Josh and Christa's Honeymoon in New Zealand and Tahiti

19-Oct-2012 to 18-Nov-2012

Oct 19 - 21

It was finally here, our 4 week vacation to New Zealand and Tahiti. We were both brimming with excitement as we waited to board our 747 direct to Auckland. On the plane we were seated next to an exuberant svelte lady named Annie who would acrobatically move from her window seat to the aisle to get to the bathroom by tip-toeing on the arm rests. It turns out that she and he 17 person company make all natural fruit bars and are the producer of the trader joes brand fruit bar. We had some interesting conversation about the state of health around the world, then retired to a few movies and mediocre airplane sleep.

5am, touchdown and a smooth transition through customs. Much to our chagrin we found out that christa's phone did not get data so we would be relegated to old fashion map navigation. Just like the old days :-). We got picked up by our local Omega Rental car company and headed out into the cold foggy morning. Driving on the left side of the road isn't hard per se, but requires concentration at first to make sure you wouldn't drift. We developed a good two person system where until I got comfortable, Christa would remind me at most of the intersections where I had to turn to remember to stay left. I know it sounds like back seat driving, but it was actually quite helpful.

I ran over a curb, not having a full appreciation that the car protruded to my right instead of left, parked, and then we had a lovely little breakfast accompanied by a very odd Maouri lady named JoJo with a rainbow colored had who said she had many husbands and kept on telling thanking us for coming here to give New Zealand our currency.

We dropped the car off at the center of town where we stayed at the SkyCity hotel, home of the Sky Tower, tallest building in Auckland. The weather was crappy, but we went off on a walking tour of the town at 10 am, huddled together under one umbrella. The whole town has 1.3 million people, but that's quite spread out, so even the city was easy to navigate and had a bit of a small city feel. We ambled through a beautiful lush field to the Auckland museum where we were regaled by a Maori show where the danced and played the guitar and demonstrated their weapons, one of which looked closer to a hazing paddle that you'd have at a frat than a weapon of death. We did get to have a nice chat with the performers afterwards and found out that there are still many active tribes today. They told us about how their tattoos are earned for their accomplishments and that now a-days they might earn them by graduating university instead of killing a local tribesman.

We walked back to the city center, towards the harbor, trying to stay dry under our one umbrella when we stumbled across roped off roads. We asked around and found out that the world championship of triathlons was occurring today and the next day and that the elite olympic level athletes would be starting in 15 minutes. We hurried to the peer and sure enough dozens of top athletes bearing their countries names were gathered in wet suites to brave the chilly waters. The fought through the choppy seas, and then ran to the water soaked mats on the transition points. Some slipped and fell trying to get their wet suits off, then ran, hopped on their bikes and rocketed around the town loop. The energy was electric as the crowds cheered for the leader who was a Kiwi (he didn't end up winning though). We cheered for the Americans in the middle back of the pack but then decided that watching all this excursive was exhausting and ate a hamburger. They were still going when we emerged. The whole city seemed to be behind this event and it was really nice to see a town so unified in supporting this activity.

We checked into our hotel which was aptly named SkyCity; it had 24 different restaurants and bars as well as several floors of casinos, and of course the highest tower in the city with a viewing deck much like the seattle space needle. When we got into our room we discovered that the hotel, upon finding out that it was our honeymoon had laid out a plate of ornate chocolate confections with a card addressed to Mr and Mrs Levine wishing us a wonderful honeymoon. It was certainly weird to see our names like that, but I guess i'll get used to it fast. (On a side note, we've certainly been milking this "honeymoon" label. The front desk gave us $25 in gabling tokens and two free $25 vouchers to go to the Sky Tower. I'm thinking that every vacation from now on should be a "honeymoon" :-))

Josh & Christa's Top 3 for the day: (C) Breakfast at the Ponosby st. Cafe (C+J) Seeing the elite triathletes transition, (C+J) arriving to our hotel to see the plate of chocolates & (J) subsequently enjoying New Zealand Shingle Peak Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling wine with my beautiful wife.

Oct 22

As always, we were up reasonably early for the days events. Everything in New Zealand seems to be open 9-5 so you can't snooze too long if you want to see the sights. We were off to Rangitoto, the uninhabited volcanic island to the north. Auckland is set up kind of like Hong-Kong with a row of big business buildings on the north by it's piers, then a short ferry ride away lays the north portion of Auckland which is much more quaint, but also dotted with islands. We cheered the American athletes on as we forded the roped off streets during the age group triathlons, slowly making our way to the Ferry. It was a short hop to Rangitoto, which, just 20 minutes away from New Zealand's biggest city, was a silent jungle. Born from volcanic ash and rock, tropical flora sprung up in a variety of species reminiscent of Puerto Rico's El Junque. We eased our way up the well trodden path flanked by fields of Volcanic rock and palms. We began to ascent the still active volcano as the rock crumbled into soil and the grass and palms gave way to denser forest. Through breaks in the trees the whole of Auckland began to reveal itself. By the time we reached the summit the entire city was spread before us a small blue ocean away. Downtown, with it's tall buildings, adjacent green farming areas, the quaint northern part of Auckland all sprawled against the blue water and the grey background to make a gentle yet imposing image. We meandered around the crater of the volcano which had since been overgrown by foliage. This afforded us beautiful 360 degree view of the region. We descended to second of the islands attractions; the lava caves. These are hollowed out tubes formed by Lave millions of years ago. We wandered through the tubes taking silly pictures along the way and chucking at the German girls at the mouth of the cave who were too afraid make their way through.

We descended the small mountain were we ran into a bald gentleman that had passed us jogging up and down the trail. I struck up a conversation to find out that he had just finished a light 50k and was heading back home to Lisbon in the evening. It turns out that he was here for the triathlon as a coach. He was the coach of the portuguese olympic team for 10 years and now coaches the Brazilian team who are training extra hard since the 2016 Olympics are in Rio. He wasn't too chatty and I could tell he kinda wanted to go, but I couldn't let him leave without taking this big opportunity to ask him about my calf. He had no suggestions other than not to run long distances the day after getting off of a plane. He was probably less helpful than some of the useless Physical therapists that I've seen, but at least I asked. We would hop off the ferry at the nearby quaint north peninsula of Davenport. En route we struck up a conversation with a nice couple that also had a Nikon D7000 with 18-200 mm lens. The conversation quickly turned to physical chemistry and then Genetic algorithm, but then we hit our stop

We stopped by the iSite which is awesome. New Zealand's biggest economic factor is tourism. In order to fuel it, the government has set up these information offices where helpful folks tell you all the cool things to do in town. We grabbed a quick pint an a bite and then headed off to the Naval Museum where the Kiwi's celebrate their whopping 1300 person navy with a fleet of 11 ships. Christa and the docent prattled on like school girls about the Kiwi Navy and we even got a poster of the entire NZ fleet. The docent was just thrilled that someone was interested and said that she wished that more New Zealanders would show an interest like us.

We wandered up to north hill where a series of interconnected tunnels allowed for a sustained military presence in the event of an attack. The coolest part was a canon that was designed using hydraulic to recoil into a hidden bunker so that a victim couldn't see where the shot was coming from. It was of course never used since NewZealand was never attacked, though Japanese subs did patrol the waters during WWII.

The sun began to wain and we headed back to see the city at dawn from the Sky Tower. En route the triathlon was on its last set of competitors; the disabled. The had blind runners with guides, people with no legs in 3 wheeled chairs, people with one leg cuttoff below the knee, people with one leg cut off above the knee that had to throw their leg around in a half circle to run, people without an arm and those that had some kind of a muscular disease all competing together. It was wild and inspiring. After a bit we made our way to the SkyTower. The views were great as expected. We even got a fun picture looking straight down at us standing on glass floors with the buildings below looming under our feet, but after a few drinks at the bar the scenery grew old and we descended.

I've never scene someone as disinterested in gambling as christa, but we couldn't throw our $25 in gambling tokens away (not directly redeemable for cash). So we laundered them at the roulette table, betting on red or black. Unfortunately one double zero chopped off a 5, but we came away with $20 unearned dollars, so that wasn't bad. Another early night, as we had to be up and out at 5am for our trip south to the Waitomo Gloworm caves the next morning.

Josh & Christa's Top 3: (J+C) The views/hike atop Rangitoto, (C) The Navy Museum, (J+C) Seeing the disabled triathletes, (J) The views from the SkyTower

Oct 23

The countryside began to emerge from the gray haze as the sun rose during our drive down to waitomo. I started to get more comfortable with left hand driving as the windy road ambled through rolling green hills away from major civilization. We arrived way too early at the Kiwi Cave Rafters headquarters, but that gave us time to stop and take in the countryside. 30 minutes later we where whisked away in a van down to the changing station where 6 of us dawned wet suits and headed off to the caves. There were apparently about 300 caves in the area all adorned with glow worms, which are the larva of mouthless gnats who, once the come out of their cacoon only live long enough to breed and then die (since they can't eat). the glow worms attract insects with their phosphorescence and then entrap the with 10 - 20 dangling sticky threads. Nature is cool.

We began our 5 hour adventure by repelling down a 100 foot cavern into a fast flowing cave river. As you decent the cave gets darker and illumination comes from gentle green light streaming in through the foliage. It was quite a peaceful and sublime decent. Once in the cave we gathered and began to march up the river, inter-tubes in hand. At some points the water got to Christa's neck and she was forced to surrender her tube to the guide. On an aside this was one of two or three family owned black water rafting groups and I believe they let us get away with doing a lot more fun stuff than the larger more safety conscious commercial group. We scrambled on rocks, waded forward, and climbed through tunnels as we made our way forward through the flowing rivers. Finally we go to a spot where everyone turned off their lights and the cave began to glow. It was a dim green at first, but as our pupils dilated the cave grew brighter and brighter as if the heavens opened up before us and all the stars were green. It was enchanting. Strangely Christa and I both felt vaguely as though we were in the tunnel during the Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was time to raft down. I asked the guide if we could turn off our lights to enjoy the glowworms as we rafted. He said that due to the high current that would be unsafe. So, I waited for the last person to get in their tube and then promptly ignored our guide and shielded my light as I was whisked down the cave. It was the best decision I made all day as I basked in the green stars that rushed by me overhead. I may have bumped a few more of the walls than I would have otherwise, but it was well worth the enchanting adventure. We were rewarded for our climbing and rafting in another glowing cave by chocolate and hot tea, which warmed and rejuvenated us. It seemed like it was over so fast, but with that, we marched back up to where we started and did a small "rock climb" to the top. It was more of a latter of rock, a 5.5 at best, but then again it had to accommodate all levels of fitness and maybe I'd bump it up to a 5.6 since the guide was chatting and not even looking at the climber as he belayed :-)

After showering up and gulping down cups of tomato soup provided by the company we and our two new friends from the trip, Ginger, an avid mountain biker, and John, 22nd best triathlete in the world in the 40 yr age group from Chattanooga TN, went to lunch. We then headed to the Kiwi house for the bet Kiwi viewing in NZ. The entire Kiwi exhibit consisted of two Kiwi's running in circles in the dark (they're nocturnal) bumping into each other (apparently they were doing some kind of a matting ritual). The little buggers were actually pretty entertaining, but we were expecting a few more Kiwi's in Kiwi House (apparently there were 20 more that weren't viable by the public). But the house ended up being a very cool aviary with every duck imaginable as well as some pretty cool birds. The best part was getting to feed green parakeets (except for the one with a red band around his foot since he was a little bully) walnuts. One of them even landed on my head and bit my ear; I think he thought it was a walnut. Christa and John chatted while Ginger and I bonded over our Nikons and spent way to long taking pointless pictures of birds doing nothing in particular.  

We parted ways with our new friends and headed to our B&B a top a lush green hill with one of the the most stunning view of an idilic valley that I've seen. The proprietor, Margaret, was a darling chatted with us about NewZealand over a nice cup of tea as the sun dipped low

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J) Blackwater rafting in the glowworm caves with my light off, (C), Seeing the glow worms, (J) Feeding the parakeets, (C) Watching Josh get his ear get bitten by a Parakeet, (J) Enjoying the view from Simply the Best B&B, (C) Meeting new friends.

Oct 24

After a restful sleep we awoke to a spread of four different homemade Jams and a beautiful morning valley view. We prattled on with Margaret about the state of the New Zealand Economy as we scarfed down our breakfast and then headed towards the Shire. When we got within 20 minutes or so of Hobbiton, the rolling hills and picturesque valleys would make you swear that Frodo and Sam-wise would pop out from behind a tree at any moment.

Peter Jackson did areal surveys of all sorts of areas around the region to find the perfect home for hobbits, and he really did. This place was fantastic. The Jackson crew had taken this perfect little hill with a idyllic lake and spent 9 months forging it into the land of Tolkien's imagination. Bag-End sits atop the tallest hill in the Shire over-looking all of the other Hobbit holes. The crowned Jewel was the oak tree atop Bilbo's house which was cut down in Matamata, shipped to Alexander's farm (where Hobbiton is located), bolted it back together, and then covered the tree with leaves imported from Taiwan. Also, they expanded the Shire from ~20 hobbit holes to 44 for the newHobbit movie. It was really impressive. It'll even more impressive when they finish making the green dragon into a real bar in a couple of months and the tour ends with a beer. That'll be sweet!

After taking our fill of pictures we hopped back onto the bus and headed to Rotorua for some Maori cultural learning and natural thermal pools and geysers. Christa used the H word to get us some entry discounts and we headed into a tour with way too many people on it. We did, however get to learn some cool stuff. We were at the site of the premier Maouri carving school in all of New Zealand. I chatted with a student and found out that this was like the Harvard of Carving and that it takes a lot to get in and then 3 years of study and apprentice ship to graduate, at which point you can embark on a real carving career of traditional or modern Maouri carvings. We also learned by demonstration how they made traditional grass skirts using clam shells to reveal the fibers inside and twisting them into strands. We also got a chance to see some phenomenal geysers that naturally spray ~20 meters high. One of my favorite parts of the day was watching the geysers spray condense into rain drops around us and then watching Christa smile, giggle and dance with glee. I just love how she finds so much joy in the little things.

Then in stark contrast to that joy were the herds and herds of Chinese tourists. We were entering the Maouri Cultural show accompanied by about three bus loads of some of the rudest loudest tourists I've ever been with. They yammered on loudly during the performance, pushed, elbowed and trampled to get to the front of the line and ignored the please to sit down when taking photos so that others can see. Fortunately for us it was practically the same show as what we saw in the Auckland Museum, so we weren't missing much, but God they were obnoxious.

We separated from the herd as soon as we could and retired to our hotel. To our great pleasure we discovered that our hotel had a 9 hole mini golf course which consisted of random paths, bordered by concrete and covered by mostly green carpet and some packed dirt. The walls weren't even designed with 45 degree angles so that you could in theory get the ball in the hole. Turns were literally 90 degree angles, so you just had to hit it hard and hope for the best, which worked well since we were drinking. It was a perfect way to end a wednesday afternoon

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) The Tour of Hobbiton, (J+C) The Geysers, (J+C) mini-golfing with New Zealandwine.

Oct 25

Today is a traveling day; South to Lake Taupo and then East to Hawke's bay, the wine capital of the North Island. 30 minutes south of Rotorua we took a scenic stop at the Thermal Wonderland; Wai-o-Tapua. This place was fantastic. It had bubbling mud pools. a huge bright yellow pond forged from sulfer. There were deep caverns billowing a steady stream of steam. There was an oyster shaped pond that was an unnatural shade of blue. Signs adorning the trail told the chemical tail of which compounds are responsible for which of the many shades of colors laid before us. Moss that blanketed the trees had ingested the orange waters around some of the streets turning the branches an electric orange which looked like nothing I'd seen before. Black and white birds waded into the cooling thermal waters and poked around for bugs in green water. We ambled along the way reading about each newthermal wonder as we went until we reached the crowned jewel; the champaign pools. To the right was a huge shallow circular pool maybe 40 m across with bright orange edges ad continuously bubbling from the thermal heat below. On the the left edge of he champaign glass was a foot bridge where we walked, enshrouded in the steam from the bubbly beverage. To the left of that bridge laid the sprawling terraces of blue and green where the champaign over flowed like some huge party fountain. This was framed in the distance by a huge geothermal power plant that looked like something out of the Simpsons. Each turn in the trail revealed billows of steam and yielded a slightly different thermal experience. It was a truly enchanting place.

We hurried back to the entrance to see the local geyser - Lady Knox. The geyser was mound of white stones about 1.5 meters high with a hole in the center. 100+ people circled up on rows of benches to wait until 10:15 when the geyser would blow. Christa asked me why it would blow at exactly 10:15, but I had no idea. We soon found out when a ranger took stage next to the geyser at 10:13 and told us how this used to be a hot pool that was discovered by prison inmates that were planting pine trees for the government in the early 1900s. They used it to do their laundry, but the first time they put soap in with the wash and let it soak, they were rudely disturbed by a huge jet of water which propelled their dirty clothes dozens of meters. Apparently the soap mixed with some of the chemicals in the ground which caused the eruption. And today that behavior is replicated with biodegradable chemicals by the park ranger at 10:15 every morning. How boring. It was still kinda cute.

We turned south and headed to Lake Taupo en route to Napier. We grabbed a quick bite overlooking the blue lake framed by snow capped mountains as a backdrop, one of which was Mt Doom from Lord of the rings. Then off the the hot springs park. This was great, they had diverted natural hot springs to huge pools of water equipped with jets and mini waterfalls. They even had small circular hot-tub looking baths that they filled with cool water in case you needed to cool down from all the warm mineral water. Christa and I bounced from hot to cold until we finally got bored of it, which tool a long time because it was so luxurious. The best part was the private hot tubs. You get to pick the temperature you want and enjoy a completely enclose private hot tub room equipped with Maori mask spouting fresh warm water into the pool. It was just a lovely relaxing afternoon.

After we had our fill we cruised to the coast for some wine tasting. We popped into a Esk Valley winery as we neared Napiers late in the afternoon. We gabbed about wine and plotted our tasting course for the next day. It felt just like wine tasting in the bay except for all the wine tasting was free and bottles were ~only $20 - 30. That's my kinda tasting. We bid farewell to our wine pourer and headed off with a wine map, a plan for the next day and a nice spanish varietal. Shortly there-after we arrived in Napiers, a costal city of 55,000 that was flattened in 1931 by an earthquake and rebuilt during a time when art-deco was en vogue. As a result the entire city was re-formed with a keen art-deco influence and is known as the art-deco capital of New Zealand. We enjoyed wine cheese and some fantastic Indian food before retiring for the night

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) The Champaign pools at the thermal wonderland, (J+C) The private hot tubs by lake Taupo, (J+C) enjoying wine and a lovely cheese plate at the Emporium seaside restaurant.

Oct 26

Christa and I opted not to do a pre-booked wine tour that costed $60+ per person for 4 hours of wine tasting at 4 or 5 vineyards. What is this armature hour? Four wineries for $120 when we have our own car and a wine map? Who does that? We've learned from the best, and by that I of course mean Eric Beaser - Wine taster extraordinaire. We hit 8 wineries without breaking a sweat and with time for an extra one if we hadn't been getting a bit peckish for dinner.

We started our tour by ditching our original plan and finding out which winery opened at 9. There was one in the region and we were the first there. We figured that it was 1pm in California, so that should be good enough to justify starting drinking. The region specialized in Syrah's grown in the rocky footing of Gimblett Grabbles which have a distinctive and delicious white pepper flavor. There were also Sauvignon Blanc's, Chardonnay's, Viogner's, Merlot's, Pino Noir's (though those are best in the South Island) and a smattering of other varietals used for blending. One winery blurred into the next as we learned about the region and traded stories about wine tasting in NZ vs. California. Around noon we stumbled upon our favorite little winery called Savarte. They only do 2000 cases a year and the owner bought the place 6 years ago because 6 years and 6 months ago he sold his software company, moved to Napiers to retire, got bored, new nothing about wine, but decided to buy a winery. He didn't know wine, but man did he know sales. He set up an awesome wine experience. We tasted 7 different wines over a full lunch spread loaded with three different local cheeses, breads crackers, home-made Chardonnay mustard, local olive oils, bell pepper jam dipping sauce, locally made salami, and a home-made egyptian nut mixture designed to be blended with olive oil and served over bread. We spoke with the owner about wine and business for an hours while tasting and enjoying our lunch. The lunch was capped by a frozen wine cocktail and a little more home-made dipping sauce tasting. Just a fantastic afternoon.

We continued tasting our way through the neighborhood and ran into another one of the Auckland triathletes. It turns out that the guy was a doctor and part time professor at USC, but I didn't hold that against him too much since he offered a suggested treatment for my calf injury involving extended suspension of any running activity as well as cross training, eccentric stretching, run walk build up, and reading chi running (and possibly taking a training class from the author who lives in SF). So we'll see how it goes, but that was pretty cool for me. We capped off our wine tasting at the Mission vineyard which was established in 1851 by Catholic missionaries who were trying to convert the Maoris. It was the oldest winery in all of New Zealand and was quite charming despite only boasting average wines. It was a bit odd that we were wine tasting while a wedding reception was going on outside, but I guess that's just how they role.

We headed home to drop off the car, stroll to the harbour for dinner where for some reason the were showing Clemson crushing Wake Forest 35 to 7 at the half. I guess it was just filler before the rugby match at 7:30. I really had my hopes up on getting a proper NZ ruby fan experience at the warehouse-chick bistro and sports bar, but it turns out that unless it's the All-Blacks playing people just don't really care about the regional teams. Cest La vi. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset stroll back to our hotel, watching the sun dip behind the clouds as it last remaining rays lit the harbor boats ablaze in a torrent of golds and oranges. A lovely way to cap a packed day where we bought way to much wine with no real way to get it back home and several more wine regions to taste our way through. I guess we'll have to start drinking!

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) Savarte winery cheese plate and wine tasting, (J) Getting Calf advice from the doctor/triathlete, (C) Chatting with the pours at New Zealand's oldest winery, (J+C) Sunset walk home from dinner at the West Quay Harbor.

Oct 27

Today is a travel day. We have a 4-5 hour drive down the east coast of the North Island to wellington, NewZealands 200,000 person capital. We started the day with a leisurely morning scoping out the Art Deco center across from our hotel. As I mentioned earlier Napier is the Art Deco capital of NZ and this little center is filled with Art Deco paraphernalia as well as Deco experts. Sarah, the curator described the historical transition from the more ornate early nineteen hundreds art to the simple clean and powerful strokes that were the hallmark of the 1930's. It was an informative way to start off 3+ hours of cruising through the country painted with fluffy white sheep.

About an hour outside of the wellington we took a detour to Martinborough, the second wine region in the north island. It's a lot more accessible from a major city so it was more built up than Hawkes bay. It was a cute little town kinda with a large town square in the center dotted with a dozen or so wineries. It was what I imagine Napa in the 1970s might have looked like. We dodged squadrons of girls on single speed cruiser bikes and baskets on the handle bars as they meandered from winery to winery. We stopped off at our first winery where the pourer wouldn't shut-up about England and all the awards and exports the winery had. She was perfectly nice, the wine was free and the pino's weren't bad, but man she wouldn't stop talking. So we extricated our-selves when she paused for a breath to go to a winery that served a wine called mad dog which was based off of an unknown grape that doesn't match any known varietal. It was a bit Jammy, but not bad.

Finally we went off to our favorite of the Martinborough wineries. I don't remember the name of the winery, and I don't remember the wines, except for the syrah-Viognier which was solid. But the best part was talking for an hour with a Wellingtonian who taught me about the subtleties of rugby from the mechanics of the scrum to the strategies of the side-in. I, in turn, traded my knowledge of American Football. It was good fun. Off to Wellington.

The seaside city reminds me a lot of a smaller San Francisco. It's by the ocean, but there's another body of land just across the way, it's foggy, it's a bit windy, it's hilly and has some nice parks, it's got some good culture and the best night life in NZ and best of all it has it's own Alcatraz island where they used to keep POW's in WWI. The fact that this city wouldn't shut down at 5pm made me very excited. I love the day time activities in NZ, but after 5, everyone just goes home save for one or two locals grabbing a beer at a bar with their mates. And on top of that it was a saturday and the national championship rugby match between Canterbury and Auckland as well as the football match between wellington and Adelaide. It was a packed house at the 4 kings pub. We were served by a San Franciscan, which was a bit ironic, but she gave us some nice wine recommendations for the South Island.

This was the sports evening that I was hoping for. LCD screens were adorned upstairs and downstairs almost as thickly as at the old pro in Palo Alto. Upstairs was the football game which was getting most of the attention because wellington was in it and downstairs was the national rugby championships. It's actually weird that the national teams feed the NZ All-blacks the international super rugby league. That league starts up just as the national season is coming to a close. That means that as the national championship playoffs go down teams are all without their best players. No-wonder it's not a big deal. Canterbury was down 16 players from injury and from the All Blacks. Just crazy. I bounced back and forth between watching rugby and cursing the refs with Jeff the Canterbury fanatic and basking in the football energy and hanging out with a couple of older blokes sharing a table with us upstairs. We all concurred that football needs official reviews just like American football has especially after a fake flop from Adelaide cost Wellington a red-card, a goal, momentum and ultimately the game. No-one likes to see the sobering mood when their team looses; it was almost as if Drew, Lara, and I were watching the Niners NYG game. But a least Canterbury crushed Auckland. As soon as the games were over the remaining beer was drunk and the bar deflated and disbursed. I had had quite a few, but all the beer her is around 4%; so it wasn't much of the buzz. Anyway, I still got my authentic sporting experience, so no complaints here!

Josh and christa's top 3: (J+C) Chatting with Wellentonians at the Martinborough wine bar, (J+C) Watching rugby and football at 4 kings, there's not really a top 3rd since it was a travel day, but listening to a book on tape while cruising the country side wasn't bad at all.

Oct 28

Ah a day in Wellington. Sunday morning at 8am and the streets are empty as everyone sleeps off the hangover from the evening before. We wandered down to the city center which was enshrouded with art and creative architecture. At the center plaza, 20 meters high was a silver hollow sphere ornately carved and suspended by wires. It hovered in the center as the artistic focal point of the other artistic wooden bridge, of kilter black metal walk ways, quaint parks and new age building architecture. We enjoyed the views in a slight drizzle as we waited for our lord of the rings tour guide.

We were picked up shortly there after and began a half day of LOTR knowledge infusion. I didn't realized that Peter Jackson, the director was from wellington, but apparently he's born and raised here and that's why so many of the major scenes were filmed right here around town. He even co-owns a movie production facility "Weta Films" (a Weta is an NZ insect akin to a grasshopper) just out of town. Our first stop was the Victoria hill where frodo was first chased by they nazgul and hid under a tree as they walked by. The guides had ipads where they would show a picture from a movie and how this scenery lined up with the photos. The amount of set changes that were undergone as well as the green screen shots spliced in made it very difficult to tell that this was a part of the movie. Let me give you an example. Frodo and co ran from the farmer when Mary and Pippin steal veggies, then stumble into the forest. The corn fields were located 100's of km away, but the forest was Victoria peaks were we were touring. The hobbits then jump behind the root of a tree to hide from the riders. The path was here, but the tree was imported for the shot, so there's just a bit of a hole in the ground where they huddled up. Also, the horses couldn't get down the steep path so they were shot at a green screen and then super imposed. If you watch the movie you'll see the horses head poke past the tree trunk that frodo was hiding under, but you won't see the horses butt. oops. All in all the tour was very interesting, but it wasn't anywhere near as impressive as hobbiton where we didn't have to stretch our imagination quite so much.

We drove by the old quarry by the side of the freeway where they filmed helms deep. They also dramatically increased the tow truck business in the region as commuters would rubberneck on their way to and from work as hundreds of actors would siege imaginary walls and then inevitably the cars would get into accidents. They also used this hill for parts of ministyrith.

We saw the near by river where several of the canoeing scenes were shot and learned a lot of behind the scenes trivia like how Elija Wood was quite thrilled to be in NZ when the started shooting when he was 19 and discovered that the legal drinking age was 18. Or about how WWII may have influenced Tolkien's war scenes.

Our final stop was a charming park where Rivendale was filmed. The park was filled with tropical vegetation, but the rivendale spot itself lay on a path that was probably on 50 feet long. also it didn't look anything like the city which took 3 months to construct. Plus the majority of the sprawl of the city was shot with a blue screen or using small models. I think the biggest thing that I got out of the tour was a better appreciation for how movies were made and a feel for the lay of the land around the nation's capital. All in all, it was a nice way to spend a morning.

Off to lunch at a local fish and chips place where they charge you extra for the pleasure of using a plastic knife and fork (I love local joints :-)). Then to the national museum Te Papa. Here we stumbled on to a bit of good luck as the national NZ symphony was playing a free one hour concert; the hits of the ages. They played some of the most popular music in the 17 & 1800s. It was simply brilliant. Then the MC for the afternoon, a bloke in an old kings costume encouraged the ~200 of us to all get up and dance the waltz to the very last song of the session. It was a beautiful Waltz song with crescendos, solos, and fantastic harmony. Out of the 200 people there I'll let you guys take a guess how many people actually took their advice and enjoyed a dance and who those people were.

The museum was beautifully constructed and walked you through new zealands geological history, Maori history, European colonization, environmental factors, flora and fauna and modern history. My favorite exhibit was the sheep cam where the strapped a camera to a sheep's head and let him go. Man they are stupid the sheep was so confused and kept on running into things and spinning in circles. And when the sheep dogs came he had no idea where to go until he practically got run over. It was certainly good fun for us though.

The weather was changing for the better so we took the opportunity to capitalize and take the lovely cable car up to the top of the city. the car was built in the late 1800s as a means to get to the top of the hill, a mere 10 minute jaunt. It was an instant success and was so popular they had to get another car. I the early 1900's they switched to an electrical powered system and then again in the 60's or 70's the switched to a more modern power train after there was a death on the tracks. It worked quite well and at they top you're rewarded by fantastic views of the dense city nestled in a protective bay covered in forest and grass. Simply lovely. Then we had the great pleasure of a slow ambling descent through the botanical gardens with hundreds and hundreds of different trees, shrubs, ferns, and flowers. We tinkered with photo settings as we enjoyed the shade walk back down to civilization.

When you're on the go as much as we've been there didn't seem to be time for proper eating - most of the food seemed to be fried or greasy. Our hotel had a small kitchenette, so we took the opportunity to cook together. We got mushrooms and capsium (bell peppers), tomatoes, spinach, carrots, zucchini, fresh pasta and tomato sauce, with a bottle of hawks bay white. It felt like a little slice of home. We had a quite night in with dinner and a movie (some shootem up with bruce willis and morgan freedman. It was a lovely sunday evening.

Josh and christa's top 3: (J+C) Victoria peek portion of the LOTR tour, (J+C) Waltzing to the NZ Symphony, (J) wandering through the botanical gardens, (C) making dinner at our little hotel room together.

Oct 29th

BOOOAATTSS (yes that's a small nod to a hometown favorite of ours, Kerry Zarchi). Today was a day of about 8 hours of boating and it was beautiful. We got up early to drop off our rental car, after 1100 lovely kms, and took the interisland ferry - one of the worlds most scenic ferry rides. The thing was massive and packed with entertainment that made the 3 hour gentle cruise breeze by. It had kids play areas, a movie theater, a cafe, lounge area, reclining chairs at the indoor viewing deck, sun deck for 30 panoramas of the Marlborough sounds, and best of all there was a mobile iSite (National information desk). I spent the first hour of our tour changing hotels and setting up for an awesome abel tazman adventure that I'm so jazzed about. We kayak for a day in a double kayak by ourselves meandering along the turquoise and seal dotted coast line where we end up in a floating lodge for the night that used to be an old boat. Then the next day we do an 8 hour hike along the scenic coast line and edge of the forest to the north end of abel tazman where a water taxi will meet us and bring us back south to our car. It's gonna be awesome.

By the time I finished our bookings we had passed through the boring bit of the crossing and were now entering the mouth of the sounds (sounds = fiords). Isosolese triangles of land adorned with trees, shrubs and bushes appeared on either side of us as the ocean gently rippled in the sun light causing bits and pieces of the water to light up in flame. Luxurious vacation homes as well as small sea chanties dotted the shore and mid mountain as we entered deeper into the sound. The triangles of land fused together to form a dynamic back drop as we eased into the Picton port almost running over a school of newbie sailors.

We disembarked and quickly picked up our rental car which was much more akin to what we expected for 29 NZD a day than our shiny purple new korean car from the north island. Christa tried to open the center console of the beige Nissan bluebird and it promptly popped off. I put it back as she tried the passenger glove compartment which also promptly fell off of its hinges to the floor. I fixed that and as we went to lunch discovered that the automatic lock on the key chain didn't work. I pressed the lock-all button inside the car door, but that didn't work. I pressed the lock on the driverside door and for some reason that locked everything, but the door itself wouldn't stay locked unless I held the handle. This is the experience I was expecting :-). But the car ran fine, so who cares. Also on a side note, I'm a big fan of Omega rental cars. We need to do an early drop off so they told us too drive into short term parking and then just stuff the keys behind the front license plate and they'll come and fetch it when they're up. Now you know how to get a free car in NZ next time you're here :-)

Roast beef subway sandwiches in hand an a keenly paired Syrah, Cab, Malbec blend from Hawks bay and we were ready for our mail-run tour. This is actually really cool. They get a tour boat to deliver the mail to the permanent residents (out numbered 10:1 by holiday homes) in the most remote coves of the Marlborough Sounds and we get to tag along. We headed out the same way we had entered Picton, but quickly turned into some of the more remote and secluded coves with strong mountains backing gently sloped shorelines dotted with docs. At our first stop we the boat was greeted with gristly old recluse who happily accepted his mail and a bit of human contact and conversation with the boat driver. Our next stop was completely opposite, we were greeted by a smiling woman and her two dogs, a golden retriever and a black lab. The golden was holding the old mailbag in his mouth and wagging his tail wildly as he eagerly awaited the new mail bag. He had actually been trained to fetch the mail. Simply fantastic. Both dogs were rewarded by our driver with a doggie treat as we disembarked. This continued from cove to cove as the sun dipped lower and the light cast a more striking golden light on the mountainous backdrop. At our next drop we were incredibly lucky and literally bumped into a school of dolphins. They passed us and then circled slowly back towards us. I couldn't believe how close they were getting or how many of them there were. There must have been over a dozen and they got so close to the ships hull that you could reach out and touch them if you had been on the lower deck. They frolicked, surfacing with playful flicks of the tail, even turning on their back and swimming the dolphin back stroke which I didn't know they could too. I furiously took photos as they popped up and down playfully and then eventually grew bored and meandered away from the boat. The captain assured us that this is something that does not happen all the time and that we were quite lucky. Indeed we were. We floated from cove to cove as the sun dipped lower. We even got to stop off at ships cove which was a favorite of captain cook. He stopped here 5 times in his 3 trips to New Zealand to enjoy the coves natural beauty. The ships captains 10 year old kid was on the boat so I took some time to get quality commentary from him. He was pretty good after doing the trip dozens of times, but he was a bit off on the numbers; like the salmon fish farm. He thought there were 5000 fish, but there were actually 500,000. Cute kid though. We chatted with an Israeli who didn't finish high school because of strong ADD. He tried to join the IDF, but they didn't like him much so they gave him a really shitty job, so he left. He still wanted to join the army so he tried to join the french foreign legion - the first Israeli ever to attempt it, but he wasn't physically fit enough. Now he's traveling with his mom for a few weeks and then off to find some manual labor job. Interesting guy. A few more docks greeted by recluses or resort owners and their dogs and we were off back to picton.

A lovely 45 minute jaunt through the hills and we were in Marlborough country. No not that Marlborough country; the wine region. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and had a lovely little dinner at a local sports bar were we both enjoyed a quite meal reading the local post where we learned about the education system in Christchurch, rugby results, local complaints on googles private policy and more. It's always fun to learn new stuff about the region.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) Seeing the school of dolphins, (J+C) Generally enjoying the Marlborough Sounds cruise, (J) Enjoying the NZ take on a burrito at the local sports pub while reading the local post, (C) Reading her book on the Picton Ferry as we entered the Marlborough Sounds.

Oct 30

Another beautiful day in wine country. Marlborough region is renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc's and its Pino Noir's (though the southern Otago region is more well known for their Pino's). It also boasts a nice variety of other whites and a couple of the more medium bodied reds. We were the first customers at the first two wineries that we tasted at. I guess 9-10 am on a tuesday isn't their busy time. The wines were a lot more citrusy here and you could really taste the slightly musky flavor in the chardonay's from the french oak. The Pino's were a little more fruit forward than I like, as opposed to more earthy, but all in all the wines weren't bad at all as long as you weren't looking for big reds.

I'm going to go on a quick aside here since we've got the TV on in the background and it reminded me of something. I have found my absolute favorite commercial here in NZ. It's a commercial for "New World Market." It's a grocery market here that's a little smaller and a little more boutique than the big super markets. It's basically about a young indy couple that's enjoying life and gets up and then goes on a picnic after buying food at new world market, but they splice in random bits of film from old movies throughout the commercial. The best part, and the reason that I love it is that the entire commercial is played to 30 second splices of my favorite song from one of my favorite bands; Lazy Eye by the Silversun pickups. The commercial is like a friggin music video. When the band rocks out with "everyone so focused clearly, WITH SUCH SHINE..." the couple breaks out running, hand and hand, then it flashes to a police chase, then back to the couple. It's really a well done video. I recommend youtubing it. But I digress.

We worked our way through wineries, chatting with strangers: a Finish girl studying wine so that she can work as an expert at a distributor back home, a wine tour guide who used to work in Berkeley by University and Shattuck, and a Brittish couple celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary with a 2 week NZ trip. By the 5th winery, with no food, Christa was starting to get a bit sloppy and the German pourer seemed to be getting a touch annoyed... but he kinda looked that way to begin with. So we grabbed some lunch and then it a bubbles only winery where we were served by the accountant who didn't know that there were different types of oaks. They were a bit short staffed that day. But she was super nice. She also offered us the most helpful tip of the day by far. She told us of a sports bar that might have ESPN.

I called them up and sure enough they do. To my great surprise they weren't packed at 2pm on a tuesday and were more than happy to change to the 49ers game in exchange for two customers. I think that 17 minutes was the fastest I've driven here in NZ while navigating myself as Christa nursed the hangover that was setting in. We get there and we're surrounded by 9 TV's, 8 of which are playing the 49ers game, and we had it all to ourselves (the 9th was playing some weird non-stop lotto advertisement with animated jungle animals on it). We picked the biggest TV, plopped down and watch the niners demolish the division rival cardinals 24-3. It was so sweet. A few people filtered in and looked at me oddly as I shouted and clapped at the TV, but I didn't mind. After the niner's surmounted a large lead I pried myself away from the TV long enough to have a nice chat with 3 of the 12 members of the Blenheim roller-derby team who were taking a coke break after training for their match in Christchurch on Nov 17th. Pity we can't make it.

When it was clear that the niners no longer cared about scoring and were just burning clock, we headed out to Motueka, the gateway to the north-western costal and jungly national park, Abel Tazman, or Table Azman as Christa kept calling it after the 4th or 5th winery. We asende a mountain pass and then descended as the mountains opened up and revealed Nelson's bay shimmering in the lowering sun. The tide was low and areas of flat land sprinkled with small pools reflecting in the sun sprawled on either side of us. Small towns faded in and out, being replaced by vineyards, low tide areas, wide sandy beaches, rustic light forest with old corrugated steal barns. The scenery winded, shined, and faded, as we made our way through the scenic path to Motueka. 4The sun was low in the sky as we arrived at our bright Garden Hotel. The room was inviting and, with it's small kitchenette and living room it felt like home. We had lovely Indian take-away and prepared for our two day kayak and hiking journey tomorrow in Abel Tazman. It's gonna be awesome.

Josh and Christa's top 3: (C) Enjoying the beautiful vineyard scenery in Marlborough County, (J) Hearing strangers' stories at the wineries, (J) Watching the Niners CRUSH the cardinals, (C) Watching Josh shout at the TV during the Niners game, (J) The Drive up from Richmond to Motueka (the last leg of the Motueka drive), (C) Enjoying a nice dinner at home

Oct 31

After a quick lesson on how to use a sea kayak Christa dawned her spray skirt and curtsied for a picture and then we were on the water. I can't recall the last time I had been on such calm seas. The emerald green water was flat and unbroken without any small ripples. It gently rolled like a subtle version of the the microsoft hills background. We began to get in sink and slid forward with little effort into Abel Tazman National Park Waters. On the right were Fishermans Island and Seal Island, basically expansive rocks sprouting tropical vegetation all over the place. Behind them lay the silhouettes of the interlocking triangular Marlborough Sounds. To the left lay Able Tazman National Park. The coast line was an tapestry of coves, beaches and rocky formations. We paddled along the waters as a cool breeze picked up and the green waters began to ripple. Around the first bend we were rewarded with a golden crescent of beach and waters that turned from green to medium blue to light shimmering turquoise. We eased our way around the edge of the park to enjoy stiff rock cliffs adorned with ferns and other tropical foliage. Slowly meandering around marveling at the random little rock islands that popped up around the bay. The day couldn't have been better for us and everything in Able Tazman was bright and cheery. We rounded the next corner to find a sandy bar beach with an inlet to a little lagoon. We eased into the tranquil lagoon and rammed the shore to pop out for a snack.

We enjoyed the lovely waters and seal island as we munched on our poorly constructed sandwiches. After a chat with a very cheerful tour guide who also teaches sea kayaking in the East Coast during our summer we were off. Then next coves started to get more interesting. There were more islands towering 15 feet high, but only 10 feet wide with plants and birds perched above. The waters, were a light shade of pleasant view and then edge of the shores jutted with rock formations. Caves began to appear in the walls of the shore line and we poked our kayak in until darkness consumed the front of the kayak and we had to pull back. There was even a brilliant natural archway made of stone and decorated with moss and small plants by the edge of the water. It was stunning, back dropped by the tropical peninsula and clear waters. We eased our way through it (actually christa eased our way through it as I steered and took pictures from the back of the boat).

We reached the tip of the next coastal point. It was the closest point to seal island. Here we turned right and ventured out into the choppier open bay to catch a glimps at seals. The water was rocky, but not bad. When we got there we were rewarded by a few seals sunning them selves or performing what we were told were mating rituals (but it looked more like then were just kinda butting heads gently and ooorrr ooorrr ooorring at eachother). After we'd scene our fill of seals, which dotted the shores we meandered back to the safe harbour and picked a golden slab of beach with more turquoise water in front of it for lunch. It was a lazy day. We didn't have too far to go by 3:30 when our kayak was picked up, so we lounged about in the sun and took a nap. I marveled how just a week ago, and further towards the equator it had been freezing and rainy and now we comfortably enjoyed the sun on a tropical beach. How Odd. After a few pictures, a dip and the exploration of a natural springs pool, we headed out to the mad mile - an unprotected stretch of coast line where the winds kick up and the water gets choppy. It was about the same as the traverse to seal islands, but with more craggy rocks foaming as the waves crashed over them. Still we were rewarded by views of small pretty coves more than once on our left. When we finally reached the end of the mad mile and turned left into Anchorage bay, we were reminded how much protection the bay affords as the waves quickly subsided.

We eased our way into the km long curved yellow beach past a large blue and white boat that was going to be our hotel for the night. How cool is that. We were staying on a big boat instead of a tent or a cabin (which was four walls a roof a peice of wood and a slab of foam). We weren't quite sure how to get aboard so I paddled back to the boat and chatted with the skippers wife (as I would later find out). Apparently we just come back from 4-6 an wave our arms. Simple enough.

So we dropped our kayak gear off at the drop-off and headed to cleopatras pools to see the more tropical jungly side of the park. We ambled over on a well formed path along a large tidal area that is crossable north to barks bay during low tide, but impassible during high tide. We passed through wispy thin trees, moss ferns, lots of ferns and more light jungle foliage dotted with rays of light that reached the ground below. We meandered along for a couple Km on the well signed path until we reached a sign that told us the pools were just 750 m ahead. A quick jaunt further and we were almost at the bridge that would take us across to the pools. I paused at a look out point so that Christa could go ahead to the bridge and I could take a picture of her on it with the lush background in the background. Right as Christa was about to round the corner to the bridge I heard her shriek and then scream my name in terror. I had never heard her scream like this. This was not "there's a spider on the road." This was a truly fearful plea. I envisioned that she had encountered a viper in the path way, poised and coiled on the pathway and that she was too petrified to move, but then an instant later I heard a huge splash in the river 20 feet below the path. My heart stopped for a moment until I heard her scream my name again. She was breathing and conscious I thought with relief. I ran towards her, still careful not to befall the same fate, because what good could I do to her then. I paused at the large missing chunk at the edge of the path where the ground had given way beneath her to look down. I could see a little bit of her through the trees that jutted out the shear cliff she had just fallen off of. She screamed to me "What do I do?!" I told her to wait their and that I would get her. I raced to the other side, threw my packs and shirt to the ground and dove into the river and swam to her on the other side. She was standing knee deep on a submerged rock trembling with cuts on her knee, torso, and shoulder-blade. I embraced her gently and told her everything would be alright. We began to go through her major limbs and joints to see if anything was broken. Only her right shoulder-blade was badly sore. I looked at her right upper arm and saw the culprit. It was red and evenly scraped all the way through, though the skin was barely broken. She had bumped her shoulder hard on that side during the fall yanking her arm forward and stressing her shoulder blade.

When we were sure that nothing was broken Christa asked me if she had a concussion and before I could answer asked if I should give her the concussion test like asking her what her name was, Christa, or what day it was, the 31st, or ... By the time she had finished explaining what she meant she had administered the majority of the concussion test to herself and passed. I perfunctorily finished the test, but, to my relief, it was clear that she was fine. I felt her head for bumps to be sure, but she hadn't hit her head at all. All this time we were standing in the icy waters and needed to get to the other side of the shore. I eased into the water as christa put her arms around my neck and I breast stroked to the other side.

At the other side she was shivering and, unlike some stupid Taylor Lawton movie where the girl was soaked and he just puts a blanket around her while she's still sopping wet (I was bored and there were only 3 channels on, cut me some slack), we had christa strip down to her bathing suit before drying of and dawning new clothes. After a brief rest and it was clear that all she had sustained were cuts and bruises we slowly made our way back. I was relieved to see that she was walking just fine. Only her right shoulder was sore and her confidence shattered. At the beach we asked the ranger for antiseptic and bandages. He took us to his hut, but said he only had bandages no antiseptic and that we were free to rummage around the first aid kit. Then he wandered off. He meant well but clearly had no idea what to do. He was wrong. There were several different types of antiseptics there and we grabbed some and bandages and then flagged down the floating lodge. Chris, the skipper and owner came over in a little motor boat to pick us up. He recommended a quick salt water dip to clean up the wounds. So after a dip in the cold water christa showered and relaxed as I made tea and chatted with the boat that was bustling with chatter from our 10 relaxed compatriots.

As christa showered I took my own 6 meter spill and jumped off the roof of the 3 story boat into the water with a new friend Mel. It was the quickest way to get to the bottom floor where the tea was ready. 1 hour, 4 advil, a hot shower, a cup of tea, a plate of steak and half a bottle of wine later, christa was her old self again. In fact, she was exchanging travel stories excitedly with Steven, a buff guy with a slurring accent who had taught english in Japan for 10 years and was now looking for a quick buck working in Kuwait. It was actually a wonderful atmosphere and just a fantastic way to spend the evening. There was no wind, the air was reasonably warm and the passengers were all friendly and jovial as we chatted on the second floor social area.

We found out that Chris, the captain had met his might-as-well-be-wife on the boat 5 years a go when he was, his words "a bit of a man-whore." Women just came to him. But when he found this lovely German he knew she was a keeper. They ran the boat together, but were looking to sell because after 13 years it was time for something new.

After some more socializing we headed downstairs grabbed a blanket and sat together in peace and quiet with gentle background ambient chatter as we stared up at the star filled sky. The sky was bright and cloudless with constellations that we didn't quite recognize on the souther hemisphere. Everything almost looked like the Big Dipper, but we couldn't quite find it. We sat there content for a while before turning in for the night.

Josh and Christa's top 3: (J+C) Kayaking in the morning when the water was absolutely hauntingly calm, (J) lunch and a nap at the beautiful cove, (C) Dinner and Socializing at the Aquapackers lodge, (J+C) Watching the stars at the aquapackers floating lodge

Nov 1

We set off for an early morning crossing to Torrent bay so that we could take the low tide path. The skipper could tell that we'd be ok crossing because some rocks were still above the water along the shore. The crossing was a vast expanse of damp sand several football fields long. It was blanketed with small clam shells and other remnants of sea life indicating that it had recently been filled with water. Boats lay on the sandy floor sitting next to their anchors. A buoy lay on the ground next to its permanent anchor. At Torrent bay all was quiet as the sun began to lift higher into the sky. A small island of sand was being rapidly shrunk 30 feet away from shore. I waded over to it and stood there as it hopelessly fought to stay afloat above the water. I felt a bit like the little prince; isolated. I wandered back and Christa and I sat on a log until the disappearing island finally gave way to the rising ocean. Tides are a strange thing.

We turned to the path and ascended. The trail was well formed and easy to climb. It was lined with ferns and tall skinny trees, moss, and the occasional vine. Light let through the canopy like a sieve keeping the trail cheery. We passed turquoise bay after turquoise bay each much prettier than what we had seen on the first day. The perspective was a bit different since we were seeing them from above instead of from the see, but it was a nice change of pace. We hypothesized why the waters were turquoise instead of any other color. My believe was that the sky was blue because the light that you see is refracted light from air molecules. Light refracts in a manner inversely proportional to wavelength to the 4th power. The lowest visible wavelength of light is blue, hence the majority of what we can see in the sky is blue. Similarly that light hits to ocean, reflects off it and enters our eye, which is why the water is blue. This stuff it well documented. The part that I was taking a stab at was that the blue reflected from the water got mixed with light reflecting off the golden sand at the ocean floor to add a green tint to the water making it turquoise. It only works on shallower, very clear waters where light can easily make it through to the floor and back up with minimal disturbance. The same principle applies for green waters where the ocean floor is filled with kelp or moss or algae.

We stopped off at every look out point or small peninsula to enjoy the view. At one point I swam across a crossing to a sand bar that protected an emerald lagoon as christa lounged and took photos. As I walked along the bar I encountered a pair of jet black birds with long orange and red beaks. As I continued they began to advance on me by foot and squawk loudly. I turned to face then and then kept creeping forward and then stopped. I walked on and then pursued even more quickly, shouting louder. I kicked sand at them, but that only set them back temporarily. Finally I saw one of the birds rush over and check beneath a nearby log and I got it. This must be their nesting grounds. I didn't want to disturb so I tried to hurry but apparently this entire bar was their breeding grounds because one bird took flight and landed on the other side of me. Then both birds flanked me an advanced. It was like a friggin military tactic. I was impressed by the bravery of these crow sized birds, but this was just getting annoying and the screeching wouldn't stop. So I grabbed a near by stick. I swung the stick to clear a path forward. Eventually I passed their territory and could enjoy the tranquil bay. When I'd had my fill I grabbed a hand full of sticks and marched back through the land-mine of eggs and harping birds. I systematically lobbed sticks in their direction, clearing a path to the crossing. What an odd experience.

We wandered back up the hill and then down to beautiful barks bay and then up and down to Tonga Quarry where in the early 1900's people mined granite here until the operation became uneconomical. Finally we arrived at the mile-plus long stretch of sandy curved beach, Oneatatui, where we would be picked up by water taxi. We napped and soaked in the rays hypothesizing whether or not tahiti will be this nice. Eventually the taxi came and whisked us back passed what we had traversed in 2 days in under an hour. As we neared the docs we noticed that it was low tide and on the wet sandy floor was a scattering of farm tractors attached to boat trailers. The only one with a driver was half submerged at the waters edge with the trailer fully submerged. Our boat approached at a moderate pace, slowed a little and eased into the trailer with a small jerk. Without missing a beat the driver hit the gas and we emerged from the water now on wheels. The ships captain relieved the tractor driver and we rolled across the sand floor to the ramp and onto a road. It felt like one of those duck tours where the boats have wheels. We were just cruising along the main highway in a boat. Very cool.

Back at the car we changed and then headed off on our long windy 4 1/2 hour drive to greymouth, a stop over to our next days journey to the glaciers. The roads were windy, but scenic. We passed sheep after sheep as we always do here. We enjoyed our book on tape in peace as the hours rolled by. The goal was a small detour to see the pancake rocks, about an hour out of greymouth, but it was dark by the time we arrived and I couldn't figure out where they were, so we kept going. We got to our B&B around 10pm and crashed after several cups of complimentary tea. (Tea is complimentary at almost all lodging here. I love that.)

Nov 2

We woke up refreshed and went to subway to grab lunches for the next two days. Right next door was a place called the Warehouse. I was hoping I could get a beanie in there without paying the tourist price for some commemorative hat. The thing was a cross between a costco, a K-Mart and a walmart. it was a big warehouse with cheaply priced stuff of low quality and very low fashion sense. But after much rooting around we found a pair of nice New Zealand warm hats for $5 USD a piece. My cheapness had paid off!

Now off on the gray drizzly road to Franz Joseph Glacier. They experience is different when the background is dreary. Its not bad, it's just more quiet and contemplative. Not sure if a background can be contemplative, but that's what it feels like to me. We eased through the small towns and eventually to the little town built around giving helicopter tours of the glacier. There were so many glacier fly over companies you'd think everyone living in this town owned own and that there was a helicopter dealership just down the road. We walked down the path to see the face of Franz Joseph through the rain. The path was forest lined and was a bit reminiscent of the Able Tazman forest, but with no canopy and with a grey cloudy backdrop. At the edge of the forest was an expansive rock wasteland where the glacier had been pushing rocks down the hill for millions of years. A sign said that though the mountains only stand 3000+ km tall now, millions of years ago, before the glaciers whittled them away, they stood 20 km tall (for reference everest is 8.85 km tall). It seemed a bit far fetched but whatever. The rocky expanse added to the mystique of the area framed with the glacier face framed in the background. The valley was flanked with waterfalls streaming down the green mountain sides in all directions. I guess that's what happens in spring time. We made our way forward through the rain to the viewing point where we could just see the face of the glacier, looking like an avalanche frozen in a moment in time. The top part of the glacier disappeared into the clouds that we wished would part, to reveal the top of the 10 km long windy swath of ice, but it would not part.

We headed back to town, determined to make the most of our dreary day. At the supermarket chili and garlic bread ingredients were purchased along with a couple bottles of wine and we set off to Fox Town, the home of Franz Josephs twin glacier, just 30 minutes down the road. We took a right in town down to Matheson Lake where, on a clear calm day you an see the reflection of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in NZ at 3700 m, and the rest of the range. Unfortunately it was neither quiet in wind or rain, nor clear. But the walk to the lakes viewing point was lovely and full of lush ferns and odd plants with signs explaining what they were and how the Maoris used them. At the jetty viewing point the clouds began to soften and rays of sunshine beat down. We sat at that bench looking at the foothills that were brightened and looked so much cheerier than they once had been. Then in a few minutes time the clouds closed in and the energy from the mountains dimmed again and it began to rain.

We walked back to the car, then to our hotel and began to cook in our little kitchenette. The knives could barely cut butter, but we managed to somehow cube the lamb and chop the onions for our chili. Then we enjoyed a quiet night in with home made chili, garlic bread, good wine and whatever movie was on TV as the rain pattered gently in the background. It was a lovely way to end the evening.

Josh and Christa's top 3: (J) Walking the expansive rock area to Franz Joseph Glacier, (C) seeing her first glacier, (C) Walking to the viewing point at Lake Matheson (J) Sitting on the bench in the sun at Lake Matheson, (J+C) Enjoying a home-made meal

Nov 2

It had rained hard last night, but as we peaked through the curtains we were very happy to see the clouds were thin and the sun was shinning through. After packing I hauled two arm chairs out of our room to the porch and made tea. There we sad and drank tea while looking out at the snow capped mountain range that looked bright and cheerful, but had been obscured yesterday. We sat in silence enjoying the sun and the lovely views.

At the Fox Glacier explorer headquarters we readied our selves for the "Fox-it-up" full day glacier walk. We dawned thick socks, heavy boots and made sure that our crampons fit the boots. The guy handing out our gear said that we were lucky and that this was the nicest day that they'd had in a month. It was beautiful out. Now it was a bit grayer and a little drizzly from time to time at the glacier, but there was nothing to complain about considering it legitimately rained on the glacier about 200 days out of the year. Apparently the wind comes from the west from Australia. It's dry and hot. As it goes over the Tasman sea it becomes moist and cool. It hits the west coast of New Zealand and the mountains, that are home to the glacier, force the cool, wet air upwards where it gets even colder and then begins to rain. It also explains why, on occasion, you can see Australian dust on the glacier.

We bussed over to fox and enjoyed an easy public hike through the flat rocky wasteland to the mouth of the glacier. This area was very similar to Franz Joseph. The guides showed us how the glacier had changed positions over the last 10 years quite a bit. It had gotten longer and shorter by hundreds of meters. I also got a clarification on a sign that I has seen at Franz Joseph. Namely these mountains had grown 20,000 m (2.5 times the height of everest) due to tectonic plate movement, but the glaciers had ground down the mountain 19,000 m simultaneously.

We reached the "Only guided groups past this point" sign and marched upwards towards the face of the craggy, dirty white glacier. I found out later that these signs were only suggestions and that anyone could go past this point legally in NZ and that you didn't need a permit or anything to climb, you just needed to know how and realize that the signs were just strong suggestions. And in NZ its almost impossible to sue, so you hop fences at your own risk. As it should be! I wish the US were like that more. It would really help with the natural selection process.

We dawned our crampons and awkwardly made our way down dirt steps, making sure to make exaggerated lifting motions so that we didn't trip on the front spikes of our G-12 walking crampons. It felt like they could get tangled at any moment, and frankly felt a but unsafe. But as soon as we took our first step on ice you could see where the crampons thrived in their natural environment. I felt like a fish back in water as the crampons sunk securely into the top layers of the glacier known as popcorn-ice (lighter and fluffier than the ice below because it still has air bubbles in it from when the snow had originally compacted to make the glacier).

We eased our way onto the glaciers body and ascended a set of ice stairs that had been formed by a previous set of guides using long pick-ax looking tools. As we ascended these ice steps that had gotten deeper and deeper with time, one felt like they were ascending into some secret ice palace, with rolling white hills to our left and steep craggy, but beautiful serac's (large craggy formations caused when a glacier goes over a steep part of a hill and fractures over and over like the rapids in a waterfall) above in the distance. Atop the stairs laid the bottom portion of the 10km glacier that we would climb. From afar it had looked small, but here it was a vast expanse of condensed snow with features formed from compression, tension, slow moving ice hitting fast moving ice, and many other features. at times a small black rock or leave would bury itself in the glacier because it absorbed heat more readily than the white snow. Other times a gray rock would perch, like a trophy on top of a pillar of shaded ice whose melting had been thwarted by the shade from the rock. We learned about how Ice arches are formed by snow and fast moving glacier portions colliding as we ascended the white mammoth. The clouds ebbed and flowed changing the tone of the glacier from imposing to friendly. As we pressed on the glacier changed from gentle rolling hills to steeper foothills and crevices formed by tension in the glacier began to form.

Our newbie guide explained that glacier ice was blue because it was layered an that only the shortest wavelengths of light can escape from deeper in the ice, so the deeper you look the bluer it gets. I was impressed by her scientific knowledge, which was why I was frustrated when she told the group that the deep down ice at the bottom of the glacier was super dense, denser than refrigerator ice and denser than water. As we walked I told her that I was confused and that I understood that it was denser than the popcorn ice with air-bubbles, but how could it be denser than pure frozen water, unless the pressure made the crystalline structure closer to water and then the density would by just slightly closer to that of water, but not quite as dense. She told me that I couldn't tell her that if I stacked 1000 ice cubes on top of each-other that the bottom one wouldn't be denser. I told her it wouldn't be denser than water, that's not how chemistry works. She paused to explain something to the group, I don't remember what, but somehow managed to point out my "confusion" to the group, insinuating that I just couldn't understand basic common sense. This infuriated me. I talked to the other more experienced guide who boasted that the deep down glacial ice was super dense. I asked for a number. She told me that it was 980 kg/m^3. Haha, got it! Water is 1000 km/m^3, so I was right. When I later gently mentioned to the first newbie guide the relative densities, she just kinda ignored it, perhaps mildly annoyed, or more likely didn't care. Oh well. At least I was vindicated by science.

Anyhoo, we continued to ascend and looked at deep blue entrancing fissures, streams that bored their way into the depths of the glacier leaving holes and caves known as moulans. As we neared the serac's we stopped at a rock pile for lunch. The craggy, rock formations loomed as we munched on sandwiches. The bits of rock and debris in them made them look a bit more like marble and even more imposing with their sharp peaks and crest. It almost reminded me of the wreckage from an old and terrible war, metaphorically of course.

During lunch christa and I invented a new game, parodied on rock-paper-siscors. It was Rock-Glacier-Crampon. Glacier beats rock as it caries it down the mountain. Crampon beats glacier as it crunches along it. And rock beats crampon as it bends the crampon teeth. Unfortunately form me, christa was wearing mittens so glacier and crampon looked eerily similar and she never seemed to loose. We eventually told the more experience guide and she liked the game and said that she had to tell one of her co-workers. So if you come to Fox in a few years, let me know if it catches on.

We dawned our packs and ascended into the bottom edge of the seracs. They were sharp blades of ice jutting from the ground in all directions that just screamed danger. We made it a little ways up and could probably have pressed on a bit further, but even Adi wouldn't dare push to the top of the serac band for fear of sliding or having bits of glacier crumble beneath once feet. These blades of ice were terrible and beautiful and one couldn't stop staring at them. We absorbed as much as we could of their beauty and then began the much quicker descent (since we didn't have to wait for the guides to carve any more steps, which really wasn't necessary in the first place, but safety first). As we descended we saw the whole valley that the glacier had once carved out in front of us. Step glacial terrain gave way to the original rolling hills as the jagged sheer cliff faces, that had been warn down over millennia, came into view. We soaked up the vastness of the foliage covered valley walls and rock covered floor as we made the final descent and bid farewell to Fox glacier. It felt weird not to walk with crampons as we descended the rocky path to the bus. One last glance back and we were on our way back to the car, to our next adventure. The walking was a bit slow, but man that glacier was neat.

Back in our car we were on our way south east to the lake town of Wanaka. We rolled through jungle foliage and then to bright green sheep and cattle grazing ground on our right by the Tasman sea. Eventually we took a right bend and before us lay a stunning view of a bay 100 feet below, with waves crashing hard against the show in the low golden sunlight. The scene was violent and beautiful. After a few pictures we continued along the way, up a hill to the left and then once again to the right. This time the road headed straight down the perpendicular to the coast line. In front of us lay the road flanked by forest and then then ocean lit up by sun which disappeared into the horizon that was enshrouded by a light fog, giving the impression that it might go on forever. The road turned left and then eventually east into the hills. We meandered up Haas pass an then down the other side where we were rewarded with one of the prettiest 50km stretch of a road that I've ever driven us. To our right lay a long finger of lake Wanaka. And behind that rising straight from the shores were peak after peak of imposing triangular mountains dusted lightly with snow. The sun rippled over the water. Each new bend in the road revealed a new peak or a new angle of sunlight. Eventually the road departed from the lake bending to the left, up and over a short hill, to another vast lake with vast mountains flanking its far side. We stopped to take a picture which included a spike tropical tree that looked like a mini palm tree, cattle grazing on neon-green fields by the lake side and large snow capped peaks. Simply stunning. We cruised past grazing grounds and more lake until we finally wound our way past the lake, and back to the base of lake Wanaka and its small town.

The town was clean and beautiful, overlooking the lake. It reminded us of a quiant version of a tahoe town, but with no other towns around. We ate dinner at the ale house and enjoyed their take at burritos, while looking across the blue lake at entire range of snow capped mountains that were largest in the center and tapered down from there. We enjoyed the view through the huge glass walls as we recounted our favorite moments from the day.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J) Sipping Tea, watching the mountains in the morning, (C) Eating lunch looking at the seracs when the sun peaked through the clouds and warmed her, (J) Getting to our highest point on the glacier, marveling at the seracs, (J+C) the last 50k of the drive to Wanaka, (C) Enjoying a scenic dinner at the ale house.

Nov 4

After a slow morning we headed down to the lake for a brief walk to enjoy the mountains and the quite morning. Christa would run between the shadows from the tree lined shores and stop to soak up warm rays from the sun. We sat on a bench and enjoyed the views of the lake and hills in the quite suburb just out of town where we'd been staying.

After a quick breakfast we headed out of town past puzzleville, an odd establishment with artistically painted bright colored tilted buildings which boasted many puzzles and fun for the whole family. We cruised into the Otago valley, our last wine region on this trip. Snow capped peaks gave way to snow dusted hills dotted with more arid foliage. We worked our way through town to our first winery that had been recommended to us by 3 different people, Mt Difficulty. It did not disappoint. I can say that this was unequivocally the most scenic view from a winery that I've ever seen (and I've been to quite a few multi-million dollar landscaped wineries in Napa). I will give the time of year some credit, because without the snow capped mountains it wouldn't be quite as impressive. We stood on their outdoor balcony which was on top of a small hill. Behind us were desert hills with dry flat top sand stone formations and was reminiscent of Arizona. To the right was a long row of mountains that were green at the base, faded into brown and then a gentle white on their curved tops, as if an artist had painted the blended colors with care. To the left is a very similar view, but instead of rounded tops the mountains were sharper and more dynamic. The closest mountain to the left was named Mt Difficulty, the wineries namesake, by a Shepard who, many years ago tried to pass it to get to Queenstown, failed and had to go around it. Directly below, sprawled the Cromwell vineyards stretching out into the distance, flanked to the right by a large stretch of lake, and then framing the valley in the far back was another line of snow dusted hills (the road into town weaved to the left behind the mountains so it almost felt like the valley was entirely framed by hills. It felt so surreal to have all these lovely rows of grapes framed by so much snow. I guess that's why they specialize in Pinot Noir's here, a grape that needs to struggle to survive to elicit high quality dynamic flavors. Not many other reds can grow here due to the cold.

The wines were tasty here, though several were a bit too sugary for my liking. Their Pinot Noirs were quite good as expected (I'll certainly look for Otago Region Pinot's at the supermarket when I go home). The wine pourer was pleasant and gave us recommendations for what to see next. We headed down the hill out of the valley and into the gorge region en route to Queenstown where a few other wineries were nestled. The scenery wasn't quite as mystical, though the gorge did boast tall peaks on either side of the narrow canyon that were quite nice to look at. We chatted with the pourers at peregrine as I continued my growing appreciation for non-buttery Chardonnay, which I had lacked before this trip. Then off to our last winery stop that was higher end and felt a bit like Napa. We avoided a standard vineyard tour and enjoyed a tasting with lunch; a venison burger. Weird thing about this region, there's tones of farms with sheep and cows, but there are also some pens with higher fences where deer are raised. I've never seen that before, but deer are actually farmed here. The food and drink were enjoyable as we talked about wine and the region, enjoying a mountainous backdrop.

Finally into Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. The home of bungee jumping a jet boating (speeding up a canyon at break neck speeds in an overpowered motor boat). To our left lay the Remarkables, and that they were. In the winter, when they're not being used as the backdrop for the Fellowship of the Ring's snowy crossing, the backside of the mountains are used as a ski area. The front, which is viewable almost everywhere from Queenstown are massive, steep, craggy and sinisterly beautiful dredged in snow anywhere where it's not too steep for it to cling to the rocks.

We dropped our stuff of out our hotel and headed to the information center to see the wide array of adrenaline pumping, wallet emptying tourist activities. With most activities $100-200 NZD a person, the place really does know how to get the most out of the tourists, who, like us, will probably only be here once in their lives. And where else are you in a nation of thrill seekers with laws that make it almost impossible to sue people that injure you doing dangerous things. Once again I love the NZ anti-litigious attitude. We planned our next few days and then went to get oriented and soak up the city. It was a bustling ski-town, kind of like south Lake Tahoe, but without the casinos. The area was very pretty, but frankly we liked Wanaka a lot better for peace and quiet and enjoying the views. This place, however had a great nightlife and energy. We didn't even notice when the clock struck 5pm, where almost every other city had turned into a ghost town. This city was alive and well.

We enjoyed dinner at The Cow. No, not a steak place, an Italian place on cow lane where the cows used to get milked back in the day. This tiny establishment was adorable, and completely covered from head to toe with wood and iron. It was very small and on the evenings they made people share tables with other customers. I love that concept. We didn't end up having to share ours, but I still really like the idea of forced socialization or at least sharing.

A quick stroll back to the car, then a dip in the hot tub at the hotel with a bottle of Pinot and off to bed.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J) Sitting on the bench by Lake Wanaka, (J+C) The views at Mt. Difficulty, (J+C) Home-made garlic bread at The Cow, (C) Soaking up the Remarkables

Nov 5

A rare lazy morning spent sleeping in. We drove the 3km from our hotel into town and got in the gondola to the lookout point that loomed over the energetic tourist town. I thought that this must be a ski resort that is looking to make a few extra bucks with scenic gondola rides during the summer for those, like us, that were too lazy to make the 1.5 hr hike up the hill, but no, it was a permanent tourist fixture. The deep blue lake and the happy little town sprawled beneath us as we turned our backs and headed up the Ben Loman trek to a much higher peak that overlooked then whole lake and valley. On the way up we read about the Maori legends of how the lake was formed. Basically some Maori peasant and princess were in love, but the king wasn't cool with that. One day a giant captured the princess, and the dad was so distraught that he said anyone who rescued his daughter could marry her. Here was the peasants chance. He went out and found her by the sound of her weeping, carried by the wind. When he got to her, the giant was away but she was tethered by unbreakable shackles. He tried and tried to break them, but couldn't. In despair they sat and wept together. Their joint true loves tears were strong enough to break the invisible bonds and the princes was freed. They get back to the village and everyone's happy, the peasant gets the girl, yada, yada, but what's to stop the giant from coming back the peasant thought. So he goes to the cave in the evening when the giant is sleeping and sets the bed of brambles that the giant sleeps on on fire. Now apparently the giant is a heavy sleepers because he just sits there and burns to death. He's also a major fatty and all his fat burns so hot that it melts a huge hole in the valley floor that eventually gets filled with snow melt and becomes a lake. If you see the lake from above it looks like someone curled up sleeping like the giant was when he was killed. Cute story I guess.

Anyway we wander through a small forest and then ascent a slow winding hill with yellow green bushes covering the hill side as we head towards a thick fog hovering just over the snow line of the Ben Loman peak. To the left lay a rich green forest of trees that looked quite a bit like the Ent forest. It turns out that the actual Ent forest was about 40 minutes up the road, so it makes sense that they would look similar. The walk was quiet, and peaceful as we made our way closer and closer to the clouds. We ascended another hour or so until the clouds engulfed us and it began to snow lightly. A backpacker who had happened by boasted about how great the views were when he was at the peak yesterday on a clear day, but that we might not see anything and that the path is all snow so our sneakers covered feet would get soaked. Christa was cold and there wasn't much to see but white all around, so we headed back down.

We took a left on the way down to a nearby mini-peak and got a few nice shots of the lake and its many fingers, with the cloud enshrouded Remarkables in the background, but that was about it. We cruised down the easy trail as the weather got warmer and the visibility better until we got back down to the bottom where there were lovely picnic tables and genuinely pleasant views of the lake. After a quick lunch, and some dissipating clouds we were off to the luge. At the top of the gondola they had made this Luge coarse where you're in a little plastic car with steering and breaks and you just cruise down this windy course while you soak up views of the lake and the freshly cleared up mountains. It was fantastic. The views were breath-taking, the luge was exhilarating, getting up on two wheels at almost every turn and the frequent photo booths along the path allowed us endless combinations of funny poses that we could later see at the bottom of the track. I don't know who had the idea for this thing, but it was a fantastic idea; simply a great way to spend an afternoon.

We had a quick look around the observation deck where we spotted Coronet peak where we will be hang-gliding (me) and paragliding (Christa tomorrow). It is across from the Remarkable's and overlooks Arrowtown, where Liv Tyler raced across the shallow rivers on a horse and the Nazgul couldn't pass. Apparently Liv Tyler is afraid of horses so here scenes were shot with her riding a barrel. They imported horses from America for the scene, but they wouldn't cross the stream. The only horses they could find to cross it were local horses at some stable with a bunch of teenaged riders. Further, the horses only behaved for their teenaged girl riders, so the Nazgul in that scene were a bunch of teenaged girls CGed. At least that's what one local told me (it's probably half true).

Down the gondola for a pint in the sun at an Irish bar who's name means "kiss my ass" in celtic, then some Thai take-away and back to our hotel for a quiet evening. I do wish we had gotten to see the views from Ben Loman's peak, but all in all it was a very nice, relaxing day.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (C) Having a leisurely morning, (J) Sitting at the edge of the fog line watching tiny flakes of snow fall on the Ben Loman trail, (J+C) the Luge, (J+C) Watching a street performer manipulate a crystal ball by the lake front and other people watching, while sipping a beer at the Irish pub.

Nov 6th

Today is a 4 1/2 hr driving day to Milford Lodge on Milford Sound, but before we headed out of town, we stopped off to Hang-glide and Parasail off Coronet Peak across the valley from the Remarkables. Unlike the previous day, this day was gorgeous with barely a cloud in the sky. The van winded up snow capped Coronet Peak which, only days before was home of a 48 car annual race to the top where the road gets shut down and people drive a random assortment of cars at unsafe speeds up the windy hill to the peak. At our launch site we took in the beautiful scenery. To the right was Queenstown and the lake. Right below us was Arrowtown and an idilic little valley, dotted, like so many others, with fluffy white sheep. And right in front were the imposing Remarkables. The instructor went over how to turn left, right, pitch up, and pitch down then we hooked into the hang glider, and I grabbed his side handles. Then he shouted one, two, and we started running across a small patch of green that started sloping down the cliff that hovered a few thousand feet above the valley below. As the lip of the cliff launch point turned down wards I could feel the upward tug of the glider and within moments our feet were off the ground and we were gliding over the bright shinny valley. I was just giddy taking it all in, feeling the wind rushing across my face in the superman position. The instructor and I banked left and dove towards a forest ridge line where we picked up a thermal and circled up wards as I took in the scenery. Then he handed me the controls which is nothing more than a horizontal bar that you strafe left, right, forward, or backward and let your CG change pitch and roll the glider. It was surprisingly simple and easy to control. I could see it being trickier in stiff winds, but right now banks were as easy as riding a bike. The hang-glider screamed across the scenery much faster than the para-gliders did, but they were less maneuverable and a bit heavier so they got less time in the air. Regardless, I couldn't have asked for a greater experience. We neared the landing strip and I gave up controls to the pilot. It dawned upon me that we hadn't talked about how to land. I assumed we'd dive, flair up at the last minute and then run with the glider as it slowed to a stop. That didn't end up being the case. We did dive, but we were coming in hot and low, I didn't know how I'd possibly be able to squeeze my legs below the bottom of the glider to run, what's worse I hadn't taken my legs out of the stirrups. As the thought passed through my head, the wheels on either side of the cross bar hit the ground and our feet dragged along the soft grass. Then almost as soon as it started it was over and the glider was stopped with us belly down. I guess that how it works.

I got up to see christa and her pilot spinning down to the ground in 360's so tight that they were practically parallel with the ground. I wasn't sure it was here until I heard the euphoric giggling. What a great rush. I just wanted to run up the hill and do it again... until they charged us. Then, I was content with the one go.

It was a perfect way to start the day and now off on the beautiful drive to the south west of the Island. We passed through pastures as the surrounding hills became mountains. The drive melted away as we made frequent photo stops. As we neared the sound, stopping for a photo of a snowy mountain flanked by two tropical hills covered in jungly foliage Christa noticed a bird on our trunk picking at the trunk's hing. This was the local shimmery green and brown Kea. We thought it was grabbing nuts that had been trapped there after rolling down the back windshield, but upon further inspection it was trying to rip the rubber insulation out of the car. I have no idea why, but a fellow tourist at the photo stop, Jeff, told us that one had done the same thing to his car. Weird.

We continued down the road where we approached the 1.2 km Homers tunnel that burrowed deep into the mountains to pop us out on the other side; the gate to Milford Sound. As I approached the tunnel I saw two massive headlights and slammed on the breaks. Turns out tour busses like to take up both lanes so they don't scrape their roofs. After that scare we cautiously made our way through the jagged tunnel that once a year gets shut down and used as a naked run fundraiser for mens health. At the other end the valley exploded with steep jungly and snow capped peeks with a roaring river cutting its way through the valley floor below. We descended and made our way to the lodge.

After a bottle of wine we bumped into Jeff, who joined of for more drink and then dinner at the blue duck. We bonded over photography and politics as the sun grew low over the sound. Just before sunset we went shooting. The Sound (which by definition is made by water) is actually a Fjord (made by a glacier). Kiwis named 14 areas on the South Island that are Fjords Sounds. To fix that they renamed the region Fiordland, but they botched that too since it was supposed to be Fjordland. But, with my atrocious spelling, I sympathize.

The wisps of clouds glowed pink as they framed the dramatic peaks towering 1000 - 1900 m high and plunging straight into the calm black waters. Snow capped peaks where mixed in with dramatic jungly mountains with sheer cliffs and a couple of waterfalls. The falls looked tiny in contrast to the mountains, but they were each 3 times taller than Niagara falls and just looked small in comparison to the mammoth mountains which earned Milford sound the label of 8th wonder of the world, according to Rudyard Kipling. That's the weird thing about this place, your sense of perspective is just messed up. It's really wild.

We took photos until the pink subsided to a dull gray and then headed back to retire for the night.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) Hang-Gliding / Paragliding off of Mt Coronet, (J) The views by the Homer Tunnel, (J+C) Seeing Milford Sound at Sunset, (C) Seeing the stars ignite the sky at night

Nov 7th

Election Day! (At least it is over here since we're a day ahead.) I felt a bit like I was going to work as the alarm blared at 6am. Up, packed and out to Milford sound shores by 7am for 5 hours of early morning kayaking. The water looked like a slowly undulating mirror as we eased into the water. Our guide, Blake, took Christa and one other double kayak team, also on their honeymoon, out to the center of the sound/Fjord and remarked that he couldn't remember when they had had such a nice, clam day. Floating in the center of these mammoth cliffs made you feel disoriented and so insignificant. Blake pointed to a waterfall that looked to be a mile away and asked how far we thought it was. Turns out it was 9km away and 150 meters high, but it just looked so tiny compared to the looming 1km mountain it rolled off of. We sat in silence except for the click of our cameras as we snapped mountains and their wavy reflections and appreciated the uncharacteristic quiet of the usually bustling Sound. Then Blake began in with the trivia, which for some reason I seemed to know. Why is it odd that this place is called a sound? A: Its a Fjord. What's the quickest time to the top of the tallest peak? A: 8 hrs, done by some local legend in bare feet. What's the rarest animal in the sound? A: The special breed of white heron of which there's only 100 of left in the world. Do you guys know the Kea? Do you know what the most trouble they've ever caused in this region? A: Flew into a tour bus that was also carrying local mail and grabbed a parcel containing a guys new passport, then flew over the gorge and dropped it in; it made national news. Finally Blake asked how I knew all that stuff. I explained that it was written on a sheet of "fun facts" in the mens room stall. "Damn it!" he exclaimed, "Foiled by my own list." He had apparently put the list of fun facts up in the mens bathroom 2 months ago with all of his best material. We had a good laugh about it.

The tour had a specified course, but Blake was quitting in 5 days to pilot a big boat, so when we told him we wanted to see penguins he said screw it and had us cruise across the Fjord right to the spot with the second rarest penguins in the world; the Fiordland yellow-something or other penguins.

We eased across the glassy waters, constantly aware of the mammoth cliffs that surrounded us. It was peaceful except for the occasional helicopter (NZ had the highest ratio of helicopters per capita of any nation), plane, or wake caused by a sight seeing ship. As we got closer to Penguin cove, Blake told us about the odd animals that have made their way up into the Fjords; the lion seal, the elephant seal, or even once they hade a great white shark swim just beneath his entire group of kayakers (that was a heart stopper for him). We made it to the other side of the Fjord and sure enough, standing there pecking his own tail was a cute, but tiny little penguin with deep bushy yellow eyebrows. I'd never seen a penguin in the wild so it was really bizarre to see one sitting here by the dark waters on the rocky shore. He paid no attention to us as we snapped photos, but eventually hopped off in the brush. We had fantastic luck, seeing a total of 5 solitary penguins on the shores against the cliff backdrop. They were here for mating season, but, though penguins mate for life, they are mostly solitary creatures and not a one was with a partner. Odd. We headed back along the coast line as Blake told us about the Venison Cowboys. US Cowboys would hop off a horse to hog tie a steer. When wild venison became popular, some bright Kiwi did the math and figured that he could make a profit doing the same thing with deer, but instead of a horse, jumping off a helicopter. His buddy would pilot low when the saw a deer, he would get on the leg of the helicopter right above the deer, then tackle, hog tie it, kill it then strap it to the bottom of the helicopter and go for another. I'm not sure if they shot them first or not, but if they did, Blake left that portion of the story out. A chopper could be seen with as many as 10 - 12 deer bobbing up and down back to the hunters home. Sometimes, Blake claimed, they'd be so close to their capacity that if they were hunting up at altitude and their home was much lower they'd be just above their capacity, half dragging the deer, half bouncing them over the ground until they got to a cliff where they'd give the deer one last bounce over the cliff and the deers momentum with carry the helicopter forward past any rocky overhang and then the helicopter would gain enough lift to sustain flight by the time it had plummeted to denser air. It all sounded like a tall tale to me, but these Kiwi's are a bit crazy so I believe him.

We floated past what Blake told us was the worlds larges species of Seagull, past another beautiful waterfall, and then, by the time the sun was high in the sky the trip was over. We took one more look at the imposing views of Milford sound as the once glassy water began to break and crash and then headed back on our way through the beautiful scenery 3.5 hrs to Queenstown.

At our hotel we watched election coverage on the NZ news channels which were actually quite funny. The Kiwi broadcaster expressed his disgust that over the last 7 days the candidates only spouted rhetoric about how they could fix the economy without mentioning how and without addressing immigration, healthcare, education or any other issues. He also kept on likening the crowd at the Obama convention to an All-Blacks Rugby crowd. Then they cut to studio where they hypothesized what it would take for Obama to win on a big map. They never once hypothesized on what it would take for Romney to win. And the anchor was so obviously pro-obama that at one point he said, "So if Obama takes Ohio and Colorado and Nevada, that would mean 273 electoral votes and we would... I mean, Mr Obama would win the election." Later after Obamas victory speech an American female anchor exclaimed that she had promised that if Obama won she would bear his children, even if it was a Labra- doodle. And the co-anchor didn't see anything odd with this statement. Weird. Off to dinner.

After a Fergburger we went to a bar for a pint where we ended up drinking the evening away with Nick, an english carpenter who had been working and traveling for two years because real life scared him, and Raya, who was a Minnesotan on vacation who had met Nick in a hostel 10 days ago and thought it was a good idea to split a rental car and travel with a guy she had just met. In Nicks defense, he didn't give off the creepy vibe at all. We exchanged travel stories, then Nick called it a night since he was tired from the night before where he stayed up late on his balcony in the cold watching half of the season of Sopranos on his laptop while polishing off a 12 pack to himself.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) The glassy water reflections of Milford Sound, (J) Blake's crazy Kiwi stories, (C) Finishing our Book on tape halfway to Te Anau, (C) Watching NZ coverage of the US elections, (J) Drinking and chatting with Nick & Raya

Nov 8

A rare lazy morning with no alarm clock. It was nice. At 11, we headed over to the shotover gorge for Jet boating. This is a sport invented by the Kiwis decades ago. It all started with the invention of a propeller-less engine. Basically it's a jet engine that sucks up water from the bottom of the boat, sucks it through a series of internally contained propeller-like blades and then fires it out a nozzle in the back. And like the F-22 the nozzles have vector control which they use instead of a rudder. They also have thrust reversers on it. The boat is specially designed for a lack of stability in the water by having a completely flat bottom. It can skim off of as little of 3 inches of water and reached speeds of 80-90 km/hr when we were on it. It sports 520 horsepower for just 11 people and each boat costs a quarter of a million dollars. It was an impressive feat of engineering. We entered the boat after a nice chat with an Israeli couple on holiday and took off down the gorge over minerally light blue waters. We were in the back right where the vector thrusting would give the best kick and after the first donut we were not disappointed. The thing spun around so quickly and with such a tight turn radius that it felt like it was on a sloshy turn table. Then captain, Nate, kicked it into gear and screamed down the gorge drawing within inches of a sheer rock cliff. I think on the video they showed later you can see me mouthing "Oh Shit" as I could have been dismembered had I extended my arm even a little bit. Nate flew passed the boulders pausing at each one to hug the side of boulder or sheer face as closely as seemed humanly possible. He swerved wildly, but with incredible precision as the boat always seemed to miss the rocks by inches. After several more 360s we were out of the main gorge and the Arrow Valley and Mt Coronet, where we had glided two days before lay in front of us. It was simply beautiful. I had started to get the hang of Nates steering, so I put my arm around Christa and enjoyed the scenery as she gripped the safety bar. It was actually a bit more scary and exhilarating only holding on with your feet as the boat rocked you with vicious turns and spins. We sped back up the gorge as if the water wasn't flowing downstream at all as Nate continued to demonstrate the boats power and maneuverability. Then before we knew it, the ride was over. Everyone stepped off with adrenaline still gently coursing through their body. It was a heck of a thrill ride.

I bid farewell to my last opportunity to do the Nevis, the worlds highest bungy jump, but that would have taken 4 hours (the rest of the day), $180 and Christa would be by herself. I thought about it, but I just don't care that much for bungee, so we we set off for the idilic little town of Glenorchy at the far end of the lake, where the Ents and Sauromans tower were. Five minutes out town and all that was left was nature, mountains, a calm sprawling lake and the occasional pasture. About halfway to town, around a bend was a lookout point. The scene exploded at you and you came around the bend. To the left across the calm blue lake were sturdy even mountains with tiny caps of snow. In front lay the end of the lake, sprawling and weaving its way around the gently, but dramatically arched coast line. An island lay brightly illuminated in the distance. Great peaks gave way to gentle pastures and then sharp snowy peaks framed the scene well behind the end of the lake. This was the postcard shot. Quite literally. I later saw a postcard in Glenorchy taken from this spot. We soaked it in with the other half a dozen tourists enjoying the view. In town, if you can even call the 3 hotel, 2 restaurant and 1 general store spot a town, we had a fantastic lunch surrounded by peaks and pastures. There we ran into a gentleman named Patterson from Christchurch who, upon hearing that we were going to be there, planned out our entire itinerary on a napkin then told us where the best walk was to do today near the Glenorchy valley. Apparently the Routeburn path was rated the #10 hike in the world to do in some persons rating scale (though we were only going to be able to do an hour or two of the 3 day hike).

We cruised passed sheep that had escaped their fences on the dirt road to the trail head. As soon as we started up the path into the forest I could see why Peter Jackson picked this general area for the Ent forest. As Christa mentioned, there was nothing spectacular about any one tree in this tall spacious forest. Colorado Aspen trees are prettier and more shimmery, Sequoias are taller and more impressive, but this place had a certain magic to it. The trees were tall, but spread out, letting beams of white like sprinkle through like a light rain. Moss grew everywhere there wasn't a a plant, which gave the place a green glow. Ferns dotted the forest floor, though they were's an imposing force. Everything just seemed in balance. You didn't get the sense that plants were battling each other for domination like you would in a jungle (though I'm sure they were), or that there are nothing but pines and bushes like you do in alpine terrain. There was nothing extraordinary about one single aspect of this forest, but together it felt in harmony.

We ambled up the path as large peaks, cliffs and the valley below poked through the foliage. We passed over a river which Patterson later remarked were the color of Christa's eyes. I had seen lakes more blue before, but never a river. It was a light clear blue color that didn't quite seem natural for a river that should have been clear. We ambled until we had our fill (and found out that a view of the surrounding peaks wasn't for another 4 hours) and headed back down, then back to Queenstown only pausing for one more chance at the postcard photo.

At Queentown, after determining that whiskey prices here are about double what you find in the states, I found a rare legitimate deal - mini-pitchers of home brew at the pig-n-whistle for $7 NZD. We sat and enjoyed our beers as the sun sank low over the lake and a guy played "All the other kids with the pumped up kicks" on an acoustic guitar. It was nice.

Josh and Christa's top 3: (C) Shotover jetting, (J) getting inches from the cliff wall in the Shotover jet, (J+C) the blue river water on the Routeburn hike, (J+C) drinking beer and listening to music at the pig-n-whistle

9 Nov

We said our last good-byes and made the morning 3 hr drive out of Queenstown, past familiar territory and then out to the East coast. As we neared the Mount Cook region on couldn't help being reminded of Denver with large plains to the east (though the were slightly rolling here) and an imposing impenetrable wall of snowy mountains lining the horizon on the left. As we turned west into the range we were flanked by a long lake that was a shade of electric blue that seemed somehow unnatural in color, but still hauntingly beautiful.

We arrived at the tiny tourist town, threw our bags down and headed off the the Mt Hooker Glacier Hike. The wild thing about this place, about these mountains which I'd never quite scene before is that you're walking in these dry arid planes with small spikey bushes a rocks that feel pretty much like you're in a desert. There ground is mixed in with some rubble, but nothing majestic. Then out of nowhere, a few hundred meters in the distance with no foothills, no warning erupts a wall of granite 2000-3000 m off the valley floor covered in fluffy white snow. Bam! There it is right in front of you, and it's imposing and impressive, but just seems out of place, that or the warm plains that we're walking on feel out of place. Scenery just isn't supposed to be so abrupt.

The footstool mountains loomed 2000 meters high, caked with thick billows of snow in front of us as we walked passed the first swing bridge. They gave way to other peaks that twisted and turned into a labyrinth of mountains that drew you into a labyrinth of snow and glaciers that made us the NZ souther alps. Eventually we crested a hill and there was a dirty Hooker glacier (couldn't resist), feeding a sprawling grey silt filled lake dotted with floating ice. Behind the Glacier stood New Zeland's Highest Peak, Mt Cook. Standing at 3750 meters, 2850 from peek to valley its gnarly steep triangular features stood out from the rest of the range. It actually used to be 10 meters taller before its tip fell a few decades back and was swept 75 km away by the glacier and rivers. This mountain had been the crowning achievement of a reverend, who was the first to summit it in a suit and tie back in the early 1900's. It also made Freuda something or other famous by being the first woman to summit the peek. She broke all social barriers by and climbing with men and sharing a tent with them as an unmarried woman. And she did it all in a blouse and skirt (there are crazy pictures of this woman carving ice steps in a 70 degree pitch ice wall wearing a shin length skirt and a fashionable blouse; Rosie the riveter eat your heart out). And of course this place is most famous as the training grounds for Sir Edmund Hillary who, along with his Sherpa Tenzay Norgie (Spelling?), were the first to summit Everest.

We marveled at the peak that was so steep in many places that it couldn't hold snow and the sharp black rock beneath protruded fiercely. We had our fill and headed back, where we ran into a ranger who was trying to kill Stoats. Let me back up. When the Europeans first came here they introduced rabbits because they liked rabbit meat. But the rabbits went wild and started infesting the farms, so they wanted to get rid of rabbits. They asked themselves what kills rabbits back home, so they brought stoats and weasels and ferrets and hedgehogs over. Now these animals weren't very cooperative. They spread like wildfire, but not because they were only eating the rabbits, but because NZ birds often nest in the river beds instead of in trees since they didn't evolve with natural predators. Happy days for the Stoats and company! Eggs are lust lying about fresh for the taking. These animals have brought many NZ native birds near extinction including the famous Kiwi. So rangers are trying to trap and kill them and are barely able to keep up with population growth.

We bid the ranger farewell and promptly ran into an older couple training for the 3 day Milford trek in about a week. We exchanged stories of travel and I planned out the remainder of their itinerary for them before they had to turn back down the path after realizing that Joan had lost one of her hot pink hearing aids.

Back at the hotel we drank wine in the alpine lodge enjoying the in-your-face views of the footstool mountains. We chatted the night away with a cop couple on holiday with only a brief interruption for dinner. 2 1/2 bottles of wine later we headed to bed.

Josh & Christa's Top 3: (J+C) Lunch at Mt. Cook, (C) Napping at Mt. Cook while Josh tramped through the rock slide zone to take pictures, (J) Chatting with the ranger, (J+C) Drinking at the Alpine Lodge with great views and great company

10 Nov

The day was overcast and drizzly and the mountains were engulfed in clouds. We wandered through the Mt Cook and Edmund Hilary Museums where we learned about how the mountains were formed, the history of mountain climbing in the region, and poetic descriptions of the mountains likening the summiting of the snowy peaks to reaching up to the heavens on pure white horses or something like that. Also I found out that Ed Hillary is on the 5 dollar bill. Though that's not too prestigious since a bird that enjoys eating rubber car insulation is on the 20.

We headed out for one last short hike up to Tasman glacier where the climbers used to begin their ascent, but the hills were snowed in. Some poor suckers had paid a bunch of money to kayak in Tasman lake and see the glacier and the mountains through the haze and rain. We stopped off to see the Tasman river on the way down where we made our way through a vast mine field of boulders and rocks that had been pushed into this huge wasteland after thousands of years of glacial movement. Then it was back in the car and off for a 4.5 hr drive to Christchurch.

On the ride we listened to pod casts about Jewish Culture. We realized that now that because we're now married we need to start thinking forward about children, eventually, and all that that entails. We're going to figure it out as we go, but we'll raise our family with more Jewish traditions, plus Christmas. We figured that we needed to start somewhere, so what better way to do it than listen to a Jew for Jesus Professor at an Iowa christian college discuss Judaism on a podcast in New Zealand. It was actually quite interesting hearing his perspective as a former Orthodox Jew turned Christian. His joint perspective made it a lot easier for Christa to relate and gave me a clearer understanding of the more subtle contrasts between the two religions. We listened, analyzed and chatted about the commentary as the drive melted away.

We finally made it to New Zealand's second largest city and headed straight for a pint and dinner at the Town Ball. For those that don't know, Christchurch was rocked by an earthquake in 2010 and then again by a bigger one in Feb 2011 which destroyed 70% of the Central Business District. The city is still taking down fractured buildings and it is a time of sadness, but also ingenuity and rebirth. The Town Ball is such a case of ingenuity. In 2011, for the Rugby world championships New Zealand designed a huge 4 story pressurized rugby ball that you could go into and buy merchandise and see rugby games projected onto the inside of the ball. It was a huge attraction that was shipped across the world. The Queen of England even even visited it. After the championship the ball was auctioned off and a Christchurch entrepreneur, thought hell, this is cheap, land in the crumbling center of town is cheap, and almost all of the bars in town have been shut down by the earthquake. I bet I could make this thing into a sports bar and restaurant. And he did. It's only been open 3 weeks, but what an experience. Once you get over the pressurization inside and the echoes at the ends of the inside of the ball, it's really quite astounding.

After dinner we enjoyed Hookah at a Turkish restaurant as the setting sun ignited the sky orange over the broken town center. Next we headed off to the Court theater that had been destroyed in the quake and then resurrected 5 minutes away in an old warehouse. The motif was modern warehouse-chic, and the place was bustling with life. It really made you feel good to see these seeds of rebirth of the city. It felt even better to be laughing our asses off for 2 hours at a sensational improv show called Scared Scriptless that had been running for over 20 years. I've seen a fair number of improv shows and this was right up their with the cream of the crop. It didn't hurt that we were front and center, they did a sketch about Wombats, and after finding out that it was our honeymoon they did a sketch where the main character was a demigod Kea (NZ Parrot) named Josh. Anyway, Christa and I had a fantastic time and we highly recommend the show.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J) Listening to Judaism Podcasts with Christa and discussing, (C) Dinner at the Town Ball, (J+C) Hookah at sunset, (J+C) Scared Scriptless

Nov 11th

Sadly it was our last day in New Zealand. But it was a hell of a ride, and we still have 4 days on a beach in Tahiti left, so that's not too bad. We roll down to the iSite where we booked tickets to the redzone bus tour where we got to go passed the roped off sections of downtown where demolition and rebuilding where occurring. We heard about how 177 people were killed in the 2011 quake and 8 more were accidentally left for dead in all the confusion. We passes a sobering memorial of 185 empty white chairs as the cranes carefully demolished buildings, making sure that they did not topple and crash into salvageable establishments. It was truly astonishing seeing such destruction. There were still old advertisements, lunch specials and building signs, and at points you almost felt like one could move back. Then your eye would twitch to the right and their would be a huge crack down the center of the building and the back half would be ripped apart with no wall. Even the crowned Jewel of the city, the ancient cathedral with thick stone engineering, was ravaged by the quake. It was a humbling experienced.

The trip was later contrasted by a beautiful walk through the botanical gardens where people were enjoying their pleasant sunday. Then off to lunch at the heart of the city's rebirth; ReStart Shipping Container Mall. This 2 square block area was filled with brightly painted shipping containers that had been used as building reinforcement and for city supplies. But now they contained shops and restaurants. Windows had been installed, containers had been stacked cleverly for newly opened trendy coffee shops, and there were street performers, one of which whipped a stuffed rabbit out of a German girls hand. En route there was a Dance-o-matic. Many of the dance halls had been crushed in the quake so the city had made a dance square with speakers mounted on 4 posts and a brightly colored washing machine off the the side where you could insert 2 dollars to play music and Dance. It was so creative. Sara would have loved it.

We had fantastic gyros at a small food truck that had been so pervasive in this place and shopped in the lovely shipping containers while enjoying a free band. On our way out we helped the tourism board by participating in their social networking plan where you upload a cool picture of Christchurch, tag it with chch and then it automatically gets put into their Christchurch photo-stream that gets sent to their main source of tourism; Australia. Pretty clever. On the way back to the car a mexican street taco cart had converted an abandoned lot into a small restaurant with two outdoor tables with plastic chairs. Much of the city was fully functional, but watching this was like watching a seedling begin to grow.

We took a quick drive to the suburb of Sumner where houses dotted the hills overlooking the beach. An occasional cliff house was ripped in half. An ice-cream truck parked where a cafe once was. A double decker bus had been converted to a chocolate themed cafe and was parked by the beach. The waters were filled by surfers and life continued as normal. We sat and watched the waves while children shoveled sand into a bucket, then headed back home to get ready for travel to Tahiti for 4 1/2 days.

Josh and Christa's Top 3: (J+C) The red zone tour, (J+C) ReStart Container Mall, (J+C) Josh laying down with his head on Christa's lap as the waves crashed in Sumner Beach.

We racked up a total of 2600 km in the South Island. That's 3700 km total and about 48 hours worth of driving. Also, on the South Island we counted the two most prominent fast food chains, McDonalds, and Subway. Mind you these are just the ones that we saw, but the winner was... drum roll ... ... ... Subway! With 18 Subway to 16 McDonalds the healthy fast food chain was the victor. Now the McDonalds' were more impressive (one had an old DC3 as a children's playpen, vs. some of the subways embedded in gas station shopmarts), but still the W goes to Subway.

Nov 12-11, 11-18

Very few people have probably made it this far down the emails. If you have, congratulations, plat yourself on the back! But even fewer want to hear about us sitting on a beach so I'll give you the executive summary on what I predict will happen. We leave tomorrow, the 12th, early and roll into Tahiti on the 11th in the afternoon after crossing the date line. We'll have a nice evening in a hotel then off to Moorea the next day. We'll spend 4 1/2 day on the tiny island which will be very pretty with turquoise waters, nice jungles and cool sea life. Christa will try and sweet talk the hotel into upgrading our room because its our honeymoon and she's got a much better shot at convincing someone than I do since she's cuter. We'll spend the first day relaxing which will be very nice after packing and unpacking every day. But after a day, I won't be able to sit still, so we'll go for a bike ride, do some snorkeling, sit on the beach, read, maybe scuba dive (if they let me go after forgetting my PADI card), then repeat. We'll also rent a scooter and take it around the island one day. I'll take photos. The whole thing will all be very relaxing and enjoyable. We'll probably meet an interesting couple or two. I will fail to bite my tongue once or twice complaining about the prices (the menu on line had a fruit bowl listed at $50 USD), but in the end it'll be fine. It will be a much more classic Honeymoon experience, but a great way to unwind after cramming most of New Zealand's highlights into three weeks. Then we'll take a boat, to the main island, a plane to LAX, a different airline to SJC, and then a very much appreciated ride back to home where we'll crash.

Thanks to all of you that slogged through my grammatically incorrect, poorly spelled, and often rambling and non-sequitur tale of our honeymoon!


Josh & Christa

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