New Zealand Wonderland
Thursday, December 9, 1999
Initiation complete – my travel legs are established! I was in New Zealand for 8 days and I made good use of my time. I flew to South Island into a hip international tourist town called Queenstown, had a good sleep and meal and departed to a small town called Te Anau where I completed a 4 day/3night tramp in the Fiorland Wilderness (the Kepler Track). [Note: “tramping” is the NZ word we use for “trekking.”]
The track (again, “trek”) starts through an incredible rain forest – pines, huge ferns, palm trees – and it’s spring here so the greens are fresh and succulent and bright. After 1½ hours of pleasant forest, I endured a four-hour ascent with a heavy – way too heavy – pack. I was dreading the next two days. As “luck” would have it, there was an official event happening – The Kepler Run – where people actually run the entire track (37 miles) in five plus hours (the winner).
So, helicopters were flying equipment and people up the mountain. I asked the hut warden (you stay at a basic hut each night) if some of my unnecessary stuff (I’m calling my unnecessary stuff my tumor) could be removed from the mountain by helicopter. Pat, the warden, who is also a 76 year old dynamo of a woman, said “oh, no…can’t be done.” I must have looked pathetic and she very reluctantly took pity on me and after much finger shaking and lecturing from her (educating me, really) and much begging and groveling from me – my tumor was helicoptered down the hill and delivered to my motel – YAH!! I was sooo happy! I bounced my way around the track, my load lightened and my heart full. I sure did appreciate her act of kindness!
Another thing happened on day two. After a rough mountain ridge pass (high winds, pelting rain), you begin descending back through another rain forest with a crystal clear river winding through. I was walking along and for “whatever” reason, I looked behind me and there was this incredible bird called a Takahe (Tah-KAH-HEE), which is an endangered and nearly extinct bird. He was just following me down the path – friendly and social. The conservation department has a special program in place to save the Takahe – there are only 200 birds in existence and they have their own mountain, which is next to Kepler. They are extinct because they cannot fly so predators have wiped them out. The preservation program controls the predators so the birds have a chance.
This poor bird traveled a long way from home! I took off my pack and followed him around with my camera and he posed for pictures. I must say that the Takahe spotting was BIG NEWS on the track – I was the lady who saw the bird!! He truly was amazing – a stunning bird with a big red beak and blue/green feathers over a black body and red legs. I knew I was experiencing a special moment…how prosperous I am! I’ve got good shots and if I can get one to you on the internet, I will.
The tramp was lots of fun because I met people from all over the world and we traveled – not together – but ended up in the same destination every night. I met 4 wonderful, fun, great women from New Zealand, a couple from Vancouver who are out for 2 years, a nice young woman from Germany and a stunning 19 year old boy/man from South Africa who was a free spirit and had amazing presence. There were a few from Sweden, Denmark, Holland and of course, England. I was lucky to actually have some Kiwi’s (New Zealander’s) around!
After the tramp, I went Sea Kayaking in the Milford sound which was a fabulous experience. In the morning, the sound is calm and in the afternoon the wind kicks up and the water is rough and it’s tough to paddle through it. We had five double kayaks “tied” together (meaning you hold the kayak next to yours) and the guide made a make-shift sail which was held up by paddles and we sailed across the sound. Great fun!
After that, I went to Christchurch – a nice English town – and walked through the botanical gardens and had a nice slow cooked lamb shank dinner. There’s nothing like New Zealand lamb!
I did just enough in New Zealand to know that I want to return for at least 2 months and spend time on both islands. It’s been a great starting point on my around-the-world journey because it’s easy here – no language barrier and they know how to move people around efficiently.
I hope this e-mail isn’t too long – you can’t format and make it look nice in Hotmail (unless I just don’t know how!). My Bon Voyage seems like a long time ago…I so appreciated seeing everyone and receiving your well wishes! Next stop…Australia! I’d love to hear from you!