Monday, November 7, 2011

South Island Chapter 3

A picture can tell a thousand words............

Our Bach for 3 nights
At "Artists Retreat" a beautiful bach (holiday home)
outside Kaikoura.  Pigs, cows, goats, chooks (chickens) a lamb,a donkey, a sheep. and doves all lived on the property. The Owner would let the kids feed the animals each morning. 

A face only a mother could love

Getting on the boat for our Dolphin Encounter
Waiting for the Pod of Dolphins to appear.

Lindsey getting ready to jump in with the dolphins

A deep ocean trench (as deep as 6,000 ft in some places) gets as close to 500 meters from the Kaikoura Coast.  This trench sustains a vibrant food chain supporting a variety of seabirds, marine animals, and fish species. Kaikoura is World famous for it's whale watching, dolphin encounters and albatross encounters. 

Swimming with a small pod of Dolphins.

Hot chocolate after swimming with the Dolphins.

Fine dining in Kaikoura

Lobster, mussels, scallops, salmon, shrimp, paua fritters, whitebait fritters,
and seafood chowder

Another beautiful sunset we were treated to in Kaikoura

A super hike that took us past tons of seals, and seabirds. 
Hundreds of Seagulls nesting.

Owen loved watching the Seals!!

"Take me to your leader"

Baby seal pups, dozens of them in a total natural setting.
They swim up a creek to a pond by a waterfall and play there
all day without any adult seals around,or predators to worry about, it was kinda like a baby seal daycare!! The baby seal pups then swim back out into the ocean at night to nurse with their mother. It was the most amazing wild animal encounter we have ever experienced. 

Back on the ferry headed home.

Wellington, back on the North Island after a great trip

Thursday, November 3, 2011

South Island Chapter 2

 We are now headed to an area of New Zealand called The West Coast, but to get there we must first drive along the Buller Gorge and pass through a town called Murchison that has gained a reputation as New Zealand's "Whitewater Capital". And it boasts the most kayaked stretched of white-water in the Southern Hemisphere. Brad being a white-water junkie ( me-been there, done that-seen Elvis way too many times on numerous "swims" I have been on with my husband!!) was very excited to see this part of New Zealand, and I think he was quietly making plans as to when he could return and run some rapids. We spend some time exploring the gorge, which was a spectacular river valley and hiked along New Zealand's longest swaying footbridge. The sky that day was intensely blue and clear and because we were traveling in the off season, it felt as if we had the whole Gorge to ourselves.  We had a picnic next to the footbridge, as we watched the emerald colored water flowing through the canyon. 
Buller River


Longest footbridge

The kids totally talked us into the overpriced zip-line that went over the Buller River. The Kiwi's have come up with more ways to thrill tourist (and make them part with their money) with "adventure" broadly defined. It is a Disney World for adventure seekers, as that is one of the reasons we choose to come and live here. After I saw the smiles on the kids faces after they whizzed by me (I was in a squat position on the footbridge trying to get a great photo, and after standing in the middle of the bridge for about 10 minutes I totally understand why swaying is part of the description-yikes) I was happy we spent the money and gave in.

                 WILD WILD WEST COAST
We knew very little about the West Coast region of the South Island except for what we had read in the guide books. The guide books describe it as "a land unto itself". The West Coast region covers some 375 miles of coastline and its biggest district, Greymouth, has a population of less than 14,000. Almost half the residents live in or around Greymouth, while the others live in a sprinkling of sneeze-and-you'll miss it towns populated by coal miners, pub owners and shopkeepers. It is a very sparsely populated region. We were totally blown away by the landscape. This swath of New Zealand is gorgeous, authentic, and unspoiled.

These are the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. The "pancake" stacks are columns of limestone with almost perfectly thin horizontal layers fantastically carved by the wind and sea.

This was the Bach that I found us somewhere on the desolate West Coast. We felt as if we were the only people for miles around, as we settled into this charming bungalow for the night. This placed looked pretty spectacular from the website and it was all that it said plus more. We had the beach to ourselves for the remainder of the day and we were treated to a most spectacular sunset. The day ended with some leftover food from the cooler (there was not a restaurant or store nearby) and the All Blacks beating Australia in the Semi-finals. There are not too many days that are so special that you will remember them the rest of your life, but today was one of those days. I will miss days like this when we return to the US, but I know that days like today are special because they are rare, precious and beautiful.

Walking back to the Bach for dinner and the All Blacks.

This sunset was a gift, and we were blessed to witness it!

The next day we found a great hike that lead to a waterfall and lake. We spent the afternoon skipping rocks, playing in the Beech Forest and just enjoying all that the West Coast had to offer.

Owen getting a skipping rock lesson from Dad. 

Owen's smile after he skipped his first rock.

We then got into our Mighty Dion turned her east and headed up the Spectacular Arthur's Pass. We gained altitude fast and found ourselves gazing at mountains above timberline on a road barely clinging to the shale sides and flanked by steep drop-offs. It was awesome that we had only been at the coastline an hour ago and now we were driving in the Southern Alps. It was like we driven from Big Sur to the Rockies, and it only took 90 minutes or less. The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe was filmed up on the pass, and there is a Trail named The Narnia Track. 

Brad insisted I put a picture of the Dion on the blog. We both think she is a hideous looking car, she looks like a character from the movie Cars. However she is loyal, gets goods gas mileage and has a decent stereo system. So in honor of the Dion who has gotten us over many mountain passes "Good on ya, mate"

The kids were getting restless in the car, so we got out for an hour and climbed around on these gigantic boulders, nature's playground. 

Arthur's Pass dumps us into Christchurch where we spent one night in a holiday park, not quite the character of the baches but there was a pool, a playground and a nice Thai restaurant across the street.  Christchurch, which is NZ's second largest city was hammered by two major earthquakes in the last year.  Aftershocks continue to disrupt the city and its people and many have chosen to relocate.  The central business district of what was once one of New Zealand's most popular dining and shopping areas is still closed to the public.  Destruction is still evident everywhere around the city.  Roads in places are cracked and wavy, whole buildings are gone, and most church steeples are on the ground.  Reconstruction is slowly happening and the government seems committed to restoring Christchurch to its former brilliance.  We hope to return one day to more fully enjoy all Christchurch has to offer.

This was the Hot Springs Pool in Hanmer Springs that is north of Christchurch. We stopped here on our way to Kaikoura. It was a cold, rainy day so it actually worked out perfect as we were planning on spending the afternoon in the Hot Springs. We are now headed Kaikoura to spend 4 days. And come to find out, we saved the best for last!!