A year in New Zealand
01.02.2016 - 01.07.2016 -4 °C
The last few months in New Zealand have been busy. I have learned that for me to keep a blog, I have to take notes or I get stressed over remembering details and making time to write. This has resulted in me procrastinating. I hope to catch-up those friends and family members that are interested in some of our more entertaining adventures. Below is a jumble of major events in our lives in New Zealand since February. I hope you enjoy.
Most appreciative, we have had a few more visitors. Charles’ sister Tina and her family Mark, Quinn and Devin Thomas stopped in NZ a few days before heading to Australia. Though Mark is Australian, we were able to convince them to stop and enjoy the rival country. We picked them up in Queenstown and drove them over the countryside to Twizel. We had explained that we really do live quite remote, but I think they were surprised after driving 2 hours and only seeing sheep. They got a day at Mount Cook National park, took a chance at catching local salmon and “luged” or rode a sled on wheels down a hill in Queenstown. Unfortunately, the poor weather (exceptional winds) limited their time for exploration in Twizel. Fortunately, later in their trip we were able to meet them in Sydney, Australia and joined them for some tourist activities including gazing at the iconic Sydney Opera House, observing some very active koalas at the Sydney Zoo, exploring a street market and walking partially across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Our second group of visitors was the lovely Sandy Mudge, a fellow Family Doctor I trained with in Boise, and her husband James, a Business Professor at Boise State. Charles and I have been on a few adventures with Jim and Sandy in Idaho so we knew we could plan about anything and they would be up for the challenge. I booked one of the six great bike rides on the South Island called the Rail Trail. Combined with the more challenging Roxburgh Gorge trail on the first day, we spent three days biking across wine country in Central Otago on the South Island. Old railroad bridges/tunnels and quaint cafes/motels kept us entertained as we covered roughly 85 miles or 125 km on our bikes. We finished with a wine tour and enjoyed many of the local pinot noirs. The Central Otago wine region is young but growing rapidly and can be an experience contrasting the established vineyards with the new start-ups. Only complicated by occasional rain and a small wreck when I stylishly ran into a bike parked in the middle of the trail, the bike trip was a great way to see a new part New Zealand.
Thanks for the visits! We miss you!
In early march, we took the opportunity to travel to Australia. As hinted at above, we spent the first few days in Sydney. I like Sydney. The city is vibrant with great food, fashion, art, and appreciation for the surrounding ocean/beaches and rugged outback. It also has one of the most functional public transportation systems I have ever experienced. You can buy an Opal pass and smoothly transfer between bus, train, ferry, and hire a bike without hesitation. Following the tourist activities with the Thomas family, we took time to visit the famous surf site, Bondi Beach, relaxed on the grass in the Sydney Botanical Gardens while enjoying a rehearsal for that nights opera, and took photos, lots of photos, of the Sydney Opera House from many different points in the city. I hope we get to go back again before the end of our time in the Southern Hemisphere.
Following Sydney, we flew to Brisbane and rented a campervan to drive up the Sunshine Coast of Australia. Our van was a hi-top van with a small kitchen in the back that converted into a bed at night; perfect way to explore Australia without having to sleep outside with all the venomous creatures of the outback. Australia does stay true reputation regarding dangerous creatures. Giant spiders, snakes, sharks, jelly fish, and bats the size of a cat are to name just a few of the animals we were lucky to experience personally. One evening at camp, we were playing a game of cribbage and heard a rustle in a nearby small palm tree. Charles decided to go explore and nearly got pelted in the chest by a large bat (literally 1 meter wing span). I tried not to laugh; terrifying and funny all at the same time.
Outside of Brisbane we took a ferry to Moreton Island, an island composed primarily of sand dunes and a well known international 4x4 driving track. We primarily went to snorkel at a shipwreck site roughly 50 meters off the southern beach of the island. Although the water was murky due to wind, it was a memorable scene to see all the 4x4 trucks, gear, and type of people who owned the gear.
North of Brisbane, we primarily stayed along the coast relaxing on various beaches from Mooloolaba to Noosa. Our farthest north destination was Bundaburg. Here we took a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef. The travel out the reef was over open ocean water and was an extremely rough boat ride resulting in multiple people around us getting seasick. Overall, it was worth the bumpy ride because the reef was some of the most beautiful snorkeling I have every experienced. We got distracted exploring and didn’t take any photos; but really it is one of those things you have to see in person. We feel fortunate to have made it out to the reef even more now. Over the last few months, there has been a lot of worry and press about a large bleaching or dying off event of roughly 30% of the Great Barrier Reef due to uncommonly warm ocean temperatures. Very sad.
We have definitely become more active while living in New Zealand. Overall, physical activity is more engrained in the daily life of Kiwis. From hiking to hunting to biking to skiing, they are always getting outside and exercising. After being pressured by one of my nurses, I decided to sign up for one of the local weekend races, the Women’s Configure Sprint Triathlon. I have done a race as part of a team in the past, however I have never completed a whole race myself. The race distances were not that far including a 300 meter swim plus a 16 kilometer bike and a 5 kilometer run. I started “training” roughly 5 weeks before the event. It was a great way to see the local area by running/biking the area trails and swimming in the local pool or lakes. A couple weekends, I met my nurse Ange at Lake Ruitaniwha (Ru-tan-ni-fa), the main lake near Twizel used for boating, kayaking and crew races. Initially confident about my tolerance of cold water after growing up in Montana, I was taken off guard by a near hypothermic event. Ego bruised a bit, I bought a wet suit. Similar to lakes in Montana, the local lakes are glacial fed. I think the difference is that you can see glaciers that feed the lake while actually swimming in the lake in New Zealand…….
The triathlon could not have been more beautiful, located in Arrowtown, a quiet “suburb” of Queenstown. Race day went well. Though my strongest leg of the race is swimming, my swim time was poor due to moderate waves on the lake. I still met my goals of finishing the race and not walking during the run. The best part of the race was the atmosphere of support from the locals. The race was exclusively women, many of whom it was their first race. It was great to hear the cheers as the last women crossed the finish line. She was part of a weight loss challenge and it was extraordinary to see the support for the larger women exercising. Although I have re-confirmed my dislike of running, I hope to complete another race soon.
We still try to do at least one longer trip per month. Last month we took the Tranz-Alpine railroad through Arthur’s Pass across the South Island to the West Coast. We decided to catch the train in Darfield, a small town outside of Christchurch. The morning of departure, we were already running late for the train. We arrive in Darfield and pulled up to the train tracks. We look left and right and didn’t see a train station. We drove around the small town of ~ 300 inhabitants twice without locating the station. I convinced Charles to stop at a petrol station and ask for directions. The clerk points across the road at a tiny 4ft by 8ft shed missing a wall sitting next to the tracks. We cross the street, get out our backpacks and our bikes, walk up to the shed and down the track comes the train. The train stops for a total 2 minutes, just enough time to get our gear on the train and hop inside. A classic rural New Zealand experience.
The train ride over the pass to the West Coast was beautiful. The multicolored autumn leaves scattered across the different ecosystems as we ascended elevation from the seaside to alpine terrain were memorable. Our destination on the West Coast was Greymouth and Hokitika. We took our bikes to ride the West Coast Wilderness Trail, another one of the great rides on the South Island. I again booked accommodations though Airbnb. We stayed with a lovely couple from Brazil. To Charles dismay, our only transportation was our bikes. The bed and breakfast was located up a small to moderate hill. So, if we wanted to go into town for shopping or dinner or at the end of a day of riding, we repetitively had to climb the hill on our way home. I maybe should have considered this when making reservations.
We spent our first day on the West Coast in Greymouth. The weather was hit or miss and we spent most of our time there at the local brewery, Monteiths. Over the next two days, we completed a portion of the West Coast Wilderness bike trail. It was a beautiful mix of rainforest, large river deltas and birchwood covered mountains with small quaint towns like “Cowboy’s Paradise” along the way. Our ride ended in Hokitika, a small beach town known for jade carving. We spent a day in Hokitika shopping and stayed with a very British ex-cop at a local bed and breakfast. Our host had many memorable opinions and may have resembled a cast member from Reno 911. The weekend ended with a shuttle back to Greymouth and a return train ride back across the island.
With the recent onset of cooler temperature, our adventures have slowed down a little. Work is also slower with fewer visitors to the South Island. We still get out most weekends for a bike or a hike. Mount Cook National Park is very close and our default is a local hike in the park. The beauty of the tallest peak in New Zealand, its glaciers and lakes can be seen in many of our photos. However, overall winter has ascended on us fast. Snow falls regularly on the hills behind our house and frost covers the ground most mornings. Though we are most recently from Idaho. It just feels colder in New Zealand at times. Minus 5 Celsius or 16 degrees Fahrenheit is cold. Maybe it’s a mix of the proximity to the ocean and the high elevation. When we first arrived in NZ, our house was only heated with a small fireplace. We bought wood for winter. But after a few weeks, we got tired to waking up to a house that was nearing freezing temperatures. We have since bought slippers, a heated blanket, wool base layers and have pressured our property manager for a heat pump. We are apparently not as tough as the local Kiwis.
We have made a few friends locally and continue to appreciate Kiwi generosity. A few weekends ago, another local, James, who works on the ambulance took us up in his plane. He has a very tiny 2 seater Microlite plane that he built. The tiniest and lightest plane I have ever seen, constructed from material similar to canvas. A mild adrenaline activity being 7000 ft in the air over giant mountain peaks in a tiny plane, but overall the best way to see and experience the Southern Alps. James took both Charles and I up in the plane. He showed us local landmarks and let us fly a little. It had snowed a few days before flying and the mountains were beautifully dusted with snow. Imagine sharp peaks, teal glacial water, numerous scree, scattered pine forest and the distant ocean on the horizon.
If you have made it to the end of this blog post, I commend you and thank you for being interested in our lives. We fortunately just left the New Zealand cold for one week and are in Fiji. Following an injury to my foot on coral, we are spending the week relaxing on the beach. I wrote most of this blog sitting on the beach under palm trees blowing in the breeze. Our goals for the next few months are to stay warm, ski occasionally, visit a few more cities on the South Island and expand our hobbies (I’m slowly learning how to crochet). We have learned a lot about working in New Zealand a hope to write another post soon about healthcare and building practices locally. Stay tuned.