Friday, January 14, 2011

Hello Sydney!

Andy and I have been in Sydney for about 3 days now and are settled into our dorm at the Arundel House at the University of Sydney. We've spent the last few days getting ready for the arrival of the Lewis and Clark students, but finally had a chance to take the train down to the harbor yesterday to explore a little. Our first stop was the Sydney Opera House, which is just as fantastic in person as you would expect it to be. It was amazing to stand in front of something so iconic. We wandered around the harbor and took a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens and then zigzagged through the streets of downtown Sydney on our way back to the dorm. It's a beautiful city with some really great architecture and lots of nice pedestrian areas with caf├ęs and shopping. We're already planning on a tour of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge climb (for you Kurtis!) before we leave Sydney in a couple of weeks. As a group, the students and Andy and I will be attending several events that are part of the Sydney Festival, and also taking a bus tour to get a history lesson on the city. It should be a fun and interesting time here.

As for the wildlife . . . upon arrival at the Arundel House, our tour guide, a student who's staying here while attending the uni, pointed out a couple of interesting things to look out for. Apparently there are large cockroaches that are common all over Sydney (I guess like any big city), and we were lucky enough to have one visit our room that very night . . . . She also told us to watch for the huntsman spiders that wander the house. They are supposedly the size of my palm, but are completely harmless.  I saw my first one last night on the stairs down to our room. It was a baby, which means it was only 2-1/2" to 3" in diameter . . . can't wait to meet its mother :-). There are also large bats, known as flying foxes, here in Sydney. They roost in trees all over the city, including the ones across the street from our house, and are especially numerous in the botanic gardens.

I'll put a few pictures up from our time at the Harbor yesterday as well as a picture of Charlotte and the bats. Sorry, no cockroach pictures yet . . .


Sydney Opera House

Harbor Bridge

Shot from the Royal Botanic Garden

Look closely...the bats are hanging from the
branches and there are herons perched
on top.

Charlotte hanging out on the stairs

A few pics from Christchurch

A shot of Christchurch from the Art Museum

In front of Designer Cottage, our B&B.

With Chet, our fabulous host at Designer Cottage

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Goodbye New Zealand . . .

Sitting in the Christchurch airport we thought we’d put together a list of some of our favorite things about New Zealand. Here they are in no particular order:

Laid back attitude toward life (or so it seems from the Kiwis we met)

Roundabouts in place of traffic lights (we didn’t stop at a single light for a weeklong stretch of driving)

Absence of freeways (we passed through towns instead of passing around them)

Dramatic diversity of landscapes in such a small space

New Zealand-speak: for example, brekkie (breakfast), trundler (shopping cart), cheers! (said on just about any occasion), sweet! (see “cheers”)

Maori haka, language, and art

Fern trees

Ubiquitous dual-flush toilets (so eco-friendly!)

Footwear not required (more to Philip’s liking than Andy’s)

And last but not least, any combination of the four food groups can be eaten in the form of a pie.

~Andy and Philip

Monday, January 10, 2011

From Te Anau to Te Nikau

I write this on the verandah of our little bungalow tucked into the rainforest at "Te Nikau Retreat," located in the stunningly beautiful and charmingly named west coast town of Punakaiki. The air is filled with the busy songs of birds and the gentle lull of the ocean, which, we discovered yesterday evening, is only a five-minute’s walk away.

Here’s a rundown of what’s happened since our last post:

Three days ago we left Te Anau and drove several hours to Queenstown, a lakeside cornucopia of more ways to terrify yourself for inordinate amounts of money than anywhere else on earth. It’s got bungy jumping, skydiving, hang gliding, etc. We settled on parasailing, which, on Queenstown’s terror scale of 1 to 10, is perhaps a 2. Up in the air we had an unbeatable view of the town, lake, and mountains (named, like some 1950s singing group, "The Remarkables"), and although the jerking rope made the initial ascent somewhat nerve-wracking, the ride soon became surprisingly peaceful. Parasailing was an unplanned indulgence, so we decided on a low budget dinner: reduced-to-sell meat pies eaten on a park bench in the city gardens. Having grown up near the Sun Valley resort in Idaho, Philip felt immediately at home in stylish and outdoorsy Queenstown. I enjoyed the town too, but after spending an afternoon there, both of us were ready to leave behind the posh, adrenaline seeking crowds and return to the typically low key New Zealand that we’ve come to love.

The day before yesterday we bade Queenstown goodbye and drove through spectacular mountain scenery on our way to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers on the South Island’s west coast. We ate lunch by a picture-perfect river, stopped to see magnificent Fox Glacier, and walked around a lake with stunning views of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman (sorry for all the superlative adjectives, but this really is a superlative country). We also got a good look at a weka, one of New Zealand’s flightless birds. The day was topped off by a soak in glacial hot pools that were reminiscent of (if not quite equal to) onsen in Japan. Then it was back to the Franz Josef hostel for the night.

Yesterday morning was spent hiking Franz Josef Glacier, one of only three "warm" glaciers in the world (the second being Fox Glacier just down the road and the other located in Argentina). It starts high up in the freezing New Zealand Alps and makes its way down to a rainforest where it never snows—not even in the depths of winter. It was bizarre to start our hike in warm, dense rainforest and within an hour be walking, with the aid of crampons, on a massive river of ice. Making our way across the glacier’s rugged icescape was a jaw-dropping experience, made all the better by our expert (and charming) guide Ben, who occasionally swung his pickaxe in rapid circles to cut away steps in the ice so our group could pass. Apparently it takes three months of training to use a pickaxe properly (the "wax on, wax off" scene in the Karate Kid comes to mind). Prior to his job as a guide, Ben prospected for gold near his hometown of Kumara and collected moss in the New Zealand bush for export to Japan. To collect the moss, he was lowered into the bush by rope from a helicopter. We also learned that he’d never left the west coast of the South Island except for a short trip to Wellington, on the southern tip of the North Island. This tendency not to travel too far within their own country seems pretty typical of New Zealanders, at least based on the conversations with Kiwis we’ve had so far. A lot of North Islanders tell us they haven’t made it to the South Island and the same goes for South Islanders in reverse. Because every corner of New Zealand is so beautiful in its own way, it seems Kiwis are content to stay just where they are. I guess it’s appropriate they’re nicknamed after a flightless bird . . .

After descending the glacier, we got back in the car and headed up the (insert your own superlative adjective) coast up to Punakaiki, where we marveled at the wave-pounded stone formations before making dinner in the retreat's communal kitchen and heading to bed in our private rainforest bungalow. Now that I’ve finished my cup of tea along with this blog entry, it’s time to leave this peaceful verandah and drive back to Christchurch for our last night in New Zealand. Then it’s off to Sydney!

See photos of everything I've described in the post below!


Queenstown, Glacier, and Punakaiki Pics

Parasailing feet

View of Queenstown from high above the lake

Happy parasailers (and a happy parachute!)

On the path to Franz Josef Glacier

Near the terminal face of the glacier


Into the ice tunnel!

In a tight spot

Love the blue ice . . . 

Our trusty guide Ben

Ben cutting a step

Ben, with Angela and Andrew from Ohio, heading down
the glacier

On the road to Punakaiki

Stone formations at a Punakaiki beach

Brekkie on verandah at Te Nikau Retreat