Friday, January 30, 2009

January 26th, Miracle at Fox Glacier

WE knew it would be one of our longer stretches in the car (the drive time between the cities of Queenstown and Franz Joseph), but after all the action and adventure we’d been having, we were ready to settle into our seats, enjoy the scenery and spend some time in good ol’ R.T. (R.T. is the name we’ve given our mini-van on this trip.) Well, we didn’t really know just how long that “stretch” in the car would actually turn out to be…
Now, IF there WAS a sign warning drivers that there were no gas stations between Haast and Fox Glacier, well, we missed it. That ominous amber glow of a mini gas pump began to light up our dash directly in the middle of a beautiful no-were about an hour or so before our estimated time of arrival. Road and time kept passing and no gas stations, or civilization for that matter, were to be found. I’d look away from the fuel light for a little while and then look back really quickly; or sometimes, I’d just peek out of the corner of my eye in hopes of the dash indicator would tell a different story, but my optical game really helping anything and the questions in my head that I was trying so hard not to consider were stubbornly gaining volume. “Are we going to make it?” “Who’s going to do the walking?” “Will there be a shoulder we can pull onto?” Etc. etc.
Fumes, I tell you, fumes brought us into the town of Fox Glacier a little after 9:30pm and the very first thing we saw in the distance was a beautiful BP station right on the edge of town! Elation quickly turned to eye strain as we tried to determine if maybe just needed to change a few light bulbs or if they were, horror-of-horrors, actually closed. (You see we’ve realized - but haven’t yet adjusted to the fact - that the rest of the world doesn’t really maintain the 24/7 crazy pace that Americans strive to maintain.) So our “Beautiful BP” that was going to fill our tank and get us back on the road toward our soft bed awaiting us in the next town soon turned out to be a dark , closed, deserted BP. The station did have a little “After hours” pump that operated from special prepaid gas cards; so, our new mission became finding a local who was awake and willing to let us use their gas card for a few gallons of gas in exchange for cash. Again hopeful, we marched up and down the rainy street, in and out of every pub – I even took McKenna with me thinking, “Who could possibly say no to a soaking wet, stranded mother and little child?” …Well, I’ll tell you who can say no, the people of Fox Glacier who are still awake and out after 10:00pm, that’s who. (Apparently, this happens often enough that the locals have grown a little weary of tourist with sob stories.)
After ruling out the refueling possibilities, we decided, with apprehension, to see if R.T. had just enough gas left to get 20 minutes down the road to the Franz Joseph. It was dark, we were tired, everything in this town had closed, we had a paid room and a credit card operated gas pump waiting for us in the next town; it just seemed logical…scary, but logical. As we slowly pulled out of the BP lot, McKenna asked if I would pray. “Lord, please keep us safe and …” and then I stopped, because we stopped. Curt and I shot confused looks at each other; “Are we stuck on something?” he asked. Looking out the window, I could hardly believe the three large pieces of drift wood that were now lodged under our van – where did they come from??? I jumped out and was able to pull them from underneath without too much effort, but you would have thought that we had just had some major collision from the way the van responded after their removal. R.T. started jerking and lumbering and making such a terrible screeching noise with every inch forward that the owner of the house next to the BP station came out to let us know that we had disrupted her sleep. We apologized and explained that we weren’t trying to be disruptive. Turning the wheel, as best we could, we herky-jerky screeched our way back into the BP lot we had just tried to leave. About that time, I just started to smile, because I think God is pretty funny sometimes. I mean, talk about comedic timing - I didn’t even get past the word, “Safe,” when Divine Intervention and some driftwood finished my sentence and our silly notion of continuing to drive that night.
New plan: park at the “Beautiful BP,” sleep in the seats we had ridden in all day, wait for daylight…and the mechanic.
Morning finally came, and I think Curt and I both woke to thoughts of car repair costs and timing and how both might affect our plans for the final leg of our journey through NZ. A few minutes before 8:00am, a green-shirted BP attendant approached our van, seeming to already know our situation, and asked us to pull our car a few feet out of the way to wait for the mechanic. As Curt put the key in the ignition, we all breathed our own quick silent prayers and braced for the sound and motions that would follow. Ignition, gas…smooth motion! What, where was the herk? Where was the jerk? Where was the awful screeching noise that the four of us (and the neighbors) all heard the night before? Curt and I shot bewildered looks at each other this time. Could this really be??? We did a few doughnuts in the lot just to test things out, and, sure enough, our little van was driving perfectly normal again. We were all amazed and silenced by it all until we just busted out laughing - because that’s really all you can do when you receive such an extraordinary unexpected and unexplainable gift.
And that, is how it all happened – The Miracle At Fox Glacier.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 30th, We Won't Get Rich

While in gold country on the West Coast of the South Island of NZ you need to make sure and look for a little gold. They say there is gold in these parts! As a family we gave gold panning our best try, but as you can see by the results we won't be buying the saloon anytime soon.

January 30th, Franz Joseph Glacier, West Coast South Island NZ

Something special happens on the West Coast of the South Island in NZ. There is a beautiful rain forest, almost sub tropical in setting, with abundant flora and fauna, but what makes it so special is the glaciers that shoot out of the mountains and almost make it down to sea level. Evidently they are the "closest glaciers to sea level at this latitude on the globe." We did a family hike of 13 kilometers one day to a view point overlooking the famous Franz Joseph Glacier. What an incredible hike! The scenery in the section of NZ is breathtaking around every turn. New Zealand continues to spoil us with beauty. Fun times....

January 30th, Queenstown NZ

The adventure capital of the world did not disappoint! In Queenstown you can basically do anything as long as you sign your life away. I (Curt) was sitting in a cafe on the pier of the lake and could see these things happening all within eyesight: luge rides, paraflite rides, bungy jumping from cliffs on the mountainside, bungy jumping from planes, skydiving, paragliding, jet boat rides, heli mountain biking?, heli bungy, tandem paragliding, water sports, and the list continues. Many of the more extreme activities are taking place in the mountains around the town.... you can't see them, but you can feel them. All of this "fun" is simply geared to give people the thrill of their life!!! If you want to scare, thrill, create fear in, or simply wet yourself, Queenstown is the place! The kids managed Luge Rides and Paraflites, and Lisa & Curt Tandem Bungy Jumped. Since Maddy had already bungeed from the "highest bungy" on the North Island she opted to take photos of L&Cs jump. We stayed at a beautiful little christian camp just outside town and met some wonderful people. Caroline and Ingo camped next to us and we ended up friends and had a beautiful breakfast one morning. We also met Ariel and Ner from Israel who made our stay very enjoyable. Thank you to our new friends!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 25th, Queenstown Bungy Love!

Does Curt look nervous on the platform, or is he just trimming his nails?

Ok, imagine you are in Queenstown - The Adventure Capital of The World, and you are kinda scared of heights, but a little voice keeps telling you this is the "HOME OF BUNGY" and your one chance to bungy from the world wide birth place of bungy, the Kawarau Bridge (Curt). As Nike would say...JUST DO IT! Bungy pioneer, A.J. Hackett, put this place on the map by attaching glorified rubber bands to his ankles years ago and leaping to bungy fame. Of course, there is no better way to strengthen a marriage (aside from taking Bill and Leslie Bedell's "7 C's of Marriage" class) than by bungying with your mate! We checked to make sure all insurance policies were accounted for, that our Last Will & Testament was current, that our children knew how to work the continuous exposure feature on the camera, gave them both goodbye hugs and kisses, checked that harnesses and caribeners were in place, and took the plunge!!! Later, even the A.J. Hackett staff commented on our perfect form as we dove head first toward bungy euphoria. We are told that we have now become more than just your "Average Joe." Hmmm, do you think they're trying to sell more jumps? The fact that we didn't die, and comments about "perfect form," must have increased our marriage bond. Well... it probably didn't do a whole lot to really strengthen our bond, but what a great thrill to experience together!

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 24th, Milford Sound

Since the weather had been so good for us on our Doubtful trip we decided to “High-Tale” it to Milford Sound for a compare/contrast. Two hours of twisty-turny, skilled, left-side driving from Curt, and we made it just in time to jump on board the final scenic cruise of the day! (The weather held onto the sunshine for the first part of the cruise, and then, we got to see the rains push-in at the end – really cool!) Of these two Fiords, Milford Sound is the “Mighty-Mini!” “Mini” because it’s only about 1/3 the length of Doubtful, but “Mighty” because it lacks nothing - jagged cliffs, soaring peaks, glaciers and 100’s of spectacular 1000ft+ waterfalls. It was all simply breathtaking! Truly a scenic highlight of the trip. During our trip, we have been taking-in all these incredible sights, and sometimes we’re not quite sure what our kids are thinking of this; but, in this case, the girls told us without hesitation how “Awesome” these Fiords were. The pictures we posted do not give this place the credit it deserves. We ended up camping one night in the park and awoke to one of the most beautiful sunrises, a perfect rainbow skirting the peaks above our campsite.

January 23rd, Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

A couple months back we booked an overnight cruise through Doubtful Sound in Fiordland. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and a big hit for both kids and adults. Our ship (The Fiordland Navigator), sailed us the length of Doubtful Sound all the way to the Tasman Sea and into several hidden arms of this amazing Fiord. It was magnificent, spectacular and hard to describe all of its beauty. On board we were fed well and given the option to take a tender craft ride (zodiac) or kayak trip. The Esteb clan all opted to take the kayak trip “out and about” to enjoy the scenery. The waterfalls and mountains were grand, and the weather cooperated for an exceptional two full days while we took in all the grandeur. Doubtful Sound is right in the heart of Fiordland National Park which is a 3 Million Acre rain forest. A forest that grows on granite rock with no soil at all!!! (Go Figure?) The crew also gave us the option to go swimming, and of course, the Estebs took the plunge along with a few other hearty souls. I believe out of 70 people only 9 went for the swim… Estebs leading the way! In the end, we saw, we tasted, and we experienced Doubtful Sound in all its glory. Oh, it’s called Doubtful Sound because when Captain James Cook was given the task of circumnavigating and mapping NZ, his botanist wanted to enter Doubtful. Cook, being the skilled captain he was, assessed the situation over a few days and noticed the winds were Westerly almost all the time. Since the Westerlies were blowing into the sound, Cook “doubted” they could get out safely, or in a timely manner, thus the name “Doubtful” Sound.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 20th, We Survived Baldwin Street!!!

Ok, who wouldn't visit the Steepest Street in the World? Baldwin Street in Dunedin NZ just happens to lay claim to a Guiness Book of World Record (the steepest street). We survived it!!! RT, our trusty van, took us both up and down Baldwin! Maddy actually hopped all the way down. That has to be another Guiness Book World Record.

January 20th, Boulders, boulders and more boulders

Sitting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean is a small town call Moeraki NZ. As far as we know the only thing that makes it known is the Moeraki Boulders. These are almost perfectly spherical rocks that lay on the beach. Huge Rocks! Evidently they were formed eons ago by the sea. Think of how an oyster makes a pearl... It's kinda like that. They began as small pieces of bone or shell and minerals in the sea bed crystallized around them over thousands of years. The sea bed was then raised by faults and such, and the boulders have been exposed from the surrounding bluffs. As the cliffs are eroded by surf the boulders become exposed. Once of Lisa's favorite stops!

January 19th, Heaps of Chocolate!

We've experienced action, adventure, new friendship, family bonding, serenity, relaxation and beauty since setting out on our exploration of the South Pacific and NZ; but, today was by far the "Sweetest" day of our journey! Although initially it took a little persuading from the Esteb females, Curt willingly obliged...Our Destination: Cadbury's Chocolate Factory in the Scottish settlement of Dunedin, NZ!

Lisa: I recently came across a greeting card that read,"Too much of a good wonderful!" Well, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on Cadbury World. I mean, what could be better than Chocolate - Free chocolate and "Heaps" of it! My favorite part of the tour was when we went to the top of a large silo and shouted "We want chocolate!" only to have a giant vat of melted chocolate ($1,000 dollars worth) spill out in a "Chocolatefall" right over our heads and in front of our eyes. Very touristy but Awesome!

Maddy: Honestly, I was a bit disappointed when there were no Oompa Loompas on the tour, but they did have Christmas Elfs (and I guess that is pretty close to Oompa Loopas) and a chocolate waterfall, plus they gave us tons of free chocolate that tasted really good!!! (I even liked the dark chocolate, and normally I hate dark chocolate.)

McKenna: We went on a tour through the factory and it reminded me a lot of Willy Wonka's. When we started the Cadbury Tour, Claire, our guide, gave us hair nets. The funny thing was that my dad got a net for his head and his gotee! He looked really silly. Through the tour, Claire gave us lots of free chocolate and extra chocolate if we listened to the tour and answered her questions.

In the New World, cacao beans were used as currency (Rabbit & Turkey cost 10 beans, a Pumpkin cost 4 beans)- Money really did grow on trees!

Chocolate contains saturated fats but it has no cholesterol!

Unsweetened Chocolate obstructs plaque growth on your teeth

Columbus was the first explorer to bring the cacao bean to Europe, but the Spanish king was unimpressed (Chris should have given it to Isabella she would have known its value - it's a girl thing.)

In 1528 Cortez introduced drinking chocolate to the Spanish Court...and the Europe's chocolate love-affair began

The Greek scientific name for chocolate is "Theobroma Cacao" - Meaning "Drink of the gods"

The microwave oven was invented as a result of a chocolate bar melting in a researchers pocket when he passed by a radar.

The 1st Easter Egg was made in 19th Century France - Now, Dunedin's Cadbury factory spends 6 months a year producing 40 million easter eggs for NZ 4 Million people.

NZ consumes 4KG of Chocolate a Year
AUS consumes 8KG of Chocolate a Year
US consumes 10KG of Chocolate a Year
EUR consumes 14KG of Chocolate a Year

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17th, Hagley Park - Christchurch

The past two days in Christchurch we walked, meandered, strolled, smelled and took-in as much of Hagley Park as possible. This is the most beautiful city park I (Curt) have ever seen or spent time in in my whole life! Since we are visiting in the heart of NZ’s summer months, we get to see the perennial, rose, and herb gardens in full bloom. The size of the park is “immense,” and you could easily spend several full days wandering the grounds. This was a real treat for all of us - walking beside the Avon River, enjoying the trees, flowers, bushes and herbs, wandering through the city park and goofing around with each other. Our stint in Christchurch has been great down-time for us and much less full throttle than our last few weeks have been. Since we are heading toward the adventure capital of the world (Queenstown), we needed a little break to rest-up for the adventures that await. Signing off from The Chateau On the Park…

January 16th, Christchurch

They say the city of Christchurch is more British than Britain. We didn’t quite see it, but it was a very cool town and was named after Oxford University’s Christchurch College (guess that makes it kinda British). It is famous for being New Zealand’s oldest established city (founded July 31st, 1856). It’s also called the Garden City and famous for its expansive parks and public gardens. We enjoyed a full two days of roaming around the tourist center of the city and visiting its largest park and garden (Hagley Park). Our timing was nice as we were able to take in a couple Saturday markets. The family also had a chance to eat out in the city a couple times which felt like the height of decadence to four people who have eaten out of a “Chilly Bin” (Ice Chest) for the last several weeks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 15th, Clifftop Walk in Kaikoura

Another beautiful walk across the NZ country side. This tramp was gorgeous, above the clifftops and around the Kaikoura cape. Many seal colony's and ancient Maori sites. We were blessed with perfect weather for our outing. Lisa is showing off the latest fashion in Kiwi Seaweed Jewelry.

January 14th, Laundry Day

The "little laundromat" in Kaikoura NZ is so cute it deserved it's own post.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January 14th, Farm Stay in Kaikoura

Well, we just finished up 10 nights of camping. We will be staying in Kaikoura at a small farm just outside the village for the next three nights. The kids woke up early to feed the animals and do farmy stuff. They also helped with the afternoon feeding while Lisa and Curt went to town to do laundry and shop for groceries. It will be nice to have a home the next few nights as we all need a little r&r. The bed was so comfortable last night!! This place is really quaint and a big hit with McKenna. Oh, we also have a TV that has 3 channels... what a luxury for us.