Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy Easter and New Zealand South Island Reflections



We have completed our month long tour of the South Island and what a trip it was. Mostly because the weather was on our side the entire four weeks, which is rare in southern NZ. The weather here can make a trip super enjoyable or plain miserable, with unexpected road closures. While I was fearing a slip blocking the main (and only) road down the West Coast, it was a bridge washout, 3 days after we drove over it, that closed this road; that was close. We felt so lucky to have been able to visit that part of the country (West Coast) before it was cutoff for 2 weeks waiting for a new bridge span. The West Coast (often called the Wet Coast) features blow holes, charming creek trails, long swing bridges, pancake rocks, blue pools, rugged beaches, and glacier hikes.

The only sad part of our trip was the Christchurch mosque shooting on our first day on the road. We, and the whole country, have been trying to grasp how something so common in the US, especially living in the state (Colorado) where some of the worst shootings took place, could happen here. Kiwis are welcoming and understanding of different races and religions. Auckland is a huge melting pot of Kiwis, British, South Africans, Australian, Chinese, Indian, Russian, Korean, Afghans, Syrians, etc... The fact than an Ozzie did it, as the prime minister Jacinda Ardern called out, is a relief: it was not “one of us”, this time. Still, we thought we escaped that type of violence in this corner of the world, and it was a sad reminder that mental health issues and white supremacy are a plague everywhere.

Spencer timed his arrival to Queenstown the day it poured all day (and took out the West Coast bridge). That worked out well for jet lag recuperation and wasn't bad enough to shut down our trip on the coal steamer TSS Earnslaw.
Mom hanging on to her treasure
Fiordland National Park was as incredible as we read about. While Doubtful Sound - the longest of the two main sounds - is worth seeing, Milford Sound definitely has the wow factor with sheer walls of rocks shooting in the sky and towering waterfalls. The road to Milford Sound is packed with gems to taunt you along the way. Because it rains 80% of the time in Milford, it felt even more special to experience it in clear weather. We swam in Doubtful and kayaked in Milford. The amount of rainfall received the week before created a deep top layer of fresh water that made you feel (and taste) like you were in a lake.
Milford Sound overnight cruise boat
An update from our previous blog entry; we now LOVE Wanaka. The town is quiet and subdued yet with superb eateries and cafés. No traffic. Great hiking trails. The Rob Roy’s Glacier track was our favorite. Mountain biking trails that follow the lake and cross rivers on a swing bridge were like biking Betasso with a river to follow. Sweet…. 
Fat time mountain biking in Wanaka
We ran into Young Adventuress Liz at a local coffee shop. We have been following her expat funny blog and thanked her for pointing out the Allbirds shoes to us. Our whole family swears by these comfy shoes.

AllBirds gang. We just can't live without those shoes

We took LOTR tours to learn about some of the movie locations. Twenty years later, the movies still generate revenues for local tour operators, most of them operated by Kiwis who were recruited to be extras on the film set. It seems that pretty much everyone in the country was involved in some form or another to help produce the film. They were even recruiting tourist extras from camp sites, and horses from wherever they could even if they had to paint them to fit the movie. Our tour guide claimed to be the best “dead person” in the movie. The best part about these tours were the stories they told us about the film logistics and insights about actors. Did you know Viggo Mortensen is an avid fly fisherman? He would go fishing between scenes. He also was arrested by police for carrying his sword in town dressed as Aragorn. And Peter Jackson is a tea addict who only hires personal assistants if they can make proper tea at their interview. They had to be pretty creative at dealing with the NZ infrastructure to do what they needed. They ended up taking out the electricity of an entire town with the generators they had on set.
3 Riders of Rohan!
While several of the hiking trails were closed from storm damage, we had a chance to see 5 of the 27 NZ glaciers - Franz Joseph, Fox, Tasman, Mueller and Rob Roy. Seeing glaciers makes you feel humble and aware of the human impact on the environment. Likely these glaciers won't be there for the next generation at the rate they are receding. Sad.
Walkwire in Fiordland National Park

The place that surprised us the most was Mt Cook National Park. The drive to the park is absolutely stunning. You are driving on a plain that used to be a glacier and you are confronted by the tallest mountain in NZ. You get there and there are icebergs floating in a lake below a glacier.

Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki
The lakes adjacent to Mt Cook (Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo) have an unreal turquoise blue from glacier water. Never saw water that blue in my life. Mesmerizing.
Lake Pukaki crazy blue water
All in all the South Island is definitely worth an extended visit; so much to see and so much distance to cover. That said we feel like the North Island is often under rated with what it offers:
  • Northern tip with Cap Reinga, sand dunes, large Kauri trees, ninety mile beach and golden beaches.
  • Rotorua and Taupo with their geothermic activity and rapids.
  • Western beaches with black sand and surfers.
  • Coromandel peninsula and its white beaches.
  • Mount Maunganui and its walking trail circling a volcano.

On the way back up we stopped by Nelson, still our favorite spot in all NZ to savour it one more time.

We are now back in Auckland, enjoying the long Easter weekend (kiwis get Friday and Monday off). Luckily we were able to move back into the same beach cottage we have been renting for the past many months. Made the re-entry to work life a bit easier, while we were readjusting to traffic, public transportation, and crowds. The entire South Island population is the size of Auckland so we have been spoiled having roads literally to ourselves for kilometres on end.

"Winter is coming" (in June here) ... GoT addiction is going and so is our addiction to warm sunny weathers.
NZ Fall colors
We will be in Boulder early June to relocate Ms. Alizée from Maine to Lake Huron, where we found a marina managed by a Kiwi (in Sanilac). We plan to sail her to the Canadian North Channel over the US summer months while keeping up with our open water swimming.  

Drop us a line (cath@blueholesoftware.com) if timing works out to connect while we are in Boulder, Maine or Lake Huron. 

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Gone Summer…..Off to the South Island


The NZ summer came. We blinked and it went. On Christmas Day, it must have rained enough for a whole season cuz we have not seen rain for two months. Very unusual. Of course as I am writing this blog, it's pouring again! This summer has been hotter and sunnier than the past two. We spent many sleepless nights sweating away without AC. No central heating/cooling is becoming a problem around here as climate changes. In his continued search for body adaptation to cold water, Bill got into the habit of taking a bloody cold shower before going to bed. Me, I just soaked the sheets....


Day trip to Golden Bay and its humongous archways
For his birthday, Bill selected the Nelson region. It coincided with one of our ocean series swims, and we had much enjoyed our past trips to that region, including kayaking and hiking the Abel Tasman national park with daughter Shelby and hubby David. We made the best of the trip this time around despite limited access to tramping and mountain bike trails because of wildfires. Nelson is similar to Colorado in weather (dry heat) and land activities (biking, hiking) plus has ocean access for swimming, kayaking, and sailing. We found it to be the most bike friendly place we visited in NZ so far. The famous Great Walks have equivalent Great Cycling Trails. We biked parts of the Tasman's Great Taste Trail close by. Our butts reminded us how unusual this activity has become for us. We miss biking.  While in Nelson, we met the owner of the Eddyline Brewery. Our Colorado friends may know the Buena Vista location. He sold that location to employees and transported his entire family to Nelson to open Eddyline NZ. That was fun to exchange expat stories!

Bill before his 10k in Lake Taupo
This year's ocean swimming season has been challenging and invigorating - with longer distances and choppier seas (or lakes) than last year. We were having a lot of fun swimming alongside (ok way way behind) incredible athletes - some national champions, some ex-olympians, ironman competitors and some training to swim across the Cook Strait.

That all came to a stop late January when Bill’s shoulder decided it had enough, the day before we were due to fly for his season highlight race - a 10k in lake Wanaka in the South Island.







Roys Peak in Wanaka



We had already bought our flights and lodging for Wanaka so we decided to ahead anyway to scout the area. We LIKED Wanaka, the quieter version of adrenaline-junky expensive Queenstown, but while many told us "you'll LOVE Wanaka", the wow factor was diminished by the fact that it looked a lot like Colorado! Wanaka's lake is nice with its known Lone Tree but we have been spoiled by Annecy's lake when it comes to mountain lakes. Still we enjoyed visiting this new region for us. We got to hike the famous Roys Peak, a snaky straight up and down 5 hr trail to an iconic picture spot

And thankfully, after several weeks of PT as well as X-ray and ultrasound investigations that ended up with a cortisone shot, the shoulder is behaving again.




Stroke analysis with Swim Smooth coach

After two seasons of ocean swimming, and a shoulder injury, we needed something to stay excited about the sport. Swimming can become boring if you don't have something to focus on and keep you motivated.

So we signed up for professional coaching to learn about injury prevention and improve our swim stroke. The sessions involved in depth video analysis above and under water with insightful reviews on the computer, and detailed email follow-up. You have no idea how you swim until you see yourself on film. I swear my left hand was not doing this! Alas, pictures don't lie.

Two hours later, we left with a laundry list of super helpful tips that we are diligently practicing in pools with swim toys that will keep us busy for a couple of months!








We are about to embark on our long-planned much anticipated tour of the South Island. Timing (early NZ autumn) should mean fewer crowds (human, cars and sand flies). But it could also mean heavy rain and cold! Such is the weather in the land of the long white cloud. Seems like the only reliable month for guaranteed good weather is February. All other months have been great one year and depressing (cold and rainy) the next, but as they say here "she'll be right" (aka "it will be what it will be and we'll be fine"). Weather in itself is manageable but it can be quite impactful as heavy rains can cause massive slips that can even block roads for days. That only happened last year and then already this year so it is a real possibility!

You don't want to be driving there then!
The grand plan is to drive from Auckland all the way down to Queenstown leisurely over nine days, visiting the West Coast before picking up our son Spencer at the Queenstown airport to spend two weeks enjoying Lord of the Ring territory. You may be thinking that we'll rent one of those camper vans quintessential to NZ touring. Well.... sorry to disappoint but our aging bodies have requested comfortable beds and warm showers so we'll posh it with AirBnBs. That also gives us a better appreciation for the kiwi way of living. When we return to Auckland mid-April, we will officially be homeless permanent residents. Please don't send us mail! We'll look for life to talk to us on where to stay or more likely book an AirBnB. Sometimes we really miss having a home (with comfortable places to sit in) and sometimes we wake up feeling incredibly lucky to experience NZ.

Last month, fruit flies have officially landed in NZ. Everyday we get a news update announcing a new one found. Not surprisingly, growth is exponential. Those buggers reproduce fast! Biosecurity is a big deal on the island. Little creatures can destroy NZ’s crop exports - kiwi fruits, apples, etc...We can honestly say “we were there when the fruit flies arrived to NZ in 2019”. I can’t imagine they will be able to avoid the invasion.

Some noteworthy news… drum roll…..We will be first-time grandparents in September. Yeah! Yikes! Another life milestone. We are looking forward meeting grand-baby #1. The city of Elk Grove - where Shelby and David will welcome their bundle of joy - should have completely its twice delayed grand aquatic centre right in time for the delivery We’ll go anywhere where there is an outdoor 50 meter pool, especially when rent is free:)

After the South Island tour, the NZ winter will be around the corner and we vouched to escape any cold, rainy or snowy places so we booked flights on the last day of the NZ autumn
 to be back on US soil. We'll take the opportunity to move our beloved 13m sailboat (Alizée) out of her Maine shed where she patiently waited for us and take her sailing somewhere where there is swimmable water, no shark, jellyfish or lobster buoys. Looking at Lake Huron and its Canadian North Channel at the moment. Any suggestion from anyone?

We’d love to reconnect with friends while we are in the northern hemisphere! Send us a note (
cath@blueholesoftware.com)