Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Made it to South America!

We have traveled all night and have made it to Santiago, Chile.  With much effort, we caught a ride from the airport to a bus station where we purchased tickets for an overnight bus to Pucon.   Pucon is a town about ten hours South of Santiago.   I am publishing this blog from a Starbucks near the bus station because we will not have internet tonight.   Santiago is hot and big, but the atmosphere is cheerful.  While we are waiting for the bus, we will look for a SIM card for our phone and an internet stick for our computer.

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Terrible Earthquakes

This month, we traveled all the way across the South Island of New Zealand starting in Christchurch, and today, finishing in Christchurch.  We have seen some amazing sights and have done some amazing things.  We have kayaked in Murchison, have hiked to rocky beaches and up a mountain pass, and have witnessed the spectacular New Zealand scenery.  However, I have seen nothing compared to the city of Christchurch, strongly effected by a string of recent earthquakes.  Today, I saw the effects of the earthquakes, and experienced the amazing spirit of the people rising up from destruction.  

Over the past year and a half, Christchurch has been hit by eight thousand quakes, four of which have knocked over buildings and distorted the city.  The first big quake was in September 2010 and caused damage to buildings, but no fatalities.  The town was not so lucky in February 2011 when towering buildings crashed beside terrified pedestrians, killing hundreds of people.  The following two quakes, June 2011 and December 2011, were similar to the one in September, causing only building damage.  Prior to these earthquakes, nobody had noticed or given cation to this fault line.  I was interested to see the earthquake destruction for myself as we drove into the city center.

Christchurch was heavily effected by the devastating earthquakes.  On every downtown street, shops were closed and gaps and crevices still remained in the streets.  Around every corner were blocks that were closed down and fenced off due to extreme earthquake danger.  In the enclosed area were torn up buildings, broken and destroyed shops, and even an abandoned bike.  Residents in outlying neighborhoods are being evicted with no where to go.  However, hope is not all lost.   

Despite the damage, townspeople are still keeping spirit and hope.  In one small city square, business owners have built shops and cafes out of shipping containers that they have painted brightly and colorfully.  People we met in the “container mall” said that they are keeping the vibe in the city and trying to make it colorful again.  All over town are bill boards saying that the Christchurch we love is still here.  I was impressed by the movement and spirit of the people and have never seen a natural disaster handled better.

What a day!  I saw the effects of several devastating earthquakes and people rising up from them.  Tomorrow we are leaving New Zealand and are heading for South America!  I am excited to see a new continent!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!          

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shopping in Dunedin

Today, I was awakened by my parents at eight thirty.  Confusion; I have not felt this pain in awhile....”AHHHHHHH LLET MMEE SLEEEPPP!”  With tired eyes I got myself ready for what would be a long driving day. 

After a couple of hours in the car, we came to the city of Dunedin.  There, we ate a late breakfast and did some shopping.  I ate a delicious pancake and my parents had some eggs.  After breakfast we decided to shop for some gear that we will need in South America.  We bought a tent, a small stove that runs on gasoline, a water purifier, and a pocket knife.  We also bought some electronic accessories for the car: a cassette adaptor to an mp3 player and a power outlet connecting to the car’s cigarette lighter. 

After a few hours of shopping, we had an early lunch and continued on towards Christchurch.  We traveled for several more hours and are now camped at a town near Christchurch.  We have a clean slate in our minds and are open to any ideas. Tomorrow is our last day in New Zealand and I am excited to go to a new continent!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!   

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Yesterday, the sun shone over beautiful Milford Sound, but of-course the weather did not last.  Today, we experienced heavy rain showers.  This did not stop us from venturing on our dive trip.  The day was difficult for me; the dive company was unprofessional, I faced a difficult decision, but my pictures turned out amazing on my underwater camera! 

From the beginning, I sensed stress and chaos in the Tawaki dive crew.  I got out of our minivan early in the morning at the Deep Water Basin.  Hard rain beat down upon us.  It was going to be another rainy day in Milford Sound.  The dive master, an Egyptian named Alex, had an extremely strong accent and I could not understand most of what he said.  He ran back and forth on the dock, pushing his way through his clients as if the world was about to end in the next five minutes.  We boarded the small boat, continuously being hurried by Alex, and Mike, the captain.  Once on board, Alex hurried us to get our wet suits on.  He encouraged us to carelessly and hastily put our dive tanks together.  I felt rushed and dubious about the safety of the dive.  I had a decision to make. Should I dive? 

I had a bad feeling about the dive.  I thought back to what my previous instructor, Anna had said.  “Always follow your intuition and don’t be afraid to abort a dive due to a bad feeling.”  While on the dive platform, Alex continued to urge me to “just jump in” finalizing my decision.  I stayed on the boat with a Chinese man who was having trouble in the water.  I watched while the boat got stuck on a rock, the dive master separated from his guests, and my mom ultimately aborted her first dive.  I was happy with my decision and was glad to be out of the chaos in the water.

Despite the mess, my parents had an okay second dive. I was excited to use my underwater camera for the first time.  I decided that I would use it to take pictures in the rain and give it to Dad to photograph his dive. The underwater pictures below were taken by Dad.  My parents saw lobsters and other cool fish.  The water was freezing and they dove in thick wet suits.  Because of all the rain in Milford Sound, there is a layer of fresh water several meters thick above the salt water.  Descending the first couple meters you can see nothing, just mirky green.  Once you get below the fresh water layer, you can see normally again.  The fresh water blocks the sun.  Some of the life at these shallow depths is normally seen in deeper water where the light is the same.  Once on deck, my parents shivered in the cold air.  Soon the day was done and we were back at the lodge.

What a rainy, uncontrolled dive day.  The instructors were unsafe, unorganized, and unprofessional and I made a good decision.  My dad got some cool photos, but I was really disappointed that I did not dive.  Anyway better luck next time! 

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!


Friday, January 27, 2012

Gertrude Saddle in the Sun!

We are still in Milford Sound, New Zealand and having a blast.  Yesterday, we experienced true pounding rain and fierce winds. This morning the sun finally came out.  Today was filled with amazing sunshine, a spectacular hike, and some minor van troubles.

We all awoke to an amazing sight.  Rays of sun were blasting in through our windows.  I looked up to see a clear sky.  The rain had gone and sun now prevailed.  We were not sure if the good weather would last.  The weather report at the lodge projected showers and maybe snow in the afternoon.  We planed to hike up to a saddle said to be a two hour hike, hoping to avoid bad weather.   We decided that we should leave immediately  and take advantage of the good morning weather.

Gertrude Saddle hike offered us sunshine, amazing views, and challenging terrain.  We started off on the flats following a vague trail pushing through brush and hedges.  Soon, we started to ascend a cliffy and rocky mountain.  We followed a steep stream bed with blasting water creating fast rushing falls.  Once we were considerably high upon the ridge, the footing became steeper and slipperier.  Nailed into the rocks were cables to help a hiker get to the top.  Soon we passed a large glacial tarn with icy clear water.  We emerged through large masses of ice and snow and arrived at an amazing view. 

We were looking down upon mountains, forests and rivers.  In the distance, we could make out a large fjord that we assumed to be Milford Sound.  We were so glad that the sun still beat down upon our faces.  We took a moment and ate some cheese and crackers that super Dad had brought and enjoyed the energy flowing into our bones.  Still concerned about the capricious weather, we headed down to the awaiting van far below.
The View From Gertrude Saddle

Hungry, and tired we arrived at the camper.  The van did not start.  Anxiously, we walked to the Department of Conservation lodge (Homer Hut) where we parked our van a couple nights before.  The hut was deserted and we could find no jumper cables which we desperately needed.  Mom decided to walk up to the road and try to get somebody to lend us some jumper cables or help us with our dilemma.  Soon we had a Dutch couple helping us, but they too had no jumper cables.  We tried to push start the van but no success.  They offered to take Mom up the road and help her find someone with jumper cables.  She returned with Matheus, a nice German man with jumper cables.  He saved the day and soon we were driving to dinner.

Today was amazing.  I had a nice hike and was extremely grateful for the sun.  The van problem was a little annoying but all in all it was not too bad.  Tomorrow, we will go on a boat tour and SCUBA dive trip in the Sound and I will have my underwater case to document the underwater world!  I am so excited!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pounding Rain

Yesterday, we arrived in Milford Sound with clear blue skies.  Sun beat down on the beautiful dry rocks.  We saw occasional waterfalls and rivers, both of which were limited in water.  The rivers were shallow and the waterfalls narrow and low in volume.  We hoped to do some hiking and some over night trekking.  After all, it was perfect weather...  Today that all changed. 

Milford Sound exploded with water.  Waterfalls appeared on rocks that were previously dry as bones.  Entire cliff faces were covered in gushing and rushing water.  Strong winds yanked the pounding rain from side to side.  Small streams became deep, brown, flooded rivers.  All views vanished and all that could be seen were dreary clouds.  We drove to a camper park and a lodge where we looked out upon the nastiness outside.  At dinner, we walked up to a massive waterfall with amazing volume.  Tons of water came down upon what looked to be a giant ridge, or boulder, and shot out over the valley.  A visitor who had seen the Sound before the storm, told us that yesterday this waterfall had been small and insignificant.

At dinner, we met Dave, an interesting Canadian who is also traveling the world for a year.  He is only three weeks into his journey and we gave him advise about cities and sites not to be missed. Together we all walked out in the rain to look at waterfalls.  We walked in the strong wind and hard rain, hardly able to keep our rain coats on.  I personally thought the whole experience was just nutty.  Dave thought that the Sound was prettier in the rain than on the sunny days now past.

Wow, what a nasty day.  It was windy, rainy, cold, and bitter.  Ironic, we had endured so much driving to arrive in pouring rain.  So much so, that it prevented us from several opportunities.  Tomorrow is supposed to be better, but it is still a mystery.

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!    

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Milford Sound At Last

Today, we arrived just outside of our long awaited destination, Milford Sound.  We took occasional stops along the way, but many fewer than our previous drives.  We took a couple of hikes and met a nice French traveler.   

When we were about three quarters of the way to Milford Sound, we stopped in the town of Te Anau.  There, we ate a good lunch of pizza at a cafe where I finished a lesson of math.  Just as we were leaving Te Anau, we picked up a French hitchhiker named Anaisse.  She is hitchhiking and traveling for one year in New Zealand and has brought her dog, TJ, with her from France.  She is about nineteen and was extremely happy to get a ride.  She had spent hours on the side of the road.

We continued on our way with occasional spots to walk.  Anaisse was happy to get some exercise.  Eventually, we arrived at a lodge surrounded by towering mountains and cliffs.  Here, Anaisse left us to go camping in the surrounding mountains.  The guests at the lodge seemed aloof and we decided to camp in our van just outside.  Later in the evening, I enjoyed climbing a small tree to take pictures of the beautiful mountain range as the sun was going down.  Tomorrow we will hike up a pass to a beautiful saddle said to offer great views of Milford Sound.

One more day has come and gone on the amazing world trip.  What lies ahead???  What will tomorrow bring???  Ahh, ‘tis a mystery...  (hope you enjoyed the random cheese ball!) 

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Driving the West Coast of New Zealand

We are still in New Zealand, traveling with our camper van, with one week until we fly to South America.  We are making haste to see Milford Sound and make it back to Christchurch for our flight. Today was simple.  We mainly drove over bumpy paved roads, stopping for occasional hikes and food. 

Our first break from driving was a short walk to Monro Beach, said to be inhabited by penguins.  We were not expecting to see these curious animals because by January the penguins have all left their breeding grounds.  We tramped our way along a well maintained trail past ferns and trees thriving with life.  In the distance, birds sang happy songs while the rest of the forest danced in the wind to the beautiful tunes.  After about half an hour, we emerged onto a beach different from other beaches we have visited in New Zealand.  Instead of big crashing waves, gentle swells washed up on the shore.  Instead of hard rocks and drift wood, this beach was only covered in glimmering sand that sent warm vibes from our feet to our relaxing bodies.  After discovering that the penguins had left on time, we turned our heads back to the trail.  Soon we were on the road again, now with a new desire.  Food!

Our bellies were rumbling and we were all hungry.  We had heard of an amazing place for lunch called the Cray Pot with good fish about half an hour off the main road.  We decided to go for it, but after a thirty minute drive we arrived to a sad site.  In the small fishing village of Jackson Bay, the Cray Pot restaurant was closed.  We were all disappointed as we drove back to the main road.  Still hungry, we stopped at a road side cafe for a gross lunch of deep fried fish over french fries, a Kiwi tradition called fish and chips.  An average lunch and no penguins.  Better luck next time!

For our last adventure of the day, we hiked to a river with amazing blue water.  The source of this river is pure glacial ice giving the water its color and clarity.  We hiked for about half an hour and came to a bridge looking down upon icy blue water.  I thought there was no way we were jumping in the cold water, but we all had our swim suits on and dubious expressions crossed over our faces.  We walked down to the side of the river.  “I’ll do it if you’ll do it,” my dad called to me.  I answered “yes” but after having felt the water on my hand a few seconds before, I was a wee bit nervous.  Splash “whoo ahhh HAND ME THE TOWELLLL!”  It was my turn.  Once underwater, sheer, bitter, cold was upon me.  It felt like someone was sticking needles into my skin.  I was shortly out and the jump was just a past memory.

We have finished the day and are staying just out side of the town of Wanaka, camped by a quiet stream.  For dinner, we ate an amazing meal of shakes and burgers bigger than my head.  I loved the day and am excited for the next few left to come.

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another Day in New Zealand

We are all filthy, smelly, and gross from lack of showers and laundry as we travel down the West Coast of the South Island.  We decided to camp at a full service camp ground, with showers, water for our van, and laundry facilities.  The day consisted of recharging and cleaning up at a wonderful camper park, and enjoying a brief hike around a lake.

The day started with a morning hike around Lake Matheson.  Overlooking the glacial tarn, are two beautiful mountains, Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman.  The larger of the two, Mt. Cook, was used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings as Mt. Caradhras.  The company of the ring attempted crossing over Caradhras, but the malevolence of the cold, spiky, bitter, peak drove them to pass beneath the mountain, through the mines of Moria.  On our hike, there were no snow storms or crashing boulders, just sunshine and a beautiful view of the lake, Mt. Cook, and Mt. Tasman.  We occasionally stopped to gaze in awe at the towering mountains.  The walk could not have been better.   

After the hike, we drove to a camper park with showers, power, and water to fill our water tank.  I worked on a lesson of math for most of the day, but the best part of my day was spent playing with some kids in the camper park playground.  I am not sure what any of my  companions' names were because we all had nick names referring to our shirts.  There was Pinky, Slick, Wave, Hockey, and a todler called Unicorn.  My name was “Guy in the blue shirt.”  We played mostly tag in a park near our camper.  We had a great time.  But as you know,  if I have a great time with kids my age for more than an hour, I am likely to experience a minor casualty.  Today, I ran into a thick rope secured to the ground and attached to a pole above my head.  I hit the rope at full speed, saw a couple stars, shrugged and continued after Pinky. 

After playing a while, my belly informed me that it was time to eat.  We drove to a good place for dinner, as my goose bump was developing.  Since I hit a rope, there is a big swollen line across my face.  It is kind of cool, but I would prefer a black eye.  I reckon that would look awesome!  Next time!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!    

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hiking in the Mud

Today, we woke up intending to go on a short three hour hike to a seal colony before leaving the camp.  We did not heed the clock as we left, and took off on the long trail with adventures lying ahead.  The first part of the walk was easy and we followed a wide, flat trail.  To either side of us grew hedges and thorn bushes.  The weather was fine and sunny, save occasional gusts of heavy winds.  We followed this trail down to the beach that we had explored last night.  We had already walked for about forty-five minutes when we came to a bridge that lead across a lagoon full of yellow and red brackish water.  After crossing the lagoon, we came to a vast jungle.  Right as we walked past the first tree, I saw a dark cloud in the far distance advancing towards the jungle.  I shivered and turned my head back to the trail.

After another half hour of hiking, we came to a sign pointing us to the seal colony.  It displayed the approximate round trip hiking time as two hours.  We had the hubris to think that we could make the hike in considerably less time.  The trail grew wet and difficult.  Muddy marshes and trees blocked our way.  My parent’s feet were outfitted with only flip-flops and were taking a beating.  Dad’s flip-flop strap tore and became unusable.  He left them at the side of the trail to pick up on the way back.  Mom’s foot ware started to tear and she, too, soon left hers. Both my mom and dad were now walking the rough and muddy trail in bare feet.  It soon became apparent that it would take us much longer than expected to complete this journey.  We continued on as the trail sloped downward towards the ocean.  We dropped off the trail into a ravine leading to the final beach.  We had made it and were eager to explore the seal colony.

Carefully, and with sore feet, we proceeded down the beautiful beach.  Big waves caused surf to smash against the boulders along the rocky coast line.  To one side of us lay a vast ocean, to the other, waterfalls and big rocks.  Soon we came upon a seal basking in the sun.  We watched as he turned his head and observed us with keen and curious eyes.  After enjoying the scene, we turned our heads and headed back up the long trail.

Back along the muddy trail, Dad and Mom picked up their broken flip flops.  Dad continued bare foot, while Mom walked carefully in her weakening sandals.  With time, Dad’s aching feet on the rough and rocky terrain were causing him to go very slowly. Mom and I ran ahead to get Dad’s sneakers from the car and bring them back to him.  We started out walking quickly, but then a sad sight made us speed up.  We had left the jungle and had the darkening open sky before us.  Rain drops fell upon us from the clouded sky.  Soon the rain and wind increased.  I looked back at Mom, cold and miserable.  I started to run.  Mom was close behind.  Past the rain, past the driftwood, a cold wind licked my cheeks.  We quickened our pace.  Soon, we were on the wide open trail, now less pleasant.  Harder and harder we ran until the car lay ahead of us.  Dad was close behind us and soon we were all warm and accounted for in the dry car.  It was five o’clock and the day was failing.  The trip had taken us four and a half hours.  So much for beating the estimated time on the sign!  

We have driven to a cafe over looking Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman.  I had an amazing dinner while watching the light of the setting sun cast upon the mountains.  What a day!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the Road Again

Keith and Jo's House
This morning, my parent’s friends, Keith and Jo, cooked us a delicious breakfast of toast, bacon, and eggs, after which we explored Keith and Jo’s farm.  I loved the meal and was excited when Keith and Jo invited us on a tour of their property.  They have chickens, pigs, and sheep.  They also have several grass fields not being used for animals.  The chickens and the pigs are right in their back yard, but the sheep were away in a paddock.  The pigs were shy, cute, and filthy.  The chickens had a cool homemade hutch.  Inside a tangle of barbed wire there was a small little house with a ramp made of skis leading down from the door to the grass.  The chickens lay eggs in the house and feed on the grass.  Jo said that she gets about two eggs a day and we actually ate freshly layed chicken eggs for breakfast!  We continued our walk down to the sheep paddock.  The sheep were feisty and stuck together.   We finally cornered them, and were able to look at them from close up. 

After the tour, three of us (Mom, Dad, and I) took a canoe across a lagoon on their property and to a beach on the other side.  The beach was deserted in terms of people and trash.  Drift wood littered the rocky beach.  When we were back at the house it was already time to leave.  We said goodbye to Keith and Jo and made on our way. 

Me on Keith and Jo's Climbing Wall 

We drove for several hours to a town offering a half hour walk up to a glacier.  We walked up through jungle and lush vegetation and emerged in a large valley leading up to the glacier.  I was surprised at the change of the environment when we stepped onto the cold, rocky, windy valley.  After hiking up to the glacier, we turned around and made our way back through the valley, eventually to the cozy camper.  We drove again to a car park over looking another vast and beautiful beach with big waves and abundant drift wood.  We have no plans for tomorrow save exploring and taking every adventure that comes our way!

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!