Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Mother of all Blog Posts

My Appologies for such a long post but internet hasn't been too easy lately and I've got some catching up to.

I’m not sure where to even begin. What should I write? What do people really want to know about? Are the words really that important? Or do people just want to see the pictures? I mean I just spent the past 10 days seeing some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on. The pictures never will do it’s justice, and I doubt the words will either. I guess I’ll just start with the basics and see what happens.
Steph, a friend from back home (Ecology co-worker) shows up in Wellington. Her visit to New Zealand happened to fall at a time I was ready to move again. I picked her up at the airport, crashed in Wellington and we took off on the ferry to the South Island the next day. It was an incredible day. Not just the weather, but it also just happened to be the same day of the biggest swell that hit Wellington since I’d been there. Needing to catch a ferry, there was no time to surf. Typical. However, it made for an awesome journey, especially through the Cook Strait, which is the body of water between the two islands known for it’s high winds and super rough waters. It was a bit sad to wave goodbye to the city I’ve grown to love, but at the same time it was exciting thinking of the adventures ahead. The most amazing part of the ferry ride is the first thing you see of the South Island is the Marlborough Sound. There is this little town called Picton where the ferry lands and it’s all the way at the end of this gorgeous sound. It reminds me a lot of the Puget Sound, except without people….and nice weather….and different vegetation…..ok it’s nothing like the Puget Sound really. But anyways, here are the pictures from the ferry:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/LeavingWellington


Moving on. We get off the ferry and drive to a small, artsy town called Nelson where we grabed some beers and crash for the night in a motor camp. In the morning we do some grocery shopping and take off to a little town on the West Coast called Westport. Yep, just like back home, and it has waves too. And it is also a sleepy little run-down town that looks like is was once dependant on fishing but is now trying super hard to attract tourism. Interesting. We ended up finding this awesome campground right on the beach that happened to be free. It was beautiful. I was shocked. Not sure I’d find anything like this on the North Island, but then again there is way more to see of it than I did. The weather was super hot and there was a tiny little wave breaking on the beach. Why not? I threw my board shorts and a rash guard on and went for a paddle. Very refreshing, but it wasn’t as cold as I thought it’d be. So I stayed out for maybe an hour of so trying to surf tiny little ankle biters. I came in and we made dinner. After dinner we went back out to the beach just in time to catch the sun setting and this amazing moon rise over the mountains. I tried so hard to get a real good picture of it. Once it got dark, the stars were so incredible. I had to try an take some pictures. The Southern Cross was looking so beautiful that night. I kept thinking about that Crosby Stills and Nash song as I attempted many times to take a picture of it without a tripod! I’m pretty stoked on them. Check those pictures out here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/Westport

Next day, we get up and started making our way towards Greymouth, the next town down the coast. We planned on stopping at these rocks known for their pancake like formations to check them out and walk around. As we started making the drive South, the scenery and environment became more and more beautiful. New Zealand really baffles me a lot of times. It's like everything you think you know of the world and then flip it upside down and there you have New Zealand. As we were driving further and further South, the vegetation became more and more tropical. Native palm trees everywhere covering the mountains and hillsides. In my humble knowledge, I would like to think of it becoming more temperate and colder. But it’s New Zealand, so of course not. The closer you get to Antarctica the hotter it gets and the more palm trees you see. Right. So we found a campsite in this park right on the beach in a place called Punakiki beach. It was filled with other travelers from all over the world. So we set up camp around 4pm and we figured we had enough time in the day to do a hike considering that it stays light out until past 9pm. We decided to travel up the Fox river valley to check out some natural caves and do some spelunking. It was awesome. Hard to describe. I’m not big into caving as I get a little closter phobic but Steph loved it. It was pretty cool I’ll admit. Check out those photo’s from the cave, Pancake rocks and Punakiki beach here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/PancakeRocks


Next day we get going and start heading to the Franz Josef and fox glaciers. I really couldn’t believe it. Here we were in tropical paradise and we were a mere 100 kilometers from massive glaciers. Stuff you see in Alaska…which doesn’t have palm trees. I really couldn’t believe it. But there it was, right there on the map, glaciers. Cool. So we start driving and sure enough the temperate climate gave way to massive snow covered mountains rising up from the sea. I let Steph take over driving and give a try at driving on the wrong side of the road…I mean left, sorry. I was so trigger happy with the camera I took so many photos. It's taken me some time to sort through them. It was like every turn or bend in the road had to be from a scene in Lord of the Rings. I was awestruck. We eventually made our way to the little town of Franz Josef after many, many photo stops. It was definitely a touristy town with heaps of cafes and lodging options. Totally bustling. So we went and checked out the glacier, took some photos and headed off to find a campsite for the night. We read somewhere that there was a free campsite on the beach about 15km’s away on a dirt road. The Suby got excited at the thought of rallying off the pavement, so we appeased her desires and headed out there. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we got massively attack by billions of tiny sand flies. Red bumps formed everywhere on our ankles. Changing from shorts and sandals, we took off on a little hike down the beach to see what it was all about. It was a massive long beach with almost nobody on it. There was some old mining equipment left near an estuary but that was about it for the most part. The wave potential looked incredible too, but the swell just wasn’t there. Back at the car we started to make camp, but the invasion by the little, hard-to-see bugs continued and only got worse as the sun and horizon approached their rendezvous. We bailed. As we waved the white flag and took the dirt road back towards the glacier we found a very bug-free campsite just by the river. About 8 campervans surrounded us. We made dinner and prepared for a storm, as thick clouds were forming around the mountains. We were joined that evening by a Dutch traveler on his second tour of New Zealand. His first trip was halted by having his car stolen in Christchurch a year ago. I was impressed by his desire and ambitiousness in wanting to return and see what he didn’t on his first trip. I was also made cautious by his story. Check out the Glacier pictures here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/FranzJosefGlacier

The storm did finally arrive and the next day it was raining. We packed up camp and headed to the Fox glacier to check it out. I wasn’t too into it, but Steph was determined. So we put on some rain gear and started hiking. I was totally impressed by how many people were their hiking to the glacier. Most of them didn’t even have rain gear. I even saw one lady hiking in sandals, Capri’s and a bag over her head to keep the rain from her precious do. The glacier was impressive however and the whole valley surrounding it once again must have been in the Lord of the Rings movie, I just know it! So we got lunch and dried out at some café that was trying very unsuccessfully to pass as an American BBQ joint. We started driving back towards Christchurch. We were hoping to spend some time in the Southern Alps hiking as we had two more days before we had to be in Christchurch, but the weather was too foul. We ended up at a Hostel in Hokitika on the West Coast. It was much welcomed as hot showers, clean laundry and hot meals were hightly appreciated. We met a bunch of Europeans that evening in the kitchen and spent the rest of the night chatting it up.
The next day we got ahead of the bad weather a bit made our way over Arthur’s Pass. Despite massive burnt-oil smoke coming from my car at every stop and people looking at us asking if we need help, we made it over the pass. We stopped in the little town of Arthur’s Pass to hike up to a waterfall. Here are photos from that drive:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/ArthurSPass


We made it into Christchurch by the evening and I was very shocked as to how dry and hot it was. Much like Eastern Washington in the summer. I guess it makes sense that this is where most of the wineries and agricultural farms are located. So we drove around, got lost and eventually found a campsite outside the city. The city was a bit of a culture shock coming from the past 4 days or so being spent almost entirely not around people. Being Steph’s last night, we drove into town that evening and had a nice Indian dinner…not from a package cooked on a camping stove. It was awesome! We then walked around the city. Taking some pictures and grabbed a drink at an Irish Pub. It was a delightful evening to end an incredible trip on. But the next morning, when I woke up in the back of the Suby and after watching Steph take down the tent, I realized that my trip was not ending. In fact far from it, I had no idea what to do. None! I kind of began freaking out again. We spent the morning re-packing and going out to breakfast in the city at a really awesome little cafe. It was a bit sad. After dropping Steph off at the airport I drove away not really having any idea of where to go or what to do. I felt totally alone again. It was really weird. I decided to spent the day checking out the city. So I parked really far away and walked for like an hour to get into the city. Christchurch feels so much bigger than Wellington, but I think it’s just really spread out. I spent the day walking the streets being super impressed by the English architecture that was all over the city. It’s interesting to me as I was sweating, walking the streets in the close-to 90 degree weather that this city also happens to be the jumping off point for Antarctica for all the ships and research vessels that go there. The museum had some interesting displays on life of the scientists in the frozen oasis. I was also impressed to see a statue in the middle of a gothic city, not dedicated to a war hero but to an 1930’s Antarctic explorer. Hmm. I eventually made it back to the campsite outside the city and felt totally beat by the heat and the city.
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/Christchurch


It was time to move. Not sure where to go the next day I woke up and just started driving north. South I’d be heading to Dunedin, but north there was some towns I’ve been reading about that looked interesting and a bit closer. Better on the budget. I spent the day taking the highway north and checking out beaches on the way. I ended up in the town of Kaikoura, known for it’s massive tourism industry of whale watching and swimming with dolphins. But, Kaikoura is also home to two incredible right point breaks, which lured me. Not a lot of swell, but this area is known for it’s deep water trenches close to shore that can produce swell at any moment, un-announced. The cold, deep water trench is also what lures the large see mammals. Whales, Fur Seals, Dolphins and the occasional White Shark. I feel at home. I show up at this famous right hand break in the evening. I’m shocked to see shoulder to head high glassy waves peeling off the point. Only 3 guys out. I didn’t understand. Where was everyone? If this was the states, no matter how cold, there’d be a hundred guys fighting for these little beauties. But no, this is New Zealand. I paddle out and am instantly welcomed and greeted by the other surfers in the water. They even give me my choice of the first set that rolls through. My first wave was at least a hundred yard ride. I’m not too great on my right side, but surfing waves like these will help for sure. Wave after wave. No stopping. Just surfing. 100 and 150 yard rides. I couldn’t believe it. Almost two hours go by. At one point I’m the only one out. I can’t move. My arms are like giant weights I can no longer lift. But the sets keep coming, and they’re getting bigger. I try to chill for a moment and just check out the scenery. Massive mountains, scraping the sky right in front of me. The water was a beautiful turquoise color and the only sound was the occasional farm truck hurling down the highway. Is this for real. For a moment I felt totally alone. The world can feel so big sometimes, not small like everyone says it is. Its real, scary and exciting all at the same time. I was alive that evening and the burning in my shoulders re-affirmed it. I made my way back to a campsite and pitched my tent on the beach. This will be my home for the next few days. I made dinner, stood in awe at the stars and passed out… hard.
The next day, today, I woke to beautiful blue skies. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I was trying to figure out what all the splashing was just a hundred or so yards from the beach. It took me a moment, but I finally realized that it was hundreds of dolphins swimming and jumping, flipping everywhere! I bust out my camera and tried to take a few shots but they are so quick. It was so incredible. For the next two hours over coffee and breakfast I just sat there watching dolphins do what they do.
http://picasaweb.google.com/ryan.mceliece/Kaikoura



So I guess that pretty much catches you up on my last 10 days or so. I’m in Kaikoura for the moment, living in my tent on the beach. Not sure what’s next as I’m just trying to take each day as it comes and hopefully score some waves while I’m at it. Again, my apologies that this was such a long post, but I had a lot of catching up to do.

PS- I have to give a GIANT internet thank you for all to see to the Miss Stephanie Jaeger. She completely covered ferry and petrol costs of this epic trip and I am forever thankful. She was an awesome travel companion as well. She is greatly missed. You're awesome STEPH!

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I concur; the trip was amazing!! My whole experience was epic (Ryan, your word is perfect here)! Ryan, it was really great to see you, and I hope you continue to have more and more adventures. I must admit, looking at your beautiful pics from Kaikoura, I'm left thinking: "wait, why did I leave again??"

Rock on, dude!