Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Wish I Were a Glowworm

'I wish I were a glowworm, because a glowworm is never glum. How could you be unhappy when the sun shines out of your bum?' This was what the campsite host gave us in terms of advice when we asked about the glow worms that we heard inhabited the area. The directions went something like: 'You go into the deep dark forest, make a right, left, left right, over the hills and far away till you can't see you hand in front of your face, and there, you will find the glowworms. At least this is about what Jonathan remembered of the directions as we shuffled into the dense black forest later that evening. There was a boardwalk, truth be told, lit by faded glow in the dark stickers. Stickers, it turns out, don't give off much light. Just when we thought we were the subject of a cruel joke, we came around a corner (I think) and we saw them. The ground was illuminated with tiny white/blue LED looking Christmas lights. It was quite a show. It's amazing how nature can produce such unnatural looking colours. Lucky us!
The next night, one significantly colder and definitely windier, we found ourselves back outside, at Mother Nature's whim, this time, waiting 'patiently' for the Blue Penguins to return from thier day of feeding at sea. While we waited we had the pleasure of watching the Albatross soar above the Albatross Centre next door. These massive birds have a nearly 4 metre wing span and need a lot of wind to get them off the ground. Luckily (for them) it was a super windy evening. It was quite a spectacular sideshow for us as well.
The main Blue Penguin event took a bit of waiting. But they had to return, they had babies in nests all around us! Two volunteers from the Department of Conservation were nice enough to meet us down at the beach just before 9pm with big neon jackets, nametags, red light flashlights and a wealth of information. Just before the penguins arrived in 'rafts' (groups) we learned that Blue Penguins, or Baby Blues are no bigger than a ruler at 20-25cm. Their 8 week old chicks, which were pointed out to us as they got braver in the fading light and came out of their burrows, were about the same size as the parents as they were yet to loose their big fluffy baby blue down coasts in exchange for the waterproof ones their parents sported. The chicks called for the food and the parents, returning to shore called back reassuringly. Parents spend from before sunrise to sunset 15-17kms out in the ocean feeding. They return home to their chicks, who have been waiting in their burrows all day, and feed them. The chicks stay at home for only 12 weeks and then are fully independent and leave. Probably sounds like the ideal situation for many human parents. It was incredible. The volunteers pointed out the penguins as they came up onto the beach, chatted a bit and then made their up the steps made specifically for them. We stood still and the penguins waddled practically across our feet and passed us to burrows (old rabbit holes.) The rabbits were none to happy about this. The only reason these penguins survive is the predator controls set up around the area. NZ is infested with many introduced spieces, such as ferrets, possums and rats who would have easily eaten all the chicks whose burrows are so easily accessible. Even with the predator control the chicks only have a 30% chance of survival.

Penguin week, as we refer to it as, continued the next night. We stopped to see the Moreaki boulders. In themselves the boulders are quite a sight. At the ocean's edge, at low tide, perfectly spherical, perfectly smooth, very large boulders sit unexplained as the only rocks on an otherwise completely sandy beach. Some are cracked or have craters in the middle. There are pieces of what was obviously other boulders strewn about like someone had come by with a massive sledge hammer and smashed a few up so we could see the insides.
Anyways, we were insearch of a nice place to make dinner and saw sign for a lighthouse. We remembered somthing fellow Spaceship-ers had told us long long ago in the Norht Island about being able to see something from the Moreaki Lighthouse. We couldn't remember the details, so we turned down the side road to jog our memories. There was a 'Penguin Crossing' sign in the car park and a steep path down towards the ocean. We walked down the little path and found a tiny wooden shed. It was a penguin hide! Yellow eyed penguins are very cautious, we learned. If they see someone or something on the beach where their burrows are that they don't know they won't return home. This means the chicks will die because they won't get any food and the penguins will die because they need rest after hunting all day. So,the lighthouse owners and Conservation groups built this shed, complete with binoculars so humans could enjoy the penguins without disturbing them. There were two British girls already there, so we chatted with them, protected from the wind and cold while we awaited the penguins. Again. Waiting, Waiting. Jeez. Didn't these guys know we were here? Their chicks certainly wanted them to return. They were quite vocal about their opinion in the matter. Our patience was rewarded a short while later as the yellow-eyed penguins started to return to shore. They are double the size of the Blue Penguins. Black and white with a thick yellow band all the way around their heads and over their eyes. They were so entertaining as they road the waves into the shoal, hopped up, waddled around, called to each other and hopped some more. The free binoculars really came in handy! We probably only saw about 6 or 7 of them, but seeing any wild penguins is more than I hoped for. Although I don't want to bore you with our 2 other penguin sightings, we also stumbled upon a Fijordland Crested Penguin on a beach on the West Coast as well as more Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Bushey Beach in Oamaru.
New Zealand is winding down, which is a little sad, so we needed a pick-me-up. Conveniently for us, NZ's Cadbury Factory is in Dunedin, and so were we. Not like I have been planning, and looking forward to this day from the instant I saw the Factory advertised way back in Auckland or anything. And, you know, I don't mind chocolate. Plus, it was a little overcast, and we couldn't see the penguins until the evening, so really, we needed something to kill the afternoon.
The entire block the Cadbury Factory encompasses smells like melting chocolate. It would be a lie to say I didn't literally skip down the street to the entrance. How do people live here and why aren't they all fat?! Move over Niagara Kraft Factory. Sure your Shreddie making infuses downtown with the smell of sweet baking, but you have nothing on melting chocolate! Earlier we had told the man who pointed us towards to glowworms that we were planning on going to the Cadbury Factory. I might have gone into a little detail about all the chocolate I planned on consuming. He looked at me and said 'Well you know what they say about a balanced diet?' I crossed my arms and waited for a lecture on the food pyramid. 'A balanced diet is a chocolate bar in each hand' he finished. It was with my health as motivation, really, as we walked through the purple and gold entrance into a display of about 5 million Crunchie Bars.
Its costs us $18 each for a Factory Tour. Yikes. I promised to eat nothing but plain bread and water for the remainder of our trip if we could only go in and see (and smell..and taste). Plus, the ad says we will get 'free samples' so really we are getting a deal. Saving money, no doubt. Jenny, our Tour Guide starts us off with a chocolate bar (Marshmallow Fish coasted in chocolate) and a movie about Cadbury's origins. I like Jenny. She quiz's us afterwards on what we learned. Quick, correct answers are rewarded with mini chocoalte bars. There are only five of us on the tour. We catch onto this game lightning fast and the remainder of the tour we are like enemy contestants on a game show with a buzzer. We listen carefully to every word Jenny says (I take notes) and then scream out the answers to her questions like we are going for a million dollars and not a 20cent mini chocolates (that they sell for exactly that price in the store downstairs). Ted would have said I "bearing down" on the questions. Good thing my husband is so smart. If it were a contest, he would have smoked that American guy and those two girls from Northern Ireland. Good work, honey! And as for his bulging goodie bag... you know what they say.. 'What's his is mine, and what's mine.' I think thats the whole saying. Just 'What's his is mine.' We saw chocolate chips and Easter eggs being made, 12 kg bars of chocolate (perfect size), a shocking liquid chocolate fountain and lots of other things that I remember tasting more than seeing. It was an afternoon in heavan. $18 well spent. The only thing I was left wondering was: can we do it again?

NZ Cadbury Fact: The population of NZ is 4 million. The Cadbury Factory, over a period of 6 months makes 45million large hallow Easter Eggs. That works out to more than 10 Easter eggs per person in NZ ALL consumed within the Easter week!! This is my kind of country.

ps. Again, just wanted to put the call out to anyone who reads this and has any contacts, volunteer or not, anywhere that we are headed on this trip to send them our way, please. Thanks!

A Taste of the South Island: Sand, Sea Lions & a Mouthful of Sandflies

Abel Tasman National Park was next on our hit list. I had been looking forward to kayaking in the azure waters next to golden beaches that the website promised for months. We bit the bullet and rented kayaks for the day. I had wanted to have individual boats. Double kayaks are generally not good for our marriage as they rely on paddling in unison. This is a proven fact. 'Can you roll a kayak?' asked the obviously superior sportsman type of a owner. 'No, but we own kayaks and have quite a bit of experience in choppy water' (aka the wind storm we paddled through on this year's paddle adventure up north). 'Can't roll, can't rent a single kayak.' The kayak owner felt we would be in grave danger if we tipped in a single kayak and could not roll. 'What would you do if you hit a big wave and tipped?' He challenged. Well wouldn't we do the same thing if we tip in the double kayak? Or more likely, what if one of us lunged in anger across the kayak, because his/her partner just can't paddle/steer, and attempted to use his/her paddle as a weapon, like in American Gladiators, resulting in a capsize. Not that this has happened before, of course. Theoretically. Even more likely, what if someone's sunglasses slip off and the other person desperately tries to reach over the side for them as they sink to their ocean death, again, resulting in an unfortunate capsize. Another theoretical situation.
Either way, whether it was the gorgeous scenery, the private sandy coves, the crystal clear aqua water or the majestic stingrays sightings, I am happy to report that the double kayak was a surprise success. It was the kind of kayaking you dream about, really. We returned tired, but with all our personal belongings, limbs and marriage in tact. Phew.

Further south, in the land of the vampire like sandlfy (blackflies, for you back-homers), we experienced the 'big stuff.' The home of the Southern Alps, Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers and the infamous Milford Sound were all that we expected and more. We renamed Franz Joseph 'Gramps Glacier' for obvious Corsaro reasons. (Frank Joseph was Grandpa's name, for those who aren't related to me.) While at a campsite in Franz Joseph town we had the privilege of meeting two fantastic European couples. Our rental Spaceship had a special with this campsite, and there ended up being four Spaceships in a tiny camping area, so really our meeting was in the stars... haha. Marco and Nadine are Dutch and on a five month adventure through South America, Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, French Polynesia, NZ and Australia. We stayed up late (by a campers standards) and they showed us amazing pictures from their trip thus far. By the time Jonathan and I cuddled into our beloved camper I already had my pocket atlas out (this is exactly why I never leave home without it) and was determining what would be our first South America route. Could we fit in Patagonia AND Machu Pichu? What did he think about Columbia? Should we start saving for the Galapagos cruise that we were most certainly going to splurge on? Most importantly: When could we squeeze this little continent in? I fell asleep dreaming of amphibious lizards and alpaca sweaters. Ahhhh. Sweet dreams.
The other couple, Vicky and Kevin were from romantical Bruge (Belgium). The land of my (other) true love: chocolate. They had been saving for a house but decided instead to use that money and travel for five months. They started in the most beautiful country of all, Canada, driving from Toronto to Vancouver and then south along the west coast of the US to LA. They flew to NZ from LA the same day we did and are heading to Australia when they are finished their adventures here. It was nice to hear about their travels back home. They talked about being in Niagara Falls, walking from the KOA on Lundy's Lane down to the Falls, greyhound-ing across the prairies, friendly Canadians, and, of course, Tim Hortons. Canada's legend. They spent their last Canadian dollars eating at Timmy's feeling that it was only appropriate. Sidenote about how much I miss this Canadian icon of hot beverages. You take it for granted when you can get a tea for $1.50 on practically every street corner in the entire country. And to think how annoyed I was that they started charging more for small, medium and large teas. 'Its only more hot water!' I thought. 'What a rip off!.' I take it all back. Tea only comes in one size here. It's small, and I think that's the large. And it costs at least $4.

It's funny how we see so many tourists every day in Niagara, and generally, working in tourism, you aren't all that concerned about what they think of Canada, or whether or not they are enjoying the Falls. In fact, you really would prefer if they would all go home. Especially in July. But then you meet such nice people, who have been to your home town and then you actually hope that they enjoyed it. Or wished that you had known them then so you could have shown them around, and where to park, and where not to eat.

Anyways, meeting Marco, Nadine, Vicky and Kevin was inspiring. Meeting people who are as passionate about travelling as we are is encouraging, and reassuring. Maybe we aren't crazy. Or..maybe we are, but now's not the time. It reminded us how lucky we are. And how happy we are to be right here, right now, enjoying this moment, upsidedown, on the other side of the world.

Back on the east coast of the south island we were again in search of wildlife. The Otago Peninsula for all you map followers. Our guidebook vaguely mentioned a 40min hike to Sandfly Bay which we read to be a beautiful beach with the potential of seeing penguins and sea lions. Both animals were still in line to be checked off our wildlife list, so we drove the squiggly, wiggly, narrow road to the carpark. There were people in the parking lot emptying what appeared to be sandboxes from their shoes. Their faces where flush with exertion, but they told us excitedly that there were, in fact, sea lions down there, but make sure you 'cover up from the sand' they warned. This was going to be fun. The wind made itself known the second we opened the van door. It was the strongest wind I have ever (attempted) to walk in. It was literally blowing me off the path. And believe you me, I haven't been skipping dessert.

From the lookout high above, we could see sea lion-like-specs down on the beach. Were we going to investigate? Why, of course. The wind was ferocious. I was willing to endure this. We dressed in layers, our wind breakers on the outiside, zipped to the top, hoods in position, sunglasses on. We started down the steep dune. Steep is becoming a common term in my vocabulary. The sand billowed through the dunes like water rushing through a stream. I took my camera out for the quickest of shots and instantly regretted it. I should have known better, having owned a camera less than a year ago that met it's demise in less sand fury. (side note: the camera is fine) But, it was magnificent. I had never seen anything like it. The sand seemed alive. If the grains were alive though, they were mean little blokes. It was painful. Every little centimeter of skin left exposed was pelted with what felt like miniature arrows. Smurfs were shooting sand arrows at our cheeks. The sand grains sounded like hail on our jackets. All I could taste was sand. All I could see was sand. It was so much fun. By the time we were at the bottom of the dune there was more sand in my shoe than foot.

We stumbled out of the sand tunnel, and almost into ginormous sea lions. They were massive. At first I thought that they were dead. Most just laid there as the wind rushed over them and the sand piled up against them like snow in a snow drift. They were like sea lion sand castles! The more active ones walloped around, swinging their huge heads and rolling around onto their back like dogs who want their belly rubbed. What word do you use to describe how a 1000lb sea lion moves? It was amazing. I tried to give them a wide berth, because they are big, and I am small. And, really, no matter how slow they looked, me, running uphill into that sand dune, would be slower. Jonathan was braver. He can run fast. While I practically went swimming to avoid them (they were everywhere, so it was hard) Jonathan trapzed passed a few meters away, laughing as I soaked my shoes in the rising tide. Again with the tides. As usual, Jonathan was right and the sea lions really couldn't be bothered less by us. There were no penguins so we turned around and headed back across the beach..and the beasts. The wind was like walking against a wall. The chances of my escape from the sea lions, if need be, was growing thinner by the second.

We finally reached the bottom of the sand dune. Why this felt like an accomplishment when the what surely is the steepest sand dune known to man loomed in front of us is unclear. I sized up the dune. It rose up like a cliff. 90 degree angle, no doubt. Every step my foot sank in the sand to my ankle. By the time I fought my right foot free my left foot had sank back to where it began. I was walking backwards, forwards. I didnt know this was possible. Or is that the moon walk? Call the Guinness World Records people! We scaled the sand dune and realized it was now our turn to intimidate the approaching tourists by emptying our sandbox shoes for them to see. Oh the entertainment.
Going to 'Sandfly Bay' our biggest fear was that it's namesake: the (horrid) sandfly (the blackfly's evil cousin) would cause us grief. We now know that the 'Sand fly' most likely refers to all the places sand would manage to 'fly.' There was sand gritting between my teeth for the rest of the day, it took two showers to get the sand from my hair, there was sand INSIDE our inside layer of clothing, inside our closed bags, in our pockets, and still today, in our shoes. Somethings are just worth it.

NZ fact: We hate sandflies.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Marlborough Sounds Chocolate & Wine Festival

Marlbough Sounds in the North of the South Island is known for its world renowned wine. In particular it's Savignon Blanc. The climate is perfect for the grapes, situated in a valley that competes with a town on the other side of the mountain the the most hours of sunshine a year. 2000 plus. Needless to say we found it rather convenient that we would be in town just in time for the Marlborough Sounds Wine & Chocolate Festival. However, considering this particular Fetsival is one we invented ourselves, you really shouldn't be that surprised to discover that there wasn't an overwhelming turnout. Two people at final count. The origins of this Festival were simple. We picked a little winery, 'Mahi' and went for their free tasting. We tried a generous helping of 5 wines. Two Savignon Blancs, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and a Pinot Nior. Jon sipped and, being the constant designated driver poured the remainder of deliciousness into my waiting glass. An hour or so later, after learning all about Marlborough wines, for example, for a wine to say 'Marlborough' on it ALL the fruit must have been grown in the Marlborough valley! Anyways, as we floated out of the winery high on life and fermented grapes, a bottle of our very own Marlborough delicacy in tow, my darling husband turns to me, its (for moments like this one that I married the man) and he says 'Hey, why don't we go buy a (massive) (side note: I didn't say, 'massive': Kristen just assumed I meant massive...go figure) bar of chocolate and have a wine and chocolate festival?' Ahhhhh The sweetest words to ever have fallen upon my ears. It started to rain as we exited the corner store with our jumbo chocolate bar of heaven. It is the first rain we have had in weeks. The weather has been unbelievable. If you can imagine anything more fun than sitting in a van, in the rain down by the river (aka: our campsite) with an award winning bottle of wine and a massive chocolate bar I would like to hear it. Nothing right? As a result of this year's reviews I highly suspect this inaugural Marlborough Wine & Chocolate Fest will be the hit of the season come next Spring. Maybe next year they will even splurge on actual wine glasses....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Things Are Going South

Jonathan relied on the 'ancient' alarm clock to get us up in time to catch our 8am ferry from Wellington on NZ`s North Island to Picton, on the south. We discovered just before we were headed to bed that our alarm watch didn`t work. So Jonathan took one for the team and drank three bottles of water assuring that he would be up bright and early, if not before. The truth behind this 'bladder alarm' has yet to be verified, but, sure enough, at 6am on the dot my darling husband was awake and racing to the bathroom.

The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton is a photographers dream. I found a spot of morning sun on the front deck and happily clicked away for the next 3 hours. Wellington's harbour is a sight in itself, but then in the distance snow capped mountains come into view, and finally you are in the Marlborough Sounds. Like the Island Queen in Parry Sound our massive ferry squeezed its way through narrow passages into pristine waters and in between towering green mountains. A Christchurch native pops into our conversation by pointing out a salmon fishery on the coast. He tells us all about the massive earthquake that devastated CHristchurch about 8 weeks ago. The earthquake was a result of a fault line that no one even knew about until the quake. He says the earth quake only lasted 30 seconds but it felt like an hour. It was 4 am, so like most he was in bed. He said the quake was so strong that he couldn't even get up. Houses on the lake opposite his literally slid into the lake and the people who lived in them still don't know if they will be able to re-build at the site.

Straight from the ferry we drove south down the most gorgeously distracting highway to Kaikoura. The wind swept the massive waves along the huge sandy beaches or tossed them dramatically into cliff alongside the road. Ocean spray from the tips of waves in the distance completed the magical atmosphere. I held my camera out the window clicking in hopes of capturing at least a smidge of the wild, seemingly abandoned coast. The abandoned feeling probably comes from the fact that only 1 million people live on the whole of the south island. The road, of course, is the main highway to Christchurch, the biggest city on the south island. It's a whole new world down here.

Before the 1980s no one wanted to even come to Kaikoura. It was nothing but a small fishing town Kai (meaning 'food') and Koura (meaning 'crayfish', aka lobster). Once word got out that there was a whole lot of accessible sea life in this tiny seaside village. The tides changed, coming in full of tourists. I fell in love with the town before we even got there. Twenty or so kilometers north was a small roadside sign saying 'Seal Colony.' We pulled over, even though the clearly self explanatory sign should have prepared us, we were delighted to see and actual seal colony frolicking just below. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is extraordinary.

In Kaikoura, snow capped mountains practically fall into the ocean. There are few places in the world where mountains are so close to the sea. It is spectacular. The problem is deciding where to look. You look at the sparkling water and feel guilty for not paying more attention to the majestic mountains. So you turn to the mountains and you miss the dolphin just off shore. What's a girl to do?

Other reasons I love Kaikoura include the magnificent Kaikoura Peninsula Cliff Walk, the FREE ocean-front camping, accessible fresh water tap, friendly i-site ladies and, of course, the seals. After our cliff walk we settled ourselves at the Kean Point carpark and watched another seal colony for the entire afternoon. The seals played and lazed and lazed and played (emphasis on the lazing) and so we followed suit. We set up our beach chairs on the edge of their colony and became, for a few hours anyway, honourary seals. Don't you feel bad for us?

ps. We finally got around to trying the Hokey Pokey ice cream (solely because of your request, mom). These are the flavours in our cone: Hokey Pokey, Goodie Goodie Gum Drop and Mint Chocolate Cookie Smash!

pps. We are starting to gather contacts for Southeast Asia. If anyone knows anyone we could meet up with or any volunteer opportunities we could piggy back, please let us know. Thanks!