Archive for December, 2008

December 12th – 15th: Coromandel Peninsula

December 16, 2008

Our drive toward the Coromandel Peninsula took us on NewZealand’s Pacific Coast Highway — sound familiar? (The tree with red blossoms in the background of this picture is the Pohutukawa, which we’d seen before but without its flowers — it blooms in late December, earning its nickname as New Zealand’s Christmas tree.)

The other Pacific Coast Highway.

The other Pacific Coast Highway.

We stayed in the teeny seaside town of Hahei for two days, soaking up sun and saltwater on the beach, and Becky even got a little sunburned. We managed to go swimming for a bit, cold as it was, until a rogue wave knocked us over and thievishly made off with Becky’s sunglasses. At nearby Hot Water Beach, we joined the crowds to dig our own hot saltwater pools in the sand, which are fed by underground, geothermally heated water.

A full moon rising over the beach at Hahei.

A full moon rising over the Pacific Ocean and the beach at Hahei.

We traveled on to Coromandel Town on the other side of the peninsula. The nearby Driving Creek Railroad was built over the course of twenty-six years by a local potter, who uses it to get clay from the nearby mountainside to his workshop. We got to ride the narrow-gauge railway up to a great viewpoint of the surrounding forest reserve and coastline.

All aboard!

All aboard!

Looking down from the punnily named Eyefull Tower at the end of the Driving Creek Railroad.

Looking down from the punnily named Eyefull Tower at the end of the Driving Creek Railroad.

Our last hurrah in the Coromandel was an afternoon sailing trip aboard the Trifecta, a nearly 30-foot trimaran sailing boat that was built from scratch by the skipper/owner who took us out. We were the only two people who’d booked for that day, so we ended up getting a spectacular personalized trip and one-on-one basic sailing instruction.

Jonathan tries his hand at the helm while Becky scrambles along the front of the hull to take pictures.

Jonathan tries his hand at the helm while Becky scrambles along the front of the hull to take pictures.

We drove on to Auckland, where we are now —cleaning out our little car and packing up to fly home on the 17th (and arrive nine hours earlier than our time of departure!). It’ll be hard to leave this place, especially now that summer’s really getting into full swing, but it’ll be good to return to some cold weather for Christmas — the Kiwi beach barbeque for the holidays seems just a little too otherworldly!

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December 9th – 11th: Island-hopping

December 16, 2008

We stayed in Nelson before and after the Abel Tasman, enjoying the fun arts scene and the fresh fish.

Our view of the Nelson harbor from an excellent seafood place.

Our view of the Nelson harbor from an excellent seafood place.

We visited our last couple of South Island wineries before taking the ferry back to Wellington. Even though we’d been gone less than a month, it was wonderful to see our recent home again, but bittersweet knowing that it was possibly the last time. We wandered the streets a bit, taking in some of the tourist sites we’d overlooked before, including a ride on the Wellington cable car and walk through the city gardens.

Our obligatory tourist shot of the Wellington cable car, which runs from downtown to the hillside botanical gardens.

Our obligatory tourist shot of the Wellington cable car, which runs from downtown to the hillside botanical gardens.

Jonathan = hardcore.

Jonathan = hardcore.

We headed on north, driving through the now-familiar areas of Tongariro, the Waikato, and Taupo.

The snow-capped ski destination Mount Ruapehu, the peak of which we'd missed on our previous trip this way due to cloud cover.

The snow-capped ski destination Mount Ruapehu, the peak of which we'd missed on our previous trip this way due to cloud cover.

Watch out, skiwis are everywhere.

Watch out, skiwis are everywhere.

We stayed a night in Rotorua, a geothermal tourist destination, but didn’t stay long due to the pervasive sulfurous smell and the hordes of picture-snapping travelers, opting instead to press on to beach relaxation further north.

December 7th and 8th: Abel Tasman Coast Track

December 16, 2008
One of our big goals for the South Island was to do an overnight hike in the Abel Tasman National Park on the coast track, one of the nine Great Walks in New Zealand. The whole thing spans more than fifty kilometers; we picked out a 20 km segment at the more remote (and therefore less crowded) northernmost end of the track to do over two days. We could talk about how beautiful it was, how much we enjoyed such an in-depth experience of the park, or complain about the number of evil sandfly bites we left the park with, but the journey is better expressed in pictures.
Jonathan the hermit crab sets off down the trail amidst the subtropical bush.

Jonathan the hermit crab sets off down the trail amidst the subtropical bush.

Bluebells like these grew wild all over the Abel Tasman.

Bluebells like these grew wild all over the Abel Tasman.

The track ran along the coast, occasionally leading along pristine white sand beaches.

The track ran along the coast, occasionally leading along pristine white sand beaches.

This weird, dimpled plant is the native Kowaowao, a.k.a. Hound's Tongue.

This weird, dimpled plant is the native Kowaowao, a.k.a. Hound's Tongue.

A fuzzy, curled fern with the coast in the background.

A fuzzy, curled fern with the coast in the background.

We camped in a kanuka tree grove just feet away from this beach on Anapai Bay. Here Jonathan stretches as we watch this lavender sunrise the next morning.

We camped in a kanuka tree grove just feet away from this beach on Anapai Bay. Here Jonathan stretches as we watch this lavender sunrise the next morning.

Pied Shags were on nearly every beach on the track, and being fairly used to visitors, they stuck around for us to watch them playing in the surf.

Pied Shags were on nearly every beach on the track, and being fairly used to visitors, they stuck around for us to watch them playing in the surf.

Dead silver ferns hang over a wall of the trail's reddish clay.

Dead silver ferns hang over a wall of the trail's reddish clay.

The introduced California Quail has thrived in the area but isn't considered a pest. We saw quite a few on the second day, including a male quail with a line of about ten babies trailing after him — unfortunately they ran away too quickly for a picture. This one, however, struck a pose on a fern for as long as we were willing to watch.

The introduced California Quail has thrived in the area but isn't considered a pest. We saw quite a few on the second day, including a male quail with a line of about ten babies trailing after him — unfortunately they ran away too quickly for a picture. This one, however, struck a pose on a fern for as long as we were willing to watch.

The final stretch of the hike toward Wainui Bay and the parking lot, which took us up a big hill with some good views of the bay along the way back down.

The final stretch of the hike toward Wainui Bay and the parking lot, which took us up a big hill with some good views of the bay along the way back down.

December 2nd and 3rd: Wild West Coast

December 10, 2008
The flightless and incredibly friendly weka, which we spotted on the side of the road.

The flightless and incredibly friendly weka, which we spotted on the side of the road.

Despite rain and ever-cloudy skies, we enjoyed driving up the West Coast, whch is known for being some of the most untamed and remote land in the country. We stopped roadside for more than a few pictures of the craggy coastline.

The tall flowering plant in the left foreground is the native New Zealand flax, which is everywhere.

The tall flowering plant in the left foreground is the native New Zealand flax, which is everywhere.

Monteith’s Beer is a homegrown label that is quite proud to be brewed on the South Island’s West Coast, and we got a chance to tour its brewery. The tour ended with us sampling the full line of seven different beers — an odd favorite was the ginger and rata honey-flavored Summer Ale.

Jonathan pours his own pint at the brewery's bar.

Jonathan pours his own pint at the brewery's bar.

Still taking in the natural wonders of the West Coast, we spent a day caving in the Ananui Creek Caves.

Becky, Jonathan, and thousands of years of limestone growth.

Becky, Jonathan, and thousands of years of limestone growth.

Not only was the hike through the caves fantastic, the lower levels of the caverns are home to tens of thousands of glowworms, and we got to raft out lit only by their glowing excrement. It was beautiful.

You can't see it, but we're smiling for the camera.

You can't see it, but we're smiling for the camera.

November 29th – December 1st: Routeburn

December 2, 2008
Lake Wakatipu, on the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy.

Lake Wakatipu, on the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy and the Routeburn track.

We did a day-hike on the northern end of the famed Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. It was along the Routeburn River through an ancient beech forest, and as you’d expect on a hike of such distinction, it was beautiful.

On the trail.

On the trail.

The foot of Bride's Veil Falls, which we could see cascading over the mountains above us from quite a distance.

The foot of Bride's Veil Falls, which we could see cascading over the mountains above us from quite a distance.

The track had several swing bridges, which made us feel like Indiana Jones all over again.

The track had several swing bridges, which made us feel like Indiana Jones all over again.

One thing we’ve really loved about the West Coast is the speed with which the terrain changes from mountains to lakes to coastline, from untouched tangly wilderness to green grazing hills. One gorgeous spot is practically on top of the next, the landscape ever-changing.

In the shadow of the Southern Alps, these sheep have one of the best views in New Zealand.

In the shadow of the Southern Alps, these sheep have one of the best views in New Zealand.

Heading north toward the glaciers and ocean of the West Coast, we passed through Wanaka, stopping for a bit by yet another alpine lake.

Wildflowers and peaks on the shores of Lake Hawea.

Wildflowers and peaks on the shores of Lake Hawea.

We tried to do a glacier hike at Franz Josef Glacier, but it and Fox Glacier both had their heads in the clouds, literally, and were inaccessible due to rain and wind. We’re continuing to the upper regions of the West Coast, then on to Marlborough area for more national parks and wine!