On Memorial Day weekend I went to Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin with a few friends to do some hiking. It was my first trip out of Chicago since coming home from New Zealand and I was long overdue for some greenery. We braved the mosquitos and walked around the Stephens’ Falls area, which is an easy loop that has a storage houses and other remnants from when the Stephens family occupied the land in the late 1800s. The namesake waterfall is tranquil, and the track is well maintained. There are many wildflowers, such as the Virginia waterleaf, daisies, dog roses, wood violets, and dandelions.
For my 10 day break from teaching in Christchurch, I took a 10 day road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. I headed south from Christchurch and spent a couple of days in the Catlins, then spent a rainy Christmas day in Bluff. This part of the country is less heavily touristed than most others and I was able to do quite a bit of sightseeing and hiking in relative tranquility. Highlights of the first few days were the Moeraki Boulders, Nugget Point, the trio of waterfalls (Purakaunui, Mclean, and Matai), and hiking in Bluff. There are amazing birds and flowers as well as spectacular ocean views from the Bluff lookout.
I spent a gorgeous, but hot, Sunday afternoon walking Taylor’s Mistake at Godley Head with a Meetup group. It’s an easy coastal walk with amazing views and plenty of history. There are World War II fortifications and remains of old holiday homes from the late 1800s. It’s a wonderful way to spend a day not too far out of Christchurch.
The Macauley Valley is an area north of Tekapo that is only accessible by 4wd, horse, bike, or foot. You follow a winding river for about 18 kilometers to reach a well maintained Department of Conservation hut. It’s well worth the trip to get there as the isolation has been unmatched by anywhere else I’ve been in New Zealand and the views of the Southern Alps are incredible. There is some good walking to be done up the hills or further down the river and there are a few swimming holes as well.
One of the touristy highlights of Christchurch is the sprawling, 50-acre Botanic Gardens next to Hagley Park, right in the center of town. My favorite part of the gardens was the Cunningham House, which has a tropical collection of plants from all over the world. There is also an “Erica Garden”! You can easily spend a couple hours wandering around and getting lost in your thoughts.
The Everglades is a 1.5 million acre swath of wetlands in Southern Florida. There are two main highways that cut through the preserve – the Tamiami (Tampa to Miami) and I-75 (Alligator Alley). Tamiami is generally considered the more touristic way to see the sites, as there are several stops with walking paths along the way. It’s easy to see alligators most times of year and there are tons of bird species as well. My favorite walking path was at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park as it was a bit quieter and more secluded than the other areas. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, there are also extended walking trails for longer camping trips.
The little town of Ochopee is a nice stop along the way if you’re doing a road trip. You can see the smallest post office in the United States and grab lunch at Joanie’s Blue Crab, a divey local joint with lots of fried seafood on offer.
The Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens is located in Delray Beach, FL and is a nice spot to relax and experience some nature. The gardens are lovely and the museum features work by Japanese artists. There is also an exhibit for children about traditional life in a Japanese home and also a variety of different types of gardens, showing how zen gardens have evolved. If you are so inclined, you can feed the koi fish in the pond as well. Try to go on a weekday when it’s not so crowded so you can get the full peaceful benefit of the environment.