New Zealand
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Milford Track|Bungy Jump
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I have been very fortunate to visit over 70 countries. New Zealand has to be one of my top two or three of my favorite places. First there is an amazing diversity of terrain, second is the absolute beauty of the country but what sticks in my mind was the genuine kindness of the people. In addition to climbing with many Kiwis, I have visited there twice, once in 1994 and again with Cathy in 1999. On my first trip I intended on splitting my three weeks between the North and South Islands and doing as many of the Great Walks as I could including the Routeburn Track near the Milford Sound. I ended up spending almost all my time on the South Island!

I flew into to Christchurch via Auckland and on to Queenstown, a tourist Mecca nestled on Lake Wakatipu. As I recovered from jet lag, I drove around the pristine area of Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka. During this drive, I saw people bungy jumping off an old bridge over the Kawarau River, something I had heard of but had never seen. I watched them jump and my heart went into my throat. It truly made me afraid but something deep down said "just do it!" With my first priority being to do some trekking, I thought it unwise to kill myself on my first day in New Zealand so I promised myself to do it upon my return.

I arranged my transportation to the Routeburn trailhead from Queenstown and decided to add another tramp on the Greenstone and Caples Track to my schedule. I spent the next five days backpacking through rain forest, alpine meadows, crossing swinging bridges and spending the nights in the New Zealand famous huts. The Department of Conservation (DOC) is incredibly organized and does a fantastic job of both allowing access and maintaining this special place. I carried all my food, clothing sleeping bag and gear in my backpack following well marked trails that were surprisingly empty. The scenery was absolutely awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting my fellow trampers along the way.

Every time I thought about the bungy jump, I got nervous - sweaty palms and a butterfly in my stomach. I visualized the jump over and over until I calmed down but was still apprehensive about actually doing it. Upon my return to Queenstown I visited the AJ Hacket offices and signed up. I drove out to the old Kawarau Bridge. They wrote my weight on my hand so as to adjust the bungy cord properly. After tying the towel around my ankles and then the cord, I duck waddled to the end of the plank!  I followed the instructions to focus on a far-way object, took a deep breath and jumped! A swift two seconds later and 144 feet lower, I hung by my ankles waiting to be lowered into a boat on the cold river. I had done the jump. I flew!! I have a VIDEO of the jump. It was absolutely fantastic!

While on the Routeburn tramp, I learned that Stewart Island was the place to go to see penguins so from Queenstown I drove to the southern most city of Bluff. Not having anywhere to stay and needing to get up very early to catch the ferry to the small island off the coast, I went to a bar to ask where I could find the nearest hotel. The bartender immediately said I could stay there and called his wife. She showed me their guest room in the home above the bar as well as the kitchen so I could help myself to breakfast the next morning before I caught the ferry for the one hour crossing. Amazingly nice people!

Stewart Island is a tiny speck of land in the Pacific Ocean. Antarctica would be next land mass! However, Stewart Island holds an interesting variety of forest and coastlines. I took the Rakiura Track It was sometimes swampy and then hot, then cold but always a feast for the eyes. One fond memory was walking on boards for a mile or so to avoid destroying the fragile environment. Once again the DOC hut system made the overnight stays very comfortable.

Retuning to the South Island I visited the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers. The glaciers start at 7,800 feet high in the Southern Alps and at one time touched the Tasman Sea! Again, an unbelievable sight. My next stop was Mount Cook. I stayed at the Hermitage in a tiny room the size of a closet since I arrived late with no reservations. Once again the Kiwis made me feel right at home even though this was a major and crowded tourist site. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 12,316. It was higher until an earthquake caused the top 30 feet to crumble in 1991. I still want to return there and climb it one day.

I drove back to Christchurch and up the coast to the small town of Kaikoura. This amazing town sits on the coast hugged by an 8,000 foot mountain range only a mile inland. But a mile offshore a 5,741 foot sea canyon harbors squid. This brings giant Sperm Whales to eat and spawn. As I took a small boat into the bay, I experienced sensory overload with the snow covered mountains serving as a backdrop to the deep blue ocean waters. I went whale watching but also took a swim with wild Dusky Dolphins. It was a day I never forgot

I wanted to do one more trek so I made my way to the Able Tasman National park. I took a small boat up the inland coast about 20 miles only to be dropped off to walk back. This was very different from the other treks since it mostly followed the coastline and was on the beach for much of the time. Again DOC huts made it comfortable. I drove to Nelson and took the ferry over to Wellington on the North Island. I was very impressed with Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It reminded me of San Francisco sitting on a natural harbor at the southern tip of the North Island. It was clean, modern and appointed with great trees and flowers.

I was running out of time so I drove directly to Rotorua, the center of the Maori culture, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Then up to the Coromandel Peninsula. This is where the Aucklanders go for summer holidays and to spend time on the pristine beaches. I returned to Auckland in time to have one more wonderful meal of New Zealand lamb and local Villa Maria wine before my flight back home.

In 1999, Cathy and I returned to New Zealand to bring in the new century. We visited many of the same places I did on my first visit including Kaikoura, Christchurch, the Milford Sound, Wellington and more but the highlight was our four day tramp on the Milford Track. Cathy thoroughly enjoyed it as did I and it was very rewarding sharing this special place with her. Please enjoy some pictures of Cathy on the Milford. We had a fantastic time on New Year's eve 1999 at a party in Auckland. We brought the new century in with style!

New Zealand is a fantastic place. It is clean, safe, modern and very welcoming to visitors. The natural beauty is right up there with Norway. If you ever go, make sure you plan enough time since you will certainly leave without seeing everything you wanted to see. But then again, that makes a great excuse to go back!