Thursday, January 31, 2008

Forestry going on.

So there's a bit of forestry going on. And by a bit, I mean a lot. And by a lot, I mean, I am really amazed at how much these outdoors-loving Kiwis are harvesting out of their lush forests (bush). You can see it all over the mountain sides.

Click on the picture (to see it full size) if you can't see the detail of the trees missing.

Not necessarily the "wrong" side of the road...

... but rather, just the left side of the road.

I drove a car for the first time on these crazy islands today. Logged about 350 km of curvy mountain roads, in a luxury automobile... okay, a 1994 Toyota Camry. Of course we never got lost or drove on the wrong side of the road, becuase "Karl the Kiwi" was always watching out for us from on top of the steering wheel. He's got a complex IMU that can deal with the steering wheel rotations, although, as you can see in his eyes in the photo, he sometimes looks a bit confused.

Greymouth - home of the best hostel in the world...

... or so I think, in my rather limited experience.

The Global Village Backpackers hostel in Greymouth makes me want to start my own hostel somewhere, modeled after it. It's just amazing that a hostel can be this clean and welcoming. I would rather stay here than a hotel because of the kitchen that's clean and stocked, the free kayaks that you can take out, and the free bikes that you can use around town. Throw in the musical instruments, sauna, and spa, and it's kinda like a dream house. Why I'm not still there, I'm not sure (ride was moving on), because at about US$10 per night, its one of the cheapest places I've stayed so far!
Besides this hostel, Greymouth is just your ordinary west coast of NZ town, with a bit of industry in Jade shaping (I somehow missed picking any up...), gold mining, fishing, and forestry. "Its population of 13,221 accounts for 42% of the West Coast's inhabitants" (wikipedia)

Fox & Franz Joseph Glacier

This past week, after a few days of recooperating in Wanaka, I headed up the west coast, by the Franz Joseph Glacier(great article, picture on the right with the fern) and Fox Glacier. While they're not that amazing in themselves, as Glaciers go, they are unique in that they directly border rainforest. This is possible due to the almost constant rain that the west coast of NZ gets.

As the Wikipedia articles (linked above note), Fox glacier sits only 300 meters above sea level at its lowest point (the terminal face that I went to).

Other tourists were getting helicoptered up into the clouds and walked around on the glacier. Since you can't see anything up there, and I had been walking on ice with crampons for free in the past few days, I decided to save my $200.

And now here it is, from Fox Glacier, your "Places Not to Fall Down, Episode 3."

Places Not To Fall Down, Epsiode 2

Last week in the fjords I brought you the first edition of "Places Not To Fall Down." The following video should have been on the Routeburn Track update, but I ran out of time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nice picture for ya.

Here's a simple picture that I thought a lot of you might enjoy. Sorry, don't have the info on what type of flower it is.

Chicken Crisps

They like Chicken Crisps here. Really there's only one thing wrong with that statement, as they use the word "crisps" for chips here (of course chips are french fries).

The "wrong" thing is that they have chicken flavored chips. Chicken flavored.

Now you might say, what's the big deal, we have

Bar-B-Que flavored chips in the states, right? Well, the difference is that BBQ is a flavor. Chicken is a meat.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rock climbing in NZ

Just a note about climbing here in NZ. It's pretty special.

Someone made a movie about it, you can watch the 5 minute trailer here.

What he says is right, about the attitude of the climbers, and the frequency of the climbing sites. It was a lot of fun just to go out and boulder around with some amazing climbers the evening I stayed at the hut.

I think that climbing here deserves a trip in itself. Need to get a bit better to appreciate what this place has to offer. Either that, or just move down here like some of the climbers did!

Routeburn Track

Okay, so I did my first "Great Walk" here in NZ. I just have to say it's very different than any camping trip that you would have in the US.

There are man-made huts out in the middle of nowhere that have flush toilets, gas stoves in the kitchens, and sometimes even electricity/lighting. It makes multi-day "tramping" trips very different than "backpacking" in the States because you don't have to bring as much gear (stove, tent, sleeping pad, warm clothes, extra medical supplies, etc.) Kinda makes me bummed I brought all that with me. The good news is that I can save money by pitching my tent right next to the hut, using the facilities, and only paying $10 per night rather than $40 as some of the huts charge for a bunk.

I learned that I walk at roughly half the slowest pace of people walking the "Great Walks." The Kiwis are weird in that they measure all hiking distances in units of time. Totally worthless. So if a sign says "Car Park to Mt. Doom: 3-5 hours" then I can safely bank on about 2 hours of hiking. Not sure why they don't just say the distances and difficulty. The folks here are very outdoorsy, so I would think that they would know how long a few kms took to hike. C'est la vie.

This picture is looking northward in the Hollyford Valley. Pilots, you'll notice an airstrip about halfway up the valley, a vertical white line, heading directly away from the camera.

The Routeburn Track was basically paved, or as a guy in an outdoors shop remarked "All the Great Walks are just short of wheelchair accessible." Odd, because of the other "trails" that I've been on so far have been nearly impossible to navigate and it takes a lot of trailfinding to even stay going the right way.

More on the huts: here's a view from the hut, and a view of the hut. We're roughly 10 miles from a dirt road. These Kiwis use helicopters for everything, including plopping buildings in the middle of nowhere.

Homer Hut & Gertude Saddle

I forgot to say, when we arrived in Milford it was dry and hadn't rained for a few days, so there were a few waterfalls. Then it rained all night, and in the morning there were loads more. Water coming out of every possible orifice in the rock. It was pretty amazing seeing hundreds of waterfalls, each hundreds/thousands of feet high.

After staying in the lodge at Milford, I hitchhiked from Milford up the road a bit to the Gertrude Valley, where there's a private hut (NZ Alpine Club) where lots of climbers and mountaineers hang out. Basically this area (The Darran Mountains) is the Yosemite of NZ -- amazing climbing in every direction.

I hung out here for a night and then set out to climb up the side of the valley, onto a knob at the top of the far end and then over into the next valley. The weather was supposed to be clearing, but took longer than expected. So I got a bit wet.

I ended up heading up to the top and camped up on the saddle for a night.

The descent into the next valley turned out way too dangerous to do alone, so I came back. (As well, on the other side was just a bushwhack for about 8 hours, and that doesn't sound too fun either.) At least I did get to use my rented ice axe and crampons (but not to descend the far side, just to go down from the knob). At the end of the day, with a short hitchhike, I was able to camp at just about the same location I had planned, and was still on track. (See next post.)

This guy has some good pics of basically what we saw, but with a bit more snow/ice that when I was there:

Parrots: Check out this article about the Kea bird, the worlds only alpine parrot. They're really curious and will eat your tent, bag, or even cars.

Milford Sound

So we did the tourist thing and went to Milford Sound. Since it's a dot on the map, and more than 1000 tourists come in per day, you'd think there'd be a town there. There's a coffee vending machine. There's also a lodge / hostel. No store to buy food. Wierd. Just cause there's a dot on the map in NZ, don't count on any buildings.

Took a cruise ship out and saw the sound (it's actually a fjord... whatever) and it's really amazing how steep and huge the fjord walls are. Basically the same impression that I got when I visited Norway, only there aren't people living up on mini-farms on the sides of the fjords here. You can't make them out well here, but there was a pod of maybe 50 dolphins swimming around our boat, playing.

Pretty amazing, but also pretty touristy. Luckily our 75 person boat only had about 10 people on it, and they gave away the cafe food at the end for $1 per item because it was the last cruise of the day.


Lotsa good signs down here in New Zealand. Some meant to be funny, some meant to be helpful, others out of respect. Here are some of my favorite so far:

Never heard of a Citizens Advice Bureau, but I like the idea!

I just like Kiwis.

Unfortunately, Edmund Hillary, amazing mountaineering gentleman and New Zealander passed away recently. His passing hasn't gone unnoticed at any of the churches or climbing sites I've visited.

Recyclable packaging = Awesome

Apparently, in NZ, graffiti means spelling out signs, in kind language.
"Please don't walk into this Fence. *Instead, walk around, Thank you for your time." "I can read" "Smart man = Me"

Wouldn't see that in the States.


Campervans are awesome. I didn't realize this until I came to New Zealand and they're everywhere here. It's more or less a way of life for the travelers, Kiwis or foreigners.

Check out this sweet ride that I got to ride in for about 10 km back from Milford Sound. This baby has 4 gears, and each one goes up to about 3,000 rpm! It's got a mean front grill, and the 2 burner grill inside is no less intense! The guy who gave me a lift is a 65 year old National Geographic photographer who doesn't have an email address. Awesome.

There's a great company here that rents "Wicked" camper vans, and while some are in poor taste, others are hilarious. Example, the one that is "Emo" themed and notes, in handwritten paint "I'm so Emo, I was punched by a carebear."

Random awesome jeep for ya.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pronouncing funny-looking Maori words

I've gathered three rules that basically have helped me pronounce just about all of the location names / animals / etc. down here in New Zealand. (Thanks to BK for the frist two.) They're pretty easy:
  1. Give each syllable with equal emphasis.
  2. Each syllable ends with a vowel.
  3. The "wh" is pronounced as an "f" (more or less).
Also, of course more info can be found at this Wikipedia page. I really like this excerpt:
"While pronunciations vary, <wh> generally denotes a bilabial fricative [ɸ], a sound comparable to that of an "f" articulated by putting the lips together as if to make a "w" sound"

Now you try:
Te Anau

And of course, the old favorite: Whakapapa

(The huge eyes, protruding tongue, and tattoos were used to scare other tribes in battle.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Queenstown to the max

Queenstown is known for extreme sports - bungy jumping (they invented it here?), jetboats, skiing, river surfing, canyoneering, sky diving, paragliding, mountain biking, you get the gist.

Today I went Jetboating in Queenstown. It was amazing. We didn't hit any rocks, but I did take that picture above that looks different. We went about 50 mph. The OLD boats had a single engine, Chevy 496 Big Block. The new ones have twin engines, not sure the size/power. These boats definitely rivaled the boat I rode on for work in Monterrey, California last year. Except we were in canyons. Doing 360s. Without seatbelts.

Here's their website and promo video:
Here's a representative video that I shot (plenty more footage, just didn't want to upload it all):

Gonna give the bungy jumping a pass (did you know you can do it from a hanging Gondola, 134 meters!? Check it: "Purpose designed and built purely for Bungy jumping with 30 different patents this award winning structure has to be seen to be believed. The jump pod is suspended by high-tension wires that span 380 metres across The Nevis River, access is by cable car for jumps & spectators alike." Maybe next time when I have money to burn... 8 seconds of free fall for $200.)

From here I'm on to Milford sound just for a night or two, and then doing a 1 week trek through Fjordland Nat'l Park and on part of the Routeburn Track. I should try and find a way to post my route on google maps or something... Might email again tomorrow, so leave a message for me. After that it'll be a full week before the next update.

Southward to Queenstown

So I was able to get a ride with some other backpackers (one of whom rented a car) down to Queenstown. We took the full day to make the 6 hour drive, stopping to pet the alpacas and swim in the fantastically green glacial melt lakes. Even did a little side hike at the base of Mt. Cook (highest mtn. in Australiasia). This first photo shows Mt. Cook to the left of my head. The second photo is just me in front of the lake where we swam, Lake Tekapo. Its milky/cloudy from the sediment suspended from when the glacier scraped out the valley. Mt. Cook is in the background, a few clouds occluding part of it.

In the evening we made it to Queenstown, and had an awesome night on the beach (lake Wakatipu) and eating, watching the sunset.

Christchurch itself

Just a quick note to say thanks to the generous AV folks who live in Christchurch (J & J W), for finding me and picking me up at the airport in Christchurch, putting me up for the night, feeding me, helping me plan fun adventures, and sending me on my way in the morning!

I spent about a day on my own in Christchurch, watching some street performers at the 2008 World Buskers Festival! See the video for more on that. Then spent the afternoon wandering around town, snacking, seeing the botanical gardens, art galleries, and the river Avon (they really think they're still in Britain).

Met up with another group of backpackers who were heading out of town in the morning for Queenstown, and after some deliberation regarding timing, traveling with complete strangers, and advice seeking from across the globe, decided to take the ride. More on that in the next post! Needless to say, that for the city of Chch itself, 1 day was plenty. I realize that there's tons of good hikes along the foothills and Banks peninsula. Maybe another day!

Oh, and they had a cool chess set in Cathedral square, too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Safe in New Zealand!

So I made it to Auckland last night, stayed with the Karl family, and am now on my way to Christchurch after a day of tooling around Auckland (up on Mt. Eden, a big volcano crater behind me, Auckland city in the back).
After Christchurch, it's southward, to Dunedin and possibly Invercargill.
I'll most likely unplug a bit more in the coming days (thanks Jos) .

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Update: Australian Visa Quasi-Fiasco

What would you do when faced with the following choice:
1. Pay US$1000 to buy a one way ticket from Auckland to the US
2. Get flown back to the US for free, sans New Zealand vacation

I had my credit card out and was about to pay the $1000.

Some background:
US Citizens don't need a visa for New Zealand. I thought that I had checked and found that US Citizens didn't need a visa for Australia, either. I was wrong.
When checking into my flight from Sydney to Auckland, Air New Zealand wouldn't let me fly. The said that they couldn't deliver me to Auckland today because they coudln't fly me out of Auckland (to Sydney) at the end of February, because I didn't have a valid Australian Visa. I had planned a 1 week layover in Sydney.

So no big deal, right? Just get United to eliminate the 1 week layover and fly me out of Auckland on March 4th directly to the US. Unfortunatly, since I booked my ticket using award travel, they can't change any of the reservation for any reason. Well, thats what they said. And then they wanted to change my reservation to fly me back to LAX today. Yikes. I had multiple people trying to do that to me. Who do you think saved me?!

The nice folks at the Air New Zealand Lounge, of course! (The United representatives were amazingly cold and useless to my predicament [which I put myself in, admittedly].) One of them said (after talking to airport immigration, the visa office, and other airlines -- all trying to ship me back to LAX): "Why don't you just jump on our computer and get an electronic visa?" And so I did. After AU$20 and about 4 minutes, I had a valid visa. (I had to lie and say I wasn't in Australia... but was I really telling a lie? I mean after all, you can't get into Australia without a valid Australian visa! ;) )

Now I'm booked on a flight later today to NZ, hopefully in Auckland by nightfall. My dad would give me a lecture, but since he's not here, I'll just smile and say this is the excitement that I was looking for on my adventure.

Tips for Sydney Airport

When you first arrive in Sydney and are waiting for your connection to New Zealand, here are a few suggestions. First the Don'ts:
  1. Don't get distracted by the free internet kiosk with all the asian kids climbing all over it, waiting for you to finish checking your email (and reading while you type)
  2. Don't get distracted by the exciting non-US based fast food chaing (noodle-in-a-box, etc.)

Now for the Do's (you are a United Premier member, right?):

  1. Go upstairs to the Air New Zealand lounge, ask them if there's anything you should know about. They told me about this stamp that I had to get before my next flight, something the Transfer Counter should have told me when I checked in downstairs, but somehow failed. ps. They will print your full itinerary for you if you don't have a paper copy of it (which you will need for the stamp in question).
  2. Once in the lounge, don't get distracted by the foods, that'll come in later. Rather, find the awesomely spacious, clean, and well stocked showers. Enjoy it after your 14 hour flight. Don't miss the provided full-size terrycloth towels.
  3. Now it's on to the food. Of course everyone here is on various body times, so they've got all the meals covered. I'm enjoying my pecan / mango / cheese salad with a glass of juice. Decided to pass up the Pinot Noir, although it is 3pm body time.
  4. Oh, and there's free internet on clean computers up here too, sans pokemon-toting voyeurs. :-) (Wish I had carried-on my camera cable for some pic uploading...)

Time to read the news and enjoy the live music!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bon Voyage

Well, folks, the day has finally arrived! As I lay falling asleep last night, I realized that it finally was mid-January, jobs and extracurriculars drawn to a close, plane tickets were purchased, and the bags were packed. Time to execute.

Despite not knowing where I'll sleep come this time next week (er... in 2 nights actually), I'm eager to get on a plane, read the Lonely Planet for 14 hours on a plane, magically lose a day of my life, and then be in New Zealand.

Drop me an email, or a comment, and I'll be snapping pictures and journaling.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wall Street has spoken

Seems like my departure from AeroVironment hasn't gone unnoticed with the suits on Wall Street. Two points to note:

  1. It's been all downhill since my resignation announcement on December 6th (when the stock was soaring at an all-time high).
  2. The stock dropped 5% today because yesterday was my last day.

Hope we see some bounce-back from this!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Free Stuff!

Streamlining requires that I get rid of lots of stuff. Basically, anything that is easily replaceable, and that means: million-print books, CDs, clothes, and electronics.

Maybe I'll post some more stuff that I'm 'freeing' in the coming days.

UPDATE: Free Stuff is being given away at my potluck dinner tonight.