Sunday, April 29, 2018

Milford Sound

As many of you may know, Jeremiah and I are moving back to the USA this June! We are excited, we are sad, we are giddy, and our heads are spinning. Any emotion you can imagine I am dealing with at the moment. We are so thankful for the year we've had here in NZ and the time to see more of the country and more of our friends. Our time here was much shorter than we had anticipated but I feel we didn't waste a day of it. I can't say when we will be back again, but my heart tells me that New Zealand will always be a part of our story. I'm certain that many visits back are written in our future. In the midst of all of this hard decision making, we have still managed to have a lot of fun these past couple of months. What stands out most is our 10 day trip south to Milford Sound and back.

Milford Sound has been on my bucket list for years now. Everyone who's visited has said "Oh you HAVE to get down there! It's spectacular!" This year a friend of ours guided kayak tours on Milford Sound and he told us we needed to visit. Well you don't have to tell me twice! We packed up Kevin and hit the road.

The first day south was a lot of driving. New Zealand is not a large country, but on the South Island to get from point A to point B, there is nearly always a mountain you need to drive around. We started down the West Coast stopping off at a few choice day hikes and ended our drive at Gillespie Beach near Fox Glacier. At this point we were both exhausted and it was nearly 10pm. We roll up on this campsite that is suitable for 8 tents and there are 50+ cars. Yes, over 50 vehicles at this site meant for 8.... ha! It's late, we are tired, it's starting to rain, so what do we do? We just slept in the car of course!

Thankfully Kevin has a rather large trunk when the back seats are folded down so we were able to throw all of our stuff in the front seats and curl up in the back. I will say this was not the most successful night for sleeping. There were mosquitos that had found their way into the car and every time I thought I'd killed them all, another would buzz out of nowhere and land right on my ear. The result was that I spent a lot of the night smacking my own head trying to kill the little buggers. Another issue was that the car was just too short for Jeremiah. He came up with some very creative sleeping poses that I still laugh about. At one point he was lying on his stomach face down with his legs bent straight up the back of the car. His feet were actually touching the ceiling. Very comfortable. The upside of this lack of sleep is that we were up at 4:30am and had an amazing view of the sunrise over the glaciers. Then we were off to locate some coffee like zombies, must have coffee coffee coffee....

Sunrise over Fox Glacier

A pretty cool breakfast nook

Refueled, we ambled down the West Coast and cut across to Wanaka to do some camping and swimming in the lake. Now we were really on our way and headed to Milford Sound. When we arrived it was a spectacularly sunny day. Clear skies meant we were able to hike up the mountains of Milford and see the table lands. The breathtaking scenery included a mountain top lake nestled between two peaks. The lake spilled over the edge and down into the valley in a ribbon of water. There were waterfalls that day but I didn't realize the hidden potential for waterfalls when it rains. We stayed the night with our guide friends building up a bonfire and spinning yarns over some beers. The stars in the inky night were clear and bright in Milford. No large towns nearby and little light pollution created the perfect spot for stargazing.

Key Summit in Milford Sound

We were up and at 'em really early the next day for a paddle in the sounds. I can honestly say that this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth I have every been to, second only to Wharariki Beach. My photos can not portray the scale of the cliffs and mountains. The massive sheer cliffs plunge directly into the sea. Carved by glaciers they dive deep underwater so that the water is very deep and inky black. You can almost image krakens or giant sea creatures beneath you. When the weather began to change our guide hurried us back to the boat ramp and we pulled our boats in just as torrents of rain hit the area. Jeremiah and I packed the car back up and began driving out in hosing rain and found ourselves in a brand new landscape. The cliffs from yesterday now had water gushing from every crevice. Hundreds of silvery ribboned waterfalls poured from the cliff faces. So many waterfalls. We stopped to take in the beauty and scale of it all. Gradually the rain eased and the sun peaked back out causing the waterfalls to glimmer and shine. Milford lived up to its reputation and then some. I really didn't want to leave.

On our way north we did a 3 day cycling and camping trip along the Otago rail trail. It was very gorgeous cycling, but the theme of the whole cycling portion was "ow my butt!" Three days and 150km of cycling can really give you a sore bottom. I will say the downhill portion was magnificent! So much faster and easier than the uphill... who knew!? All joking aside it was a really cool trip. The whole trail runs through little towns that you can stop off at for a pint or a hot drink. For lunches we stopped at the little pubs along the trail to fuel up with warm burgers, soups, and hot drinks and we would end the evenings with some hot chips and a beer. We would then crawl into our little red tent and give our aching bodies a bit of a rest.

The start of the Otago Central Rail Trail

We finished off the trip with a short visit to Lake Tekapo, a spontaneous visit to a sheep farm, and a visit to an old friend in Christchurch. With the circuit nearly complete we raced back up to Nelson the next day as a tropical storm hit and dropped a ton of rain on us. Thankfully we came home to a happy dry house with no flooding problems. And there goes another several drops in the bucket of my life - beautiful and full. I think I may need to get a bigger bucket.

"It's all downhill from here"

My hero repairing a flat on my bike

Jade on the beach

Hike to Key Summit

The loo with a view! 

Milford after the rains

Kea sighting
Trail around Lake Tekapo

Windy day!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Te Whānau

ALL ABOARD!! Welcome to Steff Cruise lines! I am Erin, this is my Co-Captain Jeremiah, and we will be your guides this trip. Please let me take your tickets as you sit back, relax and enjoy your trip. Remember to bring your camera, pack some sunblock, togs, and jandals, and keep an eye out for that elusive Kiwi...

Wouldn't you know it, the trip we've been planning for nearly a year now has come and gone. The whole family packed up their bags, said "Adios America", and came to the land of the long white cloud. We spent some action packed weeks traveling around the South Island, visiting local places around Nelson, and hobbiting across the North Island (yes that is a real verb). I know Santa normally comes with presents and candy, but for me Santa dropped off four lovely jet-lagged family members at my doorstep. We did our best to keep them awake, but over 24 hours of traveling meant that everyone was in bed by 8:00. Jeremiah and I snuck off to do a bit of Christmas caroling in town while the exhausted family had a well deserved sleep.

Christmas day brought a lively Kiwi BBQ with friends. We all piled into Kevin (our car) and made our way to our friend's place for beers, bbq, and bow and arrows. Yes, we spent Christmas day shooting each other with rubber tipped arrows. Not your typical American christmas. I believe most family holiday feuds could be solved this way. Christmas was followed by days of sunshine at the beach, swimming, and watching the new Star Wars movie twice.

During our trip we spent about a week traveling around various locations of the South Island. The first stop was Wharariki beach. This is a favorite on the Steff tour and I believe we have gone there with everyone who has ever visited us. The archways and sea caves are just unparalleled in their beauty. On this trip we were even able to spot a Blue Penguin hiding in the back of one of the caves. We were goggled at by the local seals and lots of tiny stinger-less jellies scattered the beach. We even took time on our trip to stop at the Anatoki Salmon Farms to feed the "tame" eels. I put tame in quotes because you should pet them with caution. Their eye sight is not very good and your fingers look a lot like the Popsicle sticks you use to feed them.

Next on the Steff Tour was a trip out to the Blenheim wineries and the Omaka Aviation Herritage Centre. I can't tell you much about the Aviation centre except that Sean and Mom loved it... the rest of us may have continued on with the wine tour rather than view the museum. A good time was had by all exploring the wineries and taking way too many photos amongst the grape vines.

Moving further south we popped off to Nelson Lakes and Cape Foulwind. From hiking up Mt Roberts, to standing on the turbulent beach below our Airbnb, we all made some great memories. My favorite was spending about 2 hours playing on the rocks below our batch at Cape Foulwind. When the tide was out we could walk onto the beach under this massive stone archway. As the tide changed though, we were pushed further and further back. You can actually climb up onto the arch and watch the ocean as it smashes through the archway. At a certain point, the tide and waves get so high that you could actually be stranded on a rocky island if you don't wander back up the steps.

We had an amazing time throwing massive sticks into this cave hole that looked like the throat of a monster. When the waves pulled away, the 'monster' would swallow the stick and suck it down the hole with a gurgling noise. A few seconds later, the explosive waves would shoot the logs back up onto the beach like the monster was spitting them back out. It was here at Cape Foulwind that we popped the Champagne and counted down the new year. We went around and made resolutions that I'm sure we'll break in the next week or so. If I'm honest, I can't really remember what mine was...

After our travels south, we took a bit of break back home in Nelson. The days passed quietly with reading, eating real fruit ice cream, and taking day hikes in and around the city. My favorite day was spent out at Cable Bay. We've been out there many times but it never gets old. We brought the kayaks and snorkel gear so we could play in the water and see the starfish and sea urchins below. At one point, Jeremiah and I had taken the kayaks out into the middle of the bay and music began to rise off the hills. Sure enough, high on the hills there was a man in a kilt facing the ocean playing lilting melodies on the bagpipe. His music ranged from traditional Scottish melodies to Amazing Grace to the theme from Star Wars. It was really the best concert I've been to in a while (besides Retro Candy of course).

With the tour winding down, we made the most of our last couple of days on the North Island. Our first day was spent taking a ferry to Waiheke Island. On our ride over we saw multiple extinct volcanoes that are now little islands dotting the bay. We shopped the little town of Oneroa and I found myself a large floppy sunhat that Jane Austen would have been proud of. I hope to come again for a full weekend so I can bike around the island, visit the many wineries, and kayak the bay.

Our final stop was the real reason the Murphy's came to visit us (just joking Mom!). They were dying to see Hobbition so we took the Hobbits to Isengard and spent a day crawling in and around the hobbit holes of Matamata. I still can't believe I got to keep a piece of the set on my last visit there. The leaf from Bilbo's tree is still safely tucked away in my scrap book in NC. We had a wonderful time and finished the tour by grabbing a drink at the Green Dragon and pretending to be Hobbits.

I have merely scratched the surface of all the adventures we had over the past couple of weeks but I feel that the photos will tell you a lot of the story. Until next time, we send our LOVE to YOU!

Takaka Hill

At Wharariki Beach

Our Guide Extraordinaire

Mr. Krabs!

Mermaid out of Water

Octopus out of Water

Are we in NZ or on Tatooine? 
The top of Mt Roberts

Punakiki Rocks

Truman Track Beach

Cable Bay hike... and cows... and lots of sheep.

Green Dragon