Utah: Mighty 5 Roadtrip

Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ

You can, of course, adjust this itinerary to fit other starting points.

Day 1: Driving to Utah and Seeing Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges NM (c) ABR 2017

    It is about a 6-7 hour drive from Phoenix, AZ; if you are leaving from there and want to explore Natural Bridges in one day, please be sure to leave early in the morning. Be well rested, and have a driving partner to help you make it up. Some of the roads on the way to Natural Bridges can be a little difficult (winding dirt roads along cliffs).

Natural Bridges NM has a very nice visitor center and a loop drive for those of you looking for a relaxing view into the canyon. For the hikers among you, my travel partner and I hiked down to each of the major bridges and then back out, but there is a trail that runs the whole length of the canyon if you have the time and energy for that.

Bear Ears National Monument is fairly close to Natural Bridges, so if you want to explore there as well, you may consider camping nearby and adding a day onto your itinerary. We were unable to visit Bear Ears on our own trip.

Budget Stay Suggestion:

Canyonlands Motor Inn in Monticello, Utah)

Humble accommodations, but with friendly staff and comfortable rooms.

 

Day 2: Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands NP (c) ABR 2017

There are several entrances to Canyonlands NP, but due to bad weather, we skipped the southern one. Again, for those of you looking to get some more hiking in, you may consider spending an extra night in Monticello to explore the area near the southern entrance.

Following our schedule, however, day two involves a drive up to Moab (about 1.5 hours) and then to the northern entrance. Again, there is a great visitor center and a very nice drive in this part of Canyonlands. Some of the shorter hikes that we stacked here were Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Grand View Point Overlook, and Mesa Arch. All of these were short, although Upheaval Dome has a longer trail that requires more expertise. See park materials for details on the trails and what fits your needs best.

Budget Stay Suggestion:

Lazy Lizard Hostel, Moab, Utah

Private rooms available, great atmosphere for mountain bikers.

 

Day 3: Arches National Park

A double arch at Arches NP (c) ABR 2017

    It is a short 15-minute drive from the southern end of Moab to the entrance of Arches National Park, but depending on the time of year, you may want to plan on getting there early as Arches is quite popular and gets very busy.

There are tons of amazing views and formations that you can see from the car in this National Park, so be sure to plan time for all the sights even if you don’t think you will hike. If you are up to hiking, I would highly suggest that you do the Delicate Arch hike, as this will take you to some great views of the arch that is on all of the Utah license plates. Of course, there are plenty of other trails throughout the park that also are worth visiting. Devil’s Garden and the Windows Section are a couple others that we did and enjoyed, but I would have liked to have planned ahead and gotten a permit for the Fiery Furnace as well.

It is about a 2.5 hour drive to Bricknell, Utah and the road gains some altitude so check the weather for sure in the winter, and be sure that you have the energy to drive safely to your next destination.

Budget Stay Suggestions:

Aquarius Inn, Bicknell, Utah

Not my favorite in terms of atmosphere, but the room was comfortable enough.

 

Day 4: Capitol Reef National Park

Awesome mountains in Capitol Reef NP (c) ABR 2017

It is only about 30 minutes from Bricknell to Capitol Reef, and this is one of the quieter parks, so you don’t need to be in quite as much of a rush to get out as I would suggest for Arches, Bryce, and Zion. There are no major attractions in this park, and the drive is mostly on a highway or a very small road and dirt road extensions. Be sure to check out the petroglyphs here and definitely do stop to see all the huge rock formations along the highway.

In terms of hiking here, I really enjoyed the walk to Hickman Bridge; the trail up to here has some good views of Capitol Dome as well as the other surrounding mountains. My favorite hike, however, was the walk through Capitol Gorge. I would have also liked to have walked through Grand Wash, but we ran out of time.

It is about a 2.5-3 hour drive into Panguitch near Bryce Canyon, so again, be safe and give yourself time to make it over there.

Budget Stay Suggestion:

Quality Inn Bryce Canyon, Panguitch, Utah

Pretty unique for a Quality Inn, with an old west character.

 

Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon (c) ABR 2017

It is a nice 25 minute drive from Panguitch to the entrance of Bryce Canyon. Again, this is a busier park, so be sure to plan to get there early, and take a look at park andbus schedules if it is the high season.

For those non-hikers among you, you will fall in love with Bryce Canyon from all the lookouts. While I think that anyone who is able should hike into the canyon a bit, there are some great views from the road. For those of you looking to hike but with limited time, be SURE to hike the Queen Garden, because you will be right among the hoodoos and it is unforgettable. Tower Bridge is another option for a shorter hike and has some very unique vistas. For those faster hikers or people with more time, there is a long rim trail, as well as a variety of backpacking trails in the canyon that can make for a long day hike.

It is about 1.5 hours from Bryce Canyon to Cedar City.

Budget Stay Suggestion:

Motel 6 Cedar City, Cedar City, Utah

Pretty nice, but no microwaves in the rooms!

 

Day 6: Zion National Park

Zion NP (c) ABR 2017

    It is about an hour from Cedar City to Zion on a good day, but you should know that Zion is EXTREMELY busy, so much so, that in the high season you have to take a bus into the park. Please plan ahead for congestion depending on when you go, and if you want to hike, get an early start.

There is a good reason for this park being popular, it is beautiful, and I think that anyone could spend a several days there, let alone one, with or without hiking. Of course, the hike that every knows is Angel’s Landing, and I really loved hiking this trail, but it is absolutely not for everyone. First off, it is a very steep climb to the saddle, and then the hike out to the landing as cliffs on both sides and is very narrow. This is dangerous for anyone with a fear of heights or unsteady feet. Furthermore, do not hike this when there is snow and/or ice on the trail. Emerald Pools is a shorter, much easier alternative, and there are tons of other trails for anyone that Angel’s Landing isn’t a good fit for.

When you drive out of Zion, towards Page (2.5 hours), the park extends down the highway for a time, offering some more great views, but this stretch of the freeway will have lots of slow drivers that see fit to take pictures while they drive. Please don’t be one of these; if you want to take pictures on the way out, be sure to pull over. There is also a long, cool tunnel on the way out, but again, follow signs and do not stop in the tunnel for pictures.

Budget Stay Suggestion:

Knights Inn, Page, AZ

 

Day 7: Back to Phoenix

5-6 hours!

 

Disclaimer:

Nightborn Travel covers some off-the-beaten path locations, sometimes focuses on solo travel, and often includes outdoor exploration such as hiking. So, please be aware of the following (adapted from HikeArizona.com): Hiking, traveling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends. It is your responsibility to travel and explore responsibly and take care of your own safety.

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Backyard Discoveries: The Shrine on Chihuahua Hill

If you’re up for a little bit of hike in Bisbee, AZ, the jaunt up Youngblood and Chihuahua Hill is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and to see life in this former mining town in a different way.

Like we mentioned in our handy itinerary, you can take OK Street up to the base of Youngblood Hill and take time to check out all the local homes (trust me, you’ll want to – they have a lot of character). If you start your journey earlier in the morning (maybe around 7 a.m.), you’ll benefit from pleasant temperatures and having the town (and trail)practically all to yourself before the sleepy town becomes a bustling tourist stop.

Blue Jesus (I’ve called him this because he is both literally painted blue and because of his sorrowful expression) is the marker of your trail up Youngblood, but also a good wake-up call for groggy hikers because from a distance you can’t tell if it’s a statue or a person waiting at the trail.

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A couple important notes before you ascend:

  • Beyond Blue Jesus is private property, so be polite and don’t go exploring a local’s front yard.
  • The path up to the hills is steep, narrow and slippery. If you’re not a strong hiker or don’t have appropriate shoes, it’s best to come back another time. There is also a bit of incline when getting to the top of both hills, so stay hydrated and listen to your body to stop when needed.

If you do make it up Chihuahua Hill, you are rewarded with a great view of the town below and are privy to a shrine that’s maintained by its residents. You can see some of our photos from the site below, but it’s really worth a visit in person. There’s a sense of peace, joy and love you get when you look at these colorful tributes.

Pay your respects and please move around with care.

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Five Reasons to Love National Monuments

A MONUMENTAL STORY
Reasons to Love National Monuments

Many national monuments across the west are currently under fire from the federal government, but I think there are plenty of good reasons to support the continued protection of these areas, no matter what side you’re on. Here are some of mine:

  1. Monuments keep the American culture alive. National monuments (and the US’s many other protective parks) are a great way to maintain a beautiful country for ourselves and future Americans. Ours was a country built on the frontier and exploration, and national monuments play a key role in keeping that culture alive through the ages.

    Natural Arches NM, Utah (c) ABR 2017
  2. Monuments provide a long-term source of economic growth. Many of the alternative uses of monument land only provide short-term gains. Let’s take uranium mining as an example. This is a finite resource, and once it is removed, there is no way to renew its value to the communities involved. Furthermore, the land left behind is permanently (in the scope of a human lifespan) degraded (an example from Navajo lands). Alternatively, an industry like tourism does not consume a finite resource, and while it can degrade the environment in a variety of ways, these effects can be mitigated by policy and repairs are possible.

    Agua Fria NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017
  3. Monuments are a source of American pride. Did you know that the concept of national parks were developed in the United States? The system of land protection that we have has been one of our most successful legacies around the world. National monuments are a part of that, and it is something to be proud of. People travel from ALL OVER THE WORLD to see our beautiful country.

    Sunset Crater NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017
  4. Monuments protect American history. The Antiquities Act was designed to protect relics of the past, and landscapes are a part of that. Some of the best stories from our history, especially in the West, comes from the harrowing tales of women and men trying to make their way in an unforgiving and wild environment. Having the opportunity to see those landscapes as our ancestors did keeps our history alive and helps us appreciate what it took to build our country.

    Cabrillo NM, CA (c) ABR 2017
  5. Monuments provide many different services and resources to local people and visitors alike. I’m going to go back to the uranium example here (just because it is relevant to several of the western monuments). Mining provides jobs to miners, can support a community while the resource holds out, and it provides taxes as well. It is unlikely that many other services (e.g. clean water, recreation, etc.) will come from land used for this activity, and the companies selling this resource will take the lion’s share of benefits from uranium’s extraction. Monuments, on the other hand, provide jobs through tourism and management, revenue from fees, recreational opportunities, and a variety of services that support human health and happiness.
    Wupatki NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017

    If you’d like to let the government know what you think about national monuments, public comments are open until July 10th, 2017. You can comment here or through Monuments For All.

A Weekend in Bisbee: A Three-Day Itinerary for Nature and Culture in Southern AZ

Bisbee is a former mining town (current artist colony) south of Tucson near the AZ/Mexico border. It is the perfect place to experience historic, small town America.

Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ

Day One: Travel to Bisbee

The drive from Phoenix to Bisbee is about 3.5-4 hours depending on traffic.

Take your time driving down to scenic, little Bisbee.

If you leave in the morning or early afternoon; Tucson is a great place to stop by on the way.

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If you have time, the Mission San Xavier Del Bac or “White Dove of the Desert” is peaceful and great cultural stop in Tucson.

Day Two: Exploring Bisbee

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Can we tell you a little secret? 7 a.m. is prime strolling time around downtown Bisbee – not much is open, but the weather is wonderful and you get to walk around before the crowds.

 

If you are up for a morning stroll, walk up OK Street which will lead to the base of Youngblood Hill and will take you by some adorable Bisbee homes.

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You can a nice view of the town from either hill.

For strong hikers, there is also a trail at the end of the street that climbs up Chihuahua and Youngblood Hill. This path is steep, narrow and slippery, however, so hike at your own discretion. Be safe.

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There’s a shrine up on Chihuahua Hill that is definitely worth seeing. However, these are tributes to people’s loved ones so we cannot stress enough that the site needs to be treated with the utmost respect.

After going for a walk in the cool morning, head over to Lowell’s Bisbee Breakfast Club (http://bisbeebreakfastclub.com/locations/bisbee) for a diner experience, complete with massive portions.

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These pancakes are delicious and as big as your head – we’re not joking.

Head back to downtown Bisbee for a tour of the Copper Queen Mine (http://www.queenminetour.com/), where you will get to ride a little train into the heart of the mountain and learn about old copper mines from former miners. There are several tours throughout the day.

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These are our excited faces. But seriously, the mine tour is a must-see (especially if you’re a REALLY big fan of mining, or a history buff or just want to cool off.)

Spend the day strolling through Bisbee, checking out galleries, visiting historic hotels, and enjoying this small, colorful town.

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ALIENS.

After dinner, if it suits your fancy, wander the streets at night and learn about the many ghosts of this small town with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours (http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/). These take place at 7 p.m. each day of the week.

Day Two: Kartchner Caverns and Getting Home

Catch breakfast in Old Bisbee or Sierra Vista.

Stop by Kartchner Caverns (https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/) to see one of the United States’ most colorful, living caves. You will not be disappointed in this special, natural attraction. It is about an hour from Bisbee to Kartchner.

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In the Visitor’s Center, you can take silly photos in the replicas of cave openings that the Kartchner explorers had to squeeze through and be thankful they did all the work for you.

 

 

Stop for lunch in Benson or Tucson, and then head back to Phoenix. It is about 2.5 hours from Kartchner to Phoenix depending on traffic.

Ending Point: Phoenix, AZ

Prep:

  1. Reserve a place to stay.
  2. Reserve a tour with the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours and Kartchner Caverns.
  3. Learn about some of the historic landmarks in the town to visit.
  4. Know the weather! Stay safe.

Solid Gas/Food Stops Along the Way:

  1. Tucson
  2. Benson
  3. Tombstone

Note: There are numerous small towns that also dot the way to Bisbee, but if you want guaranteed gas stations, fuel up in Tucson or Benson.

Parking

  1. Mostly free parking in Bisbee (there’s like one paid lot in the entire city), but be prepared for the lots (which are small) to basically be full after 10 a.m., at least on weekends.
  2. There’s plenty of street parking available, it just depends on how far you’re willing to haul your butt up and down a hill.
  3. Before you park, check if it’s residential. Don’t be a jerk and park in someone’s spot.

Places to Stay:

  1. Copper Queen Hotel (http://www.copperqueen.com/): This is a historic hotel in the middle of town. Perfectly central to all Bisbee’s attractions, and a great place for ghostly activity (for anyone interested).
  2. Hotel Lamore/Bisbee Inn (http://bisbeeinn.com/): A smaller alternative to the Copper Queen, this place is just as historic and ghostly. But it has traditional shared bathrooms, it will really bring you back.
  3. Plenty of alternatives throughout the town, and some good AirBnbs as well.

Expedition South Island: Day 6 and Beyond: Driving, driving, driving… and resting in Christchurch

One last view of Oban (c) ABR 2017

The morning after my day sliding down stairs and worrying about a broken hand, I was up before the sun and out on the dock for my boat ride back to the mainland. After an hour on the cold boat, and a quick walk through some very frigid wind, I was ready to climb back into my little car.

However, after about three hours in my little car, that feeling had died off a bit. See, I had about 8 hours of driving to do to get from Bluff to Christchurch, and those hours feel so much longer here than in the US. Simply put (and the signs here will remind you of this fact) the roads in New Zealand are different. They are curvy and they are narrow, with only one lane on either side. That means that when you are tired from driving for 3+ hours, you might become more tired when a giant semi-truck turns out in front of you and you are suddenly trapped going half as fast as you’d like.

Christchirch Botanical Gardens (c) ABR 2017

Needless to say, I was exhausted when I finally pulled into my Christchurch hotel, and ready for some rest after a surprisingly stressful week (wonderful as well).

The day after I arrived in town, I moved a little closer to the city central, and took a walk down to the botanical gardens. Unfortunately, I chose a cold, windy day to walk down there, so I ended up retreating into the Conservatory. I fell in love with the rows and rows of potted plants, and the beauty of the greenhouse’s antique architecture. I even managed to find a saguaro in there, which was a nice little reminder of home.

Found me a bit of home! Saguaro! (c) ABR 2017

Getting out of the wind for a bit made me decide that walking around downtown wasn’t an option at the moment, so once I peeled out of the conservatory, I walked right over to the Canterbury museum. This particular Christchurch attraction is free, so even though I am not a huge fan of museums, I knew I didn’t have anything to lose. Turns out, the Canterbury museum is just my kind of institution, i.e. they are very good at immersive exhibits. I especially loved the exhibit on the Paua Shell House (which I had no idea what that was when I walked up), where they showed a movie about the history and story of the house that became an attraction in the southern town of Bluff when the residents started pinning polished Paua shells to their walls. It was quite an enchanting little story, and after watching the movie, it was really delightful to go into the next room and get to experience a recreation of that Kiwi landmark.

Paua Shell House recreation at the Canterbury Museum (c) ABR 2017

When the weather was better, I did get the chance to look around the Botanical gardens more. This is a great place to walk and explore; there are beautiful ponds, different groupings of plants, and even some species from my home desert.

Cool art in downtown Christchurch (c) ABR 2017

As for seeing downtown Christchurch, I did walk around a bit, but there wasn’t much to see on your own. I would definitely suggest the gardens and the museum for anyone looking for some cheap things to see, but if you want to get the most out of visiting the city itself, definitely grab a tour.

What did I see before Christchurch? The beautiful (if slippery) Steward Is!

Attempting the Summit of Pico Duarte: Part 3

PART 3: KNOWING MY LIMITS ON PICO DUARTE

Map to the top (c) ABR 2016

After a night of inventing new ways to sleep in a bunk with zero support in the middle, and a breakfast of bread and cheese cubes, the events of the prior day’s harrowing driving adventure faded fast. I wasn’t enthused about the food we had been able to bring, but I did my best to fill up. The hike up the tallest mountain the Caribbean wasn’t going to be easy, not with the accelerated itinerary we had been forced to make.

We had one day to try for the top, and I wanted to shore up as much energy as I could.

(c) ABR 2016

Martin, my hiking partner, and I finished breakfast around 5, but we ended up waiting for our guide for nearly an hour before we could leave, because our illustrious mule had escaped in the night. Perhaps he sensed the coming hike and wasn’t all that excited about it. Luckily, we didn’t have much for the lovely animal to carry, just a jug of water and our two small day packs.

(c) ABR 2016

The first part of the Cienaga route, the main trail up Pico Duarte, is fairly flat. So, we had a nice warm-up as we followed the stream up the slope, pausing only to take pictures at the little wooden walkways that served as bridges. We moved as fast as we could, anticipating the long haul that was the come. The question about whether or not I could make it to the top hung over my head.

From Los Tablones, things started to get real. The trail became increasingly steep, with the steepest incline hitting us about halfway up between La Laguna and El Cruce. I kept repeating to myself “There is no way that this is only 0.5 kms!” as I struggled up the incline. The trails on this part of the mountain had carved deep canyons into the soft soil of Pico Duarte, some taller than me. The wear of people’s feet and the tropical weather seemed to be a hard force on this place. The trees here also took on an oddly swampy quality, with moss hanging down from the tall branches as the forest shifted from tropical to temperate and the air grew colder.

(c) ABR 2016

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. We reached El Cruce, and judging by the map that’s at the top of its post, I was expecting to settle back into the same plod that carried us up from Los Tablones to La Laguna. It was tiring, but nothing that we couldn’t maintain.

(c) ABR 2016

This part of the trail was far more difficult than that ever-present map suggested, however. I don’t know if it was just that we were tired after our ascent, but those 3 km felt endless. I have to believe, even now, that whoever measured that segment was simply wrong. Maybe it was the same someone that measured the La Laguna-El Cruce segment. But it was here that the tropical forest finally fell away, leaving us in the fog, amid the temperate pines that seem so at-home on tall mountains.

(c) ABR 2016

As you may read if you look up Pico Duarte, there was a fire on the mountain in 2005 which wiped out vast swaths of the forest. For some, this made for a disappointing trip, but I found this part of the mountain (now partially regrown) to be really beautiful, despite the fact that I was exhausted. The little trees dotting fields of grasses among the tall survivors of the fire opened up a wide view of the mountainous inland. The views of the sunrise from there the next day were unbelievable.

(c) ABR 2016

Once we finally hit Aguita Fria, I cursed the sign. This was the high point before the camp where we would spend the night, and I knew right then that I wasn’t going to make the top. My feet were blistering in my boots, my legs were starting to feel weak, and my head just wasn’t in it. I knew how much further I had to go, and it just didn’t feel feasible, not with the entire hike back down the mountain waiting for me in the morning.

Bad Aguita Fria! (c) ABR 2016

So, I complained my way down to Comparticion camp, annoyed that we had to hike down after hiking up for so long. But the camp was a welcome sight. Several small, wooden cabins huddled around a fire pit. A little garden peeked out from behind a long building with a kitchen that housed wood-fed stoves. Mules relaxed in the fields that surrounded that little spot of human habitation, and when I finally dropped down to rest, a camp cat came to relax in the sun with me.

Our trusty mule (c) ABR 2016

Martin went on to the summit, although he didn’t return until the sun had nearly set. I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, but when he finally got back to camp, the look of exhaustion on his face let me know that I made the right decision. Pushing for the top would have been irresponsible of me, and I hike enough to know my limits.

Even without the summit under my belt, the whole experience was adventure enough, and that is still one of the hardest trails that I have ever hiked in a day.

(c) ABR 2016

Expedition South Island: Day 5: Mishaps and Accomplishments on Stewart Island

Oban (c) ABR 2017

Got an early start this morning so that I could make the two hour drive from Te Anau to Bluff, where I caught the ferry over to Stewart Island. It was nice to drive without traffic for a few hours, but when it is dark on the roads in New Zealand, it is DARK. Just you and 20ft of road, twisting off into the blackness. It was pretty mesmerizing at times, especially when the fog started rolling in.

My little fantail friend (c) ABR 2017

The ferry over to the island was less eventful, because the weather was good and the ride was short. But walking into the small town of Oban (population 400 according to the ferry captain) was interesting. The town is so small, and most of the restaurants are closed for the winter right now, but as with other small islands I have been to, the town hotel kept things lively. It was the only place to stop in for food at this point. I had my first real meal in several days there- sea food chowder and a fruit crumble, because sadly, there were none of the famous oysters available.

The stairs I fell down (not all of them) (c) ABR 2017

Feeling utterly full, I set right out onto the trail. It’s a different kind of hiking here, all through the dense rainforest, and depending on the trail, down one of Oban’s few roads, which are narrow and thus, somewhat uncomfortable to walk on. At one point, a little fan tail started following me down the trail, and he even let me crouch down to get a good look at him. Apparently, however, he draws the line at picture taking, because as soon as my camera was out he flitted off. Only to start following me again when I was walking.

(c) ABR 2017

Unfortunately, besides the birds and forests, another mainstay of the trails near town are stairs, with slippery, wooden frames. I ended up sliding down quite a few of them at one point, and I landed right on my palm. I’m pretty sure I lost my trusty sunglasses at that point too… but it took me hours to notice because the pain in my hand was enough to leave me wondering if I had broken it. There was not much else on my mind when I got back to my feet. Luckily, after about 5 hours, my hand is looking better and has more mobility, so I think I just managed to bruise it badly.

(c) ABR 2017

I took about a 45 minute break at the hostel to cradle my hand and look up things about bruised palms and broken wrists on the internet, and then I decided I couldn’t miss this opportunity to explore Stewart Island anymore. So, with my hand held up for circulation, I set back out, just planning on meandering for a couple of hours until it was a respectable time for dinner. Instead, I ended up hiking ~10km in a race against the trail signage. One part of the trail said 8km, 3hrs, I did it in half the time. My legs weren’t even tired.

In the end, I guess today wasn’t half bad. Sure, I lost my favorite sunglasses, but I am pretty sure my hand isn’t broken, and I’m consistently breaking times on the longer walks here, which feels good.

Wanna know a great place to see before Stewart Is. on an epic NZ roadtip? Day 4!
How about exploring Christchurch before leaving for home? Day 6!