Monday, February 25, 2013

On the Road again.....

We recently returned from another great trip to the South Island.  We flew from New Plymouth to Queenstown where we rented a van and met up with Bubbles and Papa David (Brad's Parents).

 Just as an aside to again point out the practicality of the New Zealander's, our flight from the North Island had to stop in Christchurch because we had extra room to pick up passengers  there who were also going to Queenstown but who's plane was having mechanical issues.  It would be like being on a flight from New York to LA and stopping in Omaha to pick up stranded passengers.  I can't imagine that happening anywhere else.

We covered a lot of miles and experienced an amazing array of adventures.  We rocketed down the mountain on a wheeled sled, sailed through mystical fjordlands, jumped off a perfectly good bridge with a glorified rubber band attached to our feet, mountain biked around beautiful alpine lakes, hiked around the base of New Zealands tallest peak, swam with dolphins and sipped wine at some world class wineries in the Marlborough region.  In short an incredible diversity of activities.  While there is certainly much left to explore on the South Island, I feel as if we hit a lot of the biggies.

A. Queenstown  Jan 13-16
B. Glenorchy  Jan 15
C. Doubtful Sound Jan 16-17
D. Wanaka Jan 17-20
E. Mt Cook Jan 20-22
F. Kaikoura Jan 22-24
G. Blenheim Jan 24-25
H. Picton / Ferry to Wellington / Flight back to New Plymouth Jan 25
Our friends bach overlooking Lake Wakitapu, Queenstown

Papa getting into the action in the adventure capital that is Queenstown
Watch out Lindsey, Owen is right behind you
Zip line tour through forest canopy in Queenstown.  There were several lines, up to about 250 meters in length, running from tree fort like structures high off the ground

Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy 

Hiking the Routeburn track.  One of the nine "great tramps" of NZ

We stayed at a great bach belonging to our friends the Puris while in Queenstown.  Some highlights include a morning in Arrowtown, an old mining town reminiscent of the American west, a nice drive to Glenorchy on the northernmost tip of Lake Wakitipu for a hike on the Routeburn, and a few great meals at places like Ferg Burger, certainly the best burger and fries in the southern hemisphere.

Next up was a short drive to Manapouri in the Fjordlands for an overnight cruise into Doubtful Sound (So named by Capt Cook on his first trip past in 1769 when he noticed the prevailing winds blew into the sound and he was doubtful that would be able to sail out if he had ventured his ship into it).  It was here that we encountered the only rainy weather on our two week trip and I think it only served to enhance the experience.  The glacially carved fjords had a mystical feel about them with some low lying clouds and there were very impressive waterfalls all over the place which do not exist on sunny days.  The trip on Real Journeys Fjordland Navigator is a must for any south island itinerary.  We slept in dormitory type accommodations but the food and overall experience is first class all the way.

Kayaking the sound

Bottlenose dolphin riding the bow wave

Life is sweet as 

5,4,3,2,1..  Geronimo

After a nice meal at another great little cafe in Te Anau, after disembarking the Navigator, we were off to Wanaka for 3 days.  On the way we stumbled upon the Kawarau Bridge a bit outside of Queenstown.  It was here in 1988 that commercial bungy was born.  I believe there are higher bungys out there but this is the classic.  Jumping into a scenic, dramatic gorge from a beautiful old bridge.  They really do such a professional job that, even though it seems ridiculous to jump off a bridge this high,  you do not have any concerns about safety.  Jenny was driving at the time and I think that a part of her was hoping that no one else in the car would see the bungy jumping as I have threatened to throw her off a bridge since we arrived in NZ.  She tried to draw our attention to a pretty winery on the other side of the river but it was too late, the kids and I had seen the action and we all insisted she pull over.  She knew what was about to go down.  While Lindsey, Skyler and I went to the desk to make some inquiries Jenny ran off to the bathroom.  Lindsey was game, as was Skyler but though old enough she was a kg too light.  Jenny didn't need too much prodding but she insisted she go first, which she did and the first words out of her mouth were "I want to do it again."

"I should have gone to the bathroom one more time"

Go ahead, you can open your eyes now.  

Wha hoo..  I want to do it again

Wanaka is a great little mountain town right on the shores of beautiful Lake Wanaka with Mt Aspiring national park and some of NZs most impressive peaks in the background.  Skiing nearby, mt biking, hiking, kayaking etc.  A bit low key compared to Queenstown and we all quite enjoyed our time here.  There was a major international level Iron Man length triathalon going on the weekend we were there and that really added to the buzz of an already vibrant town.  It is a bit like New Zealands version of Aspen.

A few shots from Puzzling World in Wanaka, a great rainy day activity or, in our case, a good way to spend a couple  less hours in the sun as we were having tremendous weather.  Another of the many quirky little museums we have encountered on our travels through NZ.  Filled with optical illusions, mind games and a gigantic maze.  

Skyler what are you doing in there?

Hiking to Rocky Mt above Lake Wanaka

Rush hour NZ style  

Winery lakeside Wanaka

Mt Sefton,  Mt Cook / Aoraki National Park

 Next up was Mt Cook National Park.  Part of the Southern Alps, Mt Cook, or Aoraki, rises to 12,283 feet.  To the Maori the mountains here represent their ancestors frozen by the south wind and turned to stone.  Their name for it as well as many other landmarks here are used interchangeably with the English names.  To our Colorado friends 12,000 feet may not seem too impressive, but with the base of the mountain at essentially sea level it makes for a pretty dramatic scene.  Standing at the Hermitage Hotel at about 2000 feet you get the sense that you are in the Himalayas with the many formidable looking peaks and glaciers hanging on their flanks.
The most famous Kiwi looking out to the summit of Mt Cook. 
 "In some ways I believe I epitomize the average New Zealander.  I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed."

Edmund Hillary
Aspiring climber

The 8 passenger Hyundai I-maxwhich served us well on many long days on the road

Mt Cook / Aoraki

Small iceberg

Great afternoon in Lake Tasman with glacier behind us.

 Many great short or long hikes in the park

After an amazing 2 days at Mt Cook we ventured a good distance north to Kaikoura which is a small town on the northeast coast of the South Island.  We had been there before and had done the dolphin encounter as you may recall from an earlier blog entry.  We didn't see many dolphins and only briefly swam with them which I thought was pretty cool but the company gave us all our money back because it wasn't the experience they advertise.  Since then I have wanted to come back to see what the encounter is all about.  This time it was truly amazing as we swam amidst a pod of around 400 Dusky Dolphins.  All 7 of us were in the water with for about 40 minutes with the dolphins swimming circles around us and leaping out of the water right next to us.  We even had a seal come and interact with us. Really an incredible experience and I would suggest it as another must do South Island activity.  
From climbing in the Southern Alps to swimming with dolphins the next day.  Only in New Zealand

Must be dolphin fever

North of Kaikoura, seals including nursing pups right off the road
The Dusky Dolphin
In kaikoura we stayed a a bach called The Factory.  It was about 7 minutes north along the coast from the center of town and is in an old cheese factory.  I am mentioning this because it was a really great accommodation.  Janet an Paul who own, live and run it are wonderful.  Their bach is beautiful and Janet prepared for us, bar none, the absolute finest breakfast I have ever had in my life.  She starts with fresh homemade muesseli soaked overnight in homemade yogurt.  I am not that big of a health nut but this is the most delicious healthy thing I have ever eaten.  This was followed by a delicately prepared eight layer egg roll dish, fresh crayfish, organic sausages and fresh muffins, fruit from their garden and freshly squeezed fruit juices.  An incredible treat.  If in Kaikoura look for their place on book a or trip advisor.  It may be a tad of a splurge but it is worth it for sure.

Finishing off a South Island Road Trip with a few sips of sauvignon blanc in the Marlborough region was a nice touch.  Cloudy Bay is one of the best.  We also had a nice dinner at the Herzog winery and even managed to locate an off the beaten track vintner who produces the Greywackie label.  A fine wine my folks had found on one occasion in the States but isn't mainstream enough to have a guest house or wine tour.  It was a bit of a scavenger hunt but we found him and bought a few bottles of his sauvignon blanc which were excellent.
While in Blenheim we met some new friends of ours, Wendy and Chris Florence and their daughters Kennedy and Addison.  Chris is an ED physician from Arizona who we had been in contact with during their planning stages.  They had us over for a delicious brunch and we hope to someday return the favor here in Taranaki.

The last day of our trip included the Cook Strait ferry from Picton back to Wellington on the North Island and a flight back to New Plymouth from there. It is a nice Journey through Queen Charlotte Sound, across the open ocean of the strait and into Wellington harbour.  We were happy to have turned in the rental car and fly home from Wellington as we had logged many hours on the road.

A big thanks to Bubbles and Papa David for joining us on this incredible trip and their generosity in treating us to so many adventures.  They are truly amazing travelers and their stamina is inspiring.