Frozen Wonders

Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon) 

Pure uninterrupted blue stretches across the horizon, the unbroken sky impervious to the unabashed brilliance of this landscape. Basalt carnage relentlessly clawed by the futile grasp of frozen hands soot the ground below. Pebbled sediment devours the sky in a precarious iridescence of opaque emerald and lucent marine that fills quiet but every changing waters. Heavy chunks of glacial wonder punctuate the surface folding and peaking in unusual forms. Weathered with snow and whipped with ash their protruding tips are a testament to time and travel.

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A Mythical Land

Eldhraun Moss Covered Lava Fields

We savor the late afternoon sun in the enchanted lava fields of Eldhraun.  A patchwork of textures and hues, clumpy, chunky and squishy to the touch these verdant mosses extend as far as the eye can see.  This mystical place transcends storybook pages temping us to romp about the spongy green amidst the elves, trolls, and “huldufolk” (hidden people), springing from puff to puff like unsupervised children on the living room furniture; what fun!  But romp we will not as these are sacared grounds. For frolicking is destructive and one footstep is said to take 10 years to repair. So, we settle for one clever shot upon the outer fringe.

Fosshotel Núpar

Pulling down the road to our hotel in the last moments of daylight a reflective flash draws our attention to a modular mecca in the middle of nowhere. Ushered in like a train on invisible track, abandoned in this perfect spot the Foss Hotel feels like something straight out of a Bond movie.

Here Comes the Sun

We get our first feel of Icelandic summer and finally see the sun on day four of our trip. The temperature change is dramatic and when the wind subsides it’s actually quite pleasant. Free from jackets and rain we depart Selfoss in search of more southland adventure.


Continuing east on Ring Road from Selfoss to Vik we spot a massive waterfall from the highway. Standing approximately 211 feet tall with no obstructions in view Seljalandsfoss is impossible to miss and since we are here we might as well explore.

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Selfoss… Day 2

Morning brings more rain.  Suitcases whirl hastily across puddled pavement assisted by glove clad hands.  Paul shrugs his shoulders and nods apologetically as the German woman in the adjoining parking space surveys our Land Cruiser spilling across the white lines on either side.  Wedging herself between the two vehicles she lifts the door handle.  With two fingers buffering the friction between the armored shells she extends the door and sucks in her tummy inching herself inside.  Her free hand pulls the door closer as her exposed fingers recoil from the outer handle.  Having fully established ourselves as true American tourists we hit Costco for the second time of the trip to fill up our hulking vehicle before heading to Selfoss.img_7854

A few minutes later dad returns to the car with a paper receipt.  How much was that?  Do I dare ask?  Paul does some quick math converting kroner to dollars and liters to gallons.  That would be $6.50 a gallon.  Gee, what a bargain! Continue reading

The Golden Circle

IMG_5301Papers and phones pass back and forth over breakfast as we sketch out our itinerary for the day.  I’m glad to see dad’s done some research.  First observations; parking a Land Cruiser is challenging (everything is smaller here except the Costco) and, we have no map.  Nevertheless, the journey begins.  With cell phones in hand we depart Reykjavik for a self-guided tour of the Golden Circle.  

Encompassing four of the most commonly visited sights in South Iceland, the Golden Circle is a 190-mile route looping from Reykjavik to the southern uplands of Iceland and back.  This popular trek is said to be one of the best ways to experience Iceland’s unique topography.  IMG_5304Stops include the Atlantic ridge of Þingvellir, the bubbling geothermal activity at Geysir, the roaring waterfall at Gullfoss and the natural hot springs of the Secret Lagoon.  We see them all! Continue reading

Icelandic Arrival

RainbowI hate change. Yet somehow, I find myself traversing the wild Icelandic terrain having quit my job and bought a house, both in the past 10 days. It’s funny how life thwarts thoughtful intentions in such serendipitous ways.

So, what’s the plan from here? Short term . . . I have no idea! We’ve booked a few hotels and picked up the rental car. Paul assures me he has everything under control, but I’m not so certain. This is definitely going to be interesting. Oh well, velkominn til Island (welcome to Iceland)! Continue reading

Bluff, New Zealand

IMG_3623 (Blog)

Over breakfast we IMG_3655(Blog)strategize suitcase packing and review our route.   Although shark diving monopolized all of Sunday, we complete our exploration of Bluff before Monday morning tea is served. Proximity and a short to do list make for fast sightseeing.

Monday morning is a contradiction of absolute darkness and the feeling of being completely awake. Continue reading

Bluff – Shark Dive NZ

IMG_3672Hopelessly traversing the docks of Bluff scanning for people, a billboard, an idling boat . . . any sign of Shark Dive New Zealand, I crunch irritably on the last few pieces of Inca corn. It’s 6:50 Sunday morning. The quay is empty and we’ve paid in full. A lone man in his early thirties stands by the bus stop anxiously twisting a strap around his finger. He’s also on this supposed shark dive. Paul offers him a seat in our warm car, but he declines. Through the open window the two compare notes on the correspondence they’ve received since booking. Perturbed by the frosty air now filling the car I whip the heat on high and reach into the backseat and dig for a snack bar. I’ve been up since 3:30am and am in no mood for small talk. There will be no Hilton breakfast this morning.IMG_0572Buoyant clomps upon the asphalt brings the conversation to an abrupt end as we all scan the otherwise noiseless quay for the source of this disturbance. Corkscrew curls skirt the bottom of her wooly cap and freckles splash her alabaster skin. Dressed in a pair of red waders and oversized boots, Nic looks more like someone’s kid sister playing dress-up in her big brother’s snow gear than a shark dive aficionado.   Pleased to have located the last of her “crew” she motions for us to follow. Continue reading

Queenstown – The Final Day

IMG_1309Ten minutes into IMG_0547our drive from Dunedin to Queenstown, delirious from sleep deprivation, I try to take it all in.  As we cruise the crease of the mountain highlands the earth folds around us in warm hues of emerald and gold rising up to clasp heaven’s hand.  Fluffy white puffs scatter up the jagged hillside in a brilliant dusting of white confetti like angelic clouds of sweetness trying to find their way into the sky.  Yes, before we leave New Zealand I must pet one of these adorable little lambs.

IMG_0555As luck would have it the opportunity presents itself on day four of our trip.  During one of our walks along the Queenstown shore I spot a large poster of a young girl embracing a sheep; her gentle fingers intertwined in the wooly locks of this divine creature as he affectionately rests his chin upon her knee.  One hour and a hundred and fifty dollars later Paul and I are gliding across Lake Wakatipu aboard the TSS Earnslaw in route to Walter Creek High Country Farm.

The line to board the old steamship is long and finding two seats together proves challenging.  Well-oiled benches though charming fail to provide orderly seating as the amount of space required by each patron appears to be based less on size and more on personal preference.  Bags, jackets and outstretched legs fill many of the choice seats.  Unfamiliar with the social mores of bench seating aboard IMG_0542a steamship we wade through the stagnant crowd looking for a suitable spot to claim.  An abrupt damp heat greets us mid ship and we stop to peer through the iron ribs of the old boiler room and into the heart of the vessel.  A whiff of the warm ashy air hits us as stokers shovel coal into the fire to the tune of one ton an hour.  At the stern of the ship, just behind the pianist we find an open bench.  As we bid adieu to Queenstown the silver haired pianist plays tunes reminiscent of the Titanic.  Ironically both ships were completed in the same year.

A warning from our captain directed at distracted parents, reminds people to stay off the rails.  The frigid waters of lake Wakatipu would most likely cause hypothermic death within thirty minutes of exposure; plenty of time for Paul to swim ashore and for me to cling hopelessly to an iceberg.   The sixty-minute ride to Walter Creek High Country Farm is novel for about ten minutes, after that we retreat to our seats. Paul orders a beer and I snag a cocktail napkin to begin my first blog post of the trip.


With a hundred and IMG_3566sixty-three people in tow and four activities planned, dividing us into groups seems most logical, but not the case.  Shepherds, used to corralling herds, apply the same method to tourists.  We disembark and after a quick introduction all head to feed the animals.  With outstretched hands we wait patiently for a few pellets of food.  I try to contain my enthusiasm and let the little ones go first.  Disseminating information to a group this size, half of which don’t speak English proves challenging.

IMG_0524While Tom directs everyone to afternoon tea, Paul suggested we hang back.  He returns to the food bin and grabs another handful.  I follow.  It takes a bit of convincing but eventually he woos a handsome stag to the fence.  After making friends with a few bits of food the wide eyed deer lets us rub his antlers; velvety soft.  This entices others to join and before we know it doe, lambs and sheep abound.  This is the experience I was longing for.

IMG_0504IMG_3594 (2)As we finish our tea and start towards the barn Tom calls for Belle to follow.  The well weathered gal lays between the second and third stair of the sprawling country estate.  Her tired face rests upon an outstretched paw, eyes winced shut in the bright afternoon sun, forcing a contorted grin and exposing a chin full of white wiry hair.  She ignores his call in a show of defiance or more likely deafness.  He calls for her again, this time in a louder more insistent tone and she rouses only to stretch and yawn before sauntering slowly in his direction.  The old girl is but a vexatious thorn in an otherwise magnificent display of voluminous pink roses, sweet smelling lavender and trumpeted fox gloves manicured to cinematic perfection on the windswept shore.

Tom closes the IMG_0474gate and we fan out along the fence in anticipation.  He removes the metal collar from around Belle’s neck and she morphs into a magnificent beast.   A genetic refinement of speed and agility, half border collie, half Australian cattle dog, she effortlessly bounds high into the hillside to retrieve the four little meringues.  In a beatnik cadence of barks and baas she rounds them to her master with skillful precision.  Her chest heaves and falls under heavy breath but her eyes never leave the target as she tilts her ears towards her master and waits for instruction.  With each guiding word to “step” she drops a paw.  Nails pierce the dirt and she slogs her belly across the earth flattening the roughage like a rattlesnake hunting prey in the bush.  Impressive!

IMG_3597Catching a sheep for the shearing demonstration proves challenging even for a seasoned professional.  Overcome with stage fright and crouched in a seated position, front hooves pressed firmly together she slides onto stage under pressure from her handler.  This being her second sheer this year I’m pretty sure the little sheep knew what to expect and needless to say was not looking forward to her impending trim.  A struggle ensues, a haphazard dance of sorts as Tom wrestles the fuzzy cloud onto her back.  Stillness.  Defeat.  Hooves in the air she relaxes in to a sedentary trance.  For some reason being upside down is calming to sheep.  With one hunky farmhand curl Tom pulls her into a seated position flexing his biceps for the audience; her fluffy bum atop his shoes, her shoulder blades pressed firmly against his thighs and her hooves spread eagle for all to see.   Yep, she’s definitely a girl.

They swivel towardIMG_0492 the audience and he smiles triumphantly.  I focus my camera; it’s time to begin.  From my vantage point at the back of the barn the sheer is smooth and dramatic; like clearing fresh snow from a car windshield; one long swipe after another, but as I zoom in for an up close shot, I get a vastly different perspective.  Like a hungry adolescent devouring an ear of silver queen; the clippers travel her body row by row in a series of uneven bites revealing a nappy gnarled cob.  Embarrassed and defeated she scrambles in place still bound by her captor.  Her hooves scarring the platform with deep gashes as her heels dig in under the pressure from her voluptuous legs.  Nearly nude and on shameful display as though she were a piece of meat she cowers back to the pen.  I feel my cheeks blush empathetically.IMG_0515


Milford Sound


There is one good way to see Milford Sound, well two, ok three and yes, we did them all!  Months before arriving in New Zealand Paul booked two splurge items, a shark dive in Bluff (more on that later) and a plane, boat, helicopter tour of Milford Sound.  Both activities required a fair amount of persuasion on his part as danger at premium is not my idea of a good time.  I’m pretty sure he knowingly and conveniently omitted information about a deadly helicopter crash on nearby Fox Glacier a few weeks prior; details I learn from my seatmate on the plane ride over.  As for the cost, to this day I still don’t know exactly how much this experience set us back.  Paul’s calculation of the conversion rate from US to New Zealand dollars seems to improve with each swipe of the Visa.  But we’re on vacation and it’s already paid for, so I’m not going to worry about it.

IMG_0264Our day starts with a 9am call from the front desk.  First stop the Queenstown airport.  From Queenstown, Milford Sound is a winding three and a half hour drive, but just over a 20 minute flight (30 minutes if you take the scenic route).  Kerri picks us up in the lobby and we arrive at the hanger a short time later.  Air Milford is a family owned business. Both father and son fly.  After greeting his mother (Kerri) with a quick hug Captain Arthur joins us for a safety briefing.  Looks like it’s going to be full flight so someone is going to have to sit copilot.   Paul’s hand shoots up.  Guess that means I’ll be riding solo.

We board the IMG_020514 passenger Cessna, Paul in the front and me in the first row right behind the pilot.  This is good, one engine, one pilot and Paul as the backup.  And it looks like our “copilot” is more interested in suctioning his GoPro to the window at just the right angle than figuring out what a copilot actually does.  As Captain Arthur preforms one last check of the plane’s exterior I notice a gold placard just below the control column: Thy Mercy, O Lord, Is In The Heavens, And Thy Faithfulness, Reacheth Unto The Clouds, Psalm 36v5.  I say a little prayer.  Small planes always make me a bit nervous.

IMG_0212Once I get past the small plane thing and the fact Captain Arthur likes to fly uncomfortably close to the ice capped mountains in order to give us “a proper view” I relax a bit.  His voice is very soothing.   It also helps that the skies are relatively calm and that we haven’t experienced any turbulence.

The progression from the lush Queenstown hillside to snow-capped peaks is a brilliant contrast.  Mountains grow nearer, terrain steeper, and the forest fades into a barren land of jagged rock pocketed with glassy pools of melted snow.  As we crest the top I look down at the magnificent mountains powdered with frozen tops and try to take it all in.  Endless pristine wilderness as far as the eye can see.  A splendid sequence of unending three-sixty panorama.

We arrive at the auction IMG_0260house (aka the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal).  At the end of the runway is a large contemporary building framed in metal with gigantic glass windows.  We disembark and gravitate toward the natural flow of people heading toward the terminal.  Capitan Arthur brings up the rear. The experience makes me feel a bit like a New Zealand sheep being herded in from pasture.  The trickle of tourists pools at the entrance.  Pilots and bus drivers herd the flock through the sliding glass doors in preparation for sale to the eager vendors inside.  The terminal swells with people bunched like little flocks waiting wide eyed for instruction as representatives from the cruise ships push through making their selections.

IMG_0266Card in hand we follow the other red sheep down a ramp leading onto our ship, The Pride of Milford.  Blue sheep make their way on too, but are lead to the main deck.  Here they are presented with black shiny bento boxes filled with neatly arranged pockets of sushi, veggies and orange wedges.  We spend the first few minutes outside on the upper most deck, but I get cold shortly after takeoff and retreat inside away from the wind.  Paul stays behind.

I find a makeshift seat just outside the bridge and strike up conversation with the captain.  After a few formalities he launches into the fascinating history of the sound periodically stopping to say a few words to the other passengers on the intercom.  He would like to broadcast more but resists the desire to do so.  The passengers get a bit fussy when his commentary is not followed up with the Korean translation.  He hits a button, sits back and smiles.  A monotone voice in an unfamiliar tongue fills the silence directing our attention to the fjords.


Ah! The Fjords.  A fun word indeed sure to get you strange looks as most have no idea what they are (present company included until this trip).  A long narrow inlet carved into the mountains by massive glaciers travelling down to the sea.

IMG_0294My favorite part of the cruise is trying to spot fur seals on shore.  They are remarkably hard to see as they blend in beautifully with the rocks.  What’s not camouflaged is their terrible odor; like eggs cooking on an old car tire.  Each time I get a whiff I hold my breath point my camera towards shore, hoping to root them out with the zoom lens.  Our captain tells us these are young males that have been kicked out of the heard.  The youngsters retreat to Milford Sound in order to grow strong and hopefully win a harem of females next breeding season.  To me these fur seals look more like fuzzy rocks than gladiators preparing for combat.  Physical exertion is limited to the IMG_0317occasional scratch behind the ear or a ninety degree turn to sun the other side.

Paul favors the waterfalls.  Dwarfed by the enormous mountains most are actually three times the height of Niagara Falls.  Just past The Lion (a 4,300-foot mountain in the shape of a crouching feline) our captain directs our attention to The Four Sisters; a series of falls that appear together following heavy rain.  This magical water is said to hold powers of enteral youth.  Following the Korean translation the deck fills with tourists dancing and snapping photos beneath the frigid water.  We return to shore to meet Butch our last vendor of the day.

IMG_0354Riding in a helicopter is an unusual and somewhat frightening experience.  I liken it to sitting on a washing machine, the kind that churns upright with an agitator in the center.  As the final rinse commences the laundry room door closes with an unsuspecting click and the voracious gushing intensifies bouncing from one wall to another in a futile attempt to escape.  Inside the belly of the machine the wet load purges itself of the remaining suds clinging to the side of the drum in a giant wad creating an interrupting “woom“ with each rotation.  Faster and faster it goes into an uncontrollable whirl as wobbly legs give way under stable ground.

This is serious business.  The safely belt pins my shoulders tight against the palpitating seat.  Headset securely fastened I nod in agreement.  I have no idea what Butch said, but I’m pretty sure yes it the correct answer.  The whirling intensifies and I grip Paul’s hand as the helicopter begins to rock back and forth.  This was a really bad idea.  Next thing I know we’re airborne.


A short time later Butch opens the door and I peer out into this wild new terrain.  Deafened by the howling noise of the helicopter turbines I follow the others out into the silence.  A thin layer of ice covers the thick fluffy snow.  IMG_0387I crunch through it with deep, heavy steps as wet slushy snow moistens my toes and tickles my ankles.  As I look out into snowy horizon I am blinded by its brightness.  When my eyes finally adjust I can only stand still and try to take it all in.  It is almost too much.  This is quite simply one of the most picturesque places in the world. Yep, worth every penny!