02/22/2011, Safe and sound, McLean Falls
Just wanted to let everybody know that we are well south of Christchurch, near Cathedral Caves and McLean Falls (1.5 hours east of Invecargill). We are following the news of the terrible earthquake and our hearts go out to the people of Christchurch and all of New Zealand as they face this latest trajedy.
02/17/2011, Ben Lombard Trail, above Queenstown
Gloria enjoys the view from the top
Couldn't resist adding this postcard perfect shot, overlooking the ranges around Queenstown. Queenstown is a very touristy place, but Michael and I figured out how to make the most of it without spending too much money. We gave up the tent over night and checked into a nice hotel room overlooking the lake, good value considering the view is an unobstructed one of the lake with the huge peaks surrounding it. We then took the Tiki trail up to the top of the Skyline Gondola (steep) and then continued on up the Ben Lombard Trail. As we set off late we were not able to do the entire hike, but did manage to get to this amazing view point high above Queenstown. We then hiked back down to the gondola and took it down the mountain for free. We gorged on Ferg Burgers, which are famous here in Queenstown. The place had a line up down the street, but the wait (20 minutes) was worth it- these burgers live up to their reputation, we could have easily split one for a full meal! In the morning we had a great run along the lakeside path here, it connects Queenstown all the way back to Frankton, again we didn't run all the way to Frankton either! We are soon going to pack up Sally ( Subaru Sally is the nickname we have given our car), and head toward Milford Sound, where in true form it is supposed to rain during our stay there! I'm pretty sure we can handle that considering the rainfalls we've experienced in our own Desolation Sound!
The tangled Tasman Sea
The Tasman Sea. Notions of wicked weather, high seas and endless seafaring drama come to mind. I watch as the tangle of Tasman dumps its frothy bundle of energy into its rock strewn foreshore. My mind plays out the immense drama of shipwrecks and past catastrophes. I even act out our own demise, playing out the scene in minute detail. Caught out at sea in a storm, swept onto these unfriendly shores, Paikea Mist comes to a unwelcome resting point teetering on the rocks. My eyes desperately search in the dark (it's always dark) for a passable path to the shore and up the vertical cliffs to safety.
But of course none of this is of concern as I lie in my cozy tent and listen to the roar of the Tasman, and the sound of the wind as it shakes itself through the tent. The night is raw; "chilly", a Kiwi might say, and I burrow myself into my sleeping bag, trying to cover my head as I dream on through the recent adventures we have encountered here.
I stand at the top of the cliff, about to drop off into the Waitomo Glowworm cave system which lies below us. Ready to, as my friend Alison muses: "boldly go where hundreds of people have gone before us". I hold the rope tight and put my faith into the harness system as I abseil down the 30 meter cliff. Yet as I slide down into the cave it matters not if thousands or even millions of people have been there ahead of me. I stand in the bottom of the cave, looking up the glistening wall, where lush green ferns grow as if by landscape design, and soft filtered sunlight shines through the bordering trees. The rock formation on the cliff is layered, offering perfect hand holds for the final climb up and out of the cave. Our guide takes us upriver, deep into one of the glowworm caverns. We lie on the cool rocks that line the river, on our backsides looking up into the glowworm magic where a miniature starry universe lies above us. I imagine piecing together an entirely new set of constellations, and life seems somehow simple and reduced. We stand up, under the low cave and shine our headlamps on the minute yet busy larvae above us. Each one has cast out several long beaded silk threads, which glisten from the ceiling above us. We watch patiently as a tiny glowworm larvae pulls up his long mucousy lines and reels in its morning meal- a fly was fooled by the glowing stars and flew right into the long tendrils of the glowworms night sky. Later we squiggled and wiggled our way through tiny crevices, exploring the more intimate features of the caves, and satisfied our adrenaline needs by bobbing on inner tubes down the rapids and jumping waterfalls of the underground river system. At its depths, 50 meters underground, we snacked on warm apple cider and chocolate and watched the steam come out of our mouths in the deep cool caves.
I pull my sleeping bag back up over my head, and my mind moves to the even chillier night we spent camping in Bleinheim, in the heart of white wine country- I can only imagine that they were close to making icewine that night. The next day we warmed ourselves up and hopped on some mountain bikes to tour the wineries, enjoying a fantastic meal at the Allan Scott winery along the way. In our down time, the campsite offered an exquisite setting, next to a small babbling river which tumbled endlessly by us. We were especially entertained by the mallards, who shot the rapids over and over again. At days end, the sun shook out its last rays and cast its golden orange hues on the fields across the creek. The scene was framed perfectly by wisps of clouds, as if placed whimsically by an Italian masters paint brush. One cloud fingered out into a wishbone high above the ridge, oh I thought, if clouds were wishes. The water swirling by made a soft soothing sound allowing my thoughts to drift and dangle; I followed the water in my minds eye , the river willfully winding its way through pastures and fields, down waterfalls , past homes and farmyards before eventually spilling itself into the ocean.
My mind turns back to the present, the wind slowly starts to die down, the Tasman relinquishes its furry, and I find myself slowly drifting into tomorrow.
01/02/2011, Whistler, BC
With our feet now freshly planted in 2011, we would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! I recently took this picture from our Whistler home after a bluebird ski day in freshly fallen knee deep powder. Doesn't get much better than that does it? Pretty much sums up the last year- which has been an amazing one of adventure and comeraderie as we sailed our way across the Pacific Ocean. Despite all the adventure, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and I can still attest this to be the truth: the Pacific Northwest is where our hearts lie. It feels just so wonderful to be here! I've sent the photo out to many of our friends and family and I have been calling it "Picture Perfect"! The picture says it all and reminds us how blessed we are. Not only does the photo looks like a painting, but the picture behind the camera is full and complete: a house noisily full of family and friends laughing, skiing, eating, eating some more, and simply hanging together. Isn't that what life is all about?
As the Year 2011 unfolds for you, we wish you this- a new year filled with as much adventure as you have wished for complimented by simple moments in time to share a laugh, a hug or even a cry with your family and friends, and maybe even equally special moments with those you have yet to meet. May you live it all, see it all and share it all. All the best for 2011!
12/10/2010, North Island, New Zealand
As my feet fall along the quaint and narrow seaside trail, I notice a sign posted at a cross road- "No bikes allowed". I realize this is the first sign I have seen, or at least noticed, in thousands of sea miles since leaving Mexico. It's been a long time since I've been told what I can and can not do, and I find myself slightly amused and irritated at the same time. The seaside path, like most of Northland is tortuously hilly, and my thighs burn as I run up one hill and down the next. Nine months of equatorial heat has downplayed my stamina and strength. In the drenching tropical sun it is hard to put any 'kick' in your step and as a result exercise is often done slothfully slow. Now I force myself to keep pace up the short steep hills my lungs drawing in each breath, awakened by the raw crispness in the air. The rewards are waiting for me. To my side, through the tangle of trunks of the magnificent Pohutukawa trees, there are stunning views of the Bay of Islands with its deep green teal water. Sailboats swing on their moorings, their rigging twanging and rattling in the wind that is filling in from the northwest. Over my deep inhalations I hear a constant chatter of birds calling out in surround sound from the branches above. Across the bay, the seaside village of Russell spills its homes across the waterfront, still others tucked neatly in among the green hillsides. Each time my eyes capture these new land views my heart takes a stunning leap. I am still digesting that we have in fact crossed the Pacific Ocean in a sailboat, and have just recently arrived here on the northern tip of the North Island of New Zealand.
After months of sailing off the grid, making all of our own water and power, it takes a nanosecond for Michael and I to click back into the infrastructure of western civilization. We luxuriate in our first hot water shower, not so much for the water itself, but for the fact that we actually want hot water. Its springtime in New Zealand and we are loving it. Back at the boat, we pull out our fleeces and extra blankets to keep warm at night, and enjoy snuggling close to each other again. We purchase high speed internet and gorge on gigabytes surfing the net, the first reasonably fast connection since leaving Mexico nine months ago. We even buy a cell phone, and a car! CLICK! It's almost loud enough to hear the connection, and it feels great to be connected to 'civilization' again.
But it's not just the infrastructure we fall in love with. We find an immediate and infinite connection with the land, and its dramatic coast lines. New Zealand has 6000 kilometres of coastline waiting for our exploration, and on land, there is nowhere more than 120 km from the coast! It's hard not to like those kind of numbers if you are a sailor. We feel immediately at home in Opua, a small marine community in the Bay of Islands where it is easy to become familiar with the shopkeepers, tradesmen and other cruisers. With our new wheels we devour the landscape, tooling out far flung side roads to become familiar with the lay of the land. What we discover is something we've heard before we ever even dreamed of crossing the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand is a treasured land. Drastically changing landscapes and environs are around each bend, complimented by a stunning array of birdlife and an amazing diversity of plant life. We find ourselves feeling like teenagers, out on the road, never sure where we will stay for the night, but letting the day unfold until it gets us where we are going to be.
There is a sense of freedom of pitching the tent near the ocean side and listening to the waves crash in, and a glorious surrender to staying in a bed and breakfast with all the comforts of home at our fingertips. While I love them both, I much prefer the snugness of a tent, open as it is to the little world it finds itself in. One night, our tent pitched in the middle of an ancient Kauri forest we listened to the Kiwi bird calls. In the morning we were awoken by a full orchestra of birdsong, loud as a grade seven band, the nearby peacocks braying out of tune. Just outside of Auckland, we pitched our tent in the grassy fields of Shakespeare Regional Park, with a view of the city skyline. As we prepared our evening meal we watched the endemic Takahe bird (http://www.nzbirds.com) , its white rear end held in a dignified way as it struts by our camp, much more graceful on foot than in flight.
As I write, I sit on a perfectly situated bench, early in the morning with the now almost summer sun trying to work its way through the light morning cloud. In front of me stretches a glassy calm lake where ducks, geese and swan plop into the water from their wee foot trail beside me. I watch as they preen, forage and swim. Behind me, the ever present songbirds fill the air, I am starting to identify each of them by the tunes they play.
This is New Zealand from a tent, forged out from our visits to the multitude of regional and conservatory parks, pristine and captivating. Like traveling by sailboat, we carry our home, albeit much, much smaller with us. We continue to be engulfed in the natural world around us. We shiver as the sun tucks itself behind a cloud, the ambient temperature plummeting as fast as the Kahu hawk who spots its prey in the field below. Moments later we shed layers as the sun shines in its full southerly strength through the depleted ozone onto our backs. The steam from my coffee tells the truth this late spring morning, warning us not to leave our layers far behind.
A group of Canadian Geese have made this lake their winter home and I watch as they cruise to a splashy landing one after another. To say they remind me of home would be an understatement. But to see them so at home here in this island in the far South Pacific reminds me yet again that "wherever you go, there you are". Like the Canadian geese, we feel the pull homeward. We look forward to splashing down on the Westcoast for our own winter interlude, but in this case, in search of family, friends and snow!