The next chapter in our life together

Category: New Zealand

How do travel bloggers do it?

Photos and blogging and travel, oh my!  We have been on the go so much we haven’t found enough time to catch up on our blog.  There’s still more to tell about New Zealand from talking to skiers in Wanaka to traveling south to Invercargill and Bluff.  Then through the Catlins to Dunedin then north to Ashburton, Christchurch, Kaikoura and Picton.  Ferry back to Wellington, reunite with friends in Waikanae, hustle north to the giant Kauri forest then back to see Hobbiton and Kiwis, return the camper van, get on a bus, board the plane…whew!

So you can look forward to hearing about all of that later.  And more about so many great people we met along the way.  A few photos in the mean time – not in any particular order.

– Mindy

Road to Remembrance

A day driving in the rain finds us in Otorohanga North Island in a holiday park (short for RV park) right next to the Kiwi House which is closed now (though we heard a frenzy of bird calls) and we leave early Friday to get to our destination for our April 13 remembrance of my son’s death by suicide on that terrible Friday the 13th one year ago.

We might hear the Kiwi’s (the national endangered bird and symbol of NZ) in the morning but might have to wait to see the flightless bird at another sanctuary on the North Island.

We took the Interislander Ferry yesterday morning from Picton across the Cook Strait to Wellington, the nation’s capital,

and spent the afternoon looking for a NZ T-shirt with the Silver Fern logo and taking the old Cable Car up to lookout hill and the Botanic Gardens. The cable car broke down and the return trip became a lovely 40 minute winding walk through the garden and oldest cemetery in Wellington.

A slow traffic-filled ride to Waikanae

bought us back to our friends Adam, Mishbah, Maya and Maha to return their guide books and spend the evening and share our South Island adventure and enjoy Mishbah’s fabulous cooking. We learned that Adam’s cousin Scot Adams of Eden Prairie and CCL member (the reason we met Adam’s family) is now considering a trip to NZ next year. Feels a bit like a pay it forward experience.

The journey to the Kauri trees north of Auckland is a real haul with our time quickly fleeting. Mindy and I drove over 400 km today with another 400 + tomorrow.

Mindy knows how important this day of remembrance is to me and she is making it a team effort to do it all and remain reasonably sane thru the process. Even with the rain the beauty of the hill country in the central part of the North Island is spell binding.

We stopped at the Levin Library for a rest stop and I picked up a book of  US National Parks to show Mindy where Chris and I had gone on our first big adventure to Glacier National Park when he was five. Our first Amtrak trip, visiting Many Glacier Hotel where Uncle Tommy spent many summers working and climbing and our first wilderness camping at Two Medicine Lake near the Continental Divide where we got caught in a hail storm with gale force winds. What was I thinking? Luckily our new Moss tent held strong as Christopher calmly played with his legos while the stormed raged outside.

Remembering the amazing trips and moments we had together and as a family and community seems to be the best way to honor who Chris was/ is and to keep alive the spirit of love we have for each other.

More to come has we move toward April 13. Heard from Mary Fink, our house/ Pickles sitter, that it is snowing back home just like the huge snowstorm that hit last year the day and weekend after Chris’ death.

The cycles of life are truly remarkable.

– Paul


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:


One of Those “Dreams Come True” Experiences

We made it out safely from our 3 day Routeburn Track in time to find our vehicle safely tucked away in the Lake Marian car park. Thanks to Mike and Kiyomi at Trackhoppers for great service in transferring our camper van and allowing us to get to Milford Sound. As the sun was setting I rushed from the parking lot to capture this photo of the famous Miter Peak.

There are spectacular places on this earth that I have visited ,  Mt. Everest (Chomolongma or Sagarmatha in Tibetan or Nepali), Yosemite Valley, the Giant Sequoias on the western slopes of the Sierras, Kilamanjaro in Tanzania and Kenya. Milford Sound (really a fjord we learned from our Kayak guide, carves by glaciers, not rivers) has always been one of those places for me and now it was our turn.

After a few snaps in the waning sun we found our camper van site for the night at the Milford Lodge and it was time for our celebratory dinner at the fairly swanky Pia Pia (Maori for Milford) restaurant. Our server Mariah was from Excelsior MN and Sam, the host, knows our friend and Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg’s son Robert. Once again you can run but you can’t hide from our vast network of friends and family. Mariah convinced us that the King Crayfish (actually a Spiny Rock Lobster) was the way to go with some local beer for Paul and rhubarb lemonade for Mindy….it was a meal fit for the occasion.

After the meal a hot shower was a poor second place to no hot tub but still wonderful to wash off 3 days of hiking and the important setting of the alarm clock for 5:30 am to not miss our 7:15 am date with Roscoe’s Kayak Cruises. With my new iPhone set we slumbered off to a very needed deep sleep. When I woke up thinking the alarm should have awoken us sooner, Mindy asked “what time is it?” and I turned on my phone in the dark….6:47 OMG I had set the 5:30 for pm not am and the fire drill was on.

We actually got there and met Toby the host at 7:07 and were early arrivals.  Deep breath.

Our group numbered 4 couples and Clay, our fantastic guide from Madison, WI who also overslept on his last day. We went thru the basic protocol for new people kayaking, dress, gear, safety, paddle handling and gear storage in waterproof dry bags. An added attraction to our preparation was a visit from a Kia, the mischievous native bird that steals and shreds whatever they can get their beaks around, no photo sorry…see the  guide books.

time to load the boats and push off into the fjord. 

We got on the water before the large and small tourist boats started their cruises and it was silent and the surroundings so massive.

Our guide Clay pulled us together and pointed off to Sterling Falls in the distance (not the one in the photo) and asked “how far away do you think that is?”  I said a mile and a half, another tour member said 2 km. He told us 9 km. Gives you a sense of the size and immensity of our surroundings.

We visited the other permanent waterfall in the Sound where most of the hydropower for the Milford village electricity comes from (around 98% of NZ electricity is hydro generated). The wind from the 150+m falls soaked us all as we paddled right up to the rocks near the bottom of the falls. To dry off we paddled up the north cliff coast learning about the history of the sound and the relationship between the plant life and the cliff geology when there is a landslide (Kiwis call it a slip). The root systems are so shallow that when one tree falls it can take a huge swath of the neighboring vegetation along with it leaving bare rock that will take over a hundred years to rebuild with natural vegetation. The heavier rains of the climate enhanced era we are now in are having an impact on the area. The week before we came, Milford Sound received 750 mm of rain and wind gusts of 175 knots.


The conditions for the paddle were ideal. Clay says the best time is right away a big rain strom when the sound is filled with hundreds of small waterfalls filling the sound. With tides and rainfall the water level varies greatly in Milford. While paddling Clay told us of a local kayak climber who was scaling Miter Peak (one of the world’s most photographed) while we were on the water. Couldn’t see him but cool for me to know he was up there alone and that this area and all over NZ is where Sir Edmund Hillary got his climbing experience before attempting Everest in Nepal.

Side note, Hillary’s climb in 1953 was one of the dreams I had as a boy in Minneapolis to see the highest mountain in the world and was a deciding factor in which country I chose to do my Peace Corps teaching. Malaysia because it took me as far away as I could go and I could see the world, and Everest 1974, on my way home.

Now the cruise ships were out and we had fun bouncing around in their wake as we made the 2 km crossing to the south side of the sound. We scurried across the transport lane and now the morning sun was warm, the sunglasses came out and we snacked on our dry bag goodies. Mindy was kind enough to let me be the bow man so I could take photos and videos. At the end of our tour a offered to send many of the photos to all and they all signed up to receive them. Clay especially wanted to remember this day as it was his last tour of the season and he heads back to the States soon.

Here’s one for your wall, Clay, and thanks for an unforgettable day in Milford Sound.

and for all of us, whatever floats your boat….GO FORWARD AND GET IT!!!

– Paul

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

Into the Wilderness

And it rained, and rained, and rained on the West Coast of the South Island…over 600 mm, for you non-metric folks that’s over 2 feet….and as we left Haast passing our new friends and Peace Runners

from the Sri Chinmoy Peace Runners, we wondered if we would make it to more stable weather. As we approached Wanaka we understood what a weather curtain the mountains are for this central region of the South Island.

It was curious for me to meet the Sri Chinmoy group here is NZ. The Lake St Marshall Bridge between Minneapolis and St Paul is named in his honor, and it reminded me of earlier days with “World Runners” and “Ski to End Hunger” friends as we did what we loved and worked to make a difference.  Could it be that this is as good as it gets?

The Peace Runners are running across New Zealand as part of an ‘around the world’ run to stimulate conversations for peace.  Their leader Jim Lawless

and I really hit it off talking about working with youth and forming a connection between a NZ School and a school in Edina to foster communication and learning across oceans and cultures.  At 68, Jim is still a renewable energy engineer and talks to kids about climate and healthy living as his work with Peace Runners.  He even is working on a project in Tawau, Sabah where we will be in 3 weeks.

The rains in the mountains where we are headed for the famous Routeburn Track (trek) have cancelled the tramp for the past 2 days.  The reports say the rain will end today and the track is open just in time for our 3 day, 2 nights in the South Island wilderness.  Though the bridge is out at the end of the tramp, so we may get in some extra walking if we get turned back.  There are Department of Conservation folks along the way who will let us know and communicate with the folks moving our car as needed.

So Mindy is packing up while I share the last few days from the West Coast, to Wanaka where we be presenting “Saving Snow” on Sunday to the local ski club and hopefully others that we have been meeting in the area.  And then on to Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world where every bathroom stall door invites you to bungy jump, rope swing, skydive or jet boat with the admonition “is THIS checked off on your bucket list yet?”  As I realize how engaged (buried?) people are in their search for adventure and the next cool thing to excite their nervous system; I am more aware than ever how important our conversations with other travellers and local Kiwis on climate action are.  And how the shootings in Christchurch has elevated people’s thinking about what’s important.  So many have mentioned that they were disappointed that the shootings covered up much of the overage on the Student Strike 4 Climate.  Perhaps it’s another one of those silver lining happenings that force people to awakened to the reality of what is happening right in the middle of their vacations.

I am please with the responses I am receiving and Mindy is being reasonably tolerant with my penchant for conversing with campervan neighbors, tour guide workers, campground hosts, money changer staff, really no one is safe while I am awake.  Actually I have found great pleasure is connecting with them around our trip, their work, the weather (wow is that easy here!!) etc. before sharing our climate work and community building ideas.  My CCL training seems to be working.

The West coast seems a bit in the past now but our stop in Punikaiki and my 2 hours alone at the “Pancake Rocks” on a quiet morning was quite remarkable.

Further down the coast we stopped at both famous glaciers the Franz Joseph and the Fox Glaciers.  The former we had to walk to a look out point still a good distance from the foot of the ice.  The retreat of both of these unique low altitude glaciers has receded so much it is shocking.  One of the info signs says the retreat of the glaciers in 1.5- 7 meters A DAY!!!  Guess we should feel lucky to see such giants while they are still impressive…but for me there is sadness and more conversations for action.

We still have time…3 weeks in NZ and for me the biggest thrill is to come this Saturday after the Routeburn tramp….we booked a sunrise kayak tour on Milford Sound…3-3.5 hours touring around all parts of this magical piece of ocean that captivates all who go there.

There will be more as there always is…thanks for following our journey and wherever you are enjoying your precious slice of the world and people in your lives.

A special shout out to my sister Sue and her husband Tom as she continues her recovery from a stroke and our colleague J Drake Hamilton also recovering from a head injury from an ice slip in February.  We are keenly aware of the blessing we have with healthy bodies and minds as we get up and see this astoundingly beautiful country and share with our experience with friends and family around our planet.

See you on the other side of the mountains.

– Paul

More pictures coming later 🙂

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