Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Discovering amazing places in the world is a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because it shows travelers the beauty and diversity of the world, a curse because it leads to this draw away from the comforts of the settled life and a struggle to choose where to call home.

When I was at The Pub a few weeks ago, I chose to wear my New Zealand All Blacks shirt from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which NZ hosted and won while I was working and traveling there. The man seated next to me asked me the reason for the shirt, and I proceeded to happily talk to a complete stranger about my country for a chunk of the evening.

Over the course of our conversation, this father of a first year college student and a free spirited teenage daughter heard tales of my travels in NZ, China, and Mexico. Some of my adventures worried him as he thought of his own daughter, but mostly he seemed entertained by my tales. Toward the end of the conversation he asked, “Since you love New Zealand so much, what’s keeping you from going back?”

After my usual bs mumbling about visas, needing a job, and the cost of living, I stopped and reflected on how I’ve compiled excuses for not making a move to my favorite country happen. A few years ago I read a blog post about dreams and whether we pursue them or not. Unfortunately I can’t recall the exact line or find the post, but it said something like:

When our dreams seem too difficult to realize, we convince ourselves we never really wanted them that badly, and then we force ourselves to not want them any more. In making up excuses and moving around our dreams, we abandon them and never know what could have been.

The Importance of Big Dreams – similar yet different post by a great blogger

As someone who still gets more fired up to talk about New Zealand than anything else, that idea saddens me. I haven’t let the dream die, but I’ve realized that something else has gotten in the way. To explain, we have to return to the South Pacific.

Wanaka, a cute town in the Central Otago region of the South Island, wanted me to slow down and stay awhile during my travels. I arrived with only 5 days left in my ~4.5 weeks of wandering everywhere I could squeeze in down south, and I was greatly saddened that I had to catch a flight so soon. Though it’s a town situated on a beautiful lake and just down the road from ski areas and the Southern Alps, Wanaka seemed rather unassuming and quiet compared to the nearby tourist-saturated Queenstown. I quickly decided that its character and 4 season climate made it my preferred area to live.

While walking down the main street, I noticed The Picture Lounge – NZ Photographers Gallery, home of what I discovered to be a gorgeous collection of landscape and adventure photography. Naturally, I went inside to check out the beautiful images. As I took in the pictures hanging on the walls and flipped through the many albums, the unexpected happened. I began to cry.

I cried because New Zealand is too unfairly beautiful. I cried because I’d fallen in love. I cried because I had just about 2 weeks left to spend there.

As I struggled to contain myself, an employee walked over to chat with me. When I looked up from the album and he saw I was in tears, his expression changed to concern. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I smiled through my tears as I worked on wiping them away. “Sorry, just give me a minute.”

Once I’d closed the albums, I was able to walk up to him and explain I had no interest in leaving his amazing country. He was relieved to know that was the only reason for a teary visitor, and of course he appreciated my mentality. Kiwis know how fortunate they are to live in a gorgeous country and be so distant from the rest of the world; one simple t-shirt design reads “Living in a better place… New Zealand.” I bought one.

Despite not wanting to return to America, I left New Zealand on schedule and have spent the last 5 years frequently daydreaming of my hobbit home and when I will return. Alaska – specifically Fairbanks – has been my home base ever since, but it hasn’t necessarily felt like home.

Being a homeless couchsurfer who typically floats into town for just a week or so between jobs hasn’t allowed me to establish my post-college life. Yes, I’ve found time for backpacking, dogsitting, biking, The Pub, and visits with friends. Until recently my stints in town have been too brief to really feel like I’m part of the community, though.

Now I’m back in Homer – home of the headquarters of Alaska Maritime NWR – and just a week away from leaving civilization for another summer on Buldir. After visiting Saturday’s indoor Farmers Market, I decided to step inside businesses I’ve ignored on my last 2 seasons’ worth of stays in Homer.

Enter Ptarmigan Arts, a co-op art gallery full of Alaskan photography, paintings, drawings, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, and woodworking. While browsing through the gallery, a feeling hit me as I realized…

Alaska. Alaska is why I haven’t focused my life on returning to New Zealand. Although I shed no tears, my visibility grew fuzzy, and I had to hold myself back from light crying as I gazed at the beauty – and more so the character – of Alaska captured by cameras and carved in wood.

I love Alaska’s mountains, glaciers, tundra, trees, flowers, and hot springs; its boats, lakes, rivers, islands, and ocean; its moose, bears, wolves, otters, and other furry animals; and its birds. I love its small towns, breweries, dry cabins, outhouses, plaid and Carhartts, hiking boots and XtraTufs, potlucks, and puppies. I love its funky daylight cycle and aurora borealis. Perhaps most importantly, I love its people who have welcomed me to stay for almost 10 years.

I love New Zealand. I don’t like being American, but I do love Alaska. Even though I don’t really have a home, friends always welcome me back.

So what to do? Beats me.

Read Full Post »

Flashback to life in New Zealand!


28 January 2012 will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was the day that could have led me down the road to really, truly living in Middle Earth. On that day, I went to Wellington for an extras casting call for “The Hobbit.”

Now when I originally heard about the call, I figured I’d have no chance and that I shouldn’t tease myself. For that particular 2 week period off my kiwi island I’d planned on meandering my way through the Northland region above Auckland. Plans changed when a phone call home ended with me sobbing from the news that my parents’ sheltie had died. My dad told me to eat some ice cream and head to Wellington, finally visit various LOTR (Lord of the Rings) filming locations, and take my tour of the Shire along the way. “Father knows best,” so I took his advice.

Unless you’re a LOTR and map junkie, feel free to skip the following 2 paragraphs.

Loaded up in Shadowfax, my trusty white Nissan station wagon steed, I began the trip south. I stopped in Mordor (Tongariro World Heritage Site/Whakapapa Ski Field), near the Ithilien Camp (Ohakune/Tongariro), at the River Anduin (Rangitikei River Gorge), in Trollshaw Forest/Osgiliath Wood (Waitarere Forest), in scenes for leaving the Shire (Otaki Gorge), at the Pelennor Fields (Paraparaumu), in Isengard Gardens (Harcourt Park), and at the River Anduin and Rohan River (Hutt River).
After the casting call, I stopped by where the hobbits left the Shire and escaped from the Nazgul (Mt. Victoria Park), where Frodo and Sam cowered at the Black Gate (Red Rocks at Te Kopahou Reserve), the Dimholt Road (Putangirua Pinnacles), “Rivendell” and the Fords of Isen (Kaitoke Regional Park is beautiful, but it’s 100% clear that Rivendell is mostly digitally rendered. We all knew it was too good to be true.), and Hobbiton/the Shire (Matamata).

I literally slept in a holiday park (campground) next to Isengard. After a stroll through Isengard’s garden in the morning, I made my way toward the casting call location in Hutt City. I didn’t know exactly how far away it was or where to park, but when I began encountering people crossing the highway, I had a feeling I’d reached the area of my destination.

The casting call was very diverse in its reach, including:

• Males, Under 5’4”
• Females, Under 5′
• Large men, 5’9″ tall and over, who have character faces.
• Men and Women of any height who have large biceps.
• Women who have character faces.
• Men and Women, slender and athletic, between 5’5″ – 6’4″
• Must be 17 years of age and above.
• Must have flexible availability for filming.
• Must have New Zealand residency OR a valid New Zealand work permit.
• Must be located within reasonable driving distance of Wellington during filming.

Who doesn’t want to think they have a face of character? extras lineInstead of ~1200 of us showing up, over 3000 hopeful extras formed a complicated swirling and twisted line in the grassy areas next to the highway; I think I joined the end of the line and didn’t cut in somewhere, but I really can’t say for sure. Ultimately the police had to shut down the event because of traffic/safety problems. I hadn’t reached the doors, but just being at the event was an experience in itself.

I couldn’t decide if it was worth mailing in my application, considering I had limited time in NZ. Of course, if I did happen to get contacted, I would have immediately canceled future flights and jobs to be an extra. Ultimately I decided, “Why not?” I got my head + shoulder and full body shots printed off. The application itself was pretty basic; I had to provide contact information, availability, any “skills” (i.e. animal handling, martial arts, or virtually anything), my height, my shoe size, and … my suit/dress size.crowdUh oh. When had I last worn a dress? 8th grade Confirmation/graduation seemed accurate. I probably had grown a bit since then. Also, were NZ and US sizes the same? Somehow I had to find an answer to this question. One option was to try on a dress of the friend I was staying with, but I felt too silly to ask her. Instead I found a mall, went inside the first store that looked reasonable, and found a few dresses that didn’t look ridiculous.

Yes, I tried on a few dresses to figure out my size so that I could tell the folks at 3 Foot 7 Ltd. in Miramar what dress size I was. It was that important to me.

dress

Once I had found my answer, I left the store, filled in that blank in my application, and sent it off to the Extras Casting.

What did I do next? I drove to the Putangirua Pinnacles, which are the bizarre rock formations on the trail to the Paths of the Dead. The zip-off pants and quick dry shirt were definitely more my style!

pinnacles

I will admit that wearing a dress wasn’t as vile as I’d considered it for years. The ultimate answer is… yes, if I had been contacted to be an extra and told I’d be wearing a dress, I’d have done it in a heartbeat.

dscn4424

*Note: The awesome burn lines come from standing in line. That was one of the very few times when I didn’t wear sunscreen down there.

Read Full Post »

Over the years I’ve had numerous conversations with fellow field technicians about poop. When I worked for Conservation Canines, we probably somehow brought the topic into conversation every night while at dinner. Out on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta we just have a temporary outhouse, so it’s pretty clear when someone is heading out to do their duty. Pooping is just a regular part of life and yet probably more prevalent for us because we go without indoor plumbing for months at a time.

When I was volunteering in New Zealand, my crew’s little field house had running water, but we were asked to spare the plumbing system from #2 and instead walk across the field to use the longdrop. If it’s not clear, a longdrop is what New Zealanders call an outhouse. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more fitting name, and I’m trying to propagate using that name wherever I go.

island

Longdrop is circled, and home is the building on the right

Walking the 3 minutes to the longdrop really wasn’t a big deal, but sometimes it seemed like a hassle right before bed. One time I needed some extra encouragement to get myself out the door, so as I left the house I said, “Maybe I’ll see a kiwi on the walk.” Hearing kiwi calling in the field outside our house wasn’t necessarily common, but it wasn’t unheard of.

As I walked through the dark by the light of my headlamp, I crossed a land bridge over a small ditch in the field. I heard some rustling in the grass to my right, and then something splashed in the water. Turning to shed some light on the scene revealed a kiwi scrambling to climb back out of the water and run away through the grass! Although I did feel bad about startling the kiwi into the water, all of the sudden my poop walk had given me a great big smile.

Feeling rather content with my walk, I carried on to take care of business. Once that was done, I decided to walk back to the house by following the beach rather than just walking through the field. On a number of occasions we’d been fortunate enough to play in bioluminescence in the waters of the bay. Organisms in water can create a blue glow by some chemical reaction in their bodies, and it looks absolutely awesome. Splashing in glowing water is Not just for kids. “Maybe there’ll be some bioluminescence tonight,” I said.

I didn’t have my hopes too high because recent weather conditions hadn’t seemed like the usual bioluminescence-promoting state. However, I noticed blue in the water as I approached the beach. Suddenly my unlikely wish-to-reality ratio was 2 for 2! Like a little kid, I kicked my XtraTufs through the water to splash blue drops across the water’s dark canvas. As I created swirls, a bigger smile spread its way across my face.

As I meandered my way down the shore, my thoughts turned to the little blue penguins living under our house. We heard their goofy sounds all the time and knew that they walked down to the beach, but I’d never seen them. “The only way this poop walk could get any better is if I see a little blue penguin!” I decided.

All I had to do was ask, and my wish was granted. As I left the sand and approached the gate to enter the field again, my headlamp lit up a little blue penguin in the grass. It froze just long enough for me to appreciate it, and then I decided I should move along. My smile couldn’t have gotten any bigger.

I’ll never have a more worthwhile poop walk in my life.

 

*The moral of the story: “When you gotta go, you should really go.” You never know what will happen! Take care of business, but take time to appreciate the little things.*

Read Full Post »

For anyone who’s been waiting for a post, my apologies. As a seasonal wildlife field technician, my mind is often on the upcoming months. For the last few months my thoughts have focused probably 90% of their time on wanting to know what I’ll be doing this summer. With that being the case, I haven’t had tales of my life running through my head. I’ve had plenty of musings on the future, though. Maybe there will be more on that later.

I’ve also discovered that my dying German skills can perhaps find some life by using Duolingo to get some German practice. It’s pretty addictive, and refreshing my German has become my pre-slumber hobby. I accidentally added Italian to my courses, and tonight I started some Italian lessons just because I can. Why not, right?

So if you’re looking for something to read and are curious about kiwi research, check out the interesting blog I wrote for the San Diego Zoo Global while working down in NZ from 2011-2012.

I promise I’ll try to get the stories going again soon!

 

Read Full Post »

If you’re tired of hearing about New Zealand, stop reading now. This story came to mind again recently because it’s one of my favorites from my time in the southern hemisphere back in 2011-2012.


As a refresher, my schedule for working with North Island brown kiwi in the Hauraki Gulf consisted of 2 weeks spent playing and working, followed by 2 weeks of travel time. For the first and only time in my life, I owned a car; my Nissan Cefiro station wagon’s name was Shadowfax for the simple reason that I hoped it would lead me to Gandalf. (Filming for “The Hobbit” happened while I was down there, and I even went to a casting call outside of Wellington, but that’s a story in itself.)

Although the more time I spend in the US, the more I want to get out, there’s one way in which I’m extremely American. I absolutely love the freedom to explore that comes with owning a set of 4 wheels. During my time off I drove all around both the North and South Islands, and while the gas bills piled up due to gas costing around 2.10NZD/liter (6.52USD/gallon), I wouldn’t trade my adventures for anything.

NZ road

http://www.omnimap. com/catalog/images/for-road/covers/65-0788Tc.jpg















With a full month of travel before my final stint of kiwi work, I loaded my trusty steed onto the Interislander ferry to cross Cook Strait. Throughout my travels I relied on the above books, which functioned as both blessings and curses. Wanting to go everywhere in the country and hoping to see as many filming locations as possible made for quite the excursions. (Even now I can scan through those books and re-live my adventures. Some books can be worth leaving behind; those weren’t.)

Caples

Caples Valley

About 2/3 of the way through my month, I was finishing up the Greenstone Caples tramp in the Lake Wakatipu/Greenstone Conservation Area just outside Fiordland National Park. Having just spent 3 nights on the trail and knowing I was running short on time to explore the Wanaka and Queenstown areas, I decided to skip making the 39km drive down unsealed roads to visit the Mavora Lakes Park. Just outside the park lies the area where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli came upon the burning pile of orc carcasses. The shores of North Mavora Lake are the home of The Breaking of the Fellowship. Although The Breaking is likely one of my top 3 scenes for story line, scenery, and music; I decided I had more convenient places to visit.

As I drove out of Te Anau and toward Queenstown on highway 94, I again told myself, “Nope. You don’t have time for that side trip. Put it on the “Next Time” list.” My decision had been made. However as Shadowfax and I approached the turn-off toward Mavora, he slowed down and made a left turn. I couldn’t stop him, so there really wasn’t anything for me to do about it other than continue driving down 39km of unsealed road. At least it wasn’t a lonely road.

sheep

I stopped for a moment at the invisible pile of carcasses before venturing inside the park. Without Shadowfax’s insistence on turning, I would have missed out on the beauty of the Mavora area. The Mavora Lakes are 2 long, skinny lakes that run N-S between 2 ridges and are connected by the Mararoa River. From the get-go I was struck by the rather simple beauty of the area.

Mavora

Home away from home

N Mavora

Shore of N Mavora Lake

Upon exploring a little around the southern lake, I discovered that I could either pay the $5 campsite fee or use my backcountry hut pass to sleep for free at Careys Hut a mere 10km down the lakeshore. Since I was unsure of whether I’d be squeezing another tramp into my time off or not, I found myself irrationally parking the car and hurriedly stuffing gear back into the backpack I’d just unpacked a few hours earlier. Besides, I hadn’t consumed a beer in a hut yet, and I just happened to have one ready to go. I’d already climbed over the McKellar Saddle and back to my car after starting the morning at Upper Caples Hut. What was another 10 kilometers of  travel?

I hit the trail right around 20:00, knowing that my daylight was quickly fading. With my headlamp conveniently stowed, I figured I’d enjoy a soul cleansing dusky hike. The trail hugged the lakeshore and flirted with the woods’ edge for the first few kilometers before gaining a little elevation and meandering through fields above the lake. As I walked along beneath the darkening sky, the stars slowly twinkled to life above me. Every now and then I just stopped to stare up at the sky and the silhouetted mountains. The only sound around was created by waves lapping lightly upon the lakeshore. I was in love.

Although I was in love, I was also growing tired. 21:30 rolled around. Probably a half an hour or so to go, I thought to myself. 21:45… 22:00…22:15. I know I’ve hiked a fair bit today, but I can’t be moving that slowly, can I? 22:20. What if I hike past the hut without realizing it? My headlamp wasn’t really all that powerful, and I had no tent to pitch if I ended up missing the hut. In retrospect I probably could have chanced just unrolling the sleeping bag outside, but I wasn’t too sure of what the weather would bring. My options were to either keep hiking and hope I’d see the hut soon, or turn back to sleep in the car.

22:25. Okay, give it up and turn around so you can get some sleep. I hated to make the decision, but I couldn’t see any sign of the hut. At that time I brilliantly thought to pull out my GPS and turn it on to measure the walk back to the parking area. As I started the long haul back to Shadowfax, I laughed at myself. Only I would be ridiculous enough to take on a second hike, walk for a couple hours, and then decide to walk those kilometers back in the darkness of night.

Despite the fact that I was mentally and physically tired, I paused to soak up my surroundings multiple times on the return trip. The utter absence of civilization was perfectly soothing. While on that hike I realized that I could easily spend a week out at the Mavora Lakes and still have no strong desire to return to town. For whatever mysterious kiwi reasons, the park had seized my soul.Shadowfax

As far as I recall, I stumbled up to Shadowfax around 00:40 and was in my sleeping bag before 01:00. Before drifting off to sleep, I checked my GPS to see that I had hiked ~9.5 kilometers; if I had carried on for another 10 minutes, I would have reached Careys Hut! Go figure. Although a beer in a hut would have been nice, I know my walk turned out just the way it was meant to be.

Wouldn’t my luck have it that the first substantial frost of the year fell that night? I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I couldn’t help but wake up with a smile on my face, for I had slept within one-tenth of a mile from where The Fellowship broke.

As much as I wanted to stay a week, I only afforded myself the time to scamper in the same woods through which orcs chased the Fellowship and then enjoy the scenery around Sam’s swimming hole. As always when visiting filming locations, I played the proper songs from the soundtrack to create the full experience. The shore of North Mavora nearly gave me tears. (Also, for the record, poor Sean Astin had to swim in a chilly lake, dry off briefly, and then repeat the act for multiple takes. What a trooper.)

breaking

Looking across North Mavora Lake

beach

“Let’s hunt some orc.”

Shadowfax probably decided it was time to move on by late morning. Although my time at Mavora Lakes Park had been brief, it managed to give me a prized memory. Maybe one day my soul will wander back to that place.

 

Read Full Post »

(from a Greyhound bus and BART train in SF Bay area on Christmas Day 2014)

Dear Coach Dantonio and Spartan football team,

This letter is a couple of years late, but all of the sudden I felt the need to write and share it anyway. My name is Steph, and although I’m originally from the NW suburbs of Detroit and love MSU, I didn’t go to college there. I actually felt my soul break a little when I declined my admission to State back in 2007. Ultimately the University of Alaska Fairbanks claimed me for its own. Regardless, anyone who knows me will tell you I love the Spartans. Even when UAF and MSU hockey were part of the CCHA, I couldn’t commit to supporting one team over the other – a fact that amused my friends.

hockey

UAF vs. MSU playoff hockey game in Fbx with Chris Chelios

I went to college in Alaska to study wildlife, and life has taken me many places since graduation. All I have up in Fairbanks these days is a storage unit, along with friends who have couches. (One of those friends unfortunately supports the Buckeyes, but we still manage to get along.)

After graduation in 2011, I took a volunteer position working with North Island brown kiwi in New Zealand for 10 months. I had a schedule that kept me working on an island in the Hauraki Gulf for 2 weeks at a time with 2 weeks off in-between. During football season I always checked The Detroit News for my Spartans’ scores and to read stories about the games. Without internet access on the island, I sometimes needed to wait for scores.

mapTweety









There was one score that I couldn’t wait for: the result of the U of M – MSU game. Typically I avoided using my international phone card with my NZ cell because it ate through minutes. Learning the outcome of the game was no choice, though; I had to know.

With an 18 hour time difference between NZ and Michigan, I had to take game time and day of the week into account. While hiking out with my telemetry gear and heading off to search my gullies for kiwi that Sunday (in NZ), only the game was on my mind. I’m one of those fans who gets really nervous no matter which teams are playing. Just picture Sheryl from “Remember the Titans.”

Since I was working in forested gullies with steep hillsides, I had no cell reception most of the time. Fortunately my work was split between 2 gullies, meaning I needed to climb up a ridge to drop down into the second gully.

RS Gully

Working terrain

By the time I was up there, I figured the game must have ended. With trembling hands I dialed home to Michigan, unsure of whether I’d end up joyful or disappointed.

“Hello, Steph?” answered my mom.

“Do I want to know?” That was all I asked. With my mom not being one to necessarily pay attention to sports, all I could do was hope she knew her daughter well enough to know what I was calling about.

“Do you want to know? … ohh. For the 4th year in a row, the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Michigan Wolverines! 28-14.”

“Thanks, Mom!! That’s all I was calling about. You just made my day.”

For the rest of the day I carried a ridiculous smile on my face. I even had to share the news with my fellow workers – although they could tell I had heard good news when I walked in the door.

I’ve returned to the US since then and tend to spend most of my time in Alaska, but no matter where I am, I’m a Spartan fan. I greet anyone wearing green and white with a smile! This year I’ll be rooting for my Spartans on New Year’s Day from California.

Although you already know this, there are Spartan fans around the world cheering you on. Sometimes we can’t actually watch games, but we’re anxiously waiting to read of good news. On January 1, go after Baylor with all of the class and strength of Spartans!

Go Green!

Sincerely,

Steph

Read Full Post »

On my 4th time off the kiwi island, which occurred back in September, Rose’s and my trip did not go as planned. This was also when everyone in Fairbanks began classes again, making me a real human being rather than a student for the first time in my life. Weird, eh?

For those (such as my mom) who has or used to have thoughts of my ferry to the island, here’s what the “ferry” sometimes carries…

"ferry"

Loading the “ferry”

We had intentions of going to the South Island, but Rose’s car had other ideas. About 1.5 hours out of Palmerston North, it broke down on us. I’m not going into details – otherwise Rose might read this and kill me for bringing up bad memories – but we ended up needing to use my car to putz around while mechanics looked Rose’s car over. Instead of sitting around and dwelling on the bad situation, I suggested we go for a tramp in the Ruahine Forest Park.

A talk with Sarah’s man Kyle pointed us in the direction of the Rangiwahia Hut. Other than a steep climb/scramble detour around a massive slip, the track was pretty nice! We even crossed a bridge that almost shares my birthday; it was built on December 2, 1988! The track was a climb almost the entire way, but the views, gas heater, and company were worth it. Some kiwis had to remind the Michigander of how to play euchre. (I would be embarrassed if Jeff had ever succeeded in teaching me how to play in the first place.)

volcanoes

Mount Ruapehu and Mount Doom at sunrise

sunset

An unusual sunset scene from the Rangi Hut

The Rangi Hut has a fantastic view of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Doom worthy of an early morning alarm for sunrise photography. After crawling back in the sleeping bag and then rising at a normal hour, Rose and I spent a leisurely day exploring the higher country on a day hike. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was in Alaska!

boot

My kind of research

snowy mountains

Rose in the Ruahines

Looking at the boot/mountain photo makes me recognize my kind of research: outdoor research. (aka what wildlife biology should be) I want the job of finding what’s beyond the next hill, mountain, forest, or plain. What wildlife is out there? How are the views? Who else can I find out there? What are they like? Was it worth the effort of getting to the view or destination? Those questions are much more fun to answer than something like “What is the standard deviation…” I seem to have lost my own interest before finishing the question. Hmm. The true question is, who will pay me to find answers to those more exciting questions?

After our visit to the Ruahines we ducked back into Palmerston North before tackling a tramp in the Tararua Range.

weather

Nearly everyone we talked to about tramping in the Tararuas mentioned the weather…

After all, this sign was in a shelter along the Mount Holdsworth Circuit. Pardon the profanity, but I needed a photo.

Gandalf

I think it speaks for itself.

The track led gently upwards for awhile before becoming a steep climb and then breaking through the treeline to windy blasts on tundra. The Holdsworth Hut itself was perched on the eastern side of the range, and the winds howled all afternoon, evening, night, and next morning. Particularly eerie was the sound of it through the chimney. I’m amazed that the plants (and the hut) don’t get blown off the mountain. I guess that’s what adaptation and quality construction can do! The longdrop at the hut definitely had a nice view. Unfortunately the weather was such that we decided attempting to do the whole circuit on the ridge would be dangerous, so we headed back down and made a shorter loop.

longdrop

Loo with a view towards Masterton

forest

I just liked the angle on this forest floor photo…

Leaving the Tararuas early did mean we could take a side trip over to Castlepoint, a mysterious place a French guy told me about when I was in Thames. All I knew was that it was in the Masterton district and probably his favorite place in NZ.

After taking the 40+km drive down the road to get there, I completely understood what he meant. Within 10 minutes I was in love.

nice view

What’s not to like?

Castlepoint

Red-billed gulls on the beach

Unfortunately to get to a cheap DOC campsite at a reasonable hour, which is what Rose likes to do, we had to leave after only about 1.5 hours there. We didn’t get to climb to the top of that awesome cliff/hill, nor did we catch sunrise or sunset.

lighthouse

The lighting was also pretty neat.

As much as I really, really want to make a return trip, I’m sadly starting to acknowledge I don’t have enough time to do everything once let alone try for second trips. 😦

Steph

Happy Steph!

Castlepoint

Another view…

Since the Rugby World Cup was held here from September to October, it was impossible to live in this country without hearing about the tournament at every waking second. At first I wasn’t that interested, but then I learned the event is the 3rd or 4th largest sporting event in the world. I decided that since I’m here and rugby is the national religion of New Zealand, I should go to a game.

giant kiwi

Even the kiwi get in the spirit!

After convincing Rose it would be an experience, we purchased standing room tickets for the September 11th Ireland vs. USA game in New Plymouth. That’s a fitting way to recognize the 10thanniversary, right? (It was strange to not hear much about such a huge aspect of recent US history.) To get to New Plymouth, we drove from the Tararuas to Taumarunui before taking the Forgotten Highway to Stratford.

tunnel

Check out the name of the tunnel. 🙂

The Forgotten Highway features some unique natural features that make it worth a drive. Most people probably make numerous stops on the way, but the rain poured down for most of our trip. We did make a stop out of the country, though. What, you say? How did you leave New Zealand? Easy. Just stop in the Republic of Whangamomona.

document

For your reading pleasure…

Whangamomona

No longer in NZ…

Apparently residents of the town weren’t happy with some new zoning in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, so they declared the town a republic on November 1, 1989. Every year they hold celebrations in the streets on that day!

sign

Back in NZ…

After leaving the Forgotten Highway, we drove to the holiday park (like KOA) in the surfing town of Oakura for which we had booked a site. We had seen lots of cars with Irish flags in them on various roads in the country, and we soon learned the Irish rugby team has a huge following. I got in the American spirit by booing at cars decked out for Ireland. When we arrived at the holiday park, Rose and I walked into the office to find ourselves surrounded by 10ish facepainted and green-clad Irish supporters. Oops. I think we picked the wrong accommodation. Although I have red hair and people often ask if I have Irish blood, I’m quite American. I got a kick out of being such a minority in that office. The US doesn’t really give a hoot about rugby at this point in time, and it was obvious the Irish fans would vastly outnumber the Americans.

We could have caught a bus back to town for the game, which would have been a fun experience of listening to the Irish (who had already started to drink) sing their national songs. Instead, Rose and I drove downtown and then caught a shuttle to the park. We got the same dose of Irish pride on that short ride. It’s safe to say that was a bus ride I won’t soon forget.

band

The US apparently brought a small band over?

stadium

This is something like the 3rd best place to watch rugby.

Even though we only had standing room, we could see just fine. Of course, that didn’t really matter because neither Rose nor I knew what was going on. When I pulled out my binoculars, I did get to actually check out some faces of players…  We couldn’t figure out why each team kept kicking the ball back to the other or why the team that just scored would receive the kick-off. To our credit, we did know the Americans were losing. Luckily the US brought the final score to a more respectable 23-10 rather than 23-3 in the final plays.

scrum

A scrum, the strength battle between teams

stands

Maybe I can spot a couple of Americans?

We returned to the holiday park, where the Irish likely celebrated well into the morning. Apparently one fan (probably American) had a rough night and chose to sleep in the men’s restroom. The owner of the holiday park actually brought a camera man in to film him, and I guess he’s part of the crew putting together some sort of production about fans and the World Cup! The poor dude should have picked a more private area to sleep.

rough night

Poor guy got no privacy here!

After that game our time off the island was almost up. We rocked out to the Beach Boys as we drove the Surf Highway before checking on Rose’s car in Palmerston North and then driving back up to the Hauraki Gulf. All in all, we covered some ground and tried some things we weren’t expecting, but we had a good time!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »