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Milford Sound

Cruising on a (what day is it?) Afternoon


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It is 300 KM from Queenstown to Milford Sound and we had been told it takes anywhere from 3 to 6 hours to make the drive???. We set out early just incase it was the latter and made the first 200k to Ta Annu in a little over two hours. And expected to be in Milford in another hour or so. This is were the drive got interesting and we started to slow down.
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Wide open plains with snow capped mountains in the background narrowed to winding rivers through the glacier sculpted valleys as we worked our way closer to the sound. We had read that this road can be congested with a “conga line” of campervans and tour busses but it was really not all that busy. Every corner had me stepping on the brakes and swerving off the road as I reached for my camera.
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We slowly made our way up this stunning highway and when we thought it could not get any better we started climbing steeply to the Homer Tunnel. Piercing a glacier carved amphitheatre so saturated with waterfalls it almost takes on the appearance of a water wall, the Homer Tunnel is a dark earthen passageway over rough road dripping with water. Before entering the Tunnel we spotted the magic bus and the red headed Mathew out taking pictures. We new the boys would be heading to Queenstown and possibly out to Milford Sound so we were not surprised to meet them here again after seeing them in Waneka.
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Magic Bus
Before moving on we were entertained by the Kea. Described as the naughty teenager of the parrot world this is an alpine parrot, possibly the worlds only alpine parrot if memory serves, and has a curios personality. From what we saw they would fly in and land on your car. If the window was down they would stick their head in and if nothing looked interesting would peck at the rubber lining on your door. We saw one almost take off with some guys keys (why he offered them up to the bird is still beyond me) and had been told that they like to steal hats and can unwrap candy!
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The Curios Kea
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The Curios Kea and the equally curios Meghan

The Homer Tunnel is 1207 Meters and it felt like a long time before we returned to the light and the spectacular Cleddau Valley were we would finally descend to the sea and the Milford sound.
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Homer Tunnel
Back on the road we dropped steeply into the valley. I could not believe with the type of high alpine scenery that was right outside our window that it was possible that we were descending to sea level. We came around countless switchbacks past more and more waterfalls washing down the impossibly steep mountainside as we made our way to the sound. Milford Sound is a hub for tourists and 4 operators run cruises in the sound. We were warned about how busy it would be and advised to take either the first or last boat of the day before/after the busses had arrived/departed. We did just that and were lucky enough to share a boat built for 90 people with no more than 30.
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Meghan, Our Boat, And Miter Peak
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Milford Sound is home to Miter peak, a 1692 meter spire rising straight out of the ocean. This is said to be the Maroon Bells of NZ, the most photographed peak. It is just the start of the vertical cliff walls rising over 4,000 feet directly out of the sound. The vegetation and trees cling to these cliffs making a vertical forest that when overburdened with growth and moisture can be subject to tree avalanches!
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The effect of the ice ages is also plainly evident here were three distinct levels are know as giant steps (queue the Coltrane) showing the tremendous forces of nature. The waterfalls here are also very impressive and had we come when the sun was not shining and the mountains were covered in rain clouds we would have been treated to many many more waterfalls. This is another feature that Milford sound is famous for. The area gets over 7 meters of rain annually and typically the steep walls of the sound are just alive with water as it makes it way into the sound.
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For being one of NZ biggest tourist attractions and a magnet for the big tour busses we felt like we were able to enjoy this area of NZ at our own pace, on our own terms, and without the pressure of all the big tour operators. At one point in our trip we thought we would avoid this area and we both came away from the experience so glad that we did not. A special Thanks goes out to My Aunt Gene advised us to spend as much time as possiblie in New Zealand and not to miss Milford Sound. We moved out that night and camped in one of the many DOC campsites along the way with our friends the sandflies.
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A day hike on the Routeburn track was on the menu for the next day. This is considered on of NZ’s great walks and to do any camping along this route requires negotiating a maze of DOC permits and regulations as well as obtaining the necessary reservations for the often overbooked huts along the way. However, a day hike is free and requires no more than arriving the trailhead with the will to walk. We set out climbing throughout temperate rainforest. For me it had been weird to see the rain forest vegetation in and around the high Alpine scenery we are used to seeing in Colorado’s arid climate. Especially after coming from the cook islands were we experienced tropical rain forest vegetation. None the less we made our way through the damp Beachwood forest were we felt as if we were walking through a recently used sponge. Glimpses of the high peaks would flirt with us through the trees before we hit tree line and could see our objective high ahead of us. We would be heading to key summit but not before dropping back down into the forest to check out one of the DOC’s huts. After all of our experiences with 10th mountain divisions hut system in CO we were not all that impressed but this was one of hundred of huts in NZ so we did not hold any bias. From here we walked up above tree line for views of three river valleys and a 360 degree view of snow covered peaks.
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Posted by pmunson 08:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Penguins and Peninsulas

Back to Christchurch… our last days in New Zealand


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With our last days in New Zealand at hand we decided to slow things down and just really enjoy ourselves. We had been on the move so much and feeling like we would be missing out if we were not constantly heading somewhere to do something. With this spirit we decided to skip the southern scenic route and head directly to the east coast to a town that had Penguin Fever. There were two penguin colonies in the area. A blue penguin colony with about 200 penguins that come ashore every night and a yellow eyed penguin colony were only 15 or 20 come ashore. Apparently these penguins are really low in number and close to extinction. We decided to head to the beach were the Yellow Eyed Penguins were. A few hours before dusk the penguins come ashore to feed their young and nest. It was cold, windy, and we were probably 100 feet above the beach were we were supposed to see a tiny bird come ashore. I was getting a little grumpy and wanted to move on when it all started to happen. Their was a naturalist there who was monitoring the penguin activity and he had binoculars that he let us use to spy a penguin in the bush on the cliff face above the beach, then one came ashore, and then one was spotted right below a viewing platform only a short distance away. We went over and were treated to an up close and personal experience with this peculiar looking penguin. Purple feat, a red beak, and yellow eyes! Truly weird.

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YEP… Yellow Eyed Penguin
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After this we spent 3 lazy days on the Banks Peninsula surrounded by lush green rolling hills, plenty of Sheep, and more steep narrow and winding roads. Banks peninsula is a bulbous peninsula with many pretty inlets across its entire circumference. We would have achieved maximum relaxation had it not been for an all out allergy attack that we both suffered from. We quickly abandoned ship to head to Christchurch on the third day when the wind picked up and things really got bad.

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Daaa… Which way do I go?

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Bah Bah Black Sheep
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Banks Peninsula
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Gas Station

Two nights in Christchurch exploring the city and getting ready to return the van and head off to Sidney. We really loved NZ despite our problems with the weather. Driving the van was really fun although frustrating at times. We clearly went way over budget in NZ spending about $150 a day. Hopefully this will be offset by the time we spend in Asia, India, and volunteering in Nepal. On that note while NZ was incredibly beautiful and a sort of highlight real of what we like to do in the states it did feel really close to home. The cultural aspect of our trip around the world has not even gotten of the ground and we have been traveling about 6 weeks already. We are off to Sydney were things will most likely be really similar and not until Singapore will we really start to be challenged. The long road ahead is looking more and more appealing as life on the road becomes more normal and we are both eager to move on.
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Sol Square, Christchurch

Posted by pmunson 23:56 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Sydney

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Sydney Blew us away before we even touched down. An early AM arrival with a courtesy flyby of the city and harbor allowed awesome views of the city surrounded by boats and water.
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We spent our 5 nights in Sydney in the funky metro neighborhood of Glebe. Close to Sydney University and full of cool cafes, 2nd hand bookshops, with plenty of students and young locals out and about. We were fortunate enough to get some great recommendations from our friend Katy who grew up in Australia and went to university in Sydney. With her recommendation we got a nice mix of cool neighborhoods, the best of the big city, and the amazing beaches within a short ferry ride from downtown.

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The iconic opera house and city skyline from the ferry

Sydney has a wonderful public transportation system and it was easy to catch a 20 minute bus ride into the city from our hostel in Glebe. It was just as easy to catch one of the many ferry’s that departed often to the surrounding beaches and neighborhoods. I was really impressed how the public transportation system seamlessly combined trains busses and ferrys. At circular quay, the main transportation center in the harbor, all three options come together in a three story water front plaza were the busses pull in over the boats and the train tracks run above the busses.
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Ferry pulling into Circular Quay

We split out time between exploring the city and exploring the beaches. We were in town on a Saturday and checked out a few of Sydney’s great weekend markets. The Market in Glebe was mostly funky vintage clothing and was set in a shady park and a bohemian feel to it between the goods, patrons, and vendors. The second market we checked out was in the downtown area called the Rocks. This was much larger and spread out over several city streets. Here they mostly catered to tourists with Australian art and crafts but it was still fun to explore and see this part of the city as well.

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Everyone knows I am a sucker for picture frames! (Glebe Market) All I need are photos of sunsets!
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Rocks Market
We also spent some time in the large and very pleasant botanical gardens. Offering a peaceful retreat from the city and great views of the harbor bridge and opera house, as well as all the impressive boats moving around the harbor, it was a great place to just chill out in the shade and take it all in.
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Yours Truly

We checked out the Opera House up close and even walked around inside a little bit. It was interesting reading about the history and the controversy behind its exterior and interior creation. Here are a few different perspectives on the building you have all scene the classic image of so many times. It is truly an amazing building and getting up close and looking at it from so many different angles was a lot of fun. Meghan did tire of how many pictures I was taking and I had to go find her in a nice shady park were a festival for green energy was being put on. We watched a decent band for a bit while enjoying organic kiwi popsicles!

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On to the Beaches and eye candy galore. We did not have to leave the city to notice that everyone was beautiful and extremely fashion orientated. Countless women strut the streets of Sydney dressed to impress and it all comes off at the beach. Our first beach stop was Manly, named after myself and the manly aborigines spotted on the beach when it was first discovered. It was Saturday and it appeared that the entire city headed out to the beach. A 30 minute ferry ride dropped us off on the harbor side of the northern entry to Sydney harbor. A short stroll down a pedestrian mall from the ferry stop brought us the packed ocean side beach. We took refuge under a rented beach umbrella and spent the entire day reading, sleeping, and playing in the ocean.
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Manly Beach
Our second beach day was to the famous Bondi Beach. Well known around the world as a place were Sydney comes to show off its' skin. The beach is a mile long stretch of golden sands backed by a green public park and boardwalk. We hit this beach mid week and did not experience the massive crowds we did earlier but it was still busy and offered a fun scene. We started the day down the shore a few miles and walked the eastern beach walkway past 4 nice beaches on the way to Bondi. Never before have I seen so many nice beaches so close to such a big city.
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Eastern Beaches Walkway
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A nice place to rest in peace
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The pool at the Bondi Surf Lifesavers Club and Bondi Beach

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Meghan takes in the Scenery!
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Some holiday guidlines for all you revelers

Sydney was a lot of fun but did not feel all that far from home. One local person we spoke with compared it to LA, and said that it does not really represent Australian people or culture too well. Equaling the size of the continental United States Australia is a big country and we would love to come back again with more time to really get to know it. We have enjoyed exploring these first world countries but exited to move on to Singapore and then Malaysia were things should get interesting.

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Luna Park, Just across the harbor bridge
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[i]We ate at the Sydney fish market, 2nd largest in the world with regard to types of fish available!
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[/i]One last shot of the Opera house from the Harbor Bridge

Posted by pmunson 06:53 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

The Joy of Travel - Pt. 1

Planes trains and Automobiles (not necessarily in that order).

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Ahh the Joy of traveling. I am writing this in the Darwin airport and hopefully we get into Singapore with less difficulty than we have gotten out of Sydney. We were able to catch the shuttle, in which would not bring us to Glebe from the airport on arrival to Sydney, without much difficulty other than the driver arriving 20 minutes early. Fortunately we were prepared. We got off at the international airport only to find we needed to go to the domestic airport (as opposed to what the airlines website indicated). A five dollar train ride and a 120 second trip, we were at domestic. After a quick panic attack when Meghan temporarily could not locater her passport we got in the line to check in. We learned here that we needed to have proof of onward travel from Singapore, which we did not have. Frantic but still with plenty of time we went to the service desk to purchase a fully refundable ticket out of Singapore that we would later have refunded. The friendly Jetstar representative slowly found us a ticket while answering phones and holding a conversation with her coworker and proceeded to tell me that all three of my credit cards were declined. Or at least she thought they were declined. This lead to a longwinded phone conversation with her supervisor who could not run our cards either and left me a little sweaty and generally nervous that we were going back to Glebe! Meghan still had her whit’s about her and came up with the idea of booking the flight ourselves online. The only internet computers were in the terminal so I had to jump in line, go through security, and locate a CPU in the terminal. This was easy enough and when I got to the cash only CPU I realized I only had enough Australian dollars for 14 minutes of internet time. Convinced it was not enough time I raced through the online booking process and had tickets purchased in 7 minutes. Onward! After Meghan got checked by security for explosives we were on to the terminal were we were told that our flight was 45 minutes late. That is 45 minutes out of the 90 that we had in Darwin to collect our bags, check into our flight to Singapore, and clear customs. My fingers are crossed!

Posted by pmunson 03:08 Archived in Australia Tagged air_travel Comments (3)

Singapore

Street food and shopping malls

semi-overcast 85 °F
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Well we made it into Singapore after our horrendous day of travel out of Australia. Getting out of the airport was much easier than anywhere we have been yet. Everything is bright, shiny, and well organized. A quick ride on the MRT (Singapore’s public transport train) brought us to our stop and we were out on the street in the heat and humidity. A quick word on the MRT. Everything is automated and in order to pay for your fare you simply step up to a kiosk with a map of the city and press on it were you want to go. The machine calculates your fare and after you have paid it spits out a plastic ticket that looks and feels like a credit card. This you simply tap on a pad on the turnstile and the gates open up to you. Use the card one more time at the exit of the stop you purchased. Return the card for a dollar refund! The often busy MRT was easy to use and really efficient and was all we would use to travel in Singapore.
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MRT

We got a little off track on the walk to the guest house from the MRT. This is never nice in a new place with all your belongings on your back. We were on busy streets with a lot of people milling around and new we were close but not really sure what way to go. Just then a man who was sitting on the corner in an Indian restaurant’s front porch and smoking a hookah called out to us, “Sleepy Sam’s? You looking for Sleepy Sam‘s? Yes you are very close. Just the next left and you will see it down a little way”. Not only were we immediately spotted for tourists this man knew exactly were we were headed. Welcome to South East Asia!
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The Street Scene outside Sleepy Sam’s and the Sultan Mosque

We spent our time in Singapore mostly walking and checking out different parts of the city. We started out in Little India. Set in an old part of town Little India was a tightly packed area of narrow streets and old but colorful buildings. Our senses were alive with the sights, smells, and sounds and yet we knew that this would be a far cry from the sensory overload we could expect in the real India.
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Flower Garlands at the street stalls in Little India

We passed a lot of interesting modern architecture. This was mixed in with the older street scenes of little India and Chinatown as well as Temples from the mid 18th century, gaudy shopping malls, and monstrous housing complexes made for many different worlds within one small island that is Singapore. This also was apparent in the different peoples and religions of Singapore. Singapore and Malaysia are a cultural melting pots were Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, and Catholics (amongst others) all celebrate their religion side by side. On the same street you will find any number of different temples and mosques and people of different beliefs existing in harmony. On the same street as the largest Mosque in Singapore their was also a Christmas tree!
Some Singapore street scenes all in a days walk

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Modern Art School
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Color coded housing complex
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Little India
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Thian Hock Keng Temple

One of the things I was most exited about in Singapore was the Food. Up to this point we had been cooking about 95% of our meals and now we were in the land of cheep eats! We went directly to one of the Hawker Centers that Singapore was famous for and dove in. Here for about $3 USD you could have a feast of many different strange and exciting foods. Most of these places were sort of an open aired cafeteria with a lot, sometimes up to a hundred, small food stalls selling a variaty of foods. It was overwhelming at first. All the smells coming at you from all directions was intense. A lot of the displays had some in English but even with this it was vague. Some items that we really enjoyed were the Chili Crab, mystery meat dumplings, a weird tofu like dish made of radishes and called fried carrot cake, chicken satay, and some strange seafood soup.
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Some incite for the tourists
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Mmmm… Dumplings and Tiger Beer.
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Meghan digs into some Indian Food
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Tiger Prawns in Ice

On our last day in Singapore we took a trip out to the Zoo, but not before a quick walk through a zoo of shopping malls and rich Singaporean shoppers out for the holidays. Shopping is so big in Singapore that there is a section of our guidebook dedicated to it. This is hard core capitalism and one could easily get lost in the maze of mega malls.
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Orchard Road MRT Station
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Glittery Sidewalks of the Orchard Road Shopping vortex
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Even Santa’s Reindeer get the latest styles, high heals, and diamond earrings!

The Zoo was entertaining and a nice break from the busy city.
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Posted by pmunson 03:36 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

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