Three Weeks in North America

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Merica

After a six hour flight from Iceland we touched down in New York, New York after almost nine months out of the country. Over the next three weeks we visited friends and family in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. First up on our Eastern North America Tour was a visit to my good friend Jamie in Brooklyn, NY. Our initial stay in NY was brief since the three of us hopped on a train to Montreal, Canada the day after we landed.

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Colorful fall foliage in the Hudson River Valley and along Lake Champlain on the train ride from NY to Montreal

 

The train ride from New York to Montreal is gorgeous, especially in the fall. We were lucky that the US experienced an Indian Summer and the leaves were just starting to change as we headed towards the Canadian border at the end of November. For a glimpse at our ride check out Dan’s video above.

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Montreal is the largest city in Quebec Province and the second largest city in all of Canada. The city is often referred to the Paris of Canada due in part to the fact that French is the official language. Montreal is actually situated on an island in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River.

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View from the top of Parc du Mont-Royal

On a marvelously sunny day, we walked to the Parc du Mont-Royal. This immense park resides on a hill which offers an incredible view of the city at the top. From the top we could see the Saint Lawrence River, the skyscrapers of downtown, and the old Olympic Stadium.

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Olympic Stadium, built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics

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Meet Michel! Our Airbnb rental came with this cuddly fellow.

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This is poutine – a Canadian speciality consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. There are many variations and we sampled a few different kinds.

Since the weather was so nice, we spent most of our three days in Montreal walking the city. One of my favorite spots was the Jean-Talon Market, a large open-air market full of fresh fall veggies, fruits and of course maple flavored treats. Quebec is deliciously famous for its maple syrup and maple inspired candies and butter.

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Jean-Talon Market

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Montreal is renowned for its street art

Our train ride back to New York was underwhelming since in fact it didn’t really happen. Instead we waited six hours at the train station in Montreal for a train that never came. We were instead bussed to Albany where we finally boarded a train to NYC where we arrived in the middle of the night. Not quite what we expected – you got to love Amtrak…

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New York City from the Brooklyn Bridge

Back in New York City I was stoked that Jaime had the day off and played tour guide for us. Having lived almost seven years in NYC we were surprised and excited to hear that Jaime had never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. So of course this was first on our list! Our walk concluded with pizza and a ride on the carousel.

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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

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Some of the most delicious pizza at Juliana’s Pizza

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Jaime and I couldn’t resist riding the carousel near the Brooklyn Bridge

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Yes, this happened and yes, it was worth it

 

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The Brooklyn Bridge and East River

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The High Line is a park built on the elevated platform of the now defunct spur of the West Side Line of the New York Central Railroad. Trees, flowers and plants line the 1.5 mile long trail providing a peaceful place to walk in the busy city.

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Scenes from the High Line

 

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Art and foliage along the High Line

From New York we flew to Ohio to visit Dan’s family. Dan’s mom organized a family reunion where Dan got to share pictures and stories from our trip so far. Unfortunately we did not take many photos in Ohio. In fact I only have one, pictured below, of Dan and a shaggy parasol mushroom we found growing under the Ledges by his mom’s house. We ate the cap for lunch on grilled cheese sandwiches…and it was delicious!

 

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Dan proudly displaying the shaggy parasol mushroom we found (and ate) in Ohio.

From Ohio we caught a bus to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to visit our friends Jim and Molly where we went hiking and mushroom hunting in McConnell’s Mill State Park.

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Hiking in McConnell’s Mill State Park

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Jim with a beautiful reishi mushroom

From Pittsburgh, we flew to Sarasota, Florida, to visit my family before heading to South America. In Florida we broke out the shorts and t-shirts and went on a multitude of bike rides where we encountered gators and tons of birds.

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A curious gator near my dad’s place

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Birds of Southern Florida

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The golf course near my dad’s place had a flock of sand hill cranes. They are huge!

On one of our last days in Sarasota, my dad’s good friend Rick (aka Rico) took us boating around the keys outside of Sarasota. Thanks Rico!

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Gordo and Rico enjoying boat life in Florida

Our flight to Chile was out of Miami. On our way down through the Everglades we stopped at Shark Valley to bike a 15 mile loop. We didn’t encounter any sharks but we encountered  TONS of alligators as they lay by the trail sunning themselves or peering at us from the shallow water. Several gators had babies that would chirp for their mothers as we rode by.

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A vulture on top of a viewing platform at Shark Valley

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Turtles swimming in the shallow waters in Shark Valley

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Gators!

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Baby alligators

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We spent two days exploring Miami by bike, car, and foot with my dear family friend Ted before jetting off to our next adventure. Punta Arenas, Chile and Patagonia here we come!

A Fairytale Trip to Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

From Zagreb, Croatia we intended to board a train bound for Lake Bled, Slovenia. When we tried to purchase tickets, however, we found out that the border was closed to train travel due to the refugee crisis. Determined to get to Lake Bled that day, we boarded a bus to Ljubljana and then a train to the lake.

Assumption of Mary Church on Bled Island

The long journey was worth the wait.  Lake Bled is majestically beautiful. It is surrounded by dense forest and by some of the highest peaks of the Julian Alps.  In the center of the lake sits Bled Island, home to the Assumption of Mary Church built in the 17th century. Many row out to the island to ring the bell at the church which is thought to be good luck.

Views from our hike up Mala Osojnica

To get a view of the lake we hiked up Mala Osojnica, a 685m high peak at the southwestern corner of the lake. The steep climb to the top was well worth the view!

Resident waterfowl at Lake Bled includes swans and ducks

The impeccably placed wooden boardwalks in the Vintgar Gorge

Our awesome Airbnb host let us borrow bikes and we rode four kilometers northwest of the lake to hike the Vintgar Gorge. The Vintgar Gorge is a 1.6 kilometer hike on wooden boardwalks, initially built in 1893.  The boardwalks are built along the sheer canyon walls and over the raging Radovna River.

The emerald green Radovna River

Lake Bled is an easy drive to Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia. The park features Mount Triglav, the highest peak in the Julian Alps at 2,864 meters.  We spent the day hiking in the park towards the base of the mountain along the Soča River and into the forest. Once in the forest, we were excited to find tons of fungi!

Mount Triglav National Park

Hiking in the forest at Mount Triglav National Park

Fungi!

From Mount Triglav, we drove to Vršič Pass, the highest mountain pass in Slovenia at 1,611 meters. The road was built in 1915 during World War I by Russian prisoners of war. The road features 50 hairpin switchbacks, 24 on the Kraniska Gora side and 26 on the Trenta side of the pass.  Each turn is numbered.

Larches turning yellow in the cool fall air

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Dan in the Julian Alps as we made our way up to Vršič Pass

Once over the pass, the road follows the vibrantly colored Soča River. Nicknamed “The Emerald Beauty,”  the river was so stunning we often pulled over to stare in wonder at its brilliant color.

The vibrant Soča River

Lake Jasna near Kranjska Gora

Lake Bohinj

We didn’t think we could find a place more beautiful than Lake Bled, but we were wrong. Lake Bohinj, a glacial lake dammed by a moraine, is the largest natural lake in Slovenia. The lake is surrounded by charming villages that have remained faithful to traditional occupations like dairy herding and farming.

From our apartment in the village of Stara Fužina, we watched a woman herd her dairy cows home every evening around 6 pm. We heard the cow bells jingling in the distance and ran out to our balcony to see the cows on their way home through the village. See the video below!

Church of St. John the Baptist in the village of Ribčev Laz, built in the the 15th century

On our walk around the lake, we spotted some edible Hawks wing mushrooms. As Dan was taking photos, I spotted an older gentleman with a mushroom basket.  It turned out that he collected Hawks wing mushrooms and about ten other edible species around the lake. So awesome to meet another mushroom hunter!

Our mushroom hunting friend

From the base of the lake, we took the Vogel Cable Car which climbs over 1,000 meters in 3-4 minutes. The cable car ends at the Vogel Ski Center, a popular winter destination. We hiked the snow-free trails into the heart of the Julian Alps.

Pine and larch cones.

In the summer this area is part of the Cheese Trail which takes hikers past dairy farms in the region. Unfortunately, they were closed for the season.

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We left our mountain retreat and headed to Ljubljana, the capital and largest city in Slovenia. The best aspect of Ljubljana is that the city center is car-free, allowing visitors to peacefully stroll along the banks of the Ljubljanica River and through the beautiful Baroque buildings.

The Triple Bridge over the Ljubljanica River in the city center with the colorful Franciscan Church of the Annunciation built in the 17th century in the background

The car-free Ljubljanica city center

Due to the lack of cars, the city is very bike friendly

A dragon on the Dragon Bridge, built in 1901

The extreme beauty of the Slovenia surprised us. Initially we were going to skip this area due to time constraints, but we are really glad we didn’t! Slovenia ended up being one of our favorite countries on our world tour.

 

 

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The turquoise-colored cascading lakes at Plitvice

We left the incredibly scenic Croatian coastline and headed inland to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Founded in 1949, Plitvice is the largest national park in Croatia and one of the oldest in SE Europe.

View from our Airbnb accommodation in Poljanak

Staying within the park was a little outside our budget, so we opted rent a room on Airbnb in the small village of Poljanak, about a two mile walk from the park. The hike to the park took us past rolling countryside and dense forests of beech, spruce, and fir.

View from our daily hike to Plitvice

Early morning mist on the lakes

Plitvice Lakes is famous for its vividly colored cascading lakes and waterfalls. The 16 cascading lakes are separated by travertine dams, which grow at the rate of about one centimeter per year.

Once in the park you can walk miles and miles of wooden plank boardwalks and dirt trails that navigate through and over the lakes and waterfalls.

Silent, electric boats shuttle hikers across the park’s biggest lake

A Beech forest

Part of the wooden boardwalk crossing over a waterfall

Waterfalls flowing over mossy travertine dams

Waterfalls galore at Plitvice

The placement of the wooden boardwalks make visitors feel as if they are walking on water

We tended to visit the park in the early morning hours just as it opened. We visited once in the afternoon and were shocked by the overwhelming crowds of people lining the narrow pathways as seen in the video below.

I found this antler while hiking in the park. The first one I had ever found!

What most people do not realize is that the park covers an astonishing 73,350 acres.  Tourists usually just plan day trips from Zagreb to walk the boardwalks and trails around the lakes, but few seem to explore the many trails that extend outwards, deep into the national park.

We found this hericium mushroom on our hike. Hericiums are edible mushrooms with medicinal properties and happen to be very tasty.

We spent a day hiking northwest of the main lakes. The national park has a wide variety of plant communities due to its range of microclimates and varying levels of altitude. We found an incredible number of mushrooms!

Just a few of the mushrooms we found

Flora in Plitvice National Park

On Lake Kozjak, one of the 16 cascading lakes, we rented a row boat to escape the crowds and to tour the lake by ourselves.  Dan showed off his rowing skills as he rowed us back and forth across the lake for an hour.

Fish in the crystal clear waters

The only downside of staying two miles away from the park was when we had to catch a 6 am bus to Zagreb in order to board a train to Slovenia. We woke up at 4 am to start our hike in the dark. As we stepped outside, we discovered that it was pouring rain. We miserably trekked in the dark and soon became drenched from head to toe. Fortunately we made it to our bus and Zagreb, albeit soaking wet.

Malaysia, Big City to the Rainforest

The famous Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We left futuristic Singapore bound for another big city: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  We opted to take an eight hour night train that left around 11 pm, our first overnight transport on this trip (later we will try out a night boat and night bus). The train was surprisingly comfortable!  Dan was a little too tall (long) for his, but the beds were soft and included sheets and pillows.

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Dan getting ready for bed on the night train to Kuala Lumpur

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur (or simply called KL by locals) at around 8 am and headed to our hotel in Chinatown to relax.  The next morning we paid about $1 round trip for a train ride out to Batu Caves.  Batu Caves is a series of limestone caves that hosts several ornate Hindu shrines.  A climb of 272 steps past the 140 ft tall golden statue of Lord Murugan brings you to the entrance of Cathedral Cave, the largest cave in the complex.

The 140 ft tall golden statue of Lord Murugan and entrance of Batu Caves in the backgraound

Entrance of Catheral Cave at Batu Caves

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Local Macaques at Batu Caves

Later that night, we discovered the best place to eat dinner was along Alor Road in the Bukit Bintang district in KL.  At night, the street is lined with cheap hawker stands as far as the eye can see. My favorite was a satay stand offering grilled veggies, meats, fish, and even frog (I opted not to try the latter).

An array of tasty foods at a satay stand in Bukit Bintang

Tired of the heat, we escaped KL and headed for the cool climate of the Cameron Highlands.  The mean annual temperature here is around 64 degrees fahrenheit, which was a pleasant and welcome change from 90+ degrees.  The Cameron Highlands are well-known for their numerous tea plantations that date back about 100 years. We also discovered that due to its elevation, it is host to a variety of rare upland rainforest plant species not normally found in the tropics.

Like the rest of peninsular Malaysia, the area has a diverse population that includes not only Malays, but also a large percentage of Chinese and Indians.  The small town of Tanan Rata where we stayed had the most delicious Indian food that we had ever tasted.

The vast tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands

Carnivorous pitcher plants in the upland rainforest of the Cameron Highlands

Tea as far as the eye can see!

We left the Cameron Highlands feeling refreshed, but we were soon shocked by the dense humidity and heat of the jungle in Taman Negara (Literal translation: National Park), our next destination.  After a 5 hour bus ride, we took a 2 hour river boat ride up the Tembeling River to the village of Kuala Tahan.  The river ride and arrival at the village was particularly interesting since the area had been ravaged by a record flood in December, 2014.  Landslides and stripped vegetation still lined the river banks and several houses and structures lay collapsed and abandoned.  The river rose up to 75.76m and surpassed the previous high water line created by a flood in 1971.

As we were settling in at our guesthouse, our neighbors across the hall, two girls from the Netherlands, approached us and asked if we wanted to go on a 2 day jungle trekking tour with them. The tour included a canopy walk through the jungle, a river boat ride through rapids, and a 16 km trek over two days, and a night sleeping in a giant limestone cave.  Without much hesitation, we agreed and set off for our adventure the next day.

The canopy walk took us 40 m above the jungle floor

One of the first things our guide, DJ, told us was that the recent rains would make the land leeches very active and hungry.  First, I had never heard of a land leech before and second…..gross! As we began our trek, we soon discovered what DJ meant. When we looked down at the path, we saw leeches swaying back and forth looking to grab onto anything moving by or crawling like hungry, determined caterpillars.  We thought we would be safe with socks and shoes, but we soon discovered this was a false hope.  The leeches crawl into any opening in your shoes and actually burrow through your socks to attach to your skin.  The only way to get them off is by burning them with a lighter.

Tropical rainforest of Taman Negara. Taman Negara is one of the oldest rainforests on earth, estimated to be about 130 million years old.

The path we followed through the jungle appeared to be frequented by Asian elephants.  We walked by trees they used as scratching posts, saw giants holes left by their heavy footsteps, and of course lots of elephant dung along the trail.

Butterfly party

There were lots of mushrooms in the jungle! One of the most surprising was the golden chanterelle, just like we have back home.

After the hottest, sweatiest hike we had ever been on, we arrived at our home for the night: a giant limestone cave filled with hundreds of bats (and most likely rats and other creepy crawlers).  One of visitors that night was a curious Malayan porcupine.  DJ said that they like the smell of curry, which was our dinner for the night.

Our accommodation for the night

Our hike back to the river the next day included a visit to an Orang Asli village.  The Orang Asli, or “original people,” are the indigenous people of Malaysia.  They live a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  The Orang Asli move their temporary villages if a food source becomes exhausted or if a member of the tribe dies.

Typical temporary Orang Asli home

Curious Orang Asli children watching the blowdart action.

At the village, the village leader taught us how use one of their traditional hunting weapons, a bamboo blowpipe that is used to shoot poisonous darts that have been dipped in the sap of an Ipoh tree.  They use the blowpipe to hunt monkeys, squirrels, and birds.  The village leader placed a flip flop as a target and we each got a shot.  I hit mine on the first shot!

While Dan wasn’t necessarily the best blow dart shooter, he was the best at starting a fire.  Looks like we may be able to survive in the jungle with Kate as the hunter and Dan as the cook 🙂 – Just like you can hear DJ say at the end of the video below, “you can light the fire, she can hunting!”

Blow dart quiver

Our two day jungle adventure concluded with a 30 minute boat ride through rapids.  We were all pretty hot and smelly by this point, so getting doused in river water actually felt quite nice.  After three days in the hot jungle we were ready for a little R&R at the beach so we booked a ticket to paradise, also known as the Perhentian Islands, our next stop in Malaysia.

Sunset at the floating restaurants in Kuala Tahan

Our Final Weeks in New Zealand

We have fallen a bit behind on the blog…..to catch everyone up, we have combined our last two weeks in New Zealand into one post.  We left New Zealand on March 31st, spent a whirlwind week in Western Australia (next post to come), and are now in tropical paradise in Bali, Indonesia.

After we finished the Routeburn/Caples tracks (last post), we headed further south into Fiordland National Park to visit Milford Sound.  We arrived late in the day, just in time to catch the last boat ride through the sound.  On a rare, spectacularly sunny day (it usually rains or is cloudy), we rode through the sound, passing waterfalls, glacially carved rocks, and napping seals, to greet the Tasman Sea.  We arrived back in port to catch the sun setting.  The Sound was so beautiful, we decided to return the next morning to Milford to catch the sunrise.

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Late afternoon at Milford Sound with Mitre Peak on the left

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Mitre Peak rises 1690 meters out of the sound

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Mitre Peak at sunrise

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Reflections on Milford Sound at sunrise

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Kate, ready to seize the day at Milford Sound

From Milford Sound, we headed to the bottom of the South Island.  We camped (for free!) at Monkey Island near Orepuki along Te Waewae Bay.  Here we scoured the beach, appropriately named Gemstone Beach, for hydrogrossular garnet.

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Te Waewae Bay

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Monkey Island at sunset

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Two of the pieces of hydrogrossular garnet that we found on Gemstone Beach

The next morning we took a ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island to hike the Rakiura Track.  The Rakiura Track is a 29 kilometer track, a three day hike, and is another one of the nine Great Walks. The terrain of the track was varied, following the coastline at times and crossing dense forest at others.  We stayed in huts both nights on the island and we again lucked out with the weather. There is usually a high chance of rain on the island, but we were greeted with partially sunny days.

Stewart Island is home to 20,000 southern brown kiwi, compared to the roughly 400 people who call it home.  Kiwis are nocturnal, flightless birds about the size of a chicken.  Native to New Zealand, there are five species of kiwi.  Of the five, two are considered vulnerable, one endangered, and one critically endangered.  The southern brown kiwi is considered vulnerable. Dan and I searched for kiwis at night, but sleep got the best of us and we were only able to hear their calls.  Two Israeli guys tramping with us were lucky to see kiwi both nights. They stayed up late drinking whiskey, so maybe that is the key to seeing this elusive bird.

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A mollymawk, a type of “small” albatross

Tui birds are endemic to New Zealand and are commonly found on off-shore islands.  They sing a unique melody, as seen in the video below.  Our Israeli friends likened the song to a dial-up internet connection.

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Kaka, a large, forest-dwelling parrot

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Both huts were situated on small bays

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Native bush

During our two month stay in New Zealand, Dan was on a hunt for blue pinkgill mushrooms which are featured on the New Zealand $50 bill.  They eluded us until our very last day hiking on Stewart Island.  We saw over a hundred of them!

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Blue pinkgill mushrooms

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Sometimes, there were endless stairs…

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Old steam-powered logging equipment

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After three days hiking on Stewart Island, we caught the ferry back to the South Island and headed for Curio Bay to camp.  Here, Dan enthusiastically jumped into the frigid water to swim with Hector’s dolphins, a small endangered dolphin native to New Zealand (actually the smallest and rarest in the world).  He spent over 30 minutes swimming with them (one curious dolphin came within a couple of feet), until his lips turned blue and he was shaking from the cold.  He says it was totally worth it!

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Campsite at Curio Bay

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Dan swimming with the Hector’s dolphins

From Curio Bay we headed to Hampden. We were only going to stay one night, but we found a holiday park with an awesome host, right on the beach and 15 minutes from the Moeraki Boulders. Here we collected agates on the beach (yes, we are rockhounds!) and enjoyed the largest scoops we have ever seen of hokey pokey ice cream (vanilla ice cream with honeycomb toffee).

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Apparently this is what “single scoop” translates to in New Zealand 🙂

We headed to see the Moeraki Boulders that night and we hiked to them from our camp the next day as well.  The Moeraki Boulders are large, spherical boulders consisting of mudstone, siltstone, and clay.  They are actually hollow on the inside and lined with calcite crystals.  They are often riddled with cracks so you can peer, or even climb into the boulders to see the hollow core and yellow calcite.

Moeraki

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Yellow calcite crystals from the inside of one of the boulders

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Our camp host directed us to visit Katiki Point to see yellow-eyed penguins.  As Dan was searching for blue mushrooms over the past two months, I was on a quest to see penguins.  They had eluded me until this day, and Katiki Point did not disappoint.  Yellow-eyed penguins are native to New Zealand and are endangered, with an estimated population of 4000 remaining. Our experience at Katiki Point was incredible!  Not only did we see yellow-eyed penguins, we were able to get up close to some of them as they crossed our path, returning from feeding in the open ocean to their nests for the night.

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Yellow-eyed penguin


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Some of the penguins were molting.  When they are molting, they cannot go to sea to feed since their plumage is no longer waterproof.  The penguin below was relying on its mate to feed it.

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Seal Lions at Katiki Point

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From Hampden, we slowly made our way back towards Christchurch.  Along the way, we visted the Clay Cliffs.  The Clay Cliffs are pinnacles comprised of layers of gravel and silt.  From there we headed to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to camp for the night. We camped in a valley with views of glaciers and Mount Cook.  One of the glaciers sent rock and ice thundering into the valley below all through the night.

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Clay Cliffs pinnacles

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The active glacier

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Mount Cook

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Glacial lake with the terminus of the Tasman Glacier in the distance

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Terminus of the Tasman Gacier

From Mount Cook National Park, we headed to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Christchurch was devastated by two large earthquakes; one in September, 2010 (7.1 magnitude) and another in February, 2011 (6.3 magnitude). Although the second earthquake was lower in magnitude, the intensity and shaking of this earthquake caused far more damage than the first, especially since buildings and infrastructure were already weakened by the previous earthquake. Along with widespread damage, a total of 185 people perished. Four years later, collapsed and condemned buildings still remain throughout the city.

While recovery appears slow, the city has been experiencing rapid growth with new buildings and parks sprouting up.  We noticed unique street art and large murals painted on many of the condemned buildings.  We also ventured to the re-START mall, a shopping mall made entirely out of shipping containers.

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One of many buildings damaged from the earthquakes

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Elephant mural

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Re-START mall, a mall with shops situated in shipped containers

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A coffee shop in a shipped container in re-START mall

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A memorial to the 185 people who died in the 2011 earthquake


In Christchurch, we packaged up our camping gear and collected rocks and shipped them back to the States.  We went from 1 large and 1 small backpack a piece to just the small backpacks. Feeling much lighter and more mobile, we boarded a plane bound for Perth, Australia.  Our time in New Zealand exceeded all expectations and two months almost wasn’t enough.  We would go back in a heartbeat!















Routeburn-Caples Circuit

We left Glenorchy in the early morning hours to catch a shuttle to the start of the Routeburn Track. New Zealand has nine “Great Walks” through diverse scenery, including the 32 kilometer Routeburn Track.  We decided to combine the Routeburn with the Caples Track to make a 60 kilometer five day circuit through Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks in the the Southern Alps.

The beginning of the track followed the crystal clear waters of the Route Burn (small streams are called “burns” in NZ) and offered clear views of the Humboldt Mountains.  Past Routeburn Flats, the trail climbed steeply to the Routeburn Falls Hut where we stayed for the night. The hut was situated next to the Routeburn Falls (video below) and offered stunning views of the valley below us.

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Humboldt Mountains

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Clear blue waters of the Route Burn

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Falls along the Routeburn Track

The next day we started the climb to Harris Saddle.  The track guided us through wetlands and grasslands and past Lake Harris on onto the saddle.  Harris Saddle is the highest point on the track at 1255 meters.

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Expansive views along the Routeburn Track.

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A tarn along the Routeburn Track

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Lake Harris

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Lake Harris panorama

At the saddle, Dan decided to climb Conical Hill, a steep climb with views of the Hollyford Valley, Darren Mountains, Martins Bay, and the Tasman Sea.

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One of the many glaciers in the Hollyford Valley from the top of Conical Hill

From the saddle, the track traverses along the exposed Hollyford Face, with views of the Darran Mountains and even the Tasman Sea.

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Kate at Harris Saddle

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The Tasman Sea from the Conical Hill

At the end of the second day, we descended to Lake Mackenzie and camped by the lake for the night.

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Mountain Daisy after flowering

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Mossy temperate rainforest surrounding Lake Mackenzie

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View of Lake Mackenzie

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Lichen and moss-covered trees along the bushline.

The third day, we climbed from the lake and past Earland Falls that cascaded 174 meters from the cliff above us. We camped near Lake Howden for the night.  The snow level had dropped that day which provided a frigid night’s sleep.

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Base of Earland Falls

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The clear pools around Earland Falls

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Pools and cascading water along the Routeburn Track

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At times, the moss along the track was a meter thick!

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A small milkcap, possibly a Candy Cap

Day four, we split from the Routeburn Track towards the Caples/Greenstone tracks.  The Caples track climbed steeply towards McKellar Saddle, but the difficult ascent rewarded us with a rainbow spanning the valley below us.  Mckellar Saddle crossed fragile subalpine vegetation and bogs.  Dan was super excited to see sundews, a small carnivorous plant.

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Rainbow at McKellar Saddle

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Close up view of sundews. Notice the small bug it has captured!

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Bog at McKellar Saddle

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It was a bit cold at the top!

As we descended from the saddle into the beech forest, the temperature heated up and the forest teemed with fungi and native birds.

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Coral fungi

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Amanita emerging

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Karearea, New Zealand’s native falcon.

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A native South Island Tomtit

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A Rifleman, New Zealand’s smallest native bird (about the size of a golf ball)

We stayed in the Upper Caples Hut which is no longer part of the parks system and has been transferred to the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association.  Most people don’t know that this hut can still be booked, so we ended up with the whole hut to ourselves!  The hut came with a wood stove that kept us nice and toasty which was very welcomed since our previous night camping had been freezing.

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A hut to ourselves! Upper Caples Hut

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A swing bridge near the hut

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Plum chalkcaps, native russulas, in the beech forest along the Caples Track

We left our cozy hut behind the next day and started our last day of hiking.  The track followed the Caples River and followed the valley all the way down to the carpark. After five days we were tired and hungry, so we caught the shuttle back to Glenorchy and rewarded ourselves with a shower, burger, and beer.  What an incredible 5 days in the Southern Alps!

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Red Beech trees on the Caples Track

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The Caples River

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Looking into the gorge near the Mid-Caples Hut.

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Fly fishing on the Greenstone River.

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View at the end of the Caples Track.

Trekking and a Bit of Relaxation in the Southern Alps

We stayed in the Lake Wanaka area enchanted by the beauty of the Southern Alps.  We headed into Mount Aspiring National Park to hike the Rob Roy Glacier track which ended with spectacular views of the hanging glaciers beneath Mount Rob Roy.  As we ate lunch, we heard part of the glacier collapse and saw ice and rock cascade into the valley below.

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The start of the Rob Roy Glacier track in the Southern Alps.

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Kate enjoying the view of one of the hanging glaciers of Mount Rob Roy.

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Hanging glacier beneath Mount Rob Roy with waterfalls lining the jagged cliffs below.

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Up close view of the blue ice of the hanging glacier.

We camped near the town of Wanaka and set off for a hike the next day for a view of the lake. As we started the ascent of one of the mountains surrounding the lake, we noticed several active possum traps set along the track.  Several had been successful overnight.  Warning: picture of a successful trap below.  Dan thought it was good to include the picture since it shows the active fight New Zealand is engaging against the possum.  Before the Polynesians arrived on these islands, New Zealand’s only native land mammals were two species of bats. The abundant bird species here evolved without mammalian predators and many had even lost the ability to fly. After the Maori had driven many of these slow moving birds to extinction, Europeans arrived and thought it was a great idea to bring many of their own animals to the island, such as possums, for fur trapping. Possums were introduced from Australia in the 1800s and have since decimated native bird life in the country. New Zealand currently spends about 80 million dollars a year to eradicate possums, which not only kill birds, but also defoliate and kill trees very efficiently. Traps were set on almost every hike we went on in New Zealand, but the war against the possum (and stoat, and rats, and many other non-native land mammals) seems never ending…..ok, enough ranting….

The view of the lake from the top of the mountain was incredible. We had a 360 view of the Southern Alps around us and Lake Wanaka below us.

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View of the Southern Alps from camp.

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Successful possum trap.

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Enjoying lunch at the top of the mountain.

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Kate and Dan with a view of Lake Wanaka in the background.

From Wanaka, we passed through Queenstown and headed to the small town of Glenorchy. The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy provided the most breathtaking views that we had seen on the South Island.  The road hugged the crystal clear waters of Lake Wakatipu and provided us a preview of the epic views that we would see on the Routeburn Track later in the week (next blog post to come).

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View along the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy of the Southern Alps and the start of the Routeburn Track in the distance.

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Reflections of the Southern Alps in the lake at our campsite in Kinloch.

The next day we decided to take a break from hiking and went wine tasting near Queenstown.  New Zealand is famous for Pinot Noir and the grapes were just about ready to be harvested.
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View of Chard Farm Vineyard (upper right) on the bluffs above the Kawarua River.

Across from one of the vineyards, we stopped at the Kawarua Gorge Suspension Bridge to witness bungee jumpers plunging into the gorge.  This bridge is actually the world’s first permanent commercial bungee site…the place where it all began back in the 80’s.

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After a relaxing day of wine tasting and sightseeing, we headed back to our campsite in Kinloch along the shores of the lake. We enjoyed the quiet forest and prepared our packs for the 5-day trek on the Routeburn and Caples Tracks that would begin the following morning.  Recharged from our relaxing stay along the lake, we left the car behind to set out for an alpine adventure in the Southern Alps.

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Camp at sunrise.

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A tiny bolete emerging from the moss.

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Amanitas were everywhere!

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No turning back! The road that we will take after our 5 day trek through the Southern Alps.

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