Tuesday, December 11, 2012
The next adventure was to find an economical bicycle rentals to set ourselves as free as metaphorical birds. Economical was probably a failure, but the freedom was certainly achieved.
We took ourselves on a self guided tour through Queenstown and Frankton via the lovely botanical gardens. The trip out was constantly interrupted by the pair of us wanting to take photos of every mountain range that appeared in our view. And if you take 10 seconds to review Google Earth/maps you will realize that it is such a significantly frequent occurrence in the surrounds of Queenstown that it took us longer than our anticipated two hours to get to the other side of Lake Wakitipu. We really had to make it to our intended destination because we wanted to see our room from the far side.
The views were stunning and the flora on the way also significantly stimulating. We somehow managed to ride back fast enough to get our bikes back in time and then relax with some fine dining, watching the sun set over the lake, relaxing before our adventure west to Lake Te Anau and the start of the Great Big Wet New Zealand Camping Experience.
More on that soon!
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Have you ever tried to take more transportation methods in a day than you previously knew possible?
Kat's birthday surprise for me took on that sort of flavour. Our wakeup and departure from Auckland at the wee (!) hour of 5am started off with a shuttle can and plane. A bus from Queenstown airport into the city after the most visually appealing scenery I've had from a plane since we first saw the Alps on arrival in Switzerland, might make one think that you had the ground transport options cover, not so in Queenstown.
After dumping our annoying packs at our hotel-on-the-lake (a stunning location, with views of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, Kat's pick, right in the middle of town) we sought out the Gondola for a ride to the misnamed Bob's Peak. Apparently, everyone calls it that, even though the real Bob's Peak is 5 km away. The Gondola (anyone know where that name comes from?) was a great way to take in the lake and the mountains all around. Just fantastic views. It was a wee(!) but chully though, my clothing preparations have been somewhat (understatement) lacklustre.
The child in us took over as we investigated the well publicised luge! It was hardly Olympics luging, and more like downhill go-karting but all the better for it. We races, weaves and waved our way down the slopes like giddy school kids. With freezing hands at the bottom screaming "let's go again!" we would hop back on the short ski lift to the top of the luge.
That brings to a close the ground transport variety, but the adventure wasn't over. You see, in the longest birthday card in history, that only revealed itself a step at a time, Kat had intricately coordinated the entire day. At 1 pm we were picked up by shuttle and taken to don wetsuits and safety gear. After (very) brief instruction, we were shuttled to a HELIPAD! A group went in front of us so I had the opportunity to grab some snaps of the landing and takeoff before the helicopter came back for us. We shared our ride with a couple of South Africans who have made Sydney their home. She dropped that she was a travel agent for Flight Centre so wanted a "memorable" experience that she could pass onto her clients.
Memorable it was! For what could not have been more than a 10 minute ride (40mins for the suckers who stuck to the bus) our pilot threw that thing around to the point where I didn't know which way was up. Rock, mountains, rivers, hillsides and sky flew past in our windows as we screamed into our headsets and our guide taunted the pilot. The feeling of losing your belly while seeing some beautiful scenes was quite memorable. It didn't last long, but we were still talking about it 4 or 5 hours later, a real highlight.
The chopper dropped us off at the starting point of our rafting exhibition, he just dropped down into the shallows and we just out with our wetsuit boots to get our first feel for really how cold the Shotover River is. Before long, our crewmates who had been on the bus arrived, we were run through a briefer than brief safety session and we found ourselves in the front "seats" of a RAFT with a rather intimidating man known simply as Chief.
Chief mumbled a lot, and while as memorable as Sheeriff from Egypt certainly couldn't beat him in a friendly-off. His main complaint was "no idea" every time of us couldn't react quickly enough to his instruction. In retrospect, and as Kat suggested, perhaps it was more of a way of making us band together.
We started off on a grade 2 part of the river and it got gradually more difficult as we went along. It was a really well organised outfit actually. That timing gave us a great way to learn the ropes and hear "no idea" a lot before we got to the really serious stuff. Being in the front of the raft, Kat and I had easily the best view of the whole experience. First to see the looming rocks, leftover gold mining equipment, whitewater and wildlife in passing. Also the ones who received the most of the drench each time we got to a particularly exciting part.
The whole ride was finished off with a float through a tunnel which we are to determine as man-made or otherwise. There was a lot of prep for this, with practice of all falling back into the boat, strong forward paddling and then falling back in and leaning left. With good reason! As soon as we came out of that tunnel (tucked into the raft) we had to quickly manoeuvre the raft into place, fall back in and help Chief swing the boat left as we went over the biggest rapids of the excursion. We ended up being so effective that we did a 180 on the way down. There's a great photo of us (photographer was standing on top of the tunnel) with a raft filled with water, traveling backwards.
I somehow left out the part where Kat and I jumped off to really test out the 6 degree water, and test our recovery skills at getting back on board. A great trip and an amazing birthday present!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
After a great visit with Katherine to Taughannock Falls, I was a wonder at the gorges that riddle through upstate New York. The region of the great Finger Lakes are carved and divided by gorges with raging waterfalls and walls rising 30-40 metres above your head. Her university (Cornell), beautifully balanced at the top of a gorge with beautiful views over the lake has amazing ground and even a waterfall that felt to me as if the water was actually coming from underneath the walls of the old buildings. Apparently they have started to build fences over many of the bridges as there are a few too many either suicidal or stupid students who get up to silly antics over and around the gorges and waterfalls. Following the short visit to the Falls (they were very impressive Katherine, despite me having just been to Niagara!), she took me to a great local American restaurant – home of the Pineburger and we enjoyed some great food and MORE LOCALLY BREWED BEER! YAY!
With Katherine trapped in class the next day, CSDV and I set out to the nearby Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen State Park. On the way we encountered a lovely woman who provided coffee and good conversation at her café. She immediately recognized me as a Queenslander and said that she had studied in Townsville “a long time ago”. She was lovely – shame I couldn’t say the same for the coffee, but I wasn’t there long before moving on again to the park.
Coming down the hill into the town at the southern tip of Seneca Lake was a sight. While trying to keep one eye on the twisting road, I looked out over a vast lake – many times smaller than Lake Ontario (which looks like and ocean) on the map, but still very big. There seemed to be very few sailboats out, but it would have been a lovely day for it. Some cloud cover, but also plenty of sun to enjoy.
I headed straight to the park, eager to see all of the 19 promoted waterfalls that flow through the gorge. There were numerous trails you could follow; opting for the “Gorge Trail” right through the heart of the gorge, under waterfalls and close enough to touch the water at points and guaranteed to flood with any volume of rain over either the “Indian” or “South Rim” Trails I really enjoyed seeing the geology that shaped the entire area. Water seeps through cracks in the rocks all around; the whole area used to be underwater some 400 million years ago, with mud and sand deposited at the bottom forming into solid rock with distinctive layers. As the sea-waters receded and turned to glaciers, the rocks would break up and erode away. Now even the glaciers are gone, but the water continues to carve its path through the rock, taking eroded rock debris (and even a railway bridge built in the 1800’s) along with it to deposit into Seneca Lake. More recently, the massive collision of the African and Atlantic tectonic plates has caused distinguishing “joints” in the rock, the same movement that has forged the Appalachian Mountains. A straight line right through the gorge wall.
The path through the Gorge Trail was very well maintained, and artfully done. Rather than detract from the beauty of the gorge itself, I thought that it really contributed to my enjoyment. It was obviously man-made, but the weaving under waterfalls and proximity to the flowing water was fantastic. Getting to the end of the trail, it was very peaceful and quiet, I just sat down to enjoy the rush of the water through the many pools and cracks. I remember wondering why I couldn’t do something as lovely and beautiful as this every day. The giggle and grin that adorned my face during the visit to Niagara Falls was well and truly back.
I returned via both the Indian and Southern Rim trails – as they crisscrossed over bridges, but I didn’t like it as much. It was far more peaceful being down in the gorge, by the side of the water, touching and feeling the water coming from the rocks with the walls oppressively towering above me. I wish I could have spent more time in New York, but next was the great return to Toronto/Oakeville to catch up with the wedding party!
Friday, September 23, 2011
After an amazing experience at Niagara Falls, I polished the evening off with a visit to the local Taps Brewery. An amazing selection of beer, and being alone, I managed to attach myself to a group of locals to while away a few hours.
The following day was somewhat of a surprise, which I put down to horrible planning, good flexibility and wanton abuse of the free time available to me. I was originally going to move on quite early from the Niagara Peninsula to hit up Katherine the Killer Ensler down in Ithaca, NY. However it seems her Law class schedule cares little for Nepali friend reunions and meant she would be unavailable until quite late in the evening. I facilitated eating quite a serious amount of the free breakfast on offer at my hostel (certainly too much for someone doing a half-marathon in less than a month) and went for a jog to the previously reconnoitered Canada Post shop to send off a flurry of Niagara Falls postcards.
Vaguely in the plan (as I pondered it over breakfast) was the basic idea that at this point (being the visit to Canada Post) I would have a bicycle which I would then continue with to explore the bikeways to the north of town. Unfortunately I did not have sufficient currency to see this part of the plan through to fruition and rent a bike from the hostel, therefore I had to make a stop at the ATM, near the post office.
While already drastically off-plan (I was already about 1.5 hours behind the original schedule), I figured that I may as well investigate the rental car I intended to pick up later in the afternoon. Dressed quite casually in gear I expected to be jogging and cycling in (i.e. a singlet and shorts) I found the rental car company and after I-knew-it (because the blithering process took an hour and 15) I found myself in St Catharine, 20 minutes drive north of Niagara Falls and further away from the un-rented bicycle than ever and in the possession of n obnoxiously non-miniscule minivan (dubbed the CDSV [Crysler Soccer Dad Van] complete with doors that open just by thinking about it, sun roof, SatNav [aka Satty], and enough space in the back for 2 hockey teams). Rather than squander further time returning to the hostel and wasting my expensive tenure of CDSV, I decided to investigate the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I had not read good things about the place, I gathered that it was somewhat like a Sovereign Hill without as much entertainment. Well I have a thing or two to say to those guide books and brochures!
I started out just trying to get to the Lakeshore, to see the southern side of this remarkably over-sized Lake Ontario. However on my way I was interrupted by some interesting things indeed. Firstly, from the corner of my eye, I spotted a place giving away free maps. I already had 2 or 3, but an extra couldn’t hurt, so I stopped and stepped inside. What I found in there was an astoundingly big nostalgia shop. I did the rounds without finding very much of interest, save the shop itself. I grabbed my map and was on my way.
I would have driven all of 30 metres when I saw a winery’s cellar door with an inviting sign out the front. I had been driving through roads side-to-side stacked with grapevines and knew this was somewhat of a wine-growing region. Naturally, CSDV turned inside. I had a very enjoyable conversation and tasting of some local wines, and even bought a bottle (d’oh, Katherine and I didn’t drink it!) This kind of activity continued until we found ourselves downtown. Unlike Sovereign Hill, where you have to pay to enter the ‘old town’ and enjoy classic toffees, sodas and beers, or archaic shop frontages, this was all immediately accessible to anyone going past. I stopped and wandered up and down the lovely main Queen St, and stopped for a beer (my weakness) at the oldest pub in town. Unfortunately my experience of the beer was somewhat sullied by the indifference of the barman, completely un-shaken with my outrageous Australian accent and far less friendly than his countrymen had led me to believe all barmen/Canadians to be.
In bits and bobs I learned some of the history of this here Niagara-on-the-Lake. A center-point of the War of 1812, something significant happened here involving an American attack. I learned the details an hour or so later at Fort George. The Americans attacked and took Fort George in 1813, putting the town to fire and wresting control of the all-important Niagara River from the British. This was a significant blow as land control in the area was vital in order to move supplies and trade around the dominating Niagara Falls. What I found fascinating is how the local culture (and if you believe them, the Canadian ) national image grows from this incident. The defense by the British/Canadians and American Loyalists of their land was also see as a moment where the Canadian nation was forged.
I loved every bit of it, standing on the reconstructed battlements staring across the river at Fort Niagara (SO CLOSE, you didn’t need a cannon to get to the other side), the redcoat who gave a musket demonstration, the leftover artillery and home-wares of the locals; I went down to the river too, where one solitary man was fishing, seemingly oblivious, or at least ambivalent to the history around him.
The trip to Katherine’s was arduous, rainy and altogether unexciting, except for the various antics Satty put me through. She tried to send me through a “important people only” bridge. I was only stopped by common sense and the kind-hearted Canadian Border Patrol officer telling me to go back to the Rainbow Bridge, where I got another beautiful view of both sets of Falls as I crossed over into America. Satty also sent me through all kinds of back-road pain, but we pulled through, wet, bleary eyed but happy, to Katherine in Ithaca. What a day!
NB I will load photos tomorrow !
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The mist is so big that it ascends up above the Falls and was the first thing that I could see as I crested the hill near the Marriot Hotel. I actually had a long way to go down to get to the popular viewing platforms, but so much the better view for it.
As I wound my way down the streets around the Casino and hotels, in prime position for a wake-up view of the Wonder, I caught glimpses through the trees.
Directly across the way were The American Falls. Crashing straight down onto rocks below, how they haven’t been rubbed or washed away over thousands of years I can’t imagine. They are a straight line on the not-so-distant horizon. An amazing sight!
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
Backdated entry: 25 April, 2001
I was stinking hot, sweat everywhere. I met some very enthusiastic AYADs on the plane and was reminded of my own enthusiasm and excitement the day I flew to Kathmandu.
Blown away by the countryside I had just flown over, It seemed to me to be untouched forests and hills as far as the eye can see. The plane did a remarkable fly over of the Henderson Airport, and a loop around the bay and over the town before coming to a noticeably smooth landing. It’s hard to believe that 60 years ago the Japanese and Americans fought a bloody war over control of this funny island called Guadalcanal, just to keep control over an airstrip still smaller than Avalon. There I was, wandering across it, sweat beading down my back, passing a grumpy and surly-looking Australian Federal Police officer, standing in the sun waiting for the single Immigration officer to stamp my passport. Hoping my bag had made it.
So there she was. Waiting for me with a coconut in hand. Together we struggled to remember the last time that we’d seen each other. A little too long I fear. Deciding not to split hairs over whether it was 3 or 4 years, Loz and I threw my bag in the back of the car and headed down the single strip that makes for the main drag of Honiara, Solomon Islands.
As Lauren complained about how crazy the drivers could be, and how frustrating the traffic sometimes was, I was blown away by the lack of horns, the people calmly waiting for you to pass before crossing the street. Even the people sitting on the tray of the passing truck seemed to do it passively. The street were relatively clean and the fresh sea air was blowing in through my window. I think I might just have arrived in holiday heaven.