Friday, February 20, 2009

Headed back to Whangarei

February 20, 2009--We stayed at the Abel Tasman Hotel in Wellington the evening of January 30, and then spent the next morning visiting the museum. A second museum building next door had a display of Leonardo daVinci’s machines, and we found the exhibit to be very interesting. They had working models of all his machines so that you could actually see how each one worked.

The next day we began our return drive up to Whangarei. We already had reservations to stay in Palmerston North, and there was not much to see here, but it was a different route than we took on the way down. This town is mainly a farming community, but we enjoyed a lovely room at the Illuzzions Motel.

In the morning we decided to drive up Highway 1 past Tongariro National Park. This park was established in 1887, and the three peaks were a gift to New Zealand from the local Maori tribe. The summit of Mt. Ruapehu is the highest at 2797 meters and is the most active of the park’s volcanoes. On our drive south the mountain was shrouded in clouds; however, on our way back north we had a wonderful view of the mountain against a beautiful blue sky, and there was still snow on it.

We continue north until we reached Auckland, where we were able to find a motel room at The Ritz, not the same as in New York City, but still very nice. We left fairly early the next morning and had to fight some rush-hour traffic, but we made it through. The next obstacle was a new toll roll that went into effect just a few days earlier. We needed only a one-trip ticket, so we pulled off to the pay booth—what a zoo! We had to stand in a long line just to put in our $2 coin. They were still trying to work out some glitches in the new system.

We arrived back in Whangarei around one o’clock tired but having thoroughly enjoyed our trip. The next evening we took Zelda to Cruisers’ Night at Reva’s Restaurant. They offer two meals for a special price to the cruisers, and the crews from the boats in Town Basin and Riverside Drive Marina show up to visit and see who is in town. This night the three of us chose beef stroganoff with a salad, and it was delicious. We enjoyed visiting with a few of the cruisers and catching up on the latest news.

On Wednesday Zelda’s was scheduled to fly out at 2:30 so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then drove up to the old quarry to see the arts and crafts displays in the different shops. We were a bit disappointed in the whole area; however, we did find some interesting items in one shop.

For lunch we went to our favorite Thai restaurant and Zelda and I had our usual #29, which is pork in a tamarind and white wine sauce over rice--excellent. Steve decided to try something different, but it wasn’t as good as our usual.

We then drove Zelda to the airport, stopping for an ice cream cone on the way. This would be her last helping of Tip Top Ice Cream. We arrived about an hour early, but soon enough the plane arrived, so it was time to say goodbye. She emailed us when she got home saying that the trip went fine and that she had met several friendly people who helped her with her bags.

We had such a good time traveling with Brie, Tim, and Zelda, and it was hard to see them leave, but now we needed to turn our attention to the boat. I will write more about that in the next blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Final Leg of the West Coast, South Island

February 15, 2009—On January 28 we left Franz Joseph headed for Greymouth, which would be around 100 kilometers. This drive moved back inland for most of the trip, but we had beautiful views of the mountains along the way. I just love the color of the water from the glaciers.

We had to be careful in Hari Hari because we read that the town makes quite a bit of money from speeding tickets. When we drove through the town, we understood why. The street was nice and wide and straight, so Steve said that it would be easy to drive too fast.

We stopped at the small town of Hokitika to have some lunch. While we were there, we went shopping for a New Zealand “pounamu” jade necklace for Zelda, and she found a lovely piece. We walked around town a bit and then found a quaint little café for lunch.

Our next stop was the town of Ross where we stopped at the Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Center. We paid our admission and went in. The center was smaller than we expected, but it was interesting to read all about the gold mining that took place there.

We made it to Greymouth around one o’clock and stopped in at the grocery store for a few treats for the evening. We then drove 14 kilometers north of Greymouth and arrived at The Breakers B&B. Jan welcomed us and got us all settled in. The home sits on the bluff overlooking the ocean, and the view was spectacular. Our room was on the second floor with a deck so we enjoyed the view for awhile, and then we decided to go down to the beach. We again found ourselves collecting beautiful rocks and enjoying the surf. Jan’s dog Ziggy joined us, and he was interested in just one thing—our throwing a stick into the surf for him to retrieve. When he brought it back to us, he would drop it and then start barking for us to throw it again.

We spent several hours on the beach looking for jade but did not have any luck. Zelda had found a tree trunk to sit on, so we walked up to get her and head back. After taking just a few steps Zelda spotted a piece of jade. It’s a lovely piece and will make a beautiful necklace for her. We returned to our room to enjoy the view, but a few hours later Steve was anxious to go back to the beach to look for some more jade. He and I returned for about an hour and looked very hard, but we were not able to find any more. We enjoyed a very relaxing evening listening to the surf crashing on the beach while we read our books, and we also slept very well that night.

In the morning Jan served us an excellent breakfast with a choice of either eggs, sausage, and toast or a continental style breakfast. We enjoyed talking with her during breakfast, and she gave us quite a bit of helpful information about our drive to Westport.

We left around 8:30 and drove on this coastal stretch of road that is said to be one of the most beautiful in New Zealand—we would agree. As we came around one corner, we had a great view of the coast line into the distance. What made it even prettier was the morning fog hanging along the shore.

Our next stop was Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The tide wasn’t right for the blowholes, but the rock formations were amazing, and they looked like stacks of pancakes. Steve read that to this day, geologists can’t figure out how these rocks were formed. We enjoyed a 40-minute walk on a circular route to look at all the different formations.

We stopped quickly at Irimahuwhero Lookout, which gave us another great view of the coast, but mainly I wanted to write about it because of the very long name.

Next we stopped at an historic bridge and took a walk across it. On the other side was a path to a cave that we were able to walk through. It was a bit eerie but enough light was coming in that we could see our way—but just barely. As we drove away we spotted the most interesting road sign. I don’t think that too many people we know have ever seen one like this.

We reached the turnoff to Cape Fowlwind and drove 14 kilometers back to the sea. This point is the first point of land that Captain Cook viewed of New Zealand so, of course, we had to see it. You can see some nasty rocks jutting out from the point.

From Cape Foulwind we drove through Westport and then turned east to cut across the island headed back to Blenheim. We were now at a point of simply getting back in order to catch the ferry. The drive across the island was very nice, and we arrived in Blenheim around 4 o’clock. And now for the rest of the story.

In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about making it through Blenheim without stopping for some Makana Macadamia Butter Toffee Crunch—but not this time. We decided that we just had to have some more. We had to ask for directions as the shop is not on the main street, which I find strange. Anyway, we found the shop and loaded up with more toffee, and we left Blenheim very, very happy. We must be unusual because we left with no wine from the middle of wine country, but we did leave with candy.

We found our motel in Picton and got settled in, and then we went to the harbor to find a good restaurant. We ended up at Le Café and enjoyed a nice meal. The next morning we toured the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, which was quite interesting. We caught the noon ferry the next day and had a very nice crossing back to Wellington and the North Island.

As you can tell, I am behind on my blogs, but I should catch up on our travels with just one more blog in a few days.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Queenstown to Franz Joseph Glacier

February 8, 2009—We stayed at Coronet Peak Hotel in Queenstown, which is actually 7 kilometers up the road to a ski area. As we approached the hotel, we had to drive over a one-lane bridge and saw quite a few emergency vehicles with men looking over the bridge. Below us is where the Shotover Jet boat takes you through the Shotover Canyons doing 360-degree turns along the way. We were sure that someone had been injured on a ride; however, we found out the next day that a tourist has pulled over near the bridge to watch one of the boats and had not set the parking brake. Yup, you guessed it. The car rolled off the cliff and into the river below, but luckily no one was in the car at the time.

The next morning we were off for Haast after a quick stop at the bakery for some goodies and coffee, which is called a “long black” here. The drive was along the Kawarau River, and when we reached the historic 1880 Kawarau Bridge, we noticed a sign for bungy jumping so we stopped. This was the world’s first commercial bungy jumping site in 1988, and you can leap 43 meters with the river below you for just $160 NZ. The Kawarau Bungy Centre has a dome theatre, bungy museum, café, and bar. We walked out to the observation platform and watched a young woman “take the plunge.” She was soon followed by a 12-year-old boy. It was great fun to watch.

A few miles up the road we stopped at a cheese factory, where I bought some sweet tamarind chutney, and a few miles after that we stopped at a fruit stand where we bought some wonderful cherries.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside table and were trying to make sandwiches on the table when a swarm of sand flies appeared. These are nasty little things that seem to numb your skin before they bite you (actually, I think they chew on you). The bites itch like mosquito bites but will settle down after a day or two, and then the itching flares up again. We became much better about wearing bug spray after our first encounter. When we left the area, we watched a young couple set up their tent for the night—boy was I glad that we were staying in a motel.

We continued our drive, which took us past Lake Hawea and then Lake Wanaka. These two lakes are very close to each other. We were now moving into a more mountainous area so the foliage became denser, and we began to see some small waterfalls. We stopped at the “Gates of Haast” to take a few pictures before driving over the one-lane bridge, and then we stopped at Fantail Falls for a nice photo op. We arrived at Haast and checked into the Heritage Park Motel.

The next day was glacier excursions. The road to Fox Glacier was along the ocean, and we stopped at Knight’s Point where we were able to see much of the coast. A few miles down the road we came to a detour because a large rock slide had closed the old road. The boulders were so large that they just built a new road around them. At Bruce Bay we stopped to enjoy the beach with the crashing surf, and as we drove away, we noticed a long row of cairns that people had built beside the road using rocks from the beach.

Fox Glacier was the first one on the drive, and we decided to drive up the Glacier View Road in order to see the glacier, but we missed the actual lookout and ended up walking quite a distance down to the river that comes from the glacier. Here we walked over a long swing bridge to the other side. At one point there were about 12 people on the bridge, and it was bouncing up and down and was a bit unnerving. We were then on the Glacier Access Road, so Steve decided that he would walk back to get the car and then return to pick us up. We drove up and parked ad then walked a short distance toward the glacier where we stopped to take some pictures. The glacier was beautiful with small waterfalls coming down the mountain sides, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We drove into Fox Glacier (a town of 258 people) and ate lunch at the Cook and Saddle Café and then drove the 25 kilometers to Franz Joseph.

The town of Franz Joseph has a population of 321 and is another quaint place. We stayed at the Glacier Gateway Motel that had a view of the glacier (hence the name); unfortunately, most of the mountain was covered by clouds. After we unpacked, we drove up the road to the Franz Joseph Glacier and stopped on the road to take some pictures. It was a short walk from the parking to a viewing area of the glacier. I heard an American speaking so I asked where he was from, and he said Colorado. This, of course, began a wonderful conversation about New Mexico and Colorado with Dave and Ann Johnson, and we have since been in contact by email.

We continued on our walk toward the glacier, making it about half way. On our return, we saw several large groups with guides that would be going onto the glacier. We returned to town to buy groceries and then returned to the motel to relax for the day. In the afternoon the clouds cleared from the glacier, so we took off in the car to try to get better pictures, which we did. The next morning when we left for Greymouth, it was again clear so we took a few additional shots hoping that we would get good photos to show the spectacular beauty of this area. Unfortunately, our little digital just doesn't do this justice.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Milford Sound

February 4, 2009—We left Dunedin early in the morning of the 23rd because we had a long drive ahead of us. We had to decide if we should take the Southern Scenic Route or cut across the southern part of the island, so we took the advice of the guide books and followed the Scenic Route.

We stopped about an hour out of Dunedin for some breakfast, and when they brought us our “hot breakfast,” we could not believe how large the portion was—a large amount of whipped scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, a brat, and toast. We didn’t come close to finishing it all.

We continued around Catlins Coast, the southeast corner of the island. We then went through Invercargill on the south end and stopped at Gem Beach where we went out and spent over an hour picking up rocks of all types and colors. We really had a great time and ended up with about 8 pounds of rocks from this beach.

We arrived in Te Anau late in the afternoon and went to check into our motel what we had reserved earlier. Unfortunately, it was not the same as presented on the Internet, so we canceled and found a lovely room at the Lakefront Lodge that even included a spa bath. Steve enjoyed that after a very long day of driving. Te Anau is a lovely resort community situated on a rather large lake, and we loved being there. We only wish that we had been able to spend more time there.

We left fairly early on January 24 for the drive up to Milford Sound, and this drive turned out to be everything that we had expected. The drive was through lush, green forest, and the mountains were shrouded in clouds early in the day. All along the way there were small springs running down the mountainsides that fed into large and beautiful rivers. Steve was drooling over the possibility of trout in these rivers. The drive was up steep mountainous roads, through a tunnel, and then down steep roads on the other side. The Homer Tunnel is three quarters of a mile long. It requires that your headlights are turned on, and a red or green signal light at each end indicates when you are allowed to proceed through the tunnel.

We arrived at the docks for Milford Sound and checked in for our tour on a smaller boat that we had chosen because we felt that it would be more personal. Our boat “Friendship” pulled in to the dock around 10:15, and we all boarded in just a few minutes. The weather began to clear just in time for our trip, and the scenery was just spectacular.

We began our clockwise travel around the sound, enjoying views of waterfalls—one of which we pulled right up under—and seals sunbathing on the rocks, while the captain gave us excellent information about the Sound and its history. This area is geologically active, has experienced several large earthquakes in recent years, and is expected to suffer a very large earthquake in the near future.

At the mouth of the Sound we had to wait for the right time to make our turn because the waves from the ocean would be on our beam. The captain accomplished this with no problem at all, and we continued on the opposite side of the sound. This side had even more spectacular waterfalls, and again, the captain pulled right up under one of the large falls. At this time, the captain drew our attention to a large pod of Dusky Dolphins. We were able to get fairly close to them, and while I was video taping them, one dolphin jumped and spun in the air. They were fantastic to watch, and we found out later that it is rare for them to let the boat get so close.

On our travels we have met some of the nicest people just by offering to take their pictures. Someone is always out of the photo, so when we see a couple or family taking pictures, we offer to take it for them and this always leads us into a great conversations. On this trip we met a very nice couple from South Africa and enjoyed getting to know them.

We left to make the drive back to Te Anau and then up to Queenstown. Not far down the road we passed a car on the other side of the road that had pulled over because it was overheating. A woman and her two kids were in the car so we stopped to help them. It turned out that the brakes had overheated so Steve told her to let them cool off before she continued to the Sound where she was meeting some people who could check them out for her.

We had a beautiful drive back since the clouds had pretty much disappeared, and we stopped along the river to take pictures of it and one of the many falls flowing into it. We also stopped at Mirror Lakes. The picture below at the right shows how reflective the water was--look closely

Just before we got back to Te Anau, a truck came around a corner signaling us to slow down, so we did. When we rounded the corner, a whole herd of sheep came running at our car; however, they did go around the car without doing any damage. It was an “up close and personal experience.”

We reached Te Anau and then headed inland and north to Queenstown, where we would spend the night. We made this part of the drive in about 3 hours and drove through rolling hills filled
with more cattle and sheep—wow!!!
In the next few days I plan to post the last leg of our travels, which will be the west coast of the South Island then back to Whangarei.