Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day #25. Kaikoura, cont.

My last day in New Zealand.  It's been glorious!!!!!!!!!!  To apologize for the horrid weather the last 5 days, NZ decided to give me one last day of sunshine.  Kaikoura is cute.  Really really cute, actually.  Of all the towns in NZ I've visited, if I could pick anyplace to live for a year, Kaikoura would be it.  And that's tough for me to say cuz I really loved Wellington too.  Kaikoura is so beautiful and hippie.  It's full of music, art, and vibrant culture.  Like OB but minus the bums and definitely a lot cleaner.  The main strip isn't very large.  Heaps of fish n chip places.  There's a little park with a bridge leading to the ocean.  Today in the park, I saw a group of ladies singing gospel songs and serving free sausage sizzles with fried onions.  Do you know what a sausage sizzle is?  It's simply a sausage wrapped in a piece of buttered bread.  Sometimes people put fried onions, tomato sauce, or mustard on it too.  Every BBQ I went to had buttered bread and I had no idea why they did that.  Who butters their bread before they slap a burger on it??  Well that's the answer.  It's for the sausage sizzle.

A little ways down from the main strip is an area that has some nicer restaurants and a pepto bismol pink Cinema.  They're showing Burlesque tonight.  I asked one of the girls at the hostel if she'd ever gone to a movie at that cinema before.  She said no, every time she walked by they had canceled all the showings. Not a very popular form of entertainment in Kaikoura it appears!  Seems like people are more interested in live music.  All the pubs and bars in the area advertise bands for every night of the week.  Tonight my plan is to attend the weekly killer BBQ here at Albatross :)

I decided to go for the wale watching tour this morning.  It was expensive - $130 - but I heard it's pretty good around here.  I rarely get motion sickness, but there was a swell in the ocean today and I was feeling it by the time we got into whale territory.  I saw 3 total today. They were all Sperm Whales.  The narrator said that they feed way below the surface for about 45 minutes, then come up to the top for 5 minutes to get air, then they go back down again.  So when they see a whale in the distance, they really gotta book it over there to catch it before it dives under.  An older man nearby started throwing up in a bag.  It was pretty rocky in the boat.  We passed around a whale's tooth which is bigger than my hand.  I had no idea, but a Blue Whale's heart is the size of a VW Beetle!  And their tongue is even bigger!!!  Anyways, pretty neat to see these critters in the wild.

When I was walking back down the beach after the tour, I saw a big group of people gathered near the water and it looked like something good was going down.  So I ran over just in time to see 2 guys struggling with a shark on the beach.  Couldn't believe it!  Just as I got my camera case unzipped they succeeded in throwing it into the waves.  I was like OMG why did you put it back in the water?!  "Oh him? We've caught 6 of 'em already today" they said very nonchalantly.  Apparently they like catching and releasing sharks just for the heck of it.  A bunch of fishermen had camper style rigs up above the beach and I went over to talk with them.  Russ, a middle aged, rugged looking Kiwi with white, wind tossed hair and tattoos up his arms, said that most of them were re-located from Christchurch.  Turns out he does hair back home, but his salon was ruined.  (Rough looking stylist, if you ask me… maybe he meant to say "barber".)  He spent a great deal of time telling me all the things he's done in his life, and I started getting the picture that Russell was kind of an exaggerator.  Had the cutest albino Beagle doggie named Alvis, and Bonnie the calico cat hanging around his pad.  Parked near Russ was a young couple whose home was damaged, so they're camping down the road.  He's a DJ, didn't catch what she does.  Seeing these essentially homeless people… people like you and I… struggling in the aftermath of the earthquake, made it very real to me.  After a while I started getting super hungry - it was nearly 3 o'clock.  So I made my way back to Albatross and made myself some lunch.

Then I went to the beach and hung out there for a while with the singing German girl who and the guitar-wielding Swiss guy from last night.  The current at the beach is incredibly strong, so no one was swimming.  Water's so cold though, I wouldn't have gotten in even if it was calm as a bathtub.  Thought maybe I would go surf at Maungamanu tomorrow morning but it looks like renting a board and wetsuit would be difficult, so maybe not this trip.  I did check out the used book store, but didn't find anything I wanted to read.  Was specifically looking for travel books on Fiji.

I'm really excited for this BBQ tonight!  I saw the hot-pink haired owner, Katie, and her partner/boyfriend/husband/whoknows, Ben, making potato salad, baking cubes of butternut squash, and boiling quinoa.  If not delicious, at least I know it will be very healthy :)

Plan:  do the 3 hour seal walk tomorrow morning, then get everything packed and take a bus to the Christchurch AP where I will spend the night

Budget:  $28 hostel, $130 whale watching, $5 backpacker BBQ

Day #24. Kaikoura.

$160 to swim with dolphins?!  No thanks, I'll just sneak into sea world which is about 5 miles from my house.  Or get on a sailboat to Catalina Island and watch 20 of them jump around at the bow.  I'm now in Kaikoura, sea life capital of New Zealand.  The area is famous for their whale, seal, and dolphin watching expeditions.  Most people from the bus are doing the swimming with dolphins thing.  As for myself, I think my last 2 days in NZ will be spent riding around on my free bicycle, hanging out at the beach, and exploring the quirky village.  Perhaps I'll throw in a little ocean adventure of some sort tomorrow.

Oh!  So about this free bike.  The couple who runs the hostel I'm staying at - Albatross Backpackers Inn - take old parts from other bikes and fix up the jalopies they already have.  Old bike parts + disintegrated frames = a contraption that is barely ridable.   After I got checked into my new room, I went for a quick ride to the New World Market for some groceries.  The gears and brake levers were screwed on at different angles and the back wheel was a bit wobbly.  As I was coasting down a slight hill, a couple tried to cross in front of me, and I yelled out "Stop!! The brakes on this thing barely work… sorry!"  They quickly jumped back onto the sidewalk.  "No worries", they said.  No one has any worries in NZ.  Ever.  Made it back to my hostel.  Alive.  Almost veered into a telephone pole on the way back cuz it's so hard to steer.  It's like the bike is possessed or something.

Aside from the transportation situation, this hostel is sikkkkkk.  I have never in my life been to one quite so cool.  You walk in, and there's a table in the foyer with "what to do in Kaikoura" books (handmade), a basket with "free clothes" in it, and a chalkboard advertising their weekly Sunday night BBQ for $5.  Must be a good one too cuz there's a couple of kids staying an extra night just to get the BBQ (they've been at this hostel a week now).  Then you come to the black and red themed kitchen.  It's got a huge "free" shelf with tons of baking ingredients, things like salt and oil, seasonings, and other random things.  Lined up in a row on the far-side are about 6 recycling bins, labeled for hard plastic, soft plastic, paper, glass, food, etc.  They are very green at this hostel.  On the counter are a few glass jars filled with Fair Trade tea, coffee, and hot chocolate that are free to everyone.  Then there is the "cozy corner", the place designated as the music and reading corner complete with heaps of pillows, instruments, and a shelf full of used/traded books.  They even have an "art corner" with an easel and an array of art supplies.  The walls are covered in paintings, most by backpackers themselves who have come through and created their unique donation.  To top it all off are the soft, squishy, velvet couches.  This place is INSANE!!!!  Did I mention their herb and tomato garden out front?  Rosemary, thyme, mint, basil, little red tomatoes… well, they weren't actually red but green due to the starving backpackers having already stuffed any ripe ones into their eager mouthes.  I was lucky enough to get a 4-bed dorm which was, as expected, clean and ever so cute.

That evening I picked some mint sprigs from the herb garden, and to that I added cucumber, tomato, red onion, feta, lemon, and olive oil.  A plate loaded with spring greens, topped with my Greek salad, and paired with a glass of cheap NZ Sauvignon Blanc… delicious.  Some girls had done quite a bit of baking earlier to try and raise money for Christchurch, so I put $5 in the jar and helped myself to two warm, gooey chocolate fudge cookies and a vanilla cupcake topped with icing and mini marshmallows.  As I was eating my sweets, I heard music coming through the front door.  Went out to check the situation.  Two Swiss guys were playing guitars and singing "More Than Words".  I joined in, then a German girl started singing too, and a Swiss girl, and a guy from Holland.  Before too long we had a regular choir going.  Someone started banging around on some bongos.  We sang everything from Kings of Leon to Bob Dylan, Metallica to Red Hot Chili Peppers (again, why are they so dang popular around here??)  Everyone was singing at the top of their lungs, attempting harmonies, dancing, and most enchanting of all… laughing.  The 2 universal languages, simultaneously, shared by travelers from all over the world.  I didn't crash that night until past midnight.  And they were still going at it!

Plan:  beach bum around Kaikoura, check out the shops/used book store, whale watch?
Budget: $28 hostel, $3 Willy Wonka sherbet fizzlers and grape twisties, $7 Subway, $35 produce & a bottle of vino

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day #23. Rangitata River/Methven.

Her name was Betsy.  Betsy from Florida.  By her wrinkled skin and long white hair, I'd guess she was around 67 years old or so.  She was the hippie type, wearing Indian moccasins and gold jewelry, hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.  And she was hammered :)  I had seen her in the Lake Front Lodge earlier that evening when I was checking some stuff out online.  I only had so many minutes left on my internet card, and I was trying to hurry.  But Betsy seemed oblivious to the fact that I was super busy.  She sipped her HUGE glass of white wine (the 2nd one I'd seen her pour since I sat down) and babbled on and on, asking me a zillion questions.  I tried to multi-task the best I could, but Betsy wanted my full attention.  Eventually I went back to my room.

Tossed and turned… just couldn't get to sleep last night!  Finally around midnight, I grabbed my book and went out into the lobby.  Betsy was sitting on the couch with another HUGE glass of white wine, giggling over a TV show and making eyes at a boy from Panama sitting on an opposing couch.  I plopped down and started reading, but the TV show caught my ear and before I knew it Betsy and I were laughing together over the outrageous sitcom.  After the show ended, we started talking about our travels.  She went on about how much she loved Cuban men.  And men from Mexico.  "How do you pronounce that city in Mexico?"  She asked, then garbled a string of vowel-sounding words, looking at the boy from Panama and myself for help.  We tried to help her sound it out, multiple times.  "Poo-wer-toe-vee-ay-hoe!"  But bless her heart, I don't know if it's cuz she just can't speak Spanish or because she drank too much wine.  She absolutely could not even come close to saying it right.

So we played music instead :)  Betsy swayed out the lobby door and to her car, returning with a Cuban mix.  Popped the CD in, and we danced.  Betsy danced by herself, I danced by myself, Betsy danced with Panama boy, I danced with Betsy… it was hilarious!  She kept grabbing at the poor boy's bum and every time he would howl and jump away.  She just laughed… eyes closed, swaying around a bit, arms in the air doing a little hula type of thing.  She was a real kick.  I got winded and sat down for a few minutes.  Betsy grabbed my hand and tried to pull me up.  "C'mon! DANCE!" she coaxed.  I refused, so she picked my bare foot up off the ground and tried to bite it!  Allllllll righty then… time to go to bed.

On to today's adventure.  It  definitely goes down in my NZ top 10.  White water rafting on the Rangitata River.  AMAZING!!!  The Magic Bus dropped 4 of us off in Geraldine where a guy named Steve met us and transported us to the river.  He was cool, had an eyebrow stud, beard, and a 1 1/2 y.o. baby.  The baby was at home with mum, of course, but the proud papa told me that his son is already jumping off the couch.  These Kiwi's, I tell ya.  The staff at Rangitata were awesome.  They had all the gear, hot drinks, and sub sandwiches waiting for us.  After a brief introduction - turns out Steve was to be our white water guide - we piled into a van driven by Tussock, the dreadlocked owner, and took off for the river.  It was raining and cold, the kind of weather that made getting into wet gear and frigid water very unappealing.  But the promise of Grade V rapids further on… well, that made it worthwhile.  I asked which seat had the most action.  They pointed to the front.  I sat in front.  "This one's gonna be trouble" Tussock said as he shook his head.

Steve taught us basic instructions, how to paddle as a team, what to do if we fell out, what to do if we capsized, etc.  "Don't panic, get in the missionary position, and keep your feet up."  He said if he threw the rope bag at us and it hit us in the head, that was 10 extra points for him :)  A couple from CO training in rafting and an instructor from TN were in my rig, so I felt pretty good about our team.  The river started out really calm, then gradually got faster with more rapids.  The last 2 rapids were both grade V.  The 1st set was short but steep.  We kept spinning around in circles before we hit the biggest one head on.  We paddled as hard as we could to work up the momentum to shoot past it.  The 2nd was pretty much the same but 3 x longer!  I dug my feet into the rubber sides of the raft, and when I saw a wall of whitewater coming at me, I closed my eyes and paddled for dear life!  The funny thing is, half the time I just paddled air cuz the front of the boat wasn't even in the water.  Our guide thought it would be great fun to "surf" a particular rapid.  It just so happened that a kiwi girl and myself were the ones who got sunk in the water up to our waists.  The boys to our left thought this was amusing and couldn't stop laughing.  Hmmmm, funny how they were the only ones who ended up in the water at the end of the day.  Get 'em Steve!

Hot showers and a fantastic BBQ were the perfect way to end this incredible adventure.  We were all freezing to the bone.  My left pinky toe was completely numb.  Plus they had me squeeze into this way-too-small wetsuit so I felt like a rubber band anytime I moved.  The photographer, Ben, showed us a slideshow of the pics he'd taken from perch on the bank.  Our faces… hahaha… not the most flattering looks on most of them :)  Btw did I mention the crazy hair these people at Rangitata Rafting Co. had??  Of course there was Tussock, the owner who had golden dreads down to his shoulder blades.  Then there was this photographer Ben who rolled in wearing a mullet wig.  And to complete the trio was Dan whose hair resembled Curly from The Three Stooges.  HA-larious.

A shuttle took the 4 of us to Methvin which is a town so small it isn't even mentioned in my travel book.  It's a detour stop right now as Magic won't take anybody into Christchurch for obvious reasons.  Made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and settled on the couch to watch a movie with the girls.  I'm stoked for tomorrow.  Kaikoura's next, famous for their wale watching, dolphin swimming, and penguin observing tours.  Perhaps I will run into Betsy while I'm there.  I could introduce her to Peter :)

Plan:  check out Kaikoura for 2 days
Budget: $200 rafting, $3 black currant drink, $25 hostel, $1 internet

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day #22. Lake Tekapo, cont.

Lake Tekapo.  This has to be one of the most beautiful areas in all of New Zealand.  Today was gorgeous!  Sky clear, no rain, lots of sunshine.  And another great sunburn.  No lie folks, NZ's rays are way more intense than San Diego's!

I am utterly drained, so I will keep this entry short and sweet.  This is what I did today:  I walked parts of Lake Tekapo, explored the village, drank cappuccino, went crazy with my camera, read a book, ate Chinese take-out, fed the obnoxious seagulls cashews out of my take-out cuz I detest cashews, skyped my boo, went through photos, mountain biked for an hour, and relaxed :)

Now my face is burning hot and all I want to do is eat a bowl of Ramen and go to bed.

Plan: white water raft Rangitata River tomorrow, so excited for the grade V rapids!
Budget: $26 hostel, $13 internet, $5 cappuccino, $8.50 Chinese food, $10 mtn. bike rental

Day #21. Aoraki/Mt. Cook.

Today was a thoughtful, meditative, reflective kind of day.  

Woke up with Christchurch on my mind and sadness in my heart.  Took an early shuttle over to the Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village in hopes of a good hike around the mountain area.  The weather was looking pretty sketchy.  Dark clouds threatened rain.  The top half of the mountains weren't even visible.  But I was armed and ready, dressed in Hot Chillies leggings, a dry fit, fleece pullover, and a warm jacket.  It was freezing!  Besides, everybody knows I ain't got no insulation :)  My Camelback was filled with all the essentials including a rain shell and the usual PB&J.

I wanted to hike the 8 hour round-trip Mueller Hut trail which took you up a steep incline to gorgeous mountain views.  Sadly I didn't have enough time as the shuttle left promptly at 4 pm.  So I took the 4 hour Hooker Valley Track instead which was really lovely.  Quite an easy hike, but that gave me more time to make plenty of photo stops!  There were so many wildflowers of every color and description… yellow, purple, white, pink.  I am a flower lover.  The Hooker Valley Track took me through fields of golden grass, over two narrow bridges, between majestic mountains, past two glaciers, and by two lakes.  Finally some of the bleakness surrounding Mt. Cook cleared and for the first time I caught a glimpse of its snow-crested summit.  I sucked my breath in and stopped dead in my tracks.  It was so magnificent.

Took a break on the giant rocks surrounding the last lake.  The water was a murky, pale turquoise color; the surface shivering from the constant shifting and melting of the glaciers.  Stuck my finger in and it was frigid.

I took my time on the trek back.  Spent a great deal of time thinking about my life and what I want to accomplish.  I thought about my childhood… places I've lived, crazy things my sister and I would do, how hard my parents worked to make sure we had everything possible.  My family and friends, they mean so much to me.  Love.  Thought a lot about love.  How blessed I am to be surrounded by such beautiful love.  Spent some time pondering the world, how it came into existence, all its crazy intricacies.  The first man to climb Everest - Sir Edmund Hillary - a native New Zealander and an avid mountaineer, put some thought into the world's creation like many others before and after him.  "I have the vague feeling ... that the world is so complex and so remarkable in many ways that there must be some sort of intelligence behind it all but as to whether that intelligence is the slightest bit interested in a little person away down on earth, I have my considerable doubts."  It's true, we are small, unremarkable people.  But we each have something special to give.

My mother said that her dad always told her, "Leave the world a little better place than when you found it."  That is what I want for my life.  To love with an open heart, listen with an open mind, and give back even a little of what has been given to me.

It seems the best in people comes out in the worst of times.  It is encouraging and inspiring to see the world mobilizing their resources and rushing to help a town in ruins.  Keep Christchurch in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers.  It will be a long, long healing process.  

Here's to recovery, rebuilding, and restoration.

Plan:  spend one last day at the beautiful Lake Tekapo

Budget:  $26 hostel, $60 shuttle to Mt. Cook, $16 3D imax movie of Mt. Cook, $8.50 wedges w/ sweet chili and sour cream YUM

Day #20. Lake Tekapo.

Fourth day in a row of rain. Very depressing.  Even more depressing is the earthquake that just shattered Christchurch around 1 pm today.  It wasn't as big as the quake that hit in September, but it was closer to the surface.  Judging by the pictures seen on TV this afternoon, the city is devastated.  Rain is the least of anyone's concerns right now.

The day started off alright enough.  It was a long bus ride.  I got to plug my Zune into the bus' speakers and play my playlists Rich made for me :)  Kids were singing along with "California" and "Such Great Heights".  Most everyone on the bus decided to pitch in $5 or $10 (5 for veggie, 10 for carnivores) for a joint effort BBQ at the hostel that evening.  Our bus driver stocked up on the goods at a Countdown grocery while the rest of us grabbed snacks at a bakery.  We stopped at a beach known for its giant pebbles strewn across the sand.  But it was raining so I ran down, snapped a pic, and high-tailed it back to the bus ASAP.  Once everyone was back on the bus, our driver informed us of the tragedy that had just occurred in Christchurch.  We were stunned.  It seemed surreal.  And many of those kids were to be in Christchurch the very next day.  From then on, the mood was undeniably sober.  It certainly didn't improve my mood after reading the entire book Bridges of Madison County which was so sad, I was in tears by the end of it!  Thanks for that, Meg… ;)

Once at the hostel, many of us were scrambling trying to sort out bus and air changes.  The news broadcasts told us of the devastation to the city and unfortunate casualties.  But somehow we pulled together and made a danged good BBQ.  The first thing we did as one big group was to peel 20 lbs. of potatoes.  Then we split up for efficiency.  I was asked to be in charge of the veggies.  Good job for me, eh?!  I enlisted several girls and we stir-fried a huge amount of zucchini, carrots, onions, broccoli, green beens, and Swiss chard.  The meat crew chopped up a heap of onions and peppers and made hamburger patties.  These were taken to the grill masters along with sausages and were BBQ'd to meat lover perfection.  Another group of girls made the salad, and yet another + one boy made some yummy slaw.  That massive pot of potatoes was whipped up with butter and a ton of cheese into a fine "mash", as the UK'ers called it.  There was so much food leftover people were putting aside plates for tomorrow.  To top it all off we had hokey pokey ice cream!

I went outside ad took a look around.  The view of the lake from this hostel was spectacular.  The rain stopped and the sky opened, as if to reassure us, "everything will be alright".  We had a beautiful sunset.

As I was re-packing my backpack in my hostel room later that evening, I got into this crazy deep conversation with my 3 roomies and friends from the bus this past week.  Joan, Alexandra, and Daniel from the UK.  At first our talk centered around the shocking events from the day.  How sickeningly close we actually came to being in the middle of that quake… realizing how blessed we are… and acknowledging the tangible fear that was expressed by our families and friends.

Then we started comparing our travel experiences; specifically, how we felt in the beginning compared to now, are we excited to go home, and how have we changed?  It's crazy how similar we all were in that the first week or two of traveling we have felt depressed, homesick, and stressed out.  We've all cried, and thought about turning around and flying back home.  But after that initial phase it gets so much easier, even turning into a sort of addiction.  I compare traveling to a marathon.  At first your body hurts, you have cramps, you can't get into the groove… most people will say that the first bit of the run is the hardest.  But then you find your pace.  You flow, almost without thinking.  And by the last 5 miles, even if someone were to offer you an out, you wouldn't take it cuz you are so stoked to see the end.  We talked about the ways traveling - seeing and tasting the world's vast cultures - have changed us.  Or have they?  Because of her 3 months away from home, Joan is now certain of the career she wishes to pursue upon her return.  Because of her 5 months on the road, Alexandra is more confident and independent.  Because of his 6 months of travel, Daniel is renewed with more energy to push the boundaries of print journalism as a freelance writer.  And for me, it has made me want to work harder to become a better person; more loving, patient, and selfless.  Traveling… it can be so many things.

life changing..

When it's just you and all of these things, you learn a lot about yourself.

They say that music is the universal language.  I think laughter is also.  Laughter.  The can't-breath-can't-see-cuz-you're-crying-falling-off-your-bunk-bed kind of laughter.  With random strangers in your hostel room!  There is nothing like it :)  As we were turning off the lights last night, Alex complained to Daniel that he needed to charge his cell phone somewhere else other than by hear head.  She "didn't want electrical currents hitting her brain all night."  I said I had a similar fear… at work I keep my cell in my scrub pocket a lot and I'm worried that it will fry my ovaries and I will become infertile.  Daniel started laughing first.  So hard he couldn't stand up straight.  He sounded so funny that Alex and I started cracking up, then Joan couldn't help herself… and before we knew it, we couldn't stop laughing for 5 minutes straight.  "In… in… (*sputter*) in-fer-tile? haha… omg, fry what?!! your.. hahahahaha… OVARIES!!!! BBBBBAAAAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!"

As I write this blog, the front desk guy just came into our room and asked for a "torch" so he could check the "gas"… couldn't really understand his accent.  Then he added, "Yea, need to check gas before it explode" and I was like, "UMMMM do we need to evacuate?!?!"  Earthquake… gas explosion…  Fortunately he quickly fixed whatever was wrong and returned the flashlight (aka torch).  Crisis everted :)

Plan:  Hike around Mt. Cook area tomorrow

Budget:  $26 hostel, $3 internet, $5 BBQ, $8.50 bakery

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day #19. Dunedin.

The "Steepest Residential Street in the World" exists in Dunedin.  Baldwin Street is the name.  Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to inform you, I hiked that sucker in the rain tonight!  :)  It's pretty steep alright, but as to whether it's the steepest… well, that's suspect.

This afternoon we arrived in Dunedin.  I booked my room at "On Top Backpackers" which was pretty central and had good reviews.  It was raining, but that didn't stop most of the bus from heading over to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory for a tour.  Quite a delicious tour, at that.  I learned all about the history of chocolate, how it is made, and why Cadbury is (of course) the best in the world!  After all, it is based in New Zealand.  Chocolate was first brought over to the Europeans by various explorers such as Christopher Columbus and some others in the 1600's.  It was served only as a thick, rich drink that you had to eat with a spoon.  Many years later the British discovered that adding milk to their chocolate drink made it even more spectacular.  Eventually, hard chocolate was made and became a world-wide sensation!  Today, Americans consume the most amount of chocolate per person.  The Cadbury tour was fascinating.  I learned that they were the first company to produce real white chocolate, known as the "Dream Bar."  The tour guide kept throwing all assortments of candy bars at us.  I tried at least one bite each of the Buzz Bar, Turkish Delight, a banana chew one, Cherry Chew bar, Dream Bar, a pink marshmallow-filled bar one that I didn't much care for, and… I think that's it.  I still have a few others in my bag that I didn't try but I was chocolated out!  At one point during our tour we were handed a shot glass full of rich, warm, decadent, runny, straight up chocolate.  It was so sweet I couldn't even finish it, and that is saying a lot cuz I have a huge sweet tooth.

After the factory tour I wandered around the city of Dunedin for nearly 2 hours.  George Street was really fun.  Lots of coffee stops, Asian take-out places, cafes, and funky boutiques.  I didn't indulge in anymore souvenirs today (aka clothes :)  Saw a few spectacular churches.  One was the First Presbyterian Church and the other was St. Paul's Cathedral.  The Dunedin University campus was really nice too, with the old library building and park.  A lot of the architecture here is old Victorian which I love.  Many pastel colors and detailed trimmings on the houses.  And those lace-like porches hanging on to the ancient buildings for dear life!  I loved the "Octagon", or the circular park at the heart of the city.  The restaurants looked amazing there, but I decided to be good and make fajitas back at the hostel :)  I read in my travel book that Gwen Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin were spotted hanging around this area when one of them was doing a film nearby.  Some pub they really liked, but I forgot the name.  Oh, back to those Asian food places.  Would you believe it, but almost every single one was closed!!  Thai, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese… those places NEVER close. I still don't know what was going on.  A holiday or something??

I made myself the most delicious dinner tonight.  Went crazy at the New World Market earlier in the day and bought a whole bunch of fresh veggies!  So I fried up a sizzling pan of fajitas: orange pepper ("capsicum" they call it here), red onion, loads of mushrooms, and broccoli.  I even made some guacamole, chopped a hunk of cheese off the block I've been carrying around the past week, and put a dollop of sour cream on top.  People were staring at my plate of fajitas.  I think they wanted to steal it…. but I've learned my lesson.  HIDE yo tomato!  HIDE yo cucumber!  HIDE yo peanut butta!  Cuz they stealing EVERYTHING up in here!!!

After dinner I went back to my room, and... couldn't  even believe my eyes, but there was one of those Irish girls from Milford Sound!  What are the odds of that?!  :D  Her name is Annie and she's from Mayo (yup, that's in Ireland).  Traveling can be so random.  It was close to 7 pm and raining, but we decided that there was no way we could leave Dunedin in the morning without having walked up the "steepest residential street in the world" (according to Guinness Book of World Records).  We grabbed one of my other friends from the bus, the Irish dude that snores with an Irish accent (Ollie), and started off.  The front desk guy told us it was maybe a 30 min. walk to the street.  Try an hour there and an hour back!  In the rain!!!  It was so worth it though.  I mean, just think of it.  The steepest street in the world…. cooooooool.

We got soaked.  It was chilly out.  When we got back to the hostel, they rewarded themselves with hot showers while I inhaled a cup of tea and some wedges.  Wedges in New Zealand are a beautiful thing.  They surpass anything I have ever had in the States as far as crispy potato products are concerned.  Wedges are thickly cut, immaculately seasoned potatoes (skin on), deep fried to golden perfection and topped with luscious, spicy chili sauce and a huge serving of sour cream.  Ollie came downstairs and helped me finish them.  Then Annie joined us and told stories from her awesome adventures.  She is so cool!  She's 30 years old and has been traveling on her own for over 6 months now.  She's been all over South America, South Africa, Australia, and now New Zealand.  Really neat girl to talk with.  Wonder if we'll ever run into each other again… you never know in this small, small world.

Plan:  Lake Tekapo tomorrow

Budget:  $28 hostel, $25 produce, $8 tea and fresh date scone, $5 internet, $16 chocolate tour, $10 tea/wedges

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day #18. Milford Sound, cont.

I regretted my decision to spend the night in Milford Sound as soon as the sun started going down.  First of all, the sand flies swarmed you if you even stuck your head outside.  It was pretty bad.  Second, the weather wasn't great and rain was expected all day the next day.  Third, there was absolutely nothing to do around Milford other than the cruise (which I had already done), the famous "3-day" Milford backpacking trek (obviously I couldn't do that), or kayaking (didn't want to spend $130 to kayak in the rain).  Oh, and fourth, I learned that the Milford Lodge charged you $5 just to sit around in their lounge waiting for the afternoon bus.  Milford is beautiful and I loved seeing it, but I wouldn't recommend staying overnight to anyone in the future.

However, one random cool thing did happen.  Some Irish girls clambered into my room just as I had gotten into bed around 8 pm.  They insisted that I come out with them to the one local cafe/pub and hang out with the locals.  At first I was like, noooo I'm so tired.  But they said, "When are you ever going to have this opportunity to hang out with some true blooded, real backwoods kiwis?!"  Ok fine.  And you know what?  It actually turned out all right.  There were some local musicians playing and we did meet and talk with some bonifide, genuine, hard-working "country" kiwi kids.  A very unique evening, to say the least.  When I did get to bed I slept like a log and didn't wake up until 9:45 am.

Then for the next 6 hours I sat around in the lodge - I paid $5 for it, might as well take advantage of it!  Surfed the web for all of 30 minutes before my 20 megabytes ran out.  Ate a bowl of oatmeal, an orange, and a strawberry yogurt.  Gossiped with the Irish girls about the crazy, weird locals we had met the previous night.  Talked to some travelers from Montana.  Watched Zoolander for the 1st time.  Had no idea how many phrases people say come from that movie!!!  "Age before beauty".. "blue steel".. "derelict your balls".. etc. :)  Pretty hilarious, that movie.  Made myself a bowl of easy mac for lunch.  Tried to go outside but that lasted about 0.3 seconds as the sand flies attacked me.  Played some Sarah Mclachlan on the old lounge piano.  Eventually made it over to the ferry terminal to catch my 4 o'clock bus back to Queenies.

Rachel was on the bus!!!  Yay!  She told me about her "Nevis" bungy experience from yesterday and I was very jealous.  The bus driver put a Kiwi movie on called The Fastest Indian which at first was super boring, but by the end my eyes were wet.  Don't ask why I got so emotional, I just did!  It was a cute movie, although Rachel still insisted it was dull to the core and put her iPod on.

A long 4 hours later we were back in Queenstown.  I was famished, so after an hour's stroll around the town and waterfront I headed to Fergberger.  As I was standing in line, someone tapped the back of me and said, "I was wondering if I'd ever find ya again!"  Well if you don't say, it was 'ole Peter himself!!!  I gave him a huge bear hug and he had the biggest smile on his face :)  I invited him to come in and eat with me.  "What's a Fergberger??" he asked.  What's a Fergberger?!?!  Come inside, my friend…..

I ordered the fish fillet this time, and Peter got a regular cheeseburger.  They were absolutely delicious.  We caught up over the week's happenings, then I said goodnight and waddled back to my hostel with a very, very full belly.  I still can't bend over and it's been an hour since I ate the thing.

Plan:  another long bus ride to Dunedin

Budget:  $5 milford lodge to "hang out" all day, $6 internet, $5 movie rental, $4 big bag of BBQ chips, $26 hostel, $15 Fergberger/water

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day #17. Milford Sound.

When my alarm clock went off at 6:30 am, why did I turn it off and go back to sleep???  Woke up at 7:45 and realized in a panic my bus to Milford Sound was to leave in 15 minutes, and I still had to go throw my stuff in storage and walk the 2 blocks to the meeting spot!  I jumped out of bed, shoved stuff in my backpack, frantically grabbed the storage room key, rushed around getting that sorted out, and without even brushing my teeth ran down to the bus stop with my overnight bag.  Just made it!  :)  Gosh I am such a retard sometimes…

The bus ride was long.  Five hours, approx.  The road was winding constantly, and I was getting sick to my stomach in the back.  However, the closer we got to Fiordland National Park, the more crazy beautiful the scenery.  I felt like I was in Lord of the Rings.  It was the way the mountains stood, framed with forests of white trees.  Many of the trees had webs hanging from their branches.  The sky was overcast, it was barely drizzling rain, and fog had settled in random places.  I kept looking for ghosts on white horses!  Then we went through a long tunnel cut through the mountain stone, a little further, another corner, and there was the Sound.  Milford Sound.  I had been waiting for this moment the entire trip!  Milford was one of the places I was most excited to visit.  I had heard of its intoxicating beauty.  There she was.  Sullen.. mysterious.. ethereal.

I boarded a big boat and spent the next 2 hours breathing it all in, slowly moving through the channels.  I cannot even adequately describe with words how magnificent this place is.  I couldn't decide if I liked how eery everything was with the dark ominous weather, or if I would have wanted it to be sunny.  The water was very dark and looked frigid.  I saw tons of seals rolling around in it and, with great difficulty, heave their chubby bodies up the rocks.  I noted countless waterfalls, one of which reminded me of a long, sweeping, luminous, powerful, and yet incredibly delicate bridal veil.  Milford was stunning.  Glorious!  In every possible way.

After the cruise was over, I took a shuttle to my quaint little Milford Lodge dorm room.  The lodge is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and framed by the mountains.  I'm looking forward to the wonderful sleep I just know I will get tonight!!!  Here in Milford Sound there is one restaurant and one pub, both of which are expensive, so I'm glad I grabbed my food bag on the way out this morning.  Just finished eating a warm bowl of Raman with leftover sauteed purple cabbage, fried eggs, and the remains of my delicious hot house cucumber.  Internet is outrageous here too.  It costs $10 for 50 megabytes.  I used the entire 50 on just 8 minutes of video skype with my boyfriend before it cut me off.  I couldn't believe it!  Had to go buy another $10 worth just to upload my blog and do a little net surfing.  Btw, it is our 9-month anniversary today!!! :)

It's almost 7 pm here.  So quiet and peaceful.  Definitely going to bed soon.  Thought about kayaking tomorrow morning, but I'm exhausted.  Think I will just chill and walk a little bit, maybe even watch a movie from the Lodge's extensive collection.  Catching the afternoon bus back to Queenstown tomorrow.  I'm thinking I will arrive just in time for a Fergberger :)

Plan:  Spend the morning chilling in Milford, then take the afternoon bus back for my last night in Queenies before moving on to Dunedin

Budget:  $30 hostel, $20 internet (freaking ridiculous how much they charge for the net here)

Day #16. Queenstown.

There exists a sport more terrifying than skydiving.  They call it "bungy jumping".  The 2nd longest jump in the world - "Nevis" - is located in Queenstown.  At 134 meters, it offers a huge adrenaline rush to those brave enough to try it.  I had my heart set on doing this jump.  However, on the way to Queenstown, we stopped at the "world's 1st bungy location" off of the Karawau Bridge.  It's a measly 43 meters :)  On a whim, I decided to do it there rather than Nevis cuz I realized I wouldn't have time to get out to Nevis.  And besides, the bridge and river were beautiful.  An added bonus is that they will even fix it to where you get dunked in the water during the jump.  I walked over all confident and stuff.  They hog-tied my legs.  I shuffled like a penguin to the edge of the "diving board".  

Then I panicked.  I really did.  They told me to wave at the camera but all I could do was yell, "I'm scared!!! I'm so freaking scared!!!!!"  My body was trembling!  I grabbed the guys shirt behind me and asked if I could go yet.  He looked really startled and took a step backwards… I think he thought I was gonna pull him off with me! hahaha.  They have harnesses on, don't worry.  He was like "Sure, whenever you want."  I had told him I did not want to get my head dunked in the river, just my hands.  He said he'd try, but that a lot of it was up to me.  If I jumped straight down I'd get really wet, but if I jumped out then it would be ok.  I let go of his shirt, put my arms up, and dove headfirst.  OMG it was the SCARIEST thing I have EVER done in my LIFE!!!!!!  I think I screamed for a second, but it felt more like I had burped and the burp was forced right back in.  My hands brushed the water.  Then it was over.  I was just swinging around, hanging upside-down, waiting for the guys in the boat to get me down.  Bungy jumping was absolutely terrifyingly incredible and I'm glad I did it, but after that experience let's just say I am so relieved I didn't do Nevis!!!  I probably would have backed out.  The adrenaline from that jump pumped through me for an hour and I was still trembling when I boarded the bus.

First thing I did in Queenstown was grab Rachel and head to Fergberger, the most famous burger joint in all of New Zealand.  This is why: they are gi-NORMOUS!  And loaded to overflowing with toppings.  Rachel got the classic cheeseburger, but I ordered a "Bun Ladin".  Crispy falafels, lemon yogurt, chipotle chili sauce, aoli, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, and red onion.  We grabbed about 50 napkins, some Cokes, and chowed down.  Incredible!

Earlier in the day when I was still in Wanaka, I had wandered around the town and discovered the most awesome little boutique called "Cherry".  I ended up buying a few things (Melly, stop saying "thank you!"), including my very 1st NZ-made clothing item.  Consider it my souvenir ;)  Then I sat and read the remaining chapters in my book at Relishes Cafe on the lakefront, sipping mineral water and snacking on their chips.  The chips were delicious, accompanied with roasted garlic aoli and cardamom-scented spiced tomato relish.  Can I just throw in here how much I love that NZ serves aoli with everything?!  Genius.  Then for lunch I had their fresh grilled sole with lemon, tomato slices, arugula, and a cucumber radish slaw.  I'm such a lush when it comes to food…. soooo good.  Not my usual attempting-to-keep-a-budget day of self control and PB&J.  But well worth it!

After dinner Rachel and I explored more of "Queenies" and had some drinks served in teapots… how unique!

Absolutely fantastic day.

Plan:  Milford Sound tomorrow

Budget:  $30 lunch, $150 clothing @ Cherry Boutique :D, $140 bungee, $26 hostel, $15 Fergberger & Coke, $5 internet… blew the budget out of the water today!  will have to start cutting back here shortly :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day #15. Lake Wanaka.

Dogs kill me.  They really do.  It amazes me how many times in a row they will run into frigid water, fetch a stick, and bring it back all giddy like it's the first time they've ever played the game!  That's what I did today.  No, no, no… I didn't swim out after any sticks.  I sat on the bank of Lake Wanaka for 2 hours reading my Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest book.  And whenever I looked up, that chocolate brown, curly haired dog was at it again.  He was really cute.  Ike was his name.

That is pretty much all I did today.  Just sat around.  Almost missed the bus this morning.  Alan (the Magic driver I've been with lately, for those who don't remember) had told me 8 am, but it was actually 7:45 am.  Talk about stressed out!!  Franz Joseph is cool and all but I did not want to spend another night and throw off my entire itinerary for the next 1 1/2 weeks.  When Rachel came running into the kitchen and said, "Heather! the bus is leaving!!", I grabbed all 3 backpacks, 1 tote bag, plus my freshly made egg sandwich, and beelined it out to the curb.

The bus ride to Wanaka was about 5 hours with a few cafe/restroom stops that aren't worth mentioning.  The weather was actually really bad for once.  Super overcast so we couldn't see anything at the overlooks.  Alan wasn't talking quite as much this morning, but he did have his one playlist looping (like it has been for the past 4 days).  Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkle, and Red Hot Chili Peppers seem to be his fav bands.  I was so caught up in my book it really didn't matter what was playing anyway.  It's getting SO GOOD!  Must have read 100 pages just on the ride over.  Kept looking up, though, every so often to see the scenery.  Again, I have to say that it's astounding how ruggedly beautiful the South Island is.

When we rounded the corner and Alan announced "Lake Wanaka!" I think every camera on the bus was ripped out of its case.  The lake was just gorgeous.  Framed by the mountains, reflecting the sky, hardly a ripple anywhere.  It looked like glass, or a lapis lazuli stained window.  I was sitting next to an Asian girl who of course recorded the whole thing on her video camera.  As soon as that lake came into view, I knew I had made the right decision to spend the night there.  Only about 8 of us got off the packed bus to stay overnight in Wanaka.  As soon as I checked into my room, I got out to the lake and just relaxed for once!  And watched Ike play fetch :)

I am no longer afraid of bed bugs.  Another devil bug has taken its place: the sand fly.  I've read so many stories of these horrible creatures eating people's skin alive that I have a deathly fear of them now!  I carry a bottle of deet everywhere I go.  Today I met my first sandfly and it was not pretty.  After my lovely farmer's market inspired dinner of fresh garden salad and red cabbage sauteed in olive oil, I went for the 1 1/2 hour sunset hike up to Iron Ridge.  As I strolled down the path, I started noticing that little black things were bouncing off the sidewalk whenever I took a step.  AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!  Sand flies!!!!  I threw my backpack down, yanked the canister of deet out faster than you could blink, and started dousing my feet and legs.  But it was too late.  I already got a nice fat welt on my right ankle.  They say the bites sting worse than mosquitoes and swell up a lot bigger.  We'll see.  Despite my ample layer of bug spray, anytime I came across some sand flies I would dance around on my tippy toes and run like a football player in training.

After such an exciting evening, I treated myself to the homemade lemon cake I bought earlier at the farmer's market.  It was gluten free, had a beautiful thin layer of lemon icing on top, and little curls of preserved lemon peel.  What a wonderful way to end the day!  Then I had to fight over the washing machine with some Israeli boys.  I won :)

Excited for tomorrow.  The bus that's leaving Franz Joseph in the morning is picking me up at 2:30 in the afternoon.  I get to sleep in tomorrow..…. nice.  Queenstown is the next stop.  Can't wait.

Plan:  hanging out at the lake all morning… then to Q-town!

Budget:  $31 hostel, $10 internet card, $6 laundry

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day #14. Franz Joseph.

What an incredible day.  Another beautiful, sunny day in New Zealand.  I got motion sick in the bus this morning cuz the roads were sooooo curvy and Alan was driving like a maniac.  The police pulled our bus over and I thought it was due to his driving.  But the officer was just making sure the bus was up to date on regulations and stuff.  My stomach was a bit queazy, but gosh the views!  South island coastline… there's nothing like it (with the exception of Big Sur).

We stopped at a cute little town that had loads of NZ Mountain Jade stores.  I bought my sister a beautiful souvenir (you're welcome Melissa :)  I walked to a French cafe and bought my 1st cup of coffee since Auckland.  It was a "short white".  Coffees in NZ come in two sizes: short and long.  They also come in two styles: black and white.  Why can't Starbucks be that simple???  I've been going there for years and still can't remember the difference between a grande and…. what other sizes do they have?  Well, as usual, the coffee made me all jittery and my stomach was even more upside down in the bus.

The next stop was a spot called "Bushman's Centre", a very unique store/museum owned by a bearded man named Peter Salter.  Peter told us that his store is a place where "latte drinking, croissant eating, metrosexual Aucklanders don't exist… men are men and sheep are afraid."  The Bushman's Centre is a very politically incorrect but refreshingly different kind of store, specializing in the extermination of 'possums.  They sell everything 'possum - hats, pies, furry postcards, nipple warmers… you name it.  There is a stand in one corner with nasty-grams from all over the world, and the replies Peter wrote which are pretty hilarious.  I get that some people are offended about the killing of animals, but these are 'possums folks.  They are rampant!  And mostly road kill anyways.  You just have to enter the store with a sense of humor.  He has the most outrageous postcards, signs, and cartoons tacked to the walls.  I could not stop laughing at some of them.

Enjoyed lunch on the bus: a cheese sandwich and lots of sweet gherkins!  Finally around noon we arrived in Franz Joseph and unloaded at the Chateau Franz hostel, one of the coolest hostels I've been to yet.  Reminds me of a cabin-style ski lodge with vintage things all over the walls.  My UK girl Rachel (the only person I left from Auckland with who is still on the same bus) and I are sharing a 4-bed room.  There is a super sunny porch outside our window, and we have our own bathroom!  We are really stoked.

I did the 1/2 day hike up the Franz Joseph Glacier (not Fox Glacier, that's 20 minutes down the road).  The glacier guide told us that we were really lucky.  It rains 200 days out of the year here, he said.  For us the sky was nearly flawless.. so blue and only a few clouds.  We all put crampons on our really thick, rubber hiking boots and started up the ice.  I can't even begin to describe what a unique, amazing experience this was for me.  We were lead through walls of ice, down stairs that the guides made with their ice picks, holding rope railings and making our way along the glacier.  It was like being back in Mammoth for Paul's 30th!  (Better known as, Rich and Heather's 7-month anniversary trip :)  Winter wonderland in the middle of summer!!!  Don't worry, I took HEAPS of pictures to document this phenomenon.  It. was. magic.

When I got back to the hostel it was 7:30 pm.  I was famished!  And craving fresh things.  Like salad.  So I made a huge plate of cucumbers (finally!), avocado, tomatoes, onion, and tuna doused in my delicious Waiheke Island olive oil and lemon.  I also had a slice of freshly baked bread just purchased that afternoon.  Then Rachel and I sat in the top bunk of our hostel room for probably 2 hours and showed each other pictures from our travels, home, our friends, etc.  It's so sad that she's staying here one more night and I'm leaving :(  The last of the originals.

Looking forward to being in Wanaka tomorrow.  It's not a typical stop for most people traveling with Magic.  But I heard it is incredibly beautiful.  I'm looking forward to doing absolutely nothing tomorrow.  Except laundry.  Must do that.. I'm practically out of everything except for sundresses which are of absolutely no use here.

Plan:  Spending the afternoon/night in Wanaka tomorrow

Budget:  $103 guided glacier hike, $3.90 coffee, $5 powerade & bread, $21 hostel

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day #13. Greymouth.

Happy Valentine's Day to me.  I paid $60 last night for my own room so I could sleep.  That was not meant to be.  Apparently, the Paradiso Hostel knows how to party.  The squeaky doors in the hallway outside my room opened and banged shut constantly, people were shouting and dancing in the next room, and loud drunk kids ran through the halls, tripping and hitting the walls.  The party raged on, I tossed and turned in my bed, then fell into a fitful sleep.  Just when I finally found peace, some boys parked themselves right underneath my window at 4 am and loudly slurred how one of them swung at someone and the other "would have done the same thing bro."  Maybe I should have suspected something like this would happen when they gave me room #13 on 2/13…

In frustration and near tears, and on maybe 2 hours of sleep, I left my room around 5 am to go see if the manager was in.  She was sitting in the lobby looking haggard.  A policeman was talking to a girl in the hallway.  I told the manager that I had barely gotten any sleep last night.  She said I would be compensated.  As I was walking back to my room, the policeman approached me and asked if I had a minute to talk.  He then questioned me as to what I saw last night, what time I went into my room, when did I fall asleep, and the details of all the events surrounding the conversation I overheard outside my window.  I'm not sure what happened last night but I think it had to do with a fight or something.  The cop seemed very interested in that conversation I overheard.  I was so tired and just wanted to sleep… at least I got my $60 back.

Luckily there were only about 12 of us on the bus to Greymouth, so I got the entire back row to myself and I passed out all morning.  We made a few stops, one to a very windy but beautiful beach, and another to "Pancake Rocks" which were really neat.  The huge rock formations that jutted out of the sea were layered like pancakes (bet you didn't guess that!).  I ordered a veggie burger at a cafe there, and boy was it a dandy.  Came with a fried egg, hashbrowns, grilled onions and mushrooms, cheese, lettuce, tomato, relish, mayo, and BBQ sauce.  Excellent.

The bus ride today was extra long.  We were on the road from 8 am to 4:30 pm with approximately 1 1/2 hours worth of stops.  We've had the same bus driver for a few days now, an elderly gentlemen named Alan.  He was in an extra talkative mood today and droned on over the intercom non-stop.  About everything.  Especially 'possums.  He is an expert on the creatures.  They were introduced into New Zealand from Tasmania for the purpose of harvesting them to make the then-wildly popular fur coats.  But by the time the animals began to thrive, the depression had started and no one could afford food let alone a fur coat.  The 'possums took over NZ, eating 3 times their bodyweight of plants and bird eggs in 24 hours.  See, now I'm an expert too.  Alan said several times in a row that the only good 'possum is a dead one.  He seemed to know his stuff, but the entire bus was trying to nap and it was just really bad timing.  His microphone started having problems and we thought for sure he'd stop then.  But he just kept talking right over it! :)

Greymouth is a super cute little town… well, actually it's not little.  It's the biggest city on the west coast of the South Island.  But it seems small.  It's completely dead.  I saw maybe 5 people out on the streets all evening.  The hostel I am staying at is called Neptunes.  The walls are painted blue and the bedspreads have waves and seashells on them.  Very homey.  Since there wasn't a whole lot to do, I went on a tour of the Montieth Brewery.  Learned how they make beer here in NZ (and everywhere in the world, I suppose).  Did you know that they take all leftover yeast from the finished product and make that horrid substance called "Vegemite" out of it?!  At the end of the tour, our group got to sample 7 of their most popular brews and the crowd-pleasing Crushed Apple Cider.  They were all exceptional and I quite enjoyed them… except for their "Black Beer" which tasted like a mixture of espresso and Guinness.  But several were quite unique, like the nutty golden lager, the ginger scented summer ale, and the one I call "Sprite".  They put lemons and limes in that one.  It's really called "Radler Bier".  After the tour was over our group went over to the Railroad Hotel for dinner.  Most everyone ordered the minted lamb chops, beef patty, caramelized onions, potato salad, and dressed greens.  But I tried the vegetarian version of this dish which substituted the lamb and beef for a "spicy" fritter and some corn patties.  NZ's version of "spicy" is about as hot as a fortune cookie.

Stopped by the Countdown to grab a few essentials: apples, oranges, Meal In One bars, pickles, tomatoes, a lemon, an onion, an avocado, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and a cucumber.   These items will be joining the bread and PB&J that are already in my backpack.  Someone at the hostel saw inside my grocery bag and said, "Did you buy nothing but vegetables?!!"

We board tomorrow at 0800 for a 4-hour drive to Franz Joseph.  Even though I slept all morning on the bus, I am still exhausted… can barley keep my eyes open.  Oh!  Guess what room they gave me at this new hostel?? 13!!!!

Plan:  Head to Franz Joseph tomorrow to do the Fox Glacier 1/2 day hike

Budget:  +$60 (got my money back from last night!), $21 hostel, $20 produce, $30 brewery tour & dinner

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Days #11 & 12. Nelson/Abel Tasman.

I was the victim of a theft this morning.  It was heartbreaking.  Someone stole my giant hothouse cucumber.  That's right.  They were picky little buggers too.  They snubbed the half loaf of bread, half used peanut butter, and almost gone jam.  But they took my danged cucumber!!!  Part of me wishes they had swiped the PB&J instead.  I'm sick of it anyways.  Ate it for 6 days in a row.  But I was so looking forward to that cucumber :(

Yesterday was spent mainly in transit from point A to point B.  It took over 3 hours to cross from the North to the South island via ferry.  Then it was another 4 hours or so bus ride to the lovely city of Nelson.  I am staying in a "resort hostel" called Paradiso.  It has a swimming pool, sand vball court, hot tub, glass enclosed kitchen with all the latest appliances, and a big green bus that people go and chill on.  They also serve free veggie soup every night, free bfast every morning, and have free wifi.  It really is a fantastic hostel.  I got my own room for two nights… wanted to get some sleep for once.  Yesterday evening I got a vball game going.  We had a rousing 4 on 4!!  Was loads of fun!

This morning I woke up super early.. 6 am.  Ate my free breakfast of muesli and sliced banana, then got on the shuttle bus for the 1 1/2 hour ride to Abel Tasman National Park.  I had signed up for an all-day kayak adventure around the park, beaches, and islands.  There were about 5 others in the group, including this really cute, sweet girl from UK named Emma.  She's 25 y.o. and has been away from home for a year.  She worked in Australia for 6 months -- 3 as an accountant, and 3 on a working veggie farm.  Now she's just traveling for fun.  I asked her what possessed her to take over a year off by herself??  She said, boredom.  The kayaks were all 2-man, so she and I paired up.  Our guide's name was Robin, a really petite outdoorsy girl who had a great tan and a ponytail.  She's from Wellington but has been working here in Nelson as a tour guide over the summer.  We started paddling early.  Again, the weather was absolutely GORGEOUS!!!  One of the prettiest days I've spent in New Zealand so far, actually.  Crystal clear bright blue sky, see-through aqua ocean water, glistening white sand beaches.  I just couldn't take enough in.  It was stunning.  Now I see why this park is so famous.  We stopped at one of the beaches for a snack of chocolate chip cookies and fruit juice.  Saw a sleek white bird plummet from the sky and dive into the water.  Then we paddled around some other beaches before stopping for lunch.  Our picnic lunch was included in the package and came from a local bakery.  We got 2 sub sandwiches each, stuffed to overflowing with cheese, egg, and veggies (and turkey for everyone but me :)  In addition to that we had spinach and goat cheese quiches which were mouthwateringly delicious.  Then chocolate slices for dessert!  In New Zealand they serve a lot of dessert "slices" -- caramel slices, coconut slices, chocolate slices.  They're basically gooey filling sandwiched between cake and topped with frosting.  Extremely sweet.  I could only eat a few bites (and if I couldn't even finish it you know it was sweet!)

After lunch we paddled over to Adelaide Island.  This island was cleared of all predators years ago, and now it is strictly a bird sanctuary.  Back in the day when Captain Cook was running around exploring, he discovered this island and wrote that the birds were so loud he had to park his boat a km off d/t their excruciatingly loud singing.  Today the birds are almost as loud, you should have heard 'em!  My mom would have gone crazy on this island.  She is a bird lover in the extreme.  When I was paddling around, I could see visions of her in my head with her binoculars and tape recorder.  Ohhh mother…. I miss you :)

On our way back to the main park we saw a few seals.  I still think seals and otters are some of the cutest animals on the planet!!  They were twirling around in the water and waving at us with their darling little flippers.  Emma and I had been having problems with our kayak for a while.  She started off steering, but was doing a horrible job of it, and I kept thinking how much better of a job I would do.  Then we switched and I tried my hand at it.  We zig-zagged all over creation, hitting other kayaks and having a terrible time.  Was way harder than I thought!  But by the last half of the afternoon we were pro's.  We started power paddling.  I was imagining I was on the olympic rowing team… and I could see the finish line in the distance… currently 1st place… gotta push, push, row, row, go, Go! "HEATHER AND EMMA!!!!" Robin's voice screeched from a distance.  "Stay with the group!!"

Tonight they are having a Valentine's Day thing at the hostel.  I thought about going, but now I'm just so bummed over my missing cucumber that I'm considering just going to bed.  Ok, ok… I'm really not that upset anymore.  Just being dramatic :)  Love you all!!!  Goodnight!

Plan:  Head over to Greymouth in the am. Who knows what's over there, will read my travel book on the way over.

Budget yesterday:  $55 ferry, $3 shuttle, $60 hostel (my own room for once!! YAY!), $20 produce

Budget today:  $140 all day kayaking trip including transport and lunch, $60 hostel

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day #10. Wellington.

Love.. love.. LOVE Wellington.  I'm not a big city girl, but Wellington absolutely knocked my socks off.  It is the polar opposite of Auckland (if you love Auckland, please don't take offense).  Wellington and Auckland are both coastal cities, but Wellington is just so much more beautiful!  It is less crowded, cleaner, the restaurants and pubs are nicer, the buildings more artistically built, and the people are prettier :)  In addition to all of this, most of the attractions, parks, gardens, and museums are either free or very cheap.  Like < $10 cheap.  This is SUCH a breath of fresh air!!!  Just what I needed when I was starting to feel run down, tired, and homesick.  I so could have spent a few more days here!  

We arrived in Wellington around 2:30 this afternoon.  By the time I got my room sorted and everything, it was 3:30.  I heard the Te Papa Museum was not to be missed.  But I just couldn't do it.  This pace I've been going at the past 10 days had caught up to me and I was plum wore out.  So I drank a glass of EmergenC and took a nap.  Felt sooooo good.  Then I got to skype my love and IM my bff Tan Tan! ;)  By the time I got out of my hostel room I was famished.  The plan was to go out in the town to one of the 4 restaurants I had circled in my travel book.  But I was so hungry I went in to the Nomad Hostel's bar next door and got my free mac n cheese first.  Then I wasn't even hungry anymore.  Ran into Alistair, the bus driver from days past.  He was flustered and rushing about cuz his key broke and he couldn't lock the bus.  But I got his e-mail and promised to be in touch on Facebook.  I'm in trouble if he gets ahold of my blog, eh? :)

I spent some time walking along the harbor, around Civic Square.  Just absolutely gorgeous!!!  The sky was crystal clear, the water a deep, dark blue, and the all the buildings as far as the eye could see were glistening in the late afternoon sun.  I loved how the walkway was made of brick.  I passed a park where there was a working sculpture exhibit, as in the artists were actually chiseling their masterpieces right in front of you.  Took a look at the Te Papa museum but unfortunately it was already closed.  There was a really neat playground on the water's edge.  It included a mini lighthouse that kids could climb up and then go down a very long slide.  How neat is that?!  A kid-sized lighthouse!

After a while I started getting hungry again.  So I started heading for this place called "Matterhorn" that I had settled on.  Supposedly it served delicacies such as snapper with artichoke, fennel, confit tomatoes, olives, and a preserved lemon-fennel-cream sauce.  When I got to the restaurant, however, it was stuffy and dark, and the snapper was not on the menu.  I kept walking.  Forget the book and it's suggestions… it was more fun to explore for myself.  I happened to be on Cuba Street which is a cute, funky area of Wellington known for it's alternative culture, unique shops, and exquisite cuisine.  There were so many interesting people walking about!  I had to sit on a bench for awhile and just observe.  There was an Asian girl sitting on the bench across from me who was wearing an interesting outfit to say the least -- red shirt, orange cardigan, rainbow colored skirt, and combat boots.  Most people were very dressed up since it's a Friday night.  But the styles here are definitely different than what I'm used to seeing in California.  The girls seem to like to pair really nice sundresses with either sneakers, boots, or ridiculously high heels.  Saw a lot of punk outfits too.  One girl had on a shredded black top, fishnet tights, shorts, and boots that were more platformed than anything I've ever seen Elton John wear.

Anyways, it was so much fun just to sit and people watch.  After walking up and down Cuba St. a few times (just to make sure I didn't miss anything!), I settled on a very artsy, posh French Bistro.  They stuck me in a corner on a little stool at a bar table next to a girl folding napkins (it's so awkward going into a nicer restaurant and asking for "a table for one").  The menu made my mouth water!  I didn't know what to get… the boeuf bourguignon, goat cheese parfait, fresh fish… it all looked amazing.  I decided to go on the light side and ordered a green salad with French vinaigrette, French onion soup, and a glass of white wine swirled with blackcurrant liqeur.  The salad was perfect.  Tangy, salty, tender, and fresh.  The soup was absolutely phenomenal.  I've had French onion before, but never one so delicate and with just the right amount of Gruyere cheese melted on top.  Then came dessert.  Again I had a really hard time deciding!!! Creme brulee?  Meringue, berries, and ice cream?  Or chocolate fondant.  I chose the fondant.  Oh……. my…… goodness….. can you say, heaven on a plate??!!  The chocolate fondant was a warm, gooey cake that came with a tart cherry compote and a dollop of creme fraiche.  I savored every single bite.  I left the bistro in a state of bliss.

This weekend marks the end of the Chinese New Year or "Year of the Rabbit".  I heard there were going to be fireworks tonight on the harbor.  So I slowly made my way down there (still can barely walk, plus my stomach was about to explode).  I got sandwiched on a bench between two couples which was a little depressing as it only made me long even more for my own love to be with me.  Sorry for getting so sentimental… but I was really missing the boo :(  The fireworks were awesome though.  Whoever was in charge of the explosives tonight put on a good show.  It was very special to be here on this Chinese holiday!

The shuttle leaves at 7 am tomorrow, so I'm gonna hit the sack.  Everything but a mixed room was booked here at Nomad's so I had to go co-ed tonight.  Was a little weird to see some guys walk in earlier.  Of course one of them just HAD to tell me of his harrowing experience at the Base Hostel in Taupo (where I just came from).  He got eaten alive by bed bugs!  Now I am so freaking paranoid… more than ever.  Hope I can actually fall asleep tonight.  I'm already scratching like crazy.  The pub next door is going off too.  Where's that xanax???

Plan:  Ferry over to Picton, catch the bus to Nelson, explore that area

Budget:  $26 hostel, $46 lovely French dinner, $10 internet card, $6 produce

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day #9. Tongariro Crossing.

My feet are killing me.  This is no exaggeration when I say that I am literally hobbling around tonight.  

The Tongariro Crossing is maybe a medium difficulty trail.  All ages from 10 years old to 70 were out there hiking today.  The bus dropped our huge group off at the base around 7:45 and we were told we had 8 hours to walk the 20 km crossing.  More than enough time, even at a slow pace.  If I had just stuck to the trail, I probably would have been ok.  But I didn't stick to the main trail.  What really kicked my butt was the "optional" trek to the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe.  This is the fiery crater in Lord of the Rings where Frodo went to end all evil on the earth.  (He threw the ring in crater, for those of you who haven't watched the movie.)  The bus driver said that only the very physically fit should attempt this summit as it was steep and slippery.  Plus it would add on 3 extra hours to the crossing and he didn't think many people would be able to get back to the bus by 4 pm.

The weather was perfect.  Blue sky with just enough cloud to keep the hot sun off, and just enough breeze to keep you going.  I had packed my bag the night before with all of the essentials: dry-fit wicking pullover, fleece jacket, rain shell, hot chillies leggings, sunscreen, water bottle, Powerade, camera, apple, PB&J, 2 "Meal in One" bars (rivaling Clif Bars in their delicious taste), a map, some cash, and my sunglasses.  The ladies who ran our hostel told us to be prepared for ANYTHING.  Wind, rain, heat, cold, dehydration, hunger… everything.  I hadn't slept well the night before - only got 5 hours.  So I made up for that before the hike with a big bowl of oatmeal with bananas and yogurt.

Like I said, the Tongariro Crossing is not too difficult and really can be done easily in 6 hours.  But darn it, if I am only going to be possibly hiking this trail once in my life, I am going all out!!!!  The climbing of Mr. Ngauruhoe was indeed steep.  Missy and Meg will know what I'm talking about… remember that sunrise volcano hike in Bali?  The last 30 minutes to the very top were killer cuz it was sand and small pieces of lava.  Every step you took forward, it seemed like you slid 2 steps back.  Well that is exactly what this was, except instead of 30 minutes of this stuff it was over 1 1/2 hours, and instead of pebbles it was much bigger, sharper pieces of lava.  I finally made it to the top and stared in awe at the beauty below me.  

The crater was magnificent.  The view of the mountains and lakes on the other side were also incredible.  Luckily there was already a group up there, so I asked them the best way to get down.  They wanted to walk the ridge and descend on the left side.  I thought the right side looked better.  But I didn't want to be alone so I stuck with them.  BIG mistake.  The left side was treacherous.  Very steep with barely any rocks secure enough for foot holds.  We were just sliding out of control.  I tried to scale to the right side over some white slanting rock, but I got stuck in the middle.  It was actually pretty scary for me.  I was holding onto a knob of rock with one hand, couldn't move forward, was trying to figure a way to go backward, but if I lost my grip on that rock I knew there was no way I could get any traction for my feet.  I would tumble over the gravel and rock for about 20 feet before there was anything to grab onto again.  I was starting to panic, but I kept sliding my feet around in the dirt, searching frantically, and somehow I found a foothold and was able to get back to where I had started out.  After about an hour of painful decent, we as a group made it down.  Turns out the right side was actually the way we should have gone.  We went the "hard way."  I am so grateful that we all made it down with only minor scrapes and sprains!  The hot chili's long Johns I had on saved my legs from being shredded… thank goodness I put those in my backpack!!!  I know some of you are freaking out… mom, dad, Penny, Missy, Rich… but please don't.  I promise to be more careful.  Promise!

The rest of the hike was absolutely stunning!  I think the most beautiful part was the valley's three aqua colored lakes.  And of course the views of the surrounding mountains were phenomenal.  I took lots and lots of pictures! :)  The last hour my legs and feet were really starting to hurt.  Was so glad I didn't miss the bus… got there @ 3:30 pm and departure time was 4 pm.  Whew!

Now I've got to get to bed.  Absolutely exhausted.

Plan:  Take the bus to Wellington and see the city for an afternoon

Budget:  $30 transport to/from the crossing