A Travellerspoint blog

Abel Tasman

sunny 60 °F

Hello. We left Marlborough on Sunday, May 10th, and drove to Nelson for lunch and groceries before heading to Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman is the smallest of NZ’s great parks but very popular because of its scenic coastal walk that takes three to five days to complete. There are huts for trampers, but we did the more civilized day hikes because we’re not tramps. Our hotel, the Ocean View Chalets, was located in Marahau, a small town at the foot of Abel Tasman. The hotel did, in fact, have a view of Tasman and was only a short walk to the park entrance.

On Monday, May 11th, we took a water taxi to Torrent Bay, a point almost half way up the trail, and hiked back to Marahau, a 17km walk that took six hours to complete. Not a difficult hike, but after running 13.1 miles two days before, the hills burned our legs and bums and within 3km of Marahau, we were tired and cold. The thought of fish and chips from The Fat Tui (a bird) was the only thing that kept us moving.

The following day we slept in and took a water taxi to Torrent Bay again, but this time hiked up the trail to Bark Bay where we were picked up by a taxi to take us back to Marahau. The water taxis are great. The drivers (boaters?) took time to show us points of interests, including two small islands, one for the male seals and the other for the female seals and their cubs. This idea might also work well for humans. When we returned to Marahau during low tide, a farm tractor pulled the boat 100 yards to land. Interesting.

We left Abel Tasman today to begin driving South toward Queenstown. Made a brief stop in Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks. Saw penguin crossing signs for the first time here...anywhere. Tonight we’re in Hokitika, and tomorrow we head to Franz Josef Glacier.

Abel Tasman did not disappoint. Pics below tell a better story. Miss you. Cheers.

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Posted by Littlevu 02:01 Archived in New Zealand 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)

Wellington and the ferry ride to Picton

all seasons in one day 54 °F

You had me at beer…

We arrived in Wellington on a rainy evening on Wednesday and found a cute hotel above the pub. It’s hard to tell from guidebooks what accommodations are really like, so we’ve gotten into the habit of asking to see the rooms before committing. Once Susie saw the pub, her eyes opened to the possibilities, and I got excited when we walked past the guest laundry facilities. Our room turned out to be a lovely British style pub hotel room located in the Thorndon neighborhood, which has a very Georgetown-DC vibe but more bohemian.

The next morning we woke up to sunshine and went for a run. First we walked up a trail to a ridgeline with great views of Wellington Harbour. We then climbed down for short walk to the Wellington Botanical Garden, which offered a picturesque but challenging uphill run. The garden has multiple entrances, including a city walk, so we ran downhill through an old cemetery right into the business district, down to the wharf and then ran back to Thorndon for a leisurely breakfast. After breakfast, we went back up the garden to take cable car down to the business district and walked around different shops, back to the wharf, and then back to the hotel to meet Ingrid and Marc, friends of Susie’s sister Lauren, for a drink and dinner at Indus restaurant. We learned a lot about New Zealand history from Ingrid and Marc, who are Canadian and South African. BTW - we’ve had two Indian food meals in New Zealand and both were incredible.

Some Wellington observations…
• The women are very fashionable.
• Everyone is tall and has great calves from walking the Wellington hills.
• Café culture – no matter the time of day that we went to a coffee shop, there were always business people around conducting business. When we asked locals about this, we were told that there is a cafe culture here, and the people we saw were not business people but bureaucrats who take every opportunity to get coffee.

How we ended up in the cargo hold…

We woke up to rain on Thursday with plans to take the 3-hour ferry to Picton. The ferry instructions required that we be parked on the dock one hour before the ferry departs. We got there at 1pm and decided to keep the heat and radio on while we waited because it was pouring rain outside and quite cold. Big mistake. At just the moment when the ferry crew was waving cars to into the ferry, the car wouldn’t start! Being veterans viewers of The Amazing Race, we kept our cool and turned on the teamwork. Susie went through the car checks while I waved the car behind us to go around and then ran up to the guy waving cars into the ferry to let him know that we needed a jump. After the other cars were loaded, a ferry staff tried to jump start the car without success, so suggested that we exchange our tickets for the next ferry (6pm – four hours later) and call roadside support. While Susie called roadside support, I went the ticket kiosk to ask for an exchange. The friendly woman tentatively reserved us for the 6pm ferry but wanted us to check in with her again after we heard from roadside support. Within ten minutes of calling roadside support, help arrived. (Does AAA answer a service call this quickly?) The AA guy jump started the battery in less than a minute but told us that we had to drive around for 30 minutes to recharge the battery. As we were leaving the dock area, the ferry staff flagged us down and told us we were going on this ferry and promised jump start the car for us if needed on the other side. They had held the ferry for us! Everyone was incredibly helpful and kind, and even cheered and clapped as we drove into the cargo hold. We love New Zealand. People are really this friendly all the time. The InterIslander will be getting a thank you letter from us!

Wellington Harbor from the Botanical Gardens
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View of Wellington homes on hills. New Zealand homes are modest in size.
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Wellington Harbour from the dock.
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For our mums and sisters...flowers from the Wellington Botanical Gardens
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And trees
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The finance geek in me got excited to see this building
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View from ferry going through Tory Channels to the South Island
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Susie awake after a brief nap on the ferry
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Copper kettle chips, our new addiction (lime & pepper)
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Lonely Planet Image
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Posted by Littlevu 00:13 Archived in New Zealand 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)

Auckland, Raglan, Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park

all seasons in one day 55 °F

Hiya,

It has been a while since our last posting so this one will be a bit long. Pictures are below for anyone not interested in reading.

AUCKLAND– Jet lag hit us in the late afternoon of May 3rd. I went to bed at 4pm for a nap before dinner but ended up sleeping through the night until 4am. Susie slept form 6 to 6. While Susie was still sleeping, I walked two blocks down the street to a 24/7 coffee shop to grab an early breakfast and catch up on world news. At 4am, the city was still active with cars, people, and runners.

At 7:30am, we walked down to Starbucks for coffee. Coffee is different here. Espresso is what one gets when ordering a regular drip coffee, and sometimes it tastes as if the espresso is watered down to get a drip like consistency. We’re still trying to get a satisfying cup of coffee here.

We headed to Albert Park with our coffees for a walk. The landscaped park has odd looking trees with enormous trunks and low hanging branches that extend out longer than the trees’ height. There were also flowers everywhere and interesting evergreens. It was beautiful, very peaceful, but too hilly for a leisurely run so we headed in the opposite direction to Victoria Park. Victoria is much bigger, but just an enormous, open sports field, which was great for running. We walked to a grocery store afterwards to grab some fruit and water for the road trip. Walking through the grocery store was interesting. There were many fruits we didn’t recognize, and everything was labeled – USA oranges, Philippines bananas, New Zealand pears, apples, broccoli, peaches, etc. The packaging for liquids, such as milk, comes in a soft plastic bag and laundry detergents were in tiny boxes, half the size of the packaging in the USA.

After checking out of the hotel, we wanted to head South but could only find the entry for North so decided to head North and find an exit to turn around. This roundabout route gave us a magnificent view of Auckland when we crossed the bridge connecting to North Auckland. On top of the bridge, there were thousands of boats on the water and the Pacific Ocean looked light blue with the sun’s reflection. Best of all, we got to see this view again when we turned around to head South. No pictures to show you but It was a postcard worthy view.

RAGLAN – We headed West for a four-hour detour to a quaint surfing town to grab fish and chips. Bow Street (main street) is one block long but has everything – post office, drugstore (pharmacy), library, restaurants/bars, ice cream shop, and even a hotel. The drive to Raglan was lovely. New Zealand is not flat. There are rolling hills with grazing cows, sheep, and alpacas. It is true that New Zealand is green, different hues of greens reflected in the grass, dark pine trees, and many trees we don’t recognize. The countryside looks like the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Really.

LAKE TAUPO – After lunch in Raglan, we headed Southeast toward Lake Taupo, arriving at 7pm on Monday. Lake Taupo is the largest Australasian fresh water lake with a zillion trouts and is the size of Singapore. It is in central part of the North Island, situated 2000 ft above sea level and North of Tongariro National Park, and Mt. Tongariro (Mt. Doom in LOTR) is an active volcano. We could see the snow capped Mt. Tongariro from Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is a fun town, just big enough but not too big. Tons of shops, restaurants and businesses along 3-4 blocks. It may have New Zealand’s only Ford dealership as we’ve seen just five American cars (all Fords) since being here. Lake Taupo is similar to Lake Tahoe, only bigger, less tacky (no casinos and wedding chapels), and much less developed.

TONGARIRO CROSSING - Tongariro Crossing is a famous day long hike through the Tongariro National Park. A third of the way into the trail is the Blue Lake and half way through are the Emerald Lakes. Every guidebook warns the weather changes quickly, from sunny to rain and possible snow. To do the day hike, most people take a bus to the entrance and then get picked up at the end of the trek on the other side. We got a late start and since rain was in the forecast, decided to drive there and attempt a portion for the trail. The terrain is not anything we’ve seen before and guessed that Wyoming might come closest. You can see and hear streams. The trail is well marked and laid out with parts of it being a boardwalk. An hour and a half into the hike we stopped to look at Soda Springs, and within fifteen minutes, mist, clouds and rains descended on us. The temperature dropped quickly and what was gentle breeze minutes before became a cold wind. We decided to head out because hikers we talked to at Soda Springs warned us that it was extremely cold and windy further up. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days, so we plan to leave Tongariro and head to Wellington.

Some New Zealand observations:
- Skim milk is labeled trim milk and we think blu milk is whole
- Hiya is the return greeting we get when we say hello
- Dogs, bikers and runners everywhere (Sarah, we’ve spied bald running guys)
- Barefoot walking is common
- Susie’s got driving on the other side of the road down but I still need more practice. It’s doubly hard to drive on the other side when you don’t know left from right.
- Highway 1 is the major road on the North Island that goes all the way down to Wellington. It becomes a two lane highway (one lane each direction) as soon as one gets out of Auckland. How many lanes in I95? New Zealand appears to be implementing its own stimulus package because there is roadwork every 25 km.
- It is pure bliss to drive through the New Zealand countryside while Jack Johnson is on the radio.
- There is one sailboat, ten cows, 8 sheep, .85 alpaca, and 300 cracked beef pies per New Zealander. Not true but sure feels like it.

Pictures are below. Miss you all.

Susie on the 50 ft long boardwalk in Raglan
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Tongariro Crossing
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Soda Springs at Tongariro Crossing
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Posted by Littlevu 21:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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