Friday, January 15, 2010

New Zealand

It has been way too long since I have updated the Wayfaring Writer. It's easy to say I have been extremely busy. But, I am going to give you the best glimpse into my fabulous, wonderful and amazing trip to the South Island of New Zealand.
It's hard to begin to tell you about one of the best trips I have ever been on but I will try. Maybe the best way to begin is to talk about what happened before I arrived in Christchurch, NZ. Yeah, that's it. So I am sitting in Hong Kong airport waiting for my late night flight to Auckland, NZ and then to my final destination, Christchurch. While ordering some scrumptious looking noodles and I reach into my wallet for my bank card. I panic, my heart begins to race, my breathing accelerates, I begin shaking and I try not to lose control. I stop and sit down and search my bags, my coat and my wallet saying to myself out loud with people watching, "It's here don't worry. Just stay calm." but it was not there. By now you must realize I lost my bank card. And so had I. I knew right where it was. Before I had jumped on a plane in Manila I had stopped to pick up a head lamp at a local outdoor shop for my good friend Dawn. I reached into my wallet and found the receipt and located the number and called. I asked for the manager and sure enough as the day is long, it's there. "Sir, I have your card. It is safe. I will keep it in our safe and you can get it when you return."

What would you do? Would you cancel it? Would you trust him? I trusted him and knew it would be fine and I just let it go and decided I will survive. Plus, it's only money right? Right! So, I thanked him and told him I'd be back January 6, 2010. And I began to relax with a nice glass of wine when I stepped onto the plane. Smooth sailing after that. Five glasses of wine later I was asleep and only woke to eat and then fall back to sleep. I dreamt that the plane was having technical problems and went down in the ocean. But, was awaken by the women next to asking to get by to have a toilet break. I looked around the plane and all was fine, cold as a witch's...well you know, but perfect. So, I waited for her to return and I was cutting logs again. I changed my flight in Auckland and continued sleeping on the domestic flight and arrived in Christchurch. Ready to get my van, meet Dawn and drive through to Arthur's pass. But, I did it again. I left something behind. I left my driver's license in Tokyo after switching to a waterproof wallet. I swear I was trying to sabotage this trip from the beginning. Then Dawn arrived and she saved the day. She had her driver's license with her and all was good. Let the good times roll in our Awesome Escape Van named Hairy Maclary. This van was covered with dogs chasing sausages. Hairy Maclary is a children's Story in New Zealand. Have a look if you get a chance. Quite good reading.

Ken and Rhonda had an Escape Rental Van as well. Their van was called Super Tui. If you plan to tour NZ then these are the guys to call. Ask for Crispy and tell him Murphy sent you. He won't know me but what the hell, right.Driving through the hills and mountains of New Zealand is like being in a movie. So many times I just could not believe it was real. The slow winding roads and switchbacks was the kind of driving I was waiting for. Life in Tokyo is great, fun and exciting but it is busy and fast. I needed slow and relaxed and I was there. Dawn and I enjoyed catching up and talking about what's been happening with our jobs. We finally got to a point in the drive and said "ENOUGH SHOP TALK". After that we enjoyed the scenery and the smell of clean fresh air. The views of snow tipped mountains and the warmth of the sun that slipping behind the towering peaks ahead of us on this snake of a road. Slowly bringing us to our first stop at Arthur's Pass and to the Schwartz family. Bringing together the Melurphzkis for another adventure. Much like the trips to Bali and Vietnam the previous two years.

That first night sitting out in the middle of a field with our vans parked side by side and just the four of us sitting together talking, drinking and counting shooting stars while the kids were sleeping was the beginning of what I needed. Peace and quiet. While sitting in the peaceful night we broke the silence when our faces lit up from the brightest meteor we all had ever seen. It was like someone had shot off a roman candle 5 feet from our faces. I was looking in the opposite direction and all of a sudden Ken and Dawn's faces lit up like the sun was out. I turned around to see a ball of fire like I had never seen before. I don't think I will ever seen anything like that for the rest of my life. And it carried across the sky and went behind the mountain still burning and lasted about 5 seconds. Now this photo is not the one we saw but this is pretty damn close to it. What a way to begin the trip. I made a big wish on that on that falling star and I hope it comes trues. I will let you know what happens.

We woke up to beautiful skies, more clean air and sand flies. What heck are sand flies? There wasn't any sand for miles. But, they were there. Biting my ankles and swarming my head. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I hadn't showered for three days. Nope! Everyone was having problems with these little guys not just the smelly guy. We sprayed ourselves down and did our morning business. Ya know... cooking oatmeal and making coffee. There is nothing like a good crap of coffee I mean cup with this view and I had 13 more days of it. Have a look at what I lived.

Our next destination would be Okarito on the west coast of the south island. Here we have plans to go kayaking up into the lagoon and see some different species of birds and animals. Cole, who is 10 now, is my co-pilot and is heading up the stern of the kayak for me. We have a pretty tough headwind pushing us back toward the Tasman Sea but we are battling our way up stream to a good stopping point. It's a lot of work having a 10 yr old as your partner. But, I still wouldn't trade it in for a bus ticket or a metro pass in Tokyo. The views we have are still getting better and better. The weather is warm and the sun is bright in the sky. We catch up with the rest of the group to stop and take a break and look and some birds on the flats feeding.
It was time for Cole and I to turn around so the rest could get out of this little nook and continue on up stream. We went back out into the wind and the current and worked as hard as we could. I told Cole that he had to work harder than he ever had to or we were not going to make it. We cut across the current to the opposite bank so we could have a little wind block then move on up stream. We made it and joined the rest of the group just in time to relax and enjoy the beauty of a small forest running into the banks of the lagoon. We stopped for some photos and switched partners. I now had Kat who is 12 and she is much stronger than her brother. We headed back toward the shanty where the day began and we were so pleased to find out that the tide was coming in and the wind had shifted and was now blowing in from the Tasman and straight into our faces once again. Kat and I worked hard for about 2 hours and were rewarded with being the first ones back. Well, not really the first. Ken and Cole had to take a ride on the motor boat cause they were not going to make it. It was a real accomplishment for Kat to make it all the way back. When the boatman asked if we wanted a ride she would send him on his way and keep on working. She never bragged about it to her brother but just kept it inside knowing she worked hard.

That night after returning from the Kayak trip we had planned to go out on a search for the Kiwi. We had an early dinner to prepare for a night out in the forest searching for the elusive Kiwi. The kiwi is a nocturnal bird that is very shy and rarely seen. We had a group of 6 people setting out to find this night walking bird with feet that are 20% of its body weight. Those are some big ol' feet to be walking around at night in hopes of not being heard. Our guide, Iian, was quite the character. He did know his Kiwi though. I think I heard him say he had been studying these birds for about 15 years. He asked one of the other people in our group what her hopes were of seeing a Kiwi and she said, "pretty good". He then said that the chances are not always certain and we may not even come close. He asked again and she said the same. And without missing a breath he said "Erika, You Bitch" in an affectionate tone of course. Not meaning any disrespect but one of playfulness. She didn't seem to like it but to me and the rest of the group it was funny and all get out.

Anyhow, we set out looking for one of the most rare birds in the world. We walked out into the forest, still dusk, hoping to get to our location before the kiwis break from their dens. We walk as if we are stalking our prey. Not wanting to make a sound or snap a twig. No talking, no whispers, no swishing and swaying of clothing. Pure silence. With every step we creep closer to our destination. Only stopping to talk about the plan and locate our area. Then, out of nowhere a New Zealand Falcon comes swooping out of the sky only a meter or two above my head and finding a resting spot on a dead tree only 15 meters from the little kiwi's den. It waits perched on the branch for the kiwi to begin its nightly feeding. We wait standing in the path hoping to see this amazing night creature. The falcon may be fast and furious but with 6 people close to the den its plan for a midnight feast was spoiled by our presence. There would be no kiwi killing that night.

20 minutes pass, then 30, then 40. Still no movement from us. Only listening to the call of the kiwi. It's a boisterous call. Creee Creee Creee Blat Blat Blat Reeeee Reeeee Reeeee or something like that. (Feel free to listen here) It was coming from the bushes in front of us and we new we were in the right place. Next was the Female responding and the male was on the move to find her and get some lovin. We moved right behind him still in silence. We waited again and finally the sound of crushing sticks from their massive feet. Both getting closer to us. I clicked my tongue as quietly as possible to get Iian's attention and the group moved next to me. Finally, in the back of the brush I saw a glint of silver reflect of the eye of the kiwi from the moons glare and moments later it appeared. It was only a meter from me. Not many people in the world get a chance to see these birds in the wild. We watch it in complete darkness with the help of a red lamp so we don't harm the bird eyes or scare it away. The male ran away instantly knowing something was wrong. The female stayed and ate bugs and worms for about 3 to 4 minutes before it scurried off. By the end of the night we saw 3 Kiwi and heard 6. It was the beginning Christmas Day about Midnight when we returned to camp. Not too bad of a present from Santa I would say.

Time for bed and I will be back soon with more updates from New Zealand...

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