There’s No Place Like Home

Total elapsed time from leaving our room in Melbourne to arriving in our driveway here in Rochester, 55 hours, with a few of those hours being terror-filled! But we made it safely home and have good stories to tell.

We were greeted at the airport by my parents, even though it was after midnight! The last flight from Washington, DC didn’t seem so bad, knowing that I was going to get two of the biggest hugs when I walked through the Arrivals gate! Then when we arrived at ¬†our house we were greeted by balloons, banners, American flags and sheep!! The sheep were life-sized cut-outs made by my friend Sherri~we were feeling the love!

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We’re Baaaaack!

And now it is 4:30 AM and sleep is elusive! We were so exhausted the first 2 nights that we slept OK, but there was no sleep tonight. I got up at 1:30 AM, did a few chores, until the computer froze up, returned to bed where I found Jim wide awake. When I told him about the computer, he decided that since he wasn’t sleeping he would fix it, which he did! Jet lag is a small price to pay for the wonderful experience we had.

We encourage you to put Australia and New Zealand on your Bucket List, we’d love to return someday. We loved Melbourne and all that activities which that vibrant city offered up to us. From Footy to Monet, we loved it all.

Our visitors kept us from being homesick and sharing the exploration of the country provided us with great memories. I look back on the thousands of photos I took and they make me smile. Koalas, whales and crashing waves make up a lot of those photos, but the quieter moments are captured too, to keep those memories fresh.

The Australian people could not have been more welcoming and open to us. They loved to hear our accent and were eager to share their love for the USA. We had many genuine moments with the Australian people and we look back on those encounters with gratitude and fondness.

The last 6 months have been an incredible life-experience for both Jim and I and we are grateful to have had this opportunity. Jim retires on October 31 and we are excited about what the future holds for us.

I’ll close with a few photos that trigger lots of memories for us. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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Cheers!

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Back in Sydney

What a day this has been and we aren’t home yet!

We left Melbourne on a beautiful morning, had an on-time departure from Melbourne to Sydney and then an on-time departure from Sydney to LA. However, as we were building up speed on the runway, just as we took off, the plane blew a tire! It sounded like the plane hit some potholes on the runway and we didn’t think anything of it because we were excited to be coming home! We had a great view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House as we flew out, but we didn’t gain the altitude that you usually gain as you take off. A few minutes late the pilot made the announcement that we blew a tire and that we needed to return to the airport. However, to do that, he needed to dump some fuel over the ocean and land with near-empty tanks. So for the next hour or so, we flew in large circles out over the ocean with jet fuel spewing from the tips of the wings. Our seats were such that I could look out the window behind me and see this steady stream of liquid gushing out. It was a bit unsettling, to say the least. The pilot had assured us that we really didn’t need that one tire to safely land and not to worry. Later, he came back on the speaker system to say that the landing gear may have been damaged when the tire blew and that made things a bit more risky. He gave instructions to the crew to review the brace position with the passengers and the prepare the cabin for evacuation upon touchdown! Then time seemed to stand still, it took forever to see the runway and when we did it was lined with emergency vehicles. But, I am very happy to report that the pilot put that big plane down as gently as could be and there were no gear failures. The plane coasted to a stop and then we had to sit on the tarmac until the fire department determined that we weren’t on fire or about to be on fire. A large tow cart slowly pulled the plane to our gate where we disembarked. The plane was surrounded by emergency personnel and most of them had their phones out, taking pictures of our plane!

Was I scared? You bet, scared to tears! I am exhausted from the stress of the ordeal. It was not the way I would have wanted to end our time Down Under, but it is a blog-worthy event!

The plane crew was great during the whole 2 hours of our short flight. I wish I could say the same thing for the ground crew. United has put us up in the airport hotel and we had a better $20 dinner than we thought we would. However, United told us we were on our own for re-booking our flights. They provided us with a letter that included a phone number to call for re-booking, but that office was closed for the day when we tried to call shortly after getting the number. Jim worked very hard to get us some new reservations and he had success, but it didn’t come easily.

So, hopefully we’ll be home 26 hours later than originally planned, with no excitement!

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Serenity now!

Fun, Final Friday in NZ

Our morning flight from Christchurch to Auckland was right on schedule and we were back at the Jucy rental place, this time to get a car for our one day in Auckland.

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We wanted to go north to Sheep World where they had sheep dog and sheep-shearing demonstrations, but the last show started at 2 PM, so we needed to keep moving. The drive was supposed to take just under an hour and Sheila said we’d arrive around 1:35, perfect! So we’re driving on the main expressway when I notice that the fuel light is on and the gauge is on “E”! Aren’t rental cars supposed to come with full tanks of gas? So we had to find what we thought was a good exit and then search out a petrol station, which we did, but we lost 10 minutes. Then we approached a stretch of the motorway that was going to be a toll road and we did not have an “E-Z Pass” type thing! There was a sign saying the toll (all of NZ$2.20!) could be paid by phone, Internet, or by stopping at the next service area plaza, which we did. But there were no signs indicating where to go to pay your toll, so we drove on, losing 2 more minutes! Then the traffic backed up for construction! But the good news is that we made it with 7 minutes to spare!

And the show was great, one guy, who is a sheep farmer, talked about training his dogs and then gave a demo. One dog raced around on a nearby hill, circling up the sheep and then herding them into a paddock area. Rob, the farmer, showed us how 2 of his sheep dogs have different talents for herding sheep. We then moved into the barn where Rob talked about how they separated the hundreds of sheep that may be rounded up at one time. He asked for a volunteer to try to separate the sheep and when no one volunteered, I raised my hand! I had to move 2 gates back and forth letting the sheep with blue marks go one way, pink marks go another and the ones with no marks go right down the middle! I was doing OK when the sheep were filing down a chute one at a time, but then they started pushing through, 2 or 3 at a time and I lost complete control! Rob says no one can get them all separated correctly and praised my effort! It was a pretty funny experience.

Then he moved onto the shearing demo and we learned a lot. A good sheep shearer can shear 300 sheep in an 8 hour work day and earn $600 for his or her efforts.

At the end of the sheep show, Rob brought out this season’s lambs and we got to bottle feed them! What fun!

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After the show we talked to Rob for a long time, getting answers to all of our questions. We then walked around the farm area, visiting with all the various animals in their pens.

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All in all we thought we got our money’s worth and learned a lot!

We then drove east a bit to find the ocean and found accommodation at the Salty Dog Hotel and Bar in Snells Beach. We are currently sitting in the bar, where there is Internet access. The bar is quite full because the local firemen are having a raffle for meat and there are people here waiting for the hypnotist show that starts upstairs in half an hour! Love little towns!

We took a long walk on Snells Beach late this afternoon and arrived to discover a very broad flat beach, with the tide out. During our hour long walk, the tide started to come in and we could watch it creep up the beach! Very cool!

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It was been a lovely day here, north of Auckland~sunny and warm~19 C.

Here are a couple shots of the inside of our Jucy Campa, when it is set up for sleeping and with me pretending to sleep this morning!

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Tomorrow we will allow plenty of time to drive back to Auckland and return our Jucy car before our 3:00 PM flight back to Melbourne.

Hope you’ve all marked your calendar for our November 2 Open House!

Cheers!

Party!

To show you how excited we are to be coming home, we’ve planned an Open House at our house for Saturday, November 2nd from 4 PM until late. We hope that you can stop by so we can give you a hug and share some Aussie beverages and snacks! If you don’t know where we live and want to come, please leave a comment on this entry and I will email you our address. We sure hope you can stop by and say “Hi!” We have certainly missed our family and friends!

So, today involved a lot of driving to get back to Christchurch, but there were some highlights along the way.

We weren’t far along our route when we had a truly New Zealand experience and that was having to stop in the middle of the road, while a farmer, in a truck and one sheep dog herded hundreds of sheep down the road towards us! And then it happened again a bit later in the morning! I think it must have been shearing time, and don’t try to tell me it may have been some other time for these poor sheep! I have a movie of this sheep parade, but we don’t have it on YouTube yet.

We were definitely in a dryer climate as the lower mountains and hills were brown instead of lush green. But all day we could always see tall mountain ranges that were very snowy at their peaks! All day we marveled at the surrounding landscape. We drove by the viewpoint for Mt. Cook, NZ’s highest mountain at 3754 meters, or 12,316 feet, hoping to get a glimpse of this monster, but it was hidden amongst the clouds. This viewpoint sits at the end of Lake Pukaki, a beautiful teal/blue colored lake and we can only imagine how spectacular the view must be when the mountain makes an appearance! Maybe on our next trip here!

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For quite a few days Jim has been looking for a barbershop to get his hair cut. Yesterday we thought we found the place in Wanaka, but It was closing as we walked up. Today we drove slowly through all the small towns looking for a barber’s pole and finally had success in Dunsandel at a place called Chez Barbers. It was a one-chair operation, but no waiting as the woman had Jim sit right down and started snipping away. He got a great cut for the bargain price of NZ$15 !!!

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We arrived in Christchurch around 2 PM and decided to check out their Botanical Garden, and we were not disappointed. A unique feature of this city garden is that the Avon River cuts a U-shape though the garden and you can rent boats and see the garden from the water level. Jim suggested we rent a row boat and he would take me for a ride! What fun! It was a classic old-fashioned rowing craft and I only needed a parasol and white gloves to complete the picture! He rowed upstream for about a half hour and then turned the boat around and let me have a leisurely row back to the dock. It was a perfect day for a boat ride! Here are some photos for our time in the garden.

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Christchurch has been the unfortunate site of a couple of major earthquakes in recent years and the damage is evident as we drive around. Houses and buildings are boarded up and there is construction going on all around. The city is working hard to recover from these devastating acts of Mother Nature. Here is one photo of the scaffolding around one building that is undergoing renovations.

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Tomorrow we fly back to Auckland, where we’ll spend about 28 hours before flying back to Melbourne. It feels like our trip home starts tomorrow!

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for November 2nd, we hope you can make it!

Cheers!

Nothing Like New Zealnd!

Brrrr, it was about 4 C. this morning when we crawled out of Jucy! Good thing we had extra sleeping bags because they made us toasty as we slept.

Fox Glacier was our first destination today, about 20k from Franz Josef, where we spent the night. There was another half hour hike to the face of the glacier, but we were able to get much closer to Fox glacier than we were at Franz Josef. We were able to see the crevasses and see the water rushing out of the bottom of the glacier. There was blue ice from the years of compacted snow. This glacier was even more impressive than yesterday’s glacier because of our proximity to it. While we were at the viewing area we saw a small rockfall on the far side and it was amazing to hear the sound of rock crashing! There are signs all over the place about not going off the trail because of how unstable the ice and rocks are and now we understand. There were icebergs all over the river bed from when the river was higher and then receded, leaving the icebergs high and dry!

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We continued to drive south to Haast, where we turned east to head over a low mountain pass to get to the town of Wanaka. Along the way we stopped at Tasman Sea overlooks, to walk to several waterfalls, and to do a hike through the rain forest and to see some deep blue pools along a river. We got rained on during most of these walks, but never hard and at times the sun was trying to break through.

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The Haast Pass route is closed at night because there is a stretch of the road that has been severely damaged because of a rock slide. When we arrived at the site we had to stop because the road crew was letting one lane of traffic through at a time. Usually, when we go through road construction, the speed limit is greatly reduced. Well, at this rock slide area, the road crew was vigorously waving everyone through as fast as you could go! I think the less time you spend in this area, the safer you are!

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Once we crossed the pass we were suddenly out of the rain forest environment with heavy, dark clouds and into a drier, sunny environment! The transition was fast and amazing! We drove along the shorelines of 2 huge, long lakes that were fed by glacier water, we think. They were the most lovely shade of blue, especially with a blue sky and harmless, white, puffy clouds!

Wanaka sits at the end of one of these lakes, Lake Wanaka, and we stopped here to do some shopping. After looking over the map we realized we could stay in this beautiful, little town that is surrounded by tall mountains! So we are once again in a Top Ten Holiday Park! Should have bought one of their discount cards! This is the first time I’ve camped right next to a pasture full of sheep and lambs and we are about a kilometer from the town center.

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Tomorrow we have at least 5 hours of driving to get to Christchurch, where we fly from on Friday morning. This has been quite a circular tour of NZ and we’ve loved it all!

I’ll end with a photo to make you laugh!

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The Sunshine Took Us South

After a warm, dry night at the Last Resort in Karamea, we were on the road at 7:45 AM. The morning news reported that the storm we endured pretty much shut down the capital city of Wellington, with winds clocked at 120 kph!!!

But before too long patches of blue sky started to break through the clouds and we ended up having a mostly sunny day. We drove south to Greymouth with several stops. We hiked into a couple of gravelly beaches and once again enjoyed the crashing waves.

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We then stopped at Punakaiki to see the pancake rocks and blowholes. This place was amazing! Limestone towers built up like stacks of pancakes with the Tasman Sea crashing into them! Erosion has carved these towers and fins of rock into arches and all sorts of odd shapes. The Department of Conservation has constructed a circular walkway on the cliffs above all these mammoth rock formations so there are spectacular views. The sunshine and blue sky made it even more impressive. I was captivated by all the different places to see crashing waves and to hear the thunderous boom when a wave crashes into an undercut rock cliff!

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Okay, I’ll stop,with the crashing wave pictures and move onto glaciers! Yes, glaciers!

Because the sun was out we decided to continue going south as was our original plan instead of driving across the island today, which was Plan B last night.

Two and a half more hours on the road brought us to the town of Franz Josef, where the Franz Josef glacier is advancing right towards the town. Before going to see the glacier though we stopped to get a site at the Top Ten Holiday Park in FJ. And just as we pulled in, it started to rain and hail! The storm was very short and soon we were on our way to the glacier. From the car park at the end of the glacier road, it is a 30 minute walk to get within 500 meters of the face of this beautiful glacier! The clouds that were stuck in the mountains lifted enough so we could see the top of the glacier. As amazing as the glacier is, equally impressive are the dozen or more waterfalls, pouring off the steep mountain flanks on both sides of the glacially-carved valley! Between the waterfalls and the river flowing out from under the glacier, it was a noisy hike. We feel quite lucky to have seen the glacier, considering how bad the weather has been!

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It will be a cold night here, going down to 6 C., and we will need to throw our down sleeping bags on top of the Jucy Quilt to stay warm. Tomorrow the plan is to drive across the island to the east coast.

Today’s Blog is Brought to You By the Letter W

That’s Waves, Wind, Waterfalls, and Wapids (rapids!).

I know that in last night’s blog I told you there wouldn’t be one tonight because we’d be camping at the end of the road where there were no services. Well, plans change! And we made a change because of the weather. In the middle of the night we awoke to winds just slamming into Jucy and the rain pounding down. This continued most of the day. I suggested we keep our hiking plans, but find a motel where we could dry off everything and maybe eat a meal in a restaurant. Jim agreed!

Our day started by heading south to see a seal colony. We knew that they would not mind the rain! We donned our rain coats and rain pants and took a windy, rainy walk along the cliffs above some rocks and saw a bunch of seals that were pretty inactive. The waves on the Tasman sea were rolling in and crashing over the rocks the seals were trying to hide in. It seemed like a very harsh environment.

We had planned to drive north to Kahurangi National Park, do some hiking and camp overnight there. Because of the ferocious winds we decided to try an inland hike and were not disappointed. The trail name was Charming Creek and it followed a raging river upstream on an old railroad bed. I thought there is nothing charming or creek-like about this river. It was a bully forcing its way downstream over boulders the size of houses! We walked up the trail for 45 minutes and it was non-stop Class 5 rapids all the way! Because of all the rain that was falling and had fallen there were numerous waterfalls plunging into the river on both sides. Two falls of note were on our side of the trail. The first one went right across the trail and we had to pull up our hoods and walk under this back massaging falls! Awesome! The second waterfall of note stopped our hike. The falls tumbled down a steep cliff and was supposed to drop beside a wooden bridge that traversed the gorge of the falls. Well, this falls was carrying so much water that it was pounding the bridge and huge winds were coming off the falls! There was no way we were going to try to cross that bridge! After taking some photos we turned around and enjoyed looking at the wild river as we hiked back to the car (and made one more trip through the smaller falls on the trail!). We need to look to see if this river is ever run in kayaks. To us, it looked unrunnable, but people are pushing the limits on what can and cannot be kayaked.

We did drive to Kahurangi NP, but not before stopping in the town of Karamea for lunch at the Last Resort. While waiting for our lunch I inquired about available accommodations. We booked a room for the night before heading our for a coastal walk in the park. This was another wild walk because the Tasman Sea continued to be worked up into a frenzy! Weather reports now tell us that the wind was regularly gusting to over 100kph, or 60 mph. Add to that torrential downpours and you have the makings for a very memorable hike! I did love looking at the crashing waves of the sea, but I could have done without the stinging rain on my face!

After almost an hour of hiking, we met a young guy hiking towards the car park. He asked where we were going and when he heard we were just out for a short hike and were heading back to town he asked if he could have a lift. Because we weren’t quite done with our hike, we agreed to meet him back by the info shelter near where Jucy was parked. When we all re-grouped and moved things around so he could get into the middle of the van we learned that his name was Kyle and he was from Chicago! And then we learned that he plans to hike the AT starting in March, just like us!! We dropped him off at a hikers hostel here in town and wished him well!

The rain continues to fall and the wind blows. We were going to spend 2-3 more days on the west coast (wet coast), but have decided to drive south a ways tomorrow, checking out the coastline, but then head back to the east coast, where the sun may be shining!

Here are some of the photos from today! Cheers!

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