Monday, December 27, 2010

The Three Questions for 2010

Today, I had the pleasure of briefly chatting, electronically of course, with one of my dear friends, Aly.  Since it was recently Scott's birthday, she passed along her "3 birthday questions" that I decided would be a great way to end 2010 on our blog.  Both of us answered the questions without looking at the other's answers.  We also answered them pretty hastily.

The questions Aly poses to her friends every year for their birthday are:  what are 3 things in the past year you are proud of, 3 things you learned, and 3 things you're looking forward to in the next year?  The answers to these questions are really the essence of living. I wish I could hear the answers from all my friends and family --  get prepared.

3 things in the past year you are proud of:
  1. Pulling off our move from Australia to New Zealand with hardly any issues, including getting rid of all our "stuff"
  2. Finding some great secret adventure spots in NZ -- off the beaten track
  3. Making it through a NZ winter, living in a van
3 things you learned:
  1. They don't call it the "roaring forties" for nothing -- NZ weather pretty much sucks ass
  2. All about how diesel engines work -- thanks to the failures of our campervan after we bought it.  Luckily, all of the issues were fixed and it's running like a charm (I know I just jinxed us).
  3. Virgin Blue Airlines lets you travel with 2 pieces of "sporting goods" that can weigh up to 50 lbs each, FOR FREE!
3 things you're looking forward to in the next year:
  1. Heading back to the USA for a visit with family/friends
  2. Buying a new home (van) and customizing it from scratch
  3. Getting better at kiteboarding
  4. For the record, I have way more things to say in this category than any of the others
3 things in the past year you are proud of:
  1. Blogging
  2. Writing and recording more songs
  3. Catching and filleting my first trout
3 things you learned:
  1. Way too much about diesel injection systems 
  2. The UK should be thankful that the Holocaust overshadows their brutal colonial history
  3. New Zealand isn't nearly as clean and green as they want tourists to believe
3 things you're looking forward to in the next year:
  1. Outfitting a new van
  2. Cheap good beer, wine, and liquor
  3. Getting better in the waves, both surfing and kiting 
Happy New Year to all our family and friends.  Wishing you a year full of proud moments, learning opportunities, and great expectations.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guacaganoush or Babagamole?

by Scott

One of the fun things about our necessarily frugal lifestyle is that it encourages us to get creative with our food. When we are near civilization, we cruise the supermarkets for deals. Often, we end up with perishable items that must be consumed within a day or two. For example, today, we needed to eat avocados and eggplant. Heather sauted the eggplant with onions, salt, pepper, vinegar, and oil, then mixed it with avocado to make a Mid-East Mexican dip we called guacaganoush or babagamole. It was fantastic.

Other times, when we are far from civilization, we have to make do with the items in the cupboard. I've come up with a couple good salad dressings. One was a raspberry sesame vinaigrette made with raspberry preserves, malt vinegar, olive oil, and sesame seeds from the bottom of an empty bread bag. The other one was simply a mixture of the juice from a can of beets and olive oil. Unfortunately, I didn't have any seedy dregs for that one.

If you try any of these recipes and don't like them, go outside and exercise for 3 or 4 hours and try again. That usually works for us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sick in Southland

Just as we decided to head into The Catlins region of the South Island, Scott developed an unusual sickness characterized by intense abdominal/back pain and extreme fatigue.  The Catlins is a remote area in the southeast where you are lucky to find cellphone service or radio, much less medical services.  I learned what it feels like to travel alone because during the 5 worst days of his illness, he could barely sit up (much less walk).  Walking alone on a beautiful beach or through the forest just isn't the same when your partner isn't there. We kept thinking he might be getting better because he would feel slightly relieved every morning. On the 5th night of his sickness, he woke up at midnight writhing in pain.  Luckily we had arrived to the city of Invercargill earlier that day, so we were only 20 miles from the nearest ER.

The pain slowly subsided while Scott laid on the narrow ER table between 2 - 8 am. The ER team couldn't find anything wrong with him after a quick physical exam in addition to a general blood test, urinalysis, and stool analysis.  He still has generalized pain in his abdomen, so when we get to the next population center, we will find a GP and request some more specific tests for ulcers.

How apropos that this all occurred as he approached his 40th birthday, which happens to be today!  That $600 New Zealand insurance policy will definitely pay off.  In the meantime, because a possible ulcer is in the cards, no beer for the birthday boy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sea Creature Encounters in NZ

Over the past few weeks, we've spent time mostly along the southeastern coast of the South Island.  Scott found a used surfboard, and we are in full-on summer mode.  Too bad the weather isn't necessarily in summer mode.  Is that what happens when the next land mass to the south is Antarctica?  For every one day of 75 - 80 degrees, we get 5 days of 60 degrees.  There is some fantastic scenery, and lots of sea lions, seals, and dolphins, so we are happy to explore despite the dreary weather.

The most exciting and memorable thing in the past few weeks has been our surf session with a pod of the rare and endangered Hector's Dolphins.  They are the smallest dolphin in the world and can only be found off the coast of NZ.  They were very playful and quite curious as they zipped around us and under us with amazing speed.  As long as we were out there, they never strayed far from us.  Many times, they popped out of the water within inches of us while never letting us touch them.  Priceless.
Snuggling in the sand

The southeastern coast is home to the NZ sea lion.  We've learned that the NZ fur seal that we started to see on the northeast coast favors rocky shorelines, while the sea lion favors sand.  It's been really exciting walking along the beaches to find sea lions resting.  A good way to spot a sea lion on the beach is to look for flying sand, as they sweep it over themselves to keep cool. One day, we were relaxing in the van, overlooking Blackhead beach near Dunedin, watching a couple of surfers.  Next thing we know, it looks like there are 3 surfers.  One of the guys had another "surfer" almost right on top of him.  We watched a sea lion (the other surfer) chase the guy out of the water and UP THE BEACH.  The guy was running through knee deep water with all his might, while the sea lion was riding the shore break to get to him.  Sea lions are amazingly quick out of the water.  It turns out the guy escaped unscathed.  I laughed for days.

We spent a few days at the Taieri river mouth where Scott caught one small trout while fishing.  The toughest fight came from a cockle that wouldn't let go of his hook.  Who knew cockles chased lures?

Fiesty cockle

We watched some locals collect pipis at the mouth of the Taieri river and decided to give it a try.  Pipis are like small clams and in fact, taste exactly like the baby clams that we've bought at the grocery store.  We couldn't get them to clean out their system (ahem, poop bag) so they were full of sand.  The cleaning process was ridiculously tedious. A bucket of pipis resulted to about a cup of meat.  Never again.  This story sounds very familiar to our experience with the fresh shrimp we bought in Australia, and the blue crab given to us by a friendly Aussie.

Bucket full of pipis
It is the start of peak tourist season, and we are starting to feel the effects.  We were the first ones to arrive, around 3pm, to a seemingly epic camping spot overlooking the ocean.  Since the camping spot is published in the tourist literature and is only $6, I had a sneaking suspicion that it would turn into a madhouse come 8-9 pm.  Unfortunately, I was right - reason #1001 to freedom camp?

Awesome campsite before anyone else arrived

In the morning I took a walk along the beach, over the rock walls, and surprised a little fur seal trying to get some shuteye on his private bed of kelp amongst the rocks.

Flippers tucked up

Link to November Pictures
Link to December Pictures

Thursday, November 18, 2010

They Call It Freedom Camping

Kiwis call what we are doing "freedom camping".  It's essentially camping outside of motorhome parks and designated campgrounds.  We do it for many reasons.  Number one, it's free, but just as important is that we aren't packed into a small space next to another campervan.  Most of our freedom camping has been in amazing locations overlooking an ocean, a river, or the mountains.  Inevitably we've had to "park up" (that's another Kiwi and Aussie saying) on a neighborhood street or in a paved parking lot.  The last time we had to do that, the Christchurch earthquake shook us awake at 4:30 am.

In populated areas, freedom camping is frowned upon.  Part of the reason is because there are so many rental campervans roaming the small country from December - March, and they all seem to "park-up" in the same locations.  It doesn't take long to learn that the beaten path is not the best place to find peace and quiet.  Locals blame trash and "human waste" on freedom campers.  We take huge issue with this accusation as all of the freedom campers we've ever seen are more likely to pickup garbage than leave it.  I think those McDonalds bags, empty cigarette packs, and beer bottles are probably from the local kids enjoying their secret party spot.  In fact, this past Friday, we were awakened at 1:30 am by a car full of people throwing their beer bottles over the cliff into the vegetated sand dunes above the ocean.  In the morning, the parking lot was littered with garbage from the Friday night partiers.

One of the more beautiful camping spots we've had recently

When we are in populated areas, finding a good camping spot takes some patience and ingeniuty.  We usually spend time looking at maps, riding around on our bikes, walking the area, or hiking to a lookout to scope things out.  Our general requirement is that we aren't in view of any houses, we have some sort of a view (sunset, ocean, nestled in a forest, etc), and that it's quiet, without any threat of hoons (punk ass Kiwi kids) waking us up in the middle of the night (that's the hardest requirement to meet).  Bonus points for a flat spot, light winds, and no trains.  Generally, we park in a public location -- never on someone's private property.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Summer Has Sprung in New Zealand

It doesn't seem like very long ago that the sun was setting at 4:30 pm and the relentless rain caused everything in our van to grow mold.  I remember looking up the sunset times online, desperately yearning for the days when the sun would set at 9:30 pm and the rain would end.  Despite my catastrophizing of the rain and mold situation, we've survived to see some really fabulous weather and long days. Summer is definitely knocking on our door.  We've already managed to kiteboard a couple of times, which is surely a sign that the weather (and water) is getting warmer.  Plus, the dank smell of mold in the van has been replaced by the sweet mango-like aroma of the local wildflowers.

Scott taking a freshwater dip before dinner

We are currently in Dunedin on the southeast coast of the South Island.  Dunedin is a very large city for New Zealand standards (pop. 125,000), with a third of the population being students (Otago University).  It seems that we've fallen into a familiar pattern of staying somewhere for at least 2 weeks before moving on. This allows us to learn about the area, the recreational opportunities, the secret camping spots, and the good shopping (mostly groceries since we eat a lot).  Since this will be the last big city we'll see for a while, we are spending a fair bit of our time doing chores, bike repairs, van maintenance, and stocking up on supplies. Also, Scott is desparately searching for a used surfboard before we hit the desolate area south of here that we call the Baja-of-NZ.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Trout Drought is Over

by Scott

I was secretly hoping that  writing about my poor fishing performance would reverse jinx me. It apparently worked. As the sun was setting on a small lake outside Alexandra, I decided to make a few casts. I tied on a black rooster tail spinner. On my second cast, retrieving at a moderate speed along a rock ledge, I felt the unmistakable bite of fish lips on steel. The fight was on. I landed what may some day be a 5-lb perch.

He'll have to get smarter if he ever wants to be a 5-lb perch

A few casts later, I also caught a small rainbow trout. I had to throw it back because we'd already eaten dinner, and Heather wouldn't allow a dead fish in the van overnight.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trout Wishing

by Scott

Several months ago, I met a Kiwi mountain biker who read me the riot act for traveling around NZ without a fishing pole. With all the ocean-side, lake-side, and river-side camping spots, not to mention the high cost of seafood, he thought I was crazy. Soon after that, my father-in-law recalled his cousin's story about the fabulous fishing in NZ. He claimed that you had to hide behind a tree just to bait your hook. So, I finally bought a fishing pole, and the weather has improved enough that I've done a fair amount of fishing over the past month. I've found some beautiful spots, but I haven't had a single bite.
Trout wishing on Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown

I'm starting to think the story about having to hide behind a tree to bait your hook was not because the fish are so eager to bite, but because the water is so damn clear that the fish can see what kind of bait you're using and actively avoid it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Queenstown Part II (The Good)

Portable yurt
A large storm hit Queenstown and the surrounding mountains during the first weekend we arrived, that dumped 2 feet of new snow. This coincided with the end-of-season closing of the local ski resort in the Remarkables mountain range, aptly called "The Remarkables". We were able to use their road to access some incredible backcountry snowboarding and equally incredible camping in the portable yurt. The mountain road rises sharply from Queenstown into the steep mountains. The van got quite a workout. On much of the upper road, we had to drive in 1st gear.  We even had to use our chains for the first (and probably the last) time.

Winding and steep road from lake to mountain

Kea like bike seat foam
One day, as we were climbing up for the last run, we heard the ominous call of the Kea, the world's only alpine parrot. We didn't see them in the parking lot, so we didn't put the bikes inside (note to self: birds can fly). We watched helplessly as they flew across the valley toward the parking lot. When we got back to the van, sure enough, a gang of kea had chewed through our brand new bike cover and finished what they started  on Scott's bike seat. Luckily, when Scott put on the tire chains, he happened to put the heavy cordura tire chain bag over my brand new bike seat, so it survived unscathed.

As is typical this time of year, the snow ranged from powder on the south facing slopes to corn on the north facing slopes to ice and/or slush depending on the time of day. When all we could find was heavy wet snow, we gave up on snowboarding and made a snow-us.

Link to related pictures

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Queenstown Part I (The Bad)

Gorgeous scenery in the Queenstown area
Since we arrived 10 days ago in Queenstown, the "adventure capital of the world", our experience has been a mixed bag. Our first impression of this tourist town was not good.  As we drove into Queenstown, we were overwhelmed with the blatant consumerism and tourist-targeted money grubbing.  Bungy jumping, bunjy swing, 4WD tours, paraglide, parasail, skydiving, helicopter/plane tours, alpine slide, monster truck driving, flying fox, jetboat tour, kayking, rafting, river diving, the list goes on...  Luckily, the surrounding landscape, dominated by snow-capped mountains and a large glacial lake, is so breathtaking that you can almost forget about the overdeveloped center of it all.  The area was the sight for many scenes from The Lord of The Rings -- all of those scenes where you think to yourself, "Where is that?!".

My clipless bike shoe was dismantled during the crash
We prematurely panicked when we found ourselves amongst the trendy shops, raucous springbreak-like 20 somethings, and rich tourists.  We quickly retreated out of town to reassess our options. We found a nice bike trail along the lake, and started to feel better about the area.  That quickly changed when I had a head-on collision with another cyclist on the bike trail.  It was a blind corner and both of us were going pretty fast.  He put his head down and bashed it directly into my bicep -- good thing he had a helmet on to sustain the impact from my big pipes.  The guy kept asking me if I was okay. At first, I couldn't answer him.  Both of us stood up, and I realized that the sole of my shoe was gone -- a testament to the force that removed me from my bike.  As I hobbled up the trail, the guy asked me for the 20th time if I was okay.  My answer: "I'm fine, I just need to get the sole of my shoe...".  I did, in fact, find the sole of my shoe. Fortunately, I only had to hobble about half a mile back to the van.  I must have landed on my arm, because I was convinced that it was broken. I decided to postpone the hospital visit until the next day, but in the morning, I was shocked at how much better it felt.  However, with the "broken" arm feeling better, I noticed the other deep bruises all over my body.  Looking back on the accident, I feel sooooooo lucky that I didn't break anything -- what a major bummer that would have been.  

Stay tuned for Queenstown, Part II...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ohau We Love Backcountry Snowboarding

Portable yurt in Mt. Dobson parking lot
We finally managed to pull ourselves away from Timaru and head towards the mountains again.  The weather forecast was for sun, light wind, and warm temps so we revisted the Mt. Dobson parking lot with our portable yurt (the van) and spent 3 days in the backcountry.  We stayed until the last day of the season, afterwhich, they closed the private access road.

Next, Scott had scoped out the Ohau skifield, about 2 hours southwest of Mt. Dobson in the Ohau Mountain Range.  Our backcountry ski book had suggested that even if the skifield is closed for the season, you can request access at the bottom of the road at the Ohau Lodge. We headed to the
Lake Ohau in the background
lodge and expected nothing more than a quick transaction to pay an access fee and/or get a key to unlock the gate.  What followed was a very weird interaction with one of the co-owners of the Ohau Lodge.  At first, he told us "no, we don't let people up the mountain when there is snow and danger of avalanche".  Scott pushed back, saying that our backcountry book suggested that they allowed it.  The manager told us they allow people up there in the summer, but not right after closing the skifield (which had been the day before).  He went on to tell us that they hadn't locked up the buildings or property.  Although Scott continued to push back, both of us were resolved to leave and started turning to head out the door.  The manager then started asking us where we were from, where we had been, what we were doing, etc.  Annoyed, Scott gave him short answers.  It turns out, the manager was worried that we were locals (the accent didn't give us away?) and that we would soon be telling everyone about the poaching opportunity in the Ohau backcountry after the resort was closed (again, it was in the book!).
Hiking up from Dumbell Lake in the Ohau Range
After he felt assured that we weren't locals, he told us he would unlock the gate for us, and he didn't charge us anything.  We still don't understand why he played such games with us, but we'll be prepared next time. There is a lot of public land in NZ that can only be accessed via private roads, so this may happen again.

The following 2 days were bright, sunny and magnificient on the mountain.  The views of Ohau Lake below us and the southern alps were the best part.  Since the snow wasn't the best, we were happy to leave after a couple of days.   Only one casualty -- we lost a hub cap on the road up (or down?).

A baby huck in the Ohau Range

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Domestic Bliss in Timaru

Watching the sunset from our free
and legal camping spot  in Timaru
We rolled up to the sunny town of Timaru (pop 27,000) over 19 days ago.  We were unaware that we would be spending so much time here.  Soon after arriving, an "Australia sized storm" hit New Zealand and grounded us for more than 2 weeks.  The NZ Herald called it the "biggest storm on the planet".  The gale force winds (80 mph) and snow in the mountains lasted 2 weeks.  They say that they have lost half a million lambs due to the cold weather and storms.  Yes, lambing season is at the end of winter -- poor little lambs.  During the storm's fury, we just happened to pick the only place in the country that was sunny and dry! In fact, today, Timaru had the highest temperature in the entire country (23.3 C = 74 F).  I forgot to mention that we are in the southern part of the South Island, usually not the warmest place.  We are stupidly still holding out for some snowboarding.

Sun Conures in the free aviary in Timaru.
They never left each others side.
If you're going to be grounded due to weather, Timaru seems to be the place to be.  It has large parks where we can run and/or bike everyday.  One of the parks has an aviary that we visit almost everyday (you know you're getting old when the highlight of your day is the aviary).  We got to be pretty good friends with the big white cockatoo...after we started bringing our old bread (shhhh).  When he wanted more bread, he would say "hellllooo". They also have a pretty beachside location with FREE and LEGAL campervan parking. They request that stays are limited to no more than 3 nights. I guess we broke that rule, but they don't seem too motivated to enforce it at this time of the year. Lately we have been venturing out of town to some clifftop sleeping spots.  During the harvest moon, we watched the moon rise over the ocean for a few nights -- I almost needed my sunglasses!

Watching the full moon rise
The library has free wireless where we spent the past few days repairing a massive computer crash on our 13-month old HP laptop.  Why do we still own stock in HP?  I'm writing this post while reinstalling all of our software and backed-up files.  During the frenzy of realizing we lost all of our photos, documents, etc. from the past 6 months, I learned that our Visa credit card gives you an added year to the manufacturer's warranty on items that you purchase with the card.  If I hadn't been able to fix the computer, this would have been a great option for us.  Who knew?!  I write this hoping to encourage other people to take advantage of this little perk if your card offers it.  Some credit card companies may require you to register the product with them when you purchase it, but that's not a bad thing, as it is probably easier than tracking down your original receipt.

No pharmacy visit needed

Timaru's retailers have received more money from us than any other place in New Zealand (van repairs do not count as retail).  Scott bought a spiffy new wetsuit, and we also bought another portable hard drive.  You can probably guess why we purchased the portable hard drive.  We also bought our replacement propane tank here and "donated" our old one to the local gas-supply shop.

When we first arrived in Timaru, Scott was having pain in the tooth that was root canaled in OZ last year.  The pain had slowly built over the past month (something he never told me).  Turns out, he had to get it extracted. The whole dental experience was fast, friendly, and inexpensive.  Scott had 3 appointments, including a tricky extraction, two x-rays, narcotics, and an emergency follow-up where he got antibiotics.  The dentist counted out the penicillin capsules, put them in a small brown bag, and wrote the instructions on the bag.  The whole thing (including meds) cost $193 USD.

Timaru has been good to us, but I think it's time to move on.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Backcountry Snowboarding in The Two Thumbs Range

After the earthquake in Christchurch, we stuck around for a few days because the weather was sunny.  Eventually though, we got a fed up with the constant aftershocks waking us up at night and the lack of safe tap water. We headed a few hours south to the Two Thumbs Range.  Because the snow level was high, we drove to Mt. Dobson, home of the highest carpark in New Zealand. Our backcountry ski book didn't mention Dobson as a potential spot, but Scott had a sneaking suspicion.

Hiking back up after our first run down the backside
The expedition didn't start well. The snow in the muddy parking lot was slushy, and the mountain was a complete whiteout.  We decided to climb up just for the workout, but when we made it to the top, the clouds parted and the sun broke through ... cue the singing angels.  We really couldn't believe our eyes. It was absolutely breathtaking.  Massive mountains all around us!  As heavy clouds approached, we found a run down the backside of the ridge that was softened by the sun -- my first time riding on pure corn snow.  I'm hooked on the corn.  For the uninitiated, corn snow is snow that has gone through repeated melt-freeze cycles and is usually found in the spring.  In the morning, corn snow is an unforgiving hard crust, but with sun exposure, the frozen corn kernels separate to provide excellent boarding. If you can't have powder, corn is the next best thing!!

Great sleeping in the Mt. Dobson lot

To avoid having to drive back up in the morning, we asked the Dobson manager if we could spend the night in the parking lot.  He agreed, and we ended up staying for 3 nights.  The second day was a bust.
Hanging out in the snowpit
We climbed to the ridge just in time for the clouds to create a complete whiteout. Given the surprise clearing on the first day, we dug a snow pit and waited for 2 hours, hoping for a repeat.  No such luck. The clouds never cleared, and we got cold, so we headed back to the van.  Bummer.  Our final day made up for it, as we had some quality corn with sunshine all day. Scott said it was the most beautiful day he's ever spent in the mountains. The pictures don't do it justice.

Scott's "two thumbs" pose
A downturn in the weather forced us back to sea-level, where we headed to a small coastal town called Timaru.  Timaru deserves it's own blog post.  After a few days waiting for the weather to settle, we went back up to the Two Thumbs Range.  This time, we decided to access the range via Fox Peak skifield.  In the valley, as we started to climb towards Fox Peak, we encountered a small bridge. It was labeled "cars only", with directions for other vehicles to ford the river.  Um, not possible for our van.  The river was deep and the rocks were massive.  WTH?  The sign said the bridge had a load limit of 2500 kg with a maximum width of 1.9 meters.  Our van weighs more than 2500 kg and the wheels are 1.8 meters apart.
Loaded up, with a frown on my face
 Since we didn't know any better, we made the decision not to cross the bridge.  In all honesty, I would have done it in a heartbeat, but Scott is the one that keeps us safe, risk-free, and alive.  I willingly, but unhappily, went along with Scott's next idea, to put our snowboard, boots, clothing, and poles in our backpacks and bike up the mountain. This feat would be hard even without 60 lbs on our back.  We lasted about 10 minutes before we turned around.  We realized we couldn't keep our front tires on the ground, and I could barely balance with so much weight on my back.  That was our last-chance snowboarding opportunity before "the largest storm of the century" hit New Zealand. Blizzard conditions have been raging for over a week. Thank goodness for sunny Timaru!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Propane In The Ass

This morning, just as I slapped a drippy piece of egg-covered bread onto the skillet, I noticed that the flame on our two-burner stove was unusually low.  Luckily, the water for our coffee reached a reasonably hot temperature just before the flame completely disappeared.  We had tried to refill our propane tank last week, but learned that the 10-year safety check had just expired.  The town we are in doesn't have any testing stations, so we figured we would wait and get it tested when we finally made it to a "big" city (do those exist on the south island?).

It was Saturday, and the most obvious option was to wait until Monday to get the tank re-tested somewhere (at least 120 miles away).  I didn't even have to say it because Scott said it first, "We can't wait until Monday, with no hot shower, no coffee, and no cooked meals!".

Lucky for us, we just happened to have 3 hours to spend trying to figure out how to get propane for an "expired" tank.  The first idea was to drive to the various gas stations, hoping to find one that would not notice the expired date stamp.  Strike one.  It turns out that it's a $5000 fine for filling an expired tank, so all of the operators were very diligent.

Next, Scott came up with a potentially brilliant (albiet also illegal) idea.  We bought a metal letter/number stamping set so that we could stamp the tank ourselves.  This didn't work, as the stamp actually chipped the paint off for every strike of the hammer without leaving a legible number. It definitely didn't look professional or realistic.  Strike two, but we were able to return the stamping set for a refund.

We drove and walked back and forth between a few stores to discover that we could buy a new propane tank for $65. Unfortunately, the new tanks have a different connector, which requires a different regulator, and another $25. By this time, it really was our only option.  We were happy when it rang up for $5 less too.  These are the kinds of things you spend hours on when you are retired.

The worst part is that we have a perfectly functioning, expired tank (and regulator) sitting in our van that we have to get rid of.  It would be nice if someone could use it, and it would be even nicer if someone could use it AND we could get a little bit of money for it.  At the very least, we need to find a responsible method for getting it out of our small living quarters.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Really, You're Retired?

Are we planning on ever working again?  No.  How is that possible?  We've been asked this question in many different ways.  The answer is that we were fortunate to start our careers without any college debt, we were reasonably well-paid in the high-tech sector for over a decade, we do not have kids, and we are happy with a lifestyle that most people would find intolerable.

The seed of early retirement was planted during our year-long roadtrip during 2003.  After our year off, we went back to our engineering jobs, bought our first (and only) house, and bought lots of stuff to fill it.  After returning to work as a software engineer, I had a gnawing sense that I was trading my happiness for a life of meetings and sitting behind a computer for 10 hours a day.  While Scott was still finding some satisfaction from his mechanical engineer job, I was determined to find a way to use my brain to help others.  Nursing sounded like a reasonable option.  Also, I felt that a nursing career could offer us a way to travel (my ultimate goal) with the easy option of working intermittently. During the two summers I had off while I was in nursing school, I read every book I could get my hands on related to early retirement and financial planning. I spent time organizing our money and analyzing our spending.  We had been so busy making money that we never took a look at what we had, and what we actually needed.

My favorite book and our guide for early retirement is "Work Less, Live More" by Bob Clyatt. His premise is simple: if your investments grow more than you spend, you'll never run out of money. Specifically, he advocates a highly diversified portfolio of mutual funds and bond funds (mostly index) that assumes a long-term average appreciation of 4%, adjusted for inflation.  Obviously, a target return of 4% is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is a conservative approach to capital preservation. The best part, is that it is based on statistical analyses performed over data from the past 100 years (engineers will appreciate Clyatt's approach).

There are obvious risks associated with our plan.  What if the past doesn't predict the future, and our money does not appreciate by anything close to 4% adjusted for inflation? What if one of us gets very ill or hurt?Well, one thing we are trying to do is to spend even less than our 4% budget allows. This is especially important in the early years of our retirement (analogous to saving early when working), as this will provide a buffer for the later years. If one of us gets ill or hurt, the other one can always go back to work, either temporarily or long-term. This is not ideal, but it is hardly the end of the world.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Earthquake in Christchurch

The quake hit at 4:30am on Sept. 4th. We were jolted awake when the van started rocking violently.  We had insulation press-fit into our windows, so we couldn't easily peek out the window to figure out what was going on.  With our hearts pounding out of our chests, we both started yelling (to who or what, we're not sure).  I managed to pop out some insulation, while Scott bolted towards the cab to look out the front window.  Scott, who assumed it was punk-ass kids cow-tipping the van, was yelling in his tough-guy voice, ready to kick some ass in his underwear. I was pounding on the walls, convinced that we were somehow hooked up to a tow truck.  I was freaked when I looked out in the parking lot to see nothing.  No cars, no people, no tow truck, no wind.   The quake lasted long enough to solidly imprint the experience in our memory.  We didn't really figure out what was going on until we heard the alarms from the shops all around us.  At a magnitude of 7.1, the earthquake was the largest in NZ in 70 years.

After listening to the radio for an hour, we managed to get back to sleep around 5:30.  We woke up talking about what kind of damage might be sustained around the city.  I still laugh when I think about Scott's main concern, the guitar shops.  "What about all of the guitars that they hang by their headstocks swinging around and banging like wind chimes?"

It's been interesting listening to the media coverage of the quake.  As you would expect, everything is sensationalized.  At first, we thought it was a gross exaggeration to characterize the earthquake as a catastrophe.  After all, no one was killed, and there were only two serious injuries. However, over the past couple of days, we've seen pictures of destroyed buildings in downtown Christchurch, and while biking around the Port Hills and the small port town of Lyttleton, we were very surprised to see lots of collapsed brick chimneys and massive cracks through rock, brick, and concrete.

The aftershocks have been non-stop. We heard there have been over 70 of magnitude 5.0 or greater in the last 48 hours. The Auckland-based radio station talks about a city of half a million people who panic with every aftershock. That's funny. We saw a lot of fellow bikers on the road just hours after the main quake. They didn't seem to be in a state of panic. Neither did the joggers and walkers. Nor the shoppers at the market. Or the rock climbers without helmets!

The biggest issue so far seems to be damage to the water and sewer systems.  There are many people who don't have water, power, or sewer. Lucky for us, the van has the trifecta.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

August Adventures in NZ

Watching baby seals playing in the Ohau Creek waterfall was our most notable and unique experience this past month.  The Department of Conservation estimates that up to 200 baby seals "hike" up Ohau Creek to relax and play in the waterfall, while the adult fur seals hang out on the ocean shoreline.  We found the seals during a rainy, cold day, so it was hard to get decent pictures.  We watched them for nearly 2 hours -- I could have stayed longer.  I smiled and laughed the entire time.  They were so unafraid of humans that we found a couple of them scooching up our hiking path as we were heading back to the van.

The month of August also marked our first backcountry skiing adventure in 2.5 years.  We were anxious to dust the cobwebs off the backcountry gear.  It turned out to be a bluebird day for our climb up Mt. Ruapehu on the North Island.  Unfortunately, since it's a massive, exposed volcano, the snow was very windblown and icy. Snowboarding down was downright treacherous.  On the first day, we got a late start, due to a flat tire, and then had some route-finding issues. Therefore, we had to wait until our second day (another bluebird!) to make it to the top, where we peered down into the crater lake (pictured).

We were in a bit of a hurry to travel south in search of better snow.  With bad memories of our puke-inducing ferry crossing in June, we started watching sea and weather forecasts weeks before booking our tickets.  Our patience was rewarded with an almost-windless, sunny, FLAT-water ferry crossing!  To be on the safe side, Scott bought a box of ground ginger. He read that it's a natural remedy for sea-sickness, although when I tried his very strong ginger tea, it came close to inducing flat-water sea-sickness.

On the South Island, we had some great hikes and some mediocre mountain biking before our first real backcountry snowboarding in the Craigieburn Range.  We had been keeping an eye on the forecast so that we could be on the mountain during a clear day.  When we got to the mountain carpark, I noticed at least a dozen endangered keas.  These alpine parrots are rare (only 5000 in NZ) and are quite cute.  Within minutes of parking, they had destroyed our bike seats.  Apparently they are veracious with anything rubbery on cars and bikes.  It was a little too late when a couple of people warned us that keas would go after our bikes.  We put the muddy bikes inside the van while we snowboarded.

The mountain weather changes so rapidly here that you can't even count on a 24-hour forecast.  We didn't expect to get 2 days on the mountain, so we hadn't provisioned appropriately.  Our second day found us eating PB & X sandwiches because we ran out of J.  The PB & maple syrup came out the winner. The PB & strawberry yogurt was kind of like washing down a PB & J with milk gone bad.

The snowboarding itself exceeded our expectations. It put smiles on our faces for days.  Since then, we've been itching to go back, but the weather hasn't been cooperative.  While waiting, we had over a week to explore the area around Christchurch, including the gorgeous Lytelton Harbour and the nearby beaches. When dry, the Port Hills are probably great for mountain biking, but since it was wet, we had to settle for road biking on our full suspension mountain bikes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How and Why Do You Live In a Van?

During our trip back to the USA we encountered a lot of great questions about what we're doing and what our plans are for the future.  I love having friends who will ask all the questions that everyone else wants to ask.  The common themes were: how could we really be retired? and what is it like to travel/live in a van?  Reactions from friends ranged from enthusiastic to dismissive to disgusted when we described our life and our nebulous plans for the future.

After our final year of work in Sydney (that ended in March 2009), we gradually got rid of everything we owned except for what we could fit in or on our current van.  Stripping our life down to the bare minimum, has helped us learn what is really important to us.  There are very few things we miss about our old money-making/money-spending life.  I definitely miss friends and family. We used to like going out for dinner and drinks, but really, we just like being around friends and family, so the venue doesn't matter. Scott misses his instruments and the unique music scene in Portland.  I also really miss having a washer, dryer, and vacuum cleaner at my finger tips -- yes, I am an obsessive cleaner, and it seems to be getting worse the older I get.  Both of us really miss electricity and fast, cheap internet access.  We are surprised to have learned that we don't miss having a house (a garden would be nice though), nor do we miss going out to dinner.  Since we have so much free time, we would rather cook for ourselves.  I notice that the things that used to seem annoying or troublesome in our old life, are a non-issue now that we have time.  For instance, in the warm climate of OZ, I usually hand-washed all of our clothes (including our sheets!).  Like my mom says (who is recently retired), the things that you could never find the time to do, are now what you spend your time doing.

Do we get bored?  No way.  Van-living and traveling requires a lot of ingenuity and planning.  When we aren't working on logistics, we are outdoors as much as possible.  The things that keep us un-bored are endless and usually involve rigorous activity.  I wonder how many years our bodies will tolerate it?  We assume our priorities will change. As long as we have something that engages and challenges us, we will never be bored.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Northern Hemisphere Visit in July

We recently flew back into Auckland after a 5-week visit to the northern hemisphere. It was timed perfectly with the crappiest of New Zealand weather. Per usual, Portland had incredible summer weather. We had a whirlwind visit with as many friends as we could (8 days total). I cherished every moment. Maybe short visits are good for one reason -- people don't have time to get sick of me. Thanks to the Slighterallis and the Childers for providing places to stay. At first it was hard to impose, but both of our hosts made it really easy to feel at home. We honestly wanted to stay way longer. Dan and Juliana let us borrow their roadbikes (plus helmets and bike shoes!) to use while they toiled away at work. It was fun to roadbike after 1.5 yrs of riding only heavy, fat-tired mountain bikes. Robyn not only architected the addition to their house (our guest room), but stocked it like a high-end hotel. Actually, it was even better, as there was Bridgeport Hop Czar in the minibar fridge, and it was free!

My parents were great hosts in Michigan while we stayed for 3+ weeks, which gave them plenty of time to get sick of me. They feed us so well and gave us so much during our stay. My mom gave me a bounty of delicious facial lotion, serums, sunscreens, etc. It is definitely a luxury that I won't give myself. Now, every morning and evening when I rub some lotion on my face, I think of my parents. Now that my mom is retired, we spent a lot of time with her during the day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that my mom's twice-weekly strength-training/cardio class absolutely kicked our butts. We couldn't walk straight for 4 days after the first class. How cool that my mom is able to do that kind of stuff now that she is retired!? We spent some quality time in the evenings and on the weekends with my Dad as well as my sister's family. To pass the great summer-weather days, we did a lot of yard work and Scott partook in a fair bit of fishing. Oh, and we also ate and drank A LOT! We also squeezed in a too-short visit with one of Scott's brothers who lives in an even hotter locale than Ann Arbor in the summertime.

My parents have fully adopted
our kitty, Oscar, who was tortured during 8 hours of flying (and layovers) from Portland to Detroit in April, 2008. I think he has finally forgiven me for that hateful plane trip. We miss him so much.

Upon our return to Auckland we were once again reminded of how wet it is here. We ran into van troubles before we could even leave the hotel parking lot. We had to wait a few days to get our van into the local diesel garage. We learned that there was water sitting in various electrical connectors under the hood, which disabled not only the accelerator pedal, but also the diesel fuel pump. It's still a mystery how the water got there, which worries us since it could easily happen again. After 3 days and $500, we were back on the road. We still don't trust the van and are constantly worried about every noise we hear. We've even kicked around the idea of trying to sell/trade the van during the high tourist season and buying a smaller more reliable Toyota van (sans shower).

I thought I would try and finish this blog post on a happy note. The following sunset picture was taken on the North Island of NZ as we were heading down to Wellington (at Te Hora beach) for our ferry to the South Island yesterday. We had a fantastic parking/camping spot right on the beach with a river running next to us. Grin.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Australia Retrospective

Now that we've been out of OZ for nearly 2 months, we've had some quality time to reflect on the fun times (and not so fun times). We really miss the prolific wildlife in Australia. The bird life and random wildlife sightings are definitely a thing of the past. We've seen a lot of ducks and dead possums in NZ.

We recently reminisced about the hilarious "bad" camping experiences we had over our year in OZ. The first one happened on the east coast of NSW (Woolgoolga) where we parked the van in a quiet riverside park. We were woken up at 3 am by drugged and wigged out people trying to imitate dogs and kookaburras. At first we thought it was only slightly annoying, but it got so loud, that we almost lost it. We got dressed and drove out of the park only to hear the most wigged out of the group scream at us, "F***ing surfers". I was so out of my mind and tired that I found myself angrily yelling back, "You f***ing bogan bi***!!!!". Afterwards, I was shaking. I was so upset and pissed off. Geez, I guess I don't deal well with wigged out people when I am tired. We got up before the real kookaburras that morning.

Our next interrupted night of sleep happened in Western Australia (Geraldton). We parked in an ocean side park that wasn't really very quiet, but we wanted to cook on the grills and watch the sunset before we went off to sleep. Around 4am, we were woken by the sound of something hitting the van. Scott got out to figure out what was going on, only to find a bunch of juicy, red tomatoes on the ground next to our van. Stupid kids. We ate the tomatoes the next day in our egg burritos -- yummy.

Almost all of our bad-sleep nights were due to hoons of some sort, but one night, we had the misfortune of hosting a little mouse in the van during his midnight snack. In retrospect, we should have just popped in the ear plugs and let him eat the entire bag of rice cakes. How much could a little mouse possibly eat in a night? Instead, we went to war. He kept us up ALL night with his scurrying around and munching sounds. At first, we setup a makeshift water-bucket trap that he managed to avert. Next, we busted out the old-school mousetrap with a wad of peanut butter on it. He ate the peanut butter without setting off the trap. He had Scott so busy trying to figure out where he was, that we were convinced there must have been a least 2 mice making such a ruckus. During the heat of the battle, Scott accidentally left the jar of peanut butter open on the table next to my head in bed. We discovered this mistake when the mouse brushed next to my pillow. I know if my parents or Melissa are reading this, they can imagine the squeals and yelping -- something like "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee". Scott set the trap for a final time, and after we started drifting off to sleep around 6am, it snapped and the war was won. Not a lot of sleep that night.

Probably the most infamous night of interrupted sleep came near the end of our time in OZ. We were parked at one of our more favorite spots, a boat ramp overlooking the ocean in Gerringong, NSW. Per our usual setup, we had all the windows and doors open (with mosquito netting to keep the critters out). Around 4am, we heard a guy mumbling something so close to our heads that it was like he was in the van. I started screaming expletives and Scott turned on his tenor, big-man voice. We thought he was trying to "break" into the van or worse yet, do something to us while we were sleeping. It turned out the guy was so piss drunk that he could barely talk. He was a young guy, dressed in a gladiator costume, and completely lost. He told us he lost his phone and when Scott said, "you lost your phone?", the kid slurred back, "yeaaah, do you have it?". He thought we had his phone? After we convinced him to leave us alone, we realized how much we scared the hell out of him. I think he was so drunk, he didn't even know he was next to a van, much less a van with the door open and people sleeping in it, or that he was a couple feet from falling off a steep cliff!

I suppose when you read all of these things, you might worry that we sleep in dangerous situations. Although, considering that we only had these few instances of weirdness in an entire year of free camping, I think we did pretty well.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New Zealand is Down Underer

I had hoped to be in a happier place before I wrote another blog post. We're coming up on 3 weeks of fusterclucking after our arrival in Christchurch NZ. As I had mentioned in my previous post, our plan was to rent a campervan while we shopped for a van of our own. This, in fact, did happen, and we managed to find a phat campervan that we will hopefully live in for the next 9-12 months (visitor visa is still under review). Why are we still hanging out in Christchurch in an unhappy state, then? The day after we bought our van, on a cold morning, Scott noticed that he couldn't shift into 2nd gear. During our test drive, he hadn't noticed a thing wrong with the shifting. Fast forward 2 days, and we are sitting in the lobby of "The Gearbox Company", with the owner telling us that we will have to spend at least $1500 to fix our transmission. We had to sleep in the driveway of the garage because it was a 15-hour job that spanned 2 days, and ended up totaling $2500. Thanks Ford, we bought a manual transmission because of your shitty automatics and you still can't get it right. You can imagine what went through our heads for the days that followed. Did we get suckered by Grandpa Steve and Grandma Sylvia? I had hoped to take pictures of the van after we bought it, but we lost our camera. When will the bad karma stop?

While we were dealing with the van issues, we had ordered a fancy bike rack that we could mount on the back of our van that would allow us to open the back doors with the bikes mounted. The estimate was that it would take 2-3 days to arrive. "The Motorhome Shop" finally called us back, after 5 days and MANY phone calls to tell us the rack was "lost". Seriously? We called another shop, 6 hours north of here, who ordered it for us. We are set to pick it up 4 days from now.

You may be wondering where the bikes have been during our fusterclucking. This is where I should interject some optimism. If either of us had just a sliver of optimism in our personality, we would probably be really happy right now. We don't, and aren't, but what follows are all the things we should be really happy about.

We flew out of Sydney with 216 lbs (98kgs) of luggage. After only 20 minutes of sweating and arguing with Virgin Blue about their documented luggage policy, they allowed us to check all of our luggage FOR FREE. Virgin Blue has a crazy (good) policy that counts each sporting item as 5 kgs of your 20kg limit. You can bet we took FULL ADVANTAGE of this -- I get the feeling no one has ever abused the policy like we did. Maybe this is what started the bad karma streak.

When we arrived in Christchurch, we stayed in an airport hotel. When we checked out, I asked them if we could leave our bikes, snowboards, kiteboard, and surfboard in their storage room for a week. The receptionist happily agreed and we ended up leaving everything for 2 weeks. Thank-you Sudima International Hotel.

The 2nd day that we arrived, we found the nearest library for some internet access. The library/community center bathrooms had FREE HOT SHOWERS! If it isn't clear by now, free hot showers are a dream when you've been living in a van, especially coming from warm Australia to cold New Zealand. So, our city fusterclucking has been calmed a bit by some nice showers. Our new van has a hot shower, but it is really small. Poor Scott doesn't have much room for scrubbing. We may have to invent a wall-mounted loofah scrubber for him. It also makes the van really steamy -- why in the world would you install a shower, in a van no less, without a vent over the top of it!? Sorry, this is supposed to be the optimistic part of the post.

Our van will hopefully serve us quite well in the colder/wetter climate of NZ. It has a shower, hot water, fridge, microwave (stupid!), sink, 2-burner stove, propane heater, and a huge bed. Unfortunately, most of these things don't work for long unless we are plugged into power at a campground which we don't plan on doing. We have an auxiliary battery (charged by the main battery when we drive) that will power everything for a little while, before it gets sucked dry.

More happy stuff in NZ: lots of kitties, cool laid back people, great libraries, excellent exchange rate at the moment (1 USD = 1.5 NZD), and loads of exploring to be had!

Thanks to Dan and the Flight of the Conchords for this blog post title.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Plan the Plan's Planny Plan

I guess it's been a while--or maybe never--that I've given an update on the big picture for our adventure plans (thank you Todd for reminding us). While it may be obvious based on all of our downsizing and selling-off talk, I should clarify that we are moving from Australia to New Zealand in a few days. We've been in OZ just over 2 years and have definitely become fond of many things about this place. My mom asked me the other day if I was "excited" about moving to New Zealand. I couldn't enthusiastically say "yes". At the moment, thinking about NZ conjures thoughts of logistics and "planning the plan's planny plan".

We will arrive in NZ on Tuesday May 4th. We will get a rental campervan, and will use it for a week while we shop for a campervan of our own. Since my birthday is on May 13th, I guess my birthday present will be a new (old) van. New Zealand is the most campervan-y place we've ever been to. When we visited the South Island for a week last year, about 90% of the vehicles on the road were campervans. This means there are also lots of used campervans on the market. Since it is the start of winter, we will probably find it very easy to buy a van at a good price.

We just dropped off four 40 lb boxes to the post office that will get shipped to NZ. 160 lbs of clothing, sporting goods, living items, and some tools -- seems excessive doesn't it? We have spent hundreds of hours sorting through all our stuff trying to pare it down to the absolute minimum. We've been taking a lot of our stuff to Vinnies (St Vincent De Paul--like Goodwill or Salvation Army).

The other day, one of the volunteers met us as we took stuff out of the van and started going through it in front of us. He said he would probably be throwing away everything we brought. Basically, if the item didn't look clean/new, it was going to the landfill. it. It made me so upset to realize that much of the perfectly functional stuff that gets donated to Vinnies is just put in a landfill. In fact, he told us that they throw away 2 TONS of stuff every DAY!

Back to the planny plan, we hope to spend at least 6 months and hopefully more like 12 months in NZ. We are bringing our mountain bikes, kiteboarding gear, and snowboards. We hope to enjoy some mountain biking and kiting in the dryer/warmer times and to snowboard the rest of the time. We haven't snowboarded in over 2 years -- that is something we are definitely excited for.

We have our sights set on Vietnam and Thailand for 2011. We'll see what can never plan on the plan's planny plan.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Selling our Soles

The past couple of months have been dominated by the logistics of selling our stuff. We're still having fun, but we haven't really taken pictures of our adventures for at least a month. All of the pictures on the camera are the items we were putting up for sale. In a previous post, I think I alluded to us having reduced our "stuff" down to what could fit in (or on) our van -- still way too much.

The windsurfing gear was the biggest and stupidest thing to bring to Oz. Really, we should have sold the windsurfing gear in the USA. We only ended up using it a few times. When we finally managed to sell it (3 boards, 5 masts, 3 booms, 10 sails, etc.), it was for a song. Wavesailing in Oz just isn't as popular as we had assumed, probably because many people, like us, have switched to kiteboarding. This will be the first time in 12 years that we won't have any windsurfing gear -- a nostalgic event, given how this sport dominated many years of our lives.

Our main tool for selling things has been eBay. There have been a few surprises -- a used Leatherman sold for $60! Six months ago, we bought a used roof luggage box for $150 and we just sold it for $225. A Yakima Rocket Box that we paid $280 for 10 years ago at GI Joes (RIP) sold for $417! Most things, we were just happy not to put in a landfill. We've had much more success selling Scott's stuff. It seems that most girls here don't buy wetsuits, snorkeling gear, biking jerseys, etc. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. We've seen very few girls surfing, kiting, or biking. The only item I managed to sell was a pair of $120 near-new Dansko shoes for $25 -- lucky girl.

We've given away most of our clothes and shoes, except for what we're wearing now and some winter items for New Zealand. Even though I hadn't worn some of these clothes for years, it was still hard to say goodbye. However, now that they're gone, I definitely don't miss a thing.

Our biggest concern was selling the van, but with 2 weeks to go, we've found a
buyer. He put down a hefty deposit, didn't negotiate, and is accommodating our travel schedule. Our net loss on the van after 2 years will be less than 1 month's rent at our Sydney apartment -- almost too good to be true. It scares me to even type it. I've only done half of a happy-dance, hoping not to jinx us.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fields Full of Teddy Bears

I usually prefer to write about our adventures soon after they occur, but the last few months have been so fast and furious that I haven't made time to write. The month of February was full of adventures. Our locations varied from South Australia through Victoria to Tasmania. When I look back on February and March, I mostly remember the wildlife encounters and the fantastic scenery. A specific highlight was traveling "The Great Ocean Road" in Victoria. It proved to be as spectacular as all of the hype suggested. On top of the incredible coastal rock formations, we spotted our first (and only) wild Koala on a short forest hike near the coast.

We drove to the Port of Melbourne where we boarded the "Spirit of Tasmania" with our van. We were amongst hundreds of other motorhomes and caravans traveling to Tasmania. The 10-hour boatride proved to be quite rough. Both Scott and I narrowly escaped without tossing our PB & J. The 2 weeks we spent in Tasmania were quite memorable. Tasmania is mostly uninhabited, with extensive national parks (NPs) protecting the wilderness. Tasmania funds their NPs by charging the tourists $60 for a 2 month pass. This is the most expensive NP pass in all of Australia.

We disembarked the "Spirit of Tasmania" around 7pm and stopped 30 minutes down the road to witness some Fairy Penguins coming out of the ocean to feed their chicks, who were patiently waiting for their nightly feeding on the shoreline. I think I said "sooooo cute" at least 20 times. The Fairy Penguin is the smallest of all penguins and the adults only get to be around a foot tall. This is hard to imagine (until you've seen them), after having watched all the movies depicting the massive Emperor Penguins endemic to Antarctica, which reach 3 feet tall.

We saw a Tasmanian Devil cross the road while we were driving. We learned that these animals are plagued by an extremely unusual and fatal cancer. It is only one of three recorded cancers that can spread like a contagious disease. The cancer is passed from devil to devil through biting. The live tumour cells aren’t rejected by their immune system because of a lack of genetic diversity among Tasmanian devils. After learning this, these scary and ugly looking creatures suddenly seemed cute and helpless.

As we were traveling across the Bass Strait to Tassie, we read various tourist brochures.
One of them described Narawantpu NP as a place where you can see fields full of wombats. The wombats in the brochure looked like teddy bears! I quickly decided my goal in Tassie was to see these fields full of "teddy bears". On our last night on the island, we stopped at Narawantpu NP and watched a full moon rise over a field full of teddy bears (and kangaroos!) -- mission accomplished.

Tassie reminded me how much I love climbing mountains. We spent almost everyday hiking or biking up a mountain (much higher than anything on the mainland). Cradle Mountain, the most famous on Tasmania, lived up to it's fame. The climb to the top required some difficult
scrambling on jagged boulders, but we were rewarded with expansive views of the valley and surrounding mountains. To our delight, Tasmania also has some fantastic free camping, with views over the ocean or across a valley.

Another memorable part of Tassie was visiting the capital city of Hobart. Hobart is on the southern coast of Tassie, and it is flanked by 4200 ft Mt. Wellington. Without a doubt, we feel that Hobart would be on our short list of places we could live. A laid back city with an ocean, mountain, and rivers within miles of each other.

We were worried that we would regret only allowing 2 weeks to explore Tasmania. We were right.