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Our RTW Journey Comes To An End

With  excitement and certainly some regret, we have concluded our trip around the world after 7+ months.

South America, Oceania, and Southeast Asia were nothing short of amazing. But there is much more out there that we wish to explore. Just not now. Missing friends and family too much has left us homesick for quite some time. And while the road has taught us many lessons, it has a way of wearing a person down.  Looking back, we would make the same decision to learn about ourselves and the world again. 

We arrive at Chicago O’Hare on April 14th after securing a $892 one-way flight on Asiana from Bangkok. Our remaining time will be spent at Palm Tree Orphanage. Who knows, maybe after a month back in the good old USA we will be refreshed and ready for a second leg!

Ashley and I would like to thank everyone who has followed our footsteps and the support you have shown us. We would look forward to seeing many of you soon!

Look for an updated blog post tomorrow with trip statistics and our Top 10 Destination List.

- Greg and Ashley

Reporting from the FCC on Sydney

 Let me take you back to the early 1990s. Global stories include America’s 42nd President (Clinton) taking the oath of office, 80 perish inside David Koresh’s Davidian Compound in Waco, the Chicago Bulls threepeat, and a car bomb explodes in the World Trade Center. Here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror has ended but the Southeast Asia country remains violent. At the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, journalists gather at this bar/restaurant to huddle with photographers and file stories for their respective news bureaus. So here I am, wanting to channel what those journalists might have experienced sitting two stories above the hectic Street 178 and Tonle Sap River intersection. Those who sat on this very stoop years ago wrote about contentious subjects while risking their very lives. In contrast, I sip a vodka martini with three olives and write about our adventure in Sydney, Australia.

Kings Cross Victoria Xmas Tree Manly Beach

My mind must travel back to early January 2010. We had just finished up a marathon twelve hour roadtrip from Melbourne to Wollongong to Sydney. Ashley read an entire book by Chelsea Handler and I had trouble driving an automatic after three weeks of manual adventure in New Zealand. Settling into our Kings Cross district hostel was a task, what for the loud bars, pharmacies slinging cold medicine, and strip clubs causing a ruckus 24/7. Wanting to explore the lively area, a frantic search for cheap sushi was launched and after one hour we hit the jackpot. Engulfing countless rolls and sashimi, Ashley and I were on Cloud Nine. That was until Ashley turned hyper clumsy. It was like watching a gag reel of the Stooges… she spilled a brimming glass of red wine on her lap breaking the vessel into pieces, dropped the wine cork in miso soup, and topped it off by pouring the miso soup into the bottle of red for no particular reason. I fear for our unborn children. Mainland Sydney needed a break from us so we joined Holly, Army Andy, Alexa (visiting from Wisconsin), and Carolyn on a ferry to Manly Beach the following day. Holly and I loved the surf while the rest absorbed modest amounts of UVA-UVB rays.

Sydney Skyline Sydney Streetscape Payphone!

A self guided walking tour of Sydney came next and our suspicions were confirmed. We loved this town! Between the romantic botanical gardens, quays bursting with boats, and a bustling downtown scene, we were impressed. The amount of construction cranes dotting the skyline and newish structures were a sure sign that the world’s 13th largest economy was navigating the financial crisis better than most. We sipped coffee while watching ferries unload scores of passengers from seaside suburbs. Sydney radiated a cool vibe. Even using a pay phone for the first time in years made me grin. After hearing positive reviews of the Sydney Aquarium, we paid our entrance fees hoping to see mammoth man eating sharks. Walking through a glass tunnel with water overhead was dandy, but the whole experience left us wanting. Perhaps biased, Ashley exclaimed that Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is far superior.

Stingers Among the Sea Creatures Shark Scaring Children

One cannot visit Sydney without laying eyes on one of the most iconic structures in the world; the Sydney Opera House. True to its worldwide reputation, it is quite the sight. The distinctive white roofs resemble tortoise shells stacked upon each other, jutting out into the blue haze of Sydney Harbour. Though thoroughly enchanted by the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge did not live up to its acclaim. Give me Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge, NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge, or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe it is Sydney’s wild New Year’s Eve fireworks centered around the bridge that brings so much attention. Regardless, the blue sky reflecting off the harbour water coupled with the Opera House and the steel expanse connecting two shores made for an unforgettable view.

What a View Sydney Opera House View from the Harbour  

Hoping Sydney’s Wildlife World would make up for the aquarium, we spent the greater part of our last day among wild animals. But outside the attraction was a rather convincing T-Rex lurking with a handler that drove small children to tears. It was hard not to laugh, so we did. Other than the kangaroo reprising the roll of road kill we saw from Melbourne to Wollongong, this was our first experience with the strange looking marsupials. Ashley was enamored with the koala bears and longed to sleep in trees just like them. Maybe she had already forgotten how clumsy she had become. And now she wants to sleep in trees? Sad to leave Wildlife World, we packed up our backpacks in Kings Cross, did some coin laundry, and met Doug and Maureen (friends of a friend) for dinner. Doug’s Buddy Holly eyeglasses and superb wit suited me well as we plunged into social and political debate like college buddies. Our midnight bus to Byron Bay was approaching so we bid adieu to the ex-patriots.

This T-Rex Will Eat You Arachnid Careful

Recounting our time in Sydney and browsing the photos almost makes me feel like we are back there again. Almost. But then the tuk-tuk horns, children selling knock-off books, and a slightly noxious haze remind me that I am reporting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From the FCC, my favorite bar in seven months.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. You can buy dual entrance tickets for the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World and save a few bucks. If you have experienced a great aquarium before, save your money. Though the Wildlife World is certainly worth the price of admission.
  2. Australia is expensive, there is no getting around that fact. To counter the expense of lodging, we opted to take several overnight buses up the East Coast. Comfortable? Hardly. But if you can handle 8 – 10 hours in an upright position then save your money and bring an eye mask.

New Year’s Eve Down Under

The $120 all-you-can-drink and free appetizers with 2,500 of your closest friends at a swanky hotel was never convincing enough. Enjoying time with friends where the prerequisite for a conversation does not include screaming and rubbing up against sweaty strangers is more our style. Thankfully, we were able to arrange a gathering of like minds in Melbourne to ring in Twenty-Ten. 

Imposing Stingers at St. KildaWhile we are accustomed to dawning our heaviest winter coat, gloves, hat, boots, and wishing taxis were available on frigid December 31st nights in Chicago or Wisconsin, Melbourne couldn’t have been more different. Imagine wearing all of the above then rolling around in a bathtub of honey. That is how sticky and sweltering Melbourne felt just before 2010 was ushered in with pomp and circumstance. Carolyn and Holly met us at the Miami Hostel and we met Army Andy at Federation Square before taking the trolley to St. Kilda Beach. With the 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperature coupled with immense humidity, our world was inside a toaster oven. Arriving at the beach, it was a race to see who would enter the refreshing saltwater first. But the competition’s starting gun failed to fire when it became apparent that thousands of stingers (what Aussies call jellyfish) had crashed the NYE day at the beach. If they had not yet washed up on the beach, they were lurking in three feet of water. Carefully, the five of us enjoyed the now dangerous waters with an occasional yelp of “watch out!” Having risked our well being long enough, we grabbed a bite to eat and some drinks in the charming street-scape near St. Kilda Beach. Some Aussies were certainly getting after it early as evidenced by one disruptive drifter who randomly grabbed a girl’s glass next to us, spit in it, placed it back on the table, then knocked it off with a sweeping hand motion. He was gone in a jiff after the glass shattered on the stone sidewalk. Rude. With that, it was time to manufacture NYE plans other than avoiding the drunkest man in the Southern Hemisphere.

Miami Hostel DigsThe terminating trolley stop from St. Kilda Beach dropped us at Federation Square along the Yarra River. A hip looking bar had an advertisement for their party that evening so I ran across the tracks to have a look. $20 for appetizers, one drink, and cover charge. It seemed reasonable considering how expensive the Land Down Under can be. Our plan was hatched and Army Andy went back to his modern hotel while the three gals and I went back to our private hostel room. Surprisingly, three girls got showered and ready in record time considering the tight confines of our room featuring a steel bunk bed. The girls looked dazzling in their colorful dresses and tall heels. Me? Not so much. The dressiest shirt I had was designed explicitly for fisherman and my shoes for wilderness hikers. Three perfect tens and one trekking angler walked out of the Miami Hostel.

NYE 2010 Pretty Ladies 3D Glasses are Cool, Right?

Sweating again, we waited patiently in line, paid our $20, and crowded around the kitchen exit. We were starving and ate anything and everything that penetrated the swinging doors. Sushi, bite sized sandwiches, and mini burgers were inhaled. We were quite proud of our frugality considering a beer is $7 and we each ate well over $20 in food. We set up shop near the window line with a view of the Yarra River as families laid blankets along its banks in anticipation of the midnight fireworks. We felt badly when a massive thunderstorm rolled through sending thousands of people running for shelter. Enjoying the lightning lightshow, the five of us sipped drinks and mingled. I secretly brought our Avatar 3D glasses from a viewing two days prior and we took turns looking like the biggest nerds in eastern Australia. Carolyn returned from a mission to obtain a sparkly hat with a silly looking balloon human, much to everyone’s enjoyment. Balloon boy was passed around like a first grandchild, each of us checking his blue diaper or combing his rubber blond hair. My favorite New Year’s Eve past time is the “fake countdown” where I start counting 10…9…8… well before midnight. It worked twice, but then the clever Aussies caught on to my simple American brain. Then the real thing came and we shared hugs, kisses, and camaraderie with one another as fireworks reverberated off Melbourne’s skyline. Next it was time to dance to some awful techno with four middle-eastern men providing ample amounts champagne. Last call sounded and we joined other jubilant merrymakers on the streets of Melbourne en route back to the hostel via the trolley. But not before indulging in some delicious Indian lamb kebabs. Ash and I climbed into the bottom bunk while Holly and Carolyn snuggled above us, all dreaming about a prosperous 2010.

Ash and Carolyn Getting All 3D in Fed Square Balloon Boy Midnight Smooch Take Two

Ash and I talk often about how we might spend each holiday next time back in America with dear friends and family. But that is what makes each Thanksgiving, Groundhog Day, Christmas, New Year’s, Flag Day, etc. special while traveling the world. Each one is unforgettable.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. The trolleys in Melbourne are expensive and the fare system is confusing, even to the grizzled traveler. We spent two days trying to make correct change and guessing how much we owed. That was until Carolyn and Holly pointed out that less than 5% of riders actually pay to ride and they never heard of anyone being caught and fined. Thereafter, we rode the trolleys with ease for free.
  2. No matter what city in which you are celebrating New Year’s Eve, there are countless options. We have found the expensive all inclusive packages to be a waste while the cheaper options turn out to be more fun and worthwhile. We lucked out in Melbourne by only paying $20 while neighboring establishments were asking $80+ just for entry.

The Melbourne Identity

Trained to kill when activated. Ashley, a CIA trained international operative, was dispatched to Australia. Her objective: locate and destroy Matt Damon in Melbourne, his Identity’s namesake. At her disposal was one globetrotter (Greg) and a pair of wily ex-patriots (Carolyn and Holly) working in Oz on one year visas.

Alley to Croft Institute Boag's Brewery, Carolyn Hiding Her Wine in Shame Rooftop with Little Creatures

Like any mobile hunter, Ashley aimed to get a lay of the land and become acquainted with Australia’s Second City. With the help of Carolyn (Greg’s former co-worker) and Holly (Carolyn’s friend) a walking tour of the sprawling metropolitan area was tackled. A delicious tapas dinner was consumed while we caught up with Carolyn and got to know Holly. It was clear as day after 5 minutes of conservation that we were going to have a ball together. Walking through alleys of graffiti that looked more like an art exhibit than a home for trash receptacles, we approached The Croft Institute. Perhaps we were lucky that this insane asylum turned dance club was closed at the moment. Instead, we planted our bums at Boag’s Brewery and sampled six varieties of beer. Well, three of us did. It seems six months in Australia had turned Carolyn to the dark side as she imbibed on white wine. In a brewery? I digress. The sun was put to bed so we headed for one of Melbourne’s iconic rooftop bars on this warm evening. Contrary to some bozos informing us the establishment was closed as we were halfway up the eight flights of stairs, we were welcomed by hundreds of revelers taking in the night skyline. It seemed like a hippie commune with people sitting in circles on the AstroTurf surface. When Holly introduced us to Little Creatures, we knew Australian for beer certainly was not Fosters. In the midst of all this, Ash seemingly forgot her mission, but recalled her target’s love for cricket.

Ashley Taking in the MCG Action... Finally Fast Pitch

Thankfully, the Boxing Day (day after Christmas) Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) was in full swing. Australia versus Pakistan. Ashley pleaded not to go, but I kindly pointed out that her CIA Dossier had clear instructions she was to attend. We arrived just as the players were having their afternoon tea and that began what was to become lots of questions about this peculiar sport. Wickets, stumped, spinner, overs, bowls? After fifty minutes of players standing motionless, checking swings, or fake running, our thirst for knowledge needed relief so we inquired with the sweatiest bloke in Section Eight. Twenty minutes of explanation left us more confused and Ashley apologizing for my endless line of follow up questions. Slowly though, the rules of cricket became more evident and I found myself enjoying the match. Ashley, not so much. In many ways, the sport reminded me of watching America’s baseball: an exciting moment here and there, opportunity for casual conservation, and simply relaxing. Alas, Ash’s boredom was unbearable and I was sliding off my seat from perspiration. So Jason Bourne wasn’t at the MCG after all, maybe in the suburbs of Melbourne?

And I'm Proud to be an American American Girls BBQing

It was late afternoon when the train pulled into the suburban rail station with Carolyn and Holly awaiting our arrival. Andy (Holly’s family friend on leave from Iraq) arrived on the next train and with that we piled in the car for the short drive to Holly’s Aunt and Uncle’s home for a good old BBQ. A real home with a family, dog, and home cooking. We were ecstatic. Aunt Ann and Uncle John and Holly’s cousin Jeff took us in like their own. The way the three of them interacted was hilarious and for an instant it felt like our home. Knowing full well that Aussies don’t call a grill a barbie or shrimp prawns, I could not help but ask. With a sly smile, Uncle John replied, “that damn Crocodile Dundee.” Being a proud American transplanted in Australia, Aunt Ann was thrilled to have a home full of USA Passport holders. The neighbors were probably sneaking a peak through their blinds when the six of us posed under the Stars and Stripes displayed high in their front yard. Army Andy (my secret nickname for him) valiantly handled a steady line of questions concerning what Iraq is really like over some cold ones on the porch. May God watch over our soldiers in uniform. Conversation continued into the night and we seemingly missed the last train back to Melbourne. Jeff then taught Army Andy and me about footy, the other Aussie sport, while the girls gossiped over wine. We watched 1980s highlight tapes of players resembling American Gladiators with the “footy fanatic” providing biographical info on his heroes. I stretched my legs on the couch for the night while Ashley and Carolyn shared Holly’s bed upstairs. Home sweet home.

Turns out Ashley is a terrible international operative and never even sniffed Jason Bourne. But her mission sent us to Melbourne, why not stay awhile?

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Attaining an Australian Visa is a piece of cake. Do it online before you travel as they do not issue visas on arrival. Here is the website: http://www.eta.immi.gov.au/
  2. It is tempting to arrive at an airport after a long flight and hop in a cab to your hostel or hotel. Fight this urge in expensive countries as most international airports offer economical buses or trains to the city center. Hop in a cab from there if necessary, your budget will thank you.

New Zealand Swan Song

Our time in New Zealand was coming to an end. We could feel it as the Christchurch airport called our name and ExploreMore wanted to rent Bazils to yet another paying customer. But we weren’t quite ready so the Catlin Coast and Mount Cook became our swan song.

Campsite at Slope PointThe pain saying adios to Milford Sound was tempered knowing the drive was marvelous. Bazils agreed to seven hours non-stop in fifth gear and so we arrived in the seldom visited southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Catlin Coast is characterized by lush hills of green, endless stretches of rugged coast, and a steady wind. Arriving late, priority number one was to locate an overnight spot. Judging by the area’s remoteness, this didn’t seem to be a problem. Finding a gravel parking lot perched above a sheer cliff that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, we were ecstatic. Even the “DANGER Beware of Cliff” sign added novelty to the spot. All was well until 11:03 PM. “Ash, can you sleep in this?” I inquired. “No, I have not slept a wink.” The wind was gusting so hard that it seemed capable of rocking the campervan right over the cliff. My brilliant thought was to move Bazils into the wind so that the steel passenger side acted less like a sail. It worked for twenty minutes until the wind shifted direction and we both scrambled into the cab, fired up the V-6 engine, and located a protected gully to park. But this spot would not suffice either as the road was narrow and the campervan’s bumper hung out over the broken asphalt by five feet. Another ten minutes searching the black night yielded a suitable position where the wind could merely knock over Bazils, but stop short of rolling her into the raging sea. Combined sleep between us on this restless night: 140 minutes +/- 20.

Herding Sheep on ATV Wind Swept Trees Over Barn Catlin Coast

Looking like welterweight fighters after a tough bout, we drove the next day along the Catlin Coast and stretched our legs on several short hikes. The name “Jack’s Blowhole” was intriguing enough for us and while the actual sight isn’t so great, the hiking was fulfilling. With intermittent rain and countless sheep keeping us company, we were rolling with the punches. But when rain, sheep feces, and a gap in the trail meet, you are either acknowledge defeat or go down swinging. We got some good laughs crossing the fifteen feet of mud/poop and an even better time cleaning the brown sludge from our Salomon Trail Runners that afternoon.

Jack's Blowhole Trail Sheep Poop Or Mud... Take Your Pick Sheep On The March

Roaring BayBetter luck would find us further north along the Catlin Coast at Nugget Point. Ash had been talking incessantly about seeing penguins in their natural habitat. Our best opportunity was a short hike to Roaring Bay to spy the rare yellow-eyed penguin. From a “hide” you keep a keen focus on the shrub abutting the rocky beach. Low and behold, a young mother came waddling toward the ocean to fetch some fresh seafood for her youngsters burrowed away in the tall grass. Ash was ecstatic. At the tip of Nugget Point lies its namesake. The massive rock formations were impressive as was the hike along the cliff edge. Before departing the Catlin Coast, two playful seals performed an odd mating ritual then posed beautifully for some pictures. Even the Kiwi animals promote tourism!

Yellow-Eyed Penguin Going Fishing Nugget Point Playful Seals

Imaginary Hole-In-OneThe following day, en route to Mt. Cook, we passed through yet another valley producing outstanding Kiwi wine. We could not pass up the opportunity, so we ducked into the Northburn Station Vineyard in Cromwell. The vino was as expectantly fantastic, but I found the Par Three golf hole nestled amongst the vines to be even more exceptional. With an imaginary Ping pitching wedge and a rock filling in for a Titleist Pro V1, it was easy pickings for my first hole-in-one.

Sir Edmund Hillary StatueHaving read quite a bit about Sir Edmund Hillary (first person to summit Mount Everest in 1953), I longed to see the mountain he trained on (late 1940s) and the alpine center bearing his name. Driving to Mt. Cook is yet again, a real treat. The cool blue water of Lake Pukaki isn’t too bad a sight as the odometer climbs during the 55 kilometer jaunt. Then as we made a winding left turn, Mt. Cook came into focus on this brilliant afternoon full of sun. Several stops later to absorb the immaculate surroundings, we came to the most crowded Department of Conservation campsite yet near The Hermitage. One can see why as it is positioned beneath Mt. Cook and its neighboring snow capped peaks. The sunset was sensational then the black sky revealed innumerable stars, some even shooting.

Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki Lake Pukaki and Ash Mount Cook  

Well rested in the mountain air, the weather had made a change for the worse the next morning. Known to the Maori people as Aoraki, or Cloud Piercer, New Zealand’s tallest peak at 12,316 feet was shrouded in thick gray clouds. The rain and wind prevented any hiking so we spent the day at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Not only does it house one of the best collections of the famed Kiwi alpinist’s gear, but it offers mind blowing features about the universe in a domed digital planetarium. Though the swarming clouds refused to reveal Mt. Cook on this day, we were entertained like third graders on a field trip. Sometime while hiking Argentina’s Patagonia, I developed a desire to camp/hike more and Mt. Cook added fuel to the fire. What do you say Ash? Climb Mount Kilimanjaro on our way to achieving the Seven Summits?

Surrounding Peaks At Dusk Southen Alps Sky At Sunset Greg with Lake Pukaki Behind

Three weeks came and went in a flash. New Zealand left such an impression on us that we vow to visit once again with friends or family. Without a doubt, this magical country full of caves, mountains, beaches, wine, vistas, adventure sports, hills, and open road ranks high on our round-the-world trip.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Book early for New Zealand campervans. The high season runs from December – March and many companies sell out during this period. We got lucky when we booked just two weeks out. Utilize one of the campervan aggregators (http://cheapmotorhomes.co.nz/) to book. If your selection is not available, they will offer a similar product via email. This saves the headache of emailing every rental provider separately.
  2. When booking a campervan, be sure the quoted price includes everything. A company’s quote might seem like a deal, but when you factor in insurance, return fees, additional driver fee, additional kilometers, etc. the price can escalate. Also consider a diesel engine over unleaded if you plan to drive excessive kilometers or rent for over a month… the fuel savings can outweigh the additional upfront costs.
  3. Most campervans utilize manual transmissions.  Limited amounts are available in automatic and will cost more.  If going the manual route, some know-how is suggested to avoid complete embarrassment when pulling out of the rental agency parking lot as we saw.     

A Look Inside Bazils

Come on in folks, everyone gets a look.  Step right up!  Take a tour of the world’s best campervan.  Maybe our next adventure will be inside a three ring circus.  Greg will charm snakes with Bazils’ water hose and Ash will perform contortionist positions inside the campervan’s nooks and crannies. 

We logged 5,362 kilometers attaining a dismal 8.14 liters/kilometer.  We consumed 659 liters of petrol at an average cost of $1.70 per liter.  Below is a pictoral tour of our home on wheels. 

The Driving Cockpit (that is what campervan pilots call it), water and LPG (cooking gas) tanks, and Greg’s daily task of filling the H2O:

Driving Cockpit Workin' For The Week Water and LPG Tanks    

Storage above table/bed, kitchen with Driving Cockpit behind, and cabinets, fridge, and stove:

Storage Above Table/Bed Kitchen with Driving Cockpit Behind Cabinets, Fridge, Stove

What comes out of a tiny kitchen on wheels can be surprising: steak dinner with red wine, blueberry flapjacks, and a continental breakfast:

Steak Dinner with Red Wine Blueberry Flapjacks... Score! Coffee Like Sludge

Bazils backside is beautiful… shots with the hatch popped, table in place, and Ash writing in pretty cursive in the journal.

Bazils Backside Table Ash Writing

The multi-functional table/bed area.  It can be used as a bench and when the sun sets the table doubles as a bed frame.  Ash loved to read prior to sleep, oh, and run down the campervan battery.

 Bench Bed Ash Reading... Running Down the Campervan Batteries

Campervans come in all shapes and sizes.  Makes and models.  New and old.  Bazils was perfect for us in every way and it was quite hard to say goodbye. Sob.

So Many Options Ain't She a Beaut Clark?  Hard to Say Goodbye

- Greg and Ash

Majesty of Milford Sound

One twisting road in, one twisting road out. But what ended up truly twisted were our minds. How on Earth could a place so incredible exist?

Lake HaweaThe mountain villages of New Zealand’s Southern Alps were tough to leave. There is the hip town of Wanaka that seems to be Queenstown’s little brother. Less people, but just as exciting. Not to mention you can rediscover your youth and imagination at Puzzle World. The Great Maze is 1.5 kilometers long and the average undertaking requires three times that distance. We were average on this day. The room of illusions made our brains ache. Lake Hawea’s shores were passed en route to Queenstown, the sensational adventure capital. Jet boating, zorbing, bungy, sky diving, white water rafting… all yours if credit card debt is not intimidating. Our most cherished campsite was a 45 minute drive outside Queenstown on Lake Moke. While not the easiest place to find, perhaps that is what makes this gem unspoiled. Alas, we tore ourselves away and motored to the famed Milford Sound.

Mature Illusions! Lake Moke - Best Campsite Ever

Already overwhelmed with the incredible beauty rushing past Bazils as we navigated New Zealand’s twisting roadways, we were unprepared for imminent sensory overload. Without a shadow of a doubt, the two lane highway leading to/from Milford Sound is the South Island’s most scenic drive. Pull over, initiate hazard lights, scan the vista, tip nose up like a mutt, inhale sweet aromatic smells, take mental snapshots. Rinse, repeat… 35+ times. A rambling mountain creek seemingly followed us for hours, its shores surrounded by magnificent purple flower blooms. When the creek abandoned us, a rushing river of white foam accompanied us with evergreen trees standing tall. Then the pristine forest was relieved by a marsh that reflected the snow capped peaks. Then fog enveloped us and small droplets appeared on the windshield. Rats!

Driving to Milford Sound Rushing River Mirror Lakes

Rain nor menacing clouds could ruin the experience. Rather, Mother Nature was simply flexing her muscles and turned an already stunning canvas into a masterpiece. Mountaintops choking in dense fog and countless waterfalls appearing from the heavens. Ash and I took turns hollering, “holy smokes, oooh check that out, whoa.” All five senses working overtime. Next we came to a tunnel that resembled the entrance to a bomb shelter and after ten minutes the signal invited us in for a look. Though the tunnel was a bit unnerving due to lack of lighting and heaps of moisture, the darkness made the exit that more dramatic. Here we were, surrounded on all four sides with sheer cliffs of rock topped with ancient snow. How much more of this can we take?

Waterfall Veiled in Clouds Tunnel to Milford Sound View From Other Side of Tunnel 

Caught up in the drive itself, we nearly forgot our intended destination. Pulling into the main parking lot of Milford Sound, our eyes pulsated. The combination of late afternoon light, fog, and blackish water created a moment neither of us will ever forget. Mountains jutting out from watery depths, waterfalls providing background noise, the air a mix of recent rain and the sea. After learning the only campground in Milford Sound was full, we gladly settled in along the shore for the night. Who cares we smelled like yetis.

Full of Mystery Milford Sound From Tasman Sea Mountains

By morning the battle between sunshine and clouds was settled. Rays of light appeared abundant making Milford Sound look wholly different under mostly sunny skies. It was hard to decide which we preferred: veil of mysterious clouds or sunkissed vistas? Regardless, we boarded a seaworthy vessel and floated in a place once occupied by glaciers. Seeing large boats dwarfed by waterfalls and mountains emphasized the enormity of our surroundings. Hugging the southern coast of the sound, the mixture of the dark sea, cascading water, and towering mountains was mesmerizing. At one point, as I was running around the boat acting like a National Geographic photographer, my eyes met Ashley’s and our mutual wonderment was recognized.

Ahoy! Mountains Surround Us Crusing the Sound

Slowly, the width of Milford Sound grew larger and the Tasman Sea appeared. The whitecaps cresting in the open ocean reminded us of the protection provided by the snow covered mountains on either side. Now moving along the northern coastline and back towards the boat slip, numerous seals contended for prime sunbathing space on the odd boulder. Passing waterfall after crashing waterfall, four kayakers overflowing with ingenuity had fashioned a downwind sail out of a yellow tarp tied to their oars. The boat captain skillfully maneuvered the vessel into port with the paying customers exhibiting faces of a recent religious experience. Milford Sounds is that enchanting.

Seal Showoff Mitre Peak Sailing

Morning brought even more sunshine the next day and short hikes allowed elevated views of nature’s beauty. The tide had moved out, which provided the opportunity to explore the sound’s seabed of round stones covered in slick green moss. From this vantage point, Mitre Peak stood proudly among the other towering peaks. The chilly water with an Antarctica origin provided a welcome drink and a brisk head shower.

From the Shore Waterfall Milford Sound From Shore

One more mental snapshot, one more breath of the mountain/sea air, and one more soundbite of lapping water and the gentle wind. We bid adieu to this wondrous place vowing to someday come back and witness the majesty once more.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. There is exactly one campground in Milford Sound and is booked solid by 9:00 AM everyday. The nearest alternative is one hour in the direction just traveled. Though prohibited, the parking lots fronting Milford Sound are full of campervans. There is no need to retrace your steps because the “no overnight parking” policy is rarely enforced. If a shower is what you are after, the lone campground charges a modest amount to use their facilities.
  2. Do yourself a favor and plan ample time for the drive back and forth to Milford Sound. Numerous points of interest like The Chasm and Mirror Lakes are worth a quick hike. Not to mention, you will feel compelled to absorb your surroundings every ten minutes.
  3. Several Department of Conservation campsites can be found about one hour outside Milford Sound. These are among the most scenic and remote. From these campsites, it is possible to take day trips to Milford Sound and avoid the crowds.

Mount St. Helens: Volcano Villarrica Scare Revisited

Months have passed since that terrifying November afternoon in Pucon, Chile.  Yet I think of the experience often.  The near misadventure hit home a bit harder after reading about the Mount St. Helens tragedy on February 15, 2010 (thanks for the heads up, Steve).

My first plane ride was at age 12 during a family trip to America’s Pacific Northwest and Canada.  Mount St. Helens was a highlight for all four of us and left a curiosity of volcanoes with me.  Though the infamous 1980 eruption claimed 57 souls, the majestic stratovolcano remains dangerous.  The lastest victim was 52 year old Joseph Bohlig, an experienced climber.

Volcano Villarrica Summit Volcano Villarrica Sulfuric Smoke What Lies Below?  Glad To Never Know

Reading about his fatal climb of this Pacific Ring of Fire volcano left me shaken once again. The similarities are numerous. “Boom, it busted off and I saw him clawing for the edge with a startled look on his face, and then he disappeared. I was looking right at him, he was only 10 feet away, then he just disappeared,” said fellow climber Scott Salkovics. Falling 1,500 feet onto rock and ice, Joseph is presumed to have died from trauma related to the fall, no autopsy required.

To anyone reading this, I beg you to seek proper advice before setting out on a snow covered volcano. You simply don’t know the thickness of snow/ice whether in a flat area or on a cornice. Joseph was an experienced climber. Ashley and I had two guides. Accidents like these do happen, sometimes with horrific consequences.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Read the Mount St. Helens story HERE

Read our original Volcano Villariaca, Chile post HERE

- Greg

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