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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'New Zealand'

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Back in the USA‏

March 25th, 2010 · No Comments

Through the miracle of modern time zones, my scheduled arrival at Denver’s airport was at 8:27 p.m. March 25, three minutes before my scheduled departure from Christchurch, New Zealand. It seemed a lot longer.

In fact, since I crossed the international date line, the actual time difference was 19 hours. And from the time that I left Robyn’s townhouse in Christchurch until I got back to my apartment just now I was traveling for exactly 24 hours to the minute.

The longest and best vacation that I ever had finished without any snafus. Even the long flights from one side of the world to the other came off without a hitch. All of the flights were on time. I was fortunate to have a great travel agent, Kina Palmer. She booked just the right flights for me, including just the right amount of time to change planes. And she arranged aisle seats for me on all seven flights.

As usual, I packed too much. In particular, I never needed my tent or air mattress. The only thing that I forgot to take was a set of batteries for my computer mouse, but they were of course readily available in New Zealand. I did have to buy a fourth 8GB compact flash card for my camera in a Dunedin department store, but that was only because I took more photographs in the five weeks that I spent in New Zealand than I ever expected.

As good as it is to be home, I fell in love with New Zealand, both the land and the people. Never have I seen a country so beautiful or have I got to know people so friendly and helpful.

At first I assumed that New Zealand’s low population density could explain the difference. That has to be some of it, yet New Zealand compares very closely in this respect to Colorado.

New Zealand is almost exactly the same area and population as Colorado. About 4.2 million people live in the 104,454 square miles of New Zealand. About 4.7 million people live in the 103,717 square miles of Colorado.

While no one can visit all of New Zealand’s square miles, I travelled most of the main roads of the country’s South Island, the larger of its two main islands. I have no idea how many miles of the country that I saw, but I know that I drove many thousand miles from the north tip at Cape Farewell to the most southernly place, Slope Point, as well as from the furthest east to furthest west and then back again.

Driving on the South Island of New Zealand was always a pleasure in spite of the fact that the country’s roads are almost always narrower than ours and thousands of its bridges are one-lane only. The real difference is how little traffic those roads have (except around Christchurch) and the fact that their roads are better maintained than those I am familiar with in the American West. [Read more →]

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Posted in: New Zealand

Back to Christchurch

March 25th, 2010 · No Comments

The little New Zealand town of Fairlie, where I stayed two nights ago, could not be more different from Christchurch, where I stayed last night and where I am now. Christchurch is by far the biggest city on the country’s South Island with a population of almost 400,000 people.

But I have friends in both Fairlie and Christchurch. I am at the home of Robyn Askin, the good friend of Graeme McIver. Robyn’s home is an ultramodern townhouse on a quiet street that is nevertheless within walking distance of the city. Graeme is a retired Methodist pastor and a good friend of John Dodson, the pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska, and my best friend. Friends do help friends.

I could have driven the busy coastal route from Fairlie to Christchurch. But I had already gone that way twice. Instead, I took the inland scenic route through the Canterbury Plains for Geraldine, near Fairlie. This route has some pretty scenery of farm and ranch land with mountains forming the background.

A Scene of the Canterbury Plains

A Scene of the Canterbury Plains

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[Read more →]

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Posted in: New Zealand

Fairlie and Marv‏

March 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

Bustling urban centers like Queenstown, the center of New Zealand’s tourist industry, don’t attract me. But after leaving there yesterday morning I drove Graeme’s camper van north to the small town of Fairlie.

Most people probably think of Fairlie as “the gateway to the Mackenzie,” if they think of it at all. Mackenzie country is New Zealand’s expansive high ground that is the base of the country’s highest peaks in the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. Named for a cattle rustler named Jock MacKenzie, who ran his stolen flocks here in the 1840s, this area attracted the attention of settlers when they finally caught him.

But I think of Fairlie as the New Zealand home of my friend Marv Schinnerer. Marv is a Californian who led the two-week High Sierra trek that I took last August. He was the one who first sparked my interest in coming to the incredible country.

Marv owns a small house in Fairlie and had just got here a few days before my arrival. This 73-year-old former college professor had been cycling for a month in Tasmania. He rents out his Fairlie house to a retired couple and stays in his trailer when he comes to Fairlie.

From Left: Marv's Trailer, Bike, Car, Graeme's Camper Van, Marv, His Fairlie House

From Left: Marv's Trailer, Bike, Car, Graeme's Camper Van, Marv, His Fairlie House

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As we had scheduled via email, I arrived at dinner time. Then, I took him out to dinner at the town’s best restaurant, where we caught up with each other’s life for a couple of hours.

Dinner at the "Old Library Cafe" in Fairlie

Dinner at the "Old Library Cafe" in Fairlie

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After dinner Marv and I walked from one end of Fairlie to the other. He says that its population of about 400 people is just right for him. Since it has a grocery store, a library, and Internet access, it’s really all that I need too.

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Posted in: New Zealand

Queenstown‏

March 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

Queenstown is the top tourist town in New Zealand’s South Island. No other town can claim such a stunning background of mountains and lakes. A beehive of activity, this sophisticated town seems much larger than its official population of about 10,000 people.

I don’t do towns. I do nature. Still, I have to count myself lucky to get to Queenstown today.

I was lucky to get away from the Milford Track where I could have been trapped if I had gone just two days later. A big storm hit just after I got off the track. The rain that I saw on my first and third days on the track were nothing compared with what hit on Sunday night.

I experienced the storm from the safety of Graeme’s camper van at a holiday park in Te Anau. Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. innumerable lightening flashes, thunderbolts, and wind heavy enough to rock the camper van kept me awake. But it was much worse for the hikers on the Milford Track who went out just after I did.

“120 trampers left stranded,” was the lead headline on page one of today’s Otago Daily Times.

More than 120 trampers were last night stranded in huts on the Milford Track awaiting evacuation, after a southerly blast tore through Fiordland and triggers landslips that closed the Milford road early yesterday,” the article began. “The storm struck early yesterday, bringing gale-force winds gusting up to 140kmh [87mph], nearly 200mm [8 inches] of torrential rain and more than 8475 lightening strikes centered on Fiordland and the Southern Alps.

“The force of the blast brought down trees, damaged huts and bridges, flooded parts of the Kepler, Routeburn and Milford Tracks and triggered two significant landslips that blocked the Milford road.”

The article went on for 21 more paragraphs. By comparison, passage of the historic U.S. healthcare legislation warranted only 19 paragraphs back on page 5.

But I got away comparatively easily, and even in busy Queenstown I was able to find a bit of nature. The one place that I toured in the town was the Kiwi Birdlife Park. I skipped the kiwis themselves because the park doesn’t allow photography, but I saw some beautiful birds.

An Antipodes Island Parakeet

An Antipodes Island Parakeet

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Small World Department‏

March 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

During my first day back to civilization on Sunday after my Milford Track experience, I went to the visitor center in Te Anau, New Zealand. I ordered a ticket, but the woman at the counter forgot to hand it to me and not until a few minutes later did I realize that.

When I went back to the counter for my ticket, Christine Tran, who had befriended me on the Milford Track, was standing there. Christine is an Aussie, having lived in Australia with her parents since she was six years old, when they escaped from North Vietnam on a boat that took them first to Hong Kong.

My Friend Christine Tran

My Friend Christine Tran

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I had wondered if I would ever see this loving woman again, and this wasn’t even the last time, because she immediately invited me out to dinner that evening with her partner Steve Longhurst.

My Friend Steve Longhurst

My Friend Steve Longhurst

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Steve was waiting in their rented car out in front of the building and happened to be talking with a couple who had hiked the Milford Track at the same time. That woman, Linley, had fallen on the third day of the hike, torn a tendon or ligament, and had to be airlifted out. This was no easy hike.

At dinner Christine and Steve insisted on making me their guest. I enjoyed yet another delicious New Zealand seafood selection, monkfish. We swapped stories of our experiences for two hours and parted in hopes of seeing each other again either in Colorado or Australia.

New Zealand, with its small population of 4 million people, is a place where you can run into the same people in different places. But I know that this is truly a small world from yet another experience.

A week or so ago at the Royal Albatross Center on the Otego Peninsula I met a woman who lives in the same small city, Boulder, Colorado, where I live. She is a musician named Laurie Dameron, who I had not met in Boulder.

Laurie Dameron from Boulder in New Zealand

Laurie Dameron from Boulder in New Zealand

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Then, yesterday morning while I was waiting for my breakfast to be served, I picked up a local newspaper and saw this article about Laurie.

Newspaper Article about Laurie

Newspaper Article about Laurie

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Who doubts that this is a small world? Not me.

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The Milford Track: Return from the Rainforest‏

March 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

The rain never let up all day Saturday on my return from Mintaro Hut on the New Zealand’s Great Walk along the Milford Track. Although my parka protected most of me, by the time I reached the boat my trousers were soaking wet.

Nevertheless, the day could not have been better. I never even slipped once on the whole track. For such a wet place it has surprisingly little mud or slippery rocks.

Overnight, the pain in my right side lessened considerably. No longer a hunchback, I could walk straight up, although carrying a load was still painful.

At 7:45 a.m. I left the cabin that hut ranger Caine kindly shared with me. I took nothing more than my regular clothes, down jacket, parka, and camera case. Carring my pack, Caine caught up with me two hours later as we crossed Marlenes Creek, the boulder-strewn stretch of trail that was the hardest crossing to and from Mintaro Hut.

Just a quarter of an hour later we reached the rain shelter know as the “Bus Stop,” because it sort of looks like one, although the smallest and most nimble bus couldn’t come within miles of it. Not more than five minutes after Caine and I got there, Ross Harraway, the ranger stationed at Clinton Hut, reached us.

Ross and Caine at the "Bus Stop"

Ross and Caine at the "Bus Stop"

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Ross had brought and shared hot tea and “pikelets,” what in this country they call tiny pancakes held together with butter and honey. What a treat!

Ross took over shepherding my safe return to civilization, and Caine went back to Mintaro Hut. Our only stop except for shelter from the rain was at Prairie Lake, so named because it is on the biggest open space along the Milford Track.

Ross at Prairie Lake

Ross at Prairie Lake

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Until I met Ross I thought that everyone I saw would automatically assume that I am an American because I’m so tall at 6′ 2.5″. But Ross is two inches taller than me and is a Kiwi.

On Thursday Ross will be 67 and was strong enough to carry both his own pack and mine. Even more remarkable, Ross and Carol, his partner of eight years, are getting married the next day.

Ross and I made two more stops as he took me down to the boat. First we had a cup of hot milo at the Hirere Falls lunch stop for guided hikers. Then, we stopped at his cabin near Clinton Hut where he served me a tender and delicious venison casserole from a wild deer that he had hunted two days earlier. Deer aren’t native to New Zealand — the only native mammals are two species of bats — and are fair game.

On the boat I could completely relax for the first time in days. After the hour’s ride, I transfered to a tour bus that met the boat, and the bus driver dropped me off right at the campground where I am staying. I had returned from the rainforest.

I have some disappointment that I was not able to finish what I set out to do in hiking the 33.2 miles of the Milford Track.  I hiked 13.5 miles of it, 41 percent of the track. I stayed at two of the three huts and experienced the first two legs of the trip both up and downhill.

But most important was the memorable experience that I had of needing and enjoying the kindness of strangers. Steve and Christine, and then Caine and Ross saved me a huge amount of pain and gave me something much more than most hikers will ever know. I will forever appreciate their help.

Now, after a day back in Te Anau I still experience considerable pain when I bend over, but none otherwise. I am one lucky fellow.

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The Milford Track: R&R‏

March 21st, 2010 · 3 Comments

My third day on New Zealand’s famous Milford Track could not have been more different from what had gone before. In fact it was my first day in the country that I had time to slow down with no place to go. I needed the day for rest and recuperation from the pain in my right side that had almost crippled me on the way up to Mintaro Hut.

Unlike the tough experience of hiking in pain through the rain to reach the hut at dark on the second day of my tramp, my third day dawned mostly clear. No rain fell and the sun was out most of the day.

But even before the sun came up, Christine told me some good news. “You can see a kea on the porch right now,” she said.

A kea, the only true alpine parrot, is something of a mischief maker. One was indeed out on the porch busy knocking rocks off of the porch rail.

The Kea is Ready to Get Attack This Rock

The Kea is Ready to Get Attack This Rock

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A bit later this bird flew off a bit into the nearby bush and posed for me in a natural setting.

The Kea Poses in the Bush

The Kea Poses in the Bush

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The Milford Track: Trouble

March 21st, 2010 · No Comments

For independent walkers like me, the second day on New Zealand’s famous Milford Track is much harder than the first day. Between Clinton Hut, where we slept on the first night, and Mintaro Hut, where we slept on the second night, is 10.3 miles in distance and 1,200 feet in elevation gain. The Department of Conservation’s official guide book rates it as a six-hour walk. For me it was a 12.25 hour slog.

A tight muscle on my right side just above my pelvis kept me bent over and listing to the left almost all day. Not only was I a hunchback but I was also a left-leaning one.

I was also one wet hiker. The rain came down steadily almost all of the day.

Still, I managed a few photographs. This little bird insisted on getting so close to me that it was impossible to photograph, since my camera has to be at least three feet away to achieve focus. Not that this bird wanted to befriend me. Instead, it wanted the bugs that I dislodged on the trail. Finally it moved off enough. In the rain the background is a lovely soft focus.

A Toutouwai Along the Trail

A Toutouwai Along the Trail

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The Milford Track: Into the Rainforest‏

March 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

When I set forth to tramp the Milford Track on Wednesday, I thought that I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has comprehensive guidance to this four-day hike that I had studied carefully. But I came in for a couple of surprises.

This 33-mile hike is in the heart of spectacular Fiordland National Park in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island. The track starts at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at Milford Sound. Lake Te Anau is the country’s second biggest lake in surface area and the biggest in the volume of water that it holds. I stayed in the pleasant lakeside village of Te Anau on Tuesday night.

Hiking the Milford Track requires both bus and boat transportation to and from both ends of the track. During the peak season we can hike the Milford Track only as a four day/three night package.

The lake runs due north from Te Anau, and the bus took me half way up the lake in half an hour. Then in an hour a boat took me to the start of the Milford Track.

The Vessel that Took our Party of 40 to the Start of Milford Track

The Vessel that Took our Party of 40 to the Start of Milford Track

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From Invercargill to Te Anau‏

March 16th, 2010 · 7 Comments

While the wind died down, the rain got heavier on Tuesday morning. Driving from Invercargill to Te Anau, I nevertheless took the Southern Scenic Route that for the first couple of hours took me west along the south coast. About 1 p.m. the rain turned to occasional sprinkles and eventually the sun peeped out.

In a heavy rain I went to the Cabbage Tree Restaurant adjacent to the campground for one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in New Zealand. In fact, the breakfast seemed quite American — sausage, bacon, and fried eggs with hollandaise sauce.

The name of the restaurant, however, is certainly New Zealand. The cabbage tree is a monocot endemic to New Zealand that has an overall visual effect reminiscent of a palm tree. Captain Cook gave the tree that name because cabbage was a staple vegetable in Europe at that time. In 1769 when his ship, the Endeavour, was at anchor in Queen Charlotte Sound, he had his crew boil up the young inner leaves of this iconic New Zealand tree. They discovered a nutritious vegetable-like plant that they used to combat vitamin C deficiency, which caused scurvy.

A Lone Cabbage Tree Overlooks the Otago Peninsula a Few Days Ago

A Lone Cabbage Tree Overlooks the Otago Peninsula a Few Days Ago

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When I reached Te Anau, my first stop was at the Top 10 Holiday Park, the nicest campground I’ve stayed at yet. My Lonely Planet guidebook calls it a “classic holiday park, closest to the town and lake.”

My second stop was just down the street at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre. I confirmed my reservation for my four-day hike on the Milford Track starting tomorrow. The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s nine “Great Walks,” and in fact ranks as the first of them.

Almost two months I had made my reservation to start my hike tomorrow by calling this visitor centre from Boulder. I had been planning to wait until I got to New Zealand, but if I had done that, I would have been too late, because they limit the number of people who can walk the track.

I owe the suggestion to my friend Gretchen Becker who had just then sent me to a web page about the Milford Track. This paragraph was what grabbed my attention:

As one Israeli hiker rationalized, travelling to New Zealand and missing the Milford Track is like travelling to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower. For serious hikers the world over, Milford is one of the most important destinations on their life list.

You can see that I just had to accept that challenge!

After getting my tickets for the trail (those words just don’t go together in my previous experience!), I was off to my third stop, the Te Anau Wildlife Centre. Here I captured the images of two birds that I wanted very much to see in New Zealand.

The Kea, Confined to New Zealand's South Island, is the Only True Alpine Parrot

The Kea, Confined to New Zealand's South Island, is the Only True Alpine Parrot

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This Pukeko or Purple Swamphen Searches for Seeds Together with a Much Smaller Bird

Here with a much smaller bird is the flightless Takahē, an endangered species.

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Now that I’ve reached Te Anau, I am ready for a great walk. If all goes on schedule, I will be back here in four days.

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Posted in: New Zealand