Epic Quest Update #5: Kayaks, Glaciers, and Waterfalls

The past two weeks of my life have played out kind of like a video game.

New Zealand is a land of such diversity that driving in a few hours in any direction can result in a vastly different climate and experience.? Within a span of eight days and a few hundred kilometers, I kayaked through crystal clear oceans, sunned on a tropical beach, climbed a giant glacier, drove through majestic mountain ranges, and cruised through a waterfall-fed fjord.

I only put a few of the photos from this week into the post, so make sure you check out my Flickr page if you want to see the others.

Just another normal week in the office, I guess.

Sea Kayaking at Abel Tasman

Last week (which feels like a year ago), I went Sea Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park.

I had never been to Abel Tasman before nor gone sea kayaking. However, when everybody and their mother tells you that sea kayaking is the best way to see the park, you listen.

On Thursday, I connected with the Sea Kayak Company to go exploring the park for a full day. I joined up with Daniel, Pascal, Lena, Malena, Nick, Irene, Tim, and Harley (our guide for the day) and made our way down to the ocean.

Everybody was paired up in a two-person canoe; I got stuck with Daniel, the ONLY guy I’ve seen in New Zealand wearing a New York Yankees hat. I’m a diehard Red Sox fan, so I was immediately skeptical.? Fortunately, Daniel was from Germany and said it was his father who gave him the hat.

All kidding aside, Daniel was awesome.

We got into our gear (a spray skirt, life vest, and so on), dragged our sea kayaks into the ocean, and began our adventure. I sat in the front while Daniel took the back which housed the steering pedals – “I’m German, we build great cars and we know how to drive.”

Good enough reasoning for me!

For the next hour and a half, we went out into the beautiful, pristine, gorgeous waters off the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. I was excited to find out that sea kayaking was a good shoulder, bicep, and back workout. I made sure to practice and perfect my form while paddling, trying to focus on those muscles and looked at the day as if it were an extended workout.

Even better, Daniel was of the same mindset: we’d pause and wait for everybody to paddle past us for a few minutes, and then when we were far enough behind everybody else we’d paddle like crazy until we were ahead of everybody again (Interval Training for the win!).

Twice along the way we paddled in and hung out on some incredibly isolated and beautiful beaches, only accessible from the ocean.? Like this one!

All in all, a fantastic afternoon out on the ocean – we saw some baby seals (disgustingly adorable), beautiful scenery, and I got a pretty decent workout in.? Late in the afternoon, we paddled into another secluded beach where the rest of my group planned on spending the evening before kayaking back the next day.? Unfortunately my time was limited so I was only able to do one day.

Big thanks to the Sea Kayak Company for such a wonderful afternoon, and thanks to Harley for being a hilarious and informative guide. If you’re headed to Abel Tasman, try to spend more than one day there; I think an overnight stay with two days of kayaking would have been a lot of fun.

Franz Josef Glacier

Just a few days after lounging on beautiful beaches, I was hiking on a block of ice.? God bless New Zealand.

If you’ll notice in the picture above, I’m wearing sunglasses.? Just a few minutes after this picture was taken, my sunglasses were up on top of my hat, and I managed to stumble (only slightly) when the spikes in my right shoe snagged on a piece of ice.? My sunglasses fell off the top of my hat and into a 50-foot crevice.

Suck!

Luckily, they were $10 glasses, and I got a good story out of them.? I only spent a half day up on the glacier and felt like it was more than enough time.? I was actually rather unimpressed with the glacier as a whole – it simply wasn’t as EPIC as I was hoping – though I’m sure had I paid the money to get helicoptered up to the top of it I would have seen more of the typical glacier scenery.? It was far more of a scenic experience than a challenging hike, so set your expectations accordingly.

That being said, I’m still glad I did it. Walking down massive corridors of ice and snow made me feel like I was in Phendrana Drifts from Metroid Prime (one of my favorite games of all time).? I also had a good time trying to explain to a German tourist why I needed him to film me doing push ups on the glacier.? I took some great pictures, had some fun, and then returned to town so that I could bus down to Queenstown for my next stop…

Milford Sound

Upon arriving in Queenstown, I immediately booked Milford Sound excursion for the next day.

I checked into my hostel and started eating my dinner at a table full of strangers.? A girl across the table asked me about my Red Sox hat, so we started chatting about our trips and where we’re headed.? When I got to the point where I said “I’m headed to Australia, and then scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef before continuing onto Southeast Asia,” I heard another voice yell from across the room:

“Wait, are you that Gizmodo guy!?!”

After coming out of shock, I explained that I was in fact the guy who had the article on Gizmodo, and the two girls (both from LA) came over and sat down at our table.? Kerry (the initial girl I spoke with), her husband Blake, Allie, Monica, and I spent the next few hours at the kitchen table exchanging travel stories, advice for upcoming trips, and funny things about New Zealand culture that we want to bring back to the states (and a few things we DON’T want to bring back).

When I told the group that I was headed to Milford Sound tomorrow and that I had failed to load the Lord of the Rings soundtracks onto my computer before leaving the States, Allie replied with “wait one second” and took off like a bat out of Hell.? Two minutes later, she returned with three CDs of LoTR music that she and Monica had been listening to in their car while cruising around the south island!

Twenty minutes later, all three CDs had been loaded onto my computer, transferred to my iPhone, and my four hours of bus rides in each direction to/from Milford Sound the next day suddenly became WAY more enjoyable.

Kerry, Blake – Email me and I’ll get you started on travel hacking!

Allie, Monica – Thank you for the Lord of the Rings music, it was a life-saver.? Let me know when I can contribute my Machu Pichu jump photo to your site!

So, to answer your first question: yes I listened to Lord of The Rings music for my entire bus ride in both directions. To answer your second question, you’re damn right I picked particular songs based on the scenery we were driving through:

  • Going through a massive tunnel through the mountain – Mines of Moria
  • Driving up and around mountain passes – the epic Fellowship of the Rings song
  • Driving through the lowlands past babbling brooks – Hobbiton music
  • Hiking through a moss-covered forest during a rest stop – Lothlorien music

After that, it was time for a two hour cruise out on Milford Sound – which is actually a fjord carved out by a glacier but was improperly named. This place is GORGEOUS. I managed? to catch it on a sunny day which is highly unusual.? It hadn’t rained in a few days which meant there weren’t nearly as many waterfalls as normal, but I will not complain.

Because the waterfalls I did see were fan-effing-tastic:

It was a great afternoon out on the ocean looking at waterfalls and lazy seals, like these guys below. After that, it was another four hours back to Queenstown and more adventure.

Queenstown

I’ve been in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, for the past week – back-to-back days of sunshine this past weekend allowed me to cross two more things off my Epic Quest of Awesome – bungee jumping and skydiving. I’m still waiting to get my photos, and I’m in the process of editing the videos for both – which you’ll get to see next weekend!? Tomorrow, I’m on a flight back to Auckland and Wednesday I fly to Brisbane, Australia.? Busy, busy, busy!

For the Rebellion,

-Steve

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disclosure: I was a guest of the Sea Kayak Company and did not pay for my Abel Tasman excursion.

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