|New Zealand 2000|
In February 2000, I went to New Zealand. It wasn't a spur of the moment trip, but I decided to go with Flying Kiwi Expeditions because I'd read about them on Philip Greenspun's Website, and thought they were a match. Well, it was a mistake. It's not that the tour was incompetently run, or that I didn't enjoy meeting the people I met there. It was that the tour tried to do too much, so you got too little cycling, too little hiking, and too much time sitting in a bus.
Nevertheless, I did get a 3 day Routeburn Track hike, which was fabulous, a little bit of cycling, and a number of day hikes that were quite enjoyable. The folks on the trip were also incredibly nice, and I made many contacts that sadly, were never renewed. Nowadays, travelers will just use Facebook to stay connected, and it's definitely a much better way to maintain a contact list than my PDA was --- over a lifetime you accumulate thousands of contacts and have no way of matching faces to names. Even worse, when women get married, they frequently change their names, so searching on Facebook, for instance, doesn't do you any good.
New Zealand is a gorgeous country. Compared to Australia, it's much smaller, but ironically is much more of a microcosm of the world. Traveling through New Zealand, you also get the sense that American vacations are pathetic. 3 weeks is considered a long time by American vacationers, but the Israeli were there for 3 months. The French would visit for a year. The English would be traveling around the world for a year. And the Germans --- I met Charlotte Michel, an 80-year-old grandmother hitch-hiking around New Zealand by herself. I've met many 25-year-old Americans who wouldn't imagine doing that. The spirit of adventure seemed much less rare in New Zealand than in Silicon Valley today.
I never forgot how gorgeously beautiful the country was, and now, looking at these slides again, I'm glad I became a decent photographer before visiting.
One word: if you're thinking of doing a cycling trip in New Zealand, don't. The cycling is OK, but not great. Go there as a hiker, backpacker, kayaker, and mountain biker, and it's a great country. As a road cyclist, it's not really worth your time.