Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cycling NZ 15 years later

[Michele] Fifteen years ago, Gavin and I spent 4.5 weeks cycle-touring though the North and South Islands of New Zealand.  This was an amazing way to see the country.  Visiting some of the same sites 15 years later with kids in a campervan highlighted how different modes of travel evoke very different experiences.  This makes me realize that we should do more cycle-touring.

Anyways, Gavin and I were both very excited to get a chance to do some bike riding with the kids in New Zealand.  By the end of our trip, we had three days of riding in three very different but intense environments.

The first was a day on the Central Otago Rail Trail. If we had had more time, a 4-5 day trip would have been wonderful on this remote and majestic trail.  Our one day trip had us crossing viaducts and passing through tunnels.  No, Robin didn't like that part.  One highlight was finding our first geocache, which quickly led to an addiction to geocaching.  In Rotorua we even picked up a trackable that we've brought to the US to put in a geocache here... after the snow melts I guess.

first geocache of many

The second day of cycling led to another addiction, single track mountain biking. We spent the first half of the day exploring geothermal feature around Rotorua.
In the afternoon, we discovered an amazing mountain biking park that just blew us away.  We flew through the stunningly beautiful forest along maintained tracks that were designed for fun.  We rode until we were all tired, and then we went again... and again.   Robin and Will are both clamoring for us to find comparable parks near Amherst.
The challenge will be to find a Mountain Bike park near Amherst that
comes close to the one we biked in Rotorua.
One of the things I love about New Zealand is that if you want to ride
with your son right up the edge of a boiling mud pit, no one is going to stop you.

The third day of cycling was a rainy track along the river in Turangi. Riding in the rain didn't charm California-raised Gavin but the kids made the best of it. This was one of our last days in NZ and we were all starting to feel some eagerness to be on our way home.  The rain seemed to be lamenting our departure.

kids are too cool for New Zealand... well maybe not

[Michele] While we were traveling through the South Island, it seemed that Robin and Will were more excited about the trampolines in many of the campgrounds than the spectacular scenary of New Zealand.

So now that we are in back in Amherst it is interesting to hear the kids reflect on our kiwi holiday.

Today we drove to a downhill ski area in the Berkshires and Robin remarked that the so-called 'mountains' around us would just be called hills in New Zealand.  Yeah, probably.   So when does a hill become a mountain, I asked.  Robin replied that it needs to higher than tree line. Hmm interesting definition.  I think she might have been spoiled on mountains from our trip to NZ.

What was more encouraging was that both Robin and Will both said that they found New Zealand to be beautiful and want to go back. They found the mountains inspiring as well.  

So it turns out they were taking it all in during our travels.  But maybe they were just too cool to show that they were impressed.

The best thing Gavin ever bought with bitcoins

[Michele]  After Fox Glacier we headed over the Haast Pass to Wanaka.  Being in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps gave us a very welcomed break from sand flies!  It is amazing the amount of itch produced by such a small bug.  Another benefit of the rain shadow is gorgeous mountain scenery without pesky vegetation in the way.

First on our agenda in Wanaka was an eco-tour white water rafting trip with Pioneer Rafting. We were looking forward to learning about the ecology of the region while enjoying a raft down the Clutha Mata-Au river.  The operator and guide, Finn, did not disappoint.  Rafting down the unbelievably clear waterway we learned about eddy systems in the river, the history of the South Island, the trees along the banks, conservation efforts in the region etc.  It was awesome!

While learning of these things and more, Finn occasionally made comments about recent banking crises.  We took it all in.  At our break time, we went to shore to have some Tea Tree tea and biscuits.  At some point in the tea making, Finn remarked that he thought that bitcoins could by a way to bypass unfair practices by credit cards.   Wait, hold up! Did he just say bitcoins?    Our river guide knows about Gavin's make pretend money project?

At this point Gavin told Finn that he is the lead developer of Bitcoin and well.. you can guess what the primary topic of conversation was from that point on.  We swooped over large boulders in the river, splashed through holes and swirled in eddies talking about the ways that Bitcoin might serve to benefit communities that are currently taxed by credit card companies and bank currency transaction fees.

Towards the end of the trip we offered to pay for the trip in bitcoins and we were excited to be Finn's first bitcoin transaction.  Gavin also now has an awesome answer the the question "What is the best thing you ever bought with bitcoins?".
Gavin and Finn at the end of the trip. Yes, the water really was that blue!

The story might have ended there.  After the trip Gavin posted about the trip on the Bitcoin subreddit and tweeted a link to the reddit story.  With over 10,000 twitter followers, Gavin's post generated some reaction within the bit coin community.  Finn was contacted by all sorts of people about bitcoins and the New Zealand Herald (the biggest newspaper in NZ) ran an article about bitcoin that led with the story of Finn rafting with the lead developer .  We are very excited that our happenstance trip with Pioneer Rafting led to meeting Finn.  He was an awesome guide and we look forward to rafting with him again.  Maybe next time more of our vacation can be paid with bitcoins.

There and back again

[Michele]  We've been back for a month now and are slowing starting to feel settled back into our life in Amherst.  The hardest adjustments involved going from long sunny summer days to short bleak winter days in Amherst.  Fortunately, we've had some recent snowstorms so we can get outside and enjoy the winter.
This ain't Australia!
Today, I took Robin and Will downhill skiing - their first time. The snow was fabulous despite the wing. The kids did awesome and I may have addicted Will to yet another sport that involves expensive equipment.

There are still a few stories that we want to tell about our adventures down under so we will blog on for just short while longer.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

then and now

[Michele] The last time Gavin and I were in New Zealand was the same time of year in 1998.  We've been eager to show Robin and Will this amazing part of the world. A few segments of our itinerary on this trip are the same as in 1998.  Some things are too good not to do twice, including a half-day hike on Fox Glacier.
Gavin and Michele on Fox glacier in Dec 1998

Gavin, Will, Robin and Michele on Fox
Glacier in 2013.
Fox glacier has changed a lot in 15 years and so have we!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fenian Caves Track: a tale of two viewpoints

[Michele] Like all good stories, today's tale comes with two very different view points.  The tale is about a 4 hour tramping adventure along the Fenian Caves track outside of Karamea, New Zealand. The differing viewpoints belong to Will and Robin.

The first part of the track was an old bridle path used for gold mining back in the day.  The second was a much more rugged track that went past two caves and through the 100 m long tunnel cave.
Yes, this really was the track!

What were some highlights from the first part of the track? 
[Robin]: I thought that the trees were very pretty in the first part.
[Will]: I liked he beautiful scenery and all the great photo opportunities.
[Michele]: You took some nice photos.
Will captures a NZ icon

When we first turned off the bridle path and onto the rugged track, what were you thinking? How did you like the path?
[Robin]: This is going to be fun scrambling over the uneven trail. It was really fun.
[Will]: I was kind of thinking, wait is it going to be like this for a while or will the path change back. I was nervous because I was carrying the camera but I persevered with care.

When we saw the first cave what were you thinking and what did you did?
[Robin]: Thank god we don't have to go through that!
[Will]: Oh, wow! I can't wait till we get to go through one.  Then I scrambled in to the cave, hopping on rocks and avoiding stalactites to get some cool photos.

What was your first reaction reaction when we got to tunnel cave, the one that the track goes through, and we saw that there was no optional track around the cave.
Robin: "No no no no no no no no no!"
Will: "Wow, cool, I wonder how long it is?"

What did you do?
Robin: We went into the cave. Daddy was with me and mommy was with Will. Each group got a torch. In my group Daddy had the torch and he was in front of me.

intrepid explorers.

Robin: Daddy and I went into the cave first. At first, I wasn't too scared, but then we had to almost crawl and I started crying because I thought that I would never get out of the cave and I though that I would be trapped inside.
Will:  The cave was very fun. At first walking through the cave was easy but then the cave started getting deeper and darker and I realized that the torch that mommy and I were using wasn't very strong. It was very hard to see where we were going.  We tried calling out to Daddy to let him know about our torch but he couldn't hear above Robin crying.  So we kept going. Mommy and I both slipped on the rocks into water; especially mommy, who doesn't have have good balance in the dark.

Robin: After the crouching part, there was a steep drop that we had to climb down. It was especially hard since the rocks were muddy and slippery. I did not like this part AT ALL! I was already upset and this part didn't help.  After that, the cave widened and when I looked up between some stalactites I saw some glowing blue dots. I pointed them out to Daddy and he said that they were glow worms.  That made me feel better - they are so cool! They look like stars.

Will: We caught up to them at the glow worm cavern.  We turned off our torches and watched the glow worms for a while. It was really cool!  Then we shined our torches on the worms and we could see the mucusy thread that they dangle from to catch bugs.

Robin: At the glow worm cavern was could see the end of the cave and that was reassuring. I felt better when we got out and everyone gave me high-fives because they were proud of me.  But then I realized that we had a long walk back to the campervan.  Also I got stalactite mud on my favorite hat.

Will: I was glad to be out of the cave and proud of myself for getting through it.  Ten minutes later though, I wanted to do it again, but with a better torch.

Would you do the Fenian Caves track again?
Robin: No way!
Will: Now that we have bought a better torch, definitely!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bicycle versus RV

[Gavin] We traveled through New Zealand by bicycle and bus in December of 1998. We're traveling some of the same roads again, this time in a big honking campervan.

I feel guilty.

Self-contained bicycle touring, where you carry all of your camping gear on your bike, is hard work. Every hill is an effort. Every evening it is a chore to set up camp, as is every morning when it is time to pack everything back on to the bike-- especially if it is raining.

But the top of every hill is a victory, and every downhill is a thrill. And it feels really good to zoom over the road on the most efficient vehicle ever designed.

Self-contained caravan camping, where you carry your refrigerator and shower and bed with you, is easy. Hungry? Thirsty? Pull over and get a refreshing beverage from the fridge. The only worries are whether or not the next town's gas station is open on Sunday and sells diesel, and whether you can find a place to park your behemoth.

I don't think we'll ever travel in a huge RV again; neither Michele nor I like driving, and driving a truck is even less fun. It is nice to be able to stop and camp almost anywhere; that is one way a caravan and bicycle/tent camping are alike.

As I write this, I hear the rain beating down on the roof of the campervan; if we were on bicycles, we'd be dealing with two VERY grumpy, wet, exhausted children. Part of me thinks "that would build CHARACTER!" ... and then the sane part of my brain kicks in and is grateful for a clean, dry place where I can write a blog post.