Monday, February 18, 2013

Moving!!

Hi Everyone-

My apologies in the absurdly long delay in posts.  This past year has been a tad slow with interesting travel and really busy with research and conferences.

I wanted to let you know that I have moved this blog over to my new website!  It is still in construction (and I foresee it as a slow process) but please check here for new updates!

As a teaser, this past week I had the opportunity to travel with my Mom to Malaga, Spain for the Strong Like Bull Training Camp!  As to be expected in a rural town in Spain, the internet was painfully slow which prevented me from posting anything during the camp.  I will work to get some pics and stories up for you over the course of the next few days!

After I get these posts up, you will have to hang in there with me a bit with slow website posts till this June.  However, this summer I will be starting my next field season conducting research at Toolik Lake, Alaska.  If you haven't already read about my work, feel free to check it out at my new!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jade and YOY!

Allison and I tore through the filtering a lot faster than than we predicted.  We collected and filtered a total of 14 carboys of water (~280 L of water) and extracted organic matter from 5 of those carboys (100 L water).  The past couple of days we worked on packing up and shipping the remaining 9 carboys (55 to 60 lbs each) back to Ohio State University!

We had a few extractions remaining to do and we still needed to collect some soils from around Toolik for Allison, who is examining plant uptake and soil sorption of several hormones.  She will be using the organic-rich tundra soil as a comparison to some of the agricultural soils she has been using for her experiments.  We decided to tackle the soil collection first, combining the trip with a hike up Jade mountain, located on the opposite shore of Toolik Lake from the field station.  We took a canoe across the lake and collected soils just off shore, to prevent any contamination from the field station from influencing the samples.  After a bit of digging, we realized that it is surprisingly difficult to cut through the tough root system of the moss and grass that dominate the tundra!  However, after a bit of work (and a lot of jumping on the shovels) we successfully collected enough soil.  We tucked the shovels and soil samples underneath our overturned canoe on shore, and headed up Jade.  It was a gorgeous day, yet clouds loomed over the horizon threatening rain, so we didn't dawdle in the hike -- which means that I sadly didn't take too many pictures.



A friendly Sik Sik (arctic ground squirrel)!

Toolik and the Dalton Highway from the top of Jade Mountain!
We made it down Jade as the winds started to pick up.  The trip back across the lake was directly into the strong gusting winds and we made only slow, halting progress across the lake as we headed back toward Toolik.
There were quite strong winds, which resulted in some interesting clouds.  From what I have read, the choppy/grated - looking clouds are an indicator of turbulent winds.
During our venture back, we spotted a family of loons!  The two parents were diving into the water to collect food to bring back to the babies.  Loons primarily eat fish, but will eat other small fauna if necessary.
The whole Loon family!
One of the loon parents, just before it dove to catch its prey.
Loons are about the size of a duck or a small geese, yet their markings and call is extremely distinct.  They are difficult to take pictures of in the water since their bellies are submerged as they swim.  The wind and waves also didn't help in photo documenting the loons, yet I managed to get a couple of pics that you can really see their gorgeous markings!!

The loon showing off his gorgeous markings!
The loon parent and chick as they swam away
Since we only have a little work left, we seized the opportunity on Friday to go out with Elissa and her assistant Andrew to go catch young graylings known as YOY, which stands for Young of the Year.  Elissa works for the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and one of her many projects is to track the yearly growth and development of the graylings.  They have 5 sites on the Oksrukuyik Creek, where they have been collecting for multiple years.  We hunted the YOY with small fish nets (like those you use in an aquarium).  The YOY are quick and blend easily into rocks, which makes catching them actually quite a challenge! We learned how to corral the YOY into a corner to catch or move a mass of YOY toward other people standing waiting with the nets.  By the end of the day, we were a YOY catching machine!

Elissa putting our YOY in fresh water for their trip back to the lab

The YOY are still tiny, but I am told that they are significantly larger right now than at the beginning of the season.  Apparently when they were first collecting the YOY, they were just tiny little eyeballs with fins!
Some of our successfully caught YOY
YOY closeup.  They are quite pretty fish, with tiny little spots all over them.

While out YOY hunting, we actually spotted a Caribou prancing through the tundra!

Caribou!!
 In the afternoon, we took the truck back out to Imnavait since we had caught wind of a fox family living out near the river.  We spotted them immediately upon driving up the access road to the creek.  There are supposedly 3 or 4 baby foxes, but some of them are a tad skittish.  However, 1 of the fox babies was quite brave and seemed unafraid as we watched him sleep.
Yawn!

"what are you looking at?"
Nap time!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Solid Phase Extractions

It has been a while since I have written a science post -- so I want to share with everyone how we are actually processing some of the water while we are in Alaska.  I will end with some wildlife pics, I promise!

We are using a common method to isolate dissolved organic matter from water called solid phase extraction (SPE) cartridges.  Each of these cartridges is a plastic collumn with a small amount of porous material at the bottom that bonds to organic material (ours contain 5g of solid phase, but they come in all different sizes). 

Our extraction set-up!
We have developed a system of tubes that allow us to pass water from the 20L carboy into the top of the cartridge.  As the water drips through the solid phase, the organic matter bonds to the material and is removed from the water (a process called "loading" the collumn).  Since no solid phase material completely removes 100% of the organic material from the water, we are using 2 types of solid phase material: C18 and DVB.  These two types of solid phase bond to slightly different types of organic matter, which will hopefully give us a representative picture of organic matter composition.

As the organic matter is loaded onto the collumn, a dark band appears at the top of the solid phase.  Throughout the process we monitor the water that comes out of the collumn to determine when a significant amount of the organic matter is no longer bonding to the collumn and is actually just flowing through the solid phase (this is known as "break through").  At this point, we stop dripping water through the collumn and it is time to get our organic matter out!

Two completed C18 Cartridges after 15L of water were passed through each collumn

In order to remove the organic matter from the solid phase material in the collumn, we need to pass some liquid through that the organic matter will be more soluble in than water - which will allow the organic matter to dissolve in the liquid and be released from the solid material.  In our case, we use methanol to flush out the organic matter.  It is actually quite fun to watch the band of material moving down the collumn as we pull the methanol through!

The beginning of the extraction




The band of organic matter is moving down!!


... almost to the syringe...


Here it comes!  Look at that golden color :-)

... and out comes the organic matter!


At the end of this long process, we have a gorgeous amber brown material that will later be dried down to a powder for all of my experiments at OSU!!

The syringe at the end of the extraction full of our precious organic matter

Okay, so now for the promised animal pictures :-).  Allison and I headed out a couple of days ago to the Oksrukuyik Creek (pronounced Oxy-curic) to collect more water.  As we were driving, we spotted a muskox, which looked like a mass of fur moving along the river!

Unfortunately the muskox is a little out of focus, but he looked like a walking long haired wig!
While scoping out field sites we also spotted an Alaskan Lake Trout!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Imnavait Sampling and Galbrith Hike

Allison and I spent our first morning at Toolik Field Station collecting samples from the gorgeous (and easily accessible) Toolik Lake.  We wanted to start on an easy site since we still haven't fully figured out how we are processing everything.  Filtering started out slowly (we filtered our first 2 L of water in about 4 hours).  However, with a few creative changes to our set-up we have been chugging along ever since.  We finished filtering and extracting water from the nearby Toolik Lake on Friday evening (I will discuss the extraction process in more detail later on).  So on Saturday, we ventured out to the field to collect more water.  Since we are hoping to isolate dissolved organic matter, we were looking for lakes or streams with extremely high organic content (the higher the dissolved organic carbon or DOC content of the water, the smaller the volume of we need to collect!).  We headed to Imnavait river.  At this location, there are small ponds of nearly standing water that contains tons of carbon just few hundred meters off of the road(ie. lots of decaying plant and animal matter/waste)!!  The water was nearly yellow  -- which is a great sign when you are hunting for DOC.

 Our sampling location at Imnavait

Allison and I trucked out there with our beer pitchers (it was the only thing that I could find that was large enough to scoop water out of the lake!!) and our 4 carboys that can hold 20 L each to collect water.  The carboys weight 55lbs each when full, so it was a bit of a haul back to the truck :-).  

On Sunday, we decided we were far enough in filtering that we could take a break and head out for a hike.  Sunday is generally when most people in camp take the day off and hike or sleep etc.  Since this was our only Sunday in camp, we had to make the most of it and explore!  We joined a little group that was headed south to Galbrith Lake to check out the peaks around that area.  Once you get up on the ridges it is fairly easy to tromp from peak to peak along the ridge.

On the way to Galbrith Lake, we stopped by a thermokarst site to see the ice wedge that recently broke off.  Thermokarst are characterized on the landscape surface by humocky landscape or long ditches which form as the result of melting permafrost.  In the particular site we visited, the tundra overlies solid ice and as it begins to melt, wedges often will break off (see image above).

At one point during the hike, we spotted some movement on one of the far ridges.  It turns out it was another group from Toolik out for a hike :-)

When we got to Galbrith, we did a bit of scouting to determine where to go.  I was bound and determined to get out of slogging through the tundra up to the ridges - so we picked a few that looked like good hiking and headed up and away!

This picture is of Allison and Kiki as they hiked up over our first summit of the day!

After the first summit, we realized that since we were already so high, we should continue along the ridge to reach a slightly higher peak.

This is the view I wanted!!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The first few days at Toolik~

I would like start with a little background on the origin of the trip to Alaska.  For my graduate research, I am interested in brominated flame retardants.  These compounds are included as components of many common household goods including fabrics, foam, and electronic components.  These compounds are very important in preventing and slowing the spread of fires.  However, as with any compounds we use on a daily basis - their entry into the environment is inevitable.  The most toxic forms of brominated flame retardants have recently been banned, yet some remain in use.  My question is: what happens to these compounds when they enter the environment (eg. what is their environmental fate).

So, your likely question right now is: "Then why go to the arctic?"  It turns out that brominated flame retardants are ubiquitous in the environment and are even transported to the poles in the air.  Therefore, I headed to the arctic to see how these compounds break down once they enter the aqueous environment.  Since this field season is pretty short (we will be at Toolik for 11 days), our focus is to collect water and preserve it for experiments back at OSU.  I am interested in the dissolved organic matter in the water.  When dissolved organic matter is exposed to light, it releases molecules that can interact with other compounds to break them down into smaller components.  This may be benificial in many cases.  However, with brominated flame retardants, the degraded form of the compound (ie. the daughter products) may be more toxic than the initial compound!  In this study I hope to identify these daughter products as well as determine how they form.  Over the course of the next 11 day, Allison and I will be collecting and filtering over 200 L of water.  We will ship 160 L of the filtered water back to OSU for processing, while dissolved organic matter will be extracted from the remaining water.

Okay, I know you are probably thinking: "enough already, get to the pictures!"  So here is the story for the past few days.

My labmate, Allison, and I arrived in Fairbanks at 1am on Monday morning.  We hopped a taxi to University of Alaska, Fairbanks and dragged ourselves up to the dorm for the night.  We had one day overlap in Fairbanks, during which we picked up some last minute supplies and took a several showers (to make sure we are squeaky clean before our venture up to the North Slope).  On Wednesday we woke up at 5am to a gorgeous and bright morning.  At this point Fairbanks does have darkness for part of the night, but I can attest to the fact that the sunrise definitely occurs well before 5am :-).

While on the Dalton, we passed over the Arctic Circle and (of course) had to stop to take a photo!

We had gorgeous weather when we first arrived.  Since it is late season, the evening turns dusky and the Brooks Range appears pink in the light.

The Brooks Range cast in a rosy glow :-)

Tent city as seen from the far side of Toolik Lake.  Allison and my tent are the two to the furthest right in the photo
We have hopped right in with filtering and collected 100L of water from Toolik Lake our first morning at camp.  Now to get it all filtered...


The filtration set-up with our trusty little parastaltic pump!
We pass the water through a coarse pre-filter and a 0.45um
filter.
A close-up of our work horse pump and the pre-filter for the water.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Zealand follow-up and the start of a new adventure!

I have received several messages asking what happened to me since I have seemed to drop off the face of the earth!  The end of my time in New Zealand and the weeks following the trip were hectic.  The past few months have flown by so fast, I am really not sure where the time has gone!

I realize I did a poor job completing the blog about my trip to NZ -- so I am going to post the log my mother and I put together throughout our trip.  This repeats some of the days that I posted previously, but for completeness, I would like to get it all up on the web :-).

Before I post the log, I wanted to update you on what I have been up to!  Last month, I received word that my adviser was granted 10 "Toolik Days" for us to travel up to Toolik Field Station located on the North Slope of the Brooks Range, where I happily spent my summer in 2009 working as the nutrient research assistant in the wet chemistry laboratory for the Marine Biological Laboratory.  I was (and still am) ecstatic for the opportunity to return to Toolik.  However, since we needed to be up to Toolik before the snow and ice set in (it is really difficult water sampling weather), we had about a month to prepare for the trip!  It has been a busy month indeed!

I don't want to start rambling on too long about Toolik before I really finish up the New Zealand adventure so here is the complete travel journal of our trip! (It is quite long so feel free to scan if you aren't already :-)



Tuesday, 25 Jan 2011

Lisa arrives in Christchurch and meets her triathlon coach Molina at the airport.  He helps her purchase a mobile phone SIM card and USB stick for internet (since free wifi in New Zealand is extremely hard to find, and costly when purchased by the minute/hour) and delivers her to the Apex car hire office.  She rents a Nissan Wingroad wagon (1.5 liter engine---quite underpowered for the vehicle size; definitely underpowered when loaded up with bags and bike!) and drove the 5 hours to Dunedin.  She arrived at Baldwin Street with only some circling (that’s the best thing about staying on the steepest hill in the world:  it was marked on all the tourist maps)!

We made a short trip to the grocery to get dinner-making supplies (including green-lipped mussels – a New Zealand classic!).

Wednesday 26 Jan 2011

We woke to more rain so we went to Bikram Dunedin and had a very very hot, very full Bikram class.  Funny to hear the Bikram dialogue spoken with a Kiwi accent!  After the class we wandered around the town a bit and shopped.  We found sushi for lunch and then had bubble teas! 

By evening, the sun had finally peeked out through the clouds so we did the tourist thing and walked up and down Baldwin Street taking pictures!

Thursday 27 Jan 2011

Lisa went for a weights workout and swim at the Moana Pool while Maya went to work at the Uni.  In the afternoon we met up and drove north toward Omaru to the Moeraki boulders! 

For future reference, if you park in the first beach car park (south of the boulders), it is a short walk up the beach to the Moeraki boulders and you do not have to pay.  Otherwise, parking at the main lot, you must use the “path” from the café there, which requests a donation for maintaining the short path to the beach (if it was a longer path I would agree, but it is really only 10 ft. or so). We had Hokey Pokey ice cream at the café and went for a long beach walk. 

We drove as fast as the Wingroad would go over the steep hills back to Dunedin to meet Trudy (one of Maya’s co-workers at the Uni) for the Speight’s brewery tour.  After the tour we had a beer tasting, where we could pour our own beers from the taps at the bar.  We both enjoyed the cider which one was the slightly darker but more fruity Speights.    (http://www.speights.co.nz/Our-Range.aspx?  I can’t recall---too much tasting ;))  We decided to have a light dinner at the Speights restaurant next door, and shared a lovely vegetarian stack along with more cider!

Friday 28 Jan 2011

 We went for a run in the morning, which turned into a run/hike up Mt. Cargill. The clouds started to roll in as we got close to the top so we turned around and sprinted down the mountain
We drove out in the grey mist to the Otago peninsula, with a brief stop at the Chinese Gardens at the edge of Dunedin.  Unfortunately they were closed, but we peeked into the windows. 

The weather turned quite poor during our winding drive hugging the coast on the narrow road onto the peninsula.  We stopped in the small town of Portobello to grab some fish and chips, and squid rings for dinner.  They were cooked fresh and wrapped in newsprint and everything!  We sat outside at a table at a closed shop to eat our meal.  

Despite the bad weather, we forged on to the peninsula.  On the way out, we saw a sign pointing up toward the Larnarch Castle.  Lisa navigated the little Nissan up the steep, narrow hill and we climbed, and climbed, and climbed.  We were rapidly engulfed in fog and could barely see beyond 10 meters in front of the car!  After a long winding climb on a narrow mountain road we approached a large stone gate.  We drove in, hoping to just glimpse the front of the castle (we really didn’t want to pay for a tour, and it was closed for the day anyway).  We did a loop around the gatehouse, but it was so foggy we couldn’t see the giant castle (even though it was likely 50 meters away!).

After the discouraging castle trip and the return ride down the same sketchy mountain road, we decided to push on to the peninsula point to the Albatross colony.  I was hopeful we would see the penguins or sea lions, but alas we did not have such luck that night.  However, we did learn about albatrosses at the Royal Albatross Centre and saw several huge birds gliding in the air out on the very tip of the peninsula.  The albatross makes its nest up in the cliffs that overlook the beach so that it has a high point to launch itself into the air.  The albatross doesn’t flap its wings, rather it uses its massive wingspan like a glider, jumping off from high points into the wind.

Saturday 29 Jan 2011

In the morning we headed to the Dunedin farmer’s market to sample all of the fresh produce and delicious prepared foods.  My favorites are still the crepes and Chinese steamed buns!  While we were wandering the farmer’s market, a light rain began so we pushed on to the St. Claire Beach pool.  Mom swam in the St. Claire outdoor saltwater pool and Maya hung out in the café reading, until she got kicked out and then moved to the car.  Then we geared up and went for a bike ride (Maya, on a bike rented from the Cycle Surgery bikeshop in town) around the hills of Dunedin in the rain.  The sun eventually came out and there was beautiful weather by the end of our ride!  We finished the workouts for the day with a run through the many rugby and soccer fields nearby and returned along the beach edge.

Sunday 30 Jan 2011

Maya worked all day and Lisa went for a long bike ride.  Lisa brought a picnic dinner of pasta and salad and caramel slice to the lab and  tried to help Maya by washing dishes.  We were up nearly all night trying to finish sample processing so that we could leave Dunedin the next day.  Got home at ~4:30 AM.

Monday 31 Jan 2011

In the morning we cleaned the house, packed up and on the way out of Dunedin stopped at Painted Rock Tattoos (got small matching spiral tattoos ---understated and classy ;-) 


We purchased bepanthen cream to put on the tattoos and then drove four hours to Wanaka.  The drive was beautiful with tons of sheep spotting the hills like lice (and we coined the term “sheep lice”).  On the way to Wanaka, we were slightly delayed by a true New Zealand experience – there were sheep in the road!  [include the video here?]

Just outside of Wanaka, we passed by Puzzling World and stopped to take pictures of the Leaning Tower of Wanaka!  As we approached the lake, there was much “Ooh” –ing and “aahh” –ing at the brilliant turquoise coloring.  It was simply gorgeous!

We arrived at the Mountainview motor lodge by dinnertime.  After unpacking the car, we walked to the Indian restaurant next door to place an order to go.  The poor guy behind the counter was working all by himself both cooking the food and serving the patrons.  The food was delicious, with most dishes made with a tomato based rather than cream sauce.

Tuesday 1 Feb 2011

We went into Wanaka town in the morning and rented Maya a bike – it was an awesome bike to ride on, with a carbon fiber frame and everything!  We explored the town a bit and started riding out toward Lake Hawea, but the road became pretty narrow and was super busy.  After crossing the bridge over the unearthly blue-green Hawea river, we decided to turn around.  We watched a few tourists jump into the river off of the bridge and they told us that the water was quite warm.  The surface of the water looked like it was almost bubbling up, which made us wonder about the presence of hotsprings in the area.

In the evening we drove to Queenstown and took a “shortcut” over the Crown Range mountain pass.  It was quite an adventure to get up the winding road with awesome views from the top.  However, we decided not to repeat the shortcut when we returned home that evening in the dark. J

While we were in Queenstown, we walked all over the place to locate a market we read about in the Lonely Planet guidebook called the Mediterranean market.  We got directions from the person at the iSite tourist center, but they didn’t say which direction we were supposed to go.  We ended up walking in circles throughout Queenstown at a race-walking pace to make it to the market before it closed!  However, we were a tad disappointed when we finally found the ‘market’.  It was more like a gourmet grocery store, and most items were pretty expensive – and it wasn’t entirely focused on Mediterranean food as we expected.  We cobbled together a dinner between cold salads and Kumara chips, which turned out to be pretty delicious!

Wednesday 2 Feb 2011

We got up in the morning and Lisa went for a windy run in the rain around Lake Wanaka (Maya joined for the last half of the run) and saw tons of rainbows!!   After the run, we quickly showered and made a brief stop at the local library to purchase discontinued books ($1 each!). Then we hopped in the car and drove four hours from Wanaka to the Fox Glacier.  On the way there, we passed through an area that was full of waterfalls---it was amazing!  Every corner we turned, we spotted another one that looked like it was just peeking through the trees.  Several of them were so close that they actually splattered out on the road!

On the way to the Fox Glacier, we spotted signs for Haast and took a short detour into what we thought was downtown Haast.  There was a motor lodge, a gas station, and a small store.  If you blinked, you would miss it!  We stopped to take funny pictures in front of signs saying Haast (of course covering up the “t” so it looked like we were in Haas town!).  We took a short walk out to the beach, but the winds were so strong, we became cold quickly and turned back to the car.

We made it to the Fox Glacier town in the late afternoon.  We were both pretty wiped out and just wanted to find a place to stop and get out of the car!  We found a really nice studio room, which turned out to be located right next to the helicopter tour landing pad.  Throughout the afternoon, we watched tons of helicopters coming in and out shuttling tourists out to the glaciers and back.  The person that checked us into the motor lodge made us both feel really lame for being tired.  When he asked how far we’d driven that day, we said that we drove all the way from Wanaka and he said, “Really?  That’s all?”  Since the rain was starting to lift and we still felt guilty from the hotelier’s teasing, we decided to go and see the glacier that evening.  It turned out that was a good decision since the majority of the tourists leaving.  The road led almost all the way up to the ice and once the road ended we trekked up the path to the glacier front.  It was a gorgeous glacier – with a strong blue coloring!  The melt rate was quite high and meltwater flooded out from in front of the front of the ice.  We took plenty of pics and collected sand/rocks before heading back to town.  We stopped on the way home to pick up a pizza for dinner and ate in our motor lodge, enjoying snow-covered views of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasmin from the window.
Blue Ice!!!

  Thursday 3 February 2011

We packed up in the morning and headed to the Franz Joseph Glacier.  The glacier honestly looked very similar to the Fox glacier – but was still pretty awesome to look at.  I love the blue coloring of the ice.  We decided to take time for a soak in the somewhat overpriced glacial hotpools after our trek down from the glacier.  They had 3 outdoor heated pools, each at a different temperature, so when you got too hot sitting in one, you can move to a cooler one.

videoWe hit the road again by afternoon, heading north through the rain along the west coast.  We stopped in Hokatika to look at the jade shops and watched one of the jade carvers work.  We also spotted a small Kiwi reserve, which looked like a tiny store.  They actually had quite a few animals including a tank of giant eels!  As promised, we also got to see 2 live kiwis in a dark, barely lit ‘habitat’.  They were really cute, digging through the soil and bark with their long beaks.  They almost looked like they used there beaks to “see” around themselves – much like a blind person would do with a cane!  After we got our fill of cute and fuzzy animals, we continued on in the rain to Greymouth for the night.

Friday 4 Feb 2011 – Lisa’s Birthday!!

We got up in the morning and went to do mom’s birthday swim workout (51x50meters on a minute).  Afterward, we showered and hopped in the car to drive to the Punakaki (pancake rocks) and blow holes.  We saw some funny signs on the way up!




As always - windy road ahead!

The sun came out just as we arrived!  Although a little overrun with tourists, it was still awesome geology!  We got our requisite pics and videos of the blow holes and the cool rock formations and headed back to the car.

A gorgeous rock formation!

A face?

Pancake Rocks!
A blow hole and the rainbow that emerges after the water is blasted through!
In the parking lot we spotted tons of kiwi-like birds with shorter beaks that turned out to be NZ wild chickens or Wekas!  They were really fearless and bravely approached us in hopes of food.

Baby cuddling with mama seal -- nap time!!
After the punakaki, re-charged with diet cokes, we continued on the road toward Nelson.  Lisa spotted a brown state park sign pointing toward a seal colony.  So we took a detour to Cape Foulwinds to see the seals!  They were so cute, especially the clumsy baby seals!!

We continued on and made it into Nelson that evening.  We tirelessly searched for a hotel that was close to the beach but reasonably priced, and settled on the Beachcombers Inn.  The room was nice and clean, but had no cookstove.  We decided to completely unpack the car---for the first time since we’d left Dunedin--- before heading to the grocery to figure out dinner.  However, while we were cleaning out the car, we sadly realized that we had hit and killed a New Zealand Bell bird (small and yellow, like a canary) that was still plastered to the front grill.  ;((

That evening, we headed to the grocery store for dinner supplies and bought birthday punakaki (pancakes – which were actually crepes) for mom!!  For dinner we had a big salad with chickpeas, lentils, tuna, and cottage cheese.  For desert, we warmed the birthday punakaki on the outside of the stainless steel hotpot that was provided in each room.  It worked really well!  We soaked them in syrup and gobbled them up!

Saturday 5 February 2011

In the morning we went for a run along the ocean.  There were several spots along the retaining wall where rocks jutted out – making a nice little habitat for birds to sit.  On the way back to the hotel, we spotted a mama duck and her bunch of ducklings start the journey from one of these little rock alcoves to the shore.  The poor little ducklings were swimming as hard as they could toward shore, but were continually buffeted about by the waves.

After our run, we headed toward downtown Nelson with 2 goals: fix our emergency cell phone, which had the ‘white screen of death’ and rent a bike for Maya.  In search of phone/bike stores we discovered the Nelson outdoor market.  The market was a mix of crafts, prepared foods, and spices.    It was alot of fun to wander all of the stalls.  We found the Murchesen’s Brewery tent that was giving tastes of hard cider and vodka.  We left with a bottle of delicious 26000 Lychee Vodka and information on Murchesen’s market that was going to take place later that afternoon.

We failed in fixing the cell phone, but found a helpful customer service person in a Noel Leeming Electronics store who helped us purchase the cheapest Vodaphone compatible phone so that our SIMcard could be used.  We found another Cycle Surgery bikeshop to rent a bike for Maya and drove the bike back home.

In the afternoon, we headed out for a ride to explore the area.  We spotted paragliders leaping off a tall hill (much like the albatrosses!) who we watched for quite a while.  There were four of them just floating in loose circles around one another.  It actually looked like quite a lot of fun.  We headed out to the Murchesen’s market late afternoon for more cider and delicious pad tai from a mobile restaurant trailer.  After listening to the cover band perform for a while (they were on a roll with Beetles and Beach Boys cover songs) we decided it was time to head back to the hotel.

Unfortunately, we were delayed a bit with a very flat tire – but Lisa whipped out her tools and we were soon on our way back to the hotel.

Sunday 6 February 2011

We set out in the morning for a long bike ride (~50 miles total) through Mai Tai Valley and along the river.  We continued on from Richmond to Rabbit Island, where we actually  intercepted (and were engulfed by) a local bike race.  It was fun to watch the top packs zoom past.  Our ride took us past a farm, which had signs posted for fresh produce and fresh fruit frozen yogurt!  So we stopped, and purchased a small watermelon to share for a snack.  It was perfect fuel to get us through the end of the ride!  It was super juicy and made a delicious mess to eat!

After our brief break, we hopped back on the bikes to head back home to clean up a bit.  We had a mission – we were going to head back to the fruit stand to try the fresh fruit frozen yogurt and then continue on to wine tasting. 

Everyone in the North of the South Island seemed to eat pink ice cream.  We constantly spotted people with huge cones of pink ice cream!  It turns out that the pink comes from the fresh berries that are blended in with blocks of either frozen yogurt or ice cream to make a delicious treat.

We continued on to a local vineyard for a wine tasting.  We listened to the live jazz band out on the patio, while trying several flights of wine.  It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.  We biked home carefully.

Monday 7 February 2011

Our last morning in Nelson was quite busy.  Lisa headed out for another swim at Richmond ASB pool, while Maya went for one last run along the beach.  Once we both made it back to the Beachcomber’s Inn room, we hurriedly packed the car (including all of our luggage and BOTH bikes) and then headed to Cycle Surgery to return Maya’s rental bike.  We continued on to Picton.  As we were driving, rain and fog set in, making driving along the narrow, windy roads perilous.  We passed a horrible wreck, in which a car drove up overtop of the guardrail of the road.  We made it into Picton safely, but ready to stop driving. 

Tuesday 8 February 2011

In the morning, we headed over to BakerrIJ in Picton for breakfast to try some of the delicious baked goods.  We killed time wandering the town till we had to board the InterIslander Ferry to cross Cook’s Straight.  We were both nervous about the potential rough seas during the crossing.  However, we thankfully had an uneventful crossing with gorgeous weather!  The views of the Marlborough Sound were amazing from the boat; we had a great time taking in the amazing views and soaking up the sun from the top deck! 

Once we arrived on the other side, we returned to the car to make the drive from Wellington to Taupo.  The venture was a bit longer than we anticipated and night was falling fast.  The reception desks for motor lodges in New Zealand close very early (usually by 8 or 9PM), which often made finding accommodations after a long day of driving problematic.  We tried to push on to Taupo, yet the prospect of driving on the narrow winding roads in the dark was not very inviting, so we decided to pull off in the next town, Taihape.  We found one motor lodge, which was rundown but adequate for the night.  Despite charging a king’s ransom for the unit, the owner gave us complimentary beer and chips to lift our spirits after our long day of travel.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

After an early start, we made it to Taupo by late morning.  As we pulled into town, we spotted a bunch of black swans that were sitting at the edge of the lake.  Lisa pulled the car over to take pictures.  She pulled out the rice crackers we were munching on to attract the swans, an act which caused a foul riot!  Lisa was rapidly surrounded by the demanding birds who obviously were familiar with the real function of tourists – Food!

In the afternoon, we played the role of tourists to the extreme.  We headed to Craters of the Moon to walk around the hot springs and bubbling mud pits.  Along the way back from the hot springs, we stopped by the “Honey Hive” to learn all about bees and sample some local meads, wines, and of course honey!  We continued our day with a trip to the gorgeous Huka falls to tromp around.

We stopped by the grocery to purchase a picnic dinner (tortellini and salad) and continued on to the Hilton hotel, to use up a one night credit.  The hotel was gorgeous and decadent, complete with swimming pool, gym and hot tub.  (Ironically, though, our suite did NOT have a cookstove, like most of the motor lodges that we’d stayed at in NZ.)

Thursday 10 February 2011

We left the Hilton Hotel early for a kayak trip to the famously advertised “Maori Carvings.”  However impressive and gorgeous, we learned during the trip that the carvings were only 31 years old!  Although the guide claimed that they were not carved to increase tourism, the young age of the carvings somehow lessened their mystique.  We had sunny calm weather and a lot of fun paddling round great Lake Taupo in our double-seater, though!

We visited Lava Glassblowing Studio on our way out of town and watched one of the artists create glass pieces.  The blown glass vases and art were absolutely gorgeous and the colors (particularly blue) were breathtakingly vibrant.

In the afternoon, it was back in the car to drive to Rotorua and fit in a few laps at the local community pool there.  When we went up to the counter in the entrance to pay for the swim, the woman at the desk said, “I’m sorry we are closed for business so go on ahead and have a swim.”  Confused, but not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, we walked on past the counter to enjoy a free swim in an outdoor pool!  (Apparently, the computer system was down.)

On our way out of the pool, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke coming out of the ground in the backyards of the houses near the public pool.  Further investigation revealed several very large thermal vents and bubbling ponds!  What a cool but smelly feature to have in your back yard!

Friday 11 February 2011

The morning dawned cloudy with scattered showers, so we headed over to the remains of the Rotorua Bathhouse and Maori cultural museum.  Rotorua apparently used to be famous for its healing mud and thermal water treatments.  However, the acidity of the water rapidly corroded the pipes and baths, resulting in continual maintenance issues in the famous Rotorua Bathhouse.  Before we departed from the museum, we purchased matching spiral necklaces for ourselves and mud masks to give to all of our friends!  In the afternoon, we headed further north toward the Auckland airport to avoid potential issues with getting Maya onto her flight out the next day.  We stayed in a motor lodge in the nearby suburb of Papatoetoe.  There was an Asian market located next door, so we ended up purchasing several items and cooking up a small feast in our room (which had a galley kitchen in the entranceway), and eating it outside on our back porch in the garden.

Saturday 12 February 2011

We headed out in the morning for a short run followed by a swim at the Papatoetoe community pool, which had free entry.  Then sadly, Maya had to head to the airport to catch her flight back to the states.  In just two weeks, we had covered an impressive amount of ground—over 4000kilometers!  It had been an amazing whirlwind of a trip and we were sad to see our adventures together come to an end.  However, the trip was exactly what I needed after a rough season on the ice.  Although sad to leave New Zealand, I returned to the states refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges that awaited.