New Zealand – Day 6

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On the Silica Falls Trail. Iron Mixes with Clay in the Streambed. As it Oxidizes, it Turns this Brilliant Orange Color.

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Please excuse the quality of these pictures.  I only had my phone with me this day and it was dark and rainy almost exclusively.  My phone does a rotten job in these conditions.

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New Zealand – Day 4

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HOBBITON
We got up early, ate breakfast in the room (banana, yogurt, nuts, oatmeal), and headed south to the farming community of Matamata and Hobbiton!  We had been warned to allow extra travel time on all roads but our 30 minute buffer turned out to not be enough.  With all the road construction, we just missed the first-of-the-day tour we had reserved but luckily they had space on the next one.  Just after lunchtime, when we left, the place was completely filled up.  This place is super cool and popular.  If you are planning to visit, I highly recommend booking ahead.

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New Zealand – Day 1 to Day 3

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Dwarven-Carved Styrofoam Greets you in the Auckland Airport

 

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AIR TRAVEL
We left Jacksonville midway through Monday headed to Dallas on American Airlines.  From there we boarded Quantas headed for Sydney.  Shortly after takeoff our pilot explained our delayed departure was due to a required double check of the fuel load.  Apparently this calculation can get kind of complex and our flight was unusual because we were going on the largest commercial airplane in the world (neat) on the longest single flight in the world (boo).

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New Zealand: Introduction and Planning

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Purple mountains light up at the dawn of a new trip. Those little black dots on the grass are sheep!

You can jump straight to Day One of the trip.

I am so thrilled to be sharing the recap of our recent trip to New Zealand!  This post will serve as an intro and talk you through the months of planning that we did.  If you are dreaming of  visiting New Zealand in the future,  I hope this information makes your planning quicker and easier.

Be sure to follow this blog as upcoming posts will walk you through each day of our trip with details and pictures.

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Self Portrait: Passing Rain Shadow

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I had the good fortune to visit Pelennor Fields on a recent trip (that you’ll get to hear more about soon) and this is the view if you do a 180 at that location.  I wanted to get a picture with the sheep sign in for scale and this little rain storm blew through (only lasted a few minutes) so I grabbed a few frames.  Since the sun was setting and I had no time to find another vantage point, my shadow is in the picture providing this week’s self portrait.

Fallingwater

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I had to wait a while for there NOT to be hordes of people all over the house or at this viewing spot to take this picture. This place is crowded with visitors most of the time they tell me.

A few weeks back Melanie and I got to attend a wedding for a good friend of ours in Greensburg, PA.  It was a beautiful God-filled event in a beautiful location with beautiful weather and beautiful food – they even had a table with nothing but piles of cookies in limitless flavor choices!

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Mount Davis

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The high point is the marker cemented to the top of the rock on the right.

This past weekend we were happy to have the opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh for the wedding of my old friend Bill and my new friend Tricia.  After the wedding we wanted to do a little tourism before we headed home.  You’ll be getting a few little articles on those various things over the next few days.

Today we take you to the highest point in Pennsylvania – Mount Davis.  For those that don’t know, Melanie and I like to hike the US state high points.  Almost every time it a surprisingly similar experience.  You travel up a 1-1/2 lane two-way road through beautiful landscape, you see practically no one else, and it is very peaceful and relaxing.  We have found it a great way to see places that we would have never visited otherwise.  Mount Davis was par for the course.  Even though the day was very overcast and hazy, it was a beautiful drive.  On the approach, you’ll pass a mountain lake that I could definitely vacation on.  I think we saw about five other people on the road once we were within 30 minutes of the summit.  There was absolutely no one else in the park itself.  We didn’t even see a car as we drove in or left.

We had limited time since there were a few other things we wanted to do before our flight home that night.  This meant as soon as we got to the summit, we took a few pictures and got back in the car.  It would have been really nice to hang out there for 30 minutes or so enjoying the solitude and stillness.

Getting there is simple.  Just type “Mount Davis” into Google Maps and you’ll get a paved road route right to the gravel parking lot.  From there you probably walk 100 feet to the “summit.”  It is a weird high point.  Sure, you definitely notice you are driving uphill but it doesn’t seem that much higher than all the area surrounding it.  At the top it is relatively flat and the actual highpoint is a boulder sitting on top of this mostly flat area.

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This tower is very close to the parking lot and the high point (it's that big rock in the background).
This tower is very close to the parking lot and the high point (it’s that big rock in the background).
You can see some turds tried to remove the marker.
You can see some turds tried to remove the marker.

Yosemite – Ovaltine Bonus Material

I know there are not that many pix from Half Dome. I was having a tough enough time just doing the hike without taking pix. I’ll get better at this the more I do it.

We were testing out some new equipment for this trip:
1. Gregory Z-30 daypacks – Awesome! Light, small, comfortable. The pack is held away from your back so you don’t get “pack sweat back” so easily. Lots of freedom of movement with these. Along with our tent, probably my favorite piece of outdoor equipment we own. Citron Yellow is a great color too. [Editor’s Note:  In the three years since this article was first published, we have continued using these packs and still love them.  The Z-30 in the link above is the newer version as our exact model is no longer available.  We really like the longer narrower profile of these packs.  They hold as much stuff as a standard day pack without limiting the range of motion of your arms. We still love the curved frame to hold the pack away from your back but have noticed it makes accessing smaller things in the bottom of the main compartment more difficult.  They are sized right holding as much water and other stuff as you’d comfortably want to carry for a day. The well-designed shoulder straps and waist belt allow you to distribute the load comfortably across your torso.  On the downside, these packs are expensive.  For us, being able to hike with the stuff we want to carry for a day without ending up with a sore back, shoulders or neck has been worth the price.]

2. Camelbak 2L water bladders – Highly recommended. The biggest size that would fit our packs. 3/4 of the people we saw hiking had these and with good reason. They make drinking water fun and easy. 🙂 The weight stays centered on your body and you are more likely to drink more often because of the convenient drinking tube. Nice large mouth that you can fit your hand in for cleaning. Con’s: Still a pain to clean. No locking “off” valve (although you can buy one for it). I read that you can just toss them in the freezer rather than cleaning in between uses on longer trips. This is what we did and it worked great. [Editor’s Note:  The link takes you to the newer version of this bladder.  You’ll see that these now come with a locking on/off valve standard.  We still love these bladders and have had no leaks with our bite-valve-only versions.  Part of the trick seems to be pushing the tubing far in to the bite valve.  This way the bite valve and the tubing must be compressed a little for water to flow (more resistance so more force is needed for a leak).  We’ve come up with a pretty easy cleaning routine:  1. Fill part way with soapy water, shake, drain through valve.  2.  Clean any dirty areas inside and out with remaining soap.  3.  Rinse thoroughly.  4.  Dry inside and out with a towel.  5.  Stuff interior with two paper towels to hold it open for drying. 6.  Remove bite valve and spin hose (like you are cowboy getting ready to rope a steer or a kid playing jump rope).  7.  Let everything completely dry.  8. Replace bite valve and store with lid unscrewed.  It sounds much more complicated than it is.  It takes about as long as washing and drying a dirty dish.]

3. Marmot PreCip rain jackets – More affordable that the Goretex alternatives but much more breathable than standard nylon or coated nylon. Available in lots of colors. Cut large enough to cover a couple layers of clothing. Pitzips are nice for ventilation and work well. Stuffs in on itself with one of the pockets forming a stuff sack (handy). Overall this product was a good match for us. I’ve read that the waterproofing doesn’t hold up a super long time. Didn’t break the wind all that well. The hood works well but the feature to roll it up into a collar is a joke. If you are a woman, skip the lady’s version. The men’s design is better and available in more colors. [Editor’s Note:  The link now takes you to a newer version of the same product.  We still really like these jackets.  The waterproofing has not failed, but that could easily be because we are intentionally babying them.  They stay stuffed in our day packs and are only used when we are hiking.  Since we try to hike when it isn’t raining, they see little use.  We’ve probably only used them 5 or 6 times total.  We’ve also added long rain pants to the ensemble.  We usually hike in cooler weather and having dry legs is nice (in the summer we just wear shorts and don’t care).  As noted in the Yosemite write up, nylon running or hiking pants don’t cut it.  They let the water right in.]