Sunday, February 22, 2009

February 20th-21st, On the top of New Zealand – Cape Reinga

We finally arrived at the top of the North Island today (Cape Reinga). For some reason the weather systems forgot our memo that we wanted a fantastic day to see the Cape. Clouds, fog, wind and heavy rain pelted us as we started our way down the path to the lighthouse. Finally our better judgment won out and we retreated hastily to our van (RT). Our next move was to drive a few kilometers down the road, find a campsite along the cape in this howling storm and hope that the weather would clear up by morning. (This would be our only opportunity to see the Cape since our first attempt had near zero-visibility.) The drive down to the ocean-side camp ground was on a very wet and muddy gravel road. We were starting to get concerned about being able to make it back up the road and out of camp the next morning, but we proceeded ahead with a sense of adventure and eventually spotted the camp. The camp spot was amazing - nestled in a little cove along the coast that was being battered by surf. After arriving and sitting in RT for some time there was finally a break in the rain; we jumped out and quickly set up the tents with the rain tarps securely in place just as the rain started pelting again. The night was windy and wet, but our tents did the job! A beautiful blue sky greeted us the following morning, revealing that beach and campsite were even more spectacular than we had realized night before. We spent the morning rummaging around the beach which was surrounded by bluffs and wild landscape and exploring rocky coves. In the afternoon we ventured back up the muddy road and eventually out to the Cape. The top of NZ is a very cool spot where the Abel Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide! You can almost see the different colors of the two oceans and the ferocious tides as they swirl around the top of the country. We were thankful we rode out the storm the previous night, as the views from the Cape were breathtaking. We have posted some pictures of the night before (during the storm) and the day after the storm. What a difference 12 hours makes. Cheers!

February 23th, Camping and Other Accommodations.

35 out of our last 56 nights (and still counting) have been spent tent camping. Pitching tents, unrolling bags, and inflating sleeping pads – we can set-up & breakdown camp in record time at this point. Camping in NZ is quite easy and readily convenient. There are many options from traditional campgrounds with a honey bucket and spicket of water, to more rural accommodations with no water or honey bucket. Both of these options are typically (DOC) Department of Conservation Campgrounds and cost about $15-$30 NZ per night (about $8-$18 American). Alternatively, for more deluxe NZ camping, Holiday Parks/Motor Camps allow tent campers to set up in their designated tent spots, and give tent campers access to hot showers, laundry facilities, a lounge with TV, internet, and usually a large cooking facility. Holiday Parks and Motor Camps are a bit more expensive ($35-$45 NZ dollars per night/about $18-$27 American). A third option that we tried was to camp in vacant spots of Mobile Home Parks – which also gave us access to a warm showers and indoor kitchens - two things that seem quite decadent after going without these luxuries for a few days.
My initial research and readings on traveling NZ left me with the impression that one could camp just about anywhere for free, but we found just the opposite. NZ is quite restrictive on where you can and can’t camp. And some of the rural campgrounds would only allow camping if you were in a self-contained camping van or R.V. (no tent camping). It appears the Government has cracked down on the riff-raff that might throw up a tent anywhere - I heard the fine could go as high as $200 NZ if found camping in the wrong spot, so we didn’t take too many chances. While the DOC campgrounds did allow for rural tent camping, they were spaced out across the country and off the beaten path - often times not convenient to our route – making the “Pricier” Motor Camps our best option at times.
A few of our more memorable tent camping experiences were: tent camping with our “Earth-Friendly” friends at the “Luminate Festival” in the mountains above the Able Tasman Sea. We found this camp after venturing down a very rough gravel road for about 20 kilometers. The Festival was promoting “zero waste” and “environmental practices”. Compost port-o-potties with “Poo in the Loo; Pee in the Trees” signs, nocturnal drumming and chanting, fire dancing, teepees, bonfires, and the sheer number of dreadlocks made this camping adventure stand out as one we won’t soon forget. All in all, we met some really nice people that evening and slept like babies… Hmmm. One night we camped in a farmer’s field across from a bungee jumping canyon. Gravity Canyon was a bit removed from any camping or lodging facilities and we arrived as the place was closing for the night. The staff offered up the field adjacent to their canyon to sleep for the night – warning us not to go sleep walking or wander off star gazing in the dark – Yikes! Another night we slept in our Van - (RT), in a BP gas station parking lot. (This adventure is described in detail under our post “Miracle at Franz Joseph.”) And a few times we camped outside of backpacker lodges and got free use of their kitchens and baths, and mingled with the backpackers from other countries. Another really special spot for us was camping above Queenstown at Lakeside Christian Camp. In the evenings we could watch the sunset over the lake and then see Queenstown light up across the lake. Once we had a simply beautiful spot on the slopes of Mt. Egmont in the ski fields’ parking lot. This was such a dramatic setting - we saw the sun rise across NZ from the East Coast. Most of our camping was quite pleasurable, only on a few occasions did we rush to break camp in order to avoid ferocious sand flies or pelting rain. In total, the camping was wonderful, and added greatly to our New Zealand experience. We would have missed out on meeting some really cool people and building relationships with fellow adventurers/travelers from abroad had we not tent camped. In the future, we are certain our paths will cross the paths of some of the great people we have met along the way.
Other places we called “home” while away in the Cook Islands and New Zealand: 2 nights in a hotel in Christchurch; 2 nights in a backpackers floating house boat on the Abel Tasman Sea; 1 night on a small cruise ship in Doubtful Sound; 3 nights on cattle and sheep farm, in the farm house; 2 nights at a petting zoo farm, in an adjacent cottage; 11 nights in “Rustic Beach Huts” on Aitutaki Island in the South Pacific; backpacker huts on Rarotonga; in the car; 4 nights in a home in Auckland; a few nights in quad share bunk rooms in Motor camps; several nights in backpackers hostels; and last but not least, on the plane as we travel back to our own beds in Snoqualmie…

February 17th-20th, New Zealand Farm Stay

McKenna- My family and I arrived at a farm yesterday. It is really fun. Madelynn and I are staying in a room together in the farm house. This is our second farm stay, and I’m really happy about it because I love farms! (I am going to own a farm when I grow up.) On the farm, they own 2 adorable curious kittens; one of them is helping me write this right now. They also have two baby cows that we help feed with giant bottles, lots dogs, one big pig, 4 horses, 3 small pigs, 100’s of cows and sheep, and 2 house cows that give us milk to drink in the house. We saw them milk cows this morning. (It was so cool.) They also have other animals we haven’t seen yet. I can’t wait to do more on their farm!
I have now started herding and milking cows. Here is how to milk a cow:
1) Heard the cow into place, give it some hay to eat, and tie a rope behind the cow so it does not back out.
2) Get a wet rag and clean the cow’s teat with the wet rag.
3) Get the suction machine, turn it on, and make sure you don’t drag it on the ground.
4) The machine has 4 suckers. Put the sucker on the cow’s teat.
5) When the suckers are on the cow you hold a tube that is see-through and you will feel the milk pulse.
6) When you see that there is not much milk anymore, and when you do not feel the milk pulse as strong anymore, you bend the tube that the milk was going through and turn the machine off. Then grab the suckers and put them away.
7) Then untie the rope and take the cow back where it is suppose to be.
8) Then we would divide the milk up some for the house, some for the calves, and some for the 3 small pigs (They are very greedy with the milk and they bite you if you don’t watch them closely when your trying to pour it in their dish); if there is any milk left over, the dogs, cats and pet pig Fred get some milk too.
9) Then when we get the house milk into the kitchen we heat on the stove and cool it quickly in cold water in the sink. That kills any bacteria that might be in the milk.

And that is how to milk a cow by machine.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 16th, Possum Killers

We are currently staying on the North Island at a YWAM (Youth with a Mission) facility called Oak Ridge. It’s a cluster of a few quaint homes, dorms, and meeting lodges out in the Northland country side. The family running the facility, Robby (a local Kiwi) and Julia (Kiwi transplant from England) along with their three kids Emily, Lilyanne, and Sam are extremely gracious hosts and cool people. We attended church with them yesterday and were invited over to their house for tea later that afternoon, where we enjoyed getting to know them and their good friends Grant and Glenda Blythen. The Blythen’s own and run a neighboring 600 acre cattle and sheep farm. Somewhere during tea, our discussion turned to stoat and possum eradication efforts. (The New Zealand Government desperately wants to do away with these imported pests that cause massive damage to native flora and fauna. There’s basically a war on these pests across the entire country and everybody wants them O-U-T, because they have really upset the delicate island eco-system - almost wiping out many New Zealand’s native birds and plants.) Anyway, Grant was kind enough to invite us on a nighttime possum hunt to give us Yanks a true Kiwi experience. After dark, we all piled into Grant’s fabulously-ancient Land Cruiser, and set off across his farm in search of the furry little pests. (Kind of felt like a “Safari in NZ” as Grant’s LC sped across hill after hill while his sheep dashed away from his headlights like animals running across the plains of Africa…Well, not quite, but it did remind me of those old Mutual of Omaha shows where they fly the helicopter overhead while the herds of animals run wildly about.) We eventually ended up somewhere on his property and jumped out of the LC donning spotlights, headlamps, flashlights and of course the ultimate possum eradication weapon of choice - a bolt action 22 caliber rifle with scope. Quickly, Grant spotted the first possum way up in a tree and gave Curt the first honors of leaning out the NZ possum population. Grant spotted several more possums affording Lisa, McKenna and Maddy each an opportunity to help eradicate possum. By the time the hunt was over, I believe there were a total of 6 fewer possum to threaten the Beautiful NZ eco-system! NZ possums are really cute however, and kind of look like furry little pets; so it makes them a little hard to shoot unlike the nasty looking possums we have in Washington State. We did feel good about contributing to the greater good and doing our part to rid NZ of an animal that never should have been introduced to this island in the first place. We had a wonderful night tramping under the stars hanging out with Grant, his daughter Anna, and our host Robby as they showed us around Grant’s farm. We also ended up seeing glowworms, eels and crayfish down by the creek as an added bonus to our possum hunt. A big “Thank You!” goes out to Grant and Glenda for providing us with a true Kiwi experience - a Great NZ Possum Hunt - and to Robby and Julia who introduced all of us. Oh, and Glenda makes the best cup of cappuccino in NZ! It was really quite wonderful… drinking great coffee, enjoying good company, Land Cruising across a real NZ farm at night, and then shooting possums - all the while enjoying the company of good people – What could be better? This was the genuine NZ experience… Sweet As!

February 11th- 14th, "Narnian Beaches", Coromandel NZ

Welcome to Narnia… After 4 hours of morning homework this was a much welcome treat for the girls! You might remember at the beginning of the Prince Caspian movie where the kids are transported to that fabulous beach along a beautiful sea? That is a real place in the Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand. Curt had read some information that the beach “Cathedral Cove” was used in the making of “Prince Caspian”, the second of the Narnia movies. This was a fun find as we really didn’t know this was the actual beach until hiking down to it and viewing it for ourselves. After our 45 minute hike we broke out onto spectacular Cathedral Cove. The kids immediately remembered the pictures in the movie Prince Caspian. McKenna shouted out “I’ve always wanted to be in Narnia and I’m finally here.” She immediately wanted to start taking pictures of the sea caves, beautiful white granite cliffs and granite rocks that jutted from the ocean floor. We spent the better part of 5 hours body surfing, jumping from rocks, flying the kite and doing what you do in a special beach spot. There was even a 60 foot “fresh water” waterfall falling from one of the cliffs onto the sandy beach below where people would shower off after their swim in the ocean. As we camped our way around the Coromandel Peninsula we realized it was “big” on picture perfect beaches with no people. One afternoon we spent a few hours swimming and lazing on Opito Beach. Opito Beach was crescent shaped and about a quarter mile long; it had this perfect tan colored powdery sand that slopped gently down to the sea. There was absolutely no debris, rocks or trash in the sand. The waves were in the 2-3 foot height range and gentle enough for body surfing and swimming. All great beaches have similar qualities and Opito had to rank as one of the best beaches we have seen in our travels through out the years. The most amazing thing about Opito Beach? At one point we were it!!! We were the only people on this most beautiful beach. I looked up and down the beach and could not see a soul. That is truly the beauty of New Zealand and the many places we have visited around this country. Had this beach been anywhere in the States it would have been fronted with high rises and fancy restaurants… Not that that’s always bad, but it’s really incredible to be in such amazing scenery and have none of that busyness and no people. It was actually very cool, and kind of strange all at once. “I felt very spoiled to be enjoying such a special place and to be the only one there…” (Curt) . There was one road into Opito Beach, and one little campground (a small field) behind the dunes along the beachfront. You see, in New Zealand, many of the DOC (Department of Conservation) campgrounds are simply fields. You drive your car into the field and pitch your tent. One Kiwi family was camping at the campground. We had a pleasant exchange with the family inquiring about the fee to camp at the campground (about $15 American dollars). We found out this was actually a private field and you needed to walk up the drive to a farm house and pay the owners to camp in their field. Anyway, this family had the entire campground to themselves. Back to the beaches… all the beaches along the Coromandel Peninsula are similar in their beauty and all you need to do is drive right up. One of these beaches “Hot Water Beach” had something very “hot” and special along it’s crescent strip of sand… When the tide is out, you wander down the sand with a shovel in hand, and look for bubbling hot water spots. On this beach, hot water springs erupt into bubbling little pools do to the volcanic activity in the area below the surface of the earth. This might be the only place in the world were hot water springs bubble up on the beach. So the fun of all this? Well, when the tide is out, you find a nice little spot and then dig your own little hot tub. The water is hot, really hot, so you need to be creative with your hot tub and the spot you dig it in. Many people dig their tub closer to the sea so they can get a little cool water filtering into their tub as the waves role up, and then they dig a 10-20 foot trench up to a hot spring and let it run into their personal hot tub. You had to be careful digging close to the bubbling springs for it could scald your bum and feet if you weren’t paying attention. We found a nice little spot and eventually dug our personal hot tub so the entire family could fit, and we even had a couple visitors from Switzerland join us. Once you overheated, you could jump out of the tub and stroll over to the ocean to cool off, and then stumble back to the tub. You only needed to walk about 50-75 feet to get to the waves. We stayed so long that eventually the tide came back in and devoured all the hot tubs built that day. The Coromandel Peninsula Rocks!

Monday, February 9, 2009

February 9th, Hobbiton

Who hasn't seen the Lord of The Rings and didn't adore those little fury creatures and their Utopian shire home? If you didn't, you might want to look a little deeper into your innocent childlike Hobbit side. It was jolly good fun to see the set and watch Lisa and Maddy dance around the "Party Tree." McKenna fit wonderfully into those Hobbit home and could have been cast for the part. She also took over the camera and became a mini "Peter Jackson" in her own right. Cheers to Hobbiton!

February 8th, The Beat Girls and Jano's Kiwi Twin

Napier was "ripe" with wine festival activities, concerts and markets. We visited a winery concert that featured a band called "The Beat Girls." Playing to a crowd of 3,000, they were awesome to watch. Ok, for all of you who know Jan Van Liew we may have seen her Kiwi Twin. The leader of the band was amazingly talented, fun to watch, and was a dead ringer for Jano. Lisa couldn't get enough pictures and video to bring home for the B-flats and SVA crew. This lady could really kick-it, singing all the great favorites of the 50's through the 90's. The Beat Girls will be remembered well after this trip and was a fun event for all the Esteb crew.

February 6-8th, Napier, New Zealand

After jumping back from the South Island to the North Island on February 5th, we made our way Northeast to the east coast of the North Island. Our next destination Napier NZ... the Mediterranean of New Zealand! Napier is home to wine country, art deco buildings with a Mediterranean flair, hot summer weather and a beautiful beach. They have palm trees to boot! It kinda reminded me of a Palm Springs and Napa all rolled into one. We enjoyed a hot three days frolicking in city pools, shopping and discovered a wonderful water park called Splash Planet. We also enjoyed the cafes and took in a very fun concert in wine country.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February 1st-4th, Aquabackpackers

Maddy- Mom said we were going to stay on a houseboat, so I thought it was going to be an actual house on the water (call me a genius.) It was actually a boat with about 22 beds. There were people from all over staying there, but mostly Germans (they seem to be drawn to NZ like flies to a flashlight.) It was cool getting to know people from other countries. There was a little blue penguin that would swim around the boat at night and at random times during the day. You could jump off the boat from anywhere and crazy people jumped from the top deck (dad). Also you could swim to the beach from the boat. The water was cold but I'm a brave little chica. We met an Irish couple who were pretty awesome. Brian, the guy, asked us what kind of "carrots" we played. It took us a minute, but then we figured out he was saying "cards" and not "carrots." Later we played monopoly with them for over 3 hours. I landed on Boardwalk (with a hotel on it) and lost all my money and my electric company. That was not good, but the rest of my stay on the houseboat was the bombshizzle.

February 1st-4th, Paradise Found in NZ?

Wow, Abel Tasman National Park New Zealand is simply spectacular! What a beautiful spot on the Northern tip of the South Island (and a beautiful spot in our world). Golden sand beaches, coves, granite rocks, clear turquoise ocean and a dry climate to boot... lining 40-50 kilometers of stunning coastline along the Abel Tasman Sea. This was truly an unexpected treat for all of us! The first day we were whisked away on a water taxi boat with our kayaks in tow and dropped about 25 kilometers within the park. Then we paddled our way among truly breathtaking scenery down the coastline. During our paddle that day we visited seal colonies and were able to see a few small seal pups that were only a month or two old. We also paddled down several coves and estuary's to gorgeous waterfalls fed by fresh water streams. Lunch was eaten in a little cove with a splendid half moon of golden sand, and the girls and Curt took a swim in the ocean, and jumped off rocks. At one point they saw two sting rays swim underneath. I believe we paddled about 13 kilometers in all and then found our next temporary home, Aquabackpackers, in Anchorage Bay. The next day we hiked about 6km up to Cleopatra's Pool, a spring fed river with boulders and natural water slides in the surrounding bush. We slid down the slides and played like otters. Finally, on our last day in the park, we hiked about 13km down the Abel Tasman trail to our vehicle that was parked in a small village called Marahau just outside the park boundary. We covered a good chunk of the park by kayaking and hiking while enjoying a few wonderful days together. We also met some wonderful people on the floating house boat. Brian and AnnMarie from Ireland were very special and we enjoyed their companionship and company. The girls had a great time learning Irish card games and tricks and hanging out with our new Irish friends. Salute to our new Irish friends!

January 30th, Stilt Walking

McKenna- For weeks in New Zealand I have wanted to do bungy jumping or something adventurous or daring. So one day, while we were at the library working on the Internet, I saw across from the library people walking on stilts. "Cool!" I thought. We were about to pack up and get back on the road, when I decided I wanted to go stilt walking too!!! I ran over to see how much it cost and realized I had enough money to do it. I got a quick stilt lesson. The guy was really nice; he got me up on stilts easy as pie. We practiced walking and falling a couple of times. Then I started walking by myself. Soon I got put on higher stilts. He told me I was one of the fastest learners he had had, and that most people did not advance to higher stilts as fast as I did. It was soooooooooooo fun! I'm hooked on it now. (I'm trying to convince my parents to get me stilts.) I was the first in my family to ever do stilt walking. (That made me happy.)