Africa or bust

The hardest thing about having plans is occasionally having to break them. We’d decided during our season together that another round-the-world ticket would be the simplest and most cost-effective way to do the trip we had been envisioning – plenty of time relishing New Zealand before flying to South Africa to travel overland to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, flying from there to the island nation of Mauritius for an island vacation, and then north to Turkey (which we’d hoped to see on our last trip, but cut due to budget concerns).

But flight taxes have only gone up, and the fare for the 4-continent ticket this year was nominally more expensive than the 5-continent ticket we bought last year, and on top of that we ended up delaying our purchase long enough that the slim number of flights to and from Mauritius during our time-frame were fully booked. Reconsidering our itinerary in light of all these factors, individual tickets are now our best option.

It’s a little scary and a little relieving; buying a single ticket which gave us a distinct outline for our trip and a time to be home was comforting, but by the end of our last trip we found ourselves wishing we’d bitten off a little bit less to chew. This time we only have a vague set of dates written down in a planner to determine where we’ll be, with plenty of conditionals and questions. We also have an escape hatch – we can buy a ticket home from nearly anywhere in the world, and we wouldn’t be throwing away thousands of dollars worth of flights.

We’re buying the first leg of our journey now, a long flight from Auckland, NZ to Cape Town, SA with an unpleasant 7-hour layover in Singapore. Our hope is to travel overland up to Victoria Falls through either Botswana or Zimbabwe, and from there cut across Zambia northeast, crossing into Tanzania and ending in Dar Es Salaam. We’ll travel around the coast of Tanzania for a while before flying out of Dar to Istanbul, the city we couldn’t quite catch last year, and we’ll use it as a base to explore Eastern Europe/Turkey/go home early. Same basic plan, just more tenuous; and Mauritius had to be cut.

Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand (February 2010)

Our last trip in New Zealand was to Arthur’s Pass, a small town located in the middle of the impressive Southern Alps. We left Christchurch early Friday morning, and on the bus ride after passing by many cattle, llama and ostrich farms, were able to get our first good view of the mountain range with the sun coming over the ridge. We arrived at about 10am, and after having a quick cappuccino (drip coffee is pretty uncommon in New Zealand, most people drink instant coffee at home and espresso drinks are the norm at cafes, to our tongues’ delight and our wallets’ dismay), we walked to the visitor’s center down the pass road.

Originally we had intended to camp at one of the huts that are a part of the country’s extensive camping system, but the trailheads to both of the closest hut paths were at least 15 kilometers in either direction–and that was before beginning your ascent into the mountain to hike to the hut. Not having a car and not being very experienced mountain trampers (ahem–not experienced at all), we decided to camp at the flat, open site between the main road and the train tracks, which left a little to be desired and made us marvel at how great Minnesota’s state park system is.

We set up the mini tent in the softest spot we could find and in no time we became acquainted with the Kea that live in the park– the world’s only alpine parrot, which can only be found in NZ’s south island. They have dark green feathers mostly, apart from their brilliant fiery orange underwing feathers, and a long, loud call. The Kea are smart, strong, and comically brave and inquisitive–they have been known to destroy tents with their hooked beaks merely out of curiosity, according to the signs in the information center. A little Kea and a big, fat, disheveled-looking Kea landed at our site, and the smaller one jumped up on Daniel’s bag and stuck his face right in, emerging with a toilet paper prize. Before leaving for a hike, we Kea-proofed our tent as best we could (we were rewarded with only a smallish hole in our water bag).

We hiked for hours both of the days we spent in Arthur’s Pass. On our first day, we tried what we thought was the shortest-looking hike, the Avalanche Peak trail. In raw distance it was probably fairly short, but we never made it to the end; a serious trail in New Zealand is much more vertical than horizontal. We turned back before it was too late, and returned to ground level to enjoy some of the “flatter” hikes out to the Devil’s Punchbowl and Bridal Veil Falls, both of which were beautiful.

Day two was much more exhausting. We decided to attempt Avalanche Peak again, only this time along the more reasonable Scott Track–where we could have descended from the peak if we had made it all the way up the Avalanche Peak trail. The overall amount of climb and estimated time was the same though, 1000m of altitude gain to the top, and a 4-hour trek one way. The first half of the hike, from 700m altitude where the road lay to the bushline at approximately 1300m, took us through narrow avalanche paths of fallen rock, over natural stairways of exposed root systems of beech trees overgrown with plush moss, across waterfall-fed streams and under some dangling feathery lichens that seemed to be right out of the pages of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. When we got to the bushline, where the trees and plants receded behind us the farther we hiked, the wind kicked up and the hike became a little more challenging. We scrambled over rocky paths on narrow-ish ridges with a precipitous drop in either direction, and we climbed high enough to be level with the line of snow on a nearby ridge. After a few false sightings of the peak (we could see it and it was so close, but then coming over the ridge would reveal more, steeper path) and coming to a point where the path looked much more daunting, we decided to have a snack and head back down: another four hours or so, which gave us an awesome view of a waterfall across the road, possibly one we had hiked to the day before, with a brilliant rainbow in its mist. We camped again that night and slept a little better having left our bags with our non valuable stuff in the shelter nearby, which made it possible to actually lie down in a straight line, sort of.

The next day we wandered around on the main road for a bit, and found some nice tourists from London who had rented a camper van who gave us a ride back into Christchurch. We stayed at Foley Towers, a sweet little garden-y backpacker with awesome rooms and staff (and also lots of little references to the show Fawlty Towers, which was amusing). We flew up to Auckland and had two relaxing nights with Nicole playing Zioncheck (Daniel’s family’s traditional Thanksgiving marathon card game) and Shanghai (Nicole’s family’s version of a similar game), and got to see the city Auckland at dusk with the streetlights coming on from the top of Mount Eden, where the air smelled like honey and we were surrounded by huffing and puffing mountain joggers. We took the bus to the airport on Wednesday afternoon, and began our journey to what was the first city entirely new to the both of us.

Getting ready (February 2010)

Thursday evening. We are sitting on the deck at the backpacker we have been staying at for the last week, eating cheese and butter sandwiches along with sauteed onions and steamed broccoli and spinach. The last few days have been busy; we’ve managed to set our itinerary for our big tickets with the travel agent, lose (and subsequently find) my credit card, go out dancing with some fellow Polies (we learned the Lindy Hop, and what we lacked in skill we made up for with jumping), and bought two cheap bikes and a tent. That’s our plan for the next week or so, to bike around the South Island at whatever pace we want, and set up camp whenever we’re tired.
I packed up the last of my leftover South Pole stuff and sent it off via the APO at the Clothing Distribution Center here, so we’re now down to our traveling weight – a backpack each, and a mostly empty shoulder bag. Kiell went to the Centre of Contemporary Art for the day, a gallery with modern local art packed closely into sliding metal frames. It’s been drizzly and damp here, so we’ve been hoping that things will clear up in time for us to head out by bike tomorrow. We’ll wake up early and head over to the travel agency to buy our tickets, and then we’ll be off!
We’ve put up an album of pictures from Christchurch, you can view it here: