My Golfing Students

Being the amazing golfer that I am, I have given back to the community by providing free golfing lessons.  By amazing I mean barely average and by community I mean two great friends of mine who do their best to put up with me.  I don’t think either of them had swung a golf club many times before they started taking instructions from me, but now they can hit the ball almost every time they swing.  Sometimes it’s even in a straight line.

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Meet Nina.  No shortage of power, but her accuracy can be lacking at times.  Famous for her mighty whiffs followed by a flurry of curses and swear words.  A proper golfer.

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Meet Holly.  The best way to describe her swing is dainty and graceful.  Keen to take direction, she’s hitting the ball further than ever.  She got it almost all the way down the hill one time!

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Today we had our last driving range session, and it was bittersweet.  In between swings there was lots of picture taking, friendly banter, and some general horsing around.  Speaking of horsing, we had a little putting competition in the style of HORSE, the game being you get a letter every time you miss and the first person to get to HORSE loses.  We got bored with the game before it was finished, but I think I remember Holly being a ho.  Sorry, I mean a HO.

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I fully expect both of them to continue with their golfing after I leave.  They’ve both made me so proud as students, and I feel very lucky to have them as friends.  Fräulein out.

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Wrapping It Up

When I reached the North Island again, it hit me that my NZ tour would soon be over.   There were still a few places left to see and a few surprises yet to come.  The east coast of the North Island is beautiful and well known for it’s black sand.  My stop in Raglan turned out better than I expected because I don’t know how anyone can expect a beautiful sight like this one…

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Right in the middle of the North Island is the Tongariro National Park, home to Mount Ruapeho, also known as “Mount Doom” from the Lord of the Rings movies.  I had planned to do the one day trek that takes you around the mountain and past some beautiful lakes and scenery.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and I didn’t get to go.  I did, however, get a chance to get some pictures from the park the next day on my way out of town.

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All that was missing were some dirty, dehydrated hobbits.

My next stop was the Wiatomo Glow Worm caves.  Glow worms are found in caves and other dark places and use bioluminescence to draw insects up into their sticky strings hanging from the ceiling.  When you find a high concentration of them it can be quite beautiful.  I toured the famous glow worm cave and then explored another of the region’s caves that I found much more interesting.  The formations inside were incredible!

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At the very end of my trip I decided to treat myself and stay in a proper hotel room in the Bay of Islands.  It was so nice to have my own room and bathroom!  When I arrived I didn’t have anything planned and I decided on a whim to book the four hour boat tour around the bay.  It ended up being a brilliant whim because on the trip I got to see Orca, Manta Rays, and Bottlenose Dolphins!

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I wish I could say my amazing photography skills contributed to this picture, but it was completely by chance.  There were three Orca in the bay, two adults and a baby.  They only come in every 6 weeks or so, so we were very lucky to see them.  The Manta Rays were almost impossible to photograph but they were enormous!  The skipper said that he had only seen them one other time in his six years on the job.  I’ve never seen dolphins in the wild and I’m amazed by how cheeky they are!  They actually look at you whenever they pop out of the water.

My last stop before I headed back to Auckland was Cape Reinga, the spot at the very top of the country.  I considered skipping it because it was going to be an eight hour drive, but I’m glad I went.

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I’ve only got a few days left in NZ and for the past week I’ve been spending as much time as I can with my favorite people.  Lots of pictures are being taken and lots of drinks are being drunk.  This is so much different than last year when I left the states.  I knew that I would be seeing my friends and family in a year.  When I leave NZ, I don’t know when I’ll see everyone again.  I’m so excited to see everyone at home, but at the same time I’m dreading leaving this place behind.  Luckily, it’s very easy to stay in touch.

The end of my trip in NZ means that I won’t be posting on this blog for awhile.  Perhaps when I travel again I’ll update it, but until then it will be on hiatus.  Thanks, everyone, for following along.  I hope you enjoyed it!

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Heading Back North Again

At the moment I’m in Nelson, at the top of the South Island.  Since Milford Sound I’ve been to Queenstown, Wanaka, Greymouth, and now Nelson.  Working my way back north has made me a bit sad, but still excited for what’s yet to come.  It’s hard for me to choose which has been my favorite stop since Milford.  Each has been delightful in it’s own way.

Queenstown was a life changing two days for me.  The bungy jump was the life changing part, in the sense that I feel like I can do anything now.  If something in the future makes me hesitate because it looks intimidating, I can say to myself, at least it’s not jumping off a bridge.  Not that jumping off a bridge wasn’t fun, of course!  It was very fun!  Just not in those few seconds when the technician is counting down, 3, 2, 1, and I’m looking down at a river 141 feet in the air.

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Wanaka was a stark contrast to Queenstown where everyone participates in adventure activities during the day and goes out to dance clubs in the evening.  Wanaka was just incredibly chill.  I spent about 3 hours down by the lake under one of the many, (I want to say Willow, but honestly I have no idea what kind they were), trees and relaxed.  It was a perfect way for me to unwind after an adrenaline filled couple of days.

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In between Wanaka and Greymouth are two glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef.  The glaciers themselves were spectacular, but the deep valleys they carved and receded back from were just as spectacular.  All along the steep walls you can see where huge boulders gouged the rock face as the ice slowly forced them forward.

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The west coast near Greymouth is gorgeous, and I was sad to leave it to head inland toward Nelson.  Staying in Greymouth also gave me the chance to visit Arthur’s Pass again, which I traveled through by train earlier.  It was just as beautiful the second time.

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Tomorrow I’ll be heading back over to the North Island and will soon be hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  It is considered to be the best one day trek in NZ.  I am really looking forward to it!

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Catching Up

It’s been just over a week since my car broke down.  It seems like so much time has passed since then, but I guess that’s because I’ve been so busy.  Internet has been spotty, so I’ll give that as my excuse for not posting as often as I should.

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The wildlife in the South Island is quite exotic to me.  Whales, penguins, and sea lions are not native to Maryland so seeing these creatures in the wild is quite a treat.  Of course, one animal that is not exotic but never the less gives me joy to see is sheep.  I get to see them every day.  Like, almost every five minutes.  I love it.  One day, while I was driving down a back road in the Catlins, I turned a corner to find the road full of sheep heading right at me.  I literally squealed with delight, while I dug out my camera.  Unfortunately the field they were heading into was in front of me, so the herd turned instead of passing me by.

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One of my more memorable days was my train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth and back.  The ride goes through Arthur’s Pass in the Alps, and the views were spectacular.  They had an open-air carriage on the back that let you take pictures without having the reflection of the windows in your way.  I spent most of the trip out there and got some great photos.

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My favorite part of the trip so far has to be Fiordland.  Slartibartfast would be proud.  And if you don’t get that reference, shame on you.  I took an overnight cruise through Doubtful Sound and then spent two nights at Milford Sound.  It’s hard to explain the beauty of the place.  I spent most of the two-hour drive into Milford Sound with my mouth hanging open, marveling at the sights in front of me.  I’ve taken heaps of pictures, but I know they will never do the place justice.  This one is my favorite.

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I am writing this while I’m in Milford Sound, and will be posting it when I get to Queenstown, my next stop.  I’ve gone the past three days without internet, which has been rough but liberating.  They do offer it at the lodge, but it costs $3 for 10 MB.  Yes, MB.  I’ll pass.

After Queenstown, I’ll be heading to Wanaka and then north to see the glaciers and the Able Tasman National Park.  Enjoy the photos!

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What’s a Roadtrip Without a Little Car Trouble?

Today was supposed to be my Wellington day, however I am still in Hastings.  When I started my car this morning it began to shudder.  Knowing this wasn’t a good sign, I drove in circles for a few minutes to see if it would go away.  Nope.  After going through a stoplight, it just shut off and I had to pull over to the side of the road.  Luckily, at the corner of the intersection was a petrol station and they recommended a good mechanic.  About an hour later the guy arrived and saw that my distributer was buggered.  I’d have to get a new one.  That also meant there was no way to get my car started so it would have to be towed to the shop.  Not with a tow truck, but with a tow line.  He asked if I had ever handled a car behind a tow line and when I said no, he smiled and said, “eh, you’ll be fine.”  After receiving instructions on what to do and where we were going, I climbed in my seat and braced myself for an interesting ride.  It only took about two minutes to get to the shop, but there were a lot of turns and stops along the way.  We managed to get the car there without incident, and I can now add that to my list of new experiences I’ve accomplished here in NZ.

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Unfortunately, the part I need won’t get here until tomorrow morning, so my plans are thrown off a bit.  At first I thought this was going to cost me a lot of time and money, but after about an hour on the phone I managed to get my ferry from the North Island to the South Island rescheduled free of charge, my all day train ride from Christchurch to Greymouth and back rescheduled free of charge, and my hostel bookings rearranged and updated.  I’ll still be able to see Wellington tomorrow, take the ferry over night, do the whale watching boat tour a few hours later, make it to Christchurch, and enjoy my train ride the following day.

I am really happy this happened while I was in the middle of a little town and not while I was out in the middle of nowhere.  The rest of today will be filled with walking around downtown Hastings and seeing a movie at the local theater.  I hadn’t gotten around to seeing The Hobbit anyway.

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The End and The Beginning

Saturday was my last day working at Remuera Golf Club.  It was a surreal experience and I found myself thinking, “this is the last time I’m going to do this,” throughout the day.  I’ve learned so much in my time at the club, not only about the sport of golf but what it takes to run a golf course.   I don’t know for sure what I’ll do professionally in the future, but I know that golf will always be a big part of my life.

Since I arrived in Auckland without knowing anyone, my coworkers were my first friends who quickly became like family to me.  The guys in the pro shop have become the brothers I always wished I had.  Farting, telling dirty jokes, sharing hilarious anecdotes, ‘enriching’ my vocabulary, meddling in my love life, and giving sage life advice are just some of the things I love them for.  I am going to miss them terribly.

Today was my first day on my road trip!  Four weeks long, this trip will see me going places and doing things I never thought I’d do.  Bungee jumping will be one of them.  Lots of things will be crossed of my list by the time the trip is over and I cannot wait to get into the thick of it.

For the time being I’ll chill in Gisborne by taking in the sights and chatting with my fellow hostel mates before heading to Napier in the morning.

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Rangitoto, We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

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This place is definitely not Kansas.  At least not from what I’ve seen in pictures of Kansas.  That’s Rangitoto Island, also known as the most recent volcanic cone in Auckland.  I’ve wanted to explore the island ever since I arrived in Auckland and I finally took the opportunity last weekend.  I took the ferry over early in the morning to avoid climbing during the middle of the day since it gets pretty hot.  Once off the ferry there were two trails I could choose from.  One goes to the top of the volcano and the other is a stroll around the waterfront.  Saving the stroll for later, I started climbing.  Right away the lava rock reminds you that this is a volcanic island.

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Those rocks are seriously jagged.  It would be an effective form of torture to make someone walk over those things barefoot.  The lava rock fields don’t last for long, however.  About ten minutes in you’re basically walking uphill through a forest.  Halfway up the trail I found a sign pointing down a side trail that said “Lava Tubes”.  Um, yes please!  A lava tube is made when flowing lava cools on the top and hardens while liquid lava underneath continues flowing.  Eventually the liquid runs out and a hollow tube of hardened lava is left.

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The ones on Rangitoto are big enough to climb through!  I was so excited to start climbing that I got so far in I couldn’t see anything anymore.  At that point something dropped onto the back of my neck and I freaked out a little.  I managed to convince myself it was just a drop of water and got my cell phone flashlight turned on.

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The inside of the tube was very similar to a cave, with roots hanging down from the ceiling and parts that narrowed to a tight squeeze to get through.  It took about 10 minutes to climb through to the end of the tube.  Looking back this was probably my favorite part of the whole trip, freakout aside.

Once back on the main trail, the going got a bit steeper than it had been the first half of the way.  By the time I reached the cone, the humid forest had sapped a good deal of energy from me.  Luckily, it was nice and breezy at the top.  The cone was filled with trees and vegetation giving an odd perspective looking down into it.  It looked like a giant leafy bowl.  The highest point of the cone gave great views to the surrounding bay and coastlines.

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I ate my lunch and enjoyed the views for about an hour before heading back down to explore the coastline.  I was able to enjoy the trail a bit more on the way down since I wasn’t focusing on making my way uphill.  The birds on the island sang beautiful songs and I was able to get a good picture of one of them.

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I wish I could tell you what kind of bird this is, but I have no idea.

The coastline trail was full of surprises.  The jagged rocks went all the way down into the water where they were slowly being eroded smooth.  I saw lots of mosses and interesting looking plants as well.

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This one was my favorite.  I spent about 5 hours on the island and I loved it.  I had the trail to myself most of the time, but whenever I passed someone by it was always a friendly face.  I would definitely recommend it.

My time in Auckland is winding down now, I only have a few weeks left at the golf course before I start out on my road trip and then head home.   In the coming weeks I’ll be playing golf, spending time with people I am going to miss dearly, and playing more golf.  I’ll post again soon, but until then Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Kelly & Virginia Do NZ: Part III

Road trips are fun, but they can be very tiring.  That’s why we spent the rest of Kelly’s days in NZ in Auckland.  There’s so much to see and do around here that I don’t think we made much of a sacrifice by staying close to home.  Highlights of those last few days are what this post is all about, since otherwise you’d be scrolling down and reading forever.

I’ll start off with our wine tasting tour, which was self guided.  We basically picked up a winery brochure, set the GPS, and headed out.  For some reason the wine got better and better as we went along.  During this outing, Kelly took the opportunity to drive my car for her first time on the “wrong” side of the road!  Exciting for her, scary for me.  We learned a lot about the NZ winery business and where the grapes are grown.  A big surprise was learning that 95% of wines bottled in NZ have twist off caps instead of corks.  So much more convenient with no compromise of quality!

I really enjoyed taking Kelly around to my favorite Auckland spots, including Downtown, Devonport, Mission Bay, and Remuera Golf Club!  The top of the Sky Tower in Downtown Auckland gave great views in 360 degrees.  However, my favorite view was the one straight down.

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Devonport gave us a really great view of Downtown from the top of Mount Victoria, an extinct cone that was used as a military post.  The big canon at the top is still there.

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Kelly loves to golf so it wouldn’t have been right to deny her the opportunity to play for the first time in another country.  Lucky for us, I happen to work at one of the best courses in Auckland so we teed it up and played 18 holes.  No score was kept, but I think I won.  That’s my story anyway.  Kelly told me she considered that one of the best highlights of the whole trip.  Not because of the golf, however, but because she made a great connection with one of the members we played with, Natalie.  After the round we shared a few drinks and chatted about travels and men.  Natalie gave us some great tips on places to eat too, which all turned out to be fantastic.

While Kelly was here, the America’s Cup Race was being run in San Francisco.  Two sailboats, the Kiwis and the Americans, were up against each other for the final.  Unfortunately, the Americans pulled off an unprecedented come from behind win to take the cup.  Kelly had mentioned that she wanted to go sailing one day and we happened to find a sailing cruise on one of the previously used Americas Cup boats.  The day we picked to go out couldn’t have been any better!  Participation from everyone on board was necessary to get the sails up and down using the four winches on the deck.  I’m not going to lie, I was very sore the next day!  Kelly and I both got to steer the boat around the harbor, past other sailboats and massive cargo ships bringing in the latest shipments.

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On our way back to the dock we caught some serious wind.  If you’ve never been on a racing sailboat before, those things get seriously sideways.  A couple of times I thought for sure we would tip over, but the crew apparently had it well in hand.

I had a great time in the 10 days Kelly spent in NZ.  We did things and ate at places I wouldn’t have on my own, so I’m very glad she came to visit.  She gave me a copy of the pictures she took, so some of the ones you’ve seen in the past few posts are hers.  If anyone else wants a tour of the country, I’ll meet you at the airport!

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Kelly & Virginia Do NZ: Part II

After the horseback riding adventure, Kelly and I spent the next three days making our way back up to Auckland.  Our first stop was Taupo (sounds like taw-poe), known for Lake Taupo and Huka Falls.  We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and found a great little french cafe in town for brunch.  After roughing it for a whole day and night we indulged in a little retail therapy in the well laid-out little town.  It turned out to be a successful shopping trip despite the rainy weather.  Huka falls was next on our list for the day, and it did not disappoint!

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Brilliant, turquiose rapids ending in a spectacular falls.  Walking right over the top of the rapids was the best part.

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After the falls, we headed over to the park to find the natural hot springs.  I had heard about them since they can be found in lots of other places around NZ, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  We found natural hot tubs, basically.  That are free for everyone!  Flowing hot water winding down a hill, filling mini pools that spill into other mini pools, finally meeting with the river at the bottom.  It was hard to believe it was real.

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We soaked our feet for awhile and enjoyed the steam mixing with the cool breeze.  The rest of the day we spent exploring the lake and ended with a great meal at Ploughmans, which was actually decorated with ploughing tools.

Day number two saw us at Mount Maunganui (sounds like mang-ah-newie).  The air was still a bit cold, however the rain stayed away for the rest of the day.  After dropping our stuff off at our new hostel, we headed straight for the Mount.  A now extinct volcano (thank you wikipedia), Mount Maunganui now serves as a hiking trail with a sheep pasture at its base.  We climbed for 45 minutes, which included lots of breaks to admire the scenery.  The view from the top was superb.

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I found some bunnies up there too, they were pretty cute.

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After lunch, we made our way out to the beach that Mount Maunganui is famous for.  Lots of surfers were in the water, however the waves were pretty low.  Kelly found lots of great shells to take home and I found lots of sand that got everywhere.  Totally worth it, though.  Our hostel gave us some coupons for a free beer tasting at Mount Brewing Company and a recommendation for dinner at Barrio Brothers.  Both were spot on.  We each got our own paddle with six beers to try at the Brewing Co., and our mexican dinner at Barrio Brothers was one of the best I’ve ever had!  The tacos were seriously amazing.

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On day three of our northbound adventure, we arrived in Whitianga (sounds like Wit-ee-anga).  The weather had warmed up a bit, and the sun was finally peeking out from behind the clouds.  Once again, we dropped our stuff off at the new hostel and found a bite to eat in town.  Our hostel recommended a boat tour instead of a kayak tour like I originally planned and it turned out to be a great decision!  We booked our tour with the Cave Cruiser and we met our guide Steve on the dock.  It turned out that Kelly and I were the only passengers for this trip so we got a private tour!  Steve had a great sense of humor and knew a lot about the area.  We got to go into caves and blowholes and we even saw a seal playing in the water!

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Plus, I got to drive the boat!

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After two hours of bliss on the boat, we docked and said our farewells to Steve.  Next on the list was Hot Water Beach, but we still had an hour before the tide went down.  We stopped at a small winery for a tasting to kill some time, and it ended up as one of the more memorable moments of our trip.  Danny, the sommelier, was quite a character.  He talked non-stop and had the craziest things to say.  I guess he meets a lot of people from lots of places, so he really enjoyed guessing where me and Kelly were from in the States.  He was spot on with Kelly, but it took him a little while to figure me out.  It might be the NZ accent I’ve picked up.  As the sun was going down, we arrived at Hot Water Beach.  “What is Hot Water Beach?”, you might be asking.  Well, at Hot Water Beach, geothermal activity heats up the water that bubbles up from the sand.  So, you can dig a hole in the sand that fills with hot water.  Like a hot tub at the beach.  Seriously, it’s like the coolest thing ever.

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To top off a great day I ate one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life.  No joke.  It wasn’t just the food that was amazing, it was the quaint little house converted into a restaurant plus humble service by a local.

Those three days had a lot stuffed in them that I don’t have time to mention.  The rest of Kelly’s visit was spent mostly around Auckland, but I’ll save that for my next post.

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Kelly & Virginia Do NZ: Part I

For the past almost two weeks, my friend Kelly has been visiting from the states.  For those that don’t know, we met at college, or Uni (University) for those in NZ (college means high school in NZ), (weird, I know).  She bought a plane ticket and left all the planning up to me.  Didn’t know much about the country and did no research before arriving.  I’m not even sure she knew where it was on a map before she bought the ticket.  Anyway, I didn’t want to spend the whole 11 days driving so I picked some places to visit relatively close by to keep the driving under three hours per day.  There’s too much to tell in one post, so I’ll be doing a couple about my favorite parts of the trip.

Our first stop was at the Whirinaki Forest with my cousins, who (as you know from my last post) were also in town.  Jason found the place and made the arrangements, which included a one night stay at the Whirinaki Forest Lodge, a two hour horseback trail ride, and a wild boar roast dinner.  I’m not gonna lie, I was most excited about the boar roast.

But, the horseback riding turned out to be the most exciting part!  I’ve never experienced believing I was going to die so often in such a short amount of time.  This trail was at expert level, and one of us had never been on a horse before!  There were a couple steep embankments we had to navigate down, large logs to step/jump (yes, jump!) over, loose soil in very narrow passages, and all on temperamental horses.  Personally, I loved the whole experience.  Even the seemingly certain death moments.

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This is my horse, Shaggy.  I named him Shaggy because our guide couldn’t remember his name.  I would have called him Shaggy regardless.  He was one hungry bugger.  Any chance he got he would try to snag a fern to snack on.  He did well for the most part though, and thankfully he didn’t jump anything.  Unlike Kelly’s horse.  That was a surprise.  Her horse also did what I can only describe as a full body shiver.  Twice.  I felt bad for laughing but it looked really funny.

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This is what the easy part of our trail ride looked like.  All the ferns made it feel prehistoric, and I expected a dinosaur to pop out at any minute.  After the trail ride of death, we did some hiking to check out the other sights in the park.

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We found a really nice waterfall at a bend in the river.  A trail took us to the top, right next to the falls.  The whole area was beautiful and we were the only ones there to enjoy it.  After our hike, we got back to the lodge for our wild boar roast.

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This is the lodge where we stayed.  I lost cell phone service when we were about 20 minutes out from arriving and had none until we left the next day.  Oh, and no wifi either.  Completely cut off for over 24 hours.  It was fantastic!  Our guide, Gary, and his partner, Darlene, fixed a wonderful meal of wild boar, potatoes, kumara (NZ sweet potato), parsnips, broccoli, and gravy.  Plus, a meringue dessert.  Our hosts were wonderful the whole time, and they really went out of their way to make sure we had a great time.

We spent the night at the lodge and parted ways with my cousins in the morning.  If I had the chance I would do the experience all over again, it really was a lot of fun once you get over the almost dying.  Oh, and here’s one more picture, because I love it so much.

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