Thursday, April 28, 2011

Slowing Down

Friday, 29th April, 2011
Nelson, NZ

It's a bright sunny day here in Nelson, and although we haven't gotten up to much out of the ordinary since returning from Golden Bay, I thought I'd give an update anyway. We've been taking it pretty easy, with very few shifts at work this week, so we've been working on sorting out all of our things from the van, doing our weekly house and garden work around here, and today doing lots of laundry as the sun is bright and the line is empty (you have to make the most of that when five people share the clothesline!). We've written lots of emails and caught up with friends on Skype, sold Matt's surfboard, and plastered the town with For Sale fliers for Lucy. Selling the van is the last piece of the puzzle now, so send all your good thoughts this way. It will be a major bummer if we can't get our money (or rather, Matt's money) back on the van, but the fact of the matter is, it has to be sold before we leave New Zealand, if only for a thousand dollars or so. We have only gotten one offer so far, which turned out to be a scam anyway. Ugh. Unfortunately it's the wrong season to sell a campervan in New Zealand, but we'll hope for the best.

The biggest development lately is that yesterday Matt was granted the same free South Island pass from Magic Bus that I was, so pretty soon we will both be making a loop of the island by bus, blogging and photographing for the company along the way, in exchange for our transport! It's a pretty sweet deal, and is going to save us a lot of money- we'll just need to pay for accommodation and food. We're already pretty good at shopping cheaply, and with our BBH (Budget Backpackers Hostels) memberships we can get beds in hostels for as low as $19 per person per night. Matt's been doing a lot of work on updating and re-vamping his blog, and it's looking amazing. I really encourage you to check it out at I love his writing style- very different from mine, and I feel like he gets to the heart of matters better than I do. I'm really proud of him, as blogging has been one of his goals for awhile and now his skills have gotten him a great reward.

I'm looking forward to one last blast of traveling before we go home. I'm ready for home and really excited to be there, but I think given how much of this country we've seen already, it's fitting that our last couple of weeks here will be spent on the road, seeing some of the epic land that is this island. We're both really excited to see the West Coast, which is legendary for its rugged terrain, alpine ranges and glaciers. We'll be well into snow season as we head south from Nelson, so we should get some amazing scenery. We're also looking forward to seeing at least part of the Fiordlands, although in this season it will look a lot different from this:

Lake Mackenzie, Routeburn Track, January 2007

Our bus trip is going to be a lot different from our travels with Lucy, and that's definitely going to be an adjustment. There are basically two modes of travel for backpackers in New Zealand: rent or buy a campervan and do your own thing, or go by one of many bus companies, stay in hostels, and carry everything with you in your pack. This will be the first time we've engaged in the latter mode, and I'm guessing it's going to come as a bit of a shock, but probably not a bad one. It's a good time of year to be staying in warm, dry Backpackers rather than camping, especially down south where it's already dropping below freezing. Also, it will be really nice to let someone else do the driving, and to have other backpackers around to share experiences with. Some bus companies do encourage a party atmosphere that's not really our thing, but we're also quite confident in our ability to get the experience we want out of a particular situation, so I don't really have many worries on that front. 

We have just a few shifts left at Kathmandu next week, and then that will be it for us on the work front, and we should have our travel dates sorted out as soon as we know what our shifts are and figure out something regarding the van. In the meantime, yes, I will be watching the Royal Wedding tonight, mainly because I'm really curious about the juxtaposition of a very modern couple with the pomp and tradition of the Monarchy and find the whole thing disturbingly fascinating. It's interesting being in a Commonwealth country during an event like this and hearing all of the controversy around the purpose and usefulness of the Monarchy, even while almost everything is, like me, drawn in by the sheer magnitude of the event.

I hope you all are well and enjoying yourselves, and may you have some sunshine today, wherever you are!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Rainy Sojourn to Golden Bay

Monday, 25 April, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

We returned a day early from our weekend trip to Golden Bay, after series of SNAFUs and two days of incessant torrential rain drove us back to where our bed is warm and dry. We still had a great time up north, but it certainly didn't go as planned. Our original intention was to meet up with some friends from work, and a bunch of their friends, at a rental house on Westhaven/Whanganui Inlet, which is a long, remote drive from the highway north of Collingwood across to the Tasman Side of the island. We left Nelson on Friday afternoon in good weather and enjoyed the drive over immensely, as the recent frost has made the fall colors absolutely spectacular, and the scenery around Motueka and Takaka (TAH-ka-kah) is already amazing. The microclimate that exists around Motueka makes it perfect for growing fruit trees, grapevines, and berries, so there are loads of vineyards and orchards in the area and it was packed with roadside stands where we bought all kinds of fresh fruit for just a few dollars. Motueka is also the jump-off point for Abel Tasman National Park, so it is packed with backpackers aiming for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and/or picking fruit to earn some money. Anyway, the colors on the trees, the lay of the land, and the amazing light coming through the late afternoon clouds made the whole place absolutely stunning.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

As we began to drive up the pass over Takaka Hill, we got some incredible views back down on the valley around Motueka. The highway over the mountains was so incessantly curvy and narrow that Matt was only driving about 50 km/hr, so I had the window down, snapping photos as we went.

 Motueka Valley. Those aren't vineyards; they're raspberry orchards.

We were both a little queasy by the time we made it over the top of the hill, where the scenery suddenly turned rocky and wild, rugged and alpine. This area is full of caves and sinkholes, and as soon as you get to the top of the pass, it suddenly feels very remote. As we started to drop down the other side towards Takaka and the lush green valley there, we were treated to more amazing light phenomenons (nowhere has clouds and light like New Zealand, I have to say), and a trip down to the next valley on a highway with switchbacks so tight we had to slow down to 15 km/hr to get around them safely. This was only the second time I've started to feel really carsick in New Zealand, and given the twistiness of your average Kiwi road, that tells you how wild this one was! We took a break once we got to the bottom, to get some air and get out of the car, and we were fine after that.

 State Highway 60 heading north down Takaka Hill

 View from the top of the pass into Takaka Valley

Takaka is a small (pop. 1,500) artsy town, full of artisans and hippies, and has a great feel to it. We didn't stop for long on the way through on Friday, though, because we were losing the light pretty quickly and wanted to get to the house before dark. This is about when things started to go awry. We had the directions our friends had given us, and we turned west at Papawau as instructed, and then drove for about 35 minutes on a 1 1/2 lane gnarly gravel track through the northernmost reaches of Kahurangi National Park, crossing through and over Westhaven Inlet several times. We finally reached the landmark we were looking for, and then things went....well, the term FUBAR was used several times (if you don't know what it means, look it up!). Our directions specifically told us to look for the driveway on the right, 400 metres after a particular landmark. There was a driveway exactly 400 metres after the landmark, on the right, with a chain gate and house that matched the description we were given, but happened to occupied by people who were not our friends. We were way out in the wop-wops, far away from cell reception, and were pretty confident we had found the right place, but it was filled with the wrong people, and they were not helpful at all when we asked about other potential rental places in the area. Also, it was well after dark by this time. We spent the next hour trying every possible driveway within a kilometre of the place, even ones on the lefthand side of the road. We drove up several to find private houses, then found one that didn't really match up to the description, and in any event was padlocked shut. After exhausting all of our possibilities, we decided to throw the towel in and do our own thing for the weekend, as something clearly wasn't adding up. We drove all the way back to the other side of the inlet, where we found a boat ramp to freedom camp at, and called it a day. 

On Saturday morning, once we were back in cell range, we tried to contact our friends, as they had mentioned that there was patchy reception at the house. We later got a text saying that they were at the house, and eventually we figured out that it was the gate that was padlocked shut, on the LEFTHAND side of the road (remember how our directions specifically said it was on the right? Yeah.), and also that another fairly large chunk of information had been left out of the directions, which would have allowed us to actually know it was that driveway, had we been given it. Frustrated, we decided to salvage the weekend by exploring on our own, freedom camping, and seeing places we otherwise wouldn't have seen in the course of the weekend. We started by driving north to Cape Farewell, at the base of Farewell Spit, the northernmost point of the South Island. By this time the rain and wind had set in, so we decided not to go walking on the spit, but took in the views from a little cafe on the headland overlooking the spit. With the fast-moving clouds and interesting light, the views were tremendous. We may not make it to the southernmost point of New Zealand, but now we can say we've been the the northernmost accessible point of both the North and South islands! 

 Looking up the spit.

We comforted ourselves with coffee and amazing views. 

Farewell Spit is a really really cool area and geographical phenomenon. Wind and tides are constantly changing the geography of the spit, so it is different every day. Visitors can walk about 4 km out, but the rest of the 30km sandspit is a wildlife refuge, and migrating birds of all kinds flock there in the spring and fall. We saw hundreds of black swans, in addition to shags, egrets, and all kinds of gulls and ducks. The spit is also one of the most common sites for whale strandings in New Zealand, as the waters around it are very shallow for a long way in all directions. 

We found a random cool piece of nature art at the cafe at Cape Farewell, where someone had done traditional Maori weaving with the flax plants growing along the deck of the cafe. Almost every plant had some little artistic touch on it, these are just a few of my favorites:

After leaving Cape Farewell, we explored through the tiny town of Collingwood in the pouring rain, and found a random roadside museum full of antique steam machinery and historical tools, which was right up Matt's alley, so we stopped in for awhile and had a great time out of the rain, looking through all kinds of antiques and memorabilia. 

 A steam tractor from 1948. Note the wooden tread on the wheels. 

 Biggest bellows ever. 

 One of the custodians stoking an immaculately restored English steam tractor.

Driving to the coast again, we parked facing the beach at Patons Rock, just north of Takaka, to read and write, and decided that camping for two more nights in this rain wasn't sounding like too much fun. We had originally planned to spend Sunday night and Monday with a friend of a friend who works on a goat farm near Takaka, and with the way things were going, I texted him to see if we could come there a day early, and he was happy to have us. 

 Light on the sea grass during a sunbreak at Patons Rock. 

Pukekos on parade. They love swampy conditions. 

We drove to the goat farm just as it got dark, met Mark, and we had a great time chatting and talking politics in his caravan (camper/trailer) with the rain pounding down on the roof. He cooked up some pasta for dinner, and later in the evening we all went out to the Mussel Inn to see The Eastern (a great NZ bluegrassy country-rock band). The Mussel Inn is actually a world famous venue, with all kinds of art, local ales, and composting toilets, and despite being pretty much in the middle of nowhere, is absolutely packed every single night, and this particular evening even the rambling deck was overflowing. We didn't stay terribly long, as it was so hot and crowded and loud that we couldn't really enjoy the show, but it was a great little cultural experience.

Yesterday morning (Easter Sunday), we awoke to the bleating of 50 dairy goats being let out to pasture, and then again as they all ran back under cover when the rain started up. It turns out goats hate the rain, and as soon as it begins to rain, they all complain very loudly and hurry back to the shed! We sort of felt the same way, especially when we opened the door of the van to find this three-inch deep puddle completely surrounding Lucy:

As all of our other shoes were already soaked, we had to dig out our gumboots before we could even climb out in the morning!

We spent the morning hanging out with the goats during brief dry spells, and learned loads from Mark as he showed us around the farm office, the factory room where they bottle the milk and produce goat's cheese (they make a fantastic soft chevre, with hardly any goaty flavor to it), and the milking shed. We learned all about milking, the cheesemaking process, pasteurization, and general stuff about keeping goats. Matt and I both completely fell in love with the four leggeds. They are sweet, personable, inquisitive animals, and most of them are very intelligent.

 This was a particularly friendly goat who insisted that I scratch her ears, and put her front hooves up on the fence to come after me if I stopped!

 A swarm of goats trying to taste Matt's clothes. They love to test zippers, tabs, and loops, not for taste but just to see how they feel and how far they'll stretch!

 This one was very interested in the zipper pull on my jacket pocket. 

 This little gal missed getting de-horned, and is going to be culled and butchered this fall. Just part of the cycle, and the business.

The goats on this farm are Saanens, quite a large goat and specifically a dairy breed. 

We had a really great time at the farm, and very much enjoyed the company of both Mark and the goats. We both feel like we learned so much in so short at time, and are grateful to have had the opportunity to visit and learn so much. In the afternoon, the rain still showed no sign of letting up, so we decided to head back to Nelson, as we had pretty much exhausted everything there was to do in wet weather, short of spending lots of money. On the way out, we stopped at Pupu Springs, this incredible huge freshwater springs, one of the clearest in the world, just outside of Takaka. Formally Waikaropupu Springs, it is a sacred (Tapu) place to the Maori, and is very significant in blessings at births and deaths. It was really awe-inspiring to see this huge river just bubbling up out of the ground.

 If you look closely, you can see where the water is bubbling up. This amazing body of water begins from where I was standing when I took this picture. Behind me was solid land- the river begins here, coming up from deep in the ground, then flowing towards the sea.

 This is a reflection chamber that was built to show how clear the water is at the bottom of the springs. 

The minerals in the springs create these amazing colors in the sand and stone.

After leaving the springs, we drove back over Takaka Hill through a thick fog, with low-lying clouds shrouding the entire pass. There could have been huge mountain peaks just above us and we would have had no idea. 

Things cleared off at the top, and we had some great views of the rocky, rugged landscape and the sounds beyond.

We had a great time this weekend in spite of everything, and were proud of ourselves for salvaging the weekend as much as we did. Nonetheless, we were very glad to get back to Nelson and have a shower and a warm, dry bed, as everything in the van was thoroughly damp by yesterday morning. With very few hours at work this week, we are shifting into the work of packing, clearing all of our stuff out of the van, and making a real effort to get Lucy sold. Golden Bay was our last road trip with Lucy, which is sad, but we both feel it was very apt that our last night spent with her was on a goat farm, something we have wanted to do ever since arriving in NZ! Now we're diving into sorting out or travel plans for this, our last month in New Zealand. For yes, we come home to the states on May 24th, and suddenly that is only a month away, and we sure have a lot to do and see before then! So with that, I'd better hop to it, and I'll end this (rather long) post with a few photos of some recent sunsets and views from our place here in Nelson, starting with the wacky and rare advection fog that lay over the bay this morning. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Off to Golden Bay

Friday, 22nd April, 2011

We are off north to Golden Bay for the holiday weekend, where we will be staying at a relatively remote holiday house with some friends from work, and their friends, and then visiting a goat farm near Takaka and getting some experience with another type of four-legged creature! We will be back here in Nelson on Monday evening, at which time I will relate to you all of our shenanigans from the weekend. The only things planned so far include exploring a big cave/cavern system up there, and visiting some beaches up towards Farewell Spit. I'm excited to see this new area and travel the other direction out of Nelson, and get in some more good social time as well!

Tune back in next week for photos and stories, and have a wonderful Easter Weekend, and ANZAC day if you're in New Zealand or Australia!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

News: We Have a House!

Thursday, 21 April, 2011

Life goes steadily on here in Nelson, work continues to be busy but we are working less shifts, the sun still shines but we have had our first frost, Lucy is officially for sale (insert sad face here), and we come home in little more than a month. It's a bit surreal, even though we are ready for it and looking forward to it. Plans are falling into place for our long journey home, which is going to happen over the course of about four days. We will fly from Nelson to Auckland on May 22nd, and stay there for two nights while we sort out all the final details of exiting the BUNAC program, selling back our phones, etc. Then it's the 14-hour flight to Los Angeles, a seven hour layover there (during which we will be rescued and entertained by my cousin Eliot), then the two and a half hours to Portland on the 24th. I can only imagine at this stage how overwhelming our homecoming is going to be, and I don't really want to think about the mix of emotions that will go with it, as it's almost intimidating! So instead, I'll share the really exciting news about going home:

We have officially rented a house in Portland!

Yes! We have rented a house we have never actually been to, but that by all accounts and evidence appears to be everything we could ever want. It's a long story, but the short version is that we randomly happened upon the posting on Craigslist and saw that it was available July 1st, so we emailed the landlord to see if he would be willing to work with us, and a month and a half later, we have paid the deposit (via Matt's mom) and it's ours! We have seen pictures of most of the rooms and the garden, and had a good long snoop on Google Earth, using satellite photos and Streetview to check out the layout of the yard and property, the location, and the neighborhood, all of which look really really good. It's in a part of town we really like but haven't actually lived in, is near several good friends and bus lines, and in a nice residential neighborhood, not ridiculously far from downtown, where I will be going to school starting in September. It's a cute bungalow with brightly painted rooms, a garage and basement to give Matt lots of workspace, a big kitchen, a lovely garret that will make a perfect sewing room/studio/guest room, a big yard with raspberry bushes and fruit trees, a big, well-established garden space with four good-sized raised beds, trellises, and big bushes of rosemary and other herbs, and best of all, we can have chickens! The landlord is fine with it, so we'll be able to have three hens and grow our own eggs, and all in all this place looks to be perfect for living our dream of a little urban homestead!

It's been such a turn of good luck, we're feeling really blessed by how it all fell into place, that we'll be able to come home knowing where we're going to live and that we'll truly be able to have the space and lifestyle that we want. The only downside is that it is a three-bedroom house, so we will have to have a roommate in order to make it truly affordable. I know that's not a huge deal, but the part of me that is actually a crotchety old lady hates the idea of living with another person, as I've had some really bad experiences with housemates and neighbors. But it's a small price to pay for all the goodness of this house, and the upside is that Matt and I will be subletting, so we get to be in control of the situation and make sure that we rent to someone who can share in our lifestyle, and fits into the kind of home we want. It is really important to us that it is our home, with someone else there who is comfortable living the same kind of life- a simple, deliberate one of making and mending, little consumerism, environmentally-friendly practices, etc. We want to live free of TV, without a dryer, using the car as little as possible, and without loud drunken parties, so we'll be able to set up those expectations and hopefully find a like-minded person who won't bring those kind of things into our home. Ideally, we'd love to find someone who is interested in our lifestyle but is new to it, whom we could sort of act as mentors to and help them learn simple living skills along the way.

This is all just musing, but we are full of plans that will become much more solid once we actually see the space and how we can arrange things. I am already concocting ideas for a late-season garden, since we won't be planting until July, and Matt is drafting plans for a henhouse and researching which breeds of chickens would be best for our climate. We are both very happy and excited to have this place waiting for us, and very grateful to the landlord for being so flexible and working with us via email and airmail, and to sheer good luck, karma, or whatever you want to call it, for allowing us to find that posting in the first place!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kaikoura, Part 2

Monday, 18 April, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

We woke up this morning to a good deal of snow on the mountains over in Abel Tasman National Park, across the bay, it's absolutely gorgeous to view, and a mighty chill in the air as well! We're all nursing hangovers here at the house on the hill today, after a 60th birthday party last night for Nickola's cousin Chris, who has been staying here this last week with his wife Saia, as they transition into the house they just bought in Upper Moutere. There were nine people, loads of amazing food (perfectly grilled steak, sauteed mushrooms, roasted veggies, new potatoes in mustard dressing, and Saia's homemade chocolate mousse made with a local lime liqueur were just a few of the offerings), about seven bottles of wine and champagne, and hours of hilarious conversation and jokes, multiple toasts to Chris's good health, and late night singing as the party wound down. It was a really wonderful evening among very good company, just one of the many great social experiences we have gotten by living in someone's home rather than elsewhere.

Now, back to our hijinks down in Kaikoura. On Thursday afternoon we drove to the end of the peninsula to the Point Kean fur seal colony, where the seals have a tendency to sun themselves right in the carpark. All the signs said to stay 10 metres away from the seals, but we found that difficult to do when they were lying only a couple metres from the parking spaces! This guy (or, more likely, gal) was relaxing in the sun and didn't move or even open an eye unless someone came closer than about two metres.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

 There were several seals chilling out in the bushes around the carpark. They have been known to lie on the pavement right in the middle of the road as well. 

 This guy was enjoying his spot on the boardwalk. 

The bird on the rock is a Pied Shag, a member of the cormorant family. The thing sticking out of the water directly behind him is a seal fin. Seals have lots of veins in their fins that can soak up heat quickly, so that is how they warm themselves if they don't want to get out of the water: float around o their side, with one fin up to soak up the sun!

After saying hello to the seals, we walked a section of Kaikoura's Peninsula Walkway, up to the top of the headlands from the seal colony, and then along the tops of the cliffs to the south, taking in amazing views of the rugged coast and the mountains behind. The sun was out, and the water was clear clear clear and beautifully blue. We kept our eyes peeled for whales and dolphins, but didn't spot any. The views were incredible, though.

 Very shallow rocks just south of the seal colony. 

 A common New Zealand sight- cattle grazing atop cliffs overlooking the ocean!

 Walking through a paddock to get to a viewpoint. 

 Looking back down at the Point Kean carpark.

 Another seal colony, about a 15 minute walk south along the cliffs. All the dark spots on the rocks are seals. 

The low hill in the gap between the trees used to be a pa, or Maori fortress. You can see the terracing where the fortifications were, a very common site on hilltops that had a good view and were defensible. The fortifications usually consisted of a stockade-like structure of thick pointed sticks anchored in the ground in several terraced layers.

We ate lunch back at the carpark, with this view:
Apart from the seals on the rock, there are, from the left, a Little Shag, a black-backed gull, and a flock of White-Fronted Terns, with a few smaller seagulls mixed in.

And also spotted this campervan:
USA represent!

Later in the afternoon, we returned to the surf break at Maungamaunu, where the waves were still rolling in beautifully, and Matt took his final surf in New Zealand. It couldn't have been a better one- the waves were easy to catch, and the rides lasted forever, and he did some really epic surfing. I can't tell you how much his surfing has improved since we've been over here, and he couldn't be more stoked about it! I spent the time taking videos of his rides, which unfortunately I still can't post without somehow corrupting them, so they'll have to keep.

We camped Thursday night back at the Puhi Puhi campground. We arrived well before it got dark, so we explored the short bush walk out of the campsite, where the canopy of the native bush was so thick it blocked out most daylight, and we found some amazing huge rimu and totara trees, and wacky vines.

 Amazing Rata vines. 

 Epic Totara (TOH-tar-uh) tree. Totara is very resistant to rot, and they grow huge, so were the favored trunks to use for carving waka, or canoes. 

Another view of the Puhi Puhi River Valley.

The clouds that had rolled in kept the night relatively warm, so we were able to sit out in our camp chairs as darkness fell, enjoying a cup of tea cooked with the last dregs of our final butane cannister, enjoying the setting and our final true night of van camping with Lucy. We whiled away the rest of the evening with a game of cribbage in the van, one of many we have played over the last seven months in various remote places!
Our "card table"-- the laptop case balanced on the basket of books between the front seats!

Friday morning saw us back in Kaikoura for a final bit of exploration and a few errands, checking emails to arrange the sale of surfboard and wetsuit as we passed through Blenheim, and poking around the area just a bit more. We explored south of town a little bit, taking a walk along the rock beach at South Bay, and around the marina where all the whale watching tours and charters leave from, with some great mountain views.

 Six foot beach break at South Bay. 

The remains of a turn-of-the-century whaling factory (a tiny one) near the marina. Whalers around Kaikoura practiced shore whaling, meaning they just went out in longboats from shore and then dragged the whales back onto the beach. The factory was shut down in 1922.

We headed back north as the clouds broke, and we had a gorgeous sunny drive back up the coast to Blenheim, where I said goodbye to my trusty Superfish, passing it on to an eager buyer, and then we hit the road back to Nelson. The rain closed in as we headed into the mountains, and the twisting drive home was made even more scenic by the low clouds and trails of mist sitting in all the mountain valleys and setting off the colors of the yellow trees. We had such a great trip, everything went swimmingly and we both got everything out of it that we wanted. We now have just one more trip with Lucy, up to Golden Bay over Easter Weekend, and then we will say goodbye to her, for she is now officially for sale as the final preparations are made for our departure from New Zealand.