Vicki's New Zealand

Christmas Eve, 2008—Mordor—Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Yes, we are in Mordor and this afternoon walked the path that Frodo, Sam and Gollum took out of Emyn Muil and into Mordor. Yesterday, I walked through Bilbo Baggins door at Bag End and took the first step “out the door” and onto The Road Goes Ever On. I had my picture made in front of the Party Tree and collected bark from the oak that grew from the top of Bag End. I am in Hobbit heaven and having a very Merry and unforgettable Christmas. What is missing is sharing it with family and friends. When I bought the cheese for our Christmas Eve fondue today, I wished the deli clerk a Merry Christmas and started crying. But we are having a good Christmas.

We have a tiny tree that was strapped down in the van and tonight we are in a hotel (the highest in New Zealand) on the flanks of a volcano with two more right next door. We have moved the tree onto the tv set and laid out the presents. For dinner we clandestinely made cheese fondue on our one burner stove and then chocolate fondue with fruit. We have also managed to squeeze in watching half of Christmas Vacation on our Ipod and a quick trip to the hot tub. After presents and a hotel breakfast in the morning

Vacation on our Ipod and a quick trip to the hot tub. After presents and a hotel breakfast in the morning we head off for Ohakune to see Ithilien and part of the River Anduin. We have a very busy next three days leaving the Shire and visiting Wellington before we take the ferry to the South Island and start our first 5 day trek along the coastline at Abel Tasmin Park.

I am very behind in my blog as we only allowed 2 weeks for the North Island and it needs about 2 months. We have been camping most nights and sightseeing and driving from early in the morning to late in the evening. There has been lots of light since as you know, December 21st is the longest day of the year! Having summer in December takes a lot of getting used to even for native Floridians.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Vicki

January 5, 2009-- Motueka, South Island, New Zealand

We are just back from the 5 day Abel Tasman Tramp and it was spectacular. The scenery would remind you of what the California coast must have been 80 years ago—but with more tropical vegetation. It was exactly what one would expect Hawaii to be if you could get ¾ of the people not to go there. Here a crowded beach in mid afternoon would have 4-5 kayaks pulled ashore with perhaps 6-8 people actually on the beach itself. In the morning and after late afternoon most of the coves were deserted, especially in the far Northern areas. What really appealed to me were the waterfalls with granite boulders and wonderful pools—so if you wanted to take a dip without the salt you could. Of course the water is quite cold by a native Miamian standards, but for you who grew up swimming in the Flathead it would be fine.

New Zealand is such a beautiful place that Mark and I have quite fallen in love with it. If we didn't have so many ties back to the States, I think we would seriously think about moving here. Property costs about half to 2/3 of similar US because salaries are also lower. But even though most of you think we are quite adventurous, we are too timid to leave so many friends, family, and places we love behind. However, a six month trip back here after Europe would now be high on our agenda.

January 12, 2000--Arrowtown, near Queenstown, New Zealand

We stayed last night in our first "wild camping" at the end of a day hike into a fabulous canyon with Rob Roy Glacier at the end of it. Basically we haven't wild camped as much as we thought we would. Part of that is being strangers in a strange land, but also because of the sand flies. These are terrible in rural areas with lots of grass and bushes. It was very windy last night so they weren't a problem, but they were back this morning, so we packed up as quickly as possible. Today we drove to some additional LOR sites on our way to Queenstown. We are in the public library now--we had to pay (though only $1) to check email, so I thought I would use the rest of the time to blog. We did stay two nights in a backpacker's lodge in Wanaka and were very pleased with it. It was only $36 a night whereas camping without hookups would have been $18. We had our own room and the bath was down the hall. It was nice to be inside--the kitchen had everything including a blender, dishes, even special shelves in cupboard and refrigerator labeled with your room number. We spent more to rent a van we could sleep in, but had we known how great and easy the backpacker accomodations were, we might have gone with just a car and ended up paying about the same in total per day. We still hope to come back in the next few years for 4-6 months. I know we won't do the van route as we can barely climb up into the roof bed now! We are starting to think about buying the camper for Europe so that is exciting, too. I am also excited about getting back to Missoula for visits with our friends--whom I miss very much.

January 19, 2009--Queenstown

We are just packing up to head to the Morevia Lakes and Te Anua region. There we will visit Fanghorn Forest ,another Ring site, but also begin the Milford Sound Trek which National Geographic proclaimed as the Best Hike in the World. Ever since the 80s it has been highly regulated. (We booked on July 15) Only 40 people can begin the 4 day hike each day. There is no camping allowed, everyone must stay in the huts and everyone hikes it in the same direction. The first day will only be about 2 hrs of walking as you have to take a 30 min bus ride from Te Anua to the start, then a boat to the actual start. I am most worried about days 3 and 4. Day 3 is 10 miles with a 1500 ft elevation gain and a 3000 ft descent over the pass. That is a lot for my knees even with the braces on. I have not done that much on this trip while carrying a pack. The 4th and last day is long for me at 12 miles but after day 3 I'm sure my legs will be talking to me. Unfortunately, the last boat that takes you to the lodge at the end of the road leaves at 3:15. There is no trail, so if we miss it, we spend the night without a tent at a wonderful place called Sandfly Point. We have been getting ready--and I think I can do it--I just hate having a deadline to worry about. We will spend two nights at Milford Sound at the backpackers lodge and kayak part of the sound after a rest day. Then we catch a bus back the 60 miles to Te Anua. One nice thing is that we can send a pack ahead on the bus to the lodge so that we can have a change of clothes and other amenities that we wouldn't be able to carry in on our backs. Mark and I have learned to backpack very light. It is great for the diet. If you have no food, you can't get fat!

I think Mark is doing a pretty good job in describing everything. Of course, he doesn't have the proper respect for the Ring sites we are visiting. But in reality he is really enjoying them as he is a big fan of the movies. Trying to find some of them has been difficult as we don't have a GPS and some of Brodie's directions are none too clear. Also some things have changed in the 8 years since the movies were made and 5 years since the location book was written. The hunt has taken us to many places we would have missed otherwise. It has reminded us of our trip to Europe in 1989. When we were in England and France we did a lot of hunting for menhirs and other paleolithic sites for Mark and then many fairytale and children's sites for the girls based on a book called Heidi's Alp. It really adds another dimension to a trip when you can drink from the spring that Heidi did (unfortunately, so did her sheep.)

January 27, 2009—Te Anau

I did it! I did not have to be rescued by helicopter. I tramped (the correct Kiwi word) the four days of the “finest walk in the world,” the Milford Trek. Considering the last 3 days were 10 miles, 10 miles with 1700 ft of ascent and 3400 ft of descent, and then 12 miles—I am quite proud. Certainly the hardest 3 days I have done in a very long time. In Montana our limit for hiking was about 8 miles a day—we don't like to rush. Well, basically I can't be rushed—my knees just won't take rush. However, the first rest day I could hardly walk—much better now on day 3 off the tramp. It was worth it—it is a very well maintained trail, much better that ones in the Rocky Mountains. But I would only rate it as one of the finest walks in the world—not the finest.

Yesterday we had a nice half day kayak trip out into Milford Sound—which is not a sound at all, but a misnamed fiord. Again quite nice but not not as good as the build up. Milford Sound is the holy of holies in New Zealand tourism. Certainly worth doing—but I think the cruise to the end of the sound might have been better in this case. Kayaks are fun, but you can't go very far.

We start the Routeburn Trek on the 29th. It is a 3 day but we decided to backtrack and make it a four day and come out where we started. Otherwise we have to spend about $150 and 8 hours to ride 3 different buses back around to this side. We also already did most of the very last day on our day hike out of Glenorchy a week or so ago. That will only give us one rest day before we do a short two-day walk of the first part of the Kepler. But since the Routeburn is easier than the Milford, and I assume I am getting stronger, I hope that 1 day's rest will be enough.

Well, I need to go check the dryer and spend some time on the Internet at the library trying to figure out what we are doing in our 3 weeks in Hawaii other than our hike on the Kauai coast.

February 9, 2009—Auckland

Today we gain back the day we lost last September. However, we spend it in the air. Ten hours from Auckland to Tokyo and then an unknown number to Honolulu. I can't even remember my last blog post. My knee has finally decided it has had all it can take of trekking or even walking, so I have had to be careful of it the last few days. So much for my theory that if I just exercised it a lot, it would return to youthful health.

We did buy a Big Island Lonely Planet guide in Dunedin and have enough info now to make rough plans. However culture shock is surely going to set in, especially with prices. Even budget rooms seem to be $100 a night. We did finally find rental cars that were reasonable Maybe we will take this homeless stuff all the way and just sleep in the car. We do plan on trying tent camping at Volcano National Park—if it's not raining, that is. Backpacking tents aren't much fun in tropical rainstorms. Four weeks from today we will be back in Missoula. I am more excited about that then even seeing Kauai and Hawaii.