Darcy Porter

Joined February 2016
  • Day16

    Day 16 - March 7

    March 7, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    Not a whole lot to write about today as it is mostly travel time. I was able to say goodbye to most of the people at camp this morning, except for a couple from Austria that went out for an early bike ride and a couple others who were still sleeping.

    It is weird to not be with a group that you spent do much time with over the past couple weeks, but it will be fun to keep in touch going forward, and perhaps have reasons to visit new places where some of them are from.

    Currently, I am waiting to board my flight in Auckland. I am looking forward to seeing how I feel when I land in Chicago technically one hour later. I also might be coming down with a cold, but it doesn't seem too bad at the moment.

    I have a couple souvenirs and New Zealand wine and chocolate with me to take home. This trip was incredible, and it is probably too difficult to pick a favorite moment. Currently, the surprise orca sighting on the dolphin swim is running through my head. It wasn't the sighting that totally grabbed me, it was everyone's reaction on the boat. As adults, it is hard for us to react with childlike joy and wonder when someone gives us a material gift; but the way little surprises like these in creation move us to such an expression is a really neat thing to see and be a part of.
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  • Day16

    Day 15 - March 6

    March 7, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    This morning was the last part of our Routeburn Track hike. If we had transportation to pick us up, we easily could have completed it the previous day. On the other hand, it was nice to have a pleasant morning to hike in, and we were finally getting a glimpse of the views this track provides. Numerous waterfalls and rapids ran along the route, and everything in the forest is very green. At times it felt like walking through a rain forest, and in many respects it probably can be technically classified as one.

    New Zealand is considered to be down under like Australia, but they do speak a bit differently than Australians. On the trail, I could easily pick out the Australians, because many would say "g'day mate," whereas I have never heard a New Zealander say that.

    We finished our hike in the morning, and then the 9 of us rode a very scenic drive into Queenstown to reunite with the group. After getting my tent set up, I went straight for the shower. In the afternoon, I went bungy jumping to give those legs a good stretch after the hike. I also snuck in a nap on a bean bag chair while waiting for the bus to the Kawarau Bridge. The bungy is a different sort of thrill than skydiving. When I dove, my instructor was the one who forced me off the plane. This time, I had force myself off the bridge. Did I wet myself? No. Did I scream? You better believe it. It was a lot of fun.

    When I returned to town, I found out about the best dessert in town at a place called Patagonia. It was incredible ice cream. While eating my ice cream, I was treated to the sound of a bagpiper playing Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland, along with a couple other tunes I did not recognize.

    I then rode a gondola to a very scenic overlook of Queenstown. It provided perhaps my favorite views in New Zealand, which is saying something.

    At night, the whole group went out to dinner, as it was the last evening for many of us, including all the Americans on the tour. I had one last round of fish and chips for my meal. A few of us decided to stay out a bit later, and I got a few more dance moves out of me before calling it a night in this spectacular town.
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  • Day14

    Day 14 - March 5

    March 5, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    We had another rainy and often slippery hike today. Our views were clouded, so we missed a lot of the scenery again. Eventually, my waterproof gear gave out and everything I was wearing got soaked. It sounds like a rough time, but I still enjoyed moving along the hike. If I had to remain stationary in the rain, it would have been much worse. Fortunately, our hike went a lot fastee than the estimated time because we were not able to take in the breathtaking views visible during good weather.

    Once we reached the halfway point of our hike, we were done climbing and started more downhill hiking on very wet and slippery rocks. Some of the views in the afternoon were beginning to take shape as well. I am pretty sure we were going right through a Lord of the Rings scene at one point. We were also rewarded with a beautiful double rainbow in the sky.

    Four of us reached our hut in the afternoon, but we had to wait a while to check in with the warden. The two girls who were able to use their tent last night, had a leaking tent, so they also needed shelter for sleeping. The bunk beds were taken up by a group traveling from South Korea, but we were able to sleep on our pads and sleeping bags in the shelter area. The warden was really nice and she even pointed out keas that were in our area. The Koreans were also really nice, and one of them kept offering us his food. We had plenty, but it was still a nice gesture. I let the Koreans borrow my deck of cards, and I later noticed they had a big poker game going on.

    Meanwhile, the six of us from the group had a fun time eating together and hanging out until bed time. We even took a couple selfies with us all together in our sleeping bags.
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  • Day14

    Day 13 - March 4

    March 5, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    Today, we departed camp and drove to the Milford Sound boat cruise. We stopped to check out a waterfall along the way, and also saw a few keas on top of vehicles. Keas are a neat-looking green bird with red colors under their wings.

    When we went out on the boat cruise, we had to deal with rain and fog. Milford Sound has been described as the eighth natural wonder of the world, but we unfortunately did not to see its full majesty on display.

    The rainy weather continued as 9 of us embarked on the Routeburn Track. Fog and rain prevented us from seeing much of the scenery. The hike started uphill and we were on there for a little over 3 hours. When we reached our campsite, Sven (he is from Belgium and the person I would be sharing a tent with) and I discovered our tent did not have a waterproof cover - not an ideal situation for the weather conditions. Two of the girls in our group had the same situation with their tent. So, the 4 of us went to the warden and he let us pay for an upgrade into the hut. We were fortunate, because we thought the place had no available beds. It was also nice to have the shelter and get some of our clothes warm.
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  • Day13

    Day 12 - March 3

    March 4, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    This was our longest driving day on the trip, but there was no shortage of spectacular scenery as we ventured into Fiordland National Park.

    Everyone on the bus has been sitting in the same seat during the tour, so I have been sitting on the back bench seats with four girls from England. We decided to make the most of the long drive by playing a few card games. I even taught them how to play Euchre, which no one else on the bus had heard of.

    Our main stops were in Gore and Te Anau. I enjoyed fish and chips in Gore (I have lost track of how many times I have ate that on this trip). Te Anau was our last stop to get supplies for the multiday Routeburn Track hike. I have everything I need for it now. Unfortunately, the weather forecast appears to be quite rainy.

    We made a couple stops for some scenic photos on our way to camp. We even had a forced stop to allow a sheep herd to cross the road, which was really fun to witness. The camp was one of the coolest ones yet. They even had a hydrogen bomb on display that the US had given them. The New Zealand prime minister then decided to deactivate it. (One of the museums I went to showed there have been a lot of nuclear weapon tests in the Pacific by the US and France; and I think a lot of the island nations feel they are a little too close to home.)

    I made the decision to upgrade to a cabin over a tent for only $13. I shared the cabin with a couple others on the trip, but got to have my own room.

    Late at night, one of the couples (who are from south of Boston) on the trip made a walk to see glow worms. They told us about it, and a few of us wandered to the area to check them out. I had never seen glow worms before, so this was another first for the trip.
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  • Day11

    Day 11 - March 2

    March 2, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    We had our second consecutive night at a camp with no showers, but we were near the water again and got to witness a spectacular sunrise. The driving was a lot less than other days today. We made a short drive to the Moeraki Boulders. Our tour guide said it was basically the New Zealand equivalent to Stonehenge. They boulders were interesting as they were perfectly round rocks in the beach that weighed 4 tons each.

    After this, we drove to the Scottish-influenced town of Dunedin. This city was settled by Scots and the streets and city formation were set up to be a carbon copy of Edinburgh, Scotland. When we first got to town, we made a stop to walk up the world's steepest street. One of the guys in our group was foolish enough to try running up the bloody thing...yours truly. I managed to make it a good chunk of the way until my legs pretty much locked up and could not continue running any longer. I walked for a bit and then decided to run the rest of the way. My lungs were opened up immensely and it took a couple hours to feel fully recovered. I am still glad I attempted the run, and rewarded myself with another dessert, which has become a daily ritual while on this holiday.

    We spent a few hours walking around Dunedin, and I finally found the New Zealand souvenir t-shirt I had been looking for. The city itself had a more unique feel to it than some of the other cities we have been to.

    This is one of the earlier arrivals we have had to our campsite, and everyone went straight for the showers once we got settled in. Now, I am doing some laundry ahead of my big hike on Friday and planning on a relaxing evening with my tour peeps.
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  • Day10

    Day 10 - March 1

    March 1, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    Love is in the air on the Flying Kiwi tour. No, I am not referring to myself. A guy and girl from Germany who have only known each other for a couple days are apparently still hanging out at the beach as I write this entry and creating a buzz around camp.

    The plan for today was to head to Mt. Cook National Park and do a 3-hour hike to the base of the mountain. This was an absolutely gorgeous route with a glacier along the way. I was able to hear the sound of an avalanche, but did not see it. The hike was far away from an avalanche zone, but positioned to be able to see one. I took many pictures along the way, and it is worth noting how lucky we were to have to the weather we had. One of our tour guides said it rained every time he was here last year, so the sunny and clear day was not to be taken for granted.

    We made a couple stops in towns along the way to camp, and I purchased a couple snacks and supplies ahead of the big Routeburn Track commencing on Friday. A few people on tour are under the weather, so we are doing our best to make sure no one else gets sick. I was on the dinner crew tonight, and we enjoyed some delicious nachos. Afterward, a few of us chatted over wine and beer.
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  • Day9

    Day 9 - February 29

    February 29, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    After lucking out with great weather so far on the trip, today was the first day with rain. Most of the group headed out early for white water rafting. I have done it before, so I opted to stay back and go for a hike; however, the rain kept the hike from happening. It was actually a good morning to relax and not feel like I needed to be heading somewhere.

    We finally hit the road around noon and made a brief stop in the town of Geraldine. There were a lot of nice, little shops, and this place was also home to the world's largest knitted sweater (pic will be coming eventually).

    After Geraldine, we traveled to Lake Tekapo, a really scenic lake with turquoise water and mountain landscapes behind us. We also saw the infamous Mt. Cook for the first time. I asked about summiting it, but when I was told it took Sir Edmund Hillary (the New Zealander who was the first man to summit Everest) 62 hours to climb it, I realized I would need more prep and practice to do so.

    In the evening, we arrived at the most beautiful campsite I have stayed at to date. We are along Lake Pukaki, with a view of Mt. Cook and billions of stars lighting up the night sky. I am now off to bed with the sound of lake water moving in the background.
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  • Day8

    Day 8 - February 28

    February 28, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    As if a 4:15 wake up time wasn't difficult enough, the winds were really strong and I woke up even earlier than that. However, heading to swim with the dolphins in the ocean was definitely worth it.

    This was also my first time putting on a wet suit and snorkeling. I had a bit of a struggle getting used to the snorkeling form of breathing, but I had numerous dolphins swimming around and under me. It was breathtaking. On the ride back, we had an extra treat of seeing an orca that came really close to the boat. I got some great video of it blowing through the blowhole.

    It was an incredible start today, and only 9:30 am. We then headed to Christchurch for lunch. This area has had recent earthquakes, but also is still rebuilding from the devastating 2011 earthquakes. After lunch, we bid farewell to a German girl who had been with the group for 28 days and picked up a new guy from Germany. I believe the current group will remain this way until I and a few others leave in Queenstown.

    Our bus ride was one of the most scenic yet, with water on one side and mountains on the other side. At night, we camped at an old sheep farm located at the foot of the mountains. The view was incredible, and the stars were the best I had ever seen. I learned where to locate the Southern Cross in the sky, and hope to see a few shooting stars tonight. I tend to always miss them as others point them out. Tonight's view is supposed to be even better as long as we have a clear sky.
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  • Day7

    Day 7 - February 27

    February 27, 2016 in New Zealand

    Kia ora,

    We had a relaxing morning and did not have to hit the road too early. After we left, we picked up 2 new travelers (after 2 left yesterday) - a guy from England and a girl from Scotland. The ratio of guys to girls on the trip has been 1 to 3, but it sounds like another guy is joining tomorrow as well.

    We drove through some very scenic, mountainous country along the east coast and came across a fur seal colony this afternoon. We stopped for photos and I even got a good video of them.

    We then got to do a hike along the coast in Kaikoura that took a couple hours. I hiked with the new guy from England and learned he is a Preston North End supporter, and we talked soccer for a good portion of the time.

    After the hike, we noticed a spectacular sunset while waiting for our fish fry to complete, and then enjoyed an excellent dinner. Early morning calls, as I am leaving for a dolphin swim at 5 am.
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