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New Zealand Trip Planning Follow-Up

By: Mackenzie Griesser

It’s crazy to think I’ve been back from my trip for a month already! Now that I’ve unpacked all my bags and uploaded all my pictures, it’s time to digest this crazy experience. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours planning every detail possible for this trip and, for the most part, I did a pretty good job! One of my biggest concerns was figuring out what all I’d be allowed to bring into the country. New Zealand has pretty strict customs, but neither me nor my father had any issues coming in. The other major concern I had was just how different it would be there compared to the states. I had a small idea of what to expect but you never really know what a place is like until you go there. Luckily, there weren’t too many major differences and it was easy to adapt to the way things are done down there. My father and I spent 7 days driving through the entire country down the middle of the North Island and the west coast of the South Island. We also spent 2 days backpacking on Stewart Island and 2 days exploring Auckland. Although there were more than enough opportunities for something to go wrong, the trip went smoother expected and blew my mind way more than I thought possible.

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A pretty picture I took on Stewart Island

There were only a couple aspects that I had to leave unplanned because I was unsure what the situation would be like once we got there. First, I knew I couldn’t fly with fuel for my stove and would have to buy some once we arrived. I was not worried about there being a shortage of stores to purchase from, but I hadn’t figured out an exact time and place to go to get it. Luckily we drove through a handful of towns with outfitters before we needed the fuel, so we were able to obtain some no problem, and check out some cool outfitters along the way! The other issue I hadn’t quite figured out yet was how to store our excess luggage before taking off for our trek on Stewart Island. I emailed the company that was providing the shuttle and ferry service and they informed me that there were lockers for rent, but they weren’t very big. Unfortunately they were unable to provide me with exact dimensions, so my dad and I counted on them to be big enough for our duffels and didn’t try to make other arrangements. Upon arriving, we realized the lockers were a little too small for all of our items. Luckily, the ferry terminal was a small office and we were going to return three days later, so they held our two bags in the employee area. However, for future reference, I would not count on this option being available. It was the beginning of Spring in New Zealand when we went, so the busy season for tramping hadn’t begun yet. Later in the season, this probably wouldn’t be an option.

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My dad next to a handy-dandy sign showing nearby hikes

Of course, no vacation is perfect, no matter how well it’s planned! Something always ends up coming up that must be dealt with. The biggest concern of this nature that we experienced on this trip was health-related. My father and I both came down with head colds a few days after arriving (most likely due to the 30+ hours of travel it took to get there). There were a couple times we felt pretty under the weather and decided to go straight to the campground or Airbnb and relax instead of doing the short hike I had planned. Another issue we encountered was a logistical one that was easily figured out. On the long flight out, my father was reading through the “small print” for our rental car reservation and realized we were not allowed to bring the rental car on the ferry from the North to the South Island. Luckily, all we had to do was arrange to drop off our car at the ferry terminal in Wellington and pick up another in Picton on the South Island. This actually worked in our favor because there was a $70 fee to bring a car on the ferry that was refunded when we changed our reservation! The only other issues we encountered were also minor and easy to sort out. First, I somehow traveled to this country not knowing they have completely different outlets! However, we lucked out on our third day and found a hardware store that sold converters- crisis averted. There was also way less internet there than I expected. I knew I wouldn’t have any cellular data, just WiFi, but even that was scarce. And when there was WiFi available, it was very limited. It was an odd but awesome feeling being so disconnected from my friends and what was happening back home. The only time it was an issue was when I was trying to navigate and the solution was simple: download directions while we still had internet! Lucky for us, this issue never became more serious and we avoided getting lost pretty well!

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The giant ferry that runs between the North and South Islands

So far I’ve described the end results of issues I was worried about before departing and discussed the other major issues we encountered on the trip. Now I’d like to talk about the fun stuff- my favorite moments and what surprised me the most about this awesome country! One of the first things I noticed, besides the driving on the left side of the road and roundabouts in lieu of traffic lights, was that the washroom in every place we stayed, with the exception of campgrounds, had a towel warmer! One Airbnb host was floored when I told her this isn’t a thing at all in the states. They are completely commonplace in New Zealand and made the biggest difference! I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of fuel-efficient cars I saw driving around on the North Island; the ratio of compact car to van/SUV/truck was about 85:15. The South Island was a different story. Campervan rentals are a major tourist attraction in this so we saw them everywhere, even though it was barely spring! I can’t even imagine how crowded the more popular areas get with campervans during the busier seasons. Overall this was an incredible trip full of surprises, almost all of them good, and I learned way more than I’ll ever be able to put into words! It was definitely the trip of a lifetime!

If you’re interested in learning more about New Zealand or seeing more  pictures of this beautiful country, stop by the shop Dec. 1 at 7pm for my trip presentation! More details and info can be found on our facebook page.

Planning the Trip of a Lifetime

By: Mackenzie Griesser

When I was a junior in high school, my dad promised me that when I graduated college he would take me to either Australia or New Zealand. 7 years later, as I’m beginning my final semester of college, I get a text that reads simply: “So which is it going to be: New Zealand or Australia?” I was instantly in tears. And then the reality sunk in: I gotta plan this thing! So, I have spent the past 6 months planning every detail of this trip, from researching trails to hike to figuring out where to buy fuel for my camp stove. I even made up a powerpoint for the itinerary, complete with pictures! In this blog I will discuss my planning strategy, the tools I used, and any issues or concerns I ran into.

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An example slide from my itinerary

Of course the first thing we had to do was figure out logistics. When did we want to go? For how long? How are we going to get around while we’re there? What restrictions are there on what I can bring into the country? We decided to leave at the end of September, right after my birthday, and stay for two weeks so we’d have plenty of time to explore. The weather would be perfect- still snow on the Southern Alps! The cheapest flights were in and out of Auckland, so that’s where we decided to begin our journey.

My dad, being the brilliant man that he is, decided to let me plan everything. First I had to figure out what I even wanted to do! I have never left the country, let alone travel to such a pristine and interesting environment as New Zealand. I knew for sure I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, so we decided right off the bat to rent a car and drive around the South Island for the majority of the trip. I also knew that I wanted to do a short backpacking trip on Stewart island, per recommendation of my super cool boss Joe White. The island is off the southern tip of the South Island, so I figured we could end with that and do some sightseeing along the way there. This is where Google Maps came in clutch. I was able to figure out distances between locations and how long it would take to drive from place to place to see if this idea was even feasible (it was). I utilized that,

A handy tool on the Department of Conservation website for finding activities in different regions

along with a National Geographic Adventure Map, to figure out where to stay along the highway that follows the Southern Alps down the west coast of the island. Once I established how many days this would take and what a reasonable driving distance was per day, the rest was actually pretty simple!

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has an AWESOME, super easy to navigate website. This is where I found all of the trails we plan to hike. The website offers lots of great information about where to stay in every region of the country and what to do while you’re there. They even have maps and descriptions for each individual trail, including mileage, approximately how long it takes to hike it, and what you should expect to see. This is also where we found information on campgrounds, AKA “campervan parks”, to stay at and what amenities they have. Using all this information, I was able to build the basic structure of the trip- where to start, where to end, and what to do along the way. The end result of this planning stage was the following: we would fly into Auckland, pick up our rental car, hang out in the city for a day, take a week to travel down to Invercargill (the southernmost large city on the South Island), spend 3 days backpacking on Stewart Island, then return to Auckland via airplane. This plan left us with an extra day, so I let my dad choose what to do that day.

Once we finalized the structure of the trip, we had to work out the logistics. There was a lot of booking to be done! We decided to stay in Airbnb’s 4 nights throughout the trip. We booked those, plus a handful of nights at different campgrounds. We also had to buy tickets for a couple different ferries and reserve sites on Stewart Island. On my itinerary, I highlighted the date (at the top of each slide, one slide per day) in red if there were still logistical details to work out for that day. Once everything was booked and confirmed, I unhighlighted the date and could rest assured knowing all we had to do was show up and do the stuff and everything else was taken care of!

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Passenger Arrival Card for declaring “at risk” items

The only thing left to do was make sure travel to and from the country would be as smooth as possible. New Zealand has a lot of restrictions on what can be brought in. I learned in my research that we have to declare every “risk” item we bring. This includes items such as camping gear, sports equipment, and food. I also heard from a few customers that visited the shop that they will not let items with any amount of dirt on them into the country to prevent the spread of invasive species, so I had to make sure to clean all of my gear before leaving. I also emailed the Ministry for Primary Industries to make sure all the food I planned on bringing was allowed into the country. I’ve heard from a few people that they have odd restrictions on certain ingredients but I was not able to find any information that specific on any official website. Luckily, nothing I plan on bringing (ramen, instant mashed potatoes, trail mix, pasta, etc.) raised any red flags.

The very last thing I had to do was figure out where to keep our extra luggage when we go on our backpacking trip. We are dropping off the rental car prior to taking the ferry to Stewart Island, so we do not have a place to keep the items we don’t need for the trek. I emailed the service we are using for the ferry and they said they have a few small lockers available to rent, but they were unable to provide exact dimensions so there is no way to know for sure if our duffels will fit until we get there. Aside from that detail, everything else is accounted for! Stay tuned to hear how it all turned out!

A Brief Glimpse of Australia

I went and flew to the other side of the planet. All the way over there. Really far from Kentucky. I went for a wedding, but stayed for almost a month of running around. Stationed in the Gold Coast, Queensland (with a section of town literally called Surfer’s Paradise), the Goatman felt a bit out of his element, I must admit. Hooves aren’t very sticky on a surfboard and the salty ocean air tastes like the bottom of a bag of chips. It was beautiful, of course. Sunrise over the Pacific in the morning. 75 degrees in the middle of the winter. Great seafood everywhere. But I didn’t go to Australia to laze around and pick sand from my beard. Not entirely anyway. You can take the Goatman out of the hills, but you can’t take the goat out of the hill man as the saying goes. I needed to get out there and climb something, see some of the wildest wildlife on the planet, and take in the legendary terrain of Australia. And that I did.

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Our first trip out from the Gold Coast was  a 3 hour drive inland through wine country to Girraween National Park on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. (On a side note, Australia has over 500 National Parks. The USA has 58. Australia’s national parks are much smaller than those of the USA, however, and more specific.) After lunch at a vineyard, and a wrong turn involving a 7 foot tall alpha-male kangaroo and a family of wild boar scaring the bejeezus out of me, we found a camp near the trail head of Bald Rock Creek. In the distance looming we could see the Pyramids, granite outcroppings of over 3,000 feet and our goal for the next morning. Up and at ’em with the laughter of the maniac kookaburras, we took a leisurely warm-up hike around the Bald Creek area. The creek flows through the granite landscape, carving out interesting gorges in the rock and gathering in deep holes lending a surreal atmosphere in which to the hike. Back on the trail to the Pyramids, we stopped by the Granite Arch on the way, a natural formation that looks as if neolithic hippie giants were balancing boulders for fun.

DSCN7260Then came the climb. The ascent to the summit of First Pyramid reminded me of the Mahoosuc Arm in southern Maine: a steep granite face with few handholds that seems to go on forever until you crest the summit and realize that all of the huffing and puffing was worth the beautiful 360 degree view. From the top, you can see the entirety of Girraween NP as well as across the state line into Bald Rock NP. A boulder the size of a truck is upended, balanced like an egg on a spoon, right next to the view of Second Pyramid, another impressive mass of granite. Golden wattle,  fig and gum trees dot the landscape, as well as flora unknown to the humble Goatman but equally strange and impressive. We left Girraween after the hike, having business back in the Gold Coast, but never once did I stop looking behind me in case the 7 foot tall kangaroo was following, looking to put me in his pouch.

Hat Head National Park

After a bit of beach laying, we were back on the road. This time, Jubilee and I were acting as couriers, delivering a car to Sydney about 12 hours south of the Gold Coast. Fortunately, we had 4 days to accomplish this so we were able to check out some more National Parks along the way. This meant that I had to learn to driDSCN7378ve on the left side of the road, on the right side of the car, to navigate round-a-bouts, and to remember that the levers for the turn signal and windshield wipers were switched. I never got the hang of that last one, but the rest fell into place rather quickly.  First stop was Hat Head NP on New South Wales’ Central Coast for some ocean side camping. The Smoky Cape Lighthouse stands on a ridge above the Pacific, small islands in the distance. Our campsite was 100 meters from a secluded beach where the sunset led into a view of the Milky Way visible to the naked eye. Some freaky cute possums attempted to raid our camp as we cooked dinner, but we were car camping, huzzah! Have fun opening locked doors with your tiny brains and hands, critters!

Oh, the sunrise at Hat Head. Up before 6 AM for a tinkle and the sky is on fire. I could have sat there forever, but the sunrise, like all things, must pass and we had some miles to cover to get to Sydney in time for our flight back up the coast.

The Blue Mountains and Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens

DSCN7502The road trip continued south, into the Blue Mountains for a night before heading back into the crushing embrace of the city. Short on time (a common theme while traveling cross-country with a deadline), we decided on Mount York, a short drive along a ~3000 foot ridge overlooking the Blue Mountains and the picturesque valleys below that also boasted free campsites. It was a cold night. We had left the sea-level, coastal breeze of Queensland for the windy winter winds of the southern mountains. And, as these things happened, it began to rain. Unfortunately, we were working with borrowed gear, gear that was also used to the northern sunshine. After a night of tossing and turning for the sake of warmth, we were up at dawn and into a nearby Blue Mountain town for coffee and Eggs Norwegian. Really roughing it, I know.

The time had come to retreat into the city. And what a city! Sydney has around 4 million people and is one of the most beautiful cities I have had the opportunity to visit. The Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, King’s Wharf, the New South Wales State Library: we ran around and saw it all (not to mentioDSCN7536n gorging ourselves on delicious food at every corner). What blew my brain out of my eyes, however, was the Royal Botanical Gardens. Located on the bay and spread out over 74 acres, the Royal Botanical Gardens are free and open to the public daily. Built in 1816, they are the oldest scientific institution in all of Australia. But forget all that: the trees are huge, numerous, rare, and other worldly at times. Species from all over Australia live here, not to mention species from all over the world. Statues, engravings, beautiful paths, and a view that takes in the best of Sydney rounds out the experience. Jubilee and I spent almost 5 hours just walking around this space and I’m not certain we saw everything as hard as we tried.

Wollumbin National Park

DSCN7827We flew back to the Gold Coast from Sydney and the wedding fever was in full motion. I feared this might spell doom for my running around of the countryside, but I was wrong! Quite wrong, actually. A few days later, we woke at 3:30 AM, drove an hour into the Tweed Valley, and by 5 AM were on the moonlit trail to the summit of Mt. Warning in Wollumbin NP. Mt. Warning was named as such by Captain James Cook and, standing high above the most eastern point of the Australian coast, receives the first rays of the sun’s light in the country on its summit. We climbed by the light of headlamps, the jungle’s canopy blotting out the moon, drop bears creaking in the trees above, until dawn’s light began to creep from behind the surrounding hills. By the time we reached the last few hundred feet of the climb (and I do mean climb at this point. The final section of trDSCN7834ail required both hands and feet to scramble up the rocky face of the mountain), the sun was on its way to showing its face. We reached the summit just in time to see it in its full glory. On a trip full of mind-bending beauty, the summit view from Mt. Warning will stick in my mind for a long time to come. Below, the valley ran with rivers of mist as the air warmed and in the distance, the ocean shined.

This was to be my last back country adventure in Australia. I could not have asked for a better closer to an amazing trip. Thanks to all of my friends that made it possible in the first place.

 

 

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