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… 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… 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… 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 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…… 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