a blog about seeing the world

Archive for December, 2011

A summertime Christmas

Though this was our very first Christmas away from home, we think it’s safe to say that we mastered the recipe for a memorable summertime holiday. Just mix together…

A coastal scene,

perfect weather,

a spot on the beach,

and a good book to read.


Two familiar faces

Right as the best American holiday, Thanksgiving, was about to pass by unnoticed here in New Zealand, some long-awaited visitors from home arrived. Nate’s parents, Jan and Dan, traveled with us for 12 days, bringing near constant sunshine along with them.

We decided it would be a mistake to try to recreate the classic holiday meal, especially over a campstove. So, we all gathered around the picnic table for a southern hemisphere Thanksgiving of greenshell mussels, local sweet potatoes and asparagus. Delicious!

From left to right: Steph, Jan, Dan, Alex, Nate.

Along with the perfect weather, they came bearing treats from home. After all these months of camping we could finally construct proper s’mores with some graham crackers!

And our favorite beer, Heady Topper, was the perfect addition to a sunny afternoon on the West Coast.

Along with repeating some favorites, we also used the trip to explore some new places.

Hmmm… caulk the wagon and float across?

After some debate we rolled across and continued up the valley to a place that could be mistaken for paradise. It was just like “The Oregon Trail,” without the dysentery.

The beautiful West Matukituki Valley quickly became one of our newest favorite places in New Zealand.

They also treated us to perhaps the best Christmas present ever: two cruises on the sounds of Fiordland… (more…)

True New Zealand

Think of New Zealand, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably sheep. There are currently 40 million of them (and only 4 million people) in the country, filling any and every patch of useable land not occupied by people or rugged mountains.

Really, it would be hard to say you’ve experienced true New Zealand without spending time on a sheep farm, so back in early November we decided to do just that. Recommended whole-heartedly by good friends back home, we called up Ken and Sandra Closs to arrange two weeks of WWOOFing (working for room and board) at their farm, Te Hapu.

In the far northwest corner of the south island, just before you run out of land, Te Hapu is sandwiched between the Tasman Sea and Kahurangi National Park. It is a bumpy two-hour drive down a dirt road to the nearest town, giving the farm a sense of remoteness and discovery. Rugged green pastures broken by clusters of tree ferns and Nikau palms roll down straight into the sea.  Mobs of fine-wooled merino and sturdy Romney sheep—along with a few surprisingly nimble cows—graze continuously, looking like big balls of wool with sticks for legs. A narrow drive leads in to their house, surrounded by a bountiful garden and tall trees, which act as a fortress against a relentless southwest wind.

Looking out to sea. The shearing shed on the left, with the house tucked into the tall trees.

Ken and Sandra spent years working in one of the shearing gangs that roam the country, saving up enough money to purchase the land back in 1980. They have a wealth of knowledge about the land and their animals, and they were always willing to take the time to patiently answer our questions. The farming has never been easy, and along with a couple thousand sheep and hundred cows they operate several holiday homes scattered about their property. Listening to them tell the story, it is obvious they are proud of the life they have built— and rightfully so. Te Hapu is simply beautiful.

Within the first afternoon, we were smitten. It is hard believe anyone just lives somewhere this incredible. Every curve of the hill holds an unexpected stunning vista, a hidden cluster of foxgloves, a yawning secret cave, or a perfect sweeping beach. Limestone outcroppings dominate the dramatic coastline, topping the steep hillsides and harboring tide pools and crab-filled crevices along the sea.


A Lazy Sunday

Here are some snippets from a hard day in the life of us.

An afternoon in a tree…

…and an evening in a sea of lupines.

Taken in and around Omarama, New Zealand.

Vietnam Through Five Eyes

Flashback to last April, and our 40-hour train ride from the steamy Mekong Delta to the fog of the Sapa Valley. Here is Vietnam viewed from the rails of the Reunification Express.

Some time to spare

Earlier in November, for not the first time in our travels around the South Island, we found ourselves in an unexpected place with a lot of time on our hands.  The Marlborough Sounds are a convoluted maze of sunken river valleys, and are quite striking when viewed on a map. To do all the waterways justice you’d need a week in a sailboat or a lifetime in a kayak, but we did our best on shore in some fickle spring weather.

After paying our former hometown of Blenhiem a brief visit, we drove a curvy road— the first of many in the next few days— to a campsite across the road from a rocky bay.  The tidepools were festooned with mussels and, as it was approaching dinnertime, we decided to collect some for an appetizer. Being not completely sure of the legality of harvesting and the correct cooking method, we plucked only three from the rocks and fried them up in breadcrumbs and salt and pepper.

Mussels have a somewhat disturbing appearance that makes you wonder who first picked one up and thought, “yeah, I think I’ll eat this.” They also require a cleaning step called “debearding,” which is never a term you want applied to something you are going to consume. Anyways, they were quite good and we made a note to do more research on the collection and cooking of the little buggers.

Once again, however, dark clouds rolled in after sunset, and soon it began to rain. And rain. It completely flooded our tent, soaking our sleeping bags. To make a bad situation pretty much unbearable, hordes of mosquitoes found refuge in the gap between our tent and our fly, and swarmed in every time we unzipped the tent door. Not cool.

Steph, after a restful night's sleep.

The next morning dawned with tentative sunshine that illuminated the hundreds of mosquitoes we had massacred during the night. On the drive back to town, the morning light brightened our spirits and delivered a photo-worthy rainbow. We like to think it was nature’s way of apologizing for the malicious deeds of the night before.