Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Month: October, 2012

Franz Josef: A Glacier Town

Franz Josef is a teensy-tiny town. I don't know if you can even call it a town– maybe a village? If you blink while driving through, you'll miss it. I imagine it becomes quite a hopping place in the summer and winter. But springtime– it's a bit dead. There are lots of accommodations, and I think people use it as a base for surrounding attractions– sky diving, bungy-jumping, helicopter rides to nearby glaciers, long tramps. But I wasn't interested in any of those things, so I'd say this was a bit of a sleepy place for me where I could have spent one less day.

I spent three nights, two and a half days in Franz Josef at the Glow Worm Cottages. I arrived in the late afternoon, just in time for the free soup they have here every night. A nice light veggie soup that is quite tasty. I made my dinner, which was a much bigger success than my meal in Wanaka, namely because of SALT! What did people do before the discovery of salt as an agent in food in so many ways?! It was a tomato-curry-chickpea dish with some cauliflower thrown in, all over rice. Yum. I'm back on track with good meals!

The next day, I was up super early, and I headed out to the head of the Franz Josef glacier. It was about an hour walk from the town to the carpark (=parking lot, in American English) on a nice woody path. I was amazed how different the scenery is here compared to other parts of New Zealand. It's more like rainforest, but cold. It rains a ton here on the West Coast of the South Island, so all the trees have moss and lichen, and the forests are just lush with green and dampness. It really felt like I had landed on Endor and that Ewoks were hiding behind trees and in the distance!

I had a really nice walk (it was early, like 9am) to the glacier head. Amazing landscape and scenery, kind of like a desolate land, a moonscape, even. Along the way, there were posts to guide the path, and I set my camera to self timer to take some photos of myself. I felt a little silly, but there weren't any people around, so I kind of had fun running around.

After making it far as one can to see the glacier (public access is limited, and you need to buy a tour package in order to touch the glacier. I think that's a little sacrilegious because doesn't touching the glacier add to its receding? And people seem to lament a little that the glacier is receding… so cut out the tours, then! Geesh! But all morning, I heard the loud whirrs of helicopters overhead, a reminder that where there is money to be made, Mother Nature's cries are no longer heard.) But I was plenty awed by the part of the glacier that I could see, and why can't everyone else be satisfied with that?

I did a few other walks around the glacier to see more views and some cool ponds and lakes. All the while, I was reminded of movies like Lord of the Rings and Return of the Jedi because of the scenery.

I made it back to town by about 1, and had my lunch back at the hostel– my daily staple of a sandwich of cheese and hummus. I just hung out the rest of the day, reading and relaxing. I also made some new acquaintances– two young women from Malaysia. We chatted about our travels and it was nice to have some conversation with some nice people. They were in Franz Josef for about a week, and they were helping out in the hostel in exchange for free accommodation. I remember hearing them converse when I saw them in the common area, and thinking, “that kind of sounds like Mandarin but not quite!” Turns out they were speaking Mandarin, but I'm sure it was with a Malaysian accent.

In the evening, I made it out to a local yoga class taught by an Asian-Kiwi! It was Iyengar-style yoga, which I wasn't too keen on, but it was a nice stretching workout, and I was reminded how much I love yoga and want to get teacher-trained when I get back to the U.S.

The weather turned out to be really nice that day– the sun came out for a good portion, and though the clouds were always there, it was a nice day to be outdoors, hiking around.

My second full day was not so nice– grey and rainy on and off all day. I had debated taking a tour of another nearby glacier (Fox Glacier), but when I awoke to rain and grey, I decided I'd just take the day to hang out in the hostel and maybe take a walk in the area if it cleared up. Turns out it never really cleared up, so I was content staying in, drinking lots of hot tea, reading a John Grisham novel (which I haven't done since high school, I think) from their public bookshelf, and getting groceries for the next leg of my journey.

Interesting thing about Glow Worm Cottages– they have a radio station all day in the common area, and it's a “classics” station, and literally almost every song was a favorite classic of mine– from the Cure's Friday I'm in Love to great 80s hits. It was fun to have that as background music during my relaxing day indoors.

Wanaka: Lake and Mountain Town

I spent two days and three nights in Wanaka, and it was totally worth it, and the perfect amount of time. The weather was gorgeous, and I got in some good hikes and walks, and I also got to relax quite a bit.

Wanaka is a small town, about 8,000 people, right on the edge of Lake Wanaka, the foothills of a part of the Southern Alps called Mt. Aspiring National Parki. So there are stunning views of the lakes and snowcapped mountains everywhere you look. Well, the mountains are snowcapped now because it's still spring, but the snow will be melted by summer, I supposed.

There's a cute town center with cafes and little shops and a supermarket and library (no wi-fi, sadly). People come here to avoid or get away from Queenstown, which is the big city for adventuring and sports (skiing, bungee jumping, long treks and tramps, partying). I wanted to avoid Queenstown and read that Wanaka was quieter and beautiful, and I was not disappointed. I don't think I'm missing out on Queenstown, but who knows.

I arrived at Wanaka Bakpaka on a rainy late afternoon and just basically hung out at the hostel until the weather let up, and then went into town to explore, shop for groceries, and get dinner. I ate at The Spice Room, recommended by my taxi driver, a cute little Indian restaurant. There was an early bird dinner special, so that was nice– this whole spread for just $20NZD (about $16USD). After dinner, I just came back to the hostel, read, admired the views, and went to bed.

The next day, I took a hike up Mt. Iron, the local big hill. It's an hour and a half round trip (or “return,” as they call it), a steep climb to the top, and a steep climb down the other side. There were morning clouds but plenty of sun and blue sky, too. It was a bit of a huffer-puffer going up, but totally worth it at the top. I've noticed that NZ hills and treks generally don't have a lot of switch backs or gradual ups and downs, they just go a pretty direct route and it's pretty steep. And this was considered an easy trek.

After taking a long break at the top to soak in the view, I came back down and sat by the lake and had my cheese-humus sandwich, nothing fancy. It's been wonderful to just take my time, breathe in and out, enjoy the scenery, and not be on a mission to the next landmark or activity. I didn't want to push myself too hard, so that was all I did– walked around the town, breathed in and out, and relaxed.

I treated myself to a nice latte and piece of shortbread. Cost $7NZD, so not exactly cheap, but a nice treat. I miss my regular coffee.

After my day's activities, I came back to the hostel to relax some more (noticing a theme here?) and then proceeded to make dinner with ingredients I had bought that day. I endeavored to make rice and black beans, but ran into some snafus:

  • I didn't realize that I had picked up mixed beans, not black beans, so that was strange. Not that it tastes any worse, but I just wasn't expecting a bean medley!
  • The hostel kitchen didn't have any shared cooking oil or salt and pepper, and I realized how much I rely on those to do things like saute my garlic and onions for good flavor or to add flavor to my meal in general.
  • I'm still learning how to make rice in a pot, and my rice ended up being a little undercooked. I miss my Zojirushi rice cooker. Sigh.

So I tried to improvise a bit by adding my little bit of leftover curry from my dinner the night before, some peanut butter (which was unsalted! Darn!), and some rosemary from the herb garden. But it ended up being a bit flavorless. I did have some spices (curry and cumin), but without the salt, it fell a little flat. My first bad meal of my whole trip (except for my first night in Auckland where I had bowl ramen– but at least that was tasty!!). I guess it had to happen at some point. All about saving some money.

I ended the night with more reading (I just bought The Princess Bride and am reading it for something like the fifth time. What a great book! And I've been thinking about “farm boy” as a term since I've been on farms with nice looking boys. Haha.)

My second, and last, full day, I went back up Mt. Iron in the reverse direction which was nice because you don't realize what's behind you unless you're always looking backward, so this way, I got to see what was behind me on my hike up the day before. Not a cloud in the sky on this gorgeous day, so I got a few comparison shots from the day before when I couldn't see the snowcapped peaks as well because of the clouds. A lot of locals use Mt. Iron as their daily exercise– running up and and down the hill. It would be a nice workout and way to see the changing seasons of Wanaka from high up.

I came back down and it was still only mid morning, so I headed out on a shoreline walk for a few hours. This walk was pretty straight and flat, and it followed Lake Wanaka on the shore opposite from the hostel. It was such a nice walk, seeing the crystal clear water of the lake, seeing the mountains, and being reminded totally of Lord of the Rings scenery. It could not have been a better day– probably mid to upper 60s, slight breeze to keep me cool, and sun sun sun. I had my lunch (another cheese-humus sandwich) at my turnaround point, and then came back to the town center by 2pm-ish.

I spent the rest of the day just relaxing, sunning myself and my sockless feet, and iMessaging with friends back in the states. What an amazing thing, iMessaging: my way of staying connected to the world back home. I heard about Frankenstorm shutting down New York and Boston.

I had the bland leftovers for dinner. And that was a full day. I don't think I said but 20 words all day, mostly “g'morning” on my morning hike to other walkers… and maybe that was about it! I get very introverted and antisocial at these hostels. More on that in another post.

I left the next morning for Franz Josef, a glacier town. Definitely recommend Wanaka if you like small, scenic towns with hiking trails around, nice restaurants and cafes. It helps to have a car to be able to make the hikes that are farther away (and probably really nice).


Garden Flora 101

I've been learning so much about what vegetables and fruit look like on the vine, plant, or tree, and since I thought you, dear readers, would like to see it, too AND for my own benefit of remembering, I am putting together a basic picture dictionary for this post. This will probably be my last for a week or so unless I find wi-fi along my travels in hostels or libraries! Oh, and a caveat– I'm new to this whole garden/ horticulture thing, so I might make mistakes here in my explanations or descriptions, so if you see a mistake, please leave me a comment and correct me– it's how I learn!

This family has a really beautiful garden. It's in the shape of a celtic cross, from an aerial view. So here are some of what's in the garden:

Strawberries starting to fruit on top! So cute. And so easy to grow. These in particular just seeded themselves, meaning they just popped up, not planted by the owner. So they're these little, low to the ground plants that have a white flower that turns into the fruit. And then they just creep along the ground and eventually cover the ground with their leaves and vine-like stems. Definitely want to grow these when I get back to the U.S.

Lower left is cabbages. They grow in a big bouquet– a big cabbage in the middle of that bouquet. And then you just cut out that middle part to eat. Lower right is lettuce. These are alllllll over this family's garden. The owner really loves them, and they self-seed all over the place. Literally. And she likes to just let them grow so she'll have a plethora of lettuces in every nook and cranny of the garden. It's pretty cute to look out over the garden and just see all these heads of lettuce!

On the left are carrots just starting to peek through the soil. I weeded these a few days ago. They're just a few inches high at this point, but they already are looking like a carrot top, and I imagine them getting nice and bushy in a few months. As a root vegetable, the carrot part grows underground– I hope you all know that.

On the right are potato plants, another thing that just grow and grow everywhere as a self-seeder. These have some browned leaves because we have a few frosts the last week. They're really sensitive to frost. But these plants grow above ground as leaves and underground as potatoes. They grow horizontally underground and just add on more potatoes, eventually taking over a whole bed with their starchy goodness. And they're not a root veg, they're a tuber.

On the left are beet plants, growing tall and crowded. Funny, I've been thinking they were swiss chard (silverbeet, here) all week and been eating them with my salad, and found out yesterday they were beet leaves! But they are tasty in any case, just fresh with some vinaigrette drizzled over.

On the right is arugula (or rocket, as it's also called) going to flower. Which means that it will soon be no good to eat. When plants go to flower, it means the next step is getting seeds at which point the edible lifespan of the veg is over (or just beginning, I guess). These (and the swiss chard) are about waist high right now. But still yummy to eat! I love arugula!!

On the left are two leeks. I recently discovered the joy of leeks, especially sauteed in some (well, a lot, actually) butter and maybe with some carrots (thanks, Judy, for the first lesson on that!). So good. Leeks are pretty tall– up to my knee or thigh. And you have to use a fork or shovel to dig them out because the roots are pretty tight into the ground.

On the right are brassicas, that's what the category is called here. On the left, you can see a few cauliflower plants; in the middle are purple cabbage (I think); and on the right you can see one or two broccoli plants. Along with a little lettuce plant in the upper right corner. The leaves on brassicas are pretty distinctive– thick, tough, a matte-sheen, not edible.

Then there are loads of herbs, most of which I knew but some which were new to me. I've noticed that they don't really use basil here in New Zealand, at least I haven't come across it in any of the gardens I have seen.

The left two herbs are lemon-related: lemon verbena on top and lemon balm on the bottom. Both smell amazing and are used for teas and other fresh uses. Top right is rosemary, a bit blurry; and bottom is lavender. Both are really fragrant, and I love just rubbing the leaves of all four of these and just sniffing them. I'd say lemon, lavender, and rosemary are my favorite herb-y fragrances.

The top two are more traditional herbs, recognized by many, probably– oregano and thyme. The bottom left is sage, and the bottom right is bergamot, which I've never seen in fresh form. I love bergamot in tea (aka Earl Grey– my favorite, with some milk and honey. Yum!).

This is only a sample of what's in this family's garden. There are also fruit trees (apple, citrus, feijoa, loquat…), berry bushes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and beans… the list goes on. Really amazing. About an acre or so of garden!

I'm still learning when to plant things and how– by seed or seedling or in a planter. And what season things are ripe and ready to eat. I know lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, asparagus, and strawberries are springtime crops. And potatoes and carrots are fall, I believe. And tomatoes are definitely summer.

So much to learn and try out! Can't wait to find a place to garden when I get back! And everyone that I've met who gardens stresses two things:

  • Make your own compost. It's crucial to good soil and it's a great way to reuse food scraps.
  • Trial and error is the key to good gardening. Do some reading on basic tips and guidelines, but from there, you just try things one year, then see what works for the next year. Gardening is definitely long term.

Blogging While I Have Free Wi-Fi!

I've had free wi-fi at this place, so I've been able to blog more without worrying about time and usage. We'll see what happens next week when I'm hostel-hopping. Might not have free wi-fi everywhere!

Yesterday I took a day off, my first in awhile, and took a hike to a nearby reserve. It was a grey-ish day but it was cool and the sun came through the clouds sporadically. I calculated I did about 10 miles in all, round trip. My legs were protesting, but it felt great to be in the fresh country air, and I got some amazing views, which just didn't come out so well on my iPhone. I'm finding that although the iPhone 4 has a great camera in many respects, the conditions need to be really good (sunny, clear, with still objects) in order to get the best shot.

Hiking is a great time to just think about things. I decided to go music-less, just listening to the birds and sheep and cows around me, doing their thing.

  • I thought about what I want to do when I get back to the U.S.– my thoughts keep going to starting my own “thing” that involves food, youth, education, yoga, health, cooperation and collaboration,. And so I was thinking about people I want to talk to– people who might have good ideas, people who might be able to go into this venture with me, people whose brains I can pick.
  • I thought about what I'm getting out of this part of my travel– the WWOOFing bit. I'm learning how to recognize more flora and fauna– what's edible and when it's ready. Potato plants, carrots, strawberries, herbs, lots of flowers and trees.
  • I thought about my own personal life and where that's headed. I'd say I'm about halfway through my life (haha, is that a morbid thought?) and I know I'd like to have a family. I'm definitely enjoying my independence, especially related to being able to travel at a moment's notice and just worrying about myself and no one else. But it feels selfish and lonely at times.

My mind was definitely occupied on this hike. But I didn't miss out on the views. There were lots of sheep and lambs along the way. I got some nice shots of lambs, which are quite skittish. They always are within close reach of their mom, and each sheep has one or two little lambs. Such cuties! The adults aren't so cute.

The hike was all uphill one way and all downhill the other. If I have a choice, I'd prefer it that way rather than the opposite, but I do like to have up and down mixed up. My knees were in a bit of pain at the end of all the downhill.

I got some amazing views of Christchurch, Lyttleton Harbor, the snow-capped Southern Alps (which really didn't come out in any of these photos– they're on the horizon in the blue-ish glow in these photos…). And there was lots and lots of gorse. Gorse is thorny bush with amazing yellow flowers which smell faintly of coconut oil. So as I was walking through thickets of gorse, I felt like I was on a beach smelling suntanning oil! Farmers consider gorse a noxious weed because it's so prolific and hard to get rid of. It's very thorny.

See the mountains way in the distance?

Lyttleton Harbor, on the south side of Christchurch

I used instagram on many of these photos because the originals were just a bit washed out (because of the problem I spoke of earlier with the iPhone). But the colors really are quite lush and vibrant in real life, so I felt justified in using that editing app.

Throughout the hike, I was climbing up and over fences because although it's a scenic reserve, there are parts that are privately owned as well. And I took a photo of this gate lock. These are ubiquitous in New Zealand, especially on farmland. Everything is gated and fenced, and you have to learn how to open and close these gates.

The end of my trip brought me to a garden area where there were monuments and sculptures donated from Christchurch's sister cities, mostly Asian countries, interestingly.

View of the garden areas from high up.

So there were some things donated from a small town outside of Seoul, Korea! What a nice little treat for me to bring me back to my roots!

So now I'm off to start my day. Feeding the horses and chickens and to see how many eggs I'll collect today!

WWOOFing and Tourist-ing

I'm reminded often of how different this kind of traveling that I'm doing is compared to regular sightseeing travel. There's a time and place for each kind of travel, and I can't say one is better than the other. It definitely takes a certain frame of mind to do it either way.


Seeing New Zealand as a WWOOFer, I'm getting a view that travelers AND residents alike probably wouldn't get unless they were farmers or gardeners. Interestingly, many Kiwis know about WWOOFing (unlike in the U.S.) because I guess it's common enough. Though cityfolk don't seem to know it.

It's like a homestay or a travel exchange. I eat with the family, get to know family members, including pets, and get to see another way of life at a very home-based level. I hear what people talk about at the dinner table. I see what people eat for their meals. And most interestingly, I get to pick up on country-specific idioms and ways of speaking. There are a few choice phrases that I've picked up that I just love because they're a bit country-ish and totally endearing:

  • heaps” as in “We just have heaps of veggies during the summer.” or “We have heaps of weeding to do today!” It's obvious what “heaps” means, and I love hearing it.
  • good on ya” as in “Oh, you can feed the animals tomorrow? Good on ya.” or “You did the dishes again? Good on ya!” You're seeing what I mean by country-fied speak here in New Zealand?
  • I reckon” as in “It's going to rain tomorrow, I reckon.” or “We've got a southerly wind coming in tomorrow; it'll be cold, I reckon.” or “Americans are quite materialistic, I reckon.” Seriously, both country-fied people and city people use this phrase ALL THE TIME. It's awesome!!
  • wee” as in “We put a wee lamp in your room.” or “I'll have a wee piece of cheese to go with this.” Men, women, children use this adjective all over the place. Totally cute. A bit of the British in the language, I daresay.

The list could go on, but those are some of my favorites.

WWOOFing also allows me to get my hands dirty, learning about gardening, farming, living off the land in various degrees (off the grid, plugged in, from garden to table, using a supermarket to supplement…). How cool is this? Getting to get free room and board (and usually the board includes great food, use of a washing machine, a great hot water bottle or electric blanket, and even a bike to borrow on days off!) with nothing to give in exchange except 5-6 hours of honest physical labor.

More before and afters of weeding. Can you tell the difference? Some of the statues and furniture were moved around.

So I'm getting fresh air, exercise, education, and lots in return! I'm also feeling the benefits and joys from things like weeding before and afters or a good collection of chicken eggs in a morning round or seeing the shoots or seeds planted growing bit by bit each day. Or getting to harvest my own greens for a good salad or stir fry or soup. I've had some kind of fresh produce everyday since coming to New Zealand (except for my day in Auckland), directly from a garden that I saw and had contact with.

Eggs I collected yesterday on my daily horse-chicken feeding round. So exciting! Free range, warm chicken eggs straight from the roost! I even have to physically move some chickens off the eggs to get at these eggs.


You have a lot more freedom with this method of travel. Go, stay, see the sights, hang out, stop for coffee, eat at a restaurant, cook in a kitchen at a hostel or apartment rental. I've definitely enjoyed this type of travel when I've done it. My trip to Paris last March was a great four and a half days (so short, I know!) of museum-hopping, cafe-stopping, and just walking-walking-walking around the beautiful city. I must've done like at least 10 miles a day!!

My favorite sculptor, Auguste Rodin, at his museum, which was, sadly, closed for renovation. But the sculpture garden was open... I love that museum in Paris!

Basilica of the Sacred Heart on a beautiful early spring day in March. Buskers doing their thing, couples, tourist groups, lots of Parisians and tourists alike.

With touristing, you don't often get to meet “the natives” and get a feel for how people live in that city. You remain “other” to the city or country. You are an outsider, and things are fine as is.

So far in New Zealand, I've only had a few days as a tourist– one day in Auckland when I arrived (at 6am from LAX!) and two-half days in New Plymouth on my days off from my first WWOOF host. Starting this weekend, I'll be a tourist again for almost two weeks, traveling the West Coast of the South Island– supposedly the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. I'll be staying at hostels, eating cheaply (probably bread, yogurt, muesli, and other easy meals I can whip up in hostel kitchens).

One thing about WWOOFing versus tourist-ing is that there's a HUGE different in how much money you spend (for obvious reasons). I've calculated that I've spent a little more than $200 in the last month I've been in NZ (not including my bus pass which was $415 or my plane ticket which was a little over $600). Wow, that's about $8/ day. And $70 of that was gift vouchers that I gave to my first host family to thank them for an amazing stay. Other than that, I've only spent money on some food here and there and city bus tokens. And I've estimated that my next two weeks of travel will cost me about $500 or so with hostel and food costs and maybe some excursion costs. Yikes! Definitely puts costs into perspective when you're WWOOFing.

But don't WWOOF if you're not ready for and interested in farm work, I'd say. Otherwise, you just feel like free labor for something you won't really enjoy. And all that for a day off here and there, you might think? Like today, I weeded a garden bed, picked up sticks across a stretch of grass so the owner could mow, and snipped off low hanging leaves on a flax tree. And that took up about 6 hours of work. Not recommended for those of you who don't want to get some dirt under your fingernails, cobwebs in your hair, and be squatting for hours on end.

I'm even thinking of where else I could WWOOF so I could get a similar experience in another country– like Provence or Tuscany or Hawaii or farmland of Korea or Japan… Anyone want to join me? 🙂

One drawback of WWOOFing is that you need a good chunk of time to travel like this. Staying just for a week or a few days just doesn't cut it.

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