Gone glacial

Oakwood couple revisits ‘New Zealand Adventure’ at Dayton Backpacker Campfire

By Erin Callahan

Photo: Don and Nancy Drozd share their ‘New Zealand Adventure’ May 12 at C.I. Beaver Hall; photos: Don Drozd

When it comes to vacationers, some are beach people. Others are mountain people. Some prefer a low-key, relaxing getaway while others seek adventure. New Zealand is one of those places that can offer any or all of those things, which is a main reason why Oakwood’s Don and Nancy Drozd named it as one of their top vacation destinations and why they’re sharing their adventures May 12 at the Dayton Backpacker Campfire event.

“Nancy says it’s the best vacation we’ve ever had,” Don says. “I say it’s the second best—only because we didn’t do any camping. But they have a whole set of wonders there. They have mountains that go up to 10,000 feet. They have the oceans and the glaciers…There were so many beautiful sights, you just never knew what you were going to see next. The national parks, everything there, everything was an adventure.”

“There’s so much diversity in the landscape, so you can have a lot of different experiences in one trip,” Nancy adds.

To say New Zealand was a favorite is quite a claim coming from this well-traveled couple. In their 65-plus years, Nancy has traveled to all but one U.S. state, and the couple has also visited several destinations abroad, including Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Munich, Venice, and London.

They caught the travel bug early, but started traveling more frequently after their three children were out of college. Then, beginning in 2008, Don’s career took him on nine, eight-week overseas assignments. Nancy spent nearly four weeks with him on each assignment and they would take weekend trips together. “Every Friday, we were gone, going somewhere,” Don says.

The couple had heard others talk about great experiences they’d had in New Zealand, and it turned out to be the trip that left the most memorable impact. Near the end of 2015, Don sat down at his computer and Googled “travel to New Zealand.” He found a travel agent there who created a three-week itinerary for them on the north and south islands based on their interests, and about five months later, Don and Nancy boarded a plane for Auckland.

During the three weeks in February and March 2016, the couple hiked the 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the Queen Charlotte Track, and the Routeburn Track; they hiked two hours on the Franz Josef glacier; and they rode in a helicopter and flew in an eight-seat airplane from Queenstown to get eye-level with the glaciers to Milford Sound.

“On the Tongariro Alpine Crossing when we got up to the highest point—1,900 meters up—there was something they call the red crater,” Don says, recalling the most memorable part of the trip. “This is a volcanic crater, and the rock up there has a lot of iron in it, so it’s a deep red. You could see where the lava was coming out on one side of the crater. It was lipped around as it cooled, and it just poured down from there. It was like nothing we’d ever seen before.”

Nancy noted her most memorable part of the trip as a tie between hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier and taking the airplane ride over the glaciers to Milford Sound, describing them as “once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

Don and Nancy knew they would be doing some strenuous hiking on the trip, so they prepared with frequent walks at Sugarcreek MetroPark in Bellbrook. And while the hikes were spectacular, they made sure to balance their vacation with more relaxing activities as well.

“We went to a dinner that celebrated the Maori culture, like the equivalent of going to a luau in Hawaii,” Nancy recalls. “They wrapped the food and put it under a mound of dirt over coals that cooked it, and we played some games with them.”

They also experienced the Chinese Lantern Festival in Auckland, visited gardens in Auckland and Hamilton, checked out a Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown, tasted wine in the Marlborough region, and explored a museum that highlighted the native Maori culture. They also ate at several local restaurants featuring a lot of lamb and seafood, popular foods in the country.

New Zealand is also known as a filming location for the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and though Don and Nancy aren’t fans, it was impossible to miss nods to the series throughout the country. “We did see one or two spots where they filmed,” Don says, “and the guide told us that every horse that was owned by anybody in this part of the island was rented and used in the movies. Every horse!”

The couple also noted the friendly nature of the locals, the Kiwis, their respect for their native people, the Maori, and the pride they shared for having not one, but three national languages: English, Maori, and sign language.

“The Kiwis, they’re wonderful people, and the guides were wonderful too. They gave you so much information, things you wouldn’t have ever picked up if you hadn’t had a guided tour,” Don says. “Their biggest industry is tourism, and they treat tourists very well. It doesn’t matter where it is, they treat you well.”

For those who may be interested in traveling to New Zealand, Don shared some advice: “Go for at least three weeks to make it worthwhile,” he says. “Be sure to visit both the north and south islands. Using a travel agent from New Zealand was a wonderful way to go. Don’t be afraid of driving, even if they do drive on the other side of the road. Give yourself a balance of both physical challenges and days when you’re not doing much of that—if you get exhausted from serious hikes, it’s not as much fun. And remember their summer is our winter, so go between December and May for the best weather. And talk to the locals, they will make your trip very, very enjoyable.”

For those interested in learning more about the Drozds’ trip to New Zealand, they will present at C.I. Beaver Hall on May 12 at 7 p.m., as part of the Dayton Backpacker Campfire series. The Dayton Backpacker Campfire is an organization that meets once a month from September to May, and presenters talk about their trips for others who may be interested in similar travel.

“We want to share how easy it was for us to travel there,” Don says. “And if anyone has questions, we would be more than happy to talk, if someone gave us a call or sent an email. We could even give them a copy of our itinerary.”

Though New Zealand was one of the Drodz’s top vacations so far, it won’t be their last. As Nancy explains, “Traveling is so mind-expanding. You understand the world better, and you realize we’re all more alike than we are different. It’s very enlightening to meet other people and see how their countries do things.”

So what’s next on the list? The 50th U.S. state, Don says.

“Alaska in 2018. Got to hit everything on that bucket list!”

Don and Nancy Drozd present their ‘New Zealand Adventure’ at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 12 for the Dayton Backpacker Campfire at C.I. Beaver Hall, 3696 Highmont St. in Beavercreek. The event is free for all ages. Coffee, tea, and hot drinks will be served. For more information, please visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com

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