Northwest Dreamin’

Portland has been very good to us. The weather has been so comfortable and we have settled into a routine of work in the morning at Good Coffee, walking at Washington Park or Forest Park in the afternoon, and a treat in the evening. Treats include exploring the aisles of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, ice cream at Salt & Straw, beer at Deschutes Brewery or Backpedal Brewing, or enjoying one of the famous bookstores in the world, Powell’s.

Forest Park
Slug #1
Slug #2

Special mention goes to Salt & Straw ice cream. Ali and I have agreed that it completes the Holy Trinity of Ice Cream, along with Sundae School and Crescent Ridge. These are arguably the three best ice cream places we have ever visited. Tonight, we had a chocolate cookies n’cream with coconut that was so so good. You will wait at least thirty minutes in line, but it’s worth it.

Salt & Straw

On Tuesday, we went berry picking on Sauvie Island, just outside of Portland and the largest river island in the US. Ali may have described it as a “peak life experience,” as we got the chance to pick several new berries for the first time. Anyone who knows Ali knows how much the girl enjoys her fruits and veggies. We picked blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, marionberries, and boysenberries.

Columbia Farms on Sauvie Island
Chandler Blueberries
Marionberries
Boysenberries
The haul

Ali and I will be returning to Massachusetts on Saturday for nine days. We are looking forward to spending time with family and friends as we prepare to transition back to Florida and the start of a new academic year.

The owner of this gem is truly living the Northwest Dream. We pass this van everyday. It has no parking permit, but yet never has a ticket.
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Portlandia

Portland has a lot of the amenities that Ali and I enjoy: comfortable summer weather, views of the mountains, great coffee, craft beer, and supermarkets (Trader Joe’s and New Seasons), interesting and thoughtful people, as well as scenic places to walk. Thanks to the generosity of our friend Will, we have been able to stay in a great apartment close to downtown since arriving from Sydney. As we have transitioned out of our jet lag, and back to a regular schedule, it has been, in Ali’s words, “a soft place to land.” Below are assorted pictures from our first few days in Portland. You might start with the opening sequence from the show Portlandia as inspiration and/or soundtrack — “it’s a place where young people go to retire.” One week in, I would say everything in the video is true.

There are many VW vans here. That’s always a good sign for us. (We miss you, Ranger.)
Another good sign is the multitude of purple houses! (We miss you, Purple House.)
Ali and a Coast Redwood
Giant Sequoia
Douglas Fir
Rose Garden
Cultural Center at the Portland Japanese Garden. Ali almost bought a dish with a Japanese black cat on it. (We miss you, Siggy.)
Flat Garden
Koi Pond
Strolling Pond Garden
Bonsai European Beech (40 years old)

The Japanese garden was very peaceful with lots of quiet corners. Japanese gardens are designed to evoke a strong sense of place and to encourage reflection. This particular garden was created in the 1960s as a way to rebuild the US-Japan relationship in the wake of World War II. The former Japanese ambassador to the US described it as “the most beautiful Japanese garden outside of Japan.”

Happy weekend!

Impressions of New Zealand

After a 41-hour Tuesday, Ali and I arrived in Portland, Oregon. We are rather jet-lagged and have had trouble sleeping at night thus far. Daytime sleeping is another story. We are working on helping our bodies catch up to the local time. Also, it is an adjustment to move abruptly from full winter to full summer. We have been struck by how light it is in the evening, as our sunsets were before 5pm for the last six weeks.

Although my brain is foggy, I thought I would share some impressions of New Zealand.

  • Central air conditioning or heating is virtually nonexistent. We read that less than 5% of homes have a central climate control system. For heat, people rely on space heaters, fireplaces, or heat pumps. Most restaurants would have a couple space heaters going, and customers stayed in their jackets. Also, most buildings have very little insulation, as it was only recently introduced in the country and is not commonly used.
  • Kiwis are very concerned about condensation. Repeatedly, various hosts stressed their concern over moisture in their homes. Many places we stayed used “showerdomes” – which is exactly what it sounds like and just as unpleasant – to keep all moisture inside the shower as an enclosed unit. Also, there is widespread belief that keeping a window open in the winter will improve airflow, and will actually keep the space warmer. We were told repeatedly that it is good to keep a window open. (We disregarded this advice, as our lodgings were quite cold and drafty enough with the windows closed!)
  • Like France, clothes dryers are uncommon and seen as a luxury item. We are used to drying racks, though. It means that it’s summer and we’re away!
Jussaume Summer = Drying racks (few machine dryers here)
  • New Zealand has shockingly few animals. Unlike Tasmania, where roadkill stained every turn, there are virtually no animals to be seen other than birds. The animals that are here are non-native and are actively trapped by the government because they threaten the birdlife. It’s really all about the birds here. And, they have lots of them that you will see no where else.
Black Robin
  • Many of you are familiar with my deep and abiding love of peanut butter. Since I eat it nearly everyday, I am careful to choose the best peanut butter possible, because there is nothing worse than bad peanut butter to start your day. Fortunately, New Zealand has amazing peanut butter. This brand might be worth the 20 hour flight.

Rugby and cricket are the top two sports, but rugby reigns supreme. The national team – the “All Blacks” – have a large presence. They do a dance called “haka” before each game in Maori tradition. Click the link to see the dance. You won’t regret it.

Rugby store in Queenstown
  • The people we met were extremely friendly and welcoming. Many people went out of their way to greet us and give us recommendations. Drivers do not honk, cut off, etc. Overall, the most common expressions are “no worries,” “kia ora,” (hello) “sweet as” (cool), “good on ya” (nice work). You might also see flip flops referred to as “jandals.”
  • Prices are more expensive than Australia. Gas was about $6.00/gallon and beers were about $10 each. It is kind of like a country at New York City pricing. With that said, there are budget options available if you put in the legwork. On the whole, New Zealand just feels a lot more remote than Australia and has a much smaller population. Both of which are reflected in the prices.
  • The landscape is probably the most spectacular of anywhere that we have been. As you have seen in our pictures, the Southern Alps are dramatic. Flat plains rise up sharply into folded, jagged mountains. We will really miss the views each day as we drove and walked.
  • Like Australia, New Zealand is very secular, with few churches or religious imagery. There is little to no mixture of religion and politics from what we could tell. In a recent survey, 42% of the country stated it has no religious affiliation.

Lastly, I wanted to follow up on our hot pools experience. AMAZING. This is not usually my kind of event, but it was worth it. Picture a beautiful cedar hot tub in a private room. Next add a wall and roof that retract to give you a totally open view of the mountains and night sky. Ali gave it her highest recommendation!

Tramping

Now that Ali is feeling better, we have taken our last week in New Zealand to focus on tramping (Kiwi for hiking) and exploring Queenstown. I have included a few pictures from our walks below:

Ali’s pompom on the Glenorchy Walkway
Lake Sylvan (Mt. Aspiring National Park)
Among the Red Beech Trees (Mt. Aspiring National Park)
Pompom on the move
Moke Lake
The reflection on the water was stunning. The lake was so still it almost looked like a hole in the ground.

Special mention goes to the 4WD drive only road to Moke Lake. It’s one of those times where you put your Subaru Forester’s “X-mode” to good use. We will miss driving these crazy roads.

If you thought I was kidding about our July 4th meal, see below. And yes, AB, we did get a nice beer afterwards!

Kale, lentil, quinoa bowl from Bespoke Kitchen
Beer list at Smith’s (we got #1 and #23)

The sun just set on our final full day in New Zealand. We are enjoying a view of the Milky Way stretching wide across the sky, along with the Southern Cross, Jupiter, and Saturn. The stars here are a nightly event for us – as is spotting the International Space Station as it flies by.

Tonight, we are treating ourselves to a dip in the hot tubs at Onsen Hot Pools. This is a bit outside the usual norm of our budget-minded travel, but it’s the final night! Tomorrow, we fly from Queenstown to Sydney – we have to back-track to Australia before returning to the US on Tuesday. Our flight from Sydney to San Francisco arrives earlier than it departs, so we’ll let you know how our experiment in time travel goes. Tuesday, July 9th will be 41 hours for us. We will be spending the next couple of weeks in Oregon.

Queenstown

Ali’s stomach bug kept her down for three days. The reception staff at our lodging at Mt. Cook were very sweet to us. “It’s such a bugger to be sick on holiday. It sounds like the flu. Let me give you some lemons and honey.”

Ali toughed it out, though, especially on the 3.5 hour drive from Mt. Cook to Queenstown. Twisty, mountain roads were not the best remedy for her upset stomach, yet she managed to keep the inside of the car clean. While Ali closed her eyes and tried to ignore the g-forces as we crossed multiple mountain passes through the Southern Alps, my job was to keep the drive as smooth as possible, and more importantly, to pull the car over quickly on demand.

Those Ritz were the start of her recovery.

But, Ali is now back on her feet! We are in Queenstown, “the adventure capital of the world.” It’s a hub for skydiving, ziplining, rafting, mountain biking, skiing, etc. Again, the views are hard to beat.

We are further south than we have ever been – 45 degrees south latitude. We’re about as far south as Bangor, Maine is north. Sunrise is around 8:30am, with sunset at 5:00pm. The AirBnB we are staying in has huge glass doors in the bedroom that give the best view of the stars (super dark here too) from the comfort of your bed. As Ali’s strength returns, we should be able to do some nice walks in the hills around the lake.

Lastly, Ali and I will celebrate July 4th with some Kiwi Dip (it’s just french onion dip – but it’s legitimately a national dish here and they claim to have invented it) and maybe some hot dogs on the grill. Just kidding – it’ll probably be Kiwi Dip with kale chips and quinoa bowls. Happy 4th!

Southern Alps

Thank you for all your kind comments! We appreciate your following along on our trip. Special hello to Aunt Pat in Maine – we would call, but we don’t have international minutes from NZ. You’ll hear from us as soon as we’re back!

For the remainder of our time in New Zealand, we will be in the high country of the Southern Alps. On Friday, we visited Lake Tekapo, home of the first International Dark Sky Reserve. This designation recognizes the area’s exceptionally low light pollution and puts rules in place to protect the dark. This idea may seem strange at first, but most of us have grown accustomed to a diminished version of the night sky, so much so that we do not even realize what has been lost. It is startling how dark it is here.

Our tiny cabin at the holiday park. Notice the Weetbix Cereal – a new fibrous love.

From Tekapo. we drove to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. The drive follows a glacial lake that terminates at the base of Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in either Australia or New Zealand at over 12,000 ft. Mt. Cook is said to resemble Everest both in profile and in climbing difficulty (without the altitude, of course). Kiwi Sir Edmund Hilary, one of the first to climb Everest, trained here to prepare for his ascent. It’s quite photogenic.

Ali has had a stomach bug today, so she has been hibernating in the hotel. At least it’s a nice view from the room.

Winter in June

Unlike Tasmania, there are no native mammals in New Zealand, other than bats. The mammals here today were mostly introduced by European settlers and pose a serious problem for the native birdlife, which did not develop typical evolutionary defenses against predation. Many of the birds do not know to hide effectively, and some birds even have strong scents that give their position away to predators.

For that reason, there are significant efforts here to trap predators, such as possums, stoats, cats, etc. A reserve in Wellington takes this effort to the next level. Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary is a square mile surrounded by a high fence that prevents all predators from attacking the birds. It’s a lovely spot tucked in the hills just on the edge of the city and walking distance from our apartment. The birds roam freely and there is no overhead netting or cage. The birds stay because there are feeders, there are no predators, and there is abundant habitat.

French philosopher Henri Bergson at the entrance.
Takahe
Flightless and found only in New Zealand.
Kaka
Native bush

I promised a couple shots of our lift at the apartment in Wellington. The homeowner is an architect and designed the house himself. The lift was essentially our only way of entering the apartment, or going back up to the street (2 floors above – as the house was built into the side of a hill). It always felt a little shaky to take the ride, but we accepted it as part of the fun! Just picture standing on a flat piece of leftover carpet and pressing the button on the control panel as you glide up or down along a plywood elevator shaft.

Call button in our apartment
You stand on this piece of carpet and press the appropriate floor on the control.
Looking up
Close to the top

On our last day in Wellington, we visited the Te Papa Museum, which is the national museum of New Zealand. It’s regarded as one of the most interactive museums in the world, with lots of displays, games, and immersive elements. We learned a great deal about the history of the Maori people, who first landed in New Zealand around 1280. Prior to that date, New Zealand was undiscovered – one of the last places in the world without people. The museum places a strong emphasis on New Zealand’s role as a world leader in environmental awareness and conservation. Overall, it was a beautiful museum and we enjoyed spending a few hours wandering around. And, it’s free!

Te Papa

Thursday, we departed Wellington for the South Island. We spent one night in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city and site of a devastating earthquake in 2011. There are reminders of the quake throughout the city, and it is still in the process of rebuilding. In case you’re wondering, in the event of a shake, “Drop, cover, and hold.”

Compared to Wellington, Christchurch was much easier to navigate with a more relaxed pace than Wellington. As I have mentioned before, we found Wellington driving especially stressful, so Christchurch was a welcome relief. The fact that the road is wide enough for your car brought us some peace. “What?! Where are the blind corners around switchback turns with parked cars entirely blocking your lane? I returned our rental car with a huge sigh of relief and amazement that we had not hit anything during our week.

While the North Island has the majority of the population and business, the South Island is more agricultural and mountainous. It’s also further south, which for this hemisphere, means colder. Temps have been in the 40s/50s by day, and 20s/30s at night. We have been following the news from Europe and noticed that Grenoble has been over 100 degrees the last several days. While we enjoyed our time in Grenoble last summer, we are both grateful that we are a bit further south this year. In Grenoble, there is no place to find relief other than to hit the la piscine or do laps around the supermarket. Otherwise, you’re sitting in front of a fan with the curtains drawn, waiting for that ball of hot fire in the sky to slip below the mountains.

Christchurch Cathedral
Christchurch Town Hall
“Winter Daydreams” by the NZ Symphony Orchestra

We are now in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park through Monday.

“You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.”

The title of this post is an expression seen often in Wellington. It’s meant to be both a statement of pride and a joke. On the one hand, when the sun is shining and the winds calm, it is a stunningly beautiful city. Sharply rolling hills surround an expansive bay with views out to the Tasman Sea and the Cook Strait. It’s a beacon of craft beer and craft coffee (big part of why we visited here!). On the other hand, it rains frequently and Wellington is actually the windiest city in the world. It sits in the River of Wind – the narrow passageway between the North and South Islands where winds blowing unobstructed across thousands of miles of ocean encounter land for the first time. Since the New Zealand coast is so mountainous, the wind seeks the path of least resistance in the Cook Strait between the two islands – exactly where Wellington sits. So, you can usually beat Wellington, but on occasion, it will truly shine.

Yesterday, it rained hard all day, giving us a representative example of Wellington life. We sought refuge indoors and enjoyed some freshly roasted Rwanda single origin coffee at People’s Roastery. Keeping with the mood of the day, we followed it with some warming veggie ramen. I’m convinced that a relatively poor climate pushes a place to make up for it by having great food and drink. There are more cafes in Wellington per person than New York City. Literally, every corner.

Despite the rain, we took a walk at the Botanical Gardens. We have no pictures, since we left our phones dry in the car. Dripping wet as we passed by the cafe within the gardens, I saw some patrons inside the cafe point at us and share a laugh. Perhaps, we looked ridiculous. Undeterred, Ali flashed a thumbs up and a big smile, which surprised them, but led to a thumbs up and smile in return. Ali softens hearts.

We spent the rest of the day drying off, writing, and reading in our apartment, while listening to the Welly radio and enjoying some Sunday night easy listening (think Gordon Lightfoot on a Cape Cod winter night vibes).

Yet, Wellington is indeed truly hard to beat on a good day. Today (Monday) we had such a day. Bright sunshine and no wind! We took a walk in the rainforest on the Orongorongo Track at Remutaka Forest Park.

Don’t load 16 on the bridge!
Fortunately, it was just me and my photographer.
Even under dense canopy, the sun seems to always find her.

Next post, I’ll share some pictures of our quirky and slightly scary lift at our apartment. We leave for Christchurch and the South Island on Thursday.

Chapter 2

I have been telling Ali that our trip is divided into three main chapters – Australia, New Zealand, and Oregon. On Thursday, we arrived at the end of chapter one and our time in Australia came to a close. This has been sad for us, as we have so enjoyed Tasmania, much beyond our expectations. It is such a singularly beautiful place, lots of national parks with great walks, super clean, and very nice people. It stole our hearts!

Our final national park was Cradle Mountain in the northwest of the island. Some final Tassie pictures below from Cradle Mountain:

Start of the 65km long – Overland Track. This would be a fun item to return for someday. You stay in huts along the way and it takes several days to complete. We walked only a short part of it this trip.
Boat Shed at Dove Lake (Cradle Mountain in the background). This picture is on nearly every website or brochure related to Tasmania.
Our humble abode – The Bushman’s Hut. We loved it and its gas potbelly stove for heating.
Ali’s note from the Bushman’s Hut Guestbook
Can you spot the wallaby?

We are starting to get settled in New Zealand. We loved Australia so much that we were both reluctant to leave and have subsequently felt a bit of a letdown. Also, we were really spoiled by the beauty and the lack of any challenges in the logistics of our trip.

It has been a bit more of a learning curve here in New Zealand in many respects. I thought driving in Tasmania was challenging, but it has been even more challenging here in Wellington. The streets are very hilly and narrow, with parked cars strewn everywhere, often reducing two lane roads to one lane, requiring you to pull over (if you can) and let oncoming traffic through. There are lots of quick lane changes, merges, and poorly marked roundabouts. Driving requires some nerve and patience, especially if you’re in the passenger seat. Also, we have had a few misadventures with our induction stove in the apartment, the washer, and the homemade, quirky lift that takes us to our apartment (more on that another post). To add insult to injury, the ice cream we bought at the supermarket melted in our freezer, which is only a shelf in a mini-fridge, spilling its raspberry contents everywhere. Quelle horreur! First world problems, I know, but we were both feeling a bit frayed around the edges after our first two nights here.

But, as Ali said, no one is going to cry for us! And, we learned over both summers, that there are always hard moments, especially in the third week, as the initial excitement fades and reality sets in.

To get us on the right track, we did our first walk today in New Zealand at Makara Walkway. Before we could start the walk, though, we had another Kiwi hiccup. Ali and I ducked into a cafe by the trailhead to order a couple of coffees. We were so excited since we did not have coffee in the morning at our apartment. However, after we ordered, we discovered that they do not accept credit cards. Since we forgot to pickup some New Zealand Dollars, we were out of luck. With no other options, I asked if they accepted American dollars. Before they could answer, Ali grabbed me exclaiming, “Of course, they don’t! It’s New Zealand!” and embarrassed, pulled me out of the cafe. I told her that I was desperate and that lack of coffee can make you do strange things.

The walk itself turned out to be a lot of fun, even though we quickly had a second hiccup and accidentally ended up on the long loop, so what was supposed to be 6km turned into over 11km with lots of climbing. We’re both pretty tired – Ali is taking a nap at the moment! However, the views were very pretty, as we passed through many types of terrain. The walk itself is on the west coast of the North Island, a rugged, wild, and windswept place. We were warned multiple times not to walk if the northerlies are blowing. Today, we had a southerly and some sun, so it was a fine day to walk.

Wind Farms
There are lots of sheep here.
Sheep everywhere.
The long way
Our return path took us along the rocky beach.

Because the walk was much longer than advertised, Ali said that I owe her a beer after she wakes from her nap. I hope they accept our card, or at least the American or Australian dollars in my wallet.

Impressions of Tasmania

As our time here draws to a close, it seems fitting to offer a few thoughts on our experience in Tasmania as a whole. On Thursday, we are leaving Tasmania for Wellington, New Zealand.

  1. I have been struck by the relative ease of managing our way here in Tasmania. Obviously, the absence of a language barrier is a huge part of it, but on the whole, the culture is just very familiar. People are warm and welcoming and there is a general sense that Tasmania is a special place to live – close enough to civilization to enjoy its benefits, while simultaneously removed from much of the congestion, pollution, and attitude that more development brings. We have both really enjoyed the nice balance of strangeness and familiarity here.
  2. Tasmania is vast, varied, and rugged. There are dramatic changes in terrain and weather between different parts of the island. The west is quite wet and green, whereas the east is much drier and hotter. The middle is rolling farmland, with lots of sheep. The one constant is the road is always twisting and turning. Whenever Ali and I encounter a road that is straight for more than a few hundred meters, we joke that we have stumbled upon the “straightest road in Tasmania.” I can’t imagine that texting and driving is as much of a problem here, because you literally never have time to do anything other than focus on the next turn ahead.
  3. Apples here are a big deal, and they are delicious. Willie Smith’s Apple Shed craft cider is especially good.
  4. Tasmania is a very photogenic place. The sweeping landscapes make taking pictures easy. There is always a mountain, waterfall, marsupial, or view of the ocean that grabs your eye. Just as importantly, it is extremely clean here. There is no litter and there are no billboards. It will be very hard to return to Florida and its blights of constant litter and constant billboards. It goes to show how much culture influences the way we respect (or do not respect) the place in which we live. The Tasmanians are far ahead of us in this regard.
  5. Roadkill is a serious problem. I read a report that claimed that Tasmania has the highest number of roadkill of anywhere in the world. Estimates range from 300,000 to 500,000 animals per year. Regardless of the number or rank, it is clear to see when you drive around. A “squashed” wallaby, wombat, potoroo, or some other marsupial lurks around almost every corner. It is almost guaranteed to see major roadkill almost every kilometer. Most of the strikes occur after dark, as many of the creatures are nocturnal and unfortunately, are not afraid of headlights. Ali and I rarely drive after dark to minimize our chance of hitting something.
  6. Over half of the island is national park, making it ideal for walking and spending time outdoors. It also is part of the reason why Tasmania has some of the cleanest air on the planet. Like anywhere, however, Tasmania is facing pressures to develop its land and to exploit its resources in various ways. There has been a recent spike in international tourism to Tasmania (particularly from China) that has brought in large amounts of capital, but threaten to change the fundamentally rustic and rugged character of the place. It is such a quintessentially “instagrammable” place that certain photo ops (such as Wineglass Bay and Cradle Mountain) are getting way more traffic than they can handle. Honestly, Ali and I enjoyed the off-the-beaten-track places within Tasmania, just as much as the major destinations in the guidebooks. We were happy to be here in the offseason, when everything is relatively quiet.
  7. Food: The food here has been very good, although Ali and I do most of our own cooking. We have enjoyed the local produce and the great coffee. The craft beer scene is behind the US, but we will make up for that in New Zealand next week!
  8. Cost: Sticker prices here are more expensive than the US, however, the exchange rate is in our favor. With the exchange, most things cost the same as at home, if not a little less. Right now, it is about $1AUD to $.70USD.
  9. Drivers: I don’t think that I’ve heard a single horn in our time here, even in downtown Hobart. Generally, the driving in Tasmania matches its pace of life – easygoing, navigating the twists and turns as best as it can. There are speed cameras in many places, so the speed limits are much more strictly enforced than in the US. 110km/hr is the absolute max on the island, but most places are 80 or 60km/hr because of the turns.
  10. Comparison: “What other places are similar to Tasmania?” This is hard to say, but it has struck us as a cross between Cape Cod/Maine/Canadian Maritime (rocky coastlines, lots of rain, very small towns, seafood, the light) and British Columbia (rocky rainforest, wet, misty, dense greens). Of course, don’t forget to add in a whole heap of marsupials that do not live anywhere else, like our dear friend the Tassie Devil, or the Tasmanian Pademelons that were outside our door this evening.