Home Sweet Home

Friday February 24th – Saturday February 25th | Dunedin ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ – LAX ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ – CANADA ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ | a whole shit-tonne of kilometres ๐Ÿš™โœˆ๏ธโœˆ๏ธ๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ›โœˆ๏ธโœˆ๏ธ๐Ÿท๐Ÿš™๐Ÿซ ๐Ÿ™ƒ

On our last day of the road trip I walked up the world’s steepest residential street: Baldwin Street.  I’d already packed my hiking shoes and didn’t think it would be easy in my Birks so I did it barefoot – true kiwi style.  Baldwin street has a slope of 19 degrees (we drove up a hill in Arthur’s Pass that was 16). In 1988 a guy named Iain Clark roller skated up it (yes I did say up. Crazy!)

Mural at the top of Baldwin Street, Dunedin

After that we drove out to Signal Hill for a sweet view of the city then had lunch at Ratbags before Val dropped me off at the airport.  

Panorama of Dunedin

I left at 3pm, had a short internal flight to Auckland, a few hour layover there, departed at 11pm, survived a 12 hour overnighter to LA, another short layover, then finally made it in to Vancouver around 9:30pm Friday night (gained back time coming from Dunedin to Vancouver).  Originally I was just going to crash in the airport until I remembered I’m not 18 anymore and a hundred bucks for a 6 hour sleep is more than worth it.

This morning I caught the red eye to Calgary and then on to Brandon.  Our plane landed at the international departures terminal which is almost as far away as you can get from the domestic departures so myself and four other passengers had 15 minutes to book it over there while the plane waited on us.  Someone was already in my seat so I got upgraded to 1A: preferred. Score! A glass of wine and a couple chapters of my book later we touched down in frigid Brandon.  Mike took me for lunch and we picked up our groceries from Superstore – thank god for click and collect!  Now I’m finally relaxing at home trying not to eat all the delicious chocolate I brought home!

I took seven flights (6 to travel, 1 for skydiving), two ferries and one train on this trip. We drove around 5000km in a tiny sky-blue Mazda Demio and visited so many places I’ve lost track.  We saw glaciers, oceans, mountains and national parks.  I crossed a couple things off the bucket list and added more than I removed. It was a whirlwind three weeks but it was awesome and I’m glad I took the time for the adventure. 

Home Sweet Home

Freefallin’ย 

Wednesday February 15th | Rotorua ๐Ÿ˜Ž – Taupo ๐ŸŽ’ | … Km + 15,000 feet ๐Ÿ›ฉ

She’s a good girl, loves her mama

I guess that’s why I didn’t tell her I jumped out of a plane until after I was safely on the ground. Because mums worry and I’m considerate like that …

Holy shit. 

Ian shared some delicious, warm hot cross buns with us for breakfast, Carol was kind enough to let us do a load of laundry then we hit the road to Taupo. I had planned to skydive at 12:50pm but we figured it would be a good idea to check it was all good before we ate lunch so went straight to the airport. The guy said I could jump right away, if I wanted, so twenty minutes later I was in a jumpsuit ready to go. Ready. I use that word lightly.

Joel was my tandem skydive partner master.  Partner implies I did some of the work but he was the sole contributor to the jump and I was just along for the ride. I suited up and was strapped into a harness. We hopped into the plane with five other tandem divers and began our ascent to 15,000 feet.  Joel immediately clipped me to him which made me feel a lot more secure knowing that, should anything bad happen, I was attached to a pro. I also had a life jacket strapped to my waist … I wouldn’t need it but the lake is pretty big so better safe than sorry.

Ready to go up in the plane

I think I had a bit of a death grip on the handle for the first couple of minutes but relaxed pretty quickly.  I asked Joel how long it would take before we hit the ground. He joked that he hoped we wouldn’t hit it but would land around five and a half minutes after jumping … Or one and a half if we didn’t pull the chute. I appreciate a witty sense of humour so lightened up after that. 

Oxygen on around 12,000 feet

Around 12,000 feet up Joel gave me an oxygen mask, pulled the very un-stylish brown hat onto my head and cinched the goggles tightly to my face. It wasn’t long before we reached altitude and all of a sudden I found myself perched on the edge of the plane ready to jump be pushed. 

Perched and ready to dive

Holy fucking shit. 

I wanna free fall, out into nothin’ // Gonna leave this, world for awhile

Sitting with my legs dangling out of the plane looking down at a large patchwork of vibrant green grass, deep blue Lake Taupo, and the miniature houses of town was definitely the scariest part. It felt like eternity but in all reality was more like five seconds. Joel catapulted us out of the bright, yellow plane and we began our freefall. 

Freefalling

It took a few seconds for my mind to catch up to what my body was doing. I had my thumbs tucked into my harness, elbows down by my side and legs back between Joel’s knees … I was supposed to arch myself like a banana but that’s a bit of an ask when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying. 

The view from the freefall

We were in freefall for approximately a minute and reached a speed of around 200km/h. All you can hear up there when you’re going that fast is noise and all you can feel is the goggles digging into your cheeks from the pressure, the cool air and a bit of dry mouth. But what you can see is spectacular: the curvature of the earth, the miniature green-wrapped silage bales that look like tiny marshmallows, the ant sized cars scurrying through town and the beautiful expanse of Lake Taupo.  It was unreal. 


Sixty seconds later Joel pulled the cord and I felt a small upward jolt as our chute released. The next few minutes was my favourite part. We soared through the air so effortlessly: turning here and gliding there like a giant bird. The view was phenomenal.  Joel loosened up my harness so I could sit a little more comfortably and enjoy the descent back to earth. This was definitely my favourite part.

Back on solid ground

The landing was a lot smoother than I anticipated. Basically I had to lift my legs up and we landed on our butts. I was unhooked and the jump was over. 

Pumped up from the skydive!

Since this was a bucket list item of mine I decided to purchase the selfie video and photos that were all taken from a Go-Pro attached to Joels wrist.  Sky diving isn’t cheap but it was so worth it. It was a great adrenaline rush, a little scary but fun as hell. I would highly recommend you add it to your list of must-dos and if you’re in Taupo definitely go with Taupo Tandem Skydiving. The guys there are a lot of fun and absolute pros. 

Freefallin’ย 

A dinosaur, a cow and a pigeon all walked into a bar …

Saturday Feb 4th | Dunedin ๐Ÿ›ฌ to Invercargill ๐Ÿ’†๐Ÿป to Winton ๐Ÿฎ | 230 km ๐Ÿš™
Saturday was a relaxing day. We made our way from Dunedin to Invercargill where we had lunch at The Cabbage Tree. Here I learned two important things about New Zealand: dining out is expensive (but worth it), and lemon is pronounced LEE-MUN. I had a massage at 2pm which felt amazing after the long day of travel. A quick 40 minute drive later and we were at the farm. 

Steamed Chocolate Cake, The Cabbage Tree, Invercargill
The family was out for the evening to see Nitro Circus so in true Canadian fashion we decided to make perogies for Sunday’s supper.
The finished product
Perogie maker extraordinaire

Sunday Feb 5th | Winton ๐Ÿ„ to Bluff ๐ŸŸ and back | 168km ๐Ÿš™ + 8km๐Ÿšถ๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ

I woke up around 6am which is an hour later than I’d normally get up. Vacation mode engaged. I felt great – zero jet lag! After a quick breakfast we drove down to Bluff which is the most southern town on the South Island and also the oldest settlement. It was established in 1824 by James Spencer and is home of Stirling Point and the iconic yellow sign. 

It was a beautiful shorts and tank-top kind of day so we did an 8km walk and ate our $5 bakery sandwiches outside before visiting Bluff Hill to get a good view of Stewart Island.  It’s a steep drive up and Val laughed at a cyclist who was struggling to make it.  Just as she did that her car realized it didn’t have any more gears to down-shift through and we found ourselves in the same predicament as the poor guy on the bike.

80 million years ago when New Zealand broke away from Gondwana, birds ruled.  There were no predators so many birds evolved and became flightless.  When humans first settled they brought cats, stoats and rats and the birds were defenceless.  In 700 years, New Zealand has lost 32% of its native land birds.  The kiwi, the native bird of New Zealand, is the only living relative of the spectacular, flightless moa and can be found in the wild on Stewart Island.  We decided we don’t really have time to go to Stewart Island but hope to see kiwi birds at the kiwi sanctuary in Queenstown.  Our last stop in Bluff was the Maritime Museum.  There was a lot of interesting information and artifacts there including the light from a lighthouse, the jawbone from a whale and an old scuba diving suit.  We also found out why a ship is always name after a female and thought you might find it interesting too.


New Zealand is also home to a dinosaur: Tuatara. Say what?

Tuatara of Southland, Invercargill
  • The tuatara looks like a lizard but isn’t.  
  • It’s skeleton identifies as the last of the Rhynchocephalian reptiles that date back a quarter billion years
  • Tuatara means ‘peaks on the back’ which refers to their spiny crest
  • They are considered to be a living taonga (treasure) by Mฤori
  • Tuatara used to be found all over New Zealand but are now extinct on both islands 
  • 8-12 eggs are laid in September/October and the sex of the offspring is determined by the ground temperature during the first week: >18C = 90% chance of being male but >22C = 90% chance of being a female.
  • Tuatara are the slowest growing, longest living reptiles and may live to be 150 years old

After a very educational day we headed back to the farm. I milked my first cow. Well I put the cups on the udder if that counts. During supper, just as Isla was about to serve dessert (another chocolate cake ๐Ÿ˜), a massive bird flew right into the kitchen! It flew across the table, over the couch and through the living room where it smashed into the big window before returning along its original path and dive bombing back into the kitchen window.  Much commotion later and the wood pigeon was returned to his natural habitat. Needless to say we ended the day with a bottle of delicious, New Zealand wine.

A dinosaur, a cow and a pigeon all walked into a bar …

The Start of Something New

At the beginning of the month I decided I wanted to write a blog.  Now, as January comes to an end and with only two days until I fly to New Zealand, I thought this would be the perfect time to start.  

It seems surreal that I will arrive in New Zealand on Saturday. (Saturday their time… Friday with Manitoba).  I don’t think that the excitement will really hit me until I begin my journey on Thursday.  I booked my flights three months ago – October 19th to be exact.  I’d been throwing around the idea of visiting my sister and the stars just lined up. Val is working on a dairy farm and nannying four kids with a family near Invercargill. Her six month term with them is up at the end of January and then she has five weeks off before returning to live and work at the same farm for another six months. As fate would have it, I have to be in Vancouver for a few days of business meetings so I would have one less flight to pay for and a few less flight-hours to suffer through in one shot. There’s no ideal time for me to be away from my work territory but I decided that this opportunity would never present itself again and I should just go for it.  Credit card in hand I called FlightCentre and, half an hour later, everything was booked.  

The flight is relatively inexpensive compared to some that I’ve heard of. FlightCentre is a great company to work with – they’re very reputable and will match and beat any other price you can find.  I challenged myself to sell all the “stuff” in my house that I no longer needed to offset this last-minute decision which I hadn’t been saving for. I came very close – I think I ended up short $150 – so I would consider that a great success. Plus Mike was happy because I got rid of a lot of things we didn’t need.

Over the last three months things have been slowly coming together. Val bought herself a little car which will be perfect for us to road trip in. She has either borrowed or bought everything we might need for camping including a tent, sleeping bags, stove, camping chairs, cooking utensils, pots, etc. We made a rough plan of things we want to do any places we want to see; the amount we accomplish will be limited only by time or money. 

I spent Saturday in Brandon getting some last minute things and, after enjoying a delicious supper with Mike at The Dock, I spent an hour trying to strategically pack everything I thought I might need (and probably more!) into a 75L backpack that was last used when I went to Sweden 15 years ago.

On Sunday morning I took Mike for brunch (breakfast quasedillas are my new fave ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿป), and said goodbye to Manitoba for four weeks. I plan to post every couple of days so follow along if you want to see what we’re up to! 

The Start of Something New