The New Zealand trip is approximately 3/4 complete and we thought you might like some perspective from the leaders about the trip. Before mentioning any details about the trip, I thought I would mention that we continually receive feedback from people along the waybabout how wonderful the students are and the maturity and respect they show for the people, accommodations, and place. I could not agree more. - the students have been outstanding and have been great ambassadors for our college and the USA.
The flight was the worst part of the trip. Eighteen hours in planes, 12 hours of layovers, and a two hour drive upon landing takes years of my life! However, it is a small price to pay for the rewards we receive once we get here.
TeAnau was the first stop and it was a great beginning. We settled in a wonderful little hostel and explored the town. The second day we drove to Milford Sound and had a fun trip cruising through the Sound to the Tasman Sea. It seems to always rain on me in the Sound. Not this time - we had great weather and enjoyed the splendor of the Sound. The waterfalls were plentiful thanks to the previous evening rain. I am always thankful when we get out of the Sound. The drive into and out of the Sound is an adventure in itself - the road is full of hairpin turns and is incredibly steep. The students are always in awe; whereas, I have white knuckles. However, we got our precious cargo in and out without any problems.
I have never taken a group on the Kepler Trek and our maiden trip was spectacular! The weather was fantastic, and had it been otherwise, it would have been a true adventure. The 35+ mile hike was very challenging. Day one required us to ascend about 3500 feet and climb above the bush line. Day two was an up and down climb with a substantial portion crossing the spine of a mountain. The hut ranger mentioned that many people have been blown off the spine (but nobody has ever died) so I was thankful for a calm day. The views were spectacular but many of us paid for it with sore legs - it took me three days to return to normal after the hike; whereas, it took the students 15 minutes to recover! Such are the advatages of youth!
Off to Wanaka and two days of rock climbing and mountain biking. These were new activities for most students and they adapted quickly. The rock faces around Wanaka are plentiful and the students tackled beginner to advanced climbs. I was amazed how quickly the students picked up the skills. It was also interesting to see fear melt to confidence over the two days. The guides were quite impressed with the rock faces the students were able to climb (so was I). A few students decided to try their hand at skydiving. They all survived and created a memory for a life time.
The mountain biking track was a good introduction to mountain biking in NZ. Only a few crashes occurred but the pride was damaged more than the bodies. I have to admit the crash into the thorn bush made me laugh for well into the evening!
The Routeburn trek proved to be quite easy for the group after tackling the Kepler. It was about 6 miles in (uphill) and we returned the following day on the same trail. The hut in which we stayed is one of my favorite places. The views are spectacular and the hut is surrounded by waterfalls.
Queenstown is an adventure paradise for college students. They had the freedom to participate in a variety of adventure activities. Bungee jumping, jet boating, zip lines, are but a few of the activities they enjoyed. I will let you ask your son or daughter what they tried (what happens in Queenstown stays in Queenstown).
Next stop, Marlborough Sound. We stayed at Mistletoe Bay Eco village. This was my first time at Mistletoe and it proved to be a great stop. We enjoyed two days of sea kayaking and mountain biking. The mountain biking was very challenging and the trail proved to be very difficult. All survived and we only had a few minor crashes. I also survived and thought the ride was fun although I have to admit it is becoming increasingly difficult each year. The sea kayaking was fantastic. We had six double kayaks so half of the group kayaked each day. The first group encountered a huge group of jellyfish. There were thousands of jellyfish in one bay that provided an incredible spectacle. The group also saw a few large rays. Marlborough Sound is known for mussels so group #1 picked many mussels off the rocks for dinner - they were great. The second group got treated to a massive dolphin pod on the second day. There were about 100 dolphins in the pod and they created great entertainment. This is a rare encounter so the group was very fortunate to witness such a display. Mistletoe has a small glow worm colony, so after dark, we hiked up the hill to see them. They are small points of light attached to moss covered rocks. On the way back to our accommodation, one of the students stopped at the bay and discovered bioluminescent water. This is water that glows when disturbed. So we had students splashing in the water creating glowing water. I have to admit that it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The students were like little kids at Disneyland - they were amazed with the water and I enjoyed hearing the child-like exuberance they displayed!!
Our accommodations have been very interesting, yet somewhat minimalistic. However, that changed at Vintner's Retreat in Blenheim. Amazing condominiums in the middle of vineyards (literally). This proved to be quite a treat. We only stayed in Blenheim one night. We stopped at a few local wineries to experience the flavor of the area. It is much like Napa Valley with acres of vines and a thriving wine industry.
Yesterday we arrived in Murchison. The accommodation has a small animal park and we we able to convince the owners to shear a sheep last night. It was an interesting experience. There are also many other animals in the park including emus, pigs, a "movie star" horse and a wallabee. One of the students was brave enough to allow the emu to take a cookie from his mouth - I am still laughing about it! We will be river rafting today and this will create some thrills for the group
The weather has been very accommodating this trip. Although it has been a bit cooler than normal (it pales in comparison to the Upper Midwest) but we have experienced little rain.
This has been a magical trip so far. Parents, thank you for raising such wonderful children!
Joe & Rhonda Thompson