i haven’t posted a blog for several weeks, as we’re traveling. So where does a person vacation when s/he lives in paradise? Answer: New Zealand
After a long trip, leaving Kauai at 10:30 pm Thursday we arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand at 2:30 pm Saturday…..we crossed the international date line…weird!
The first afternoon was spent wandering and orienting ourselves to the city layout. The city was heavily damaged in 2010 and again in 2011 by earthquakes, so the downtown is a construction zone. Many buildings have been removed, with vacant lots fenced off in the middle of the city. We had dinner at a outdoor bar at which the kitchen was a trailer and the bar consisted of stools outside surrounded by construction tarps. Quite interesting, but fairly typical in the area as they rebuild. Note the name of the facility in the middle of the second photo.
Our first full day was spent in the botanical garden, the earthquake museum, and wandering around the city. One of the more interesting aspects of the earthquake recovery is the “container mall”, this consists of brightly painted shipping containers converted into shops, restaurants and other businesses, to replace the brick and mortar buildings that were heavily damaged. While in Christchurch we started sampling the country’s craft beers, we anticipate that this effort will take all 3 weeks of our trip. Of course this will be interspersed with wine sampling along the way. We also found a cafe in Christchurch that has great breads and bagels. We don’t have any really good bread shops in Kauai, so finding the cafe was a bonus.
We spent three days there before driving south along the east shore stopping in Moeraki. This is a very small, picturesque harbor town where the main attraction is large stone spheres resting on the flat sand beach. It is also home to seal colonies, and yellow-eyed penguins that we were fortunate enough to see in a refuge near the lighthouse. We managed to have lunch there, in the local tavern, consisting of blue cod and chips, with a seafood chowder. Really good!
The end of that day we spent in Dunedin, another picturesque college town. This is the home of Speight’s brewery, one of New Zealand’s favorite beers. The brewery’s “Ale House” is an interesting historic building ……other historic buildings include the railway station, a castle, and a Victorian house up the hill from the harbor. Dunedin reminds us of Madison, although much smaller. But a pretty town with a nice atmosphere.
Leaving Dunedin, we took the southern tourist route along the ocean, to Invercargill (the southern most city on the South Island), then heading north to Te Anau, which is at the edge of Fiordland National Park. Stopping for petrol along the way, the attendant recommended that we take the Doubtful Sound boat cruise rather than the Milford Sound cruise that we had planned. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice, the scenery is spectacular! Doubtful Sound was named by Captain James Cook, who was there in 1770s, but he was ‘doubtful’ that if they ventured into the sound, that they could get back out again. The area has deep inland lakes (~1300 feet), and on the other side of the mountains beautiful fiords leading in from the Tasman Sea. The mountains are sheer, rising 5000 to 6000 feet straight up from the water. Everything is green and luscious, and the mountains are covered with trees, in spite of the sheerness of the sides. As we got to the start of the sound, at the Tasman Sea, we saw fur seals sitting on rock islands. We also saw bottle nosed Dolphins swimming in the sound. The day was perfect.
Two views taken in Doubtful Sound” After spending the night in a cabin in a trailer park/campground (which reminded us of WI Dells), we drove to Milford Sound. We decided that we had made the right choice in doing the Doubtful Sound cruise, Milford was beautiful but busier and not any better than the previous day. Returning, we opted to experience a “Tramp”, otherwise known by us as a trek or hike. The part that we selected was the beginning of the Routebrae Track, a 2-4 day 32 km tramp, considered one of New Zealand’s best Great Walks. We only experienced a few miles (all uphill) to a lookout but the views were awesome, as were my painful quads the next day.
In addition to learning that when you go hiking you’re really ‘tramping’, we’ve learned a few other interesting words. In talking, it’s common to use ‘a wee bit’ to describe something small. Of course petrol refers to gasoline, but a camping cooler is a ‘chilly bin’ or ‘chilly bag’. Roads are slippery when ‘frosty’ rather than icy. One of the quirks about driving on the South Island is that most of the bridges are single lane. And when you’re driving the windy mountain roads, you have to be prepared to stop and wait for the oncoming traffic to clear the bridge. And one bridge we encountered had one lane, which was shared with train tracks at well!
On to Queenstown, a lovely city in south central South Island.. It is called the adventure capital of New Zealand, evidently bungee jumping started there. We saw many people paragliding off the surrounding mountains, but didn’t partake. The town is very tourist oriente, but we were there during the off season, thus it was fairly quiet. We had planned on staying for two nights but, since the weather was predicted to get very snowy, decided to leave after only one night. But we first checked out an awesome hamburger joint and the Queen Victoria park, who’s claim to fame is frisbee golf. A course that you throw a frisbee and at each “hole” there is a strange looking cone that you throw the frisbee into…..weird! It was a nice park though.
Queenstown is where we apparently set our camera down, and forgot it. So we were left having to take pictures from our cell phone – so we lost not only our camera but also the pictures that we had taken. Bummer….
The next morning…off to the west coast, over Haast Pass and toward the glaciers in the southern alps. We drove winding roads as far as Franz Josef, keeping just ahead of the bad weather. After spending the night it was on to Westland and across to Nelson, a rather long day but very very scenic.
Some of the hazards encountered on the narrow roads. This last picture was taken as we happened on a herd of sheep being driven down the highway about a quarter mile, from one pasture to another. About a dozen border collies and six farmers kept the sheep in check. Once the road was clear, we proceeded down the highway, driving over about a quarter mile of sheep poop!
We eventually got to Nelson, on the north shore of the South Island again, quite a nice city. We’ve been surprised about how mountainous the South Island is, other than the east còast, it is all mountains…… Awesome vistas and strenuous hiking. By the time we reached Nelson my muscles had recovered from the track from several days before.
Finally, a short trip, again up, down, and winding found us at Picton, the gateway to the North Island and where the ferry leaves. Here we stayed at the least expensive place during the trip, a hostel called The Tombstone, right next to not only the ferry dock but a cemetery. The sign at the hostel welcomed us with a big sign “rest in peace”. And we did. But first we took a guided winery tour, Picton is located in the Marlborough region where 80% of New Zealand’s wines are grown. The drinking and driving laws in New Zealand have just become very strict, about half the alcohol limit in the States, so the prudent selection was to be driven. It was a memorable experience with many good wines to be sampled.
Our ferry trip was supposed to be on the Blue Bridge Line, but all of their crossings were cancelled because of high seas (+5 meters) so we went to the other company, the Interislander, that was scheduled to leave at 2pm. However, it too was delayed so we sat at the dock and shared cheese and bread with a Canadian couple we met on the wine trip that we had taken the day before, until it finally left at 5:30pm. We arrived in Wellington at about 9:30pm….and since Charlie decided to reserve a cabin, the crossing was quite comfortable.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and quite cosmopolitan for a city of only 400,000. We did the usual tourist things, a walking tour, the cable car, a tour of Zealandia ( a bird sanctuary), a highlight was Te Papa, the museum of New Zealand, and last of all Cuba street, the “happening place” for young people. The weather wasn’t totally ideal but we enjoyed it.
This gentleman from Middle Earth helped to welcome us to Wellington.
Then, on to Central North Island and Lake Taupo, another beautiful lake near the highest mountain on the North Island and an active volcano. It was snow covered and beautiful as is so much of the scenery here. Rolling hills, sheep, waterfalls all add to the charm of this country. We have walked kilometers every day and my feet feel it, however, maybe we are getting in better shape. Leaving Taupo we stopped at Hulu Falls, an impressive torrent that drains Lake Taupo..wow! Huge amounts of water flow down the river – very impressive.
Then onto the glow worm caves at Waitomo. Charlie wasn’t particularly interested so I went by myself. The cave was spectacular with deep pits, stalagtites and stalagmites and at the deepest depth we took a small boat through an underground river in pitch black with thousands of glow worms in the ceiling like an underground Milky Way as well as total silence except for the sound of dripping water….pretty impressive!
Driving on through continual s-curves, we reached Rotorua, again on a very large lake. There the highlights were the thermal springs bubbling right in the center of town, emitting steam and boiling mud through multiple holes in the ground and reeking of sulfide…phew. I kept thinking about how close below our feet was hot magma. When we first arrived, I had thought that there were an awful lot of fires in the surrounding hills…. Only steam…..Very interesting. We capped the day with a pint of local beer and pub grub at The Pig & Whistle.
After leaving Rotura, we drove north past Aukland and up to the Bay of Islands. It was a long day with many delays due to road construction but…finally we arrived a the gate of Bay of Islands, the small town of Russell. But first we had to drive onto a ferry to get there. Russell is a lovely small town set on a hillside on a bay. It was the first Capitol of New Zealand, as well as a notorious hangout for sailors in the 1800s. Now it is a quaint, somewhat sleepy…at least the off-season…town. We checked the information kiosk who recommended several places to stay and ended up at an incredibly beautiful B&B, Titore Lodge, nestled up on a hill overlooking the harbor. Not only was the B&B over the top but we then went out for dinner and had, probably the best fish dinner of the trip at a small restaurant on the water called Gables. We ended the day with the sounds of Kiwis and Wahes singing us to sleep.
We ended the trip with three days in Auckland. This is a large cosmopolitan city, and very busy. We did a lot of walking, and had some good meals, which included several bottles of Wobbly Boot craft beer.
The Kiwis were commemorating the 100th anniversary of the WW1 battle at Gallipoli, Turkey. This was a tragic battle, poorly planned and executed, and resulted in many deaths and the worst defeat in the history of NZ. The whole country seemed to stop to and recognize the sacrifices of those in this battle.
The last couple of days in Auckland we visited the zoo to check out some of the local residents.
We had some extra time, and I saw a notice in the local paper about a national cat show in Auckland on Saturday. We decided to check it out, and were amazed to find so many Maine Coon cats in the cat show. Apparently this breed is wide spread here and in Australia.
We also found time to visit the wharf to watch the tour boats.
Reflecting on the past 3+ weeks here, our overall impression is what a beautiful country this is. Both islands are incredibly green and verdant. The South Island is dominated by mountains and sheer cliffs, amazingly beautiful. While the north island has mountains, they’re not as imposing as on the South Island. Much of the north island is undulating, and looks like Middle Earth, which of course was filmed here. Every day the countryside was filled with picturesque views. Just a great trip!