A Travellerspoint blog

Final Thoughts on New Zealand

50 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

I planned the first leg of my trip with very little preliminary research. Now its true that New Zealand was on my radar solely for the purpose of skiing in what I deem summer. But from there, my plans expanded and changed constantly, so that in the end, I spent over 70 days travelling through a country that met every one of my expectations and left me completely satisfied. I have the specs written somewhere but in the end I drove over 5,000 kilometers between nightly stays in over two dozen different towns. Would I do things differently, or advise others to do things differently? It all depends on what your circumstances are. As a solo traveller you are somewhat forced to stay in the backpackers and unless you want to sit on a tour bus for a month, the hired car is a necessity. If I had a travel partner, I think the campervan is the way to go as they are extremely functional. In terms of seasonal timing. I went in the heart of winter, which brought more rain in certain areas and limited various hiking opportunities in the far south. Apart from that, winter brought many advantages including the lack of crowds. I think, if I did not need the skiing to be the driving force of the trip, the country would be best viewed in fall - March to June, as your weather would be warmer, hiking would be available everywhere, and crowds would be lower than summer season.

I also was very happy with the length of my trip. I could have stayed longer, and I regret missing various places or rushing through others. However, New Zealand is ultimately a somewhat one dimensional place. As I have written before, you do not go to the country to see its museums or learn its history or eat its food. All of these things are pleasant enough as is the act of meeting and socializing with the locals, but in the end you stay in New Zealand for long periods of time because of an affinity for the outdoors and the uniquely compact nature of the country which allows you to skirt from oceans to mountains, from caves and gorges to temperate rainforests and volcanos all within a days drive of each other. If you want to live amongst these natural wonders, its not hard to get stuck in New Zealand forever. I was happy to spent ten weeks climbing, skiing, hiking, rafting, kayaking and generally experiencing the New Zealand outdoors. I think I ended up hiking over a hundred miles and skiing 14 days. At a different stage in life, I can see myself staying longer much longer, but for now I was content with what I saw and what I did.

Posted by efstein 05:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Australia!

85 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

So as I was originally planning this trip the need to stop in Australia loomed as a necessity. I was never keen on devoting a lot of time to the country largely because as its not really that great a place to backpack through as the distances between worthwhile stops is mind blowing. Australia has a total population roughly the size of the New York City metropolitan area scattered around a country the size of the US. This translates to a lot of sparsely populated areas. On seeing just how quickly the cities fade away into the outback, and in hearing testimonials from people who drove through the country its just amazing to think of how quiet Australia becomes once you leave the east coast.
Jess and I planned a 10 day trip that had us meeting in Sydney International Airport. We met bleary eyed at 8 am, her via New York and I via Christchurch, New Zealand. The goal was to see as much of Sydney in forty eight hours before we flew north to Cairns. Despite the lack of sleep, we both rallied and spent a full day out around the famous Sydney Harbor, Opera House, and even took a ferry to Manly Beach on the other side of the harbor. I found Sydney to be as I expected. Jess and I joked about how you always see clothing lines or businesses listing their offices as London, New York, Tokyo, and Sydney, and how it was cool to be in a city that is very much a world center. And that was how it felt. Large, but not overly Gothamesque, with upscale neighborhoods hugging a beautiful harbor and a downtown that felt a bit inundated with tourists and bit sedated due to lots of office buildings. At night we crawled to a recommended dinner spot, the travel day slowly taking its toll on us. I saw glimmers of Montreal and New York in Sydney's nightlife, definitely a cosmopolitan crowd.
The following day we took in the Aquarium and lounged around Darling Harbor, which seemed a bit over-developed to me. Jess deserves credit for lobbying for more time to spend in Sydney as I originally had planned to fly us to Cairns shortly after we arrived in Australia. I enjoyed the city, but as with all 48 hour glimpses of internationally recognized cities, I feel like I saw part of a preview to a movie. I could not possibly make any substantive conclusions on Sydney, but I can say that I enjoyed our time there and would definitely go back for longer.

And off we were again, I have to compliment Jess. Coming so far to see me, and then going even further with me....three hours of flying time followed by an hour drive in our rental car got us just north of the resort town of Port Douglas, on the far northeast coast of Australia. We were staying at a resort called Mai Tai, which I can compliment myself for finding. Its marketed as a Balinese themed retreat in the mountains outside of Port Douglas. The owners, Andre and Anthony, are a gay couple in their late 40s. Each day they had an amazing breakfast for us, plus we were always in the company of their two mountain dogs. Additionally, two of our four nights there, we were the only guests. The place only has four rooms and its very much secluded and decked out with outdoor showers and an asian themed room. Jess and I both loved it, and for me it was definitely a change from new zealand hostels.
Our time in the area alternated between lounging around Port Douglas and going on arranged day tours. We went on a supposed 'rainforest tour', but I soon realized just why I avoided the 'tours' in the first place during my time in New Zealand. Now its true, we both agreeded after the fact that we did learn a few things, and we did have a fun day altogether, but for the price, and taken as a whole the tour was a bit weak. Highlights for me were going sea kayaking where Jess saw a sea turtle. I did not have my glasses on so I thought it was a seal. We also went on a crocodile river boat, where after an hour of not seeing any crocodiles we saw a real one swimming very close by.
Our other planned day took us to the Great Barrier Reef. In short, the hype we had heard about snorkeling the reef lived up to expectations. We had a top ten day weatherwise with clear skies and low wind. I had never snorkeled before, so after the obligatory five minute freakout where I couldnt get my breathing down and Jess laughing at me, things went smoothly. We took a smaller tour that went further out on the reef and took us to three different sites. Just a great day.
The Port Douglas community kind of grows old. We certainly could have wasted a few more days there lying on the beach and doing another reef tour, but Jess wanted to see more of the country and I obviously had no problem putting a few miles on our rental car. So with that we spent one day travelling through the Atherton Tablelands. A rainforest-rolling farmland-desert area that constitutes the land about fifty miles inland from the coast. We had a great day on the road stopping at small towns, coffee shops, and waterfalls before arriving at our final destination, Mission Beach.
Mission Beach is more of a sleepy beach bum town compared to the ritzy vibe of Port Douglas. There is only one ATM and a few bars mixed in with some cafes. Its basically a very, very quiet beach town. We read that its a nice place to relax and it certainly was. We divided our time at Mission Beach between lying on the beach, something we actually had not made time to do up at Port Douglas and hiking, something Jess new I'd force her into, and something she, not being as keen on the outdoors as I, handled amazingly. To put our hike in perspective, I hiked roughly 100 miles in New Zealand and the most wildlife I saw fell in the birdlife category. I hiked for thirty minutes with Jess and we saw wallabies (small kangaroos), a three foot long Monitor Dragon, and last but certainly not least, a Cassowary. Now Cassowaries are indeed birds, but they are the size of a human and stand upright like an emu or ostrich and are aggressive and are known to attack humans with a talon on their foot. They are almost extinct and although sign postings all over Mission Beach warn drivers to be alert for the birds, sightings are rare. I'm breezing along the trail when I see a big freaking bird around the bend. Jess stayed behind me, and I more or less kept my distance and to my extreme displeasure failed to get a quality picture. Nevertheless, we saw one and it was a highlight.
Our final day was spent in Cairns city. A real sad place if you ask me. Its kind of got a Florida vibe with hotels lining the waterfront and some nice walkways near the water, but five blocks inland the city turns to vacant lots and low class establishments. In the end, we ate an amazing meal in Cairns and there is certainly enough to keep the passing traveller occupied for a day or so in the city, but we both were happy that we didn't base ourselves in the city. And with that our trip was over. We flew to Sydney and parted in the airport. Im happy Jess came and prompted me into spending a decent amount of time in Australia. I found the people extremely friendly and the country itself amazingly expansive.

Posted by efstein 05:25 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Craigeburn and Broken River

the last week of New Zealand

43 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

(written 10 days ago) but edited and published today.

If you read the previous post it should be evident that I began my return to the road after a break in Wanaka with unplanned and unmotivated travels. Yes I was a under the weather and the weather itself was terrible, and yes, I did not really have any agenda, so while I actually turned a downer of a situation into an amazing time in Karamea, the week itself was ultimately lackluster.

On last Sunday I was in Karamea with six days left before my departure to Sydney. The forecast was for a severe storm to roll into the west coast and I knew Sunday into Monday would be a wash. The question this presented was whether to lay low in Karamea, play chess, listen to music, hang around with our in-house artist, and more or less bum away another day in the rain, or alternatively, travel 300 kilometers over Arthur's Pass which cuts through the Southern Alps and get to central Canterbury for a few more days of exploring in the Alps.

In a way, laying low in Karamea motivated me to get out of there. I had just about killed my head cold and although I knew the storm would limit the amazing views you get when driving over Arthur's Pass I figured a rainy day is better spent in the car then sitting around the lodge. So I drove about six hours on Sunday through torrential rain to get to Springfield which lies about 35 miles beyond the pass in the central part of the south island. This area is very strange. You would think that the foothills leading up to the Alps would be dotted with pleasent little mountain villages to cater to the Christchurch weekend warriors escaping to the mountains or for the backpackers who wanted to explore this regional section of the Alps. Instead this area of the country is amazingly de-void of any real town. Springfield has a pub, a few lodges, a cafe, a dinky grocery store and the last gas station for 100 kilometers. After Springfield its the mountains, and to the west you have to travel 30 kilometers to find any semblence of a town to get real provisions. In a word, its isolated.

I arrived late Sunday, went to bed and awoke to find two things out - 1. the mountains had just received about a foot of snow and, snow was forecast for Monday into Tuesday, and 2. I had to drive 30 kilometers to find the closest ski shop to hire out gear. So Monday I did a hike in the morning and get my ski gear and food provisions for a few days in the afternoon. I also met Gareth, a Sydney guy, who was spending the entire winter in New Zealand chasing powder. He was a great person to have around, as he would get up around 7 am, go online and read every mountain report, the weather forecast, wind conditions, road conditions, etc. He had already looped around the ski fields in August and had a good sense of where the best snow would be.

The plan at this point was to ski Tuesday and Wednesday and return my car to Christchurch and relax in the city Thursday and Friday before flying out Saturday, this was not quite what happened. We awoke Tuesday to find all of the local mountains 'on hold' due to wind and snow throughout the day. The same mountains were closed Monday due to blizzard conditions, so everyone was itching to get up and see how much snow was up there. Disappointment reigned supreme. Then Gareth mentioned to me that Broken River, one of the top ski fields in the area would be having night skiing and that he was going. I have not skied at night since around 1995. Its usually something I associate with amateurish or youthful crowds, as you never really have much skiable terrain lit and apart from the novelty of skiing at night, its inherenly better to ski, you know, when you can see what's around you.
With that said, I figured this would be an adventure, and boy was I right.

Broken River is a club field. Club fields in New Zealand are non-profit privately owned mountains that offer very few, if any of the amenities most of us would expect at a ski mountain. No chairlifts, no groomed runs, no employees, no lodge with a warm fire, no shuttle buses or nice big parking lots for your car. Club fields are for people who want to earn their turns. To get to the top of Broken River I had to park my car at the highway, hitchhike up with someone with a four wheel car, affix chains to their wheels about halfway up, take what is called an inclinator (which is basically a train track up a steep mountain with a box car being pulled up the track, often seen in European towns) from the car park to the ticket office, walk twenty minutes up the mountain from the ticket office to the first rope tow, and then go through the most humbling experience of the trip, which was learning how to use a nutcracker to grasp the rope tow and get up the freaking mountain. All of this was done at night, in a raging snow storm with about 50 other people. The nutcracker is what it sounds like. Its basically a clamp. You move your poles to one arm, grasp the moving rope with the other, and when moving with the rope you flick the clamp with your other arm over the rope so that you can clamp on the rope. This procedure most be completed in about 5 seconds before the rope goes through the first pulley as you need the nutcracker in place before the you get to the pulley to avoid crushing your hand. I would often fail to get the nutcracker in place in time and be forced to let go and rejoin the queue.

So Im up there at the tow with a bunch of locals, and it takes me a few tries to get this nutcracker thing going. Meanwhile, the snow is amazing. Untouched, shin deep, and falling the whole time with only five dozen of us up there skiing on it. Yes, I needed to stick with people because nothings marked and you could ski right off a cliff if you don't know where your going, but it only added to the allure of the whole night. My beard was snow covered and frozen by 10 pm when they turned the tow off.

The next day we awake to find that all the snow hasdput the mountains on hold again....grrrrr. Your group had know expanded to myself, Gareth, and two brothers from Utah Ben and Shaun, both big time skiers. Finally at 11 we see that Craigeburn has opened for the day. Craigeburn has the reputation for being the toughest mountain in New Zealand - no beginner trails, and 3 rope tows that get you 1500 meters worth of vertical in a very quick time, with steep terrain everywhere. Now I had somewhat felt better with the nutcracker but had now realized that my ability to board a tow depended on the incline and speed of the tow. The day was great with the wind blowing the powder into gullies which allowed us to have fresh tracks each time down the mountain. Its true much of the mountain was closed for avalanche and wind issues, but the main front face was open and it had a ton of snow on it. Good day.

But still, I had only gotten two half-days really and wanted more considering the snow quality and the fact that I had nowhere to really be. Thus, with Gareth's insistence the four of us decided to head to Mt. Olympus on day three. Mt. Olympus is about an hour further from Springfield from Craigeburn and Broken River. Its access requires 20 miles of driving on an unpaved treacherous mountain road, followed by a chains only four wheel drive access road for two kilometers. Not only were we not sure about taking our rental cars on the 20 mile road, we had no way of getting to the top from the parking lot.....of course we knew we'd be able to hitchhike. The drive up was a lot of fun, we ended up with a crew of 5, and needed four cars as we were all heading in different directions at the end of the day, so we had a caravan of beat up, compact rental cars going back country driving at 7AM. The goal, Mt. Olympus, because it had remained closed for the prior three days due to the fact the final 2 kilometers to the base were snowed in. A bulldozer cleared the mountain road the night before and with chains in place we all got a ride up in various 4 wheel drive vehicles. I was not disappointed. When we finally got to the top of Mt. Olympus, we had the full mountain open, with about a foot of untouched snow waiting for us. Easily the best snow conditions of the 14 ski days I got. Of course, these club fields bring the experience factor along with the basic fun of skiing. In terms of actual skiing, I did only a fraction of what I would normally do on a day in Colorado or Vermont as the tow ropes do not give you long runs, and the use of the tow ropes makes for exhausting days that tire you out quicker. Less skiing, but the skiing you get is top notch.

After my day at Mt. Olympus I drove like a bandit to Christchurch to get my car returned 10 minutes before the rental car place was due to close for the day. From there I had the wonderful fortune of meeting Simon, a family friend, who had advised my parents that he and his wife would be happy to host me for my final 2 days in New Zealand. I was a bit worried, as I admittedly was coming off of three days of skiing and 10 weeks of backpacking, my appearance would to put it lightly, upset some people. Luckily, Simon and his wife were just wonderful in every way. Simon is an ex-pat from Connecticut and his wife Wendy is a native Kiwi. They met years ago due to a shared passion for rock climbing and skiing, so it goes without saying that they were more than understanding and down right appreciative of my efforts in the club fields the previous few days. They were just wonderful hosts and we talked a lot about outdoor climbing. So after arriving Thursday evening, I spent Friday relaxing in the quaint, Oxford Englandesque city of Christchurch before flying bright and early Saturday morning to Sydney to meet Jess.

Final thoughts on New Zealand to follow.

Posted by efstein 05:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Back to the middle of nowhere

sunny 65 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

So the past week has been a bit unsettled. I left the friendly confines of Wanaka and began the last stage of my New Zealand trip with plans to travel up the west coast of the south island. The idea was to get into glacier country where I had some friends who would host me, and then find some ways to kill my last 5 days before heading to Christchurch where I fly to Sydney from on Sept. 5th. The trip from Wanaka to the glaciers is about 300 kilometers up a one lane road with no meaningful civilization anywhere. You pass through Mt. Aspiring National Park which, in better weather, and with more energy I would have spent time hiking, but my trip coincided with a serious storm front. When a storm hits this stretch of coastline it stalls as it approaches the southern alps. The stretch of inland rainforest that connects the coast and the mountains is inundated with rain. The stat I read is that London, England gets about 600 millimeters of rain per year, this area gets 5,100 mm. Yea, its wet. So I got to the glacier town, Franz Josef, and met Dan and Johanna, a couple who I met in Wanaka who are presently living there and working to save money. It might be the worst place in the world to work the menial jobs offered to fledgling backpackers, but its what they chose. I stayed for 2 nights, nursed a head cold, and saw glimpses of sun through consistent sheets of rain. The weather and my health prevented me from doing any glacier hikes which is a disappointment, but I'll get over it.

I escaped Franz Josef and drove another 200 kilometers further north to the art town of Hokitika, and from there to a coastal tourist attraction called the "Pancake Rocks". I limestone creation of strange rocks formed after centuries of sea waves battering the coast. The weather this far north is more pleasant as the Alps vanish, and the storms can come off the coast and pass right over across the island. I found my way to this lodge, and struck gold by getting a night by myself in a self contained house in the rainforest just minutes from the ocean.

I awoke the next morning and vowed to push further north. I had to make some decisions at this point as I have about 6 days left before I arrive in Christchurch. North of the Pancake Rocks is the first real town of any kind on the west coast, Greymouth. Not a desirable place to stay, but an important transit hub with roads leading further north along the coast, and two other leading inland over the Alps. I chose to go further north and in fact, ended up driving the furthest anyone can drive up the coast to the town of Karamea. This place is 100 kilometers from the closest real town, and its not 100 easy kilometers. This place is separated from the rest of the coastline by a winding mountain road that twists through rainforest before depositing you in this little hamlet of a town. To go further north is only possible on foot. And of course, what do you find in a place like this other than a lodge such as this. Yup, its painted rainbow colors. Rongo Backpackers is foremost a travellers' lodge but also serves as an artist commune, organic farm, and best of all radio station. During the summer there are nightly bonfires but during the winter there is just me and the staff. Yup, I am the only person here the last two nights. My companions are a Parisian guy who has been living here for 10 months, a Japanese artist who is working on his latest pieces for an upcoming show and two Kiwis both of whom are, how shall I say this - are a bit lost. Actually one of them is a champion chess player. I have played about ten games of chess between my days in Wanaka and up here and I gotta say, its a great game. I have lost every game I have played, but this guy is good, like he is seriously very good. I caught him playing a game against himself the other day. I had a great day today, with temperatures in the mid 60s and some good day hiking. The lodge is filled with art and the radio station is the only station this side of the rainforest and plays music 24 hours a day. I DJed for 2 hours off my Ipod, its open to everyone who stays here and I had a kick getting to play some music for the 3 people and 1000 cows that are listening around these parts.

The takeaway is that Karamea is just what I needed. Back on my own, back in a beautiful and completely quiet area, and at a lodge that is empty apart from me. Yes it may be strange that Im spending my last weekend in New Zealand off the grid, but this country is best appreciated away from civilization. Its that simple. I may or may not stay here another few nights and bypass any opportunity to ski, depends on the weather.

Posted by efstein 06:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

People and stories

sunny 7 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

So today is Sunday and I am catching a bus to the closest airport where I'll pick up my last rental car of the New Zealand leg of this trip. I'll then be driving back to Wanaka and north to a town called Haast which lies on the west coast of the south island. From there I have ten days to drive up the coast and across the island to Christchurch where I fly out of in 13 days. I plan on spending most of my time in the Southern Alps where there are glaciers and additional ski fields to keep me busy.

The Wanaka leg of the trip has been wonderful. The whole atmosphere of this town falls nicely in between up and coming tourist town and remote, beautifully situated, local community. It does not have the build up of neighboring Queenstown and yet has just enough in terms of restaurants, cafes, and bars to keep me comfortable for my three weeks here. I'll give you guys a quick hit list of the people and general things that I've experienced the past three weeks.

General points -

A few things have happened in Wanaka that are side notes but worthy of mentioning. Now that I've stopped moving for three weeks I have picked up some bad or good habits (depending on your POV) that are lost when you are seriously backpacking every day. First, Chief among these is going out and drinking. Wanaka has a few great bars and one very fun club. With the friends I met over the three weeks here, the wine was flowing in ways it just did not when I was on the road. Second, I have had wifi in my lodge and I've had my iphone to play with. The simple ability to roll over in bed and check your email is something I think most Americans now know as commonplace reality, and it really was very nice not having this ability for the last six weeks. Its a love/hate thing, point is, Ive had the internet back on my fingertips, for better or worse. Book reading has taken a hit, largely because, you know, Ive had people to talk to. I finished a short story collection of Dosteovsky and am now back to Le Carre spy novels....midway through his masterpiece "A Perfect Spy".

People[b]

Well there was the Matterhorn crew. Apart from the natural revolving door feel of people who spend the normal 1-3 nights there were six or so people who were at the lodge when I arrived and are still there now.
Heath - an American guy from Vermont who is skiing down here for the season. Great skier and nice guy, who volunteers at the mountain for a free season pass. His home mountain is Jay Peak so hopefully I'll see him up there.

Sophie - a brit who is a children's ski instructor at Treble Cone. She is 30 and just got married, her and her husband are indefinitely staying in New Zealand. Its nice to have the older people around, as it makes me feel a bit less weird having late 20s and 30 something backpackers to talk to.

German girls - Isabel, Tabia, and Kristina - germans are an interesting breed, as I'll get into some more below. These girls are backpacking around and got stuck in Wanaka where they worked for free accommodation at the lodge the last five weeks. It took awhile to actually get to know them, but they were all very nice and became integral parts of our communal dinners as their German food was quite good. They also helped facilitate many of our drinking nights.

Melissa - a young French-Canadian from Montreal who came down to snowboard for the season. She arrived almost the same day as me and we hung out with Sophie and Heath for many dinners.

Apart from this crew we'd have good people stop in for 4 or 5 nights who would inevitable join forces with us. I wont deny that staying in the lodge for an extended period of time gives you that seniority feeling that comes with any territory that you 'feel' like you kind of have rights to. People obviously realized that we were the long-timers, which is inherently a dorky thing to say, but it was nice to have a little clique. This weekend I am leaving, the Germans left yesterday and Sophie is out in one week. Backpacking cliques are not meant to last.

Peter and Donna - The new managers of the lodge are worth a quick mention. Peter is 45, and has 2 foot long dreadlocks, Donna is his new wife (both second marriages). They are extremely nice people who, if I had to guess, are using this lodge as kind of a new adventure for both of them as a means of starting out a new life together. Peter is the quieter one, who works as a builder in town and is an ex-pat Brit, who has lived in NZ for 15 years. Donna strikes me as a partier. I mean, they both still put down a few bottles here and there, and its just nice to see them together and putting all of their energy into re-vitalizing the lodge.

Max the German - Max is a younger guy who stopped into the lodge about two weeks ago. He looks like one of the Aryan henchman you'd see in James Bond film, cast as the main villian's muscular body guard. I can make a joke about the Third Reich, but it would probably be in bad taste, so I'll just paint this picture. He is a mountaineer and a cyclist who, when we met, was 700 kilometers into a 2,500 kilometer bike trip around the south island. Yea, the kid is biking around the mountains down here, doing about 7 hours a day on the road. He inserted himself into our little group at the lodge and before I knew it he had invited himself to come skiing with me the following day. Turned out to be great, as he kept up admirably and we had a good day skiing the back country which is best done with someone else. What I kept thinking was how Max the German was really the person I wish I had met to be my travel partner. He is a serious mountaineer and had summited a few mountains I wish I had done on the North Island. Of course, he had a partner to the climbs with, which I never found. Instead I got Ryan the Jew, who if you read back a few posts was about as far from a german aryan muscular sports guy as possible.

Fitz and one-armed Peter - This is a good one. I met Fitz and one-armed Peter on the Saddle Chair at Treble Cone. Fitz is 64, sports a poorly trimmed mustache, and talks to you as if you've known him your entire life. By this I mean, he'll reference his buddies and places and things he's done even though I have no idea who or where he's talking about. He lives in Utah, and skis Snowbird and Alta 130 days out of the year. He is the quintessential life long ski bum. He moved from Maine to go to Vail University in the last 60s, bought some property, and has lived off those investments the rest of his life. All he lives to do is ski, and in the last ten years he has become a ski racer on the elder circuit, which is how he met Peter, while he was racing in NZ.

Peter is a Kiwi and has one-arm, due to a car accident when he was two. What he lacks in appendages he makes up for in money. He and his wife own New Zealand's most successful sushi chain restaurant. He is an adventurer and life long skier who races in the handicap races.

So I met these two guys on the chair, Fitz starts talking incoherently about skiing in Utah, he realizes I am an American and as we get off the chair, Fitz is still talking so they invite me to do a run with them. Two hours later, and I've skied all afternoon with these two guys in their sixties and really am not quite sure what to make of either of them. Peter is about to call it a day, so they invite me back to Peter's Porsche Cayenne (the Porsche sport utiilty vehicle), for a few beers before heading back to Wanaka. I oblige, figuring I can bypass a few runs for this experience. I got to the Porsche we unload our gear, and Peter opens up his cooler filled with Heineken's and wine. It dawns on me that Peter is an important fellow as we end up going into Treble Cone's front office and having a beer with the mountain director. It also turns out that not only is Peter a millionaire, one-armed skier, he also happens to have a drinking problem. One thing leads to another, and Im back at Pete's mansion in Wanaka where I hang out with Fitz before heading back to the lodge for dinner. The takeaway from the whole thing is that Peter is a millionaire who likes doing this stuff. He tells me that he loves meeting the travelers in Wanaka and showing them a good time. Yes, its a bit strange that I met a one-armed old guy who in the course of an afternoon decides to go on a bender with me, but apparently, he does this thing often. Fitz was the strange guy who has seen just a few too many sunrises through bloodshot eyes, and can't stop talking about that epic powder day he got in 1984. Point is, good times were had.

There were many other people that made the time in Wanaka memorable. As for the total take away, I wanted to spend time in a ski town because I regret never having lived a full winter on a mountain. In the end, the feeling I now have departing Wanaka is that three weeks is not enough, a full season may not be enough, and ultimately when I see people like Fitz I pause and wonder if I can do it, if I could just live in the middle of nowhere and ski forever. Despite the fact that I am like a pig in shit whenever I am skiing I still do not think I could handle the isolation. Even Wanaka which has its array of culture, bored me after awhile. I can't really answer the question that I pose. I love it out in the mountains, and really could delete the rest of my itinerary and just stay here for another four weeks, but at the same time, I do not really want to be Fitz in 30 years.

A last note on photos, I have been waiting to fill my 2GB memory card before burning pics to a CD, which only then allows me to post them online. Since I have had very little to shoot apart from the town and the ski mountain, pics are going to have to wait. They'll be up soon.

Posted by efstein 16:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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