A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: SkeeterVM

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

all seasons in one day 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.
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Posted by SkeeterVM 17:12 Archived in New Zealand Tagged automotive Comments (0)

13 miles for a bottle of wine

Blenheim, Marlborough, South Island

sunny 55 °F

SkeeterVM again. We woke up at 6 this morning to eat a quick breakfast at our super cool hotel, the Marlborough Vintners Hotel--a series of pod-like suites set in the middle of a vineyard--and get to the start of our 1/2 marathon for registration. As it turned out, the St. Clair Estate is just two miles from our hotel so we were the first ones to arrive for the race! We had an hour of walking around just to keep warm in the 40 degree morning chill. The heated gift shop lured us in, and we were particularly taken with a card that showed a group of men in suits captioned "We've perfected the art of making the possible impossible."

Gradually, the other runners arrived--all 1200 of them, and we lined up to begin our 13.1 mile run through the vineyard. The walkers started first, then 15 minutes later us "hybrids," then the runners. We'd decided to shift our registration to the hybrid category in case we wanted to walk for a bit, but we ended up running most of the race. The course was split so that one row of vines was marked for walkers and another for runners. When we asked an organizer which we should use if we were doing the race as hybrids, she said "Well, whatever you're doing at the time." The "Duh" was unspoken.

The St. Clair monk rang the start bell and we were off. The course was spectacular; one of the prettiest I have run. The route took us along the sparkling Wairua River with the Richmond Range smoky blue in the background, then back through rows of grapevines, leaves yellowing in the NZ autumn and lit by the bright sun. We ran on through pastures of curious cows, all lined up along the fence to watch us pass. They had that particularly bovine "what's the fuss?" expression. The temperature rose to 55 as we ran--staying just cold enough to make it perfect running weather--and the sun shone throughout despite the predictions of a sou'wester. (Any weather coming from the south here seems to be bad news as it's coming straight from Antarctica!) Thu finished the race at a good clip with me coming in a few minutes behind. Our reward? Bottles of St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc 2008, specially labeled "Long Lingering Finish: St. Clair congratulates you on completing the third Vineyard Half Marathon." I cracked open my bottle when we got back to the hotel and spent the afternoon sipping and reading in the sun on our small patio. The hotel cat came over to keep us company. A pretty perfect day.

View from our hotel
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Race photos
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Posted by SkeeterVM 00:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged foot Comments (0)

From Whanganui to Wanganui

rain 50 °F

Hi, it’s SkeeterVM, Thu’s guest blogger! We seem to be over the worst of our jetlag. Thu managed to sleep to 5am! But when she tried to get some quiet reading time in the hotel lobby while I was snoring away, found that it was locked for “off hours.” Not sure about the fire safety of confining guests to their floors….While we waited to see if the sun would come out over Lake Taupo, we watched “The Water Horse,” a movie about a Loch-Ness-type monster adopted by a Scottish boy during WWII. Alas, neither the sun nor a water horse appeared over Lake Taupo today. So we packed up our gear and headed through Tongariro by car to Wanganui on the Tasman Sea.

NZ highways are pretty much the equivalent of Rte. 302 in Maine (Van Metres will get the reference): two lanes with a passing opportunity every twenty miles. So imagine the adventurous (read “fool-hardy”) spirit involved in opting to take a “country road” the 60 miles to Wanganui. The guidebooks call the Whanganui River Road “impossibly scenic.” They could have just said “impossible”! A one-lane, unpaved road along a one-hundred-foot-high cliff through a rain forest from which goats, sheep, and cattle improbably emerge around every blind curve. Bad enough in the sunshine, no doubt, but we tried it in the driving rain. Today was supposed to be Thu’s"practice" day of driving. She won’t need any more practice. After almost flattening two goats and swerving to avoid a head-on collision with an on-coming van, she got us safely to Wanganui where we are now ensconced in a lovely former-brothel-now-riverfront-restaurant called Vega. Though a meal of goat steak would probably have been the most appropriate celebration of our survival, Thu had a lovely beef steak with fries and I had the salmon skewers with a glass of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc called “Canvas.” The owner of Vega says the wine is not available at retail. Too bad! It's delicious. Dry with enough minerality to balance the SB fruitiness. (And I got a "C" in wine class!)

We’re going to have a shaky-legged walk around Wanganui and then head to Wellington this evening. We’re finding the beauty of NZ hard-earned but worth it! Now here’s hoping for a bit of sun tomorrow!

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Posted by SkeeterVM 21:48 Archived in New Zealand Tagged automotive Comments (0)

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