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.