Thursday, September 23, 2010


Another couple weeks another country! Japan is a pretty neat place to visit. It was one of the countries I was looking forward to the most. I'll talk about some of the highlights and list some of the observations I had during our two week stay. At the bottom is our daily log and the links to the photo albums for Japan.

One of the top highlights for me was the first place we visited in Japan which was the city of Hiroshima. I wanted to go to Hiroshima primarily because of its role in history as being the first city in the world that was attacked with a nuclear weapon. On the first full day that we were in Hiroshima we walked a few blocks over to the Peace Memorial Museum for a talk by Keijiro Matsushima or K as he called himself. The people we were staying with told us about him and talk he gives at the museum which is how we heard about him. Anyway, K is a 81 year old witness and survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. He was 15 years old at the time of the bombing. He spoke for a little over 30 minutes and described what he experienced that day. He was about 2 km away from the hypo center where the bomb exploded and was just starting the school day. The bomb went off at 8:15 am. He spoke about how he saw a bright flash, tremendous heat for a couple seconds, and then it was pretty much quiet. He was also on the south side of his classroom. Kids on the northern side closer to the blast actually were burned worse than him. The 2km point he was at was pretty much the radius of the blast zone in which most people were immediately killed. He went on to talk about how he walked around the city for a little bit in order to find help for one his classmates that injured pretty badly. He spoke about the terrible sights that he saw. He actually ended up walking and hiking up to the countryside to where his family had a home that his mom was staying at by the end of the day and didn't go back into the city after the first day for quite some time which probably saved him from suffering too much from radiation. Close to 70,000 people died in the immediate blast with another 70,000 dying within 4-6 months from the radiation and other side effects. It was a very moving talk about his experiences. He went on to be a public school teacher who taught English in Hiroshima. He has been to the US on more than one occasion. He was very nice and posed with pictures with Alethea and I. He even autographed a print out of his talk that we he gave everyone. He gave Alethea and I an extra hand out since we were the only Americans there to hear him speak that day. The rest of the audience was from Germany and England.

After K's speech we spent the next hour walking throughout the Peace Memorial Museum which only cost the equivalent of 50 cents US to go into. The museum itself really wasn't all that spectacular but what stood out for me was the way that history is presented in places such as this outside the US. I read on some of the displays some information that I don't recall learning about in history class in the US and history was probably one of my favorite subjects. The first bit of information that I read at the museum were that two of the main reasons we used a nuclear weapon against Japan was that we were afraid that the Soviet Union would take over Japan. I had heard this as a possible minor reason but not one of the main reasons. The other main reason was that we needed to justify the expense of the Manhattan project. I had never heard this before. The primary reason I had heard for us using the bomb was that by the fall we would mount an invasion of Japan and that by using atomic weapons we would bring the war to an end quicker with fewer casualties than the 1 million we were expecting from an all out invasion of the Japanese mainland. From what I can recall with access to the internet since I'm writing this in our room while our laundry is drying the entire cost of the Manhattan project as big as it was only cost about $100 billion dollars in today's dollars and was less than 10% of what the WWII costs the US. Needless to say I think it interesting to experience other viewpoints. I remember reading some different accounts of history in museums in Berlin and at the Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camps last fall too.

I'll mention a couple of other interesting facts real quick that I learned during our visit to the museum. They mentioned that Hiroshima was one of four cities that the US was considering to bomb and that leading up to the bombing those four cities were not bombed with conventional bombs so the US could measure the impact of the nuclear explosion. Also, on the day or so before the bombing of the four cities Hiroshima had the best weather forecast which in their opinion sealed their fate. Another factor that didn't play well for Hiroshima was that there was no Allied POW camps in Hiroshima. There were some American prisoners in Hiroshima and they were killed in the blast but it was very few. I believe it was less than 20. One other last piece of information was that the Tokyo fire bombings that occurred months before the nuclear bombings killed more Japanese than either one of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki nuclear bombs.

Next interesting thing we did actually occurred later the same day. We decided at the last minute after seeing displays at the Hiroshima train station to go to a Japanese professional baseball game. It was somewhat different. We ended up sitting in the upper deck right field bleacher seats. In this section they have a noise making and cheering section. The have one group called The Carp Club (the home team is called the Hiroshima Carp) that plays trumpets and beats on a drum all game long. They also have a yell leader who calls out the cheers and the fans sing songs when they are at bat pretty much the whole game long. It felt like a soccer match. The game itself is played the same. There wasn't any real differences there. We did have during the game some level of interaction with some Japanese. One young person came up to me and gave me a bag of potato chips and uttered the word present and naturally I ate them. Later on two of the women he was with ask if they could have their picture taken with me and of course I said yes. During the 7th inning stretch they have an odd custom of blowing up balloons, dancing with them for a minute, and then releasing them. A young man gave Alethea and I a couple balloons when he saw that we didn't have any so we could participate. We ended up leaving the game in the top of the 9th since the home team was down by 10 runs at that point.

The next place we visited after Hiroshima is Kyoto. Kyoto is a very nice city to visit and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Japan. I will not go into too much detail because I am not sure it have the same relevance to the people reading the blog back home. Kyoto is a very old city that was the capital of Japan for over a 1000 years from the 8th century until I believe 1867 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. The city is pretty easy to navigate and is laid out in a grid. There are several Buddhist\Shinto Temples and shrines to visit. There is the Kyoto Imperial Palace which is massive. There are also side trips you can take from Kyoto. It really makes a good base city. We took side trips to Inari and the city of Nara using our Japanese Rail Passes which I would also recommend. The trains here can be expensive but if you are a foreigner you can buy a rail pass that will definitely pay for itself. We purchased a 7 day pass back in Portland before we began our trip and are glad we did. I thought it was very neat to ride the Shinkasen type train from Hiroshima to Osaka and from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was very fast and comfortable. Our pass didn't allow us to ride on the fastest trains called the Nozomi but the ones we were on were pretty good in my opinion.

Highlights for Tokyo are somewhat easier. We only had two full days in Tokyo. Tokyo is pretty much a maze of buildings. By a lot of different measurements Tokyo is the largest city in the world by population. According to Wikipedia it has 30 million people and the same article ranks Seoul second with 20 million. It ranks New York 4th after Mexico City. Tokyo definitely felt larger than New York. One thing that felt large was the train stations. It seemed like each train station was gigantic. Their train system or at least the subway system can be a little confusing since there are two different systems. One is older and owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government while the new one called Toei is I believe more privately owned than government owned. Some of the trains use the same station but different tickets and all day passes do not work on both systems unless you buy one that does. Anyway, the highlight for me for Tokyo was going to a sumo wrestling tournament in person. On our last full day we bought two tickets for the general admission section which is the cheapest to watch the matches. The tickets were 2,100 yen a piece which is around $24 USD. The tickets were on the very last row at the top. The seats in the row beneath us were 3,600 yen. The tournament we saw was at the Sumo Stadium in Tokyo. It was only a couple subway stops away from where were staying in Asakusa. The tournament we saw lasts for approximately 15 days. We were there on day 11. The matches go on to about 6 pm with the lowest class wrestlers starting around 8:30 am. Also, the general admission tickets we purchased are only sold the day of the match at the stadium. We counted around 350 seats at the top and once those seats are sold then that is it. We went early in the morning to get our tickets but went over to the Tsukiji fish market for a hour and then over to the Sony store before heading back to the stadium for the afternoon matches. When we arrived the stadium wasn't that full and I believe we caught the tail end of the wrestlers who weren't full time professionals. We then saw the professional wrestlers as well as the top rated wrestlers including Hakuho who is the top wrestler at the tournament. He disposed of his opponent within a few seconds. You could tell as another higher class started to wrestle that the quality of the matches would get better and better. In all we watched about 4 hours of wrestling. They do a lot stretching and I guess you would call it warming up before the few seconds of actual wrestling. They also have a ceremonial march into the arena. They even have advertisements in the way of people marching around the ring with banners including McDonald's during the final match. I'm glad we did it even though we didn't always understand what all was going on. I saw a fare amount of other western tourist there as well.
That pretty much wraps up our 11 day stop in Japan. I really like Japan. It is a pretty neat country that is not too difficult to get around but not exactly always. It is expensive especially housing but it wasn't too bad. Our next stop is China. I'm a little nervous about China. I've wanted to go there for a while and check it out first hand but I've also heard that the traveling there can be rough. It is the rough part that I am not looking for but I think the 5 days in Korea and maybe some of our Japan experiences will help out. Take care everyone!

Links to Japan photo albums:

Observations about Japan in general:
Easier to get around. More people understand a little English. More signs & menus etc in English.
You can drink water from a tap or refill your water bottle more often but not everywhere.
A few Japanese people will talk to you such as in Hiroshima at the baseball game and on the local train.
Few places accept Visa or Mastercard including Mazda station in Hiroshima. Most places only accept cash.
ATMs are not that common in Hiroshima or Kyoto but were common in Tokyo. A few major banks plus the post office which also doubles as a large bank. Also 7/11s have ATMs too but overall there is much fewer than the US. I kinda expected it to be different in Japan. Not a bad thing though.
Cities are large and there is not much green space although the cities are more quiet than in other countries of the same size.
A lot of bowing in almost all environments from baseball game to trains.
Just like almost all cars in Korea were Korean (Hyundai or Kia) almost all cars are Japanese (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Susikis). In SK I saw some Fords but have only spotted one here so far.
A lot of Buddhist & Shinto shrines. Very few Christian churches. The couple that I have seen where Catholic. Christianity has pretty much been resisted by the Japanese. It was even illegal for a couple hundred years starting in the 17th century when the Shoguns didn't like how fast it was gaining influence. They even killed about 30 missionaries back then to send a message.

Japan Daily Activity Log:

Monday 9/13 – Hiroshima
Flew in from Seoul
Airport is 45 minutes to the northeast. Airport had no ATMs that were open at 8 pm when we landed.
Checked in at World Friendship Center

Tuesday 9/14 – Hiroshima
Went to 9:30 talk by 81 year old Keijiro Matsushima who witnessed and survived the A-bomb attack
Walked though the Peace Memorial Museum
Walked around Peace Memorial Park
Walked to the A-bomb Dome
Walked 80 meters over to hypocenter where the bomb exploded
Went to the Shukkeien garden
Picked up and activated our Japanese Rail Pass
Went to Japanese Professional Baseball game between the Hiroshima Carp & the Dragons – received gift of potato chips and balloon for 7th inning stretch.

Wednesday 9/15 – Hiroshima (day)/Kyoto
Miyajima Island
Buddist\Shinto Temples
High Speed Train from Hiroshima to Osaka (1 hour 28 minutes), Osaka to Kyoto (15 minutes)
All land is used seemingly
Attendants bow when entering and leaving the car
Have pretty bad cold

Thursday 9/16 – Kyoto
The Golden Pavilion – Rokuon-Ji Temple
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kiyomizudera Temple

Friday – 9/17 – mini side trip to Inari & Uji near Kyoto
Took local train to Inari which was only two stops away
Walked through the orange gates of Fushimi Inari.
Took train a few more stops to Uji
Bought tickets & walked around musuem @ Byodoin Temple – Phoenix hall was built 1052

Saturday – 9/18 – side trip to the city of Nara from Kyoto
Took train for 50 minutes to Nara
Walked a little over 1km east to shrines
Went to the Todai-Ji Temple and saw 15 meter Buddha statue. Temple was built between 710 & 794. Buddha statue was consecrated in 752.
Walked aback through park and back to train station to return to Kyoto since Alethea wasn't feeling well.
Ate dinner at the Kyoto train station. Pretty good
Went to Japan version of the dollar store or 100 yen store.
Picked up some food at the grocery store

Sunday – 9/19 - Kyoto
Path of Philosophy
Nishiki Market
Came back mid-afternoon to rest
Did laundry again before going to Tokyo so we will not have to do it there.

Monday – 9/20 – Kyoto to Tokyo
Visited two Buddhist Temples that were within walking distance of the hostel.
Ate lunch at the Kyoto Train Station
Took Shinkasen high speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo. Took 13:29 train. Arrived around 16:00.
Took the subway to hotel. Wasn't that hard to find.
Went to tourist info office to get English maps and material.
Ate dinner
Walked around Asakusa area then came back to our hotel. It started to rain a little bit.
Stopped @ a Family Mart and bought a beer and thing of Sake since we have a fridge.

Tuesday – 9/21 – Tokyo
Imperial Palace
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings - 45th floor

Wednesday – 9/22 – Tokyo
Tsukiji fish market
Sony Building
Nissan Leaf car
Sumo Wrestling – 4 hours – saw Hakuho

Blog post covers 9/8 thu 9/23

Monday, September 13, 2010

South Korea - Seoul

Time to take a few minutes and blog about our experiences in South Korea which mostly took place in Seoul. This entry will not be as long as the New Zealand entry since we only spent 4 full days here versus weeks in our previous two stops. I'll start by saying that Seoul definitely isn't New Zealand. Seoul itself is one of the largest cities in the world. They city itself has around 10.4 million all in roughly the same size of Nashville, TN my hometown which only has a population of 626,000 per Wikipedia. Needless to say it can feel a little crowded although that gives it some of its uniqueness. We only saw a portion of the city in our four full days but saw countless small alleys that seem to go on forever as we walked around the city. We saw a large fish market called the Noryangjin Seafood Market as well as the Namdaemun Market and walked down Insadong which is large long street market. However, the activity that we did that was the highlight for me was our tour of the DMZ that separates South Korea and North Korea.

I will have to admit that when we were planning for our trip the number one reason I put down South Korea on my list was because I wanted to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). I am somewhat of a history buff especially Cold War history. The Korean War, the DMZ that followed, and all of the events that have transpired over the years made it a place I would like to visit at least once. On Friday I got my wish. We arranged a tour through the USO. The tour was an all day event that began with us having to report to the USO office at Camp Kim by 7:10 am. When we started our journey that morning we actually walked to the wrong subway station in the morning but luckily I researched the subway routes including what exit to walk out of the day before. This helped us get there on time. We actually ended up arriving early enough to run down to a mini-market down the street before the tour began to pick up some breakfast even though it turned out to be sandwiches and some type of chips. The tour began with our bus departing at 7:30 am for a 90 minute bus ride up to the North Korean border. Our first stop was the JSA (Joint Security Area). One of the very noticeable things that we saw on the way up was that as we drove along the main river that flows down and through Seoul was that the river's shoreline is fenced off with barb wire and there were numerous watch post and bunkers. Some of the bunkers were staffed with armed soldiers. We found out later that in the late 1960's the North Koreans sent down about 30 some commandos down the river went it froze during the winter to assasignate the president of South Korea. Ever since this incident they fenced off the river and have stationed armed soldiers around the clock for almost 30 years.

The first stop on our tour as I mentioned was the JSA. This was the neatest part of the tour by far. We first had to drive past a check point and then had to have armed US Army M.P.s check our ID's and ride on our bus until we got to the briefing area. At the briefing area we saw a brief presentation by one of the M.P.s regarding what we would see there and what the rules were such as not making any gestures towards the North Korean soldiers and that there were areas and items that we weren't allowed to take pictures of. We also had to sign a declaration basically saying that the US, Korea, and the UN were not liable if something bad happened to us. We then changed buses and drove to the Camp Bonifas area. There we departed the buses and walked in a line two at at time into the blue conference room building area that marks the boundary between North and South Korea. It is where negotiations take place and as also been the site of some armed exchanges over the last 50 years. I knew as part of our tour that we would get to go to this area but I didn't know until we arrived that we would actually get to walk into these buildings. We were able to go in and walk over to the North Korean side. While we were inside which only lasted for a few minutes there were South Korean ROK soldiers stationed inside. There were also South Korean soldiers outside facing the North Korea in the half exposed position. There are armed soldiers stationed at the location 24 hours a day 365 days of the year for almost 60 years now. After the stop at Camp Bonifas we drove by but didn't get out due to the weather and the sight where the infamous ax murder incident took place in the 1970s as well as the Bridge of No Return where prisoners of war where exchanged after the Korean War. Many North Korean soldiers chose note to be repatriated back to North Korea after the war. For me it was pretty neat but at the same time quite a tense place to visit considering the number of armed soldiers and mines that are very close to this location. We also got to see a glimpse of the propaganda village in North Korea and the world's largest flag pole that the North Koreans build in order to one up a flag pole built by South Korea. One other note was that we actually got to see a North Korean soldier. He was staring at us from a building across the border where the blue UN conference room buildings are located.

We made three additional stops on our tour but due to the weather they weren't as enjoyable as they might as been. We stopped at the Dora Observatory which is the tallest spot in the Camp Bonifas area where on a clear day you can see 17 km into North Korea. We also stopped at one of the tunnels that the North Koreans dug to smuggle troops in if they ever invaded. Our last stop was at a train station built to link the rail networks of South and North which will hopefully be a station that will allow for regular visits to the North in the future. President Bush helped open the station back in 2002.

In addition to our DMZ tour we spent the rest of the time exploring the city. As I mentioned earlier we saw multiple markets. We also purchased a palace pass and visit three palaces and a shrine. The palaces where somewhat neat if not similar. The palaces have been or currently being restored. Some were built as far back as the 14th century but have been burned down (usually by the Japanese) or neglected and have been rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries. We also visited the National Museum of Korea which was very large but nice and free!

We also ate at some local non touristy restaurants. This was sometimes a challenge as the people working there spoke very little English and some of the places did not have menus in English either. On two occasions I didn't know really what we ate. At two of the places either the owner or another worker brought us forks and demonstrated how we should eat our food.

As far as negatives were concerned there really only a few that stood out. One was the weather. It was nice that it is was warm (high's in the mid to upper 70's) compared to what we came from in New Zealand but it also rained every day we were in town except in the afternoon on our last full day and during the morning of our last day. They even had a Typhoon come through a few days before we arrived that caused some damage. We got drenched more than once and learned a lesson from the locals in that they primarily carry umbrellas instead of wearing rain gear like we did. It rained so hard it soaked thru my REI jacket. I did wear my water proof pants after the first day which helped although I was much hotter wearing them over my pants. Another negative was the lack of English. It made it a little rough sometimes to communicate. The subway system was pretty good since it had English instructions to buy tickets as well as signs in English and announcements on the trains in English. At the restaurants it was kind of difficult for me. I guess another negative is that I felt a little tired and run down on our next to last day in Seoul. We've down a lot exploring over the last 6 weeks plus these last four day included a lot of walking around that was made a little challenging with the language issues. We actually came back in today a little early and spent most of the evening relaxing. I also maybe be coming down with a cold and took a antihistamine today for the first time on our trip. We also decided to take advantage of Alethea's Priority Pass and went to the airport early where we can get some food including free alcohol and internet access for a couple hours while relaxing in a very comfortable environment while we catch up on various items. I actually feel pretty well relaxed now and am ready for our next country!

That pretty much sums up Korea. Monday the 13th is a travel day for us. The next stop on our journey is Japan. We actually had to alter our plans a little bit. Instead of flying into Tokyo we are flying into Hiroshima. We were going to fly standby on Delta but the seat availability wasn't looking too good. We will start out in Hiroshima and work our way east and north through Kyoto and eventually up to Tokyo where we'll end up before flying over to China. Hope everyone is doing well.

Link to South Korea pictures:

Daily Log:

Wednesday 9/8
Traveled 13 hours to fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to Seoul, SK
Staying at Seoul Hostel ( ) – private bath, free internet, water not clean enough to drink, had to insert water filters.

Thursday 9/9
Purchased pass for palaces for $10,000 won. Roamed around for a hour Changdeokgung Palace then took 2 hour Secret garden tour.
Walked around Seoul and got absolutely drenched. Discuss umbrellas versus rain gear.
Went to travel office to inquire about flights to Tokyo.
Booked DMZ tour

Friday 9/10
Took DMZ tour
Rode Seoul Subway
Found USO at Camp Kim – had to there by 7:10 am.
DMZ Tour (included stops at JSA, Camp Bonifas, Dora Observatory, 3rd Tunnel, & Dorosan Train Stations)
Dinner at Korean restaurant where they spoke no english just pointed at pictures, cook\owner cut our fish for us and brought us a fork after watching us try to eat with chopsticks
Pretty much rained the whole day.

Saturday 9/11
Noryangjin Seafood Market
National Museum of Korea
Namdaemun Market
Seoul Plaza
Deoksugung Palace

Sunday 9/12
Spent morning doing trip planning for Japan
Gyeongbokgung Palace
Took it easy in hostel room.

Monday 9/13
Jongmyo Shrine
Bus to airport.
Mailed package to Amy's girls (just notating so we know how long it takes to get to the US)
Enjoyed the hospitality of the Asiana Airlines Business Class Lounge
Flight to Hirishima, Japan

Blog entry covered 9/8 to 9/13

Monday, September 6, 2010

New Zealand

The blog entry for New Zealand is going to look a little different than earlier posts. I'll actually start off with the synopsis of New Zealand first along with the links to the photo albums. After the links for the pictures there is a daily log of what we did each day. I wanted to log things as we went for this portion of our trip since it wasn't really planned. We knew we would fly into Auckland and fly out of Christchurch and that we would work our way from the North Island to the South Island. We had done a little reading in guidebooks and other sources but that was about it. Anyway, hope you enjoy it because I sure did enjoy New Zealand. It is a very beautiful place.

New Zealand Synopsis:
New Zealand is an odd but very beautiful mixture of England, Hawaii, & the western mainland US. New Zealanders have an accent similar to Australians but it is a little bit different. The country is less populated & more laid back than Australia. The native Maorians who arrived around 1,000 AD have a similar culture to native Hawaiians (who arrived in Hawaii around the same time). The scenery on the North Island is volcanic and similar to Yellowstone in some aspects but rocky and hilly like Tennessee but with sharper (newer in geological terms) hills and mountains. We spent the first two days in Auckland before picking up our rental car. We spent the next 12 days driving the North & South Islands. After the first two days in Auckland we spent another 4 days on the North Island in Rotorua, Napier, & Wellington before spending the next 8 days on the south island. The time spent in the North Island wasn't bad but wasn't notable for me like the South Island was. Rotorua had some neat thermal features and we drove up a neat peak called Te Mata south of Napier. Wellington contained the Te Papa which is the national museum of New Zealand. It was pretty good. We also toured their parliament and the Old St. Paul's church as well. I'll into a little more detail for the South Island since we spent more time there and because I enjoyed more than the North Island.

The South Island of New Zealand contained a lot more highlights than the North Island. The scenery was beautiful. It is less populated and a lot less traffic on the roads than the North Island although the North Island was not that busy. One of the first neat things we saw was on our first full day on the South Island occurred just north of Kaikoura. We came across several (at least over 50) baby seals that were up a stream at the base of a waterfall. These seals were about a year old and are left there while the mothers are out looking for some food. Some of the seals were on the walking path back and you could walk right pass them. One just laid there as and let you get real close to him. Another one was a little nervous and actually charged us as we walked passed. The rest of the drive and the views on our bush walk in Kaikoura were very pretty but a little cold and windy. We actually tried to go on whale watching boat but it was canceled due to rough sea conditions and we were only there for one day. We also did a lot of driving on the trip. We bounced around from city to city but did spend a couple nights a piece in some towns.

Another highlight for me was hiking out to the Franz-Joseph Glacier. It is the first time I've seen one up close. It was massive. On the same day of the hike we drove down to a town called Wanaka that originally we weren't going to stop at but a lady at the visitor center back in Kaikoura talked us into to it. The scenery on the way down to Wanaka was spectacular. There were a lot of sharp mountain peaks along with lakes full of blueish green clean water. On the next day after Wanaka I actually got to experience driving on the left side of the road for the first time. For this car rental we are both authorized drivers with no extra expense. I drove for a little over a hour from Wanaka to Queenstown. It was pretty remote with not much traffic. It rained a little but not too bad. It didn't really feel that weird probably since we've been in countries that both drive on the left hand side of the road for over 4 weeks now. I only confused the windshield wiper for the turn signal twice that I can recall. They are on the opposite sides of the steering wheel which is of course on the right side of the road.

Te Anau was our next destination for our day trip to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is home to some spectacular scenery. We booked an all day trip to the sound. It was about a 2 hour drive out to the sound . We stopped a couple times on the way out and went on some brief walks. At the sound we went on a 2 hour cruise where we saw Mitre Peak along with several many other peaks. We then drove back to our hostel in Te Anau. We went with a small local carrier called Trips and Tramps. There were only 4 of us on the tour. I am really glad we did this. It is one of the beautiful places I've seen.

We spent the next day doing a lot driving. We drove from Te Anau down thru Invercargill. In Invercargill we stopped at the Invercargill Brewery where we sampled several beers before continuing our drive via the Southern Scenic Route to Dunedin. Along the way we went through an area called the Catlins. We stopped at the South Slope which is the southern most place on the South Island of New Zealand. This is the furthest south we'll be on our trip and the closest I'll probably even get to Antarctica.

Another highlight was we stopped at Nugget Point. As we were leaving we stopped and walked 500 meters to a viewing hut where we spotted to Yellow Eyed Penguins. These are the rarest penguins in the world per the sign in the park.

In Dunedin we drove out to the Royal Albatross Center and walked around for a little bit. We drove back into town in an attempt to find an open microbrew but since it was Sunday we didn't have too much lunch. We did eat lunch at a restaurant called Eureka that had some local beers on tap that were pretty good.

The next day we drove the 5 hours to Akaroa which is southeast of Christchurch where we'll fly out of in a couple days. The epicenter of the 7.1 earthquake that struck on the 4th is less than 50 km away. We saw some damage in the town of Lincoln about 30 km away and saw some further damage in the city of Akaroa. We stayed in a real nice place in Berry's Bay called Halfmoon Cottages. They just opened for the season. We were the first guests. We had the place to ourselves. We also had free internet access and did some laundry a day or so early since we've read about water restrictions in Christchurch and wanted to take of this before flying to Seoul.

The last highlight of the South Island was probably the most exciting. Alethea and I felt numerous aftershocks about a hour after to going to bed on the night of the 6th. They each lasted around 5-6 seconds with a couple being pretty strong. The owner of the cottage said that the strongest one was measured as a 5.4 on the Richter Scale. I have never been in an earthquake or an aftershock so it was definitely an experience. Naturally, I didn't sleep that well but after eventually I did get a few hours of sleep.

This wraps up our two week stay in New Zealand. I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of driving but we were doing a lot of exploring in a country neither one of us had ever been to before. The scenery is spectacular and it wasn't that expensive. It was a little cool at times so some of the areas that I didn't enjoy as well might be more appealing during their summer. My favorites were Milford Sound, the glaciers, and in an odd sort of way the earthquake which was a little scarry. I would recommend for those planning a visit to pretty much skip the North Island and spend at least two weeks or longer on the South Island. Tomorrow we travel to Seoul, South Korea which will be a long day of flying starting with a shuttle pick up at 4:45 am.

Links to photo albums:

New Zealand - North Island Pictures

New Zealand - South Island Pictures

New Zealand - Milford Sound day trip

Daily Log:
North Island

Day 1 – Tuesday 8/24 - Auckland

Arrived around 4 pm. Flight was a little over 3 hours from Melbourne plus a two hour time difference.
Facts I discovered about New Zealand while reading some pamphlets:
  • 1st country to give women the right to vote in 1893
  • NZ has more golf courses per capita than any other country.
  • Already mentioned in previous post but NZ has 4.2 million people with 2 million tourist a year. They also have 40 million sheep.
  • New Zealand in terms of square mileage is about the size of Colorado.
  • Geology info: New Zealand didn't break off of Australia. It was a part of Antarctica several million years. Also, due to its isolation only one mammal evolved here and that was a type of bat. New Zealand only contained birds until about 1,000 AD when the Maori arrived. Maori brought animals with them then European brought various too when they arrived.
  • Drinking age is 18 (same as Australia). They are debating raising the age to purchase alcohol in stores to 20 but still keep it at 18 in clubs. Australia is also considering the same thing.
  • Exchange rate is 71 cents to the US dollar. Stuff is cheaper including food and alcohol
Stayed at K Road City Traveler's Hostel ( the first two nights we were here.

Day 2 – Wednesday 8/25 - Auckland

Took a ferry to Devonport where walked around including hiking up Mt. Victoria to view the city.
Had lunch Brew on Quay.
Visited Auckland War Memorial Museum in the Auckland Domain (park).
Visited the Sky Tower & went into the casino. Both gambled $2 a piece. No smoking in the casino (first one I've been in with no smoking)
Had local good beer @ Shakespeare Brewery
It rained from 2 pm on and sometimes quite hard

Day 3 – Thursday 8/26 - Rotorua

Picked up rental car from airport (rented from Britz $378 NZD for 12 days)
Left airport @ 11:30 am, stopped once for lunch just outside of Hamilton & arrived in Rotorua just after 4 pm
First stop was @ the visitor information center. Inquired about accommodations and ferry tickets
Checked out first hostel but passed because you had to walk outside to the bathrooms & showers
Stayed at YHA Rotorua for $62 NZD (~$40 USD) in a private room with shared facilities
Purchased 1 year YHA membership for $40 NZD since Alethea's will expire @ the end of September (it will pay for itself by the end of the trip easily)
Walked around park with thermal features and spa pools which was right across from hostel. It is also downtown in a park. Reminded me of Yellowstone & Hawaii just a little bit.
Walked around town for about a hour including the Night Market
Stopped in Pig in Whistle bar to redeem coupon for a free beer that we received at the visitor center (yes a coupon for free beer)
Walked to where our welcome brochure said there was another brewery but when we got there we found out that was closed permanently.
Went to supermarket and bought supplies for dinner and for lunch. Had pasta, beef, & vegetables.
Redeem my 15 minute free internet card

Day 4 – Friday 8/27 - Napier

Checked out of hostel around 8:30 am.
Walked around geothermal areas in Rotorua for about 30 minutes
Alethea purchased hiking shoes @ Katmandu because other shoes didn't have good enough support
The few geysers in Rotorua are privately owned with tall fences to block the view. It costs $30-$40 to view them. Same thing would have happened to Yellowstone if it wasn't declared a national park
Drove 3 hours to Napier – saw a lot of steam vents outside of Rotorua
Went to i-sight center and booked a reservation for Wally's Backpackers for $56 NZD. Large room with two double beds
Walked around Napier which has a lot of art deco style buildings. The city was leveled by a 7.9 earthquake in 1931 and they rebuilt in the art deco style which was popular at the time.
Went back to i-site tourist center and booked accommodations for Wellington, Picton, & the ferry. The ferry from North to South Island takes 3 hours and cost us $200 NZD ($140 USD). Also purchased 3 post cards & stamps to mail to US (cost $7.50 NZD). Found out that the stamps are only good for DX labeled boxes. There is competition between post offices in New Zealand. Not sure if it is all privatized.
Went to grocery store and bought breakfast food, wine, and toiletries.
Met friends (Terry & Kay) of Penny Franklin for dinner. I ordered a Carpet Bagger which is oysters inside a steak wrapped with bacon. It was pretty good.

Day 5 – Saturday 8/28 – Wellington

Drove south to Havlock &Te Mata peak, very pretty
Mailed post cards to Mom & Dad & Grandma
Drove 4 hours to Wellington, got lost going getting back on motor way in Hutt, had to go into liquor store to ask for directions
Checked into hostel. Staying at the YHA hostel in downtown Wellington. Room is on the 6th floor. Little loud but not too bad so far.
Walked around the Te Papa museum & waterfront before getting two beers @ Mac's which is a brewpub. I had a Sassy Red. Hoppy but not that flavorful.
Walked around looking for food but decided to go to grocery store across the street from hostel called New World. Bough pasta, spinach, and fresh green mussels. Alethea cooked a very good dinner.
Did laundry as a I was out of clean underwear. Spent the entire time in the laundry room mapping out our South Island itinerary. A lot to see and a lot of driving. Will finalize tomorrow on the ferry ride.
Somewhat interesting observation. Almost all merchants match the signature on receipts to the signature on the back of you credit card. Technically this is supposed to be done in the US but isn't.

Day 6 - Sunday 8/29 – Wellington

Booked hostel for Kaikoura.
Spent couple hours at Te Papa. Very good museum
Bought grocery supplies @ New World
Toured Parliament\Beehive
Visited Old St. Paul's – All wood constructed church from 1866. Had US Marine Corps flag presented by Marine General of the 2nd division in WWII. Over 20 K Marines stationed here in WWII.
Drove up to Mt. Victoria – Got out and took a couple quick pics in the rain before driving to ferry
Took 3 hour ferry to Picton where we spent the night at the Picton YHA

South Island

Day 7 - Monday 8/30 – Kaikoura

Drove from Picton where we spent the night to Havlock then down south to Belheim before arriving in Kaikoura where we spent the night at the Kaikoura Maui YHA hostel.
Stopped just north of Kaikoura and saw numerous baby seals especially at the end of the trail by the waterfall.
Attempted to go on 12:45 pm whale (sperm) watch but it was canceled due to rough sea conditions. Also went to a whale flight center at the airport but decided not to pursue due to the cost of $165 NZD per person with no refund if you didn't see them unlike the boat tour that gave a 80% refund plus the flight that was out while we were deciding didn't see any.
Ate lunch at local roadside crawfish food cart
Went to seal colony at the end of the road, saw a lot of seals, hiked up hill and alongside cliffs overlooking ocean. Wind was very strong
Went to i-sight center & booked one night hostel in Akaroa
Purchased petrol for $1.82 a litter and then purchased groceries.
Went back to hostel & booked all remaining NZ accommodations at multiple sights.
Cooked homemade dinner of spaghetti and green beans before taking shower and going to bed.
Felt real tired today. Only slept 4-5 hours the night before. Disappointed that we didn't see whales but think we made right call on not going on whale watching flight. I would rather see them in person close up than in an airplane.

Day 8 - Tuesday 8/31 – Franz-Joseph

Drove from Kairkoura to Franz-Joseph. Longest day of driving. Took about 8 hours.
Stayed at Franz-Joseph Joseph hostel
Ate lunch in Reefton and took a little break in Hokitika
Saved money by going to grocery store and purchasing lamb steaks, spinach, box of coos coos (4 servings, we only had 2) and a bottle of wine

Day 9 – Wednesday 9/1 - Wanaka

Hiked out to the Franz Joseph Glacier just south of the town of Franz Joseph. Took about 30 minutes to hike to the terminus (new glacier term that I learned). You couldn't hike out on the glacier unless you were with a tour group with a guide so we didn't hike up on to the ice.
Stopped at the Fox Glacier and took some pictures. Didn't hike to this glacier since it was a short distance from the parking lot to get a view of it ad we had 5 hours of driving to do in order to get to Wanaka.
Drove for a little over 4 hours from Fox Glacier to Wanaka. We made good time. The time tables on the map suggested it would take longer.
Stopped at a viewpoint to take pictures at both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Very beautiful scenery of mountains that shoot straight up with beautiful lakes in between.
Spent the night at the Purple Cow YHA Hostel in Wanaka. Used a free night voucher for purchasing a one year YHA membership in New Zealand. My bunk was free. Alethea's was $28 NZD.

Day 10 – Thursday 9/2 – Te Anau

Drove from Wanaka to Te Anau.
I drove for the first time on our trip and it was on the left side of the road! I drove for a little over a hour from Wanaka to Queenstown. It really wasn't all that awkward probably because we've now been in two left side driving countries for over 4 weeks now. Round abouts can be tricky but I am used to them now.
Queenstown was very pretty including Lake Wakatipu. Water in the lake was more a blue greenish color since most of the water is run off from snow and or glaciers versus being river fed with sediment.
Arrived in Te Anau around 1:30 pm.
Stayed at the Te Anau YHA hostel.
Booked a Milford Sound cruise for tomorrow through a local company called Trips & Tramps.
Walked around bird sanctuary before purchasing some sausage and some wine for dinner from a local grocery store.

Day 11 – Friday 9/3 – Milford Sound Day Trip

Took an all day trip through Trips & Tramps to Milford which including a cruise around Milford Sound. They picked us up at 8:45 am. There were a total of 4 of us on the tour. It is still off season. We stopped a few times on the 2.5 hour ride out to the sound to look at different areas such as the Mirror Lakes & The Chasm. The cruise around the sound lasted for 2 hours and included lunch and all the tea and or coffee you could drink. The views were spectacular. It would be hard to describe in the blog which is why I am creating a separate folder just for today's trip. The mountains jutting out of the water were awesome. We saw a rare penguin which I actually didn't see but saw it on Alethea's camera. I did see some New Zealand Fur Seals though. After the two hour cruise we drove the 2 hours back to Te Anau where spent the night in our hostel again. It was a very good trip. I'm glad we did it. The weather was a little cold and we encountered snow at the higher elevation on the way to the sound but it was a memorable event with some great scenery.

Day 12 – Saturday 9/4 – Dunedin

Drove from Te Anau to Dundedin
I drove for a hour with no issues. I finished my hour in Invercargill.
Took the Southern Scenic Route today through the Catlins. Ran into a lot of rain at first but it cleared up in the afternoon.
Stopped very briefly at Slope Point today which is the southern most point on the South Island and in New Zealand. It is across the 46 parallel south. It is also the southern most point on our world trip and probably the closest I'll ever get to the South Pole and Antarctica.
Went for a hike @ Nugget Point. Hiked to a light house. It was getting close to sunset. Saw some beautiful scenery.
On the way back from Nugget Point we stopped and hike out (500 meters) to a viewing shed and saw two Hoiho or Yellow Eyed Penquin which are the rarest in the world and only found on the South Island of New Zealand.

Day 13 – Sunday 9/5 – Dunedin

Drove out to the pennisula to the Royal Albatross Center in Dunedin. Didn't pay to see them. Would have been over $20 per person. We walked around and took a few pictures and even saw an albatross while in the car when we were leaving.
Drove back down to Dunedin. Stopped @ Eureka cafe for lunch including some locally made beers. I had an Emerson's Pilsner. It was a bit more hoppy than a traditional pilsner but still good.
Stopped briefly at the Dunedin train station.
Walked downtown around the octagon for a little bit before going to grocery store.
Went back to hostel to get online. Needed to research and book a hostel for Seoul.
Mailed postcards to Doug and Brian from our hostel.

Day 14 – Monday 9/6 – Akaroa

Pretty much a day of driving as we drove the 5 hours from Dunedin to Akaroa.
Stopped and saw a livestock auction in Temura.
Drove & briefly walked around Akaroa. We saw some minor earthquake damage.
Staying in a real nice B&B called Halfmoon Cottages. They just opened for the season and we are the first guests!
Akaroa\Berry's Bay (where we are staying) is real pretty. It is hilly.
Experienced mulitple aftershocks after we went to bed. There probably 5 or 6 and they lasted around 5-6 seconds each time. The owner of the cottages told us the next morning that one of them measured 5.4.

Day 15 – Tuesday 9/7 – Christchurch

Drove from Akaroa to the Christchurch airport to turn in the rental car.
Saw some damaged streets and bridges from the earthquake.
Took shuttle but to hostel
Walked around Christchurch. It was largely empty due to the earhquake. There was a lot of damage.
Stopped for a round at Dux de Lux for a couple of locallly made beers.

Day 16 – Wednesday 9/8 – Flight to Seoul, South Korea

This is a travel day.
Airport shuttle is scheduled to pick us up at 4:45 am.
We have a 3 hour flight from Christchurch to Sydney then a 10 hour flight to Seoul, South Kore where we'll be for 5 days. This could vary because we are flying on standby passes to Tokyo.

This post covered our time in New Zealand from 8/24 to 9/7.