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new zealand's south island

January 15 - Back in New Zealand

After 19 hours travel time, we were back in beautiful New Zealand. Alan of Jack Nesbitt met us at Auckland airport and ported us and baggage to his and Sally's lovely home. After a couple days decompressing, we sorted bags into NZ versus Oz, and will hit the road tomorrow, heading south in "Caraka", our Mitsubishi, to tour the South Island. On the road again!

It was terrific to see so many family and friends. We had a great visit home, and already feel a little homesick for family. We do know how lucky we are to have so much support.

The adventure continues!

Sally treats us to mussel fritters at Matakana market.

January 17 - Wanganui

Caraka carried us south through Auckland to a Holiday Camp, then over rolling hills to Wanganui, a pretty town on the river of the same name, where we got the same room we stayed in a year ago, at Tamara Lodge, overlooking the river. We walked into the town to buy a few odds and ends needed for camping, and pork filets, corn on the cob, and salad for dinner. The backpackers we stay in have full kitchens for the use of guests. Wish there was an equivalent in the states. They are affordable and comfortable, and easily found wherever we want to stop.

January 24 -Abel Tasman

What's not to like about New Zealand? This has become our mantra.

We motored south into Wellington, in time to visit the charming City Museum (the old customs house). This little jewel of a museum gets first honors for their creative presentation of local history. We then wandered further along the waterfront to the magnificent Te Papa (Maori for "our place") museum for a special exhibit on Pompeii. Having visited Pompeii in 1972, Dave and I were impressed with Te Papa's staging of many artifacts and graphic display of Vesuvius's awesome power. I would not be buying real estate in Naples anytime soon.

We caught the 3-hour Interisland ferry to cross Cook's Strait on a glassy calm day. In Picton we checked in to the Tombstone Backpackers across from Picton Graveyard (complete with casket-top door with casket handles) for a night's rest-in-peace. This highly-ranked backpackers lives up to its ratings.

In New Zealand, a "backpackers" is a cross between a hostel and a motel. We get an affordable private room, twin or double, bath down the hall. Included is a fully equipped kitchen and lounges, laundry, and other amenities like computer room, guitars, puzzles, book exchange, and a chance to meet other travelers.

In Picton we visited the Edwin Fox Museum. Edwin Fox was an early 3-masted square-rigger, which ferried convicts to the Antipodes. It had a long career in many roles, troop carrier to the Crimean War, freighter, coal barge. The ship was eventually scuttled, then later refloated and put into drydock when local people appreciated its history. We love finding museums like this.

At the Picton iSite we arranged a 2-day hike along the Queen Charlotte Track. This gorgeous "great walk" traces`the bays and inlets of Marlborough Sound. ISite booked our foot ferry to Ship Cove (where Cook provisioned on all 3 passages), the overnight stay at Enterprise Resort, and our pickup the second day at Punga Cove. The ferry company moved our overnight pack, leaving us with just small daypacks to carry.

We hiked until footsore, then enjoyed a glass of local sauvignon blanc at historic Furneau Lodge. The trail winds though beautiful country, up and over saddles and along the edge of inlets - indescribably pretty. Along the way we were serenaded by small bellbirds with their many-noted warbling.

The second afternoon we finished our hike at Punga Cove. While we were sipping a glass of wine at the dock, friends Ken and Wendy of catamaran Cop Out sailed in and took a mooring. The pub cook ran us out in the pub's launch for a surprise visit. Fun to catch up with cruising friends! We then caught the afternoon ferry back to Picton, in time to soak our tired selves in the Tombstone's hot tub. To cap off a terrific day, Picton threw a fireworks display. It's part of their Maritime Festival, but it felt like they are just congratulating us for doing the QC Track.

This morning we drove the winding Queen Charlotte scenic road to Nelson, to visit the Suter modern art gallery, then a bit further on to the World of Wearable Art. This quirky museum celebrates the art of costuming with bizarre materials and forms, culminating in an annual fashion extravaganza in Wellington. Attached is a classic car museum, but Dave admitted the Wearable Art was equally interesting.

We drove up and over the Takaka saddle to Golden Bay, to another backpackers. Here we will arrange more hiking, this time in Abel Tasman park.

The Interislaander ferry carries Caraka to New Zealand's South Island.

We hike pretty Queen Charlotte Track...

and rest our weary feet at Furneau Lodge.

January 27 - Golden Bay, Farewell Spit, Abel Tasman Park

Monday, rolling on west and north along scenic Golden Bay, we arrived at Farewell Spit, named by Captain Cook upon leaving New Zealand. The spit stretches 30 km, the world's longest. Strolling along the lee shore we found whalebone and a decaying dolphin. After a couple hours walking, we took a side road to a beach on the wilder windward side. Tuesday's hike was even more scenic - up and over huge dunes out to spectacular Wharariki Beach, then up along the treacherous hilltop track to Pillar Point and Cape Farewell, before curling back through sheep pastures to the carpark. This hike was more challenging, a scramble up twisty paths and along the curling edges of cliffs. At times the path disappeared, but then we could find the another marker high on the next hill. Challenging for me, but I am getting more fit!

We rewarded ourselves with a terrific meal at the Penguin, Mediterranean salads with lamb, yum.

Today we got to trek a section of one of New Zealand's "Great Walks" - the Abel Tasman. Starting from Totaraniu, the best DOC camp we've seen, we caught an Aqua Taxi north to Mutton Cove. It dumped us on the beach for a great 3 1/2 hour trek back to Totaranui, along the coast track. The full Abel Tasman track is 4 days, so we are just doing the "sampler" option. Tonight we are back in our Holiday Park campsite at Pohara, fixing dinner in the camp kitchen and sleeping in the car.

January 29 - Greymouth

Sleeping in Caraka on the cheap, we woke at our Holiday Camp at Westport. We had slept well, after walking the beach to Cape Foulwind. We then tooled south along the west coast road to Punakaiki (the Maori pronunciation of "pancake") to visit the amazing sandstone layered formations. Pretty cool, including nice blowholes!

We continued on past spectacular coast scenery to Greymouth where we toured the Montreif Brewery. The tour included sampling of 8 brews. Luckily we were within walking distance of our backpackers, Global Village. This cool backpackers is more museum than accommodation, filled with the owners' art collection from Africa and Asia. They offer the free use of kayaks and bicycles, so we may stay another day.

January 30 - Greymouth Global Village

Grabbed 2 of the Global Village bikes and rolled through town, across the Grey River and to the Point Elizabeth Track where we parked the bikes and hiked to the point for great views up and down the coast and a very cool blowhole. This was really a huge ledge, and the incoming surge spewed spray high in the air, or bounced it back to collapse the next wave. Sounded like cannon shot!

Back in town we stopped at an Irish pub for libations, and at the jade musuem/shop where I bought paua (abalone) earrings and Dave bought 2 highly polished abalone shells. Tomorrow we plan to go up and over Arthur's Pass (the Trans Alpine) to Christchurch.

February 2 - Akaroa

Caraka rolled up and over scenic Arthur's Pass, following the braided riverbeds. We arrived at Christchurch in time to visit the Antarctic Center, for terrific displays of exploration and sealife, including a penguin feeding and wild ride in a Haaglund all terrain tractor/jeep, the transport of choice at the south pole.

Yesterday, we explored Christchurch. checking out the cathedral's wooden ceiling, watching artisans at the Arts Center and visiting the modern art museum.

Today we moved east to Lyttelton Harbor, where the first settlers from Europe landed on the south island. Lyttelton became an important port, as it is today, with container ships offloading goods, and loading coal and timber for Asia. We hiked up to the Timeball for a fascinating tour. The Timeball, which continues to drop today exactly at 1pm, was used by all ships in the harbor to synchronize their nautical clocks, critical for determining the longitude offset from Greenwich until GPS came along. We also visited the excellent maritime museum, with a room full of articles from the Shackelton and Scott expeditions, which sailed from Lyttelton.

Another scenic drive brought us to Akaroa, site of the only significant French settlement in New Zealand. A bit of pate, brie and baguette for dinner helped us celebrate the French influence.

At Lyttelton we visit the Timeball.

Our guide cranks the timeball up to the spreaders.

At precisely 1pm it is dropped.

Once common in many ports, today there are only a few timeballs left in the world. When the ball dropped, ships marked the time, then corrected the ship's clock with any difference.

This Akaroa site was once an important Maori pa (fort).

Merde alors! We almost mistakenly buy this pastry.

Sculpture of a local painter.

Akaroa lighthouse.

February 6 - Timaru

Akaroa is a cute town, with an excellent museum showcasing Worsley's trip to the south pole with Shackelton. We explored the town, then drove along the volcano's rim for gorgeous views of Banks Peninsula. With Waitiangi celebrations, accomodations became tight. After 2 nights at the Bon Accord backpackers, we shifted to the farm hostel at Onuku. This was serendipitous - we met Germans making paua (abalone) burgers - a chewy failure - and a young woman stationed at the south pole. It is fun to meet other travellers at the backpackers. Every one has a story.

We hiked within the huge farm boundaries along a ridge to Look Out Rock, for stunning views of Akaroa Bay.

Yesterday, Tom and Dawn of Warm Rain rolled into Akaroa, and we had a warm reunion, visited a cheese factory and enjoyed catching up with them.

This morning we hiked out a long peninsula that contained the important Maori pa (fortress) of Onewa. We then turned Caraka south, rolling down the Canterbury Plains to Timaru, and another Holiday Park.

We stay at a farm backpackers on Akaroa peninsula...

where we hike...

red blazes mark the trail...

Dave scambles out on a cantelevered rock.

We meet Tom and Dawn for lunch.

There's a scenic ridge drive on Akaroa peninsula...

February 8 - Dunedin

Leaving the Banks Peninsula, Dave wanted to explore an isthmus between a lake and the sea. The isthmus had rock "dunes", flat round coin-sized rocks sculpted by sea and winds into dunes. We trekked across to find a dozen people raking the stones from long skinny inlets on the lake side, with a round pool in the middle and at the end. Curious, Dave asked a boy what they were for. During the day, families rake the canal into the right shape. They come back at night to capture eels that wander into the inlets. They toss the eels onto an adjoining shelf, then decapitate them. The eels are boiled and eaten, a longtime tradition in the area.

We continued to Oamaru, enjoying the formal old white sandstone buildings and the whiskey brewery. A little south we stopped at Old Bones backpacker for the night. This place has deservedly won first place in rankings - very nice. We drove back into town at dusk to visit a yellow-eyed penguin colony. We saw just 4 of these rare birds returning to their nests across a beach. We then went to the little blue penguin colony at sunset to watch 162 tiny - 10 inch high - penguins climb out of the sea to return to manmade hutches in mounds on the ground. We sat with dozens of other tourists in a stand. The birds popped out of the sea and waddled and hopped in front of us, with mates ashore calling to them to hurry up. The best part was after the migration, when we could look over the cliff at pairs mating just 10 feet away, and a mom regurgitating into her chick. The penguins swim offshore feeding from 4am to sunset, then return home to share the day's catch. Mom and Dad take turns minding the nest and hunting. Very worthwhile - we learned a lot about penguin life.

We rolled on south to Moetiki where we walked along the beach to amazing spherical rock formations. They were formed on the seabed as concretions - rock coverings of organic matter, a lot like how a pearl is formed. There are 60 on the beach, more still hidden in the dunes. We know the scientific explanation, but somehow the alien visitation seems equally plausible. A little further on we came to Dunedin (pr. dun-ee-din, accent on the second syllable) where we grabbed a room at Hogwartz backpackers. We will stay here 3 nights to explore Otago Peninsula.

These long canals are eel traps.

On this narrow gravel isthmus, locals dredge canals. They return at night to toss eels out.

Dave stalks a moa.

At Old Bones Backpackers, we learn that moa bones were found in a Maori firepit on the site. Moa, larger than ostriches, became extinct only a few hundred years ago, hunted and eaten by Maori.

At Moetiki we explore other-worldly round stones.

Dave rolls one.

Alien eggs, ready to hatch?

The aliens emerge.

February 12 - Catlins

Hogwartz was great. Our high-ceiling room (#5, ask for it) was huge, with water and cathedral views. We explored Dunedin (ancient name of Edinburgh) enjoying beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s, and the Otago Settlers Museum. We drove out the Otago Peninsula, foregoing the Royal Albatross Colony. We enjoyed their excellent free exhibit, but $80 seemed a bit steep to view 3 albatross sitting on nests.

Not to worry, the very best sights of New Zealand are free. Proof was yesterday, when we drove south to the Catlins, the SE coast of the south island, where we hiked to pretty Nugget Point to see the lighthouse, then on to Purakaunui to the DOC campground on a spectacular bay ringed with high cliffs. On the beach, Dave approached a huge sealion to get some good pictures and a warning roar, then we found penguin tracks. Too large for the common little blue penguin. We thought these might be the rare yellow-eyed variety.

In the evening we returned, and hunkered down in the rocks. Immediately, yellow-eyed penguins started popping ashore, riding in on the surf. Chicks high above us called to their parents. The adults took their sweet time, moseying up the beach past us, then hopping up large stones to the grassy nesting area above. We watched parents feeding chicks, and one sharp session where it looked like the parent was refusing to feed a grown chick. Time to leave the nest and fend for yourself! We saw courting behavior and heard a variety of verbal cheeping and chattering. Absolutely mesmerizing. At dusk we took ourselves "home" to csmp in Caraka. Cold clear night. Our sleeping bags are not adequate for these southern climes. Tonight we will layer up.

Today we hiked to pretty Purakaunui Falls, then drove along the coast to Curio Bay. There are yellow-eyed penguins here too, and again we got to see some up close. This time the parent had to fend off seabirds interested in the chick-feeding.

At Dunedin we stay at Hogwartz.

Dunedin hosts a gorgeous train station.

Inside is this beautiful glass window...

and mosaic floor.

We hike out to Nugget Point lighthouse...

where stones seem to be meeting.

We camp, sleeping in Caraka...

at a pretty DOC campground.

At sea lion threatens Dave...

while Jan finds yellow-eyed penguins coming up the beach.

Penguin chicks await dinner...

greeting parents returning from the day's fishing.

Family reunion.

The parent regurgitates dinner into the chick's mouth.

Pesky seagull is chased away.

Dinner over, back to the nest.

February 17 - Te Anau and Milford Sound

Happily spent 2 days in Bluff and Invercargill, hiking to the south point, having a drink at The Drunken Sailor, visiting a maritime museum, climbing Invercargill's brick water tower, and shopping at amazing Hayes Hardware, where Burt Munro's famous 1920 "the fastest" Indian motorcycle resides. The Southland museum had interesting displays of shipwrecks on the islands south of NZ, and a film of Burt Munro speaking and racing that showed how accurate "The Fastest Indian" movie was.

We rolled on along the southern scenic highway to majestic Fiordland. Luckily, we arrived on a clear day, and drove out to Milford Sound, catching a boat out to the mouth of the fjord. This is rainforest country. We appreciated how rare it is to see these high peaks and sheer granite walls carved by the glaciers of a dozen ice ages. Gorgeous!

Back at our campsite, Destiny and Mahurangi found us, and we had a fun surprise reunion with special friends.

Tonight, we are at a Te Anau holiday park in a cabin unit, very comfortable. We took a boat today to Te Anau's glowworm caves, walking and punting (small boat) up an underground river to a cavity where thousands of glowworms lit the roof like the Milky Way. Did the punter use celestial navigation to find our way?

Bluff, southern point of New Zealaand South Island.

We hike the cliff trail, fjordland in the distance.

The trail winds through podcarp forest.

Nice stairs drop down to the beach.

Stewart Island in the distance.

Symbolically connected by this giant chain.

The tuatora is a dinosaur descendent.

Jan kisses a big one.

Bert Munro's Indian is in Invercargill.

We climb this water tower, and are almost blown away.

Fjordland is notoriously soggy.

We luck out with gorgeous weather.

On the way we stop at mirror lake.

Milford Sound, and famous Miter Peak.

A hanging valley, sculpted by glacier.

We take a cruise on Milford Sound...

with its magnificent scenery.

Happy travellers.

February 19 - Queenstown

From majestic Fiordland we rolled across pastureland and along the Remarkable range to reach Queenstown. This is where every adrenalin junky gets satisfaction - bungee jumping, jet boats, mountain luge, every thrill you could imagine is marketed here. The town reminds us of Whistler Village BC, very upscale and touristy. Tomorrow we ride the gondola up the mountain and play on the luge track. The following 4 days we plan to bicycle the Otago rail trail, from Clyde to Middlemarch, 150 km. We have booked accommodations for each night along the way.

Pretty drive to Queenstown...

follows the Remarkables Range.

February 21 - Queenstown Bungeeeeeee

We had a ridiculous day atop the mountain overlooking Queenstown. This place is noted for the number and degree of insane risk-taking experiences. We rode the tame but spectacular gondola up the hill, and then screamed down the cement luge track on glorified garbage-can lids. Fun! We strolled down a path to watch idiots bungy jump off a cantilevered platform high above Queenstown. The price includes a t-shirt. Dave watched awhile, then went in to ask to buy a t-shirt. Nope, they don't sell them separately. Ok, he sighed, I guess I'll have to jump to get the shirt.

We had watched a guy in a superman costume take 15 minutes to get up the nerve to jump. Dave decided to take a running leap at the count of three. He got great air, way off the platform, before gravity took over. Can't believe he did it.

We ride the gondola high above Queenstown...

a cool luge track!

We ride up a chairlift...

and bomb down the luge track.

Dave watches "superman" get the nerve to leap.


The trick is not to hesitate...

...just leap like you're making a tackle.

Then comes the terror in freefall.

Can't believe Dave did a bungee jump. He claims he would do it again if Joel were here.

February 27 - Otago Rail Trail, Wanaka

From adrenalin-infused Queenstown we headed for the NZ outback - the plateaus, pastures and ranges of the upper Otago, to ride the Otago Central Rail Trail from Clyde to Middlemarch. We rented bicycles from Trail Journeys and booked accommodations each night. Trail Journeys moved our overnight bag. For 2 days we cycled gently uphill, through tunnels and over trestle bridges, then turned the corner at Wedderburn to roll downhill the last 2 days. This is a great way to see the country. The final 2 hours into Middlemarch we hit the wall, a 20-knot headwind that all but stopped us.

Tonight we are in pretty Wanaka. We watched a movie at the funky Paradiso Cinema, where patrons sit on donated couches or in an old Morris Minor.

We ride the Cental Otago Rail Trail...

four days in the saddle...

crossing many trestles...

...and riding through many tunnels...

Train depots line the track at small villages...

...where we can stop for pub grub.

At night we stay along the trail in a variety of accomodations.

This sheep got caught in a fence along the track.

We stop at historic Hayes machine works, a belt-driven manufacturing plant...

preserved for engineers to play.

Rail workers built their own housing. Chimneys remain.

Middlemarch, end of the line.

At Wanaka, we take in a movie at the quirky Paradiso.

Intermission, Dave gets to check out the projectors.

February 28 - Aoraki

Rolling northward, we came to Mt. Cook National Park. The Maori name for Cook is Aoraki. We drove to the base and enjoyed the excellent information center, then hiked up the morain above Tasman Glacier. Perfect day, weather is forecast but held off for us.

We drive to Mount Cook...

lucking out, another clear day.

The visitor center has great displays on glaciers and mountain rescue.

We climb out to Tasman Glacier.

March 5 - Blenheim

Near Methven, we jetboatted up Rakaia Gorge. The boat driver took us screaming by cliff faces in a short but thrilling ride, then dropped us on a river rock beach. We followed well-marked trails high above the gorge, taking 3 hours to hike back out. Nice!

On the way to Kaikoura, Caraka started misbehaving, engine running rough. We limped in on 3 cylinders. We hiked the spectacular peninsula cliff and beach walks, and feasted on lobster. Kaikoura means "crayfish food". The area is geographically interesting - a narrow shoal shelf, then a very steep dropoff. The resulting upwelling of cold water hitting the shelf means lots of sealife (and seafood). Just offshore there is a clear line where green water meets deep blue, marking the edge of the shelf. We'd hoped for another night camping along this pretty coast, but moseyed on to Blenheim, where we had an appointment with a Mitsubishi mechanic.

Voila, for reasonable money the wires replaced in Warkworth were replaced again, this time with new ones, and we are good to go.

We are now parked here at Blenheim (pr. "blenum") for 3 nights, to enjoy the Marlborough wine region. There are many good wineries, lots of tours and tastings. Dave and I have learned to enjoy the Marlborough sauvignon blancs. No worries about filling our time here!

Our south island tour is nearly over - in a few days we will catch the Picton-Wellington ferry to head north.

We meet the jetboat operator...

who gives us a thrilling ride upriver...

for the 3-hour scenic walk back.

March 7 - Wine Tour

This morning we climbed aboard a mini-bus for a 5-hour tour that encompassed 6 wineries. We visited the largest/oldest, Montana, then moved on to small boutique wineries, getting a great sampling of the Marlborough wines. The dry, cool climate with lots of sun is especially good for sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs, though we got a chance to taste quite a few varieties. Fun day, beautiful vineyards, nice company and a good guide. Dave comments that the wines in our budget are generally a lot cheaper than those we sampled today! We finished up at a chocolate factory (free samples).

We sample Blenheim wines.

March 11 - New Plymouth

After a final RIP night at the Tombstone in Picton, we boarded the Interislander ferry for Wellington. It is bittersweet to close this chapter of our travels. We loved every part of the south island, and carry away memories of some of the best travels we have enjoyed.

We motored north to Queen Elizabeth park at Paekapariki, where we spent a chilly night sleeping in the car. The following night at Opunake campground we opted for a little cabin, very pleasant, right on the beach. Nice hiking on a bluff/farm track and around a small lake.

Now we are in New Plymouth. WOMAD starts tomorrow. We have booked 4 nights at Seaspray House, just a block from the coast track.

The Taranaki peninsula was formed by a single massive volcano of that name, a classic shape visible from any point on the huge peninsula that juts out into the Tasman Sea.

A final hike along Marlborough Sound...

then it's farewell to the South Island.

WOMAD! At New Plymouth we enjoy world music.

The festival runs 3 days, in a beautiful park.

We hear music from several dozen countries.

The end. Of our New Zealand tour.

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