chilling feet

chilling feet

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kaikoura: A Whimsically Magical Place

(Moeraki Boulders never looked so good, my humble opinion)
Well I turned thirty-four years old this past Monday, NZ time, and to celebrate our trip Sarah took a few days off so we could drive up to see Nelson.  I've been wanting to see Nelson since we arrived here in NZ and it was a fun way for her to say, "Hey, happy birthday you aging fool."

(Watch Sarah jump!)
Nelson is around about a twelve hour drive from down South where we are living and so we planned a few stops on the way up.  After a short stop for coffee and food at a pre-chosen spot in Dunedin, we stopped by the Moeraki Boulders.  These ancient boulders have been formed after spending a lot of time underground (I'm not really clear on the exact process but it seems complicated) and they are a big enough deal they get their own website (click here).  They are amazing and the uniquely and almost entirely circular shape of the rocks is bewildering.  Sarah took this opportunity to get some exercise.
(Sarah with her lama Pete - there was a lot of whaling that used to take
place off the coast of Kaikoura and now there are just tons of whales.
See the replica whale bones she's walking through?)
After stopping to see Nature's wondrous boulders, we made a direct shot for Kaikoura, where  +Miriam Williamson and +Gordon Paulson spent some time earlier this year swimming with seals.  We had hoped to make it up early enough in the year to take part in this amazing activity, but with Winter in full effect in New Zealand we thought it might not be the best option.  Sarah has enjoyed spending time lately with some alpacas a co-worker owns, so when I saw there was a lama adventure we leapt at it like a Sarah on a Moeraki boulder!  My detailed and sophisticated summary of the entire experience can be written in two words: worth it!

(With  my lama Legend playing the game, "Hey, what made that noise?
Was it a predator?"  He was pretty cool about it and always won)
We spent a few hours guiding our lamas around Kaikoura's beautiful waterway with Kaikoura Lama Trekking (you don't ride the lama - they can't take our weight) and worked our way over to the Fyffe House, an historic home turned museum.  Our Lama Trekking group provided endless lama information for us to learn, tips on how to act around lamas, and a picnic with a nice cake and coffee/tea.  We picnicked at the Fyffe house while our lamas spent time grazing on the delicious grass, which according to our guide is like chocolate in the lamas eyes - all the green puts them on overload eat mode!

(Outside of the Fyffe House with our lama buddies.  What a neat little
museum well worth the stop when nearby)
While talking to Kevin, our knowledgeable lama expert, he told us about a place thirty minutes up the road where we would be able to see seal pups playing in the pool at the bottom of a waterfall.  Wait, what?  Yes, we heard him correctly and he assured us this was a real thing to stop by and look for on the drive towards Nelson.  Before leaving we walked the rest of a beautiful trek which works its way out of Kaikoura along the coast, past tons of seals and mesmerizing views, back through some woods and farmland into the opposite side of town.  By far one of my favorite short walks we have done since moving to New Zealand.  Again taking the advice of our predecessors to Kaikoura, Miriam and Gordon, on our way out of town we stopped by a roadside food stall specializing in cooked crayfish (similar to what Americans think of when we say "lobster" but different in many respects).

(Just five meters up the trail was a pool where four pups were playing.  It
was almost as if they would look up from time to time to see if someone
had witnessed the spectacular aquabatic move they had just performed.
And sometimes they would swim up to just take a peek at us!)
But then the magic happened.  The whimsical magic I eluded to in the title to this post - seal pups playing at the base of a waterfall.  And all the way up the stream wherever one might wander whether up into the trees, in a small pool of special delight, or all the way up where water is cascading down into rocks.  I can safely say this is the single most extraordinary thing I have seen with my own two eyes so far!  Watching seals play in a zoo is awesome.  Seeing seals play wild on the beach or in the ocean is beyond comparison.  But seeing only seal pups in abundance of at least sixty frolicking their little butts off up and down a river and at the base of a waterfall was just on some other surreal level of amazing experiences.  Never would I have thought something like this even possible, let alone a wonder Sarah and I would witness with our own eyes.  Walking up the path we could smell the fishiness scent of nearby seals, hear the squawks of pups pawing at one another as they play or get a little too rilled up, and catch sight of the guys almost
(The signs at the trailhead clearly said "NO TOUCHING!" said in my best
Arrested Development guard voice, but that did not mean it was easy
when a guy like this was literally putting out all of the signs of begging
Sarah to scratch his back.  He even used the rock as a substitute when she
sat idly by and refused to scratch)
everywhere.  Save your monies up, book your flights, plan your vacation, and schedule your next trip all around this: Winter seal pups in the waterfall experience.  I promise it will be entirely worth all of the trouble.  Slap a Brett Guarantee on that box and sell it wholesale.

We then went to Nelson.  Nelson will always be the fantastic city we visited that lived in the shadow of having just seen seal pups playing wildly in a waterfall.  We loved it and had a blast exploring as many of the city's sites as was Brett and Sarah possible in the span of a day and a half.  Fresh seafood, mountains calling to us the whole day long, artsy communities clearly influencing almost every facet of life in Nelson, trails all around the city leading into wilderness, fancy micro breweries begging to be visited, countless wineries dotting the landscape in and around town, people on bikes everywhere, and three national parks surrounding the boundaries of this great city.  It was a shame we had so little time to experience such a place and that it was sandwiched between seal pups on either side (we naturally visited the seal pups a second time on the way back home).  Nelson truly is everything they say it is and more.

As always is our style, we will add more photos of our Kaikoura/Nelson and everything from Invercargill to Nelson and in between adventure at the bottom. Words can never quite capture the sights or tastes or sounds of this amazing country.  As it turns out neither can our camera most of the time either.  We get home and things look out of focus or less brilliant than they really are in real life, but most of these images give off about a sixth of the beauty that is New Zealand. You really just need to plan a NZ adventure for yourself so you can come and see what it has to offer.  The people, wildlife, landscape, and overall pace of life here will astound you time and time again.  For now, let the photos do the talking.
(Kaikoura truly had an amazing beauty to it.  Just the landscape minus the seals, whales, dolphins, lamas, and everything else it has to offer make it a must on life's stops)
(Just had to add one more of these)
(I tried getting Pete to look over for my lelfie - or lama selfie compliments of +Benjamin Winrow - but he was all 'homie don't play that' on me.  Still, I like the whole idea of it) 
(This guy had just plopped himself down in the middle of the trail, refusing to move for any passerby.  We are not sure what Sarah was trying to communicate here but she is clearly speaking some ancient form of seal sign language, lost to all but the most sensitively attuned animal lovers)
(If you look hard enough you can see this coastline, especially out near the rocks, is also dotted with seals.  What breathtaking water they have all around this city and in this country!  There was a lower track but one can only follow it at low tide - just an amazing trek and would be an even better run!)
(Sarah doing her best Maori face in honor of the trail start that circles round back to Kaikoura via the coast track pictured above - seriously one of my favorite short treks for sure)
(This guy was looking down river toward the ocean.  I like to think he was just double checking to make sure there were no calls or signs of momma seal ushering him back for dinner.  They come up the river for a few days and stay supposedly until they are hungry enough to venture back down in search of mother's fishing feast.  What a cute guy!) 
(I know +Miriam Williamson - just too cute.  And I'm wearing my +Bryan Baddorf Pearl gloves to boot)
(It did not come out in focus but this little guy yawning/practicing his mighty seal roar was just tops) 
(Just a day of fun lounging and swimming in a shark-free zone.  No worries, not even with humans walking by so closely.  It's a good thing these pups are protected these days and thank goodness)
(This pic is a must.  They loved arching their backs akin to the grown seals who do this on the beach.  But then they would look at us while doing it, thus seeing us and the world around them upside down.  They seemed to me to look more like water raccoons when they did this.  Just hilarious these guys) 
(Sorry it's not in complete focus - not sure why.  "But seriously Sarah can you take me home and give me plenty of love?"  I just could not get over how comfortable they were being so close, even on land.  Made me wish we could adopt one on the spot and call him Sedly or her Pliddly - pretty sure Sarah wanted one too) 
(Oh excuse us, we are just going to cross the human path right in between you two to waddle over to the other stream.  Pay no attention to the seal pups of extreme cuteness within arms length) 
(Look how close they were!  Still not registering and I was there)
(Oh and Nelson was pretty good looking as well) 
(Nelson had a place called Founder's Park where they had replicas of the original buildings that would have been originally in the city, as well as artifacts strewn throughout the buildings and in yards.  Very neat place to visit) 
(Apparently NZ designed and made one of the top freight planes for a while there - good on you.  And props for the sweet design too +Tim Williamson )
(Oh and if you like boats they have around maybe 200-1,000 model boats on the property in two different rooms.  Here is one and you can see from this one shot there are plenty to enjoy) 
(Dinner in Nelson - yummy) 
(Nelson has a pretty cool scene for these guys - fun times abound)
(And the deepest hole in NZ is just outside of Nelson in the Abel Tasman National Park.  It's pretty huge and really deep but this is about the best shot we could get of it.  You'll just have to imagine if we could hang over and take a shot that way.  Hello - o - o - o - o - o) 
(There was a look out nearby the hole we climbed to see but it was a rainy/misty/foggy day and this is what we got instead.  But, we could tell that on a clear day the view has to be something else)
(Thanks to Peter Jackson they call NZ Middle Earth, and walking through treks like this it is easy to see why they filmed the Lord of the Rings Movies here.  They just call out Tolkien's landscapes to you with their beauty, remoteness, and splendid peculiarity) 
(At a natural spring they had put up this strangely peaceful piece of art.  I had to share it)
(Sarah modeling the largest and cleanest natural springs in all of Australasia - the bubbles are the Spring and not rain.  I wanted to take a sip)
(We were having a serious conversation about the upcoming female seal relationships)
(More swimming times - show offs)
(These guys were twenty yards up the hill and away from water.  One decided it wanted to play, or just wanted the other one's spot.  They were making some loud high pitched complaints at one another and I thought about intervening but it was pretty far uphill and it shortly sorted itself out)
(Waterfalls and seals) 
(When one tires of a waterfall there are rocks nearby to chill on) 
(Sarah and waterfall seals - proof we did not just edit those seals into a waterfall setting)
(Not quite in focus but too cute not to share) 
(Do you believe me yet that these guys were everywhere just asking for us to chase them off into the trees and pet them?  Come on) 
(Sarah giving some sweet talk to this seal pup)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is Mt. Everest on the Way to Antarctica?

(Sarah at the Mt. Everest Base Camp ER)
Until recently places like Palmer Station, Namche Bazaar, Khumbu Icefall,  and Invercargill were places I had never heard of before.  Names such as Shackleton, Te Rauparaha, George Leigh Mallory, and Caroline Mikkelsen were either names I vaguely recognized or if spoken around me would draw a look of blank indifference - the same might be said of you.  All of these words are associated with different subjects that could be lumped together loosely through adventure or some other category, but to me they all have one thing in common - my wife Sarah.  

Moving to New Zealand has been an amazing experience with plenty of opportunities.  Our trip has been filled to the brim with endless new experiences.  Most notably, however, it put Sarah into direct contact with people who have been all around the world working as Emergency Medicine
(Base camp at Everest.  Looks like a comfortable place!)
Physicians, including the Himalayan Mountains where Everest resides and Antarctica.  While Sarah had mentioned to me before about her dream to one day visit Antarctica, I sort of placed it into the category of things we talk about as outlandish possibilities.  There was no reality behind such a desire.  As it turns out the reality was much more real than I could have ever imagined.  I am beginning to find out being an emergency medicine physician can take you almost anywhere in the world!

As a doctor Sarah is required to continue learning and attending conferences to keep her mind sharp. To better her chances of being accepted on down in Antarctica, Sarah decided the best possible choice for her was a conference in Nepal learning Wilderness Training (a specialty that does pair along nicely with emergency medicine training).  But it was not just some fancy conference where doctors go to eat expensive food while they stay at a really nice hotel and meet
(Resting to take a photo at the entrance to Base camp)
in the conference room.  Oh no.  For this trip they flew into arguably the most dangerous airport in the world (or most fun airport in the world according to my wife) and then hiked to the base camp of Mt. Everest, while learning on the way.  Sounds like the “conference” of a life time.

I am full of immense gratitude that I have a wife who is willing to pursue the sorts of dreams most of us leave for others to experience.  Words cannot describe the sorrow I feel at missing the opportunity to accompany Sarah to Nepal for this trip as it was certainly crafted just for someone like me - it was simply too expensive.  It is difficult to navigate the waters of the heart, where we learn to work through such matters, but work through them we must.  On the heels of missing this Nepal experience, my beautifully talented wife has been offered a job in Antarctica.  The dream is becoming a reality!  So when she spent three days filled with an excitement I have nothing to compare to besides the way she was leading up to our wedding day, how could I say anything to her but “Take it!”?  Sure it’s during
(Everything gets up the mountain somehow.  Carried by humans or yaks)
the Winter and for six months and the chances of me finding a job there are next to nothing, but it’s a dream!  

And so Palmer Station is a now a fixed point in my mind.  It’s the American base on Anvers Island where Sarah will be working for six months come next March.  Namche Bazaar is a village halfway on the hike from Lukla airport to the base camp of Mt. Everest.  The Khumbu Icefall is the site of the tragic avalanche and worst tragedy in Everest history that recently killed at least sixteen Sherpas and took place while Sarah was en route to the mountain.  Invercargill is a quaintly slow paced city where we have lived for the past seven months in the southern most part of the South island of New Zealand.  Ernest Shackleton is of course the famous Antarctica explorer most known for his adventure to traverse the entire continent when his team was faced with countless
(Monuments to those who have died on Everest)
disasters.  Te Rauparaha is one of the most widely known of the Maori chiefs, or the indigenous people of New Zealand.  George Leigh Mallory was on one of the earliest attempts to ever summit Mt. Everest and during the expedition he and another man disappeared.  And Caroline Mikkelsen, appropriately mentioned, is the first woman to ever step foot on Antarctica’s surface.       

What lies in store in the future? We read about the George Mallorys and Robert Falcon Scotts of the world and are truly in awe of their life choices in pursuits of the highest point on the earth or the vast expanses of Antarctica.  I settle down into a blanket as the Winter months of New Zealand begin to finally seize the land, warm cup of coffee at my side, and am befuddled to say we are but amateurs amidst these admirable men and women who have not only put their lives on hold for adventure, but in many cases have lost their lives as they chased furiously beyond where our own desires are willing to follow.  Having been to Pakistan, Cuba, and Honduras previous to meeting my wife, it is no surprise to me we would find between the two of us a heart to travel to intriguing places.  It has been a whole
(Learning how to use the gamow bag - a hyperbaric bag employed to help
a person suffering from altitude sickness)
different experience to sit idly by while my wife hikes to the base camp of Everest and then takes a job in Antarctica where I most likely cannot follow either, watching from the sidelines as an envious child begging to be taken along.  Who knows where we will go next?  It is impossible to guess who Sarah will talk to while in Antarctica and what experiences they will suggest for her or us.  While at this point I do not see us as being the explorer working into the depths of some insane wilderness or as a climber who must attain the summit of the top seven peaks in this world, there has come along with this trip a slow comfortability with new interests, leaving both of us more open to trying new things and going new places.  

(Lukla airport - you can see how the runway is so short that
it must be at a steep enough angle for planes landing to
slow down and planes taking off to get enough speed!)
While unsure of our future I know one thing for certain.  We are changed by our experiences around the globe.  It amazes me when I consider how her trip to Nepal and future trip to the frozen world beneath us has shifted my own interests and desires.  My own goals and passions, the books I read, and my mindset on what “normal” is for two people like us have all been continually adapting in ways I could not have predicted.  I hope we will continue to have the necessary courage to wonder what our lives would look like if we pursued our dreams.  We value our friends and family back at home dearly and it is the single factor that continually wreaks havoc on our adventuring lifestyle.  Many of them are living their dreams by starting a family and at times it becomes hard to know if our own dreams have started to align more closely with theirs.  We have really learned to understand that our dreams are worthy of the sacrifices we have made to make them a reality.  What we are still learning is that until we pursue some of these heights, we are not fully aware of the reality of our own dreams.               

(Another shot at the memorials for climbers)
(Sarah's conference team!)
(Lukla airport)
(A village along the way, the trail to Everest went straight through little towns like this)
(Prayer wheels - when walking past a person reaches out their hand to spin the prayer wheels)
(Sarah had to hike across many bridges like this one)
(The bridges have to be strong enough for the yaks and the loads they are bearing)
(Look at this big prayer wheel!  Very intricate designs on the wheel and then in the entire room it's housed in)
(up close shot to show details on one of the prayer wheels)
(Namche Bazaar)
(Sarah posing for a shot)
(Namche Bazaar again)
(Prayer wheels on the side of a monastery the trail walks past)
(up close shot of the prayer wheels)
(another look at Namche Bazaar)
(Everest in the distance)
(sophisticated road signs)
(Sarah posing at a stupa set up in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary)
(A hospital along the way.  It was set up by Sir Edmund Hillary.  He came back into Nepal and helped set up schools and hospitals)
(a statue set up in honor of a Sherpa)
(Khumjung, en route to Everest - the first night of snow on the journey)
(A beautiful trail to hike)
(By yak or by human.  Humans are easier to schedule and coordinate as compared to a yak.  Can you believe how much this man is carrying?)
(A monastery along the way where climbers and hikers go to receive blessings from the monks before heading up Everest.  Sarah bought some prayer beads for me in Namche and had them blessed here by this man.  Cool)