It only took 24 years

Posted from Lauterbrunnen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland.

In September of 1991 Matthew and I took our first journey to Europe. We met Kathleen and John in Zurich and spent a few days seeing Switzerland , Germany and France. Then we parted ways. They told us to go see Lauderbrunnen, a beautiful little village in an amazing valley. So we went. It was unforgettable. It made me want to see more of Europe and started my many travels there. It would be 23 years before I returned to that lovely valley. 

In July of 2014 Carolyn, Emily and I visited Lauterbrunnen again.  We drank pitchers of beer where the base jumpers hung out. We visited the Jungfraujock. We hiked the alps where we had lunch in a small village high in the mountains. It was Gimmelwald. At first sight I knew this was a place I wanted to spend time in. 

In September of 2015 I returned to Gimmelwald. Perched on the cliffs high above the Lauterbrunnen valley. No access by road only by hiking or cable car. I chose the cable car. Through airbnb I found a very old chalet. I was met at the station by Andreas the owner. He walked me up the hill to his home (actually weekend home). A very old chalet in the middle of heaven. He showed me his place. He told me of  hikes. He pointed out the names of the mountains. The next day he and his wife returned to Bern. Now I’m living in Gimmelwald. 24 years after my first visit. It is more beautiful than ever. 

   

View from behind the chalet  
 Looking down on Gimmelwald. 

Our ability to travel

Posted from Bern, Canton of Bern, Switzerland.

It is 9:00 pm, I am sitting on the roof of a hotel in the charming city of Bern, Switzerland.  

 The air is cool, it is quiet. I can hear a few people on the street and every 15 minutes the bells from the churches I can see. I am looking over the roof tops thinking how amazing our ability to travel is. 24 hours ago I was sitting on my couch, waiting for Stacy to pick me up and take me to the bus. Three bus rides later I’m at DFW. I board a gorgeous 777 and even snag a seat with a comfortable amount of leg room. Two meals, 3 glasses of wine, 2 movies and a 30 minute nap later I’m in the London  Heathrow airport. That place it huge, chaotic and a bit  exciting. Another flight gets me to Zurich. I catch a train and arrive a bit dazed in Bern. I find my hotel (I am carrying way too much stuff, my back hurts). It is mid afternoon. I shower and crash for a two hour nap. I wake up groggy but I know the best medicine is to get outside and see the town. I wander the streets of the old town down to the Aare a River.  

 The town is quaint, charming but also crowded with fancy high end stores. There are few people. I see a building above the river, it is a brewpub and restaurant. I can’t resist. I’m seated at a table with another lone diner. He is an older man with a long thin mustache that is 8 inches long and sticks straight out. I have an excellent beer followed by a sausage and röti dinner. Delicious. 

  

  I make my way back through town to my hotel. I walk up the stairs to my top floor room but see a set of stairs going higher. They emerge on to a roof top terrace. Though it is dark the view is amazing. I’m looking out over the town. It is beautiful. 24 hours ago I was sitting on my couch. The ability to travel is an amazing gift. I wonder where I’ll be in 24 hours?

Time to go

Well it’s time to go home. It’s been 7 wonderful weeks. The route home is Auckland to Melbourbe (overnight stay at hotel), Melbourne to Sydney then Sydney to Dallas. 

The Auckland flight was good. I got there early and enjoyed and evening of snacks and wine in the lounge.  


I’d been hearing in the news that there was weather in Sydney. So this morning I woke up at 6:00 (there’d been a 2 hour time change from Auckland) so I got up and walked back to the airport for my 9:00 flight (I figured breakfast in the lounge!!). When I checked in the lady said she was putting me on the 7:30 flight because the weather in Sydney was still bad and it was best to get there as soon as possible. We took off about 30 minutes late and had the 1 hour flight. As we descended at the point where you can see the ground and they’ve lowered the gear the plane lurched forward and we went back up into the clouds. The turbulence was very intense. We circled and tried again with success. At landing the rain was pouring!!!!  I was glad to be here. I took a bus to change terminals and we went by my plane. A double decker. It’s huge.  

  The weather continued to be bad and the announcement said all flights were on hold. No problem. I headed to the lounge. Wow, very nice.  Including a gelato bar. 

  

  I sat back and read through the papers. They all were about the storms.  

The rain has slowed and they’ve  made an announcement that my flight should depart one hour late. Not bad. Time for gelato. 

I’ve looked around I don’t see any other people in the lounge with a backpack.  

 

Well they called my flight. 

A two story jet. Crazy. 

I’m coming home. 

 

Waitekere

Posted from Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

On Monday morning I met Brigette and she drove me about 40 minutes west of Auckland (actually the other side of the North Island)  to a huge regional park. She really wanted to make sure I saw the beauty of Auckland (and not just the city). We spent the entire day going on hikes. The views were phenomenal. High above the ocean, along the beaches, and waterfalls. She told me about the trees and the history of the place. We had a nice lunch and kept going. We went from place to place going on short hikes. We left at 9 and I didn’t get home until 6.                   

What an amazing day and an amazing coincidence that made it happen. It was a wonderful last full day in New Zealand.  

Waiheke and an Incredible Thing

Posted from Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

On Sunday the morning was great. Clear sky’s, warm temperatures.   

I’d been watching the ferries head out of Auckland and decided I need a boat ride. I got online and researched the options. There were several islands to chose from and I settled  in Waiheke. I bought a sandwich, a ticket and was on my way. It was about a 20 minute ride to a lovely island.   

There were lots of passengers and as we got off they got into a variety of buses and vans for various activities (wine tasting, boat riding, touring). I’d found a map showing hikes along the edge of the island. I had several to chose from and randomly selected one that went right. It climbed slowly around the bay. I stopped for lunch and to enjoy the view. It was incredible. The ocean was calm, the shore line gorgeous and there was no one there.         
I continued on along the beach. At one point I saw a woman ahead walking toward me with her dog.  As she got to me I looked up to greet her with a hello. As I glanced up I was looking at a face I recognized and from her expression I knew she recognized me. We both said oh my god and hugged. It was Bridgette, a woman I met last October on the camino.  Unbelievable.   

I remember her telling me she lived on a small island in NZ but I had no idea where. She had given me her email and told me to contact her when I came to NZ but I hadn’t (something she pointed out to me). What are the odds, the one person I knew in NZ and I ran into her on a randomly selected path that I chose. If you read my Camino blog you might remember this woman I posted a picture of her sitting on a swing with her pack on.  

 We chatted for a while and  exchanged phone numbers. She said she would be in Auckland on business the next day. She would delay her work and  she’d show me some great hike if I wanted. Of course I said yes. 

I continued my hike. The landscape was amazing. Small farms, vineyards, gorgeous houses and still no people.   

I made my away along the trail. Eventually it hooked up to a road that went along several wineries. I chose one for a glass of wine.  This place was spectacular, rivaling anything I’ve  seen in Napa. I sat on the patio with a view of the ocean in the distance.     

I returned to the ferry dock and returned to Auckland.  

Even without the crazy meeting of Bridgette the trip to Waiheke was excellent. Any trip to Auckland should include at least one day on this really cool island. 

Auckland

Posted from Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

I arrived in Auckland and made my way down town. I’d  rented an apartment in the CBD (central business district). It turned out to be great. It is on the 30th floor with nice views over the city and harbor. It is located a few blocks from the waterfront. Auckland is a nice downtown. Lots of restaurants, people, waterfront activities, ferries, yachts… I like living the city life even if just for a while. The building is very nice but I never see anyone. Rather odd.       

The views are great. With beautiful  sunrises and sunsets. 

I’ve enjoyed my time here though really I didn’t do much. I walked around town, walked all along the water front and wandered the really beautiful University of Auckkand campus.     

Next week is Anzac Day which commemorates the service of Australia and New Zealand during WW I. I saw several displays related to that day. Below us a cross for each Aucklander killed in the war.    

A recreation in an alleyway of a WW I battle trench. These guys were there all day.   
  I ate good meals, I drank good wine, I rented DVDs (some good some bad) and enjoyed myself. 

Arthurs Pass

Posted from Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Arthurs pass is the major east west passage from Cheustchurch to the west coast. I booked two nights at a great little RV park just before the pass. I didn’t know what to expect but was very surprised by the beautiful mountains and valleys. On my full day there I took a long hike that went to several waterfalls and had great views up into valleys. I learned that the rain from yesterday had put the snow up in the mountains just last night.            

  • I spent my second night at the RV park (they even had DVDs to check out). The next morning I started up again and when I got to where my hike had been everything was covered in snow. Even though it hadn’t  rained at the RV park it had snowed here. My drive continued fot about 35-40 miles through valleys with unbelievable mountain views. Snow was all along the way. From 1-5 inches. Luckily the roads were clear.          

It was an amazing drive. I arrived at Chtistchurch to return the RV. Without checking  anything a very nice lady loaded me into her car and delivered me to the airport for my trip to Auckland. 

Oops and an RV tour

 Well my glacier trip was scheduled well. This morning I woke up to pouring rain. I got my stuff under control and prepared to leave it’s  time to head toward Chrustchurch to return my RV in two days. I headed out driving in the rain back up the coast toward Hokitika. When I got there it was still raining so I figured I’d fill up with gas and head to Arthur’s Pass, my destination for the night. I pulled in for gas and start pumping. I look at the pump and realize I’m putting regular gas in my deisel RV. I stop the pump stunned. What to do, what to do. I’ve put in 24 liter on a 1/4 full tank. This can’t be good. I get back in my RV, in the rain and Google gas in Diesel engine. Apparently I’m not the first person to do this. There are lots of links. I check a few and they consistently say DO NOT START THE ENGINE. Get the tank drained. It’s still raining but luckily I’m looking right at a auto repair place. But it’s Sunday of course. Closed. I go inside and ask the nice Indian guy behind the counter where I can find a mechanic. He says no problem, right over there….tomorrow. I asked is there an after hours person I can find. He shakes his head no. I keep asking. Finally the second worker whispers to him (I think they worried I’d be spending  the night). He pulls out a phone book. Looks up a number. He says “don’t tell him  I gave you the number, he’ll get mad”. I asked who it was and he said Dave the guy that owns the auto place. I called Dave, he answers, I give him my story and he says no problem I’ll be there in 10 minutes. Sure enough he show in 10 minutes. He opens his shop, uses a four wheeler to tow me the 20 feet into the auto bay (in the rain). He climbed underneath and drains the tank.     

He clearly knew what he was doing, he said it happens all the time. If I’d driven it I’d  have gotten 20km before it konked out and major damage would have been done. We checked the fuel gage……very empty.   

He towed me back to the pump and suggested I fill the tank with diesel. $100 and 1.5 hours later I was back on the road. Now I  have a new mantra diesel….diesel….diesel. 
I continued on to Arthur’s pass to a very nice campground feeling lucky. 

I thought I’d post a few pictures of the inside of my RV to finish off today’s post. 

Bed time layout.    Cooking a dinner.  
Dinner table arrangement.     

Watching a DVD.  

Cute little place. 

Fox Glacier

Posted from Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Knowing that I’d be in the glacier area for a few days I decided I  wanted to walk on a glacier. There are two glaciers in the arda, Franz Joseph Glacier where I’ve been staying and Fox Glacier about 30 km south.  I research the two and selected Fox since it has fewer people but great reviews. I studied the weather. No day looked perfect but Saturday at noon seemed the best.  I picked a company and booked a heli-hike. When I woke up on Saturday it was raining. I left about 10:30 headed to Fox. The clouds were low, the mountains obscured, it wasn’t looking good. I found the place in Fox and went to check in. The checkin lady explained there complicated refund policy in case of weather saying it was questionable for the noon tour. I said I’d go. At 12:15 they called my group of 22 into an area and said we suit up and go to the airfield for the final call. They gave us big wool socks, heavy boots, rain pants and a rain jacket. It was all very nice. We boarded a bus for the 5 minute drive to the airfield. They divided us into 4 groups, mine was 5 people.  They group weighed us on what looked like a cattle scale (I was with 4 Asians so I skewed the average up).  Suddenly they said were a go and loaded my group of 5 into a helicopter. I was in the front seat next to the pilot (I was co-pilot I guess).     

Quickly we took off and headed up the valley.   

The glacier look amazing.   

We landed on the glacier and unloaded (it was very slick). Another group loaded and departed. They told us to get down on one knee as the helicopter left.   

We were at a flat area before the glacier got steep heading up.   

After all 4 groups had arrived were issued crampons to put on our boots. They made a huge difference.   

We were divided into two groups and assigned a guide. Our group of 11 had a young Kiwi with dreadlocks. We set off onto the glacier. There didn’t appear to be a specific trek we just went where our guide took us. Below are lots of picture of amazing features that we saw as we walked through and climbed on the glacier. 

A tunnel.     

Our group walking down the glacier.   

Standing by (and then stepping over) a crevice.     

Climbing through another ice tunnel. It was a bit narrow and I had to lay flat and slide along.     

We walked down into another larger crevice.       

The we went to an ice cave. One at a time we went in. It was windy and went about 20 feet before getting too small to continue. 

          

Then we hiked up the glacier. As we went we could hear and see huge rocks falling down the steep sides of the valley, very spooky.         

We made our way back to the landing spot. The helicopter returned and we boarded.    We’d walk on the glacier for about three hours. It was spectacular. 

More around Franz Joseph

Posted from Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Today was another rather rainy west coast day. Instead of returning to the glacier I chose two other hikes. The first was the Tatare Tunnels hike. It was a hike up to an old tunnel system. It was a 1000 foot tunnel through solid rock that was used to bring water into the valley for mining. The hike went up a nice valley.    

Finally it came to the tunnel enterance.  The literature said you could hike up the tunnel if you didn’t mind getting you feet wet. I’d  worn my water shoes and brought my tourch (NZ for flashlight) so I stated in.   

It was a long narrow tunnel in solid rock. There was about six inches of water flowing down the tunnel. 

I went in about 100 feet to where I could no longer see the enterance. It was dark. I figured there was no way I was going 1000 feet plus it was a bit scary so I turned around and headed out. 

The second hike was to a gorge over a river that was coming from the glacier. It was a great hike through the mountains that ended in a swing bridge over a river with a cool colored river.