December 2016 - January 2017
  • Day7

    Adventure Time - Queenstown Style

    December 22, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 38 °C

    We unfortunately started the trip out with a head cold that probably wasn't helped by the hiking we did in the rain. So, in an attempt to speed up the healing process, we decided to choose an adventure that wouldn't make us feel worse. And, from multiple people's recommendation, it sounded like Jet Boating up the Shotover River was the not-to-be-missed activity. Jetboating was apparently invented by the Kiwis due to few roads but lots of rivers.

    The company we chose, Skipper's Canyon Jet, provided a little bit of history while the tour van was winding up and down a narrow single car dirt road. The area grew in population in the 1860s when gold was discovered. After about 45 minutes down the canyon road, we boarded the jet boat outfitted in lifejackets. There was a brief safety chat, where we were told to hold on and that it might be a bit bumpier than usual due to the high water level being just below safe operating levels.

    As we roared up the river at 90kph, the driver would manuever the boat close to the river banks and walls, through a narrow opening, and threw in a few 360° spins. We stopped under some bungy jump bridges, one of which used to be the highest in the world at 120-130 metres.

    The boat ride was around 30 minutes. We were both expecting a little more of an adrenaline rush based on others' stories, but it was still a fun experience.

    Since it was such a clear day, after arriving back in Queenstown, we decided to take the gondola up for a peak out over the town and surrounding Lake Wakatipu. We enjoyed some Sauvignon Blanc while taking in the views and discussing our travels.
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  • Day6

    Queenstown Rest Day

    December 21, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    The day after the trek, we took it easy in Queenstown. We would have slept in but since we went to bed so early, we were up by 7. We did some laundry, walked around town and ventured to a small neighboring village called Arrowtown. It's a nice little town nestled in the mountainside with little shops and cafes. We found a cute outdoor cafe where we enjoyed some wine, avocado toast and mushroom toast. It was incredibly fresh and delicious. Arrowtown was definitely worth the visit.

    That evening, we met Elaine for dinner at a spot known for its fish and chips, Fishbone. She kindly brought us bottle of wine for "saving her life" by offering her a ride. It was a great meal with great conversation and the fish (blue cod) and chips really were quite good!
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  • Day5

    Routeburn Track Day 2

    December 20, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    The second leg of the hike consisted of 12 miles over the peak and into the Routeburn Valley in Mt. Aspiring National Park. We were greeted with clear skies that morning, despite clouds being in the forecast. We made our breakfast, repacked our gear and peaced out just after 8.

    The initial section took us up through a forest along the lake. As soon as we passed the treeline, the views turned spectacular. We could look down into the meadow containing the lake and hut, surrounded by freshly snow-capped peaks, partially lit up by the sun's rays. We were trailed by several curious mountain parrots, keas, along the way. Once we completed the climb out of the meadow, the Darren Mountain range came into view across the Hollyford Valley, with a thin cloud running for miles around eye level and the ocean visible in the distance. We stood at the top in awe for several minutes, staring at an alpine setting we'll never forget.

    We continued traversing along the wall parallel to the Hollyford Valley for several more miles, passing creeks and waterfalls along the way. Then the trail turned upwards towards Harris Saddle which separates Fiordland from Mt. Aspiring National Park. As we ascended, a prominent peak came into view, followed by the deep blue Harris Lake. This area is the highest point on the Routeburn, at 1300m/4300ft. We ate lunch here, then continued walking along a cliff along the lake's edge, taking many pictures.

    The way down Harris Saddle into Mt. Aspiring National Park already started to look very different than the Fiordland section of the track. The trail ran along a river and through a grassy meadow. The river was a pretty emerald blue and it eventually lead us to the next hut, Routeburn Falls. We made a quick pit stop here and happened to run into our fellow hut mate Elaine. She was in a rush to catch a bus back to Queenstown, but since that's where we were heading, we offered her a ride and she joined us the rest of the way.

    We continued down a relatively steep section through the forest. There were several suspension bridges along the way, and we caught some great views of the valley. There was a great open meadow along the way. For the remainder of the trek, we continued along the river, crossing it several times and admiring its blue color.

    Just over 7 hours after the morning's start, we arrived at the car park. We celebrated our achievement with miniature bottles of brut waiting in the car (which was relocated from the trail head). A 1 hour drive through Glenorchy and along glacier-blue Lake Wakatipu got us back to Queenstown. After an early dinner, we were in bed before 9.
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  • Day4

    Routeburn Track Hut

    December 19, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We spent the night in one of the NZ Department of Conservation's huts, along Lake Mackenzie. The DOC maintains several huts along each of the "Great Walks" (famous hikes). These feature bathrooms, running (cold) water, gas stoves, bunks, and a resident ranger. The hikers bring sleeping bags, food, cookware, etc. and are responsible for carrying their waste out. This is a pretty nice way to make backpacking more accessible and provides a good opportunity to connect with other hikers.

    We arrived at the hut around 4 PM and grabbed a bunk. Then we headed to the main array to eat some snacks and chat with fellow "trampers" from NZ, Germany, Israel and the US.

    After dinner, the ranger (a veteran of 15 seasons at the same hut) explained the history of the local fauna. Many endemic birds are flightless since there were no land-based predators. With the arrival of the Europeans came rats, possums and scoats which have unfortunately preyed on the birds, thus diminishing their population including several species becoming extinct. Efforts are underway to trap the predators, many led by the ranger himself.

    Afterwards we headed to the bunk room with 28 of our closest friends. Unfortunately it was a snoring symphony so neither of us got great sleep; next time - sleeping pills.
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  • Day4

    Routeburn Track Day 1

    December 19, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Before starting our hike, or tramp as it's called in New Zealand, we decided to pick up another layer from a local outdoor store due to the weather forecast. After a 1 hour drive through the rain, we arrived at the trailhead in 6C/42F weather and were happy with our purchase. We donned all our layers and rain gear and headed off into the rainforest... but, we quickly became hot due to the gradual incline and humidity, and each of us chose to shed a layer after 45 minutes or so.

    The hike definitely didn't let you forget that it was located in a rainforest. There was no shortage of waterfalls or small creek beds to cross thanks to the everlasting rain (the area sees rain on 2/3 days). All of the trees and rocks were covered in moss or other plant growth. It felt almost unreal because we hadn't experienced anything like it before. We were very thankful for our rain gear and the thick rainforest canopy which kept a lot of the rain off us. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain and fog, any clearings in the trees only left views to the imagination.

    About 2 hours into the hike, we started to hear the loud roaring of Earland Falls, and even caught sight of the top through a break in the tree canopy. Once we came upon it, there was a sign indicating a flood route or the route right near the falls. We took our chances and climbed the rocks to the falls. Immediately we were greeted by strong winds and heavy spray! We quickly passed through to avoid getting soaked and freezing, but stopped on the other side to take in the full waterfall at 174 metres high; it really was quite impressive.

    Shortly after the falls, there was a break in the trees where the sky was clearing and we got another view of the waterfall's top. From here, we were able to enjoy our PB&J sandwiches and other snacks before continuing on.

    After about 4 hours, we were out of the rainforest and surrounded by large boulders and more views of the prominent mountain ranges. There was a very luxurious hut, for guided hikers (at a cost of nearly $2k/person), that we passed by on our way to our no frills hut. However, the no frills hut didn't disappoint and had an even better location nestled by crystal clear Lake Mackenzie.
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  • Day3

    Milford in Rain & Sun

    December 18, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    The next day, we got an early start to head towards the Fiordland area, home of Milford Sound. First off was a 2 hour drive to Te Anau, where we needed to pick up our hiking passes. The drive was gorgeous: we drove by the "Remarkables" mountain range, along Lake Wakatipu, and then through the green countryside. Brittany was getting used to driving on the left hand side nicely.

    At the park ranger station, we found out that the park was expecting lots of rain and snow at elevations greater than 1000 meters the next day, when we were scheduled to start our hike. While we brought cold weather gear, we certainly weren't expecting this in the New Zealand summer.

    After lunch, we pushed on to Milford Sound on the famous Milford Road. We saw colorful shrubs, open fields of wildflowers, and prominent peaks obscured by the clouds. There were thousands of temporary waterfalls rushing down the mountain sides. It was pouring but we arrived just in time for the last cruise departure. Outfitted in all our rain gear, we climbed aboard with expectations that we wouldn't see much.

    We were sitting inside initially as the guide pointed out some of the waterfalls. After drinking a cup of hot tea, we decided to check out the view from the top of the boat. Being surrounded by the majestic mountains jutting out of the water on all sides, some upwards of 4000 ft, shed new light on the experience. We stayed up top until we got all the way to the Tasman Sea. On the way back, the captain pulled the ship very close to one of the larger waterfalls and urged everyone to experience the power from the bow. Fortunately the rain gear kept us mostly dry. As we headed back to the dock, the clouds started breaking and we got a better view of the fjord.

    As we were leaving, the sun came out, making for some fantastic scenery on the return drive.
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  • Day2

    Flight into Queenstown

    December 17, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    After our long haul flight, we went through an incredibly thorough customs check. The customs officials went so far as to wash the dirt off our hiking boots to prevent any contamination of the environment.

    After a quick snack and beer, we boarded the flight to Queenstown. Crossing the country from north to south, the topology started to change from the rolling green landscapes to rugged mountains. As we approached Queenstown, we passed the snowcapped Southern Alps, and New Zealand's tallest mountain, Mt. Cook, all with the ocean in the background. The descent featured green meadows lodged between hills and mountains. The flight itself was quite memorable and a great intro to the south island.

    We picked up a rental car and headed to our hotel. Diving on the left hand side was easier the second time around, following the adventures in South Africa. The scenery around the town is pretty incredible, with steep mountains surrounding Lake Wakatipu.
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  • Day0

    Trip to the Airport

    December 15, 2016 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    The trip to LAX was fun as always. Departing at 8:30 PM, the Lyft ride took 15 mins to get within 1/4 mile of the airport, and 25 mins for the rest of the way. Dropping off the bag was also a challenge, but thankfully we have precheck which enabled us to get a glass of wine before departure. Now we're off on our 13 hour flight through the night and across the international dateline, departing Thursday night and arriving in Auckland on Saturday morning!Read more