The End

During one of our pit stops in a slightly bigger town than most (two pubs not just one) I had the most peculiar bathroom experience I’ve ever had.  It was a “Smart” bathroom.  I entered and then tried to lock the door.  An automated voice came on saying “To lock the door, press the button.”  The only button I saw was this big green one, but when I pressed it, the toilet flushed and the door remained unlocked.  I pressed the button again and again, flush flush flush.  I started pressing everything I could find, but nothing worked.  Finally the automated voice came on again and said, “I’m not feeling so well.  How about you?”  WTH???  Finally after a really long time, I popped my head outside and asked the next person to watch the door for me as I could not lock it.  But I certainly knew how to flush the toilet really well.IMG_0316


 

It’s our last day.  I walked outside our farmhouse into the brisk morning air to grab the last pictures of Mt. Cook as the sun was coming up.  Spectacular.

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FYI: Trying not to scratch my still very present sand fly bites, thanks for asking!  Will these things ever go away?  And how come Hubby didn’t get a single one?

I laughed as I packed up my things that included the three decks of playing cards I brought so I could teach everyone Consecutive Gin Rummy during some down time on this trip.  If we weren’t driving, we were hiking.  If we weren’t hiking, we were eating.  If we weren’t eating, we were sleeping.  We played zero minutes of cards on this trip.

Random thought:  I was in the friggin’ Tasman Sea on Milford Sound!  Cool!!

This trip has been two weeks of just showing up.  All meals have been beautiful prepared, served and cleaned up for us.  Heaven.  We get on Ernie and are taken to whatever beautiful place is next and then we are told what to hike before we pile back on Ernie to do it again somewhere else.  We are told what time to show up for dinner, which room our bags are in and what time to be at breakfast.  I haven’t worn a stitch of makeup or used a hair dryer in over two weeks.  We have had every single decision made for us for 14 days and it’s been awesome.

Our last Laura-Breakfast was salmon eggs benedict with a chipotle cream sauce.  Of course it was.  Everyone was quiet and in deep thought.

Borut sat staring blankly into his breakfast, “I’m not going to know what to do.  I’m going to get home, wake up in the morning, come downstairs, and wait for something to show up for breakfast.  Nothing is going to show up.  No coffee with sugar.  Nothing to eat.  My wife will tell me to get off my ass and make something myself.”

I said, “I’m not going to know how to start my day.  Who’s going to tell me what to do?  I’ll be sitting around for hours waiting to hear which hike to prepare for.  Who’s going to do ALL THE DISHES?” Then a horrible thought crossed my mind.  When I get home, I’m the Laura.  And I am in no way ready to be The Laura!  Nooo!  Not yet!!!!

Oh, by the way, did you know that Duck Herding is a thing in England that people pay a shit ton of money to do?  People pay thousands of dollars to take brooms and herd ducks.  I didn’t believe it either, but Borut was right.  Here it is:  Duck Herding is legit

So what was the best thing I ate on this trip?  That would have to be Borut’s mussels (Instance #6042 when spelling is so important) Best dessert was Laura’s Sticky Date Pudding.  The weirdest thing I ate was Linda’s Veal Cutlet that wasn’t veal.  Which did included every single thing from yesterday’s left-overs to Kellen’s missing rain jacket:

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If you come to the South Island, you will understand why New Zealanders are referred to the friendliest people on earth.  It’s totally true. Every single person here, even those working the most mundane jobs, are downright jolly.   There is only one mean person on this entire island: The Gravel Monster.  You will recognize him if you see him.  I’ve decided I’m going to take some of this New Zealand friendliness back home with me and leave a bit of my California Bitch here.  But not too much, ’cause I still gotta be me.

I’m ashamed to admit that I had expected at least one male guide when we signed up for this rugged trip.  Shame on me.  New Zealand women are the strongest, most capable people I know.  At the end of some days Tess and Laura would shout out, “Who needs some help with their bags?” and everyone in our group would raise their hand, including the guys.  We would all be exhausted.  “If my wife saw this, she would absolutely kick my ass. ” said a defeated Borut as Tess and Laura would haul like 4 suitcases each out of Ernie then run them up a hill to our rooms.  But man or woman isn’t the point.  These people are bred from different material.  They are doers.  They are backpackers and mountaineers.   And they are impressive as hell.

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Chef Laura
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Captain Tess

If you are looking to have an amazing experience like we did, please don’t hesitate to use Active Adventures.  I wish there were more stars on Yelp for the review I will write.  We did the New Zealand South Island Rimu trip, but I hear they are all excellent.

Here’s the link:  Active Adventures

With all of the time we had in Ernie, I was constantly blown away by my boys’ deeply intellectual conversations on science, philosophy and politics.  They would discuss physics, space and geeky technical stuff that I had not one single thing to contribute towards.  When asked my opinion, which wasn’t often, I was a deer sheep caught in the headlights.  My kids and husband are freaking brilliant human beings.  But you know who the reigning champion is in the game GHOST?  That’s all ME!

As we neared the airport Ernie blasted, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.  The situation is already sad enough, for the love of God don’t play that song now!  I’m only human.  I lost it.

The world sees us as they want to see us-in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.  But what we found out is that each one of us is so much more than just a programmer, a sarcastic genius, a scuba diver, a terrorist-looking finance guy, a granny, a mother/blogger, two snotty teenaged boys, two beautiful kiwi guides, and a mere bus pulling a green trailer.  We are New Zealand Tramping Warriors.  And we are family.


New words:

A “cracker day” is a good day

jafa- Just Another Fucking Aucklander

 

 

 

 

The Big Wrap Up- Part 1

Haven’t had any time to blog since Queenstown, so I’m going to try to do a big push to the finish.  As I remember things at random, I’m going to just plop them into the blog out of order so I don’t forget.

For instance the rugby team is called The All Blacks.  So seeing a sign at the airport that says, “All Blacks This Way” is a bit shocking for us visitors.

Every morning we wake up and meet for breakfast at the time and location Tess has told us the previous night.  As soon as we walk into said space, we are handed our hot drink of choice which she has memorized.  For Borut it’s coffee with one teaspoon of sugar.  For me it’s green tea.  But one time it was too hot so I asked for some milk and I about blew her brain.

“You don’t really put milk in your green tea do you?” she asked horrified.

“Sure, like a green tea latte” I told her.

“Nope, I just can’t help you.  That’s wrong on every level.  Milk and green tea can not mix.  Here’s some cold water to cool it down,” she offered.

“No, really, I like it with milk.”

She was thoroughly mortified that I would actually drink green tea with milk, so for the rest of the trip I did it just to get a rise out of her.  Then when she saw all three of my men eat their cereal dry, never with milk, she thought we were completely nutzo.

Back to Milford Sound.  Did I mention how stunning our rooms were?  I think I did but I must repeat it because it might be the nicest place I have ever stayed.  And the over-water bungalows Steve and I stayed in on our Tahitian honeymoon were insane.  We actually fed fish on the reef from our bed.  Ok, so The Milford Lodge is second best because we didn’t feed any animals from bed.

Today was a 3-hour kayak on The Milford Sound.  I did not want to miss out but the thought of my back in those sea kayaks again was just awful.  But I hate missing out more than I hate pain, so I was going for it.  We bundled up because it was cold, and I mean ARCTIC FREEZE YOUR FACE OFF COLD!!!  We got down to shore and Kellen announced that his stomach still wasn’t good and he couldn’t handle the kayak.  Tess told us that there was an option to go on a Milford Sound cruise for the same amount of time.  So my choice was a horribly painful kayak with a miserable kid, or the two of us on a luxury cruise seeing the same sights.  Hmmmm.  Off to cruise we go!

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There were keas in the kayak area.  Kea are endangered mountain parrots, so seeing them here was amazing.  These guys were not scared of humans at all and found Ernie quite tasty.  They landed on him and started gnawing at wires.  Hopefully not the brakes because we have a huge mountain pass to drive over later today.  Seeing these keas was Kellen’s favorite part of the trip.

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IMG_0557The Milford Sound is so amazing, no words needed.  Just some pictures to blow your mind:

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Can you see the crazy person repelling this?

 

Marleen decided to take a helicopter ride to land on a glacier and would meet us part way down the mountain at the heli-port.  Tess carefully pulled Ernie into the gravel drive when very large, scary man started yelling at us that we can’t park here and to get out now!  Tess and Laura couldn’t believe it.  I mean to the rest of us, it was a normal a-hole telling us what we can’t do.  But here in New Zealand, there are no mean people.  Except one and we found him.  We called him The Gravel Monster.

Kellen was feeling all better at this point.  After a delicious Laura-Meal of vegetarian chili,  it was time to hit the road again for another long drive to do a hike on The Kepler Track.  How long was the drive?  Kellen taught himself how to recite the alphabet backwards.  Ask him next time you see him, it’s incredible.

Since I may not have had the same workout sitting on the cruise all morning while the rest of the group kayaked, I needed to hit this track hard and I was ready.  Tess told us all to use the bathroom at the start because there were none out on this 6+ mile track.  The track was stunning, and I started at a good pace.  I felt strong.  But after about 20 minutes in I felt a rumble in my stomach, and not because I was hungry.  It was the chili.  Oh dear God.  I walked faster.  I bet if I do this hike as fast as I can, I can make it.  So I put her in 5th gear and passed everyone.  I was sweating like no tomorrow.  “You go girl!” DC Laura yelled to me.  Oh going wasn’t my problem.  For the love of God I needed to NOT go!  I’m not a religious woman, but I prayed to God, Jesus, Allah and The Flying Spaghetti Monster to just let me make it back unscathed.  Oh PLEASE!! I think I made it half way around when I realized I had two choices.  The first was to make like the bears do in the woods.  The second was unfathomable.  I am mortified absolutely mortified that I am writing it all out right now for the world to see.  I would have sworn I was taking this to my grave.  No picture to share here.

“Great hike!” Everyone congratulated me at the end.

“Kori, you kicked ass!” said Marleen.  And now they all know why.


Here is a better picture of a weka, or “Weird Chicken Bird-Thing” as we call them.

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The next day was driving back to Queenstown and stopping by The Bungee Bridge.  Everyone was tired and most were snoozing when Tess woke us up to experience a New Zealand traffic jam.  We have had zero traffic anywhere on these remote roads.  What we saw was a sea of sheep.  And then up ahead, another sea of sheep.  When we got closer a man was standing there waving at us to just drive right through them!

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A truck was driving towards us on the wrong side of the street with herding dogs in the back of the pick-up. They were herding these sheep by truck.  Back and forth they drove yelling and hollering at the sheep who were running and bleeting like crazy.  Sheep can actually jump really high and run very fast.  I was hysterical.  Like pee-my-pants-laughing.

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I watched the last sheep in the flock breathing hard, trying to keep up.  Poor girl, I get you.

Here’s the bungee bridge.

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Here’s Griffin jumping off the bungee bridge.

This is where DC, now COUSIN Laura parts from our group.  She actually stayed on days longer than she planned because we were having so much fun together.  She turned into Cousin Laura because she’s this totally playful yet brilliant cousin-type of friend who we all instantly bonded with.  She totally fit in with all of the technical, sciency, nerdy discussions on Ernie that I was bored to tears with.  This girl can hold her own with the geeks like no other.  She’s awesome.

The plan was to hike over to a winery before another long drive.  But now my legs were fried again.  I had completely burned out everything from quads through calves yesterday and was back to hobbling like an old lady again.

Getting back on Ernie felt weird this time.  There was a hole.  Our family wasn’t complete anymore and it was sad.

Next stop:  Mount Cook

The drive was long but we took breaks at random places like here:

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I did feed the salmon and I had more fun than anyone else doing it!

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The only thing better than feeding the salmon is eating the salmon and we were all thrilled when we noticed Laura trying to sneak a large package out of there into Kermit’s cooler.

We were headed to a place called “Braemar Station” which is a working sheep, deer and cattle farm.  Other than that, we didn’t know what to expect.  So when we arrived at the communal farmhouse located in the center of paradise, we were speechless.  These are the pictures taken out front of our farmhouse.  Mt. Cook couldn’t be more breathtaking.

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We drank NZ wine and ate Laura’s garlic buttered Green-Lipped Mussels out here.  Nothing is more perfect.

The next day was Laura’s birthday and Tess decorated Ernie appropriately.  Coolest party bus ever!

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The choice today, and thank goodness there was one, was a brutal hike straight up Mt. Cook 3400 ft or a 9 mile undulating hike around Mt. Cook by the river.  Rich and I choose the river.  It was the 2200 stairs going down that would do both of us in for sure if we chose the other one!  The birthday girl came with us and Tess took up The Crazies.  It was a really hot day, but we had a wonderful hike with a delicious picnic lunch half way through.  We had an hour to kill when we were done so we did it at a beautiful hotel with cold beers and WiFi.  Ahhh!

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Drink up birthday girl!
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Waiting for them at the end with these squalid conditions and horrific views

 

The group eventually made it back and from the sound of things, I know I made the right choice for me.  They are rock stars though for sure!

Dinner was Laura’s salmon with two beautiful green salads.  For dessert, Tess made Laura a birthday cake.  If you could see how meticulous and professional all of Laura’s desserts look, you would know how funny Tess’s cake looked in comparison!  But trust me, it was devoured without complaints.
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We went around the room taking turns sharing each of our favorite moments, places we stayed and foods we ate over the last two weeks.  This is the end, tomorrow morning we leave this magnificent piece of Earth.

 

 

Rainbows, Elves and Leg Fairies

**IPhone blogging here. Spelling/grammar mistakes. To be read at your own risk.

We woke up to rain this morning in our plush hotel in Queenstown. Man have we been lucky with weather so far. If this rain were here just yesterday we wouldn’t have been able to go on the quads. That’s luck.

After an early breakfast we piled into Ernie for a long drive. “How long?” Asked Kellen.

“Yep, a long one” answered Tess in true Tess form. If the answer isn’t “just 20 minutes” then it’s something totally noncommittal . The only other answer we get to questions is “undulating”.

Normally I can’t stand long drives. I want to get to my destination in the quickest time possible no matter what. But it’s different here. We are constantly surrounded by beauty. Plus Ernie makes lots of pit stops in cute little towns for us to use the loo and stretch our legs. It really breaks up the long drives.

After a while (20 minutes?) the rain let up for a bit and the most spectacular rainbow appeared in full form. But the most incredible thing happened. We found the end of it! Who ever truly finds the end of a rainbow, pot of gold and all? We did! (Photo taken after we collected the pot.)

Driving into the Fiordland National Park is just insane. There are massive mountains of granite slabs on either side of the road and due to all the rain, literally hundreds of waterfalls everywhere you look.

We drove through this really long, dark, craggy tunnel while Ernie blasted music from Lord of the Rings. It was PERFECT.

Our first stop was to do a short walk around Mirror Lakes. It was rainy but didn’t matter. In fact, the clouds and water gave it a mystical vibe.

The big hike up the Routeburn Track was next. This is the one I had been nervous about. But a miracle happened. The leg fairy came last night and brought me new ones. I had put my old worn out legs under my pillow and it really worked! I felt great!

Back on the bus Laura had us pick from a menu so our dinner could be preordered tonight. The quinoa salad sounded good but I never heard of halloumi cheese.

“Oh you know halloumi, it’s squeaky cheese”. Ah, clarity.

Next we drove a bit more and stopped at another spot to hike to another amazing waterfall. Every track we climb seems more enchanted than the next. It is no wonder “The Lord of the Rings” was filmed in New Zealand. I swear if I saw an elf come darting across the track, I wouldn’t even be that surprised.

When we finished we climbed into Ernie.

“Everyone here?” asked Tess.

“Yes!” we all answered, and off we went.

After just a minute or two Rich says in his most casual voice, “Sorry to interrupt but I have a quick question for you Tess.”

“Yes Rich, what is it?” said Tess.

“Where’s Borut?” and poor Ernie came to a screeching halt. We left Borut. Now the problem was that we were on a very narrow 2-lane road with no place to turn around. So Superhero-Laura (Guide) jumped out and ran back to the lot to collect Borut.

“I’m never going to be the last one back to Ernie” laughed Borut.

“Damn, I almost got my own room joked Rich”

“Borut, next time speak up if you’re not here, sheesh!” said Griffin.

Tess felt so bad but we all had to really rub it in because it was so funny.

The only unlucky thing today was that Kellen got a wonky stomach and spent our hikes resting in Ernie. He couldn’t eat anything so we knew it was pretty bad. This is not a kid who skips meals.

Lots of short stops for walks and pictures then over to the only accommodation in Milford Sound where travelers can stay: The Milford Lodge. We were expecting a no-frills backpacking lodge but this place is super nice. Every room has incredible views. I just wish we had a wee bit more time to enjoy it here. 6:30am we start tomorrow. I love these action packed filled days, this is totally my style. We can rest on the flight home.

Insane view from our room

New words:

Togs- bathing suit

Halloumi- squeaky cheese

Squeaky Cheese- has consistency of tofu, a bit salty, fries up firm- “DEE-licious”as Tess would say.

Quinoa Salad with Halloumi Cheese

Our One Day Off

Queenstown has to be the cutest touristy town I have ever been in.  It’s super small but packed with tourists.  The darling little streets that don’t allow cars are filled with tables and chairs from all of the restaurants around.  It is absolutely charming.  Queenstown marks our half way point of this trip.

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Tess and Laura recommended we have breakfast at “Vudu”.  It was totally my kind of place.  I ordered a Tumeric Latte and a Superfood Power Bowl filled with spinach, beets and sweet potatoes.  Kellen’s french toast was a true piece of art, which he promptly inhaled.

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We spent the morning off-roading on quads and had a great time.  It was sooooo nice to have a motor to take me up the hills.  I soooo appreciated it!

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River boarding is rafting on a boogie board.  They had a great time, though Laura claims to have escaped the whole thing barely alive.  She marveled at Griffin’s fearlessness.  Which is just another way of saying, she is amazed that someone without any common sense or survival instinct is still alive.

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The only other thing worth mentioning about this glorious day off is that The Floof is no more.

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Big Floof
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Floofless

We literally spent the rest of the day doing nothing.  Just nothing.  I am saving my legs, praying that they will rejuvenate into new ones with just one day’s rest.  And if they are going to be new legs, can I have Guide Laura’s?  What if we trade legs, just for tomorrow’s hike?  I can unscrew mine, and screw on hers.  I promise to give them back after tomorrow.  I just have the feeling I am going to need a bit of help with The Routeburn Track.  It’s a doozy and we are forcasted for rain.

 

The Big 3 Day Hike

Kori’s travel blog has a guest DJ today.  Take it away, Steve!  (Hubby in the house!)

Day 1

We said our sad farewell to the Kayakers and drove ½ hour to Lake Rotoiti.  Like everything else in NZ, it was stunningly beautiful (though we’d get MUCH better views of it from up high in 2 days).  It took just a few minutes to saddle up and start our 7 mile hike to Lakehead hut.

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Wait a second, rewind…weren’t we just wine-tasting an hour ago?  Why yes we were!  Victory drinks before the hikes even start…things are just backwards down here.

The hike was gorgeous.  The trail roughly followed the lake shore, but with a lot more elevation changes than you would think.  To give you an idea, it took us about 5 hours to hike 7 miles at a decent pace.

The highlight of the hike was a refreshing plunge in the lake at the end, just minutes from the hut.  Everyone wanted to jump in, despite Tess’ warnings about the monstrous fresh water eels.  {Insert “shrieking eels” reference here}  They live to be 1000 years old and grow to 50 meters or some crap like that.  We were so hot, it just didn’t matter.  Death by eel was an acceptable risk.

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The hut was very cool.  Pretty much a hostel in the back country.  20 or so bunk beds around a family room/kitchen area.  Fun to meet the other travels from all over the world.  Everyone has great travel stories.  The huts are immaculate.

Dinner was followed by Tim Tam Slams, which are executed with no hands.  Basically, a PG version of a “blowjob” shot, with cookies and hot chocolate.  Laura, would you please demonstrate?  Video here.

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Sunset was awesome, subtle changes of color, light, and shadow my cell phone camera couldn’t capture.  I heard the nighttime sky was amazing, but who could stay up late enough to see it after a day of drinking, hiking, swimming, and gorging?  I barely made it to sundown before I passed out.

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Very fortunate statistical improbability…not one of us or our bunk-mates snored, so everyone slept like the dead until sunrise.

Day 2

Deep breath…this is the big one.  6.5 miles.  3500 feet.  With packs.  Everybody who was sounding very confident just last night is looking a little pale at the morning briefing.

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The hike starts in a beautiful birch forest.  It’s relatively flat, meaning in the states we’d call it “all uphill.”  This is the warm-up.  It potentially includes a swift river crossing that we prepared for, but no one was disappointed when the river bed was empty and our shoes remained dry.  Not to be cheated, we crossed the river at sunrise as we were instructed.

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Fun fact:  when you are told the elevation gain of this hike, it is the NET elevation gain.  So, every time the trail goes down and back up, it doesn’t count.  It’s as if the trail was flat, and not really so steep down you need to grab root and branch to stay upright, then struggle up the other side just to get back to where you were relative to sea level.  Did I mention we were wearing packs?

After about 2 hours of this, we hit the middle section of the trail where it becomes steeper.  From here to the hut, it’s up, up, up with one “clearing” that marks the end of this section and will be our lunch stop.

“What’s for lunch”, Griffin asks at the end of this mid-route planning session.

“The sandwiches you made this morning, silly,” says Tess.

“Oh, is that why all the sandwich stuff was out this morning?  I thought it was weird that people were having sandwiches for breakfast.”

“???”, says everyone.

“Um, I didn’t do that,” he says.

Classic Griffin. The kid who once brought 2 left shoes on a trip to Israel.

We prepare him for the inevitability that he’ll have to subsist on energy bars, while of course we all know Dad will share his precious sandwich when the time comes.  To sum up, the little bastard tricked me into carrying his lunch in my pack, where every ounce counts.

Fun fact:  the water is so pure up here, we can refill our water bottles in the streams, so we don’t have to carry too much.  Every friggin ounce counts.

We finish the middle section in good time.  In fact, I’m amazed how strong Griffin and Kellen are.  They only have a moderate amount of backpacking experience, but they’re killing it.  From hut to lunch has been about 4 hours.

The last section of the hike makes the previous parts seem tame.  It is above the tree line, so no more helpful roots which in other places acted like stairs.  We were no longer hiking.  We were “scrambling”, or maybe “bouldering.”  Maybe you’re sick of hearing how beautiful it was, but the thesaurus doesn’t have enough adjectives for this place.  We climbed beside a waterfall for an hour.  “Beside” means “reach over and splash some water from the fall in your face to clean away the sweat.”

Like yesterday, today’s hike ended at a hut beside a lake.  This time though, the lake is FREEZING, which didn’t stop Griffin, Laura, and I from jumping in for a victory splash.  Guess which one of us did NOT get their dry clothes out and ready to change into after the icy plunge?

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Once we defrosted, we enjoyed unbelievable views of the lake.  Too many great pictures to post.  Here’s one:

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Day 3

Wow…NOT fully recovered this morning.  52 year-old legs don’t fully rejuvenate after a good night’s sleep.  Good thing it’s all down hill from here, right Tess?  Tess?

“Not all downhill.  Undulating, really.”  she said.

In Kiwi, “undulating” must means something like “mostly uphill” because we had to climb.  In fact, we had to climb so much that I have no idea how we ended up back at Lake Rotoiti all those thousands of feet below us.  Can you even see the hut from up here, after our first “undulation” out of the valley?

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We hiked the ridge line through the clouds.  We didn’t get much in terms of views for a good stretch, but it was so peaceful and surreal being surrounded by the mist.  You really lose track of time and distance on the third day of a hike like this.

The payoff was the view of the lake at the end of the ridge.  Stunning.  From there, it was endless switchbacks to our patiently-awaiting chariot, Ernie.

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The only complication on the trip was that Griffin got a stomach thing of some sort on night 2, and couldn’t eat dinner.  He wasn’t much better on morning 3 and was feeling pretty weak having burned so many calories without being able to refuel properly.  So I took some of his gear and Laura took his pack, and he climbed like a champ to get back down.  We were all really proud of him pushing through his discomfort to finish the hike.  And Laura proved herself to be a friggin cyborg, carrying the extra pack the whole way.  (He was much better by the next day.)

We missed Kori, Borut, and Marlene terribly, but we were all so happy about this unique journey.  Everyone did fantastic, not a word of complaint from anyone the whole time.  The rock star of the trip was definitely Kellen.  He was the youngest hiker Tess or Laura had ever taken up there.

 

 

Happy Birthday Funcle Rich

It’s Rich’s birthday today and it’s our duty to embarrass him as much as possible.  We all changed our home screens on our phones to funny and very unflattering pictures of him to start.

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My home screen

Today it’s “bags to Ernie” at 8:30 am after another incredible breakfast from Chef Laura.  OMG the bacon is NZ is soooo good!  So are all of the fruits and vegetables.

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Before we left, another Active Adventures group had arrived.  In retaliation for the book that was hidden in Tess’s pack (who knows if these guides were even involved?) Guide Laura put a large “wheelie bin” inside their trailer.  Later, we found that wheelie bin in the middle of the narrow road right when we were trying to leave.

Today we have a 3-4 hour mountain bike ride.  All I can say is thank God because I could not climb one more hill today.  I had a hard time just climbing into Ernie after yesterday’s hikes.  I need to give all of my hurting parts a break and hurt some other parts now.  I do spin classes twice a week, but I can’t remember the last time I rode a bike that moves, so today is sure to do me in.

Tess told us to meet at the half way point which was by a bridge.  She brought a New Zealand Power Point presentation (laminated pictures stapled together) which showed pictures of the trail so we knew which way to go.  Very useful!  It was a picturesque trail with, you guessed it, undulating hills!

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Before we left, Tess said, “Why has my small pack been so heavy?” and she found a giant rock wrapped up at the bottom.  These Active Adventure guides just don’t quit!

At the “half way point” Tess told us that we had just over two hours left to go.

“How long have we been riding for?” asked Hubby.

“Just under an hour.” replied Tess.  That’s kiwi math, because we are on the other side of the equator and all.

We came to part of the lake where a dog was having the best day ever.  No one told him how cold the water was.  The best part of our bike ride was watching that dog in the water because we are all dog-starved.  That didn’t come out right.  Let me explain:  There are very few dogs where we’re traveling within New Zealand, because they are not allowed in any of the National Parks.  So when we actually see one, we need our fix!

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By the end of the ride, we were all exhausted and many were sore.  Tess and Laura had a picnic lunch waiting for us and then they surprised Rich with champagne and chocolates.  We all sang as LOUD AS WE POSSIBLY COULD!  Just to be obnoxious.  ‘Cause we love Funcle Rich!

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Even Super-Human Guide Laura is pooped!

Now we were heading to Queenstown for an entire free day tomorrow!  My body soooo needs a day off.  Or a month.  Laura passed around the brochures so we could choose which adventure, if any, we want to do on our one day off.  Queenstown is the “big city” around here and there are a hundred different ways you can choose to kill yourself from bungee jumping to skydiving to river rafting and everything in between.  Marleen and Borut both chose to take a true day off.  Rich, Laura and Griffin chose River-boarding while Steve and Kellen were going off-roading on quads.  I was set for a day at the spa.

We did a quick stop at the “bra fence”, yes, that’s right, an entire fence of women’s brassieres.  There’s a whole story as to why the bras are there, but really who cares?  It’s a BRA FENCE!  The men on Ernie couldn’t be bothered but we women had a great time!

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Driving into Queenstown was as beautiful as ever.

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We had no idea where we were staying, but when Ernie pulled up to the super nice Crown Plaza, we were giddy.  At least I was.  I was very ready for a nice hotel with LAUNDRY machines and a fluffy bed with too many pillows.

We showered and walked through the quaint little waterfront town to dinner.  I snapped a quick shot before heading into the restaurant.

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Even thought Tess and Guide Laura technically have one day and two nights off away from us, they met us at The Blue Kanoe for dinner to celebrate more of Rich’s birthday.  We had a fabulous chef’s tasting menu dinner and sang a few more rounds of “Happy Birthday” at the top of our lungs to finish off his day.

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Funcle Rich and Laura from DC

Back to our hotel a luxurious night’s rest.  We have to get up fairly early to get over to the activity office in the morning.  Oh, did I say I chose a day of spa?  Nah.  I can spa anytime. I’m only in New Zealand once.  I chose quad riding with Steve and Kell.

New word:

Wheelie bin- trash can

Two things you never ask Tess:

How much longer is the drive?  It’s always 20 minutes, no matter what.

How hilly is the hike?  It’s always undulating.  Which is perfect because there is no defining how big the mountain is.  You just know that there are many ups and downs.

 

 

 

We Hike and Hike and Hike Some More

Blogs in order:

  • The Journey Begins
  • Airport Time
  • Big Lines and Big Hair
  • Moment of Truth
  • From Plan A to Plan B to Plan C
  • C is For Correct
  • Getting to Know Ernie
  • We Hike and Hike and Hike Some More

We got picked up early by our driver for the day, Hayden. “He’s also the school teacher” whispered Borut. “And the principal” added Rich.

Hayden dropped us off to start our hike to The Blue Pools.  We climbed over many swing bridges which never get old for Griffin.

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I have never seen water so clear, you can see straight to the bottom.

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This is glacier water, so not for swimming.  Way too cold.   Unless you are crazy like my friend Steve K. did when he was hiking here as a stupid teenager.  His voice never did come down back to its regular octave after that.

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The trail was incredible of course. We saw a dangerous herd of buffalo in the distance and when they caught our scent, they stampeded straight at us! Only they were more like friendly cows, and there was a fence, so we were ok.

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They got closer.

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and closer.

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Well hello cows!  Tess and Laura did not understand our a-moo-sement.

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After about mile four of every hike, my left hip flexor likes to show up to the party as an uninvited guest.  Now “Right Calf” has been tagging along as if “plus ones” were even invited.

We came to a plant and Tess gathered us around.

“This is called a Lolly Tree. Take a small piece of a leaf and chew it for a few seconds before spitting it out, you will taste sweet”.

I did as I was told and soon my mouth started to tingle . “Hmm it must be peppermint because…YOWZA!!”

“Did I say Lolly Tree? Oops, I meant PEPPER tree”.

Oh that Tess and her cheeky sense of humor! My tongue burned for a long time.  I should have known from the red leaves.  I’m so gullible!

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After a hike full of rolling undulating hills, the track was getting more and more narrow. We had to grab roots on the hillside to our right because there was a ledge to our left and I don’t like ledges. It was getting rockier and steeper until finally the trail ended. Then I saw the chain that went straight up the steep rock. This is not my kind of hiking. I looked at Tess and said ” Yah, I’m good here”. She told me no problem, to plant myself and wait for the others to finish as they would be coming back this way. So that’s what I did and she waited with me.

I glanced up at it and she said ” Oh you sooo want to climb that chain I can see it!”

And damn it, I did!  It scared the hell out of me, but up I went. I knew getting down would be worse but I didn’t come to NZ to be a wuss, so what the hell, I went for it. I read somewhere that you should do something every day that scares you. Check steep rock climbing off my today’s list!

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There goes Steve up the chain.  Trust me that when I tell you this photo does NOT do the difficulty of this part justice.

Hiking through the hard stuff, I’ve decided that Nelly The Elephant isn’t really a good theme song for me . It’s catchy but not motivating. I need something like Jefferson Starship’s “I am the Warrior” but one that doesn’t suck because I hate that song.

I made it down the steep part with the chain alive because now I’m a freaking MOUNTAIN GOAT but one who was really ready to head back. Tess told us when we got down the hill to the beach we would stop and take a break. When we got there the wind had picked up and it was really cold. My legs were very tired from all the technical climbing over rocks and roots we did with the steep ledges, remember?  I knew we had a long hike back and I was ready for that break when Tess said, “And here’s our ride!” We couldn’t believe it. Tess and Laura hired a jet boat driver to give us a ride through the rivers with spins and tricks and all the fun stuff! When the boat driver took off his scarf and glasses to greet us, it was Hayden, our morning van driver. Who’s probably also the postal carrier, policeman and judge in this town. We all started cracking up.  Tess had DEMANDED that we bring our “sunnies” on this hike, and now we knew why.

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Kellen, Maureen and Laura (not guide Laura)

The jet boat ride was insanely beautiful and insanely cold! Remember, this river is made from snow melt off the glacier but Hayden did a great job keeping us dry. It’s so amazing to have all of the river to ourselves, no one else around. What an incredible surprise, thank you Tess and Laura- well done!

After a short lunch we had two more hikes. One straight up a mountain and then we walked across the road to do a 5 mile hike with large undulating hills through an enchanted forest. We hiked over 11 miles today over very steep stuff and I’m fried. Any one of the three hikes we did today would have been an entire workout for me with a day off the next day if we were home.  The mountains win.  I saw so many beautiful things today, but nothing compares to seeing Ernie and Kermie waiting at the end of a tough hike.

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I crawled back to the cabin to shower then slithered on my belly to the lodge for dinner since my legs have now quit.

My sand fly bites are being used as helpful landing points for their friends.  My legs are covered in bites that itch so bad I could go insane.  Only Rich’s legs look like mine.  What can we say?  Some of us are just more delicious than others.

What an incredible day filled with adventure and beauty. We have such an awesome group of people and the best two guides in Active Adventure, I’m sure of it.

New words:

Long drop- outhouse

Short drop-when it’s full

Peedles- bike (as in: tomorrow we are going to “push some peedles”)

Getting to Know Ernie

We walked over to the cutest cafe for a true Methvan breakfast this morning.  It was an antique store but with a country style restaurant inside.  My sister Jodi would have loved it.  We all did.

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Tess found a book in her pack today.  Not just any book but a giant, super heavy one wrapped in a flannel at the bottom of her pack that she has been hiking unknowingly with every day.  Including the gnarly 3-day hike.  She carried it the whole way.  There are some guides back at base who are going to pay for this, I’m sure!

And then we were off. Today we had to drive around the west coast and southern alps to make it to our next impromptu destination. The scenery was ridiculous. Mountains on both sides, waterfalls everywhere you look and we must have passed like 100 lakes.

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There is road work everywhere we go.  Either an earthquake, fire, or slip has destroyed bits and pieces of the road all around.  They say Australia has everything that wants to kill you with plants and animals, but we are finding it’s the natural disasters that want to get you here.

We had a very long drive but we took lots of breaks to walk and stretch our legs.  Tess gave us a riddle to occupy us for some time.  Here it is:

“There are 3 light bulbs downstairs, all turned off.  You are upstairs with 3 light switches, one for each bulb.  You can do anything you want with the switches, and you can go downstairs once to inspect the bulbs.  How can you tell which switch controls which bulb?”

Later, Guide Laura tried to give us a riddle too.  It included a man walking into a bar.  There was an albatross involved and potential cannibalism.   It was bad.  So bad.  And we wasted so much time with it!  Which maybe was a good thing because it really was a long drive.  Laura’s riddles need some fine tuning before disclosing in public.

We stopped by this lake to see Mt. Cook, and it was outrageous.

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Mount Cook

We stopped here to eat.  We couldn’t find anyone to shear Griffin but we did look.

 

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Everyone ordered differently but I won lunch with this delicious smoked salmon salad.

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We drove through the only area in South Island that has wallabys but the first one we saw was dead on the side of the road.

“It’s a was-a-bee” said Hubby.

But soon after we saw a real live one hopping by the side of the road!

Too much Ernie time makes us all punchy and we were laughing like kids at the stupidest stuff. Then Tess told us we were stopping for a hike.

This one was fairly short but incredibly steep. I now am a hiker who uses poles and I love them. They are knee savers. It wasn’t a race to the top, and I’m not sure who was the last one up.  Yah, ok, it was me.

Kellen has turned out to be a hiking savant.  He is absolutely incredible.  Every single hike, he takes off, blows past anyone on the mountain, gets to the top, comes back down to me, then does it again.  He has unleashed his hiking potential that we didn’t know existed. I want to look into some kind out outdoor youth program for him when we get home.  He loves it.

Incredible views from the top.

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Show offs!

After some more hours of driving we made it to our destination: Makarora.

“We doubled the population as soon as we arrived.” said Tess.

We were told we are staying in rustic cabins and I got a little worried. But no need because these weren’t cabins, they were gingerbread houses and we all loved them!  We are here for two nights which is such a treat with all of the moving and shaking we have been doing.

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Borut and I were joking that the front desk was closed because the clerk is the same guy who is working the bar now. He’s also the pilot, town doctor and the mayor.

After Laura’s fabulous dinner of burgers “Kiwi Style” ( with pineapple and beets) we settled into our darling gingerbread houses.  That was when my sand fly bites started to really kick in. The itch was unbearable. I lay in bed wishing someone would rub industrial strength sandpaper all over my legs as hard as they could because I don’t need the top few layers of bug bitten skin. I would like it sanded down to a smooth layer of fresh, unbitten epidermis.. That would feel just oohhh so good. I would pay so much money for that.

New words:

Cabinet- counter “Order your food at the cabinet”

Entree- appetizer

mufty- without uniform or unmarked. “That’s a mufty cop” (unmarked cop car) or “The kids have a mufty school day on Friday”(no uniforms)

 

Answer to Tess’s riddle that only Steve figured out:

Flip 2 switches up.  After a few minutes, flip one of them down.  Then go downstairs.  The bulb that is on is the one that you left up.  The one that is off and warm is the one you flipped up and down.

 

 

 

Pancakes and Pancakes

I had so much grease yesterday from the mince pie then fish and chips that I woke up with a shiny film on my face from it leaking out my pores. But I do look years younger!

We also woke up to rain today. Not wussy San Diego rain but torrential monsoon stuff.

We met at Tess and Laura’s cabin for breakfast.

“You can’t come to Pancake Rocks without eating pancakes!” Said Tess.

“But please start with just one while we finish making more”

“But Kellen can’t count to one in pancakes” I said.

“His pancake number starts at four” added Hubby.

Laura made the most delicious pancakes. They were thin and crispy around the edges. Fresh berries, caramel bananas, yogurt and whip cream to accompany them.

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After breakfast the rain let up and we took a short drive to do a hike with “just a nice hill” at the start.

We got to cross an awesome swing bridge. Griffin, ahead of the rest, thought it would be big fun to jump as hard as he could and swing it from side to side. Not everyone in our group was amused. But I was! I was hysterically laughing grabbing the edges but was unable to take a single step forward. We must have been doing this a long time because Laura was waiting tapping her foot. Later I heard her tell Tess that she’s never taken so long crossing a stupid swing bridge with any group before. And something else about being “easily amused”. We are!

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We entered the jungle and started going up. And up. We have an extremely fit group and they all fly up the hills. I do not fly. I felt like Nelly the Elephant tramp tramp tramping off to the jungle. Let me guess, there’s no one reading this who gets this reference. It’s such a great song, and one I sang to myself the whole way up the “just a nice hill” here you go:

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Laura picked some “Kawa Kawa” off a plant and told us we could all have one but only one. These little guys have medical properties and will get you intoxicated if you have as little as three. I tried to grab more because why have only one when three is the magic number?  But I got a finger wag from Laura. My little, sad, singular berry tasted a little sweet and a bit spicy. I would like to see what 10 would taste like.

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Kawa Kawa

The rest of the hike had undulating hills and was the best hike I’ve ever done. It took about two hours in total, it was just fabulous.

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We haven’t seen too many animals in New Zealand but we see these guys frequently. They’re called “wekas” but we call them “weird chicken things”:

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Every single tourist things they are kiwis and it’s so funny to see how excited they get. But the elusive kiwi is nocturnal and we’ve been assured we will never see any. The only kiwis we are guaranteed on this trip are Tess and Laura.

During our picnic lunch Tess gathered us together to tell us some news. “Guys we have a change of plans. There’s been a pretty bad “slip” in the pass and we can’t get through to the west coast that way anymore. We have to take a much longer detour and we won’t be going to Franz Josef Glacier as planned.”

“How much longer do we have to drive now?” someone asked.

“Right” she continued avoiding the question. “The Outdoors Adventure office has already found an alternative route for us with hikes to do along the way. Look at it this way; you will get to see the whole South Island now. Everyone ok with this?” I mean what could we say? Not like any of us had much choice. “As long as we’re together we can handle anything!” I yelled.

So it was back to Ernie for a long ass drive for who knows how long, but we were all completely bonded now and in good spirits. And if you have a long drive to do, there is literally no better place on earth to do it.

After a few hours Ernie stopped and let us out to do a hike around an area the Dalai Lama himself has claimed “The Most Spiritual Place on Earth”.

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Where’s Kellen?
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Griffin’s hair has stopped growing up and is now only growing straight out front.

Then it was another long drive until we arrived in the town of Methvan. Outdoors Adventure has found us all rooms at The Methven Motel for the night.  With such a last minute change of plans, they did an awesome job getting us an alternative itinerary for a few days.  The change was totally seamless to us.

We had a choice for dinner ’cause Methvan is a two pub kinda town: The Brown Pub or The Blue Pub. We chose Blue and we chose well.

IMG_0327We were “shouted” local beers from our fabulous guides and Rich and Borut have been doing an awesome job keeping us all hydrated on the local wines. For dinner, Kellen went for local pulled lamb.

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“Bags To Ernie” tomorrow morning at 7:00am. We have a long drive ahead of us but no one knows how long that is except for Tess.

New words for today:

slip- rock slide

Jumper- a sweatshirt

Plinth- a box-like structure you put a sculpture on ( maybe this is just a regular word that most people know, but I didn’t and and Laura got me an “h” in GHOST.

Glacier is pronounced “glassier”

“Just a nice hill”- a huge hill that totally kicks my ass

Interesting fact:

They have “Black Boy” peaches here. This shit would just never fly in The States!

* After comparing Iphone steps, we have now deemed the “Health” app a crock.  Just know that I’m doing a TON of them!

Reunited and it Smells so Bad

I am now single finger typing this whole blog for the next few days, downgraded from iPad to iPhone, late at night and tired as hell. Spelling and grammar are about to get ugly. No judgement.

We only had a short time this morning to do what we wanted before it was pick up time. I chose to go for a walk around Steve and Linda’s place while the other two went back out for a short kayak. Here’s my award winning shot:

Our plan was to work out as hard as we could in the short time we had. We needed to sweat as much as possible so we three could hold our own against the stench that was coming ahead from those seven.

Our driver, Aaron, brought us to a well known bakery where we had all of three minutes to pick up lunch and get back on the road. We were meeting up with Ernie in a few hours and couldn’t be late.

I wanted to try local grub so followed Aaron’s lead and got a “Minced Pie”. (Sorry for not knowing what it is folks. I skipped all the hand pies when I was in England and stuck to Indian Food). I was told it’s beef and cheese. When I asked what kind of cheese ( I don’t eat Blue, Gorgonzola, Brie, and other stinky stuff so it was a valid question) I was told both by Aaron and the woman clerk, “Just regular cheese”. Well that clears it right up! “Sorry, I don’t know what regular cheese is here” I said.” Just the regular ole plain kind!” said Aaron a bit annoyed with me. “The usual, everyday cheese!” the woman told me confused by my confusion . I ordered the pie and we had to go.

Everyone really loved these pies and Borut said they kicked the pies in London to hell. Tasty, yes, but too heavy and greasy for me. I figured minced meat would be minced into small pieces. This was more like creamed beef with no texture . I don’t need another one for at least 10 years. By then I’ll have worked this one off and I’ll try the Curried Chicken one they were out of here.

Minced pie
Creamy beef with “regular” cheese

The drive up to meet our crew was so picturesque. We left the sounds and traveled into the wine country then to the forest. We arrived at a lake and waited for them there. We got eaten by sand flies who apparently LOVE Deet. If we kept moving we were ok but couldn’t stop for anything. I got my steps in just fine today because we had to wait an hour for them.

Lake where we joined up with our gang

And there was Ernie driving up! It felt so much longer than three days since we saw them. And man were they grungy! Hubby chased me around and around Ernie for a kiss hello but no way was I getting close to that without a shower! Uh uh! Love has limits.

The Hikers have lots of great stories but I’m going to let Hubby write the blog to describe it all. The only problem is that we are constantly on the move so making the time to write is difficult. He’s not the die hard blogger that I am grabbing time to write on my phone in short segments here and there.

We had a long drive to get to our next destination called Pancake Rocks. The beauty here is overwhelming.

We drove most of the day with stops for short hikes, then checked into our cabins. These were actually very nice on The inside with incredible views.

After much needed and appreciated showers and kisses, we went to eat.  Dinner was traditional fish and chips. When I tell you that every single plate was licked clean, I mean it.

We walked across the street to do a nice walk through Pancake Rocks at sunset and to see the incredible blow holes.

We thought this sign was funny telling people not to climb over the fence.

What idiots would do that??

The pancake rocks were interesting, flat rocks piled mysteriously high like a plate of pancakes. And the blow holes were incredible !

These were one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. The violence of the water being smashed back and forth across the rocks was terrifying even from the safe viewpoint above.

“No matter how far humans come they will never compete with nature” said Kellen. And he’s right.

Dessert back at the cafe was fresh fruit. “Fresh fruit” sounds so much healthier than fruit piled with ice cream, whip cream and chocolate sauce.

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Borut found the best shirt at the gift shop: Silence of the Lambs.  (By the way, Borut is pronounced baa (sheep) and root (carrot)

We got to see glow worms in a little cave-like gazebo below our cabin. They were so pretty! Like little stars all around us.

We all slept hard and were told to prepare for rain tomorrow.

New words:

Crays- lobsters

Squash ’ems-opossum

Lolly- any sweet

Boob Goiter– see late paragraph entry “From Plan A to Plan B to Plan C”.  I marked the late addition with ***, sorry to make you go back but I think it’s worth it. You can get a chuckle at my expense.