Archive for February, 2013


J and Z on Buller Canyon Swing - whereas I had been left paralyzed with vertigo on  the other side of the longest swing bridge in NZ

J and Z on Buller Canyon Swing – whereas I had been left paralyzed with vertigo on the other side of the longest swing bridge in NZ

Tied to a chair - canyon swing drop

Tied to a chair – canyon swing drop

Summit Track

Summit Track

Summit Track

Summit Track

Shotover Jet

Shotover Jet

Gondola above Queenstown

Gondola above Queenstown

Luging above Queenstown

Luging above Queenstown

J and Z on Hooker Glacier Walk

J and Z on Hooker Glacier Walk

Zara near Mt. Cook

Zara near Mt. Cook

Before the fall

Before the fall

One of them just fell! shouted Jonathan and in the second it took for my heart to drop, Jonathan and Steffan were already shooting the 100-meters across the boulder-strewn landscape towards Zara and Ana-Marie.

Just minutes before we’d been watching Z and her new 6-year old German friend scamper up the boulders scattered along the shores of Lake Hooker and the banks of the rumbling clay-colored river that the lake fed, overlooked by the majestic Mt. Cook and the Hooker Glacier. As their confidence grew, the size of the boulders they tackled increased.  We had JUST expressed some minor reservations about their safety as we noticed them dancing upon the top of their largest boulder yet, but agreed that they were “cautious girls” and the day felt too perfect for worry.  It was a rare cloudless day for the region and the hot weather offered a picture perfect hike to the glacier view.  We even were fortunate enough to witness two minor avalanches in the distance, alerted to their presence by  cracking booms echoing across the valley.  I felt that the hike’s reputation as one of the world’s best was well-justified, even in a land where grandiose beauty seems a common commodity.
And yet now, in the mere seconds of unknowing even knowing which of the pink-clad girls had fallen, my mind went into full panic mode. There was a raging river to their left. The ground was littered by sharp rocks and edges.  We were a three miles walk from the trailhead and miles more from any real medical help. And for a few seconds, no sound was heard from either girl (which those of you who know Zara recognize is cause alone for worry)!  Then Zara shouted out and I realized it was Ana-Marie who had fallen and yet, by very good fortune, she had landed upright, and just narrowly missed a fierce-looking prickly plant and any major rocks.  She had a couple of minor scrapes on her leg but the tears came primarily from shock.  All the grown-ups breathed a sigh of relief knowing how much worse it could have been and within half an hour, both girls were happily singing and skipping their way back along the trail.  Ahh, the thrill of parenting.

Of course, we’ve also had our share of  manufactured adrenaline rushes in recent weeks. Queenstown is world-reknowned as the adrenaline capital of NZ, where bungy-jumping was born.  I guess being enclosed in a small camper van for several weeks with me and Z had pushed Jonathan over the edge, as he chose to celebrate Valentine’s Day by throwing himself off of a cliff 109 meters high (twice!) at Shotover Canyon.  His first jump he elected a forward dive so that he could have an unobstructed view of the fall (exactly the opposite of what I would have done if forced to dive off a cliff) and for his second “jump” he was strapped to a chair and pushed backwards over the ledge. Given my recent bouts of vertigo and height-induced panic attacks, I chose to abstain from the “fun”. Jonathan has a fabulous time, although Zara was bummed that the minimum age was 10.

Afterwards, in need of a mini-adrenaline fix of me and Z, we headed over to the Skyline Gondola luge above Queenstown.  The views overlooking Queenstown arguably surpass any other and we were again blessed with California-like skies, nary a cloud in a sight.  Zara was tall enough to ride the scenic luge route and after a couple runs as front passenger, she took control of a solo luge.  I rode as lead luge, with Zara as the middle of our luge caravan, so that, one of us could grab her if she got out of control.  Nice theory, but poor execution.  Two-thirds of the way down the track, as her confidence (and thus, speed) built, she careened out of control on a sharp bend.  Fortunately, she stayed astride the luge and was uninjured (except for her pride). To her credit, she decided to do another run and although it took her twice as long this time (so much so that Jonathan who was waiting at the bottom asked if there had been an accident on the tracks), she finished with her pride and confidence intact.
Still not satisfied that we’d exhausted Queenstown’s thrills, the following day we took the Shotover Canyon Jet Boat.  Despite having read the company’s literature  attesting to safely carrying over 3 million customers to date, this ride was the where I seriously questioned my fitness as a parent. The specially-designed boat jets down the Shotover River flying within inches of the canyon walls while performing multiple 360 degree spins.  After the fist pass,most of us were cowering towards the middle of the boat, the signs cautioning us to keep hands and fingers inside seeming woefully inadequate.  As we sat in the last row of the boat without any safety harness or helmets, I had to repeatedly banish thoughts of Z flying over the handrail and slamming against the canyon’s walls. (No, I’m not neurotic at all, really.)  Meanwhile, as we entered another 360 degree spin that sprayed us with river water, Z broke into a boisterous rendition of Sponge Bob’s “Round and round the record plays all day” at the top of her lungs, which seemed to break the tension and steady the nerves of the retirees in the row in front of us who cracked a smile.  After 20 minutes, I was relieved to be alive, so I guess you can call that exhilarated.  Only after getting off the boat did our pilot share that his nickname was “Newbie”, as in the least experienced pilot in the company.  Hmmm.  Verdict–the experience was pricey, but the rush was priceless.
(Stay tuned for pics)

Notes from the North Island

So it is proving harder to update the blog regularly while on the road, between hours spent driving and the worst wifi availability we have encountered so far on our travels.  But, rest assured we are having a fabulous adventure exploring this country that looks like it has been photoshopped at every bend, with turquoise dye dropped into its rivers and lakes, tropical-colored seas, countless shades of green splattered against its hillsides and vibrant flowers placed strategically alongside the winding roads.  The North Island scenery recalls the most attractive parts of California, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and the UK Lake District but condensed into a small geographic area and improved upon. It really is extraordinary.

We have naturally settled into a division of labor with Jonathan (aka Map Man) as navigator and me as driver.  (Zara and I even have a little ditty about Map Man, sung to the tune of “Bat-man”).  As Map Man toggles through 5 different versions of maps on his iPad and iPhone, I am finding it surprisingly relaxing to be at the wheel.  We tried reversing roles for an hour and let’s just say that the tension levels rose noticeably in that short time.
We’ve been on a whirlwind tour, because there really is just SO MUCH to see.  When I booked the camper van for 33 nights, it seemed like an impossibly indulgent period, but I’m already wishing we had more time.
We whisked through the N. Island in 9 days never staying in a place more than one night, despite loving it, knowing that we will have 5 weeks in Wellington post-Taranga, which will allow us further explorations.  In spite of it being the supposed high season, the N. Island’s roads felt empty, and most campsites only half full.   We alternate between staying at established campsites with power/water and freedom camping, which can involve either an official rest stop (with loos) or just a roadside turnout (where we “go native”).  Zara prefers the latter, although the official campsites have offered her the opportunity to make some friends.  Overall, however, we are finding very few families on the road now that the NZ school year has started.
Our N. Island itinerary first took us north of Auckland towards the Bay of Islands and then circling back down to the Coromandel Peninsula and across the center of the island to the West Coast.  Memorable moments from the North Island include:
  • First night freedom camping at Mangawhai Head parking lot where strong winds buffeted Taranga and rocked us to sleep.
  • I suffered a minor panic attack while on the Cliff Walk at Mangawhai Head when faced with a straight 200 foot drop to the sea below.  Much to Z’s dismay, we had to cut the hike short while I backtracked along the path hugging the inside cliff wall.  This will become an ongoing theme.
  • Dinner alongside beach at the oldest pub in NZ – Duke of Marborough Hotel. Gorgeous views of sailboats dancing in the bay of islands while Z played on pebble beach.
  • Hundterwasser Toilets – artistically designed toilets in old mining town that has reinvented itself as artsy community
  • Visit to the oldest and thickest Kauri tree in a primeval forest
  • Z setting up a makeshift game of Boules for us with rocks outside of our freedom camping spot alongside TokaToka peak (which we nicknamed Zara Peak)
  • Hiking vertiginous TokaToka Peak before breakfast
  • Arai Te Uru Lookout– Hiked down to nearly deserted gorgeous beach where Z played in tide pools.
  • Driving Creek Railway on the Coromandel Peninsula – Established by Barry Brickell, who turned to pottery as a living after realizing he wasn’t cut out for teaching, became a successful potter, bought 60 acres, turned his childhood obsession with the railway into a dream of building  a single-gauge railway through his property and opened it up to tourists in 1991 after urging from the bank to do so because he wasn’t paying his mortgage.  He built the rails and five trains by hand.  Panoramic views from atop.
  • Z’s new friend knocking on Taranga before 7am asking if Z can come out and play
  • Freedom camping at only freedom site on the Coromandel Peninsula above Cathedral Cove
  • Digging natural hot tubs on Hot Water Beach in a light rain
  • Exploring old mining caves at Karanghake
  • Hiking Rainbow Mountain as steam escapes from volcanic vents on mountain
  • Burping hot mud baths — we didn’t go in!
  • Unauthorized freedom camping at Lake Okataina where black swans floated silently in mist alongside single kayaker
  • Mt. Doom!
  • Whakapaka Ski Resort
  • The solitude of the West Coast
Will try to upload photos and map our route when we are back in reliable wifi land.  Also, Jonathan is keeping a running list of things he likes about NZ, which we will share when completed.  WARNING: it is long.

Sandals and Socks

Captain James Cook was also no fan of sandflies!

Captain James Cook was also no fan of sandflies!

Before I start peppering this blog with posts about the grandeur and beauty of NZ and making exhaustive use of the thesaurus to come up with new ways to say “gorgeous”, after a sleepless night spent scratching, I must vent about the one (and only one) complaint about this country so far–the ubiquitous sandflies on the West Coast of the S. Island.  I may be overly susceptible to their unique agony (as evidenced by the 60 sandfly bites that covered my legs after a trip to Miami last year), but I’m finding them more troublesome than the mosquitos in SE Asia.  Their small size make them difficult to spot, as do their lack of an identifying whine like mosquitos and they don’t limit their prowling hours to dusk. And sandflies is a bit of a misnomer, because their presence is not confined to beaches–they haunt lakes and parks and car pullouts.  The welts from their bites increase in itchiness over several days and ankles are a preferred target. So, if you see me wearing my Tevas with long pink socks (channeling a Midwestern Comparative Lit professor), know that I haven’t (yet) thrown all fashion rules out the window — just that desperate times call for desperate measures.  Image

World Travel Family

Family Travel Blog

CARROT QUINN

dispatches from the wild

Mike Adamick

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

OurTravelLifestyle-LatestBlogPosts

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Family Travel Blog

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

A King's Life

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

EscapeArtistes

Just another WordPress.com site

Travel With Bender

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Worldschool Adventures

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Edventure Project

Education and Adventure for Everyone

Lonely Girl Travels

An Oakland Girl in the World