Adventuring in New Zealand – Part the 18th (Tuesday)

•April 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

My last full day in New Zealand was spent, you guessed it, on a bus. We left Queenstown in the rain and drove through miles and miles of soggy landscape. The leaves are turning so there were occasional “pops of colour” as they say on Pinterest. 


We drove by Mount Cook, but the bus windows were completely fogged over and the cloud cover was really low. We stopped at Lake Tekapo for a lunch break. Lake Tekapo is known for having the clearest skies and best star gazing in the country, as shown on the postcards and magnets:


This was my view:



The bus got into Christchurch around 5:30. It was amazing and sad to see the damage that is still present from the earthquake in 2012. 



My hotel was in the middle of the very damaged zone. It’s been open a week. It’s a pod hotel with tiny super modern rooms:


I did have to call the front desk to figure out how to turn off the mood lighting.  

On my short walk through the city, I saw Boarded up buildings mixed with new construction. The people I spoke to at the hotel seemed very optimistic about the future of the city. It was a sobering reminder that the geological forces that created the awesome scenery I’ve seen can also destroy it (and anything on top). 

I hope it comes back soon. It seems like a really beautiful city. 


I have just about saturated on stunning vistas so I think it’s time to go home. And I’m leaving knowing I’m saving some for next time. 

Adventuring in New Zealand – Part the 17th (Monday)

•April 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Monday started much the way Sunday ended – with buckets of rain falling from the sky. Unlike the day before, the clouds hung low giving the mountains a very moody feel. This was the view from breakfast at the lodge:


In Saturday’s post, I mentioned that there were only 2 permanent waterfalls on the fjord. When it rains (as it often does), Milford Sound has hundreds or thousands of waterfalls. And a super gothic atmosphere:



Monday’s plan was to take a cruise around Milford Sound. It’s pretty much the thing everyone does. So I boarded the Lady Bowen and took off. 

The boat went right along the coast, so we were able to get up close and personal with several waterfalls, including the one I kayaked under on Sunday:


The locals all joke it is a fountain of youth and can remove 10 years. I’ve now been under it three times, so I’m officially only a few months old. No wonder I got carded at the bar yesterday. 

Happily, the waters were still calm – at least until we got to the Tasman. Things you don’t want to hear over the intercom on a boat: “Well that was a big one. Hope you were holding on!” I had taken my dramamine so I was only a little green. Let’s call it sea foam green rather than kelley green. And yes, I was clinging to the bench and staring at the horizon. 

But I made it. 


Milford Sound was wonderful, but it was time to say goodbye to my new friends (seriously, everyone I met there was awesome. If you are reading this, Hi Sophie from Ann Arbor!) and all the waterfalls,


and the Keas (alpine parrots) 



And head back to Queenstown for the night to begin the long trek back to Melbourne. Via Christchurch. And Wellington. 

Adventuring in New Zealand – part the 16th (Sunday)

•April 21, 2015 • 1 Comment

Let’s talk kayaking. It’s a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon or morning. Let’s also talk fjords. They are a pretty awesome geological formation. So what happens when you kayak a fjord? Awesome things. 

For some reason no one else wanted to get up at 5:30 to go kayaking at 6. The operating company, Rosco’s, needs at least two people to book the trip to make it worth the petrol it takes for the boat to drop you off. That trip would have taken me 18 km from the Tasman Sea to the end of the fjord. Weirdos. So instead I booked a 12km paddle from almost the mouth of the fjord to the end. I asked what I should wear and they said “Oh, we’ll dress you “

And did they ever:


In this photo I am wearing striped thermals (top and bottom), a polar fleece, a super rain jacket, a spray skirt, a life vest, and a hat. And my crocs – they might be inappropriate hiking shoes, but they are excellent for kayaking. On the oar are a set of neoprene hand covers- they Velcro around the oar, you stick your hands in, and they automatically wrap around the oar. 

And then we were off!


The boat took us about 12 kms to a protected cove where we got in the boats. The group was small – a couple from San Francisco, our guide Courtney, and myself. 

Needless to say, the views were beautiful from tha water’s edge: 



I lucked out with the weather. It was supposed to rain all day, but it held off until evening. Considering Milford Sound gets 7-9 METERS of rain a year, often spread out over at least 200 days, I was really lucky to have had a day of sun on Saturday and a day of clouds today. 

I wasn’t too disappointed about taking the shorter trip. The trip I took involved kayaking under Stirling Falls. Stirling falls is one of two permanent waterfalls at Milford. It’s also the shorter one – only 150m high instead of Lady Bowen Falls which is 165 m high. 

Stirling Falls:  

After a little psyching up, Courtney and I paddled in first:


Talk about exhilarating! It felt like being in a hurricane. The water pressure was pushing us down and the air pressure was pushing us away. And then, in the middle, I looked up. It was awesome. So we did it again. 

We saw seals in the water only a few meters away, a few sunning themselves on rocks, 8-10 legged star fish on the rock wall, and some fantastic geology. 


All in all a fantastic trip. 

Adventuring in New Zealand – part the 15th (Saturday)

•April 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Out of all the bus rides I’ve taken in all the countries I’ve visited, this is hands down the most scenic. And yes, that includes the MBTA’s 39 route. 

So stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I watched the sunrise surrounded by snow capped mountains. 


This part of the Southern Alps is on the road from Queenstown to Te Anau (possibly pronounced Tee Ay-nu but probably not. My Maori needs some work. )

We had some rain, but only the most picturesque clouds:


I have a ton of photos of mountains through the window of a moving bus (many with my seatmate’s face in the corner, but I won’t bother you with those. Instead I’ll show you what happened after the clouds settled into a flat layer by the time we reached one of our brief scenic lookouts after Te Anau. 


This was called the mirror lakes. I have no idea why. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, the water more still, the sky more blue, etc. etc. 

Ok. I’ll show you another photo from the moving  bus:


We stopped at a waterfall, drank glacial runoff (which was well timed as I was out of water), walked through a rainforest, and drove through a 1.3km one lane tunnel that had been blasted through a mountain over the course of 20 years. Cool right? And that was just the bus ride there. 

Where is there, you ask?

Milford Sound. Rudyard Kipling described it as the 8th wonder of the world, but I don’t know which list he was augmenting. Milford Sound is actually a fjord* (as are all the other “sounds” on the south end of the South Island). To fix the error in naming, the government named the national park the Fiordlands, neglecting to look up how to spell fjord. They are blaming autocorrect, but I just think they are embarrassed. 

Incidentally, Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island is also misnamed, but it is technically a fjard, or mini-fjord. 

So after being dropped off at Milford Lodge, I walked over to the Sound to see first hand New Zealand ‘s most photographed mountain – Mitre Peak. 

On the way I met the local inhabitants- sandflies. I wanted to hang out until sunset, but the bugs were killing me and I had forgotten a torch. I wasn’t too worried about the walk home – my phone has a flashlight app, but the bugs were a problem. 

I was walking around trying to decide what to do, when I saw a guy and his son all set up with tripods and wide angle lenses. I asked if the view was better where they were and we started chatting. He offered me some bug spray and a ride home after the sunset since they were also staying at the lodge. 

While there were too many clouds for a spectacular sunset, the location more than made up for it. 


Welcome to Milford Sound.**

*Fjords are formed by glaciers and sounds are carved out by rivers. 

**No filters were used in the making of this blog post. 

Adventuring in New Zealand- part the 14th

•April 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

So in all of my excitement yesterday about the glacier, I forgot to tell you about the baby kiwis I saw at the West Coast Wildlife Centre. Yay!

But wait, you say, aren’t all New Zealanders kiwis? Yes they are. But that name comes from the native flightless bird that looks like a cartoon. They are also nocturnal and SUPER endangered because animals such as stotes like to eat the eggs and cats like to eat the chicks. The type of kiwi I saw was a Rowi. There are fewer than 400 alive. And I saw two of them. 

The wildlife centre monitors the birds so that when they lay an egg, the scientists retrieve it, raise it at a pest-free bird sanctuary, and then release it back into the wild once it is large enough to defend itself. They are nocturnal, so I couldn’t take any photos, but they were fun to watch and really cute. 

I was really lucky to take my glacier tour yesterday because they weren’t running today. The predicted rain didn’t start until just before I got on the bus, but the clouds were an interesting shift in the landscape. 

Today’s bus only took 6 hours. But they were 6 long, windy hours. When I could look out the window, the scenery was lovely, if a little muted by the fogged windows. 



Even through the foggy window of a moving bus, they looked majestic. 

Towards the end, the mountains got even more dramatic:



We made it to Queenstown in the dark and rain around 7PM. While walking around, I realised I was glad I’m not spending any real time here – it’s super expensive and feel is like Disney Land without the princesses. It does have one major thing to recommend it – there was a chemist (unlike Franz Josef) and it was still open when I arrived (unlike Nelson). Tomorrow’s ride promises to be even better scenery with even curvier roads, and now that I have Dramamine (or the New Zealand off brand) I’m ready for it. This also marks the 5th country in which I have purchased motion sickness medication- previous purchases were in the US, Mexico, UAE, and Australia. 

As a side note, I’m off the Milford Sound tomorrow for two nights. I don’t know what the Internet connection will be like, so if you don’t hear from me, don’t start worrying until Monday night. 🙂

Adventuring in New Zealand- part the 13th

•April 16, 2015 • 1 Comment

Or: Hanging out with my new friend Franz Josef

Ok. So I have less than a week left in my trip and I don’t know if I’ve saved the best for last, but I’ve definitely saved the TOTALLY AWESOME for the almost last. 

Today started like any other day: breakfast I the hostel followed by a search for real coffee. In case you were wondering, coffee tastes better near a glacier.   

Also shown: my new New Zealand hat and polar fleece. 

Specifically, coffee tastes better next to the Franz Josef Glacier, named for the Austrian duke, Franz Josef, who is most notable for being the father of Franz Ferdinand, who is most notable for being murdered to start WWI. There is also a band named after him. But I think WWI is slightly better known. 

Then the fun started. After getting completely outfitted with boots, wool socks, waterproof pants, a Gortex jacket, and a set of cramp-ons, I was ready for the walk through the jungle. Why through the jungle, you ask? Because this glaciers is next to a rain forest. 


Ok, boring parts over. Because who wants to hear about ANOTHER rainforest? 

Oh! Sorry, I have to run. My ride is here:


And, in case you missed it on facebook, here I am in the helicopter:


By the way, this post is dedicated to my parents and all of the dollars (USD) they spent on orthodontics for me. 

And here is a waterfall we flew by: 


What is that little shadow in the middle? Oh! That is the helicopter I was in. No big deal. 

In case you were thinking I got carried away with the helicopter ride, don’t worry. We also spent three hours hiking around on the ice. Or “tramping” as it is called in NZ. I booked the earliest flight I could get on (9:30), and we only had 7 people (usually there are 12). 

Look at all that snow! And not a single bit to shovel!


We walked on paths, up and down stairs cut into the ice,


 across glacier, by (and over) crevasses, 


Past avalanches (not close ones) and waterfalls with rainbows,


And everywhere. In addition to ice and rocks, we saw some Kia (mountain parrots) in their native habitat. The guide, Wyatt, was AWESOME. He is a total nerd and absolutely appreciated the references to “and my axe”*.


(P.S. #nofilter)

The weather was perfect, global warming hasn’t destroyed the glacier yet, and two helicopter rides and 10 hours later I’m still running on adrenaline. 


How was your day?

*Lord of the Rings reference, Mum

Adventuring in New Zealand- part the 12th

•April 15, 2015 • 1 Comment

“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf! Mountains! And then I want to find a nice quiet place to edit my thesis.” – Bilbo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring

At least I think he said that. You might want to double check before quoting me on it. 

Today was mostly bus funtime. From 7:30 AM until almost 5 PM I sat on a bus. For the first 40 minutes we didn’t have heat. Since it was only a few degrees above freezing, I had to be prepared. 


We did take a few breaks along the way and the scenery was breathtaking. In case you were worried, here is your last shot of grapevines with mountains in the background:


We travelled over hill and dale. Through misty valleys:


Along the coast:


Turning inland eventually and following the Southern Alps. Finally we made it to Franz Josef, a town of ~400 people and twice that in tourists. 



Including me. This is the view from in front of my hostel. The view fro the main street is even better. 


 I think I’ve found the mountains Bilbo was talking about. Now if I could just finish editing my thesis…

Adventuring in New Zealand – part the 11th

•April 14, 2015 • 1 Comment

Things I have discovered when travelling in a country with more sheep than people: 

1. I don’t actually like lamb. It is ok (good, even) in a burger with the right spices, but as plain lamb shanks drenched in gravy, I didn’t like it. It was so rich I felt a little ill after eating it. 

2. Wool makes me itch. If it has come from a sheep, I don’t care how soft you think it is, as soon as it touches my neck it might as well be sand paper. 

So it’s really cold and I didn’t bring a scarf. Instead I had the forethought to send all of my winter(ish) clothes home with my sister in February. (You’re the best, Madeline!). And I’m not just winging. Today’s headline on the Nelson Mail:


It seems a little early to call that, but it was a brisk walk back to the hostel tonight. I could smell the frost in the air. It smells like Hallowe’en. 

Today took me from Renwick in Marlborough wine country to Nelson on the coast. A quick 10km stroll this morning took me past one last winery. This one also presses its own olive oil. Sadly they didn’t have any of that on tasting. They did have a lovely vista of the olive trees and grape vines. 


And little olive trees outside of the tasting room (Sarah, you should do this when you get your house.)



The ride was really hilly and the closest I’ve come so far to motion sickness this trip. I’ve spent hours on boats and buses, but it’s my 1.5 hour trip that almost did me in. In my defence we went through some pretty steep mountains. 



This was taken across the guy sitting next to me and out the window of the moving bus when we were near the top. Fast shutter speed for the win. 

But I made it.  To Nelson: gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park, and location of all of the hops grown in New Zealand. I learned that second bit at the Craft Beer College a few days ago. Nelson the town is cute. It reminds me of Bar Harbor – equal numbers of cafes and outdoor stores, with a few art galleries and clothing boutiques thrown in. Not to mention picturesque in autumn. 



One of these boutiques was of more interest than the others: Jens Hansen is the jeweller who designed The One Ring™. It took 15 versions, but they finally settled on one. It looked good on me. 


Personally, I like to think big:



Adventuring in New Zealand- Part the 10th

•April 13, 2015 • 2 Comments

So the part of the evening where I sit in the hostel lounge and madly type on my phone with one thumb is usually devoted to updating this blog for all both of its readers. (Hi mom! Hi Jen!) Tonight’s phone Funtime was dedicated to applying for a job. Because writing code and pitching a project is best done on a mobile phone after a day of wine tasting. 

Sadly this also means I’m too tired to write much and my typing thumb (which is missing a non negligible part of its nail from my caving adventure) is a little sore. Oh well. 

Today was notable for several reasons. I did a walking wine tour, visiting 7 wineries along my 16km route. I think this is a record for me. It’s nice to know I PB’ed in something recently. 

My first winery (and no, don’t worry – I’m not giving a wine by wine breakdown) was Whitehaven, which opened their cellar door today and I was their first customer- ever! They even took a photo of me for their facebook page. I felt a little special. 

The weather reports all said rain today – all day. And it looked like they were going to be right. 


It snowed in the mountains last night. I could see it from the valley. My first snow in 14 months!



Luckily, a few wineries later, the clouds cleared. Seriously, New Zealand, if you don’t stop being so picturesque I might not go home. 


This is definitely my kind of rainy day. 


Adventuring in New Zealand – Part the 9th

•April 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Here I was thinking that I wouldn’t walk that far today because I was spending the morning on a boat. Nope. I started by walking 2.5 km to the boat as the sun rose: 


Then I boarded the ferry, claimed a couch on the top deck, and took a nap. My not-a-cold is hitting its stride, with a sore throat and a bad headache. This nap also helped me avoid the open ocean and and waves that might or might have been there. I spent the last hour or so of the ride outside enjoying the sunshine and wind. We were in the Malborough Sounds, specifically the Queen Charlotte Sound. We disembarked in Picton, denoted by the green circle on the map:


This was a beautiful ride. 



After taking the bus from Picton to Renwick, I decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood, by the way, is the heart of the Marlborough wine region. Three wine tastings and many km later, I was very tired. The scenery and wines made it worth it. 


In general, lots of grapes, lots of mountains. Dark clouds started looming as I walked back to the hostel, so I went to the most English Country Pub to ever pub in any country. 



Beef stew, a local Pinot, and a roaring fire completed the evening. Throw in an early bedtime and I might be fully recovered from this not-a-cold tomorrow.  After walking 14.5 km, my feet will probably still be sore. 

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