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Milford Track

Time November 9th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

At 4:45 Sunday morning I started my journey back to the south island to hike the Milford Track. It is a four day hike through Fiordland National Park that ends at Milford Sound. I went there by myself since no one else really seemed by for the journey. By 2pm I was on the boat that takes the walkers to the start of the track. Only 40 people are allowed to hike independently per day. There is also a guided walk option but they stay at different lodges. Looking around the boat I noticed that most of the people hiking were couples. After taking some picture though I noticed that there were some people my age. There were two girls from Sweden that are taking a gap year between high school and college. I also met Tyler who is from St. Lewis. He graduated college and is traveling around for a year before settling down. We ended up hiking together the whole time and also hiked with the girls a lot of the time.

The first day was an easy 1 hour hike to the first hut. In comparison to the rest of the trip that views were not that great. Yet they were still better than anything back home. The huts are all really nice. They have a separate bunk area, bathrooms, clean running water and a kitchen. No showers though. It turns out that everyone besides Tyler and I brought food to cook. I was fine with my bars and PB&J but it was hard to not get a little jealous when people started actually chopping up potatoes and making a full meal. Ross was our ranger that night and he took us on a nature walk and showed us all the cool plants around the area.

The second day took about 6 hours and was a gradual uphill walk. We had to pay for a helicopter before leaving for the hike so that if the avalanche danger was too high that day we could get a ride across. Luckily it was a perfect day and we were able to hike the whole way. There were tons of waterfalls and lots of avalanche hazard areas. You are not supposed to stop in the avalanche areas or “danger zones” but that seemed to be where all the best views were so we did. But just long enough to get all the pictures…and pose for some group photos. The last part of the hike was a little steeper but still nothing hard. We got to the hut around 2pm and were greeted with views of Mackinnon pass which we would hike up the next day. The ranger that night told us that the vies were best early in the morning and if you leave at 6:30 you can see the sun rising over the mountains. So that’s what Tyler and I did.

This day had the best views by far. Sadly my iPhone died right before reaching the top but my backup camera didn’t do too bad. Only about five people had point and shoot cameras and I was the only one using a phone but the photos came out ok. They don’t even come close to doing it justice but I don’t think any camera could do that. There was frost and ice at the top of the pass. The wind was really strong and it was odd to think that earlier in the morning we were in t-shirts and shorts. I forgot my gloves so I had to decide between keeping my hands warm or taking a picture. My fingers actually had trouble clicking the button sometimes since they went a little numb. The highest point on the path was 1154m. Once we got over the pass though it warmed up and was t-shirt time again. Once we got to the hut a few people went for a swim. I ran in only to get a brain freeze then run back out. It sure was refreshing though and welcomed after a couple days without a shower.

The last day was the longest length wise but took about the same amount of time as the previous day since it is flat. The four of us hiked together the whole time that day and we took lots of photos. I didn’t get many group ones since I felt bad making people take pictures of us with so many cameras but we all exchanged contact info so they should get on Facebook at some point. Around 1:30 we reached the end  and got on the boat to take us on the quick ride to Milford Sound. I hiked 33.5 miles over the course of the track and had a blast! At the ferry terminal the four of us said our goodbyes and I was off to Queenstown for the night. I got some dinner from my favorite places in town and went to bed nice and early. The next day I made my way back to Albany.

Words can not describe how great of a trip it was. The views were jaw dropping, the weather was sunny the whole time (which is very rare since the track is in a rainforest. They tend to get 200mm when it rains), I made some new friends and had a nice relaxing time. It felt like a retreat since there was no technology and no one cared what time it was. If you like hiking I highly recommend putting this on your bucket list.

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The Tide Comes In

Time June 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

After mountaineering, I returned to Dunedin with a pile of homework waiting for me.  I destroyed it, while at the same time trying to plan for the next week.  Three days after I returned, my family flew in to Dunedin to share New Zealand with me.  It was a surreal feeling to walk down Dunedin’s main street to find my dad and little sister waiting there for me.  It was the collision of two worlds.  But it was just as if I’d left them the day before.  We talked and walked through the pouring rain as I showed them Dunedin.  It was a gorgeous sight to see my family in my flat, or my lecture, or Velvet Burger (high-class NZ burger joint).  We wasted no time at all, first driving up to a mountain overlook of the city then driving up the coast to the climb all over the bizarrely spherical beach rocks known as the Moeraki Boulders.
The next day we left the rainy city, continually encouraging the drivers to resist the temptation to drift back into familiarity, which in our case was the right side of the road.  We headed to Curio Bay, a petrified forest where we watched yellow-eyed penguins waddle up the beach to feed their young.  That night we made the mistake of ending up short-handed with provisions in (extremely) rural New Zealand, and ended up eating at a hokey country pub.  Awkward as it began, it gave us the opportunity to connect with a local farmer who had us over to his house and showed us around his farm the next day.  Some day I hope to return to hang out with the Callahans.
After the Catlins we made for Te Anau, where we simultaneously enjoyed the wonders of fine food and Fiordland.  A necessary part of any trip to study in New Zealand is visiting Milford Sound, and we certainly fulfilled this duty.  My dad treated us to an overnight cruise of the fiord, an experience complete with gorgeous sights of looming cliffs and waterfalls and lush green bush, kayaking, card games, and more food than was possible even to sample.  In the morning the skies broke from rain and showed us the other half of Fiordland’s split personality – tall, sharp peaks of deep green and bluish white.  Next was Queenstown, where we settled into cozy bed and breakfast after some time in the sparkling city.  One incident was so positively hilarious that I can’t refrain from mentioning it.  The best views of the city and surrounding area are seen from an elevated spot called Deer Park Hill, so we went there in the evening.  After watching the sun cast its final rays upon the Remarkables range (aptly named), we drove out, noting that the Hill was also well-named.  Coming from Nebraska, I have certainly seen deer before, but these around us were not the least bit flighty.  One stood just by the side of the road as we approached it in the car with windows down.  My little sister was riding in the front seat, staring it down.  It returned her gaze, but with the goofiest and dumbest looking expression I have ever seen an animal make.  We rolled forward until my sister could have punched it, and by that time we were in uproarious laughter.  The deer just grinned back at us, which further elevated the hilarity.  At last the comedian ran off, no doubt satisfied with its scrutiny of my little sister’s face.
Unlike most people, we took our most relaxing days in Queenstown.  The next day we sampled an unconquerable breakfast before riding up the touristy gondola.  At the top are a couple of racing tracks called the Luge.  It was fun enough to evoke our wholehearted agreement with its motto that, ‘Once is never enough.’  Later that day, my father bungy jumped the AJ-Hackett bridge, the site of the first bungy jumping experiments.  I heard a lot of comments about my father’s awesomeness for jumping even with over 50 years of wisdom stacked up.  After, my mother flew back, and my little sister, my father, and I drove through the remarkable, dry, sharp mountains.  The golden colo(u)r of the surrounding tussock grass made it seem like a vast autumn paradise covered in newly-fallen leaves.  We drove straight through Wanaka, regretfully, for Wanaka rivals Queenstown for mountain glory.  But our goal far surpassed both.
We drove up the west coast, passing from shrub to bush to rainforest.  The West side of the Southern Alps come impossibly close to the Tasman sea at this spot, which causes a great amount of water to fall at these spots.  This is also the high country of Mt. Cook and miles of glaciers.  Two of the glaciers actually descend down into the rainforest, shooting down the tall valley remarkably close to the sea.  Our heli-hike got cancelled, but we got to take a helicoptor tour of the two glaciers and the place they call Godland.  I spotted Pioneer Hut and Lendenfeld Peak, and said a final goodbye to Mt. Tasman.  From there we skirted up the rest of the West Coast, seeing only the pancake-stack-shaped rocks at Punekaiki along the way.  At length we reached Abel Tasman, a place widely reputed as a destination.  Our first of two day there was dominated by an eight hour tramp, for which I owe many thanks and perhaps an apology to my dad and little sister.  The wonder of Abel Tasman is aquatic.  The bush comes right down to the edge of the water, occasionally cut just short by a wide, pristine beach.  Such wonder is present at a place like that, and it’s clear that a thousand incredible nooks, viewpoints, and sand islands escape you in such a short time.
We certainly did have our fair share of adventure, however.  The route of the track is dependent on tide, and at one point we just skirted the limit time for crossing an estuary.  I carried my little sister on my shoulder as I waded through the thigh-deep water, beating the tide by the slimmest margin of time.  We watched as the whole bay began quickly filling with water.  My dad watched a small arm of water grow, widen, join another arm, and cover his feet in water in just a few minutes.  When we finished the damp tramp that night near sundown, we were picked up the perfectly arced stretch of sand called Anchorage onto a floating backpacker’s to spend the night.  Once aboard, I heard voices from inside say, “Is that Ryan?”, and I looked in to find several of my flatmates playing cards.  It was a wonderful coincidence, as my father and sister got to meet them, and I got a ride home.
The next day we went straight to Nelson, where we had one last lunch and walk together.  But nothing gold can stay.  When we went to the airport, and I saw them off, I knew that the tide had come in.  I haven’t experienced deep and regretful homesickness since I’ve come to study abroad in New Zealand, but there certainly was an unspoken beckoning to follow them back to the States that day.  Our time together was a beautiful thing, and I savored every moment, every laugh, every conversation. Just today I got an encouraging card from my mom, assuring me that those same feelings were reciprocated.
I’ll have to wait another month for the tide to come in.  But it will.  My brother is due to arrive in five weeks, and I anticipate my time with him every bit as much as with the other members of my family.  Don’t worry, you’ll hear about it.

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