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.

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Expedition South Island: Day 4: Fiordlands Blew My Mind

Miles Hiked: ~3
Time Hiking: 1.5hr

I think it’s clear from the little map above, I did a ton of driving today! I had no idea how far Milford Sound was from Te Anau (little planning oversight there), but my goodness, was it worth it.

Mountains above Queenstown (c) ABR 2017

First of all, the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was a stunning continuation of the mountains that I was exploring in Mt. Aspiring (same colors and character). It was so beautiful with the sunrise, it was honestly a little disappointing to have to be driving. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but it just wasn’t much of a possibility (although I did pull over to snap the one above). My hitch hiker pals told me that Queenstown is a great place to visit, but sadly, I didn’t have time to stop. It did look like a town with a lot to offer though… how could it not with a mountainous backdrop like that!?

(c) ABR 2017

Anyway, Milford Sound is one of those NZ designations that everyone raves about, which, oddly, made me doubt that it could really be that great, ESPECIALLY after what I had already seen in Mt. Cook and Mt. Aspiring. But by all that is good… Fiordlands (the NP that is home to Milford Sound) is one of the most amazing places that I have ever seen. The mountains on the drive in, especially those surrounding the tunnel, are just unlike anything I’ve experienced before. You have forests and grasslands at their base, and then these mountains are just masses of rock. They are so steep that barely anything grows on them, but for mossy-looking plants that just make the whole place seem other-worldly. I honestly can’t rave about that place enough.

The famous Milford Sound (c) ABR 2017

As for Milford Sound itself, I really wanted to hike, so I missed out on the boat ride. It was really crowded down there anyway, and I just wasn’t feeling it with all the buses swarming everywhere. I am sure that those of you who have done it before would say that that was a mistake, but I wouldn’t have wanted to unwittingly miss out out on the hike I ended up doing.

Gertrude Valley. Doesn’t sound like much. Actually, I have no idea why I decided to turn down the short little dirt road that opened in to the parking lot for the trail, but it was an unbelievable experience. First off, note that this is a dangerous trail during avalanche season (which it is not currently), and that I didn’t do the steep part of the trail due to lack of preparation in terms of gear and time constraints. But the trail there took me through some fairy tale forests, and through vast grasslands between the mountains that I loved so much, right to the base of a peak that looked like the mountain above Fairy Pools in Scotland… but if it was on steroids.

If nothing else, this one day made this trip for me. I didn’t know that something this cool existed. I could spend weeks here hiking around.

5 Reasons You Should Visit Sevastopol Station Before It Plummets Into KG-348

(1) Unbeatable Views: So many space stations are just hanging out in the middle of nowhere, but not Sevastopol. This lovely city in the stars hangs right over the beautiful gas giant, KG-348. Nothing could go wrong in this romantic, breathtaking location.

(2) Your Safety Always Comes First: A lot of us are worried about safety when we travel, but Sevastopol Station is definitely not one of those destinations. There are always Emergency Phones close at hand, and a state-of-the-art medical center just a ten-minute train ride away. Of course, the safety of residents and visitors is a priority for Weyland, so you never need to worry if aliens are running loose or the AI suffers a head cold.

(3) Let APOLLO Handle the Logistics: The APOLLO AI runs Sevastopol, and will take care of all your concerns for you. From public transit to medical care, this AI will keep things sorted for you, and make sure you have nothing to worry about for the duration of your stay. Just sit back and relax with some light reading.

(4) Make Best Friends with a Working Joe: Most androids are made to look as human as possible, and that can be confusing. This is not a problem in Sevastopol, where Working Joes have been made to look like the robots they are. If you want to be best friends with one, feel free! They are really good at hide and seek, and great for thinning out the crowds when you need some space.

(5) Check Exotic Wildlife Off of Your Life List: You wouldn’t think that there would be much by way of wildlife in a space station like this one, and you wouldn’t be wrong. That being said, this is one of just a few places where you can snap a picture of a Xenomorph. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Navigating Ecotourism Certification

A guest post by Ryan Davila

Ecotourism is commonly defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). Simplifying this definition, ecotourism exists at the intersection of conservation efforts and sustainable development. While the idea of ecotourism sounds promising, there are many instances of ecotourism operators not delivering on the stated goals of the industry, creating concern that ecotourism is doing more harm than good on both conservation and sustainable development fronts.

(c) ABR 2016
(c) ABR 2016

In order to combat these potential negative impacts and identify those businesses that are living up to the promises of the industry, many international organizations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations have implemented ecotourism certification programs. Certification programs are defined as “a voluntary procedure that assesses, audits and gives written assurance that a facility, product, process or service meets specific standards. It awards a marketable logo to those that meet or exceed baseline standards set by the certification program” (definition by Martha Honey). The key word that I want to emphasize in this definition is the word “voluntary.” Explaining further, only the ecotourism operators that want to go through the certification process will be assessed.

(c) ABR 2016
(c) ABR 2016

The first programs were developed in 1985 and most focused on the environmental impacts. Many of these initial programs existed at the international level, meaning that these certification programs certified ecotourism operators all over the world. Fast forward to the present day, there are now roughly 200 ecotourism certification programs in existence. These programs are very diverse and, as mentioned, exist at virtually all geographic scales, ranging from international to local, and can include a variety of criteria and standards used to evaluate ecotourism operators. Although most, now include criteria that assess the socioeconomic impacts in addition to the environmental impacts of ecotourism.

(c) ABR 2016
(c) ABR 2016

Today, certification programs and certified ecotourism operators can be found all over the world in virtually every country (and to make is easy on you, you can find information on most online).  Some of the most common certification programs to look for include, but are not limited to: Green Globe, Green Key, Rainforest Alliance, Green Leaf, and TravelLife. If there are multiple certification programs available in a specific destination (which there usually are since an operator can apply for as many certification programs as desired as long as the operator is within the geographic scope of the project), it’s a good idea to see which operators are certified by multiple certification programs. This is not to say that these highly certified operators are the best in the destination, just that they are more likely to be dedicated to accomplishing the goals of ecotourism.

(c) ABR 2016
(c) ABR 2016

As ecotourism continues to grow and become more and more popular, it is important that we, as ecotourists, begin paying more attention to the impact that we have on both the communities and the natural areas that we visit during our expeditions. If we research certification programs and choose ecotourism operators that are certified at our destinations, we starting on the right path to becoming more conscious travelers.
*If you desire more information on ecotourism certification, please visit The International Ecotourism Society website (http://www.ecotourism.org/) or the DESTINET website (http://destinet.eu/who-who/market-solutions/certificates/fol442810).*

Ooh, Shiny: A Peek at the Tucson Gem Show

The Tucson Gem Show is a BIG DEAL. (And it’s not just gems – it’s fossils and minerals and other neato items.) It’s also considered one of the oldest and largest gem and mineral shows on this here planet Earth.

If you aren’t impressed yet, take into consideration that for a couple weeks it takes over downtown Tucson with vendors from all over the world (and it even has its own music festival).

Are you ready to race down to Tucson now? Are you putting the pedal to the metal? Well, hold your horses, because this year’s showcase is over. However, maybe some of these photos from the show can tide you over while you count down the months to the next gem show in late January of 2018.

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If you’re not particularly versed in gems and minerals (believe me, I’m 100% not), you can see that there’s definitely still some great photography (and people-watching) potential here.

Don’t miss it when it comes around again – maybe I’ll even see you there.

xx

Katie

The Story Behind the Name: Nightborn Travel

First, let me just come right out and say, Nightborn is named after a short-story by Jack London called The Night-born. Some of you may be familiar with the author, because of his famous book, The Call of the Wild. Many people also know that while he inspired people to be adventurers, and wrote many stories about the Alaskan wilderness, Jack London didn’t spend all that much time there, and he died an early death at 40. He was far from perfect, and the books that made him famous underscored a part of his life that was fairly fleeting, although it enchanted him and shaped his view of the world. I would venture to say that Alaska and places like it have done that for many people, including myself.

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(c) ABR

Despite his short-comings, Jack London has remained one of my favorite thinkers of the early 20th-century for one main reason. He shaped his life by his will and wit after coming to the determination that physical work was only temporary, and reliant on his physical health. On the other hand, he knew that his mind was not so fragile, and if he could make a living off of it, he would be all the better for it. The dogged persistence of Buck in The Call of the Wild is the perfect call-back to the kind of person Jack London himself was; he pursued his goal of becoming a writer despite his background and in spite of naysayers, and he got there. London was one of the most popular authors of his day, and he explored themes far beyond those of the Alaskan wilderness. He wrote about the human condition, and some of his most fascinating (and less well known) books examine the travesties of imprisonment and extreme poverty.

I won’t feign away from the fact that while London can certainly be said to be a product of the time (in other words, a least a bit racist and sexist), he had moments of clarity. One of those moments, in my opinion, comes from one of my favorite stories- The Night-born. What follows is my brief interpretation of the story; while I considered rereading it in detail to make sure I knew all my facts, I decided against it. I want to highlight what I remember of the tale, because that is what I named the site after, and it’s the principles that stuck with me that I want to shape the stories that we tell here and the information that we share.

(c) ABR
(c) ABR

The Night-born is essentially the story of a woman who never felt that she fit into the mold of society. In a time when the natural world was a thing to be dominated and destroyed, she felt called to the open and wild spaces. Practicality summoned her elsewhere, however, and the woman ended up married to a man in Juneau, toiling her days away in the city to make ends meet. One day, however, the following quote inspired her to follow nature’s siren call:

‘The young pines springing up, in the corn field from year to year are to me a refreshing fact. We talk of civilizing the Indian, but that is not the name for his improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim forest life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods and is admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with nature. He has glances of starry recognition, to which our saloons are strangers. The steady illumination of his qenius, dim only because distant, is like the faint but satisfying light of the stars compared with the dazzling but ineffectual and short-lived blaze of candles. The Society Islanders had their day-born gods, but they were not supposed to be of equal antiquity with the….. night-born gods.’

I could write an entire blog post on this one quote, its historical context and its layers of meaning, but instead I will simply say, that it served as her inspiration to seek the life she was meant to live. She left the city and went into the wilderness, and there she found herself.

So, what do I love about this story, written by a man that many consider to be extremely flawed? Like London’s own life, Nightborn follows the tale of someone that followed their dreams, and in this rare case, that person is a woman. Though things are changing now, women were often barred from participating in many outdoor activities, and there are still those who are unhappy with the growing presence of ladies in the wilderness. But like the Night-born, we here seek to persist towards our dreams, and as women, we also want to step out and show our strength as explorers, and thinkers.

(c) ABR
(c) ABR

Call of the Unknown and the Roots of Adventure

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London

Most people who love to explore the outdoors are aware of some story about nature and tragedy. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer tells the well-known tale of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest, when a storm swept the mountain and killed twelve people, including experienced guides. The 2010 movie 127 Hours depicts the true story of Aron Ralston, a legendary Colorado climber, who became trapped in Blue John Canyon when a boulder crushed his arm. He narrowly escaped 6 days later, starved, and having had to cut his own arm off. The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer follows the historical struggles of the men who fought to conquer Eiger in the Bernese Alps. Within this book is the account of Toni Kurtz, a young climber who died on the mountain in 1936 while hanging, trapped from a rope a mere 60 meters from his rescuers. The list goes on, and on. For every story of triumph in nature there is always a poignant, tragic reminder that human life is fragile, and nature can take that spark as unfeelingly as ever.

So, why is it, in a world of Western comforts, complete with a universe of fictional worlds to explore from the safety of our homes, that people still go out to face the forces of the natural world? Why risk death to summit a mountain, or see the depths of an otherworldly canyon in the middle of the wilderness? In the past, when exploration was tantamount to national pride, the sacrifice of George Mallory perhaps made more sense, but in the modern world, in which nearly every corner of the Earth seems to have been explored, even this motivation has lost its relevancy. Yet, we keep exploring, and putting our lives on the line. Why? Why, when the planet has been mapped and we all know what can happen when we fail?

I believe that exploration is part of us, a siren call that led us from the heart of Africa to the rest of the planet. There is no other multi-celled organism that is as common and widespread as humans, and we cannot say that our modern technology is behind our ability to spread and adapt. Long, long before Columbus ever set out on his fateful journey to the “Indies,” North and South America were fully colonized by humans. There were intricate civilizations and a myriad of different cultures there; most of these women and men were descended from the brave people that dared to face the freezing weather of the north in order to cross the land-bridge between modern-day Alaska and Russia. Likewise, before Europeans struggled against the wind and waves of the Pacific, the ancestors of the Polynesian people faced the true unknown and ventured out into the water. Wave after wave, generation after generation, we humans have explored. We have put our lives on the line for uncharted vistas.

So, while people that still live by this code can be confounding, I think it is good to know that the spirit of the original humans lives on in us. We have thrived because we spread, we innovated, we adapted, and we explored. Perhaps continuing to tout the flag of our ancestors will help us, improve our happiness, and keep our minds open. Yes, the world has been mapped and named, but for each of us, Earth is a massive expanse of new people and places. Exploration is just as important as ever. It binds us to the real world, connects us to new cultures and perspectives, and keeps us feeling alive.

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