Tramping in New Zealand

Abel Tasman Coast Track – Saturday, May 24th to Monday, May 26th

On Saturday, Mitchell and I set out on the Abel Tasman Coast Track (map – map2).  The whole track can be tramped (the NZ word for hiked) in 5 days or you can just do day hikes by being dropped off (or picked up) by the water taxi.  Along the way, trampers can camp at one of the many campsites or stay in the 4 huts along the trail.  Since it is winter here and we didn’t want to carry a tent, Mitchell and I made reservations to stay at the huts.  

Day one was a 4 hour hike in the rain (yuck). 

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Even though it was raining, the views were still very pretty!

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After a very wet afternoon, we finally made it to our destination- Anchorage Hut.  The huts all have a lodge with a wood stove, tables and an area to prepare meals.  They also have sleeping rooms with bunk beds and toilets.  Immediately after we arrived, Ranger Phil offered me a hot shower in his staff hut since the hiker huts don’t have showers.  I happily took him up on that offer.

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Mitchell quickly got the fire going so we could dry out our wet clothes.

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The view from the hut

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Our evening was spent playing cards (which I FINALLY won) and making dinner. 

 

Luckily things dried up and our hike on Sunday was beautiful. 

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The hike was supposed to take 4 hours but we decided to go for the low tide track to cut off an hour.   We were told that the estuary could be crossed 2 hours on either side of low tide.  PERFECT- since we were ready to leave 2 hours before low tide.  Well- let me tell you- that 2 hour suggestion must only apply in the summer when people are hiking in shorts and don’t mind getting wet.  As we started across the water in our bare feet, it looked like it was going to get shallower- not true.  Before I knew it, I was up to my thighs in water; carrying my hiking boots.  My lovely husband decided to let me go first; quickly discovering that it would be a good idea to take off his pants before going any further.  In the end, we made it across.  While drying off and putting on some dry pants, we noticed that the people wading across were only up to their knees in water- should have waited a few minutes longer!!

Mitchell in his skivvies!

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The hike took us on the ridgeline with wonderful views of the coast and across a few beaches.

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Bark Bay Hut- Night Two

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Bunk Beds

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On Monday, we were treated with another wonderful day of weather.  Enjoying the 4 hours hike, but knowing I couldn’t take two more days of backaches and blisters, Mitchell took pity on me and had the ranger call the water taxi to come pick us up early.  The ride back to the trailhead in the water taxi was nice and the captain even took us over to see some seals.     

We could see the North Island

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On The Road Againnnnn

Queenstown- Wednesday, May 21st

Excited to take advantage of the sunny autumn day, Mitchell and I set out in the morning for a hike up the mountain above Queenstown.   Per recommendation from a friend, we enjoyed a lovely hike up part of the Ben Loman trail to top of the gondola.  The path took us along a stream and through a beautiful pine forest which smelled like Christmas.

Where’s Mitchell?  One second Mitchell was right behind me on the trail; the next second he was down in the stream looking for gold (since he hasn’t had any luck catching fish).

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Making it to the top of the mountain, we decided to reward ourselves with lunch at the Skyline Café.  The café had amazing views of the city, lake and surrounding mountains.  We even got to see a few minutes of snow falling on the pine trees while eating.

The view from the top of the mountain

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On the way back down, we hiked the winding Tiki Trail; along which someone had carved a tree into a chair for me!!!

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After a short break in the Holiday Park lounge, we headed back out for an early evening walk around the Queenstown Gardens and a beer at a local pub.  

Fun Queenstown movie facts:

The lake (Lake Wakatipu) that Queenstown is next to was used in Lord of the Rings as Lothlorien, home of Lady of the Forest, Galadriel. The Kawarau River, which flows into the lake, was used as part of the Great River Anduin. 

Queenstown to Hokitika (map) – Thursday, May 22nd

Today all we really did was drive north.   Along the way we stopped at the Kawarau Bridge right outside of Queenstown to see the first ever bungy jumping site.  We watched a couple different people jump headfirst off of the bridge, but didn’t follow in their footsteps. 

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The morning was beautiful … but from about noon on- it rained. 

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The only other exciting thing to report on was having to stop along the highway while a heard of sheep made their way towards us!  (Keep in mind- the highways here are more like fast country roads back home.)

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Hokitika to Motueka (map) – Friday, May 23rd

Another loooooooooong day of driving in the rain.  The highlight of the drive was stopping to see ‘Pancake Rocks’ in Punakaiki.  The rocks are limestone formations that have had their soft layers etched out by wind and rain over the years to form what we see now. 

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After arriving in Motueka, we made reservations to do a 5 day hike on Able Tasman Coast Track.  It is one of the 9 Great Walks in NZ (like the Milford Track that we didn’t get to do).  We will be hiking for 5 days; sleeping in huts along the way at night.  I hope Mitchell will carry my pack when I get tired!!!  We should have some great updates for you when we get back!  

There And Back Again

Lake Matheson, Haast Pass, Blue Pools, Boundary Creek, Wanaka (map) – Saturday, May 17th

We left glacier land early Saturday morning, hoping to take another hike around Lake Matheson to catch the reflection of Mt. Cook in the lake.  However, Mother Nature had other plans for us which also led to amazing views. 

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After making it through Haast Pass, we did a short hike to Blue Pools.  The path led us through a beautiful forest and over two bridges that looked down upon turquoise blue water.

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Back on the road, we made another stop at the lake at Boundary Creek.  The lake was surrounded by mountains and had a small peninsula covered with pine trees, pebbles, and driftwood.  Some of the creative campers that had previously stayed there had made some impressive huts with the driftwood.

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Our night ended in the small town of Wanaka.  We got to watch the sunset over the mountains while enjoying dinner and drinks at a local bar. 

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Queenstown (map) – Sunday, May 18th

The following day we drove the short distance to Queenstown; the adventure capital of the world.  Surrounded by mountains and nestled next to Lake Wakatipu, this alpine resort claims to be the birth-place of bungy jumping.  We spent our first few hours walking around the super cute little town in the rain before heading to the Holiday Park. 

Once the rain stopped and we were all dried off, we took an evening walk around Queenstown Gardens.

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It was nice getting to see nighttime Queenstown from the peninsula that the gardens occupied.  The building that is lit up at the top of the hill is the Skyline Café and is cleverly situated at the top of the gondola ride. 

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Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford Sound (map) – Monday, May 19th 

Wanting to make it to Milford Sound before the temperature got any colder, we left Queenstown the following morning, knowing that we would return on our way back north. The drive away from Queenstown was beautiful with the weather cooperating.  We had gorgeous mountain views up until we reached Fiordland National Park.  Once we passed the town of Te Anau, it started raining and the mountains were blanketed with clouds.  Knowing this would probably be the case, seeing that it is a rainforest, we embraced the steady mist and stopped along the way to take pictures and do a short hike.  

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Tree fern photographed by Mitch

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As we neared Milford Sound, there were sheer rock cliffs on either side of the road with numerous waterfalls cascading down their face.

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We stopped at The Chasm for a short hike to a lookout.  The park service has built a footbridge over an area of the Cleddau River where the magnitude of water rushing over the rocks was humbling. 

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Reaching the end of the road, we got a campervan site at the Milford Sound Lodge. 

Milford Sound – Tuesday, May 20th

After spending the night listening to the rain on the roof of the campervan, Mitchell and I drove to the boat terminal at Milford Sound. Since it is off-season and we don’t have to make reservations for anything, we signed up for a 1.5 hour cruise around Milford Sound.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fiordland NP (map), Milford Sound is the northern most fiord and the only one accessible by road.   

On our cruise, the captain took us between towering snow-capped mountains whose valleys had been filled in with water when the glaciers in that area melted.  We were surrounded by cloud-piercing cliffs and waterfalls as we made our way to the Tasman Sea.  It was a surreal experience, with the rain and wind pelting us, as we braved the elements in our sailing foul-weather-gear.  Talking with the captain, we learned that it rains 2/3 of the year in Milford Sound; which leads to a grand total of over 27 feet of annual rainfall.  Excited that we were getting to experience a typical day in Fiordland, we weren’t too disappointed that the tops of the mountains were covered in mist. 

Take note of this boat up close

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This is that same boat (the little black speck in the very middle of the picture at the bottom of the mountain)

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There it is again!

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The captain took us right into this waterfall.

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After stripping off our wet layers, we decided to head back to Queenstown instead of doing one of the 3-4 day hikes in the area.  We hope one day to make it back to NZ, so we can do the Milford Track during the correct season; as is it said to be one of the best hikes in the world.  

Mooooo

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Off The Grid (Possibly)

For the next few days (or week), Mitchell and I will be in Milford Sound (map).  We are hoping to do a cruise of the sound and some hiking.  Since it is such a remote area of the South Island, we are unsure if we will have internet (or cell) coverage.  In the event that we don’t have coverage, we will have some pretty hefty updates for you when we return!!  [Just didn’t want you (our families) to worry about us if it is a while until our next post!]  See you soon.

Coast to Coast

Kaikoura to Christchurch (map) – Wednesday, May 14th

We left Kaikoura early Wednesday morning right after my dolphin swim was canceled a second time due to sea conditions.  The rest of the morning was spent driving to Christchurch in the rain. Luckily, once we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Parking next to Hagley Park, we were pleasantly surprised that we had made it just in time for the model sailboat race around Lake Victoria.  The boats were all about 5 feet tall; their sails being operated by remote control.  After one of the old men laughed at us for spending our holiday watching a model sailboat race, he handed Mitchell the remote control and let him test his skills on a smaller boat.  (All I have to say is … it’s a good thing Sea Major is so forgiving!) Image

Once we had our fill of the mini-sailboats, we walked to downtown Christchurch.  Having been hit by two huge earthquakes in less than a year (2010/2011), the city is still in the process of rebuilding.  In the meantime, the people have come up with some pretty creative solutions; one being a mall built in shipping containers. Image

Another impressive icon is a temporary cardboard Cathedral that was erected after the neo-Gothic Cathedral collapsed in the second earthquake.  It was designed by a Japanese architect who has designed other cardboard churches in similar situations.  The Cathedral seats almost 700 people and is made of cardboard, wood and steel. Image

We ended our day in Christchurch with a walk around the Botanical Gardens before heading to the Holiday Park.  This one wins our vote for ‘Best Holiday Park’ for the simple fact that it had a French fry vending machine!! Yes, that is a salt shaker chained to the vending machine next to where your fries pop out!!! Image

Castle Hill, Arthur’s Pass, Punchbowl Falls, Hokitika, Ōkārito Lagoon, Franz Josef Glacier (map) – Thursday, May 15th

Today was a long, but very beautiful day of driving.  Leaving Christchurch early in the morning, we headed for the west coast via Arthur’s Pass. Image

Along the way, we stopped at Castle Hill for a quick hike around the huge slabs of limestone. Image

Having successfully navigated Arthur’s Pass through the Southern Alps, we stopped for another short hike up to Punchbowl Falls.  Back on the windy road again (thank goodness for the occasional passing lanes- people don’t love driving behind our slow campervan on the uphill portions), we stopped a scenic lookout.  As it turns out, the area is a favorite with the local Kea birds.  These rather large birds have a fondness for chewing on vehicles; and they didn’t make an exception for the campervan. Image

Needing to find some lunner (lunch/dinner) to ward off Mitchell’s food emergency, we made a quick stop in the cute little town of Hokitika for some fish and chips; stopping in the Jade factory next door while we waited. Hoping to make it to a campervan site near Franz Josef Glacier, we continued on and got to see the colors of the sunset reflecting off the mountains. Image

Having read that we would be passing close to the home of the rowi (the Ōkārito brown kiwi- rarest in the country), we decided to take a little detour to the Ōkārito Lagoon where the kiwi live.  Since kiwis are nocturnal birds, we knew that this was the only chance we would have to see them.  Strapping on our headlamps and grabbing the spotlight, we set out on the Pakihi Trail.  Not surprisingly, we weren’t able to see any of the kiwi, but we did get to hear them calling back and forth. The day finally came to an end once we pulled into the Rainforest Holiday Park at Franz Josef Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Gillespies Beach and Lake Matheson (map) – Friday, May 16th

Today Mitchell and I did a lot of hiking instead of driving.  Our hope was to see both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.  These are the only two, of the 140 that flow from the Southern Alps, that reach the lower rainforest.  We started the day with a hike through the Franz Josef Glacier Valley and the rainforest leading up to it.   Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hike to the very base of the glacier or on it because of the recent movement/breakage of the glacier.  The only way to set foot on it now is by helicopter.  To ease my disappointment, Mitchell ran down to the glacial stream and brought me a chunk of glacier ice. Image

Me standing on the glacier!!!!

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We then drove to Fox Glacier for a similar hike through the valley floor.  This time, the path let you get much closer to the glacier; we were only about 300 feet away this time.  Again, the guided hikes to this glacier are done by helicopter.  [We found out after the fact that there is one guided hike that you can do that would give you 20 minutes on the ice, but it too was very expensive.]  The view that we had from the valley was amazing.  I have never seen a glacier and was awestruck at the blue-white ice with deep valleys cut into it.  It was a beautiful sight to see. Image Image

With a few good hours of sunlight left, we did a short hike to Gillespies Beach to see the unspoiled coastline covered with smooth pebbles and driftwood.  Not ready to call it a night, we made one last stop at Lake Matheson.  This lake is the famous ‘mirror lake’ that provides a postcard perfect view/reflection of snow-covered Mt. Cook.  Even though our view was obstructed by clouds during the hike, it was still a sight to remember.  [When looking at photographs of the lake, it is hard to tell if the photo is upside down or right side up.]Image Image

We are going to attempt to hike back to Lake Matheson tomorrow morning if the weather/clouds cooperate before heading south.

Kia Ora (Hello) South Island

Wellington, Picton, Blenheim (map) – Sunday, May 11th

Our short drive to the ferry on Sunday morning was briefly interrupted by a drunk driving checkpoint.  For the first time in my life, I had to blow (or rather speak my name and address) into a breathalyzer.  Lucky for us, Mitchell wasn’t driving, as he had just used some Listerine (which contains alcohol) a few minutes prior.  Passing with flying colors, we were back on our way to the Interislander Ferry; which would carry us (and our campervan) across the Cook Strait to the South Island.  Not only was the 10 story ferry amazing in itself; the views of Wellington and the Queen Charlotte Sound were wonderful too.

One of the MANY different areas inside the ferry

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Pulling into Picton Harbor on the South Island

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After arriving in Picton, we took a quick drive around the town before heading south.  We ended up staying in the next little town (Blenheim) so Mitchell could attempt to catch some trout.  He quickly found some trout under a small foot bridge over the stream and grabbed his pole.  Several passersby were interested in his fishing, and when asked why none were biting, one man noted that the fish were often fed from the bridge.  This was the equivalent of fishing for the koi fish in a mall fountain but he still couldn’t land any fish!  So he put his pole away and we took a lovely little walk along the river and through town before heading to our campsite. 

 We had a little fun with the town mural … 

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Blenheim, Halfmoon Bay, Kaikoura (map)- Monday, May 12th

Monday morning was spent driving the coastal Hwy 1 from Blenheim to Kaikoura.  Along the way, we stopped at Halfmoon Bay to see a seal colony sunning itself on the rocks and playing in the water.

Look at the lower left hand corner on the rocks …

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We made it to Kaikoura around noon; just in time to do the 3 hour Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway.  This walk took us along the top of cliffs that lined the sea; through the town and a little forest; and along a boardwalk with snow covered mountains in the distance.

Point Kean seal colony at the beginning of the walkway- there is a seal in the foreground on the right hand side.

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At the top of the cliffs walkway looking down at the bay

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Us on the cliff part

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Snow covered mountains and boardwalk next to the ocean

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Needing to rest our feet, we found a cute little bar in town and enjoyed a Monteith’s beer/cider by the fire per recommendation from Katie B. 

 

Kaikoura- Tuesday, May 13th

We quickly learned that the quaint little seaside town of Kaikoura is home to many marine animals due to its unique underwater environment.  The animals and plant life thrive in this area where two different ocean currents meet.  In hopes of getting to see some of the marine life up close, I signed up for the ‘swim with the dolphins’ tour for today.  [Unfortunately, the trip got cancelled due to the condition of the ocean so I rescheduled it for tomorrow.  Keep your fingers crossed that the seas settle down while we sleep!!] Not having had any luck in the river that ran through town, Mitchell had planned on fishing a different river at the base of Mt. Fyffe while I swam with the dolphins.  His “alone time” was rudely interrupted when I called him to come pick me back up. 

With some extra time on our hands, Mitchell and I decided to backtrack along Hwy 1 to see the baby seals that swim up the Ohau Stream and play at the base of a waterfall.  Every winter, there are about 200 fur seal pups that come to this area to socialize for days at a time while their mothers hunt for food.  The baby seals were a sight to see; diving in and out of the water, chasing each other, and laying at the base of the waterfall.  It was well worth the short hike in the rain!!

The photos don’t really do it justice like the video clips we took…

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Having already explored the small town of Kaikoura yesterday, we decided to hike along the riverbed at the base of Mt. Fyffe after our visit with the seals.  On our drive to the trailhead, we came across some horses that were wearing coats.  We have seen this a lot while driving around the North Island, but haven’t ever been able to capture it on film. 

The horse in the background seems to be an Ohio State fan! 

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Kahawai Fish On!

Martinborough, Te Kopi, Ngawi, and Cape Palliser (map)– May 8th

Setting out this morning for a day of fishing with Mitchell, Drew and Casey, I had no idea what an exciting day it would turn out to be.  The adventure began with another death-defying drive through the Rimutaka Range; winding our way through the mountains with sheer cliffs on the other side of the van.  Once we made it to Martinborough, we welcomed the straight roads and vineyards; stopping in the cute little town for a few minutes.  Just outside of Martinborough, we spent an unsuccessful hour fishing the Ruamahanga River. 

After driving away with our tails between our legs yet again, we decided to hike up to the Putangirua Pinnacles.  Formed by rain washing silt and sand away, exposing the underlying bedrock, they looked like giant organ pipes.  Not surprisingly, the area was used to film one of the scenes in the Lord of the Rings.  

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We then drove along the winding coast of Palliser Bay with the ocean and black-sand beaches on one side; barren hills and sheer cliffs on the other.

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Wanting to take a picture, I made Mitchell pull over.  When doing so, he noticed a large group of sea gulls diving in the water.  Drew grabbed his fishing pole and headed for the water.  On his first cast he landed a nice sized kahawai fish!  For the next twenty minutes, we all enjoyed the best fishing we’ve had in NZ while the school ran down the coast. Image 

Unfortunately we’ve never heard of kahawai before we had caught, eaten and disliked the taste of them.  Had we heard of them beforehand, we would have known that we needed to bleed the fish to keep the blood from pooling in the meat and turning it rancid.  Still a fun day of fishing!

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We then continued our drive around the bay; admiring the little fishing village of Ngawi with its rusty bulldozers on the beach that were used to drag fishing boats ashore. Image 

The drive came to an abrupt end once we reached a “road closed” sign on the way to see the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. 

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On the return trip, we got to see a seal colony and learned that this is the largest breeding area on the North Island. Image 

The day came to an end as we set up camp and ate dinner at Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve.  Even though the fish didn’t turn out amazing, Mitchell cooked up a nice lamb stew.  The day turned out to be quite an adventure and wasn’t the least bit disappointing! 

Wellington (map) – May 9th

After driving back to Wellington, the four of us visited TePapa- New Zealand’s national museum.  It had a nice collection of historical and cultural artifacts; in addition to some fantastic views of the waterfront.     

Colossal Squid- in the gold display case- the only one on display in the world Image

Interactive map of NZ

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The evening was spent checking out a few pubs on Cuba Street and Courtenay Pl to see what the Wellington nightlife was like.  We met Drew’s sister, Brittney, at one of her favorite bars and then headed back to our Holiday Park in the heart of the downtown waterfront.  It was nothing more than a fenced off part of a big downtown parking lot that had a small building with showers and bathrooms.  

Wellington- May 10th

Today we did some more exploring of Wellington Central; starting off with a ride in the cable car.  The little red cable car was built in 1902 to open up hilly Kilburn for settlement; but now takes tourists up the hill to the botanical gardens.  After admiring the amazing view of Wellington Harbor from the top, we wandered our way back down through the Wellington Botanical Gardens.  They were a nice little paradise right in the heart of the bustling city. 

We got to watch a few minutes of NZ’s favorite past time (rugby) as we rode up the hill.  Image

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The Monkey Puzzle- our favorite tree in the garden Image 

We spent the remainder of the day walking around Wellington; admiring how clean and busy they were.  It was nice to see a downtown in which the people still strolled the streets and did their shopping.  

Tomorrow morning we are scheduled to catch the ferry over to the South Island.  We are looking forward to crossing the Cook Strait as it is supposed to be a beautiful passage (and we don’t have to drive the boat for a change!!!). 

 

On The Road Again

The majority of the past three days have been spent on the road.  We have slowly been working our way to the southern tip of the north island so that we can take the ferry across to the south island (which is said to be even more beautiful); and we’ve done it all with paper maps since the campervan didn’t come with a GPS and we’re too cheap to rent one!  (Are you proud of us Sonja Etzell?)

Taupo, Tongario National Park, Taihape (map) – May 5th

We spent the morning wandering around the cute town of Taupo.  This town is located next to Lake Taupo which is the largest lake in New Zealand.   In hopes of finding some free WiFi, we ended up at McDonalds after our walk.  It just so happens that we found the coolest McDonalds in the world.  The playground included an airplane in which the children (not me) were allowed to play.

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Our afternoon was spent driving through Tongario National Park.  We had hoped to do the Tongario Alpine Crossing, but weren’t able to because of bad weather.  We will try again on our way back north because it is claimed to be one of the best one-day hikes in the world.  In the evening, we ended up staying in Taihape at another Holiday Park so that Mitchell could fish the river.

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The sheep in the field next to our camper were unsure of me as I crept closer and closer.  It made for a great picture!  Image

Taihape, Mangaweka, Masterton (map) – May 6th

Tuesday was spent fishing and driving.  We got to fish the river by our campsite in Taihape, the Rangitikei River along the road, and the river near our campsite in Tararua Forest Park.

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While driving from Taihape to Masterton, we stopped at a few beautiful overlooks.  The views were absolutely stunning.

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Stormy Point – I attempted a panoramic photo in hopes of doing the view justice.   Image

Masterton, Lower Hutt (map) – May 7th

After Mitchell got a little fishing in this morning, we went on a uphill hike in the Tararua Forest.  Even though it drizzled the whole time, we both enjoyed the cool weather and breathtaking views at the top.

Our hike up to Rocky Lookout ended with a rainbow!ImageImage

Mitchell found the longest worm ever on the way back down!  Image

Back in the campervan and in dry clothes, we drove to Lower Hutt (near Wellington).  It is here that we met up with Mitchell’s friend, Drew, and his brother.  We are going to spend the next few days camping, hiking and fishing with them before catching the ferry.   Hopefully they will bring us good luck and we’ll actually catch some fish!!

Our drive south to Lower Hutt Image

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Matamata, Tirau and Rotorua (map) Saturday, May 3rd

We started the day off with a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set in the countryside of Matamata.  As I mentioned before, J.R. Tolkin’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies were filmed in New Zealand.  Having just recently read the books and watched the movies, Mitchell and I were excited to see the set firsthand.  Along the way, we learned a lot of interesting information about the production of the movies and the current status of the land. 

Some fun facts for you Hobbit fans: 

In hopes of staying true to the books, Peter Jackson chose this sheep farm in Matamata for three reasons: 1) there was a huge tree on site, 2) the rolling hills and 3) a lake was also on site. 

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After the filming was done, Hobbiton was scheduled to be torn down, but the owner of the farm convinced the production company to let his family keep it intact so that visitors could tour the movie set.

The people who auditioned to be Hobbits had to be under 5’5” and plump with round cheeks.  The Hobbit holes that were built on the hills are not finished inside (super disappointing) since they did that portion of the filming in the studios in Wellington.ImageImage

The Hobbit gardens are real and the food gets sent to The Green Dragon Inn to be used in the restaurant. 

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One of the reasons that Matamata was chosen for the Hobbiton scenes was because of the huge tree that is used as the “party tree” in the films.  It is now the 2nd most photographed tree in the world.

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This is the fence that Bilbo jumped over, with his contract in hand, while yelling “I’m going on an adventure.”  After the tour, Mitchell decided to reenact the scene for all of the people who had not seen the movie. 

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Bilbo’s hobbit hole in Bag End.  Since there wasn’t an oak tree over that area, Peter Jackson had a fake one created. 

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The beautiful watermill building on the lake

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The Green Dragon Inn- like the Hobbit holes- this also wasn’t finished on the inside.  After the movies were shot, the tour company finished the inside so that guests could enjoy a cold mug of ale after the tour. 

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Apparently Mitchell and I drank a little too much of the free ale because we missed our bus back to town.  Luckily another group let us hitch a ride with them and we were able to meet back up to our group at the gift shop. 

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After leaving Matamata, we headed south towards Rotorua; stopping in Tirau along the way.  This little town is known for its unusual buildings made of corrugated tin.  The picture below is of the visitor center. 

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Once we made it to Rotorua, we pulled off the road to see a small geothermal park.  Here we watched bubbling mud and steam rise from the ground. 

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We then found a campervan site at one of the Holiday Parks within walking distance to the city center of Rotorua.  Our evening was spent walking around the cute little town and seeing the Lake Rotorua.  The float plane in the picture below was towing a yellow dinghy.  I sure do wish I had a plane like that to pull our dinghy whenever it broke down.   

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Rotorua- Sunday, May 4th

Not quite ready to leave Rotorua, we decided to spend another day here.  In the morning we hiked through Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest.  It was originally home to more than 170 tree species, planted from 1899, to see which could be grown successfully for timber. 

The two most stunning of the species were the California Redwoods and the palms/ferns. 

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We then spent the afternoon in Whakarewarewa Thermal Village; learning about the native Maori people that still reside there and the geothermal park that their village is built around.  The tour began with a cultural performance that included traditional songs, dances and stories.  Our guide then led us around the village and explained how the people and their ancestors used the steamy bubbling pools, silica terraces and geysers. 

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The village

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Parekohuru – the largest hot spring in the village — the yellow is sulfur. 

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The villagers use the hot steam from the underground geothermal activity to cook their meals.  Each family brings their food and places it in one of the many communal ovens (called steam box hangi).  This “oven” consisted of a metal grate over steam coming from the ground.  It was surrounded by stones and had a wooden cover that kept the heat in the steam box.   The food (meat and vegetables) are placed in a pot or plastic bag and are done in an hour or less.  When the “oven” is being used to cook desserts or bake bread, a rock is placed on the top of the wood cover indicating that no one should lift the lid.  The villagers also take advantage of an area of the hot springs to cook leaf and root veggies as well as seafood.  They simply dip them in the boiling water for a short amount of time and the food is ready to eat in minutes. 

One of the communal steam ovens

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The area that they use to boil the veggies

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In addition to using the steam to help them in their daily life, the villagers used the hot springs to fill communal baths.  The tubs were outdoors; allowing the people to watch the sunset or sunrise (or to star gaze) while bathing in the heated water (38°C).  The oily texture and mineral deposits within the water are also used to treat a variety of ailments. 

At the end of the tour, our guide took us to a platform where we could see two of NZ’s most active geysers, Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers, both of which usually erupt once every hour. 

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After the tour, Mitchell and I hiked along a few of the nature walks on the outskirts of the village.  It was here that we saw bubbling mud pools and a few lakes that are fed by hot springs.

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