Sir Edmund Hillary a national hero

Posted on 26. May, 2015 by in Culture, Travel

Image of Sir Edmund Hillary by fredsharples on

Image of Sir Edmund Hillary by fredsharples

While we are taking a closer look at the English-speaking country of New Zealand this month, spending some time reading about the Kiwi national hero Sir Edmund Hillary is a must. Hillary is known the world round for being the first climber to summit the highest mountain in the world  – Mount Everest in Nepal.  Of course he didn’t summit this mountain alone: the Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay was with him at the time of the summit.  An entire British expedition team was behind this effort too.  It is Sir Edmund Hillary who is renown for this accomplishment though and for this he is beloved in his home country of New Zealand.

Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1919. He was shy and bookish in his youth. By most reports he remained a shy and humble man as he aged, too. He first became interested in climbing in his teenage years. Living in New Zealand he had many mountains to try his hand at* mountaineering and he soon fell in love with the sport. Before climbing Mt. Everest and undertaking numerous international expeditions, Hillary was a beekeeper in New Zealand. This line of work allowed him plenty of time to pursue his passion of mountaineering.

Hillary’s home country of New Zealand was truly an amazing training ground for his mountaineering career. His first major climb was of Mount Ollivier (1,933 meters or 6,342 feet). In 1948 Hillary summited New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook.  He is reported to have trained for his Everest expeditions on Mt. Cook and surrounding mountains. It was five years later, in 1953 that he was the first man to climb to the highest peak in the world: Mt. Everest (8,848 meters or 29,029 feet above the sea). For this amazing accomplishment Hillary, was knight by the Queen of England. That is where the title “Sir” in his name comes from.

Image of Mt. Everest by Joe Hastings on

Image of Mt. Everest by Joe Hastings on

After climbing to the top of the highest mountain in the world, Hillary, of course, became a very famous man. Even so, he preferred a quiet lifestyle and spent most of his time back in New Zealand; that is when he was not out exploring. Hillary participated in a number of international expeditions, including ones to the North and South poles. He also gave back a great deal to the Nepalese Sherpa community that helped make his ascent of Mt. Everest possible. He created an organization called the Himalayan Trust, which is still building schools and hospitals in Nepal. Hillary also had a family, including three children, one of whom also climbed to the top of Mount Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary died in 2008 in New Zealand. His death was mourned throughout the country with all flags lowered to half-mast**. Hillary has been honored in many ways for his amazing accomplishments, including having mountain peaks named after him in Nepal and New Zealand. Hillary is also depicted on New Zealand’s $5 note.

* to try (one’s) hand = to make an effort to accomplish (something)
** flying a flag at half-mast = this is a symbol of respect, mourning, or distress

New Zealand’s Great Walks

Posted on 19. May, 2015 by in Travel

Image by Harald Selke from the Routeburn Track on

Image by Harald Selke from the Routeburn Track on

The country of New Zealand is known for many things such as its indigenous people (the Maori), amazing athletes in sports like rugby and sailing, The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, but perhaps most of all it is known for its beautiful and diverse landscape. Tourists flock to New Zealand by the millions every year to experience the natural beauty and wonders of this island nation. One of the best ways to experience New Zealand is to get out on some of the thousands of trails (or “tracks” as they are called in New Zealand). There are literally thousands of tracks to choose from in New Zealand, but nine of New Zealand’s trails are considered “greater” than all the rest. These tracks are called New Zealand’s “Great Walks.”

If you are a lover of the outdoors and adventure then these “walks” are something you might want to add to your bucket list*.

Today we are going to take a quick look at these amazing outdoor experiences in New Zealand. While learning about these walks, you will also learn about the amazingly diverse landscape and geographic features of this island nation. So, let’s get tramping**!

Lake Waikaremoana Track
This 46 km track winds around Lake Waikaremoana on the North Island of New Zealand. On this walk you will see podocarp trees, which are a type of evergreen tree that can grow up to 40 meters (130 feet) tall. You will also pass secluded beaches where you can take a dip in the water to cool off in the summer.

Tongariro Northern Circuit
The Tongaririo Northern Circuit is a breathtaking walk around active volcanoes! Both the Tongariro and Ngauruhoe volcanoes are passed on this 43 km walk on the North Island.  On this track you with see jagged volcanic rock, volcanic craters, and steaming geothermal activity. Volcanic activity has had a great influence on the geography of New Zealand and this walk will definitely get you thinking about this. You might also recognize the volcanoes you see on this walk from the movies. The Tongariro National Park was used as the filming site for ‘Mordor’ in The Lord of the Rings movies.

Image by Aidan of the Whanganui River on

Image by Aidan of the Whanganui River on

Wanganui Journey
Okay, well this might sound funny, but the Wanganui Journey is not actually a “walk” even though it is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” This 145 km journey is actually along a river, the Wanganui River, and it is made by canoeing or kayaking not on foot! So, if you love the great outdoors, but don’t love walking, this might be the right kind of “walk” for you. On this journey you will experience the power of one of New Zealand’s many rivers. Rivers have contributed a great deal to forming this country’s amazing landscape, by creating fertile river valleys.  You will also see beautiful green hills that make this country so lush.

Abel Tasman Coast Track
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is found in the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island. As the name suggests, this is a coastal walk, which means trampers walk along beaches and the Tasman Sea for approximately 54 km. This walk has an amazing display of semi-tropical plants, such as beautiful fern trees. Fern trees are a type of fern that grows as tall as trees. In my opinion they look prehistoric.

Heaphy Track
Not far from the Abel Tasman Track is the Heaphy Track. This is a 78 km hike that shows off a lot of the varied plants and natural features of New Zealand. Walkers on this track will see beech tree forests, lush semi-tropical plants, dry tussock grasslands, and the sea!

Rakiura Track
This track is not on New Zealand’s North or South Island, it is on Stewart Island – a very small island just off the coast of the South Island. You have to take a plane or ferry from the “mainland” to get to this track, but that is all part of the adventure right? The Rakiura Track is 39 km in length and is considered one of the most remote of the Great Walks because of its location. One of the biggest draws of this walk is the possibility of seeing a kiwi in its natural habitat. The iconic kiwi bird is rarely seen on mainland New Zealand, but on the protected Stewart Island, kiwi are thriving. This track is also known for being very wet and muddy.

The following three New Zealand Great Walks are all in or around the famous Fiordland National Park in the southwest section of the Southern Island. This area of New Zealand is known for its breathtaking glacier carved valley and snow covered stone peaks.

Ruteburn Track
This track has been call “beautiful beyond words” and most people who hike it would agree. At only 32 km, this “short” walk packs a big punch*** with amazing alpine lakes, gorgeous green rivers, and high mountain passes.  New Zealand’s rugged mountains are an iconic feature of this country’s landscape.

Kepler Track
The Kepler Track is one of the most popular of the Great Walks and is sometimes called “an adventure in the clouds.” This 60 km trail loops around two lakes (Te Anau and Manapouri) and also ascends to the top of a mountain (Mt Luxmore). There are amazing views of Fiordland National Park above treeline (or “bushline,” as it is called in New Zealand).

Image by chris.murphy from the Milford Track on

Image by chris.murphy from the Milford Track on

Milford Track
Last, but not least, the Milford Track is often considered “the finest walk in the world.” So, of course, this is perhaps the most popular walk in all of New Zealand! This 53 km hike is often described as “stunning” and “magnificent.” What makes this track so wonderful? The glacier-carved valleys, peaceful forests, and many, many waterfalls that trampers pass by and under! The only drawback to this trail is the potential for a lot of rain. It is not uncommon for it to rain everyday of this 4-day hike. Don’t let the rain deter you from adding this hike to your bucket list though, just remember to bring your rain jacket and umbrella!

If my introduction to New Zealand’s Great Walks and the geography of this beautiful country has peaked your interest you can find out more about these walks here.

Best of all, a trip to New Zealand is a great way to practice your English.

*bucket list = a list of experiences that a person wants to have or accomplish during their lifetime
** tramping – a synonym for hiking, this is a commonly used word in New Zealand
***to pack a (big) punch – this expression means “to have a powerful effect”

Streets, Beats & Eats – Venice Beach

Posted on 14. May, 2015 by in Travel

Take a tour of Venice Beach!

Take a tour of Venice Beach!

Take a tour of Venice Beach, Grateful Gypsies style! Hit the boardwalk, catch some amazing street performers, munch on Cali cuisine, join a massive drum circle, and wind down with craft cocktails in an old speakeasy.

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“For a vacation in LA, look no further than Venice Beach. Cruise around on a bike or even a Segway. Hit the famous boardwalk, where you can shop for t-shirts and original art, check out a head shop, or pick up a new board – both skateboarding and surfboarding are huge out here.

Start your day off right by heading to Fruit Gallery for a tasty and healthy smoothie. Packed with fresh fruit, one of these is sure to put a smile on your face.

Venice Beach is all about being active. There’s a skate park where you can try to drop in or just hang to the side and watch. If you’d rather have skates than a board, join in a group dance session. There are plenty of unique ways to exercise here.

The area is also full of street performers, so stop to check them out. Just remember that these guys work for tips, so don’t be a cheap ass – throw some money in the box if you enjoyed the show. Now it’s time for lunch…

A Venice Beach staple, Danny’s is a great place for California cuisine and comfort food. Check out the stunning murals that cover the restaurant’s walls. You just might see some familiar faces…

Feast on the salmon and spinach benedict, or try a Venice Beach club – grilled salmon, avocado, and bacon.

At Venice Ball, you can join in a pickup game or just watch from the sidelines. The famous Muscle Beach attracts bodybuilders looking to pump some iron. It’s not all about lifting weights here, though.

Graffiti art is also a big part of the culture here, and you’ll see artists at work all around. You You might even get a private saxophone show down by the beach. Hop on your bike and go for a ride to see more.

The action just doesn’t stop in Venice Beach, as people are out and about all day. Watch people perform amazing feats of acrobatics, strength, and balance, and you’ll probably feel like a lazy slob because you can’t do any of it… but it sure is fun watching those who can.

Keep walking along the boardwalk, because there’s still a lot to see. There are plenty of musicians out in the streets, so take in some tunes and support local artists. If you feel like joining in the jam, head to the drum circle on the beach, which goes down every Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t have a drum, you can just boogie down in the sand.

With the sun down, it’s time to check out the nightlife. Choose from one of their craft cocktails and grab a seat at this historic bar that was an actual speakeasy during prohibition. Catch a little buzz and get ready for the epic burlesque show here. Photos are not allowed, but take our word that it’s well worth it.

Soak up all that booze with some amazing chicken stuffed chillies, cheese covered corn, and Mexican rice. Wrap it all up and wash it down with a delicious margarita to end a great day in Venice Beach.”