to see if you were paying attention) as I ran the 15 miles (again, what it seemed like) to the gate.  And of course, the gates went from 1 – 63 and my flight was at….anyone….anyone….wrong, it was not 63 but you were close….it was at gate 61!

So I finally made it to my gate about 5 minutes before they started boarding…yay!

As for the flight, it was really good.  In spite of the fact that someone (who wasn’t even sitting in my isle) brought a backpack the size of a small car (seriously) and took up all the overhead storage.  Why do they allow people to bring carry-ons the size of a hot water tank….seriously, why?  Oh well.  It was a very smooth flight, the food was good and I had just enough time (2:30 hours) to watch a movie.  All in all a pretty good way to spend an afternoon. 🙂

We landed on time and deplaned fairly quickly….Welcome to New Zealand!  I have to say this was kind of funny to me…..I walked off the plane and through the tunnel and when I looked out at New Zealand through the first window I came to I saw 3 US Air Force planes…..

Along side our Emirates 777….

So I proceeded to customs and while they had the facial recognition systems for AU and NZ citizens all other counties had to go through the manual line.  🙁  That took a while.  After that I proceeded to the next line, the declaration line.  Those who travel internationally know this but over the past 10-15 years many countries have become very concerned (as well they should be) with what potential bio hazards travelers may unknowingly (or knowingly) be bringing into their country.  So in most countries you cannot bring any fresh or unprocessed produce, meats, grains, nuts, etc. and they are very interested where you’ve been and if you’ve come in contact with any farm animals or even the ground where farm animals or wild animals (have you hiked in the wilderness) live.

So the customs and declaration lines are pretty common.  But I did have something today that I have not seen before.  There was a third line where you had to wait and have all of your luggage x-rayed. Now, this of course is standard before you board a flight.  But I have never had my luggage x-rayed after I’ve flown and arrived at my destination.  Apparently they do it to look for any food items that you may have in your luggage that you did not claim.  They, they’re pretty serious about keeping out food born insects and diseases.

So I finally made it through the NZ airport gauntlet, got some New Zealand dollars and found my bus to get to my room for the night.  After about a 50 minute bus ride and a 10 minute walk I arrived at my room for the night.  After greeting my host and getting a tour of the place I walked to a Mexican restaurant and had some dinner.  And as luck would have it this just happened to be “open mic” comedy night at Alvarados Mexican Cantina. So I sat, ate my dinner and listened to some (mostly) bad jokes.  ha ha  It’s funny because, while they do speak “English” here some of their accents are so thick and with their local saying I can’t understand some of them.  But regardless it was still a good time and I enjoyed listening to all the references to the US and the jokes about American politics….one candidate in particular but I won’t say who (I’m sure you can guess).  🙂

And for those keeping track I am now 18 hours ahead of US EST (it was 16 in Sydney).

Where Am I

Today was strictly a “prepare to leave….again” day. And as usual, I was stressing…again.  🙂  It’s funny because I was thinking today, as I was running around crazy, “why am I stressing…I should have this down by now” and then the thought hit me….I just returned from a 12 day trip and after 2 days I’m leaving for an 18 day trip and all while I am on a 3 month trip. If I was “at home” I would certainly stress over any of these trips singularly.  So, I cut myself a break (just a little one) and went on with my preparation….while continuing to run around crazy. ha ha

I spent the day doing laundry, made a trip into Mona Vale to replace my phone cover (which took a little tumble on the top of Cradle Mountain (Day 19)) and picked up some snacks for the flight tomorrow. When I returned to Rick’s I hung out my last load of laundry, ate lunch, took a short nap and then took a run to reduce some stress.  Like my last run I ran in the Bayview area and just as before it was beautiful….

After my run I came back, had a great dinner of zucchini spaghetti and had a very nice conversation with Linda and showed her pictures of the snow in PA and Jack….lots of pictures of Jack.  🙂

The rest of the evening consisted of packing and booking a place in Christchurch for tomorrow night. I set me alarm for 6:00 (anyone who knows me knows how much I love getting up this early….NOT!) and went to bed around 12:30.

Where Am I

Today and tomorrow are basically rest/preparation days for my upcoming trip to New Zealand.  Of course, I’m not exactly sure how rest and preparation are going to harmonize in just 2 days but I plan to give them both my best effort.  🙂
This morning I again attended the C3 church in Oxford Hills (Web Page).  Their pastor, Phil Pringle, gave a great message based on Romans 8;1 about forgiveness and being free from condemnation.  I really liked one of his quotes today regarding condemnation for past sins, “Jesus said, I didn’t come to rub it in, I came to rub it out”.  This resonated with me because I’ve had challenges with this in my life and others in the past. He’s a very energetic person and clearly passionate about what he does.  It seems to be a great church and I’m glad it’s only 15 minutes from where I am staying in Mona Vale.
After church I stopped at the Warriewood shopping center to get a few things and spent the afternoon having lunch, a short nap and beginning to prepare for my next trip.  Rick and Linda prepared a great dinner after which Rick, Josh and I went to a local brewery in Mona Vale for a drink.  When we pulled up I could hear a band playing.  When I got out I realized they were playing blues and I got very excited!  They were good and I thanked Rick for bringing me here.  As we were standing at the bar getting ready to order the band stopped playing and said, “Thank you very much for coming out this evening”.  I looked at the bar tender and said, “Did they just finish” and he said “yes”.  I was soooo disappointed!  Oh well, timing is in fact everything. 🙂
So we ordered some craft beer and sat at a nice outdoor table.  It was a perfect evening to sit outside and we had a good conversation….mostly about the micro brew industry in the US and AU and how they produce different beers. As I looked around I saw a sign that I thought was kind of interesting….
I thought it was interesting that it said they use, “Fresh live yeast flown in from the USA”.  Rick said the US is considered the pinnacle for craft beers so having the yeast flown in from the US is a big deal.  Ah, the things we take for granted living in the US.  🙂  Anyway, the beer was very good.  So if you ever find yourself in Mona Vale Australia looking for a good craft beer I would highly recommend the Modus Operandi Brewing Company (GoogleWeb Page).  There’s a really cool video on their web page about the owners and operators.  My friends and family in NC should especially watch the video and listen closely to the second guy who speaks.  It’s true, it IS a small world after all. 🙂
We only stayed there for 30 minutes or so as we had to get back to the house for Josh birthday celebration day 2.  I was told that big birthdays (like turning 21) get celebrated at least 2 or 3 days. So last night was the presents and tonight was the cake.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the cake (maybe Rick can send me one) but I’ll just say it was very good and everyone enjoyed celebrating Josh’s birthday, again.  🙂
Where Am I

Today was another transition day as I traveled back to Rick’s place in Mona Vale.  I started the day with another huge, delicious breakfast from my host in Hobart Sommai.  I have to admit, I’m really going to miss her delicious breakfasts and Hobart as I really like this town.  I hope I can come back someday.

After breakfast I showered, packed up, took one last look at Hobart from the deck, said thank you and goodbye to Sommai, and waved at the wallabies along the gravel road 🙂 on my way out.

In my Day 3 post I talked about how I like to have a plan and how I am challenging myself to be a little more spontaneous on this trip.  Well, part of the down side of not planning is you sometimes end up far from where you ultimately need or have to be….which can be a good thing at times I suppose. 🙂 Anyway, how this applies today is that instead flying from the Hobart airport which is 15 minutes away, my flight is out of Launceston which is 2:30 hours away.  Fortunately however I “planned” for this (I just couldn’t help myself 🙂 and gave myself time for the drive.  So off I went to Launceston.

The drive to Launceston from Hobart was pretty uneventful.  Most of it consisted of open fields on rolling hills and a lot of sheep….Tasmania has a LOT of sheep. 🙂  One cool thing I saw was a small lake just covered with black swans.  I’ve seen quite a few black swans over the past 2 weeks but nothing close to this many at one place.  Unfortunately I was driving by at 110….km not mph :-), so I was not able to get a picture. You’ll just have to take my word that they were pretty and it was cool.

One thing that is definitely not cool is the price of petro (gas).  They measure by the liter and for those who may not know there are 3.7854 (to be exact) liters in a US gallon.  I’ve paid as little as $.98/liter ($3.71/gallon) and as much as (on Bruny Island) $1.51/liter ($5.72/gallon).  Most everything I’ve seen in Australia is more expensive than the US but, as I mentioned in a previous blog, with the current USD <-> AUD exchange rate of 1.40 most things have worked out to be just a little higher than US cost.  Bottom line, it’s a very good time for US citizens to travel to Australia, and New Zealand is even better (USD <-> AUD exchange rate = 1.52).

After stopping for lunch and to fill the rental car…..$1.19/liter = $.85/liter with the exchange rate.  So 3.7854 x $.85 = $3.22/gallon, I arrived at the Launceston airport on time.

The flight from Launceston to Sydney was about 1:30 hours.  It was funny that the same ocean crossing that took 11 hours on the ferry a week before only took 25 minutes in the air :-)….

The north coast of Tasmania, AU
The south coast of Victoria, AU

It was a very smooth flight and the skies where mostly clear so I was able to get some really good pictures flying into Sydney….

Once we landed I took the train from the airport to CBD (central business district) where I caught the L90 bus to Mona Vale. About 2 hours after we landed Rick (the ultimate host) picked me up in Mona Vale and I made it back in time to have a wonderful dinner with Rick, Linda and the kids and afterwards we celebrated Josh’s 21 birthday!

It’s an exciting time for Josh as he just turned 21, he will be graduating college in a few months and he just found his first apartment with some friends (mates) and will be moving out in a month or so. So as you can see from the picture there was a definite “set up your first place” theme with the gifts. It was a good night and I really appreciated being able to share this special time with them!  Congratulations Josh!

Where Am I

My day began with a huge, delicious breakfast prepared by my host Sommai. I ate quickly, jumped in the car and headed South to catch the ferry for Bruny Island (more below).  I had read it was about a 45 minute drive but had been told you can make it in 35.  I left a little before 9 so I assumed I probably would not make the 9:30 ferry but would have to wait for the 10.  However, I arrived at the entrance at 9:27 and they were just getting ready to start loading the ferry…score (or so I thought).

When I pulled up to purchase my ticket I found out they do not take credit cards (they take “tab” cards but I don’t think the US has that yet) and I did not have enough cash….ugh!  But the lady at the booth said, “there is an ATM about 100 yards ahead….you can pull down there, get the money, run it back to me, and they you may be able to catch the ferry”.  So I quickly pulled forward, got the money from the ATM, ran back to the booth (the lady was nice enough to meet me halfway :-), got my ticket, ran back to my car and pulled up just as the closed the gate behind me (this is like what, they 3rd time this has happened on this trip so far? ha ha).  So now I’m safely on the ferry heading to Bruny Island….

Bruny Island (GoogleImagesWeb Page) is an island off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania….or as Rick’s son Josh said, “so you went to an island, off of an island (Tasmania), off of an island nation (Australia)”….yeah, that’s it. 🙂  According to Wiki,  “Geologically, Bruny Island is actually two land masses – North Bruny and South Bruny – that are joined by a long, narrow sandy isthmus” (isthmus = “a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land”).  My first stop after reaching Bruny Island was the lookout at the “Neck” (the isthmus).  It was very beautiful and VERY windy.  Seriously, we’re talking tropical storm winds here….crazy windy.  But the view from the top of the dunes was well worth it…..

While I was standing at the top looking around I asked a young couple if they would take my picture.  As soon as I spoke they asked where I was from, as they could tell I was from the US :-), and we started talking.  His name was Tenzin and he was from Salt Lake City.  Her name was Aranya and she was from London. They had met while studying in NY and were both doing exchange studies in Melbourne.  After a few minutes they asked if I could give them a ride to the next small town beyond the Neck (Lunawanna).  I said sure.  I asked where they were headed and they said they were not sure.  They confessed that they hadn’t really planned the day very well and thought they would just walk around or bike around Bruny Island. The problem with that is that Bruny Island is over 100 km long (a little over 60 miles)….as Homer Simpson would say….D’oh! They had actually done pretty well to this point as they had taken a bus from Hobart, came across on the ferry without a car and a “nice older lady” had picked them up at the ferry and brought them to the Neck.  So I said, “I’m heading to the lighthouse at the southern tip and then working my way back up through the island and planning to catch the 6 PM ferry back….you’re welcome to ride along if you like”.  They were elated.  So off we went.  🙂

As we began to drive south a very cool rainbow appeared just above the ocean….

So as we began talking and getting to know each other we drove no more than probably 8 miles or so and saw another girl standing at the side of the road and looking for a ride. I stopped and she asked if we could take her to her job about 5 miles down the road.  I said, “sure, we’re heading that way and I still have one seat left” :-).  So I came to Bruny Island alone and within 15 minutes I had a carload. ha ha  These are exactly the kind of spontaneous things that happen when you travel (fellow travelers know what I mean) that I LOVE!  Like the overnight train I took from Vienna to Zurich one time with 6 people (from 5 different countries) crowded into a small room about 3 times the size of a toilet stall….it was awesome!

So our newest “carmates” name was Sophie and we could tell, before she told us, that she was from France.  She said she had been working at a winery on Bruny Island for the past 2 months. She said she was leaving in a few weeks to travel to Cairns (I will also be in Cairns around the end of March to dive the Great Barrier Reef).  We all asked her questions about Bruny and her experiences there. She said she loved it and had made some good friends.  It only took about 7 minutes for us to arrive at the winery where Sophie got out, thanked us for the fire and invited us to stop in later if we had time and do some wine tasting.  I told her we just might and headed south once again.

On our way to the lighthouse we passed a small bay where the water was just an amazing (#1) shade of green….

After about 15 more minutes of driving we topped a little hill and got our first look at the Cape Bruny Lighthouse.  All 3 of us literally said in unison, “WOW”.  The whole area was just unbelievably beautiful. We immediately stopped and started taking pictures….

The Cape Bruny Lighthouse (GoogleWiki) was first placed into service in 1838 making it the second oldest extant lighthouse tower in Australia.  It was a beautiful site perched on the hill and glistening in the sun.

We drove up to the parking area and I took a few minutes to tour the small “museum” which used to be the light keepers residence.

This was kind of cool….the couple who signed the visitors book just before was from Knoxville, TN.  🙂
The view from the hilltop was stunning (a new adjective to add to the list :-)….

And it was really cool to me (a guy from the northern hemisphere) to stand there and look out over the Southern Ocean and know that the next piece of land was Antarctica. There is just something that is really cool about that to me.  I would love to go to Antarctica…but that will have to be another trip. 🙂

As some of you know I checked in on FB while standing beside the lighthouse (for some reason the best reception I had all day was at the point) and said that may have been my most southern point on this trip.  I said may because I was thinking that New Zealand was more south but I didn’t know which was closer to Antarctica. So that night I checked and the southern tip of New Zealand is further South; however, because of the shape of Antarctica the southern point of Tasmania is actually closer to Antarctica than New Zealand.  So there is your geography lesson for today. 🙂

After a long visit we left the lighthouse and headed to a place I saw on the map called “Price’s Lookout” (of course I had to go there :-).  Price’s Lookout looks out over Cloudy Bay (Wiki).  Cloudy Bay is a large bay with big waves crashing over a long, gradual sloped beach.  Standing at the point and looking out at it I immediately thought, “this looks like a great place to surf” (admitting that I know nothing about surfing, :-).  Well, as it turns out each year Cloudy Bay plays host to the ‘Bruny Island Surf Classic’ – a Tasmanian surfing championship held on the island.  So I guess you don’t have to be a surfer to know good surfing areas when you see them.  🙂  Looking out over the waves I couldn’t help but to think of my good friend Rob and his brother Jim..the only “surfer dudes” I know.  🙂

Bruny Island
After a little hiking at cloudy bay we stopped back at the Bruny Island Premium Winery (Web Page), which is Australia’s most southern winery, and did some wine tasting.  They had a very nice Sauvignon Blanc but being more of a red drinker I liked the 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve.  So I bought a bottle for Rick and Linda…I hope they like it too.

We said hello to Sophie and then left the winery and started driving back to the northern part of the island.  We drove back across the “Neck” and stopped to see if maybe any penguins had come out (they frequent this area) but unfortunately they had not.  They normally come out later in the day/evening and since the last ferry leaves at 7:15, unless you’re spending the night on the island (which we were not) you may not see them.  But it was worth stopping for.  We did see an echidna from the road but he disappeared into some thick brush before we could get his picture.

After touring the northern beaches we started to make our way back to the ferry.  In speaking with Tenzin and Aranya earlier in the day I found out that they were flying back to Melbourne later this evening from Hobart.  They were planning to take the bus back to Hobart.  I told them that I have to drive straight through Hobart to get back to the place I was staying so I would be more than happy to take them back to their place.  Once again they were very excited and appreciative.

As we sat and waited for the next ferry we saw a black with white spots eastern quoll (Google) (see blog post from Day walk across the street in front of us.  We got out and tried to get a picture but it hid and we did not see it again. It was kind of funny because there was an Australian couple who had also seen it and were looking for it and they had no idea what it was.  I told them, “it’s and eastern quoll” and they were like, “how did you know that….we’re from Australia and we didn’t know what it was”.  I had seen them at the Devil habitat that I visit on Day 22 – Convicts and Devils.  Here are a couple of pictures I took that day….

We loaded the ferry and during the trip we took a couple of pictures to remember our day together…

Tenzin (left) & Aranya (right)

We drove back to Hobart, I dropped them off at their place and I headed back to my place to get cleaned up.  On my drive back to Hobart (from the place I was staying in the mountains) I saw well over 75 wallabies on the short 1 mile gravel road including one open field that had at least 50. It was really cool and I took it all in knowing that I would not see this again once I returned to Sydney.  I went back into Hobart and had another nice dinner (Thai) and listened to some more great music from a male/female duet.

Where Am I

My day began with a wonderful breakfast prepared by my host Sommai and some great conversation with her and the couple from Melbourne.  From the front deck Sommai has a great view of Hobart (see below).  After breakfast I spent some time catching up on yesterday blog (Convicts and Devils) and deciding on how to spend the day. My intention for the day was to travel to Bruny Island (more on that tomorrow) but I decided that it would be better to do that with an earlier start tomorrow.

So with the first decision of the day completed (what not to do) I turned my thoughts to what I would do for the day and quickly decided that I would do some things in and around Hobart and my first destination…the top of Mt. Wellington (another mountain top…surprise! :-). So I packed up and headed out.

Mt. Wellington (Google.Images) is a 4000’+ mountain just outside of Hobart. I’m not sure if there are trails to hike to the top but given the time I had I chose to drive to the top.  The steepness, distance and number of very sharp turns reminded me of the drive up Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs (for my CO friends). The drive from Hobart to the top took about 30 minutes.  About halfway up I realized that I had not come prepared for this.  Since I had been moving from place to place almost everyday I was used to having all of my stuff in the car with me. However, since I was staying in the same place for 3 nights in Hobart I had unloaded everything…including my fleese and rain jacket….and this proved to be a mistake for today. In center city Hobart it was mostly sunny and around 70 degrees.  Another very nice day. However, at the top of Mt. Wellington it was rainy, cloudy and around 48! So as i climbed out of my car in my short sleeve t-shirt and shorts I got a few funny looks from the other folks running around in their arctic parkas and rain suits (ha ha).  Oh well, what are you gonna do?

So I ran down to the observation platform and snapped off about 10 pictures. Luckily there was an observation building about 100′ from the deck so I went in to try and get the feeling back in my fingers and toes (ha ha).  While sheltering from the rain and cold I took the time to read the history of the mountain.  It was pretty interesting. Just after I finished reading the information there was a break in the rain so I ran back down to the platform, quickly snapped off some more pictures, ran back to my car and started the decent back into Hobart.
When I got back to Hobart I stopped for a quick lunch and then headed over to the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) (GoogleWeb Page).  MONA is the largest privately funded museum in Australia.  Now I have to admit that I prefer modern or traditional art to contemporary art; however, I can appreciate some contemporary art and did not want to miss this opportunity to see this collection. It was an interesting collection in a very interesting building. It’s 4 stories and you actually come in at the top which is ground level.  You then proceed down a spiral walkway to the bottom floor and make your way back to the top with different sections dedicated to different collections.  I enjoyed my time at MONA and I’m very glad it was on “the list”. 🙂 
After that I ran back by my place to change and then headed into Hobart. I spent some time walking around the business district and harbor area and made my way to an area called Salamanca (Google) where I had a very nice seafood dinner of salmon, scallops, prawns and a fish called blue-eye. I had never had blue-eye but it was delicious!. Salamanca is an area kind of like Manayunk (for my Philly friends) with nice restaurants, shops and pubs but it is famous for the market held each Saturday. S After dinner I checked out 3 of the pubs that each had acoustic music and decided on one called Jack Greene’s.  The guy playing there was good and played a good mix of music. I sat for about an hour and then decided it was time to call it a night and drove back to the place I’ve been staying.
I don’t think I’ve told you about the place I am staying in Hobart have I?  It’s a very nice private home on 40 acres of wooded land in the mountains just outside of Hobart called the Currawong Guesthouse (Web Page).  Currawong is the name of the species of birds found through Australia (it was actually the type of bird that I posted on Day 18)  My host is a wonderful Taiwanese woman named Sommai. She and her husband purchased the property and built the house 14 years ago with a plan to one day create a 5 Star “Eco-resort”.  Unfortunately her husband died of cancer 2 years ago; however, she decided to honor him by keeping the dream alive and is actively working to secure the investment money to break ground by next Jan.  She told me all about her plans and showed me the architectural drawings, financial proposal she created and a couple of articles that have been written about her and the land. 
The drawings look amazing 🙂 and I am so excited to follow her progress.  She was a fantastic host and I am fully confident that she will be successful. She invited us (me and the other couple) to come back and stay with her as special guests (those who stay with her now) when the resort is complete.  I look forward to staying with her again someday.   
So back to the drive home….to get to Currawong you drive about a mile on a gravel road back into the mountains.  During my 1 mile drive back to the house this evening I counted 14 wallabies, and I’m sure there were many more that I did not see. Although it’s clear that they have a population issue (like deer in PA) I still find this very cool. 🙂  I ended the evening as the day began looking out at Hobart from the front deck….

Where Am I

My day began in the small village of Swansea (Google) located across the Great Oyster Bay from Freycinet National Park (day 21 blog).  After breakfast I headed south along the coast heading toward Port Arthur on the Tasmanian Peninsula (Wiki).  During breakfast my host mentioned a “short cut” through the mountains…..

….but she said it’s not always well maintained so she could not speak to the condition of the road or whether it was even passable without a 4 wheel drive (which I do not have). Of course I didn’t hear anything she said after “mountains” so away I went. 🙂
It was very remote, with of course no cell coverage and I only passed 2 cars (4 wheel drives) in the 25 miles or so between the highways, but I was really cool getting off the beaten path and seeing some country that few get to see.  The only time I got a little concerned was when I came to this after about 15 miles…..
Fortunately there was a temporary bridge a little further down so I was able to continue and after 25 more minutes or so I was back on the highway and on to Port Arthur.
The next stop was a place called Tessellated Pavement near Eaglehawk Neck.  The Tessellated Pavement (WikiImages) is a very interesting nature rock formation that looks like individual blocks or pavers.  

As I walked along and looked at each “individual” block I couldn’t help but think that millennium before EP Henry came along God was already using “pavers” in His creation.  🙂
After stopping in Port Arthur for a quick lunch I dropped by the most famous site in the area called Port Arthur Historic Site (GoogleWeb Site).  

This site was built in 1830 as a prison to house many of the worst convicts that were transported to Australia from the UK.  It was chosen because of it’s remote location and was considered inescapable. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do the tour so I looked around, read the information and moved on.  
From there I continued on a loop toward White Beach and Nubeena through Koonya and back to Eaglehawk Neck.  I made several stops along the way to view beautiful beaches and small village harbors…

On the way back to Eaglehawk Neck I stopped at a place call the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo (Web Site).  After getting grief from not yet having seen a Tasmanian Devil and giving up on seeing them in the wild I decided to stop and check it out.  It was a nice little “unzoo” and I watched the devil feeding (they are nasty little devils when it comes to food…hence the name :-). I would definitely have preferred to see them in the wild but this was nice and informative and part of the money goes to their preservation which I like to support as they are getting more and more rare with the devil cancer killing large numbers. Anyway, although they can be nasty little creatures I think they are cute in their own way….


I left the Unzoo in a pouring rain and then briefly stopped at the Tasman Arch, The Devil’s Kitchen and The Blowhole (Tasman Peninsula).  They were each pretty cool in their own way….

I then drove for about an hour to just outside of Hobart where I will be staying for the next 3 nights. When I arrived my host Sommai made an awesome dinner for me and the young couple from Melbourne who were also staying.  We had a wonderful conversation over dinner and it turns out that he is a professional musician (guitar).  Pretty cool huh?

Where Am I

Ok, I know you’re getting tired of hearing it so I’ll say today was a day that starts with and “A” ends with a “g” and has a place you can get lost in the middle. 🙂  It began with a 2 hour drive from Launceston (where I stayed with a great host in a great little place) to Freycinet National Park (link) in Southeastern Tasmania.

Even though I arrived at the park later than expected (what’s new huh) I was still planning to do the longest hike they have over 3 mountains becuase….well, becuase it’s there. 🙂  So I grabbed a trail map and hit the trail.  Before I even started up the first mountain I saw my first walibee for the day (pictures below) so I knew it was going to be a good day.  The first part was a good climb up to the Wineglass Bay overlook.  This was my first view of arguably the most famous beach in Tasmania and I have to say it didn’t disappoint….

I took a few minutes to take it all in, checked my map and was back on the trail. I knew covering the ground I had to cover to complete this hike (before dark) was going to be a challenge and I therefore needed to keep moving and moving fast.
The next part took me down a pretty steep trail (no where close to Cradle Mtn.) and straight into Wineglass Bay.  After a while I passed a trail sign and knew I was getting close when all of the sudden the trail just opened up to this massive bay with white sand as far as you could see and cyrstal clear water pounding the sand.  Even being a “mountain guy” I was totally blown away by the beauty of it…..

I immediately knew I had no choice but to take off my hiking boots and socks and feel the sand, and waves, on my feet…it was just too inviting. I found a place to lay my stuff but before I could take my boots off I saw a waliabee to my left.  I walked over and took a some pictures and videos as I watched him peacefully move about…just 25′ from the waves coming to shore.  It was so cool.

Once I turned my attention back to the ocean I took off my boots and socks and headed for the water.  At first it seemed a little cold but after a few seconds I realized it was not too cold at all.  I started walking down the beach and the next thing I knew I was 1/2 mile or more from where I had started…and there was still a long way to go on this beach.  I turned around, walked back, grabbed my stuff and copped a squat on a huge rock to eat some lunch. And while I was sitting there something interesting happened…and a few of you (who know me well) may be proud of me for this. 🙂  I started debating with myself as to whether I should continue with my original plans or just hang out here for a while and chill.  Now anyone who knows me (well) knows what I would almost always do in this situation.  Here was the conversation going on in my mind)…
So one side of me (probably the analytical left brain 🙂 said, “I have a plan. There is a great trail to hike and 2 more mountains (did you hear me say mountains!) to hike.  Of course you have to keep going!” But the other side of me said, “Look in front of you. You’re going to have to basically run for the next 5 hours to complete that hike….or, you could sit here for an hour or two and just enjoy watching and listening to the waves come to shore and relax”. “RELAX…WHAT?  There is a trail right over there and I can see the 2 mountains from here.  Relax!  Are you out of your mind…mind? 
So which side won you ask…..well to make a long story short, my name is Stephen Price and I am a recovering hikaholic. 🙂  I sat on the rock, ate my lunch and relaxed.  And after a while I got up and walked to another rock further down…and I sat, and I relaxed.  And I ended up spending almost 2 hours sitting and relaxing as the waves came to shore and the wind blew and it was great! Hmmm, maybe I’m on to something here….nah! ha ha
Knowing I still had a 2 hour walk to get back and it was already 4:30, I took some more pictures (it was all so beautiful that I took a ton of pictures…you can see them on the “View Photos” link when I load them later today), packed up and took off to Hazard Beach.
Hazard Beach is about a 25 minute walk from Wineglass Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula. Hazard Beach is very beautiful (see photos below) but different than Wineglass. Hazard Beach is long but not curved and the beach is more gradually sloped so the waves are not a big.  But it was very beautiful and peaceful….

The return trail actually follows Hazard Beach for about 20 minutes and once again I could not resist the urge to take off my boots and socks so I did. At the end of the beach trail I put my boots back on and headed back into the woods. Although the sign said it was a 2 hour walk to the parking area I figured it would take about 1:15.  Along the way I saw 2 more wallabies and stopped to take some more pictures and videos.
I made it back to my car in 1:15 as expected, took off my boots, put on my flip flops or thongs as they call them here 🙂 and, thinking my adventures were over for the day, began my 45 minute drive to where I was staying for the night. But as I started out of the park I saw a sign for the Cape Tourville Lighthouse to the right.  It didn’t say how far but I figured I’d check it out if it was close (it was already 6:30) so I took the right turn.  I never saw a sign saying how far it was but I could see on my GPS I was only half way after 5 minutes or so. Not really wanting to spend too much time on this I almost turned around (I pulled into a lot) but decided to keep going….and boy am I glad I did.  
When I finally arrived at the lighthouse you could not see it from the parking area.  I got out and followed the signs and walked for 5 minutes or so and I was thinking, “I don’t have time for this” when all of the sudden I walked around a tree and BAM, there was the ocean about 200′ below and you could see the mountains and the bay inlet to Wineglass and it was amazing (you know I couldn’t go a whole day without saying it :-). For the second time today I was totally blown away.  To make it even better they had constructed a wooden walkway that extended out over the rock cliff so you were had a completely unimpeded view of the ocean…and straight down as well….

I walked about the corner and it just seemed to keep getting better.  I read all of the signs and they were very informative about the area (you can see the signs on the View Photos link on the right).  When I came to the last viewing area the one of the signs pointed out 2 small islands just off the coast.  It said that, for some unknown reason, these tiny islands have the largest concentration of bird species (proportionately) of any island in Tasmania where they breed during certain times of the year. From where I was standing I could not see any birds but I was quite far away. Fortunately they had a pair of those mounted binoculars and when I looked through them I could clearly see penguins on 2 of the 3 islands…and that was cool!  I tried to get some pictures from my phone looking through the binoculars and they actually turned out fairly well….
I stood and looked at the birds and penguins for a few more minutes and then backtracked to the car because I just didn’t want to leave this place.  I thanked God for His creation, for sharing it with me and for not allowing me to turn around earlier.  🙂  I LOVED this place.  I stood for 10 minutes or longer just staring out at the sea and watching the interesting wave patterns and I saw a dolphin swimming way down below. It was a magical site and a perfect way to end another great day….but wait there’s more (and if you buy now we’ll through in a second set of crap that you don’t need! ha ha).  As I was driving back to the main road I saw another walibee so I took more pictures. 🙂
All in all it was another great day in the land of Oz.

Ok, so I wasn’t actually “lounging” in Launceston, I just thought that sounded good :-), but it was a somewhat intentional “rest” day between hiking Cradle Mountain National Park (the past two days) and hiking Freycinet National Park (the next two days). Yes, contrary to popular belief even I have my limits. ha ha

It actually worked out well as the day began cloudy with a lite rain. So I spent the morning writing yesterdays blog, communicating with a few folks, doing some laundry and chatting with my Airbnb host Philippa over a cup of coffee.  As anyone who travels knows a big part of the experience is meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds and sharing conversations with them.  We talked about Launceston, our dogs and her cats, her children, her brother who is a professional musician (guitar) in Hobart, her upcoming trip to the Blue Mountains (day 11) and a few other things before she had to leave for work. She left me with everything I needed to head out to Launceston, which I did after I finished hanging out my laundry (it had cleared and was sunny at this point).

I drove into city center Launceston (GoogleImages) and just spent some time driving and walking around and checking things out. It’s a nice town and it was fun just to street “hike”. Launceston is the home of Boags brewery (Google).  I considered a tour but knew I wouldn’t have time so I headed to the Launceston Cataract Gorge park (WikiGoogleImages).  It’s a river gorge that was formed by the South Esk River, the longest river in Tasmania.  The interesting thing about this park is that it is just a couple of minutes from the center of the city so it’s a mix of natural rugged beauty with the river, rock covered cliffs and trees and urban dwelling with a community swimming pool, hiking/running trails and a chairlift (don’t know what’s up with that).

As I walked the trails on my “day of rest” I was passed by several runners and I just couldn’t resist.  I hadn’t planned to run but I did have my running shoes so….off I went.  🙂  I did a short run and crossed a bridge to the other side of the gorge.  This was the steeper side so I decided to hike to the high ridge to get a better view of the gorge from above (pics above).

So after a pretty good day of “lounging” around Launceston I checked out some local restaurants on Google and decided on a place called The Jailhouse Grill where I had a delicious cajun salmon with (of course) a Boag’s draught.  🙂

As I read the menu I came across one dish that made me think of my hunter friends/family Toby Wyatt, Steve Allen and Josh Henson.  Here’s a dish for you to make….although you’ll have to go further than eastern NC, SC or GA to hunt one of the ingredients :-)……

Where Am I

Hello everyone.  Before I get started on today’s adventure I just wanted to take a moment and say how very much I am appreciating all of the blog & FB comments, emails, texts and FB messages I have been receiving from so many.  It’s so cool (in today’s world) to be able to stay so connected with everyone back home.  It is really encouraging to me to hear so many say how much you are enjoying the blog, pictures and videos and to receive the encouragement to keep them coming.  As I’ve said before, my main purpose in doing this blog was to have my friends and family share in my adventures and based on the feedback I’ve received so far it seems to be successful. So thank you all for coming along and sharing this adventure with me and for adding to this awesome experience!

I got up early today as I was anxious to hit the trail. The weather forecast was supposed to be sunny, but as we all know you can’t always trust the forecast so I have to say I breathed a big sigh of relief when I walked outside and saw nothing but clear blue skies….YES!  What a difference 24 can make in the weather huh?  So I knew immediately we were heading to the Cradle Mountain summit.

I ate breakfast, loaded up and drove the 20 minutes to the Dove Lake (Google) parking area. Dove Lake is beautiful (Images) and even though I had taken several pictures here yesterday I just had to take some with the sun shining…..

From there I stuck out on the Dove Lake Circuit heading to a steep connecting trail called the Lake Wilks Track.  They have signs like this on 3 of the steepest tracks (what we would call trails) in the area…..all of which I just had to do of course (please don’t tell my mother, ha ha)….

As I climbed the steepest part of this track I could not help but to recall a hiking trip me and my friend Walt Fromm took to the Adirondack mountains in upstate NY a few years ago.  I was thinking how the state of NY could learn a few things from Australia about how to help people climb sheer rock faces (Walt knows what I am talking about) as they install anchored chains so you can pull yourself along…..

I made it to the top and connected to the Face Track which (as the name implies) traverses the face of Cradle Mountain.  After about 25 more minutes I connected to the Summit Track, took a hard left and started straight up.  The first 1/2 mile or so was basically just a steep trail straight up the side of the mountain.  This was just a prelude for what was to come….

After about 1/2 mile the “trail” turned to the right and we started to climb over gigantic boulders. It was steep but we were moving across the mountain (vs. straight) up and heading around to the other side…..

Once we got around to the backside it got really fun as we turned straight up!  At this point we were literally rock climbing, only without the “safety” of ropes.  🙂  It was at this point that I came upon two couples.  From what I could tell they were not together….other than suffering through the climb together. 🙂  For those who rock climb or hike you know there is no way to capture the steepness of a mountain with picture. It’s one of those things in life that you just have to experience for yourself (I’m sure some are thinking, “uh, no I don’t”, ha ha) but I took a couple of pictures along the way to try and capture the moment…

Trail “markers”

Fortunately most hikers are not like Philly drivers so they don’t have a problem letting faster hikers pass (my friends in Philly know what I’m talking about, ha ha).  So after about 15 more minutes of intense rock climbing I finally made the plateau and was thrilled to see that I had the whole place to myself! I walked for about 2 minutes to the summit and was absolutely blown away by the view! WOW!!!!  Absolutely one of the best summit views I have ever experienced.  No clouds or haze whatsoever.  Everything was clear as far as my eyes could see in every direction.  I just stood in amazement for 3 minutes and thanked God for such a magnificent creation and for allowing me to experience it. And then I whipped out the iPhone and started snapping away.  And although I fully know that pictures could never fully capture what I was looking at some of them were still pretty amazing….

After taking a ton of pictures and a video (all of which can be viewed by clicking “View Photos” on the right), I found a nice spot to have some lunch and enjoy the scenery.  After having the place to myself for about 20 minutes one of the other couples joined me at the top.  But I never saw the other couple at the top.  My Airbnb host last night congratulated me for the summit and said that most people do not make it to the top so I guess the other couple must have turned back short of the summit.

After about an hour at the top I finally forced myself to leave.  I didn’t want to leave the top because it was so beautiful but I knew I had a 2:30 hour hike to get back to the car and then a 2 hour drive to Launceston where I was staying the night.  So reluctantly I started back and as expected the decent was every bit as challenging (in some ways more) than the ascent.  I made it back down the Face Track in about 35 minutes, took at right and headed to Hansons Peak.  From there it was a very steep decent to the Dove Lake Circuit track and back to the parking area.

On the hike out I briefly stopped at the Hanson Peak hut and saw these two quotes written on the walls and thought they were cool….and true….

And even though I had already taken over 50 pictures I could not help but to capture a few more before leaving this beautiful area….

So goodbye to Cradle Mountain National Park.  If you’re ever in Australia and have time this is a must see!

Where Is Stephen

When I last left off I was sitting at a cafe’ in the Melbourne port waiting to catch the ferry for Tasmania.  I’m happy to say that I made the ferry on time (those who know me well know that is an accomplishment in itself 🙂 and I made it to Tasmania with no issues…so welcome to Tasmania!
Before we jump into Saturday let’s finish Friday night on the ferry. I’ve taken several cruises and a few ferry’s in my travels so I knew what to expect. The first 2 hours were smooth sailing with cell coverage…it took 2 hours to leave Melbourne harbor. 🙂 I had a very nice dinner in the restaurant and just sat, sipped my mini-bottle of Shariz and enjoyed the view.  But once we hit the open ocean…well, the boat stared rockin’ (literally). 🙂 I don’t know what the seas were (height) but we were pitching and rolling nicely.  It made for some good times watching everyone “try” and walk around (including me) but hey, it’s all part of the fun of traveling. 🙂
After dinner I relaxed in one of the lounges where they had a lady playing guitar and singing a wide variety of music.  She was good and I couldn’t help but to think of my good friend Candy Creamer. Candy, if you ever get tired of teaching I’m sure you can move to Melbourne and make a good living playing the rear lounge on the Spirit of Tasmania. 🙂 I turned in around 11:30 and rolled back and forth in my bunk with the pitch of the boat (I’m not kidding) for a few minutes before falling asleep.
The ferry ride from Melbourne to Devonport Tasmania takes about 11 hours and arrives in Devonport at 6:00 AM. For those who may not have experienced an overnight ferry or train (done that a few times in Europe) they start the day very early by making a “loud” announcement 45 minutes before the arrival. They are on a strict schedule and therefore need to get everyone off ASAP after they arrive. 15 minutes before the announcement one of my suite mates (who I never met) got up, showered and left. Then right on schedule, at 5:45 AM (those who know me know I don’t do well with anything before 8) they made a 10 minute announcement about unloading the cars, unloading passengers, what you can and cannot bring into Tasmania, blah, blah, blah.  I of course rolled over and went back to sleep for another 30 minutes. 🙂 
So to make a long story short (well, I guess it’s too late for that huh :-), I got up, showered, deboarded, got my rental car, spent 30 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the NAV/media system (seriously), got brekkie (what Aussians call breakfast) at McDonald (along with 3/4 of the other people I came across with), stopped at Woolworths (remember from an earlier post that is a grocery in Oz) to get some snacks for hiking and food for dinner (more on that later), stopped at McDonald’s again for a second cup of coffee (Australian’s actually prefer McDonalds coffee to Starbucks) and finally got on the road for Cradle Mountain National Park. Whew, what a morning. 🙂
The drive to Cradle Mountain was only about 1:30 hours. It was a nice drive and I learned that the people in this area apparently take pride in having creative mailboxes. 🙂  I saw something else on my drive that was interesting…..my cousin Megan had asked for a picture of a Tasmanian Devil and unbelievably I actually spotted one on my first morning in Tasmania….
All kidding aside, i may have mentioned this before but unfortunately the Tasmanian devil population in Tasmania is decreasing at a rapid rate due to a mouth cancer epidemic. They have no idea what is causing it and (currently) no cure for it.  So they are getting harder and harder to spot in the wild. 🙁
I arrived at the park and very anxious to hike I paid my entry fee and jumped on the shuttle to Dove Lake (GoogleImages). On the ride up I read the map and selected my hike for the day.  I decided not to do the Cradle mountain summit today as it was very cloudy, cold and misting most of the day (my Scottish ancestors would call it, “A fine soft day”) and the mountain was covered with clouds all day….so I’ll do it tomorrow.
Today’s hike was great!  I started with a very challenging trail called the Marions Lookout Link Track. It is the most direct route to Marions Lookoutbut it is steep enough in several places that they have installed a chain to pull yourself up (Walt Fromm, NY state could learn a few things from Australia :-). I made it from the shuttle stop to the top in around 35 minutes and the view was awesome…

After that I continued on to the Kitchen hut at the base of Cradle mountain and turned right and continued on to Crater Lake overlook where I stopped to have lunch. From this point you are basically looking straight down on Crater Lake and it is beautiful…

While I sat eating my lunch and enjoying the view (and trying to stay warm) I had a new friend join me.  Turns out that he, like me, really likes peanuts….

After “we” finished “our” lunch one of us flew away and the other continued the hike (I won’t spoil the ending by telling which one did what 🙂   Ok, it was me who continued the hike (I never was good at keeping secrets, just kidding).  Although most of it from this point was downhill I still had several miles to go.  I passed 3 or 4 more very beautiful lakes and walked through an area that looked like a tropical forest where the birds were chirping away….

Shortly after that I entered a large field and could see the shuttle stop far in the distance. I thought my day’s “adventure” was over but God decided to save the best for last. As I was walking through the field I came across a man taking a picture of something that I could not see.  As I came closer I realized it was a wombat (GoogleImages)! It was very cool. If you do not know a wombat basically looks like a giant groundhog (to me anyway) but much cuter in the face.

I began speaking with the man and it turns out that many wombats frequent this field about this time of day to graze. So we walked slowly looking for more.  As we walked we talked about travels. He is from Canada, is retired and he and his wife basically spend Oct.- Mar traveling every year to get away from the Canadian winters.  I told him about my situation and he said that he did the exact thing back in his career. He took a 9 month severance package and traveled, rather than going straight to another job.  He said it was one of the best things he ever did and it worked out great for him. He encouraged me to continue to pursue this “dream” and trust that things will work out (hmmm, I’ve heard that before).  We only spoke for 10 minutes or so and then went our on ways but needless to say it was a pretty cool conversation.

So while I was walking along several more wombats came to the field and began grazing and I managed to get some really cool pics and videos…

I spent about 30 minutes watching them and then walked to the shuttle stop. Again, I thought my adventure was over for the day, but I was wrong again because during the shuttle ride we saw two Wallabies (a smaller version of the kangaroo, Images) and an Echidna (Wiki,Images).  These were the first Wallabies and Echidna I have seen on my journey….

As I was trying to get a picture of this little guy he all of the sudden just dropped down and rolled over and started scratching.  Unfortunately it happened so quickly that I was not able to get the beginning but it was so funny (you’ll hear everyone on the bus laughing in the beginning).  You can also hear the very Australian bus driver speaking in the video…G’Day Mate! 🙂

Day 18 - Cradle Mtn day 1
When we arrived back at the visitor center I drove 100 meters to the Discovery camp grounds and checked into the “bunkhouse” for the evening.  For $33 AUD ($25 USD) you get a bed in a 4 person shared room and access to a kitchen for cooking (hence the dinner food referenced earlier).  After finding my room I cooked/ate dinner and had some great conversations with an older gentleman from England, a young girl from Germany and a young guy from Brisbon AU who has been in the Cradle Mtn. area for almost a month.

All-in-all I think my first day in Tasmania was a roaring success!  Tomorrow we climb to the summit!

Where Am I

My day began as many of them begin now by having breakfast with my Airbnb host. This time it was a very nice lady named Rosemary who lives in Port Melbourne.  As I ate my breakfast of muesli and coffee Rosemary went out of her way to make sure I had everything I needed for my day in Melbourne….

I had to take my rental car back so she made sure I had the directions.  She gave me a tram pass and made sure I knew how to use it and where to catch the closest tram from the rental car agency.  She gave me a map of Melbourne and showed me where I should get off the tram and what I should see in my brief time in Melbourne.  Armed with everything, I finished yesterdays blog and headed out into the city.
My first stop was in center city Melbourne.  Like all other big cities on a Friday morning there was a lot of hustle and bustle and a lot of energy.  I made my way up and down the streets just checking things out for a while and stopped to have some lunch (sushi!).  After lunch I headed for an area called Federation Square.  This is the area in Melbourne on the riverfront that hosts a lot concerns and events.  It’s also the area that has the sports complexes including the arenas where they host the Australian Open tennis tournament each Jan. Personally I’m not a huge tennis fan but I could not pass up the opportunity to stop and take some pictures for my tennis loving friends like Candy, Cathy and Michelle.  

After that I took a long walk through the  royal botanical gardens (Google).  They were really nice with a large variety of plants from all over the world.  I walked around the area some more and came across the Shrine of Remembrance (Google).  This monument was built as a memorial to the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I and is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in war.  I was impressive and very nicely done.

The top of the memorial was a great place to snap some photos of downtown Melbourne….

And that was my whirlwind tour of Melbourne. I am now sitting at an outdoor cafe at the Melbourne harbor having a Carlton Draught and using the cafe’s wi-fi to post this blog before boarding the ferry for the overnight trip to Tasmania….

I have heard and read that they will not allow you to board if you are not on at least 45 minutes before they sail.  It’s now 55 minutes before we sail so I guess I better say good bye for now.  See you in Tasmania!

Where Am I

Today began early as I was anxious to tour everything the Great Ocean Road had to offer.  I started by sipping my coffee in the sitting room at the b&b where I stayed the night.  This was my view to begin the morning…..

After my coffee I packed up and drove about 10 minutes to Apollo Bay to find some breakfast.  Apollo Bay (GoogleWeb) is a nice little town with several cafe’s and shops and (I believe) the largest town on the Great Ocean Road.  I had a nice breakfast at an outdoor cafe and had a good chat with a very friendly, and funny, Australian “bloke” sitting at the next table.

After breakfast I backtracked (which I normally hate) to Kennett River.  Kennett River is known as one of the best (if not the best) places in all of Australia to see koala’s in the wild.  It was just luck (or maybe a little help from above 🙂 that I just happened to stay 15 minutes from Kennett River the night before.

As I mentioned in my FB post yesterday (for those on FB), even before I left the US people were asking me for pictures of koalas. I had been told and read seeing them in the wild was getting more and more difficult as the particular eucalyptus trees they feed on are dying off for some unknown reason.  So after doing some research I learned that Kennett River was the place to go.

I had also read that the best way to see them was to get out of the car and hike the road into the mountain and knowing how much I love to hike….no problem. 🙂  So I took off up the Gray River road not knowing what to expect. For the first 1/2 mile I saw only a couple. Then in the next 2.5 km (1.5 miles) or so I counted 24 more!!!  I was soooo excited!  I even saw two trees that had two of them….which I witnessed was not always good (check out the video on the “View Photos” link to the right). Anyway, it was so very cool!

I was amazed at how high some of them were.  Most were sleeping as the the eucalyptus leaves they feed on offer very little nutritional value so they conserve energy by sleeping up to 20 hours a day (sounds like a few people I know, ha ha….just kidding).  Mostly they lay in the forks of the big trees with their arms wrapped around the trunk but some of them where way up in the small branches…sleeping.  I read that they do something fall from the trees and after having seen them in the wild I can easily see why.

Here is a very small sampling of what I saw today. You can see many more by clicking the “View Photos” link on the right.  I don’t know how the formatting will work with theses as picture formatting on Blogger is quirky at best.  We’ll give it a try and see what happens.

I spent roughly 2.5 hours just hiking in the forest with my head straight up in the tree tops and I honestly could have stayed there all day.   The only regret I had from the day was that I didn’t have a better camera.  Most of them were so high in the trees that it was difficult to photograph them.  If I would have had a good camera with a telephoto lens I could have taken some unbelievable pictures.

I also took some pretty dramatic videos (yes, even of creatures that barely move 🙂 but videos take much longer to format and insert and now that I’m traveling everyday I barely find time for this.  You can view all videos by clicking the “View Photos” link on the right.

When I was finally able to pull myself away I turned my attention to the beautiful cliffs, beaches and ocean that was right in front of me….

I headed south on The Great Ocean Road passing the place I stayed last night and Apollo Bay on my way to Otway National Park (Google), The 12 Apostles (Google), The Arch (Google), London Bridge (Google) and several other places….

I drove from Kennett River to Port Campbell.  From their I turned inland and did the 2:45 drive to Melbourne where I stayed for the evening.

Where Am I

So today was a transitional day and I spent most of it in a car on the M31. I began my day in Albury with a nice breakfast with my Airbnb host Brian.  I briefly met his wife Sally the night before but she had already left for work by the time I woke.

After breakfast I spent some time booking my flight to New Zealand and taking care of some other travel “business” (I like my new line of “business”, ha ha), then it was off on the open road.

Sadly there was not too much to report from today.  The drive, although a bit long (close to 6 hours) was pleasant.  The last 1.5 hours was definitely the best as i traveled the Great Ocean Road from Geelong to Sugarloaf (my destination for the evening).  Unfortunately I arrived in the area after dark so I did not get the fantastic views that this road offers; however, because it was night and there are very few idiots (seriously) who travel this crazy, winding road after dark I pretty much had the road to myself.  So it was time for Stephen to “play”.

Being from the mountains and having grown up with crazy, winding roads I LOVE to drive them.  Of course the only small potential downside was the 300′ cliffs the plunge straight into the Southern Ocean…but that’s all part of the challenge.  🙂  This drive reminded a lot of driving Hwy. 1 in Northern California.

Anyway, long story short I arrived at my room around 10 PM safe and sound.

Where Am I

Ok, so I’m fairly confident that at least some of you (especially those of you in the US NE) are getting a little tired (ok maybe a lot 🙂 of hearing me say how amazing it is here (in the 80 degree weather) but I’m really having a hard time thinking of other superlatives to describe it….so maybe you can help by leaving your “superlatives suggestions” in the comment section.  🙂

Today I planned to drive from Canberra to the Mount Kosciuszko National Park and hike the highest peak in Australia….Mount Kosciuszko.  The Airbnb couple of stayed with in Canberra told me about a great 21k (13 miles) loop hike to the top and I was really looking forward to it.  Unfortunately I had to take care of a few things before I left so my day began a little slower than I wanted and I didn’t end up arriving at the park until after 1.  As a result, I didn’t get to take the longer hike but took a shorter, but still totally awesome, 7.5 mile hike to the top.

The mountains around Kosciuszko reminded me of the mountains in the Scottish Highlands (for those who have traveled to Scotland or have watched Braveheart).  Most of the Kosciuszko area is above treeline, very rocky but extremely beautiful….

It took about an hour and twenty minutes to hike to the top.  Along the way I met arguably one of the most amazing (wow, I do use that work a lot huh? 🙂 and interesting people I have ever met….a girl named Nuran.  She is from Australia and has worked for the Red Cross doing natural and man made (wars) disaster relief for 16 years.  She recently returned from a long term deployment in Nepal where she had been since last years devastating earthquake.  In her time with the Red Cross she has served in places like Haiti, Mogadishu, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Iraq.  She leaves in a few weeks to go back to Afghanistan and expects to be called to Siriya in a few months.  Through her time in all of these remote places she has had many illnesses like Malaria and Dengue fever (among others) and has worked in multiple war zones. Through it all she has managed to maintain a positive attitude and not to become cynical, hard hearted or numb to the pain and suffering of those in need.

Of course the obvious question (to most I think) is, why does she do it?  Her response was short and confident….I go to serve the victims of these tragedies because they need help.  She said, “many times my being there can make the difference between someone living and dying”……WOW!  I asked her how she felt when she went to these places, was she scared or nervous and she said not really, she focuses on the people she is serving and does not think about all the other things.

We spent almost 5 hours hiking and talking about her experiences and life in general and I at the end I found myself wishing the mountain had been taller so we could have spent more time talking.  I always say that there are no coincidences when it comes to God.  I firmly believe that He places people and circumstances in our lives at the right time, with the right things we need to hear, say or experience and I firmly believe he did that yesterday.  Maybe for me….maybe for Nuran….maybe for both….but certainly for a reason….definitely for a reason.

When we reached the top it was cold!  Of course, not Philly in Feb cold :-), but it was in the mid 40’s with a strong wind that probably made it feel like the mid 30’s.  But man-oh-man was it breathtakingly beautiful!

Having “conquered” the summit there was one last thing that I needed to accomplish.  My Airbnb hosts from Monday told me that no visit to Kosciuszko would be complete without a stop at Australia’s highest toilet (Web Page).  So, as they say, “While in Rome”. 🙂

I left Kosciuszko and began my 3:30 hour drive to Albury where I would be staying for the night. As I drove out of the park just before dusk I was keeping a sharp eye for Kangaroos as I had been told they are bad to run in front of cars at this time of day (like deer in PA).  Also, I had not yet seen a Kangaroo on my journey….but that would change soon.

I rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of one off in the bush.  About 200 yards further there was a gravel road that led to a camping area.  I took the road hoping there were other Kangaroos in the area. I drove for about 500 yards and saw 4 more grazing in a field.  I was very excited.  I tried to take a some pictures but the sun was shining right in my eyes and the pictures would not take.  So I drove about 200 more yards just to see if there were any more and “BAM”, I come to a field with at least 100 grazing and hopping around.  I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.  It was sooooo cool!

I spent the next 30 or 40 minutes taking pictures and videos and just watching them, watching me. 🙂 Here are a few but I took a lot more pictures and videos that you can see by clicking on the “View Photos” links to the right. I got some great pictures and videos as they came really close to the car (about 4′ away).  A couple of my favorites were the pictures of the mothers with their Joey’s in their pouches (see below), the two videos of them “boxing” (fighting I suppose) and the video when they all started running across the road all around me.  At first I didn’t know why but then I saw 6 Emu’s running across the field (you can briefly see them at 21 seconds on the video).  I tried to catch them to take some pics and videos but they were so fast that they were gone before I could get to them.

I finished the day/night with a 3 hour, white knuckle (watching out for kangaroos) to Albury.  Again, I know you’re probably getting tired of hearing this but this day seriously may have been the most amazing day yet of a completely amazing trip.  More to come as I head to the Great Ocean Road tomorrow.

Where Am I

My morning started out crazy as I was rushing around like a madman packing, eating breakfast, showering and running out the door to make the bus to manly where I had a rental car reserved.  I’m happy to say that the bus ride went off without a hitch and I was at the rental car agency in less than an hour.  After signing the form and initially in the 27 places I was told to initial (come on man….it’s 2016 and we’re still going through this antiquated process to rent a car?!?!

So after spending 5 minutes trying to figure out why my iPhone wouldn’t pair with the Bluetooth system in the car (oh the things we spend our time on nowadays :-), I left the parking lot for my journey south.  
As I wrote on FB today, it’s been a few years since I’ve driven on the right side of the car and the left side of the road (Guy DeBellis I’m sure you remember our first day in Scotland…I can’t recall has our travel ban to Scotland been lifted yet :-), but it came back to me quickly. The only thing that kept getting me was I kept turning on the windshield wipers when I want to do a right/left turn signal because they’re reversed from the US (different sides of the steering column).

 Anyway, I had a good drive down from Manly to Canberra and arrived around 3:30.  I headed straight for the Parliament building as I knew it would be closing soon.  Walking around the Australian capital building was really cool.  The government was not in session so the public pretty much had free reign in the place.  Going up on the “roof” was very cool.  I say “roof” because it’s covered with grass on both sides and basically blends into the hillside….

As mentioned above, since the legislation was not in session I was able to walk into both the House and the Senate chambers and take pictures in both…
House of Representatives 
Senate Chambers

It was also pretty cool to see one of the original copies of the Magna Carta at this building. A guide told us that it was purchased in the early 1950’s and brought to Australia.  I’ve also seen the one in the National Archives in Washington many years ago. I believe our guide today said there are only four known copies in existence today….I’ve now seen two.  🙂

After leaving the Parliament building I drove about 15 minutes to a place called Mount Ainslie. On Mt Ainslie you can view most of the city of Canberra and get a good, birds eye view, of the geometric design/layout of the city…..

After that I drove about 20 minutes outside of town to Queanbeyan (GoogleWiki) where I was staying for the evening at the home of a very nice young couple.  After a great dinner at a nice place called the Royal Hotel (Google)….
I spent some time speaking with Carlie and Ricky.  A few years ago they took a whole year and traveled around the world (totally cool).  They’ve also both spent quite a bit of time traveling in the US.  They are into the outdoors (yeah baby) and gave me some great advise for my hike tomorrow….uh, later today now (I gotta go to sleep).  They’re a really nice young couple and I only wish I had more time to spend getting to know them more.  Oh well, maybe next trip.  😉
Where Am I
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I began my day by attending the church service at C3 (C3 Church C3 Facebook) in Oxford Falls again.  Their regular pastor spoke this week about the 2016 vision for the church.  He referenced one of my favorite passages from Philippians 3:12-14 and used it to support the idea of focusing on the “one” top priority thing in 2016.  I really appreciated the service again this week and really like this church.  If you’re ever in the Sydney area I highly recommend it.

After church I ran a few errands as I needed to pick up a few things in preparation for “hitting the road” tomorrow and returned home for lunch.  I spent some time researching places to stay on Airbnb and basically trying to figure out where I was going.  🙂

Later in the day, after it cooled down a little (it was 88 today), I took a run from Rick’s house, beside Winnererremy Bay (Google Maps) up to Church Point (Google Maps, Images).  I had a great run. The bay is beautiful and there are some really nice houses, and boats, in this area….

And I couldn’t resist this one because the little boy playing in the water with his dad was just too cute. 🙂  His bleach blond hair reminded me of my cousins little boy Brantley Stephenson.

Toward the end of my run I stopped at a park bench, in a park by the water just to sit and take it all in. In a few minutes I was joined by a man named Jerry and his black American Lab Jed.  We sat and talked about dogs in general and what great dogs Labs are as Jerry and Jed played with his tennis ball.  We talked about traveling and he told me about his trip through the US many years ago (Jerry, not Jed :-).  When I mentioned I was heading to Tasmania next week he told me his son (James) works at the Hobart Yacht Club and said I should stop by and ask him if he knows Jerry and Jed.  🙂 We sat and talked for probably 20 minutes and had a great conversation. Before I left I asked if I could get a picture of him and Jed and he happily agreed….

Jerry and Jed

Once I returned to Rick’s we had a wonderful dinner of salmon, veggies and salad and Linda pointed out a king parrot in a tree just off their deck (see below).  I have not yet gotten used to seeing parrots and cockatoos flying around in the wild but I saw several cockatoos during my run and another parrot this after noon.

And of course Alaska (the cat) saw the parrot too and wanted to eat him….uh,check him out…..

Where Am I

Today (Saturday) Rick and I visited an area called The Blue Mountains National Park.  After taking his oldest daughter (Zara) to her job and Woolworth’s and his wife Linda to her office, we were on the road.

Blue Mountain National Park (GoogleImagesWiki) is an area about 2 hours West of Sydney.  This is where many people from the Sydney area go for mountain activities (hiking, mtn biking, rock climbing, snow skiing, etc.).  The area reminded me of a smaller Grand Canyon but much more dense with trees…mostly eucalyptus.  Although the mountains are not significantly high (highest peak is 1,215 meters (3,986 ft)) the park is quite beautiful with its dramatic landscape with many cliffs and a few waterfalls…

The best way to see the most of the Blue Mountain area in a short day hike is to go t