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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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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.



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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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

All Fixed

We had some technical difficulties this morning. Here in NZ you are limited to the amount of download capacity; something we surely take for granted at home. But, it is all fixed now. And the blog should load faster now too. 


Well we are surely doing our part to experience all parts of the country. We started with tsunami warnings in the northland. Last night there were tidal surges here in Hawkes Bay (we slept through it all as we were not in the immediately affected area). And in a few days we're heading to Cantebury where they are having fires. All we need is an earthquake and volcano eruption to round things out.


The weather has been kind of gray and gloomy here today so we had a slow relaxing day. We did some touring and wine tasting ... and fixed our website. We have a 'really fast' connection today so we've been taking advantage of it catching up on all things internet. 


The heavy surf today on the beach: 




The beach in Napier; not a lounging beach, but a great one to watch and listen to the surf:




A garden in Napier.




View from the Te Mata Peak Lookout point. We were trying to find Cape Kidnappers; an exclusive golf club but only found a gate with no way in. 


webassets/IMG_4151.jpg We had a bit of trouble today with our luxury rental car. Surprised Well, actually it started a few days ago when we did a bit of unplanned 'off-roading' on a u-turn. We seem to have knocked something loose under the front passenger (left) side of the car; nothing important, just a piece of unnecessary something or other. We pushed it back in place after our off-roading experience and everything seemed fine. That was until we hit a bump today and knocked it loose. Nothing a little duct tape can't fix tomorrow. Uncle Don would be so proud! 

The rental contract says 'bring it back in one piece'. There is no 'no duct tape' clause. Laughing

3:44 am est

Monday, March 8, 2010

~ Catching Up ~

Temporary disruption of pics. Reloading shortly. Experiencing technical difficulties. Cool


Sunday March 7, 2010 ~ Stinkeee!!!



Our first stop today was Huka Falls. Hardly impressive from a 'falls' perspective having grown up near Niagara Falls. We would more likely call this a rapid. But from a natural beauty perspective it was right up there. The color of the water rushing through this 49 ft wide cleft of rock was beautiful. 


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We first heard about Huka falls in a glass blowing studio we visited on the way to Lake Taupo. Some of the pieces in the studio were inspired by the colors of Huka falls. The colors of the glass pieces were so intense and beautiful that we knew we had to see Huka. The display of color did not disappoint. 




From here we went to Wai-O-Tapu, one of the many geothermal walks in this area. To experience the photos in full perspective sit a rotten egg next to you as you view them. In fact, get a whole dozen! If you don't have access to rotten eggs just have everyone near you fart at the same time. It stunk! But it was both impressive and humbling to see. Sometimes I think that we as humans are somewhat naive when we think we could be ruining the earth. The earth is clearly in control. (Not that we shouldn't reduce, re-use, recycle etc)




One of the things I have been enjoying most about our trip is taking in the beauty of nature's colors.


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Monday March 8, 2010 ~ Closed on Mondays


Today we started out in Lake Taupo. We were planning to play a round of golf before heading out of town. But when we woke up to another cold day we decided to head on out to Napier on to the infamous Hawke’s Bay, our next destination. Golf courses are a dime a dozen in New Zealand so we figured we’d roll into Napier and play here instead.


We had a change of scenery on our ride into Napier through the forests and forested valleys. It was really pretty despite the gray skies and impending rain. Here we are trailing behind some Ironmen with their bikes taking a well deserved break. 


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We are scheduled to spend three days in Napier and the forecast was calling for rain on all three. It sure looked like rain when we arrived around noon. The skies were dark and cloudy and the waves were crashing in on the beach from the Pacific Ocean. Surfing waves!




We checked into our hotel … and did a little happy dance. This place is great. As we go south the rooms get better and cheaper. This one is really like a small apartment and was decorated after 1978. We have a huge spa tab that takes about as much water as our pool.


Then off we went to find a golf course. It took a bit of work this time; the first one was closed and the road to the second one was closed. But we did find it and had a nice round of afternoon golf under cloudy skies. It was perfect, great temperature and no rain. In fact, by the time we were done the skies were clear and the sun was shining. Oops! Forgot the sunscreen.



webassets/IMG_4146.jpg We were starving by the time we finished our golf round so we headed back to the Napier city centre to find a bite to eat. We had scouted out the area earlier and we knew there were plenty of good places to eat. Napier was hit by a really bad earthquake in the early 1930’s and the city centre was completely rebuilt in art deco style.


We parked the car to walk around and pick a spot. To our dismay the entire city centre was closed. At 7 pm! It is not unusual here for everything to close around 9 pm. Only bars and restaurants with special licenses can stay open later than that, but 7!? We were so disappointed. So now we were on the desperate drive. Desperate to find any place that was open. All we could find was McDonalds, KFC and Subway, none of which we wanted. So we stuck with it and finally found a Thai restaurant that was open. Great! Later we learned that Napier is ‘closed on Monday’. Ah, today is Monday. Keeping track of days is something we lost some time ago.


As I was checking out the drinks in the fridge I heard someone calling ‘Karen’, ‘Karen’. I paid no mind since clearly they were not talking to me. But one more ‘Karen’ and instinct kicked in. Sure enough they were calling out to me. Our hotel mates from Thames that we met last week were here; 400 kilometres away. So we caught up with them about the golf we’d all played since we last spoke and then finished off the night with some great Thai food. So odd to be half way around the world and run into a familiar face in a restaurant.

6:09 pm est

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ironman New Zealand, Who Knew?


Yesterday we arrived in Lake Taupo. We’re making progress down the north island.  We had a nice leisurely drive through various towns and along several beaches. We drove through Te Puke whose claim to fame is that it launched the kiwifruit industry. We stopped to do a little house shopping in Turuanga. We loved the house, but we’d prefer to build on a hill with a view in the northland. Uh oh! Danger!


Driving through a typical New Zealand town. 




We had planned to stop in Rotorua which is about 87 kilometres north of here and is the geothermal area of New Zealand; bubbling mud, geysers and hot springs. But was we drove through Rotorua we decided we did not want to sleep in a fart and kept on going. Geothermal activity is really cool but it comes at the expense of smelling like rotten eggs. So we decided to use Lake Taupo as our home for exploring this area.


Upon our descent into Lake Taupo we learned that we happened to be landing here the day before the Ironman New Zealand Event. That’s a 3.8 km swim, followed by a 180 km bike ride topped off with a 42 km run. We rolled out of bed early today to watch the start of the event. The cannon went off at 7 am. It is now 6:30 pm and the average competitor is wrapping up. The ‘winner’ (I think anyone who finishes is a winner) finished in just over 8 hours. This was his 9th win of this event and his goal is to win 10.


Descending into the town of Lake Taupo. Notice the volcano cone in the background. 




We’ve been enjoying the events of the day (no getting in and out of here today unless you’re swimming, biking or running). But the big part comes at midnight. Midnight is the cut off time. Anyone who isn’t done by midnight is taken off the course. Just before midnight the crowd will gather to cheer on the last few through the finish.  … we’ll probably need to take a nap between now and then … after getting up early and all … to see the competitors start at 7am … and go all day …….. hmmmmmm.


Here they are starting off with the swim. The disturbance you see in the water is the competitors. As they passed it sounded like a school of dolphins in the water. 




Jeff says he’s in training for next year’s event. He is practicing taking in the 19,000 calories the body will burn off during such an event. He started with a Belgian waffle swimming in yummy syrup, followed by lunch and a couple of beers, some popcorn, and now cereal. His training is going well. Actually we thought about putting on our workout clothes and taking a photo by the finish line but then we realized we couldn’t even remotely fool anyone.




Oh, and for the record, there’s a 40 cents charge to use the SuperLoo. The SuperLoo is the public toilet; it is very nice and immaculately clean, but requires 40 cents for entry. This is not the best thing to find out after working your way through the crowd, across the race traffic and down the other side of the street … without your wallet! So, with some nasty glares I snuck into one of the volunteer porta-potties. This was one of those times to ask for forgiveness, not permission.


Well, time to get back to Jeff’s training plan and have some dinner.



[UPDATE] We just got back from watching the last competitors cross the finish line. They allow for 17 hours which puts the end of the event at midnight. The energy in the crowd was amazing. Watching this woman come to the finish line was very touching. She was so proud of herself she was almost in tears. The whole event was very inspiring knowing the time and sacrifice each of these athletes put into training for this event. 





6:51 am est

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Travel Day


Today we put some kilometres on the road licker. We traveled from Kaitaia to Thames (approximately 450 km, which is a lot going down curvy hills and valleys). We are now perched nicely at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula which we will be the start of our travels tomorrow.We have a few more places to check out on the North Island and then off to the South.


We had a great Indian meal and enjoyed the evening with our motel mates, a group of 4 couples from Australia and Tasmania here on an annual group golf trip. 


One thing I really like about NZ is that the hotel towels don't smell of smoke; they actually smell and feel clean. 


Here's a sample of the many valleys we traveled through today. 



So, just what DO you do when you see this road sign?




And, the one you've all been waiting for: 





5:29 am est

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beyond Words!

Words and photos can not describe our day today; the adjectives required haven't been invented yet. 


We started with a round of golf at Waitangi Golf Club overlooking the Bay of Islands. We were the first to tee off in the morning and could barely see the fairway through the fog. Not that it really matters; you'd have to play the fairway to be concerned about seeing it. But the temperature was perfect, it was quiet and we had the whole course to ourselves. The Pro wasn't even in yet; signs directed us to put our fees in a drop box before we tee'd off. 




The front nine holes were on the inland side of the course. So while the fog lifted we had great views of the hilltops and valleys. Then! we made the turn to the back nine and WOW! The views from the course were phenomenal. With each photo I took I told myself, 'enough, it's just another ocean view', but I couldn't resist. It seemed to just get better and better (the views, not the golf). Shoot, I think we climbed Mount Everest playing today. It was  a trick. They throw the views in hoping you won't notice. By the end of the round we were awestruck. The course was awesome. The day was awesome and the golf ... well, who cares! 






Actually, I must admit, Jeff played a great round. However, yet again, no breaks for the ladies here in New Zealand. Everyone hits from the same tee box. 


After golf we jumped in the car and chowed down our lunch as we headed north; we still had a big day ahead of us. Today we were driving to the tip top of the North Island. We decided to take the scenic route rather than the 'highway (HA!)' up the middle of the island. It was a wise choice. We saw more great ocean views and stopped in a place called Taupo Bay. It was beyond amazing. It was a beautiful, pristine beach well of the beaten track. There were a few beach houses there and only a handful of people and dogs on the beach with us. If we were looking for a place to retreat and relax that would have been it. But, we had more exploring to do. 




So, we continued north. 

After a great ride through the countryside, where we finally saw large numbers of sheep, we reached the tip top. Cape Reinga is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and it is amazing to see the battle of the tides. The waves just don't know which way to go. The wind howls and the surf is wild. According to the Maori mythology the spirits of the dead travel here on their journey to the afterlife. It was a very magical place to see. (And technically it is not the actual northernmost tip of New Zealand, but this is close enough). 


The Pacific Ocean:



The Tasman Sea:




Where they meet; the battle of the tides:






Just south of Cape Reinga are the massive Te Paki Sand Dunes. They are pushed inland by 5 kilometers and to a height of 100 meters by strong winds from the Tasman Sea. You can actually rent boogie boards and ride down the dunes. But a wipeout on a sand dune sounds like an exfoliation we don't need to experience.




The drive to see the dunes was an adventure in itself. We traveled down a dirt road, reminiscent of the goat trail we rode in Hawaii, through a cow field. And this was like the African Safari adventure, the animals were not fenced in, we were contained in the car. We had to stop a few times to let the cattle cross. The sun was starting to set and we didn't want our car to go missing so we continued back to our stopping place for the night. 



Tonight we are staying in the arm pit of New Zealand (town name left out so as not to insult the locals; at least until we leave). But it was worth it. We had a fantastic day and will surely sleep well tonight. Particularly since this hotel has only one touch lamp and Jeff is not sleeping on that side of the bed. Sweepers don't mesh well with touch lamps. Jeff is a sweeper; he will sweep a nightstand clear several times in the night. Put a touch lamp on that nightstand and its lights on, lights off all night. The good thing is that if I can't wake him to turn the light off I just have to wait for the next sweep. But tonight ... there is only one lamp and it is all mine! Zzzzzz. 


4:44 am est

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Lazy Day


We woke again today to the sounds of the warning siren. Certainly this was not a test or 'all clear'. Perhaps there was another earthquake in Chile and a tsunami was headed our way for sure. I was up and dressed in no time flat shaking Jeff to get up and get going. After yesterday's drive I know exactly where to go to get to higher ground. Jeff lay there looking at me like I was nuts. I checked outside. Nothing. Online. Nothing. What on earth is going on!? Well, the warning siren is not a warning siren at all. It is the call for the volunteer fire brigade to report to the fire house. You'd think I would have figured that out after our time living in rural Kentucky. But our time living in St. Louis ruined us. There, when you hear a siren you get in the basement. 


Our current home away from home and resident dog Ellie. 



So it wasn't quite a relaxing start to the morning; but it ended up being a very relaxed day. We had planned on golfing but ended up just lazing around reading. We took our books and went to the beach. It was a perfect day for it. One thing I loved about this beach is the grassy area before the sand. It was nice to be at the beach without getting sand everywhere. We were lucky enough to see some sky divers land on the beach very close to us. 



The amount of shells on parts of the beach are like I've never seen before. The sound of the water rushing in and out over them was like the sounds of a wind chime. Spectacular. 

webassets/IMG_3896.jpgLater we went for a short drive to Haruru Falls; Paihia's horseshoe falls. It was a nice drive and a great way to end the day. We have now explored all parts of this area of The Bay of Islands on the poster in our bathroom. Time to move on. Tomorrow we head to Cape Reinga; the tip of the north island. Yeah, I know we've been saying that for days. Hey ... we're on vacation. :) 

3:07 am est

Monday, March 1, 2010

It was all fun and games until the Rooster showed up ...




This morning we awoke to a warning siren at 3 am. After Tsunami warnings yesterday I must admit it kind of freaked me out. I woke Jeff up and then went to look outside; we're very close to the beach. The entire town was dark and quiet and what is it they say 'nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.' We turned on the TV and checked online; nothing. So, we convinced ourselves it was the 'all clear' and went back to sleep. 

When we re-woke up it was a cloudy, rainy day. We didn't mind one bit. We caught up on our news, bills and email. We watched some hilarious local reporting on the Olympics. We still can't figure out why the broadcasters were dressed in skeleton costumes. I guess just chalk it up to the Kiwi's don't take life too seriously. Then, low and behold the sun came out and we had one of the most beautiful afternoons and evenings. 

webassets/IMG_3833.jpgWe hopped in the car and drove to the next town, Kerikeri (no point in ever staying where you are. Smile). We happened upon a park that has the oldest store and home in New Zealand. It was a beautiful park with nice picnic facilities so we pulled in to eat our packed lunch. As we pulled in there were chickens bounding around the parking lot. Aw. Aren't they cute. We reminisced about the chickens in Hawaii and made our way to a spot for lunch. 







It was all fun and games until the Rooster showed up. We were surrounded by chickens. They were pecking up at the table from under the table. They were running around us and getting closer and closer to our lunch. It was a bit unnerving but we were making it. ... Then the Rooster showed up and he was mad. Right behind Jeff a fight started out and now they were TOO CLOSE for me! I was looking for some help from my Rooster to save me from the pecking but he was too busy laughing at me stomping the ground and yelling "SHOO".  He also had his own little fan club of hens to attend to...chicks love the buddha.  It was hilarious. The best is the video of the rooster running up behind Jeff. Raise your arms and make loud noises; something other than "SHOO" I hear it works for bears!

We managed to survive our lunch without any full contact pecking. Phew!

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We went to check out the Stone Store built in 1836. It was great! Jeff was impressed at how straight the walls were. "This was built in 1836 and the walls are straighter than the wall on our cabin built in 2000."  The park was beautiful and the weather was fantastic. 


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We followed that up with a visit to a local winery and a nice chat with a local Kiwi woman. 




Across the bay from where we are staying is a town called Russell. It gets a lot of good press around here so we hopped on the ferry for dinner. We didn't think the day could get any better. But, WOW! Russell was fabulous. We had a wonderful dinner and watched the sun set. Jeff had the infamous green New Zealand mussels; he says they were great. Then, on the ferry ride back we had the most spectacular view of the moon over the bay (can't be captured in photos). 


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So what started out as a cloudy, rainy day ended up one of the best so far. How can it get any better!?



3:17 am est

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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.