Monday, January 2, 2017

Steampunk in NZ

We can walk again!  It did feel like my calves had been filled with fire, but a quick little Mighty van yoga session fixed that.
Then, we were off!  Time to hit the East coast to see how that feels different than the west.  We made the last minute decision to take the drive out of the mountains and see what we could find, it was a bit of a gamble because we had no idea what we were driving into.  But, considering everything else has been magical, we were game.

First though, as always, lunch in a beautiful spot at Lake Tekapo.

We made it to our next destination, Oamaru.  We were a little confused with this town because we pulled in after a long day of driving and the town literally looked like a zombie apocalypse had hit it. It was hard to see anyone walking around the streets, and nothing was open besides a chinese noodle restaurant.  So instead of pouting that we couldn't see the town at night, that's a lie because I absolutely pouted, we grabbed our noodles and found a beautiful spot to camp for the night.

No one around the streets...

Ok, things got better on the bluffs with an ocean view for the night

We will take on Oamaru and whatever it has to offer tomorrow.  So far, this has been our first stop where we haven't been left speechless.  Just left without any humans after 9pm.

The next day, all our expectations and assumptions about Oamaru were smashed.  What we found was a little town in the midst of a major cultural and tourism shift.  Oamaru was overtaken by the Victorians, a community who lived their life as if they lived back in the Victorian era.  They kept it so authentic that they refused to use credit card systems.  In turn, they couldn't make it and they were quickly replaced with Steam Punk, the new community that is moving in quickly on the tourism scene.  We had some great, deep conversation with local artists and learned a TON about what tourism looks like from their perspective and how New Zealand as a whole is shifting.

A view from their Marina

Look what we found!!  Our Mighty was sitting right next to our future little babe!

SteamPUnk has taken over!

A beautiful gallery

Michael's new ride

At the SteamPunk museum, cause Michael could play and lift up everything

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Ok, things get even BIGGER now.  We said g'bye to Wanaka and headed up to Mt. Cook.  Michael had this circled with "HIKING" on the map when he did his initial research, so I knew I was in for it.  Before getting there, we found the perfect spot on the side of the road to cook a delish pre-hike dinner with a view of what we would conquer the next day.  Our process for finding the right spot: Michael drives and focuses on keeping on the wrong side of the road and I yell out "NO SIGN OR FENCE!  PULL OVER!"

We drove the next morning to the base of Mt cook which is a monster of a beast standing at 12k ft high.  We decided that might be a bit much, so instead we decided on the 4K foot climb. In the guidebook it said our hike was "an unpaved track that will give you beautiful views. And there are some stairs". What it didn't really say is, you will climb up 1k feet by all stairs and then enjoy a scramble that will take it all out of you for 2 hours and THEN you will traverse through snow.  So it looked like this:

By the time we got to the top I had been through every range of emotion and was so happy to get my well deserved snack of canned tuna and banana and peanut butter.  It might as well have been a steak dinner.

The hike completely challenged our bodies and mostly my mind. Lots of points where I hated anyone who had called this a hiking trail.  Oh and when you get to the top you get to do the whole thing backwards and climb DOWN all that scraggly rock and a million stairs.  But, it all is completely worth it when you turn around and know that you could never get this view without really working for it.  I mean, you could hire a helicoptor to get you here.  But then do you get that same sense of completion??  Probably, because then you are just a badass that got a helicoptor ride to the top of Mt. Cook and your calves aren't ready to fall out of your body.  Choice is up to you.

Basically, it was a completely challenging experience that I am so glad we did. I'm more than glad, I'm really proud of us for finishing it in just over 7 hours.  Then we went back to our home and made a giant pasta dinner by a lake.  I will let you know when we can walk again.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The West and Some Puzzling

On our evening in Wanaka we decided to use our "2nd day", the last few hours of light, to jump out to the west coast and see if it really resembles the west coast of CA.  2 hour drive starting at 8pm? SUUUURE!  We weaved through Haast Pass, just endless giants of mountains and finally arrived to the coast.  I had a vision of camping on a bluff that resembled something I don't get to camp on at home.  Overlooking the ocean and giant rocks, it would be amazing.  But, as true with all of this, what we envisioned wasn't really all it cracked up to be.  We couldn't find the perfect spot because in between us and the water were walls of shrubs and trees.  How can you have a beautiful coast and hide it??  Who planned this?  The beach was lovely, yes.  And it does make me feel so so lucky to know that we have a truely magical coast waiting for us at home.
Back down we hit another long hike along the Blue Pools.  The Haast Pass is a gorgeous drive from the West coast back into Wanaka.  We took full advantage.

A view from the back into our little Mighty van world.

Into the Blue Pools

The next day we awoke to a welcomed gray sky with a bit of rain.  It was very cozy and we decided to take advantage of the first non-glorious day we could.  When one is traveling with Michael Seiler and one passes a place called "Puzzling World" one can bet, 100%, it will be added to the itinerary.  Michael also wanted to add the website in case you would like more info.  Don't all rush, it could crash the site.
We loved it :). It was a giant land for kids of all ages (and Michael's) with a tilted room, hologram walls and self proclaimed, first 3-D maze ever.  That thing was no joke, we had to pull the emergency door at around 30 minutes in.  Thanks Puzzling World, you made our day.
The blue sky was back, so it was time to enjoy some more of what Lake Wanaka had to offer.  Nothing is better than relaxing on the couches in our Mighty van with doors propped open and a giant lake breeze coming through.  Ahhhh.

Back at Lake Wanaka for the breeze.

Michael...back in the water.

Wanaka Lake Time

From Milford we took our time and weaved down toward Wanaka, a town we were told is worth a stop.  It was so beyond worth it.  Wanaka is very much like Tahoe, CA where it sits on a lake that is surrounded by gorgeous mountains.  Since it was XMas we knew most things would be closed.  no problem for us, it was time for a deserved day by the lake.  The weather gods have LOVED us since Fiji, so the sun was ready to play.

A note about Freedom Camping:
It can lead to so many fun, exciting, nerve wracking situations.  For example, our night outside of Wanaka it was getting a bit late and we just weren't ready to commit to any of the normal rest stops or Holiday parks.  We want the PERFECT spot.  So we pulled off on a tiny road that turned out to be nothing, but a van was nestled into the trees and its driver jumped out when he saw us turning around to leave.  He obviously was a Freedom Camping connoisseur.  Some might call him homeless, but no, he was a Freedom pro.  He welcomed us to stay next to him, but when we told him we wanted something close to the water he had the perfect suggestion.  (To be read with a very strong back country New Zealand accent. I will do a live rendition when I see you next) "You will see two houses on the road.  After the second one is a gate.  If its open, feel free to go down.  If its closed, just open it and close it behind you.  The guys who own the land don't mind if people camp there."  GREAT!  We were ready, but he had a bit more info.  "If you see a guy in a red boat, he's real approachable.  If you see a guy in a white boat, he's not as friendly, so just keep an eye.".  Yikes.  But this is the mentality here.  Close the gate behind you and look out for the white boat.  Otherwise, you are golden.  Thanks, mate.  It led to a great spot for us.

The Sound

Milford Sound is literally out of a Hobbit's dream.  Or my dream.  Same thing.  We drove with jaws dropped the entire way screaming "waterfall! Double waterfall! Quad 'fall!"  It is unreal that these mountains popped out from the ground thousands of years ago just to show off to camping tourists from around the world.  They are really doing a great job.

We found out when arriving at the Sound that its pretty difficult to really get into the Fiords, which we originally were excited to explore.  That's the crazy thing about this place, SO much of it is untapped because there is just no way to get to it.  We hopped on a boat to get a little closer, the only real way they let you.  And by closer, I really mean CLOSE.  They put us right under one of the largest waterfalls in the Sound.  It was my first shower, so I appreciated it.

Then it was time to get into it.  We jumped on one of the many hiking trails around the Sound.  It is beyond easy to find these hikes, all on local maps they hand out at info centers.  Our first 4+ hour hike and it really paid off.

Because it doesn't get dark until 10pm we basically have 2 days in one.  Hike and boat for the first part.  Set up camp and cook dinner in the second.  Its all such a treat.

The Freedom

Waking up in our new Mighty home was one of my favorite mornings ever.  We took a great mini hike and then Michael did Michael and jumped in the freezing but super fresh lake.
My favorite part about this picture is Michael sitting half naked and the local guys in full head to toe wet suits swimming next to him.  And there is our beautiful Mighty van standing proud.

From there we were off.  First goal was to get to Lake Tenau.  We had heard this was a must-do stop off and a great jumping off point to get into Milford Sound.  The BIG stuff.  The drive changed quickly to show off what kind of nature we were about to get into.
Lake Tenau was a cute little village where we did our first VERY exciting food shopping trip to fill up our Mighty van.  Amazing how the mundane things at home turn into adventures when you are traveling.  Our plan was to be self sufficient, so if we needed to be out in nature for a few days we didn't need to depend on restaurants.  Plus, I like to travel that way anyway.  After a while you just get sick of menus (right mom??)

In our first of many, we made a game time decision to head up closer to Milford Sound so we could wake up inside the giant nature.

The best part of New Zealand (one of a LOT of great things) is they have freedom camping.  This means you can pull off pretty much anywhere, as long as there are no 'no camping' signs or its private property, and set up camp. This is what we found on our way to Milford.

We ended up spending our second night by a rushing stream, giant purple flowers everywhere and picturesque mountains to back them up.  Michael couldn't get enough.  BTW, he is credited with 90% of the pictures you will see.  Great first start in Milford Sound.