Sunday, April 1, 2012

Queenstown and home

The weather continued to improve as we left Te Anau and headed to Queenstown, a beautiful city in the mountains. A lot of the areas around were very similar in look to the interior of BC, the Okanagan and Kamloops.

Queenstown is situated on Lake Wakatipu and hosts skiing on local mountains. We headed up on the gondola to see the city, lake and the Remarkables (a mountain range that one may see in Lord of the Rings. Apparently a host of areas around Q town were filmed.) There is a bungy jump and a luge for the adventurous. We enjoyed a nice visit with Jenny, who was on my first trek in Nepal in 2004. We were entertained by her new baby daughter Olivia, 2 year old Hayden and Jen's Mom.

Well, as all good things come to an end, we boarded our flight back to Auckland on a beautiful sunny day and the views from the plane were incredible. We actually got to see the north peninsula of the south island and Mt. Taranaki, an old volcano which, due to heavy rains we did not get to visit when in the Lake Taupo area.

Back in Auckland we had a whole day to head back to the National Museum where they have a lot of the Maori culture as well as geological history of NZ. It included a house which you sit in and there is a simulated volcanic eruption with a shock blast that hits the house violently.

Thanks for reading, hoping you enjoyed our view of this great place. Also, thanks to those who sent emails and followed along our journey. We calculated 1400 kms of driving on the North island, 1800 kms on the South island for a total 3200 kms so we covered a lot of the country, but feel there is much more there for another time. 

Milford Sound

After leaving the glaciers of the west coast (of south island) we headed inland in torrential rains. We heard there was 200mm rain in 48 hours from the coast inland. By the time we arrived in Wanaka, there was some sun but loads of new snow in the local mountains. Mt. Aspiring was nearby but not to be seen.

Next day was a pleasant drive to Te Anau, a resort town where we stayed in a YHA hostel for several nights. We had booked the Milford Sound bus and boat tour in Christchurch, arranged to pick us up in Te Anau at the hostel. It was a cloudy day with some sunny breaks, but no surprise after all the rain to have cloud hanging around, giving the mountains a moody look.

Of course we were looking forward to seeing Mitre Peak in the sound, but it barely peeked out through the showers and cloud. The 8 hour day included a bus tour (I think we were the youngest on the bus!) out to Milford, then boarding a boat, having lunch and chugging out to the Tasman Sea. We saw many waterfalls, some of which only appear after heavy rains, seals on the rocks, the fault line where the Pacific plate pushes up against the Indian plate. (the whole south island was formed from subduction of the tectonic plates causing the mountains of the Southern Alps of NZ to continue to grow, and we are told they are the youngest mountain range on earth - in case I have not mentioned it, the north island was formed volcanically). We viewed the furthest point on the west coast where the next stop is Argentina, a few fishing boats, crayfish (lobster) farms, albatross flying out on the ocean and other tourist boats on the sound. Milford Sound is a popular destination for anyone visiting NZ.

In Te Anau, we saw a film on a big screen recorded over 10 years from helicopter flights in the area. Amazing scenery and much like the Canadian Rockies in many ways. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

We heard rain fall overnight but when we got up, there were signs of blue among the clouds. It was supposed to rain fairly heavy today, but we lucked out and had some fair weather.  These glaciers are the closest to the temperate and ocean zones of any in the world. This is what the Franz Josef glacier looked like today -


The walk was about an hour and half to the toe. It was amazing and the cloud started to clear later in the morning. There were a number of glacier walking groups with boots and crampons learning to walk on the glacier, but none had ice tools. The views were stunning. Some more photos...and you can see people on the glacier walks.

Next, we drove to the Fox glacier, about 30km down the highway. The toe of the glacier was only a 30 minute walk - much more accessible, a shorter walk but just as interesting. It had a huge hole at the toe and a number of people walking higher, into some dangerous territory.

Tomorrow we are off to Wanaka, about 4-5 hours drive from the west coast. We will head from there to Te Anau for 2 nights and experience Milford sound before heading to Queenstown.
More to come when we have access to a computer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


After a nice stay in Picton, we drove down the east coast and stayed a night in Kaikoura where there were great beaches and warm sun. We continued down to Christchurch after a stop at a winery. Christchurch was our stop for two days and we knew of the huge damage done in February 2011 from the earthquake.

We stayed at the YMCA near a big city park (Hagley Park) and the Canterbury museum. We walked to the centre of town which has chain link fencing around the "red zone" cordoned off due to damage and continued danger. We could see windowless high rises, deconstruction equipment, and much toppled brick. The famous church was hard to find amid all the fencing, rubble and equipment.

They have made a new shopping area downtown where shipping containers have been used to create colorful shops. On our second day we headed over to Akaroa on the Banks peninsula, a French town was established a century ago. Back in Christchurch we walked the Botanical gardens where roses, mums, hydrangeas, lilies, etc  were still blooming. Some trees are turning color for fall.

 Next door we visited the Canterbury Museum which holds some Maori exhibits, Antarctic exhibits, and lots of the natural history of NZ. Very well done and to us, more interesting than the Te Papa in Wellington!

Yesterday we drove across the mountains and Arthur's Pass stopping for lunch at Castle rocks, huge limestone rock formations that looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings! As we approached the west coast the temperatures rose to a balmy +27C.

We drove up to Greymouth and down to stay in Hokitita where we saw a beautiful sunset on the ocean - the Tasman Sea. However, dark clouds were appearing and it moved in over night.

We awoke to pouring rain this morning, which will impact my plan to walk the Franz Josef Glacier tomorrow. We hope everyone back home is doing well.

We have one more week before flying from Queenstown to Auckland.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Inter Islander Ferry


We have had several nice days in Wellington where we visited the Te Papa National museum and a funicular railway up Mt. victoria overlooking the city, and a drive up the Hutt valley where there were several interesting areas.

Gloria wanted to see a paua shell factory in Carterton, and we found an interesting place called the Aotearoa Stonehenge, the new zealand version of Britain's Stonehenge. The best part was standing exactly in its centre and hearing your voice echo back slightly changed and amplified! saw lots of sheep and cattle farms.

We had a leisurely saturday morning before dropping off the rental car at the ferry terminal in Wellington and catching the afternoon ferry to Picton. It takes about 3 relaxing hours to cross to the south island, where we picked up a new rental car and drove a short distance to our YHA hostel last night in Picton. We met a nice older couple from Toronto!

Today was our 34 th anniversary so we ate out for dinner in Kaikoura, on the east coast after spending the day tasting wines in Marlborough area (much like Kamloops) and driving the coast highway which reminded us of the Oregon coast.

We did a short day hike along a limestone bluff overlooking the Kaikura coast. We are seeing a few more mountains here. Mt. Fyffe, the highest local peak is about 1640 meters. Tomorrow is supposed to rain. We plan to drive to Christchurch, pretty much following the fault line all the way.

We have heard that the devastating earthquake left the centre in shambles. We will spend a few days in and around Christchurch, driving up over Arthur's Pass to Greymouth on the west coast. We will then make our way to the Fox and Franz Joseph areas, then on to Te Anau and Milford Sound. More on that later.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wellingon, NZ capital

We arrived in Wellington today in bright sunshine. When we go up it was + 13 degrees but warmed to abut 18C. A nice drive down to this port town. We almost felt like it was driving into Oslo in Norway, which we have done several times.

Parking is a bit of a pain and expensive so we are staying only one night in town, then moving out to Poiruru for 2 nights before catching the mid day Inter Islander ferry to Picton. Internet is still slow here, and very expensive ($5 per hour). I don't expect to update again until we are well into the South island.

Tomorrow we plan to visit the Te Papa museum, supposed to be the best on NZ and Maori culture. Weather is supposed to hold, although it has been cool south. It is fall here afterall, and there are a few trees just starting to show their fall colors.

Napier and Mission Wine

After a rainy crossing from Taupo, we arrived in Napier on the east cost. A very nice town with art Deco store fronts. We walked along the shore and found a nice motel near the waterfront which faces the Tasman Sea.

The next day we headed out of town and found the Mission Winery for tasting. Some nice wines and then headed south and looked up a Honey producer. A very interesting display on bees and about 10 different kinds of honey as well as many health and cosmetic products made with honey!

Then, a long and winding drive out to Palmerston, a university town a days drive from Wellington.

We drove up over a huge escarpment which separates east from west at the south end of the North island. Many wind generators operate on this area to add power to the grid.