Thursday, November 18, 2010

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.


Laura said...

This is the best blog in the entire world. THE. ENTIRE. WORLD. You have NO IDEA how much it brightens my days to read about your adventures! Seriously. Not that my days are horrible, but it is just SO EXCITING when you guys have a new entry up!!!!! Keep up the good work! I can't believe I get more than a year of this still to come!!!!!!!

Mom and Dad Mooney said...

Great post! Who needs to go to the gym with the "hiking" you guys are doing. Since you have passed your double kayaking experience, it will make you stronger marriage parteners (I should know what a tough task that was for you Kristen - I've double kayaked with Jonathan)

Anonymous said...

Okay....can you possibly make me any more envious??? New Zealand has everything!!! absolutely amazing pictures and fantastic stories.
love MOM P.

karly said...

love the stories!! cant wait for the next ones!! i miss you guys so much! xoxoxoxo

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely AMAZING trip you are having!I think you could get jobs as travel writers......
fantastic photos too - I had no idea NZ was so beautiful.Keep up the good work!
love from
A Eileen and U Trevor

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for my bottle of Red from NZ???????
dad P

Anonymous said...

Hi Kristen and Jonathan!
I am so envious. This was great to read & I love the pictures. Keep them coming. What an experience. I am so glad you are finally getting out to see a few new places once and a while. I think I heard Kristen's dad say that too.
Take care, Deb, Maria & Lucy