Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whale Watching

Liz and I took a speedy little boat powered by some psyched Maori's out to view Sperm whales migrating. The coast of Kaikora is very special in that it drops down to far depths right off the coast. The wildlife you can see on this particular stretch of coastline is pretty rare.
Sperm whales, as we learned, hang out on the surface until it's time to hunt. At which time they float just under the waters surface then come up for one last blow before diving straight down as far as they need to. Because they are such careful and prepared divers, they make easy targets for whalers and are listed as vulnerable.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Travels with Mum

The day Kyle's mom Liz flew into Christchurch there were gail force winds ripping through town. Flights were canceled going to or from Wellington (which is at the southern tip of the North Island) but she made it despite. She stepped off the plane ready to explore and take advantage of every day she had with us in this beautiful place. Ava immediately took her to her favorite animal park, Willowbank, to show off the kiwi birds, eels, and baby ducks.

I was up in Castle Hill climbing with another escapee mum...

Snake Eyes

Quantum Mechanics

... but I met up with them and we headed to a quaint little cottage called Sign of the Kiwi at the top of Summit Road and had proper tea and scones.

Sign of the Kiwi

The next day, we ventured to the Banks Peninsula for a beautiful lunch in the French city of Akaroa. It was a sort of pre-road trip for our big west coast road trip.

The next day, we piled into the New Jersey Devil (aka Greg's car) and were on the road again.
It felt great to embrace the freedom to adventure once more and head away from stability and comfort, strangely. We hadn't road tripped in almost a month and a half so it all felt new again.
In Christchurch, it was raining, snowing, and hailing all at the same time but the moment we got out of town it was sunny and the snow covered mountains glowed in the distance. We were headed to Mt. Cook first, then to Milford Sound and back up the coastal road. I put my iPod on shuffle and it seemed to echo the soul rebel vibe in the car playing more Bob Marley than I knew I had. Nothing says alpine road trip like Bob Marley.

Day One: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo then to Mt. Cook

The pace was set for our trip when we arrived at Lake Tekapo, we rolled in, ate an amazing sushi meal (best sushi in NZ cause they raise the fish just meters from the restaurant), and then walked down to the lake and nearly got blown away by the fierce winds that still lingured.

Suspension Bridge Walk in Aoraki/ Mt. Cook National Park

Day two: Twizel to Queenstown

On our way to Te Anau and Millford sound we made a stop in Queenstown which I had no idea was a ski town. We rolled in and I thought I was in Steam Boat Springs but it was prettier! Kyle and I got to have our first date in ages and Kyle and Liz went on a high speed jet boat ride through a tight tight canyon. They said that at times they were only inches from the canyon walls while the driver threw 360 degree loops at high speed!

Day Three: Queenstown to Te Anau

Eucalyptus Tree in Lake Te Anau

Day four we made reservations for a cruise down Milford Sound which was supposed to also drop us off at the underwater observatory but somebody wanted a day off...
Milford was overcast and overwhelming. The drive lead us through some amazing terrain. We stopped for a hike to see The Chasm, which in the midst of the alpine jungle was as green as a rainforest in spring.

The Chasm

Milford Sound

Day Five: Te Anau to Invercargill (latitude 46S) to Dunedin

Day Five was a big driving day. We took the "scenic highway" around the coast to Invercargill thinking that it would be scenic and coastal but all it was was long and arduous given that we didn't realize it was the hikers scenic highway. But we stopped in a great cafe established in 1893 in Riverton which broke the driveup nicely.

The rad metal sculpture of a bike and there was an even bigger man statue looking into the sunny horizon in front of it but we couldn't fit both in the picture! They were huge and in the middle of no-where-sheep layden- merino country. Just when I thought I was going to start getting sedan fever we saw a penguin colony sign.

We parked the car and I ran into the fray hoping to finally get to see a penguin which I had been hoping for all trip. I arrived at a concrete bunker perched on a bushy hill above the ocean just in time to see a yellow eyed penguin pop up out of the ocean and waddle itself to rocky safety. It was great. And it made the trip for me.

Then we drove down the coast a bit to "Kaka Point and the Nuggets (which sounds like a Kiwi rock band) and ran down the mile trail to see a rainbow arching across the ocean as the sun went down, seals playing in the pools below. What a way to complete that leg of our journey! The day that started out dull, finished with a BANG.

Kaka Point and The Nuggets

We stopped in Dunedin hoping to meet up with our friend Bill Hatcher but somehow through every means of communication on both sides, we failed to connect. We stayed in this run down holiday park and Ava and Granny Liz snuggled and we all slept like babies, take that back, over traveled adults.


St Kilda Beach

Carrie view finder broke three months ago, but I like the pictures I make haphazzardly!

I finally dress Ava like a girl with a skirt and tights and she felt so comfortable in them that she rolled in the sand and made "snowman".

While in Dunedin we visited the Larnarch Castle which was medieval and Baroque at the same time. And then we traversed a high ridge to visit the Otago Universities Marine Studies Center. Ava is obsessed with sea life. So we hung out in the coolest, albeit tiny of aquarium centers. One of the grad students who was from Florida was there to answer any questions and Ava got to play with crabs and star fish, limpetts and urchins, and they even had an octopus. We got Ava an application for early admission.

That night we stayed in the ultra plush holiday park in Moeraki and had a decadent dinner at Fleur's, one of the best restaurants in New Zealand. Right on te water they serve up some succulant seafood dishes with a French flair. The bacon wrapped Blue Cod and the sticky date pudding with poached pears and homemade ice cream are still haunting my dreams.

Fleur's Restaurant

Day six: Moeraki to Christchurch

Carrie photo

Moeraki Boulders

The Moeraki Bouders are a wonder of nature. They are perfectly sphericle and look like they were dropped from space. No one knows the nature or how these boulders came to rest on this beautiful southern beach. It was a treat to play on them as the sun rose above the sea at low tide.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The New Jersey Devil

At the ripe age of 30, I learned how to drive a manual automobile.
Applause rings in my ears every time I say that to myself.

My good friend Greg Locker had been in Castle Hill for two months when we arrived. He had bought the first cheap car he saw at the backpackers car lot in Christchurch and had lived next to it in his tent for his entire stay. When we rolled in, Greg was more than ready to end his trip abroad and wanted the fastest departure he could manage. So, he gave us his car.
I tried to pay for it on multiple occasions.
"I don't make money exchanges with friends." He replied with an air of: Just take it. Please.
The car is a mid-eighties Toyota Corona. I'd never even heard of it. Maybe it's the Corolla of the rest of the world. Who knows? In any case, it was a durable beater with at least three different paint colors and a license plate that would scare any respectable church goer. This rig was to be mine.
With a hearty thanks I remarked to Greg that I finally had a reason to learn how to drive stick. Before, knowing how to operate a manual car would have been just another trick under my sleeve and so I felt no pressing urge to learn. But now, this was my only way to get from our home base in Christchurch up to the boulders. I simply had to learn or not climb, often.
Knowing that this was the case, I made a trade with Greg: If I cut his hair, he'd teach me to drive a manual transmission.

And so it was. With my left hand on the joy stick and the pedals in their usual place, I looked right before left and shifted my way to a bachelors from the Greg School of Driving. I could now drive myself through the city, and into the mountains. I was a step ahead of Miss Daisy.
How liberating.

My self portrait driving home from Castle Hill. I got stopped not by the cops but by 200 cows walking up the road followed by men on horseback, and dogs nipping at their heels.

It wasn't until I had to park in my friend Christina's driveway that I achieved my Masters. I had to use the parking brake as a catapult lever so that I wouldn't reverse into her house at a 45 degree angle. (I was so nervous.)
The New Jersey Devil is now for sale for $300. A scream'in deal for a sturdy car that Ava still refers to as, "Greg's car." I can't say though, that I'll be sad to see it go.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Home Is Where Your Passport Is

Could Christchurch be home?
When we embarked on this trip we did it in part as a test run for a possible temporary relocation. Being that surfing and rock climbing are soul sports for Kyle and I, respectively, Christchurch was the most likely city in the world that we could imagine being suitable for our family collectively. As we began to roll through town and familiarize ourselves with its sub-neighborhoods, coast line, and downtown, we were immediately taken by three things:

The beach and it's surf,

the Avon River that runs down the middle of the city like a zipper,

and the cities quaint, contemporary attitudes.

There is something about this city that feels like home to me. I grew up primarily in Louisville, KY home of the Kentucky Derby horse race. I love Louisville. It is an affluent and cultural city in an unlikely state. When I tell people I'm from Kentucky they size me up and check to see if I have all my teeth and am wearing shoes. I believe in the warm area of my big red heart that if there were rock in Louisville I would move there. Well, it would have to have surf too of course. When we drove down from Castle Hill into Christchurch we drove through horse country. It even felt like Kentucky: rolling green hills, race horses, tall tree fence lines. There was even a business called Kentuckian Racing. Helloooo!
And that is only the area outside of town!! To get into the city center we drove through one of the nicest public parks I've seen, ever. I wanted to go and lay in the grass and let Ava run through the botanical gardens. But for Kyle, it was the surf that inspired his longing. He's been so inspired that I was finally able to pry him out of the water before sunset to take some photos!!!!

New Brighton Beach is 10 minutes from city center.

Kyle is a lover of nice things, especially nice old buildings. No matter where we are he is the first to point out a slate roof, or beautiful stained glass window. Christchurch has an abundance of cute houses and well maintained old buildings. I think Kyle has mentioned about 7 times how much he loves the slate roof on the cathedral on Cathedral Square.

A beautiful door that Ava discovered on a walk down the Avon one sunny cold day.

I have to mention the library at New Brighton because it's a place I want to visit every day. It has single serving couches with desk tops that face the surf breaks at New Brighton. Ava and I go there to read books and watch daddy surf. And if we need a break from sitting and watching we just walk down the pier that comes out of the library and hover over Kyle as he paddles to catch his next wave. It's brilliant. It makes me want to study in it. It makes me want to study here. Have I mentioned Castle Hill yet?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Flock Hill

If you don't plan, things will still happen. Amazing. We have been staying at the Craigeburn camp ground which is just 10 minutes drive from the boulder fields, less if you are going to Flock. We've met all sorts of characters here at the camp but it wasn't until my friend Justin Wood arrived that we met Derek Thatcher and the strongmen of Castle Hill. We met the boys at the Flock Hill parking and zoomed up to the boulders. It was still early, 9 am maybe, and there was slippery frost covering the ground. People kept disappearing into the tall grass with a yelp and someone would yell, "Boom-agata!" Which to me sounds like a line from a Tribe Called Quest rhyme.

Lady Killer v3

We warmed up on a beautiful slabby, runnel problem and on many others whose names I know not. There is no formal guide for Flock Hill. But that's why we have Derek. There is something to be said however for heading up there without a clue because there are so many boulders, moderate problems, easy obvious warm-ups, and projects to be cleaned so fresh eyes are appreciated here!

Justin working on an FA.

The vibe was buoyant. The guys were sending their long standing projects, cleaning new ones, and sending those too. It was impressive and it set the scene for our trip here.

Pete "The Radness" on Mullet Arete v6

My project Mobeous v8

Even Ava was inspired!

Zac on Vapor Trail

James Morris working a project just before getting the second ascent of Derek Thatcher's Vapor Trail v10.

Captain Contact
Justin's 10th v8 of the day, his first day in Castle Hill.

The sun set behind the mountains and we were still climbing, the flash from Kyle's camera gave us just enough light to see the holds.

We descended the hill as the stars woke up. Sliding into thorny plants and falling over rocks, it would have been very helpful if we had brought our head lamps! We found ourselves running downhill trying to descend the 25 minute trek to flat land before we hit total darkness for the remaining 20 minute walk. When can we go to Flock Hill next!