A Travellerspoint blog

One Year Later

It's been a little over a year since our return from our grand adventure. Although it is truly wonderful to be home, every time we see a photo flash across our computer screen from our time in New Zealand and Australia, our hearts ache. What an awesome experience. Go do it now!

Posted by tcrons 15:25 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Adventure is Over

snow -22 °C

This final blog entry is being written from the warmth of our home in St. Marys, Ontario, for we are back home at last. It feels great to be back home after a year, and seeing more of our our friends and family every day is the best! We'll get to the homecoming in a few paragraphs - for now let's pick things up from where we left them in Detroit.

On Friday, January 14 we checked out of our hotel and left most of our luggage with the extremely helpful people at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites - we had explained our situation and they allowed us to leave most of our stuff at the hotel for the week we'd be spending in Orlando, despite the fact that we wouldn't be staying there when we returned. Those people rock, and if you're in Detroit you should stay there. So, off to the airport we went. After frantically redistributing the weight in our two suitcases once informed that one was too heavy, we boarded our flight. Then we waited for an hour while the flight crew waited for "another crew member" who was delayed. As it turned out, this other crew member was in fact the pilot who was just coming off a non-stop flight from Poland. He arrived shotgunning a Red Bull and we were all good to go. So we jetted into the stratosphere. Several hours later we walked into our room at the Beach Club Villa at Walt Disney World, which you can see overhead here. Following dinner we returned to the room to watch a special "Welcome to North America" fireworks display ignited in our honour. Here's what it looked like:

Disney EPCOT fireworks

Disney EPCOT fireworks

The next day we hit EPCOT and had a blast riding the rides and seeing the sights. We returned mid-afternoon and had a swim, like so:

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Sunday was the day for the Magic Kingdom, and it was of course magical. We did the things you would expect, and it looked a lot like this:

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That evening, we set up for the next, and final surprise for Bronte and Jack. When we told them Christmas morning that we'd be going to Disney, we failed to mention that Jenn's parents and brother with family would be there too. So when it was time for dinner we made our way to the Polynesian Resort where we'd be dining at Kona Cafe. After a smooth monorail ride, Tim trained the camera on the kids to capture the meeting. Owing to some issues with the travel blog masters, you'll need to follow this link to see the video - click here.

Disney Happy to see the cousins

Disney Happy to see the cousins

On Monday we made our way in the gentle rain to Hollywood Studios. After meeting the rest of the crew at the gates, the gentle rain turned into a New Zealand-esque torrent and we went sprinting for cover. We couldn't let a little moisture slow us down, so after re-grouping we kept calm and carried on, eventually making our way to the Tower of Terror. This would prove to be a bit of a shocker for Jack, who was adamant that he was ready for the big rides. He did just fine after experiencing the weightlessness induced by the experience, but we didn't last long after that because the rain refused to let up. That evening following dinner, we ended up going back to Hollywood Studios and riding a few more rides before they shut it down for the night. The rain had cleared by then!

Tuesday demanded we visit Animal Kingdom, so we did. There were animals. We were sad for them, especially this guy who looked like he was ready to rip into one of the other animals a bit lower on the food chain:

I'd rather be eating gazelle

I'd rather be eating gazelle

Wednesday was exciting, as we headed over to Universal Studios to have a gander at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was awesome! Although there are actually very few rides in this part of the park, the one titled "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" was incredible. Not unlike many other rides involving large 3D movies and wildly moving seats, this one surpassed because of the content. If you're not much of a Harry Potter fan, you'd hate it. Here are some pics from the day:

Universal Jack outside Hagrid's hut

Universal Jack outside Hagrid's hut

Universal Bronte at Hogwarts Express

Universal Bronte at Hogwarts Express

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Thursday was our last day at Disney, so we went back to Magic Kingdom in the morning, and then EPCOT in the afternoon/evening. The fireworks show at EPCOT is stunning. Here's a photo from the morning:

Disney Kids and Grandparents

Disney Kids and Grandparents

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With that, we said so-long to the family, and on Friday morning we headed back to the airport where we eventually boarded our flight back to Detroit. Tim dashed back over to the awesome staff at the Fairfield Inn & Suites (you should stay there), collected the rest of our bags, and reunited with the the Cronsberry Crew back at the airport where we then caught the Robert Q Shuttle back to London. Crossing the border was causing us some minor angst - not because we were concealing anything (we weren't), but because we had visions of long delays while humourless people with incredible levels of power dismantled our bags to ensure we weren't bringing in any kiwi birds. We presented our pasports and Customs Declaration, and without a word other than a quiet "Thank-you", we re-boarded the bus and were back in Canada. What an incredible feeling!

That night we spent the night with Jenn's sister and her family in Belmont. On Saturday we moved to Jenn's parent's farm where we were spending the next few nights. Bronte and Jack were in heaven playing in the snow once again. Here's what it looked like:

Jack home in the snow

Jack home in the snow

Bronte home in the snow

Bronte home in the snow

Sunday night we hosted our Exchange Partners, Kimberly Fridd and Michael Hall and their two girls for dinner. It was great to see them again, one year after driving away from our house in St. Marys with them waving to us from our front porch. We had a great few hours talking about our experiences, and way too early it was time to wrap it up. It was strange for us to reconnect with these great people who we swapped lives with - we feel as if we know them well after living in their house for a year, but in reality we only met them face-to-face a couple of times. We hope that they had an equally wonderful experience in Canada, and it certainly seemed like it from our dinner conversation. Here's the whole crew:

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Monday, January 24 was a day of reckoning for Tim. Reality caught up with him, and he was forced to return to work. It ended up being not too bad at all though, for he arrived to find a "Quarantine" sign on the door, and no staff to be found anywhere. After being decontaminated, the official welcome began and he started again the extremely important work that he does to protect the people of Ontario from themselves. Here's what that first moment looked like:

Tim forced to return to work

Tim forced to return to work

Finally, on Wednesday, January 26 at approximately 5:15 pm, we completed our journey and returned to our house. Kimberley and Michael had left with their girls a short time earlier and the house was returned to our care. It was absolutely incredible to walk through our door again. We were all smiles as we strolled through the house - the warm feeling inside almost making us stride over to the thermostat and turn it down to 7 degrees to remind us of the New Zealand winter! After reveling in the warm fuzzies for a few minutes, we began the long task of unpacking, which continues even as this post is being written.

So, that's it for our adventure, and for this blog. We hope that reading about our experience has been even half as fun for you as it has been for us living it and writing about it weekly. Why not drop by St. Marys for a visit - we'll cut you a slice of Banoffee Pie and tell you about all the stuff that didn't make it onto this screen! Until the next adventure, farewell! Now go out for a hike somewhere.

Posted by tcrons 16:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Farewell, New Zealand

sunny 25 °C

The day arrived with a sigh. 352 days after our entry into New Zealand, we gazed out the window of the Boeing 747-400 and watched the bitumen blur and then drop away as we climbed upwards from Auckland. Talk about your strange feelings - we're very excited to be heading back to see our family, friends, and the snow, but we've had a truly amazing experience in New Zealand with absolutley no regrets - and it's tough to leave in many ways.

Picking up from our last post, we left Wellington on Thursday, Jan 6 and pointed the Capella north-ish. We stopped for lunch on the other side of the Desert Road in Turangi, and then again a short time later in Taupo for some ice cream. We arrived safely back in Tauranga and were quite relieved that no one had busted into the house and tagged the walls in our absence. It's been a strange week since then, as most of it has been spent packing, cleaning, and saying goodbye. On Friday we washed and waxed the Capella, raked and cut the lawn, and cleaned like maniacs before cleaning our own selves up and heading over to our friends the Moffats for a goodbye BBQ. The Moffats have been there from before the beginning for us. Jack's school had arranged for him to email a fellow student while we were still in Canada to ensure Jack would be at least peripherally familiar with someone, and we were thus introduced to the Moffat family. As usual, we had a wonderful time laughing and talking as the meat sizzled on the barbie. After a "farewell" rather than an outright goodbye, we returned home late.

Saturday saw us washing windows, buying bubble wrap, and engaging in more domesticity. When we grew tired of that, we went to the bookstore, library, and to the beach for a last look. After picking up some ice cream from our favourite haunt - Monte Gelato, we walked around the base of Mt. Maunagnui one last time, and then hit the ocean. The water was warm, and although the surf was small, Jack and Tim still had a blast riding the boogie board while Bronte splashed around and Jenn recorded the images for time immemorial. Here's what it looked like:

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Sunday insisted we do more packing, as well as some last-minute souvenir shopping. On Monday, we hosted one of Jenn's colleagues from Tauranga Boys College for lunch. Sharon has been a great friend and support to Jenn throughout the year, and her kids are pretty great too. We dined on homemade pizza and banoffee pie, and then it was time for another goodbye. Tragically, we failed to record the moment with a photo. Despite being rather gorged, we headed out in the late afternoon to Lisa and Pat's place for another BBQ. This couple has previously been part of a teacher exchange to Canada and liked it so much they are set to move to the Great White North in May. It was a fun evening chatting with them about their plans, and we had a really great meal (BBQ'd Kingfish - yummy!)

On Tuesday we zoomed over to the mall for haircuts. After the professionals had applied their skills to our heads, Jenn looked amazing, Jack looked great, and Tim looked like he usually does. After some additional errands including visiting a cool kids school supplies store called "Smiggle", we ended up back home. That evening we went on our final Tauranga area hike and went back to Papamoa Hills. In the waning sun we climbed to the top and took in the amazing view one more time:

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Wednesday was the day of departure from our home in Tauranga. What a strange feeling it was to walk through the house one last time. Those four walls housed us for one of the best years of our lives, and although we were extremely happy to be heading home, it was nice recalling all the adventures we'd been on and how returning to the house after each of them was in a big way "returning home". We loaded up and with the Capella groaning under the weight of a year's worth of memories and stuff, we pulled out of the driveway of 204 Maungatapu Road, Tauranga, for the last time. Here we are moments before closing the door on this chapter of our lives:

Tauranga_C..e_house.jpg

We drove to Auckland and checked in to the hotel. Thursday morning we drove to Karekare beach, which you can see overhead here. Our final farewell to New Zealand was lazily walking along this expansive stretch of sand, thinking about all we'd seen and marvelling in the beauty of it one last time. Here are a few photos from the outing (there are a few more in the photo gallery):

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We drove cautiously back to the hotel (the road down to Karekare Beach is the windiest we've ever driven), and collected our bags. Finally it was off to the airport. Following an unpleasant and expensive surprise at the weighing-in ceremony, we breezed through security and waited for our flight, which began around 7:15 pm. The flight itself was pleasant enough, and we achieved the kind of restful sleep during the eleven and a half hour trip that only an Economy seat on a long-haul flight can provide. Needless to say we were pretty exhausted when we reached Los Angeles (except Jack, who seemed to master the whole sleeping upright thing). We even had a brush with celebrity, as seated directly behind us on that flight were Jon and Kate Plus Eight (minus Jon of course who had long since buggered off with his mistress). It was Jenn who pointed all this out as we stood waiting for our bags in LA. We of course started screaming like little girls at a Justin Bieber appearance and rushed up for autographs. We then cleared US Customs and Border Protection without any issues, and waited for our next flight to Detroit. That one was also uneventful, and we arrived in Detroit around 8:30 pm Thursday - only one hour after we left Auckland. Time travel is a truly amazing thing. It was an exhilerating feeling stepping off the plane in Detroit and inhaling that first breath of icy cold air, telling us that indeed we were quite near the Great White North. Seeing snow again is awesome!

And now we've spent a restful night in Detroit, and this morning will make our way back to the airport for our next flight. It's weird that as we are now only about 250 km away from our home in St. Marys, we're actually heading further away again. Today it's Orlando, Florida, and Disney World. We're all quite excited! So for now, we'll sign off. We'll do one final blog post from home once we're settled back in St. Marys, just so that you all know we didn't get detained at the Canadian border and then deported to a hostile third country.

As an added bonus, we've just added video to our last two posts. One harkens back to the silent film era, except that it shows part of our Jetboat ride on the Shotover River - you can see that video here. The other is a bit of our Queen Charlotte Track hike, and you can see that here.

That's it for us for a couple of weeks. Haere ra Aotearoa.

Posted by tcrons 06:04 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Penguins of Oamaru, Whales of Kaikoura, and Marlborough Too

sunny 28 °C
View South Island on tcrons's travel map.

Here we are at our last stop on the South Island! Since our last post we’ve had much less rain, and seen more mountains, penguins, seals, and whales. Although our swing through the South Island was quick, we’ve had a fantastic time. Here’s a recap of the past week:

On our last day in the Queenstown area we awoke to the same deluge that we experienced the previous day, so loading the Capella in the pouring rain wasn’t as much fun as you might picture it. Saying goodbye to our friends the Allores felt strange, as it signalled that the end of the New Zealand experience for both our families was relatively close at hand. With a hearty “See you in Canada”, we set off for Oamaru. Although it isn’t that big (but much moreso than we expected), it offered a few things that made us decide it would be the ideal next stop. One of those things is the proximity of Oamaru to the Moeraki Boulders, which was our first destination in the area. The Moeraki Boulders are rather unusual rocks – they are extraordinarily round and look like giant marbles on the Koekohe Beach. See if you can spot them overhead here. The boulders are called “concretions” which consist of mud, fine silt and clay, cemented by calcite. The core of these boulders is hollow, and they have cracks radiating outwards. While the explanation of how they formed is a bit over our heads (something about Palaeocene mud and bacteria causing calcification over 4 million years), the boulders were pretty amazing to see. What was particularly fascinating was that the various stages of breakdown were visible – new boulders were being exhumed from the hill at the edge of the beach by erosion, and other boulders were either cracked or had completely fallen apart. Here’s some photos:

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Following the boulder viewing and a hot beverage at the café, we carried on to Oamaru itself. Soon after arriving at the Top Ten Holiday Park where we were staying, we put together an early supper and then headed back out to do some penguin watching. Our first penguin destination was Bushy Beach to see if we might spot a couple of yellow-eyed penguins – the rarest of all penguin species. These birds have a nesting spot on Bushy Beach, and a couple of distant viewing points have been set up on the ridge overlooking the beach. Signs mark the stairs heading down to the beach but warn that visitors should vacate the beach by 3 pm to respect the penguin habitat. These, like most penguins, spend the day in the sea hunting for food and come back ashore in the late afternoon/evening. There was a rather chilly and strong wind whipping across the ocean while we were there, and with the comparably unpredictable schedule of these penguins, no one was entirely sure when they would appear. Here’s a photo of the place:

Oamaru_Yel..d_Beach.jpgOamaru_col..waiting.jpg

After a while shivering there looking at two fur seals lying on the beach and wishing we had their blubber, we decided that we would move on. When we headed back up the trail to the carpark it became a bit clearer why the penguins might have decided to delay their return to their nest. A small clutch of people had ignored the signs and had gone down to the beach, probably to get a better vantage point. Alas, penguins aren’t stupid, and they would have been able to see these people, and consequently would not come out of the water. To add to this insult, a couple of these knobs were wearing jackets with “Canada” emblazoned across them. We muttered to other people on the trail that this would never happen back in the USA where we were from!

Still hungry for penguin meat, we aimed the Capella towards the Oamaru Blue Penguin colony. Blue penguins, as you no doubt recall from previous posts, are much more common in New Zealand and can be found in many places. What makes Oamaru special is that they have set up a breeding colony where visitors, and more importantly biologists, can observe the penguins up close. These penguins are much smaller than the elusive yellow-eyed, and much more numerous. At dusk, these penguins assemble in the water about 100 metres from shore into “rafts”. When they feel the time is right and they are not in danger, they swim up and walk out of the water, shake themselves a bit, and then waddle en masse across the trail where they squeeze through openings in the fence into the colony. They are incredibly cute animals, especially when they try to move quickly (they lean forward and use their flippers to help keep them from falling over). As it gets darker, they emerge from the dens that have been constructed for them (small wooden boxes built into berms) with their mates, and sometimes their chicks as well. We all enjoyed sitting there for a while watching various rafts come ashore and the whole rookery waddling around the colony. We were told that blue penguins actually nest in many places around the Oamaru waterfront, and that we need to be careful when driving. And here we thought this sign was just one of those cutsie tourist things:

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The next day we checked out of the Top Ten, and started exploring the town itself. We spent the morning browsing in the pottery shops and other charming spots. We visited a used bookstore called “Slightly Foxed”, where Jack picked up a book and rather than place it in a bag, the store owner wrapped it in brown paper and string after entering the sale by hand in her ledger! Here’s a few shots of our morning:

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After an average lunch at “The Roost”, we picked up some tasty treats at “Temptations Bakery” and hit the road bound for Christchurch and its associated earthquakes. After checking into the Top Ten where we were staying, Jack hit the pool. The following day was Thursday, and what better day to drive to Arthur’s Pass? We saddled up the Capella and set off in the morning, eventually stopping at the Castle Hill rocks, which you can see overhead here. These are some interesting looking rock formations, and apparently the spot is well-known in rock-climbing circles. We subsequently found a couple of different guide books entirely dedicated to climbing at Castle Hill. Not wanting to get our digits chalky, we simply walked around a bit. The sun was out and the day was clear – we were all quite happy. Here’s the scene:

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We then eased on down, eased on down the road, passing through the town of Arthur’s Pass itself. After a brief stop at the information centre, we drove a bit further to the Temple Basin car park where we had lunch in the car as we contemplated our pending climb. You might be able to see us overhead here. In winter, Temple Basin serves as a backcountry ski area, but on Thursday there was little snow (other than small patches as you’ll see in the photos below. The surrounding mountains kept their stony gaze on us as we trudged our way upwards, walking the switchback trail over rocks of varying size. After an hour and a half slogging, we arrived at the top at an elevation of 1270 metres, and the view was spectacular. A bit further up the trail we could see the actual ski lodge, and wondered how skiers access the area, as we saw no road. We subsequently learned that other than a “Goods Lift” a bit further down from the car park which will transport luggage up to the top, if you want to ski there you must trudge your way up on foot using the trail we were climbing! From the ski lodge itself, there are three rope tows. Here’s what the trek looked like:

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By the time we descended back to the car, we were all pretty tired, and thought we deserved dinner out for a change. We motored back into Christchurch and walked around for a bit past numerous restaurants forced to close because their buildings were damaged by a 5.3 magnitude aftershock on Boxing Day. In the end, we had some issues with dinner, and it ended up being a less than satisfying experience.

On Friday we drove to Barnett Park in Christchurch to do a hike to a lava cave. It was a warm morning, and after the previous day in Arthur’s Pass we could feel the kilometres adding up on our leg muscles. The walk was pleasant though, with the reward of a cool cave at the halfway point. Here’s a photo of that outing:

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We were craving beach, so we drove down the road to Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch where we found a really nice beach area. We explored for a bit around “Cave Rock” at the mid-point of the beach, and then needed sustenance. Trying to make up for the previous night’s disaster with dinner, we decided that lunch out might be deserved. To “Tart” Café we went. It was really nice. After lunch we went into downtown Christchurch and strolled around, popping into various shops. You certainly don’t have to go far in Christchurch to see evidence of the September earthquake. There are many buildings visibly damaged, in a state of repair, or being demolished. This was one such sight as we rounded one corner:

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We celebrated New Year’s Eve by watching “High School Musical 3” and going to bed prior to midnight. You’d think that being in one of the first countries on the planet to see 2011 we’d be itching to stay up, but being high-powered adventurers takes its toll and we needed our sleep. Before we reached sleep-land we felt a small shudder and then a bang. Not being entirely familiar with aftershocks, we weren’t sure if that’s what we had just felt until Jenn jumped on the internet and confirmed that we had just lived through a 3.2 magnitude aftershock. We huddled within the triangle of life for the rest of the night.

We’ve heard that nothing changes on New Year’s Day, but we’d had enough of Christchurch and decided to move on to our next destination – Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a beautiful little town with a rather nice mountain range serving as a backdrop. We had decided to do a nice little hike prior to checking in to our accommodation, so we drove to the Kaikoura Penninsula Seal Colony, and the start of the trail. If you’re interested, you could have a look at it overhead here. There were relatively few seals lying about, but we stripped off our footwear and waded across to the rocky shelf regardless. After gazing at one of the seals for a bit, we made our way back to the trail and began what ended up being an epic 11.7 km walk around the peninsula. Around a couple of corners we were atop a ridge and looked down to the beach where we discovered a seal party – dozens of the furry things. The smell wafted up to our vantage point and made our eyes water. Three hours after we set out, we arrived back at the car park and the seal party had moved there to welcome us back. Jenn walked fairly close to one medium-sized male seal before realising he was there. All in all it was a great walk, but we were pretty fatigued. Here are some photos and a video:

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We checked in to the Top Ten (yes, another one!), and were quite pleased with the view near our cabin. Here it is:

Kaikoura_Top_Ten.jpg

The next morning we rose early-ish and walked across the railroad tracks to the Whaleway Station (not kidding, that’s what they call it), and joined a whale watching tour. This is what makes Kaikoura famous! Not far off shore from the town lies the Kaikoura Canyon, a branch of the deep Hikurangi Trough. In this area, deep oceanic waters are drawn in fairly close to the coast and this upwelling brings with it water that is teeming with phyto and zooplantkton. This in turn attracts other sea creatures that feed on this banquet and in turn act as appetisers for larger creatures such as whales, dolphins, and seals. It didn’t take long after we set out on the water to catch up with a sperm whale. He didn’t stick around very long though, and we only managed to catch a quick look before his tail went up as he dove back down. No worries, a short time later we drove over to another male that had just surfaced. It was amazing to watch this leviathan float on the surface blowing spray into the air. We thought that they would simply shoot up out of the water and then go back down but we’re sadly lacking in whale info. These mammals dive for around 45 minutes to depths of over 3000 metres, and when they rise to the surface, they stay there for around seven minutes and reoxygenate by breathing and blowing repeatedly. Then back down they go to hunt for squid and other tasty but slimy creatures. It was pretty cool being this close to a whale, and to see the tail come up as it sunk to the depths. Here are some meagre photos and a short video:

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You will also have seen in that video some dolphins. Many, many dolphins! On the way back in after seeing the whales, we chased a pod of Dusky Dolpins – dozens of them. It was fantastic to see these things flip through the air and swim around the boat. When we returned to the Whaleway Station we all agreed that it was a fantastic tour – well worth the early rise.

Other activities on Saturday included a visit to “The Food Company” in Kaikoura where we picked up some fudge, followed by a hike to help melt away the fudge. The hike was a shorter one around Fyffe Palmer Reserve, and was very similar to dozens of other forest hikes we’ve done. We returned to the Top Ten where Jack resumed his fascination with the bouncing pillows and practiced his flips. Here’s a photo of the end of the hike, and the middle of Jack’s flip:

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Monday arrived and we packed up and moved on. This day, we were continuing our swing northward and to our final South Island destination – the Marlborough Sounds. The drive from Kaikoura took us along the coast and we stopped briefly at the Ohau seal colony to look at more New Zealand fur seals. This time we saw many of the pups – very cute! After stopping a bit further down the road to look at a waterfall, we drove north along a highway flanked by vineyards. After a brief stop in Picton to plan our next day’s hike, we carried along a rather windy road littered with the remains of many slips caused by torrential rains the previous week. It illustrates how bad it must have been that a week later the cleanup was still not finished. In places the road was down to a single lane. Here, have a look:

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Eventually we arrived at the bach that we rented on the edge of Mahau Sound. If you look closely you can see us waving from the deck overhead here. The bach is really comfie, and the views are amazing. In fact, this is the scene when looking up from the laptop as we type this blog entry:

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Tuesday had us rising at a quite reasonable hour and driving to Picton to catch a water taxi to Resolution Bay, which you can see overhead here. Why were we headed way up there? Because of the Queen Charlotte Track, silly! This is another of those multi-day hikes that are so prevalent in New Zealand. We just wanted a couple of hours though, so we walked from Resolution Bay to Endeavour Inlet, and then waited for the water taxi to pick us up as we soaked our feet in the water. The hike was really nice, and we loved the conversations we had the entire way. The water taxi ride back to Picton seemed to take forever though, and we were pretty glad to be back at the Capella, despite seeing more dolphins along the way (bottle-nosed this time). We relaxed back at the bach and had a small UNO tournament, which Tim won handily. Here are some photos of the day, and a video too:

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Wednesday morning we headed up the steep driveway and away from the bach. We decided to go by way of Havelock, another small town in the area. Of course, we made a couple of stops along the way - one to the Makana Chocolate Store, and the other to the Cullen Point Lookout to take a gander at this:

Marlboroug..Lookout.jpg

It was a strange feeling we experienced as we headed towards Picton to catch the ferry back to the North Island. Our trip is definitely getting some finality to it. Regardless, we had a fantastic time on the South Island over these last three weeks. We caught the ferry and had incredibly calm sailing across the Strait. We're back in Wellington now and will stay the night before driving seven hours north to our home in Tauranga. Wow - one more week left in our epic New Zealand adventure before we fly away home. We're gettin' all misty-eyed!

If you'd care to see more photos, you could look at them here.

Posted by tcrons 00:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

The Beauty of Haast Pass, Queenstown, and Fjordland

rain 14 °C
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We’ve seen some incredible scenery since our last post, and experienced a few adrenaline-soaked moments. On Wednesday, we left the Franz Josef Top Ten where we had spent the previous two nights, and began our journey to Kingston where we would be spending five nights over Christmas. As you may recall from the last post, our attempt at the Fox Glacier the previous day had been foiled because of a road closure. Wednesday morning was bright though, and the road was open, so down it we drove to the car park. We had read that the Fox Glacier was even more majestic than Franz Josef, but unfortunately we could go no further than the carpark. The heavy rains had washed out a section of the trail and they had closed the trail. The glacial river formed from the runoff of the melting ice was a torrent, with big chunks of ice being pushed along, so we heeded the warnings, (and the presence of Department of Conservation workers who were there), and we contented ourselves with a mere glimpse of the Fox Glacier. There was another point at which we could view the glacier, but we had a couple of other stops to make during our day’s journey, so we resisted the urge, and carried on.

The drive down the coast was a lot nicer than our previous section, partly because there was almost no rain. After turning onto the road leading through the Haast Pass, the scenery included clear views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Words really can’t describe how awesome this stretch of road is, and we thought that it was probably the most beautiful drive we had ever taken! Our first stop was to take in a view of Thunder Creek Falls, which you can see overhead here. It is well-named, as it was making an impressive sound and spray of mist. Here's a photo:

Haast Pass Thunder Creek Falls

Haast Pass Thunder Creek Falls

After a short time, we climbed back into the Capella and continued along the gorgeous road. Eventually we came to our next stop, the Blue Pools, which you can see overhead here. This spot was some way down a really pleasant trail which included two swing bridges that Bronte negotiated quite well, despite her predilection to avoid such things. When we arrived at the Blue Pools, we found they were more of a bluish-grey unfortunately. This was due to the very large amount of rain washing down the mountains into the stream that flows into the pool, carrying its silt with it. We gazed at it for a bit, and then it started to rain, so we double-timed it back to the car. Here’s a photo:

Haast Pass Blue Pool

Haast Pass Blue Pool

We continued along the route and continued to marvel at the stunning scenery. Eventually we approached the town of Wanaka which is nestled at the base of two lakes – Wanaka and Hawea. As we drove along these lakes we found it difficult to believe what we were seeing – water of such an intense and beautiful blue that it almost looks artificial. Sailboats moving along the water made the whole scene look like a painting. Seeing all of this made our already great moods that much better. We stopped in Frankton, just short of Queenstown, briefly. Frankton is essentially a suburb of Queenstown, which is actually too small to even have a suburb! Queenstown is rather idyllic – a small, picturesque town nestled on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by a beautiful mountain range aptly named “The Remarkables”. Lake Wakatipu is every bit as blue as Lakes Wanaka and Hawea – it’s incredible! The road hugged the shore of the lake and a half hour later took us to the far end and our destination – Kingston. Kingston couldn’t really be called a town because it is so small, but it is the location of the bach we have rented for five nights, and which you can see overhead here. Here’s a couple of photos taken at stops along said lakeside road:

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When we arrived at the bach, our friends the Allores greeted us, themselves having arrived a few hours earlier. It was fantastic seeing them again and hearing about their adventures since we last saw them in Tauranga! The next morning, Thursday, came quite early. We rose at 5:30 am to get ready for the amazing day we had planned. Shortly after 8 am we arrived in the tiny town of Te Anau which serves as the gateway to Fiordland National Park and our day’s final destination – Milford Sound. The bus we were to travel on picked us up on the street as we walked towards our rendezvous point. We had read that the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is the third most dangerous road in New Zealand, partially because of avalanches and rock falls, and partially because the road winds through one of the most stunningly beautiful places on the entire planet. With so much majesty to take in, you don’t want to be driving or you’ll either miss it or kill your family as you drive off the road and careen down a mountain slope.

The weather was quite rainy, at times, and at others a mist hung in the air, but as the bus driver explained, it makes for a different, but equally wonderful experience in Milford Sound, as you’ll see in the photos. Our first stop along this route was the Eglington Flats, not shockingly far from the Eglington River. After a few minutes taking in the sight of the mist shrouded mountains, on we continued. The next stop was at the Mirror Lake. When the sun is out, this small pond makes for nice photos of the mountains reflected on its surface, but alas, like the last time we were in a similar place, there was too much cloud. No problem, here’s a photo:

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The road took us through one of the mountains as well – literally. The Homer Tunnel was constructed beginning in the mid 1930’s and is cut through 1.2 km of rock. There are traffic lights controlling passage, as it is only a single lane. On the far side of the tunnel, the serpentine road winds steeply back down from an elevation of 945 metres, the highest point on the entire road. The bus ride along this stretch of road took over top spot as the most beautiful we had ever been on.

Eventually we came to Milford Sound itself, which you can see overhead here and boarded a boat that would take us right out to the Tasman Sea. It had been raining on and off for the entire trip in, and it continued for the rest of our trip. One of the benefits of rain within Milford Sound is that the water streams off of the mountains and cascades down to the water in an amazing display. The mist hanging in the air and around the mountains was truly breathtaking. In fact, there are relatively few permanent waterfalls there, but we did get a good look at the ones that are though. Perhaps the most spectacular of these is Stirling Falls, about halfway through the Sound. As we approached this one the tour operator warned us that he’d be getting us in quite close to have a look – and then proceeded to pilot the boat within a few metres of the impact zone of the water! We got soaked but it was fantastic. Too soon we found ourselves back at our starting point, and we had to be content with our memories, and these photos:

Milford Sound Stirling Falls

Milford Sound Stirling Falls

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Back on the bus we went, and made our way slowly back to Te Anau. We did make a few more stops along the way though. One of these was The Chasm, which is a small gorge cut by the Cleddau River. The water is a dramatic torrent as it courses through the chasm, as you can see here:

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Another stop was at Christie Falls, right at the edge of the road. Yet another postcard scene with the crystal clear blue water rushing down the valley. Then it was back through the Homer Tunnel and a stop on the other side. It was a great place to stop, for we had the smallest of tastes of a white Christmas when it started to snow. It was enough to lift our spirits even higher and make this Christmas Eve even more special. One more stop to look at some mountain flowers, and then it was back to Te Anau and to the Capella. What an incredible trip! Here are some more photos and a video:

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Milford Sound Bowen Falls

We enjoyed the rest of our Christmas Eve, and listened as Paul Allore read the kids “A Kiwi Night Before Christmas”, which is very funny! When we awoke the next morning, it was Christmas Day of course, and everyone was very excited. After rooting through our stockings, Bronte and Jack opened “The Gift” from the parents. They found in the box a sheet of paper with a hangman game on it, and after a dramatic game, they arrived at the word describing their gift – Disney! They were ecstatic to learn that we would be making a little side trip to Orlando after leaving New Zealand. It was priceless to see their reaction! We spent the rest of the day Skyping with family and lazing about. Because we are in the New Zealand summer, it seemed only fitting that we go for a little swim, so we all headed down to the beach. In the end, it was just Tim and Paul Allore that braved the rather chilly waters of Lake Wakatipu, and it was quite brief. Here they are:

Queenstown Tim Paul Christmas Day swim

Queenstown Tim Paul Christmas Day swim

Following a warming-up period, we hopped in the cars and drove up the highway towards the other end of the lake, and Queenstown. After stopping at all of the lookout spots, we turned around and headed back to the bach to make Christmas dinner. It was all a bit unusual for both us and the Allores, as we’ve never been away from our friends and family for Christmas before (and it’s never been this warm at Christmas for us before), but it was special and great. It really made us miss all of the people we love back home though. Here are some photos of the day:

Queenstown Christmas Tree

Queenstown Christmas Tree

Queenstown Bronte Jack celebrating Disney

Queenstown Bronte Jack celebrating Disney

Queenstown Jenn Gwen relaxing Christmas Day

Queenstown Jenn Gwen relaxing Christmas Day

Boxing Day was our day to visit Doubtful Sound, which you can see overhead here. This is another fjord a bit south from Milford Sound, and every bit as serene. This trip started out in the town of Manapouri where we boarded our first boat. This craft carried us across Lake Manapouri to the far shore where we boarded a bus that then took us overland to the edge of the Sound itself. Like Milford Sound, Doubtful isn’t really a Sound by the strict definition of the word. A Sound is carved by rivers and then backfilled by the sea, but both Doubtful and Milford were carved by glaciers, thus making them fjords rather than Sounds. Regardless of the misnomer, we took some photos along the way to the next boat. Here they are:

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We then boarded our next boat and began the cruise out towards the Tasman Sea. We were rewarded almost immediately, as the largest of the permanent waterfalls in Doubtful Sound, Lady Alice Falls, roars over her cliff just outside of the harbour. The waterfall was particularly stunning this day because it was pouring rain. Apparently, Doubtful Sound and Fjordland National Park in general is the wettest place in New Zealand, with it receiving a dousing of rain two out of three days. While the rain and mist in Milford Sound made the area quite magical, it was a bit too heavy in Doubtful Sound for our liking. We still managed to take in the magesty of the place, but our visibility was grossly limited because of the less than ideal conditions. We still had a lot of fun though, and were quite happy as we pulled back into the wharf a couple of hours later. Here’s some more photos:

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The bus back towards Lake Manapouri made one pretty cool stop on the way back, and that came right at the edge of the Lake – the Manapouri Power Station. To visit this station, the bus drove into the heart of the mountain, as this particular station is mostly underground. The station harnesses the flow of water from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound via a channel tunnelled through solid rock in the mountain. This particular station generates 14% of all New Zealand’s power and has very little impact on the environment.

We eventually made it back to the bach and were quite exhausted from the day. Monday came and it was deemed “Adrenaline Day”. We drove into Queenstown in partly sunny weather and boarded a shuttle bus to the Shotover River, which you can see overhead here. Here we climbed aboard a jet boat and began the most thrilling boat ride of our lives. The Shotover Jet roars up and down the Shotover River through narrow channels, the boat seemingly centimetres away from the solid rock of the canyon walls. We were all grinning the entire time, especially when the pilot signalled that he would be doing a 360 – it was amazing fun and quite a rush. Here’s a couple of photos, and a new video:

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Soon after we arrived safely back to the dock, the rain started again. After lunch the rain increased in intensity, despite the forecast. Regardless, we swam our way over to the Skyline Gondola and rode up to the top of the ridge overlooking Queenstown. We then sloshed our way over to the Ziptrek Eco Tour and got fitted into our harnesses. This was pretty neat, as we made our way down four different zip lines through the dense forest. Had it not been absolutely pouring during the final two lines, we would have had a fantastic view of the lake below. Happy, but completely soaked down to our connective tissue, we put on our flippers and dolphin-kicked our way back to the gondola. We drove back to the bach and dried ourselves out before supper. Another fantastic but extremely wet day in Queenstown. For those of you following along at home, we have had exactly one day during our South Island trip when it hasn’t rained for at least a few minutes – and that was Christmas Day!

So tomorrow we head away from Queenstown bound for our next destination – Oamaru on the East Coast. We will say goodbye to our friends the Allores until we meet again sometime back in Canada. It has been a great vacation thus far, and we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover before we cross the Cook Strait again and head back to Tauranga. We hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas – we'll see you soon!

Posted by tcrons 02:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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