Monday, September 25, 2017

American thoughts on the New Zealand election

Disclaimer: Completely un-professional and biased views of New Zealand politics from an Outsider.

As an American, it's hard not to become disheartened by politics, especially in today's Trump era.

But observing New Zealand's 2017 general election for Prime Minister was a breath of fresh air and made me appreciate, even more so, the benefits of living on an island with only 4.6 million people where an ego-maniac isn't running the country.

I won't bore you with an overview of New Zealand politics (because I'm no expert and you can google it yourself) so here are the highlights of my observations:

1. Women in NZ Politics is a no-brainer



Hillary Clinton as America's first female presidential candidate was empowering for women all over the States... but in New Zealand, I don't think the media really pushed the fact that a woman (Jacinda Arden) was a main contender for Prime Minister - that's awesome! #Jacindamania hit New Zealand but it was NOT because she is lady. New Zealand had two other women in the past to lead their country (Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark)

2. We can think differently and still be friends!

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As we drew closer to election day, the political chats at home and around the water cooler became more involved (a bit)... what I found surprising was that most Kiwis were NOT overly-opinionated. Granted, American politics is quite polarising due to the extreme nature of some of our leaders, but in New Zealand, they are more middle-of-the-road folk.

In my social circle, my closest friends lean towards numerous parties and it's ok! Quite a few romantic couples voted completely differently... I appreciate that believing in the agenda of one party doesn't have to offend or degrade another - unlike how many Americans feel about Republican or Democratic affiliations... did I block many Trump-supporting Facebook "friends?" Maybe. But, in New Zealand, I didn't have to consider it.

3. New Zealanders are more active!

Maybe because America's 2016 election result was so shocking and New Zealanders didn't want a similar situation, or maybe because Trump is in a war of words with North Korea and New Zealand could be, literally, in the line of fire... but this year, over 90% of eligible voters were enrolled to vote and more New Zealanders than ever voted early at the polls.

4. Minority Parties get a say!


Sure, this is a debatable... and there was discussion about a "wasted vote" but in New Zealand, if you have at least 5% of the votes, you get a seat at the table and can collaborate with other parties to make policies. As a result, a 23 year old lady is the youngest MP in 42 years to sit in Parliament representing the Greens Party - cult favorite for it's environmentalist and pro-Cannabis agenda.

5. So Bill English is still the PM:


From what I gather, he's quite conservative - these days, I may becoming a bit more aligned with conservative values as a home-owning DINK (double-income, no kids). I love that he helped to boot NZ's favorite villain, Winston Peters, from the National club over 25 years ago. But mostly, I like the sounds of his wife, Mary English, a beautiful Italian/Samoan doctor who has managed to keep her and her 6 children's lives quite private. When I relate that to the US, we all know the power of a first lady - #MichelleObamaForever.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Franz Josef and Fox

We spent two nights in the little town of Franz Josef.

After trying my first snakebite (1/2 cider, 1/2 beer) at the Snakebite brewery, we walked to the Franz Josef glacier. The path is an easy stroll through the exposed river bed that follows the retreating glacier. It's incredible to see how quickly this glacier is moving up the mountains.

Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier are two of three glaciers in the entire world which fall into a rainforest zone (the other is in Patagonia), which makes these glaciers very special to New Zealand and gives them World Heritage status.



My partner's cousin works the desk for heli-tours and was able to schedule us in for a scenic flight and an ATV tour run by Across Country Quad Bikes the next day.

My first time on a helicopter - I was buzzing with adrenaline and couldn't recommend more! We were lucky to fly during a small window of time when the clouds had cleared for a bluebird flight.



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Shortly after, the clouds rolled in and lingered at the base of the mountains... not great conditions for flying, but completely acceptable for some quad-biking!

The tour operator and owner is a Franz Josef local whose family has been in the area for 6 generations. She's completely charming and had some great intel to share on the region (like why the rocks are pink, paradise ducks' romance, and the Maori legend of the Franz Josef glacier).

Copland Track

One week later, and I'm still thinking about the dewy, lush rainforest and the comforting sounds of glacial streams and rivers of the Copland Track.


The overnight hike into the alpine is 6 hours up, at a steady pace, and 4.5 hours down when you're in a rush (we were booking it so we could reach Queenstown that evening for a BYO)

We began our walk at the car park, after the gated entrance, where the sand flies are notorious for attacks. I suggest spraying on the repellant before leaving the safety of your car.

Only 2 minutes in, with the camper van about 50 metres in sight, we ran into our first dilemma. The creek crossing was slightly too high to cross in our boots and we didn't have gaiters. After throwing a few rocks into the creek bed to create stepping stones, we gave up, took off our boots, and waded across in our bare feet. This was the first of dozens of puddle jumps, creek crossing, and river bridge walkways, but the only section where we needed to remove our boots.


The following 6 hours offered otherworldly views of mossy forests, river rapids and snow-capped mountains. Are there any other rainforests in the world where you don't have to worry about snakes, spiders, wild cats, or insects with diseases? As much as I love stumbling upon some wildlife, I appreciated the safety of the New Zealand forests and its bird songs. We collected fresh spring water, straight from the source throughout our walk.

We arrived at Welcome Hut, just as the Department of Conservation helicopter was taking off after delivering supplies to the hut warden. We had the 31-person wooden cabin to ourselves for the night, luckily missing the group bookings in the week. 50 meters down a path that adjoins the hut, there are the natural hot pools. Out of all the natural hot pools I've been to, these were the MOST PERFECT temperature. The pools are quite shallow and have a bit of clay, but we stayed for hours, sipping on wine and enjoying the views. I suggest going in spring as it's cold enough to truly enjoy the heat of the pools and the mountain wind gusts kept the sandflies at bay.

There's a small, clear creek which runs along the path back to the hut, this is where I stripped down butt-naked and rinsed off before putting on my merino and cooking dinner by the glow of our headlamps and solar light.


Since we were flying back from Christchurch to Auckland, we planned in advance to pack light. Here are my suggestions:

What you need to bring for one night:
Tramping backpack 
Insulated water bottle
Sleeping Bag
Headlamp
Towel
Portable gas cooker
Pot
Tupperware/Bowls/Cutlery
Toiletry
Trail snacks, dinner, breakfast, coffee/tea/chocolate

Clothing:
Tank top
Mid-layer
Jacket
Puffy (doubles as a pillow!)
Leggings
Merino pajamas
2 pairs of socks (tramping and sleeping/wearing in the hut)
Waterproof boots
Swimsuit

You can also view some of my adventure travel essentials here.





Paparoa National Park


During our road trip along the west coast, we were expecting to run into some wild and wet weather. Fortunately, we experienced this for only one day and we were able to still keep the adventurous levels high.

We followed the weather, and planned to spend that drenched day in Punakaiki.

We first stopped just north of Punakaiki to check out the seal colony in Cape Foulwind. This is a short 15 minute walk from the car park. We layered up in our waterproof boots, merino leggings, and rain shells for the torrential downpour. The quick journey was worthwhile because the sea movements and on-shore winds were exhilarating and the seals were hilarious, as always.

Seal Colony near Cape Foulwind

We then drove to the Paparoa National Park visitor centre which is directly across from the trailhead of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. We wandered through the visitor centre and picked up a cute Auckland Zoo & DOC conservation game for my partner's nephew, before grabbing our headlamps and heading to the Punakaiki Caverns.

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The cavern exploration took half an hour. The cave sheltered us from the weather as we meandered through the dark twists, turns, and tunnels. It's an easy walk and not as nerve-wracking as Abbey Caves near Whangarei but still outside the comfort zone, especially since we had the space to ourselves and walking blindly is always a little spooky...

Next up, were the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. We saved this for last so we could see the blowholes during high tide. The swell was large that day and the windy, wet weather made the easy stroll a wild affair.

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We decided to continue heading south to get closer to Franz Josef where we had a few activities planned.


We stopped for an early dinner at the Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth before camping up in Hokitika Gorge. It was a quiet evening, watching the season finale of Game of Thrones off our mobile data.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Cross Country Roadtrip New Zealand

My partner and I set aside time in August to go on a holiday. We considered tropical islands near New Zealand, we thought about going back to southeast Asia, or a road trip in Australia. It took us a little too long to realise that people from all over the world come to New Zealand to have an epic adventure in our own backyard.

We agreed to road trip the South Island since neither of us have been to the West Coast. Fate presented herself when my partner's family asked us to do them a favour and drive their motorhome from Auckland to Christchurch.

Now we're working on our itinerary, while still remaining flexible dependent on weather. Below is the final outcome.



Thursday Night
Auckland, 4.5 hours to Ohakune

Friday & Saturday
Mt. Ruapheu, Turoa

Sunday
Ohakune to Murchison, 3.5 hours to ferry, 3 hour ferry, 2 hour drive to Murchison
Interislander VIP experience

Monday
Murchison to West Coast, 2 hours
Seal Colony near Cape Foulwind
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes
Punakaiki Cavern
Monteith's Brewery

Tuesday & Wednesday
Franz Josef & Fox Glacier
Scenic Helicopter flight
Quad Bike Tour
Franz Josef walk
Fox Glacier walk


Thursday & Friday
Copland Track

Friday - Sunday
Treble Cone
The Remarkables
Interactive Marketplace

Monday
Queenstown, 5.5hrs to Christchurch

Tuesday night
Fly to Auckland




Monday, October 19, 2015

Grand Tetons + Yellowstone: Camping, Hiking, and Tips

We spent 6 months on the road in our camper van. Hands down, the most inspiring and impressive landscape was found in Wyoming.



After driving almost 25,000kms around the USA, we concluded that Wyoming was the biggest highlight of the trip.

Grand Tetons
Campgrounds: Signal Mountain, Jenny Lake, Colter Bay, and Gros Ventre
Highlights: Beautiful hikes around Jenny Lake and a moose at Gros Ventre
Major Hikes: Lupine Meadows, Jenny Lake, Emma Matilda Lakes, Static Peak Divide
Highlights: Black bear and alpine lakes in Lupine Meadows
Tips: Emma Matilda Lakes hike was a bit of an 11 mile let down. No wildlife and similar views were found in our other epic walks.

Yellowstone
Campgrounds: Norris, Mammoth, Bridge Bay
Highlights: Norris campground has a great atmosphere with a trail that takes you to some beautiful geyser activity at Norris Basin. We also woke up to a herd of elk meandering through Mammoth campground which was an awesome sight to see.
Major Hikes: Old Faithful, Grebe Lake, Mount Washburn, Bunson Point, Lewis Lake
Highlights: One way trek from Grebe Lake to Norris includes creek crossings across logs, lakes, ponds, pines, meadows, and we surprised a Grizzly! #adrenalinejunkie
Tips: Showers available at Mammoth... You can pay $4 at the hotel lobby, or not. No one checks. I also kept my cafeteria cup and enjoyed my free ice tea refills - it's the little things. Check out the thrift store in Gardiner (5 miles from Mammoth) - I purchased a Yellowstone t-shirt and a Patagonia fleece for $2 total! My friend found a wool sweater from Woolrich for 50 cents. Avoid Bridge Bay (and any campgrounds NOT managed by the National Park Service).

Overall, Grand Teton NP was my favorite. Every campground is beautiful and unique. The trails are out of this world. I would recommend spending most of your hiking time at this park and letting yourself get lost in the remote Teton ranges or meadows (just don't forget the bear spray!) and then going to Yellowstone for the "attractions" such as Old Faithful, the Falls, and geysers. Most of the tourist spots are less than a mile to check out.

Life in Revelstoke

It's that time of year again... the air is getting crispy, you might find a little frost in your front yard, and soon the snow will come! I would love to return to British Columbia for epic mountain views and fresh snow - can't highly recommend it enough. If you're interested in doing a snow season then Revelstoke is the place to be! It's a homey, little community where people from all over the world visit and live. It's absolutely gorgeous!


We were able to fund our season by buying our season passes early ($800), renting out two rooms on AirBNB (which were fully booked from Christmas until March) and working part-time jobs as a concierge and babysitter. We actually made a bit of a profit which helped with our fuel costs for our spring/summer road trip around the States and our surfing trip in Mexico. We've decided to head to the opposite hemisphere this month, so we'll be missing out on a winter season. It's bittersweet, but we have plenty of sunshine and surf to look forward to in a New Zealand summer!
Are you thinking of moving to British Columbia for the winter? Let me know! Would love to convince you to spend some time in Revelstoke. You can check out some previous posts on Revy here and here.