Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coming Home


Somehow 7 weeks has ticked by on the calendar like a blink and we are packing up to come home. We aren't ready to leave but we are ready to be in our home. Bittersweet good-byes. We hope you've enjoyed our blog, we've certainly enjoyed the adventures. 


Signing off from Auckland. 


-- Jeff & Karen

5:27 am est

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Trip to Coromandel Town


Easter Sunday ~ A Day at The Beach outside our apartment. We're getting used to this. Cool



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Easter Monday ~ A Trip to Coromandel Town


When we planned our stay on the Coromandel Peninsula we chose the east side since we knew this is where Whitianga and Cooks Beach are; the Kiwi hot spots. We'd heard that Coromandel Town, on the other side of the Peninsula was rough coast line and not as nice. But, we decided to take a road trip to check it out. And it was awesome. We, again, passed several beautiful beaches with very few people and then dropped into Coromandel Town with fabulous views. Check it out! 



The view from our apartment before we headed out. 

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This was awesome. We stopped at the top of the hill and behind us (first picture) was a view of Whangapoua and in front of us (second picture) was a view of Coromandel Town. One of the best vistas of the trip! 







On the way back we stopped at a few beaches along Whangapoua Bay. Awesome! 


Standing on the rocks; the view to the left (first picture) and view to the right (second picture).





The Lonely Tree:




Great Views:


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3:05 am est



April Fools Day ~ Sea Kayaking


Q: How do you get a kayak from the beach through the surf out into the ocean when there are 3 foot swells?

A: Paddle, paddle, paddle. 


Beautiful Hahei Beach ~ Launch point for our trip. And this is a busy long weekend. 




We took a sea kayaking trip to view one of the highlights of this area; Cathedral Cove. As we pulled up to the beach it became evident that there was a bit of a surf breaking on the beach. Hmmm ... so how do you get a kayak through the surf? Over it? Through it? The answer, you just keep paddling until you get to the other side. The tour operators said they would time pushing us out so that we would miss the surf. They followed that with, 'we usually are off with our timing'. I must admit I was a bit nervous about getting through the surf but it was fun. We definitely got wet, even with the skirts, but it was fun. 


The surf we had to go through. Not quite as intimidating in the photos as it was in person. If you can spot the person in the water it puts a little more perspective on how big this surf really was. 



Others in our group making it through the surf. We were comfortably positioned at the buoy at this point. A little wet, but we made it!



Enjoying the trip. 


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The highlight; Cathedral Cove. 




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 Our landing point; Cooks Beach. The landing was a bit less graceful than the launch. We ended up sideways in the surf but did another loop and made it in; not dry! I'm surprised the camera survived since it was in the pouch of my life vest and soaked!




A busy long weekend at the beach with lots of people picking mussels for dinner. 








A bit wet, but we made it! Going to be sore tomorrow! :)




We have a bit of experience Kayaking but never in this kind of surf and not usually together. At home we have our own kayaks. Today we would have to paddle as a team. It's a good relationship test. We passed with flying colors on this one. 


One thing I was not prepared for was getting sea sick on a kayak. Usually I don't have a problem in small boats but things seem to be changing. The swells were so big that once one came in we couldn't see the others in our group. It wasn't a big deal once we got past the surf from a paddling perspective but whoa ... certainly not so from a sea leg perspective. But, I held on. 



2:31 am est

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ahhh. The Coromandel.


We've been in Whitianga (pr. Fitty -anga) on the Coromandel Peninsula now for six days and are really enjoying it. It is great to be parked and not loading and unloading the roadlicker on a daily basis. We had the place pretty much to ourselves for the first few days but then the locals poured in for Easter Weekend. It is still amazing that in these crowds you can still find a deserted beach. We love that! 


Creative Boat Washing ~ just wait for the tide to go out and bring the brushes and buckets. 




'Oyster Catchers'; somehow I don't think that is the proper name for these birds, but this is what they are called. They are beautiful and fun to watch.   




A trip on the ferry across the Marina and over the hill to Flaxmill Bay (Front Beach). Again, hardly anyone in sight ...





... except this family picking mussels.



The sun peeked out for this beautiful view of Shakespeare Cliff. 



Hmmm ... not such a good golf day. Perhaps I should have followed the sign a little better. Of course Jeff could not resist snapping the shot as I retrieved my ball from the tree ~ literally. LOL! 



Enough said. 




Marina activity is always good for some people watching. 




We laugh every time we walk past this tree. You can just hear it, 'please don't leave me. I love you!' This photo should be named 'treehugger'. 



A walk on the beach often means walking across beds of shells like this. Amazing! You almost feel guilty walking across them as they crush under your feet. But, they are everywhere. And new batches are washed in with each tide. 



We had a great walk on the beach this day; walked about four or five miles and saw only a handful of people. It was great. The tide was out and we were walking down to see a regatta that was underway. What's missing from this page is the video of us jumping (HA!) over the little stream left of the river while the tide was out. The video would make you pee your pants; but ... can't figure out how to load video here. ... yeah, that's it. 



The regatta. This was just one group of boats. There were at least two other groups from other beaches and bays that could be seen from this spot; but not really in pics. Again we were impressed by the active lifestyle of the Kiwis. We headed down this way on the beach because we could see all sorts of tents set up. We figured it was related to the regatta and expected all sorts of people selling stuff. But the tents were just for the regatta teams; littered with gear and portable grills for the after race feast. No vendors. How nice. It's just about the sport. 







5:36 am est

Friday, April 2, 2010

Over the Edge


For our last day in Nelson we decided to explore the Marlborough Sounds. We'd heard such great things about how beautiful it was and were anxious to check it out. Until, that is, we started down the roads. These roads finally put me over the edge. They were so windy and narrow ... and crumbling on the edges. There was barely room for one and a half cars, never mind two. The moment we came face to face with a big logging truck I lost it. I was terrified. We had to scoot over to the very edge of the crumbling road to allow the truck to pass. The only saving grace was that we were on the inside lane. If we fell off we would fall into the hill. If he fell off he had a looong way down. Poor Jeff. He did a great job of using up every speckle of roadway to let the truck by safely. But I was done. I was ready to turn around and go back but there was no way I was going to let Jeff turn around on this road. LOL ... easy, now that is over and history. So, we continued on past Okiwi Bay to Elaine Bay where we had set out to explore. Given the chance to go back down the roads to see these views again, I would vote, 'NO!'. That's the first time on this trip that I would say that. The views were no doubt beautiful but I encourage you to see them through others' eyes and not through the windshield. 



- no shoulder

- our tiny car barely fits in the lane

- the edge of the road crumbling on the left

- the extreme dip on the right 

And this is one of the few spots where there were trees on both sides of the road instead of a big cliff. No way I was taking a picture while near a cliff; both hands were tightly gripped to the seat for those! Hee hee. 


Argh!!!! Oddly enough the car doesn't get any narrower when you hold your breath. 


Also, don't get the wrong impression. The Kiwis take very good care of their roads. They are working on every one of them. They just have a completely different level of comfort on these roads than someone who grew up where a speed bump is the biggest hill you might see in a day. 




Okiwi Bay; still worth it at this point. 




Being silly trying to get the 'camera on the car with timer' photo. 


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And finally ... the shot. We continue to take these ourselves simply because we're usually the only ones around. Large crowds are definitely not a problem in NZ. 




Elaine Bay; not worth it. No offense to those who call Elaine Bay home. It is beautiful. But the road there was just not worth it for me. I'm sure Jeff would say the same. LOL! Maybe they do it on purpose. 




As we headed back to Nelson we had reached a new point in our trip. We were ready to come home. Our trip to Nelson and through the Marlborough Sound had brought us full circle around the South Island. The only place left to go was across the ferry back to the North Island. For us, done is done. The trigger had flipped. Done.


We had spent most of the past 2 weeks in cold, rainy, dreary weather. We'd spent almost every night in a different hotel. We'd had long days of driving. And effectively we'd seen everything we came to see. We miss our dog, family, friends ... bed ... washing machine ... sunflower seeds .... 


We even got to the point of trying to change our return flights and come home early. But, the cost of a really great deal on plane tickets is that they are effectively unchangeable. Despite being a bit homesick we were not willing to pay the outrageous fees to make the change and come home. We weren't going to give up. So, another plan. 


On the way down the North Island we skipped an area called the Cormandel Peninsula; just a few hours from Auckland; Kiwi cottage country. An Australian couple we met in the Bay of Islands said that the Coromandel Peninsula was way better. The Bay of Islands was one of our most favorite spots; so we decided we would head to the Coromandel Peninsula and find a place to park and stay for the rest of the trip. I was discouraged by my online search. I couldn't find anywhere that fit the bill and got good traveler reviews. So, we decided to risk it and just drive in. This was a bit risky since this is where Kiwis go to vacation and we were approaching Easter weekend; a four day weekend here. So, we booked our ferry crossing and mapped a road that would get us there as quick as possible. 


We had a great day for the ferry ride back to the North Island. Yay! And we brought with us an attitude adjustment now that we knew we surely weren't going home early. I know that might sound crazy, but we were tired of being vagabonds. RV'ing is one thing; living out of the back of a Corolla is another. 


Here are some funny shots from Picton as we waited for the ferry. 


Hmmmm .... 




The biggest dog I have ever seen! 




Back on the ferry. 





We drove as far as we could after getting off the ferry which put is in Palmerston North. It was a really nice town and we had one of the best hotel rooms of the trip. A big help for the attitude adjustment. We ordered in and enjoyed the Lazyboy recliners and big screen TV. Ahhhh .... 


After a good night sleep we had a new change in plans. Rather than take the shortest route to the Coromandel Peninsula we would drive up the west coast of the North Island. We hadn't done that on the way down and even though we were told there wasn't much to see it added only a few hours to the trip and we would arrive in Coromandel on the same day. So, we headed up the 'Surf Highway' which would take us around Mount Taranaki; an active but dormant stratovolcano. Stratovolcanos are characterized by a steep profile and periodic, explosive eruptions. 'They' say this one is overdue. Hmmm ... we've been here for tsunamis, tidal surges, huge windstorms in Milford Sound which stranded the group behind us for 3 days due to damaged roads, and an earthquake in Napier (after we had left). Maybe we should stay away from the volcano ... naaaahhhh!!! Had to see it. 


They weren't kidding about steep profile. We drove completely around the volcano at pretty much sea level.  Unfortunately another cloudy day gave us only this view. Our perspective was better than the photos portray. It was impressive. 






We continued on to Hamilton which would be our last stop before Whtiianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. Funny, everyone we spoke to said Hamilton was dull. Even an article we read in the paper stated, 'Kiwis still try to figure out the difference between being in Hamilton and death'. We laughed that we would likely roll through Hamilton and love it. ... But, nope, 'they' were right on this one. Not much in Hamilton. There were some pretty parts of the town but nothing worth sticking around for. 


We made a bit of a mistake while in Hamilton too. We hadn't had any Mexican food since we arrived in New Zealand. Quite frankly haven't seen many Mexican restaurants. Rather than taking that as a good hint that Kiwis are not experts in Mexican cuisine we decided to jump right into the one we saw in Hamilton. As we sat down we realized we had probably made a mistake. The 'chips' and queso that were brought to the table were Doritos; new to New Zealand. We chuckled. Then we joked that our food might come from the Old El Paso taco kits you can buy in the grocery store. We joked too soon. That is exactly what we got! And! It cost us a fortune; one of our most expensive meals yet. We were gracious to the hosts but laughed our butts off as we turned the corner. We should have known better. ... Whose up for Mexican when we get back!? 


The following day, with our attitude adjustments slightly damaged we headed for Whitianga; our destination town on the Coromandel. What a wonderful surprise!! We found ourselves a great apartment with a great location and view of the ocean. We booked it for the remainder of our trip and here we sit on our SOFA watching our FLAT SCREEN TV while the WASHING MACHINE is running and the dishwasher does its job after our HOME COOKED meal following a day on the ocean. Ahhhhhh ..... Just what we needed. A place to park and call home for a while. 


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 Settled right in. 





Oh, and lest we forget that old faithful needed a little TLC too. The culprit ~ a sliver of metal. But, no worries, we had the fastest, cheapest tire repair in history. And ... still in one piece. 


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3:54 am est

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mission Accomplished! Sunshine.


Our stay in Westport was brief and uneventful ... well that is, if you don't count the little side swipe we had with the bus. Luckily the bus was already so banged up that our little encounter apparently didn't matter. The bus was running when we hit it but there was nobody inside. We looked for the driver, but couldn't find them anywhere. Before we knew it the bus was gone; guess they didn't even notice.


Before you continue laughing let's see you try to parallel park from the opposite side of the car in the rain. LOL! And besides, it is still in one piece, the only condition on the rental contract.  


When we finally made it to the other side of the mountains we saw it. Sunshine! Wohoo! We hadn't seen clear skies in days. We knew that the next day had a forecast of ... yep, rain in Nelson. But it was just for one day followed by several days of sunshine. So we parked for a few days and waited out the rain. Nelson was a great town! We enjoyed a few rounds of golf, caught a movie and went for a boat ride at Abel Tasman park. If you were to google Abel Tasman Park you would surely see a picture of 'the rock'. So, we had our picture taken with 'the rock'. 


It was amazing to see so many gorgeous beaches with nobody on them. There are so many here in New Zealand that they just don't get crowded. 


Love the sight of the big blue skies! When we started our round of golf the tide was out and the water behind Jeff was not there; just a big mud bed. We enjoy watching the tide come in. In the case of Nelson the color of the water was gorgeous. 




A view of Neslon from across the bay. Great things about Nelson:

1. Most days of sunshine in New Zealand!

2. Big enough city that there is a movie theater and lots of great shops and restaurants.

3. Great views; both bay and mountain.

4. Close to the ferry and Marlborough wine country. 





Here's our boat ride at Abel Tasman Park. It was great. It was a 'cruise and coffee' ride and there was just us and one other couple on the boat. We toured around a couple of the bays at a great leisurely pace. 






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 After the boat ride, another round of golf with great views. This time you can see the tide is out. 







5:47 pm est

Glaciers, Pancake Rocks, Blowholes and Another PENGUIN!


As we headed out of Haast the weather was just as expected. RAIN. RAIN. RAIN. This is how we saw most of the West Coast (of the South Island).






As we turned this corner we spotted a much welcomed cafe/salmon farm with the most fabulous muffins. Yes they did have salmon muffins; we chose fruit. A glimpse of the view showed the true beauty of what we were missing. I absolutely love the rain forest and was sad that we weren't getting to see much of it today. 





The road dropped us out to the coast for a bit. The poor weather made for a great surf to watch; finally something we could see. Then we saw this! 




With the weather we'd had we figured there were or had been high seas. So we had our eyes peeled. And this is what we saw. 




How fun! People had stopped and made statues out of the road debris. Many of the statues had markings. All the ones we read were dated in the last few days so we presume this had all been built recently. And is probably gone and rebuilt by now. It went on in both directions as far as you could see. So ... we had to build our own. 




And then try to pose for a picture using the 'top of the car, timer and run' method without ruining all the artwork.



As we continued up the coast the rain returned. Along this part of the drive up the west coast we were going to pass 2 glaciers. We had easily agreed that if it was cold and raining we were not stopping. The fog was sitting so low that we wouldn't have been able to see anything anyhow. But, low and behold, just as we got to the glaciers the rain stopped and the sun sort of peeked out. We got great views of both glaciers and walked out to the terminus of the Fox Glacier. Glaciers are always so impressive. What was particularly interesting in this case is that the glaciers are surrounded by temperate rain forest and run almost out to the sea. It was great to get out of the car, stretch our legs and enjoy nature's beauty. 


A peak at Fox Glacier through the rain forest. 




Out for the walk up to the glacier; 'layered up'. 




The sign says it all. Still we were amazed by the number of people that chose to walk right down by the river ...



... or even cross it. 





Actually, this was part of the path.



Notice the people in this picture to realize the enormity of the glacier. 



... and here too. There are people walking in the valley in this picture. 




Brilliant! The walk to the glacier was brilliant! (as the Kiwis would say) So glad the rain stopped and the sun peeked out. We didn't have quite as much luck when we approached the Franz Josef Glacier. The sky did clear so we could get this view, but the rain started again so we only did the one glacier walk for the day. 




And then the rain came down HARD again. It was during this downpour that we had our ultimate NZ road experience. As you have probably gathered from the previous posts the roads through the mountains are VERY narrow, windy and spooky. In many cases there is barely room for 2 vehicles. In some places the signs indicate to 'give way' because the road is in fact only wide enough for one car. This includes bridges and around tight curves (on the edge of the cliff). 


We were feeling pretty comfortable with the one lane bridge. People are pretty good about 'giving way'. Sometimes you can't see the queue on the other side so there are pull offs in the event that a car in each direction end up on the bridge at the same time. In the rare instance there is a light to make sure cars in only one direction get on the bridge. But in this case, it was a one lane, 'give way' bridge ... shared with a TRAIN! In the RAIN!! (There's something for Dr. Suess in that one). 




Luckily there was on train today. Phew! 


For the rest of our trip up the coast the rain stayed heavy until just outside our next destination, Westport. We were on our way to Nelson; the only place with a forecast of sunshine. But, it was too far to make it in one day. Out of the blue we saw a sign for pancake rocks and blowholes. This caught us completely by surprise. The maps here are pretty good about outlining anything to see along the way; but there was nothing about this on the map. So, we stopped. Another beautiful sight. ... and pancake rocks. 




I'm not quite sure why this sign is needed. 










And the great end to the day. 





So, yet again, a day with very low expectations turned out to be one of the best. 

4:31 am est

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rain. Rain. Rain.


When originally planning our trip to New Zealand we had planned to spend some quality time in Te Anau and Queenstown (2 hours north of Te Anaua). But with rain all around us we decided to move on. We had been (somewhat successfully) running from the rain for the past week. But, the forecast for this area was not looking good; two solid weeks of rain and bad storms. So, the morning after our trip to Milford Sound we loaded the car and headed up the west coast of the south island. 


So, let's describe 'loading up the car' for a moment. We've been at this for about a month now and have it down to a science. But when you stop and think about it, it is kind of funny. First, remember we are driving an early '90s Toyota Corolla that has so many dents and dings in it that one could easily mistake it for a Pinata. It is not a big car.


We have our makeshift cup holder duct taped to the console (yes it is still there and still holding our coffee just fine thank you). The trunk is full ... and stays full. Where else would you store 2 sets of golf clubs? We don't unload them when we stop. But due to constant warnings about theft from parked cars we unload everything from inside the car each time we stop. We do this hoping that an empty car would not tip them off that the clubs are in the back. 

So to 'load up' we load our two monster suitcases into the back seat (kid 1 and kid 2). Then we have, depending on the day, three or four bags of groceries. All the motels here have fridges and cooking facilities so we carry a fairly good supply of sandwich makings, drinks and snacks. We finally broke down and bought a cooler bag and ice pack instead of wrapping frozen water bottles in plastic to keep the meats and cheeses fresh. I know ... scary! So, then the cooler bag goes in. FYI, cold beer helps keep the food cold too. Smile


These are all very important supplies because sometimes you can end up driving between towns for hours and not see any decent place to grab a quick bite. ... we recently added toilet paper to our staple groceries. Nothing like FINALLY finding a bathroom and no TP! 


Next we load in all the electronic devices, computer, kindles, binoculars, cameras ... all in their very specific easy to access places in case of penguin spottings or an internet connection. All the sweaters go on top of the suitcases so we can 'layer up' as needed ... and we have needed! Then we get in and and push the seats back as far as they can go squishing everything in place and maximizing (HA!) leg room. The number of groceries has a direct impact on my leg room. So depending on the planned travel day we sometimes eat lots of snacks the night before. Or ... as I need more room I pass fruit and snacks around and then ... squiiisssh the seat back just a little more. 


So, with the car successfully packed for a long haul, we head out of Te Anau. We made out pretty well to Queenstown. No rain, but it was dark, dreary and threatening. We'd been wanting to try Hell's Pizza and had the opportunity during our quick stop here. Yummy! But with the clouds looming we continued on our way. 


Jeff in Queenstown. Notice the bit of sun and blue skies over us and the dark clouds following us.




We ended up taking the pass over the mountains rather than going around it; complete switchbacks up the side of the mountain. Thankfully the rain was still holding off or poor Jeff would have surely had to pull over ... from my screaming. But, the ride made for some fantastic views. 






And for all you hunters, imagine trying to find a spot to hang this in the living room! 




As we came down out of the mountains and into the valley we came upon two fabulous lakes. The rain was starting and the clouds were pushing in. We were somewhat disappointed because we could imagine how beautiful this would be when the sun was shining. 


Views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. 







We were so tempted to stop here and stay. But we knew the tiny bit of sun we were getting was just a teaser. We knew what was in store for this area. So again, we pushed on. For the next four hours we drove in heavy rains, wind, clouds and fog. We didn't get to see much of anything. I was TERRIFIED going through Hasst pass on the winding roads. ... Important note to future travelers; everyone told us to do a clockwise loop around the south island. I recommend counter clockwise. Remember ... we drive on the left here which also means that as the passenger I am in the left hand side of the car ... and ALWAYS hanging out over a cliff of some sort. If we had gone counterclockwise I would be on the inside part of the inside lane. ... poor Jeff! It is much more tolerable when there are pretty things to see. 


Just as we pulled into Haast the sun broke for a short while and we got a glimpse of the beautiful temperate rain forest we just passed through. And because of the rain, waterfalls were spouting everywhere. What a bummer we missed it. If it was going to clear up we would have waited it out. 



We were so glad to have arrived in Haast where we planned to stop for the night, get a good bite to eat and head out early in the morning hunting sunshine. But Haast, haast not much. There were 3 motels and one restaurant. Any thoughts we had of moving on looking for something better were countered with the reminder of almost having to sleep in the car in Te Anau. So we stopped and had some pretty good fish and chips. And then it POURED!!!! We happily stayed in and did laundry. I asked the girl at reception if it was REALLY likely to rain for 2 weeks. She confirmed and said, 'and the worst part is, you'll be off and gone somewhere else and I'll still be here.'


Enough said! We mapped out a new route. the shortest route to the only forecast of sunshine ... Nelson!  It meant missing the glaciers and more beautiful rain forest but we were now cold and grumpy. 


(The blog is still a few days behind, but catching up. More tomorrow. ... we're in Nelson BTW, in the sunshine.)




5:21 am est

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Continuing Around the South Island


After our stop at Nugget Point and Cannibal Bay we continued on our way to the southern most tip of the South Island. After another trip down a winding road we found it ... the sign telling us we had a 20 minute walk to the actual point. What the sign failed to indicate is that this is a walk through a sheep field; no sheep right now, but lots of sheep poo! At first we try to dodge it but then realize it is a lost cause ... and no sense turning back now. So we trudged through sheep poo; squish, squish. But, once again, it was worth it. The sights were incredible.


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Good thing the wind blows inland; these are some steep cliffs! 


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Heading back through the sheep poo field; but somehow I think that was better than through the sheep.



Now the problem of cleaning the poo because it is STINKEEEE!! 




This was a very invigorating experience. I'm not sure quite why, it is simply the marker of the tip of the South Island but it felt great. Maybe it was because of the winds coming in off the sea. They were wild! Check out these trees. Jeff called them the terrified trees. We regularly comment on the amount of beautiful coastline here that is not peppered with homes and cities. In fact there is much of the coastline that is pasture. 'Of course nobody wants to live here, the winds are wild. Look at the trees, even they are terrified!'




Next stop, Invercargill. Even the tourist books say it isn't much to look at but we had to stop here. This is the home of Burt Munro. Burt has the fastest officially recorded speed on an Indian motorcycle at 190.07 mph at the Bonneville salt flats. Anthony Hopkins stars in the Movie 'The World's Fastest Indian' about Burt's story; do watch it if you get the chance. We understand many aspects of the movie much better after our visit here; if even just the 'est' ness of it all. 


While in Invercargill we were yet again faced with the choice of stopping or pushing on. It was late afternoon. We learned through our travels that stopping by 3 or 4 pm provided the best accommodation choices. Rolling into town much later than that usually meant you were left with the less desired accommodations. We really wanted to push on because we knew bad weather was heading in. Our next destination was Te Anau; base for our trip into Milford Sound. If we wanted to catch the only day in the forecast with sunshine at Milford Sound we needed to push on. But, that would mean arriving in town in early evening. Hmmm. Risky. Te Anau is a very popular summer destination. But ... we've been the only ones on the road for most of the day, and it is now autumn. So ... we pushed on. 


The weather had been threatening all day but a spot of sunshine followed us along the road. It made for some beautiful scenery. Jeff was amazed at the deer farms here. Now he was talking to the deer too. They weren't nearly as entertaining as the sheep. We still can't figure out why they don't jump out. (Notice the terrified tress again).




Finally, just as the sun started to set (which occurs about 8:30pm here) we pulled into Te Anau and ... the town was PACKED! We were amazed. We didn't see another car on the road since we left Invercargill. Finding any room was going to be difficult and there is no other town nearby. Finally after driving up and down streets we found a house that had a few extra rooms to rent out. Finally we had a bed after a long day. Phew! 


A quick check of the weather and the next day (Friday) was still the only day in the forecast for sunshine in Milford Sound. So, now with a place to sleep and tickets purchased for the cruise through Milford Sound we were glad that we had driven through. In fact, not only was it the only day of sunshine in the forecast but strong storms lasting two weeks were going to follow.


We decided to the do the drive into Milford Sound on our own (rather than tour bus) and catch the cruise at the Sound. We had read a lot about Milford Road. It is the one and only way into Milford Sound, it is narrow, windy and has the infamous Homer Tunnel (spooky!). But, Jeff agreed to put up with my screeches for the freedom of being on our own time schedule. Our plan was to hit the road before the buses. It worked out great. We were ahead of the buses and the road was not busy at all. It was also really pretty because the fog was still settled in the valleys. 







The Homer Tunnel. The tunnel is so narrow that traffic only goes one way at a time. You wait here until the tunnel is clear and the signal is green. 




There are no lights in the tunnel and from what you can see you can imagine someone literally just hacking a hole through the rock; there is nothing fancy about this tunnel. And the slope is pretty steep; the tunnel just drops you into the base of Milford Sound.







Our first view of Milford Sound ... which is really not a sound, it is a fiord. A sound is a sea flooded river valley whereas a fiord is a steep sided valley excavated by a glacier. The early explorers to this area were not familiar with fiords and incorrectly named them as sounds. Rather than rename the sounds to their geographically correct names, the national park was named Fiordland National Park to represent the correct geographical description of the area. 


Milford Sound runs 15 km inland from the Tasman Sea surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1200 m (3900 feet) or more on either side. I've included some pictures here to help get the perspective of how high this is. With the rain that occurs in this area the rocks leak of beautiful waterfalls. Again, it is hard to retain perspective in the pictures of just how grand these falls are. 



One of the many cruising options through Milford Sound. This was not our ship, but will provide perspective in the pictures that follow. 









Now for perspective; here's that sailboat again.




More Seals:





More waterfalls:




Out to sea ...




... and back again.




FANTASTIC! We've been talking about coming to Milford Sound for a very long time. We were so glad to have the sun shining! 



5:59 am est

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ahhh ... sunshine! And internet!


Wow! We've seen and done so much since the last post but just haven't had a good enough internet connection to post.


First, for those following our route and watching the weather news; we didn't get caught in the worst of it. :) But we have seen enough rain and clouds in the last week to last us for the rest of the trip, and then some. 


The Otaga Peninsula near Dunedin:



Last wwebassets/IMG_3645Alb.jpge posted we were in Dunedin and were pleasantly surprised. It was a much bigger city than we had expected and we had some great times and meals there. The main attraction was the Albatross on the Otaga Peninsula. At first they look like a big seagull, but the Albatross are massive birds that spend most of their time living at sea. They have a wing span of more than 3 metres (9.5 feet); check out the picture to get perspective of what that means. Now imagine watching this bird fly.

After they make their first flight off land it might be three to five years before they touch land again. They live out at sea fishing and eating. Eventually they return to socialize with the other 'teen' Albatross and pick a lifetime mate. They often don't make that choice on their first return. So after a good 'party' they head back out to sea and return again in a year or two for another 'party'. Once they pick a lifetime mate they return every 2 years to mate. Dunedin is the only mainland breeding colony of these birds in the southern hemisphere so it is quite a treat to be able to view them. Currently there are 17 chicks growing in the colony. The mom and dad take turns caring for and feeding the chicks and are sometimes gone for three or four days. We were fortunate to see 3 chicks from the observation deck.






Luckily the observation deck was inside as it was very cold, windy and rainy on that day. In fact, as we watched the boat out on tour to observe the birds we were so glad we chose the land tour.


We watched and waited to see one of the adults fly back in; we were told that the weather conditions were just right. Luckily we decided to take the extended tour that included the disappearing gun. It was while we were on that part of the tour that we saw the adults flying in to feed the babies. We don't have any decent pictures of it but it was quite a sight to see. 


Right below the Albatross nests are the Fort Taiaroa underground fortifications. A walk through the underground tunnels took us to the 1886 Armstrong Disappearing Gun that is still in working order. This was established to counter the anticipated threat of invasion from Tsarist Russia. Here's Jeff turning the gun with the help of our tour partner.



Finally we got a break in the weather to get in a round of golf. We stumbled upon the Otaga Golf Club home of the Balmacewen golf course; the oldest golf course in the Southern Hemisphere. Kiwis are very much into 'est'ness. Almost everything is defined with some type of 'est' statistic. It has been the butt of many jokes along the way but it really is nice to see the pride Kiwis have in their country. If we were to look for an 'est' to use to describe this course it would clearly involve the rope pull on the 11th hole. This is used to help carry your clubs up the hill to the 12th tee. Thankfully we chose this to be the only day we have rented a golf cart. That's the rope pull off to the left.



 Other highlights of Dunedin were the architecture, the roads ... and the ice cream!


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These were singles ... and we ate it all!! 


We had a choice to make upon leaving Dunedin; cut across the island to Queenstown and Milford Sound (the ultimate destination of our trip) or take the scenic route all the way around the south of the island. While in Dunedin we crossed the half-way point of our trip and we were starting to get a bit anxious about running out of time. But, we stuck to our plan and did the drive all the way around ... and we're glad we did. It was beautiful.


Our first destination was Nugget Point to view seals and sea lions. Along the way we were SO LUCKY to see a penguin on the beach. Usually you can see them at dusk as they come ashore, but as we were driving I spotted the undeniable profile of the penguin standing there. Jeff wasn't sure what was wrong. I was shouting 'PENGUIN! PENGUIN!' I was so excited! I have never seen a penguin in the wild before. 





We can't wait to get back and teach Carlson and Maddie what we learned about penguins.


We continued on to Nugget Point and saw hundreds of seals and sea lions. I could have watched them all day. 



The beach just before Nugget Point; beautiful and completely secluded. It is amazing how many times we have been the only ones in a beautiful spot such as this. 




Look at this next picture carefully, you can easily count 12 seals/sea lions.




Ok, here's a close up:




And another:



 This was the tip of Nugget Point. The rocks over the cliff were littered with them.








I didn't want to leave Nugget Point. It was so beautiful and so heartwarming to watch the wildlife. But, we were on a mission. Now we were close to the most southern point of the South Island. So, having been to the northern tip of the North Island we HAD to go.


Along the way ... 'just another pretty beach'. Just one of them. We really do find ourselves saying this now. ... 'should we stop? ... nah, just another pretty beach'. Hmmm, maybe we're getting spoiled. 


As you can probably tell from the pictures it was overcast and windy on this day. But we were glad the rain was holding off for the most part. We were really enjoying this drive and didn't want to have to give in to storms. 



 ... more to follow. Time for some Zzzzz's; have to beat Jeff at golf tomorrow. HA! ... or dream about it anyhow. 

3:56 am est

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hunting Sunshine!



Update coming soon. Been on the road a lot with poor or no internet connection. Drove around the South Island from Picton > Kaikura > Christchurch > Dunedin > Invercargill > Te Anau > Queenstown > Haast > Westport. Seen lots of wonderful sites. The weather has turned cold and rainy so we're hunting sun now ... and a good internet connection. Heading north to Nelson. More to follow soon. 

5:53 am est

Monday, March 15, 2010

3 Days, 4 Cities and 1 Peninsula

Our welcome to the South Island had us a bit scared. We thought we were into cold weather much sooner than expected. But after the night of hail, winds and rain we woke up to a beautiful day for Jeff's birthday. We started the day in Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the sea, and went for a walk along the ocean and cliffs. It was so beautiful. We didn't want to leave but knew there was much more to explore. 


 We couldn't even see that these mountains were there when we drove in the previous day. What a surprise!









So, off we went to Christchurch which we really enjoyed. It is a very pretty, lively city. We enjoyed a nice NZ birthday dinner at Wagamama; our favorite NZ restaurant. We had a few nice stops along the way. 


Cathedral Cliffs ~ named for the organ pipe look. That's Gore Bay in the background, a surfing hotspot. We watched the surfers for a while. 




Jeff has this thing for talking to the sheep. The worst part is, they listen. 





While in Christchurch we picked up a local paper and learned a bit more about our ride on the ferry with the Hell's Angels. Initially we were confused by the great police presence in both ports. It didn't really make sense, this wasn't an international crossing. But the newspaper cleared it up for us. The Hell's Angels were on their way to the South Island for some cover gang related event (a positive thing, I think) and a charity ride. But the local gang, the Skinheads, warned the Hell's Angels not to come as they were not welcome. They threatened to burn any motel the Angels stayed in, any restaurant they ate in and even shoot them off their motorcycles. .... Somehow we always seem to find the excitement.  ... and here we were taking their pictures like they were a tourist attraction. 


The next day we went to explore the Banks Peninsula. Fabulous! Google it on the web to see an aerial view of this great geographic wonder.


It wouldn't take much to convince me to stay there! Forever! Especially since it means we wouldn't have to take the spooky ride back to the city. Again, google it and check out the aeirial pictures to imagine what the roads were like. The lanes were barely wide enough for one car, never mind two. Poor Jeff! But the views were worth it ... for me anyhow.The town of Akaroa was the treat of the trip.








After a great trip around the peninsula we headed to the 'other' armpit of New Zealand. We found the left one on the north island and we found the second one last night. Actually, I don't think it is so bad, but it is a ski town and it is not ski season. Our choices for dinner were the Blue Pub (with menus so greasy you had to hold on with both hands) or the Brown Pub (where you had to ring a bell to call a waitress). We selected the Brown Bar and despite feeling like we were eating in a ghost town the food turned out to be pretty good. 


Jeff spotted these sheep on the hotel grounds as I was checking in. Later we went to see the spot from which they escaped. As soon as we got to the fence, they all came running. It was hilarious! We tried to do it again, cheap entertainment, but they wouldn't do it again since they didn't get anything from it the first time. LOL.



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We don't seek out the armpits without purpose. Our purpose last night was preparation for our event this morning ~ a hot air balloon ride. This has been on my list for a long time and what perfect place but New Zealand. We had to get up at o'dark thirty since the best ballooning weather is early in the morning. It was so great! For those who have been I don't need to explain it. For those who haven't been ... go! 


Oh, how to pick the pictures to put here!


Getting the balloon ready:





 Jeff had the job of holding onto the balloon as it was inflated:




Ooohh ... fire!












Yep, we're having fun!



The only not-so-good part of the trip was when our basket mates both got air sick! Jeff was ready to join them ... not because he was air-sick but by reflex reaction to others being sick. Ugh! ... I think they ate at the Blue Pub. We also had a bit of a bumpy landing ... had to fix our divots. The funniest part was one of the basket mates tucked herself deep down into the basket and screamed. 


After the balloon ride we hit the road again and are now in Dunedin. This was a great surprise; we like this city and plan to stay for a couple of days. 

4:12 am est

Friday, March 12, 2010

 Happy New Zealand Birthday Jeff! 


Still time to wait until it ticks over in the U.S.


LMAO ~ Jeff is testing out the shower hut in our room and I keep hearing 'oh!' ... 'ah, cold!' ... 'needle shower'! 



2:45 pm est

Add Hail and Tornados to the List!

Friday March 12th, 2010


It’s official; tsunami warnings, tidal surges and now hail and tornados! We’re getting the full Kiwi experience.


Oh, and we can’t forget the newspaper headline. It wasn’t me … honest!




Today we took the ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island). Thankfully we woke to clear skies and sunshine this morning for our ferry ride. As we waited in line to load the car on the ferry we were enjoying the beautiful day.




Driving on to the ferry:




webassets/IMG_4202.jpgHolding it Together ~ Barely:


Being prone to sea-sickness I was glad the wind and rain from yesterday was over. But, remember the pictures from the Battle of the Tides on the tip of the north island, where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet? Well, of course, they meet at the south tip of the island as well. It was awesome to watch as we passed through, but my stomach was not enjoying it one bit! It took everything in my power not to spew!  It was a rough ride despite the clear skies. Jeff tried to comfort me but any movement put everything at risk so all he got were grunts in return.




Finally we made it through the rough water (it is only a 90 km, but 3 hour, ride) and headed into Port Charlotte Sound. Beautiful! My stomach finally allowed me to move safely and we went outside to enjoy the spectacular ride through the sound into Picton.


As we walked to the outside we realized that we were on board with Hells Angels. Hmmm. Wonder what kind of trouble we could get into. I was going to show them pictures of my Harley, but Jeff didn’t think they’d see it as ‘cool’.




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Feeling Better:




We arrived in Picton and immediately hit the road south. We want to spend some time in the Sound area but will do it on our way back. It was still a beautiful day and the scenery reminded us of driving through Fremont, CA. Then, suddenly ahead we saw very dark skies and we passed through treacherous winds, rain and HAIL! We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We were convinced that what we saw on the road was sand … until we saw it on the roofs as well.


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I think I left a few of my fingernails in Jeff’s legs. We were on winding roads right along the coast. There was hail on the roads and signs that called out the danger of the roads when wet or ‘frosted’. But despite the terror ride, it was awesome. If it weren’t for the storm we would not have seen the great power of the surf.


We had the privilege of passing through a seal colony. They didn’t seem to mind the storm at all. Guess they weren’t too worried about getting wet. J


We have landed, safely, in the town of Kaikoura for the night. Tomorrow looks to be more promising with warmer temps and sunshine. We’ll head towards Christchurch.


Thursday March 11th, 2010


Today was a productive day; we got the car washed (it rained, hard), we installed a cup holder in the car (McDonald’s drink tray and duct tape) and we made our way to Wellington in preparation for our ferry ride to the South Island. We had a great meal in Wellington (KFC for dinner and McDonald’s waffle cones for dessert). It was very cold, windy and rainy and they were both close to our hotel room. After dinner we hunkered down in our hotel room for a stormy night hoping for clear skies in the morning.




Our drive to Wellington started out as a very nice day; the sun was shining and we passed through some pretty, affluent towns. And then we saw it! A field of sunflowers. This may be our chance to find sunflower seeds in this country (Jeff’s addiction). Finally, Jeff’s withdrawals may come to an end. We stopped at the shop next to the sunflower field and this is what we found.


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 webassets/IMG_4164.jpg webassets/IMG_4165.jpg





No luck. We were told we could by a seed head and roast our own. Heck, if we were still in the north we could have done it on the roof of the car as we drove. But here, not so much.


On our way through the hills we passed a caravan of odd vehicles. For anyone who has seen the Betty Boop’mobile in Mount Dora, imagine a whole caravan of such vehicles. For lack of a better description they were vehicles dressed in costume, clearly coming from some type of event. They were crazy! Our favorite (no pic) was a convertible with all sorts of craziness most notably a chicken as a hood ornament and the driver was using a flip-flop as a windshield wiper. Here are some pics of what we were able to capture. They’re not clear but you might get an idea of what we saw.



webassets/IMG_4171.jpg  webassets/IMG_4182.jpg




2:22 am est

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fine Print

 So, we wonder if return it in one piece is the same as return it with all pieces.

We had a little more trouble with our rental car again today. Well, really it was the same problem and we didn't get the repair material soon enough. We were planning to get some wire to hook the hanging piece back on. But, by the time we found an auto store the hole through which we were going to pass the wire was ... well, gone. It got kind of wore off rubbing against the tire. So, we went for  the good, old handy duct tape. But the problem there was that the car was so dirty the tape wouldn't stick to anything. So, when all else fails ... and patience have worn out, just cut off the problem piece. ... Then what? Put it in the trunk? Throw it away? Well, if we put it in the trunk then we have 2 pieces. If we throw it away, there is still just one piece, it is just a bit smaller than when we started.


Imagine the following audio with the picture:

'Where's the tape!? ... Are you going to help or take pictures?'

'Well, I know you don't want any help right now so yeah I'm going to take pictures.'

Notice the tape and guilty part on the ground. Innocent  


Otherwise we had a great day golfing and exploring another nearby town, Hastings. We had lunch at a great noodle bar this afternoon. No big news on the golf scores, it was a public pitch and putt course that we played for practice. It was good practice. 




Tomorrow we will leave Napier, and not too soon. We thought we were going to love this area so pre-booked three, non-refundable nights of hotel. Knowing what we know now we probably would have just stopped to cure the curiosity. It's not a bad place, just nothing special and we don't want to waste any precious days. Even though we haven't even reached the half way point of our trip the days are feeling very precious. 


It's official we will be traversing the Cook Straight on Friday. We are booked on the 10:25 am ferry. The ferry ride is 3 hours and takes us from Wellington to Picton. Tomorrow we will travel to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and spend the night. 

3:46 am est

2010.04.01 | 2010.03.01 | 2010.02.01 | 2009.02.01 | 2009.01.01

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Welcome to our Site!

From our 'own our own business' life.
In Paris
In Paris after a long flight and no hotel room for several hours.

[UPDATE] February 2010 ~ We are taking a break from work and traveling through New Zealand. We'll be here for a few months and are having a great time. Follow our blog for regular updates. 
Hey there, welcome to our website and blog. For those that know us you know that we switch out aspects of our life when things get dull; we plan to live as many different lives as we can before our time is up. For those that don't know us, check out the About page. We're still working on it, but there's a bit of a start there.

Our current life obsession is motorcycling.

A few months ago Jeff decided it was time to fulfill the long time dream to own a Harley. So, we signed up for the motorcycle safety class at the Orlando Harley Dealership. Karen wasn't sure if she was going to ride her own bike or just be a passenger; but regardless, if it was going to be in the garage she needed to know how to ride. So there we were; two graduates and no motorcycles. Flashbacks to our boat life; a boat and no tow vehicle.

Jeff purchased an '06 Road King Police bike and has been working on customizing it. Then he found a Suzuki S40 at a local motorcycle shop and voila! 2 graduates and 2 motorcycles.

Soon enough the 2 turned into 3; a second Harley. But that's another story still to be added to this page. Those who know it already, you can quit laughing now.

For those in the Central Florida area be sure to check out Lucky U Cycles. They are our local shop and the guys are great. They have a shop in Sorrento and one in Wildwood. Tell Jeremy and Ron that we sent you!

This weblog is our online journal. You'll find stories of our travels and adventures.