Room with a view

Room with a view

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paradise in Fiji

So we finally made it!

It wasn't easy. But before we find our way to Fiji, there was more to see and explore in Christchurch. We last ended with a 6 hour wait in the airport , only to be told that the best we could do was get to Fiji on Sunday at 5pm. Sadly, we would miss 2 days on the island. But we had to make the most of our time in the city. We all felt after shocks from the earthquake...some more than others. It was really disorienting. Mine woke me up from sleep and shook the bed. We got to experience the Antarctica museum which was filled with interactive fun. There was a 4D movie which made me want to go there. We saw the smallest penguins, rode out a snow storm that got down to 8 below and rode the rocky ride in the transport vehicle.

The next day, we bought rugby balls and went to the Botanical Gardens and played rugby and frisbee and took some photos. Later some of the students went see NZ students play Net Ball, which is sort of similar to our basketball only there is no backboard and it's mostly played by women, and boys playing rugby. That is such a rough sport and we found a new interest in the NZ teams that are quite good and should do well in the World Cup in September. I volunteered to stay at the hotel with Van and Makenna who were not feeling well and it was an evening filled with movies and rugby on television while the others went bowling.

Then it was time to head to Fiji and one of the longest days of my life. When we got to the airport, we found that our Quantas agent, Jan, had only booked our flight to Fiji and ticketed us which was our first problem and wait. Then we were only on stand by. Finally after an hour and a half, we were ticketed and check in could begin. By this time we are all starving by happy to see our bags moving along the conveyor belt to Fiji. The plane was delayed due to steering around the ash cloud and we finally boarded at 2 about an hour later than we were to take off. Then we sat on the plane while they drew up a new flight plane around the problematic ash clouds. Air Pacific was one of the few to fly under and around it. So we take off at 3... and its a 4 hour flight. It was one of the most unpleasant flights I can remember due to turbulence and the fact that I'm on the back row in the corner near the bathroom. It was a roller coaster ride. When we finally touch ground, it's dark and raining. There was a long line to get through customs. When we emerge, we find that our bus transport has given up on us and gone home. He had to called back so we waited another 2 hours and tried to dig up some airport food which was pretty disgusting and all the shops and restaurant were closed. We ate mostly chips and cookies for dinner. Once the guy arrives in the van, we pack up and head out for another 3 hour trip to Volivoli, a dive resort on the north side of the island. It's a very bumpy ride and no one can really sleep. Just as you would try to drift off, the pavement would turn to pot holes and gravel. The roads can best be compared to what I hear the Costa Rican roads are. When asked, I found that the government has no money to repair them and they have had the most rain this year than ever. So they wash out easily and often and then don't get repaired. Fijians make money either through tourism our the sugar cane industry. We also passed the Fiji Water plant where they gather and bottle water to send all over the world. The water at the hotel is full of minerals and making tea looks like mud. So a bottle of Fiji Water is placed in every room. We finally arrive in Volivoli at 1:30pm. IT looks like a beautiful resort, but it's raining and we were all so tired from the day.

We wake to the pouring rain that stayed with us all day off and on. Miles and Brianna and Gemina went scuba diving. I could brave the cold and wet. They said it wasn't bad and they saw amazing coral and a shark and sea worms. The rest of us stayed behind for a relaxing day. Some swam and went beach combing when the rain would turn to drizzle. They found a lot of mini-starfish and sand dollars. After lunch, we took vans into the nearest town called Rakiraki. It reminded me of Mexico long ago. Van said it reminded her of Vietnam. The coolest part was going to their open air market where farmers came down from the mountains where they would grow their produce and sell. It was under a huge tree and was not too successful with the rain. There was a covered part where the kids bought hats and coconuts. Our guide, Soni, showed us around town and then to the sugar mill which was built in 1881 and it's one of only four on the island. They work 6 months on and off. A worker cut some cane for the kids with his machete. Of course, Miles, Kevin and Van all had to have one which we found at the local grocery story in town. Hopefully they can get back to the states with them. Then Soni took us to a graveyard where the last Chief of the Ra provence was buried. He was also a cannibal and all the stones around his grave symbolize the 900 sacrifices that were made. Supposedly, it would give the chief power. Yum.

Last night, we had our farewell dinner together and afterwards, some locals performed a ceremony of drinking Kava together. Supposedly it brings peace among the people. It looked and tasted a bit like dirty water and had a tingling feeling briefly on your tongue and lips. Then one of the staff showed the kids a few dances and they taught him the Cuban Shuffle. Finally, we all went out under the stars on a sandbar for our last pow wow. It was hard to talk and concentrate while the kids yelled out, “ I just saw a shooting star.” The stars were amazing...more than I've ever see expect maybe in Colorado. But the stars are different and you can see different constellations in the southern the Southern Cross which navigates this hemisphere.

Today we wake you to magnificent sunshine! A group went deep sea fishing. Others kayaked and sunned and walked the beach harvesting shells and coral. I found a shell to use as a dish for my outside shower at home. We will stick around until 3 before heading back to Nadi to try a bit more shopping and finally leave for home at 10pm. We arrive at 10:15pm on the same day. Go figure.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Will we ever get out of Christchurch?

The answer to that question is not til Sunday. Quantas was not helpful and we spent 6 hours in the airport while Peter and Gemina tried to work it all out. The last word is we have a direct flight to Fiji, but it's not til Sunday at 1pm which means we won't see Fiji but 2 days. Everyone is trying to stay positive. But they kids were all looking forward to the warmth of the beach and the scuba diving. Thankfully it's direct and we won't have to lay over in Auckland. Dave has found us a nicer hotel than what we're used to so that is some consolation. We hope to go to a pub and watch the rugby match between Australia and ? tonight. Tomorrow night, The New Zealand team, the All Blacks, play so that will be fun. They love rugby like we love football. NZ is quite good and has a chance to win.

The weather is nice here in Christchurch too. I heard of another earthquake in Alaska today. When it all stop?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Off to see the results of the earthquake

We leave this morning to see what's left of of the most beautiful cities in the world. So many people have left, but many are waiting to see what the government will do to compensate them for their loss. Our bus driver, Karl, lives on the beach there and he has no toilet or running water since the February quake. Many have port-a-potties in their front yard for that reason. Should be a wild scene. The center of the city has been closed off and it's also the old part of the city and most historic. Sadly, it will never be the same.

Hi Ho Silver....Away!

Ok so we got up and made our way to Hanmer Horse Farm where we divided into two groups of ten and got our horses to ride. I was the last one to get saddled up and Tino and I were matched. He was a beautiful and quite spirited horse with lots of get up and go. We crossed creeks and up the sides of mountains...or rather large hills. We had the opportunity to trot several times and Kelsey and I, who had the faster horses, had the chance to canter...or as I said gallop. The only issue is that this was the first time I have ever been on an English saddle with no horn to hold on to. Well, it was exciting I might say. I felt Tino and I might ride off into the sunset. My legs aren't too sore tonight, but my tail bone is speaking to me.

Afterwards, the kids had an opportunity to help the owners, all females, spread hay in the arena. They helped her a lot since she was down in her back. It was a gorgeous day and fun to see everyone in a new environment. Even Karl, our driver, went with us.

After lunch, we all went to the Hanmer Hot Springs for a 2 hour soak. Some of the kids met with Ulla to talk about their photos. This was their last night with us and at the restaurant, she projected some of her photos and gave one last inspirational talk. She talks the talk and walks the walk. She dreams it and then makes it happen. I couldn't do what she does. She sleeps in jungles with all the snakes and insects and humidity...just to get the shots. We are all in awe of her.

Tomorrow is Christchurch. We are all interested to see the horror of the destruction. It should be a photographable day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

another beautiful day in paradise

We're up for breakfast and then we're going horseback riding to the top of a mountain to photograph the view. then spend sometime in the stable with the locals for a little flavor. Then to the hot springs which are natural. We smelled the sulphur as we walked past last night to dinner. This is our last day with Ulla as she and Sebastian will leave us tonight. she will continue working with students through the day but not on the ride as she is allergic to horses. Should be a fun day.

I feel so small in a place so grand

The started on the west coast in Hokitika and ended on the east coast in Hunmer Springs. The trip across the southern alps takes about 4 hours from one side of the country to the other. It took us basically 9am to 6pm. We had a few stops along the way. Our first stop was what is called the Devil's Curve. Second, we crossed into Arthur's Pass and finally the best, Castle Hills. I believe it's where a Narnia movie was filmed. It was spectacular. It was so huge and grand that I felt so small. The hills we filled with the enormous boulders that looked down onto a valley and a sheep farm. The weather couldn't have been nicer. We ate our packed lunches and then explored the area. Finally, Sebastian, Ulla's fiance, demonstrated how to boulder climb. He is an instructor in Germany. He also leads trips all over the world to climb. Then is was back on the bus and over the mountain and into the clouds. It seemed like a different day and a different season in 15 minutes. The rest of the trip was long as I've been bitten by many sand flies and I think a flea or two at the last stop.  But we finally made it and finished the day at a wonderful Thai restaurant.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just when you think you seen it all...

What an amazing day and night. We were out on the road early and drove up the coast toward what is called Pancake Rocks. Our family driver, Karl, somehow was distracted and we ran out of gas. But fortunately we were only 1000 meters from the entrance so we set out on another expedition along the road side. When we arrived, we were spellbound by the blowhole, the waves and the panoramic. We spent a long time there exploring and photographing. Ulla was teaching the kids some new techniques and tricks. They are really beginning to get the hang of it and taking shots I'm envious of. I hope some of my photos tell you how magnificent and powerful the sea felt today.

Once finished, we ate at the local Pancake Rocks Cafe and some had what else....pancakes. Then we drove further north to the Truman Track and had to hike down through a rainforest to get to and yet another beautiful rocky beach where we sat at tried to take it all in. You felt the rage and the power of the sea as we got down really close to the waves. The sound was deafening. The sun was making it's way down and we enjoyed the light not only on the beach, but also in the rainforest as it would light new things to see.

Once home, we ate pizza and went to see the glow worms up on the hill and tried to photograph them which was not easy and I didn't get a great shot of them. But on the way, I found something I'd been searching for. The symbol of New Zealand that you see a lot in jewelry, on t-shirts, pottery...everywhere, is the fern just unfolding. It's sort of a circular rotation. there are ferns everywhere and I mean everywhere. I've never seen a country so lush. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

Daddy- I hope you and mom are able to read the blog and see some of the photos of this amazing place. I think it's Sunday and it is Father's Day so I want to wish you a great one. This is a fabulous country and landscape. I hope my photos can do it justice. It's so green and lush and the people are so friendly. We don't see many people in the south island. It's been a great trip so far and it's flying by. We've lucked out with the weather but no snow for skiing. I'll be home soon. Love you both. Pam

On the road again

We woke to a beautiful day and off to Hokitika we went. We met Ulla and went to Dulce's Takeaway...that's a take out fast food restaurant for burgers or fish and chips. It's down by the river where the sea meets the river. Then we headed up to Hokitika gorge and had a walk and shot photos and crossed a swing bridge over the river. When we got back, we walked down to the sea which had huge waves and I can hear them break even now in my room. The sand is black and I don't remember seeing that before. It's stunning. We ate dinner at a nice restaurant and I had not one but two braised lamb shanks on a bed of sweet potatoes. Yum. I think this was my favorite meal on the trip. Adele, the owner of the Holiday Park where we are staying, had invited several of her photo friends over and opened her house to all of us. We heard Ulla talk about how she got started and her passion for photography. We saw her work and how hard it is to an adventure photographer for National Geographic. I'm in awe. She is a ball of fire. We're lucky to have her with us and we hope to learn much from her and her work.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rain rain go away

I'm praying for better weather. I know those of you in Houston would like to see some of this H2O. Lazy day and lots of computer time to catch up with photos and blogs. I cooked pasta for 20 and everyone seemed to like it. It was nice having a fresh, home cooked meal that we didn't have to all go out for.Up early to get down the road to Hokitika which is on the beach. Ulla has arrived and it's a good time for the students to get a boost from her. Just hoping for some sunshine!

Friday, June 17, 2011

It's a lazy day

Everyone woke up to the sound of rain. We plan to spend some time updating blogs, looking at photos and doing some critiques. The kids have loads of photos from the glacier hike. I got one photo of the spa which I will try to upload cause it was really cool. Looks like Ulla got off and will join us in Hokitika. Yeah!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Perfect ending to the day

We ended our day at the Glacier Hot Pools Spa, which is a lot like Ten thousand Waves for those of you who have been to Santa Fe, NM. The had pools at various degrees of temperature so you could go from one to other if you got hot or cold. Everyone was sufficiently pruned when we left. We're now off for dinner and then cake for Gemina's birthday surprise.

Ice Ice Baby

Well we rose early and packed a lunch to go on the glacier hike. Luckily they had booked us wrong so we only had the half day trip. Not sure I would have made the whole day. It was exhausting. First, we had to get boots and crampons...which fit over your boots and have spikes for the ice. The boots seemed to fit, but I developed blisters on the long walk up. We motored up to the base and then had to hike through a rainforest to get to the glacier bed and then 1.5 mile up to get to the ice. It was amazing. Tobias, who looked like Prince Harry, was our guide. He carried a huge pick and cleared our way onto the ice. There we explored tunnels and crevasses and glacier ponds. Franz Joseph Glacier is one of the largest on New Zealand.

We are all quite tired, but since it's Gemina's birthday, we are all going to the hot springs to soak and refresh our soar bodies. More photos of that to come.

the wheels on the bus go round and round

Today was a travel day. We were loaded by 10am and made our way through some dramatic landscape. We followed along lakes and mountains and headed to the west coast of New Zealand toward the Franz Joseph Glacier area. We made several stops along the way for photos and stretch our legs. We had lunch in a little town called Haast on the west coast. The scenery really changed from arid to more tropical. We drove through a rainforest where it rains 2 out of 3 days. We have hit it right and had a gorgeous day today and it's supposed to be tomorrow too.

We finally stopped at the beach which reminded me of the movie The Piano and why I wanted to see this foreign land so much. It's so varied and lush. I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of it to see tropical plants and ferns and mountains with snow on them in the background. The sand was dark almost black and the rocks beautifully white. The Tasmanian Sea is so blue and the rocks and shoreline are breath taking. Big day tomorrow with a glacier hike. Hope I can keep up!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 6 One week gone

We rose early and bundled up to go down by the lake to work on tripods to catch the early morning light coming up and shining on the mountains. The light was ok not fab. We had fun though in the end when we all set up our tripods and set our self timers and all ran down to the water to get a group photo. There was some success. We went to Puzzlingworld where they had many fun weird and wacky activities. There was a giant maze that took at least an hour to find your way, a fun house and all types of puzzles to sharpen your brain on. Then the kids went on a hike...played games and then home for lunch and laundry. Everyone was excited to wash as clothes are running out. We have lots of photos to edit and will have another critigue tonight. We plan on "painting with light" after the sun goes down which all are looking forward to. We move tomorrow up to Franz Joseph Glacier. It's about a four hour drive north from here. We meet Ulla Lohman, our National Geographic photographer, there. She will be driving from Dunedin on the east coast. Her flight was canceled into Christchurch due to the earthquake and also the ash from chile.  Glacier hike on Friday. Lots to look forward to!

day 5 Where is the time going?

Up early for a beautiful day in Queenstown. Breakfast of a egg and bacon pie. they had all sorts of meat pies. We broke into groups and wandered and took photos and shopped. Then we went up the gondola and took panoramic photos and ate lunch... fish and chips.The food is very British and good. We drove to Wanaka late in the day and crossed the highest paved road in New Zealand. Usually at this time of year, it's not open due to snow, but there's very little as they've had a warm fall. We are getting up before dawn to take our tripods to the lake for photos. Should be interesting if the moon is still up. It seems bigger and brighter. We also have seen the Southern Cross constellation that's only in the southern hemisphere.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 3 Sunday...the day of rest

Day 3 Sunday... a day of rest!

In the afternoon, we headed out for lunch. Burgers, lamb burgers, and fabulous french fries. Then we set off through town down by the lake to the local conservation station. There were stops along the way for photos of ducks and the lake. We saw a short film about the history of the area. Then off on a trail to a bird sanctuary and some nice photos of the dark trail and lake with the misty mountains in the background. It reminds me a bit of MacDonald Lake in Glacier National Park.

Then we walked back to town and went to Fiordland Cinema. It was really cool. More like a bar and fireplace with yummy coffee drinks that you could take in the theatre. The man that built it, also made a fabulous documentary of the area...which I bought and will make all my friends and family watch to see what I am seeing. So get ready.

We had a nice dinner and then home for pow wow and upload photos of the day. We talked about being homesick and most of the kids said they were not. Only the seniors seemed a bit misty eyed. I think it has sunk in that when they return, they only have a few weeks to spend with family. It was very touching to see how close these kids are to their families.

Day 4 Monday- Sheeeeeeeeeep

Up early and on the bus to a sheep farm. Andy and his dad and three dogs welcomed us to their working farm. There we got to see the dogs work the herd and then how they were separated by age and then shaved. Some of the kids took part also and had fun. Some good photos were had in the shed.

Back on the bus and on to Queenstown where we will spend the night. We hope to shop a bit as this is the biggest town we will see along the trip. Our bus driver, Karl, who lives in Christchurch, got a message from home saying there were tremors there. I hope all is well there. The kids are excited to explore the town which is like a ski town...only there is no snow. The temp feels like the 50's. We are loving it , but hoping for snow to ski on soon.  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 2

Day 2 We Finally Arrive! What happened to June 9th?????

After 33 hours of traveling by air and bus, we finally arrive at Te Anau, New Zealand! It was very long due to layovers in Los Angeles and then again in Auckland. We flew to Queenstown in the south island and were met by our Kiwi bus driver, Karl. Sporting a grey ponytail and long sideburns, Karl sang and played his ukelele as we boarded. He will be driving us throughout our 2 week stay.

Once we unpacked and cleaned up, we had dinner at The Ranch. We flew all this way to eat dinner surrounded by cowboys and indians. Go figure. I had what is called, Sunday Roast. It's typically lamb or beef roast with potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and peas. I, of course, had the laaaaaaamb. Yum. Sadly, one of our students, Alex, was not feeling well. She and Ms. Bottom's stayed behind the next day and missed the trip the following day.

We had a great night's sleep and up early at 6 to get ready for another ride to Fiordland, home to Milford Sound. We crossed the 45th parallel, drove through a long tunnel, crossed rolling hills filled with farms. The landscape reminds me of a bit of Glacier National Park, Zion National Park and a bit like Vermont. It's odd that it also has tropical foliage..palms, yuccas and the ferns are everywhere. Another interesting note is that it is the cleanest country I've ever been in. There's no graffiti or trash on the highway. There are very few people. The entire island has around 4 million people and you can drive for miles without seeing another car or house. The people are very friendly...if you can find them.

Once we arrived at Milford Sound, we boarded a small ship, we motored across the still waters into the sound. Along the way, the students photographed off the top deck and off the bow our beautiful surroundings. We saw where the glaciers cut through mountains and are met by the sea. There was a dusting of snow on some the mountaintops, but it was mixed with green lush trees and foliage which contrasted with the snow and ice. We saddled up next to waterfalls and rocks with seals. Dolphins met us and swam off the bow and scratched their backs on the boat. We arrived at the mouth of the sound where the glacier water blends into the sea. Far off in the distance Australia looms.

On the way back to Te Anau, we stopped many times for photos. The Chasm was our first adventure where you felt you were in The Lord of the Rings. It was dark and dank and light filtered through the trees on the moss and path. The river fell into a deep crevasse and we had fun hanging over the bridge to see who could get the best photo. The we stopped at Mirror Lakes which could have been a sight off Bolivar peninsular if only for the mountains in the background.

Home finally and we were all starving. The kids think they are really at a “fat farm” instead of an expedition. We missed a few meals with the travel schedule so we're trying to fatten them up today. We had pizzas and everyone seemed good. Back at the ranch, we had our first “pow wow” and shared highs and lows of the trip so far. Other than the lack of sleep and food, all seem happy and are excited to share photos of the day. It took some time to edit them and get them to choose their top 10, but most were surprisingly good. Only a handful of them have photo experience and many are newbies.

Day 3 It's a Lazy Day

Up for breakfast and finish editing photos, we gathered all of their favorite photo from yesterday and previewed and critiqued them. Amazing quality. They are soaking it up! We are off for a trek around the lake and more photos to be had this afternoon. More later...of the temperature here is fabulous. We are layering depending on the conditions, but it's not 105 degrees..more like 30's and 40's. Oh yeah.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Today is the big day!

We leave this afternoon! My bags are so heavy and so is my backpack! I swear this time I didn't take too much. I'll blaim it on the camera equipment and laptop! Here we go!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Last day of class before we leave!

All Kiwi's and instructors met at City Centre for a mock photo shoot. (We were not met with welcome had a problem with tripods of all things.) The students are amazing and even the ones with limited experience are doing so well. We talked compostion, ISO, shutter speeds and aperture..of course. Then we broke for pizza at Spring Woods and downloaded photos and had a mini photoshop lesson. Look for amazing photography. I have been blown away already.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer in New Zealand & Fiji

It's time for all of you start following us one the trip to New Zealand and Fiji! There are 14 students and 2 instructors gearing up to fly out on Wednesday, June 8th and we will return on June 28th.