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Friday, March 25, 2011

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 33, North, South, East, and West

Lake Wakatipu from Glenrochy Road. This picture was not doctored in any way! Nice one Jen.
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, which have been packed with activity and travel, I've come to appreciate our first four months in NZ, which were quiet by comparison: lots of local cycling, hiking, surfing, and consistent productivity at work.
Since Christmas, the focus has been more on the kids and Jen, having family experiences, and travel. This past weekend, I reached the saturation point, when we went to Queenstown for some mountain biking and tramping. Having had just gotten off of the Rail Trail on Monday, packing up and leaving for Queenstown the next Friday felt like too much, but we had to go, as we'd signed up for a Saturday race and had reserved camp sites for a tramp on Sunday and Monday nights.
It's interesting how quickly these shifts occur. Not ten days before, I was feeling like maybe we hadn't done enough, hadn't taken enough advantage of our time in NZ. March was meant to be when we got in some last summer trips, and Jen and I were committed. But come Friday, in the midst of packing and then the long drive to Queenstown, an equilibrium shift occurred, and 'not enough' suddenly felt  like 'too much'.
Our bikes on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. They were ready...but were we?
Jen and I tagging.

Don't get me wrong, we had a great long weekend, and I'm glad we went. The race was fun: 7 hours at the 7-mile Trail Network. The course was awesome and hard, and Jen and I took turns, representing Team Adventure Bardsley. While we raced, Alex hung out at the dirt jumps on the Dream Track (Jen and I swapped checking on him) and Ellie went shopping with my PhD student Marylesa, her husband Kaleb, and mom Marybeth. Moreover, the weather could not have been better; Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables never looked so beautiful.

Alex at the top of the Zoot Track with the Remarkables behind him.

The view down Skippers Canyon from the top of the Zoot Track.
Then on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, we all went tramping on the famous Routeburn Track. Our itinerary was: Day 1 to Routeburn Flats, where we pitched our tent for two nights, and on Day 2, hiked to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill for stellar views, then out and a marathon drive home on Day 3. The day hike to Harris Saddle on Day 2 was tough: about ten miles round trip with lots of elevation gain and loss, but the kids did great, and the views were worth it. Also, the nights under the stars and the massive full moon rising on Sunday night were good medicine. It was another great tramp, and I'm glad we made the effort to go.

Jen and the kids at Routeburn Flat
Our Routeburn Flat camp site.
Alex and Ellie up above Harris Lake on Harris Saddle, Routeburn Track.
Ellie on Conical Hill
Alex on Conical Hill.
Alex and I on Conical Hill summit.
Jen and I with Routeburn Falls Hut and Routeburn Flat below.
But, as if this action-packed four day adventure wasn't enough, I left at 9 am the morning after we got home (8 pm Tuesday night) for Auckland, where I was slated to give a talk in the Applied Math Seminar at the University of Auckland on Thursday. The talk went well, it was fun to spend a little time in a city, and it was great to spend time with my UM colleague and friend Emily Stone and her kids Billy and Erin, with whom I stayed for two nights.  
I write this on Friday, at the Auckland airport waiting to board my flight home. Sometimes I wonder about myself and why I am such a glutton for punishment ;).
Auckland city center from the harbour, on which I rode the ferry for a couple of mornings.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 32, The Central Otago Rail Trail

Jen and the kids at the start on Day 1
This past weekend, we took advantage of a good stretch of weather and spent a few days riding on the Central Otago Rail Trail. The Rail Trail is something that had been on our 'to do list' from the time we arrived, but it had gotten to the point where I wasn't sure we'd do it.
Central Otago is an awesome place. While not as famous as Fiordland National Park or the Southern Alps as a tourist destination, I find it every bit as nice. The scenery is reminiscent of the Helena area and of our land on the Dearborn River: dry, open, mountainous, and sunny.
Kiwi's will say that Central Otago has as close to a continental climate (like we have in Montana) as you'll find in New Zealand, with longer stretches of settled, sunny weather than on the coasts. We were lucky to have two stellar days for our ride.
The cycling was easy, along a railroad grade without wind, so that we were able to cover about 20 miles a day. We did the two best stretches of the trail -- Hyde-to-Ranfurly and Oturehua-to-Omakau -- and stayed two nights in the old gold mining town of Ophir. I biked the shuttles. It was challenging, but only just enough, so that the kids had a good time.

Another great NZ outing. I'd recommend it as a unique, just off the beaten path, experience for just about anyone. There's something subtley special about Central Otago.
Alex, Poolburn Gorge (I think).

Ophir Sunset

St Bathans and Blue Lake

In Lauder, near the end of Day 2.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 31, Local Experiences

Jeff Oldham at the controls.
Over the past couple of weeks, we've stuck close to home and have had some unique experiences. First, the weekend before last, Jeff Oldham (the father of Alex's friend Johnnie) invited me out for some fishing on the ocean. We left from Karitane Point on his boat and had no trouble getting into fish; Jeff knew some spots. We caught some blue cod and several of another kind of fish whose name escapes me. We also saw a school of about 100 dolphins. The trouble was that I soon lost my sea legs, and we had to come in after only a couple of hours. After tasting the fish that we'd caught, I was disappointed that I didn't stick it out longer so that we could have caught some more.

A school of dolphins
A couple of days later, we met again at Karitane Point, but this time to surf. It was about sunset, and the waves were perfect. I went out with Alex and Johnnie and we each caught some good waves. If only it could be that good always. The great surfing and beautiful night made for one of our most memorable outings. Even better, Jen, Ellie, and our visitor Marije (from the Netherlands) were along as well.
From left: Johnnie, Alex, and I heading out to surf the river bar break at Karitane (Pipeline Dunedin).
Alex and I are getting up together on this wave at Karitane.
Finally, this past weekend, thanks to fellow Missoulian Alden Wright, who also happens to be on sabbatical in Dunedin, I discovered that the Otago Tramping Club was hiking Mt. Charles, on the Otago Peninsula on Sunday. Since this was on my to do list, I went along, and we had a great outing. When there's sun out on the Peninsula and you can get some altitude, it's hard to imaging more beautiful views.

UM Professor, and quintessential Missoula outdoorsman, Alden Wright, who by chance also ended up in Dunedin.
Heading down from Mt. Charles (tallest point on the Otago Peninsula) towards Allans Beach below.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 30, Imagining Another Life

A couple of days ago, I was sitting on my board out in the water, waiting for a good wave to come in, looking at the landscape -- which is more deeply embedded in my psyche each day --  and realized that I could be truly happy living in Dunedin. The town and surrounding countryside, the schools for the kids, the outdoor adventure, the list goes on.
Montana offers the same ingredients, plus family, and a deep, longstanding connection. We went to see True Grit the other night, and the shots of the mountainous, arid American West made me long for home. Still, I am captured by the new places and experiences to be had here. Watching the ocean swell and wind and imagining which beach has the best waves, then going there (often to a little-visited spot) and either being right or wrong, but no matter what finding myself in a remarkable place, and getting some exercise to boot: this has become a joyful activity for me, and I fear that I will miss dearly.
The human individual falling in love with a place on the earth is an interesting phenomena. I have a deep love of Montana, so I know the sensation, but it's an old love, and I don't remember it happening. Here in Dunedin I can watch myself.
What are the ingredients of love of place? It'll be different for everyone. For me, natural beauty is a primary ingredient. I find myself saying frequently here, `This must be the most beautiful place on earth.' But then immediately, 'Though the weather leaves something to be desired.' This juxtaposition defines Dunedin somehow. It keeps the hordes away, makes the people a little grumpy, but also keeps an excess of pretention at bay, leaving room for a wide range of folks. Given my roots in Butte, for me to love a town, it needs to have 'grit', and Dunedin definitely does.
Coming here, I wanted new experiences and have gotten them. What I didn't consider was that I might build a way of life unique to this place, tied to the landscape, and that I would not want to leave it behind. I fear that this will be the case. Alas, I can't live in two places at once. But we must open ourselves to love, even though loss and a broken heart are then inevitable.