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A Day in Dublin

Our European journey starts in Dublin for no grand reason. While searching for flights to Amsterdam, we noticed that most seemed to stopover in Ireland’s capital. So we added it to our itinerary. We’ll take a quick peek on our first day, and then we’ll visit again before we fly home. My great-grandfather came from Donegal, a five hour train ride from here, but we hope to get a little idea of the land he came from.

Our plane landed at just after 7am. We had to get back to the airport by 6pm to catch our KLM City Hopper to the Netherlands. We put our walking shoes on and hoisted up our backpacks. What could we see in 11 hours?

Our first stop was the Old Library at Trinity College. The library was started in 1592 and houses many rare, ancient texts. Probably one of the most famous is the Book of Kells. Created around 800 AD this is a beautifully illustrated and written volume of the four Gospels of the New Testament.

My favorite room in the library was The Long Room. I would love to have 2,000 books at my fingertips. The musty smell of old books was tantalizing. I could have spent a lifetime there, if it wasn’t for all the tourists.

Honestly, we were tired from the flight. After stopping for a buritto; Mexican food seems to be almost as popular as pizza around the world, we headed to St. Stephen’s Green.

We spotted other travelers sitting on benches, suitcases in hand, watching seagulls, ducks and swans in this 22 acre park in the middle of Dublin.

It was very peaceful here. We found a spot of grass to lay down on and managed to doze off for a bit. Very different to it’s tumultuous past. During the Easter Uprising of 1916 the Irish Citizen Army blocked off the surrounding streets and dug defensive positions in the park in their failed attempt to overthrow the British. Fighting would stop periodically to allow the park groundsmen to feed the ducks.

We didn’t see any freedom fighters today, but we did see a few children feeding the birds and we asked a groundsman directions to the closest bathroom. He pointed us to the local shopping mall. It was very nice.

We took a stroll around before continuing on with our sightseeing at the National History Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland.

We still had a couple of hours to fill. Not knowing quite what to do with ourselves we decided to see where our train passes would take us. We hopped on the next available train. It took us through the outskirts of town and wound along the Irish Sea to the village of Greystone.

We wished we had more time to hike the trails along it’s shores, but we could only walk down to the water and back, grab ice cream cones; honey comb and Kinder chocolate, and then rush for the train back to the airport.

Our ride to Amsterdam was only an hour, but we both managed to fall asleep for some reason.

Miscellaneous

My eyes keep closing. I’m trying to keep the eyelids up, but after 27 hours of being crammed into an airplane seat and now train hopping our way back from JFK airport it’s a losing battle. I feel sorry for my fellow passengers. We stink and have a glazed eyed look about us. I wouldn’t want to sit next to us. We’ve gotten a couple of strange stares. With our mussed hair, backpacks and short sleeves while everyone is bundled up, I guess we do stand out.

We did so much on our trip that wasn’t covered in the blog. Kevin’s Grandmom visited 6 continents and took very few pictures. She said it took away from the experience.  There is some truth in that, but that didn’t stop us from clicking away. We wanted to capture every moment and savor it. We’d like to be able to reminisce about our adventure 10, 20, 30 years from now. Our memories aren’t so great even now to remember what we saw and did without some photographic help.

We took about 1,200 photos in New Zealand. With slow to no internet while camping, we haven’t had much chance to go through them. At times it took Kevin up to an hour to upload one picture to the website! With the writing, sometimes I had to re-write a paragraph three times. When I went to save it the wi-fi would cut out and I’d lose it, both the post and my mind.

With that in mind we’re posting a couple more pictures here . When we’ve cleaned ourselves up a bit, rested, and cleared the fog from our brains, we plan to take stock of our experiences so far on our journey. What have Kevin and I learned so far? And, is there some discovery about ourselves and our future? Or, do we have to do a lot more searching?

But first, a good scrub in a warm shower and some shut eye in our very own bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Day

We don’t always know where we are going and what we’re going to do when we start up the van in the morning. Right now we are sort of heading back to Auckland. We have a couple of days before we need to return the camper. The road led us to some interesting places today, and we noticed a theme as the day wore on. We call this day Water Day!

Waders are a wonderful invention. They kept us nice and dry while we trekked out into the ocean to say hello to some stingrays. Females swim close to shore when they are nursing. 

For sixteen years this one company has been taking tourists out to see the Eagle Rays and Short Tailed Rays in the shallow water. They’ve become friends with many of them. They act like puppies.

But you’ve got to watch your fingers. They aren’t the only ones swimming around by our feet. There are a couple of large Kingfish, with teeth. We’re taught how to put our hands in a fist so they don’t attack our fingers.

We’re each given a piece of fish to feed them. I didn’t get it right and ended up with a bruised finger. Kevin enjoyed it and even fed the Kingfish, no problem. The stingrays liked him a lot. They can tell us a part by our heartbeats. I think they could tell i was a bit nervous after getting my finger bitten.

We never thought the stingrays could be so cute. It was a good stop, but over all too quickly.

We hop back in the van and search for a new place to discover.

This time it’s another hike and another waterfall. You can’t go wrong with that combination.

We thought we heard a different bird sound, like a parrot.  We’ve been hoping to see a Kea, a very smart, large green parrot. Unfortunately, we still haven’t seen one. They must be too smart for us.

We did get to see a very large pigeon hanging out at the hot springs though. The Kereru  looks like our pigeons, except it is about the size of a chicken!

The hot springs were extremely relaxing. It was drizzling and on the cool side, so we we didn’t have to share the experience with many people. We went back and forth a couple of times between the hot pool and the cold pool.

Ahhh! 

You put your whole self in,

You put your whole self out,

You put your whole self in,

And you shake yourself about.

You do the hokey pokey,

And turn yourself about.

That’s what it’s all about!

I think about my family and friends all the time when I’m traveling. I see reminders everywhere. When I was searching the grocery aisles for a snack, I had to buy the Hockey Pokey cookies. The ingredients said they contained hockey pockey. How much more fun can you get?

My Grandama loved to do the hokey pokey and her enthusiasm was catching. She’d get us all up shaking ourselves about. Imagine if you could capture all that happiness and energy in a cookie. They’d be on the menu everyday.

The cookies were ok, but I still didn’t know what a hokey pokey was. I found out later here in New Zealand it’s a honeycomb like toffee.

I’m bummed a bit that it’s not a singing dancing cookie. I enjoyed the memories though.

I think about Robin when I see a rock, which there are a lot of here. I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she said a rock.   We passed a bakery with a cake in the window with Zac written on it.

We see Orion in the sky everynight, Matt. We wondered if Lee would like to fly  over the glaciers. Rob would enjoy the Lord of the Rings stuff. If Dawn was here, she’d probably try bungy jumping with me. 

Today was a Pops day.  Kevin’s ears were probably tired of hearing me say, “I need a picture for Pops!” But I really needed a picture for Pops .

We wanted to go to Cape Kidnappers, not only because of it’s super cool piratey sounding name, but to see a  gannet colony. A gannet is a large bird with a six foot wing span.

It’s related to the  albatross. You can get really close to where they are raising  their young on the tip of the cape. You just have to get there.

We read about three ways to get out to see the birds. Take a long hike on the beach when the tide is out. You have to time it just right so you don’t get stuck when the tide comes back in. You could take a 4 wheel drive bus over a back road. Or, you could ride on a trailer being pulled by a tractor. Of course we went with option three.

My favorite chore growing up was mowing the grass. We had a big old red farm tractor. I’d hop up on the seat, bounce around and sing songs while enjoying being outside. I didn’t know the neighbors were being entertained by me until recently when my mom said someone missed seeing me bop around on the tractor. Anyways, I loved to put it into third gear, when I thought no one was looking, and  race it around the yard.

After the wild ride we were on today, I wanted to ask Pops if I could borrow the tractor. It was a big old tractor that bounced and joggled us over the beach, over the rocks, through the water, all the way out to the gannet colony. It went over the biggest rocks. Sometimes we were so sure it would get stuck, but it kept on going. One time it sunk down into the sand. We all had to get off.

The  tractor churned and churned up the sand with it’s big tires. We all cheered when it broke free. Our feet got wet in the waves and splashed on to our clothes.

The driver would stop to talk about the things we saw along the way. He talked about the layers of rocks. Some of the layers were caused by slow moving water, some by fast, some by fresh water, some by the ocean. We could see fault lines caused by earthquakes. In the 1930’s a quake shifted the land by 1.8 meters. At some point in time there’d been a huge quake that caused an 11 meter shift.

When we got out near the gannet  colony we had to get off again and walk.It was a very steep climb up. We paused for a water break a couple of times.  Our breathing was a bit ragged when we finally reached the birds. We are so glad we didn’t do the 5km hike on the beach, too. The tractor was the major highlight of the day.

The gannet offspring were flapping their wings preparing to fly to Australia in April. Their parents were busy keeping them fed. Many were just tired out and taking naps.  There was only a  rope separating us from them. We’re not seen as a threat, so they ignored us. It was neat to see them fly and all the goings on while they completely zoned us out.

Oh Daddy, can’t I borrow the tractor? You can come, too.

I really do think of everyone, from aunt’s and uncles to nephews and nieces to neighbors and childhood friends. I’m not lonely, because you are all here with me. Where are some other places in NZ that you’ve been to?

You had a wonderful time on a mile long sky trek over the forest canopy.

The trip started off with a big whoosh. Your hair was blown back  and you sped along high up in the air. 

Some of those trees are at least 1,600 years old.

Then the chairs slowed down and you glided peacefully over the treetops. There wasn’t a  soul around. Like a bird  you soared in the sky.

When you reached the end of the line, you did the same trip in reverse.

Another day you took a walk in the Abel Tasman National Park at the northern tip of the South Island.

You had to board a ferry to get out to the trail. You got there early and found a good seat on the top deck, but the people coming late stood in front of you by the railing. You couldn’t see anything. A couple of men were boasting about their hunting escapades instead of looking at the scenery. You decide to tune them out, close your eyes and just feel the sunshine.

 The person traveling with you is taller. He stands up once and a while to snap a few camera shots that he’ll share with you later.

 

The split Apple Rock is cool.

The hike turns out to be much better than the boat ride.  It is shady with look outs along the way. 

Your calves are tight and sore. It’s not a flat trail. You pass other people along the way speaking languages from all over the world. After about 2 hours, you find a nice spot to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When the sand flies start to bite, you decide to get back to walking.

Your reward at the end is a beautiful bay and beach. You’ll build sandcastles, look for shells, swim in the cool water, keep your chips away from the gulls until the ferry comes to get you again. The boat isn’t as crowded as it was in the morning. You watch the kayakers and birds. Feeling drained of energy you close your eyes.

The Lord of the Rings is calling again. Your traveling buddy found the river where the barrel scene was shot. There’s a campsite in the park. You put on your hiking  shoes and set out to explore.

 

There are plenty of rocks to climb on.  

The water looks inviting. Several people are jumping but there are the rocks in the river. You stop to watch, but decide to keep dry yourself.

 New Zealand roads are exhausting. You have to be aware at all times, no room for mistakes. They wind about the mountains. One slip and you’ll go tumbling over the cliffside.

It takes twice as long to get anywhere than what  you’d expect. So when you see a chance for a break you take it.

There’s another swinging bridge to cross.

It leads to a quiet path. There is a nice trail along a fault line.

Where you spy a Weka chick and it’s parent searching for bugs. You use your foot to  stir up the ground. They come closer to have a look. You spot another chick in the brush.

It was a good stop. You are more awake and ready to tackle the road again.

 You arrive at a small campground next to an estuary.

Walking on the wet sand is a bit tricky. You tend to sink. The birds don’t have any problems. Some of them don’t appreciate your intrusion  and give out warning. Most just go about their business. There are plenty of snails for them to find.   You have a discovery of your own.

 

You are having a wonderful trip in New Zealand. Thanks for coming with me.

 

 

Dancing with Mother Nature

Listening to the rain pitter patting on the roof of the van, i huddle up in my blankets. Two out of my three pairs of shoes are soaked. Thankfully I am sleeping in my long johns. It’s chilly. The rain gains momentum. It sounds like it’ll wash the van down the mountain side. It has been raining all day and now all night. We are in the rainforest after all.

 

 

We’ve started traveling up the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. We were hoping to hitch a ride on a helicopter in order to take a hike out onto a glacier, but the weather is not cooperating. By the sound of it, I believe this morning isn’t going to be any better. How much do we really want to go glacier exploring anyways? I am tired of being wet. Kevin gets out the map and suggests we take a walk to at least see a glacier.

 

The sun seems to approve of our decision. It peeks through the clouds long enough to warm us up and shines down on the Franz Josef Glacier.

We went as far as we could on the path, but we couldn’t get too close. We clicked a couple of zoomed in photos and then found a comfy rock to sit on, ate an apple and admired the view until the clouds rolled back in.

There was even a unicorn out enjoying the day. Almost wish I had brought my cat pajamas. She did make us smile.

The run off from the glacier was very muddy and the rapids were ferocious reminding us of nature’s powerful force.

Further up Highway 6 we  arrived in Punakaiki. Punakaiki ‘s claim to fame are  the Pancake Rocks and blowholes. We take another stroll. This time through a maze of flax, it’s pointy, sword like leaves bowing in the wind, towards the ocean.

Scientists don’t know the  reason for the unusual layering of limestone in this area. The rocks look like stacked pancakes. 

The Tasmin Sea has pushed it’s way around and through these rocks churning into froth and  shooting out of holes.

 Very few people live along the West Coast. It is remote and wild. The earth is alive with energy, and those darn sand flies. 

We travel about as far up the coast as we can before the road ends and we’ll have to turn back and make our way across the island again to catch the ferry back to the North Island, but we have a few days yet before we need to be there.  From  Karamea we follow a bumpy old logging road to a trail that leads to the Oparara Arch, a large limestone arch with trees growing off the top of it and a watery cave hidden behind it.

Besides having to deal with the flies and the dampness, we appreciate  Mother Nature’s  powerful show here on the West Coast.

 

Awesome Adventures

You know the town is going to be a bit out of the ordinary when the first thing you see is a gondola going up the mountain and paragliders drifting down from the sky.

We’ve entered a whole new realm where shops hawk things to do rather than things to buy. Parking spaces are hard to find. A lot of adrenaline seekers find their way to Queenstown, the adventure capitol of the world, the home and hub of bungy jumping.

People not only jump off bridges here. You can jump out of a plane, too. A few of the brochures i picked up included: jet boating, white water rafting, zip lining, caving, 4 wheel driving, hiking, skiing, ice or rock climbing, horse back riding. If it’s an outdoor sport that gets your heart pumping fast and your breathing shallow, most likely it can be done here.

I’ve got an adventure in mind, but before we get to that we need a warm up. We rent a pair of mountain bikes and get dropped off on top of a mountain.

Other people plan on taking a more leisurely route through the vineyards. We opt for the trail that heads back into town. We get, “Ooh, you’re going for the more difficult route.” Yeah, we didn’t know that when we signed on. Oh well, we’ve got plenty of water and scroggin.

We do end up walking up a few of those hills, but  the mountains are in all their finery. There are shady spots to sit and watch the river flow by. Cows are mooing. Butterfly bushes attract white butterflies. The lake glistens. I wish we could take it all in, unfortunately we’ve got to get the bikes back to the shop before it closes.

So most of the time we spend worrying and pedaling as hard as we can, huffing and puffing all the way.

Another day we sign up for an off road  Lord of the Rings tour.

Seems like they filmed all over New Zealand. We saw the spot where Boromair dies in the woods. 

We saw where Frodo and Sam spied the Oliphants. We could imagine them peeking through the bushes.

The highlight was the rocky field that served as the Plains of Isengard and the Fangorn Forrest home of the Ents.

 

 

So, now back to our grand adventure and the reason we are here in Queenstown. While we were planning our New Zealand trip our favorite Korean variety show, Running Man filmed an episode in NZ. Their “punishment” looked like so much fun that we, ok, I, wanted to try it too. Kevin was eager, well umm, he said he’d do it if I  did it.

I recommend you google Running Man episode 379 (Try  the Viki website). Skip over the crocodile part. That’s in Australia. You want to see the Nevis Swing, which is  featured in the second half.

The inventors of commercialized bungy jumping created the world’s largest swing over a steep gorge. Getting there is half the fear…I mean fun. The bus has to climb a narrow mountain road with no room to pass and plenty of room to fall to the valley floor far below.

At the top we could see the swing’s platform jutting out in midair attached to a narrow suspension bridge hanging precariously out over the gorge. Looking down we could just make out a creek and rocks, lots of rocks.

We were split into bungy jumpers and Nevis swingers. We made sure to get in the right line. We could here the jumpers screaming.

I was excited getting harnessed up and nearly skipped across the bridge. It was a long way down, but I think our stunt on the Skytower helped prepared us for this. I wasn’t nervous  when we were told to sit down and dangle our legs over the side of the platform.

 “Aaaaaaaaah…..!” The scream came when we were told to look at the camera down by our feet. They pushed the release button right then. We were dropped straight down! But when the drop turned into a long, smooth swing, and we knew we weren’t going to run smack into the cliff on the other side, that scream turned into laughter.

It was so much fun. Kevin’s arms hurt from gripping the straps, so I refrained from swinging back and forth. Our feet felt like they were closer to the ground than they actually were.

The view was great. We had time to watch a bungy jumper dive head first, screaming all the way, as we were hauled back to the platform. Asked by the nervous onlookers how it was, I shouted, “Awesome!” Kevin mumbled, “she really liked it.” He said It with a sly smile. He liked it, too.

 

 

More Fiords in Fiordland

Waking up in the middle of the night, I slide open the van door, slip on my flip flops and stumble my way towards the outhouse, which is never close enough. I don’t bother to use the flashlight. It is so peaceful here in Fiordland National Park, with more than 2 million acres it is New Zealand’s largest park.

We’ve stopped for the night at a Department of Conservation campground, Cascade Creek.

We’ve got a really nice spot set back in a grove of trees with a picnic table looking over the creek. When I slipped on a rock and fell into the creek, I found out how cool and clean the water is. Thanks to two young men I was able to retrieve my hiking boots, too.

We had a N Z Robin visiting us during the day. He even flew up into the camper at one point. 

The woods around us are filled with beech trees, ferns, and moss. The ground is springy from the moss and it tires us easily. It is a nice hike to the lake where we sip water, eat scroggin (a trail mix) and take in the sites and sounds of the park.

Now in the dark with my arms wrapped around me and my eyes set on the path in front of me, my goal is making it to the bathroom. I’m not looking around me. It is not until I look up to see if I’m actually heading in the right direction, that I finally take in the amazing view around me.

Standing in the clearing, gazing up, I see a million, gazillion, gazillion stars. The only constellation i recognize is the hunter Orion.  I feel small as the Milky Way arches high overhead. “Civilization” seems so very far away, if one doesn’t include all the other campers parked on the other side of ours.

Next morning our jaws are still open as we wind our way through the park, past mountains, lakes, open fields, rocky outcroppings, down through a long tunnel and out into Milford Sound, which is a misnomer.

Milford Sound is really a fiord. A fjord that gets up to 8 meters of rain per year.

We arrive on a rare, sunny day. Perfect for a cruise on the ice blue waters.

Without the rain there aren’t as many waterfalls as  usual, but the ones that are falling are putting on quite a show.

Kevin got a bit close to one and had his glasses knocked off. 

Seagulls are busy trying to catch fish who jump out of the water to get away.  Fur seals are sunning themselves on the rocks and playing along the  waters edge gathering  energy for the night time hunt.

Trees cling to the cliffs, with no soil to support them, only moss, sometimes  whole sheets of trees tumble into the water.

The water is clear today and we can see far down to the bottom, but usually the rains  wash silt into the water making it cloudy. It also becomes cloudy because under the top layer of fresh water is sea water.

As we find out later at The Discovery Center, these conditions allow plants and animals that are commonly found deep in the dark ocean to survive here, like Black Coral (which is actually white).

It is from the Discovery Center that we get a chance to get a closer look at the fiord. With a handful of tourists and a guide. Kevin and  I paddle around in kayaks.

The waves are unusually calm. The day is sunny and bright. The only nuisance are the sandflies nibbling on Kevin.

We spot a few NZ Shags fishing in the shallows. These birds remind me of comorants. A bunch of gulls and a tern hang out on a buoy.

Kevin brings the kayak a little  too close to the gulls for me. I think they are going to all fly up at once and poop on my head. We also spot another Weka. This time we aren’t fooled into thinking he is a Kiwi.

The guide dips his paddle into the water and brings out an eleven fingered sea star. He turns it over so we can see it feeding on a mollusk.

We spot a few more ourselves clingy to the rocks in the water. When we get back to the Discovery Center we see more in their viewing room, along with the coral, sea cucumbers, and more fish than what we could see from our kayak.

Bright stars in the sky. Colorful stars down in the water. Star light. Star bright. There are treasures to be found if we only open our eyes and look around.

Uniquely New Zealand

Do you have an innie or an outie? I used to have a half in/half out. The gym teacher would say, ” All the innie bellybuttons line up on this side. All the outie bellybuttons line up on that side. Joy, wait there. ”

A dodgeball platypus,that’s me. A line of one, living outside the box and creating my own darn coloring book.

Driving through New Zealand towns we notice that unlike the gorgeous landscape the buildings tend to be a bit mundane. The houses are cookie cutter ranches. Most are square with maybe a couple flowers or a fence. Sometimes we are surprised to see a cow or horse in the yard, but then again there are probably sheep grazing within the city limits. A gas station, small store selling groceries or souvenirs, maybe a school, and luckily a public toilet are pretty typical town sites. We’ve found the food even bland, our pizza seemed to lack any spices.

So, when we arrived in Oamaru with it’s old ornate Victorian stone buildings down by the waterfront we had to stop to explore. It was a curious juxtaposition of warehouses mingling with art galleries, cafes and used book stores. It was fun to wander in and out, poking our noses here and there.

After peeking into a warehouse with stacks of wool bales, we climbed the steps of a neighboring building which opened into a large room filled with faces. We felt as though eyes were watching us everywhere in this museum slash store filled with quirky stuff that we loved looking at, but didn’t need to bring home.

In the back corner, hidden amongst the doodads and thing-a-ma-jigs sat a woman  with brush in hand. She was as unique as everything else in the shop. A velvet hat tilted just so topped off her brightly colored homespun Victorianisque outfit.

As we walked back down the stairs, I whispered to Kevin, “I think she’s found her niche.”

  He replied, ” I think you would fit in here, too.” There is a place for us all. Just some of us find it harder to find.

We got more excited when we found out that this part of town was where the Steampunk Headquarters was located with it’s Dragon headed train and airship. There was even a Steampunk playground.

Steampunk science fiction blends Victorian era with robots and steam power.  You put old junk together with some other old junk and create something cool. It was certainly not blah.

It was not far from here where we had one of our first encounters with the unique New Zealand wildlife. At about a foot high, the Little Blue Penguin is the tiniest penguin. It was well worth waiting until nightfall to see these adorable creatures wade out of the ocean and climb up onto the rocks. They waddled  past Fur seals lazing about on the shore, across grass, and under brush to play and rest until they would go out to hunt again in the morning. We were told not to “flash” the penguins, so we don’t have any photographs of them.

It was also difficult to take pictures of one of the largest birds, the Royal Albratross, even when it circled overhead. With a 10ft plus wingspan, we were so in awe it was hard to get the camera out in time. These birds spend years out at sea flying over the arctic and never touching land. They do have to land to rear their young, and luckily for us there is one nesting site on the  NZ coast. From the viewing area we got to see four chicks being raised and a couple of teenage albatross fooling around.

Another unique bird to New Zealand is the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin. There are only about 700 of them left in NZ. They get stressed out easily. Unlike most penguins they are solitary birds who like  to nest in the forest and brush along the shoreline. We got to see a couple of these birds in the wild, but we tried to keep our presence low  so as to not bother them. It was moulting season, so many weren’t feeling or looking their best. One looked like he may have been bitten, but lucky for him he landed near a penguin rehab place.

 

 

We thought we spotted a Kiwi bird in the woods, but it turned out to be the more common Weka. Turns out there were a lot more of those weka birds running about in the daytime. The kiwi is  a more elusive nocturnal bird. Both are flightless, Brown and about the size of a chicken.

The only kiwis we’ve seen so far are in avairies. You walk into a darkly lit room, allow your eyes to adjust,  squint and try to see if you can spot a Kiwi that’s not hiding in it’s burrow.

Pointing at the numerous seagulls we’ve seen on our journey, I asked Kevin why he wasn’t getting excited to see them. They can put  on a cute face when they want to share your lunch. He said he would be just as happy to see them if they weren’t so common. I bet their moms think they are each pretty special.

New Zealand’s Escherian Stairs

Tired I drag one foot up a step and then another. My breath sounds loud. Panting, I gulp trying to ingest more air. I lift a foot again, willing myself to move forward. I can hear the “huh-huh-huh” of the person coming up behind me. I inch over to the side. There isn’t much room to squeeze past me, but we are all used to the ritual by now: stand sideways, try not to sway to much, hold the tummy in, shuffle past without knocking the other person off. Human dominos weaving a long trail through the New Zealand brush.

Our first hike, or as they say here “tramp” is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is not a hike for the out of shape or faint hearted. It is also our first encounter with the Kiwi’s love of stairs. It is a challenging climb between two of the parks three volcanoes. One of which erupted recently in 2012. Mt. Ngauruhoe, also known as Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings, is what called us, and probably the other hundreds of people before and after us.

There were lots of warnings about the trail. The visitor center posted news clippings of rescues on the mountain and what to do in case of a volcanic eruption, get out of the valleys. The weather forecast hinted at rain in the morning, and yet here we were re-enacting Frodo and Sam’s journey up Mt. Doom. Weighted by a pack filled with food, water, and extra clothes, Kevin felt as though he was carrying the precious ring.

My Fit-bit recorded 360 flights of stairs, but they seemed endless. Every time we thought there couldn’t possibly more, there ‘d be more and then more and more. Usually flanked by a steep ravine on either side. It didn’t rain, “hallelujah” , but fog created an eerie blanket over the landscape, hiding how frighteningly close we were to the edge at times. 

Sulfur fills the air as we pass steam vents and crater lakes. Inside the rim of the craters we feel like we are walking on the moon. 

The descent isn’t any easier. The slopes are gravelly. Everyone is slipping, holding onto rocks, trying not to fall. And then, there’d be more stairs. We zigged and zagged our way back to the van. It was a tiring 7 hours of so, but here’s the crazy part, we decided to walk some more that day. We got in 26.2 miles, so we could check off Oceania on our list of a marathon distance walked on every continent. We slept well.

The thing about reaching goals is i often don t feel this great moment of elation. It’s like climbing a flight of stairs and knowing there is another staircase to go up. It’s those moments when you stop to catch a breather and look at the view around you when you feel the awe of where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’re going to. 

It’s the places you see.

 

The friends you make.

Your experiences along the way.

New Zealand’s Falls

New Zealand’s North Island landscape is dynamic. The roads wind around mountain after mountain. The van grumbles to make it up one steep incline and then you’re pressing on the brakes as it starts to race down the next. The passenger grips onto what ever he can, feeling like he might tumble down off the edge of the road to the valley way down below.

There are rivers running through the numerous mountains and valleys. They create beautiful waterfalls as they cascade over the steep cliffs. Luckily for the overworked driver and passenger there are signs along the route to pointing out where to stop, rest and admire the falls.