It’s been a little over a month since we disembarked from a plane at Burlington International Airport, looking about as bad as we felt after 30 hours of travel time. Despite the idyllic green image of home we held onto for our 16 months away, we were greeted by tired, wet, brown, mid-spring surroundings—a truly disheartening time of year.
But, home would not be home without our friends and family, and good times have been had. The world is now green and beautiful, our garden is partly planted, and our wiffle ball field has already seen plenty of use. It is good to be home.
There are days when it seems we might never have left, like we’ve awoken from a dream. But others bring back memories from lands far away, such as the lupines blooming along our driveway. Along that vein, we thought we’d share the whole collection of title page banners that we used rather like calendar photos along the way. Viewed together they present some beautiful contrasts that capture a bit of what travel is like.
We are not quite done posting to this blog and we’re also cutting together hours of video into a short film for entry into some film festivals later this summer. Until then, enjoy the photos. Click the pictures to see the related post.
The relentless snowfall of Hokkaido, Japan. January, 2011.
Frosted peaks in Daisetsuzan National Park. January 2011.
Birch trees clinging to steep slopes on Yarigatake, Hakuba, Japan. February 2011.
Windows into old Japan, Kyoto. February 2011.
Close up on the Buddhist temples dotting Luang Prabang, Laos. March 2011.
Burning rice fields cloud the Nam Hou river, Laos. March 2011.
The best beach ever. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines. April 2011.
Lush eucalypt forest along the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. May 2011.
First light on the Tasman Sea. Croajingolong National Park, Victoria. May 2011.
Mandarin harvest, South Australia. May 2011.
Watching over Uluru. Australia’s red center. June 2011.
Floodplains at Ubirr, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. June 2011.
Filtered sun through fan palms, Daintree, Queensland. July 2011.
A sea of vines, Marlborough, New Zealand. August 2011.
The Kaikoura Peninsula, New Zealand. September 2011.
Tree fern silhouette, Abel Tasman, New Zealand. October 2011.
Glacial meltwater, Fiordland, New Zealand. November 2011.
Lupines. Omarama, New Zealand. December 2011.
Vine leaf, Marlbourough New Zealand. January 2012.
The dry and golden Wither Hills, Blenhiem, New Zealand. February 2012.
Morning light on a distant glacier, Aspiring National Park, New Zealand. March 2012.
Ferns in the kauri forest, Northland, New Zealand. April 2012.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a few months or more, you’ve probably noticed a trend. We walk. A lot. Yes, it may be free, easy, and often one of the best ways to experience a new place. But by this time you must be wondering — aren’t we sick of hiking?
Well…no, not really. It’s safe to say that New Zealand is home to the most varied landscape on the planet. The topography, climate, and vegetation all change drastically as you travel up, down, or across these small pieces of land. Each trail has proved to be undeniably unique, beautiful, and full of surprises, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which will end up being the last long walk of our trip, was no different. Traversing 20 kilometers of the central North Island’s volcanic highlands, the Crossing navigates volcanic peaks, wide lava plains, and thermal hotspots.
But first, if you are going to have an enjoyable day completing the Alpine Crossing, you should temper your expectations. Piles of travel brochures proclaim it to be the best day hike in New Zealand — or even, ambitiously, the world. A bold statement, and one that lures tens of thousands of people a year to the trailhead. We’ve walked many beautiful trails in New Zealand and I’m sure the rest of the world has a lot to offer. Let’s just call it a nice walk and leave it at that.
So, we were expecting crowds, but were still quite shocked to see several hundred other people joining us at the trailhead on a cold, windy, cloudy morning. Hiking up in a steady stream of tourists with views partially blocked by the back of some stranger’s head, we got the strange feeling we were part of an Old West covered wagon train rather than experiencing a South Pacific wilderness. We neglected to photograph this portion of the trip for obvious reasons.
Grandiose titles and crowds aside, Tongariro National Park holds a captivating landscape. The trail winds through vast empty sweeps of land filled with chunks of black volcanic rock, pressure-warped pieces of brown and red pumice, and hardy gnarled shrubs. It’s beautiful in a stark and dramatic sort of way, and, once again, completely different from anything we’ve seen so far.
As we approached Mount Ngaurahoe—the brooding volcanic peak that served as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies—the clouds shrouding the summit evaporated. It looked like a long, boring climb, but we had to do it.
Surprise, surprise, it was a long, boring climb. Loose ash and pumice slid down the sides of the steep cone with every step, requiring nearly twice the effort, and a cold wind blasted us, numbing our fingers and noses. The crowds were left behind, though, and views opened up with each step upwards. By the time we reached to top we had forgotten about all the effort to get there.
Thin wisps of volcanic steam rose from the bottom of the ice-crusted caldera, mixing with the passing clouds. Broad sweeps of barren land spread out below us, dotted with emerald lakes and plumes of sulfuric steam from geothermal vents. Lake Taupo glittered in the distance and 130 kilometers to the southwest, the tip of Mount Taranaki poked out from above the clouds. It was utterly freezing at the top, with ice-cold winds threatening to blow us over the edge.
In the months and weeks before we left home, reading how other travelers have packed for round-the-world trips helped our preparation immensely. We scribbled countless shopping, packing, and to-do lists and took over an entire room for our “staging area.” Now, for those of you setting off in the near or not-so-near future, we can return the favor and help you remember the obvious items (pants; your passport), the small, forgettable items (nail clippers; headlamp) and everything in between.
But first, we thought we’d share some of the more obscure pieces of gear that we’ve found immeasurably useful. Some of these are rather specific and if you’re using an iPhone for a camera or if you hate the outdoors you can probably ignore half this list. Regardless, here are a few of our favorite possessions:
Mini extension cord/splitter – These days, most people travel with at least one piece of electronic gadgetry (ipod/laptop/cellphone), and if you add in a camera with batteries to charge a cord such as this one will prove useful time and time again. Ours is six feet long and splits one socket into three, meaning we can charge everything from the comfort of a nearby table instead of crawling around on the floor. No joke, this might be the most useful item in our backpack.
Outdoor Research PL Base Gloves – After years of putting up with numb hands on winter video shoots, we finally found a fix for our month of skiing in Japan. These liner gloves are perfect for shooting photos out in the cold. Just thin enough that you can still feel every button and lens ring, and warm enough to take the bite out of the winter wind.
LaCie 500GB Rugged Drive – These are far and away the best hard drives for steady travel. While a flash drive may suffice for a shorter trip, if you’re going to be taking a few hundred GB (or in our case, several TB) worth of photos or videos, look no further. These drives are small, light, and, appropriately, quite rugged— I once saw a co-worker drop one to the floor from waist height, plug it in, and continue his work. As an added bonus, they’re powered through the computer via Firewire or USB, so there’s no need to trip over more cords or use up another power outlet.
Dakine Sequence Camera Backpack– This backpack has been used and abused every day since we left home, on top of three years worth of use beforehand. It’s awesome. It has a snug and stable fit, and is protective enough that you can ski or ride full tilt and not worry about crushing your gear in a fall. The internal camera block is removable, which we carry along on multi-day hiking trips inside our larger backpacking packs. A perfect pack for travel or action sports photography. Steph has a Dakine Heli-Pro ski/snowboard pack, which is equally excellent in its own right.
500mL Nalgene screw-top containers – Nothing beats this 16-oz container for food storage on a backpacking trip. Fill it with snacks during the day, eat dinner out of it at night, store leftovers or wash it out and brew a hot drink. It’s rigid so your food doesn’t get crushed, has a solid screw on lid, and it’s just the right size. Plus, it’s cheap—no need for anything fancy. Find them at any good outdoor store.
Pacsafe antitheft bag – We brought this to curb the nagging paranoia that comes with carting around lots of expensive camera gear. This 35L model is a metallic mesh that fits over our bag of camera and computer gear and locks around anything solid (bathroom pipes or the bed, usually) in a hostel room. While it’s hard to tell if it ever thwarted any thieves, the piece of mind it provided made us glad we had it along. Definitely recommended if you’re bringing along a DSLR, a laptop, or any large valuables and don’t want to bring them everywhere you go.
25L Dry bags – We kept our clothes in these, and put the camera in one during kayaking trips. They double as compression sacks and it’s quite nice knowing that even if it starts pouring you’ll have dry clothes at the end of the day. We’d recommend buying one with a transparent window so you can see where your things are instead of digging around blindly for the right t-shirt. (more…)