A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

The Final Week

After leaving behind Milford Sound, we headed to the southernmost portion of the South Island. On the way, we made an overnight pit stop in the impossibly small fishing village of Colac Bay. We hunkered down in a campervan site for the night right next to the local pub. Since it was Easter Weekend the bar was packed with enthusiastic beer drinking rugby fans, so we shared in the excitement of the game with the locals. Turns out I know very little about rugby, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

From Colac Bay we stopped at the Anderson Park Art Gallery in the town of Invercargill, the biggest small town in the area. The gallery is in an old mansion on beautiful grounds and exhibits New Zealand art – it was just as nice exploring the old house and grounds as it was checking out the art.
7086101653_f225ea2378.jpgThe Anderson mansion

The Catlins is an area located in the far south of the South Island and is made up of farmlands, forests and windy bays. While there we observed several fur seal colonies, wandered around the grounds of two old lighthouses, stood on the southern most point of the South Island, walked along a few desolate beaches, and stopped off at a petrified forest only visible at low tide (the petrified trees are apparently Jurassic age). The Catlins is really diverse and worth a side trip – it is especially glorious if you luck out with fine weather.
7086101751_2efac794b3.jpg Some sea lions mulling about
6940029192_f83ff6b612.jpg The old lighthouse
6940029270_7eb2b8d37d.jpgAt a crossroads in the Catlins
6940029338_c751127b09.jpgOur "bedroom view" from the Jucy
7086102055_76cbaa4613.jpgThe petrified forest
7086102103_5bec9c840f.jpgA view from one of the caves only accessible at low tide

Jeff has been talking about Dunedin, our next stop-off, for some time as it is home to New Zealand’s Cadbury Factory and Speight’s Brewery, New Zealand’s most popular beer chain. Since it was just post-Easter, he was hoping to score some big deals on Easter candy. We signed up for a “double tour” – the Cadbury Factory Tour in the morning and the Speight’s Brewery Tour in the afternoon. Being from “Chocolatetown, USA”, we are a bit partial to our own chocolate company and factory tour, but they still managed to lure us in with Cadbury Easter Eggs :) It was onto the brewery next and I knew I was going to be the DD as I have never cared much for beer. The tour was surprisingly interesting thanks in large part to our excellent tour guide – he really knew his beer, I’ll give him that. I had never heard of Speight’s before arriving in New Zealand, but their Gold Medal Ale is apparently the biggest seller in New Zealand and is also available at Trader Joe’s in the US. At this particular factory, they still make all of their beer the old fashioned way, in wooden barrels and copper boilers.
6940029604_de13a8e643.jpgAt the Speight's factory
7086102379_43f0fcea51.jpgA sample of the beers made at Speight's
7086102271_cf61ef9048.jpgDunedin's histortic train station
6940029712_bd990e7eea.jpgBaldwin Street- apparently holds the world record for being the steepest street in the world at 19 degrees

After a generous free-tasting session at the brewery, we headed off to see if we could spot penguins in the wild. Penguins are especially tricky to spot because they hunt in the open ocean all day long and then only come back to shore around sunset to feed their young. We headed out to a hide located along a desolate beach to see if any would show (they will stay offshore and neglect their young if people or other predators are too close) and were ecstatic to finally see three little guys walking up a steep sand dune. For a species that lacks solid legs, they can move shockingly fast. Then, on our walk back to the car, we spotted another three making their way up a sandbank on the opposite end of the beach. Mission accomplished.

We stopped for the night at a roadside rest area (classy stuff) and headed the next day for the Banks Peninsula and Christchurch. The drive was beautiful but took longer than anticipated due to windy mountain roads. The Banks Peninsula is a gorgeous piece of land that was formed by two volcanoes. It actually used to be an island, but over thousands of years has grown together with the mainland. We spent the day there walking around Akaroa, a former French colonial town and whaling station, and checking out the cheese shop and local museum. That night we stayed at a working farm up in the hills with the best views around.
6940030494_353344b355.jpgOne of the many sheep encountered during the day
7086102517_79a0682cf1.jpgAt the stinky cheese shop
6940030024_bf3dfcb4e3.jpgDriving into the Banks Peninsula
6940030080_b2dc8298be.jpgBest campervan park views!

Christchurch, the final stop off of on our trip, was up next and we blazed into town for some sightseeing. We were totally blown away to see massive city blocks still cornered off after the earthquake that struck in February 2011. It has taken them a long time to get back on their feet and it must have been tragic for a lot of residents and businesses – literally most of the downtown has been closed for over a year and parts of it will remain closed for some time to come. We walked around the barriers surrounding the downtown, wandered through the impressive botanical gardens, and checked out the well done museum. Our guide book had a walking tour for the city, but more than half of the highlights were now off limits or closed.
6940030452_de3bc7c6b1.jpgThe "punting" canal
7086102795_536bb1c6d0.jpgSome of the buildings post-earthquake
6940030400_e5cc304c8d.jpgMost businesses had to move shop

To top off our time in New Zealand we decided to watch a rugby match between the home town Crusaders and the undefeated South African Stormers. The main stadium in town was also damaged by the earthquake, so an impressive temporary stadium has been built to host matches. We headed to the sold-out stadium with hoards of paraphernalia wearing fans and sat on the home team side. It turned out to be a lot of fun, even though we had no idea what half of the penalties were for, and it was nice to see other folks get just as crazy about their sports as we do. Though we did hear one Kiwi fan remark that their attempt at the “wave” was sad in comparison to 100,000 baseball fans doing the same feat in the US :) Filled to the brim with a bratwurst, meat pie and chips, we left the stadium with all of the other Crusader fans high off an upset win over the Stormers – I just might have become a rugby fan in the process.
6940030346_f111a93eaa.jpgGetting in a ruck
7086102735_ab08266b4c.jpgAhhh, bratwurst
7086102819_edd51eae75.jpgLast official night in NZ!

After one month of hopping around New Zealand, our time here has drawn to an end. It has been an amazing stay and the scenery was absolutely fantastic! We leave with some great memories (skydiving, bungee jumping, zorbing, etc.) and hope to be back some day. For our marathon trip home, we head now to Auckland for the day, then Hong Kong, and finally Newark. We are currently at the Auckland Airport as I type this and are going to head out to the mall and catch some movies during our outrageously long layover. We will make a last posting or two on our trip as a whole in the next few days, so until then… :)

Posted by geldere 20:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Wet Coast?

After kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, we started our journey to the southern portion of the South Island. Ironically, the west coast of the South Island is also known as the “wet coast” due to its heavy rainfall, but we have not had a drop of rain and the weather has been spectacular. We continue to keep our fingers crossed that the rain will hold off.

After a day and a half of driving through gorgeous countryside, we were in glacier country. The area is famous for two glaciers in particular - Franz Joseph and Fox. They both flow down from Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, and over thousands of years have carved the mountain valleys they now sit in. We hiked to both glaciers to get a better look, but because of safety concerns, we were never closer than 200 yards. They were still impressive, even from a distance.
IMG_5427.jpgAt the pancake rocks on our drive (wind and water have carved out the rock so they now look like pancake stacks
IMG_5472.jpgEven the view in your rearview mirror is pretty amazing
IMG_5431.jpgViews along our drive of the west coast
IMG_5468.jpgA view of Fox Glacier in the background

At Fox Glacier we decided to partake in a pricey but well worth it helicopter ride. Neither of us had ever flown in a helicopter before, so we were both pretty excited. When we arrived our pilot looked to be about 20-years old and, although I am irritated at the youth discrimination I receive at my own job, I found myself questioning his experience level. But, in the end, our child-pilot got us up and around safely and gave us a great tour – so now I chide myself for my doubt. After experiencing the glacier from the air, I now feel like there is no better way to see it – you can really appreciate the grandeur of it all. Jeff’s enthusiasm for the helicopter ride continues on and now he has another expensive hobby he’d like to learn :)
IMG_5492.jpgA bird's eye view of the glacier
IMG_5498.jpgThe majority of the glacier (at the top)- it's over 100 meters deep in parts
IMG_5518.jpgPost ride!
IMG_5528.jpgA view of the glacier from below at its base

After sleeping at a sea side campervan site just south of Fox Glacier, we started the drive to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world and our next destination. After more mind blowing scenery in route (New Zealand is truly up there with the most beautiful places I have ever seen), Jeff casually mentions that we are driving past the spot where commercial bungee jumping was born - Kawarau Bridge.
IMG_5550.jpgSome of the great scenery we were alluding to
IMG_5595.jpgLife in the Jucy

Bungee jumping has been on our to-do lists for some time, but I don’t like heights (skydiving was a major accomplishment for me), so I was never sure that I was going to cross this one off my list. But, since we were driving by, I did agree to stop and check it out. After seeing a woman my mom’s age (which is quite young :)) take the plunge, I blurted out “I’m in” and quickly signed up before I could change my mind.

Between the two of us, I volunteered to go first and was feeling pretty good while making small talk with the man who was tying my feet together. But, even though I thought I had it all together, once my toes were over the edge of the platform and I could see how far I was suppose to fall, I said: “I don’t think I can do this”. My very encouraging bungee jump attendant informed me that yes, I can in fact do this. So, before I tried to talk myself out of it, I sucked it up, leaned forward, and jumped. At first, the sensation was the same as skydiving – stomach falling 1000 miles a minute – but once the bungee caught, I just felt like I was floating. There was no whip lash like you might think. Once I was back on solid ground, it was Jeff’s turn. He, of course, just walked over and jumped like it was no big deal – one of these days I am going to find something that really freaks him out! Bungee Jumping: Glad I did it, but I doubt I’ll get into it recreationally :)
If you want to check out the video of us taking the plunge you can click below:
Elizabeth's Jump & Jeff's Jump
IMG_5647.jpgAbout to take a leap of faith
IMG_5653.jpgQuite the head-rush hanging upside down like that!
IMG_5682.jpgA view of the bungee bridge

We decided to stop for the night just outside of Queenstown in Arrowtown, an impossibly picturesque little town – I completely fell in love with it. It might have had something to do with the magic of fall – red, yellow, and orange trees were everywhere. We did eventually make it to Queenstown, a pretty cute town itself. While no Arrowtown, it definitely has an “Aspen or Breckenridge” feel and we enjoyed checking out the downtown and shops.
IMG_5718.jpgThe fall colors in Arrowtown
IMG_5726.jpgDowntown Queenstown

After two days in and around Queenstown, we moved on to our last stop on the wet coast – the Milford Sound. We actually got to the harbor just in the nick of time for the last tour boat of the day. While the views from the tour boat were nice, the drive up was just as gorgeous with tons of mountains and rolling hills dotted with sheep. Apparently, the “sound” in Milford Sound is actually a misnomer – it’s a fjord. A fjord is carved out by glaciers while a sound is carved out by a river – learn something new everyday!
IMG_5787.jpgA view of Milford Sound
IMG_5805.jpgOne of the waterfalls in the area
IMG_5862.jpgThe scenery driving to the Sound

For the next few days we are going to explore the southern tip of the South Island and then head up to Christchurch for what will be – gasp – the last week of our trip! We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 15:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Crossing the Cook Strait to New Zealand's South Island

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After saying goodbye to Brad, we spent another two full days in Wellington relaxing, catching up on necessary chores like laundry and grocery shopping, and squeezed in a little more site seeing by riding Wellington’s historic cableway car up to the botanical gardens for some great views of the city. Our bad weather streak finally ended by our second day in town and we have had sunshine and blue skies ever since. Windy Welly lived up to its name, however, nearly blowing us over as we walked around town. I now know what “gale force winds” feel like.
IMG_5036.jpgA view of the cable car with Wellington in the distance

New Zealand is principally made up of two islands, so from Wellington, we said adios to the North Island and took a three-hour car ferry across the Cook Strait to the South Island. As we approached the South Island, we had some stunning views of the Marlborough Sound.
IMG_5061.jpgA view coming into the South Island
IMG_5072.jpgA car ferry headed the opposite way to Wellington

Once our Jucy was off of the ferry, we headed south to the small town of Kaikoura for some wildlife spotting. We completed a three-hour hike around the peninsula jutting out from Kaikoura and along the way were rewarded with beautiful ocean vistas and close up views of a fur seal colony - arguably too close because one of them snarled at us as we walked by. After traveling through Africa, we have a lot of respect for wild animals, so we retreated pretty quickly. In addition to our hike, we also stopped by a “sheep shearing” show. Sheep are a huge part of New Zealand’s history and economy. New Zealand actually has more sheep than people, about eight sheep for every one person, a fact which generally leads to a lot of jokes.
IMG_5093.jpgViews almost straight off the boat
IMG_5149.jpgJeff checking out the views from the Kaikoura Peninsula
IMG_5167.jpgA fur seal- this one was obviously unconcerned by our presence
IMG_5131.jpgLife in the Jucy- me chatting with my Dad
IMG_5113.jpgChecking out some sheep before the show

Using Kaikoura as our starting point, we decided to drive around the South Island counter clockwise and end up in Christchurch on or about April 15th, the last day of our trip. So from Kaikoura, we headed to the Marlborough Wine Region around Blenheim. The South Island is well known for its wine (particularly sauvignon blanc) and has upwards of 200 vineyards. Never having had much of a knack for wine before our trip, I find I am developing quite a taste for it! Jeff rolls his eyes at me when I make remarks like – “I really taste the toffee in this one” – I think he fears I’m becoming a “pseudo-intellectual wino”. I just might be ;) After sampling our fill of wine, we stopped by the extremely well done WWI aviation museum funded in part by Peter Jackson, the Lord of the Rings’ director. The exhibits on the “Red Baron” and his demise were especially amazing due in part to the abovementioned director’s creative geniuses (and money).
IMG_5210.jpgJeff enjoying the vino
IMG_5211.jpgOn my evolution to becoming a wino :)
IMG_5196.jpgAt the aviation museum

On our way to the town of Nelson, our next stop, we traversed the Queen Charlotte Drive which took us along the Marlborough Sound. The views were amazing, but the road was the windiest I have ever been on – it should come with a warning for people who get motion sick.
IMG_5231.jpgThe beautiful Marlborough Sound

Our reason for stopping in Nelson was to try to meet up with our traveling friends from Switzerland, Tristan and Caroline. We met them for the first time in Mozambique and then our paths crossed again in Thailand for New Year’s. We knew they would be passing through Nelson in the near future, but we had not heard from them in a few days. As we arrived in downtown Nelson, we stopped at a traffic light behind a “Britz” campervan (we knew they were driving this type of campervan). Jeff remarked: “how funny would it be if that were them”. Almost as if on cue, a head turned around in the back window of the Britz, gave a wide-eyed stare, and started waving furiously…it was Tristan! After the shock wore off from the serendipitous timing, we met their friend from home, Jeremy, traded travel stories, spent the day checking out town, cooked dinner together, and did some stargazing (we saw three shooting stars…pretty cool). Though we only had a short time to catch up, it was really fun to see them again!
P1060025.jpgThe travel gang back together
P1060026.jpgCatching up at dinner

The next morning, we set out towards Abel Tasman National Park. We spent the day driving along the coast gawking at Golden Bay and stopped off at a salmon farm for lunch. At the farm you can catch a fish (or as many as you like) in one of their stocked ponds and then they prepare it for you to eat. Jeff was feeling pretty good about himself because he was able to catch me my lunch. The farm then smoked it for me with lemon and garlic – it was delicious! If only I had a nice class of sauvingon blanc to go with it ;)
IMG_5266.jpgSome mountain views along the drive
IMG_5282.jpgThe hunter at work

Abel Tasman National Park sits right on the water, so a kayak provides an ideal way to explore the park. So first thing the next morning, we headed out in a double kayak and had a good time taking in the scenery and getting in a much needed upper body workout. We spotted four stingrays on our way to the north shore of Adele Island. The north shore is home to a fur seal colony with a surprising number of baby fur seals. The babies were extremely curious and playful. They popped their heads over rocks to check us out and even jumped in the water to get a closer look. I could have watched them all day – they were so cute. After three hours of paddling, we parked our kayak at a beach and enjoyed the scenic three-hour hike back to town.
IMG_5358.jpgCute personified
IMG_5379.jpgA view of Adele Island on our walk back

Over the next few days we are heading further south and, fingers crossed, our beautiful weather will continue. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 01:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

New Zealand – Bring on the Pant-Wetting Activities!

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We arrived in Auckland late at night from Sydney, checked into our hostel, and, since it was St. Patty’s Day, headed out straight away to celebrate with the other “one night a year Irish folk”. We went to Danny Doolans Irish Pub and quickly discovered that New Zealanders celebrate St. Patty’s Day pretty much like everyone else. It was a good start to our time in New Zealand!

Auckland is very geographically blessed; it is located on a tiny strip of land surrounded on the east and west by ocean and the north and south by dormant volcanoes and lush countryside. We hit all of the obligatory tourist stops via a self guided walking tour of the city, but I have to say a highlight was watching the Volvo Ocean Race sailboats depart the harbor for the next leg of the race. The Volvo Ocean Race is a “who can make it around the world fastest” type of race with state of the art boats. As part of the festivities for the send-off, there were lots of stands and free activities, including a simulator and 3D movie on what it is like to sail across open oceans. We also caught a glimpse of big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton giving the Puma sponsored boat a personal sendoff.
IMG_4681.jpgThe boats all lined up before the start of the race
IMG_4692.jpgLaird giving a hand to the Puma team before they head-off

For the first time in a while we had rainy weather on our second day in Auckland, but we persevered to get some sightseeing in anyway. We traveled to Waiheke Island just off the coast of Auckland in a borderline squall and found ourselves stuck with the indoor activities. Lucky for us that included wine tours :) So, we caught the local bus and ran from vineyard to vineyard tasting the local flavors. The day nearly busted our umbrellas, but we made it through, and had a fun time in the process.
IMG_4740.jpgGetting ready to sample the microbrewery flavors
IMG_4742.jpgJeff braving the wind and rain
Vino_-_E.jpgI'm all set :)

The next morning we left Auckland behind in our new and supped-up Jucy campervan. It’s the “condo” version, so it has standing room, a double burner stove, larger fridge, and can seat and sleep four – we are livin’ the life :) For our first stop we headed straight to the Waitomo Caves for some “adrenaline-pumping, gut-wrenching, soaking-wet, pitch-black, squeezing, plummeting excitement” as they say. We signed up for a two-hour black water rafting trip with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Our tour guides led us through a cave which required us to float on inner tubes and jump off of waterfalls – in the dark. It was pretty awesome! While floating through the caves you can see “glowworms” on the roof (the larvae of the fungus gnat) – they look like florescent stars and are amazing to see. After hot showers, bagels and soup (it’s cold here), we headed to Rotorua, our next destination.
IMG_4808.jpgLeaving Auckland- the surrounding city and our Jucy
IMG_4809.jpgIn our wetsuits and rubber booties- ready for some adventure
BWR1-20-03..ndy_014.jpgBrad's first "test jump" into the river- and that, ladies and gentleman, was how cold the water was :)
BWR1-20-03..ndy_023.jpgGroup photo in the cave
Black_Labyrinth_009.jpgCheck out the glowworms on the ceiling- they really were that bright

The area in and around Rotorua is a geothermal attraction in itself, including hot springs, geysers, and bubbling mud pools galore. We stopped at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland to watch the Lady Knox Geyser blow its top and then checked out the surrounding thermal pools. They ranged from stinky sulfer pools to florescent green lakes. It was a lot like Yellowstone if you’ve ever been - very cool!
IMG_4816.jpgThe Lady Knox Geyser
IMG_4850.jpgOne of the many steaming lakes and hyper-colored pools
IMG_4863.jpgJeff and Brad at the florescent green pool- it looked nuclear to me
IMG_4859.jpgWe lost Jeff in the steam for a minute- this was him emerging

While in Rotorua, we also decided to partake in a classic Kiwi adventure activity called Zorbing. Basic concept- you jump into an enormous inflatable ball full of water and then roll down a hill. We decided to all go together to really get some speed. Mercifully, the water they pump in is hot and, because of the water, you slide around inside the ball all the way down the hill, while at the same time trying not to slap or kick each other in the face. We screamed like little kids and had a blast - it was a hilarious and fun experience! Put it on your list :)
IMG_4879.jpgInside that ball we are laughing like little kids

Our next stop on our crazy adventure was Lake Taupo, the self proclaimed skydiving capital of the world (over 30,000 jumps a year). What better place to skydive, right? That is what we said! It took a lot of gall for me to even sign up, but we made it to our dive site, Taupo Tandem Skydive , and got briefed before they told us the weather was not “diving appropriate” (too cloudy). After waiting a little while hoping the clouds would break, we decided to come back and try again later in the day, prolonging my anxiety. In the meantime, the boys found a golf course, another check off on the list (play golf in New Zealand), and the weather did in fact clear. So, we made our way back to the jump site, got geared up, and then told how “best to fall out of the plane”. My tandem jumper was Albert, a pro with thousands of jumps (and still alive), so that was comforting. All I can say is that when the door opened and I saw Jeff and Brad not jump, but literally fall over the side of the plane – well, I was glad I had someone there to push me out. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how the first five seconds of the free-fall felt - it was insane - like how your stomach feels when the elevator drops too fast – times 100!!! It was happy times when our parachutes opened and we all eventfully landed on the ground safely. There was so much adrenaline, we were all talking and laughing hysterically recounting our various levels of freak out. In the end, I am very glad I did it, but it was an absolutely crazy experience!
If you have any interest in watching our 8 minute skydive video click HERE (we didn't pay for the freefall video- uber expensive- but the other two girls in our video did and their footage is included)
Taupo.jpgA view from above- it's getting pretty real at this point
All of our exit photos before we jumped- I think my thought at this moment was "Ohmigosh, this is actually happening!"
IMG_4915.jpgComing in for landing- much smoother than I thought it would be
IMG_4933.jpgPost-jump- we were all feeling pretty ALIVE at this moment

With the high of skydiving still pumping through our veins, we left the next morning for Tongariro National Park. Alpine trekking is the big thing to do there and we had our hearts set on doing the Alpine Crossing, supposedly one of the best day hikes in NZ. But, the weather was totally uncooperative (rain, wind and low visibility), so we decided to do a shorter, circuit hike out to a picturesque waterfall instead. After completing the hike in a little under two hours and managing not to get soaking wet, we drove south for a few hours through Whanganui National Park and eventually ended up in the town of Paraparaumu for the night. There wasn’t a lot going on there, but they did have a bowling alley. I was absolutely out of form (meaning I’m usually terrible) and somehow managed to win the first two games. In our third and final game, Jeff was ahead by 21 pins on the 10th frame, so he was feeling pretty confident. But out of nowhere, Brad bowled a Turkey (a triple strike on the 10th frame) to the win the game, just about breaking Jeff’s heart. It was a fun last night!
IMG_4942.jpgA view of the waterfall on our hike-still beautiful despite the rain
IMG_4980.jpgThe gorgeous NZ countryside in Whanganui National Park

We ended up the next morning in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand (nicknamed “Windy Welly” for good reason). Brad was catching a plane home later in the day, but before his flight, we managed to wander around the impressive and well done Te Papa Museum, hit up a microbrewery for lunch, and walk around the downtown. A special thanks to Brad for making the trek to come travel with us. We had a lot of fun and it was definitely adrenaline filled! We are heading to the South Island in the next few days and we’ll write more from there soon!
IMG_4991.jpgA view of Windy Welly

Posted by geldere 01:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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