Paul and Mindy's Big Adventure

The next chapter in our life together

Author: cpadmin (page 2 of 2)

The World’s Best Spinning Wheels

A number of years ago I borrowed a spinning wheel from a friend for the winter and took a spinning class at the Textile Center with the Weavers Guild in Minneapolis. There I learned about different spinning wheels, but particularly about Ashford wheels made in New Zealand. So yet another reason I wanted to come to New Zealand was to see the home of these world-famous spinning wheels. There where many things Paul and I wanted to see and do on this visit, but my “number one don’t want to miss” activity finally happened today. We spent the night in Ashburton, New Zealand and today I spent half my day at the Ashford Craft Center testing different wheels, looking at yarns, re-learning about fibers and making different selections. I was pretty sure I wanted to buy a wheel before going into the Ashford Craft Center, and after over an hour of testing the different models, I knew one was going to my home. Spinning is a full-body experience. Especially with the two-pedal wheel I selected – it takes both feet, both hands and lots of thought to turn the sliver into yarn. Then there is the gentle clack of the pedals, the hum of the spinning wheel, the texture of the fiber in my hands. And it takes lots of practice. It took me awhile to remember the general technique with lots of coaching from Rose. But then she left me to it to help other customers, checking back every so often to answer questions and give me tips. Finally I decided on the Kiwi 3.

A compact design that will fit in our compact living room more easily – the double pedals on this model fold up for storage. They will ship it to my house to arrive just after I do. I selected a variety of fiber in the form of sliver – ready for spinning – of different types and colors. It may take me years to get through all I bought, but I’m up to the challenge. I am already searching websites for where to get more fiber when I get home. I may take another class to refresh my memory and gain more skill. I know where all the materials are from my previous class. And a fleece someone gave me awhile back. We’ve seen many sheep on our travels throughout New Zealand and I bought one skein of yarn to do some knitting along the way – it helps me relax after a tense day of driving. Now I’ll be dreaming of spinning and knitting and crochet, oh my. Soon I’ll have to learn to weave and dye my own wool. No shortage of new challenges ahead. My photographer was elsewhere, so not much to show of my spinning and shopping time.

And where was Paul during my hours at Ashford Craft Shop? Golfing with our friend, Cary, who drove down from Nelson to see us again. I’ll let him tell you about that…

After my time surrounded by beautiful human made crafts, I took the opportunity not enjoy some more of nature’s made beauty at the Ashford Domain garden. Families where out enjoying the beautiful nSunday in the park too and the gardens were stunning! Many flowers in bloom and magnificent trees that have been here for the long term. Also ducks and one swan enjoying g the pond.

Our day ended with dinner together at the Phat Duck with huge plates full to fill our large appetites after much outdoor time today.

– Mindy

Driving in New Zealand

“The roads are different here.” It even says this on the road signs. And it’s very true. Driving on the left is different enough for us, but add to that the narrow two lane roads with little to no shoulder, sharp curves and one lane bridges and you start to see what they mean. And those are the major state highways. Very often the speed limit sign says 100 kph and we say “are they kidding?” Definitely not in our Toyota Hiace camper van. I can hear Pat Olmstead saying “Just cause the speed limit’s 100, doesn’t mean you have to go that fast.” And we don’t. There are passing lanes and pull over spots to let the faster traffic pass us by. We enjoy going at a slower pace. So we pull over often. Sometimes to enjoy the view, sometimes to stretch our legs, often just to let them pass. It’s nice when we are on the road at non-rush times so we don’t have as much traffic to let past. And did I mention that a white dotted line usually means two way traffic? Just to keep us on our toes. We’ve become much more comfortable as the time goes on, but we still take plenty of brakes in the day and try to keep the number of kilometers traveled on a given day to a lower number. Traveling at the speed of vacation. All the semi trucks are split trailers in order to make it around the curves.

– Mindy

Here are some road sample pictures for you:


Getting our Money’s Worth on the Routeburn Track

(Webmasters note: if the pictures are sideways for you, turn your head to see them. Technological mysteries have them correct on our iPad, but sideways on the laptop with no option to edit.)

We are learning not to pack in quiet so much in one day and after a full day of preparations for our hike in Queenstown on Tuesday and still some uncertainty of whether the track would be open, we spend the night in Queenstown rather than push on further. So Wednesday morning we woke in Queenstown and after a quick breakfast we headed to the Department of Conservation office for the latest trail status – it had been closed for two days due to the heavy rainstorm. Good news and bad news – the trail is open except for a portion at the end of the track which might prevent us from going all the way through. We headed to Glenorchy to Track Hopper to talk through all the what-ifs of moving our campervan (or not) to the end of the track. Worst case, we will only get to walk part way and will be turned back the way we came. Of course, we now have booked a kayak trip on Saturday morning in Milford Sound, so someway or other we hope to get through to the end of the Routeburn Track.

So it was mid afternoon when we started our hike which put us after all the rain. The trail started with a swing bridge over a river and then plunges into a magical forest.

I’m sure there are elves in these woods – and there definitely are Ents.

The path is gravel and well maintained. The trees and rocks are covered in moss and lichen. Everything is green with a silver hue. But strangely there are very few animals. We would hear and see birds occasionally and a few sandflys would take a munch on our legs, but that’s all. Between our picture taking and marveling at the sights around us and slow hiking, we were passed by a number of other hikers and were probably the last ones at the hut for the evening – arriving about 6pm at Routeburn Falls hut which we shared with about 40 other hikers.

The common room was a buzz with eating and talking about options for the end of the hike (the main trail near the end remains closed due to a rockslide that has taken out a bridge) and a great game introduced by the hut warden, John, to determine the languages on a huge banner hanging on the wall – all with a welcome and “Merry Christmas” message – which we quickly turned into a team sport. The chocolate bar reward was worth the effort of comparing notes, asking those from other countries for help, etc. Falling into our bunks at the end of the night we slept soundly until morning.

Thursday began with a steep climb and we were quickly above the tree line. This made for a very different scene than the day before. Shrubs and flowers and grass. A dryer area than before.

Mountain peaks come into view and the climb continues. Lake Harris was the first mountain lake we saw and still the climb continues. Just in case we haven’t had enough climbing today, Paul decides we must climb Conical Hill for the view to the Tasman Sea since it is one of the rare clear days that this is possible. We left our packs at the lunch hut (as the climb is too challenging to do with packs on) and scrambled our way up and up and up (don’t think about how you will get down) and up and steeper up and more scrambling and finally to the top. Yes, the view was magnificent especially with the clear sky we had.

Then the long, challenging climb back down, sometimes on my butt to get my foot down to the next step, but not as scary as I imagined it would be based on the steepness of the climb up.

After about 3 hours we were back at the lunch hut, packs back on us and off for the second half of the day’s hike to the MacKensie Hut. This included some steep climbs, but mostly a gradual up around the mountains. Peak after peak coming into view and splendid views a down into the valley (though I didn’t really want to look down at times). There were also a number of lovely waterfalls this day. At times, the trail seemed endless as I could see it snake along the hillside ahead and keep going until it finally disappeared around a bend and over a ridge. Paul’s ankle started to hurt, so we stopped to wrap it in an Ace bandage and slowed our pace a bit more to avoid further injury.

Then began the long descent. We had been warned by other hikers that when you see the hut below you, it’s another 1.5 hours of hiking before you reach it. At our slowed pace, it was even more. The downward climb was steep in places but we made steady progress. When we reached the tree line, the sky was still light, but the sun was nearly set and the trees now made it dim enough we pulled out our headlamps. It grew steadily darker as we continued at our slow pace. We wondered if anyone would miss us at the hut or if they ever go out looking for hikers that haven’t gotten in before dark. It was now fully dark and the trail continued on.

Again, the absence of animals in the woods struck us as strange. I kept expecting to see the eyes of a fox or raccoon or at least a mouse, but none of these live in New Zealand. An occasional bird was all we heard other than the sound of our own footsteps and hiking poles on the rock. Finally we could see the lights of the hut through the trees. And soon a headlamp appeared coming toward us. It was Evan, the Hut Warden, who had been watching our headlamps in the trees and had come out to see if we needed any help (other hikers had told him we had not arrived yet, though they didn’t know if we might have changed our plans). Paul gratefully gave up his pack and we made quick headway on the remaining part of the trail to the hut. We walked in the door at nearly 9pm to be greeted by our new friends from the night before. And Owen, an osteopath, who worked on Paul’s ankle and relieved him of the pain that was slowing him down.

A quick and fulfilling meal of curried noodles and we fell into our bunks for a good night’s sleep.

Friday we rose early to get an earlier start on the trail. We decided to follow the same plan as many other hikers and take the Pass Creek trail to get around the closed section. We had been warned that it wasn’t nearly as maintained and would have additional challenges. The first part of the day was relatively simple. More enchanting forest, many incredible waterfalls.

When we arrived at Howden Lake Hut we were very ready for lunch and delighted to find some of our friends still there that we joined as we ate by the lake and had a nice break. Then off for the final challenge of Pass Creek Trail – we were not disappointed. There was plenty of mud (though none deeper than the lower laces of our boots) and many downed trees – including a couple that required the removal of my pack to navigate. Steep ups and steep downs. And a portion that was following the deep trench of an old creek bed – we were grateful for no rain or flash floods.

My knees were stiff and sore and my pack felt as if it were getting heavier even though we had eaten most of our food and it was surely lighter than when we started. Finally we see the gravel road at the end of the trail.

The van can’t be much further. I had to drag myself along those last couple kilometers and couldn’t wait to drop my pack when the van was finally in sight.

We were satisfied with a job well done – a challenge met – and the reward of amazing vistas and views. We definitely got out money’s worth not just in spectacular scenery, but also in a challenging hike. And we still had the amazing drive to Milford Sound ahead of us before days end.

– Mindy

Being in the moment

We drove into Punakaiki a bit late last night (because we kept stopping along the way to enjoy the sights) – Time to start dinner upon arrival with no time to explore first. Paul made the salad while Mindy cooked the noodles.

“I hate to miss the sunset over the ocean, can’t we go eat on the beach?”

“How will we carry everything?”

“In our shopping bag.”

“What will we sit on?”

“Let’s bring the chairs.”

“Let’s go – quick before we miss it!”

I wish we had a camera following us as we ran through the campground (breaking all the rules by running through other people’s campsites). Paul carrying the chairs – one in each hand. Mindy with the shopping bag over her arm and carefully carrying Paul’s can of beer and her glass of wine – trying not to spill while running for the beach.

We made it and were rewarded with this beautiful sunset ….

Tonight we decided to stop a little earlier than planned in Harihari. We walked into the pub to pay for the camping and were so tempted by the menu and local ambiance (complete with rugby game on TV) that we decided to treat our selves to a meal of lamb shank with mashed potato, roasted baby carrots and peas – even though we had just restocked with groceries this afternoon. This meal was superb! (Sorry to our vegetarian friends) and it was VERY local. Sometimes it’s good to forgo our plans and be in the moment.

– Mindy

Seal Heaven at Separation Point

Have you ever had a day that suddenly one moment made all the effort worth while?

We made our way to Totaranui campground in Able Tasman National Park – a narrow windy road to get there, but staying two nights would give us time for a full day hike.  We got up later than planned, breakfast took longer than expected, a weka bird tried to eat Mindy’s toe while she sipped her coffee, finding the sunscreen and bug spray, etc.  We finally set out for our walk about noon.  Though this walk was not nearly as challenging as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it had a good share of ups and downs, one challenging scramble up and over the rocks, and walks along the sand (which is harder than one imagines).  I kept thinking we would never have enough time to make it to Separation Point even though this was the goal Paul had in mind for the day.  The sign near the end of Separation Point says something like “leave your packs here because the rest of the trail is steep and treacherous.”  They weren’t underestimating it – although it was OK with just day packs – narrow and big steps down.  One of those times I just keep my eyes on the trail ahead and don’t look left or right.  But we did make it down to the rock platform and over to the left – there they were.  The happy, playful seals enjoying them selves sunning on the rocks and swimming in the pools.  Such a joy to watch!  We settled in the sun to have some lunch and watch the show.  I could have stayed there all day, but sunset was calling and we needed 3 1/2 hours to walk back to camp.  But all the sweat and challenge was worth it!

– Mindy

(I hope the video embeds here as planned, if not click on the link to see it on Vimeo)

Separation Point / Seal Heaven from Paul thompson on Vimeo.


Thermal Exploring

Let’s step back a week to the time after we picked up the campervan in Rotorua and before we got to the Kapiti Coast. This was the exploration of the thermal area in New Zealand. One of the reasons I’ve been fascinated with New Zealand and wanted to visit is that there are volcanoes to glaciers in two small islands (not to mention all the beautiful sea coasts and mountains and other natural marvels in between).

Walking in Rotorua, there are spots like this venting steam from the ground.

We stopped to see things like this boiling mud pit. A picture can hardly capture the bubbles bursting to the top as the mud spits and hisses. I was happy not to get too close. Here it looks more like the moon, but believe me it is hot!

Here we are in this amazing hot pool out in the middle of the country – surrounded by pastures. We got a tip from a fellow traveler and the Wiki Camps New Zealand app. We were the only ones there so we had this beautiful hot pool all to ourselves.

Paul going over the finer points of the difference between a gold  Pluto Platter (50th anniversary edition), a red fastback and a Cool Planet Leopard golf disc with the staff at the Top Ten Blue Lake Holiday Parks where we were looking up the location of the Rotorua Disc Golf Course. Later that afternoon Mindy and I found the course in the middle of a dog park and a Redwood Forest – yes, giant California Redwoods. The course was so hidden and unused that the chain holes had cobwebs, pine needles and forest film all over the hole….it was like finding a jewel hidden in the sand.

Next we made our way to Tongariro National Park and spent a day hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. When we bought our tickets, the weather forecast was for clouds and rain, but we decided to take our chances and do it anyway. Good luck was on our side and it turned out to be a beautiful day for a challenging walk with absolutely breathtaking views.


The natural landscape could not have been put together better by the most talented landscape artist. Our walk began already above the tree line and the climb continued from there. Up across the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe (made famous in the Lord of the Rings film series as Mount Doom). Then climbing still higher to the Red Crater then down to the emerald lakes and then down and down and down and down until finally entering the tree line again – at which point we were racing to catch the last shuttle bus and barely got to enjoy the view and the cool shade of trees.

Inspiring Students Strike for Climate

Being close to the International Date Line, New Zealand was one of the first countries to begin the March 15 global day of action by students. Thanks to our friend in Minnesota, Scot Adams, we met and stayed with one of the student organizers and her family. Maha was one of the two students who organized and MCed an event in front of the Kapiti Coast District Council (a district just north of Wellington on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. About 200 people participated throughout the day at this event including speeches by a council member and the mayor in addition to a number of community leaders working on various environmental issues. We added a bit by sharing our work in the US and the hope we see there through our work with students and Citizens’ Climate Lobby. This was one of 30 events in New Zealand that included thousands of students around the country.

By the end of 24 hours over a million students around the world had participated in actions. The impact is already being felt as the UN is calling for a special meeting as a result of the outpouring of student support around the globe. Truly, the children will lead us.

We woke the next morning to social media reports from Minnesota from students we know sending pictures of the demonstration at the state capitol.

Thank you students for your inspiring action!

– Mindy


Our Six Week Home

Yet another new experience for us traveling in New Zealand is living in a camper van. It’s fantastic to not have to pack and unpack a suitcase every night. We do have to find a place to camp each night, but somehow this seems so much easier than finding lodging. We are fully self-contained with a 2-burner gas stove, refrigerator, sink, pantry and storage cupboards, bed, tables and chairs (inside and out) and even a little port-a-potty if needed. We stopped for groceries, bought a couple of accessories and we’re ready to go. We haven’t had a meal out since we picked up the van. I’m loving this!

– Mindy

Thanks Joe and Lorraine at Rotorua Campervans for this great little rig and for getting us started out right! We are delighted to work with you and have you as friends.

Bed rolled up for day use.

Sink with sprayer that pulls outside – even hot water!

Girl Guide cookies and all – we’re ready to cook

Joe showing us how the awning works.

Where am I going to put everything?

Who cares! Just relax and have fun!

Our first camping spot.

A good opportunity for some solar charging.

Creative laundry drying.

Paul driving first…

then Mindy took her turn.

We made it…

After getting Mary acquainted with the care and feeding of Pickles and the Pickles Palace, we were off to the airport.  Thank you, Mary, for taking good care of our kitty!

After about 2 days of traveling, but we finally made it to Auckland, New Zealand about 10pm on Wednesday, 6 March.

Ready for takeoff at the Humphrey terminal in Minneapolis. We won’t be this cold again for a while.

Getting on board.

Still fresh early in the journey. Lots of time in airplane seats – though each time with a window.

Coming into Honolulu

Took time to walk around in Honolulu to get some feel of Hawai’i and stretch our legs between long flights. Good sushi had here.

Mindy trying to get some shut-eye. Actually I got quite a bit of sleep on our flights.

Chasing the sun…

Getting closer…

Paul’s protection from the insecticide spraying as we land in Auckland. Need to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Welcome to New Zealand. Love the first message we saw even before clearing customs.

Thanks to Joseph for getting us all set up at Spark with our local New Zealand telephone.

Then off to our hotel to get some well earned sleep.




Before our big journey begins we have had months of planning, researching, booking, rethinking, packing, reading, planning some more, worrying and anticipating. Part of the fun has been meeting with friends who have been to New Zealand to hear about their trips, favorite sites and recommendations.

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