Some Of My Favorite Tour Guides

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Some Of My Favorite Tour Guides

“To let life happen to you is irresponsible. To create your day is your divine right.”Ramtha

A great tour guide is one that creates an experience that you will remember. The best guides I’ve had have left me wanting to go back to the destination or have left me feeling like I’ve made a new friend. I have had many amazing tour guides but I picked ten in no particular order.

Ogus Kaya, Turkey

Ogus is such a warm, friendly and truly motivated guide. He is organized and punctual. We traveled for a few weeks in Turkey with him. He taught us a tremendous amount about the history and architecture. I was obsessed with the Mosque architecture of Sinan. We felt that he wanted us to love Turkey as much as he did and i think everyone did.

One of the highlights of the trip was the balloon ride over Cappodocia. I like my feet on the ground and was not going to do it. He finally said that he would go with me. He reminded me that he had two small children and one on the way. This balloon ride became one of my most cherished travel memories which I would never have done without him. ogus 51@yahoo.com

Petar Vlasik, Croatia

Petar was my first internet tour guide. After a land tour and small boat tour both cancelled, I decided to take my kids and plan a trip through Croatia by myself with Petar. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this without a husband. It was before Trip Advisor. He was recommended by Rick Steves  (so i knew he wasn’t a serial killer). Petar was smart, funny and so knowledgeable about his beautiful country.

We had a wonderful trip. Croatia is still one of my favorite countries for those who have not been there yet. I did not listen to him about hotels and I was sorry. I learned from Petar that a good tour guide always knows best and to trust my instincts about internet tour guides. http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com

Dvir Hollander, Jerusalem, Israel

Dvir’s knowledge, insight, humor, non judgmental world view and kindness made touring this amazing city with him a special experience. We met at lunchtime and we were hungry. When Dvir recognized that we were kindred spirits about food, he described himself as a “ friendly dictator” when it came to where we should eat.

If you are going to Jerusalem, I highly recommend hiring him – not just for the delicious food, but for how much you will learn and experience. He has the unique ability to figure out just what you want to do and then he casually adds in what he feels you are missing. The trip was perfect. Contact him at hollander2000@gmail.com.

Guide Gift Bangkok,Thailand

Gift was another guide that I found online before trip advisor. I read the reviews on her page and went with my gut. She is knowledgeable, kind, and fun to be with. I felt like I was seeing Bangkok and Ayuthetta with one of my friends.

She has her plan but is always ready to change if there is something you want to do. She also knows a very good place for Thai Massage. When you are in a part of the world that feels very different from yours, Gift can make it feel like home.
http://www.privatetourthailand.com)

  Do Sy Quy “Buffalo Joe”Hanoi, Viet Nam

My guide in Hanoi  was Mr. Do Sy Quy. He was my first guide in Viet Nam  and set the tone for an amazing experience. “Buffalo Joe” is kind, friendly, funny, intuitive and very knowledgeable about Hanoi and Viet Nam history.

I connected with him immediately and feel like I have a friend in Hanoi. i will always remember our drive to and from Ha Long Bay and everything we did –  especially the Thanh Chuong Viet Palace. http://www.incensetravel.com

Andres Miguel, Buenos Aires, Argentina

i have had a few great guides in Argentina but I had to pick Andres Miguel because he is a tango dancer.  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food, shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He changed things around and went with what interested me.

The boat ride was an impromptu surprise as was eating at a family restaurant on Sunday for the best empanadas. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect Buenos Aires day.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar

Jose Villa, Cartagena,Colombia

The hot, sleepy city of Cartagena is such a special place and seeing it with Jose is the way to go. Being alone he let me tag along to teach English at their church and visit the music school his son Kevin attended..They were both knowledgeable and fun.

We saw the old city, beaches, markets, took a private boat to the islands, visited a fishing village, paddled a canoe through the mangrove tunnels and strolled the streets of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I stayed an extra few days because I loved this city and felt so safe and taken care of. http://cartagenadestiny.com

Carolina Velasquez Obreque, Santiago, Chile

Carolina was our tour guide in Santiago and Valparaiso. She was funny, knowledgeable and organized. She came to us through Vaya Adventures. We spent a beautiful day with her exploring the Casablanca wine region between Valpo and Santiago.

The trip was seamless – except when I lost that paper that they give you at customs when you land. Apparently it’s very important in Chile. She went with me to get a new one before driving to Valpo which is why I am home and able to write this. I highly recommend spending some time in Chile with her. https://www.vayaadventures.com

Michai Bojanowski , Wroclaw, Poland

Michai is a wonderful guide who loves his country. With knowledge and humor, we spent a long day in Wroclaw exploring the beauty of the city. He incorporates the darkness of the past as we explore the Jewish quarter. He has such passion for passing on the truth.

Before lunch I saw a street art drawing of man looking out the window. I ask about it. He tells me it is Poland’s most famous poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz.

After lunch, he has brought copies of a beautiful poem that he thought would go with what he was speaking about.He made sure we learned a little extra. I love that.  michal.bojanowski@chidusz.com

Wayne Thomas, Aukland, New Zealand

I usually don’t write  about a half day group tour of a city but I learned and retained more information with Wayne Thomas of Bush and Beach Tours http://www.bushandbeach.co.nz/, then any day tour I have ever been on.

He has a way of passing on knowledge that is sometimes funny and sometimes personal  that makes you remember it.  This is a wonderful welcome tour of New Zealand. I highly recommend him.

Fly safe,
JAZ

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Travel Pinch Me Moments

“You have to travel to see new light, find new hope, renew the mind and revitalize the soul.” Lailah Gifty Akita

It was summer in January on a beach in Napier, New Zealand.  The weather was hot and the sun was setting at 930 PM. The moon was out at the same time.  My new friend pinched the fingers of both her hands together and said, “This is a pinch me moment”.  I had heard of pinch me moments when someone wins an Academy Award or accomplishes a dream but I had never heard of it standing on a beach watching a sunset.  She explained that, “You pinch your fingers to save the moment. When I am sitting in my kitchen in England and I look out the window at the dreary weather, I will remember this moment.” 

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 As I watched the moon that night, it made sense that it is also the small moments that resonate in our minds. They are part of the story making events of our lives. Here are some of my travel pinch me moments. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Looking out at the balloons in the air over Cappadocia, Turkey.

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Watching the sun set over the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

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Rainbow over Iguazu Falls, Missiones, Argentina

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Angor Wat, Cambodia

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Walking on the beach in Varadero, Cuba

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 Sailing on the Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

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Machu Picchu .

Seeing the elephants up close in Kruger National Park, South Africa

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The Tori Gates on Myajima, JapanIMG_1074

The view of the volcano in Santorini, Greece

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Beautiful And Beautiful-er, Tongariro and Abel Tasman National Parks, New Zealand

Beautiful and Beautiful -er Tongariro and Abel Tasman National Parks

“The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it…” -Ralph Waldo Emerson”

New Zealand is far enough away from the rest of the world to protect its natural beauty from hordes of tourists. If you are a sucker for a beautiful view, New Zealand is your place. Truthfully, beautiful is not even an adequate word to describe them.

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Tongariro National Park was made more famous by its star appearance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, like so many places in New Zealand.

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The alpine, volcanic scenery is the setting of Mordor, in which stands Mt Doom, aka Mt Ngauruhoe. For the entire trilogy, Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mt Doom in order to destroy the infamous ring.

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The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 kilometre track.

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It is billed as the best day hike in the country and one of the shorter Great Walks in New Zealand.

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The land for Tongariro National Park was given by the local Maori to the government in 1887.

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The condition was that a protected area for all to enjoy would be established.

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This is the first example of an indigenous people gifting land to a colonial government anywhere in the world, and this is what earned Tongariro its dual ‘World Heritage Area’ status – signficant for both natural and cultural values. (photo Cordula  Reins)

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Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest National Park in New Zealand.

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The Abel Tasman Coastal Track which is another one of New Zealand’s Great Walks stretches 51km and can be completed in anywhere from 3 to 5 days, depending on your motivation and level of fitness.

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Kayaking lets you explore the small coves and beaches that are harder to get to.

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You can also do the park as a day trip and take shorter hikes. We stayed in Nelson which I think is too far at 56 kilometers away. Motueka is closer at 20 kilometers which makes more sense if you are doing it as a day trip. There are also lodges at Arawoa and Torrent Bay in the park if camping isn’t your thing. All food has to be carried into the park as there are no shops at which to purchase groceries or supplies, however, there is a cafe at Awaroa Lodge in Awaroa Bay. (stopping to get fresh drinking water for the boat)

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I love spending time on a beach.

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The color of the water is ridiculous – deep turquoise.

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It is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand. (here’s my uber)

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Some of the beaches and rainforest feel a lot like Thailand.

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There is so much beauty in New Zealand it is hard to imagine that there is so much hatred in the world. There is something healing and peaceful about being in these places. – about just being and realizing that the Maori have it right and everything we need is free. (or perhaps  for a small entrance fee)

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

 

What Not To Bring To New Zealand

What Not To Bring  To New Zealand

“Anything to declare? the customs inspector said.”Two pounds of uncut heroin and a manual of pornographic art,” Mark answered, looking about for Kitty. All Americans are comedians, the inspector thought, as he passed Parker through.” Leon Uris, Exodus

Biosecurity entering  New Zealand is definitely a bigger threat to them than terrorist security. New Zealand depends heavily on natural resources and agriculture and they have gone to great lengths to prevent foreign organisms or disease from entering and harming the country’s wildlife, plant life, marine life and health. I know this because I waited in a queue for two hours to be checked for fruit. If you carry an Australian or New Zealand passport, their line moves faster.

The best thing is not to bring anything with you that resembles food. I ate my almonds while I waited. The sign says no dairy products, honey products, meat, fish, fresh foods, anything not sealed in manufacturer’s packaging or any plant material including seeds, cuttings, and bulbs. Also excluded from entry are some medicinal or natural health products, especially anything unpackaged or without a full list of ingredients. You may also need to be wary of materials such as animal hide, bones or teeth etc. I really want to make some jokes here but I won’t because I was really annoyed about that wait.

If you are bringing outdoor equipment such as tramping boots, camping, fishing or diving gear, this also needs to be declared. It is also a good idea to make sure that your gear is clean, give it a good wash and clean off any debris, such as plant material or soil.

There are specially trained dogs at the airport to check for food. How specially trained does a dog have to be for that? There is an exhaustive list on the MPI  website of things that you cannot bring in. (Ministry for Primary Industries not Military Police Information as I originally thought)

Having an Arabic sounding last name when pronounced wrong, I’m used to being thoroughly checked for weapons and really did not understand the seriousness of this.  I did not declare the closed big bags of M and M peanuts, jelly bellys and vitamin C bars  in my luggage. It passed through the  food X-ray machine and no one went through my bags as they normally do. Apparently I look more like a terrorist then a candy smuggler. 

If you don’t declare any at risk goods you are immediately fined 400 NZ dollars and it can go up to 100,000 NZ dollars. So declare all food. I will next time also.They will decide if you can keep it or not. 

There is a big  interactive exhibit in the Wellington Museum called Catch the Invaders where you can pretend to be the MPI. I was finally able to comprehend the importance of this. New Zealand’s isolated geography has been helpful in keeping disease and pests out. Greater international trade, climate change and tourism makes it vulnerable to new pests and diseases that will affect their wildlife and economy. New Zealand is a beautiful country that still has vast areas of wilderness  and I understand now why they want to keep it that way. (photo Cordula Reins)

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things I Have Learned In Queenstown And Milford Sound

Things I Have Learned In Queenstown And Milford Sound

“Rover did not know in the least where the moon’s path led to, and at present he was much too frightened and excited to ask, and anyway he was beginning to get used to extraordinary things happening to him.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Queenstown was originally named the ‘Camp’ by William Rees in 1860. The name Queenstown has two theories, the most common being that it was gold prospectors, captivated by the beauty of the surrounding mountains and rivers, who hit upon its name when they pronounced it a “town fit for a Queen”.  The other is that it was named Queenstown after Queenstown in Ireland (now called Cobh). or basically no one knows.Queenstown’  Some of Rees’ descendants still live here. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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The Remarkables mountain range was so named in 1857 by a surveyor Alexander Garvie who called it that after seeing the dramatic razorback mountain range in all its glory at sunset.  The view across the lake to the Remarkables has now become one of the most photographed in the Southern Lakes region.

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The Remarkables mountain range is one of only two mountain ranges in the world to run directly north to south (the other is the Rockies).

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Every other store  in Queenstown seems to sell either souvenirs of wool and wood or adventures in nylon and neoprene. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Renowned as Queenstown’s ‘Lady of the Lake’, the TSS Earnslaw steamship was first launched in 1912 – the same year as the Titanic.  It was built by J.McGregor and Co in Dunedin, cost £20,850 to complete. (photo by  Cordula Reins)

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The TSS Earnslaw was a working ship for many years transporting sheep, cargo and passengers to surrounding high country stations.  In 1969 she was retired and purchased by Fiordland Travel (now Real Journeys).  She is now one of the oldest tourist attractions in Central Otago and the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the Southern Hemisphere. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Despite being almost 100 years old, the TSS Earnslaw still works 14 hour days in the summer months and cruises for 11 months of the year.  She even made a brief cameo appearance as an Amazon River boat in the 2008 movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

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 In 1885 all Queenstown hotels were run by women who all happened to be widows.

The Shotover River is known to be the richest gold-bearing river of its size in the world.

Sir Henry Wigley founded commercial skiing in Queenstown in 1947.

Set up in 1958, Queenstown’s Kawarau Jet was the world’s first commercial jet boat business.

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New Zealand’s Kawarau Bridge bungy site (established 1988) was the first commercial bungy operation in the world.

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The highest bungy jump in the Southern Hemisphere is Queenstown’s Nevis Highwire at 134 metres or 45 stories high.

People over 75 years old can bungy jump for free in Queenstown. The oldest person to bungy jump is a 94-year-old man from Southland, New Zealand.

The most people who have bungy jumped together in New Zealand is 8.  The record was set in 1999 at the Kawarau Bungy Bridge.

In September 1999, President Clinton was the first US president ever to visit Queenstown.

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The Frisbee Golf course in the Queenstown Gardens was the first of its kind established in New Zealand and continues to be a popular activity for visitors and locals.

Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola moves 35 cabins up and down Bob’s Peak 365 days a year and at its fastest rate it can move 1,100 people per hour. (photo Cordula Reins)

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When passengers arrive at the top of the gondola they are at 790 meters above sea level. 

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Queenstown’s stunning scenery and world-class expertise makes it an ideal destination for shooting feature films, commercials and promotional videos.  Queenstown and the Southern Lakes region have featured in movies like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Vertical Limit and Prince Caspian.

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At the height of filming the Lord of the Rings, over 500 people a day queued outside the casting rooms in Queenstown.

New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum curator Ian Brodie is the author of the much acclaimed The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook published by HarperCollins.

There are 82 registered wineries in Central Otago. The majority of grapes are Pinot Noir.

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Every Saturday, the Creative Queenstown Arts And Crafts Market enjoys the waterfront setting of Earnslaw Park. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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It’s an opportunity to meet local artists displaying their wares accompanied by live music and memorable views.

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Fergburger is a Queenstown institution. It is not going to be the best burger of your life but  it is a compulsory burger loving thing to do in Queenstown.  Instead of the burger the size of my head I went for the Sweet Bambi and was not disappointed.

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You can order online and get it to go to bypass the lines but I went for the whole Disneyland experience. I hate to say it but I will now be one of those people who says to those of you going to Queenstown- make sure you go to Fergburger.

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The Queenstown area has captured hearts and imaginations since the first Maori came in search of pounamu (greenstone) and the giant Moa bird.

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More recently, gold miners, adventurers, filmmakers, wine enthusiasts, and Hollywood stars have been drawn to this magical region and its intense alpine energy.

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Milford Sound is located in Fjordland National Park in the south-west corner of South Island. Visitors come from all over the world and it is one of the world’s top travel destinations. It is awe-inspiring and Rudyard Kipling called it the eighth Wonder Of The World.

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Milford Sound is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand. The perfect day in Milford Sound is  one with rain.

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The enormous granite peaks don’t absorb a drop of water and they have no beaches. The result is thousands of stunning waterfalls flowing straight into the fiord.

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The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and a very different experience to visiting Milford Sound. The hike is absolutely stunning. It is an economically sensitive area so  the local government allows 90 people on the track each day (50 guided, 40 unguided).  You can only hike it for 6 months of the year, whereas Milford Sound itself is accessible year-round. The track was initially developed by Donald Sutherland so people could get to his newly discovered Falls. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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i would like to thank  our guide and extraordinarily patient driver Nick McGregor, Tanya  and everyone at Moatrek and my fellow travelers on this journey for making it a fun and memorable trip.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Foods I Ate In A Day On A Road Trip Through New Zealand

Foods I Ate In A Day On A Road Trip Through New Zealand

“On the road again. Goin’ places that I’ve never been. Seein’ things that I may never see again. And I can’t wait to get on the road again” Willie Nelson

When it comes to eating healthy on a road trip through New Zealand, the struggle is real. Most people look for food that’s quick and convenient when traveling. There is typically neither time or patience on your side. You have to make do with the options available in the time and space you’re given. Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t cater to healthy fast food though gluten-free has come to even the smallest town. 

Breakfast. Breakfast is usually included in many hotels outside of the United States and often served buffet style. Ours ranged from light to full breakfast. I tried to fill up at breakfast eating scrambled eggs (often greasy and not that warm), yogurt (some flavor in a container), fruit, coffee, tomatoes and avocado if available. I  would take apples or bananas if I saw them for the road.

Morning Stop New Zealand makes great coffee so there was always an interesting coffee shop wherever we stopped. Sometimes the coffee was more interesting than other times.

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If I was already car sick, I would have a donut or scone. New Zealand food is very influenced by the UK. Carbs, diet coke and sweet hard candy help me with carsickness.

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I drink a lot of water and I am happy to say that I saved money because New Zealand has the best tap water. I just refilled my bottle where ever we stopped.

Snacks  There is something about being on a road trip that makes you want to eat the kinds of foods that you would never eat at home. Orange cheese chips (called Twisties), Burger Rings (chips that taste like a burger?) and unidentified dried meat in a package look appealing – especially when you are in another country with different snacks.

I bought almonds, walnuts and kiwi fruit. I  bring vitamin C bars, gum, hard candy and Jelly Bellys from home.

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Lunch   We always stopped somewhere that had shopping or photo ops so I wanted to eat fast and not spend the time sitting. Every roadside restaurant serves quiche and mince and cheese pies. Pies are a staple of the New Zealand diet and everyone is eating them.

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Pre made sandwiches seemed to be the healthiest quick option most of the time.  Ham and cheese on white bread with lots of butter – sometimes toasted was my usual lunch. One day somewhere on South Island, I went to a bakery that had sandwiches. I saw a loaf of wheat bread. I asked for ham and cheese on wheat bread without butter. They said that they only made the ham and cheese on white bread.  It was my Jack Nicholson Five Easy Pieces moment.

“You have wheat bread. You have ham and you have cheese.”

“Yes, but we only make the sandwiches on white”, said the girl behind the counter.

“Well, I’d like a loaf of wheat bread – throw it away except for two pieces and I will have the ham and cheese on wheat, hold the butter.”

She said that she would speak to her manager.  She did not look happy but returned with my request and only charged me for the sandwich – best sandwich of the road.

Afternoon stop.  I was usually sleeping after my sandwich and needed a good New Zealand  coffee and something sweet. Hopefully, it would be a banana. Sometimes it was chocolate covered kiwi fruit, Pineapple Lumps( chocolate covered pineapple marshmallowy thing), chocolate covered marshmallow fish, Jaffa (chocolate covered in red hard candy), ice cream or yogurt blended with fruit, pie or Anzac biscuits (oatmeal biscuits from WWll).

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Dinner On long driving days, dinner was tricky. I wasn’t always hungry. Sometimes I would have a proper New Zealand dinner. I loved those green lipped mussels and fresh salmon -or a Maori Hangi – (could be chicken fish, pork, lamb potato, cabbage  and root vegetable such as kumara) cooked in the steam in the ground.

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 Other times dinners were Egg McMuffin, wine and cheese, protein bars, fruit and yogurt,  Fergburger or pizza.

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The thing about a road trip is that the same exact eating starts all over the next day.

Fly safe

,JAZ

Adventure Sports In Queenstown, New Zealand

Adventure Sports In Queenstown, New Zealand

“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” ~ Anonymous

How do we think an adventure sport gets started?  I imagine that you have this one crazy friend who does something that seems to invite death — or at least serious injury — like jumping off a bridge while attached to a rubber band. Perhaps you are a  slightly saner, financially minded person and you see that he lived after doing this. You think, how can I turn this into a business? How can I find a way so people can do this safely but still feel like they’re inviting death or serious injury? I believe they call this thinking out of the box. You figure it out and hordes of young thrill-seekers come running. It happens that many of these type of people live in New Zealand. This is how  Queenstown became the unofficial capital of the adventure industry.

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Queenstown is a less developed version of Aspen or Lake Placid with about six main streets and a lakefront promenade. (photo by Cordulia Reins)

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Every adventure activity you’ve ever heard of is on offer (river rafting, sky diving, jet boating, bungee jumping, ziplining, mountain biking, sky gliding) and probably several you haven’t (snow-kiting, parapenting, white-water sledging)

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Adventurers inundate Queenstown in the summer the way skiers do in the winter. I began to notice a parade of different types. There is one group  that is rugged and unkempt who is there to do every crazy thing they can afford. They go right to the Nevis Bungee Jump. It is the highest jump in New Zealand You can travel 134 meters in 8.5 seconds,  No heart conditions here. People over the age of seventy-five can bungee jump for free in Queenstown. (?) The second is friends and family who are there to make sure that the first group survives. Then they go on to do more crazy things together. The third group is the trampers- the hikers. They have all the cool gear and are basically using Queenstown as a base for the surrounding  amazing tramps and walks. They might try a packaged tour like jet boating which seems about the wettest but least dangerous adventure.

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I’m kind of the Woody Allen of adventure sports. I like knowing they are safe and maybe in books where other people are having them. I prefer it when you aren’t too wet, hot, cold, hungry or dizzy.  I hit bad weather in Queenstown and activities were cancelled. I didn’t get to test my fear level. I thought that I would feel relieved but I was disappointed. Avoiding danger doesn’t always keep it away. Luckily the world has a lot of adventures for me to find and now I have the clothes and gear so I will have to go find them.

Fly safe,

JAZ