BERT AND LESLIE POOL'S NEW ZEALAND TRIP
March 24 - April 11, 1998
One of the many beautiful rivers we saw in New Zealand.
The bulk of this account is Leslie's, with Bert's added comments in blue.
March 24, 1998 - Auckland
First glimpse of New Zealand from the air-I can't believe it's so green! Makes the western US look like a wasteland by comparison. Little pockets of mist in the valleys as we arrived about sunrise. Saw the infamous sheep dotting the hillsides. Just little clusters of houses, no suburban sprawl everywhere.
Got through customs quickly. I guess they figure between the x-rays and the dogs they detect just about everything. All they looked at was the bottoms of our hiking boots! The airport was so quiet and small that we had to videotape it. There was no one around as we walked the several yards to our rental car-of course it was 7:00 in the morning, which could have had something to do with it!
The rental cars were generally up to our standards, but we passed on this one.
Driving was a bit traumatic. Not only do you have to negotiate a strange city where the street names keep changing every time the road bends, while driving on the "wrong" side of the road. You also have to adjust to a car where the turn signals, the gear-shift, everything is "wrong". All your instincts tell you that the windshield wipers ought to be the turn signal. I was worse about it than Bert. But at least I didn't hit anything! [Leslie did almost take out the rear end of a truck that she tried to pass. (Exaggeration!) Of course the near-crunch took place on my side of the car - I could almost taste the paint flakes.] He headed right into a curb and destroyed the left front tire. [I was pulling into a parking space - it was only a glancing blow - really!] We were on the way to our harbor cruise and dinner, so we couldn't change it right then. I worried all during dinner about having to change a tire in the wharf district at 10:00 at night, but I needn't have. The crew of the ship assured us that they just don't have violent crime in downtown Auckland. And it does appear to be very safe. We saw many women out by themselves as we walked back to the car tonight. But I digress. [I was very uncomfortable walking from the wharf back to the car - lots of dark, isolated areas along the way. I kept looking for objects to use as weapons to defend us. Some of that U.S. paranoia.]
All in all-yelling at each other about driving aside- [At one point, I was so upset with the traffic and unlabeled streets that I finally pulled over and yelled "I am NOT having a good time! This is NOT my idea of a vacation, and I'm not driving another inch." Leslie took over driving - we got to our destinations and the only thing I had to deal with was the beginnings of an ulcer from all the flinching as she almost hit everything on the passenger side of the car.] We had a good first day. The Auckland museum was a challenge to get to with just a street map, but had some incredible stuff. [I was most impressed with the 115 foot long Maori war canoe they have inside.] When we got there they were filming a movie of some sort, with the big booms outside and everything. We had only been in the museum about twenty minutes when someone set off the fire alarm and the building was evacuated. We still think the movie crew had something to do with it. We sat outside for about an hour, watching hoards of kids cavort on the lawn while we ate brownies I'd brought from home. The kids, mostly Maori in appearance, were fascinated with Bert's video camera, especially seeing themselves or their friends in the screen. They gathered around-like being accepted into a pride of lions Bert said-to sniff us and prod us and generally explore our foreignness.
We had to give up and leave the museum because we had limited time with a lot to see. We headed off toward the zoo, got lost again and ended up in Cumberland Park. Saw some incredible trees-huge and unfamiliar. The park was full of people on a workday-including kids with their teacher. We wondered if Tuesdays are outing days at the local schools. Got our bearings and some directions and made it to the zoo. It was very nice, not very crowded, but again there were kids everywhere with their teachers. We got to see wallabies, kiwis and tuatara in addition to the "usual" animals.
Got back to our lodging at the Chalet Chevron, which is clean and conveniently located, but a bit shabby. The shower still felt great because we were pretty scummy after the 22-hour plane ride/airport waiting room experience plus a day of sightseeing. Our room had no electrical outlet that was anywhere near a mirror, so using a hairdryer was an adventure. We found that there were no screens on any windows, and that even ground floor windows are left open all the time. Very different from the States!
Got to the harbor without getting lost and aside from the flat tire, had a great evening. The harbor was beautiful and sailing at night was great. The city lights were enchanting, but I was so tired that I almost fell asleep several times.
March 25, 1998 - Auckland to Pahia
Beautiful morning. Great view out the breakfast room window, hills and harbor. Breakfast was somewhat strange though. Burned scrambled eggs and "bacon" that is what we would call ham-or maybe Canadian bacon. We met the owners' cat, who is named "Sammy". He had white fur on his nose, but black skin. I hadn't ever seen that before.
We took the tire to be replaced (thank goodness Bert had insisted on the extra insurance!) and then were on our way out of town on Highway 1, the main transportation artery between Auckland and Northland. It started out as "motorway", which is the rough equivalent of our "freeway", then became two lanes very shortly after getting out of the city. We stopped at a beautiful beach at Orewa that was actually covered with seashells. We walked around awhile, scoping out the birds and the tidal pools. We could have walked for miles-no fences or "No Trespassing" signs-and we never saw another soul. We drove through more beautiful countryside, then stopped at the Puhoi Scenic Reserve to hike in our first rainforest. It was like taking a path into enchanted country-dark, shady and mysterious. We saw two beautiful waterfalls.
Sadly, chainsaws buzzed loudly on the other side of the mountain, and we kept hearing giant trees come crashing down. Later some native assured us that they don't cut down "old growth" forest, only radiata pine, which is a cash crop, mature in 18 years. Still, we had the feeling that a treasure was being destroyed before our very eyes. [The sound of those chainsaws and the crashing of the big trees still haunts me today.]
Got to Pahia, which is a very nice little seaside resort town. We walked around a bit, then went to dinner. None of the restaurants open until 6:00, and we tend to get hungry earlier, since we often skip lunch. We'll have to adjust. Had a very expensive-and not very good by our standards-dinner at La Scala, which was recommended by the guidebook. The fish is fresh, but all breaded- "crumbed"-and flavorless. Got lost finding our motel, which is tough in a town wit h only 10 streets. Well, not lost actually, since we'd been given the wrong directions. The Bay of Islands Motel is like the 50's revisited. It's like someone went to a garage sale in the US and bought all this funky old stuff that our parents threw out. They even had a plastic breadbox and egg cups! We were blown away. Once again the electric outlets are nowhere near a mirror, and there are no trash receptacles anywhere. Very strange. [I walked around our cottage f ilming everything. It was like waking up in an old Twilight Zone episode where you suddenly find yourself back in 1952. The other thing that only added to this feeling was we kept hearing old American songs from the 50's and 60's everywhere we went. At first, I thought the locals played this kind of music for the tourists - but I later decided they just like this music!]
March 26, 1998 - Pahia
We slept in and got a late start. Had breakfast in a little place in Pahia and picked up our film. We dropped off another roll and they let us run a tab! We couldn't believe it. Wouldn't happen at home, but here they are so trusting. We went to get on our dolphin cruise and found out we were supposed to be there yesterday. I had told Newman's that we wanted to go today, so I hadn't even looked at the date on the voucher. They were very calm about it though and put us on the boat f or today.
Our Skipper (dark beard) and boat guide.
We saw both bottlenose and common dolphins, and although I didn't fulfill my dream of swimming with them, I felt satisfied. I could have gone, but I didn't have a swimsuit, and would have been miserable the rest of the day in wet clothes. "Poor planning" as Bert would say. The bay was so beautiful that we would have enjoyed the trip anyway, but getting to see so many dolphins made it spectacular.
A Bottlenose dolphin frolicking in the ocean, and some common dolphins we saw.
I got tears in my eyes every time they got close to us, and lying on the bow of the boat with them swimming right underneath me was great! I was actually closer to them than many of the swimmers were. [The water started out a little rough the first part of the day, with the boat rolling in the swells, but it was super in the afternoon.]
The littlest skipper tries her hand at piloting the boat.
We got off the boat at Russell and walked around a little. Checked out the Duke of Marlborough hotel. It's right on the water, surrounded by huge old trees, and might be a nice place to stay. (We're already planning our next trip.) We saw the oldest church in New Zealand and had dinner at the Quarterdeck, which was okay. [The old church yard was interesting, as it is completely surrounded by old graves. There are many unique and interesting headstones here. Many of the stones are carved in the Maori language.]
Interesting headstone in old cemetery at Russell.
We could have gotten a better deal on lodging if we had taken most people's advice and booked it after we got here. Most places have vacancies, even nice ones like The Beachcomber in Pahia. We might stay in Russell the next time we come though. It feels less touristy.
March 27, 1998 - Pahia to Auckland via the west coast
Got an early start after another strange breakfast, "pancakes and maple syrup". Looked sort of like pancakes only flatter, but tasted like French toast, and the "syrup" had no taste at all. I wonder if the food is like British food, or if they have adapted their own version of what the tourists want from descriptions and/or pictures. It's never what we expect. [At this point, I'm wondering if we'll ever find any palatable food to eat. ]
Waitangi and Treaty House was our first stop of the morning. The setting was beautiful, and the museum had some wonderful carvings-and a great gift shop. The war canoe and meeting house were my favorites, though I wish the lights had been on in the meeting house. The Treaty House is the site of the treaty signing in 1840 between the Maori and the British, sort of a cross between Independence Hall and Manhattan Island in historical significance.
Maori wood carvings at Treaty House.
Bert got his first good pictures of a tui, a native bird with as varied a song repertoire as the mockingbird. And he saw, or rather glimpsed, a parrot. [I was startled by this bright red, blue and green blur of a bird that zipped past me into a bunch of trees. The local birds have some of the most interesting calls I've ever heard.]
We drove down the western side of Northland coming back to Auckland. Saw some very gorgeous places we would like to come back to. The dunes at Onapere was one spot and just outside the kauri forest was another. There are bed and breakfasts everywhere, very well marked. In the kauri forest, we saw the God of the Forest, the oldest tree in New Zealand. It's estimated to have been around when Christ was born. Some others of its kind are still living, but they are much smaller. This tree is comparable in size to the sequoias now left in California, although it's character is much different. [There is absolutely no way that you can capture this incredible tree on video or film and convey its majesty and size. I really, really tried - I shot video, 35 mm film, and even took some 3-D photos, but nothing really captures the spirit of this tree.]
We drove by more beautiful scenery, rolling hills with farms, cows and sheep. More cows than sheep actually. We think they'll regret that one day, but right now beef is selling better than wool. We ran into our first traffic jam about 5:30 just outside of Orewa, about 30 miles from Auckland. More cars coming out of the city, as you'd predict on a Friday, but plenty going our way. Bert tried to avoid the jam by taking to the side streets. Bad idea. It just got worse, and we had to muscle our way into line to turn into the line of traffic we had just left. However, we were through it in twenty minutes or so, which would never happen at home. [Actually, if I never see Auckland traffic again, that would suit me just fine. Auckland is a BIG metropolitan city - and it is like being in any other big city that has too much traffic.]
We found our lodging with no problem. Sedgwick Kent Lodge is like something out of Architectural digest, as the guide book said. We walked to dinner at a little ""local" place called "Venus". It had a hammered copper bar that was very art deco. We met an American who was working there as a waitress. Amazing how you can pick up on the accents and speech patterns of "home". The food was very expensive and mediocre, but we're getting used to it. The vegetables and fruits are very fresh and wonderful. [This entire cafe was designed by a local artist. The wood, plastic and copper bar, which is about 30 feet long, is truly a work of art. I came back the next morning and video taped it in detail. This bar oozes some kind of essence of 1950. It screams at you "I am 1950, and I'm damn proud of it!" I loved it, and wish I could enter it in an art exhibition.]
March 28, 1998 - Auckland to Rotorua
We had a nice breakfast with our host "Van", who turns out to be Dutch. He gave us directions to downtown, and miraculously we didn't get lost once. We had to wait for the travel agency to open because we had gotten in too late to get any money exchanged last night and only a few places exchange money on Saturdays. [While we were wandering around downtown, we saw this big yellow wooden box sitting on the sidewalk. It was full of newspapers for sale. You dropped your money into a smaller box with a slot cut in it. Entirely the honor system! This box wouldn't have lasted 15 minutes on a street corner in Dallas. Amazing.] Looked at a private gallery and went to a bookstore while we waited. Once we had money, we went to the Auckland Art Gallery. There were sandbags all around the building holding the wires for the generators in place. This part of downtown is still without power, except that furnished by generators.< FONT FACE="Arial" COLOR="#0000ff"> [Auckland had recently suffered a major, major power failure of the main lines feeding the downtown part of the city. Driving around the business district, I studied the aerial power plant, and it was evident that little, if any, renovation of the poles and lines had been done since maybe the 1930's! It is no wonder the electrical system is failing - the local utility has spent no money bringing it up to date for decades.]
We were really impressed by the portraits of the Maori and some very interesting New Zealand paintings-many of them by women! Especially liked "For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven" and "Married". There was a special exhibit on "Orientalism" that was fantastic too. It was unlike anything I'd seen in the States, even at the Kimbell (in Fort Worth). They took a theme-the fascination with Moorish and Eastern culture and places-and had a wide range of artists and styles addressing that theme. They even had photographs. We got so engrossed that we stayed longer than we planned. Even though it is only about 137 miles from Auckland to Rotorua it took four and a half hours to get there. All the roads are two-lane and they all run through the center of every town, so it takes much longer to get anywhere than the distance would indicate. Having learned this, we headed straight to Rotorua, rather than going by the glowworm caves in Waitomo. People have told us since that we didn 't miss that much. We stayed at the Centra hotel, right on the edge of the thermal area. A bit sulphurous, but it had a great hot swimming pool. [The sulfur smell is everywhere. But what really bothered me was the fact that the local eggs had so much sulfur in the yolk that I could not stomach the smell of the eggs at breakfast. Indeed, I was unable to even look at another egg the entire trip.]
March 29, 1998 - Rotorua
We woke up and it was raining, with the forecast saying it would continue all day. We decided to hit the thermal areas on our way out of town tomorrow in the hopes of better weather. Checking the map, I spotted Okere Falls. It has waterfalls and caves, so that looked interesting. It was about 25 km from the hotel, so off we went. We hiked down to the caves in light drizzle and were enjoying the view of the waterfall from there when I saw a guy in a kayak shoot down this 21-foot waterf all. Thus ensued several hours of videotaping and talking with kayakers and rafters who "shoot" these falls on weekends. They were very friendly and willing to chat with us. We enjoyed ourselves very much despite the intermittent showers. [Watching the rafts and kayakers was indeed one of our favorite times here. I really loved the beautiful river and falls here. Heck, I'd like to try kayaking here someday myself.]
Kayakers on the Okere River. They just went over a 21 foot fall!
There were River Rats too!
Then we headed back to the hotel, stopping on the way to grocery shop at a large supermarket. We recognized a few brands, although most are very different. Produce is wonderful, especially the oranges. You have to be careful about processed foods though, because their idea of whatever it is and an American version are very different. For example, potato chips may be "chicken" flavored and may or may not be salted. Salted ones are labeled. It was fun to see what t hey had. Everyone bags their own groceries, at least in this store. And most people bring their own bags.
We rested for a few hours before the hangi feast. I wish we had skipped the food, which was cooked in the traditional steam pit and once again not to our tastes. But the hangi concert was great. Apparently people come from all over to see this one, locals as well as tourists. A woman who was a real pro hosted the concert. All the performers, eight in all, had "native" costumes on. They danced, sang and chanted in Maori. They had beautiful voices and great stage presence. We thoroughly enj oyed it. Bert especially enjoyed it when they pulled me up for a participatory number. [Watching Leslie and a Maori make "war" faces back and forth at one another had me laughing until tears ran from my eyes. I had a great time.]
Maori war face.
After the concert, we went for a dip in the hot pool. Very relaxing right before bed, especially with a gentle rain coming down. Bert called his friend Malcolm in Wellington to arrange a meeting with him tomorrow night.
March 30, 1998 - Rotorua to Wellington
We hit the road about 7:30, an early start for us. We never found the entrance to Whakarewarewa. It may have been through the Maori Arts & Crafts center, which was two minutes from the hotel. The center wasn't opening until 9:00, so we drove on to the Waimangu thermal area instead. It didn't open until 8:30, so we sat and basked in the sun for twenty minutes or so. Bert had never seen thermals before, so this was a great place to come. We walked (downhill) past about 21 different "attractions", including Frying Pan Lake. We had the place to ourselves until the very end, so the only sound were the wind, the gurgling of the thermals and an occasional hawk. At the end of about a mile and a half walk, we caught a bus back up the hill. Heaven! We met a guide with a small vanload of people who let us follow him to the Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts at 10:15 every day because they pour soap in it! Kinda hokey and not very big--about 20 feet high.
Bert staring in awe next to Frying Pan Lake.
Then on to Huka Falls, which was definitely worth seeing. Such beautiful water! Just a short time there, no time to take any of the hikes-maybe next time! We drove on to Lake Taupo, which was pretty. It is as large as one of the great lakes, so is rather like being by the ocean. Then on to Tongariro, which we only had time to drive around. It reminded us both of Big Bend, almost desert scrub vegetation. It looked interesting. We saw about four cars in our whole circuit of the park, so it doesn't look to be a big draw this time of year. We had to skip the trip to Mount Bruce Wildlife Preserve, since we had to take a different route to get to Wellington by the time we'd told Malcolm we'd meet him.
Huka Falls--not very tall, but an incredible torrent of aqua colored water.
We got to Wellington about 5:30, just in time for rush hour. Wellington reminds me of San Francisco with all the hills. Narrow streets and lots of traffic. It took us about an hour to locate Malcolm's office at the Polytechnic technical university. He and Bert talked shop and admired Malcolm's Tesla coil. [See photos at my Tesla web page.] Then we went to eat at a little Malaysian restaurant on a street that looked like i t was out of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Our hotel was a Quality Hotel right downtown. Nothing special, but a straight shot to the ferry in the morning.
March 31, 1998 - Ferry from Wellington to Picton, on to Nelson
Our hotel did have easy access to the ferry, although we got forced into a turn only lane once and had to go around the block. We also had to drive past the ferry yard once and turn around, as the only access to the yard was from the opposite direction. We are beginning to take these little "adventures" in stride. The ferry is a multi-national mix of people-many Japanese and a few Germans, Americans, Brits and others. The ferry is large and very comfortable. We checked our baggage like we would have on a plane. The harbor view of Wellington was very pretty. Now at mid-passage, the ride is very smooth, more so than a plane would be.
Harbor in Wellington.
Pulling into Marlborough Sound was fabulous. It is mile after mile of turquoise water surrounded by hills that are full of trees and "bush" with only an occasional house. We took Queen Charlotte's highway, and at every turn in the road we were gasping with delight-although the occasional gasp is for the tightness of a hairpin turn itself.
One view of Marlborough Sound.
We rounded a curve and saw a car sitting in the ocean, the waves almost covering the roof. Apparently a young man had just gone off the road. He was all right, but he was going to have some explaining to do. [We suspect that the car was his fathers.]
Boat on Marlborough Sound. And yes, the water really is that color!
Decided to skip the park at Marlborough Sound and drive on to Nelson. Got there about 4:00 and found California House Inn and our hostess Shelley. Had a nice visit with her about local attractions, then took a walk up the river and into town. We window-shopped until we could get in to dinner. Most of the restaurants don't open until 6:00 or 6:30 here. We went to Ciao's for dinner. They had a really cute menu and excellent food, especially the desserts. We strolled back to the Inn after dark and felt completely safe walking in almost total darkness.
Sitting room in California House, built in mid 1893.
April 1, 1998 - Nelson
After being told repeatedly that "it never rains in Nelson", we woke to hard rain which continued off and on all day. We walked around downtown and saw the Wood Crafters art show. Beautiful pieces. One very interesting piece called "The Dresser". It was clever, with various items on top, in drawers and hanging from it. Even had a light bulb carved from wood suspended above it. We both loved it. Bert wanted to buy a piece that was already sold, so we contacted the artist and he will send us some pictures of other pieces he has available. [I have since contacted the artist, Ian Gray, and bought two beautiful pieces. He is a very talented artist.] Found a great bead shop--one of my passions--and took the "Pottery Tour". We saw some great stuff and met some interesting people. One recommended that we try the Walnut Cafe for dinner, which we did. It is in Richmond, about 15 minutes from Nelson, and has fabulous food. FONT>[Finally, we get to eat some really delicious food.] I guess we just had bad luck on North Island, because the food on South Island has been great. The cafe featured a black cat who walked around among the tables getting petted by the soft touch customers like us. Obviously no health department in NZ.
April 2, 1998 - Nelson to Hokitika
Better weather today. The locals always tell you "it will be fine tomorrow" when it's raining--to be comforting, I guess. We got a fairly early start because we wanted to see Abel Tasman Park before we hit the road to Westport on the way to Hokitika. We took the same route we had taken to see the potters. We drove through Kaiteriteri, which was gorgeous. We want to check out some B & Bs there the next time we come. The road became very narrow after the village, winding through the forest and not marked in any way. I thought we were lost. After 17 miles or so, we came to a sign post at a T in the road, with beach signs one way and SH 6 signs the other. I figured we go back out to 6 to where we'd gone wrong. Imagine my surprise when we got to the highway and saw the tiny signpost claiming that Abel Tasman park was back the way we had come. At that point we didn't have time to go back. I figure there must be a main entrance somewhere, as there have been with other parks, but since the main access is by water, that may not be so. We want to spend several days exploring this park the next time we come.
We took off across the countryside toward Cape Foulwind to see the seal colony. Breathtaking scenery all the way, from the Owen River Valley to the longest suspension bridge in NZ somewhere in Upper Burrell Scenic Reserve to the rugged sea coast we saw at Cape Foulwind and south. Fewer people than we had seen around Nelson, but enough so that the place doesn't feel completely isolated. Saw what we think were our first sand flies, but we didn't get bitten so we can't be sure. It was co ld and windy at the seal colony, but we got there about 4:00 so we had good light. After watching them awhile we had a bowl of soup at the Bay House Cafe overlooking the water. Excellent--too bad we couldn't stick around for dinner, but we have miles to go before we sleep. Got to Hokitika about 8:00. We hate to drive at night, not just because the roads are twisty, but because we missed some spectacular coastal scenery. Our motel was literally right across from the glowworm colony, so we went to see t he glowworms. They were worth seeing, especially in a "natural" setting like this. Like dim stars in a leafy sky, sounds of water trickling over the rock in their grotto. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
April 3, 1998 - Hokitika to Lake Moeraki
Drizzly rain today, typical of the west coast. Went into town, had breakfast at Cafe de Paris. Great hot chocolate and toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Then we did a little shopping. A great place to buy jade, gold or wood items. The rain still hadn't let up as we set out for the glaciers. It took about 2 hours to get to Franz Josef glacier. We climbed up to a scenic overlook, then to the edge of the runoff and turned back. Thought we would pass up the Fox Glacier, but we cou ldn't resist a little road that was marked ""Glacier Overlook". It was through the bush and did have a great overlook. The road ended where the river had washed it out. Rain and more rain all the way to Lake Moeraki. We found the Wilderness Lodge before dark. It was a great place to stay-right on the river, across the highway from the Lake. Good food and a very nice room. We stayed up talking with an American couple and a young NZ man who was there with his German wife.
April 4, 1998 - Lake Moeraki to Te Anau via Haast Pass
It was still raining as we packed up the car. We decided to get on the road after breakfast rather than go for the nature walk. We actually saw a few minutes of sun shining on Westland as we headed toward Haast, but the clouds quickly rolled in. It was still a glorious drive with more waterfalls than we could count--or film. [I love waterfalls. Anyone who watches our video will get to see lots and lots of waterfalls - all sizes. The water here in New Zealand is absolutely the most beautiful aqua color. I loved the wild water here more than just about anything.] We were jumping out of the car every five minutes gawking and exclaiming. Waterfalls pouring right onto the road, cascading down every hill and through the lush greenery. At the summit of the pass or thereabouts is a huge lake, and at that point, the shift in the type of terrain really becomes apparent. Heading down the other side of the pass toward Queensto wn, the color palette turns from lush green to rich gold. The scenery is somewhat reminiscent of Big Bend--almost desert, although there is grass on the mountainside. There is still running water, a fierce river that provides a valley for the road to follow. I found myself wondering if the dryness of the countryside was normal or part of the drought that we had heard about in Nelson. Supposed to be the worst in forty years. Of course you wouldn't know it from the west coast.
Started hitting traffic, so we knew we were approaching Queenstown. It is the tourist center of South Island. It is beautiful, perched on a lakeshore and ringed by mountains. "The Remarkables" range, shrouded in cloud were on one side of the lake and Mount Aspiring was on the other. The town itself is small but bustling, full of small shops and eateries designed to snag the tourist dollar. We arranged our Milford Sound trip, had "lunch" (at nearly 4:00), and took a stroll in the Queen stown gardens.
The wind off the water made for a cold afternoon, so although the gardens were exquisite, we soon decided to move on. Decided that if we do this trip this late in the season again, we will start on South Island and work our way north. Just a week could have made a real difference.
Bert had never been on a tramway, so we walked across town and took the ski lift tram up the mountain. Great view, and as we reached the top, it started snowing. We didn't stay long, just took a few pictures and come back. Then after a brief stop at an antique car museum, we got some hot chocolate and headed for Te Anau. It was twilight as we got out on the road, so we got to see the last of the sunset behind the mountains with the lake surrounded by the twinkling lights of Queenstown. Se veral hours drive in the dark got us to Te Anau after 9:00--significant because all the restaurants close at nine and there is nothing for a hungry tourist to eat but hotel potato chips at $1.50 per bag!
April 5, 1998 - Te Anau
Our room is right on the lakefront at the Te Anau Travelodge. Te Anau is not as spectacular (or as large) as Queenstown, but pretty in a more laid back way. Rested and did laundry most of the day--a frustrating experience for me since I hate to "waste" vacation time this way. But the rest was needed. We took a walk along the lakefront before our trip to Te Ana An Glowworm caves.
The mushrooms don't get
this big where we live (in
Didn't have time for dinner beforehand, since the restaurants weren't open. The caves were lovely, but we didn't get back until 9:40, so we were out of luck on food again. As Bert says, this town needs a decent laundromat and a restaurant that stays open until midnight. [This place had the sorriest excuse for a washing machine and clothes dryer that I have ever seen. I have seen better equipment in my daughter's toy closet.]
April 6, 1998 - Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound
We ate an early breakfast and took off for Milford Sound. More spectacular countryside meant we had to take our time and stop several places. At Mirror Lake, which was especially lovely, a little gray bird with a yellow belly was darting around my feet. At one point he was actually pecking at my shoes! We later found out that he was a bush robin of some sort.
Mirror lake in Fiordland National Park.
We drove on through tall pine forests and into rugged tundra. We stopped before going through the tunnel under the mountain because several people had told us that we would see keas in the parking lot there. All we saw was a busload of Japanese tourists. [But hey, we got to see one rich Japanese tourist who had a $3,000 Sony camcorder, so it wasn't a total bust.]
We saw our first and only kea in the parking lot at Milford Sound. He was strutting around checking everyone out as they came in, like a punk parking lot attendant.
Leslie gets parking directions from the kea.
We got some sandwiches and chips for the boat at the little store by the parking lot and meandered over to the building where the boat picks up passengers. As we sat waiting, the sandflies were thick, but apparently our bug repellant worked pretty well because we both ended up with only about one bite apiece.
Incredible tall cliffs with fantastic falls are what
Milford Sound was about for us.
The trip into the sound was cold but wonderful. We saw about twenty dolphins on the first boat and dozens of waterfalls. The boat goes out the sound, which is actually a fiord, [over 600 feet deep!] turns around and comes back.
Bowen Falls in Milford Sound.
On the way back, we stopped at the Underwater Observatory. It was fascinating. You go down stairs that take you about fifty feet underwater--inside the building of course. The fish you can observe are totally unaware of you, and unique to this ecosystem. We got to stay about 45 minutes, which just flew by, and then we were picked up by another boat. This boat was like a large clipper ship, not "modern" like the first one we rode. We had barely gotten back out in the sound after being pick ed up when the dolphins were surrounding our ship again. Seeing them always makes my heart sing. The misty rain cleared and we had a beautiful whole rainbow next to the ship for several minutes. Wonderful trip.
Leslie and a rainbow in Milford Sound.
We got back to the car about 4:30 and started back to Te Anau. We were determined to make the town before the witching hour of 9:00, so we could actually get some dinner. We did have to stop at a few places, however. The Chasm was one of them. A short hike takes you to a huge hole in the rocks through which thousands of gallons of water are shooting. Full-grown trees are tumbled on the boulders like toothpicks. It was at least as large as the cave system at Te Ana An, only above ground. The other side trip took much longer--17km on unsealed road [translation:gravel and dirt] to Humbolt Falls.
Grassy meadow in Fiordland National Park.
The road was in good condition and looked like it had some great camping spots along it. When we got to the pullout for Humbolt Falls, it was a 30 minute hike up to them (signs kindly provide this type of information). Another "next time" adventure. If it had been 4:30 instead of 6:00, we wouldn't have hesitated, but darkness and hunger told us to turn around and head back. Next time we want to allow at least four or five days to explore the park. It is huge and has many types of terrain.
We made it back to Te Anau at 7:45. Tried to eat at Redcliff Inn, a cute little place that looked like a pub. Smelled good, but we couldn't handle the wait. It looked like they could only serve one set of people at a time. After about 30 minutes, we left and went to the hotel. The food was adequate, and I was very glad not to have to subsist on potato chips again!
April 7, 1998 - Te Anau to Stewart Island via Invercargill
We left before dawn and made good time to Invercargill. We saw no one else going the same direction until we actually got to the outskirts of town, so the trip only took an hour and a half. We had a decent breakfast there in a little shop on the main street. Then we found the airport without any trouble. We paid $2.00 [that's like maybe $1.00 US] to park the car (you can leave your car indefinitely for that amount!) and went in to catch our plane. When we arrived we were the only ones there except the staff and the guy vacuuming the carpet. A half-hour later--five minutes before flight time--the place was crawling with people. Four of them shared our plane with us, with the pilot making seven in all. The flight over to Stewart Island was very bumpy, especially as we got over the island itself. Kind of like a loud, extended roller coaster ride. [I still have Leslie's claw marks in my arm to prove it!] We landed on a little strip with nothing in sight. Then a van pulled up with our very friendly driver and we were off to Half Moon Bay, the settlement of 350 people, which is the only "town" on the island.
We checked in at our hotel and went for a sightseeing tour of the island with Sam and Billy the Bus. Sam has to stop every few minutes to have a smoke, but at least he didn't inflict his smoking on us. Before the ride was over, we got off to take a water taxi ride to Ulva Island, which is a bird sanctuary. It is some lovely bush with well-marked trails and lots of birds. I surprised a kaka (a very rare gray parrot with a white head) and Bert almost got some video of it. If his reactions had been a little quicker--just kidding. Also saw a macaw-sized bird with blue tail feathers. We hiked all the way across the island, which takes about half an hour.
Leslie on the rocky shore of Ulva Island - a bird sanctuary.
When we came out onto the beach, we were ambushed by four weka,(pronounced "wikka") brown birds about the size of mallards that look like a cross between a chicken and a duck. They are crafty beggars and they love crackers and cheese. They'll eat out of your hand here, although the ones we saw at the seal colony in Westport were a lot more cautious.
Bert and his little Weka friend share a Ritz cracker.
We had a leisurely stroll down the beach and then headed back to catch our ride. We enjoyed the afternoon so much that we told the boat driver that we want to come back tomorrow afternoon.
We had to walk back to our hotel over an enormous hill. On the downhill side, we met two dogs, who enticed me into a game of "toss the stick". The dog who retrieved it was just a big puppy, and every time he would bring back the stick it would be smaller by half. He played until there was no more stick left and then followed us all the way to the hotel begging for more game.
We got back to the hotel in time for a little rest before dinner. The hotel is a little primitive. The bathrooms are down the hall, although they are clean and modern [and small - I had to do a little dance with the door every time I used the john.] The food in the restaurant downstairs is not bad. The natural beauty here makes up for any lack of amenities.
April 8, 1998 - Stewart Island
We got up early and had breakfast downstairs. Then we hiked out to Acker's Point. It was a pretty day and we hoped to see some "little blue" penguins. They are common out here, but no luck. The first mile or so is roadway, and then it becomes a track. The track was quite muddy due to recent rains. We saw several sections of road that were about to go and one landslide that had taken out a section of road up above us. Apparently these things just have to be lived with, since the government seldom makes repairs of any kind on the island. There is an interesting old house converted to a blacksmithy on the trail and little else until the lighthouse, which is automated. Nice view of New Zealand (thirty miles away) from the point though. We hiked back and barely had time to re-provision before we had to hike to the dock to catch our boat ride to Ulva Island. We were tired already when we got there, but we took the short path up to the lookout and saw several birds, including a bell bird that flew right up to me and posed for Bert to videotape him. We took the West Cove trail today, since we had gone to Boulder Beach yesterday. Big mistake. It was very boggy. Before we had been hiking ten minutes we were in muck up to our ankles. Rough going. We were sweating and swearing, but we kept thinking that we would get past the worst of it and come to the beach. Wrong. It just kept getting worse and worse. We came to a particularly bad spot where Bert took a step and went in past his knee. He lost his balance and fell headlong. He was all right--although he was covered with slimy mud--but the camcorder had hit the muck. We were worried about it, but it is apparently okay. Right after this we ran across a native New Zealander named Chris. He showed us the art of bog avoidance and accompanied us back to the other side of the island. He hiked a lot faster than was comfortable for us, but Bert was not about to be left behind, so I just had to run to keep up. It was like running through jungle--plants attacking me because we had to get off the trail to avoid the bog. Once we were back on the beach, we had an interesting chat with Chris about life in NZ and Australia, where he currently lives. Invited him to join us for dinner.
We got back to the hotel and inquired about our kiwi-spotting trip. It was supposed to be tonight, according to our reservation. However, it had gone out last night and only goes out every other night so they don't disturb the birds too much. This was just about the only thing that went wrong the whole trip. The hotel let us use their machines to wash and dry our clothes, which was great since we were a mess. Chris joined us for dinner. He had done his laundry only to discover that the dryer at his motel wasn't working, so he put his clothes on wet to come to dinner. We had another good chat and then we took our leave and went to bed.
April 9, 1998 - Stewart Island to Dunedin on Otago Bay
We had a light rain this morning but not too much wind, so the flight back to Invercargill was not as bumpy as the ride over. Waiting to get on the flight we got to hear some local gossip from our cute little driver. She also talks to the pilot about wind conditions. She backed us off the runway to give him more room to land. We got back to the mainland, collected our car and drove to Dunedin. Or rather I drove and Bert slept. There's lots of farmland on the main highway. We had decided against the scenic route through the Catlins. Maybe next time. We had lunch in Dunedin at Cafe Nova, which turned out to be the restaurant for the art museum. We didn't know that at the time, so after lunch we took off for Larnach Castle out on Otago Peninsula. The road hugged the shore with just a few feet between us and the ocean. Bert was nervous, so he drove VERY slowly, which meant everyone else had to pass him on this curvy little road.
We turned into the hills to go to the castle. Larnach Castle is on top of this spectacular hill, with a view of the whole bay area. It was magnificent, and would be a great place to stay--next time. We wandered around taking it all in for nearly two hours.
Larnach Castle in Dunedin.
Then we headed out to the end of the peninsula to Taiaroa, the Royal Albatross colony. We got to see about half a dozen fairly large chicks and one adult albatross in flight. Even seeing life-size models doesn't prepare you for the experience of seeing this enormous bird flying. They are huge and so graceful. We also toured the fort with the "disappearing gun" which interested Bert but left me rather cold. [It was a giant gun that popped out of the ground then hid again. I thought it was neat!] We headed down the hill to see if we could see the seal colony. When we parked the car we could see that the grass of the parking lot had become the nap area for two seals. We got some good close ups but tried not to threaten them. [One should never make a 300-pound animal feel threatened when you're only one quick bite away.]
A seal copping some ZZZ's on the beach.
We decided to find lodging on Otago Bay, which turned out to be not so easy. But after our third try we found a place named Mission Bay where Pat and Phillipa made us feel very much at home. They sat us down by the fire with a glass of wine and talked with us. I think we were kind of a curiosity for them. They sent us to a restaurant back up the bay called "1908". It was so-so, and the service was terrible, even for here. [The green-lipped mussels made me sick - I suffered all the next morning.] Mission Bay was cute, but freezing cold. Phillipa kept saying it was "brisk". But it was probably 50 in our room. Fortunately they had a blanket, which we used. That didn't help with the shower the next morning. I've been warmer on camping trips bathing outside.
Bert and flowers in the botanical gardens in Dunedin.
April 10, 1998 - Otago Bay to Christchurch
After breakfast and a tour of the grounds, and more visiting with Pat and Phillipa, we took off to Dunedin again. We decided to stop off at the Botanical Gardens and then go on to Christchurch. It is a beautiful park, huge with many hiking trails. Everything went well until I decided to take an uphill trail. Bert didn't want to come, so I didn't hike far. But when I tried to find him, I couldn't. I backtracked through the park and then went to the car. After a two-hour wait, he showed up. He had been to the aviary at the top of the hill. Communication breakdown. This put us on the road to Christchurch late in the afternoon, rather than late morning. Traffic was beastly, since this is Easter weekend. We saw many antique cars passing us on the road and at one gas station we stopped at I was able to film several. They were headed for a rally at Otago Bay.
We finally got to Christchurch after 6:00. We found our B & B, Eliza's Manor House, which is charming. Very Victorian. We strolled through downtown to a Thai restaurant called Mythai, which was scrumptious. It was great to have good food on our last night in the country. We walked back to our lodging (about 10 blocks) without any qualms, even though this is a big city. It still feels very safe.
April 11, 1998 - Christchurch and Home
We had a lovely breakfast and headed for the Canterbury Art Center. We arrived about 9:00 only to find that most of the shops don't open until 10:00. No wonder we found a parking place so easily! But there were craftspeople setting up stalls in the courtyard, so we were able to browse. The building is very interesting, old English architecture. The prices on everything were high, and we had no more room in our suitcases, so we didn't buy much. We've found that the best overall prices on items we saw again and again all over the country were in Bay of Islands. Opals were priced best in Queenstown and "greenstone" (jade) was priced best in Hokitika. When the shops opened we were able to meet a cat we had been admiring through the window. He was standoffish compared to those we are used to, which is not too surprising considering the attitude toward cats in this country.
We went across the street to the museum, which was fabulous. Lots of artifacts from early settlement days, including furniture and costumes from the 1850's and later. The furniture was really incredible--such beautiful wood and craftsmanship. [ I love trees and wood. The workmanship on this old furniture and cabinetry is some of the finest anywhere.] After seeing the museum we were too tired for the art gallery or much of the botanical gardens. But we did manage to take a punt ride down the Avon River, which runs through the Gardens. We had more hot chocolate, which has been our mainstay here, then headed for the Antarctica Center.
Bert and Leslie punting on the Avon in Christchurch.
We were trying to spend all our NZ money, and we did too good a job. We were 60 cents short of our admission to the Antarctica Center. But we were able to exchange some American money there and were able to get in. It is fascinating. They have several simulations of life in a settlement on Antarctica, along with videos and other artifacts pertaining to wildlife and human life there. Christchurch is usually the provisioning stop for expeditions to Antarctica. The Center is also right across from the airport, so when we were finished touring it we went right over, turned in the car and our bags and began the long (22 hours) journey home.
To sum it all up, this was the best vacation we've ever had and the most beautiful country we've ever seen.
Remember these things: