March 7, 2018

Queenstown - Then Home

I had the six bed bunk room cabin to myself until 11:30 pm when two new arrivals showed up. Late arrivals. One of the many reasons I don’t like shared rooms at hostels and the like. To their credit they were trying to be quiet and considerate. One reeked heavily of cigarettes. I told them they could turn on the light. I wasn’t asleep and kind of wanted to see who they were. They didn’t seem to understand what I said and continued to settle in under the light of their headlamps. I surmised they were French. I opened the window next to my bed to dilute the smoke smell.

The two late arrivals were asleep when I left to go running at 7:30 in the morning. The skies were cloudy as I looped around Glenorchy then headed west for a stretch of out and back along the quiet main road. When I returned one was up but missing. I went out to find something for breakfast and when I returned the other was waking up.

As assumed they were French. One was a young guy whose look and character couldn’t have been any more stereotypicaly French. I had actually met him before I went out for the Caples/Greenstone hike. I never caught his name but he had been hanging out in Glenorchy waiting for the weather to improve. The other was a very cute young woman from Brittany, France. She had just completed the Rees/Dart hike which is actually a closed trail due to a washed out bridge. She waited out the bad weather in a hut for four days so the water could reside enough for her to cross what remained of the bridge. She didn’t see anyone else on the hike and said the huts were wonderful. When she completed the route she returned to Glenorchy around 5 pm and happened to meet the French guy. Instead of finding accommodation and a shower like most any other hiker would do after a quick something to eat she wound up in a bar until they made their way to where I was at 11:30.

The skies began to clear around mid morning. The French guy was head up to do the Routeburn trail. Ines, the French girl, was needing to go to Queenstown for the day to resupply. I suggested we hitch together. I figured it would be easier for me to get a ride. A single guy can stand by the road for an hour to get a ride. A cute young French woman will get a ride in 10 minutes or less. It took us about 10 minutes.

The guy who picked us up was an Australian on a two week holiday. He has just completed a sky dive and was headed to Queenstown to get some breakie then on to Te Anau. He’s about to begin officers training for the military when he returns home. The three of us parted ways in a Queenstown parking lot. My last hitched ride of the trip. I made my way to the Crowne Plaza hotel to take advantage of my credit card anniversary reward night. It pays to have good credit.

It was noon so I was early for check in but they had my room ready. It was not what I expected. Apparently I had been upgraded but really I saw it as a downgrade. It was handicap accessible next to what must have been a utility room with a loud roar. I immediately went back to the front desk and said I really did not need handicap accessible and the roar in the room was really loud. I asked to be downgraded to a better room. The second room was just what I expected. Upper floor, balcony with mountain view, and quiet. Thank you. I am quite happy with my accommodation.

The afternoon turned out to be absolutely beautiful in Queenstown. The lake was placid and the surrounding mountains looked sharp with small light clouds skimming across the top of the peaks. The air had a slight chill in the shade but in the sun felt perfect. Many people sat in open areas around cafes and restaurants while others sun bathed on a small beach. I walked around, got a burger, took a short nap, and walked around a little more.

Tomorrow I catch a bus right in front of the hotel for a domestic flight to Auckland where I catch an evening flight to Houston. Thanks to the date line I’ll arrive home a few hours before I leave.

March 6, 2018

Glenorchy - Caples/Greenstone

It took me four rides to get from Alexandra to Glenorchy. The first ride was with a local guy about my age in his van with his dog. He works on a road maintenance crew and was on his day off running errands. A salt of the earth kind of guy with a good spirit who very much reminded me of an old friend in Colorado. He’s never traveled outside of New Zealand. He said everyone from abroad tells him he lives in the best country in the world so what’s the point in going anywhere else.

My second ride was with a middle aged couple from Dunedin. The were headed to Arrowtown to watch a golf tournament. The guy gave me an earful about president Trump but the conversation moved on to other topics as he seemed interested in where I was from. They were both into Animal Medicine or Animal Biology. Something like that and had spent a fair amount of time in the states and well as having lived in Chicago.

My next ride was very different. A van pulled up aside a little ways from me and I ran to catch it. When the sliding door opened it was four dark skinned men. Two looked black. You don’t see hardly any black people n New Zealand. I didn’t have a bad feeling or anything but was quite surprised. Only one spoke decent English. I asked where they were from and one responded, Vanuatu, which is an Island in the South Pacific. They had been in the country for 7 months and were headed home the next day. They were on their way to Queenstown for the day before heading home. I noticed the driver was driving very carefully and I enjoyed simple conversation with the one who could speak decent English. They were really nice guys from a poor country away from home making as much as they could for a better life in Vanuatu. The van appeared to be a work van that belonged to whatever farm they had been working for.

I blew right through Queenstown to Glenorchy. My final ride was with a woman in her late 50’s who had the aura of being fairly rich. She was from Auckland but now lives in London. She was back in New Zealand for holiday and to sell her beach property near Auckland. She suspected it was just a matter of time with all the crazy weather that there was a risk it could be washed away. She wanted to cash out before that happened. We took a leisurely drive up to Glenorchy where she dropped me right at the backpackers bunkhouse I had previously booked by phone.

The day was going smoothly and the next day I wanted to start a four day hike that can be difficult to get to. After I dropped my pack at the bunkhouse I went for a wander to see if I could figure out how to get to the start of the trail. I asked at information then went to the campground. At the campground I saw a solo traveler with a car that looked like a hiker. I asked if he was by chance headed to the Caples/Greenstone trailhead. He said he was and immediately offered me a ride. His name is Billy. He’s 24 and from Northern, California. He’s been traveling the country for around 6 weeks and really seems to be having a good time. We met up in the evening. I bought him a beer at the pub. He said he would pick me up at 10 am.

At 10 am it was raining. I saw a woman in her early 20’s standing near the small information/store by the pub. She looked like she was ready for a hike. I asked where she was going. She had just hitched up to Gleorchy and had no idea how she was going to get to the Caples/Greenstone hike. Well I knew Billy had space for one more so I told her I thought she could ride along. Her name is Bronti, from Spokane, WA. Billy showed up just after 10 am and we drove up a wet road with a couple of shallow stream crossings to the trailhead.

The Caples/Greenstone track is around a 40 mile hike. A strong hiker could bang it out in a couple of day but most people take 3 nights to make it more enjoyable. There are three nice huts along the way with amazing backcountry flush toilets. The route follows rivers up to a pass and back around. The valley is often broad and affords nice views of mountains on each side when the weather is good. The trail weaves in an out of forested and open areas. It’s a nice and relatively easy hike that has spectacular moments when the skies are clear. For me I only had really clear skies on day 3. Other than that is was what I’d refer to as atmospheric with clouds filling the valley, then thinning, then raining, then occasional clearing for a short view.

I really don’t much care from staying in huts unless the weather is really bad. There’s always someone who snores and when it’s raining the hut tends to stink of damp sweat and funk. If you camp near the hut and pay a mere $5 NZD you can use the common area for cooking and hang out by the wood stove. That’s what I prefer to do. I camped all three nights. Although I had to pack a wet tent every morning I was very comfortable and slept well.

The hike was uneventful and what I expected for the most part. Up and down with rocks, roots, and stream crossings. Day 3 was the best with good weather and broad valley views but I started to feel like I’d gotten my fill, for now. I thought about dad and what it might feel like when I get home. I thought about how fast the time had passed in New Zealand although the first two weeks I did understandably feel out of sorts. I also thought how things would be different when I arrived back home. This time for real but I see it in a positive way.

Tomorrow will be my last night in New Zealand. Tonight I am back at the backpacker bunkhouse behind the Glenorchy hotel. It’s nothing special but the toilet and showers are nice. I’m in a six bed shack all to myself for now. Keeping my fingers crossed. For my last night I am booked into a proper expensive hotel in Queenstown thanks to my hotel rewards credit card. They said I earned a free unrestricted anniversary night. From Queenstown I’ll fly to Auckland then home.

February 28, 2018

Alexandra - Roxburgh Gorge

With the Otago rail trail running right through Ranfurly I took it as a good opportunity to get in a long run first thing in the morning. The skies were cloudy and the temperature was cool with no wind. Perfect for running. I headed out one direction across a gradually rising open plain with occasional trees as I passed farmers fields. At the top of a rise I turned around with a comfortable stride aided by a slight downhill grade. I continued past town the other direction and checked my watch. I rounded back to town and finished at the hostel a little over an hour and a half later feeling strong and smooth.

Check out time is usually 10 am everywhere in New Zealand but I asked the hostel owner if I could stay until 10:30. No problem. Even though I had the place to myself the previous night I didn’t sleep that well. Sleep quality is a varied thing when traveling. I’ve had good and bad nights in a tent, hostel, or nice hotel. Sometimes when you think your not going to sleep great, you do, and other times when you think your in the ideal place for a good night rest, your not.

It took me two hours to get my first ride out of Ranfurly. There were not many cars passing and those who passed didn’t look like they were going far. Ranfurly struck me as a closed town. The kind of place where people are friendly as you spend money passing through but don’t expect much more unless you dig your heels in for a good while. As I’ve said before, small town is small town and Ranfurly could have been Nebraska minus the mountains in the distance.

My first ride was a short ride to a turnoff in the middle of nowhere. The driver first struck me as a typical older local farmer but kind of odd at the same time. His vehicle was a two seat work truck with a flat bed. He had some building materials in the back. I asked if he was a farmer and he gave me a look as to why I would assume that. He then voiced some kind of response that I didn’t understand. I then asked if he grew up in the area. Again his expression was one of why would I assume that. He responded that he chose to live there. He asked if I knew where I was and I responded, “Otago Valley”, hoping I was giving the right answer. After that the conversation became a little more normal with general chit chat as he told me about the area. I believe he was an ok guy as he was helping me with a ride but his social skills need a little work. I was happy for it to be a ride of only ten or fifteen minutes.

Sometimes the middle of nowhere is not a bad place to be. I didn’t wait long for Antoine to pick me up. A perfectly normal Frenchman from Alsace. Probably in his mid to late twenties. He’s been in New Zealand several months. He hitched for the first couple of months before buying a cheap car that is working out well for him. He was headed to a hostel in Alexandra that offers long term housing for fruit pickers. He wanted to get settled in for the grape harvest which makes perfect sense for someone like himself who is into food and wine. For Antoine life is about food and skiing. He came to New Zealand for their ski season but is a little torn about being in New Zealand right now. Apparently the European Alps are having the best ski season in decades. I told him how great the skiing is in Colorado and Utah. It’s on his list.

At this point of my trip it really doesn’t matter what I do. I’ve been playing the weather and have quite frankly enjoyed being off the main tourist track. Antoine and I arrived at Marj’s place around 2 pm. It consists of a backpackers bunkhouse hostel on one side of the street and their home with added on rooms on the other side. It’s in a very quiet residential area and owned by a retired plumber and his wife. Both are around 70 years of age. Marj and Murray are the nicest friendliest people you could ever meet. Again, a flashback to my travels in 1989. The way I remember it.

Beyond Alexandra is the tourist track with the crowds, high prices, and few options for places to stay because everything is booked. For example, I’ve been checking regularly for a hostel dorm room for one night in Queenstown. There are 13 hostels there and I have yet to see one bed come available. Totally booked. Queenstown is tourist hell in a beautiful setting.

Anyway, It just made sense to go for the clean quiet single at Marj’s for around $32 USD. It’s attached but seperate from the house and includes excellent facilities, kitchen, and wifi. Somehow getting blown out of Mt Cook set me on a very affordable easy track. I went to bed at 8:30 pm and slept for 11 hours. I guess I was tired.

Alexandra has turned out to be kind of a surprise. It sits in an arid valley that reminds of somewhere you might find in in the American west. A place in the desert. It has a rich gold mining history, a broad river that turns and flows through a rocky gorge. Roxburg Gorge. It’s a great place for mountain biking.

I had originally planned to stay one night and blow through Queenstown on my way to do some hiking but I awoke to clear blue skies. The weather has been varied. I chose to take advantage of the sun in Alexandra. I decided to stay another night and rent a bike so that’s what I did.

From Alexandra I biked out into the Roxburg Gorge to Dr’s point where stone shelters had been built by gold miners. I could see the tailing piles between the homes across the river. I backtracked to Alexandra and headed down the Clutha River Trail on an excellent trail that weaves it’s way through a forest next to the river for 13 km. At the end I arrived at the very appealing village of Clyde. After a cafe stop I continued and easy 8 km on the Otago rail trail back to Alexandra. The wonderful cycling combined with excellent weather made for a perfect day. Very much worth stopping over in Alexandra..

So, after two nights I figured I’d be on my way for sure but I was thinking rationally and chose to stay a third night. The weather is not that great and Alexandra sits in a rain shadow. I figured the closer I go west to the fjord lands the worse the weather will be. I counted my days and all I really want to do before my flight home is a hike that takes 3 ½ days with huts along the way. So, I figured out a plan. I’ll move on tomorrow to Glenorchy where I was able to book a bunk in four bed cabin or something of the sort then start the hike the next day. After that I’ll only have a couple of days left before wrapping it up and heading home. Time passes very quickly.

February 26, 2018

Ranfurly via Thumb

Well, I gambled and the wind won. After my last post I made my way back to an empty campground. The only thing left was my flattened tent with broken pole. I had secured everything really well so nothing blew away and my stuff inside was still mostly dry. I really knew better and should have packed right away early. Minus 10 for stupidity. Anyway, I didn’t have to think about what to do next. I just hastily packed, went to the community cooking shelter to get somewhat sorted, and moved on. I had no choice but to hitch hike.

My first ride was a short one. About a mile or so to the visitors center turn off. It was with a group of Chinese in a large camper RV. At the turn off I caught another ride within minutes. My second ride was with Jens, a German the same age as me, who has been living in Montreal for over 20 years. He was traveling alone and headed the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to get out of the wind and rain if possible. Nearby accommodation was impossible. We went East.

Jens said I was welcome to ride with him the rest of the day and he pulled out a tablet with an app for all the campgrounds in NZ. We found a nice campground north of Omaru near Herbert and decided to stay there. Jens is on an around the world trip. Kind of a soul searching sort of journey. After all the general small talk he told me more about the reason for taking time off. He had been married to a woman and then discovered he would rather be married to a man. He had recently broken up with his partner of 11 years. It was a little odd hearing his story as I am not gay and can’t relate. I don’t care what someones preference is, however, it can be a little awkward when you don’t suspect it. Anyway, we had plenty of other things to talk about in relation to travel, etc, and he was really helping me out with the lift.

There have been a few other times that I have met up with solo male travelers that gravitate towards me only to soon find out that they are gay. It’s always a little weird at first. Ultimately because I rarely if ever meet a woman who would like my company traveling. To be honest more men have shown interest in me than women. Now that’s depressing.

Anyway, Jens and I arrived at the campground around 6:30 in the evening under cloudy but still skies. I unfolded my tent to find that the fabric actually held up fine except for one tiny tear in the nylon and two smallish holes in the mosquito netting. The main aluminum support pole had bent and split in two. It must have been one heck of a gust. I needed some tools.

I saw a couple with a van who seemed have a lot of stuff. It turned out to be a guy from Manchester, England with his cute girlfriend from Lithuania. They had a tool box and were happy to let me use it. Pliers, wire, some over priced duct tape, a little bending, cigarette lighter, trial, error, and success. Good thing I had an aluminum pole shaft splint just in case. I got the tent back up with enough time for drying before it got dark.

The tent held up well overnight and I stayed dry when it rained. The rain stopped with sunrise and I was really able to get sorted. I assessed all my stuff and appeared to have everything. The tent repairs look like they will hold for the rest of the trip.

Jens and I took time packing up. He then drove me a little further down the road to Hampden where we stopped for coffee and breakfast at a really good cafe. We sat and talked for about an hour before parting ways. He was headed back down to Omaru to see penguins. Jens was extremely nice and helpful. I feel very lucky to have met him and it made for an easy time of reorganizing and repairing my tent.

So, back to riding the thumb. It took me a good hour to get out of Hampden. I was on the main highway between Christchurch of Dunedin. My first ride was a short one with a rough middle aged Kiwi that gave me an earful about what he thought of Donald Trump. My second ride was another short one with a Korean guy at the start of his 8 day vacation. I think he was kind of wishing I was going his way as I think he wanted company and like a lot of Asians I also think he wanted to work on his English. I got out at Palmerston.

That’s when the time warp began. All of a sudden I was 24 and it was 1989 again. The first time I visited New Zealand. Anyway, an older gentleman in an older looking tweed suit pulled over as I was walking out of Palmerston. He rolled down the window. I looked in. He had a sandwich in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. He asked if I would like a ride. I said I was headed to Ranfurly which is where he was headed.

Thirty years ago a foreign tourist was a curiosity to a Kiwi. Now a foreign tourist is just another foreign tourist but this guy, by the name of Steve, showed some of that old curiosity. He had questions. I had questions, and he was more than happy to tell me everything about what we were seeing as we passed.

As with everywhere in New Zealand the countryside is absolutely beautiful. He told me about a large gold mining operation in the area. It kind peaked my interest so he decided we should take the long way to Ranfurly so I could see it. Up through the hills. The pastures mixed with sheep and rocks reminded me of Ireland. A little further the hills started to look like English Moors. As we got close to the mine it reminded me of the High Plains of America. New Zealand is so varied, so diverse, in it’s natural beauty.

I couldn’t really fill you in on the specifics but let me tell you Frasers pit is one hell of big hole in the ground. I’ve never seen a gold mine like it. The heavy equipment at the bottom looked like ants scratching the earth. A the bottom of the pit is a tunnel that goes deep below sea level to following a seam. The top of the pit is over 500 meters above sea level.

After stopping to view the mine Steve continued with his commentary on everything we passed. He’s and older gentleman that lives in Dunedin and worked as a general surgeon before moving into more administrative duties. He was on a day trip to Ranfurly for a meeting. When we arrived he dropped me at tourist information located on a short main street. Of course I gave him a big Thank You!

Ranfurly is a small agricultural town set in a broad flat valley surrounded by mountains in the distance. It’s off the main tourist track and makes for a nice place to pass through on a scenic drive. There’s the Otago rail trail which is popular for cyclist but other than that or a coffee break there’s really no reason to stop. That’s why I decided to stay a night.

I inquired at the tourist office where I might find a cheap single room. The lady called the local backpackers hostel which is an old post office that’s been converted. She asked if they had availability and got a quick yes. For about $37 I got my own private room with common area, kitchen, and shared bathroom facilities. At 7 pm I think I should have taken a dorm as I’m the only person here. That’s how it was in 1989. I’d turn up anywhere, get a dorm, and have a good chance of having the room if not the whole place to myself.

The Old Post Office Backpackers is run by an older Kiwi Couple who are super nice and friendly. It’s only the second hostel I’ve stayed at during this trip that’s be run by Kiwis. Usually they are run by foreigners which was not the case in 1989. Back then they were all locally owned and run by Kiwis. Today reminded me of the New Zealand I first visited.

After getting situated at the hostel I went for a run, took a shower, had the host do my laundry for a small fee, and checked out the town. Well, town is pretty dead. There is one really good cafe that closes at 6 pm, a hotel bar with farmers drinking Speight’s beer, a couple of small grocery stores, and an Indian run restaurant that opens at 5 pm. Tomorrow morning I’ll go for a run on the rail trail and hitch on a little further.

February 24, 2018

Mt Cook Region, New Zealand

After two proper rain days in Geraldine I left the hostel with clear blue skies overhead. The road I wanted to take to Mt Cook was closed due to a washed out bridge but a local told me there was a detour so I thought I’d give it a try anyway. For hitch hiking that is. A good number of cars passed until a van full of Germans stopped to tell me the road was closed. I told them I thought there was a detour. They didn’t know anything about the detour. I stood awhile longer until a car load of Chinese stopped. A young woman rolled down the back window and softly asked where I was going. They were headed to Lake Tekapo which was right on the way to Mt Cook. I put my pack in the back with their luggage and they moved over so I could squeeze into the back seat. There was a detour. It led to the other road the Germans told me I should take. However, had I not been on the closed road I would never have met the Chinese. Funny how things work out.

The two women sitting next to me were in their early 30’s and seemed eager to engage in small conversation. I think they wanted to practice their English. Fair enough. The men sitting in front didn’t have anything to say but the driver was very good and wasn’t messing around getting to Lake Tekapo.

Like most all lakes in the South Island Lake Tekapo is quite beautiful and situated in a broad open valley. The main tourist attraction is a small stone chapel with a large picture window facing the lake. Aside of the setting and window I wouldn’t say the chapel is all that special but for whatever reason it’s on the list for Chinese travelers. They were all over the place taking photos and selfies. I thanked the Chinese for the ride and took a couple of photos with the women. One of the guys shook my hand and I thanked them in Chinese. Sheshia. Not sure how the spelling goes but that’s how it sounds.

So, back to the road. It didn’t take long to get the next ride. Constantine, a 29 year old from Germany, stopped with his 1988 Toyota camper van. I told him where I was going and he said he would take me. Constantine had been driving around New Zealand for awhile and was scheduled to start a Mtn climbing course in a couple of days. He had some time on his hands.

Constantine reminded me more of someone from Italy or France. Not so structured, easy going, and relaxed. As it turns out part of his family is from Italy and he lives close to France. We hit it off and he gave me some tips on what to see and do in the area while driving me straight to the Mt Cook visitors center and campground. He also told me of a hike he heard about up Wakefield ridge. It’s a non maintained trail that ascends steeply from the valley and follows a long ridge to Mt Wakefield. We decided to meet the next morning and at the very least hike up the ridge. The rain that fell while I was in Geraldine brought a fair amount of snow to the high peaks. Constantine and I figured we would go as far as we could on the ridge as long as it was safe.

Constantine picked me up at the campground the next day at 8am as planned. We found the trail to Wakefield ridge with no problem and started hiking straight up. Once we gained the ridge the views were absolutely spectacular. We followed the ridge for about a mile until we ran into snow. The summit was still a long ways away considering. Snow, wet loose rock, and exposure caused us to make a fairly quick decision that it wasn’t safe. It was already a great hike in of itself so we just spent time enjoying being up there. And, we had it all to ourselves as we didn’t see anyone else.

After the hike we grabbed a couple of beers at Mt Cook village then drove up another valley for a short hike near Tasman Glacier for a view. At the end of the day Constantine took me back to the campground and we parted ways as he needed to get ready for a mountaineering course that was starting the next day.

The following morning the weather was spectacular again so I hiked up to the Muller Hut and beyond to the summit of Mt Olivier which is the first Mountain that Sir Edmund Hillary ever climbed. I imagine he was quite young at the time. It’s not a difficult climb. Just a bit of rock scrambling. No snow, ice or glaciers. The view across the valley from the Muller Hut and Mt Olivier is pretty outrageous. The photo at the top of this post was taken on the hike up.

Well, after three great weather days things have turned. I am sitting in a cafe about a mile from the campground. It’s windy as heck and the forecast is predicting heavy rain. The wind is getting stronger and gust are predicted to reach 60+ miles per hour. I have my lightweight tent pitched in a pretty good spot with some protection but not great. A sensible person would have have packed camp this morning and found some accommodation for the night but good luck. Everything is more or less booked unless you want to pay. Hostels or anything reasonable are totally booked. Some tents were already flattened this morning but I’m sticking it out. I think I’ll be fine. If worse comes to worse I can move into the campground cooking shelter. Several moved in last night when the wind started.

As for now I am in Mt Cook village a mile away. There’s a nice visitors center with a museum that highlights New Zealand’s rich climbing history. After all, Sir Edmund Hillary, a native New Zealander, was the first to reach Mt Everest with Sherpa Tenzing. In the village there’s also a hostel and a couple of hotels. The Hermitage is nicest hotel with 5 star views for over $200 USD a night. It’s stays fully booked through the season. The cafe at the hermitage offers some reasonably priced food and is a good place to hang out. However, as I look at how the wind is picking up I am a little concerned about my camp. The sideways rain is concerning. The wind is supposed to stop tonight with the rain ending by sunrise. Tomorrow is supposed to be nice. I’ll let you know how it went in my next post.

February 20, 2018


It’s a nice little agricultural town near the mountains. Situated on the edge of a flat plane that’s a good two hour drive from Christchurch. I just arrived in Geraldine via bus and there’s a cold steady rain. The remnants of Cyclone Gita. The worst of it is due to pass today through Cooke Strait just south of Wellington. It’s supposed to be fairly miserable weather through Wednesday. I got pretty wet on the walk to my accommodation. The 20 bed hostel is fully booked with backpackers just hanging out. The South Island is all about the outdoors. When the weather is bad there’s not really much to do other than sit in coffee shop. So, that’s what I am doing.

I had anticipated the foul weather and booked ahead which is good. The owner of the hostel says it gets packed from mid January to mid March. Had I not made a reservation I’d probably be in a tent tonight. I figure Geraldine will be the last hostel of the trip as I plan to camp or stay in mountain huts for the rest of my time in country. On Thursday I’ll go to the Mt Cooke region.

New Zealand is a beautiful country but there is nothing exotic or challenging unless you go for a stiff hike in the backcountry or immerse yourself in the Maori culture of the North Island. I kind of miss a little challenge and a bit of the exotic. New Zealand doesn’t really have that to offer me. In some ways I feel like I’ve gotten a little soft with such easy travel but I guess that’s ok.

When I first visited New Zealand in 1989 a lot of things were different. Some of the most notable are: Everyone drank tea and now everyone drinks coffee. There were tons of sheep everywhere but now not so much. Everything was Kiwi owned and run but now it’s pretty international everywhere you go. It seems like most all of the hostels are run by people from other countries like Germany. There were a lot fewer cars. You never had to make a reservation for anything. Fish and Chips were everywhere. A foreign traveler was still a novelty to locals. Kiwis are plenty nice and friendly but not as outgoing friendly as before. To be fair though the whole world is changing. Places like Paris and London are far different than they were even 10 years ago. The world is becoming more homogenized. In some ways I think it’s for the better but in other ways not so much. The world continues to become more and more like America.

The bus ride from Christchurch was quite nice even though the weather was terrible. The young and pretty Japanese woman to my left was a pleasure to sit by. I guess she was about 25. She’s on an 8 day quick tour through the country. She works for JAL as a stewardess and has run 3 marathons. She’s obviously well educated and appears to have come from a good family. Her English was pretty decent. Most Japanese speak poor English if any which is surprising. She flies the route to Paris regularly and aspires to run the Medoc Marathon which is known for it’s fine hordurves and wine at the aid stations along the way. She likes wine. She wished me well when I got off the bus as she was traveling further. I never caught her name. In 1989 I would have gotten her name for sure. And a mailing address. I would have sent her a post card and might have even traveled to Tokyo. Timing is everything but I couldn’t date someone who is far young enough to be my daughter. I’m not one of those guys.

One thing the rain is good for is writing. I've been writing this inside Robbies cafe right on main street. It’s a simple place with reasonable prices for simple foods. The d├ęcor is a little quirky, cheesy, and plain. The fake fireplace heater works well. The mismatched furniture adds a bland charm. It looks like they tried to go with a some sort of decorative idea but it’s not really happening. Gray wallpaper with white flowers opposite pink and white striped wall with ice cream freezer. Small town is small town. This particular area reminds me of middle America.

February 18, 2018

Christchurch - The Jailhouse

I started the day with a solid 12 mile run around a park in Christchurch with clear skies and a cool temperature. I’ve been doing a lot of walking, hiking, and running. One or all activities just about everyday. My fitness level is quite good. Better than it has been in awhile. I really think the clean breezy fresh air of New Zealand adds a lot in of itself. It’s been a good while since I’ve clicked through 12 miles feeling as smooth, steady, and strong as today. It felt great and was one of those kind of workouts that leave me feeling satisfied. For me it was special and makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

A couple of days before leaving Wellington I was a little peeved when I got an email from Interislander Ferry that my 9 am booking was changed to a 7 am. I contacted them to ask why and they said some of their crew was sick and they couldn’t take as many passengers because of safety issues. You think they would have a better contingency plan for such a situation. I was then told I needed to check in by 5:45 am which meant I would have to get up very early, around 4:30 am for a long walk in the dark to the ferry.

I contacted the ferry on a couple of other occasions and pleaded my case. Sometimes when you talk to someone else you get a different outcome. After all, I was originally booked on the 9 am and the 9 am was still running. One person I talked to said there would be a shuttle van at the train station at 5:45 am which would make the walk easier. Another Interislander rep told me there was no shuttle van at that time in the morning. The representatives I contacted were firm, all business, and really had nothing to offer but a refund if I’d like it. One stated that 300 passengers had been randomly moved off the 9 am to the 7 am. I checked their website one more time. It was showing seats available for the 9 AM. I could have booked another ticket according to web. I contacted Interislander again and told them I could buy a new 9 AM ticket off the web. I asked what was up with that and they said there must be a mistake with the system. Still no break. At that point I dropped it and decided I just needed to get up at 4:30 and make sure I got on the 7 am. I had a bus and accommodation already booked on the other side.

I left my room at Tepuni Village before 5 am and walked fast. As I passed through the middle of downtown Wellington some sketchy guy was walking slowly along the sidewalk while angrily shouting profanities. I saw this same sort of thing several times in Auckland during daytime hours,. If someone were doing that back home the cops would be called but I not in New Zealand. I crossed over to the other side and around a corner to avoid being seen. I made it to the train station quickly.

At the train station bus stop I met three Maori women from the Northland who were on holiday and heading South. They were in the same predicament as me and had been switched to the 7 am. They were told someone would be there to pick us up. I would have walked the additinal 30 minutes or so to get to the ferry but the path isn’t so clear in the dark and I was told it was a dangerous walk along a buy highway regardless. Two more couples showed up. At that point there was 8 of us total.

At 6:10 there still wasn’t a shuttle. I suggested we try to get a couple of taxis. Just as I was about to do that a van pulled in. The driver said he had been scheduled to pick us up at 6:15. By time we got to the terminal the ferry was just finishing boarding. At 6:45 the ferry pulled away from the dock. It all worked out but still I had been given bad info by every Interislander rep. There is another ferry service. Blueridge. I tried to switch to them but they were all full. I found out they are the better ferry as their dock in right in the city.

Aside of getting a lousy nights sleep it was kind of nice arriving early at South Island ferry port of Picton. Picton is a pleasant little town. I stored my pack in a locker at the terminal. I then went for a short hike and had lunch thanks to the extra time. Afterwards I retrieved my pack and found the stop for the bus to Christchurch.

An Aussie with a backpack was waiting in line next to me and we started talking. He arrived on the 9 am ferry. I asked him how it was. He said it was good. A full boat. Go figure. I found it odd that my booking was changed by the ferry company two days before the ferry was due to leave. I suspect what really happened was a booking issue on their end coupled with bad communication or something. The 9 am was probably overbooked so they moved some people to the earlier ferry. Obviously not 300 passengers. Anyway, as always, everything worked out fine. Heck, in some countries stuff like this happens regularly. Like a train strike in France or a bus driver, in some other country, showing up late because his 7 year daughter was having a birthday and he couldn’t leave before having a piece of cake. All kinds of wacky unplanned stuff can happen with transportation but in New Zealand you really don’t have to deal with too much monkey business. It’s almost always on the up and up. Just a minor delay as can be expected from time to time.

It was a beautiful day for a bus ride down the coast to Christchurch. We stopped in the seaside town of Kaikoura for 40 minute break. If the weather is good it’s a nice stop. The bus parks at a cafe and there’s a large lovely beach of smooth round black rocks of various sizes.

We arrived in Christchurch right on time. I then took a local bus to the Jailhouse. The Jailhouse hostel that is. It’s an actual old jail that’s been converted into accommodation. I booked it for novelty sake and like that it’s near a park. I have my own room which is an actual cell with a bunk bed. The walls are very thick as well as the door which is heavy gauge steel. The place has a lot of character and is popular with young travelers. There are a few of us older folks but it’s mostly young Germans and Chinese from what I can tell. The employees wear orange shirts with prisoner ID numbers as they vacuum and clean toilets. The bed spreads are black and white striped. The manager on duty is called the warden. It’s quite novel but the toilet facilities leave a little bit to be desired. It’s not a bad hostel and good for a night or two. Needless to say the place does kind of has an odd vibe.

Since I arrived later in the evening I really only have one day in Christchurch so I’m happy to just hang out after having such a good run this morning. I was in Christchurch for several days a couple of years ago so there’s no need to spend much time here. Tomorrow I’ll move on first thing.

February 15, 2018

Matiu/Somes Island, NZ

One of the things I’ve learned while traveling for an extended period of time with a loose plan is that when you find yourself in a place you like you should really consider staying a little longer than anticipated. I like Wellington and it just seems to suit me right now so I inquired if it would be possible to stay a little longer. I also asked how much I had paid for the first three nights. Well, I had the exchange rate mixed up and actually I’ve been paying around $33 USD for a top floor single room with a view. Breakfast included. They said I could stay until the 18th. After that the building is vacated and prepared for students to move back in on the 25th. Campus stays in the summer are a real bargain but sometimes you kind of have to seek them out. I just lucked into this one via the internet.

Naturally I had to tweek the plans I made a couple of days ago but it was no problem. So, I’ve extended my time in Wellington by 3 days. My revised travel plans are better than the original. I need not fret over any decisions for the next few days as I have it all worked out. I don’t generally like to plan too much but sometimes a little structure is good as it keeps me moving forward more efficiently. Sometimes I can become indecisive with too many options coupled with no specific goals or direction. Being totally open can make one available for some great last minute options but if your not still moving forward with some sort of a loose plan a lot of time can be wasted going nowhere.

Everyday I’ve been doing some interesting. Today I went to Matiu/Somes Island. It’s a nature preserve and only a 20 to 25 minute small ferry ride away. There’s a network of hiking trails and great views all around. It once served as a quarantine station for immigrants, an internment camp for 80 or so Italian/German POW’s during WW2, and then a quarantine station for livestock which ended in the mid 1990’s. Atop the highest point are the concrete remains of several foundations that once supported large guns to protect the bay from enemy boats during WW2. Now it’s a very peaceful place to visit and makes for a nice day trip.

One of the things I’ve been kind of missing out on in Wellington is meeting people. I guess I’ve been more content to kind of keep to myself. I haven’t been running into any real characters but I will say I have noticed a couple of odd looking folks during breakfast. The breakfast crowd is a mix of mostly college aged kids of different nationalities that appear to be participating in some sort of group trip, workshop, seminar, travel, I don’t know. I did meet a really nice young woman from Canada in the floor common area who is a physiotherapist that has relocated to Wellington for a new job. She was booked in while finding a place to live. Anyway, we got to talking and one of her specialties is working with cardiologist and heart patients which related to some of the issues my father had before passing. We talked for awhile and I told her about what my father had gone through etc. She was very good at conveying her knowledge and it made me feel more like the right decisions were made in the final days before my father passed. It’s funny how at times a chance meeting can lead to a conversation that’s very pertinent and can make you feel better.

As for now I’ve got a couple of more full days in Wellington then I’ll hop a ferry for the South Island. The photo above is a picture from Matiu/Somes Island with Wellington in the distance.

February 13, 2018

A Nice Day In Wellington

Today was a nice day. One of the better days I’ve had in awhile. I awoke, formed a plan for the rest of my time in New Zealand, bought a couple of tickets, booked a hotel for later, and went for a nice hike/walk. The weather was more or less perfect.

I left the Northland of New Zealand a couple of days ago. At first I had a couple of beautiful days up there then the weather turned consistently fowl. When I left it was during the fourth day of rain. Sometimes the rain was light and other times quite heavy. I had a good visit with Deb that turned out to be seven days in total which is kind of what I had in mind. The place she’s caretaking is really nice but a little bit isolated. Just enough to make it kind of difficult to get away without some sort of transportation. She walked the mile with me to the road where I had to hitch a short ride in the rain to Kaoe. For there I caught a bus to Auckland where I walked around for awhile before catching an overnight bus to Wellington a the southern tip of the North Island.

Wellington is my favorite city in New Zealand. It has all I like in a city. It’s built on hills and mountains that flow down to a harbor. There is plenty of culture and arts. Coffee shops are everywhere. People tend to be very active. I’ve been amazed by how many people I see running on trails during the middle of the day on a weekday. The university draws a lot of young people which keeps things fresh and new as well as the artists. And like most all of New Zealand people are nice.

In places such as New Zealand, Australia, and Europe some Universities turn a dorm or two into a hotel in the summer for budget travelers. It can be a very good value. In Wellington I was able to book three nights at Te Puni Village which is a dorm complex for Victoria University. It’s built on a hillside overlooking the city and harbor. For around $43 USD I get my own room with breakfast. I am on the top floor with an amazing view. Considering the cost of New Zealand is on par with more expensive regions of Western Europe, it’s a very good deal. Ah, and it’s quiet as well. The students move back in around February 24. You have to remember that the seasons are opposite south of the equator.

Anyway, today was a really nice day. Not just because of the lovely weather but because I felt more like myself. I did a walk that started from my accommodation on the University grounds. I found the Northern Walkway at the botanic gardens where it begins. From there it’s a 10 mile route into the hills that eventually climbs up for a spectacular view atop of Mt Kaukau. Beyond the summit the path continues down to conveniently end at a train station for a very pleasant ride back to the city.

I finished my day with a nice Miso Ramen at a Japanese place before heading up the hill at the end of Vivian street to Te Puni village. Wellington has a very good variety of places to eat. Tomorrow I’ll have another full day in the city and there’s supposed to be more nice weather.

February 8, 2018


Yesterday was a lovely day but today it’s cloudy and raining steadily. I went for a run this morning along a couple of rural roads while the rain was really light. Last night was the best I’ve slept since leaving home. I’m laying low and giving myself a little time to just rest.

Deb is out in the rain working on tangerine trees. As a caretaker I don’t your going to find anyone who is more responsible and conscientious not to mention honest. The rabbit killing cat got another one today which gave Deb quite a scare as she at first thought it was a rat. I suppose most people have a phobia of one thing or another and Deb’s is rats. Rats don’t bother me at all. I’m not sure rats are an issue here but she seems to think they might be around.

In my last post I talked about the Indian yelling into his cell phone. He was just one of many characters I have met traveling. Sabbis was a tiny slice of India in the north of New Zealand but chill by Indian standards. Before Sabbis in Kaeo I was staying at a Hostel/Lodge outside of Kerikeri that was run by an older Swedish guy in his early 70’s. The lodge is a simple Scandinavian design originally built by a Dutch man who skimped on things to keep construction costs down which meant for thin walls. It’s called Relax a lodge and could potentially live up to it’s name if the owner didn’t like to stay up late drinking with guests. The place is surrounded by an orchard with a nice verandah and swimming pool. The downside is that it’s a little close to a busy highway but the noise is tolerable.

I stayed three nights. The first night wasn’t bad. The second night a middle aged Aussie showed up around 9 pm with wine. He and the owner drank and talked loudly until 1 am. Of course the Aussie snored like a freight train when he finally turned in. Remarkably I still got ok sleep with my ear plugs. I commented to the owner the next day that things were a little loud the previous night. He didn’t deny it at all and kind of apologized. He said he wouldn’t be doing that the coming evening but he did to a lesser degree and things got quiet around midnight. That night my neighbor in the room next to me was a young tattooed Chinese guy who checked in late. I don’t know if he was alone or not but the noises coming from the room were kind of odd. It sounded like he was sharpening or working on something. However, it also sounded like there might be someone with him and monkey business was going on. I slept poorly that night and actually banged on the wall a couple of times for him to quiet down which is something I never do.

In the morning I woke kind of tired and stressed so I went for a nice one hour run in the rain, showered, fixed breakfast, and got my stuff together. Around that time a few others started getting up. I almost left in time to miss an older Scandinavian guy with a big gut wearing nothing but a small towel and flip flops. He was searching the kitchen for stuff to make coffee and obviously felt perfectly at home.

I just needed to get about 12 miles down the road to Kaeo and asked the lodge owner if he knew of anyone headed that direction. He wasn’t very helpful so I just walked out to the road and hitched a ride. A divorced single woman about my age picked me up in a nice vehicle. She was simply getting away from Auckland for a few days and actually went out of her way to drop me right in Kaoe. It’s not uncommon for local driver to go a little out of their way to help a foreign traveler in New Zealand which is very nice.

So, who else have I met? I met a guy from Canada hiking on Great Barrier who had been living on sailboat with his ex-wife and her boy friend because he and his ex have a seven year old daughter. The kicker is that the ex wife also has a baby with her current boyfriend. Ex wife, new baby with boyfriend, and 7 year old daughter with ex husband all on a sailboat. Needless to say he was kicked off the boat. As he put it, “The experiment failed”.

While at the campground on Great Barrier Island a seagull flew down the vent pipe to a pit toilet and was stuck in the hold. An American woman staying in the campground became obsessed with rescuing the seagull. News spread around the island in no time. An older barefoot woman living on the island showed up with a net. The obsessed American was leaning over the toilet trying to fish out the seagull with some fish. A blue collar New Zealander from Auckland commented to me, “Bloody hell. It’s a seagull! There are plenty at the dump. Flying rats. Bloody Hell! It’s not an endangered species.” I kept my distance. I wasn’t getting involved. In the end the seagull was not rescuable and died in the toilet. Later I was to find out that the obsessed American woman was going through quite an ordeal at home. Her husband is transitioning to a woman. I mean seriously, I could right about someone everyday and maybe I should. You can’t make this stuff up. I can talk to anyone when I want to and people love to tell their story. I like to listen.

People travel for all kinds of reasons. The younger backpackers tend to simply be out for an adventure. Plain as that. The older backpacker type travelers are more of a mixed bag and travel for many reasons. Some are getting over a divorce or serious relationship, are between jobs, having a midlife crises or are running away to or from something. The older stable couples and those with money tend to be traveling more for the sake of travel and at a higher standard than I normally do. Occasionally I’ll fork out a little money and travel like a normal person my age but unfortunately I don’t meet many interesting people that way.