Tag Archives: New Zealand

NZ: When life gives you lemons… Go four-wheelin’!

If you had ONE trip you could take before you die… where would it be?

From time to time, I suffer from what I have self-proclaimed as MURI SyndromeMindless Useless Random Information Syndrome. Don’t bother looking it up on Wikipedia, because it’s not there. At least I don’t think it is. Nevertheless, the MURI took over this morning at my kitchen table in Austin, Texas while I was enjoying a delightful cup of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. Rain, peanut M&M’s, a chihuahua dressed like Santa Claus, beer, 4.375% interest, Aaron Rodgers, lemons, the Victoria’s Secret Supermodels (yes… all of them!), four-wheelin’, Kelly Clarkson, blueberry muffins… And then I became deeply concerned, “Did I remember to turn off the Christmas lights before I went to bed last night?”. That’s how MURI Syndrome works! My mind is a hopeless wasteland my friends; but sometimes, the MURI strings portions of historical relevance together to provide a blog worthy story.

Across Country Quad Bike Adventure - New Zealand 2005

Getting back on track… If you had ONE trip you could take before you die… where would it be?

For me, it was New Zealand. Perhaps it was because I’ve always been a HUGE fan of the New Zealand All Blacks. Maybe it’s because back in 2001, I talked to a beautiful woman in London with a cool accent who just happened to be from Sydney. Wait… that’s Australia. Nix that one! For all I know, my fascination could have just been all those hobbits, wizards, elves and talking trees in Lord of the Rings.

New Zealand All Blacks perform the Haka - World Rugby Champions 2011

Overall, I honestly believe it was the fact New Zealand has ALWAYS been praised as one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on earth. That alone should be a good enough reason to visit New Zealand!

Sunrise on Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand 2005

Praise be to God, 3 weeks of vacation built up, a good year in sales at work, and a badass girlfriend (now my wife) who is as passionate about travel as I am, and voila! New Zealand 2005! I was like any other person who plans out their dream vacation of a lifetime. I did all the research of exactly when and where to go, how to get there, and why and how we should do X,Y and Z to attain the “perfect” trip. Be careful with that word “perfect”, because there’s no such thing. But sometimes… just sometimes… you can stumble, fall, and get pretty darn close… by accident!

Rainforest - Franz Josef, New Zealand 2005

It was Day 8 or 9? I can’t remember, and the worst thing that can happen to you on a vacation happened. That’s right! My girlfriend dumped me and ran off with a Swiss ski instructor named Klaus and I was arrested for drug trafficking and thrown into a Mexican prison! How did you know? OK, that didn’t happen; but, would have made for a MUCH better story (and book writing deal). Sorry. As the 7 of you who read this blog know… I tend to exaggerate from time to time. Basically, I got sick. That simple. Bronchitis. Cold. Transpacific hangover (as I liked to call it). Not sure what it was; but, it got me. I’m sure being half-way across the world traveling on planes, trains, buses and boats had nothing to do with it. Nah!

"The Wizard" - Christchurch, New Zealand - Nov 2005

We were in Christchurch, New Zealand on the South Island. I’ll save stories about that GREAT places for another time. Our skillfully orchestrated schedule had us heading West via the  TranzAlpine scenic train to Greymouth. From there, we would travel by coach bus to Franz Josef. It’s a shame we don’t have more trains in Texas, because it is by far one of my favorite modes of transportation in the world. Especially Europe; however, this particular TranzAlpine train on the South Island of New Zealand was something special.

Arthur's Pass - South Island, New Zealand 2005

As noted on the KiwiRail Scenic Journeys web site… “From Christchurch, cross the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury plains, follow the Waimakariri river, climbing into alpine scenery on a series of spectacular viaducts. Then, after stopping at Arthur’s Pass, emerge from the long Otira Tunnel and descend through sub tropical rain forest past beautiful Lake Brunner and on to Greymouth”. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I think one of the most miraculous things about the train ride was the dramatic contrast of scenery. That is the single most fascinating discovery I enjoyed the most about New Zealand. Beauty and awe in sheer abundance.

Sunset in Christchurch, New Zealand - Nov 2005

So there I am, sick as a dog arriving in Franz Josef, and the fog and rain is soooooo bad that even the British would have been miserable. Franz Josef was a quaint and cool little village – what we could see of it; however, the rain and the fog made visibility minimal. All I could think about was throwing on my Oakley sunglasses and climbing up the treacherous ice walls of Franz Josef Glacier and marking my claim with the Texas flag staked in the frozen ice at the top. Like I said… I have a tendency to exaggerate. I’m no Sir Edmund Hillary; but seriously, I was REALLY looking forward to engaging in the New Zealand West Coast Glacier Experience. Our only hope was that the fog and rain would seize by the time we set off on our glacial expedition the next morning and this cold/transpacific hangover I was suffering from would dissipate. It didn’t. Oh well… the show must go on! No time to be sick bro! You’re in New Zealand! Kia Ora mate!

Across Country Quad Bikes - NZ 2005

So… what now? Feeling slightly robbed, a nice lady at our breakfast location told us, “No worries ’bout the glacier! Why don’t you go four-wheeling in the rainforest?”.  We were intrigued! What was that? FOUR-WHEELING? In the RAINFOREST? Obviously, my research skills weren’t as great as I thought they were. When life gives you lemons… Go four-wheelin’! (INSERT HERE) Across Country Quad Bikes Franz Josef New Zealand – Guided Scenic Adventures. The whole reason I’m writing this blog is to point out that you can’t always plan a great time. Sometimes… it just happens. BUT, if you happen to go to the West Coast of the South Island in New Zealand… put this on your itinerary for sure! It truly was a remarkable and unique adventure.

Rainforest ATV Adventure - New Zealand 2005
Jason (me) and Anna - Across Country Quad Bike Adventure 2005

We layered up (3 layers or so); but, in reality, they provided everything we needed for a successful and FUN expedition. All the wet gear – jackets, pants, socks, boots, gloves, and helmets. We were prepared for anything; however, nothing could prepare us for carving our way into dense rainforest, across glacial river beds, through marshy grasslands, and over mud filled trails on our rugged ATV quad bikes. All the while, knowing that despite the rain and fog that had settled in, we were still amongst the majestic snow capped Southern Alps and the Franz Josef Glacier as our background. Most important, it was educational, as we learned about the rainforest and what New Zealand is doing to maintain this eco-system.

Yep! That's me! Austin GlobeTrekker on a Quad Bike - NZ 2005
Our Across Country Tour Guide educating us about the rainforest

Half-way through the 2-hour tour, after racing through some mud trails and glacial river beds, we  stopped at a small wooden shelter for hot chocolate and tea while learning the Maori legend of the glacier and the surrounding area. What an adventure!

Four-wheelin' - Franz Josef, New Zealand 2005

Already feeling rejuvenated from my transpacific hangover, this was the happiest day of our trip (so far). So, once again… if you find yourself on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand in the small village of Franz Josef… make sure you plan an expedition with Across Country Quad Bikes. You won’t regret it! And if you’re wondering how the trip could get any better… whitewater rafting  and riding the Shotover Jet  “The World’s Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride” in Queenstown, NZ were fantastic adventures – almost comparable to the quad bikes in Franz Josef; but, seeing Mt. Aoraki (Mt Cook) AND proposing at Lake Tekapo, NZ in the same day – November 9th, 2005 – definitely contribute to some of the happiest days of my life.

View from Pete's Lookout - Mt Cook, New Zealand - Nov 2005

Until we blog again…


Alas… Tour de France is over!

PLEASE excuse my 3-4wk absence from the blogging world; however, you must understand that from Saturday, July 2nd until Sunday, July 24th, 2011, I was possessed by a small European event called the Tour de France. Or, as most cycling fans prefer to call it… “The Race of Truth”. 21 stages. 200 riders. 3430.5Km (over 2000 miles for my metric challenged friends). An epic battle and physical display of courage by freaks of nature, who can maneuver a bicycle up, down, and around a mountain for a time frame that would make most people exhausted from the luxurious comfort of driving in a car – let alone on a machine that only works when you push the pedals over and over and over again. Go ahead and throw in a 6 day visit to Jamaica last week (I’ll save that story for another blog), and voila! you have the recipe for an absent-minded blogger.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No... It's a BIKE in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia - May 2011

Congratulations to Cadel Evans of BMC Racing Team – 2011 winner of the maillot journe (yellow jersey) and the 1st Australian to win the Tour de France. Also, congratulations to the Manx Missile Mark CavendishTeam HTC-High Road – 1st British winner of the Green points jersey, as well as an amazing performance by Team Garmin Cervelo for best overall team in the 2011 Tour de France. I’m still happy and proud as hell of Andy Schleck and Frank Schleck taking 2nd and 3rd place on the podium for Team Leopard Trek. Like they’re my friends or something. You follow people’s careers long enough (and on Twitter), and  you get this false belief that you know them. Trust me. I don’t. But, great champions deserve great recognition. Let’s be real here… if you can haul your body for 3 weeks of torture around France, and over the Pyrenees and the Alps, then shouldn’t you be called a champion for just completing the tour? In my best Shakespearean voice “me thinketh yes!”. What an accomplishment!

"The Old Bavarian Bike" - Fussen, Germany - May 2011

I think Bill Russell had 11 NBA Championships. This feat can never be duplicated in the modern era of basketball.  Jack Nicklaus won 18 professional majors in golf. Beyond impressive. Muhammad Ali – He’s called the greatest of all time for a reason. Putting this all into perspective… Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France 7 times. No typo. 7 times! That’s gotta be the most dominating achievement in sports. Ever. Sure, Brazil has won 5 World Cups in futbol; but, that’s a whole country over a couple decades! This is why I continue to be an enthusiastic fan (and part time participant) of cycling. I welcome you to challenge me on this. We could use a little friendly banter on this blog. Join the conversation! LIVESTRONG is my charity of choice by the way. Care to learn more? If you’d like to join the fight against cancer, please visit: Livestrong.org.

"Boy on a Bike" - Guanacaste, Costa Rica - May 2006

It’s like sometimes I want to be annoyed when I see one of those “26.2” bumper stickers on the back of a car. Oh, so you think you’re better than me? Then I catch myself, and realize that you deserve to put that on the back of your car. Why? Because running 26.2 miles and being able to say that you’ve completed a marathon is a freakishly cool life accomplishment. Alas… Tour de France is over! So, hear me now… believe me later… I’m going to complete a stage of the Tour de France before I die. Let me rephrase that. I’m going to ATTEMPT to complete a stage of the Tour de France before I die. Okay, let me revise my words slightly again… I’m going to SEE a stage of the Tour de France before I die. Baby steps people. Baby steps. Who’s with me? Vive le Tour! Before I go too far away from my beloved cycling, let me boldly promote the Boston Globe’s SPECTACULAR photos from this year’s 2011 Tour de France – http://bo.st/qzIuv6

"Bicycles. Bicycles. Bicycles. EVERYWHERE!" - Amsterdam, Netherlands - May 2007

Right about now, you’re probably wondering what the heck does all this have to do with a TRAVEL blog? I think Dhani Jones explains it best on his show Dhani Tackles the Globe. If you want to learn more about a culture, explore the sports that they play and love. Spend enough time in New Zealand, and you’ll quickly become a fan of rugby. I guarantee. I still remember Queenstown, New Zealand (Nov 2005) watching the All-Blacks thrash Ireland on tv. I was a rugby fan before, thanks to growing up in England and experiencing World Rugby Championships in Dublin, Ireland (1999); But, after sharing good times in a Queenstown bar with local Kiwis admiring their beloved All-Blacks, I gained a whole new appreciation for the sport of rugby. And for the country of New Zealand. Just a breathtakingly beautiful country. Fantastic people too. STILL one of my all-time favorite travels.

View from Pete's Lookout - Mt Cook, New Zealand - Nov 2005

In the same respect, I don’t think it’s possible to live in Brazil and not be a fan of “the beautiful game” – futbol. Writing about sports and culutre is bringing back fond memories of July 9th, 1994 in Dallas, Texas, watching the World Cup quarter-finals between Brazil and Netherlands (Holland). The images of bright orange drenched Dutch, singing and chanting non-stop, while a hoard of green and gold clad Brazilian fans blew whistles, banged on drums, and danced the samba in the aisles. These memories will forever be etched in my mind as one of the greatest cultural experiences of my life. Brazil won – 3-2, and went on to win the 1994 World Cup vs Italy in Pasadena, CA. It was the first time that a World Cup Final had ever been decided by penalty shots (3-2). Sports in N. America? It’s hard to explain the energy and adrenaline of a college football rivalry game. Texas A&M vs Texas. Michigan vs Ohio State. Alabama vs Auburn. USC vs Notre Dame. OU vs Texas. The list goes on and on. Just something that changes your life and gives you a whole new appreciation for culture through sports. Suddenly, my sorrow of the Tour de France being over has been relieved. I just remembered… the 2011 professional cycling season’s not over just yet! We still have La Vuelta a Espana in August!

Remember: Join the Conversation! In the meantime… TRAVEL | EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER

TRAVEL: Is it the similarities… or the differences?

So… What exactly is it about TRAVEL that makes the corners of your mouth curl north into an inescapable smile? Is it the similarities we share with the places we go? Or, the differences from the people we meet that set us apart? Why not BOTH? For me… It’s the similarities AND the differences that make me HAPPY. That’s what drives me toTRAVEL| EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Groucho Marx said “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, TODAY , and I’m going to be happy in it.” That’s my approach to TRAVEL. Whether it’s getting soaked while hiking out on the Isle of Skye in The Highlands of Scotland… Peacefully strolling along the canals amongst narrow row houses in Amsterdam… Playing “Where’s Waldo?” in Mercat de la Boqueria on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain with 2 idiot drunk friends… People watching with my wife at a bar in Whistler Village, British Columbia, Canada… Or, 2:47am chillin’ with a hazelnut mocha (no whip) at Strange Brew 24 Hour Coffee Shop in South Austin, Texas. Whatever it is… TRAVEL is fuel for the heart, soul and mind. It makes me HAPPY.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I’m not a writer. I’m not a photographer. But… I am a traveler, dreamer and explorer. So, here I am with a novice appetite for photography and an uncontrollable hunger for TRAVEL. A state of mind I like to call TRAVEL.i.CIOUS. And still… I’ve barely scratched the surface of this vast world.

Sunset in Christchurch, New Zealand

It was November, 6th 2005 and my “girlfriend” and I were in Queenstown, New Zealand on the South Island. We found ourselves stumbling out of a frozen ice palace of absolut wonder called “Minus 5”. Yes, the pun is intended. It WAS -5 C inside, the bar was made of ice, the glasses were made of ice, and the beverage of choice was absolut vodka. They gave us HUGE thick Eskimo looking coats to wear, since nobody could have possibly prepared for the elements in that joint. No… This was not at all similar to any bar I’d ever been to back in Texas. As my “girlfriend” and I proceeded to toss back the blackcurrant vodka, we surveyed the bar with our magnificent people watching skills, only to realize that we were not the only ones in pure amazement at our surroundings. “Pretty cool, huh?” said a tall man with a German sounding accent. I responded, “Never experienced anything like this in my life. Fantastic!”.

Friends from Germany and Austria in NZ
Minus 5 Ice Bar, Queenstown, NZ

We continued to discuss the ice bar, then struck up a conversation about Queenstown, and swapped stories of our time on the South Island of New Zealand. The surprising comfort was that we were two globe trekkers talking about TRAVEL. There was no mention of “what do you do for a living?”. Only the age old travel question… “Where are you from?”. My response… “We’re from Austin, Texas”. His response… “I’m from Germany, my wife is from Austria; but, we are living in Switzerland”. They laughed about the fact that people from Texas, first and foremost, ALWAYS say they are from Texas instead of from America. Then they proceeded to tell us that Austin, Texas was on their list of “places to see”. Unbelievable! A proud and exciting moment in travel. Lance Armstrong, SXSW Music Festival, the Texas Hill Country. Impressive. They knew about my home town – AUSTIN.

Sunrise - Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, NZ

From what I recall, there was a time limit on how long you could stay inside the ice bar, so we proceeded to make our way back to the hotel when a loud ruckus came from across the waterfront. It was already after 3am, and I had already blown nervous plans that evening to propose to my “girlfriend” and ask her to be my “wife”. That didn’t happen. Somehow… Some way… We ended up in another bar watching Tana Umaga and the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team playing Wales in the 2005 Internationals in Europe on TV at 5am with a German, an Austrian, and a bunch of passionate Kiwis. WHAT? 

Church of the Good Shepherd
View inside Church of the Good Shepherd - Lake Tekapo, NZ

That evening, I learned more than I ever thought I would about Germany and Austria. Inspiring info for an Austin GlobeTrekker. The All-Blacks went on to beat Wales 41-3. Three days later… on November 9th, 2005, I had the PERFECT opportunity at Lake Tekapo, NZ to ask my girlfriend to be my wife. She said… YES! On May 15th, 2011 we will celebrate our 5yr Wedding Anniversary. WHERE in the world are we traveling? Almost 2 weeks in Europe – Germany, Austria, and Slovenia.

So ask yourself the question… TRAVEL: Is it the similarities… or the differences?