Monthly Archives: January 2015

Colorado Mountaineering Course

In the fast paced lifestyle of the radically sabbaticaling there is little time to rest. No sooner had Donna and I landed in San Francisco in early December than we were busy running errands and preparing for our next adventures. The plan was that we would once again part ways for the first half of the month.   Learning even more Spanish was beckoning Donna, but this time her thinking was she should be really fully immersed in order to get the most out of another 2 weeks of Spanish school.   Although Bariloche had lifted her Spanish off the ground to a basic understanding, she knew that in order to learn in the most effective way, she would need to travel alone because when we traveled together we would always end up speaking English with one another. Also, my better Spanish often meant I did most of the talking in situations when we were together. Thus Donna decided that she would go to Spain… and you’ll have to wait for her post to read about how it went!


My prerogative was to head to Colorado in order to take a mountaineering course with my friend Colin (remember him, from the China trip?). Two years ago the world of backcountry snowboarding opened up for me when I took an avalanche safety course in Tahoe. That experience and my subsequent backcountry tours in the Sierras, Iceland and Argentina, had given me a base level of experience but also reinforced a couple of critical points. The first is that the mountains and backcountry environments deserve the utmost of respect. Avalanches kill, bad weather can move in swiftly and catch one off-guard, and terrain needs to be properly understood. Secondly, the best one can do to pay their respect is to act intelligently and to prepare oneself mentally and physically. Towards that end, constant learning, vigilance, and conservative decision making are of paramount importance.


The kind of snowboarding I aspire to do is known as ski mountaineering, which combines backcountry skiing with mountaineering techniques in order to open up the possibility of accessing amazing and uncrowded terrain. The avalanche course I took was just the tip of the iceberg in requisite knowledge one needs for going off piste. In order to actually earn an entrance into the sport of ski mountaineering I would need to learn mountaineering skills: multi-pitch rock climbing, proper use of crampons and an ice axe, and most importantly the experience one gains from actually practicing these skills in the mountains.


When I was in the backcountry near Bariloche (see my Refugio Frey post here) I was blatantly unsafe when I went bootpacking up the Principal couloir. The snow just under the thin layer of powder was hard packed and icy and I bootpacked up the couloir, which was 30 degrees in some place, without crampons for traction or a mountaineering ice axe for self-arrest. While walking up if I had slipped it likely would’ve meant I would rapidly accelerate downhill and eventually tumble over rocks with broken bones being almost guaranteed and potentially death if I was unlucky. At the time I knew the danger and took each step cautiously, but I probably shouldn’t have climbed that hill at all. After that experience I told myself I would need to take a proper mountaineering course as soon as possible to learn the important skills I lacked and to better prepare me for ski mountaineering.


And so I flew to Denver to meet up with my friend Colin. The course would begin the next day, a Saturday, and was 5 straight days. Colin lives in Boulder and we’d stay at his house, driving 40 minutes each day to Estes Park where the Colorado Mountain School is located. The real learning would happen in the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), just outside of Estes Park. Another plus of taking a trip to Denver is that my grandparents live there, so after the course I’d get to spend a few days with them.


Colin walking towards the entrance of the Colorado Mountain School in Estes Park

Colin walking towards the entrance of the Colorado Mountain School in Estes Park

The Intro to Mountaineering Level 1 course was great beyond my expectations. Our instructor was a guy in his early 50’s named Bob Chase, but he looked at least a decade younger than that. I really think being a mountain guide may be one secret to the fountain of youth; it makes sense that being outside everyday doing what you love would keep one young and healthy! Bob was also the most experienced guide at the school, having worked there for over 20 years, and he was an awesome treasure trove of information whom we could ask endless questions about anything related to mountaineering. Over the course of those 5 days I learned an immense amount from Bob, who would patiently explain every detail of what we were learning and ensure I was practicing the skills correctly. There were 5 students total, and the 3 others besides Colin and myself were all 20-something dudes whose experience varied from very little (in my case) to some rock-climbing experience. We all had much to learn.


Here’s a quick breakdown of how we spent each day, along with photos from each of those days:


Day 1 – First we grabbed our rental gear: climbing harness, hard plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, and backpack. We spent 3 hours discussing our backgrounds and gear. Mountaineers depend 100% on gear and having a good system down to each little detail is crucial for success in hostile alpine environments. After the discussion we left and spent the afternoon climbing a simple rock formation near the school. I learned how to top rope climb (in crampons, no less) and how to belay. It was my first time rock climbing with a harness and ropes.

First time rock climbing with ropes and I'm wearing crampons!

First time rock climbing with ropes and I’m wearing crampons!

colorado mountain school-2

First time repelling



Day 2 – This day was about learning how to multi-pitch rock in an alpine environment. We snow-shoed into Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and did a 5 pitch climb in terrain that was relatively simple. We probably didn’t really need to be roped up for the climb, but this was all about practicing rock climbing techniques. After climbing up we did a big and serious belay down a vertical rock face, which was pretty cool.

Colin at the top of our objective on Day 2

Colin at the top of our objective on Day 2

Me at the top of Day 2 objective.  You can see Longs Peak in the background, the highest mountain in RMNP and the only 14'er in the park

Me at the top of Day 2 objective. You can see Longs Peak in the background, the highest mountain in RMNP and the only 14’er in the park

This was the big repel we did after the climb up

This was the big repel we did after the climb up


Day 3 (December 8) – For my 31st birthday I went ice climbing! In RMNP we walked to Hidden Falls where Bob setup a top-rope system where we could safely practice ice climbing. For me ice climbing was really difficult. I became very familiar with getting “pumped out”, which happens when climbers’ hand/wrist muscles are completely fatigued from gripping extensively. My climbing was slow, mainly because I wouldn’t trust my crampons to hold onto the ice, but the reality is it is amazing how such a small point of contact on the crampon can secure one to the ice wall. I want to practice more! It was a whole lot of fun and a great way to spend my birthday.

Colin at the base of a frozen Hidden Falls

Colin at the base of a frozen Hidden Falls

Me embarking on one of my first ice climbing experiences

Me embarking on one of my first ice climbing experiences

Of course i took a selfie when I was half way up the ice falls!

Of course i took a selfie when I was half way up the ice falls!

Day 4 – This was kind of a rest day in that we did not climb anything, instead practicing snow skills. We spent the day learning about ice and snow anchors, learning to use an ice axe to self-arrest and practicing beacon searches.

Bob demonstrating how to use ice screws to create an anchor in ice

Bob demonstrating how to use ice screws to create an anchor in ice

colorado mountain school-13

Snow anchor with 5 guys pulling on it to demonstrate its strength


Dominic looking stoically out towards Longs Peak with a frozen Bear Lake in the foreground

Dominic looking stoically out towards Longs Peak with a frozen Bear Lake in the foreground

colorado mountain school-15

Colin taking a lunch break siesta


colorado mountain school-16

These white jays were super smart and would literally swoop down and grab stuff out from your hands if you weren’t paying attention. It even happened to Bob after he warned us!



Day 5 – The final day we would climb a route affectionally called “Bob’s Route” to the top of Flattop Mountain in RMNP. The day began with an alarm at 2:30am so that we would be at Estes Park no later than 4:30am and on the trail in RMNP for a late “alpine start” at 5am. Usually when climbers attempt mountain ascents it behooves them to start the day well before dawn because snow conditions are usually firmer and safer earlier in the day, hence the concept of an alpine start. After snowshoeing towards the base of Flattop, at daybreak we watched the alpenglow hit the crest of Notchtop Peak and simultaneously the moon was setting over the mountain, which made for an awesome photo. The first several hundred feet of the climb was over semi-steep talus but by around 11am we reached grade 5 terrain and it was time to begin rock climbing. We roped up and Bob led the route up for myself and 2 other students, with me being the last climber so that I would collect the gear Bob placed for protection. Colin and the other more advanced student went with a 2nd guide up a more difficult route. There were parts of our route where without a rope for safety, a fall would’ve meant certain death after tumbling hundreds of feet. Even falling with the ropes would’ve been painful as you’re going tumble down rocks for at least 10 or more feet before the rope saves you. The photos really don’t do it justice, this was terrain unlike anything I’d experienced before and I was scared but exhilarated at the same time. Rock climbing is pretty rad! We made it to the top around 2:30pm and then descended by walking down a snowy slope on the not-so-steep part of the mountain.


An Apline Start means your day begins before the sun comes up.  Here we're snowshoeing towards the base of Flattop Mountain

An Apline Start means your day begins before the sun comes up. Here we’re snowshoeing towards the base of Flattop Mountain

Alpenglow hitting the crest of Notchtop Mountain

Alpenglow hitting the crest of Notchtop Mountain. You can see the moon hanging high in the sky.

colorado mountain school-19

About an hour later was the epic shot, the moon hanging right above the Notchtop peak


colorado mountain school-26

When I got back to Colin’s house, which he is renting fully furnished, I noticed this photo on the wall of his study… and realized that it was pretty much EXACTLY the same photo that we had experienced in person (and took a similar picture of) that day!




Colin after making his ascent

Colin after making his ascent

This photo has the camera pointed basically straight down.  It's hard to tell, but this was some STEEP terrain we were climbing.

This photo has the camera pointed basically straight down. It’s hard to tell, but this was some STEEP terrain we were climbing.

Selfie.  I'm worse than a teenage girl.

Selfie while in a critically steep location. I’m worse than a teenage girl with selfies, apparently.

Dominic and John just before we finished our ascent.

Dominic and John just before we finished our ascent.

The view from the top of Flattop

The view from the top of Flattop


Colin and I were super amped from the course and decided we wanted to head back to RMNP with the objective of skiing down the Dragon’s Tail Couloir. We spent Thursday relaxing going shopping for necessary gear and I bought a harness, crampons and an ice axe.


On Friday we yet again woke up well before dawn and drove straight into RMNP. The walk to the base of the couloir took about an hour and a half, but we really didn’t get started climbing up the couloir until nearly 10am. Three other skiers started climbing up a little before us and there was a nice bootpack trail for us to follow up. Early on we knew we wouldn’t be needing rope to climb up, but we were fully prepared with rope and harnesses just in case we felt they needed more safety. By 1pm or so we reached the highest point we felt comfortable going. To ascend the last one-third of the couloir it would’ve been necessary to rope up in order to get over a rocky section, but we were running out of time as the snow, which had been in the sun earlier in the day, was stiffening up as the couloir became shaded. At one point we did use the rope down-climb a steep section, but going up and down that short section was really just for getting in some rope practice. The view from our highest point was pretty awesome but I was worried about the snow quality for the descent, as it seemed super crusty and potentially icy. In the end my edges held fine the descent was fun although the snow was not good. Colin and I were stoked on the trip and I envision future adventures for the two of us!

colorado mountain school-27

Colin just before we started on the trail to Emerald Lake


Our first view of the Dragons Tail Couloir, which is in the center of the pic.  Notice the moon setting towards the left just above the ridge line.

Our first view of the Dragons Tail Couloir, which is in the center of the pic. Notice the moon setting towards the left just above the ridge line.

Me hiking up Dragons Tail

Me hiking up Dragons Tail

colorado mountain school-31

Colin hiking up Dragons Tail


View of Emerald Lake and the valley from the highest point we went up the couloir

View of Emerald Lake and the valley from the highest point we went up the couloir.  I think we hiked up about 1800 feet from the lake below.

colorado mountain school-33

If we wanted to go all the way up the couloir, we would’ve taken the route you see in this photo. The rocky band presented a difficult obstacle and we didn’t feel we had enough time to complete the full objective to the top.





The next day was Saturday and I was more than ready for some rest & relaxation when my grandpa came to pick me up that morning. That weekend I hung out with grandma and grandpa, sleeping well, eating well, and talking with them about anything and everything. They’re always so stoked when I come to visit and it makes me happy to see them. I watched the Broncos clinch the AFC West division, which made gramps happy. Grandma is getting a little loopy as she suffers from Alzheimer’s but sometimes she cracks me up with her ridiculous comments.

Me and Grandma & Grandpa

Me and Grandma & Grandpa


On Monday morning I headed back to the airport and flew back to San Francisco. Donna and I would arrive within an hour of one another and would spend a few days in SF before heading to Florida for family time through Christmas. Thanks to Kelsey for letting us stay in her room!



Categories: Colorado | Leave a comment

New Zealand, Part 3: The South Island

Donna and I spent about 2 weeks on New Zealand’s gorgeous South Island.  We drove nearly 3,000 kilometers but afterward still felt that somehow we had only scratched the surface of  what one Kiwi I met called God’s Country because of its extreme beauty!  The key decision point for us after arriving on the ferry to Picton late on Monday afternoon was which way to drive south to Queenstown: along the west coast or along east coast.   We ended up taking the eastern coast route mainly because it meant we’d be partaking in more wine tasting the following day. This also would mean that when the time came to head north back to Picton in order to catch the ferry back to the North Island, we’d take the western route, which was said to be a more grandiose drive as the Southern Alps rise starkly from the Tasman Sea and the cliffside roadway looks akin to Big Sur — saving the best for last!   Really, either way would’ve been awesome and most of all we were stoked to start exploring the South Island.

Our route through the South Island

Our route through the South Island



The town of Blenheim is only 30 minutes south of Picton in the heart of Marlborough wine country, a region that produces most of New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc wines.   Donna was very excited to check out the winery of her favorite white wine, Cloudy Bay, so that was the top of our “to do” list.  Meanwhile, I went on the hunt for some mountain biking trails.  There was no disappointment for either of us!  Right near the town center we found an inexpensive hostel that we stayed at for two nights and that afforded us beds to sleep in and a large kitchen to make a few meals.  Next door to the hostel was a bike rental shop, where I learned that Blenheim, like any respectable New Zealand town, had a mountain bike park.

So by mid-morning on Tuesday we had mountain bikes rented and set to hit the mountain bike park. It was a clear but very windy day and it felt like we were biking uphill along a flat riverbed just to reach the mountain bike park.  Once at the park the trees and hill itself sheltered us from the wind and we did a few laps up and down through some fun trails without ever encountering any other riders.  After the ride we found lunch at a Thai restaurant and then back at the bike shop we decided it would be fun to swap our mountain bikes for a tandem bike that we could ride through the vineyards.  I am bummed we didn’t get a photo of the two of us on the tandem bike, but I can attest that riding a tandem bike is an awesome way to check out flat wine countryside with your favorite girl.  Our goal for the ride was to find Cloudy Bay and hopefully squeeze in a tasting before the winery closed, but our cell phones were out of batteries and without the navigational aid I got us hopelessly lost and we never found the vineyard.  It would have to wait for the next day…

The following day was a the real-deal wine tasting experience.  We started off with the main event: a tasting at Cloudy Bay, where we also came away with a good compliment of whites to take back to America with us for holiday sharing purposes.  After that we headed to Sherwood Estate, but the tasting room was closed for renovations, although there was a consolation prize: an open cheese tasting room.  We walked away with several cheeses, including an incredible aged bleu and a musty cheddar.  Next up was a taste of some incredible sparkling wines at No1 Family Estate followed by a visit to the Moa Brewery, where I tasted some great beers and walked away with a few hard to find IPAs.  We lunched at the posh Allan Scott vineyard and received a free tasting with meal.  Finally — and at this point I was feeling a little buzzed — we headed to the first and largest of the Marlborough vineyards, Bancroft Estate, where we enjoyed a scenic overlook of the Marlborough valley and tasted a few more kinds of sauvignon blanc.  What a day in the vineyards!

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!)


Making our way to Queenstown 

With Donna behind the wheel late that afternoon, we drove south without a clear destination in mind.  After a few hours we made it to Kaikoura and along the way we were treated to a gorgeous coastline that in many places was a brilliant aqua color and groomed by light offshore winds.  We passed many surf spots along the way, but there was absolutely no swell in the water, it was Lake Pacific.  Kaikoura was a sleepy beachside town and thus fish-n’-chips was our call for dinner and it was a delicious experience.   During the meal we discussed where we wanted to end up that evening and after some Google-ing we decided that a small town called Hanmer Springs would be worth checking out the next day, where we could do some mountain biking in the forests surrounding the town and then afterward soak our bones in the hot spring park.  The drive was long and we took an inland scenic route that afforded great vistas as the sun was setting.  I snapped a few pics of cute lambs too and by just after 9pm we made it to our campervan park and relaxed. 

In Hanmer Springs the next morning we rented bikes and contemplated which trails we’d want to find and ride.  The mountain bike shop offered a package that included a van ride to the top of the mountain behind town and then you’d get to ride back down to Hamner; it seemed like a great ride but was way overpriced, so we decided we’d just ride up and down ourselves!  A gruelling 8km climb of over 2,000 feet on a dirt road brought us to the high country behind the Hamner Range where we followed a road along the Clarence River until we forked off to descend back into Hamner.  The trail ride down on yet another logging road was not that awesome; Donna and I had clearly been spoiled by the awesome tracks at places like Rotorua, but it was a long ride with fantastic views of the Hanmer Valley.  Overall the ride took us just over 4 hours.  Oh, and then the hot springs awaited us and they were fantastically refreshing and relaxing.  I even snuck a ride on the waterslide!

We spent the rest of the afternoon continuing south and we freedom camped at a random site along the road.  It was a quiet place by a river, but both Donna and I got a little eaten by mosquitos in the short time we spent outside.  Amazingly, this was our first and only encounter with man-eating insects in New Zealand; they are usually not something to be concerned about.

We completed the final leg of our drive to Queenstown that Friday.  We passed through more epic scenery and even passed through the pasture land where our favorite merino wool clothing, Icebreaker, comes from.  We took a break from driving at the head of Lake Tekapo and made some reservations for adventures in Queenstown: rafting, mountain biking, and ATV riding.  One trick we learned was to check for discounted activites; we saved a couple hundred bucks by doing this for rafting and ATV riding.   By the time we made it to Queenstown it was dusk and after a brief foray in town it started raining so we drove to a campground about 10km south of the town.  We’d been tracking the weather closely and it looked like it’d be tricky partaking in the activities we wanted to do for the next week given a few systems forecasted to be moving through, but we were optimistic for periods of favorable conditions.

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!)


Milford Sound 

At the campervan park south of Queenstown it rained most of the night.  It wasn’t raining when we drove back into town to the rafting guide meeting spot, but we were informed that because of the torrential downpour the previous night, the Shotover River was too high and therefore it was unsafe to raft that day.  The normal flow for the Shotover River is about 20-30 cubic meters per second (m/s), the max flow they will still allow rafting on is about 75 cubic m/s but because of the rain the previous day the river was flowing nearly 150 cubic m/s!  We had to come up with a new plan so we hung out at one of the adventure planning stores and the friendly guides helped us figure out a plan.  We had heard that checking out the Doubtful Sound in Fjordland was a worthwhile trip, but the availability for trips to Doubtful was non-existent, so instead we booked a sea kayaking trip for the following morning in Milford Sound.  Even though Milford Sound is only about 50 miles away from Queenstown as the crow flies, to get there via car one must instead drive all the way around Lake Wakatipu to the town of Te Anau and then follow Lake Te Anau north into Fjordland, through the epic Homer Tunnel and then down into Milford Sound.  We left immediately and the entire journey took well over 4 hours, but it included spectacular scenery as we weaved through glacier carved fjord valleys.  We made frequent stops along the way to take photos and gasp at insanely high waterfalls gushing from all aspects of rock; the recent rain ensured all waterfalls were gushing near their fullest.  At one stop we also encountered a number of rather tame kea birds.  I commented to Donna after first seeing one that it looked kind of like a parrot and it turns out that these highly intelligent birds are the world’s only alpine parrot.  By the time we made it to Milford Sound it was dusk and we were lucky to secure the last two bunk spots at the Milford Lodge.  After getting settled we went on a jogging tour of Milford Sound; the area was so small that we basically checked everything out, from the airport to the docks to the expansive wetland park, within about an hour of running around.  It felt great to stretch the legs after being in the campervan for so many hours over the previous two days!

 Sea kayaking the next day was an awesome experience and the weather was perfect.  We woke early and were on the water by 8am.  Being on the water early was worthwhile because early it was completely glassy and later on during the trip a seabreeze kicked up that made the kayaking much trickier.  I brought my GoPro and snapped a bunch of pics of the tranquil setting.  Highlights included kayaking through “tree barrels” that hung over the water and seeing 2 penguins walking around that were nesting in the sound for the winter. I’d recommend the trip we did with Roscoes Sea Kayaks to anyone visiting Milford Sound.

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!)


Queenstown Adventures

We drove back to Queenstown and this time took up residence in a private room at a hostel called The Southern Laughter that is very close to the main drag.  We ended up spending 3 nights in a row here and it was worth it to relax in relative luxury and be able to cook meals in the kitchen.

The next day was an epic one with fantastic blue skies.  In the morning we went rafting on the Shotover River.  The river flow had fallen to about 50 cubic m/s and the rapids were super fun.  The drive in was also very interesting and sketchy as it was a old gold mining road that was narrow and wound down along steep cliffs lacking any kind of safety guardrails.  The road was used during the big gold rush in the 1800s by thousands of prospectors seeking fortune.  Apparently the stretch of the Shotover River we were about to float down had produced more gold than just about any river in the world and our guide told us that even to this day some of his friends had found small gold nuggets while panning for gold!  The highlight of the rafting trip was a tunnel we floated through that ended in the biggest rapid of the day.  The tunnel was created by gold miners who sought to divert the entire river so they could easily get gold from the riverbed, but they miscalculated so only half the river was diverted.  At least their efforts now provide tourists like us with a novel experience!

That afternoon we went 4-wheeling in the hills overlooking Queenstown.  Donna was tickle-pink with excitement, as she always is whenever we do any type of motorsport like jet-skiing or ATVing, and she raced along the hills with a huge smile on her face the entire time.  The guide was impressed with our riding skills and took us along some more advanced tracks, where we got to speed through huge mud puddles that splashed up enormous amounts of dirty water.  The bigger the splashes we made, the more the guide was impressed.  The vistas included the spectacular range of The Incredibles, which the guide informed us was the inspiration behind the Coors Beer logo; I kind of saw what he was saying but also felt like this was a classic Kiwi joke to tell Americans. 

The next day we had scheduled a mountain biking excursion at Rabbit Ridge, which was in the Gibbston Valley near Queenstown.  We had a lot of fun biking the deserted park.  We paid for a package that included 5 rides up to the top of the park in a van, which minimized the amount we need to pedal uphill.  The trails were rather technical with lots of banked berms on steep terrain and it was good practice for improving our riding.  At one point I totally slipped out and ate crap, my first real fall of the entire trip, but luckily I rolled it out and avoided any injury beyond a few minor scrapes.  The guide also got a fantastic photo of Donna coming around a berm that I am guessing may be in their next brochure or something.  After the ride we stopped by the Gibbston Valley Winery for a tasting of their Pinot Noirs, but we didn’t really like their wines all that much, the first time I’d actually been disappointed by New Zealand wine during the entire trip. 

Back in Queenstown by early afternoon, the rain started to come down.  We fuelled up at the infamous Fergburger. Anyone who has visited Queenstown has probably checked out Fergburger and I can attest that the taste of the burger really does live up to the hype: it is super good and by far the best burger in town.  There is also always a line out the door so expect a wait!  We spent the rainy afternoon playing Blackjack at the local casino and after over 2 hours of play we wound up making about $25, which felt like a great outcome.

During some of the gaps in our time I managed to get 2 rounds of frisbee golf in.  There is an 18-hole course in Queenstown that was pretty good, weaving through a forest and with a few “ace holes” and I was stoked to get to toss a few rounds.  Donna played with me during the first round and she definitely has a natural talent for throwing discs, although I wonder if I’ll ever get her to become passionate about the sport like I am, haha.

The next day was Wednesday, November 26th.  We’d been in the South Island for well over a week at this point and we knew we need to start making our back north before too long, but there was still one more major adventure to be had in Queenstown.  When we arrived, I challenged Donna that if she wanted to try either bungy jumping or skydiving I’d happily pay for it, my thinking being that given her inability to jump off a 20 foot high rock into the sea back in Cabo a few years back, that the likelihood of her wanted to do either of those former activities was pretty low.  But I wanted to encourage her risk taking side and I was stoked when we woke up that morning and she said she wanted to go bungy jumping!  In the Queenstown area there are several bungy jumps to do, but my philosophy is “go big or go home”, so there was no doubt in my mind that we’d have to do the Nevis Bungy, which at 134m is one of the top 10 highest in the world.  There was nervous excitement for both of us as the time for our jumps approached but in the end we both charged out there for the most thrilling 10 seconds of our entire trip.  The photos and videos speak for themselves!

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!) 


DONNA — we bought this one from the bungy company

BRANDON — self made from his GoPro camera




We had heard from multiple people that Wanaka was their favorite town and definitely worth checking out, so after the buzz from bungy jumping wore off, plus another round of Fergburgers, we made our way to Wanaka.  We arrived late in the afternoon and found a campervan site using the ever convenient NZ Campervan app.

The next morning we went and played the Wanaka golf golf course in Lisborn , which was brand new and I had learned about from a posting I found at the start of the Queenstown disc golf course.  The course was rather boring as it mostly covered treeless, hilly terrain, but it was kind of fun for its simplicity and I took down a solid 3-under par.

Afterward I rented a mountain bike in order to check out the Wanaka’s Sticky Forest mountain bike trail network.  Donna wasn’t feeling well, so she opted to stay in town and work on a blog post while I checked rode.   Overall I was impressed with the trails and spent a solid 3 hours exploring Sticky Forest.  There was some very advanced riding to be had and I found two runs that had awesome medium sized jumps that gave me a good thrill.  I came back thoroughly exhausted, but our plan was to start driving north so we left Wanaka after I returned the bike.

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!) 


Driving North 

Based on conversations we’d had with a number of people while in Queenstown, we decided we wanted to check out Able Tasman National Park, which was way up on the northwest tip of the South Island.  This meant we needed to really get moving and drive well over 1,000kms from Wanaka along the west coast in order to get to the park and still make our ferry ride back to the North Island.  We wouldn’t have much time to do any real sight-seeing, but we hoped the views from the road would be as spectacular as people had said.

From Wanaka we ended up making it to about 30 miles south of the Fox Glacier before we ran out of light and found a campervan park to spend the night in.  The next morning we decided to check out the Fox Glacier, which was a short drive off the main road and then about a 30-minute hike to an overlook where the glacier terminated in a spiky mess of calving ice.  I think this was my first time seeing a glacier like this and it was impressive, and even more so when one considered that the entire huge valley we were in was carved by the slow moving ice.  The Glacier has been retreating quicker every decade since measurements had begun in the mid 1800s; in general the world’s glaciers seem to be humanity’s most stark reminder that climate change is happening.

From the Fox Glacier we pretty much bee-lined straight up to Able Tasman in an epic 8 hour drive.  The weather was somewhat cloudy and gloomy for most of the ride, which is actually fairly common for the area given the west side of the South Island consistently receives more rainfall that just about anyplace in the world.  We did stop for dinner in a small town called Murchison where I had one of those classic “it’s a small world” moments when I saw two lady kayak guides at the restaurant we had just walked into.  I was curious about what kind of rafting was in the area so I struck up a conversation and it turned out that these two girls knew a friend of mine from the U.K., Sara James, who had come through New Zealand a year and a half prior for a few months of kayaking.  I sent the picture I took with Sophia and Meg to Sara and she was stoked!  Once at Able Tasman we stayed in campervan park right on the beach and got a good nights rest in preparation for the long hike we planned to do the next day.

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!) 


Able Tasman

The Able Tasman National Park contains another one of New Zealand’s “Great Treks”.  The park butts up against the Tasman Bay and is known for gorgeous white, sandy beaches and aqua blue water.  The hiking trail runs along the coast from the hamlet of Marahau in the south to about Wainui Bay in the north with a total length of about 50 kilometers that would take 2 or 3 days to hike in its entirety.  The following day we needed to catch the early ferry from Picton to the North Island, so we’d only be able to complete one stretch of the trail, but this wasn’t a problem because water taxis run to ferry people to and from pretty much any point along the trail where they need to go.  So we signed up to be dropped off near Bark Bay and planned to hike about 20 kilometers back to Marahau.  Compared to the gruelling Tangiriro Alpine Crossing, hiking in Able Tasman was a pleasant walk in the park.  The views were gorgeous and the beaches amazing and we were able to shave off 5 kilometers of the hike by taking a shortcut afforded us due to an unusually low tide.  Along the trail about every 100 meters or so we would see an animal trap designed to catch sloats or possums; these invasive species would devastate the indigenous bird’s nest’s and so conservation groups in New Zealand work tirelessly to try to remove the predators in order to induce the native birds to return o the mainland bush from the coastal islands where they only live now.

After the hike Donna enjoyed a glass of cider and myself a refreshing beer.  We were actually fairly tired after the hike, I guess we were working harder than we realized as Donna set a furiously fast pace.  We drove towards Picton and stayed one last night at a campervan site on the way.   The next morning we quickly made it to Picton and onto the ferry back to the North Island.

(below is a gallery, click first pic then cycle through the photos!)



And with that our New Zealand adventure quickly came to a close.  Back on the North Island I was stoked to get at least one surf session in before we caught a plane back to SF.


WE WILL BE BACK TO NEW ZEALAND, IT IS THE MOST AMAZING COUNTRY WE’VE BEEN TO.  EVERYONE SHOULD CHECK IT OUT FOR THEMSELVES !!!   And we hope that by reading our blog posts about New Zealand, you can learn from our experience and craft your own epic adventure!


Categories: Able Tasman, Marlborough, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Wanaka | 5 Comments

Blog at

the Front Steps

San Francisco Real Estate

The Radical Sabbatical

Donna + Brandon

Bromdog's Blog

The life of Matt Bromley


Startup and Technology News

It's a Rice Life

Adventures in SE Asia

The Good Life Rides Again

Tom and Barabara's Travel Blog