Why you should come to New Zealand
We have only provided a few sparse updates on our goings on in New Zealand and frankly, the trip should be better documented, so you will understand when I try to convince you that your next vacation should be in New Zealand.

After we left Queenstown last Thursday, we headed to Te Anau which is in the southwest of the southern island of New Zealand and a launching point for our adventures into Fiordland National Park. I can't exactly remember the definition of a fiord, but it certainly has to do with landscape carved by glaciers. If you are at all like me, you have never considered how landscape carved by glaciers is particularly different from ordinary landscape, but in fact, it is. The glacial activity leads to dramatic gorges, sheered rock faces and rounded domes of mountain slowly ground down by the force of gigantic ice moving through and above it. We visited both the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound (Keith K - Doubtful Sound was a great suggestion!). These fiord areas both lead into the Tasman Sea and each receive 7-8 meters of rain per year! In fact, it rains so much that there is a permanent layer of fresh water that sits on top of the ocean below - it is the only place on earth where you can dip a cup into the ocean and drink fresh water. We were actually lucky and saw both fiords on perfect sunny days. (Although we hear the rain is beautiful too...)

After a hike for Jay and horseback riding for my mom and me, we headed to Fox Glacier to take an exciting heli-hike up the glacier via a spectacular drive. Unfortunately, a cloud had the mountain socked in and we had to abandon hopes for the glacier sighting. Jay and I were both a bit disappointed, but truth be told, I think my mom was thrilled we hadn't dragged her onto a helicopter and dropped her in an ice field.

Our next stop was Punakaiki on the western coast of the south island. The drive from Fox Glacier brought us through some gorgeous scenery, but more importantly, endless cow and sheep pastures. Apparently, these stay remarkable to us even after passing several dozen. I included a picture of the cows below so you can get a visual (although you have obviously seen cows before and the remarkable part is how many places we saw that looked like this!)

I digress... Punakaiki is known for "pancake rocks" these incredible limestone rock formations that have lead to the rocks that looking layered like pancakes. (I am pretty literal when it comes to food and I, personally, would never eat pancakes that look like rocks, but that is a separate issue...) Jay and I went climbing on some next to our hotel and brought our camera along and I have posted some pictures. The Pancake Rocks are also known for their blowholes that are in full effect at high tide. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from a blow hole, but it turns out that it is something like a huge wave comes in makes a bit of a booming noise and then a few seconds later a spray of water emerges high into the air from the rock formation a couple hundred feet in the air. Pretty cool.

Post-pancake rocks, we headed to the Porariri River. Jay and I rented kayaks (called canoes for some unknown reason) and paddled up river lined with limestone cliffs and native bush. The man rented the kayaks had made the river sound pretty threatening, enough to scare my mom from the activity, but it turned out to be very tame. We had some lovely quiet moments surrounded by the sounds of the forest and other moments when I was groaning trying to make forward progress against the much stronger current of the river. I have to say, the trip downstream was a lot easier and we both felt accomplished to have triumphed over the grade 0.5 rapids.

Yesterday, we made the drive from Punakaiki to Nelson on the northern end of the south island. On our way here, we made a stop to a seal colony near Westport. We were a bit skeptical of the stop, but it turned out to be a real highlight. We were on a path overlooking the ocean and a huge rock formation. As we looked down we could see dozens and dozens of New Zealand Fur Seals including many tiny pups. They were adorable just learning to hop along awkwardly on the rocks and many still afraid to swim. They would inch up to the water hop around like they were going to get in and then a wave would come and they would hop back. Sadly, the zoom on our camera has died, so we didn't get any real pictures, but trust me, you would love it!

We are taking it easy today before we head into Abel Tasman National Park tomorrow for a day of kayaking and hiking.
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I thought I could pump gas...
Over the past few days, we have seen some of the most extraordinary scenery on earth. And I don't say that lightly. We have spent the last two days taking boat tours around Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. These areas are fiords, part of a World Heritage site in southwest New Zealand. We took tons of pictures and I posted a few to share with you (in the New Zealand - South photos). However, I will leave the eloquent words about what we have seen to Jay. Instead, I thought I would share a story that can only happen when you are traveling...

On Thursday morning, we were trying to quickly get ready to head out on a 2.5 hour drive to the departure point for Milford Sound. Milford Sound is in the middle of nowhere, so we were told to leave with a full tank of gas. I was nominated to drive to the gas station to fill up the tank while Mom and Jay finished getting sandwiches ready, cleaning up, etc. When I got in the car, I noted to myself that I had come a long way in the last three weeks. After starting out being terrified driving on the wrong side of the road, I had gotten to the point I was taking excursions by myself to try to find a gas station.

The first part of the trip went according to plan. I found a gas station quickly. (There are only 3,000 people in the town, so I had a pretty good shot at finding it in the town center...) I waited patiently for a pump and pulled up when it was my turn. Since I was driving a Subaru, I was confident I picked the right side of the car for the gas tank given that we had owned one for years. I went to open the gas tank and strangely it was not where I remembered it from our old jalopy. That's weird, I thought. Where might it be? So I started looking... and looking... and looking. Now, I should note that we were not the only people told to fill up our gas tank before heading out in the morning. In fact, there was a huge line of cars, but what was I to do? I had to fill up the tank. So I looked some more...

Then, it got ridiculous. I had to get the manual out to try to find it. I looked in the manual, but alas, it was not as pictured in the manual. I circled the car, pushing on the gas tank wishing it would just open! An older British man in the car behind me got out. I shared my plight, which was already painfully obvious from me racing around the car, holding the manual and looking every which way at the drivers side. I pondered leaving the gas station having failed my mission, but he insisted we search on.

Finally, he sat in the car trying to see if the driver's seat perspective would help. As he sat down, I saw a little bump on the floor and carefully hidden under a giant very thick plastic mat was a gas tank release. I laughed my head off to myself as I filled the tank...

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Rockin' the Routeburn Track
Yes, I just used the word "rockin'" in my subject line, but I couldn't think of a title! Today, we went tramping on the Routeburn track, one of the most well known tramps in New Zealand. (OK - I used "tramp" a couple times to inpart the point that they are not called hikes here, but tramps... now I will return to my normal language.) My mom was an absolute trooper through the entire walk. We did 11 miles on a beautiful summer day. Most of the walk was in under the canopy keeping us cool and comfortable. We were with an energetic guide named Peter who made strategic stops during the gentle ascent to ensure that everyone caught their breath. He pointed out several plants and birds and overall was quite informative. Not to mention that he was a total character making cracks throughout the day.
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(He took this picture of himself...enough said)

Peter actually worked for a company started by the son of the man who originally built the Routeburn track. Now, this may not sound this impressive from the distance at which you are reading this, but here, it essentially makes him a local legend. He took us off the main track for part of the day and walked us along the riverbed along the original track. (The current track had to be widened and is now a bit up from the often flooded river.) This part of the walk was my favorite of the day because it really felt like we were walking in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by mountains, river and forest on a gorgeous, sunny day. We all enjoyed the day and felt accomplished when it was complete, but we were most proud of my mom for rallying through and completing the longest hike of her life! I have posted more shots from the day in our new, New Zealand South Island page.
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Tomorrow we are heading to Te Anau to spend a couple of days seeing the fiords by boat. The trip sounds incredible and I think we are all looking forward to that adventure!
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Touchdown Queenstown
Two short hours south by air and we were in awe upon arriving in Queenstown. As impressed as we were by the North, we didn't even make it off the tarmac before we saw how New Zealand's South Island earned its reputation as one of the most remarkable places on the planet. The only mountain range other than the Rockies to run due north to south, the Remarkables screamed "Welcome" to us as we landed. We were all in agreement that this feels like a very special place.

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Mom arrived!
My mom arrived to New Zealand on Saturday morning. We had a wonderful, leisurely weekend in Auckland. Jay and I really enjoyed being in a real hotel again with a temperature controlled climate and a great view!

On Saturday, the three of us went to the Devonport Food and Wine Festival. Devonport is a suburb of Auckland and was hosting its first food and wine fest, a short ferry ride from downtown. There were lots of vendors and we spent a nice afternoon listening to music, munching on different dishes and drinking some local wines. We were surprised that they actually were handing out actual glass wine glasses for the tasting.

Sunday was a quiet day. I suffered with Turkeynose, which suddenly stopped working and everyone else relaxed while I yelled at the computer. Yesterday, we took a longer gorgeous ferry ride to Waiheke Island. It is an island off the coast from Auckland and was a great community that reminded us of Fire Island except it is more built up and has 29 vineyards. We had gorgeous weather and stopped at a fabulous vineyard called Mudbrick. The wines were quite tasty and we had a scrumptious wine and cheese platter with bread and olives. Yum!

We are now packing up and heading for a flight to the South Island to Queenstown. This part seems like the real beginning of New Zealand trip because we will be regularly moving from town to town seeing lots of sights. Should be fun!
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Day 10 in New Zealand
Howdyall,

It’s about day ten or so in New Zealand, and so far the beauty and variety of the New Zealand landscape has more than lived up to its reputation. We’ve been treated to dramatic cliffs, beaches with scalding water just a shovelful below the surface, stunning mountain ranges, and plenty of native bushland – and we’ve only been traveling in the North Island (which the guidebooks described as the busier and “less beautiful” of the two).

For me the highlight of our time in New Zealand so far was when Miranda and I hiked the Tongariro Crossing. Turkeynose.com has links with some great photos from this hike (if I do say so myself). We couldn’t have had better weather on this seven-hour hike, which had sweeping views of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, as well as several lakes and craters. Mirm handled the hike with aplomb, and we finished off the day with a cheerful dinner of local steak and a nice bottle of NZ red wine at the lodge where we were staying in Tongariro Park.

mirmjayhike
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Conquering the Tongariro Crossing
While “conquering” may be an excessive term for some people when discussing a ten-mile hike, it is not for me! The Tongariro Crossing is widely considered one of the most beautiful one-day tramps (the Kiwi word for hiking / walking) in New Zealand, with beautiful views of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro. Jay and I read about it in a guidebook and decided that we would add it to our itinerary during our first week in New Zealand.

We got up at 5:20AM to do the final preparations before the hike. After a quick call from my parents to finalize my mom’s arrival details, we packed up our lunch and jumped on the bus. There were 14 people from our lodge beginning the hike. We were dropped off with the moon and stars still visible and began walking. I tried hard not to be too intimidated when I felt tuckered out 20 minutes into the walk and we were being passed by almost everyone on the bus. I knew I had another seven or eight hours ahead of me and wasn’t sure how I would endure.

The first hour went by quite nicely. I discovered that the hike was around the base of a volcano and the ground was scattered with volcanic rocks of many different colors. (Jay said that the mountain is actually used for Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.) The most impressive rocks were a beautiful mix of black, red and yellow. Our ascent was a bit more intense than I planned. It involved putting my leg as high as I could on the rocks above me and then pulling myself up. Now, you must keep in mind that I whine incessantly on the stair machine at the gym and am never willing to continue for more than 15 or 20 minutes. After 45 minutes of this vertical struggle, I was starting to question the likelihood that I would finish the day. More accurately, I wondered if I would spend the night on the mountain because I certainly would not be climbing back down those crazy rocks!

We finally got to the top of this section and took a short break. I munched some gorp and agreed to soldier on. After one more intense steep climb we reached the high point of the hike and I was quite pleased. I knew that we still had several hours to go (the hike ends several hundred meters below where it started, so there is a very long and slow descent), but at least there would be no more hoisting myself over rocks for endless periods of time. And the view wasn’t bad either It overlooked several lakes and some beautiful mountain ranges. We really lucked out with the weather and there were only a few clouds in the sky for most of the day.

The hike had amazing variations in terrain. After climbing the volcanic rock, we were on something that looked similar to red sand. We then past crater lakes of bright turquoise and vents of sulfur gases (a relatively unpleasant occurrence when you are gasping for air). As we passed the halfway point, the terrain became covered with a short shrub that is able to survive near the volcano. It looks quite similar to the shrub that you see in desert areas. We had a quick lunch about five hours into the trip and then decided that we wanted to keep moving so we could get on the first bus back to the lodge. Years of skiing have taught me that the longer the lunch, the less I want to ski in the afternoon. We had to keep moving.

The end of the hike was a little bit torturous because it had lots of stairs, many of which were the height of three normal stairs and my little legs struggled to lower me down over and over again. The last hour of the hike was in a forest and past a great bubbling stream.

I was quite pleased when we finally emerged from the trail to the pick-up point. The funny part of the whole struggle is that Jay and I were the first people on our bus to make it to the end. Who knew! Overall, we had a great day and I will enjoy it even more when I can walk without pain again. I have updated the New Zealand pictures to include shots from the hike.


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The Food So Far
It is about time that I start writing about my favorite subject: food. I am trying to keep track of various foods that standout along the trip. We began the trip in the Cook Islands and we had our sights set on great fish and tropical fruits. Unfortunately, a combination of our budget and a storm at sea led to several days of cheeseburgers and fries (chips as they are called). The burgers were actually a bit interesting because of the accompaniments that are added to the burger. The basic cheeseburger regularly includes sliced beets, sliced cabbage, mayo, and cucumber. We also had several burgers that included fried egg, pineapple, sliced star fruit and ham (often all of these ingredients were included at once). These additions were actually quite tasty, but given that we had them for several meals in a row, we are swearing off burgers for the foreseeable future. Once fish was available on the island again, we had fish and chips. This was pretty similar to your basic fish and chips, but was often served with sliced lime and it added a nice contrast to the fish.

Another food highlight in the Cooks, was paw paw (papaya). Paw paw is plentiful around the island and we had it a few different ways. Our favorite was the curried paw paw salad. It was papaya, mayo, curry powder, salt and lemon juice. This would actually be a great addition to a summer time barbeque back home! We also enjoyed paw paw and kumera salad. Kumera is a local root vegetable that is similar to a sweet potato and the combined salad is similar to a potato salad with mayonnaise.

We were thrilled upon arriving to New Zealand to have access to plentiful ingredients again, particularly produce. It is the height of the summer season here and there are many people selling fresh veggies (spelled veges here) on the side of the road. There is normally a small amount of fruit and veggies for sale with posted prices and an “honesty box” at the stand. You simply select the produce you would like and drop the money in the box. The sweet corn particularly has stood out as fantastic. I don’t know if it is just the wonder of having amazing fresh corn in the middle of February or if it is something special about NZ, but the corn we boiled the other night was amazing.

On Monday, we did a nice walk in the morning to Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula. We took a quick ferry ride to the town of Whitianga and had lunch at a place called Nina’s Café. We ordered the seafood chowder. It contained the expected fresh seafood, but the chowder part stood out. It was similar to a creamy, New England chowder, however, in place of some of the cream was coconut milk, a touch of curry, ginger, cilantro, lemon zest and maybe even lemongrass. The flavor was still quite delicate and it was delicious. If I ever venture to make clam chowder, I think I will try this sort of twist.

Last night we attended a Maori hangi as part of a Maori cultural show. The hangi is a traditional method of cooking a meal. The food is lowered into an earth oven(below ground and cooked slowly similar to a barbeque pit. The meat had a distinctive flavor that must be the result of a different type of wood used in the cooking process.

I am enjoying discovering the different details of food as we go. Hopefully there are many more delights in our future.
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First Photos
We have finally found a place that will let our dear MacBook connect. In our first two weeks, we got to experience the internet (and technology in general!) in a way we haven't seen since 1995. (And in those days we didn't know any better when the internet lost a race to any snail that challenged it.)

Enough moaning about life on the gorgeous island of Aitutaki Happy Here are the pictures. You will see the extraordinary places we saw. Needless to say, the camera couldn't capture the beauty, but we thought we would try. This will also give you an opportunity to see what I (Mirm) look like when I am melting and have stayed in excessive heat for over a week Happy

We have also thrown in a few pictures of New Zealand. We have only been here a few days, but included pictures of our first adventures. This country is really gorgeous. We will add more pics when we get them.

Last, but not least, my Turkeynose file is acting up so some of the formatting is up. I will fiddle around with it when I am not paying for the internet connection and will repost later. For now, ignore the alignment problems with the comments...
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First Day in New Zealand
Mirm and I left the Cook Islands and arrived in NZ yesterday safely, although on a bumpy plane near the back row.  It was sad to leave this little oasis in the south pacific, but we are pumped for a month in NZ, too. 
 
Before leaving Rarotonga, we met a cute elderly couple from Auckland in the Rarotonga airport, who liked the US because they had been horse traders in North Carolina before moving to NZ.  We had a nice chat about our trip plans and their vacation in the Cook Islands. When we told them our plans for our first day in New Zealand (to immediately drive from Auckland to a rocky coastland region called the Coromandel pennisula), their eyes widened but they didn't say anything specific... 
 
Later on the plane Miranda and I decided that they must have thought we were about to bite off more than we could chew with the drive, but they probably didn't know that we regularly drive from New York to New Hampshire after work on Friday nights in the summer... Well, it was definitely harder than we expected. It was an arduous drive that took quite a bit longer than the three hours we had planned on. Thankfully we made it before sundown. Because we were smart enough to leave without a detailed map of the area we were driving to and would have been hopeless if trying to navigate our way in the dark. 
 
On the bright side, the New Zealand landscape was just as beautiful as advertised, and we benefitted nicely from a few early wrong turns so that we were able to see more of the NZ countryside than expected. After a couple hours, however, the roads narrowed and became so twisted and vertical that I really couldn't appreciate it as much of the scenery as I would have liked. Actually in retrospect I think that Avis should have provided sick bags when we told them where we were headed. Also, just for the record, everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road here. Maybe that's a Sunday thing. We had about an hour and a half of incredibly windy mountain roads - and everyone was flying past us and at us and sometimes almost off the mountain and all this in a wrong lane that just looked funny ... "scare the pants off the american" is apparently the next most popular sport out here after rugby.  So overall it was a bit much for my first day of driving on the left hand side of the road. Oh and of course we have a manual transmission because I wanted to be macho about it, but eventually we made to the little and beautiful coastal town of Hahei on the Coromandel pennisula in the North Island of NZ. 
 
It was definitely worth the drive. Hahei and the whole region reminds me of some of he prettiest parts of the pacific northwest beaches, with hills / small mountains heading right up to a dramatic rocky coast.  Today we went for a short and very beautiful hike to a place called Cathedral Cove Beach, which is a stunning rock formation on a thin beach about an hour and a half's walk from Hahei. Then we ate lunch in a nearby town Whitianga at a great place called Nina Cafe. The population of Whitianga isn't much, but since it's by far the biggest town we've been in yet (we never actually went into Auckland), so it seems like a veritable metropolis, and the web is a good bit faster here than in the Cook Islands, so be prepared for turkeynose.com to get updated in the next couple days.
 
Thanks for all your emails - it is great reading them and keep em coming!
 
Hope all is well!
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We are going to miss this little island!
Today we spent the day on a lagoon cruise traveling around the lagoon around Aitutaki. There are actually 14 (15?) motus (little islands) within the reef that surrounds Aitutaki and we stopped on a few of them today. We snorkeled and saw some cool fish and then had lunch on an island called One Foot Island.

Later in the afternoon, we stopped on the island where they filmed Survivor:Cook Islands. It sounds like the production crew treated the local people here pretty well and bought up everything available for the 3 months they were here. They seemed proud of the spot, but I only learned that Survivor was filmed here upon arrival, so I couldn't be too impressed. overall we enjoyed the day - although it was a battle against the fierce sun all day! I held up pretty well although I looked like a total dork. I wore the peach hat and a green t-shirt over my bathing suit all day... the pictures are humorous. On the trip was a couple on a 4 month trip for the husband's 60th birthday. They were from Oxford and they basically did the reverse of our trip. Pretty cool I think!

Last night we went to Island Night at Samade's on the beach. There was a traditional meal - a buffet of sorts. (Although today's lunch was actually a better version of the same thing.) Mostly it was just a good break from the cheeseburgers and fries that have dominated our meals here. One tasty treat from the buffet was papaya with a little mayo, curry powder and lemon juice. I know it sounds gross, but it tasted great!

The evening included traditional dancing. I always find events like that a bit voyeuristic and touristy, but it is certainly the closest thing I will get to seeing the real thing. The dancers were pretty casual about the whole thing, but the style was definitely soemthing I hadn't seen before - for women it was like belly dancing on fast forward - very impressive. The men's dance is basically undescribable... a cross of an mc hammer move and an elvis move... all very fast! We also sat at a table with some great people and I think Jay and I both enjoyed the opportunity to branch our converastion out a little beyond ourselves Happy

Tomorrow is our last day here, so we are trying to figure out the best way to spend it. We are going to miss this little island!
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On our way!
We have arrived safe and sound in the Cook Islands after 30+ hours of travel. All went very smoothly and we were glad to have finally started our big adventure. The Cook Islands are basically due south of Hawaii about 4 hours from New Zealand. (Although we are also a day behind NZ because you have to cross the date line to get there.) We spent the first night on the island of Rarotonga and then flew to Aitutaki the second day. We're spending a week here mostly lounging on the beach under palm trees, swimming when we need to cool off - a pretty huge change from NYC! The island is very sleepy and gorgeous. The entire island is surrounded by a huge coral reef, so a shallow lagoon of turquoise water is directly off the beach and then you can see the waves breaking in the distance. It is truly spectacular! The island doesn't have many tourists at all at the moment, so most of the day we are able to sit on a huge stretch of beach all to ourselves. This is a very relaxing way to start this adventure and finally a few days into it, Mirm is finally adjusting to the heat Happy

We have a few activities of snorkeling and island night planned in the next few days, but mostly we are taking it easy. It's a tough life these days Happy
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