Friday, January 7, 2011

Kayaking Doubtful Sound

Double rainbow on Lake Manapouri

Daniel and Sally going under one of
the many waterfalls

Our group heading up the Hall Arm of the fjord

Yesterday we spent a full day kayaking in one of the most remote and untouched places we've ever been. To get to Doubtful Sound (which is actually a fjord, carved by a glacier), we took a 2-hour trip by 2 boats and a bus. There is no way to access this area except by boat, and it is breathtakingly pristine. It was a really wet trip and I have to admit that I was skeptical when we started out because of all the rain (we were soaked before we even got started), but it was well worth it. We had a small group of about 10 people, plus our guide, and there were only 1 or 2 other boats that we encountered. Because of the rainfall, there were countless waterfalls streaming down the walls of the surrounding mountains, which made it even more dramatic. This was definitely a trip to remember and, unfortunately, there is no way to truly capture it with pictures.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Out of the Rain and into the Glowworm Grotto

This is the entrance into the cave system . . . VERY low ceiling!

Going deeper

Entering the grotto by boat. On our trip it was completely
black . . . no lights, just the glowworms.

Yesterday was spent mainly in the car. We left Dunedin in the late morning and slowly made our way along the picturesque southern coast, arriving at the hostel in Te Anau around 7:00 in the evening. Our good weather karma finally failed us toward the end of our drive—rain began to fall in buckets—so we caught only glimpses of the thickly forested mountains looming above. After settling into our overly well lit room (too much fluorescent lighting for too small a space), we headed to the supermarket and bought food for next day’s “brekkie” as well as a couple of beers and a steak to throw on the grill for dinner.

This morning we woke up to more fierce rain, so after brekkie we decided to join the glowworms in their grotto across the lake. A speedboat took us, along with a bunch of other tourists, to the entrance of a narrow cave filled with the sound of roaring water. Once inside, we walked along an underground river and passed several waterfalls before clambering into a small boat that our guide pulled deep into the glowworms’ inner sanctum. Glowworm tails covered the ceiling, creating what appeared to be a nighttime sky studded with light-blue stars. Breathtaking.

Now we’re back in our room at the hostel after having made a chicken satay and couscous dinner. The rain is still pouring down, but better weather is supposedly on the way. We hope so, because tomorrow we go on a guided kayak tour of Doubtful Sound, in the heart of the New Zealand fjords.


A New Cocktail: Sheep on the Beach

Inspired by our trip along the New Zealand coast, Philip and I have thought up a new cocktail. Many of you are probably familiar with the drink "Sex on the Beach." Here's our recipe for "Sheep on the Beach": Vodka, Blue Curacao, soda, and a dollop of whipped cream. Remember, you heard about it here first . . .

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Boulders, Penguins, and Sheep

Yesterday morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our B&B (aptly named "Designer Cottage") with our gregarious host, Chet. He fueled us with one "plunger" (French press) cup of coffee after another, so we were wide awake when we left Christchurch and headed down the east coast of the South Island. Best road sign this time around: "Combined church, vet, café." We stopped for a sandwich and shepherd's pie at a town called Oamaru. Its grand limestone architecture dates to the late nineteenth century, when the town was a major port for the region. Other ports with deeper water later eclipsed Oamaru, so the town appears frozen in time, making it a draw for tourists like us.

Heading further down the coast, we stopped at a beach to look at the Moeraki boulders, which resemble enormous bowling balls tossed into the surf by giants. Then it was on to Dunedin (the Gaelic name for Edinburgh), set amid lush green hills descending to the sea. We've seen plenty of sheep on our trip, but here there are so many you can't swing a bat without hitting one. Oddly enough, you can see sheep one moment and penguins the next. See the video and pictures posted by Philip. Speaking of Philip, he's told me I need to stop writing and start packing. It'll be hard to leave our B&B in Dunedin. "Hilltop House" is a lovingly restored Victorian home with incredible views of the bay. Now we head for the hostel scene in Te Anau . . .


Sheep and . . . penguins??

I  know they're hard to see, but the moving dots are penguins!

Yesterday we drove out to the Otago Peninsula, just outside of Dunedin, to see if we could catch the penguins coming in after spending the day feeding in the sea. We were told to arrive just after 7pm, and right as we walked up, these two were coming out of the water. The drive out to the peninsula was fantastic . . . rolling hillsides dotted with sheep and old stone walls . . . really beautiful. Who would have thought that penguins and sheep would live on the same coastline?

Chief Andy meets the Maori

The traditional Maori greeting

Haka (sort of)

More haka

Just to add to Andy's last post: the one part he didn't mention is that he was chosen to be the chief that represented our group of visitors. (I guess they could tell he is an alpha male :-) He did a great job accepting the offering from the Maori chief, which allowed us to enter their camp and watch the performance. I'll post a picture of Andy greeting the chief and one of us learning the haka. The chief taught us a few moves and then we gave it a try. Personally, I think I captured the bulging eyes and tongue pretty well . . .

Monday, January 3, 2011

From Kerikeri to Christchurch

As Philip wrote, we left Kerikeri the day before yesterday—but not before sitting down to tea with our hosts, who introduced us to mincemeat pies (yum). We then learned a bit about New Zealand history at the beautifully maintained Waitangi Treaty Grounds (see, had lunch on the beachfront deck of the venerable Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell (once known as the "hellhole of the Pacific" but now a quaint village), and drove back to Auckland. This time I was behind the (right-hand side of the car) wheel, and I thought it was quite the accomplishment that I no longer accidentally activated the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal by the time we reached Auckland.

Yesterday morning we took a turbulence-filled flight (yikes!) to Christchurch, which was hit by a severe earthquake a few months ago. You can still see masonry damaged here and there, as well as lots of scaffolding around a number of the old stone and brick buildings, but the city looks in surprisingly good shape. The area around Cathedral Square feels like a theme park version of England. Punts (the English version of gondolas) wind their way down the Avon River and the streets are lined with neo-Gothic buildings. If you want to place a call, red phone booths are at your disposal.

We enjoyed the Maori performance in Auckland so much we decided to attend a longer version yesterday evening. The program required audience participation, so Philip and I learned how to do a haka, which, we discovered, means “breath of fire.” Our Maori teachers told us it’s not simply a "war dance," since it can also be performed as a lament or even as a celebration. I think Philip and I need plenty more practice not to make total fools of ourselves. Also, I made the mistake of wearing glasses instead of contacts—not a good idea considering that bulging eyes are essential to a haka! After the performance a guide took us to see a couple of elusive kiwi, among other native birds. The flightless and homely-looking kiwi evolved in an environment without any mammal predators, so imported animals—especially possums—have devastated their numbers over the last several hundred years. Now it’s morning again, and we’re off to Dunedin—apparently New Zealand’s theme park version Scotland.

We thought we'd post a few pictures from the Bay of Islands up near the top of the North Island. We drove up there New Year's Day and stayed a night in Kerikeri at a great little B&B. It is spectacularly beautiful up there . . .

The famous New Zealand sheep

Max and Ken (and Max's sister), our hosts at the B&B

The Bay of Islands

Pulling up to Russell on the ferry 

Getting off the ferry at Russell

The beach at Russell

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Goodbye Auckland, hello Christchurch!

After a terrific few days on the north island Andy and I are now heading to Christchurch on the south island. So far New Zealand has exceeded all of my expectations. The people are so great and the weather and scenery are fantastic! Yesterday was spent in the Bay of Islands visiting the Waitangi treaty grounds and taking the ferry over to Russell, a beautiful seaside village that was the first capital of New Zealand. Took lots of great pictures that I'll post later today. The north island has been amazing and the south island is supposed to be even more spectacular . . . can't wait to see it!