2 Adults, 3 boys, 365 Days of Adventure

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We’re Back!

And no – we didn’t end the trip in New Zealand.  We continued on to Australia, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan.  I just haven’t been able to get the time or motivation to complete the daunting task of writing it all up.  But now that we are getting settled in Boulder I hope to be able to complete my adventure log of the Wandering Five.  Stay tuned…

April 6, 2010   No Comments

Milford Sound et al

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On our last day in New Zealand we didn’t leave the boat.  Instead, almost the entire day was spent cruising in and out of the three most famous sounds in Fjord land National Park at the southwest tip of New Zealand (latitude between 45 and 46 degrees south – as far down as I have ever been).  I’m told that the Sounds are much like the fjords in Norway and if so then that’s another place I’m going to have to make it to because they are simply stunning.
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First we went though Dusky Sound, then Doubtful and finally culminated with the amazing Milford Sound from 4-6 pm.  Each sound was more impressive than the next and Milford was unlike anything that I had ever seen before.  Huge cliffs that rose straight up out of either side of a narrow 10-mile strip of water, culminating in snow capped peaks 5,000 feet above us.  Glistening waterfalls poured gently down the sides creating a fine mist before hitting the ocean far below.  It was just spectacular and I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene as it unfolded in front of me.  Definitely the climax of our trip to New Zealand, for me, and I’m happy that it was my last impression of that beautiful country.
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I hesitate to post my pictures because they simply cannot do justice to that magical place but I would be remiss if I did not try at least to give a flavor of what we saw.
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March 2, 2010   1 Comment

Dunedin

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Our final port on our New Zealand adventure was the former gold town, and largest city, Dunedin.  The morning started out poorly when I got off the ship to look for our rental car only to find it wasn’t there (apparently I hadn’t read the confirmation email clearly enough and there was another step involved).  Luckily for about the same price, I was able to find a private guide with a mini-van waiting at the port and hired her for the day.  Our first stop was the Royal Albatross Colony to try to catch site of the largest flighted birds in the world.  The tour and viewing was just an hour and while it was good introduction to the magnificent birds we didn’t actually get to see one flying.  Still a worthwhile experience.

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Our next stop was Natures Wonders Naturally, which is a privately owned wildlife sanctuary at the tip of the Otago Peninsula.  I had reserved our tour three weeks prior and when we arrived I walked up to the desk and said that we had reservations for a 10:45 tour.  The man behind the desk, who turned out to be the owner Perry, responded sarcastically “not here you don’t”.  My heart sank.  Had I messed up again?  Did I mix up the dates?  I was about to pull out my computer and show him my confirmation email when he took another look at his schedule and realized that we did in fact have a reservation.  He then explained that all of his guides had left on other tours (some mix up with the cruise ship buses) and he would have to take us himself.  “Great!” I thought thinking who better to show us around the property than the owner himself.  Boy was I mistaken!

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Perry turned out to be one of the more egotistical and obnoxious people that I have had the displeasure of meeting.  He kept telling us how his property was the best thing that we had ever seen (at least 10 times).  At every stop along our route, on the noisy stinky but capable 8 wheel drive Argos, instead of giving us information about what we were seeing he just kept telling us how great it was.  To top it all off he kept telling the kids (who were actually being perfectly well behaved for once) to be quiet and barking at them if they made a sound (the whole while he was practically yelling at us).  It really was a stunning beautiful property and we saw some very amazing wildlife (seal pups frolicking in the surf, yellow eyed penguins and their babies, etc) but the experience was deeply marred by this truly arrogant man.

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On our way back from Natures Wonders we took the “high road” back to Dunedin, which took us along the top of the peninsula with amazing views of the ocean from both sides. I kept wanting to stop and enjoy the view but was overruled by the rest of the van.  I did manage to snap a few great shots to remember the experience by.

After driving up, and back down, the steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street) we headed over to a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate factory.  The tour, as we had been pre-warned, was uninspired but the kids loved it.  I would imagine that the bag full of free chocolate provided helped to sway them.

March 1, 2010   No Comments

Christchurch

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Getting the kids fed before an early morning trip is always an ordeal.  We had to leave the ship at 8 a.m. and after being up late watching a movie in kids club the boys were in no mood to motivate quickly.  Room service (which is free on the ship) arrived at 7:30 and the boys were still groggy from having just been woken up.  They managed to eat a little before being rushed out the door.  Unfortunately, due to very restrictive quarantine laws, we can’t take any food off of the ship so packing snacks is not an option.

Rix from Hassle Free Tours picked us up at 8:15 a.m. from the Lyttleton iSite on this slightly overcast and cold Saturday morning.  After hopping into his jacked-up four-wheel dive mini-van we were on our way to Christchurch for a quick drive through tour on our way up to Springfield to meet our jet boat.  Christchurch is a really lovely city set on the Wiamak river delta (aka completely flat) and has a very quaint downtown area, which surrounds their Cathedral (which the local Kiwi’s are justifiably proud of).

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Jet boating, was one of my most anticipated activities in New Zealand, was definitely all it was cracked up to be.  Our group of 15 donned splash guards (i.e. rain coats) and life jackets and piled into a bright orange and red Hamilton jet boat, which was docked at the rivers edge.  Within minutes we were speeding up the Wiamak river at 35 miles per hour veering around corners and bouncing off the rocks on the river bottom.  The boat can operate (if it is at cruising speed) in water as shallow as 3 inches and we definitely proved that on this trip.  It was an exhilarating, and beautiful, 45-minute ride with plenty of screams from Jennifer and hoots of pleasure from me to prove it.  It was definitely an intense experience for the kids and I think their memory of it will look more favorably upon it than what they actually experienced.

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Next up was a two-hour trek through a high-country farm on board a Unimog – a four wheel drive all-terain truck formerly used to transport troops around New Zealand.  This 5-ton beast could go anywhere!  We climbed up 45-degree angle ridges without issue, drove through riverbeds as if they were a paved road and up two and a half foot river banks like they were speed bumps – really a very impressive machine.  The high point of the trek (literally) was when we parked at the top of a hill about 1200 feet above the valley floor and had amazing 360 degree views of foothills of the Alps and out to the Canterbury plains.  I would have liked to stay up there all day.  Although Jennifer was a mid disturbed by the mounds of sheep poo littering the hillside, and making it nearly impossible to step on anything else.
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After the off-roading ended we had a great lunch at a local café with views of the mountains and then headed back to our ship.  It was definitely a long day for the boys and without a snack they were all starving by the time we at lunch at 1:15.  Keeks passed the time by reading The Lord of the Rings on his Kindle (even while off-roading through riverbeds) but managed too look up when things got interesting.   That said I’m sure it was a day they will remember forever and look back on with fondness and longing.  I know I will.

February 28, 2010   No Comments

Wellington

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For our stop in New Zealand’s capital I decided to focus our energies on the modern, and enormous, Te Papa Museum.  We spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon there and we only were able to see a fraction of it.  As the national museum of New Zealand it is part cultural, part science, part natural history, part art and architecture and while we were there it was also home to an exhibition of artifacts from Pompeii (which needless to say – we skipped as we had just been there ourselves).  We spent the most time in the Awesome Forces exhibit, which had fantastic hands on displays that demonstrated the geological forces that shape New Zealand’s landscape.  The earthquake simulation house was especially cool.  The other area we spent time in was in “Our Place” a super cool multimedia exhibit that had this amazing 5-foot interactive wall.  The boys and I had a blast playing around with this very unique gadget you manipulated with big white flashlight looking laser wands.  You really have to see it to understand.

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It was a rather long walk (about 35 minutes) from the port to the museum and the kids obviously haven’t been doing enough walking lately because they complained incessantly. By the end of the day they must have readjusted because they made the whole walk back (after walking though the museum all day) with barely a complaint.  It helped that Bodie invented a game whereby we were prohibited from stepping on cracks or yellow lines (they were everywhere) and that kept all of us entertained the whole way back.  I think Bodie especially enjoyed being everyone’s center of attention without having to misbehave to get it.

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Unfortunately our afternoon was somewhat marred when our plans for Christchurch (our next port) abruptly fell apart.  I had been having trouble booking a car for our day in Christchurch (nobody would even email me back!) and knew the iSite (equivalent to Europe’s TIs) handles car reservations.  After stopping at the one in Wellington I was informed that every car rental agency in Christchurch was sold out.  I was depressed because the two quintessential South Island experiences that I was hoping to have – river jet boating and views of the Southern Alps – were both dependent on getting a car in Christchurch! Jennifer, who had previously delegated all New Zealand shore excursion planning to me, was furious with me (unfairly I thought – but that’s a whole nother story) and we sat there in the iSite with her glaring at me as I desperately tried to find replacement activities for the next day.  After about an hour I had booked a private car that would take us to Christchurch city, take us jet boating, and take us off-roading in the foothills of the Alps (not the Alps proper – but this would have to do).  It was a lot more than I wanted to spend, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

February 27, 2010   No Comments

Napier

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We had just a quick stop in Napier, which is famous for it’s art deco architecture, and headed straight for the National Aquarium.  There we got a behind the scenes tour from “Crazy Scotty.”  Scotty showed up late with a smile on his face and a bucket of sliced raw fish and we knew we were in for a treat.  The first thing he did was pull a Blue Tongued lizard out of its tank and show us how it would kiss him if he put it near his lips.  He then let Keeks take a turn but as the lizard approached Keeks would pull away at the last minute not quite able go though with it.

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Scotty then took us to the cichlid tank where we were allowed to hand feed the fish.  Next he dug up some mealworms and we hand fed them to a green water dragon. Scotty tried to feed it by dangling a worm from his mouth but the dragon wouldn’t bite. Keeks was then told to grab a handful of raw fish, put his hand in a tank of goldfish and squeeze it into a pulp as the fish frenzied around his hand.  Scotty then fed a two foot long koi by dangling a piece of raw fish from his mouth, getting his faced completely soaked in the process.  The rest of the hour and a half tour was more of the same with lots of jokes mixed into some great educational content.

This was definitely not at all like a tour you would get at one of the US aquariums (or Sydney for that matter) but was so much fun.

February 26, 2010   2 Comments

Rotorua

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We arrived in the port of Tauranga, easily picked up our rental car and were on our way for the hour and a half drive to Rotorua, which is famous for it’s geothermal activity.  I was pleased with how easy it was to readjust to driving on the left side of the road – not the slightest bit of nervousness or discomfort.  I guess it’s like riding a bike.
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Our first stop was Wai-o-Topu Thermal Wonderland, which is said to be the best collection of geothermal features in New Zealand.  The park is best known for its Lady Knox geyser, which erupts daily at 10:15 (I still don’t know how it tells time).  We arrived right at 10:15 and feared we missed it but the lady at the ticket desk informed me that it actually erupts for about an hour so we had nothing to worry about.  We rushed off to get our car, driving as quickly as we could the mile or so to the geyser, only to find the masses of tourists leaving “the lady” just as we got there. The geyser was cool but not nearly as forceful as those in Yellowstone (or even in Napa Valley for that matter).  The rest of the park was filled with all sorts of geothermal wonders include boiling mud pots, a florescent green sulfur lake, a giant steaming bubbling pool and numerous craters.  The whole area smelled excessively of sulfur but seeing it was worth bearing potent stench.
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We spend the rest of the afternoon at Skyline Skyrides, which has a gondola with great views of Rotorua as well as a unique “luge track” rumored to be a lot of fun.  The gondola and observation area (which was only halfway up the mountain) did provide decent views of Rotorua but the area itself is nice but – and perhaps we are becoming jaded here – is really not that special and we couldn’t quite figure out what all of the fuss was about.  The luge on the other hand was really cool. We sat on these little three wheeled sleds that had handlebars that were used for both steering and braking and then careened down a concrete path that had been laid in the side of the mountain.It definitely had the feeling of not being safe, and I think in fact it probably wasn’t, but that just added to the excitement.  Keeks loved it, Cracker liked it but pulling back on the handle bars to slow down hurt his hands and Bodie thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

February 25, 2010   No Comments

Auckland

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Since we had already toured around Auckland a few years prior we used our morning there to stock up on some much needed supplies.   Keeks and Bodie were in horrible moods and so we decided to leave them in kid’s club for the afternoon and take Cracker to the maritime museum.  While there we got the opportunity to go for an hour long harbor cruise on a reproduction of an early 1800 scow.  Scows are two-masted flat bottom sailboats, with a retractable center plate, that could be beached and then loaded with cargo – effectively the trucks of New Zealand in the 1800s.  We got to help raise the sails and the all-volunteer crew was really friendly and informative.  It was nice to have just one kid for an afternoon – so peaceful.

February 24, 2010   No Comments

Bay of Islands

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We arrived in the Bay of Islands to a beautiful sunrise that illuminated the dozens of small rocky islands all around us in a gorgeous orange glow. After tendering to shore and taking a bus into town, we boarded the sailing catamaran “Carino” for a full day tour of the islands and dolphin watching. We were lucky enough to find a small pod of four dolphins and we followed them around for about forty minutes. While you can certainly have a better look at dolphins while at Sea World it was pretty cool to see them out in the wild.
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After leaving the dolphins we spent an hour on Robinson Island, famous because Captain Cook moored there, and hiked to the lookout about 300 feet above the water where we were rewarded with a great 360 degree view of the Bay of Islands. We could have looked for awhile, but without the necessary water from them to drink, the kids were in no mood to lounge around after the pretty strenuous stair climb. After a decent BBQ of local sausages on the boat, they raised the sails and we spent the balance of the afternoon sailing around the bay. The kids did really well for the first four hours but the small confines of the sailboat definitely got to them and we spent the last hour and a half trying to keep them physically separated so they wouldn’t disturb other guests (and injure each other). Think puppies.

February 23, 2010   1 Comment

Red Ants of Death

Today, I remembered a funny story about Bodie that happened when we were in Fiji. One night on our way to dinner, walking though the nicely manicured lawn of the Sheraton next door.  All of a sudden he starts to scream at the top of his lungs.  We look at him and he is staring at us with a looking of complete anguish.  My first thought that he had been stung by a bee or wasp.
Then I started thinking about all of the other creatures that could be lurking in the grass that might have done him harm.
Jennifer was convinced it was a snake. We rushed to him, picked him up and brought him to the paved path still shrieking.  We asked him where he had been hurt and what had happened.  We were truly, very concerned.He pointed to his feet and screamed some more.  The he said “ANTS!”  Sure enough there were a bunch of tiny red ants crawling all over his feet.  We quickly shooed them away and kept trying to get him to tell us where he had been bitten but he answered with only more screams.  We were beginning to panic but it didn’t make sense.  Why was everybody else walking on the grass – in bare feet – and having no problems.

Finally one of us asked him “did they bite you?” He shook his head no.  Huh? Apparently his brothers had told him that red ants could kill you if they bit you and he got so scared when he saw ants on his feet that he completely lost it.  It was really quite heart wrenching to see the terror in his eyes and realize that it was all just fear.  Emotions are so strong.

February 22, 2010   1 Comment