Archive for November, 2008

November 26th – 28th: Adventures in Arrowtown

November 29, 2008

We spent a little time in Manapouri after our boat trip, before heading up to the Queenstown area.

Becky on the edge of Lake Manapouri.

Becky on the edge of Lake Manapouri.

On the way north, we discovered a niche market in rural New Zealand.

Well, that's one way to make a living.

Well, that's one way to make a living.

We stayed in Arrowtown, a cute little former gold-mining town just north of the Queenstown sprawl. We explored the area and found the old homestead of one of the first settlers around here — not too many ruins to speak of in a country with such limited history!

The Tobin home, which has probably seen better days.

The Tobin home, which has probably seen better days.

Our hostel owner used to run tandem paragliding full-time; it was a gorgeous day, so he offered to take us out for a flight from nearby Coronet Peak, a winter ski mountain. We were both hooked, and we may try pursuing it more at home.

Paragliding over the Arrow River valley with the Remarkables mountain range in the distance.

Paragliding over the Arrow River valley with the Remarkables mountain range in the distance.

Becky and our guide/hostelier Adin, tandem paragliding.

Becky and our guide/hostelier Adin, tandem paragliding.

Adrenaline rushes are what Queenstown is known for, and we hadn’t had our fill yet — so we signed ourselves up for the biggest canyon swing in New Zealand. As if our bungee jumping in Taupo hadn’t been enough, this time we freefell for 200 feet before arcing into the swing over the Shotover River, and we could launch from a variety of ridiculous positions. We both loved it (even though Becky felt like the rush was akin to getting in a car wreck) and we each even did a second jump.

"Not your average backyard variety swing," they say.

"Not your average backyard variety swing," they say.

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November 24th and 25th: Doubtful Sound

November 29, 2008

We spent two days and one night on a boat in Doubtful Sound, which is in fact a fjord (not a sound). Captain Cook, who explored much of New Zealand, gave it its name because he doubted there would be enough wind to sail his ship back out, so he left it unexplored. Fortunately we didn’t — our boat had engines.

Our first view of Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass. It was cloudy for our entire visit and rainy off and on, but that only made it seem more wild and ethereal.

Our first view of Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass. It was cloudy for our entire visit and rainy off and on, but that only made it seem more wild and ethereal.

The recent rains created literally hundreds of temporary waterfalls down the steep walls of the fjord — another reason to be happy for the weather.

The recent rains created literally hundreds of temporary waterfalls down the steep walls of the fjord — another reason to be happy for the weather.

We kayaked around one of the arms of the fjord, getting thoroughly drenched and enjoying every second.

We kayaked around one of the arms of the fjord, getting thoroughly drenched and enjoying every second.

Two Fiordland Crested Penguins strut on the rocks. We also saw an island covered with seals, many napping, some preening, and a few attacking and bellowing at each other.

Two Fiordland Crested Penguins strut on the rocks. We also saw an island covered with seals, many napping, some preening, and a few attacking and bellowing at each other.

Enjoying one of the brief dry spells outside on the deck — though the rain didn't keep us inside much.

Enjoying one of the brief dry spells outside on the deck — though the rain didn't keep us inside much.

Night falls on the fjord.

Night falls on the fjord.

November 22nd and 23rd: The Catlins and Fiordland

November 28, 2008

Still in the Catlins on the southeast tip of the South Island, we visited the Cathedral Caves, a couple of beach caves that connect about fifty meters deep into the caves. They’re only accessible around low-tide — and we still managed to be wading ankle-deep a couple times.

Becky shows off her levitation skills in the Cathedral Caves.

Becky shows off her levitation skills in the Cathedral Caves.

There was a gorgeous hike through the rainforest-y bush to get to the caves — in a place with a climate not too different than, say, Oregon or Scotland, the plant life was a world apart.

Our hike in the Catlins under a canopy of ferns.

Our hike in the Catlins under a canopy of ferns.

Jetting back over to State Highway 1, which we’ve followed south for almost its full length (from the northernmost point of Cape Reinga on the North Island to Wellington, then picking up again on the South Island), we made it to Bluff, the highway’s southernmost point at the ocean’s edge.

We contemplate the long swim home.

We contemplate the long swim home.

After deeming our suitcases insufficiently buoyant to carry us home, we then began our route up the west coast. We camped for a couple of nights in Clifden, with a view of an old suspension bridge over the Waiau River. The spot was a good base from which to visit the lakeside towns of Manapouri and Te Anau in the Southern Alps, and with a surrounding population smaller than most DC apartment buildings, it was also a stunning and incredibly dark spot for stargazing.

Another gorgeous NZ sunset from the Clifden suspension bridge.

Another gorgeous NZ sunset from the Clifden suspension bridge.

The highlight of our visit to Te Anau, which sits on the edge of the Fiordland National Park, was a seaplane ride over the surrounding mountains and lakes that took off from the surface of Lake Te Anau. It was our first (though not to be our last) glimpse of the peaks and untouched wilderness of Fiordland, and it was pretty awesome.

Lake Te Anau from the window of our seaplane.

Lake Te Anau from the window of our seaplane.

Aeronautical virtuosos Becky and Jonathan prepare for takeoff.

Aeronautical virtuosos Becky and Jonathan prepare for takeoff.

November 18th – 21st: Southern Charm

November 24, 2008

We continued to travel down the east coast, catching this beautiful rainbow amidst the mist near Oamaru.

The pretty side of drizzle.

The pretty side of drizzle.

Dunedin is a university town, but with the students all gone for summer break (in November, can you imagine!) we had much of the town to ourselves. The trains stopped running years ago at their railway station, but it’s still maintained by the resident artists’ group and beautifully ornate.

Becky had to sit on Jonathan's shoulders to get this picture with the shrubbery.

Becky had to sit on Jonathan's shoulders to get this picture with the shrubbery.

We made yet another detour along a cute coastal road, checking out some little art galleries in towns that didn’t warrant mention on our map.

A double bay near Karitane.

A double bay near Karitane.

We stayed a couple days in the Catlins, in a hostel on a working farm. (Farm eggs for breakfast!) It was a quick hike to the Purakaunui Falls, surrounded by lush woods. Nearby was NZ’s version of Niagara Falls, but at just a couple inches tall it wasn’t quite impressive enough to live up to its name.

A morning hike down the falls.

A morning hike down the falls.

New Zealand's iconic koru plant, growing in the woods.

New Zealand's iconic koru plant, growing in the woods.

November 15th – 17th: Onward and Southward

November 20, 2008

We first caught sight of the South Island from the deck of the MV Santa Regina, our ferry from Wellington to Picton via Cook Strait and the Marlborough sounds, with our car stored safely below deck.

Sailing into Marlborough Sound, our first glimpse of the South Island.

Sailing into Marlborough Sound, our first glimpse of the South Island.

From Picton we headed down the east (Pacific) coast, anxious to see the furthest points south and then work our way back up, camping and snapping pictures along the way.

The gorgeous ocean views along State Highway 1.

The gorgeous ocean views along State Highway 1.

A bee gettin' busy with some New Zealand flora.

A bee gettin' busy with some New Zealand flora.

The South Island is full of spectacular scenery, much of it not even listed in guide books. This sight, for example, was in a poorly-marked viewpoint off a side road that was recommended to us by a local woman selling hand-knitted goods at a roadside craft fair.

A sandstone formation called the Cathedral, near Kaikoura.

A sandstone formation called the Cathedral, near Kaikoura.

Most of New Zealand’s wines come from the South Island, so of course we felt obligated to try a few. The vineyards offer almost as much in the way of sights as tastes.

The self-proclaimed "most scenic vineyard in New Zealand" - and it's hard to disagree.

The self-proclaimed "most scenic vineyard in New Zealand" - and it's hard to disagree.

On Tuesday we made it as far as the 45th parallel, which was commemorated by a roadside plaque, and by somewhat perplexing adjacent distance markers. (Anyone have any explanations?)

Becky enjoys the tropical climes at 44.99999°S while Jonathan freezes his butt off in Antarctic 45.000001°S.

Becky enjoys the tropical climes at 44.99999°S while Jonathan freezes his butt off in Antarctic 45.000001°S.

And you know what happens once you start nearing the South Pole… penguins! And not in any zoo either – we watched a few Yellow-Eyed penguins land on the beach after a day’s fishing and climb up a cliff to their nests, passing right by our platform. There was also one confused (and lonely?) penguin perched on a hillside amongst a couple wooden replicas placed by the Department of Conservation to cultivate the area for settlement. He’d apparently been there for a couple of hours, and the volunteer ranger thought he might be smitten.

A yellow-eyed penguin waddles suspiciously past our viewpoint.

A Yellow-Eyed penguin waddles suspiciously past our viewpoint.

We also saw some Little Blue penguins, which are only a foot tall. Pocket-size, Becky thinks. They return to land at dusk in groups of a dozen up to thirty, and after frolicking and scouting around (for good reason — there was a seal napping on their beach when the first ones arrived) they scamper off like crazed little wind-up toys. (No photography allowed where we saw them though, because the clicks and flashes scare them.)

November 15th: Farewell, Wellington!

November 18, 2008

It seems incredible, but our ten weeks in Wellington are up. We’ve moved out of our lovely Mt. Victoria home, packed up our little car, and headed out of town for our last month in New Zealand. It’s hard to believe how fast it’s gone.

Downtown Wellington and Mt. Victoria from Queen's Wharf.

Downtown Wellington and Mt. Victoria from Queen's Wharf.

We’re now on the South Island, and we’ll update with pictures as soon as we can. Teaser: there will be penguins!

More Wellington color

November 9, 2008

New Zealand, like all good subjects of the Crown, still celebrates Guy Fawkes Day, complete with carnival booths along the waterfront and fireworks over the harbor. It was November 4th back in the States, election day, so for us the fireworks served double duty to celebrate the poll results that we’d watched all day on CNN.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November.

Around the city, we tried to capture some of the great bits of character we see nearly every day.

Becky shows reverence for public art.

Becky shows reverence for public art.

Who'd have thought a club in Wellington would bear the name of our own eastern seaboard highway?

Who'd have thought a club in Wellington would bear the name of our own eastern seaboard highway?

Yesterday afternoon we hung out in the waterfront park for a while.

Curious Jonathan Climbs a Tree.

Curious Jonathan Climbs a Tree.

One morning a couple weeks ago, we made it out of bed several hours earlier than usual to catch the sunrise. We watched the sky change colors over the harbor and the moon slide closer to the horizon.

Early dawn over Wellington and the harbor.

Early dawn paints Wellington pink.

October 31st – November 3rd: Taupo, part two

November 9, 2008

After bungee jumping (in the country where it was invented, no less), we needed to chill out a bit so we went on a sailing trip on Lake Taupo for a couple hours. It was great to spend the afternoon just relaxing on the water with some delicious local beer, chatting with the guide and fellow passengers and watching the sun set as we pulled back into harbor. The boat itself used to be owned by Errol Flynn, so it could almost be called a pirate ship, right?

Drink up, me hearties.

Drink up, me hearties.

We also saw some fantastic Maori carvings, a commissioned project for rock faces on the lake that are accessible only by boat.

the Maori carvings

the Maori carvings

The sun over Lake Taupo.

The sun over Lake Taupo.

On our last day, we drove home via the west coast, following the Whanganui River through the Taranaki region and some of the prettiest hills on the North Island, and stopping at the town of Wanganui for sightseeing and food.

Gorgeous hills surrounding the Whanganui river and tributaries.

Gorgeous hills surrounding the Whanganui river and tributaries.

Stopping roadside to see a small waterfall on the Whanganui.

Stopping roadside to see a small waterfall on the Whanganui.

Take note, San Francisco: Wanganui has had an elevator for pedestrians to skip the steep climb up the hill the city is built on. We rode up to the top, although the view was less interesting than the transport.

The elevator-access tunnel into the Wanganui hill.

The elevator-access tunnel into the Wanganui hill.

Now back in Wellington, we’re somewhat shocked to find ourselves with only a week left until we pack up and leave our adopted home to travel around the South Island. We’ll try to get some more pictures of this great city before we go – we’re going to miss it here.

October 31st – November 3rd: Terror in Taupo, part one

November 7, 2008

With a free few days beginning on Halloween, we headed north to the Lake Taupo area in the middle of the North Island. We arrived at our campsite around dusk, with just enough light to set up and get comfortable in our tent, where we proceeded to scare ourselves silly watching Psycho. (In the dark. In the woods. With the nearest human civilization being the prison a few kilometers down the road. Becky hadn’t seen it before and had trouble sleeping, equally disturbed by the plotline and by how much she actually liked Norman Bates.)

The next morning we explored more of the Lake Taupo area, a hotbed of geothermal activity. (The world’s first geothermal power plant is there, in fact.) The Waikato river flows out of the huge volcanic Lake Taupo through a narrow chute called Huka Falls. About 2 swimming pools of water go through a 10-foot channel every second – needless to say, it’s impressive. We decided against rafting it.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls

We also visited the Craters of the Moon, an aptly-named area with steaming grounds and craters filled with bubbling, sulfurous mud.

Craters of the Moon

Here there be dragons?

We wrapped up the day in the best offering of any geothermal area: a natural hot springs water park complete with private pools and a waterslide. We were maybe the oldest people riding the waterslide, but why let kids have all the fun?

Straight from the dragon's mouth.

Straight from the dragon's mouth.

The next day, deciding we hadn’t gotten enough fright on Halloween, we went to check out Taupo Bungee on the Waikato River.

From this platform, fearless thrill-seekers/fools jump to the river below.

From this platform, fearless thrill-seekers/fools jump to the river below.

After watching a few jumps from a safe distance, we girded our loins and flung ourselves, screaming, off a cliff. Even the memory of it still terrifies us.

Becky plummets down 154 feet to the Waikato River.

Becky plummets down 154 feet to the Waikato River.

More soon to come from the rest of our trip to Taupo.