Current Travel

The Kenai Peninsula

We left Anchorage and headed south around the Turnagain Arm to Hope. Dan and Hannah had a blast whitewater rafting class V rapids, while Nick and I prepared dinner (chicken & tofu). The porcupine campground offered a remarkable mountainous view and around 6 pm, the bore tide filled the arm within 2 minutes.

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Next, we drove to Whitter, a secret military installation from WWII and a very strange place. After the Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands, the U.S. wanted a remote base as inaccessible as possible. Previously only accessible via boat and train, the two-mile tunnel blasted out of granite is now open to cars. We explored the underground tunnel systems and grocery store/ tsunami museum. Before leaving, we hiked up to Portage Pass where we were rewarded with a 360 view of the glaciers and bay. It definitely felt like life in Whitter was rough. 80% of the 200 permanent residents live in the WWII-era Begich Towers pictured below.

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Our next stop was Seward, where our campground, although crowded, was perfectly located between town and Resurrection Bay. We spent a day on a boat in the Kenai Fjords National Park, created in 1980 to protect 587,000 acres of wilderness. We were lucky to watch ice calve off from glaciers and spotted Humpback Whales, porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, and bald eagles.

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The next day, I did some work while Hannah and Nick tried their luck at fishing. Nick caught a Silver Salmon, but they both were disappointed to learn about the declining fish population.

Before heading to Homer we stopped outside of Soldotna where Nick, Hannah, and I spent 2 days backpacking to the Upper Russian Lake. A few miles into our first day we stopped to observe salmon ladders where we watched salmon rapidly hucking themselves at rapids and rocks as their only hope for survival. For the remainder of the day, we hiked through tall grasses (6 ft.) and meadows. The hundreds of bear prints, scat, and claw marks were at first startling until we realized the bears were everywhere and seemed more scared of us then we were of them. We saw an enormous moose rack hiding in the meadow pictured below. The mosquito presence was, as always, extreme and it seemed you couldn’t breathe without inhaling some. At camp, we watched the sunset over the Upper Russian Lake (there are about 3 hours of relative darkness now that we are more south), a mom guiding her 17 ducklings in the lake, and 3 immature bald eagles the size of dogs (70 pounds?) preparing to snatch a duckling meal. The second day we walked through wildflowers and the trail widened into a more forested area.

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We were picked up at the trailhead and drove through Soldotna to Homer. Homer offered water views with glaciers and active volcanoes in the backdrop. On our first full day, I explored the farmers market and did some work while the Loebs took a bush plane to see Coastal Brown Bears (I had the opportunity to go the next day).

They got within 10 feet of the bears and their experience sounded like a highlight of the trip. I set Nick up to fail by giving him a dead camera battery so although he caught some amazing photos, the guide, Joe, shared the real beauties with us (bottom 3 photos).

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The next day we visited the Pratt Museum and learned about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and local wildlife. We walked the beach, historic town, downtown, and spit before I headed to my bear tour. Although I wasn’t able to get as close to the bears as the Loebs, the flight was the highlight of my trip. Flying over active glaciers, watching the clouds roll over the peaks, seeing bears fishing below the plane, and bumping around in bad weather made for an excellent evening.

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Homer really grew on us, it was a funky place, but as always, we had to pack up and get back on the road. Good Finds: Two Sisters Bakery, Fresh Sourdough Express, and Hermit’s Rare & Used Books

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Denali & Anchorage

Due to the road being narrow and unpaved, Denali National Park only allows visitors, past a certain point, to travel via bus. We decided to take the bus 92-miles to the end, arriving at an old mining settlement, Kantishna.

Although the weather was overcast and prevented us from seeing Denali (only 1/3 of visitors ever get to see Denali) it was ideal to spot wildlife. On our 12-hour drive, we saw 6 mom Grizzly Bears, each with 2 cubs, totaling 18 different bears. We watched a mom flop on her back with her feet in the air and let her two, 200-pound babies climb on top of her and nurse. The driver told us that the male bears stay away from the road and the female bears have learned this, therefore spending the majority of their time near the road to protect their cubs. We also saw a fox, 7 moose, over 50 Caribou, and over 50 Dall sheep. We got off the bus to hike the Savage River Ridge and took in the beautiful mountains and intense winds.

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With heavy rains, we decided to call off our Kesugi Ridge backpacking trip and spent 3 night at Dan’s friend’s cabin. 19-miles down a dirt road there were not many residents, however, the word quickly got out that kids (referring to us) were in town. Within minutes of arriving, a family of 6, with kids ranging from 6-12, spent hours with us. Although disappointed we were not younger, the kids told us we were still fun.

On our last morning in the Denali area, the clouds finally broke and we felt lucky that we got a beautiful view of Denali from the cabin. We drove into Talkeetna and were thrilled our flight was not canceled. We took an hour-long flight in a bush plane up into the mountains with breathtaking glacial views. We even saw 2 chinooks sitting at base camp.

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After our flight, Nick, Dan, and I took the bikes up Hatcher Pass while Hannah drove the truck and trailer to Anchorage. The dirt road followed a windy crystal clear river up through the Tundra. A paraglider flew 50 feet above up us and the combination of grassy meadows, icy glaciers, and rocky ridges made for a great alpine pass. We stopped by Independence Mine State Historical Park, an abandoned gold mine sprawled in the valley that was built in the 1930s.

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We made it to Anchorage, which seemed pretty run down. We stayed at a motel on the outskirts next to the correctional facility, homeless shelter, and Mega Store. It was upsetting to see so many homeless and drunk on the street and intense police activity.

On our first full day in Anchorage, Nick, Hannah, and I left and headed back toward Hatcher Pass to rock climb. Arch Angel Valley is home to some of the best quality trad single pitching in Alaska.  In the tundra, down a trail, across a river, and up a scree field, the views and climbing were unbeatable.

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The next day, Hannah and I hunkered down to submit job applications while Nick and Dan explored the Anchorage Museum. Nick even ran into one of his old co-worker at the museum! In the evening, we drove down the Turnagain Arm to watch the amazing bore tide quickly fill the arm with one wave.

The next morning, we packed up and headed for the Kenai Peninsula.

Fairbanks and Manley Hot Springs

Leaving Tok we headed to Fairbanks. On the way, we stopped at a pottery studio outside of Delta Junction. Originally finding no one around, we read a sign on the door that invited anyone in to browse, pick a piece and leave the money on a table. Not the way things are done in the lower 48! Eventually, the artist showed up to answer some questions. After, we finished the drive to Fairbanks and arrived at Billies Backpacker Hostel. Billie’s was a great spot in town. Not only was it clean and had great service, but they even let us park our trailer for the drive down the Elliot Highway.

The next day in Fairbanks, Stacia and Hannah applied to some jobs for our eventual transition back to reality, while my dad and I ran some errands. On the way, we stopped at the University of Fairbanks Museum and the Large Animal Research Center. The Museum was very well done and gave a lot of information on the natural and cultural history of Alaska. At the Large Animal Research Center, we got to see muskox and reindeer.

After our short stay in Fairbanks, we left the trailer and took the truck and bikes down the Elliot Highway. This 150-mile road which turns to dirt at mile 80, ends in the small town of Manley Hot Springs. Along the way, we got our first flat, which was completely deflated in less than 5 minutes, a real tear!

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Manley Hot Springs, a  town of around 50 people, has a small school (10-15 students), trading post, roadhouse (restaurant and hotel) and even a local bar called “The Woodshed”. Originally a mining town, most people have lived here for generations and everyone we met was extremely nice and helpful. We camped down by the slough of the Tanana River that the town sits.

The springs which the town is named for used to be accessible at a resort with a swimming pool and bowling alley, but this was long gone with the mining money. However, a local family has kept a greenhouse complete with grape vines, tomato plants, and various tropical plants, which also contains four pools. For $10 an hour, anyone can use the greenhouse, with all the money going to a local association. A pretty oxymoronic situation for a town that sits less than 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle!

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After the springs we took a boat ride up the Tanana river with a local man to his friends weekend cabin. The cabin was a beautiful set up on the river and had a true wilderness feel (especially only being accessible by boat or snowmobile in the winter).

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After one more night by the river, we drove back to Fairbanks. On the way, Stacia and I stopped for some climbing at “Grapefruit Rocks”. The “best limestone in the Interior” (super crumbly!). In Fairbanks, we spent one more night at Billie’s before heading south to Denali!

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Yukon and the Top of the World Highway

After driving up the Cassiar highway we made it to the Yukon Territory. We arrived in Whitehorse, a touristed mountain town that reminded me and Nick of Steamboat Springs, CO. We had a great meal at The Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ and tried to imagine the harsh winters. A bumping town in the middle of nowhere, the first mail delivery didn’t come until the 1920s. We spent a day relaxing, walking the bike path along the river, and visiting the SS Klondike.

The next day Nick, Hannah, and I climbed at Golden Canyon where there was some fantastic crack climbing. We stopped at Bean North Coffee Co. to buy some locally roasted coffee and headed to Takhini Hot Springs to soak.

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The next day, We left Whitehorse and drove toward Dawson City taking a 50-mile detour up the Dempster Highway. We camped at the Tombstone Campground and the next morning took in the beautiful mountain views. While through the tundra we spotted a mountain lion crossing the road, we had no luck at seeing any grizzly bears.

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We drove north to Dawson City where the 2,000 resident population doubled for Canada Day. The quaint town held a fair and short parade. Most parade participants recently completed the annual kayak/ canoe quest from Whitehouse to Dawson City along the Yukon River. We enjoyed breakfast at the Alchemy Cafe and rushed through the Dawson City Museum.

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We left Dawson City via ferry and found it hard to believe that cars drive over the frozen river in the winter. We drove over the Top of the World Highway which offered a remarkable view of the McKenzie range. The dirt road went over a ridge and we soon entered US immigration.

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We successfully crossed and made our way into Chicken with a population of 23 and a winter population of 7. The town offers no electric, sewage, cell phone service, or water. It gets -85 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and the only road connecting it to the rest of the world closes. A small town named Chicken because the founders could not spell the state bird the Ptarmigan. Chicken, Ptarmigan, same same, but different. We camped in Tok and washed the Dempster Highway off the truck and bikes.

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Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia

My dad, Dan, had been to all 50 states except Alaska. Seeing this as an opening, I pestered him to the point of exasperation. Somehow during those conversations, I convinced him to take the classic road trip to Alaska. That happened in March, a little more than three months before the planned departure. While my dad and I planned, my sister Hannah and partner Stacia saw the opportunity of a lifetime and decided to come along. On June 18th, three days after Stacia graduated from the U of O MBA program and two weeks after Hannah and my dad departed from Washington DC, the group left Portland, Oregon for Alaska. The plan for the trip is a multipurpose blend of sightseeing, motorcycling, climbing, and backpacking. All of these toys are packed into a Toyota Tacoma and 12ft cargo trailer.

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We spent our first day driving up to the Olympic Peninsula along the Oregon/Washington coast. Our first camp was made south of Hoodsport, WA in Potlatch State Park. Here we made our first meals as a group and had our first trials with trailering in reverse.

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The next day, Hannah and I climbed Mt. Ellinor, earning perfect clear views of Mt. Olympus and the rest of the national park. Stacia stayed behind for a job interview, while my dad got out on the bike. We all met again at Heart of the Hills Campground near Port Angeles. This part of the park contains huge old growth trees that are indicative of the temperate rainforests.

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In the morning, we woke up early to catch the international ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. We spent the morning in town, running errands to Mountain Equipment Cooperative, Island BMW and the local Chinatown market for lychee and rambutan. However, we were soon on the road again headed towards the west side of Vancouver Island. On the way, we stopped to see some falls, more old growth forest and the funky Goats on the Roof grocery store.

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The west side of Vancouver Island is only accessible by a few roads. We chose to spend the night at Green Point Campground in the Pacific Rim National Park and Preserve. This immaculate park contains old-growth rainforest, surfing beaches, and rocky coastline. We drove into the town of Tofino for some great seafood at the Ice House Oyster Bar.

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While you could spend weeks or months exploring Vancouver Island, we only had time for two days. We spent our second day driving to the town of Comox. On the way, we stopped in the town of Ucluelet for more Oysters and enjoyed the great motorcycle road (route 4) that bisects the island. Our camp for the night was at Kin Beach Provincial Park, where we enjoyed great views of the Canadian Coastal Mountains across the sound.

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Instead of taking the ferry directly back the Vancouver, we elected to take a series of three ferries along the sunshine coast. The roads in between passed through multiple small isolated towns including Powell River, Madeira Park, and Sechelt. After the final ferry, we drove the first 25 miles of the Sea to Sky Highway up to Squamish.

Taking a break from the road, Stacia and I spent the morning climbing a rock face named the Apron and then met up with Hannah for some single pitching. Squamish is definitely on the list for a return trip!

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Unfortunately, our drive through Canada was jam-packed with driving, leaving little time to explore the areas we stopped in, so the next day we were back on the Sea to Sky Highway. This day of driving was one of the most diverse yet, first rising up into the mountains around Whistler, then slowing changing from mountain tundra to the dry river valleys near Lillooet. My dad and I rode the bikes, while Hannah and Stacia attempted to keep up while pulling the trailer. That night we made it to Quesnel and with rain, we elected for a cheap motel.

The next two days were spent covering ground on the way to the Cassiar Highway. On the way, we overnighted in a pristine city campground in Smithers, BC. This part of Canada became increasingly remote with towns growing farther apart and animal sightings every few miles.

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There are two main arteries through northern BC into the Yukon. One is the traditional Alcan Highway, built during WWII to protect Alaska. The other is the Cassiar Highway which stays farther west and is named for the gold rush during the late-1800’s. We decided to take the Cassiar, mostly on a whim, but also with a desire to see the “friendliest ghost town in America,” Hyder, Alaska. On the way, we stopped in a few first nation towns to admire totem poles and small museums. The surrounding mountains were furry with diverse species of trees.

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Hyder is somewhat of a geographic fluke as the line between the US and Canada was drawn directly down the middle of a channel that cuts hundreds of miles inland. On the north of this channel sits Hyder, Alaska, cut off from the rest of the US by coastal mountains and only accessible to the rest of the world, through its neighbor Stewart, BC. The drive into this area had great views including the bear glacier. We spent the evening being Hyderized in the Hyder (drinking grain alcohol) and the morning driving up to Salmon Glacier. We found it interesting that any crime in the town would not be addressed for an hour and a half until the police fly over the mountains into Hyder.

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The next two days were more long days on the road. Driving north up the Cassiar, we saw 7 black bears and spent the night on Dease Lake watching the sunset around 11:30pm over the water. The Cassiar highway ends soon after entering the Yukon when it hits the Alcan Highway. We pushed on a little further down the Alcan to reach Whitehorse for a much-needed break from driving.

Australia

We were welcomed to Australia by an immigration officer at the Sydney airport. He said, “There are six things you need to know about Australia. The first, if you see a snake, it’s poisonous and will kill you. The second, if you see a spider, it’s poisonous and will kill you. Third, if you see jellyfish, they are poisonous and will kill you. Tiny purple octopus, same thing. The last two things I’ll let you figure out.” Unfortunately, Nick, Larry, Kaitlin and I were never able to figure out his last two points, but luckily we weren’t killed by poison.

Flying from NZ back to the East Coast consisted of flying to Australia, Hawaii, Vegas, and Minneapolis to Dulles. Thus, we decided if we had to fly through Australia we should extend our layover. This gave us 9 days to explore the enormous country. Sydney was a modern, clean and hip city. It’s tall skyscrapers and bay front downtown reminded Nick and I of Singapore. Although we loved New Town, a young and trendy neighborhood, I realized my previous fascination with hip cities had faded. It seemed to lack the history and culture smaller cities like Dunedin in New Zealand maintained. Around Sydney, we spent time exploring the famous opera house, which was actually compiled of three small separate buildings. We ate some delicious food and visited with our friend Faye, that Nick and I spent 2 weeks with in Mongolia. While I went to work with Faye; Nick, Larry, and Kaitlin bowled on the beach and walked along the coast from Bondi and Bronte.

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Sydney Opera House

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We rented a car and left Sydney to road trip towards Melbourne. The highlight of the road trip was ocean pools an hour outside of Sydney. Known for the figure 8 pool, these pools were created from the ocean waves crashing on limestone. The crystal clear water was beautiful, and cold. As we left, another guy entered the pool and a huge wave crashed over the rocks. He was lost underwater and his friends were also pushed down under the wave. Everyone was fine but it was a reminder of the waters strength.

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Figure 8 Pool

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We spent the next few nights camping and days hiking to various view points. We hiked along the coast at Hicks’s point and enjoyed secluded beaches. Every evening, around dusk, thousands of kangaroos hopped around the surrounding fields and we had to avoid them on the road. We eventually left the coast and drove through the outback. This dry landscape was my favorite. The gold fields were dotted with sheep and cattle and rolling hills for as far as the eye could see.

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Hiking the coast at Hick’s Point
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Nick loves taking photos of me after an argument

We returned our car and took a 12 hour train to Melbourne. We CouchSurfed on the 47th floor of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Sleeping next to clear glass walls that overlooked the city and barbecuing on the balcony we felt extremely fortunate. Our host was extremely interesting and we spent time philosophizing, taking photos (as he is a photographer) and visiting the pub downstairs. It was an extremely unique experience and an exciting place to spend our last 2 nights traveling.

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Queen Victoria Market Street Art
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Melbourne
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View from our CouchSurfing’s apartment (47th floor)

 

This trip has been amazing and Nick and I were sad to be leaving. Thankfully, we had 36 hours of transit to reflect before surprising my folks in PA!

Recommendations:

Messina (Sydney) – gelato (the lychee coconut was amazing!)

Lentils As Anything (Sydney) – a nonprofit volunteer run restaurant with delicious food and pay by donation

Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne) – an enormous meat, cheese, honey, spice, produce and chotchkie market.

 

South Island

After arriving in Picton, Stacia, Larry, Kaitlin and I drove to Nelson before stopping and making lunch in town. The drive was diverse with mountain peaks and wineries lining the road. Nelson was a very quaint town with many pubs and cafes. We enjoyed free parking and Wi-Fi all over town before moving on to Motueka, the gateway of Abel Tasman National Park.

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The Abel Tasman Coast Track is 72 km of ocean views traditionally hiked over 5 days. We decided to spend 2 days hiking the most scenic 45 km with Larry and Kaitlin going the opposite direction to the shuttle our van back at the end. The first day went perfectly with sunny weather and idyllic views of craggy green coastline. Stacia and I had to time our hiking in order to arrive at the Awaroa Inlet at low tide to cross. We arrived with enough time and crossed in knee-deep water and met Larry and Kaitlin at Bark Bay for camp. We enjoyed a pho dinner and jumped in our bags early to avoid the cold.

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Abel Tasman Hike

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The next morning we soaked in the beachfront view before continuing our hike. We waited for Larry and Kaitlin past dark and began to suspect something was wrong. I hiked to cell service and received a message stating that they’d been in an accident. Thankfully no one was hurt, however a new driver took out the front side of our campervan. After changing our plans, driving to Christchurch, switching out multiple vehicles and paying for the damage, calling it a nuisance would be an understatement.

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Beachfront property

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Drive to Christchurch

Stacia took the 3 days we needed to wait for a new van to visit an old friend and do some MBA work. She explored Christchurch and said the city’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake was still very present. Larry, Kaitlin and I drove west to hike Fox and Franz- Joseph Glacier.

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Lake Matheson
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Mt. Tasman & Mt. Cook

We returned to Christchurch to pick up Stacia and our new van. We were snowed in for an evening, however eventually made it to Otago. We Couchsurfed in Dunedin and had a blast. We watched NZ movies with our host and she shared with us her library on NZ food, beer and culture. We spotted multiple sea lions and 2 yellow-eyed penguins at Sandfly Bay.

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Campervan keys, couchsurfing keys & possum ball (threat to NZ)
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Can you spot the penguin?

From Dunedin, we drove to touristed Queenstown, which reminded Stacia and I of any posh Colorado ski resort town, like Breckinridge or Beaver Creek. I took a day to ski at Treble Cone and Larry and Kaitlin hiked around Wanaka Lake.

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Lake Wanaka

Our last stop in New Zealand was Stacia and I’s favorite. After working for Point6, a merino wool outdoor clothing company in Colorado, Stacia made friends with their wool supplier in NZ. Stacia and I had both brought 2 pairs of Point6 socks on our yearlong backpacking trip and they are still in perfect condition. We were thrilled to see where the wool came from and visit Kirsty, Simon and their 3 boys at Glenbrook Station. We were shown not only their 7,000+ sheep, but also their cattle, chickens, dogs, fields, garden and wool shed. The evening light lit up the snow-covered mountains and it felt like we reached utopia. We were taught about different breeds of sheep, micron, burrs and rots. I was admiring sheep, while wearing their wool and later that night, eating their meat. We were thankful for Kirsty and Simon’s hospitality and sad to leave but excited for our last adventure, Australia.

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Getting ready to feed the dogs

Reccomendation:

Best pies in New Zealand: Fairlie Bakehouse – Fairlie, NZ