All grown-ups were children first. (But few remember).
05.18.2009 60 °F
We returned to Auckland on Sunday, and Susie left last evening to fly home to NYC via LAX. Her brother Steve will pilot her home on Virgin America. Cool, eh? I spend today in Auckland and fly home this evening. Due to a situation at home, I had to cancel the Sidney and Samoa trips. I am a little disappointed, but New Zealand has been such a wonderful trip that it makes the cancellation okay.
Susie and I spent yesterday walking through the Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland. Lonely Planet recommended the Ponsonby Village Court as a quick eat with many international flavors – Italian, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, and food from Laos. We both loved our dishes, and afterwards took a leisurely walk through the hood visiting the various boutique stores, a used book shop, and bought cupcakes and scones from The Bake Shop. Love this bakery! We then picked up Starbucks coffee and headed back to our neighborhood and spent an hour hanging out at the Sky Tower. Pics below.
I started out this morning with a run at Victoria Park and spent a good part of the morning hanging out and packing up. Had a great lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called Revive. My body needed good greens and grains after all the fish and chips meals. I’m hanging out at the coffee shop to post one final entry to the blog. It’s been a great trip. Susie is a lovely travel companion, and we saw amazing sights. There are so many places to see in this world, but I know that I will be back to New Zealand, heading directly to Queenstown. This trip cleared my head and lifted my spirits in so many ways and accomplished what it was intended to do – lowering my Type A- personality to a B+. It has reborn my love of hiking and made me remember that seeing the world is important. In addition to New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia (including the Perhentian Islands), Vietnam, and the islands of the South Pacific are on the short-term list.
Susie and I came up with lists of things we like and didn’t like about New Zealand. Enjoy.
Things we like...
There are many things to love about New Zealand. We’ve raved about the incredible scenery, but the people here are so friendly and helpful. There is a real appreciation for enjoying leisure time, a way of life that we’re trying to adopt to create balance in our lives at home.
Food: Pic’s brand peanut butter made with only peanuts and salt, peanut butter with honey, Copper kettle chips in lime & pepper flavor, date scones, feijoas fruit, fish and chips, lamb, Arnott’s mint slice cookies, soy and linseed bread, English breakfast tea with milk, Savs (Savignon Blanc wines from Malborough), New Zealand apples and pears, Tin Tam chocolate cookies, Mac brewjolais beer, ginger beer soda, and Anzac cookies.
Places: Abel Tasman National Park, running on the beach in the early morning at Hokitika, seeing Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea at dusk while driving on Motorway 6, Franz Josef Glacier, the Marlborough Vintner Hotel in Marlborough, Malborough vineyards as seen while running a half-marathon, Halo restaurant in Queenstown, Tasman coast, and the New World Market.
Favorite sayings: No Worries, Cool, Cheers, Hiya, and our hands down favorite, Sweet As.
Things we don't like....
Blenheim Town Center, restaurants and stores that aren’t open during the hours they list as open, major highways with only two lanes, mussel patties, rain, small car batteries, soft rock played on all the radio stations except in Queenstown.
Hopefully we’ve piqued your interest in visiting New Zealand. If so, here are our travel tips:
• Pack light. Most NZ hotels have guest laundry facilities (DIY). Pack five pairs of underwear, comfortable shoes, and fleece and you’re good to go. Fly Air New Zealand. Go in March or April. No longer the busy summer months but still warm. The Milford Track closes in April.
• If you only have time for one island, go to the South Island. If you plan to visit both islands, give yourself at least three weeks and start North, working your way to the South Island. Going in reverse order will lead to disappointment.
• It’s not really that cold here, but it often rains. In the fifteen days we spent here, three days were solid rain outs. Other days were filled with full sunshine, or will start with rain but the sun appeared before noon.
• Distances on map take longer to drive than they appear because you’re driving through mountains on switchbacks.
• Don’t be afraid to wing it if you’re traveling during the off season. There are many vacancies at a wide range of accommodations.
• Filtered coffee addicts should lower their expectations. Tea drinkers will be great company.
• If you run, pack your shoes and run everywhere. It’s a great way to check out the scene around town before heading out on foot.
• Pack a converter to recharge your electronics, especially if you're blogging for family and friends.
Thanks for taking the trip with us. We’ve enjoyed sharing it with you. Cheers.
05.17.2009 50 °F
Queenstown was settled in the 1840s by gold prospectors. It was named Queenstown because it was a “fit for a queen”, Queen Victoria. Queenstown is beautiful. Surrounded by Lake Wakapitu and The Remarkables mountain peaks, it’s easy to understand how Queenstown got its name, even if it sounds uncreative at first. There are only 10,000 full-time residents, but many visitors from within New Zealand and from around the world during winter for snow sports and summer for hiking and boating. Queenstown is the closest city to Fiordland National Park (Milford Track) and Milford Sound, billed by some as the eighth wonder of the world.
It rained hard Friday morning, but the sun made its appearance at 10:30am. After a wet run along the lake, Susie and I went to Fergburger for grass fed beef and lamb burgers. Fergberger is ultra hip, filled with locals and tourists who go there for huge, yummy burgers and beer. We sat outside soaking in the sun and watching people walk by.
After lunch we walked down to the dock to get a good look at the mountains. Because of their size, they appear closer than they actually are. We arrived in Queenstown at night in the rain, missing what was surrounding Queenstown until clearing skies and daylight. It’s impossible to tire of looking at snow capped mountains, even if they’re everywhere in New Zealand.
From the docks we found our way to the Kiwi and Wild Birdlife Center. Ingrid and Mark said that Kiwi birds are rare to see in the wild since they are nocturnal, and recommended seeing them in a controlled environment. They are odd looking birds, a little smaller than a hen in size, but have very long beaks, skinny long legs that are quite strong, often used at the center to kick their keepers if they come too close to their eggs, and while they look wingless, they have wings the size of our pinkies. Females carry an egg almost the size of their bodies. The keeper explained that it would be as if humans gave birth to a 37lb baby. Ouch! After the egg is laid, the male bird incubates for a few weeks, leaving the egg for only an hour each day to feed. The chicks hatch with eyes open and instincts in place to be independent of their parents. Now there is an idea.
We woke up Sunday to a steady downpour that lasted all day. We thought about doing a short hike around Queenstown, but the rain eliminated that plan. We wanted to go take a Milford Sound tour, but that would be 12 hours round trip, including six hours on a bus. After the long drive from Hokitika to Queenstown, we couldn’t bring ourselves to be in a car again. We decided on an easy day in the town. It started out at Patagonia, a chocolate and coffee shop, where we lazed away hours checking e-mail, posting to the blog, and surfing the net while drinking coffee and tea. Afterwards we grabbed a late lunch at Halo, a restaurant located next to a church. The wait staff had cool t-shirts with “angel” or “worship me” written on the back. We schemed to get those shirts. After lunch, we visited a Country Road store in the town. Some of you may remember that they used to have stores in the U.S. but closed them in 2004, and some of us having been missing them ever since. The clothes, men and women’s, are like an Australian Banana Republic but with more flare. Susie found a stylish dark navy pea coat but they didn’t have her size. So close! Not ones to give up on fashion, we asked them to locate her size in Auckland for pick up. Bingo. Afterwards Susie did a little shopping and beer tasting (beer intelligence) while I went back to the hotel to nap (and truth be told, watched some Sky television featuring shows from The Discovery Channel). Would you believe we went back to Halo for dinner and then again for breakfast? There are tons of restaurants in Queenstown but we just loved this one. And best of all, Susie gave me one of the “worship me” t-shirts to wear out and about in Del Ray, Alexandria, Virginia.
There are so many things to do in Queenstown but bad weather kept us from being outside. We weren’t too upset though because we have concluded that we will return to New Zealand, especially to hike the Milford Track, Routeburn Track, and cruise the Milford Sound. It’s worth a return trip for that and to check out the local real estate.
05.12.2009 - 05.13.2009 58 °F
SkeeterVM here. We said a reluctant good-bye to Abel Tasman Park and our chilly “chalet” at the foot of the track. The little cabins had amazing views of the Tasman Sea and its big tidal swings, but were clearly built for summer visits. We couldn’t get the temperature above sixty, so found ourselves going to bed at 8pm just to be warm! We headed south in the rain through another massive national park, Kahurangi, but not before a quick stop at our favorite store, The New World Supermarket. We stocked up on Arnott’s Mint Slices, delicious Thin Mint-like cookies, and yummy Copper Kettle Lime and Black Pepper chips. The back seat of the car is now a sea of snack food. Somehow the fruit always manages to sink to the bottom and the cookies and chips float to the top.
We emerged from the rain forest road onto the west coast. Just as we were wondering why everyone had touted the amazing coastal views when all we could see was scrub, we came over the crest of a hill and saw a vast expanse of stormy sea pounding a rocky coastline. This was no sea for swimming, that's for sure. The waves were ten feet high and we could hear them crashing against the shore through the closed car windows.
The rocks along the coastline are enormous, and shaped by the sea into pillars and arches. The most extraordinary are at Punakaiki. The sign over the entrance says “Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.” I mean, who could resist? It’s like the allure of Sea Monkeys, so unlikely and silly-sounding, you just have to take a look. Indeed the rocks at Punakaiki are shaped in rippled layers like a tall stack at Denny’s, but even better, the sea moves though them with such force, it sends spray puffing out of their chimney funnels like steam out of a kettle. Totally amusing!
Looking like soaked sea monkeys, we hopped back in the car and drove another four hours to Hokitika, also on the coast. Hokitika is a small town, known for greenstone, or Maori jade. Hokitika-by-night wasn’t much; we found a nice enough hotel on the beach, but just a couple of restaurants open. We got deep-fried rig (shark!) and mussel patties(a local favorite) at the chip shop (looking as if it had been transported straight from England), and carried our newspaper packets of food back to the hotel to eat. We had an early night with the goal of getting right out of town in the morning, but we were so charmed by Hokitika-by-day, we stayed for awhile. Thu got back from a jog on the beach raving about the view of the sun on the mist-covered water and the piles of driftwood, some shaped by local artists into animals and Maori symbols. So I headed straight out for my own jog. Running along a packed sand beach with the Tasman Sea on your left and the sun shining on towering clouds ahead of you is an amazing life experience. Highly recommended!
We had an egg breakfast in a cute café, waited on by an American girl in NZ on a working holiday (why didn't we do that in college?!), and walked around town for a bit, admiring all the public artworks. We were reluctant to leave Hokitika but wanted to take advantage of the bit of clear weather to visit Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers get a lot of press. The idea of glaciers in the rain forest is pretty boggling, but how could they live up to the hype? They do though. They are a triumph of scale. Just MASSIVE flows of ice, piled up between mountains. A ranger was cutting a flight of steps into Franz Josef and he was a speck—a speck—of red against the wall of blue. Try to find him in the photo below..
After taking dozens of pictures, we hopped back in our Honda Fit, and chowing on snacks, drove the 400 kilometres to Queenstown. I don’t know if I can do justice to the beauty of the drive. The Haast Pass winds through towering mountains, no less gorgeous for being cloaked in gray clouds, the tallest of all the snow-capped and wonderfully-named Mount Aspiring. Mount Aspiring National Park feels as remote as any place on Earth. We saw few cars and no buildings as we drove around endless bends and up and downhill. Then, suddenly, the view opened to the expanse of Lake Wanaka, glowing misty blue in the twilight, mountains packed tight against its shores. Thu said it best, it looked as if the lake was lighting the grey giants around it.
After sixty miles with not a soul in sight, we were relieved to see the twinkling lights of Wanaka and then Queenstown. We got the last room at Coronation Lodge in Queenstown, and then headed out for dinner. Monkfish and leeks for me and roast tomato and pepper soup for Thu, at a sweet little French restaurant called Solera with a lovely, warm wood fire in the fireplace. We decided that we were glad to have travelled north to south. New Zealand just gets more and more beautiful the farther south you go.