Monday, April 27, 2015

Currently: April

Current mood:  missing New Zealand. Seriously, it is SO disappointing to be "back to life, back to reality." It doesn't help that everyday I do a little organizing/labeling/editing of our 1,000+ pictures and am instantly transported back to some point during our 5-month adventure. I find myself day dreaming and night dreaming of New Zealand. 

Currently thankful for:  hot showers with good water pressure and fast, unlimited Internet… seems so simple, but these are the things we missed the most while in New Zealand.

Currently confused by: my husband's new look. I'm not sure I miss his massive beard, but having no facial hair is quite a change. He looks like he did in high school!! 

Currently spending time with: J's family in Denver. Both of his sisters and his mom now live here … and his dad is coming to visit this weekend. So we've hit a good chunk of his family. We've had a lot of nephew time, of course. We went out for Sushi with Jamie and Rachel to try to thank them for collecting our mail for the past 5 months (and more, really). And, we are up to 3 Scrabble games with J's mom. I am merely part of the Scrabble game because 3 players are better than 2. I think I win Scrabble every Leap Year or so. 

Even 2 1/2 year old Everett was in agreement that J's beard needed a little grooming.

Don't worry East Coast family and friends, we will make our way there soon!

Currently not excited about:  Doing taxes, paying bills, getting repairs done to our car … you know, all the things everyone else had to worry about the last 5 months when we were off delaying real life.

Currently excited about:  our unknown future. I know everyone wants to know "what's next?" We are literally taking it one day at a time right now and are entertaining a lot of different options. What we do know is we are starting work on the unfinished apartments in the house we own in VA to keep our rental property going and we are very excited about that. 

Currently worried about:  our unknown future. I can guarantee you our parents are more worried than we are, but thankfully they are getting used to our drifter life by now. We do love having a blank slate because the possibilities are endless! 

Currently proud of:  walking the entire length of New Zealand

Currently sad about: the disaster in Nepal and on Everest. As we were hiking in NZ, we decided Nepal was very high on our bucket list, especially after Jamie and Rachel, as well as Kevin, our NZ hiking partner, just returned from there raving about it. We will still go there, but our hearts are just so heavy for its devastated community.

Currently watching on Netflix: We get most of our movie recommendations from my dad, who watches about 3 horror flicks per day (no joke). We didn't have Netflix in NZ, so our list piled up. We are slowly making our way through the list. It will most likely take our whole life. 

Current guilty pleasure:  Whittaker's chocolate that we brought home as souvenirs for everyone

Monday, April 20, 2015

Epilogue 7: Sydney, Australia

We made the most of our 5 days in Sydney, taking all modes of transportation to get around (including walking of course!) and seeing a variety of sights and tourist attractions.

We rented an AirBnB in Darlinghurst, which was walking distance from the downtown. It was a tiny studio apartment, but much, much better than staying in a hostel for 5 nights and cheaper than a hotel room. It had a great balcony where we ate breakfast every morning.
Our first tourist venture was taking a hop on/hop off Explorer bus tour of the city. It was a perfect way to get the lay of the land from a double decker bus and hear the history of the city.
The bus tour even took us to Bondi Beach, one of the most famous beaches worldwide. It was a really beautiful coastline, but crowded on a cool autumn day. Can't imagine the number of people during the summer!

Next, we got a perspective of the city from the harbor via a sunset dinner cruise with Captain Cook Cruises. They say the views of the city are best from a boat. We concur. The dinner was yum and after we disembarked from the boat, we enjoyed Saturday night fireworks over the harbor. Not as spectacular as those done on New Year's Eve, I imagine, but pretty darn good.

On Sunday, we escaped the city to Blue Mountains National Park, a 2-hour train ride away. Most of the Blue Mountains make up a World Heritage Area. We did little hikes there adding up to 6 miles or so and the scenery was beautiful, but nothing can beat what we've seen the past 5 months in New Zealand. The one thing that was unique was the fact that the mountains are separated by gorges, creating a canyon. There are lots of sandstone cliffs, but there is also a lot of forest/rainforest. That's not typical of the canyons we see in the states.

We planned indoor activities for Monday because it was supposed to rain. Well, it ended up being a ferocious storm with teeth. We debated buying an umbrella to protect us as we walked around the city, but every rubbish container was an umbrella graveyard, so we figured why bother.
RIP umbrellas.

Our first indoor activity, believe it or not, was the Wildlife Zoo. An interesting building design because the animals were outside, but patrons were inside. All of the mammals, reptiles, etc. at the zoo were those found in Australia. So of course this included the koala bears, kangaroos and wallabys.

But there were so many others we didn't even know about! Australia is home to many of the world's deadliest wildlife, including the spider, snake and bird! Knowing what we know now, I have decided that it is probably not a good idea to ever go backpacking in Australia ... J is still willing to try.

We really enjoyed the Wildlife Zoo. J's favorite Australian native is the cassowary, the 3rd largest bird, which is flightless.
As for me, I fell in love with the Tasmanian Devils. Always in motion, like I like to be! (This made it hard to get a pix of them)

In the afternoon as the lashing wind and rain persisted, we toured the most visited attraction across Australia, the Sydney Opera House. This building design was the result of a contest during the 1950s and now it is one of the world's most recognizable buildings! We got lucky with our tour because the ballet dancers were rehearsing in one of the theaters and the orchestra in the other. So we witnessed mini performances!!

The bonus about our time in Sydney is that we got to meet up with our Te Araroa hiking partner, Kevin, one last time before parting ways indefinitely.
Which of these guys trimmed their beard and got a haircut since the trail?

So, after 149 days out of the United States, this ends our international travels ... for now.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Epilogue 6: Christchurch

Well, our 5-month New Zealand grand adventure has come to an end. We flew out on Friday morning and are now are in Sydney, Australia. This was after a brief "oh crap moment when the airline said, "do you have a visa?" And we said, "no, we are only in Australia for 5 days." And they said, "you need a visa if you will be in the country more than 8 hours." It all got sorted out quickly thanks to the awesome customer service agents in NZ.

In any case, our last stop in New Zealand was Christchurch (ChCh). While in ChCh, we were lucky enough to be housed by 2 trail angels, Max and Lyn.
We met Max and Lyn at the north of the South Island right at the start of the Richmond Range. We were 5K from the start of the trail and they pulled over in their camper van to ask if we wanted a ride. We declined, but had a nice 10-minute conversation with them, which ended in, "here is our info and when you come to Christchurch, we'll put you up." Only in NZ will you meet people who will take you into their home after barely 10 minutes of "knowing" you.

Max and Lyn are extremely well traveled and Max (who is nearly 70 I might add) is almost done section walking the length of the South Island. We had plenty to talk about. Max and Lyn definitely showed us our last bit of the amazing Kiwi hospitality. They housed us, fed us, drove us around (including to the airport at 4am) and played tour guide all around ChCh.
The first thing we did in ChCh was experience an earthquake. No, really, we did ... 3.1 on the Richter scale.

ChCh is very well known for its earthquakes. On Feb. 22, 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake devastated NZ's second largest city, killing 185 people to make it the country's 2nd deadliest natural disaster. Most of the deaths occurred in the 6-story television building, which collapsed at the time of the earthquake.

The earthquake and its aftershocks left nearly 50% of the buildings in the central downtown in disrepair. Four years later, the city appears as if the big earthquake just occurred this year. There are countless condemned building waiting for demolition, ongoing construction and closures around every corner.

This includes the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, built in 1881. Not only did the cathedral's spire fall and stained-glass windows destroyed, the earthquake left the structure unsafe. It is estimated the cathedral's rebuild would cost millions and it is still up for controversial debate whether it will just be demolished or not.

The city is forever changed and emotionally scarred. It is very sad. But, we saw the signs of rebuilding and rebirth and the city is slowly coming back to life. There is a really cool "restart" shopping district, where all the stores occupy containers. There is also a beautiful temporary cathedral open for worship, which is built out of cardboard, although you would never know that.

Touring the earthquake's disaster path was not the only thing we did. We also visited the International Antartic Centre. ChCh is the gateway to Antartica, which is only less than 4,000 kilometers away (2500 miles).
J & I would like to someday get to Antartica, but for now, NZ is the closest we will get. The Centre helps you experience a taste of life at the research stations with a simulated storm chamber, a ride on the Hagglund tractor vehicle used to get around down there and a 4D film taking you on a boat through icebergs.

The bonus at the centre is that there is a blue penguin exhibit. NZ is home to more species of penguins than any other country. Now we can say we got to witness the habits of two different penguin species! These little tykes are much smaller than the yellow-eyed penguins we met the other day in the wild. And these guys are injured or ill in some way, but they are safe at the centre.

And so our NZ grand adventure has ended. Boo. We both fell in love with NZ and hope someday we can come back ... Maybe even to live!