Category Archives: New Zealand

Time to Reflect

4/1/14

While all the previous posts were written while in New Zealand, in the moment, then typed up much later, this one is real life, right now. I have been home for exactly 3 months. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the journey Lacey and I took. Sure, life goes on. I’ve gone back to work and gotten back into a routine. I’ve dropped the fake New Zealand accent that I may or may not have tried to bring back to the states. I am living in a house with two other people, as opposed to a small confined room with up to 10 others. A lot has changed since returning from New Zealand. I am very appreciative of the fact that I was able to embark on such a once in a lifetime experience. So much of what we did will not be duplicated. I never thought I could spent 3 straight weeks with one person in very close quarters. I got to see some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Tongoriro Crossing

Tongoriro Crossing

Te Mata Peak

Te Mata Peak

I also learned about a different culture. I learned about people who care to keep the environment clean. People who are doing their best to help their endangered species become less scarce. I learned more on this trip than I can possibly put into words.

I think the biggest takeaway from this trip is just how small we are. There’s a large number of people who would consider themselves die hard Packer fans. There’s millions of people world wide who don’t know a single rule to the game of football, let alone know who the Green Bay Packers are. In a large world, we are tiny. Until you experience another culture, it might be a hard concept to grasp. The landscape is another thing that really put into perspective just how small we actually are. The mountainous landscape that we came across was bigger than I can describe in words. Until you experience some of those places, you’ll have a hard time understanding just how large they can be. Again, we are tiny. I have talked about how much we traveled in New Zealand and how much we truly got to see. There’s still things in that country that we didn’t get to cover that we would have liked to. Once I got home and took a look at a map, and realized just how small that country is, it’s pretty incredible. New Zealand, on a large scale, is a very small area. At any point in time, you are less than a 2 hour drive from the ocean. That being said, we still didn’t get to see everything we wanted to. I urge anybody reading this to take a look at a map of the world and really take a look at what you have seen. I am willing to bet it’s nothing compared to what is out there. There’s so much to see and so much to do. I encourage anybody who reads this to get out and travel. Explore the world. Explore your home country. Just get out and take a trip. Don’t let money be a reason to keep you from experiencing something as unique as traveling to a foreign land or country. Just get out and explore. I know I hope to continue. This experience has really been a once in a lifetime trip and I hope to have plenty more of those types of experiences.

Day 19 – Longest Day of My Life, Literally

1/1/14

New Years Day was the longest day of my life. It lasted over 40 hours. I’ll explain that later. We woke up today knowing it would be our last day in New Zealand. Carol told us that there was a minor earthquake last night. We were awake at the time it occurred but felt nothing. Regardless, I can still say I’ve experienced and lived through an earthquake which is kind of cool. We went for a little walk by the creek behind Paul and Carol’s house. It was then time to say our good-byes as we headed to the airport. We got there around 2:45 p.m. on New Years Day. We had a quick flight to Aukland and left Aukland at 7 p.m. local time. 11 hours, one good sleep, two meals, and two movies later, we landed in San Francisco, California at 9:45 a.m. on New Years Day. We had over a five hour layover which was cool because we got to watch the Badgers bowl game while eating lunch. We boarded our plane to Denver for a 2 hour flight. We landed in Denver 10 minutes later than we were scheduled to land meaning everybody had to hustle to make their connecting flights. We bounced back and forth to a few different gates because they kept changing on us. At this point, I just wanted to get home. Our plane was supposed to depart at 7:53 p.m. local time on New Years Day. We didn’t board until after 8:30. We had to wait for them to defrost the plane and finally we were off. We ended up over an hour late to Minneapolis and arrived well after midnight. Our New Years Day was finally over. Lacey’s brother, Danny, was there to pick us up and bring us back to Somerset. Home sweet home, kind of.

Day 18 – New Years Eve

12/31/13

We had a pretty lazy start to the day. The teacher that Lacey had been working with all year picked us up around 11:30. First,she took us to a vineyard/winery which had a cool lookout point over some of the city. She told us that in the 1930’s there was an earthquake that proved very beneficial to the Hawkes Bay region (Napier, Hastings and Havlock North). It used to be a very swampy area. The earthquake made the land rise up about 2 meters and much of the swampland dried out. The spot of land where the airport is is located, for example, used to be completely covered by water. After that she took us up a very narrow and windy road to another lookout spot called Bluff Hill. It was a really cool spot overlooking the ocean. Then we headed into town to grab some lunch. I’ve heard much about the pies here so I had to try one. I had a steak, bacon, cheese and mushroom pie. It was delicious. I think it was similar to a chicken pot pie back home. After lunch we walked along the beach for a bit. It was odd wearing shorts and sandals and walking on a beach on New Years Eve. We grabbed some hokey pokey ice cream before Margret dropped us back off at Paul’s. Lacey and I went for a walk and picked up some adult beverages we would enjoy later that night. It was still super nice out at 5:30 p.m. so I put my swim trunks on and took a dip in Paul’s pool. We then started to get some of our stuff packed up. We grabbed some Chinese food takeaway. I was proud of myself, I ate my entire meal using chopsticks. We laid around watching YouTube videos for a while waiting for the new year. Around 11:30 we flipped on the TV hoping to find a countdown but had no luck. We Googled an official countdown and synced it up with a video clip of the ball dropping in Times Square in New York City from last year. We had our own little countdown. We were among the first in the world to ring in the new year which is pretty cool. Happy New Years! Now it’s time for bed.

Day 17 – Wins all Around

12/30/13

I woke up early with one thing on my mind and that was the Green Bay Packers. I haven’t been able to watch since I’ve been here because we’ve been traveling on game days. I’ve missed games in Dallas and home against the Steelers. Luckily, while I’ve been away the Pack has had enough go their way so today’s game meant something. A division title and trip to the playoffs were both on the line. I was up before 8. The game wouldn’t start until 10:30 a.m. local time on Monday which was a very strange feeling. We found a website with an excellent live feed of the game. We watched on Lacey’s computer. Luckily the family ran into town around halftime. Not sure they would have understood or been too amused by some of my antics. Crazy game, pulled it out in the final minute. I’m a happy camper for the rest of the day now. Since the game started so early in the morning, we still had plenty of the day left to do something. It was beautiful outside so we took a ride to see Havlock North. We checked out the school Lacey had spent 9 weeks teaching at, Lucknow. Then we hiked up Te Mata Peak which was absolutely beautiful. My legs are still a bit sore from the crossing the other day but the views were worth it. Green, rolling mountains that seemed to go on forever.

Rolling Hills

Rolling Hills

Te Mata Peak

Te Mata Peak

We came home shortly after that and Paul had some chicken on the “barbie”. Their friend Bern was over again. We enjoyed dinner then played a card game similar to Blackjack. I won, go figure, next trip, Vegas. It was a very clear night so we did some star gazing. Orion’s Belt can be seen from both the Southern and Northern hemispheres which I did not know. We spent quite some time trying to identify the Southern Cross. It sounds a bit like the dippers back home. Supposedly you can see it from just about anywhere down here. It’s a bit tricky because there’s also a “fake cross” which looks very similar for the Southern Cross which is what we were looking for.

Day 16 – Chillin’ in Napier

12/29/13

It was a rainy Sunday here in Napier. There was a very big cricket match in town between New Zealand and the West Indies. Unfortunately for Paul and the neighbor boys who had tickets, the game was cancelled because it’s not safe on a wet field. Paul took us out for a backwards driving lesson. Lacey learned how to drive on the wrong side of the road very quickly. Maybe I’ll give it a try tomorrow. Since it was rainy, we decided it would be a good day to check out the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Once of Lacey’s fellow teacher picked us up and brought us there. One of the highlights was seeing the beloved national bird, the kiwi. Kiwis are small flightless, nocturnal birds that only can be found in New Zealand. They are also an endangered species so it was really cool to get to see a real one. We also walked through a tunnel surrounded by fish tank in which sharks and sting rays swam next to and above us. That was pretty cool. Lizzie (Lacey’s fellow teacher) took us to a nice spot on the water for a drink and then took us back to Paul’s. Lacey drove us to the supermarket so we could make some sandwiches for dinner. We ended the night watching a British detective show called Vera with Paul, his wife Carol and their daughter Izzy.

Day 15 – No More Hostels!

12/28/13

Last night marked the last night for us in a hostel. It’s a good feeling seeing as I could lay on the bed and touch either wall in our last hostel. It was a very small space for two people to be sharing for a few nights. Anyways, we had to check out around 10 and our bus wouldn’t come until 2 so we had to get creative and kill some time. Stew, our guide from Tongariro yesterday had offered us another hike free of charge in hopes for some better weather and views. Unfortunately we had to pass, so we settled for sitting by the lake for a while. We grabbed McDonalds for lunch, people are crazy about it here. Then we hopped on a bus to Napier. 2 hours later we arrived in Napier where Lacey’s principal was there to pick us up. He took us back to his house where we will spend the rest of our time. Paul has a lovely family, his wife Carol and 3 daughters. Izzy is the only one I’ve met so far. We got ourselves settled into their sleepout (mini guest house) then went in for some much anticipated human interaction. They invited a few people over for a barbecue. It was a beautiful night with good food and better company.

Day 14 – A Rainy Journey Through Mordor

12/27/13

Today was dedicated to any science fiction nerds. We had to get up pretty early, 6 a.m. to begin our trek. We were headed to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Our guide, Stew, picked us up at our hostel, then grabbed another family who happened to be from America. It took us about an hour to get to the spot where we’d begin our 8 hour hike. We were told to expect any sort of weather, extreme heat, cold, sunshine, rain and wind. This made it very hard to pack for. The weather here, especially in the mountains can change rather quickly. We got dressed and headed out on our 19.4 km journey in which we’d go both up and down over 1,200 meters in elevation.

Beginning of the crossing

Beginning of the crossing

The beginning was awesome as we crossed through Mordor and next to Mt. Ngauruhoe, better known as Mt. Doom.

Mordor

Mordor

Mt. Doom in the background covered by the clouds

Mt. Doom in the background covered by the clouds

After this, as we got higher into the clouds, we started to get wet, which ended up being the case for most of the day. The crossing goes between two active volcanoes. There were huge eruptions 2,000 years ago that left gigantic craters for us to cross through.

One crater we crossed through

One crater we crossed through

The climb up was over some treacherous terrain but the guides and other 14 people in the group made it a lot of fun. Next was the summit, or the peak of Tongoriro (1967 meters). The from here would have been incredible had our visibility been more than 30 feet (due to the thick cloud cover). Because all of this sits on active volcanoes, we came across a few thermal lakes called Emerald Lakes. They are named that because of the color of the water, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

We stopped for a quick lunch. It was less than 10 minutes because we didn’t want to get cold. Then we started our decent. We basically slid down the ash from the volcanoes which was pretty fun and equally scary. The rest of the way down seemed to take forever. I carried out pack, which probably weighed about 30 pounds for all but maybe 30 minutes which might have given way to the fatigue factor. On our way down we saw evidence of the two most recent eruptions which occurred last year. Parts of the walking path were totally destroyed and there was marks of lava all over the place.

Keep stops to a minimum

Keep stops to a minimum

We stopped at a hut about one and a half hours from the bottom and saw some spots inside the hut that were damaged by debris just one year ago. Stew was on the crossing that day about 6 p.m. He came across a young man and told him he should spend the night in the hut because of weather conditions. The man refused and less than 6 hours later the bunk he would have stayed in was completely destroyed. As we continued our decent, we got some really good looks at the steam coming from either of the active volcanoes.

Steam from the volcano

Steam from the volcano

Beautiful view once the clouds parted

Beautiful view once the clouds parted

We then entered a rain forest. It was cool seeing the completely baron side of the mountain then entering a rain forest on the other side. When we got to the van at the car park at the bottom our guides had a cooler full of beer waiting for us.

We made it

We made it

We enjoyed a few beverages and it was back to the hostel. Lacey and I got cleaned up and headed into town to an Irish place for some fish and chips and a few pints. We’re both sore and exhausted from our hike, which ended up lasting 7 hours and 15 minutes. We’ll definitely sleep well tonight.