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3… 2… 1… Action: 440 Foot Bungy Jump

Watch and listen as we recount how New Zealand’s highest bungy jump scared the dickens out of Greg and barely raised Ashley’s heart rate.

Greg is up first and is all nerves:

Gravity proved strong on the way down and now that same force is draining all of Greg’s O+ blood to his cranium:

Ashley’s smile is genuine… she has no fear:

Taking in the private canyon views, Ash reflects during the ride back to the gondola:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) After coughing up the necessary cash to own our experience on DVD, we regrettably discovered that the disc didn’t contain files that could be copied to computer.  Thus, the video below is taken from this tedious sequence of events: hook up external DVD player, position video camera to computer screen size, record video, save on thumb drive, upload in Internet Cafe to Flickr, post to FOF Blog.  Save yourself these headaches by ensuring that your adventure footage on DVD can in fact be copied onto a computer.  If not, the excursion operator may have an online option.

Elastic As A Lifeline

“Sweet as Bro.”  That’s the carefree Kiwi term tossed around like an American Football.  But our hearts and minds were not carefree at the moment.  Not when hundreds of rubber bands are affixed to your ankles and 700 feet below you lies a shallow creek with jagged rocks ready to impale you.  3…2…1…Jump!

Suspended Gondola View From Trolley Gondola and Trolley

Ash’s Bungy Experience

Reach!This time last year, my friend Jacalu said to me, “Ash, you have no fear.”  If only that were true.  I fear Greg’s gaseous mornings, dinosaurs, and dirty cutlery.  Bungy jumping never made my heart palpatate like dancing to “Stairway to Heaven” in 7th Grade with Evin Beck.  Once New Zealand made our shortlist of must see countries, I longed to throw myself off a Kiwi bridge, platform, or gondola.  That longing transformed quickly to a tight knot in my stomach after watching a brunette gal scream bloody murder as she bolted downward head first.  And this was from the viewing platform affixed to solid rock.  Boarding the cart which ferries thrill seekers to the actual jump gondola added fuel to the fire.  The blustery wind (our 12:00pm slot was rescheduled for 2:30pm due to gusts), the increasing height, and tight quarters were a potent mix!  Once on the gondola, my nerves cleared like a late afternoon thunderstorm.  Watching Greg prepare to jump made my heart race, but once he was back safely, everything was hunky-dory.  Even while being fitted into ankle harnesses and receiving imperative instructions, I was cool, calm, and collected.

Really?  Two Thumbs Up? Cool Customer We Have Liftoff

Shuffling to the plank edge didn’t even create anxiety.  Three seconds later, all bets were off.  Falling, falling, falling.  The rocky stream below and the surrounding canyon rushing towards my blue eyes of terror.  Panic.  Wondering if the bungy rope would ever engage, I experienced something never felt before.  My body had an overwhelming feeling of preparing for a shock.  This seemingly infinite fall was my kryptonite.  But oh so softly, my descent slowed and my confused body joyfully joined the increasingly slackened rope.  Upon realizing the bungy had been engaged, both my hands instinctively were placed on my head and I breathed for the first time.  On the second bungy, I performed the midair situp and released my shackled ankles and flipped around into a comfortable repelling position.  The canyon walls and river below no longer resembled heartless killers.  Back on the platform, my thoughts/feelings were processed and I came to understand that in panic situations like this, your brain lacks the required time to make rational decisions.  Your body simply reacts.  The intense feeling of bungy jumping is wholly different from skydiving because the proximity of the ground makes eventual outcomes happen in an instant.  The experience was unforgettable, but one I plan not to repeat.  When wanting an adrenaline rush at terminal velocity, I will stick to skydiving.  Strange as that might be.

Rapid Descent Gulp Sweet As Bro

Greg’s Bungy Experience

Exhale NowAshley just loves to recount the tears welling up in my eyes when recounting my experience.  Oh how she loves embellishing a tale!  For the record, this is not an accurate account.  However, riding the “trolley” across the abyss below to the gondola suspended between two towering mountains, I was having serious second thoughts.  If AJ Hacket (bungy operator) would have said, “you may opt out, 100% refund, you are a sissy,” who knows what I would have done.  But they didn’t and here I was standing on a floating hulk of steel, my thoughts confused due to the reverberating Top 40 music blaring over tiny Bose speakers.  Order of bungy jumper is done by weight, so Ash watched intently as my harness and ankles were rigged with the elastic rope.  Sitting in the dentist chair, as they called it, I was near panic.  The time had come.  Ankles knotted together, my feet shuffled themselves to the edge of the thin plank.  Foolishly, I took one glance down.  Then applied all focus to the mountain top ahead and listened closely to instructions from the curly haired Jump Master.  Sensing my sincere fright, he turned the screws on me by messing with the countdown and assuring me it had been a long day, that he wasn’t sure the rigging was correct.  Hilarious.

Face of Excitement Do What??? Not One More Step 

3…2…1… My knees bent then sprung.  My shaking arms formed a crippled swan dive as I screamed at the top of lungs.  The most terrified I have ever been.  It had been ninety minutes of nerves since we departed Queenstown and they were dashed in a blink.  Pure terror now pure bliss.  The free feeling was like no other and as I plummeted to the Earth, I didn’t want it to end.  Gently, I came to a stop and slowly bounced toward the origin of the jump.  Clapping, screams of joy, huge smile.  I had conquered my #1 fear (not sure what has replaced it).  On the second recoil the jumper is supposed to release their ankle harness and flip around into a seated position. No such luck for me and with every drop of blood rushing to my head, I was pulled back to the gondola, upside down, for what seemed like an eternity.  Back on the jumping platform, I spied Ashley and gave her a smile from ear to ear, my eyes now severely bloodshot.  Once we decided to pursue our dream of traveling the world, bungy jumping in Queenstown was cemented as a must do.  Now twelve months of worry was over.  Way over!

AHHHHHH No Turning Back Ant in the Sky

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Greg – If you have a fear, tackle it head on.  Easier said then done, so I thought.  It was a liberating experience, one that I will draw in the future when needed.
2) Ash – Don’t be intimidated by other jumpers nor let their fears cloud your mind.  Focus on the jump itself, step up to the platform, do not hesitate, then make the leap!  Hesitation is paralyzing, as we saw first hand.

Water Table Claims ‘No Vacancy’

This is the perfect place to retire as a meteorologist.  40% chance of rain, partly cloudy.  This is my forecast for the next 365 days, tune in next year.  In fact, the South Island’s West Coast is lashed with rain almost year round at a predictable rate. 

Detour Ahead Swelled River  Caution

40%?  Try 72+ hours of straight precipitation.  With the unrelenting rain pouring from the gray sky for three days, the Kiwi soil could absorb no more.  The water table claimed ‘no vacancy’ as fields turned to swamps and roads became streams.  At one such washout along the two-lane highway, we watched an ambulance push a helplessly stalled station wagon from a watery grave.  Creek banks failed to corral the onslaught of water as tall trees were reduced to mere shrubs due to the height of the rushing brown tide.  It was a remarkable sight one moment and worrisome the next.  But the merciless clouds above could not care less.

Cape Foulwind Cliffs Cape Foulwind Cape Foulwind Sky

Regardless, we took in the coastline at Cape Foulwind watching seal pups bark and splash.  The Cape is just one of many spots along the coast blessed with staggering cliffs being pounded by the Tasman Sea.  Further South, we directed Bazils onto a deserted beach at Dolomite Point and made a luxurious lunch of ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches.  The sea was angry on this day.  With the wind howling, rain falling horizontally, and waves crashing like the equity market on Black Friday, the spectacle was viewed from our dry campervan bed.  As Ash watched, I dawned my GoLite rain jacket and went in for a closer look at the surf.  Bad idea.  Driving in just boxers as my “go to” shorts dried in the back was not my cup of tea.  Though Ash got a good laugh.  Ha ha. 

Dolomite Point Waves Dolomite Point Dolomite Point Waves and More Waves

Still motoring South, we reached the much talked about Pancake Rocks.  How this geological phenomenon came to be is still unexplained.  Once again, the parkas were deployed.  In addition to the rocks that begged for Mrs. Buttersworth, there are several blowholes that fiercely propel water upwards at high tide.  Sadly, we missed the nature show by a few hours.  It was a quick stop as the weather was unrelenting, particularly the wind.  Wet again.

Pancake Rocks Blowhole Forced Smile, Obviously

Southbound once more, hoping the intensity of the rain hadn’t decimated the Franz Joseph Glacier.  Our pace had slowed considerably because many of the roads developed a phobia of rainwater management.  Having talked with fellow travelers who had experienced both the Kiwi and Argentinian glaciers, our expectations were tempered.  But any glacier is an incredible site and the controversy surrounding these “advancing” masses of ancient ice piqued our interest.  To our delight, the observation point of Franz Joseph was a mere fifteen minute hike through dense forest.  We marveled at the crawling body of ice and watched trekkers the size of ants traverse the jagged surface.  Leaving the car park en route to Fox Glacier, we picked up our first of many hitchhikers, none of which turned out to be calculating killers.

Franz Josef Glacier Glacial River Franz Josef Glacier

If Finnish Chris and I were having a wet t-shirt contest, he won hands down.  After hiking New Zealand’s Southern Alps for four days, we should have wrung him out and created a profitable bottled water business.  Ash even offered Chris one of her prized cookies from the Makana Chocolate Factory.  Once again, the point of observation was a quick walk.  Though the lion’s share of Fox Glacier is obstructed due to a pesky mountain, one can still admire its beauty.  Different from Franz Joseph, Fox Glacier has a wide glacial stream that captured out attention.  Its wild nature keeps the National Park staff busy as it changes path frequently and landslides only frustrate the situation.  The cement colored water carried large chunks of ice downstream while smooth rocks fought to hold on.

Glacial Ice River Ashley's Pseudo Engagement Ring Cold As Ice  

Ash thought better of my idea to preserve a piece of glacial ice in Bazils’ fridge and with that we drove to New Zealand’s most photographed inland body of water, Lake Matheson.  Has the rain been mentioned?  The hiking around this rather small lake was sensational, but Mother Nature ruined any hope of snow-capped mountain reflections on the still water.  I was bummed and fed up with the rain, though no amount of complaining would usher in blue clear skies.

Lake Matheson Hike Lake Matheson... Supposed to Have Sweet Reflection Sad Face

So my daily forecast of 40% chance of showers would have suffered under the actual conditions.  It seems meteorology won’t pave our way into the golden years. 

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Having had an unforgettable journey around the incredible glaciers of Argentina Patagonia (http://followourfootsteps.com/2009/11/22/a-real-page-turner/, http://followourfootsteps.com/2009/11/13/patagonia-el-calafate/), we opted to save money and not take a trek onto Franz Joseph or Fox Glaciers.  In our judgment, most glacier day-trips are similar and unless a lengthy period of time has passed since your last icy adventure, your money is better spent elsewhere.
2) When driving over a section of road turned stream be sure to turn off your automobile’s HVAC.  The air intake pipe associated with this system can suck in water thereby flooding your engine and drowning your budget.  This lesson courtesy of our friend, The Dog, who flooded his family’s BMW convertible while crossing an inundated dip in Cincinnati.

Farewell North, Hello South

All Aboard Cook Strait Cruising Cook Strait

2,000 kilometers were logged as we explored the North Island along beaches, muddy dirt roads, asphalt, and green pastures. Next was the vehicle bay of the 450 foot Bluebridge Ferry. Ash and I both fancied driving the campervan onto a boat, that was until we engaged the parking break, stepped onto the metal deck and took in wafts of stale urine. Once comfortable in the passenger area, we settled in for the three hour ride across the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island. Though the rain and clouds were persistent, the scenery was worth the price of admission.

Framingham PrisonFleece sleeves covering our noses, we fired up Bazils and drove down the steel ferry plank onto the South Island. One quick look at our trusty atlas and we were off to Marlborough wine country. Having started New Zealand’s booming wine exporting industry, the area is known for Sauvignon Blanc. The region’s capital, Blenheim, is flanked by numerous vineyards so we started with one of New Zealand’s largest exporters, Cloud Bay. The grounds and tasting room were top notch, but the wine… not so much. Framingham’s grape goodness made up for the previous winery’s shortcomings. The wine cellar was reminiscent of a medieval dungeon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Last wine stop was Bladen, voted Marlborough’s #1 cellar door. The charming tasting room that adjoined the family’s humble abode was surrounded by blossoming vines. Twas a blissful setting to whet our pallets once more. Before embarking on our jaunt up the South Island’s Northwest coast, we feasted on every imaginable creation at Makana Chocolate Factory.

Marlborough Wine Country Cloudy Bay Vineyard Cloudy Bay Vineyard Grounds

Golden Bay, the Northern tip culminating with the world’s longest sandbar at Farewell Spit, is a scenic drive with few vehicles navigating the hilly and twisty terrain. After an hour of seemingly endless uphill hairpins, it was down the equally steep backside of the mountain towards Able Tasman National Park. In the distance was billowing white smoke. Somehow amongst the verdant green hillside, a small fire had broken out that threatened nearby homes. After a long day of driving, we settled into a campsite on Parapara Beach. Wine glasses in hand, we strolled along the sand and rock as the sun turned the blue sky into a beautiful array of pinks and purples. A nightcap was had around a child’s abandoned campfire.

Golden Bay Fire on the Hillside Parapara Beach Sunset

With a warm cup of Joe providing wind for our sails, it was off to Te Waikoropupu (Pupu Springs) early the next morning. The remarkable springs known for the clear water holds spiritual significance to the Maori People. They used the pure water to bless departing and returning travelers, thus the history of the spring struck a chord. Besides the spiritual importance, the water holds the world record for fresh water visibility: 207 feet. If that wasn’t impressive enough, this clarity is achieved while water is discharged from underground caverns at a rate of 3,000 gallons per second, enough to fill Ashley’s coveted bathtub 40 times. On such a sunny day, the white sand bottom of the eight springs magnificently reflected blues and greens. A magical place.

Pupu Springs Pupu Springs Water Clarity Pupu Springs

As Bazils headed for the West coast, we hugged the Buller River, New Zealand’s longest stretch of inland water. This expanse of road offered amazing views, yet again. The Buller River meandered alongside the asphalt pavement as it approached the Tasman Sea in Westport. Progress was slow to our destination when we felt compelled to stop every ten minutes to soak in the scenery. At every turn, we collectively gasped at how picturesque this country can be whether sunny or dumping rain (more on that in the next blog entry).

Buller River Buller River Beng Buller River

Pulling into Westport as the skies opened up, it was clear this day was not meant for hiking. Anxious to be relieved from our tight quarters in Bazils, the sage advice of a local was sought. Next thing we know, the sweet smell of barley and hops was in the air. Touring New Zealand’s oldest craft beer maker, Monteith’s, was a rewarding experience. Our friendly Kiwi guide showed us the thirteen steps to produce what we hoped were delicious suds. Thankfully, the tour climaxed at the brewery bar where the sampling of eight varieties took place. Jackpot. Ash had a hard time keeping up with myself and four other beer aficionados as the tasting amounts were hefty. Once through the tedious process of taste testing, one by one we found our way behind the bar and poured our favorite pint. Ash loved the Cider and I preferred Monteith’s Black. What better way to finish a brewery tour than some fish and chips? Unwrapping the Westport News, our fingers now black from ink, we dug into the local catch, salted to perfection.

Monteith's Brewery Monteith's Brewery Tour Monteith's Brewery Tasting

Hello South Island.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) There are two ferry companies operating the Cook Strait: Bluebridge and Interislander. Bluebridge is generally cheaper. Regardless of the operator, booking early will save money, but reduce your flexibility. You must pay for each person (about $35) in addition to a vehicle (about $225 for a 22 foot campervan) if you have one. Don’t be duped by campervan rental companies offering you a discount on the Cook Strait, purchase directly with the ferry operator.
2) When checking into a campground in the evening, inquire if there is a late arrival price. In towns where you have multiple options, some Holiday Parks will offer a reduced rate assuming they have spots to fill.

3…2…1… Action: New Zealand (Part I of II)

The beauty of New Zealand surpassed our expectations.  Of the places visited to date, Argentina and this incredible nation have left a lasting impression.  We hope these videos exhibit the variety of landscapes New Zealand offers.

1) Driving to New Zealand’s tallest Mountain, the majestic Mt. Cook with Lake Pukaki adding sparkle.  Don’t adjust your computer monitor, the shaking is Ash’s nervous habit when I drive.

2) Our favorite campsite of all: Lake Moke outside Queenstown.  The fog, sheep, and windy roads when arriving at night tested our nerves.  But my oh my was the view in the morning worth it! 

3) The rocky North Island coast at sunset along Cape Foulwind.  Greg on entrance vocals, Ash on Canon SX10IS. 

- Greg and Ashley

RTW Photo / Video Gallery

Boh Tea PlantationAshley likes to call Greg “Hideki, her Japanese Tourist.” This loving nickname on account of all the photos he takes. Perhaps she is correct… it has been five months and 4,728 Photos and 37 Videos have been uploaded to the Follow Our Footsteps Flickr page. Don’t worry… there are plenty more in the queue! Content is uploaded in fits due to fleeting access to Internet while on the road.

At the very top of the FOF homepage is a link called “Gallery.” Click that and you will be taken to a custom webpage with four tabs from which to choose.

1) Photostream: these are the latest photos that have been uploaded to Flickr. They are not sorted.
2) Photosets: arranged alphabetically by country name, you may choose sets of photos from particular areas of each nation.
3) Collections: arranged alphabetically by country name, a mosaic of 12 photos is displayed with a short description of where the photos originate. Clicking on the picture arrangement will allow you to choose particular Photosets to view.
4) Interesting: if you can explain the rhyme or reason on this tab, be sure to let us know. Best we can tell, it is a random assortment of 1000s of photos.

Of course, you may also access the FOF Flickr page (and see full-sized images) by clicking on photos within blog posts.

We hope everyone is doing well and you enjoy the amateur photography.

- Ashley and Greg (aka Hideki)

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Uploading photos / video can be time intensive.  Once you have content to upload to your online storage provider (Flickr, Kodak), place it on a Thumb Drive.  Carry this small hard drive in your pocket and as you visit Internet Cafes, plug the small devise in the USB port and upload it as you can.

2) When you come across hostels / hotels with Internet included, use this opportunity to upload large files like video.  We like to let our netbook run at night to process lots of content.

3) When your memory card(s) are full, be sure to back them up.  DVDs are your best bet because they hold ample media and are light enough to send home economically.  If you are carrying a laptop / netbook, back up pictures there too.

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