Friday, May 25, 2018

Through Arthurs Pass Once More

Day 14 of our tour, hard to believe how fast the time has gone.  As if our stay with Claire at Drifting Sands wasn't top-notch already, she had three types of fresh, homemade bread and about 8 different spreads (also homemade) for our breakfast!

You can find the recipe for her Scottish Gran's Famous Lemon Honey spread here - I will definitely be trying this recipe when I get home, it was fantastic.  It was such a lovely morning - cozy and warm with no rush.  We didn't want to leave.  There was more snow on the mountains and we needed to make it through Arthurs Pass to arrive back in Christchurch on time, so we did eventually hit the road.  A quick stop at the beach in Hokitika for some spectacular views and we were on our way.

Sunshine and snow, we could see nearly the entire Southern Alps range because it was so clear.  The Taipo River and the views through the pass were magnificent.  Arthurs Pass was such a contrast to when we'd gone through just two short weeks ago.  We had our snow chains, just in case they were required. The pass had been closed overnight, but they'd been able to reopen it to cars once it was plowed early in the morning.  As we arrived they were just letting all the semi-trucks through (they were all lined up along the sides of the road waiting).

Taipo River
Arthurs Pass Lookout Point

It is an odd thing to say goodbye to people whom you've only known for two short weeks and yet have shared many memories with the likelihood of ever seeing them again close to zero.  Between the guide, the people in the group, the size of the group, and the pace of the week, I preferred this second week even though we didn't seem to see and do as many things.  Sitting at the airport to catch my flight to Hawera, I heard the woman beside me say all the flights out of Queenstown had been cancelled.  That would certainly make things interesting for Jed, Nathan, and Sarah as that's where they're heading next...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Our Last Dinner

Carrying my suitcase all the way back, through the forest and up the driveway, in the rain was not the highlight of my morning.  Luckily for us the rain let up while we visited the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes in town.  The limestone formations were quite neat and the wild water made everything rather dramatic looking with all the white sea-foam, gray skies, and crashing waves.

Our next stop was Greymouth, a large town where the TransAlpine train stops after coming through Arthurs Pass.  It's a cool town and while wandering around we stumbled upon "The Lifeboat".  It's an actual boat, and there were three people inside selling homemade stroopwaffels and coffee.  I was so excited because I absolutely love stroopwaffels.  Oddly enough, I think I first had one on our plane ride to Guatemala.  Anyway, Sarah had never tried one, and Vivian (who is Dutch) was keen as well so we all bought one.  They were amazing, so much better than ones from a package, even Vivian confirmed they were top-notch.  It didn't hurt that they were nearly twice the size of the ones you buy in the store either.

From Greymouth we stopped at Lake Kaniere and Hans Bay.  I can't say that I was impressed with either one, but the weather didn't exactly help enhance their natural beauty....  The weather did, however, enhance the natural beauty of Dorothy Falls (which is located in the Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve).
Lake Kaniere
Dorothy Falls

Another 30-odd kilometers and we were at the Hokitika Gorge.  That lovely slate-blue water from the glacial flour again.  It never gets old.

We had all of Drifting Sands B&B to ourselves for the night, and we were loving it after the last few places.  All I'd honestly wanted out of the accommodation was indoor showers and bathrooms, but this place was a house, and it felt like a home.  It's right on the beach, so I walked out back and some photos before it started to rain again.

Justin was kind enough to cook us all dinner, and his vegetarian curry was delicious.  With the whole house to ourselves it felt like a family dinner.  It was our last night together so we sat around the table chatting for a long time.  Lucille and Sarah had made another kiwi-passion fruit pavlova and it was perfect as well.

Claire, the lovely owner of the house stopped by to tell us we should walk down the street to the Glow Worm Del, so we took her up on her suggestion. I did not put on shoes for this walk, shocking, I know.  The locals always seem to underestimate how long these walks take and my toes were so cold by the time we got there.  The glow worms were very neat and we also had a lovely view of the moon and the stars on the walk back as well.  No permanent damage was done to my toes either, it's hard to keep flip-flops on your feet when your feet are numb though (in case you never have a chance to test that theory - you're welcome).
Glow Worms

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Coastal Kiwi Drive

A very cold shower experience to start off the day.  At least the water was hot and the cold air woke me up.  Oh, and our breakfast food wasn't frozen this morning so that was a perk as well!  Our first stop of the day was Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park (I believe there's another Lake Rotoiti on the North Island somewhere, which could be a bit confusing).  It's a kettle lake, which means its origins have something to do with a glacier.  According to this explanation from MSU, "Kettles are depressions left behind after partially-buried ice blocks melt. Many are filled with water, and are then called 'kettle lakes'."  To be honest, what I remember most was lots of ducks, a disturbing amount of eels, and the lovely snow-capped mountains as a backdrop to the whole scene.

A quick coffee stop in the town of Murchison and we then drove along the Buller River and through the Buller Gorge.  The river is extremely deep and swift.  Will all of the recent rain and the snow melt coming off the mountains it wasn't hard to believe that it is the most likely to flood river in the entire country.

After leaving the river behind we headed for the coast, towards Punakaki and Paparoa National Park.  The area is New Zealand's version of Australia's Great Ocean Road.  The Great Coast Road was named by Lonely Planet as "one of the top ten coastal drives in the world" and I can see why.  It had some amazing views and the surf was just pounding the beach - tons of wind.  We stopped at Cape Foulwind for a visit to the beach and to view their seal colony.

Our accommodation in Punakaiki for the night was interesting, but required us to carry our bags quite a ways through the forest and up a hill.  That wouldn't have been so bad, but we'd had an accident with the van trying to turn around (long story) in the parking lot.... We were getting a bit tired of having the bathrooms be outside the main buildings (meaning they're pretty much outhouses with running water and toilets, very cold!), and had high hopes for this place.  No such luck on that front, but we had the whole bungalow to ourselves with the beds upstairs and a kitchen and lounge area downstairs.  For dinner we headed to the local tavern, the only restaurant in town open. It was cozy and warm, the owners were lovely, and the food was good as well. 
This comical poster at the tavern had some sage advice, such as, "Animals
the Southern Man won't tolerate: Any animal you can't ride, throw a rope
on or muster sheep with."  To read them all click here.
We had barely made it up the steep, gravel driveway when trying to leave the hostel so we decided to leave the bus at the carpark and walk down.  It was pouring down rain at this point and the walk was a lot further than any of us remembered.  To finish out the night we played a game of scrabble; oddly enough I think I have only ever played once in my life.  I don't think I'll start either, I much prefer Bananagrams; no math involved 😊.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

An Abel Tasman Sailing Adventure

Despite waking up at 6:45am to partake of the sunrise in the frigid cold, there were too many clouds on the horizon for it to be spectacular.  Porters Beach was still a nice morning walk and you won't know if it's a good sunrise until you get up to check, so no complaints.  That is until we went to have breakfast.  At some point last night someone apparently turned the fridge down too low and all our food was frozen.

Because of my wrist I wasn't able to go kayaking, which is one of the reasons I had chosen this second week of the trip.  The next best thing was a sailing trip.  Martin, our skipper, was such a wonderful chap and had tons of facts about the area, which I love.  He picked us up and drove us to Kaiteriteri (the next closest town) to get the boat.  The catamaran was very nice and we had the whole thing to ourselves, which made it even better.

Our first sight of the day was Split Apple Rock (Tokangawhā).  Martin shared three possible explanations for its existence, one of which had something to do with William Tell, but I think I was the only one who laughed at that explanation.  One being that it isn't actually real, but simply a leftover prop from a movie.  The final one was a Maori legend about a fight between two gods, but I can't find it anywhere online and don't remember his explanation well enough to share it, sorry.  Oh, and to be clear, it is real, made out of granite, so you'll have to choose from the other two versions which one you want to believe.

We sailed by Adele Island, which is now a predator-free bird sanctuary, and it was amazing how many birds you could hear!  The difference between the island and the shoreline of the Abel Tasman was very noticeable.  A fur seal colony was our next treat of the day, but I wasn't able to get any good photos of them.  We started to run into some rain so he let us off at Te Pukatera Bay to do a short walk through the bush, which would keep us drier than on the boat.  The trail lead to Anchorage Bay where we planned to have our lunch anyway, so it was a perfect diversion. On our walk I saw my second rainbow of the day as well!
It may be faint, but it is there!

After a delicious lunch we hopped back on the catamaran and heading back down the coast.  Martin did an excellent job of somehow escaping the majority of the rain on our way back to dock.  But on the drive back to Marahau it started pouring down rain.  Although the rain wasn't our preferred weather, it was evening no big deal.  Well, what's an adventure without a power outage!?

About fifteen minutes after we arrived back everything the lights in our room went out.  All the lights weren't out though, so we thought it was a fuse or a bad lightbulb... After another 20 minutes of the storm no one had any power.  Somehow Sarah and Jed managed to make our tacos for dinner on a flat-top grill with a head lamp and a cell phone flashlight.  Our veggies to go with them were ruined because of the fridge-turned-freezer incident, but we still had cheese and salsa so all was well.  We camped out by the big fireplace and chatted while listening to the storm rage.  We all assumed the power would be out all night and were not looking forward to no heat in our rooms.  Luckily for us around 8pm everything came back.  Power to charge phones, heat in the rooms, lights to see our belongings...electricity is a beautiful thing.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Barn at Abel Tasman

We had another relaxing start to the day - we are all enjoying not having to rush to get ready, eat, and be on the bus.  Our destination for the evening is Marahau, located on the outskirts of Abel Tasman National Park.  On our way there we stopped at Pelorus Bridge.  Why did we stop there?  Lord of the Rings.  Apparently a scene that involves a chase with people in barrels was filmed in the river that flows under the bridge.  Not exactly thrilling for me, but we did have a big fan on tour so he appreciated the stop.

As I am not a fan the most fascinating part of the stop for me was when Jed introduced us to the Black Beech trees native to New Zealand.  Many of the trees are prone to a sooty mold fungi that grows on the trees.  The mold "is the result of a scale insect which sucks sap from the tree, and excretes honeydew, a sweet liquid, in small droplets on the end of stalks."  The fungi grows on the waste honeydew, but Jed showed us how to spot the little droplets and we got to taste it. Source & Source

Our next stop was the town of Nelson, the largest fishing port in New Zealand.  We stopped at the supermarket to buy our supplies for the next two days in the Abel Tasman as everything in the town is closed for winter.  After our shopping spree we did a hike up Botanic Hill to the "Centre of New Zealand".  It is technically the surveyor's centre, not the geographical centre, but the views of town were lovely anyway.

The Barn is an interesting place, and it's almost like camping.  We did have an enclosed, heated room, but the bathrooms were in a separate hut and the kitchen was not enclosed (and it was quite cold while we were there).  I took a short walk into the park before dinner and it was a lovely evening, hoping to get a nice sunrise tomorrow.

Our first time cooking together we whipped up a delicious Spaghetti Bolognese.  Has anyone ever had spag bol (the typical nickname for the dish)?  I don't remember ever eating it until I lived in Australia, and hadn't eaten it since.  Anyway, we also enjoyed a delicious kiwi-passion fruit pavlova for dessert, so despite the cold kitchen we had a good evening.
Vegetarian and regular spag bol with garlic bread - yum!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wild Kiwi Camper Day 9

Most of us got up Sunday morning in hopes of catching a beautiful sunrise.  It was about a 10 minute walk to the beach and in hind sight I should have worn shoes.  After walking there and standing on the shore for half an hour my toes were quite numb.  The view of the sunrise - mountains to the left with snow on the tops and the sun popping over the horizon - was well worth the early morning and the cold feet.

After breakfast we headed off, driving along the coast.  There is still a ton of road construction because of the earthquake, which isn't all that surprising after living in Christchurch for 6 weeks.  We drove the the New Zealand wine region, Marlborough and stopped at a lovely winery.  It was Lucille's 32nd birthday so we did a wine tasting at Framingham Wines.  I bought a Raspberry Slice and some birthday candles so we had a little celebration there as well.

The winery was only a half hour away from Picton and our accommodation for the night was a beautiful, old Victorian style house that was turned into a hostel.  Aptly named 'The Villa', they serve free, homemade apple crumble every night at 8pm - how cool is that!?

As it was Sunday afternoon, most places were closed, but we took a walk around town anyway.  It's quite small, but the ferry from the North Island (Wellington) drops people off here every day, I believe, so it has its fair share of touristy things and eateries.  

We managed to find a place that would be open for dinner and we made a reservation at an nice Indian restaurant in town.  The naan bread turned out to be rather disappointing, but everything else was delicious.  We ended up sitting around in the lounge for the evening chatting, working on an insane jigsaw puzzle, and of course, eating our apple crumble.  Another relaxing day of touring in the books.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Eat Crayfish"

Our new guide for the week, Jed, is much more experienced at tour guiding, even though today was his first day on the job with Wild Kiwi.  He worked for two other tour companies for about 10 years so he has tons of facts and info to share with us which I appreciate.  In addition to a new guide we have a new ride: a campervan.  The pace of today was so much more relaxed and easy-going since the distances traveled each day are shorter.  We drove for about an hour and then had a coffee stop in the little town of Chevoit.  The weather was beautiful so we sat outside the cafe chatting before heading on down the road.  We were able to spot some seals and dolphins along the way (driving along the east coast) so that was a bonus.

Kaikoura is located on a peninsula and they had a large earthquake there in 2016.  Jed hasn't been back through the area since before the quake and as we drove he kept commenting about how much things have changed, even just along the coastline.  The water level is about 3 meters lower than it was last time he'd come through and a lot of the rocks now visible above the water weren't visible before the quake.

After checking out the view from the town lookout we did the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula Walk, which took about an hour.  Farmland, beautiful sea cliffs, the views were worth the hike.  According to the DoC brochure, "The peninsula is a biological nodal point, a place where ‘north meets south’ or, more accurately, where ‘warm meets cold’.  Here, the distributions of typically northern and southern species overlap — the seaweeds show a strong southern affinity, while the animals show a warmer, more northern influence.  Add to this the rich variety of inter-tidal and sub-tidal habitats, and you have one of the most biologically diverse locations of the entire east coast of the South Island."

Our walk ended at the carpark, which is conveniently located next to a seal colony! We were able to get quite close to them and I was able to take some videos of them as well (which my nephews loved).

We'd heard good things about the fish n chips at Coopers Catch, so all ordered a takeaway and Jed drove us back up to the lookout to watch the sun drop behind the mountains.  It's a very small town and there's not much to do in winter (especially in the evenings), so we decided to make use of the hostel's hot tub.  With a few Brits on the trip it's been interesting to hear all about their take on the royal wedding, the royal family, etc. and it certainly was the main topic of conversation this evening.

"Legend has it that Māui used the Kaikoura Peninsula as a foothold to brace himself when he fished the North Island out of the sea. From this comes the peninsula’s earliest name: Te Taumanu o te Waka a Māui, the thwart or seat of Māui’s canoe. The name Kaikoura means ‘eat crayfish’, recalling the occasion when Tama ki te Raki had a meal of crayfish here, pausing on his journey around the South Island in pursuit of his three runaway wives."

Friday, May 18, 2018

Shades of Blue

Friday was our last day together and it was once again spent mostly on the bus.  As we headed out of Mt. Cook we still couldn't actually see the top of the mountain; as if to placate us we were instead rewarded with a rainbow.  We traveled, once again, along Lake Pukaki which was as beautiful as ever.

Our main objective was returning to Christchurch in time for anyone who had a flight out that night, so our only really tourist stop was at Lake Tekapo.  Oddly enough the town and the lake are both named "Lake Tekapo".  As with Lake Pukaki, this one also owes its magnificent color to the suspended 'rock flour' in the water.  It is the middle-child, in terms of size, of the three lakes in the Mackenzie Country (Pukaki being the largest).  There are two well-known statues in town, which I dutifully photographed for you all:
"This monument was erected by the runholders of the Mackenzie County and those who also appreciate the value of the collie dog, without the help of which the grazing of this mountain country would be impossible."
Eleven Himalayan tahr, one of the world's premier game animals, were introduced into New Zealand in the early 1900's to complement the deer species that had already been established tin induce tourism.  Now classified as 'vulnerable' on the list of endangered species, New Zealand has the only substantial herd of wild tahr outside their native India and Nepal.  It is also the only country where they can be hunted in a free-range natural alpine environment.
Ok, for full disclosure, those two statues are not the reason people visit Lake Tekapo (the actual lake nor the town).  They visit because of a tiny, now famous, building: Church of the Good Shepherd.
If you search Google images for photos of this church, you will not be disappointed - since it's still in the dark sky reserve there are some amazing photographs taken at night.

Built in 1935 it was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin and is still in use as a place of worship today.  They do not allow photographs to be taken inside the church, but the window above the altar has a top-notch view.  The gentleman on greeting duty gave me some cool advice about a place to visit at my house sitting job in Hawera, there's an old lost highway that travels through a town that has declared its sounded quite intriguing so I made a note in my phone to check it out.

We arrived back in Christchurch and said our goodbyes; only four of us (including me) were continuing on to Abel Tasman.  Telli gave us the scoop on our next guide, as best he could, and told us we would have two more people joining our tour tomorrow.  Week one in the books, week two on the way.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The "Cloud Piercer"

On Thursday morning we woke up to snow on the mountains in Queenstown!  The view from the hostel kitchen was so lovely since it looked out over the lake and had the snow-capped mountains in the background.  As we left Queenstown, headed for Mt. Cook-Aoraki, the view as we drove was lovely.  We stopped in Cromwell for a coffee break, the town is known for its fruit in summer, but since it was winter we didn't stick around.

We drove through Lindis Pass and there was still some snow on the grass at the lookout point.  Our resident Queenslanders (the tropical region of Australia) were completely enamored with the snow, they had never touched it before so it was a new experience for them.  It's not that there isn't snow in a few areas of Australia, these two had just never been there.

After lunch in Omarama we found ourselves driving alongside Lake Pukaki.  For my LOTR fan readers, the following excerpt is just a piece of an entire article about the area and the movies: "A pure distinctive light, the amazing turquoise hues of the lake and the sharp alpine landforms were all part of the attraction for the film-maker who has used this region three times to backdrop major location scenes in his 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' Trilogies."  For the rest of us, the lake is fed by the Tasman River, which is in turn fed by he Hooker and Tasman Glaciers.  It is the largest of the three glacial lakes in the area and as you can see is indeed an amazing blue-green color.

The water colour of the lake is a bright turquoise due to glacial flour, made from extremely fine rock particles that have come from the surrounding glaciers...When the sun hits the surface of the lake, it reflects off the particles transforming it to a brilliant blue." source  Since it was such a clear day we managed to get a glimpse of Mt. Cook (the Maori name, Aoraki, means "cloud piercer") before it was engulfed by clouds.  We had planned to do a three hour hike to a lookout below the mountain, which happens to be the tallest in New Zealand.  A storm was moving in and none of us had the proper clothing for a hike in rainy slush, Telli adamantly advised against it.  As he put it, "the animals of NZ don't kill you, the weather does."  No one wanted to quit before we started so we bundled up as best we could (the wind was incredibly cold) and went about 25 minutes down the trail.  We had been able to see the river, which was nearly white from all the glacial flour, before the spitting rain started.  We asked some hikers, that had come from the mountain, if there was anything up the trail further to see (i.e. "should we continue in this crazy weather?") and they advised that we wouldn't see anything because the weather was too poor.  Satisfied that we had seen what we could we turned back to the warmth of the lodge (after a group selfie).

To be honest, I didn't mind terribly that the weather had ruined our hike, what made me sad was that the weather also ruined my chances of star gazing.  "Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of only eight in the world." source  I had also been secretly hoping to get a glimpse of the Aurora Australis while here as well.  I guess it wasn't meant to be this time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Queenstown - Day 5

Today was the first time I actually saw Queenstown in the daylight!  It is not very big, but is quite lovely since it is lake front.  Although it is known as the "Adrenaline Capital" of the country, I'm not into adrenaline sports and my friend Oksu, that I met in Christchurch, was staying here as well so we had decided to meet up for the day.

I had a leisurely morning and enjoyed a walk along the waterfront while waiting for my laundry in the dryer to finish.  I stopped in some souvenir shops as well, but at the end of the day I just don't need any of the things they're selling and none of them grabbed my attention enough to make me want to pay for and carry in my suitcase for the next 4 months.

Around noon Oksu texted to say she was ready.  For such a small town we shouldn't have had so much trouble finding each other, but it turns out Queenstown has a 'thing' about having two locations for a lot of their stores (which neither of us knew).  I said I was outside Ice Bar and eventually went inside to ask what the actual address was and the woman informed me they had two locations (only 2 blocks away from each other).  Anyway, we finally met up and decided to take a walk along the lake.  It was a bit frigid and we could see some clouds rolling in; with rain forecasted for the afternoon we decided to head back towards town to find some lunch.

Oksu had already eaten at Fergburger but was game to try it again.  Unfortunately, the line was crazy long again and I just wasn't convinced it would be that amazing.  Telli had told us about FergBakery which is right next door and claimed they are the absolute best pies in town.  I love a good pie and Oksu was game so we popped over and ordered a Lamb Shank Pie.  Oh my goodness, it was excellent! Probably the best pie I've eaten in this country so far (and in case I didn't mention while blogging about my North Island tour, I had a pie for lunch nearly every day of that tour so I have had my fair share).  We ate our pies on a bench by the lake and soon decided we needed to get out of the wind so we went to a cafe to have a chat.  After finishing our drinks we decided to walk around town for a bit.  As mentioned, it's not a very big town and everyone comes to do crazy things like sky diving, bungy jumping, paragliding, the Shotover Jet, mountain biking, the list goes on and on.  Most of the shops are bars or restaurants so there really wasn't much to look at anyway.  We'd walked past both locations for Patagonia Chocolates and decided a hot chocolate would help warm us up.

They had a great seating area upstairs with a huge window overlooking the lake, so when the rain started we decided to stay put.  The rain eventually let up enough that we decided to venture out and find some dinner.  Oksu wanted Thai food and her Korean guide book suggested a couple places and we eventually decided on the second option.  Everything was very tasty and we eventually parted ways hoping to some day meet again, perhaps in South Korea, or perhaps in the USA.