Spring Break Sailing Adventure!

Sailing Trip

Just after January break my roommate Matt brought up the idea of sailing for spring break. He had suggested this a few years ago but it never amounted to anything. This year was very different. We are all seniors and needed an adventure. Matt elaborated saying it would be epic to buy a sailboat, drive it down to Florida and sail for the week. We have friends in Tampa, so the starting point was set for Tampa Bay. There were some skeptics but 3 other guys we on board, then there were 5.

Immediately Matt and I started searching for the best way to do this. We clicked through every craigslist listing within 200 miles of Elon. We started narrowing down what kind of boat we needed for 5 guys and what price range we were looking at. Obviously we had a fairly limited budget and really weren’t looking at anything over $3000. Seeing that none of us had owned a sailboat or really spent a ton of time on a small boat, this was going to be a learning experience. Thankfully Taylor and Matt had some knowledge about how to sail.

After narrowing our search down to boat above 20 feet with a trailer we had a few potentials. So we went to look at them. I went and looked at one boat in Raleigh. It wasn’t in perfect shape but that was alright with us, but once Matt came and looked at it with me we noticed a lot of issues we didn’t want to deal with, like a bent mast, broken trailer, etc. That boat was out. After calling several other people and thinking about spending more money than we wanted to, we found the one.

The craigslist ad didn’t have much information, but it looked to be alright. We drove 2 hours up I-85 towards Virginia with our fingers crossed. After looking at the boat inside and out, this was what we were looking for. $1250 got us a 1977 23’ North American Spirit with a rusty old trailer. We knew that as soon as we came home with a boat the skeptics would have to bite their tongues. After visiting the local ATM and paying all in $20s we drove away with our boat. The boat was a joint investment between Matt and I to keep it simple so 5 people didn’t own a boat, but making it so one person didn’t have all the say. It worked out.

We had exactly one month from purchase until it was to be floating in Tampa Bay. We quickly made a to-do list which grew and grew and grew, both in time and cost. But we were motivated by the idea of it. Here is a short list of the things we had to get done. License and title both boat and trailer, repair wood on outside of boat, buy a motor, fix the electrical (nothing worked), replace the moldy carpet, install a marine radio and antenna, fix the mast support mounting, buy an anchor, buy dock fenders and lines. That’s just the short list. The costs soon added up, but we were still hovering around our first cost estimates.

Having a 23’ sailboat in our driveway was certainly interesting. In addition to Matt’s horse trailer and my utility trailer, about 5 bicycles, and usually some kayaks, it was a hobby haven. Talking with neighbors, friends, and coworkers about our planned trip was always fun. Many didn’t believe us, then I’d show them the boat, others were excited or jealous. It was a fun distraction.

Several weeks went by and progress was being made. Justin was busy planning out and researching our route. Matt had got several navigational maps which helped greatly on the trip. But in all reality we were still winging it pretty good. We also gave each other pirate rolls. I was the boat swain. Taylor was a powder monkey. Andrew was quarter master. Matt was captain. Justin was navigation master.

I was responsible for fixing the electronics and making sure the motor we found worked. Thankfully the wiring for the lights and bilge pump were mostly there, but it was still a task making sure everything worked. We drove off with the front navigation light unattached and lost that but besides that everything came together just fine. My other task was to figure out why the outboard motor we bought wasn’t working. I’m no mechanic, but I can get frustrated enough to focus on fixing it. We bought a little 4.5hp motor to ideally just be used to get us in and out of port. However the first time we took the boat out for a test run, the motor would start then just cut off. I must have pulled the start cord 500 times out on the lake. When we got back home I found a barrel full of water to continue trouble shooting. After tampering with everything from the gas cap on the tank, to the lines, to the water level, I finally took the time to just stare at it for a while. I felt dumb once I figured it out. The tell-tale line, to flush the water out wasn’t connected. Instead the water was spraying directly on the spark plug and shorting it out. After connecting a line that was already there, the motor ran perfectly. My jobs were finished just in time for me to head to Florida to see Chelsie for a few days before spring break. We went diving in Panama City, FL and started to plan our wedding!

When I left on Wednesday the to-do list was still fairly long, but I knew my roommates would get it finished, hopefully! The guys trailered down from North Carolina on Saturday night and picked me up in Florida and continued to Tampa. We spent the night with a few guys who used to be on the Elon XC team. There were 12 people there for the night in a 2 bedroom apartment, it was fun and we were exhausted. We needed our sleep as our sailing endeavor began the next morning.

Day 1 –

El Fiesto, from Burrito, Rio Grande was ready to sail. The boat was going to be a party, so La Fiesta was suggested for the name, but since it was 5 guys, a feminine name wasn’t appropriate. El Fiesto was the perfect fit, the misspelling only helped.

We set sail early afternoon and motored out into Tampa Bay. The winds were fairly dead but we attempted to sail anyways. It was a great accomplishment to be sailing in Florida just one month after buying this boat. We ended up motoring out towards the Skyway Bridge and once we made it under it found some more favorable winds. The waves we big too but we were hitting over 10 mph under sail, slightly better than the 6 mph the 4.5 outboard could push us at.

Once out in the bay we decided to blow up our dinghy, or 4 person raft. I bought this more for convenience if we wanted to go ashore and also for emergency. It was huge. Almost half the length of our boat. Better yet, after we inflated it and put it behind our it nearly dove underwater and slowed our boat to a crawl. So we strapped it to the side of the boat. I’m sure it looked rather ridiculous.

Justin was steering and testing the boats limits. The boat has a degree dial which measures the angle of tilt. Anywhere from 0-10 is comfortable either direction. With the waves and aggressive steering, along with pressure from me, Justin was creeping up into the 30 degrees area. The people lying down inside were being tossed around slightly. It was fun.

We left the bay and started heading down the intra-coastal waterway. We were new to the navigational buoys and quickly realized why there were there. Justin was still steering and Matt and I were resting inside. Andrew and Taylor were chilling outside. The weather was gorgeous all day. Next thing we feel the boat hitting something. Matt quickly sits up and the face expression was priceless. Everyone quickly realized we had hit a sandbar. Matt and I jumped overboard and started pushing the boat. The waves were not helping. After some chaos we pushed the boat back into deeper water and were on our way again. I distinctly remember Matt saying weeks before that running around was not a concern of his, well that was proven wrong, although it wasn’t a huge hassle.

Probably the most amusing story of the trip involved the first draw bridge we approached. None of us had used the VHF radio before and had no idea how to call the bridge for an opening. We were listening to the radio to learn from other people but had to wing it. We looked on the map and the bridge coming up was listed at “Bascule Bridge” which we assumed to be the name. So we got on the radio: “Bascule Bridge, Bascule Bridge, this is El Fiesto requesting an opening”… nothing. So we try again. Nothing again. We start searching through the books about how to contact a bridge and we realize that the bridge is actually called Anna Maria Island Bridge and bascule bridge is the type. So our radio message was going out to every draw bridge within a 20 mile radius. Needless to say we made it through the bridge and I can only imagine how hard the bridge master laughed when he saw the name of our boat.

We docked after the second draw bridge about 30 miles from our starting point. We stay in Bradenton Beach. We walked downtown and got dinner at The Beach House right by the water. We settled in for the night. 5 dudes in a 4 person sailboat.

Day 2 –

We woke up to the speedboat next to us idling next to us, filling our boat with exhaust. Such a great way to wake up. The 3 XC guys went for a morning run, while I charged the battery and organized the boat a little. We settled the docking fee and headed south. One of the freshman XC girls was vacationing in Longboat Key and we stopped in to say hello. We left the ICW and headed for the Gulf of Mexico. We had to pass under one more draw bridge, New Pass Bridge. We called ahead but the bridge was having some troubles. Finally after about 5 minutes of attempted openings it opened. The bridge master asked if we were coming back through later, we said no, he chuckled and said it was probably for the best.

After going under the bridge we steered over to a shallow part and decided to try and work on the swingboard our boat had. We have a fixed shoal keel which has a swing board inside of it. We couldn’t get it to crank down, so we jumped overboard and tried pulling it down. The water was extremely clear and the blue. We didn’t have any luck getting the board down so we hoped for no huge waves or strong winds!

And then we were in the Gulf! Open water as far as we could see was to our west. We attempted to sail, but the winds really weren’t working. After fooling around for an hour or so we decided to motor for a bit. After a good bit of lazy relaxing on the boat we made it to Venice. The tide was working against us as we motored into Venice. The pass had 3-4 foot waves and water rolling out to the sea. It was perhaps the rockiest part of the trip. We made it in and docked at The Crow’s Nest.

The best part about the Crow’s Nest was they had free bicycles for us to use! After determining that the restaurant on site was a little too pricey and elderly, we asked about other options. We hopped on the rusty beach cruisers and rode a few miles into downtown Venice. We ate outside at Pineapples. Their inside dining was the darkest restaurant I’ve ever seen. Perhaps even darker than candlelight. Outside was a little better. Musician John Reno was playing and he had some good tracks. He was similar to Jimmy Buffett and wrote some originals too. One of his tracks had the line “It’s cheaper to keep her than leave her”, another was about road rage. He also had a song about S.P.O.R.E or stupid people on rental equipment.  Entertaining music over dinner. We biked back in the dark down tree lined roads and had an awesome time singing “Piano Man”.

Day 3 –

The guys went out on their morning run while Taylor and I tended to the boat. I filled up the gas and talked to the parrot in the dock master’s office. Taylor deflated our massive dinghy and folded it back up.

The guys made it back and we headed back out to the Gulf. Our destination for the night was Boca Grande. We navigated our way south, avoiding the thousands of crab pots scattered off the coast. We enjoyed a long day of relaxation. The other guys soaked up the sun as I lathered on the sun screen.

As we got closer to Boca Grande we radioed into the marinas to reserve a slip. Both of the places said they were full. We weren’t too excited about this, but thought we’d go double check. Matt and Andrew had to do another afternoon run and an idea popped into their head. What if we drop them off at the beach, they run to the marinas, and we continue around the bottom of the island and up to the marinas. This was going to be an awesome amphibious assault.

We directed El Fiesto toward the shore and the guys got ready. Just off shore they jumped in with their shoes over their heads and ran up the beach as we continued heading south. Shortly after that Matt called and informed us he sweet talked Widden’s Marina  into letting us stay the night. We docked our boat next to “Hey Moma” and several other local fishing boats and went for a stroll around the island.

Boca Grande for those who haven’t been there is a place that seems stuck in the 1950s. It is extremely nice but certainly for upper class white people. Widden’s was where the working class docked their boats, whereas Boca Grande Marina was for the yachts. We went in search for a place for dinner and just to explore. We walked past the Pink Elephant and the Loose Caboose, but found ourselves at Sisters, a pizza joint. During our walk we saw a dolphin chasing fish around a channel, which was entertaining.

After dinner we made our way to the only bar on the island open past 8pm, perhaps the only place open past 8, Temptations. It was empty except for this couple in their late 60s, Ralph and Erving, a couple from Germany who had retired to Boca Grande. They were a few bottles of wine deep and extremely nice to talk to. Ralph came to the US on a boat in 1963 with $75 in his pocket and worked in the shipping business. He eventually owned his own business and sold it to someone in Texas. To top that he ended up suing them for another half million because he didn’t get the job they had promised him during the deal. What a boss. His wife was great too. She attempted to guess all of our heritages and wasn’t half bad.

Both of them were extremely excited about our sailing trip and happy to see college students out doing adventurous things. Ralph ended up buying us a round and shooting the breeze with us for over an hour. We talked about everything from education to the shrinking work force in this country. They were awesome and even welcomed us to dinner any time we were back in Boca Grande.

Towards the end of the evening a girl just a few years older than us came in. Her name was Emily and she was from New Hampshire and ran XC. She was another great person to talk to. She was a mystery. Her story was that she came down to Boca to nanny her aunt’s kids and then met her husband, and then got divorced and now owns two shops on the island. We all agreed that she needed to get off Boca before she went crazy and find a good guy.

We walked back to our end of the island and settled into El Fiesto for the night.

Day 4 –

Today started with everyone going for a run. Boca was a very nice place to run, flat but pretty. Obviously the XC guys ran a little further than me… After we got to experience Widden’s idea of a shower, basically a garden hose up over a rafter. Well it was slightly better than that but pretty close.

We set our course for Cabbage Key. Its claim to fame is that Jimmy Buffett supposedly wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” after eating there. Regardless of whether that is true or not, it was a great little island. We got lunch and experienced the Cabbage Creeper, their signature drink.

We took a stroll around the island and up the water tower and then headed back out. On the way back up to Boca Grande pass we dropped anchor near Cayo Costa island. It is a state park and has very clear sandy waters. It was how I pictured this trip to be.

We had been  under sail most of the day and the winds were certainly in our favor. We crept back through the pass. Justin and I were feeling nature calling, so we prepared for another amphibious assault. This time the beach was rather crowded. So I can only imaging people’s thoughts when a sailboat came within 15 feet of shore and two guys jumped off, swam to shore, and ran up the beach. Once we had finished our business, we ran around the point and jumped back in the water and swam back out to the boat. By this time the boat was moving and it was a challenge to grab ahold of the boat, but we managed. Again, people on the beach must have been curious as to what was going on.

We were headed back north. Our first truly successful sailing day. We had our destination set for Stump Pass. Our navigational book had us slightly concerned about Stump Pass because it said “pass should only be attempted by those with local knowledge as there are no navigational aids. Once we made it to the pass, we weren’t as concerned. We made it to the marina with no issues.

The Stump Pass Marina was an interesting place. There were hardly any boats in the water, but two huge boat storage places. The place seemed nice, but had nothing around it. It had a tiki bar/restaurant where we got cheap drinks for Thirsty Thursday. One person told us about another bar down the road “a half mile” that had cheap tacos and live music. Well we walked down the road over a mile and found the place they talked about. We were the talk of the town. Several people asked us about our trip. We got some ice cream for the walk home. We settled in for the night.

Day 5 –

We headed back out stump pass and continued north. The wind was blowing, but coming from the direction we wanted to travel. We tried zig-zagging but it was going to take over 12 hours to go anywhere, and we didn’t really have the patients for that. Once we made it up to Venice we cut back into the ICW and made our way up towards Sarasota.

We started calling marinas and everyone was full again. Granted it was Friday night, but one place had over 300 slips! Finally we started calling the less popular places in the book and found a slip outside the Hyatt hotel in Sarasota.

We had to make a few more draw bridges open up for us. This was always a fun experience, because we started to calculate just how many people we were backing up! By this time we had gotten a hang of how to radio in to the bridges. Also it was nice to see some of the controllers had a sense of humor.

We made it to Sarasota fairly early. We cruised into the Hyatt and docked up. Our boat certainly seemed out of place at this 4 star resort. It didn’t take us long to settle right in. We were in the pool and using the laundry in no time. El Fiesto didn’t mind being parked near some much more expensive yachts.

We strolled downtown, which was fun because I had been to Sarasota before. We ended up eating at Barnacle Bills which had the most extensive menu and beer list I’ve seen in a long time. After dinner we went to the convenience store and got some beer and headed back to our dock. We sat on the floating dock admiring the skyline and the Ritz across the harbor and killed time. Around midnight we crawled into bed.

Day 6 –

The boys went out for their long run, over 15 miles. This gave me time to clean the boat and work on the motor which broke the yesterday. The pull string lost its spring, it would pull out but then had to be manually wound back in. This was extremely annoying and proved troublesome. Taylor took a taxi to the gas station to fill the tank up.

We finally got the motor going and started our trip back towards Tampa, over 50 miles away, our longest day yet. And the wind wasn’t blowing very strong. We gave sailing a try and shut the motor off. We weren’t moving very fast so we decided we would motor for a bit, only problem was we couldn’t get the motor going. Thankfully during the hour we spent trying to fix the spring, the wind was still pushing us in the right direction. Finally we found the missing screw and replaced it and she started right up. After two more draw bridges we were back in Tampa Bay. Although it was the home stretch we still had over 20 miles to cover.

We pulled into Davis Island harbor just after sunset and began taking down the sails and rigging. Matt got the truck and trailer and in no time we were taking the mast down and heading back to Rick’s place in Tampa for the night. Thus concluding our sailing trip! Felt like much more than 5 days, in an awesome way.

Day 7 –

The long drive home. Tampa to Elon. 14 hours going 55 mph.

 

This was the perfect senior year spring break. An awesome way to round out college. A week with 4 friends out on the ocean, winging it, on a sailboat we bought a month ago. I am so happy that Chelsie and I seriously want to incorporate a sailboat into our lives at some point. Hopefully a catamaran that can cover some serious distance. Can’t wait. This was a perfect way to introduce myself to sailing. Now all we have to do is complete the circle and sell the boat! Any takers?

To see photos from the trip… look here.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2107540&id=1561830004&l=787320e0c8

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Mom’s Trip to NZ

After getting back from the North Island, Chelsie and I were out of our apartment and staying at a holiday park. We both had pretty big to do lists and not really having a place to spread out made it difficult. My GPS was stolen from a friend’s car so I needed to report that and file an insurance claim. We also needed to repack bags and get everything sorted out for my Mom’s trip.

On Saturday Anne and my Mom arrived. Anne’s carry-on bag was taken from her in Chicago and hadn’t been seen since. It would take over a week for it finally to arrive in New Zealand. This sucked for her and us because her sleep machine to help with snoring was in the bag! At least she had it for the last part of the trip.

We loaded up the car and spent a little time down town. We were headed for Kaikoura that night, a 2 hour drive, which we did mostly in the dark. Needless to say the passengers passed out on the trip up! We arrived later than the hostel was open… New Zealand seems to shut down after 5pm or so. So we had to get a more expensive hotel. Thankfully in the morning we checked in with the hostel and they apologized and we weren’t charged.

The next morning we headed north up to Picton. We stopped along the way to see the seal colony and also at The Montana Winery. Anne had to say she tried some NZ wine. Chelsie also enjoyed the tasting. My Mom wasn’t quiet as big of fan!

We arrived in Picton early afternoon and checked into our apartment. We then took a stroll around the small marina town and enjoyed the blue skies!

The next morning Chelsie and I went kayaking in the Marborough Sounds and it was great. It was a bit cloudy, but still great sights. The wind picked up on the way back into the marina and the waves were a bit choppy. We got to see seals and plenty of birds. We had lunch down the Grove Arm inlet and had a flock of ducks and a pukeho begging for crumbs!

That night we drove over to Nelson along some curvy roads. We were only there for the night and the next morning we were on our way to Hanmer Springs, about 4 hours through the mountains. The sky was clear again and the mountains snow covered. That night we went to the hot springs and relaxed.

The next morning was chilly but Chelsie and I got up to run anyways. The light frost and snowy peaks made for a nice run. Later in the morning we all had appointments at the Spa. Three of us got full body massages and my Mom got a pedicure. It was relaxing to say the least! That afternoon we were back to Christchurch.

Chelsie and I had some running around to do… My arcadia group had put together a bunch of stuff to give the next group and we had to go to the storage unit to get all that. I also had to figure out Eric Lines’ car. A group of students in the next group ended up buying it. Which made my life a little less stressful! My to-do list was nearly finished! I could start enjoying the travels!

The next morning we caught a flight down to Queenstown. Another gorgeous day; perfect for bungee jumping! We weren’t holding back either. We ended up doing the second highest bungee in the world at 440 ft and the world’s highest swing! Both were a blast! I can’t express enough how amazing the feeling of freefall is! Thankfully there is a bungee to stop you from hitting the riverbed below! We finished the day off with a Fergburger!

Instead of staying in Queenstown that night, we decided to drive to Milford Sound. Most of the drive was in the dark, but we’d be doing the same trip the next day, so nothing lost. We settled into the Milford Lodge for the night.

The next morning we had a cruise to catch! This would be my third time visiting Milford, but each time was different. We got perfectly blue skies today! With only 10 people on the boat, it was a very personal cruise. We made it all the way out to the Tasman Sea and saw an amazing sight! There were Southern Right Whales entering the fiord! The captain said this was only the 10th time in over 20 years he had seen whales! It was very cool. Made the cruise feel very special!

From Milford we headed back to Queenstown. Back to the Pinewood lodge for a few days! The next morning Chelsie and I were headed up to the ski fields. We rented some skis and boots, which happened to be nicer than what I own at home! We made it up to the mountain and again the weather was amazing! Bright blue skis and just above freezing made for a great day of skiing! It’s not every day do you ski in July.

My Mom and Anne went on the Shotover Jet Boat that morning and strolled around the town during the afternoon. We got a nice dinner that night and headed back to our room. Chels and I went for another chilly run by the lake in the morning. Jane stopped by to say goodbye and I gave her the present the arcadia group had made her. We were a truly awesome group and we wanted to give her something to really remember us by. She’ll be visiting the states in the fall and I’m sure plenty of us will be tracking her down!

Next we went up the gondola and did some luge rides. Anne had planned on going paragliding but it wasn’t a windy enough day… From there we started our drive towards Dunedin. The light began to fade and before long there was some snoring from the back seat. Our hotel was very nice and we settled in quiet nicely. The next morning we went out to explore the Otago Peninsula and hoped to see penguins and albatross. We didn’t end up seeing either, but had some great views instead. The next stop was the Cadbury factory tour! We got plenty of samples and even got some liquid chocolate. We also went and checked out the “world’s steepest road”. Which of course I had to drive up, and yes it was very steep!

Our trip was getting closer to the end. That afternoon we drove back to Christchurch, stopping at the Moreki boulders along the way.

We stayed at Hotel So in Christchurch, a very modern style hotel  complete with a glass bathroom that resembled a space capsule! After repacking bags and exchanging all my New Zealand currency we headed to the airport. Before we left we visited the Antarctic Center. We got to see penguins and experience a blizzard. We also rode in the Hagglund. Lots of fun!

And that was that. It was time to leave New Zealand behind and start the journey home! We had another mini vacation left in Fiji though! Let the sunshine and ocean views begin!

Farewell New Zealand… It has been wonderful.

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North Island

It became a race against the clock as we moved towards our departure time. With only 10 minutes to catch the bus we were throwing things into that back of Austin’s car and clearing out my room. It was a little chaotic running for the bus, but we made it. I was on the group flight to Auckland, because it was already paid for. So was the trip to LA, but considering I wasn’t leaving, that seat wasn’t being occupied… Chelsie caught the cheaper Jetstar flight just a few minutes later. Once in Auckland the group goodbyes happened. Everyone else was continuing on to LA and we parted ways. It wasn’t that difficult as we were all fairly confident we would see each other again. Well at least the people who wanted to see each other again!

Nora stuck around because she was WOOFing in the Northland the next week before heading home. I went off to get the rental car and she waited for Chelsie. We drove down town and stayed with my friend Lowry instead of paying for a hotel. After dinner we went and got some gelato. When we came back there was a very loud party in the living room we were intending on crashing in. After playing cards down stairs for a while, they dispersed and we were able to pass out.

The next morning we drove Nora to get here rental car and parted ways. She goes to school just a few hours away, so we’ll see each other again probably this fall. Chelsie and I were headed off to the Cormandel Peninsula. We added her to the rental car contract so she even got to drive some! This car has been the only automatic we’ve had since being here! Being that Andrew has my GPS, we rented one, even though we could probably have found out way…

We made our way up the east coast of the Cormandel and ended up at Hot Water Beach. It is exactly what the name suggests. When the tide is out you can dig in the beach and find thermally warmed water. It was very hot! But very unique. We dug a little pool and lounged around in it for a bit.

After trying to get as much sand off as possible, we drove back down the coast and headed for Tauranga. We found a parking lot right on the water that didn’t have any “No camping” or “No overnight parking” signs, so we set up camp. Our car is a wagon, so fold the back seats down and you have yourself (and Chelsie) and bed! We sat outside a bar with heat lamps for a while and played cards. We eventually crawled into bed, around 9pm or so!

The next morning we drove out of town and found a little park to have breakfast in. A big bowl of oatmeal later, we were back on the road. This time we were headed for Rotorua. We could smell the town before we got there. Rotorua is home to sulfur hot springs and it smells like rotten eggs. Both of us had been there before so we got back on the road and drove to Taupo. We ate lunch on the edge of the lake. After we parked we walked down to the marina and went boat shopping. There weren’t that many nice sailboats, but we did see a sea plane I wouldn’t mind having! We cooked up some grille cheeses and got back on the road.

We drove along the lake for a while, then continued on down Highway 1 along Desert Road. This is a very brown stretch of highway that gets lots of snow in the winter, but there wasn’t any now for some reason. We could see the Tongario volcano off to the right and it was covered with snow. We were headed for Oakahue national park and considered getting a hostel for the night. There wasn’t anything for less than 60 bucks, so we instead headed for the free DOC campsite up the road. After showering and eating dinner at a backpackers, where we were offered apple pie and ice cream! We settled down at the campsite.

The next morning we drove up to see the ski mountain. While cooking breakfast it seemed that half the town and all of their closest friends were driving up the road to the mountain. See that it was well above freezing where we were and it was a cloudy/rainy day, I wasn’t expecting the mountain to be anything impressive. The road twisted and turned it way to the top, where it was near whiteout conditions. The cars were packed in the parking lot and visibility was almost zero. Yet people were still skiing. I surely wasn’t about to get on a ski lift, so we headed back down and drove south.

We made it down to Wanganui by lunchtime. While driving in Chelsie made an amazing discovery. There was the most amazing play ground / children’s park I have ever seen. It was right on the banks of Wanganui River and even had gas grilles we could cook some grilled cheese on. It was amazing to see what kind of play place could be built without the strict American rules and where people weren’t sue happy. After playing for well over an hour and taking some 80 pictures, we continued on.

We drove around the town a little bit, but were soon back on the road for Wellington.

We made it into Wellington before sunset, but didn’t know where we were going to stay. After texting all the people I had numbers for I finally just swung by the place I had stayed before. Thankfully someone was there and we could crash there for the night. We took a stroll by the waterfront but ended up going to sleep pretty early.

The next morning we went for a run. The Wellington hills put a damper on my desire to continue running, but I suppose it was a good change. After the run we packed up the car and went down to the national museum. I had been there before but didn’t have much time to check out all the exhibits. A random fire drill cut our time short, but we still did get to explore quite a bit.

We had scheduled to return the car at the airport branch and had prepaid fuel, so were returning it on empty. Unfortunately after driving to the airport branch, we were informed that it was closed for remodeling and we had to return in the city. As our gas gauge sunk lower and our flight grew nearer we drove back to the city, and eventually made it back out to the airport. Back to Christchurch we went. My Mom and Aunt were due to arrive in a few days, and we had a big to-do list beforehand.

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Exams

Friday after getting back from Queenstown I had my Management exam, and did fine. I then had 5 days to study for 3 exams, one of which was open notes, so really only two exams. My next exam was on Wednesday and was geography. A class I had originally expected to be great, but once I realized it was with 5 teachers and I only liked the style of one of them, it quickly lost its appeal. However studying for it wasn’t very difficult as it was mostly common sense and stuff I had gone over in over environmental studies classes. I think I did alright on that exam too. On Thursday I had my Maori exam. It was 4 questions and we were allowed to use our notes. Enough said, I did fine. Friday was my tough one. It was my history class Kiwi Culture exam. My roommate was in the class too and she had originally done more studying for it, but I crammed last minute and was spouting off dates and quotes and info before the exam. I cranked out 7 ½ pages and was the first to finish. I got all the information down and hope I pulled at least a C! I can honestly say this teacher was the worst I have ever had and I wasn’t alone in thinking that, so who knows how she’ll grade. I was done, and very excited about it!

Now came the hard part, packing and shifting my things around. Chelsie and I had another north island trip coming up and we had to have everything out of the apartment before then. I got a small storage unit just down the road and we had been moving things there when we could. All the arcadia students decided to leave the new students stuff we didn’t want to take home or donate, so all that went into storage as well.

All my roommates and Chels and I went out to dinner on Saturday night as a final group outing. There were plenty of celebrations happening around Ilam Village Saturday night too, so it was a late night. The good byes began with Andrew who left for the airport at 5 am and managed to stay up all night. In his daze he also managed to pack my GPS I had let him borrow earlier, so that went back to the states with him. This put a damper on the travel plans for the north island, but we’ll survive. Thankfully I know the south island roads well enough to get around on my Mom’s trip.

Next to head out was Austin. We drove him to the airport around 10 and bid him farewell. Along with Austin leaving I was handed the responsibility of selling his car… ha. It didn’t sell while he was here and considering I had a few more weeks I was to give it a shot. We’ll see how that works.

I was done at Ilam Village and it was time for our next adventure. Driving from Auckland to Wellington.

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West Coast Relocation

Just before the Northland trip I realized just how spread out my exams were. I had one the Friday after we got back, then nothing for another 5 days. The first test was going to be easy, so I through why not fit another little trip in! I knew that Jucy needed a lot of cars relocated to Queenstown so I booked one. Originally Chels wasn’t going to make it over to the glaciers but this trip was going to solve that. I got cheap flights back from Queenstown the day before my exam and booked a night at the Pinewood Lodge in Queenstown.

We got back from the Northland at 2pm on Monday and I went over to pick up the car. My room mate had been on the flight back from Auckland so we gave him a ride home. Surprise surprise the car we were taking to Queenstown was the tiny silver car we’d had on the last two trips! This one had roof racks though.

A few of my friends wanted a ride up into Arthurs pass, so we waited for Austin to finish up his exam. Andrew, Joe, Austin, Chels, and I packed into the TINY car. This car is comparable to a 4 door smart car. It has very limited trunk space, and fits 2 in the back uncomfortably, yet we fit 5 people total. The three guys were going on a hike the next day so had full camping packs with them. We started the trip off with Andrews strapped to the roof, until it started raining. I was presently surprised at how well the car handled the load.

We all camped together at the first campsite we’d ever stay at in New Zealand. It was awesome being back there with some of the same people I had started it all with. It was a very cold night. Chelsie got the pleasure of trying out my brand new down sleeping by, while I shivered in the slightly older and colder bag…

The next morning we dropped the guys off at the bottom of Avalanche Peak and we continued towards the west coast. We stopped in Hokitika for some fudge and to check out the coast. Next stop was Franz Josef glacier. We arrived by early afternoon and started walking up towards the glacier. We decided to ignore the ‘do not cross’ signs and went and touched the glacier. You don’t come this far and just look at them and I certainly wasn’t going to pay 90 bucks to have someone walk with me on them. This fit perfectly. I was a bit nervous, but Chels made me keep going; it was certainly worth it.

We drove a few miles down the road to the next glacier, Fox Glacier. The shadows were creeping in, but we still made it to the bottom with some light. This one we didn’t go past the ropes because it seemed like a group was standing over there and I didn’t feel like being confronted. Back towards the car park there were some very cool pools in the river bed. We couldn’t figure out how deep they were, but it seemed pretty deep! Don’t know what caused them, but they were interesting.

We were camping again that night and we drove out to the coast. This was a very secluded camp site but was gorgeous to watch the sun fade up the mountains as the light sank into the ocean behind us. It was a clear night and certainly going to be cold. We decided to attempt to sleep in the tiny car, the JuiceBox as it is referred to. It worked and I slept great.

The next morning we finished our drive down the west coast and headed inland towards Wanaka. We had lunch on the hillside near a glacier lake and then continued on to Wanaka. We took a stroll down the beach and climbed some more trees. Chelsie managed to get herself up higher than she cared to climb down from, but with a little encouragement from me, I got her down.

We went up over the crown range towards Queenstown and got to see some snow.

When we left Wanaka the little car still had three bars of gas left, but as we pushed up the hill the light started to blink. Still a ways from Queenstown I was certain we would run out of gas. We coasted down to the other side and headed towards the closest gas station. The GPS said there was one in Arrowtown, 11kms away so we headed there. Of course it lied and there wasn’t a gas station there, so we had to keep moving towards Queenstown, some 10 more kms away. The car manual warned us about driving with the light on saying “the car could stop unexpectedly, causing an accident”. Oh joy. We did make it and bypassed the BP but made it to Mobil. I was expecting to be nearly empty, but of the 40 liter tank we put 32 in. What the hell car! Oh well stressed for no reason.

We made it to Pinewood with a full tank and because they recognized us as frequent visitors bumped us up to a nicer room!  We strolled around down town and eventually just went back home and crashed.

The next morning we had some time to kill so Chelsie went for a run while I remained warm under the covers. After checking out of our room we went down to Fergburger and got some breakfast! I informed Andrew of this back in Christchurch and he ordered me to bring him one back on the plane, so I did.

The next thing we knew we were back in Christchurch and I had an exam in 24 hours that I had barely studied for… sounds good to me!

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Northland

Just a few days after my Dad headed back to the states Chels and I were off to the north island for a little road trip. Because we had tons of time between classes ending and exams, I had planned this trip a while ago. On this trip we were only going to explore the Northland, this is the peninsula above Auckland.

We flew up on Thursday night and got a cheap hotel in Auckland. We caught the expensive bus into the city and found our way to the All Seasons. The room was tiny, but worked. We were up on the 13th floor and had some good views of the Sky Tower, the highest building in the southern hemisphere. That night I met up with a friend from middle school who I found out was studying abroad in NZ as well, Lowry Keningsberg. We got some delicious gelato ice cream.

The next morning we took a stroll to the Jucy rental center and picked up our little car. It was the same little car we had rented in Queenstown, even the same color. We got out of the city as quick as we could.

I was very surprised to find us on a large highway, 4 lanes on either side! I didn’t know that existed in New Zealand! It didn’t last too long, but it was certainly a change. There was also a little toll road section, $2, perhaps the only one in NZ too! Also interesting is the fact that they advertise, quite well actually, how to bypass the 2 dollar toll road, hmm don’t think they would do that in the states!

We were headed for the bottom of 90 mile beach, a little town called arapaha. We drove up the west coast and enjoyed the rainbows between the rain showers.

We even got to take a ferry across a tidal zone instead of driving an hour around it.

After driving through the Kuari forest, we made it to the Endless Summer Lodge. It was a gorgeous 1800s house and we had a room on the second floor overlooking the ocean. It was very nice. We played cards and backgammon until it was late and passed out.

The next morning Chelsie decided to take a little dip in the ocean. The waves were pretty big, but the beach looked pretty flat. Eventually I got wet enough that I went in as well. The water wasn’t that cold, but it certainly wasn’t warm either!

After taking a shower to warm up (quick one because it was solar heated water) we packed up and were on our way. We were heading up 90 mile beach towards Cape Reinga, the northern most point. Unfortunately rental cars aren’t allowed to actually drive on the highway, so we just drove out to it at points. Eventually we made it up to the top of the island. It was a little more impressive than Bluff, the bottom.

We walked down to the lighthouse and enjoyed the blue skies! Took some photos to prove we were there and we just sat and enjoyed the views.

Our destination for the day was Pahia in the Bay of Islands. Jucy rentals had a two for one boat cruise, so it was added to the list. We strolled down the east side of the peninsula and found our way into town. We made it to Bay Adventurers Hostel and dropped our bags off. We then headed back through town to the Treaty of Waitangi signing grounds. They were just as impressive as you’d expect them to be; just a tourist trap. So instead we made our way back down the beach to a play ground! After embracing our inner child, we headed back to make some dinner.

We woke up early and went for a run along the water. We packed a bag and then headed to the docks to catch our boat. For $89 bucks we got a 4 hour cruise around the bay of Islands. There were maybe 20 people total on the cruise, very nice. We were constantly in search for dolphins, but didn’t see any, however the cruise was pretty cool already. We headed out to a giant rock with a hole through it. The seas were pretty rough so they couldn’t drive through it.

On our way back we stopped at one of the islands and walked around. Moored in the harbor was a sailboat that I would love to have, especially in the same setting!

Once we made it back to Pahia we got back on the road and headed down to Auckland. We stopped along the way at Whanegai Falls and walked around there. There was a sign that advised us not to risk our lives by jumping off it though, so we didn’t…

We stayed at the same hotel that night and passed out. We caught a flight back to Christchurch the next morning. It was a quick trip but we got to see lots of the Northland. The weather wasn’t great but it seemed to be sunny whenever we needed it to be.

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Dad’s Trip

This week is full of fun events. To top it all off, my Dad is down for a week! He made it in on Sunday and we’ve got lots of things planned. Once he got here we went downtown and walked around a little bit and I tried to keep him up at least till early evening. On Monday we got a motor home and started to drive north. We were headed to Abel Tasman in hopes of kayaking on Tuesday. Half way through the drive we went for a nice hike in Lewis Pass. It only took an hour and half to make it above the tree line and have panoramic views. It was certainly a welcome to New Zealand moment.

We made it back to the camper just before the sun went down. We continued on to Marahau and set up for the night. Unfortunately during the night it started raining and continued through the morning, so kayaking was out. This was a bummer because it is such a gorgeous place and I really wanted to share it with Dad and Chels, also kayaking has been on my to-do list for a while here! It was time for a backup plan though. So we headed back into town and figured out where we were headed. There was no use hanging out in the rain, we had plenty of other places we could go explore. We decided to venture down the west coast of the country to a place called Pancake Rocks. These were really cool!

Along the way we stopped at the longest swinging bridge in NZ and took a stroll across. My Dad was surprised to realize that it was only a third as high as the bridge he would be bungee jumping from in a few days!

We spent the night in Greymouth, only a short walk from the ocean. We had breakfast on the beach and admired the snowcap peaks in the distance.

It was Wednesday and it was my 21st birthday! Whoa! We started heading back towards Christchurch through Arthurs Pass. The mountains had a layer of snow on the tops and it just added to the scenery! We stopped a few places to take photos.

We also did a short hike up to Devil’s Punchbowl, a great waterfall. We got right up close!

The next stop was Castle Hill. Certainly a popular place on my NZ travel list, but always cool to go back. We explored around there a little and then decided to head down the hill to Christchurch. That night we had our normal potluck, but with my birthday as a theme. I got a few free beers from people and even a nice carrot cake! I certainly went a little overboard as expected on anyone’s 21st and regretted it later. Needless to say it wasn’t a very restful night. We’ll leave it at that. The next day I had a test, but luckily it was an open notes/book test and went by without a problem.

Also on Thursday night we had our Arcadia farewell dinner with Jane. My dad and Chels came along too. It was at a great place downtown called Dux-de-Lux. They served lots of seafood and vegetarian food. I got the salmon and it was great! We all thanked Jane for being our New Zealand Mother and for all the things she has done for us. She has certainly made the trip that much more amazing. I am very glad that I came over with a group and ended up with such an awesome group!

Early Friday morning Dad, Chels and I flew down to Queenstown for the weekend. Jane happened to be flying down too and gave us a ride into Queenstown.

We lucked out with a rental car… My friend Austin was going to hitchhike down on Friday to go for a 5 day hike before exams, but I managed to find out that Jucy rentals was giving free 5 day rental for people traveling from Christchurch to Queenstown. So we gave him some gas money to get it down to Queenstown for us to use the next few days, and we ended up with a free rental car! It’s tiny, but it’s great on gas!

While Austin was driving down we had some adventures! First up was the Karawaru Bridge Bungee, the first commercial bungee in the world! I had done this one twice when I was here in 2006 and was excited to do it again. My dad was a little nervous so volunteered to go first and didn’t hesitate!

I was next and had already gone forward and backwards, so mixed it up a little bit and did a handstand! I got dunked and it was freezing! Before I made it back up to the top I had lost the feeling in my fingers!

Chels was last and let out a great scream on the way down. She weighs to little to get dunked, but I’m glad she didn’t because she would have turned into an icicle!

Once back in town we had about an hour before our next activity so we got Fergburger for lunch! I talked my dad into getting the second largest one, Mr. Big Stuff and I did the same. It has ½ pound of meat, lettuce, onions, tomato, bacon, bbq sauce on a huge bun! I downed it, but he saved some for later. Chels got a chicken burger and devoured that too! The sun started to set at 2:30 because of the big mountains that surround town, which instantly made it a little cooler! So we ran home and put some more layers on before heading back out.

At 3:30 we went Jetboating on the Shotover Jet. It was COLD! We had tons of fun though because it was only 5 of us in the boat. My dad sat right up front and we held on right behind him. Chelsie was giggling throughout the whole ride!

Austin made it down and decided to spend the night with us. We played some cards and passed out before too late. It was nice to get a full night sleep.

This morning, Saturday, I drove Austin out to the beginning of his track and tested the ground clearance of the Diahaistu Siron in a few river crossings! He was pumped to be doing a tramp by himself, and it’s certainly going to be a tough one! He is someone who can certainly handle himself on a adventure like that, but I told him to make sure he lets me know when he makes it out, or I’ll be sending the masses looking for him next weekend! The sun was coming up on the drive back and I got some great photos!

I made it back to Queenstown around 9 and we packed into the little car. We were headed to Milford Sound for a cruise then staying the night. Originally we thought the last cruise was leaving at 1pm, but luckily it was 1:45 so we made it in time. It wasn’t as clear skied as it was the first time I was there, but it was still gorgeous! The rain held off but the wind was chilly.

After the cruise we headed to Milford Lodge for the night. We played some cards and I wrote some blog entries. I also managed to read some magazines and catch up on the news. The next morning we woke up early, in hopes of heading back to Queenstown for skiing in the afternoon. Right as we were leaving we ran into a Kea, or mountain parrot in the parking lot! These are cool birds!

We made it back to Queenstown before lunch, but it was raining so no skiing. We grabbed some pizza for lunch and checked into our hostel. We then went over to Jane’s house for some tea and cookies. That night we went out to the Pub on the Wharf and got a couple drinks, played cards, and listened to live music. It was a nice evening.

The next morning we went up the gondola. Unfortunately it was still raining so we didn’t get to do the luge. We enjoyed the views that were below the clouds and then headed back down. We went to a breakfast place that served fresh waffles with gelato, yum! Then we headed to the airport and flew back home. We only had a few hours before Dad was headed back home, so he packed up his bag and off he went! It was a very quick trip, but I think we made the best of it. The weather certainly did not work in our favor, but we still managed to do lots. I’m sure he’ll come back though. This was a good sample!

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Hug a Ginger!

Just FYI, today, May 28th, is national hug a ginger day in NZ. One of the bars downtown is giving a $20 bar tab to any gingers that came in! Even though it was pouring, Chels and I ventured down town. There was no one there! We got a couple of drinks and played a round of pool. We got another round and then headed out. It was a very eventful night, ha. But anyways it was nice to be rewarded for being a redhead! It should happen more often!

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She’s Here!

The day is here. 126 days have gone by and Chelsie is on her way to New Zealand! After only a few days home from the Turks and Caicos to unpack and repack, she was getting on a plane. I had a surprise in store for her. I was going to meet her in Auckland and fly back to Christchurch with her! I left my house early on Thursday and was in Auckland before 8:30. I was a little worried because my flight leaving Christchurch was delayed because the gate was broken and they had to move the plane! I still made it in time, but couldn’t find Chelsie at the gate! I finally sat down hoping she would show up soon. Next thing I knew she was hugging me. Turns out she was sleeping in the corner and she saw me waiting for her.

I was so excited to see her! We jumped on the plane and headed back to Christchurch.

It has been raining for the last week in Christchurch, and of course it was still coming down when we landed. We ran to the parking lot and went home. It seemed to slow down for a minute when we pulled in the parking lot, but as we got out it started to hail! Not the warmest of welcomes for Chelsie.

She certainly slept well that night and was up really early Friday. With all the rain we didn’t have much desire to go out and explore. So instead we stayed inside and caught up on FlashForward, a TV show we both like to watch. In the first few days she was there we watch all the way to the end of the first season! We were very productive people!

Regardless of what we were doing, it was just awesome to not have to date a computer screen anymore and instead have her right next to me! We have tons of adventures planned for the next month and a half! I’m sure we’ll have some great memories.

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Lyttleton Bike Ride

The weekend of May 21st was one of the first weekends I actually stayed in Christchurch instead of traveling around! Crazy thing was I actually had school work to do. Of course you’re never as productive as you want/need to be, so I ended up making plans anyways.

The weekend we went to the Adrenalin Forest we were originally planning on going biking around Lyttleton Harbour. My friend, Krista, still wanted to do the bike ride and I offered to go with her. I hadn’t used my bike much since being down here and it was nice to get out there. The ride was from Lyttleton to Diamond Harbour. We’d then take a ferry back across and catch the metro back home.

Well Saturday wasn’t a particularly warm day, but we decided to go anyways. Around 10 we headed to the bus. A few buses have bike racks on the front, so we could make it to Lyttleton to start our ride for only $2.10! I had never been there and it was cool to go through the tunnel and pop out in the middle of a little ocean town.

We started biking and it was certainly rolling hills. It had gotten a little warmer and the sun started to poke out a little, so the ride was actually pretty nice.

We made it to Diamond Harbour in a couple of hours and caught the ferry back. The ferry is actually part of the metro system so it was really cheap.

Before we headed back home, we walked around downtown a little bit… we also missed our bus so this gave us some extra time!

After a nice hot shower, I was ready to pass out! It was a good day of exercise. Certainly reminded me of days last summer while going across the US!

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