Archive for January, 2009

Farewell New Zealand!

January 27, 2009

Our two week drive through the South Island came to an end on Jan. 27th as we fly back to Australia to see Sarah’s friends in Melbourne.

The last 2 days of the trip were spent mainly in the campervan driving back the 500 Kms to Christchurch. Sorry we didn’t take many photos except this one – looking North up Lake Pukaki towards Mount Cook, the tallest mountain on the island.

Looking back, there really is nowhere we’ve seen quite as beautiful as New Zealand. We’d heard this from many people but I’m not sure we could have imagined it. The people are very very friendly, a bit more ‘British’ than in Oz perhaps, but with with a much more laid back ‘island’ feel to them than their English counterparts.

I was also really impressed by the relations between the indigenous Maoris and whatever you wish to call those that have ‘settled’ the island… a contentious subject in most parts of the world in and of itself! In New Zealand the Maoris seem comfortably ‘integrated’ in to ‘our’ way of life, while still for the most part able to hold true to ‘their’ way of life and cultural interests. The ‘non-indigenous’ citizens (i.e. Europeans) seem to not just accept the Maoris, but also respect their cultural contributions, historical significance and their views of life which seems a refreshing change.

Sorry there aren’t any other photos for this entry, but we have some GREAT ones of the Australian Outback coming up… stay tuned!  🙂

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Milford Sound & The FiordLands

January 25, 2009

We awoke to find we’d lost our sunny skies to ‘spitting’ rain. Fate has a wonderful way of working out – our plan was to enjoy the remaining drive to Milford Sound and while upset to see low cloud and drizzle, were reminded that when it rains you get wicked crazy awesome waterfalls!

The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau is 120 Kms from which you must then turn around and drive back the way you came, i.e. if you didn’t like the drive, tough luck – there ain’t no other way out of Milford.

Nature never fails to deliver. The drive is a wonderful windy narrow road flanked by vertical mountain cliffs, hundreds of waterfalls (when raining), and beautiful (there’s that word again) views. We stopped at "The Gorge", a massive rushing river carving its way through the limestone which was most impressive. Continuing on, about 30 Kms south of Milford you pass through the famous (?) Homer Tunnel were Homer took Bart and his elephants or something. It looks as old and unstable as it is but fortunately the government limits their exposure to risk by only allowing one direction of traffic through every 15 minutes. This allows you to sit at the tunnel mouth stop light for up to 15 minutes, weighing your odds and counting the pieces of fallen rock around you. To help distract you from immanent death by mountain collapse, there are plenty of Kea birds (like mountain parrots) hanging around the tunnel mouths. I’m not sure if they’re related to vultures or just like watching frightened Japanese tourists in rain coats.

Milford Sound itself is fairly lackluster. Picture, if you will, a 45 year old ski lodge converted to a budget backpacker lodge with an over priced cafeteria decorated with photos of drunken events long past, and discoloured photos of river ferries long since sunk… and you pretty much have it.

Milford Sound, like Doubtful Sound to the South West, caters to tourists jumping on an assortment of river ferries taking you through stunning natural wonders which on a nicer day I’m sure we would have loved. I however was keen to get back through that tunnel as quickly as possible, and Sarah was keen to play with some of the Keas, so back in the car we jumped.

As our days were growing thin we drove back towards Queenstown that evening and once again camped at our favourite spot, South of Glenorchy.

Check out the photos!

Fangorn Forest & Rainbow Ridge

January 24, 2009

Moving on, we headed south towards Milford Sound and stopped over night in Te Anau, the "gateway" to the Sound, i.e. the last place before the hour long drive up to Milford.  Te Anau is just what you’d expect from a Gateway (expensive gas and expensive caravan parks) however, like Milford, is situated in some stunning scenery in the south end of the Fiordlands National Park.

We started the day with (yet another) LOR filming site, the infamous "Fangorn Forest", home of those big Tree people thingys. The actual shoot location is now private land and some sort of Retreat centre for alcoholic dolphins or something so we were forced to settle for the forest on the other side of the road. As the movie shows, this is incredibly old forest and it was quite amazing how peaceful and quiet it felt.  We laid down a tarp and sat among a tapestry of think moss, mossy tree trunks, mossy fallen logs, and mossy moss. With sunlight filtering through the leaves it really felt like a white wizard would suddenly appear and a large  tree would step on us. Very relaxing.

Moving on, we headed back past Te Anau for a hike at Rainbow Ridge.. our first real sample of the also infamous Fiord Lands.  This was, by far, the most beautiful (we use that word a lot here we’ve noticed) forest hike I’ve ever been on. ["It was very, very beautiful, but I’ve been on better ones in the Pacific North West", Sarah] ["well, Nyah nyah nyah", Roger]. The forest itself was amazing, but the overall experience was what rocked me – the temperature was absolutely perfect, there was a constant light breeze for the full 4 hours, and most importantly there wasn’t a single mosquito, fly or nasty the entire time. It was an incredibly peaceful walk which we’d highly recommend to anyone in the area.  Follow the suspension bridge over the river, then turn left and walk for as long as you can (it’s a full days walk to the nearest hikers cabin). The hike was of course capped off with a couple of cold beers back at the camper.

Oh, in one of the photos you’ll see a weird stick man… we couldn’t tell if someone made him or if it was a natural combination of moss and sticks and our over active imaginations.  He was only about 7 inches tall, but looked like a sea monster with a walking stick! The mushroom photos were a combination of trying to be artful and thinking of Smurfs.

After the hike we began the drive up Hwy 94 towards Milford Sound, stopping 2/3s of the way up in another free and amazing camping spot beside Cascade Creek (the last photo). Sarah did her best Betty Crocker impression whipping up some great Indian camping nosh while I was out hunting and gathering.

While these photos don’t do it justice, take a look anyway!

Sarah’s Birthday @ Deerpark Heights

January 23, 2009

Some of you may know, Sarah’s a bit of a nature and animal nut so it seemed appropriate that on her birthday we spend the day at Deerpark Heights. Located just across an inlet  from Queenstown, Deerpark Heights as a HUGE area of private land which has become a wild life safari, regular film shooting location (not JUST for LOR), and  presents some more stunning views of the Queenstown area.

After awaking to a view only angels could fart out, we hit Queenstown for a slap up breakfast and drove to the Heights. The pictures show the assortment of animals, LOR shooting sights and the remains of a Chinese prison camp from the 1980’s Disney film “The Rescue”. True to form, Sarah had to pet and feed every animal in the park, including a rather large Elk (despite the warnings) who decided the quickest way to the feed bucket was through the feeder. I’m pleased to say that both Sarah and the elk walked away shaken, but unscathed. Sarah may try to convince you it was my fault for encouraging her to lift his head for a better photograph, but I hold that it was sunspots and his desire to give her a birthday kiss.  Really.

check out the photos!

THE most beautiful part of New Zealand (so far)

January 22, 2009

Leaving Wanaka, we continued South towards Queenstown.

For those of you who like (and can afford) bungie jumping, whitewater rafting, helicopter rides, and leaping out of perfectly good aircraft etc, Queenstown is for you.

Driving through Queenstown, taking care to not run over the (adrenaline) junkies littering the streets, we headed north to Glenorchy (admittedly for another Lord of the Rings (abbrv. "LOR" I gather) location, "Isengard, Lothloren, the Misty Mountains and Amon Hen.)

*ahem* I would like to point out that it was Sarah, not I, who wanted to see these places… I prefer “Mists of Avalon” myself…  mind you, the dude with the bow and arrow is particularly dreamy.

While Glenorchy itself is fairly uninspiring, the drive to it is absolutely breathtaking. Bending around on the cliff edge with Lake Wakatipu to your left  and the Richardson mountains to your right you are met with views you simply can’t believe truly exist in nature. We were literally giggling with excitement as each turn presented us with vistas more beautiful than that last. Naturally, photos rarely capture the beauty as our eyes can so you’ll just have to trust me on this one… but if you can, take the drive, preferably in a convertible and on a sunny day. Wow.

Out of curiosity we followed one of the many gravel pull-offs and found a gravel lookout (LOOKOUT!) with a view up the lake and Mount Earnslaw’s peak visible in the distance. Amazingly the spot was void of travelers and, as it was Sarah’s birthday-eve, it seemed the ideal spot to park for the night. After an amazing sunset, we lay out under the stars and eventually fell asleep to the sound of angels laughing and fairies playing with unicorns in the water below.

check out the photos!

Sheep have TAILS??

January 21, 2009

Our photo journey through New Zealand contnues as we head south through the Blue Pools at Makarora, and then for a relaxing night at Lake Wanaka. Resembling Jasper, the picturesque town of Wanaka has a very down to earth feel which, it seems, you have to be fairly wealthy to afford… isn’t it always the way?

Have you ever heard of Burnt Ends? This is a Kansas City delicacy made by continuously burning a hung of beef, while shaving off the "burnt ends" into a vat of BBQ sauce. The burnt, saucy concoction is then tossed on to bread, served up with backed beans and washed down with a few good beers. Fantastic. Turns out Jeff from Kansas City has moved to Wanaka, opened a BBQ bar and is serving it up live and well. Yummy.

To walk this lovely, if heavy, delicacy off, we decided to hike "up" Roys Peak on the Skyline Track. It was actually more like "back and forth" than "up" as we were forced to follow switchbacks for a very long time. A VERY long time. The first half of the trek took us through private land littered with "Sheep on Hills" and as the photographic evidence shows, SHEEP HAVE TAILS!? We’d heard of ‘tail docking’ earlier on this trip – the process in which you remove a lamb’s tail and scar their (if you’ll excuse the expression) anus thus preventing the growth of butt hair which impedes the animal’s ability to remain, er, clean, and therefore reduces their chances of picking up some rather nasty infections in their nether regions – but didn’t realize just how docked they were! The picture here shows how god intended them to look. They have wooly TAILS!?!

By the way, we’ve invented a great (we think) traveling game…

When traveling, it is inevitable that a number of questions come up you don’t have answers for, such as What is the difference between a fruit and vegetable; What was the name of the actress who starred in Whale Rider; or How do you pronounce "Uruwhenua"? As in Trivial Pursuit, you earn a piece of pie by finding out (without Google’s help…!) the correct (or at least most acceptable) answer to these questions throughout the rest of your trip…. well, you have to talk about something on the road don’t you??

*ahem* Do we have any sheep experts out there? This is for a green piece of pie….

Are sheep ‘naturally’ as wooly as they are today or are they only this wooly because of human cross-breeding and manipulation? i.e. if sheep had been left alone years ago and their tails left intact, would they still have these ass issues or do they only get wooly bottoms from of our making them more wooly and thus giving them tails they can’t deal with without our, er, help?

FYI, Wanaka was the shooting scene for "South Rivendale’s Rough Country" and "The High Peaks of Moria"… very exciting stuff.

check out the photos!

Pancakes, Rocks and Blow Holes

January 19, 2009

After spending a night at the mosquito infested Lake Rotoroa, we continued South through Westport, and stopped at the Pancake Rocks & Blow Holes near Panakaiki.

The pictures explain the name, but for those interested in the exciting world of geology, the pancakes are caused by layers of sediment that has been compacted, compressed, and pushed up through the surface over millions of years. The softer ‘mud’ layers have slowly eroded away (the syrup) leaving the harder layers (the pancakes). I guess the blow holes would be the blueberries. Quite worth the stop, and on a good tidal day like we had, the blow holes are very impressive indeed.

New Zealand, like Australia has some wonderfully unique signs. Sarah tells me her father would have appreciated this one to be used in Redmond Washington. Watch out for those train tracks Mark!

Speaking of mosquitos, have you ever watched a grown woman jump from one end of a campervan to the other and back again, while swatting at the air with one hand, smacking the windows with the other, while her wild eyes dart around the enclosure like a cat on speed chasing a laser wall pointer? It’s pretty funny.

Oh and "Puke" is not a great name for a pub… but we had to stop.

We finish this photo journey with some pix of the Franz Joseph Glasier and the gorgeous view from our campervan at another free spot at Cameron Flats along the Haast Pass.

Check out the photos!

Nelson, Driving, a Birthday Crown, and more Driving

January 18, 2009

Over the next few days Sarah and I headed up and over the North end of the South island. Taking the beautiful ‘scenic’ drive from Picton to Havelock and then over to Nelson on Tasman Bay, up hwy 60 to Takaka and Farewell Spit and then back to Takaka for my birthday and a few failed attempts at climbing…

Nelson, while considerably different from our own, lived up to it’s namesake in strange adventure. We’d decided to stay a few nights in the local "party hostel" to enjoy their pool, and absorb some of the towns, er, character. We witnessed "hostel olympics", in which athletes competed in such events as "jump in the pool while holding a huge excercise ball and land on it without falling in", "re-program the dvd player", "Find the hidden pasta strainer" and the ever-popular "Roll a cigarette while running through the school bus". Ah, the school bus… like many hostels the world over, this one, ironically, sits in a fairly quiet family neighbourhood and is therefore constrained by local law enforcement’s insistance of keeping it down after 10pm. Thus it was decided to crash an old school bus behind the pool to provide a late night "party room" for those not interested in early cerfews. The attached photo give you some idea…. wicked.

North of Nelson we drove towards Farewell Spit, the countries longest sand blow through some amazing pasture land, mountain views and vineyards. The pictures show some of what we saw. Being in New Zealand one can’t escape the desire to see EVERY location from the Lord of the Rings films, and while they claim the Shire was filmed on the North island, we’re pretty sure we found it here in Puponga… you can even see the little hobbit paths from their little hobbit feet.

We came across the small village of Takaka on the way through where Sarah had noticed a ‘climbers camp’ so we parked in another freedom camping spot beside a river that evening for what turned out to be a 48 hour rainy sit-in. Takaka really felt like our own Nelson full of small organic grocery and health stores, baby slings, dreadlocks, and, best of all, great climbing – the best on the island! I had my annual birthday sleep-in, and enquired about renting climbing gear. Did I mention it was pissing with rain? Thus, climbing could wait a day – one does not stand around in the rain on ones birthday, does one?

So this was crazy – two nights before in the Hostel Party Bus, Sarah and I happened to be sitting beside a super girl from Sweden. She was traveling around the island in a TINY car with a friend of hers… both were sleeping in this car, front seats tipped back, back seat laden with clothes… and, looking for a ‘night out’, were hanging out in this bus which, like us, they’d found fairly randomly. Fast forward two days and 150 kms on random roads, and who pulls in beside our van (parked at one of many free sites beside one of many rivers in one of many small towns on one of many roads out of Nelson) than a small car with two Swedish backpackers!? While we were all kinda doing our own thing, upon finding out it was my birthday, the two of them, from god know where, made and presented me (at midnight) with a Birthday Crown (see photo!) Without the slightest sign of bragging, they both thought I was 25, and if you look closely, the crown says ’25’ but to my amazement, had a smaller fold-out star that showed my ‘real’ age! Man, crafty buggers those Swedes. A very creative and thoughtful present indeed.

As it continued to rain the following day we weren’t ever able to climb and so we continued south to our next adventure.

Here are some photos from the drive

Whale Watching, Ocean Views & Smelly Seals

January 13, 2009

Driving north from Akaroa we found a great FREE camping spot hidden off the motorway that provided shelter, loud trains, a river that wasn’t actually there, and (to Sarah’s delight) free wild cherrys for breakfast! All over New Zealand you find "Freedom Camping" sites – spots that, while they don’t have facilities provided, allow FREE camping for campers, hikers and the like to pitch up for the night. We found a number of these on our trip and as you’ll see in future photos many proved to be our favourite views and spots so far! This one wasn’t one of them.

Awoken by the 7am Express Freight Train, we packed up and headed to Kaikoura, 180 kms north of Christchurch for a day of Whale Watching. Kaikoura, one of the busiest spots on the island for whale watching, and most of the operations there are ‘owned’ by a local Maori tribe which was a nice change from all the businesses we see these days run by far away people in far away lands. Our expedition lasted a little over 3 hours, during which we saw 2 Sperm Whales and hundreds, literally hundreds, of Dusky Dolphins. That worked out to $150 per whale, or about $1 per Dolphin, but who can put a price on such things? It really was a humbling experience to see the whales and to think of how long they’ve been swimming in these oceans, and how we, in less than 200 years have brought many of the world’s magnificent whale species to the brink of extinction… and are continuing the trend. Fortunately we were brought out of such thoughts by watching the huge pod of Dolphins chasing the boat and doing flips in the air – now they know how to have fun!

You’ll be pleased to know we reduced the 493 photos from the day to just a handful for you (below)! What I would have done for a good zoom lens!

Later that day on a walk around the point, we came across a few seals basking in the sun and MAN do they stink! Cute, cuddly, but very smelly. In fact, the next morning after a great sleep next to the ocean (one of the freedom camping spots we found) we awoke to a smell that even a mother couldn’t love… one of the buggers had flopped up on to the rocks nearby and quickly sent us on our way.

check out the photos!

Akaroa and Another Campervan

January 12, 2009

After a week of stories, laughter and shovelling shit, we set off to explore the South island of New Zealand – in a word, Beautiful.  In 35 words, The most beautiful place either of us have ever seen, as if someone collected all the most beautiful parts of scenic paintings and merged them in to one vista… and then repeated again and again.

We decided to return to the convenience of a rented camper – this time a small van from (they deserve mention and a recomendation if you’re ever in New Zealand) Rental Car Village. As New Zealand’s oldest rental company, not only were they very reasonable, unlike Britz et al, their vans show no corporate logos on the vehicles, thus preventing the "I’m a lost, confused tourist, and asking for you to break in and steal all our stuff" situation.

Equiped with a re-stocked selection of "prepackaged Navaratan Koorma in a foil pouch" we set off to nearby Akaroa for the day – a small villiage South East of Christchurch. Jo had mentioned a Herb Farm that Sarah was keen to check out, and a Fish and Chip shop that I was keen to check out. Unfortunately the Herb garden had been closed as the owner was now in a seniors home (the land had been broken up and sold to developers!?) but as fate would have it, we were invited in by the neighbour to wander through her herb garden – to our amazement, this property was also one recommended by Jo and must be seen to be believed! An incredible garden and ‘eco-retreat’ set in the woods where she serves up wonderful drinks of all the fruit etc she grows – check out the photos! The porch was covered in sheep skins, full of fragrance, and decorated with funny and provocative philisophical expressions everywhere you looked!