New Zealand, The Adventure Capital Of The World

That is not exactly why we are going to New Zealand but I must admit I really like the way that sounds. Our guest is to finish a half marathon on all 7 continents. This is our second bite at this apple. About halfway thru the first quest, of doing full’s, we decided that it would be best to only do Half Marathons on all seven continents.

I had already done the Oceania region when I did the Outback Marathon in Australia two years ago. At that time Catherine was healing from an ankle break 6 weeks prior so she walked the half in a boot. For Asia, we had both done a full in Tokyo and a half on the Great China Wall. The same occurred in Europe and North America. It was decided that we would only do a half marathon in Africa and South America.

It is a kind of strange rule not to allow a combination but since I did not make it and being a former pilot I kind of like following rules even if they don’t make sense to me. I can’t remember to reason given but since it means we are going to New Zealand for two weeks I think I can comply.

So here we go to New Zealand for both of us to get our 7 continent half marathon medals since we both did the half marathon in Antartica this past March. I was not looking forward to the trip there and back. Since we were already on the west coast the flight to Aukland consisted of a 15-hour flight to Sydney, 2-hour layover then 3 more hour flight into Aukland.

With our Diamond Medallion status with Delta, we get 4 global upgrades a year each. We also get 4 regional upgrades each year. This does not mean that we will actually get an upgrade on each flight we designate them for but it does give us an advantage over those that are only trying to upgrade to their current status.

On the Delta application, you are able to see how many seats are available but you don’t see where you stand for those seats until you check in for that flight, 24 hours out. At that time you can then see who is number 1, etc for those remaining seats. It is kind of like a game at this point for the next 24 hours while others are jockeying for position.

People are still able to buy seats until they get down to the last two but still, others further down in the line can call up and pay the difference for the seat. At this point, the price they are asking for the seats is cost prohibitive. I have made that call a couple of times and I could not bring myself to pay 5 times or more just to get a bed across the ocean.

Something else you can do is to call up when you are ready to book the flight in the first place and have the agent check the computer for flights that have so many seats available that they will upgrade you on the spot. That works well when we are flexible on when we need to depart and arrive in Europe etc.

A lot of times what will happen even if we don’t apply global or regional upgrades we get them days prior to departure. That happens both ways to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico last week. That is a very nice perk to get the move on up email from Delta. We get Delta Comfort seats on all our flight for no extra charge and for 4-5 hours that work for me.

For the flight from LAX to AUK we used Catherine’s last global upgrade and since I have already qualified for Diamond status for next year I was able to apply my next year award for this flight. Unfortunately when I checked in the two seats available were still there but someone else was number one in those seats. I have not seen that that happen very often. I guess they paid more for their original seat than we did or they had million mile status. Surprisingly enough we only have about 600K miles so far.

It was decided that if there was only 1 left when it got to us that Catherine would get the Delta One seat (business class) this time around. To throw a monkey wrench into the whole mix 2 hours out from the flight we were now down to only one seat. As we all lined up to board the gate agent called our names so when we went up we were informed that someone did not check-in for the flight so Catherine was upgraded.

She said there was still a chance that someone else might not show and that she would come get me. I have had that happen before but was not holding my breath. We even had someone that was not allowed to board but that seat flew empty because the agent did not do the next step and fill it with whoever was next in line. In this case, it was Catherine but when I noticed that the door had closed and one seat was empty the Flight Attendant was not interested in my plea to give it to Catherine.

Well, I am sure I must have lost some of you with my description of how the sausage is made. Catherine was able to get about 7 hours of sleep and I got a few hours here and there. After flying planes for nearly 40 years, I have always found it difficult to sleep in them and do not recommend anyone to take sleeping pills for their flight.

It turns out it was not that bad and with our first hotel, The Sebel Quay West, being two blocks from the Harbour we could not wait to get out and do our usual walking tour of the area.

The Auckland Domain

Catherine and I have had many a discussion about getting a dog but with our continuous international travels, it is not feasible at this time. Most countries would have you quarantine your pet upon arrival for a few days before they allow you to bring them into their country. As a compromise, she asked for a stuffed dog and we found Tippy the first day. Tippy was the name of her first dog and it was a match made in heaven.

Tippy enjoying the Harbor

Catherine has been having a lot of fun taking pictures of him mostly with a drink nearby. The next few days we were on our own and there were plenty of places to explore, great restaurants nearby and a wide variety of cold beer to consume.

A couple of things I noticed about Auckland is the sheer number of boats of all kinds. I think I will call Auckland the Boating Capital of the world. The other being the multitude of Asian’s both living and touring New Zealand. Last but not least the amount of construction taking place was mind-blowing. They say there are over 70 cranes operating on various construction sites.

After 5 nights we changed hotels only a few blocks away to the Rydges hotel right next to the sky tower where people jump off the tower all day long. We really liked the set up at the Quay where we had a full kitchen, balcony, washer, and dryer.

At the Rydges, we met up with the other clients of Marathon Tours and one of our favorite associates, Jacqui. The second day with the group we had a half day tour which consisted of seeing why Auckland is known as the city of Sails. We enjoyed a trip over the Harbour Bridge, visited the famous Auckland landmark of Mount Eden, a dormant volcano whose summit offers excellent panoramic views of the city and harbors.

From the fantastic vantage point, we saw evidence of Auckland’s volcanic history, the most significant being the youngest volcano of Rangitoto Island at the entrance to the Waitemata harbor. The sightseeing tour also took us to the Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park which is situated on a 62,000-year-old volcano. In addition to the natural features, the city sights tour also took in the trendy shopping area of Parnell Village with its historical buildings that have been transformed into boutiques, antique, craft and specialty shops.

A Crater with the city in the background

The next day we caught the Fullers Harbour ferry to nearby Waiheke Island. This uniques island in the Auckland Harbor offered culture, community and more. There we met a very knowledgeable tour guide who drove us around the island for both an olive oil and wine tasting tour. The views from the Batch winery were phenomenal and the unexpected nature hike was an added treat.

You could hear the thunder in the distance and the light rain could barely make it through the thick canopy. The hike was followed by a fantastic lunch by the water, of course. By the time we made it back to the boat the skies opened up for the only time during our two-week trip. The locals say that the weather was unusual, for the lack of rain, this time of year, but we really enjoyed the blue skies.

There is so much more to do on Waiheke Island and I highly recommend the trip. Of course, they have zip lines that include wine and dinner tours. They also had a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus which I understand is fairly new.

Jacqui in the background after our walk

We enjoyed a leisurely start to the next day with a 2-hour flight to Queenstown where the race was held. There we stayed at the Heritage hotel on top of a hill and Catherine and I had a lakeside view from our room which included a kitchen and washer/dryer combo unit.

Lake Wakatipu is gorgeous and is one of the deepest, averages 300 meters and coldest lakes in the world, average temperature 53 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Once again, just like Auckland, if it is possible to be done, without killing you, they have it here.

I joked that Queenstown was like Disney World on steroids. Open up your wallet and let them take what they want. We went overboard with the budget but you only live once and when in Queenstown do like everyone else, that is, as much as possible in the allotted time there. I did notice that their credit card machines are the fastest in the world. I guess they do not want to give you enough time to change your mind.

Tipping is not expected in New Zealand and most credit card machines do not let you add it to the check so if you decide to tip bring some cash. Some places like hotels and Taxi’s charge 2% if you use your credit card. Food and drinks seem reasonable but bottle liquor was outrageous. The people are super friendly and they will talk your ear off if you let them.

I found it somewhat Ironic for the sheer volume of young adults backpacking their way around the island. A guess most are doing their traditional gap year or just trust funding their adventures. To each, their own but I did find it a bit odd.

A must do is take the Gondola to the top of the mountain for the views and all the excitement it has to offer while up there. Too many to name but the beer I had while looking out over the city below was the best ever. Many went bungee jumping but I decided that the time I did that in my 40’s was enough for me but a hoot to watch. I did come here to run the half marathon to achieve my goal of all 7 continents so a broken back or neck would have thrown a wrench in the plan.

Folks we have met along the way during our journies to Istanbul, Africa, and Antartica

Another must do is the TSS Earnslaw, which is the only commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired, twin screw, steamship, in the southern hemisphere clocking in at over 100 years old. The TSS still works 14 hour days during summer and for eleven months a year. They call it the lady of the lake and makes it way from center city to Walter Peak several times a day.

Back in the late 1800’s The Mackenzie family took over Walter Peak and provide a variety of activities while there. Horseback riding, sheep shearing and round up by the two breeds of dogs demonstrations. Also, they had a buffet lunch, tea and crumpets and an area where you can feed some of the local animals.

Grand old ship

View of Walter Peak

By now it was time for some thrill-seeking so we went out on the speedboats that are famous for its ability to turn on a dime and do 360-degree spins at top speeds. The tour of the lake lasted an hour and it was hair-raising, to say the least. Catherine loved it so much she was too excited to be seasick.

They had parasailing on the lake and a small speed vesicle they called the shark, which was able to dive and pop up out of the lake a few feet. The one thing I did want to do but ran out of time was tandem paraglide off the top of the mountain.

In town, I was keeping my eye on the lines at the Fergburger, which often had hour-long lines, from first thing in the morning to the wee hours of the next day. They are famous for their many tantalizing varieties of hamburgers. I am sure there is a veggie burger with my name on it, and I had a plan.

Once again the food was outstanding and the different varieties of beer kept my whistle wet. They also had a great winery, right in town, where you could pour an individual taste, half or full glass of whatever fancied your taste. Toss in some cheese and crackers in some great comfy chairs and it was a match made in heaven.

I am a tree hugger at heart

With all the wining and dining behind us, it was time to get busy and get the final half marathon done halfway around the world. The expo had limited supplies of apparel to buy and in hindsight, I should have gone on the first day. This was only the second race that I have run that you had to buy a race T-shirt.

The Queenstown Marathon had a few other firsts with that being, you had to buy a sticker for the bus to the start and there were two different half marathons. One started at the halfway mark of the marathon to the finish and one was from the start of the full marathon.

The course itself was on well-groomed trails with both rolling and undulating hills. I had to stop to take the rocks out of my shoes about half way and some of the downhills on the rocky surface kept it interesting. The views of the mountains and the lake kept your mind occupied so overall it was a great race. Once again Catherine and I crossed the finish line hand in hand and another goal of ours was completed.

2 down 1 to go. We have both completed Abbott’ World Marathon Majors. That being Boston, NY (which was my first), and Chicago in the states, and Tokyo, Berlin, and London internationally. With the now the 7 continents done all that is left is completing at least a half marathon in all 50 states. Catherine only has 2 more and I am 4 behind her. You can read about that pursuit in one of my past blogs called, In Pursuit of all 50 states.

Knowing me I am sure I will come up with another goal to accomplish either before or after we get the last few states done. No telling what that might be. My right knee was not fond of me running this race but I could not bring myself to simply walk this one. I did take walk breaks when my knee would scream bloody murder for me to simply stop.

I just kept thinking about all the folks I have seen in wheelchairs, prosthetic legs, crutches etc during races and just kept reminding myself that if they could do it so could I. That is something that I learned at an early age. No matter what in life if someone else can do it and you want it bad enough you too can achieve that goal.

During my 27 year career as a Pilot/Manager at UPS I had 16 different jobs and when asked if I could do the next one, I would remind myself that if anyone else could do it so could I. I might not be the smartest apple in the bunch but I always try my best and that is good enough for me.

Chilly start

Warm finish, glad we only did the half

Back to my plan for Fergburger. I figured that right after the race the line might not be that long so, lo and behold, my plan came to fruition. We had to walk right by the place on our way back to the hotel and there were only a few people in line by the time we got there. I got an amazing veggie burger called, holier than thou. It was made with tofu and I devoured it on our lakeside, leisurely walk, back the hotel. Did I mention that our hotel was on top of a big hill?

That evening Jacqui had a small celebration for the 7 or us that had completed all seven continents. Our paths had all crossed along the way and Catherine and I were the only couples. It was only fitting that Jacqui was the one to put the medals around our necks since she had been there with us on 5 of the continents.

Jacqui had to stand on the ledge

Us guys have crisscrossed the globe over the last two years

Post race dinner, most we have run with all over the globe

We have another trip scheduled with her next March to Jerusalem. Marathon Tours and Travel does a fantastic job supporting us during these races and after 20 trips with them, I recommend them highly to anyone that enjoys competitive running/walking and traveling the world. We have a few more scheduled with them over the next two years and they are always looking for new and exciting destinations to add in the future.

Not to fear, we will probably be back to Queenstown and I have a laundry list of things I still want to do while there. The next day’s adventure really took me back 40 years when I first became a pilot. There were two options to go tour the famous Milford Sound. One was to get there and back by bus which takes about 12 hours including the 90-minute tour of the fords.

There have been 12 major glacial phases during the last 2 million years. The last big freeze known as the Otiran Glaciation began about 80,000 years ago and kept the southern mountain’s icebound until about 10,000-13,000 years ago.

Ice descended the mountains and down the valleys forming rivers of ice up to 2000 meters thick. Icebergs would have calved from floating ice cliffs where they met the surging sea. After the glaciers receded, the ocean flooded the Milford Valley forming a fiord that has been misnamed as Milford Sound. The original name Milford Haven after Captain Cook’s birthplace in Wales. Left behind are the sheer cliffs, hanging valleys and spectacular waterfalls for all to see.

The route we took was by small plane and turns out it was the same type aircraft, Piper Lance, that I first flew for Wheeler Airlines Back then I carried canceled checks, in the middle of the night, in and around the Carolina’s and Virginia. The 30-minute flight each way gave us the bird’s eye view of the glaciers and mountain peaks.

Often we flew between the peaks and must admit the 5 of us, on board, were pretty quiet, during the trip. The pilot did a great job pointing out the incredible landmarks along the way. I must admit it brought back memories of all the stupid stuff I did as a new pilot.

The Captain of the Jucy ship took us up close and personal with Stirling Falls. This beautiful waterfall was named after Captain Stirling when he brought the HMS Cleo into Milford Sound during the 1870’s. At a 146m drop, it is the second largest permanent waterfall in the fiord and is fed by glaciers situated in the mountains behind. The folks that went by bus said it was also a great experience but for me, that seemed a bit time-consuming.

Seals basking in the sun

The last night there I went off the rails and temporary ditched my pescovegetarian diet and had the rack of lamb. The Captain’s seafood restaurant had won awards for many years for their lamb and New Zealand is famous for the lamb dishes so I figured when in Rome do as the Romains. It was very tasty but surprisingly enough I enjoyed the apple walnut salad much more. Catherine was in heaven with the Salmon she ordered so all was good.

Instead of going straight back to the states after the race we spent two more days in Auckland.  The first day we went for another long walk of the city. It is pretty easy to get around on foot by just keeping the Sky Tower in sight.

The second and final day we caught another Fullers harbor ferry to another Island called Rangitoto. Sitting majestically just off the coast of Auckland, this 5.5 KM wide volcanic island is an iconic landmark on the city skyline with its distinctive symmetrical cone rising 850 ft high over the Hauraki Gulf.

There you could walk to the top of the volcano for some great panoramic views of the surrounding harbor and the city of Auckland, including the Sky Tower. The climb to the top along the summit track was a bit harder than I had expected thru the volcanic remnants but well worth it. There were 11 other tracks that can take you around the island and over to nearby Motutapu Island, maybe next time.

Rangitoto erupted from the sea in a series of dramatic explosions between 550 to 600 years ago in two episodes, 10 to 50 years apart, and are thought to have lasted for several years. This makes it the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf and the last and largest volcano to be fired in the Auckland volcanic field.

You can rent this even though there is little else on the island

This trip has taught me a couple of things about myself. First and foremost is that one of the reasons I travel is because I do not like to do the same thing more than once. Using New Zealand as an example even though I would like to return I realize that I probably won’t. The reason is that it won’t be as good as the first time.

The weather was perfect and the circumstance around being there made it very special. The Captain of the ship on Milford sound told us that it usually rains there this time of year with them getting over 180 days of rain. What are the chances that if we were to return that the total experience what be as good as it was this time around?

The other realization is that we are ready to move on to someplace new when we run out of new places to eat or drink and most importantly someplace new to run or walk. Been there done that, time to move on. Queenstown was a bit of an anomaly with plenty more great restaurants to try out and they have trails going every which way. The flights there and back were a bit much but doable.

Catherine got the upgrade to Delta One on the long haul flight from LA to Sydney and I got upgraded for the trip back. I might have to pay the price for Delta One if and when we go back to that neck of the woods. Already working on the schedule to go thru the area on our way to the Fiji Islands in the first part of 2019.

Tippy might have a drinking problem

Going to bring this one to an end with the following picture of a pillow that was waiting for us in our hotel room in ATL.



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