chilling feet

chilling feet

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Zealand is Middle Earth: A Hobbit's (Scott's) Journey

(Long lost friends together again, thanks to a short plane
ride across the world. This was taken while checking out
the scenic route from Queenstown to Invercargill.  Windy!)
The trouble with living in New Zealand is it ends up being quite difficult to get anyone to come and visit you.  Apparently not everyone has the $2,000.00/person (give or take) roundtrip airfare saved up for a venture down to the other side of the world.  If you have been reading our posts you know that not only is this sad, as we genuinely do want others to experience the joy of New Zealand, but it can make for some quasi lonely times.  So when someone does find a way to come and visit us in the Southern hemisphere it really is something special.

WARNING - LONG POST (but good I think, naturally)

(So that branch he has wriggled out onto is hanging over
nothing but a nice long waterfall drop. If you glance to the
right where the water is starting to drop you can almost
imagine how high up we really are at this point. Nice.)
Introducing +Scott Smith to those who do not know him.  Scott and I met when I was entering my junior at +Samford University, during which time I had started helping out a little bit with the youth ministry at Brookwood Baptist Church (my home church while I was in college after becoming a Christian).  A vivid memory surfaces when I think back to how we met.  Standing in a retreat center that had been rented out by the youth ministry, Scott and I talked while getting to know one another.  We had one of those rare moments where two people connect deeply due to similarities or maybe even an ordained moment.  For guys though this tends to manifest itself by one of the most profound phrases known to man, "Did we just become best friends?!"

Since then Scott and I have moved in and out of one another's lives, though even when separated by vast distances we try to keep up our friendship.  This is not always easy.  While the distance and our busy lives have been no benefit to our friendship, there are few people out
(Oh ya and lighthouses too!)
there who I know who will always transcend such obstacles and in doing so remain constant companions for life.  It does not help that as guys we are especially bad at maintaining relationships and might go months to a year without contacting one another, but life would not be the same without the influence of this man in my life.

Now that I am done gushing all over another man publicly, we can move on with his actual visit!

When we began telling people we were moving to New Zealand most folks thought we were joking originally.  Scott was the opposite.  Before we were even 100% of when we were flying out to travel here Scott and I were planning his trip down!  "It's always been a dream of mine to visit New Zealand and I have the perfect reason
(We liked to frolic in the fields some.)
to do it now."  I took comfort in knowing we would have at least one visitor while away from home and Scott and I got to work planning out what we would do while he was in the country.
There were a few requirements and when all was said and done and they were as follows:  We need to hike (a lot!), we need to see a fjord, we need to see as much Lord of the Rings stuff as possible, and let's do something fun for New Years.

Scott arrived on the 18th of December and the whirlwind commenced!  We spent our first two days checking out Queenstown a little bit, driving through the beautiful countryside seeing spectacular sites, hanging with penguins, watching sea lions as they napped, discovering ancient bridges, doing a few short hikes, finding secret paths to the tops of waterfalls, and catching back up on what had been happening in one another's lives.
(The camera simply cannot capture what we were seeing.
This is the closest one I have seen in our photos to almost
catch some of the beauty that is Milford Sound.)

Oh ya, and we, of course, went to see a fjord!  Wrongfully named as Milford Sound, we went up and joined a group of kayakers to head out on the fjord for a five hour kayaking trip.  It is impossible to describe the magnitude of the sheer cliffs we were paddling in between during this adventure.  We experienced kayaking under the Stirling Falls, kayak sailing (which is fantastic), saw seals who take refuge in the peaceful fjord, and met some fun folks from the UK, Germany, and NZ.

Then we took on the Routeburn Track!! (you can read all about this on our previous post by clicking anywhere on this line - there are plenty of amazing photos on there of the hike too.) We started on the 22nd and finished on the 24th, just in time to head back and celebrate Christmas in Invercargill (and to get Sarah back for her shift starting at midnight).

(Christmas dinner and relaxing with friends.)
Christmas day was a day of fun as we had new friends over for food and merriment.  We cooked up a few of our traditional dishes from home (the delicious green beans wrapped in bacon and soaked in a brown sugar/soy sauce mixture - so good), laughed, celebrated, and enjoyed the day.

On the 26th we flew up to Wellington via Christchurch (where we had an eight hour layover - unfortunately we had to leave Sarah in Invercargill so she could work the next two days).  We spent a little time checking out the Container Mall in Christchurch where a previous earthquake had destroyed much of the city, and then stayed in Wellington for the night at a friend's house of my friend +Bryce Ashby (this is one of my favorite parts of NZ - people open up their houses and let strangers who know some guy who used to know their brother's friend stay with them - awesome!). Bryce's friend was not even in the country but set it up so that his roommate would meet us and let us stay in their place!  Are you kidding me??  What amazing hospitality!!

(Outside of the Weta Cave Workshop are these amazing full
sized statues of the trolls from The Hobbit. Watch out
Scott, you're about to get stomped!)
The 27th in Wellington was one of our favorite days.  Not only is the city amazing but it's a hub for where +Lord Of The Rings™ (LOTR) films were created.  We started our day there by first visiting the Weta Cave, which is the studio +Peter Jackson used for helping to make all of the costumes, weapons, special effects, scenery, and the like look so spectacular for the movies.  This was an amazing stop as it not only afforded the chance to see tons of LOTR's memorabilia but Scott got us onto a tour of their facilities that proved to be simply mesmerizing (no photos were allowed).  We were able to experience and witness up close many of the actual items used in the movies - weapons, armor, models of locations/cities, and we were even able to touch the elusive Mithril armor!  I thought Scott was literally going to burst into flames as he reached out and touched the actual suit that was worn by the actor who played Sauron in the movies - seriously he was so excited it was hilarious (I was not unlike a small child myself running
(Scott said that he was only so angry b/c he
needed more hugs.  I'm not sure if that is
going to have the desired effect but maybe.
The Uruk-hai may just be to evil for that
sort of redemptive love. Maybe not??)
around with four ice cream cones of my favorite flavors).

We finished our time at the Weta Cave the only way one should, by heading over to the Chocolate Fish Cafe for some lunch, because as everyone knows the cast of LOTR reportedly ate there quite often.  Is it my fault I want to eat where +Vigo Mortensen and +Sean Bean maybe enjoyed a quiet meal?  Who knows, but it was delicious food and it prepared us to see +The Desolation of Smaug (the second installment of +The Hobbit) at The Roxy movie theater (which is epic for about forty-five reasons including there is a giant statue of Gandalf out front of the theater).  What could we do to top this sort of LOTR's day thus far?  I'm glad you asked.

The answer is you head North and you check out +Hobbiton Movie Set, which for a fee allows you to walk through private farmland with 48 amazingly crafted hobbit holes.  Yep, and the tour ends at the Green Dragon where you can sit and drink a cup of beer/cider/non-alcoholic to end your tour.  And yes we did this on the next day and yes it was awesome.  We walked up the path to Bag End, we stood where Gandalf rode into Hobbiton on his cart full of fireworks, and we too thought about running to jump over the very fence where Bilbo leaps over exclaiming, "I'm going on an adventure!"  Quite surreal in many ways after having been an avid fan of +J.R.R Tolkein for so long.

(The Hobbit holes looked so real!!  Nice.)
As a culmination of our trip in excitement, the rest was quite relaxing.  We were scheduled to walk the fantastic Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk but the weather was against us and so we bypassed it to instead investigate the Coromandel Peninsula on our way to experience New Years in Auckland.  One of the most breathtaking drives of my life.

Remember that New Zealand hospitality I was mentioning earlier?  A friend from seminary days, Mr. Russell Bone, now lives in Auckland with his Kiwi wife Sarah and their family.  So naturally they opened their home to Scott and I for a few days.  Amazing.  So we rested, still reeling from our LOTR's high, went to parks and beaches, visited a winery or two, and brought in the New Years as the first major city in the world to do so (which was cool).  Sadly Scott had to fly out on the 2nd of January.
(The outfits we had to wear under the gear
for kayaking.  Pretty stylish no?)

By the end Scott and I were almost ready to strangle one another, mostly I think because our time together was pretty jammed full of so much to do - amazing things but just a lot.  In the few weeks since Scott has left though I find myself once again realizing the immense benefit of having someone like him in my life.  It can be easy to lose track of how important people are to us when they live far away and this trip was a helpful reminder about how fortunate I am in his friendship.  While life may take us to opposite corners of this earth, I hope and pray that we will always seek out ways to continue building our friendship.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wading Streams in Glacier Country

(Gordon and Sarah pose for a shot by the Copland Track sign. Little did
we know just how serious the warnings were on how wet we would get!)
Not long ago we ventured out onto our first New Zealand Great Walk. A few days later we were stronger hikers, knew more of what to expect on long outdoor walks, smelled more ripe, and were even closer friends with those who embarked on this venture with us than before we began.

Well since we had given Miriam and Gordon the Routeburn Track experience as a Christmas gift, and it was a gift we all enjoyed more than we thought we was possible, they decided to return the gift with another experience on a different track - the Copland track (said like cope land, not cop land - it's not an area filled with cops roaming around looking for criminals).  We received a super sweet e-mail describing the trek along with a fantastic bonus.  This trek is on the edge of Glacier Country! This means when we were done with the walk, we would then have the amazing experience of visiting some legitimate glaciers. Very cool (pun completely intended in every way shape and form)!
(Just a little bit in and already Miriam is soaked. We decided to take our
boots off in an effort to keep them dry. This bad boy had quite a current
to it! The real challenge was not falling sideways and getting whisked
away. We joked about what we would do if someone got washed away
but it was a pretty real deal.)

First things first though. The Copland track has a sign (as seen above in the first photo with Gordon and Sarah) that warns every hiker venturing onto this walk of a few basic dangers. Just little things one must consider when jumping off into Glacier Country. River crossings, for example, can apparently change dramatically depending on the amount of rain that falls. An unsuspecting hiker crosses a little stream and comes back two days later (or even later that day depending on the weather) to find an uncrossable raging river.  No worries as we checked the weather reports. Oh and landslips... when it rains often times the rocks fall with it, or become loose and then fall later. So we watched carefully. And avalanches, which I see as a super big landslip. All of that is fine and dandy, but this photo of Gordon and Miriam crossing the "stream" was taken about 40 meters into the walk and this is with very little rain in the past couple of days!
(Ready for another amazing hike! Sweet as.)
So just a little bit wet, we started into our seven hour hike. Yep, we are actually starting to become sort of real hikers. Unlike our other Great Walk experience this trail was more raw and uneven, so to speak. There was more slipping, more jumping up and down onto and off of rocks, and even a few minor falls (no worries as our party of hikers know how to fall quasi gracefully). We made it to our hut tired and wondering how this day had taken so much energy from us all. Two ridiculously awesome reliefs awaited us as we finished. The first, Gordon and Miriam had reserved the special "Sierra Room" for us to stay in, which meant the four of us had our own private room (Miriam called this a "glamping" experience - if you're like me you may have had to ask Sarah and she might have said it's taking the word glamorous and camping and putting them together). The second relief was the natural hot springs that we went to sit in and rest our weary bodies (I'll add a photo once we get one from Miriam).
(The hike weaved on and off of this beautiful river. Not sure if it is the silt
in the water or what, but the color was simply breathtaking.)

The next morning we hiked our way back to the beginning and headed the rest of the way into proper Glacier Country. Once there we visited two glaciers (Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier), ate some delicious food, did a few short walks, met some quite interesting people from all over the world at the backpacker's lodge we stayed at, and ate more tasty food. Having the privilege to see a glacier, even from as far as we were, was quite something! Not only are they melting at an alarming rate, but on top of that fact there are not too many left in the world. We cannot wait to head back to see the glaciers again (maybe even going for a tour onto one) when Tim and Gwendolyn arrive in just under a month.
(Sarah and Miriam pose in front of a glacier! If you look carefully you just
might see some of the people who are walking on it.  It's too dangerous to
walk on without paying a guide to take you out. Looks like fun though.)

Our trip ended with a quick escape. As we learned while hiking, Glacier Country is not a tame area and can shift or change at any moment. Haast pass is the only way in from the South of Glacier Country, without a very out of the way trip through Christchurch, and as it happens it is prone to closures - right now it closes every night at 6pm for work. Closures often happen from too much rain which causes rockslides making the roads impassable. As we prepared to leave we heard that an early closure might be taking place, which was bad as Miriam needed to get back for work. We raced the rain, we waited in a town and ate lunch while a rock slip was cleared, and then we got out of dodge just in time (all very safely)!

What a wonderful trip. Our expressed gratitude to Miriam and Gordon for planning the entire adventure from start to finish. Even our brush with getting trapped in Glacier Country was fun because we enjoy spending time with these two so much! As always please enjoy the rest of the pictures we will add below. And go find some adventure near you to would be great if you shared it with us.
(Jumping some water on the trek to keep our feet dry.)
(NZ is just full of view after view. It's amazing.)
(I'm just glad we did not have to cross this river.)
(No matter how tired we got everyone always had a smile on their face.)
(We had a lot of bridges to cross and some of them got pretty interesting - a little bouncy.)

There were a few switchbacks. Sweet.)
(Miriam on one of the many bridges we crossed.)
(I am not so secretly happy as can be at how much Sarah loves hiking. You never know how someone, even yourself, will react to a new activity like this. But two big walks, and many small ones, in and she is loving it. Awesome.)
(Maybe she likes hiking too much!  Careful!)
(Some of the bridges, even though long and secure looking, were "one person" only bridges! Wow. They got to swinging quite a bit as one got to the middle. Sarah and I have a lot of fun making it bounce more. Memories of "Shorty" from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom should warn me off but for some reason they do not.)
(Not only a great view of my Salomon boots but also really neat view of the bridge/river.)
(Find the right footing.)
(A trail like this one is so fun to follow. You never quite know where it's going to take you. Up through woods, down by the river, or out past rockslides where you have to keep walking just in case more come!)
(Did I mention Sarah liked the bridges??)
(At some point it is almost useless keeping your feet dry unless you've got some nice waterproof shoes/boots. We need to all chip in and get Miriam some!)
(Is there a better spot to break for lunch? Nope.)
(Sarah ready to get back going after lunch.)
(Did I mention yet how much I loved this river? I almost decided to jump in for a swim.)
(Trying to get a little artsy with a shot here... I like it.)
(Walking up to a glacier. It's a little cooler around these guys. An easy walk up and there a glacier waits. The signs on the way up show where the glacier was and how long ago. Scary how fast it's melting.)
(Easy water and rocks to hike across for a glacier viewing.)
(We went on a desperate walk looking for glow worms. It was a little too early in the day but the walk was pretty and fun.)
(A view where we should be able to see Mt. Cook. This day, however, as is the usual in Glacier country is a little cloudy and rainy. So we can only see very little.)
(Walking up to see the second glacier in one day. It was not as impressive as our view for the first one but it was still a fantastic and worthwhile experience.)
(Sarah and Miriam pose for glacier two. Franz seems smaller from our vantage point but I'm guessing he's still quite a big guy.)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Our First Great Walk

(Oddly enough this is maybe the only pic we got of all five
of us together.  This was taken on the second day of the
hike after we climbed up and out of Lake McKenzie - so
After months of planning and making arrangements, it finally happened.  We completed our first New Zealand Great Walk - there are nine total in NZ.  Out of the nine we picked the historical and illustrious Routeburn Trek.  It seemed almost surreal as we started the hike.  All of that planning and then the day had finally come upon us.  As we started working up into the mountains of the Routeburn Trek, we ceremoniously passed those who were finishing in the opposite direction.  If their smell was any indication of how amazing the hike would be, then we were in for one heck of an adventure!

This two minute video on Routeburn gave us an idea of what to expect:

+Miriam Williamson+Gordon Paulson+Scott Smith+Sarah Baddorf, and myself made up our motley crew.  Gordon has already given a moving account of our Routeburn via the blog he and Miriam do found at Game of Chicken (click there to go and check them out).

How does one describe a three day/two night journey through some of the most beautiful land that he or she has ever traversed?  Instead of attempting that which is impossible, I will fall back to my trustworthy photos.  Have no worries as I will describe each photo with as much detail as I can.

Oh and if you are wondering about the mustache... well I grew it for this occasion deliberately.  I think by the time you have seen all of the photos you will understand its significance.
(We have to start off with this photo because without Shona and Sara - two wonderful Kiwis who work with Sarah - this trip would have been a whole heck of a lot more impossible.  They agreed to walk Routeburn in the opposite direction so that we could exchange cars.  This not only saved us A LOT of money, but it also made the whole experience easier and better.  We caught up with them the second day and paused for some photos and chat) 
(I love this shot.  I have no idea what we were talking about but it seems to me that perhaps I am telling a joke.  Shona looks as though she is weighing my punchline to see if she will laugh while Sarah seems to be enjoying the joke quite  a bit.  I bet it was funny no matter what anyone thought.)
(Here comes +Scott Smith wandering up the winding Routeburn Trek.  Google tells me that they have taken multiple shots we took of this area and created a nice big panorama.)
(Oh ya, we started the trek right around Christmas time.  We actually finished on Christmas Eve.  +Gordon Paulson and +Miriam Williamson made us a super tasty and traditional Williamson Christmas breakfast.  This was not only delicious but also helped us work through our first day of hiking with no problem at all - plenty of energy!)
(On our first day of hiking we had a nice side trek to climb this... hill.  Here you can see our crew posing around the 360 degree stone map that showed the names of all peaks in view.  Pretty cool.)
(We have to stop and get some pics of the three of us - clearly Sarah should have had her sunglasses on too but she most likely took them off as a nicety for the photo taking.  
(Posing for a shot, I am modeling my "sweet as" walking poles that +Bevin Baddorf and +Jamie Baddorf got for Sarah and me for our birthdays right before we left.  They knew we would be doing plenty of hiking over here in beautiful New Zealand.)
(Do not even try and act like this is not one of the coolest shots you've seen in a while. Yep, I took it on my fantastic camera which I have been learning to use properly.  I feel as though this shot sums up the entire hike for me.  No matter what one looked at as they wander through the beautiful Routeburn countryside, the mountains were there demanding to be seen.)   
(Even high up on mountains we had the pleasure of suddenly taking a side 'nature walk.'  And look at what it offered us!  It really looks as though we are walking through the props of some strange movie.  But no, it's all real.)
(Mayhaps Routeburn is German for bridge - that's a joke.  There are some many amazing bridges we crossed, most right over waterfalls or rivers careening below us.)
(The track would move in and out of mountain viewing.  When it took us into the wooded area we were gifted with views like this.)
(Sister shot!  What goofballs.  This shot did well to capture the overall spirit of our adventure.  Every hiker in our group simply loved the experience of Routeburn.)
(We rounded a corner and saw an epic waterfall.  Sarah stopped and had the idea to take photos of the rest of our crew right when they saw the sight.  Here is Miriam's natural reaction.) 
(And Gordon's)
(And Scott's....) 
(And this, out of nowhere, is almost exactly what they saw when they rounded the corner.)
(From a farther angle as the track continues past the waterfall.)
(Ok.  You might be wondering what is going on here.  And as you can expect, when someone sees a waterfall like this one simply has to go for a swim.  At least Scott and I did.  The others looked at us like we were crazy but how many times does one get the chance to go swimming in a waterfall?  Who cares if the water appears to be coming directly from melting snow!? Also, I had to add this pic because I love it so much.)
(And it was COLD.  But that was to be expected.  It was also quite refreshing.)
(After the waterfall experience Gordon and Miriam refused to walk behind me.) 
(The views just kept getting better the higher we climbed.) 
(And now you can see why Gordon and Miriam refused to walk behind me anymore.  I decided the best way to dry off after the swim was by air drying.  Sarah was sweet enough to pose with me and smile even though she thinks I am completely crazy.)
(Can you imagine hiking up a trail and seeing views like this??) 
(This shot is taken just as we could finally see our trail moving up to our lodge for the night.  I think it's safe to say that we were ready for some dinner and relaxing.)
(After finishing our first day I walked down to Lake McKenzie.  It was so pretty I called Sarah down to take this shot before the sun dipped behind the mountains.)
(After rising on the second day, eating some porridge - that's oatmeal to you Americans who don't know what porridge is - and getting ready we did a short side trek before heading forward.  It lead us to this crazy crag in big rocks.  Gordon and I climbed in there but before the girls could come down he or I, or maybe both of us though I am blaming him, polluted the air and it was no longer a good idea to check it out.)
(We had to take one more shot before taking off on the hike, this time with morning light coming in from the other side of the mountains.)
(Sarah says that I will do this pose for shots and that she does not like it.  So in typical Brett fashion I still have to do it sometimes.  Thus I started the second day of the hike with laughter in my heart.)
(Sarah started snagging shots like this over her shoulder while hiking - not bad.  Up we went - up up up.)
(You cannot quite see where we started from but just to the right of this shot is where we took those photos down on the lake.  We hiked around it and then up to this spot.  Such amazing water here in NZ.) 
(There you go - you can see our cabins where we slept on our first night.  Cool.)
(And up and up)
(Clearly enjoying my poles and moves as I jump over the little stream in our path.)
(What did I say about bridges?  Just out in the middle of nowhere is this little beauty, waiting for us so that we can walk across whatever river, crag, waterfall, or obstacle this particular bridge was helping us over.)
(It got a little bit cooler as we ventured up closer to the clouds.  Such fantastic hiking and views.)
(One of my favorite shots of the mustache.  Sometimes even the mustache needs rest.  This shot was taken going up Conical Hill.  It's pretty weird when you are already at the top of a saddle moving through a mountain range that anyone would call a summit a hill, but that's what all of the signs say.  Hill.  Whatever.)
(Sarah had to take a break as well!  Ha.  We were getting pretty high up and the combinations of altitude along with two days of hiking was starting to show on folks.)
(But the views at the top were worth it!  When the clouds moved.)
(Sarah, Gordon, and Miriam all pose for a cloud-like moment.) 
(This would be a nice place to have a picnic.)
(And yes.)
(The view back down Conical hill as we descended - a nice emergency shelter waits for the truly unfortunate who might need such a thing in case weather really gets bad.)
(After coming down the hike we had this gem of a trail curling along yet another mountain lakeside, this time with a nice drop down into the water.) 
(Gordon and Miriam posing on the amazing rock path.) 
(Miriam and Sarah called this the Rainbow rock.)
(They both had to pose for it.)
(What sort of trek goes through stuff like this?  You can't even make it up.)
(Trying to beat the rain.  Still got suited up for it just in case.)
(This shot of Miriam and Gordon is one of my favs from the trip.)
(This one speaks for itself.)
(As we neared the end of our second day I stop for a pose.  Not sure how we didn't get any shots of the last short descent but it was nice.)
(That's how it was.  Dinner time.)
(Stopping from pasta time for a smile.)
(Not sure if you can see it but we did beat the rain - and then it rained, hard.  All night long and the next day.)

Thanks to the rain we did not get any shots the last day.  Miriam and Gordon took some shots so for now if you really want to see what it looked like on that day you can bounce back to their blog for some views.  Hope you enjoyed the views!

Happy New Years!!