Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Great Outdoors

In our final weeks in Te Anau, we did two of the most incredible things I’ve ever done: completed a 3-day hiking trip and kayaked/camped in a national park. Neither Cody or I consider ourselves outdoorsy but in New Zealand it’s hard not to be. Everywhere you turn there is another opportunity to explore the outdoors, witness extraordinary scenery and challenge yourself physically. And that is exactly what we did when we completed the Kepler Track and kayaked Doubtful Sound.

Of the thousands of hiking/walking trails in New Zealand, the Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks (those voted to be the most beautiful, challenging, etc.) All of these trails are well marked and maintained by the Department of Conservation (kind of like our DNR). There are hundreds of day-walks but many of the hikes delve deep into the mountains and forests. In order to complete these lengthier hikes, you must (pay to) book a space in the cabins along the trail with the DOC. Most cabins contain bunk beds, running water and toilets, kitchen tables/chairs and gas stoves. This means you must carry your clothing, sleeping bag, food, and cookware all on your back. Though we packed only essentials, lugging all our crap up a mountain seemed damn near impossible for these two novice outdoorsmen. If we had also managed to drag our diary along with us, it might have read something like this:

Day One: The DOC estimates a 6-hour hike to the first cabin. We begin around 11 am. It is a beautiful, sunny day and we are feeling optimistic. The first two hours follow the shore of Lake Te Anau and the land is mostly flat. We are constantly adjusting our enormous backpacks but we quickly learn that trying to make them comfortable is futile.

The ascent to Mount Luxmore begins and doesn’t let up over the next 2-½ hours. We begin shedding layers down to our shorts and t-shirts. Minutes later our shirts are drenched in sweat. We take several short breaks to catch our breath and sip water. We stop for lunch as we near the bush line – where the forest ends and reveals an incredible view of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Once we’ve reached the edge of the forest, the cold wind whips around us and the trail flattens. A half hour later we reach the cabin and cannot wait for dinner. Tonight’s menu: a packet of instant chicken noodle soup and a bag of dehydrated chicken, veggies and rice (astronaut food, anyone?). We crawl into our sleeping bags around 10 pm.

Day Two: We wake up to the sound of other hikers packing up around 7 am (sadly, the earliest either of us has been up since arriving in NZ). Our calves are stiff as we climb out of bed and eat our breakfast of granola bars and fruit. The cabin is busy as hikers hustle to start today’s hike in hopes of beating the rain that should be here by early afternoon. We follow suit and are soon out the door.
The first step of today’s hike is uphill. I am immediately sweating under the multiple layers I’ve piled on to combat the wind at Luxmore’s peak. Just ten minutes in we’re stopping to catch our breath and shed layers. The view is ridiculous and gets better and better as we continue hiking. About an hour in we’ve reached the peak and have thrown the first snowballs of the day.
The trail winds around to the other side of Mount Luxmore where it is cold, windy and beginning to drizzle. Layers go back on. Hats and mittens make first appearance. We welcome the small decent leading to a narrow ridge that leads to another mountain peak. We cross several of these ridges throughout the day. The view is spectacular – miles and miles of seemingly untouched nature. If you forget about the handful of other hikers you’ve seen that day it feels as if you’re the only person in the world.
After a stop for lunch, we begin descending. We’ve been looking forward to going downhill all day. Boy, were we in for a surprise. Turns out going downhill is just as difficult, if not more, than going up. After about 45 minutes of steep decline, my legs feel like jelly. And hour later and my joints are aching. I know Cody is sick of hearing me whine, but shouldn’t we be to the next cabin by now?

We finally reach the river valley where the next cabin is located after 6 hours and 45 minutes of hiking. We lie down for a nap before dinner and pass out almost instantly. My muscles are unbelievably sore by dinnertime. Soup and dehydrated beef and rice are not enough to fill us up but we have to make the rest of our food last. My stomach growls as I climb back into my sleeping back and try to count how many calories we burned today.

Day Three: I’m in pain from the moment I open my eyes. Absolutely every inch of me hurts. My collarbones are sore and swollen where my backpack rests. My hands and neck are covered in sandfly bites (perhaps the only bugs worse than mosquitoes, these suckers don’t make any noise to warn you of their presence, they don’t move when you swat at them, and their bites last for weeks). I wince in pain and catch a whiff of myself (yuck) as I make my way to breakfast. Granola and fruit is incredibly unsatisfying to my battered body.
Today’s hike is the longest but it’s also the flattest. Honestly at this point my body can’t even tell the difference. Every step hurts and with my last ounce of optimism I tell myself, “Mind over matter.” I force Cody to talk to me about anything and everything in order to distract me. He does his best but there’s no way of ignoring the physical pain and exhaustion we’re both suffering.
For about the last 3-1/2 hours we’re surround by forest and the scenery is, quite frankly, boring compared to the breathtaking landscape of yesterday’s alpine hike. We’re both pretty miserable but have no other option but to forge on. When we reach the edge of Lake Manapouri, we find a beach, sit in the sun and relax for a few minutes. It is the highlight of our day.
With an hour and a half left of the hike, we tease each other about all the delicious fatty food we will eat when we get back to Te Anau. If anything could make us move faster at that point it was the promise of burgers and beer. After 7 hours and 15 minutes, we arrive at Rainbow Reach. We’ve hiked 32 miles in the 3 days. We take a bus back to our car in a parking lot at the beginning of the track. We drive straight to a bar/restaurant and indulge.

The Kepler Track was an experience like we’ve never had. We walked with limps for the next week. And we’re still scratching at a dozen or so sandfly bites. But all of the pain and suffering was worth it. It always is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Ride of the Rings

A couple weeks ago we made a trip the nearby city of Queenstown. Queenstown attracts adrenaline junkies from all over the world in search of their next thrill. Whether it’s skydiving, bungee jumping, paragliding, or zorbing (rolling in a giant plastic ball down a hill – kind of like a hamster. Yes, people pay to do this.) Queenstown’s got it. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet saved up enough to take part in any of these activities. No, this trip we participated in a much less intense, if not dorkier, activity. We rode The Ride of the Rings.

Just north of Queenstown, in an area appropriately named Paradise, we visited several film sites of The Lord of the Rings trilogy while riding horseback. Since arriving in New Zealand, Cody had been adamant about visiting as many LOTR sites as possible. Though I may not share his passion for the films, this trip proved to be one of the coolest things we’ve done. And as usual, I cannot say enough about the natural beauty of this country.

After several days of rain, the day of The Ride turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day. Our spirits were high during the van ride from the stables to the location of The Ride. As we neared Paradise, it became obvious why this land would be a film director’s dream. Crystal-clear glacial waters, emerald rolling hills, picturesque snow-capped mountains: no computer imaging necessary. We learned then that Paradise had also been used for the recent X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Remember the scenes in which Hugh Jackman is hiding on the farm of the elderly couple…or more specifically, the scenes in which he is running through the fields naked? Turns out naked Wolverine was sprinting just meters away from the Battle of Isengard. Needless to say, this piqued Cody’s nerdy-ness to the max.

The Ride lasted about two hours and took us past the locations of fight scenes between Aragorn and the Ura’kai, to the edge of the forest of the ents, and the mountain in which they placed the digital image of the Tower of Isengard. (My apologies to our non-nerd readers. Like you, I found the naked Hugh Jackman scenes much more interesting.) And though we didn’t actually see any sword-wielding hobbits or elves running around, we were in the presence of one movie star. Oscar, the horse I rode that day, starred in the final LOTR film during the Battle of Gondor. Our guide explained that the director originally planned to use roughly 2,000 horses for this scene in which the Knights of Rohan charge towards The Forces of Mordor. But when that proved improbable, he settled for 200-300, which would then be made to look like 2,000 using digital imaging. Since the 200-300 horses would be copied and pasted and appear several times in one shot, they had to be “average-looking,” meaning average size, black or brown, and no distinguishing marks. They also had to be able to stand the loud noises of the battle scene and not be disturbed by the other hundreds of horses around. My baby Oscar made the cut and appears 10-20 times in a single scene.

We had such a great time on The Ride of Rings. But this wouldn’t be our last trip to Queenstown. In fact, we were back the very next weekend.

The following week we requested three days off for Thanksgiving and our 10k race. We may be in another country, but we were looking forward to spending the day honoring the American tradition of cooking all day and more importantly, indulging. Turkey isn’t common here but we managed to locate one in a grocery store in a bigger city a few hours away. And it only cost 45 bucks! We spent the whole morning preparing our first turkey as Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. We knew this year’s Thanksgiving wouldn’t be quite the same but we were determined to make it feel as normal as possible. We also prepared mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls (alright, they were store-bought), and apple pie (“). (They don’t sell pumpkin in a can here; otherwise we would’ve definitely included pumpkin pie!) While we waited for our bird to finish cooking, we sipped beers and watched a couple football movies. It almost felt like home. Almost.

When the food was finally ready, we stuffed ourselves in true American style. We were so proud of ourselves. Afterward, we crawled over to the couch and promptly passed out in front of the TV.

The next day we headed back to Queenstown. We planned to spend the night as our race was held there early Saturday morning. When we arrived Friday afternoon we did some Christmas shopping downtown (oddly enough, I have never actually been shopping on “Black Friday” back home but it seemed strange that we weren’t surrounded by mobs of people pushing each other out of the way for Tickle-Me-Elmo.)

We went to bed early that night and awoke with butterflies in our tummies the next morning. Fortunately, it was another beautiful sunny day. At the race site, we signed in, received our numbers and looked around nervously at the other racers. I was positive that everyone knew immediately that we were amateurs. (We were the only ones in cotton t-shirts – that is, the only ones without fancy polypropylene sweat-wicking workout gear.) I was terrified and certain that by the time I crossed the finish line everyone would have already packed up and headed home. But there was no backing out now.

I ended up competing in the 5k as a couple injuries had hindered my training. (But I’m determined to complete a 10k in our next race!) Cody completed the 10k in just over an hour. Neither of us cared about our times, we just wanted to do it.

Afterwards, we both felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. So we decided to reward ourselves for all our hard work. This of course meant oversized cheeseburgers and beer. De-lish.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What the heck is a fiord, anyway?

It has been a busy month! We apologize for keeping everyone waiting for so long!

Recently, we made the trip to Milford Sound. Like almost all trips in New Zealand, the drive is half of the adventure. We started off the day taking the highway north towards Milford. Guess what? The view and the scenery were absolutely beautiful. The road was windy and narrow (you may have noticed is a common theme.) The drive may only take an hour and half but it seems that the terrain changes with every kilometer. One moment you’ll be on a small stretch of road that cuts through a plain with the mountains on the horizon, the next moment you’ll find yourself plunging into a patch of forest. To make the most of this breathtaking drive, there are several “lookout points,” or areas where you can pull over to take pictures. Actually, there are enough lookout points that some people suggest giving yourself up to 3 hours for the trip to Milford Sound.

During a stretch of road that began climbing through the mountains, there was a lookout point about 100 yards off the main road where we made our third or fourth stop for a photo opportunity. Needing to take care of some business, I scurried off past the tree line while Jen got the camera ready. On my way back, I began to worry because Jen was nowhere in sight. Nearing the car, I noticed that there were three birds hopping up and down on our car picking at the windshield wipers. This marked our first experience with the Kea.

Kea birds are extremely curious and sometimes aggressive birds that have been known to steal food and tear apart backpacks in search of food. They sort of resemble overgrown parrots with much sharper beaks. As these three birds hopped all over the car, I discovered that Jen was stuck inside it and was video taping them. A few other backpackers enjoyed taking pictures of the funny birds while I was able to shoo them off of the car. When the kea began bouncing around chasing each other and quickly became interested in another vehicle, Jen was able to escape captivity.

The lookout point was a cliff that looked off into the forest covered mountains, which we thought was a great opportunity for some jump pictures. We spent some time taking turns doing jump pictures with this beautiful background and huddling over the camera laughing at one another. When we were about to move along, Jen whispered to me to check out some other tourists that joined us at the lookout point. My jaw dropped when I noticed that the tourists were doing jump pictures! I stifled some laughter while this small group tried, very poorly I might add, to capture a jump picture time and time again. We got into the car and started to back out when Jen alerted me that the trend was catching on all over the place. Another group of tourists were also copying our “jump picture tradition.” Sometimes it’s hard being this cool.

We continued our way to the Milford Sound crossing a small mountain range where we drove through the famous Homer tunnel that cut straight through the mountains. Once we made it to Milford Sound, we quickly bought our tickets for a cruise and started on a short walk towards the bay. On the boat, we were able to really enjoy the overcast and cloudy weather. We weren’t that disappointed because we already knew what we were getting into. The Milford Sound is known for perpetual rainfall and is known as one of the wettest areas of the world. We found out, actually, that Milford Sound isn’t even a sound. It’s a fiord, which is a valley in the mountains that has been carved out by a glacier and reaches the ocean. The cruise continued out on one side for 40 minutes until it reached the ocean. Then it turned around and headed back to the bay along the opposite side. We made it to the ocean and began to turn around when the captain got on the intercom to tell us that everyone should rush to the left side of the boat to see penguins. Our penguin count is now up to three! The boat turned around once again to head back to the bay and passed by some amazing cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls. We also saw about a dozen more sea lions doing what they do best: nothing.

Once we stepped off the boat we began our journey back to Te Anau. With another 279 pictures in the bank, it was another adventure well worth it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Te amo Te anau

Time to start new jobs! After about two months of traveling, we were ready to settle down a little and get some money back in our pockets. We had our first meeting with our German bosses who own the two businesses where we will be working. That night Jen worked at the café and Cody worked at the steak house. We were excited to work and make some new friends! However, at both businesses, we came to realize that every coworker is a native German speaker. So, like our German bosses, we realized that the whole time in Te Anau (possibly until the end of March) we are going to be dealing with language barriers. We've slowly been adjusting to the blank stares after using American slang or expressions. It all has been a learning experience.

Our direct boss is Maria (the wife of the German couple) and is always there to hover over our shoulders, pouncing on our mistakes with a barrage of broken English. When learning how to make pizzas on his busy second day in the café, Cody made a pizza with too much crust. Fortunately, Maria was over his shoulder ready to pounce. “Cody! You push toppings to corners!” Cody couldn’t help but respond by laughing and telling Maria that there are no corners on a circle.
Despite Cody’s pizza-making mistakes, it seems that the German couple are not shy about handing out responsibilities with their business. On Jen’s third day of work with only one day of training, (she was trained by someone who had been at the café for only four days) Jen was given the responsibility of opening the café on her own. Not a problem, right? I mean neither of us knew how to log on to the computer system, start the pizza oven, or even how to make half the things on the menu. After an odd morning rush, a manager that doesn’t pick up phone calls, and a few burnt pizzas, we made it out alive, but not without giving Maria a small piece of our minds.

Te Anau is a small town whose economy primarily survives on tourism. Some estimates say the town starts off with a population of 1,000 but mushrooms to 15,000 during the busy summer season because of the nearby attractions. The small town is almost completely surrounded by the mountains of the Fiordland National Park and attracts people from all over the world. Some of Te Anau’s tourism businesses include small plane rides over Lake Te Anau and through some of the National Park, sail boating across Lake Te Anau, and is the entrance to the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

We have done some reading about the Great Walks of New Zealand, but we wanted to get some more information about this Kepler Track before we did anything crazy. We found out that it is a 60 Km (37.3 miles) hiking trail that followed some of the shore of Lake Te Anau before diving right into the fiordland and coming full circle to the entrance point. This entrance point was about an hour and fifteen minute walk from our house. Obviously, this Great Walk is not supposed to accomplished in one day, so you are required to register for the checkpoint huts along the path (there are only 4 or 5 such hut locations). The huts are placed between 2 to 6 hour walking distances apart and only include the essentials: running water, shelter, and a bed. However, if you are hardcore enough, you could simply use the two free campsites along the track. Cody soon found out that part of the Kepler Track was host to one of the many filming locations for the Lord of the Rings movies. Also, the filming site is only an hour walk into the track. This was more than enough information for him to act like a 3 year old wanting to go to Disneyland. So, we made a day trip to hike up some of the path and back.

We soon found out why it is considered one of the Great Walks. Not only was the track incredibly beautiful, but also physically demanding. When discussing plans about walking the whole Kepler Track, Cody was quick to say that a 4-hour hike in between the hut locations shouldn’t be bad at all. Carrying just a light bag, Cody couldn’t wait to flop on the couch after the 4-hour walk. We only were on the flat portion of the track and he was already whining! Turns out, we are going to need to prepare for this adventure when we plan on doing the whole thing.

So now that we have somewhat settled down in one place, we couldn’t help but visit the info center and come home with a handful of pamphlets to map out our future adventures. One adventure we have on our horizon is on November 28th we are going to run a 10k! We have been spending our afternoons for the past 6 weeks training and are going to sign up sometime this week for a 10k race in Queenstown (a popular town that is only a two hour drive away). We are very grateful that we have each other to train for this (running is neither of our strong points) because we have been pushing each other and making sure we get out and run. But for those tough days, sometimes the only thing that is getting us through the workout is the promise of beer and chocolate once we’re finished.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wizards, sea lions, and penguins...oh my!

By the 14th, we left Timaru and never looked back. We journeyed 2 hours south (without mechanical breakdown!) to the city of Dunedin. We didn't know much about the city before arriving other than it was a college town and home to the brewery of our favorite New Zealand beer, Speight's Golden Ale. But as we descended the first of what would be countless hills into Dunedin, we soon discovered that our days in the coastal city would be filled with absolutely gorgeous scenery.

We checked into a hostel atop another of Dunedin's enormous hills. This was no ordinary hostel, however. No, this one was called Hogwartz and was completely Harry Potter-themed. For these two dorks, sleeping across the hall from the door to Gringotts was almost as exciting as meeting HP himself. That evening we walked around the downtown area until it began raining. This confirmed our tentative plans to return to Hogwartz to watch one of the Harry Potter movies.

The next day we took advantage of the sunshine and drove the the Otago peninsula just outside of the city. This turned out to be one of the best days we've had since arriving in New Zealand. The very narrow and windy road along the coast of peninsula was a bit terrifying at first but the view was breathtaking. We drove for about 45 minutes (making several stops to take pictures) until we arrived at New Zealand's one and only castle. There we took a self-guided tour of the inside of the castle and the gardens. From the tower at the top of the castle we could see all of the peninsula and Dunedin.

A half hour drive from the castle took us to the very tip of the peninsula where there is a huge albatross conservatory. "Alba-what?," you say? We'd never heard of them either. Albatross are basically enormous seagulls and they are nearly extinct here in New Zealand. The birds themselves aren't exactly exciting to look at but the cliffs they live on along the coast were incredible.

Instead of driving along the coast on the trip back to the city, we took Highcliff Road which provided us with a totally different view of the peninsula. It was amazing. Ignoring the insanely windy roads and dangerously huge cliffs with very few guard rails, this trip was one of the coolest things we've ever done. Beautiful green hills speckled with sheep and newborn lambs passed by our windows and in the background lay sandy white beaches and the deep blue water.

About halfway back, we stopped at Sandfly Bay. Here we took a 40 minute walk down to a beach where you can see sea lions and penguins in their natural habitat. The walk begins at the top of a hill (next to a green field filled with sheep, of course) and leads you down to the beach where the sea lions are burying themselves in sand after a long day of hunting for food in the sea.

You can pass them (giving them plenty of space and not disturbing them) and walk to the end of the beach where you hide in a small wooden shelter to view the penguins on the rocks at the bottom of the nearby cliff. These penguins apparently scare pretty easily and so you must be very quiet inside the shelter. We stayed there for about 45 minutes and ended up seeing only one penguin (thanks to some loud and obnoxious people scaring them off). Nonetheless, it as quite an experience.

On our second day in Dunedin it was raining again and we were pretty sure that nothing could top our day on the Otago peninsula. We were wrong. In one glorious day we toured a chocolate factory and a brewery. Both tours were complete with plenty of samples which made for big belly ache at the end of the day. Totally worth it.

By the morning of the 17th, it was time to begin our trip to the west side of the south island. After a four hour drive, we arrived at our new home in Te Anau. We are renting a room in a small house that we share with 3 other girls. Our roommates are backpackers like us and are all very nice. Cody and I are in the master bedroom with the master bathroom, so luckily Cody doesn't have to share a bathroom with 4 girls. The house is in a new development near Lake Te Anau and is surrounded by mountains. It is really cool to be surrounded by beautiful scenery the second you step out the door.

We met with our bosses and began our new jobs the very next day. Our bosses, Franz and Maria, are German and immigrated to NZ about 6 years ago. They own the Naturally Fiordland Cafe and Settler's Steakhouse in downtown Te Anau. Our shifts are split up between the two restaurants. Our first week on the job has been...interesting. But that is another entry altogether.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hello Bluebird. So long Timaru.

It’s hard to believe but our time here in Timaru is almost up! The past few weeks have been filled with lots of tomato picking and leaf trimming, a few walks along the country roads of the Canterbury plains, several trips to the library to lounge and read, one more car purchase, and a trip to the most beautiful lake in New Zealand.
Last week, we scrapped together the last of our savings to buy another car. This time we were a little smarter about it. We shopped around for a bit and ended up buying a car our bosses had seen while driving through the small town next to Timaru. The man selling the Nissan Bluebird has had about 3 of them and likes to fix them up and sell them again. He knew everything there was to know about the car as he had done all of the work on it himself. After a few test-drives it was a done deal. Though our budget is a bit tight now, we’re really excited to get back on the road and see more of this beautiful country.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from the greenhouse and drove about an hour and a half to Lake Tekapo. The lake is made from glacier water, which gives it an incredible turquoise color. Its unreal! Along the shore of the lake is an old church. It can’t hold more than 20 people but it sure has an amazing view. There are also several walking/hiking trails around the lake. We unknowingly chose the steepest one but with frequent breaks (filled with several disbelieving looks at each other and arguments over whether we should turn back) we somehow managed to tough it out. Making it to the top of Mt. John made all of our pain and suffering well worth it. The view was breathtaking.

We rested awhile and devoured our PB &J’s before trekking back down Mt. John. Back on level ground, we rewarded ourselves with a couple of beers and a round of mini golf.

This weekend our bosses, Helen and Kerry, are heading to Christchurch for a concert. We’re planning on tagging along to see more of the city and maybe meet up with Cody’s friend, Will, again. By Wednesday morning we’ll be saying goodbye to Canterbury Tomatoes Ltd. and making our way further south. We’re going to check out another small city, Dunedin, for a couple days before traveling west to our new home in Te Anau. We’ve rented a room in a small house there and begin waiting tables at Settlers Steakhouse on the 18th. We’ll be sad to leave our friends (and the sheep) in Timaru but we’re anxious to begin the next chapter of our New Zealand adventure!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You say to-may-toe, I say to-mah-toe

By the 16th, after a month of vacation, we were anxious to finally have a place to call home. And, believe it or not, we were ready to work! That morning, our new boss, Helen, picked us up from our hostel and took us about 10 km outside of town to our new home at Canterbury Tomatoes Ltd. Helen and her fiance, Kerry, live on the small farm next to the greenhouse. Upon our arrival, Helen showed us around the tomato plants and introduced us to the family of cows and sheep. We also met Lucy (from the US) and Neall (from England) who live and work with Helen & Kerry, like us.

We started work that afternoon trimming leaves from the bottom of the tomato plants. Each row takes about an hour and a half and there are 15 rows in all. We can choose how many or how few rows we do each day but they all have to be done once a week. We also pick tomatoes 2-3 times a week which can take 2-4 hours. We have to work 20 hours a week (combined! Ha!) and any hour over that we get paid NZ$13/hr (about US$9.40).

Our first weekend on the farm we got to know our new roommates a little better. Friday night we all went out for dinner and then checked out Timaru's nightlife. Helen explained to us that most of the young people from Timaru have moved to other cities for college, so the crowd at the bars was kind of interesting. We had fun anyway. Saturday morning we went snowboarding with Lucy at Mt. Dobson, just an hour and a half away. If our hangovers hadn't already set in, the drive up the mountain certainly did it. It was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. The gravel road was unbelievably narrow and winded all the way above the clouds. More frighteningly, New Zealand has apparently never heard of guard rails.

But, alas, we made it safely. As spring is approaching, it was one of the last days of the seasons and it was bright and sunny. It was really beautiful. It was Cody's first time snowboarding and he picked it up right away. Jeni on the other hand... Lets just say we were both pretty sore the next day...and the day after that...and the day...

For now we're spending our days working in the greenhouse, getting to know our roommates, and looking for a new car. While we aren't exactly stranded here (we can usually catch rides to the grocery store, library, etc. with our roommates) we were hoping to see as much of this part of the country as we can while we're here. So we're hoping to get a new car so we can take some day trips to nearby cities, parks, etc. We'll keep you updated on our progress but for now you can find us picking tomatoes...or feeding them to the sheep.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bye bye Bongo...

Oh, the open road! After packing all of our bags (a practice we are nearing perfection), throwing them into the bongo, saying our farewells, we hit the open road to Timaru. We drove for about 20 minutes and about 40 kms singing our own songs to fill the void of a working radio when the engine decided to make a loud bang and refuse to go any further.

After taking a look at the engine and calling a mechanic, we had faith that it was only a small set back. The mechanic arrives to tow us into town with a rope and a SUV. Cody manned the wheel of the Bongo while the mechanic simply tied the rope to the front of the Bongo and started driving. Though nervous, we made it into the shop and fixed a tube and made it back on the road!

Back on the road! It felt so good to have the open window air conditioning, watching the beautiful scenery, and we couldn't fail to notice the 3 cars behind us completely surrounded in... white smoke? The van started to fill with smoke and we pulled over immediately. After calling another new mechanic and getting towed into town (something we're getting really good at) we got the Bongo looked at again and got the bad news. The Bongo is dead.

Since we already customized the van for camping purposes, we used the van for the only thing that it was good for, a place to sleep. In the glorious town of Winchester, the next day we were adopted by the owner of the shop (thanks Neil!). Neil let us sleep at his house (which was conveniently located next door to the shop), gave us a ride to the grocery store and also drove us to Timaru to complete this long complicated leg of our journey.

Now, we have have been just spending our time reading and exploring the town of Timaru until we start our jobs on the 16th. We have also been cooking for ourselves to save some money, playing some frisbee, and yes, taking long walks on the beach. It's a rough life.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Down to business

By Thursday (27th) we had left the Fijian sun and warm breezes behind and arrived in Auckland that afternoon. We took a bus from the airport to our hostel downtown. We didn't have anything to do until the next morning so we decided to walk around the city a bit and get our first taste of New Zealand beer. (Delish!) Turns out, after that evening, we had left rest and relaxation behind in Fiji as well. By Friday afternoon, after a 4 hour orientation with the work abroad organization that had helped us get our work visas, reality had set in. We were unemployed and homeless.

The next few days were spent opening up bank accounts, buying a cell phone, and anxiously scanning a handful of New Zealand's job websites. We found that there really are tons of jobs aimed at backpackers and temporary workers. There were dozens of posts looking for waitresses, hostel cleaners, nannies, farmhands, etc. Truthfully, this only made me more anxious. We'd always said, "Oh we'll do anything! We'll go anywhere!" But now it was time to decide what we wanted to apply for and where in the country we wanted to go. Since Cody had a friend he wanted to visit near the city of Christchurch we narrowed our jobsearch down to the South island. We then caught a cheap flight to Christchurch and met up with Cody's friend, Will and his roommate Jeremy.

We stayed with Will and Jeremy for a week and during the day while he was at work, we worked on our resumes, wrote dozens of cover letters, and applied for about 50 different jobs. It was exhausting and frustrating for both of us. After a few days and a couple disappointing emails and phone calls, we were both beginning to panic. So we began responding to all the posts on the job websites - even those that we weren't all that interested in and ones that didn't specifically say they were looking for more than one person. But it payed off.

A day later, we were offered jobs at a greenhouse in a city named Timaru. We couldn't believe it! Our new employer informed us that we would have to work 20 hours a week (between the two of us! Ha!) for accomodation. we don't get paid but at least we won't be homeless!

Our last few days with Will and Jeremy involved a rowdy night of karaoke for Cody's birthday
and one successful trip to a used-car auction. At this time, we'd like to introduce the newestdition to our family: a 1988 Mazda Bongo. She's a beauty all right. On the way home from the auction, we bought a used mattress to throw in the back along with some dishes and pots and pans. Now that she's all decked out, the Bongo will be our home in between jobs. This is the life.

Next stop: Timaru

Saturday, August 29, 2009

And they're off!

After a late night of thank-you writing and last minute packing (and no sleep), we left Iowa City just a little after 4 am on Sunday August 16th.  Just a 4-hour drive to Chicago later and we were boarding the first leg of the many flights leading to our big Fiji/New Zealand adventure. Anxious albeit exhausted, it wasn’t until after we had landed in Los Angeles that we realized we were in for a 12-hour layover. So we set up camp in the food court, had some lunch and took turns napping/watching our luggage. After about 6 hours in the international terminal of LAX we had grown a little restless and decided to find out if we could check in to our flight to Fiji. We reached the counter only to find out that the flight had be cancelled and wouldn’t leave until the following afternoon. Naturally. Fortunately the airline transported us to a hotel and paid for our room and meals. Nearly 24 hours after the original departure time, we left LA and began the 11-hour flight to Nadi, Fiji. Waiting for us at the Nadi Airport was a 3-hour bus ride in the dark with a driver with fantastic aim for potholes. But by midnight of Tuesday August 18th, we had made it to our destination: the Mango Bay Resort on the Coral Coast of Fiji. 

After checking in, we were escorted to our private beachfront cottage (or “bure” in Fijian) where we found the champagne bottle we’d ordered floating in a bucket of melted ice (we’d arrived about 14 hours later than planned). And although we were both aching with exhaustion, we were determined to start our honeymoon off right. We might have had about 3 or 4 sips of the champagne before passing out.

Despite the less-than-glamorous beginning of our adventure, we awoke to find that paradise was waiting for us just outside the door to our cottage. The view was incredible. 

We spent the next 5 days lounging in hammocks and reading in the sun, walking along the white sandy beaches, and kayaking in the crystal clear waters. One day the resort hosted a hike through the rainforest up to a waterfall. It was a really cool experience. A few nights a week there were bonfires on the beach and traditional musical performances by members of the nearby village. Other than the mediocre food and a few bug bites (or 34 in Jeni’s case), we really had a wonderful time. 

On Monday we left Mango Bay resort and made the 3-hour trip back to Nadi. We spent the remaining days relaxing by the pool of our hostel and exploring the city of Nadi. We both agreed, however, that the best day of the whole trip by far, was the last day in which we took a cruise around the Mamanuca Islands. It was the perfect day. Clear skies, sunshine and beautiful blue water as far as the eye could see. 

We cruised around the islands (including the island where they filmed “Castaway” with Tom Hanks) for a few hours and then stopped at Treasure Island for lunch and a dip in the water. Our favorite part of the whole trip was snorkeling. We were so amazed at how close the fish would swim up next to us! At one point we were surrounded by a school of bright blue fish! (Naturally, we left the underwater camera back at the hostel this day.) It was the perfect ending to a perfect honeymoon. We agreed to come back to see all the islands for our 25th (or 10th?) anniversary.

Next stop: Auckland, New Zealand