Friday, December 19

Wellington to Rotorua

(see map) trin: We departed the ferry in Wellington on December 14th which happened to be Steve's birthday.

Having lived in Wellington while working on The Lord of the Rings and King Kong he had a few friends to meet up. That night we went out to one of his favorite restaurants, Mt Fuji Teppanyaki, where we drank warm sake and took turns trying to catch our dinner as it was flung at us by the chef.

In Wellington we visited the newly open Colossal Squid Exhibit. It was pretty big. Its eyeball is the size of a soccer ball.

Continuing to dodge the wet and windy weather we visited The Da Vinci Machines Exhibit. I have seen it three times now but I am still amazed by the broad range of ideas that came out of that guy's head.

Ok. If you ever visit Wellington you must eat at Pizza Pomodoro. Apparently, the Italian Prime Minister cried after eating a slice on his last visit to New Zealand. Seriously Good Stuff.

From Wellington we started our road trip through the North Island. First stop, Wanganui where we visited the local highlights. One of which was the war memorial in Queens Park.

My Dad, Harley, joined us on the North Island. Here we are in front of New Zealand's largest lake, Lake Taupo.

After many stops at parks and scenic view points, we eventually arrived in sulphur scented Rotorua. As New Zealand's biggest tourist destination, the city has many things to offer: Maori cultural centers, thermal landscapes and extreme attractions. On our first day we focused on the later.

First stop was the Zorb, where we all took turns rolling down the hillside in a giant inflatable ball.

We followed that up with the Swoop, a giant crane operated swing, and Shweeb, racing each other around a track in little glass capsules.

Janelle and I laughing uncontrollably, after her hair raising scream on the free fall.

Mike and my dad get ready to take the Swoop.

Final stop was the gondola ride and luge. With three courses and hairpin turn, Rotorua's luge definitely takes first place in our book. Having a group of friends to race with only added to the fun. Both Steve and I drove off the course as the competition heated up.

 borrowed from Kate Bodger

That evening we learned about the Maori culture at a dinner and show.

The Maori warrior comes out of the meeting house to assess if we are threat. After determining we're a bunch of tourist he offered a greeting to our chief.

For the grand finale that evening there was an erupting geyser and stellar sunset.

The following day we headed out of town to the Wai-o-Tapu thermal reserve to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt and walk through the colorful but smelly thermal pools.

After ten fun filled days, we said goodbye to Janelle & Steve. They started for Auckland and then home for the holidays while we headed to Wooley's Bay in the Northlands with my

Sunday, December 14


(see map) trin: The first day in Christchurch we took a scenic drive to the hilly Banks Peninsula. The drive was long, windy and beautiful. Everything Lonely Planet promised it would be. In the late afternoon we reached the historic town of Akaroa which was the first French settlement in New Zealand. The local descendants still proudly fly the French flag in front of their homes.

In true French fashion we enjoyed a cheese platter and glass of wine at a harbor side cafe before heading back to Christchurch for the evening. Akaroa is definitely a worthwhile day trip.

Janelle and Steve arrived the following day. It was exciting to see her after eleven months and we spent half the day visiting in our hotel room. That afternoon we set out on one of my self-guided walking tours which included lots of stops for snacks and drinks.

A highlight was renting boats at the Antique Boatsheds and taking a leisurely paddle along the Avon River.

Back in Queenstown we had tried Three Boys Beer but we hadn't seen it since. Mike called the company to see where it was sold. The guys was genuinely happy to hear how much we liked the beer and recommended that we try it on tap. So, we finished the tour at Twisted Hop Brewery.

Janelle & Steve brought us crew shirts from their latest project, Benjamin Buttons. Mike and I were stoked to have new shirts and changed into them right away.

Our friends, Jesse and Anna O'steen recently moved to New Zealand with their adorable daughter Lily. We visited them at Anna's family home just north of Christchurch. It was a nice treat to hang out and bar-b-que with friends.

Lily playing with rocks in the planter.

We took a walk on the nearby beach where there happen to be a kite surfing competition.

Janelle and I on the dunes.

Janelle and Lily. She's just so serious.

The following morning we got up early and took the scenic train up the east coast to Picton where we caught the ferry across the Cook Strait to Wellington.

Wednesday, December 10

Milford Sound, Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers

(see map) trin: We took Lonely Planet's advice and decided to kayak on Milford Sound. There are cruises but the idea of paddling up to the sheer massive cliffs was too much to pass up. So, the morning after our hike, before the sun was up, we hauled ourselves out to bed and headed out to Milford Sound.

It was well worth the effort. The glacier carved landscape makes Milford Sound a truly unique place. Not to mention the waterfalls, tree avalanches and wildlife. While on the water we spotted one seal and a few Erect-crested Penguins.

The highway between Te Anau and Milford Sound is a tourist attraction in its own right. Some of the highlights include: Homer Tunnel, Mirror Lake, Sapphire Blue Waterfalls and Meadows carpeted in blooming Lupin.

These little buggers hang out in the parking lots hoping a dumb tourist will give them a snack. The Kia live in the snowy alpine areas and have a reputation for having a bit of an attitude.

Lupin in a riverside meadow.

That night we took a cruise across Lake Te Anau to the Glowworm Caves, where worms that emit a small green light live on the ceiling.

After days of exploring nature on our own being herded through a cave with dozens of other tourist was a bit of a let down. Mike had expected a galaxy of "glowworm stars" but instead he thought it was more like a Los Angeles night sky. That being said, the worms themselves are still pretty cool.

The next day we took an early morning bus back to Queenstown, rented a car and headed northwest towards Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. On the way we were amazed by the number and size of lakes in New Zealand. Unlike, their Australian neighbors, the Kiwis have no shortage of water.

After several hours of beautiful terrain we arrived at the west coast and stopped to take in a view of the Tasman Sea.

We opted to stay in the town at Franz Josef Glacier supposedly the livelier of the two but did our ice climbing course on Fox Glacier.

I was a little nervous that morning before setting out. While the conditions were not ideal, (it rained the whole time we were on the ice) we both agreed that the climbing was exhilarating and is something we'd like to try again.

Mike reaching the top on his second climb.

Mike repelling down the wall while I belay him.

Lunch time on the ice. Thoroughly soaked we called it a day after eating. The walk back was probably the most challenging part of the day. Due to the rain all of the streams running off the glacier had risen and we had to wade across the freezing water. Not an easy task in stiff climbing boots.

The next day we checked out Franz Josef Glacier from an easy access lookout. Between the trek, kayaking and climbing course we were worn out. I was a little aggressive when planning our South Island itinerary but there was a lot to fit in before heading to Christchurch to meet up with friends.

Thursday, December 4

Routeburn Track

(see map) trin: The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand's eight Great Walks. Lonely Planet describes it as "eye-popping alpine scenery." I would describe it with just one word: wet. We had been warned about the rainy weather in the Fjordlands but chose to ignore the forecast and proceeded on our three day "tramp" as planned.

Like the more popular Milford Sound Track, Routeburn is a hut hike. The huts, manned by rangers, offer bunks for sleeping and a large kitchen to prepare your food. The facilities are really nice but we opted use our gear and camp.

Day One: Routeburn Shelter to Flat Huts (6.5km) 
Forecast: Some rain

The first day we hiked through a forested valley with a snaking aquamarine river.

We arrived at our camp around one in the afternoon and finished setting up the tent just as it started to rain. After a good soak the sun and blue sky made a rare appearance.

Day Two: Flats Hut to Mackenzie Hut (13.5km)

Forecast: Rain

We hiked in the rain most of the morning which varied between mist and heavy downpours. As we climbed up to Emily Pass the rain turned to snow which believe it or not was an improvement, as it was less wet.

At the Harris Saddle we took refuge in a day use hut and tried to warm up with some hot soup and tea. After lunch we started the descent down into Hollyford Valley.

Lake Harris in the distance.

While wearing my black rain gear and pack cover Mike told me that I looked like a Yard Size Hefty Bag moving along the side of the mountain. I was offended by the term "yard size."

Back below the tree line we were amazed by all of the small scale plant life growing on every surface.

Day Three: Mackenzie Hut to the Divide (12km)
Forecast: Heavy Rains. Sunshine in the late afternoon.

After a night of heavy rains, all of the streams were rushing and crossing became more and more challenging. When we reached Earland Falls there was a flood detour but the detour was flooded too! We literally had to climbed up the side of the waterfall. I wish we had a photo now because its hard to believe how crazy it was. At one point, I reached up to grab on to a rock and saw the arm of my rain jacket fill with water. After that I gave up on trying to stay dry.

As it continued to rain the trail itself became increasingly difficult to navigate. This is the trail!

Of course, the sun came out as soon as we reached the roofed shelter at the end of the hike. While we were disappointed that we missed a lot of the views, it was still a memorable experience. I am glad we did it. Easy to say now that it's over.

The weather was beautiful when we reach our motel in Te Anau and we immediately hung out all our gear to dry in the sun.

Mike only brought one pair of pants on the trek. While I washed and dried his legs, he walked around the town in his Spidey pants. He definitely got some strange looks while doing it.

My Dad was in the area a few days later and took this photo. So, we were able to see what we missed out on.