Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Our final stop in the South Island was the tiny little resort hamlet of Hanmer Springs, just 90 kilometers inland from Christchurch and known for the thermal hot springs in the center of town. Marsha and Earl had booked their lodging right in town on the main square. Frank and I opted for a scenic cabin over by the golf course. We dropped them off and took the car over to our digs. Our cabin was so spacious and well appointed that we decided to kick back and just take it easy for the next couple of days and to enjoy the natural thermal springs before heading back to Destiny. We made ourselves at home and then walked the short distance to town, leaving the car at the lodge. We strolled around and got familiar with the few streets in town. It didn't take long. Then we checked out the Thermal Springs and Spa. We booked a couples spa experience on the following day. We had dinner at a charming but forgettable café – the food was pricey and detestable! We walked away wondering how places like that get away with it. Anyway, back at the hotel we settled in for an evening of Olympics. Although we enjoyed being able to catch the games, we missed our American broadcasters and commentators. There is a conspicuous lack of commentary during the events here, particularly during the figure skating. It took us a while to adjust to this, and the fact that our favorite events are not necessarily the favored events of the NZ press but we really appreciated just being able to watch what we could while we could.
Friday, we had a late morning breakfast in the cabin and then got our stuff together and set off for the Spa. We spent hours there, getting our steam and massage treatments and then entered the thermal springs. There are 13 pools ranging from adult only to family, 48 degrees C, down to 38. Some were very sulfurous and quite hot but we tried them all – nearly. We felt an aversion to the kiddie pools.
That is about the most activity we had while there – short walks and dips at the spa. We also had a Jacuzzi in our bathroom, so I could put bath salts in there and pretend as well. Ah – so nice, but we were ready to get going. We missed our boat and were itching to go sailing.
So it was that our South Island trip had come to an end. We arose early on our last day and drove to the airport in Christchurch. By late afternoon we were back aboard our beloved Destiny.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The city of Christchurch is one of those places with a very European sense and feel. We felt as though we had stepped through the time capsule to a place in a Charles Dickens novel. Much of the original architecture has been preserved. The town square is simply charming. We booked into a beautiful studio for three nights that was close to the town center yet far enough away from the late night partygoers. There is a lot to do in this town for just about anyone of any age.
On the first day we walked to the vast Botanical Gardens. They were as diverse as any we had seen. Earl and Marsha are flower growers in California, so they were really in Heaven, and took off in one direction as Frank and I just meandered on our own. We spent hours walking the paths that took us from one eye feast to another. The rose gardens were gorgeous! Throughout the entire place were species of trees from every corner of the world, and some were massive. The interactive herbivorous plant house was straight out of "Little Shop of Horrors" – we loved it. Frank and I are not big horticulturists, yet we enjoyed these gardens immensely. We eventually arrived at a very large clearing where a stage was being set up for one of the free summer series concerts and so we settled in for the show. I have forgotten her name now, but the singer was a young woman from Iceland. She was incredibly talented, had a very strange tattoo of a vine winding down the side of her face, with the voice of an angel. She sang in English then performed in her native Icelandic tongue. Following the concert we left the gardens and strolled through a couple of museums of which there are many, then we ended our day at one of Christchurch's many sidewalk restaurants.
Tuesday was a big day for me. My nephew, Scotty Johnson is a college kid who decided to study in Sydney, Australia for his Spring (their Fall) semester, beginning his trip with an 8-day adventure to New Zealand with a group of fellow students. As fate would have it, Scotty would be coming to Christchurch on the 23rd, for just one night. He wouldn't be arriving until 4:30 in the afternoon so we busied ourselves about town. We took the old fashioned street car tour of the city, learning detailed historical facts, seeing much of the city's varied architecture, historical points of interest and spotting our own points of interest for exploring later on our own. It really is a lovely place full of rich history and culture. Close to 4:00 we made our way over to a café adjacent to the hostel that would house the student group for the night. We could hear them coming before we saw a large motor coach rounding the corner full of chattering teenagers. They piled out of the bus and scurried around like ants waiting for bags and direction. He was thrilled to see us waiting there. We told him to get settled into his digs and we'd be back to pick him up for an early dinner. We took him to a good restaurant for dinner; he said this was the first real food he had eaten in weeks. Poor kid! We enjoyed spending the evening with him. I'm so proud of him! He is mostly paying for this whole semester out of his own hard earned money, and he told us that this would be a good growing up experience for him to be so far away from his immediate family. He would have to figure things out on his own without being able to just go to his Mom and Dad, who are normally just a couple hundred miles away by car. As they say in NZ, "Good on ya, Scotty!"
On Wednesday, after I spent a considerable amount of time getting some laundry done while Frank read and watch TV, we went shopping and driving around the area, then dined out at a local popular Italian restaurant. Then on Thursday we set off for Hanmer Springs.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
Feb 18th – 20th , 2010: Invercargill, Dunedin & Moreaki …The World’s Fastest Indian, Beer and Chocolate and Boulders!
I got my dates backed up. Last entry was supposed to be Februaruy 16th – 18th. Work your way back. We left Queenstown on the 16th of February. We made good time through a very odd-looking countryside down to Invercargill. It is way down south in the "Roaring 40's", and a look at the trees and shrubs tells all. They appear to have been half blown over by the Jolly Green Giant! I think even the cows and sheep walk a little lop-sided. The whole area looks like a nursery rhyme about a crooked man in a crooked house…OK enough of that. Invercargill is probably known for many things, however, the big draw for us is that it is home to the World's Fastest Indian, Burt Munro's famous motorbike that won many races at the salt flats in Bonneville, Utah. He put Invercargill and probably New Zealand on the map (so to speak). A really good movie was made about him, starring Anthony Hopkins as Burt. We have the movie. We have watched it twice and probably will again as our dementia kicks in. We arrived fairly early in the day, so we grabbed a couple of hotel rooms and drove over to have a look at the Burt Munro exhibit of bikes and movie paraphernalia, which believe it or not is housed in Hayes hardware store and museum. What a hardware store it is! Throughout, along the aisles are various makes and models of antique and unique motorcycles and motorized bikes. One section is dedicated to Burt's collection. The store itself had Frank jittering with excitement. While I was browsing the museum pieces, he came up to me with a big grin on his face, talking like a little boy in a candy store telling me about all the great things he was finding that he could not find anywhere else. He said that it is too bad we didn't have the boat down there so that he could really stock up. He settled on a few items that we thought we could get into our bags for the flight back. He even managed to pick up a very sporty wool pullover sweater that looked quite nice on him. After dragging him (and Earl) from the hardware store we went over to the local microbrewery. The boys wanted to tour and taste. Gosh darn, no tours today but tastings are always going on, so they bellied up to the tap room and got down to business. The gentleman giving samples was pouring fairly large amounts of the stuff. After going through all of the beers they moved on to the ciders. Marsha and I began to get a little worried that they guy was going to have our men on the floor if this went on much longer. Finally, they had their fill, made some serious purchases of variety packs of libations and then we rallied forth to the museum. Invercargill's museum is quite extraordinary. We spent hours there.
Next day off to Dunedin, known as Little Scotland. We had planned to spend a couple of nights there, arriving just after noon in a cold downpour to find that every single hotel within 100 miles was booked through the weekend. Not ready to give up hope, Marsha and I went to the "i-Site"., where a very kind young lady informed us that there happened to be two vacancies for one night only at the university's lodging house which accommodates visiting professors. By then it was late afternoon and we were very soggy, so we drove right over. We were quite impressed with the amenities available to us there – of course the price was on the high side, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It appeared that we had arrived in Dunedin at the worst possible weekend of the month. It was visiting parents weekend at the university, there was a rugby game in town and some kind of convention. Splendid! We got settled in, in time for afternoon tea. We went down to the lounge and enjoyed ourselves for a while, then walked to dinner after the rains had somewhat cleared. The next morning was absolutely beautiful. We enjoyed an excellent breakfast at the hotel and then set off to enjoy the pretty day. Marsha and I had booked a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate factory and the boys were booked for a tour, tasting and lunch at Speight's Brewery. We had agreed to meet after lunch. Marsha and I arrived at the rendezvous with large bags full of delicious chocolates, and sober. Can't say the same for the boys, although they arrived with big silly grins on their faces. It was decided that neither of them would be driving any time soon this day. We had a date with some boulders – the Moreaki Boulders a couple of hours' drive up the coast.
We enjoyed the drive to Moreaki. There isn't anything to see there except the boulders, and of course some souvenir shops and a not-so-good-yet-overpriced-café. Of course to get to the boulders you must pass through the café which was built in front of the beach access, and where you are asked to place a donation in the box to help the café maintain the gate at the entrance, which the café constructed so that they could ask for this donation, yada, yada. Love it! We donated a few bucks and walked down to the beach. Wow!!!!!! These boulders are an anomaly. They are utterly amazing and most unusual. There is no one explanation of how they were formed and from whence they came. There are only found here. They are nearly perfectly round, scattered up and down the beach, along the sand dunes and in the surf ranging in sizes from a large beach ball to perhaps 5 feet in diameter. The centers are honeycombed. Sadly, time, weather and the ocean is doing an erosion number on these magnificent wonders. We stood in awe of them for several minutes and then we posed with them and took pictures. We scratched our heads in amazement and then we left. We wanted to get to Oamaru by suppertime to see the penguins.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The driving just keeps getting more interesting and the scenery more spectacular as we make our way to the land of New Zealand's fiords, on the southwestern end of the South Island. We gave a lot of thought to which sound we would visit, Doubtful or Milford and what to do, i.e., take a day tour or book an overnight cruise of the sound. Doubtful Sound would be a more expensive and more involved endeavor compared to the popular Milford Sound, which would certainly be busier. Part of the decision was made for us when we discovered that all of the overnight cruise line operators were booked full. A day-cruise it is, so now, where to go? We drove into Te Anau, which seemed to be the jumping off place for either of the Sounds, and held the closest and most accommodations for Milford. After driving all around the town, which we found vaguely unimpressive, and finding no available rooms, another decision was made for us. There is a small village called Manapouri, which is the closest town to Doubtful Sound. It is rustic and incredibly beautiful! We stayed at the nicest place in town, which was akin to a backpacker's resort or a Holiday Park. The view from our balcony was worth a million dollars!
We booked the 6:30 AM tour for the next day, and then went hiking. We found a small grocery, bought supplies to pack our lunch for the tour and some grub for dinner, including great big steaks to cook on the community grill. Marsha and I went into the community kitchen to cook the sides and to scrounge up some plates, etc. We dined on our balcony to a picture perfect sunset. No one wanted to ruin the moment running for a camera, so we just relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.
Up at the crack of dawn the next morning we drove down to the wharf where we met the tour boat. The morning was very foggy, giving us a fabulous sunrise over Lake Manapouri. It is a very large body of water and is a wildlife & bird sanctuary. It is flanked by mountains and is simply beautiful. We could see the fog begin to slowly lift and beneath the edges a very blue sky threatened to reveal itself. The boat slowly made its way across the lake to an old power station where we boarded buses to take us on a very winding road through Fiordland National Park, over the mountain pass to Doubtful Sound. We managed to get a very witty and informative bus driver who either had us in stitches or had us "oohing and aahing" during the entire ride. We took heaps of pictures, praying that some of them would do the scenery justice. The fog continued to lift, revealing an incredibly clear blue-sky overhead.
At last close to 2 hours later, we arrived at Doubtful Sound where we boarded another large touring boat. We were told over and over again how fortunate we were to have arrived on the early tour and to have been blessed with blue skies. Apparently, since this was mentioned at least half a dozen times, this is very rare because Fiordland itself is usually cast in fog and overcast with chilly drizzling cloud cover. We were able to see clearly the top of every peak on every mount. The downside to this rare opportunity is that the hundreds of waterfalls that normally decorate the many hill faces were but a trickle for us this day. That's OK; we'll take the warm sunshine and the clear visibility. We rode out to the mouth of the Sound to touch the waters of the Tasman Sea. This we were told was an additional treat because normally the Tasman and this entire area is generally sloshing with turbulence. Toward the end of our tour, the Pilot informed us that the Sound was so incredibly becalmed today that he was going to give us one more special experience. He turned off the engines and let us drift, listening only to the sounds of nature all around us. It was an extraordinarily Spiritual moment. Alas the boat ride back across was just as incredible as coming out, as we had taken a circular route through the Sound.
When we arrived back at the wharf to board our bus, Frank and I felt a quiet sense of awe. In the bus on our return to Lake Manapouri, we were able to see sights that had earlier been obscured by the dense morning fog. WOW! The vistas were indescribably picturesque, like something we have only seen in a 3-D IMAX cinema. We couldn't believe it could get any better than this until we arrived at the lake for our final boat ride back to the village. The lake was intensely calm; so calm that the hills and mountains reflected flawlessly upon the surface of the water, only to be disturbed by our watercraft as sped back to pick up the next group. There is so much beauty here! No wonder New Zealand protects her lands and waters so aggressively. We were very pleased that we had made the decision to come here on this day. Serendipitous!
We returned to our motel to find that we had a message from our friends Jan and Dave (s/v Baraka), wondering where we were in our travels and letting us know that they were staying in Manapouri and were planning to tour the Sounds. Well, of all the places to run into someone! It turns out that they were staying in a campground right next door! Will wonders never cease? We had an after dinner get-together with them and made plans to meet for breakfast the next morning before heading out. They were going around the South Island clockwise, and we were going counter clockwise. Next stop Invercargill!
Moving on! We left the glacier country to head to lake country. The stretch down to Wanaka was a fantastic drive, along the two longest lakes in the country: Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. New Zealand is a compact version of everything you would want in one country, and the scenery seemed to morph as we drove from glaciers along mountain byways to immense lakes rimmed with lovely warm beaches with lazy waves lapping at the shoreline. We were once again reminded of areas of Switzerland, specifically the Interlaken area as we drove along the scenic motorway.
Arriving in Wanaka, we went through the rigors of seeking out a hotel with two king rooms. Again we were met with No Vacancy signs. At the last stop, the manager made a phone call for us to a condo complex. There were two gorgeous, streamside units available for us to rent. We were lucky! Each was a very roomy 1-bedroom, spa bath, fully equipped kitchen, nice den and dining area and the bonus was that we had washers and dryers in the units, all for $180 NZD/night. Not bad for scavengers. Frank and I set off on foot to do a little exploring, ending up at the grocery store where we bought food to cook for dinner that night and for light meals. We returned to the apartment and settled in to watch TV, wash laundry and enjoy the spa tub. The next day the four of us set off for Puzzling World. We spent hours going through the illusion rooms, and then we headed for the maze. This maze has four towers, on each red, blue, green and yellow. The objective is to find your way from the starting point through to all 4 towers and then back to the exit. There are escape doors for those who get frustrated and give up, or get too lost. Marsha and Earls set off together and then Frank and I set off after. We aimed for the yellow tower first. We found the green tower a couple of times, eventually made it to the blue and red, and were just about to give up on the yellow when we hit it! We had a wonderful time. Even the café had all sorts of puzzles and mind twisters for us to work on at our table. We bought a couple to bring home with us. The bathroom toilets were even fun! We spent the rest of our visit taking long walks along the beach trails and nosing around the magnificent holiday homes. It was just a beautiful and tranquil place to spend a couple of days. Frank and I left Wanaka early in the morning, heading for Queenstown. Earl and Marsha decided to stay another day and made arrangements to take the bus into Queenstown to meet us so we took the car and agreed to scope out accommodations for them when we got settled. The drive was just beautiful. It is one that needs no words, just an appreciative eye.
We could feel the adrenaline of the city as soon as we saw the Welcome sign. It was abuzz. It was happening. It was as though we stepped out of the wilderness into OZ! Something is going on everywhere you look! The streets are teeming with people of all ages and nationalities. There are outdoor outfitter stores on every corner (this is also a ski town in the winter months), and storefronts advertising dozens of adventure activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, river rafting, sheep shearing exhibitions, paddle wheel boat rides, rock climbing, and so on at every other corner. We found a lakefront one-bedroom studio apartment just on the edge of the hustle bustle epicenter, took a few calming breaths and then walked right into the madness of city centre. We signed up for the 4-hour "High Five" adventure, which included a jet boat ride on the Shotover River, a helicopter ride, 5 luge rides and the gondola. We have no idea what the "high five" part meant. Fortunately there were two openings in the 2 PM time slot.
We boarded the 2 PM bus ride to the Shotover River. We didn't really know what to expect at the river except that we were in for quite a ride.
We were not disappointed! It was a thrill ride. The jet boat was a flat bottom, aluminum hull with about an 8-inch draft. It seated 16-20 people in rows with a lap bar kind of like a roller coaster. The river was shallow and rocky and wound through walled rock canyons at a very fast current. The driver maneuvered this thing like a whip! The entire ride lasted about 30 minutes and went nearly non-stop up and down the river, whipping us and spinning us all over the place. We laughed and shrieked the whole time. What a fun deal! After the jet boat, we piled into the bus to go to the helicopter ride. It soared us over the entire scenic Queenstown area, landing us at the Luge, where Frank and I both rode the advanced track. I had a difficult time not running up the backs of riders in front of me – I just couldn't seem to go fast enough, nearly toppled over on a couple of curves – loved it! When our five rides were done, we finally rode the gondola back down the mountain feeling sad that our excitement was done for the day. We had an early dinner and plopped into bed. The next day, since Earl and Marsha were in transit, we took a drive over to see The Remarkables, Queenstown's (famous) mountain range, which is a ski venue in winter. The mountains truly are remarkable, and can be seen in the Lord of the Rings movies (or at least one of them). We then drove over to scope out Deer Park. Many of the Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed on that land. Unfortunately, we drove all over the place, followed all the directions and never found the entrance. We saw several other cars seemingly doing the same as us, so we figure the entrance has been sealed for whatever reason, perhaps because it is someone's private land – who knows. So, we returned to town, had a wonderful Thai dinner and then met up with Earl and Marsha for dessert. The following day, they took the car to go visit with some friends down the road and so Frank and I spent the day just walking around, shopping and exploring Queenstown's greater CBD. Being Valentine's Day, we dressed for dinner and celebrated at a fabulous French restaurant called Les Alps. Fabulous! For dessert, we had rose chocolate flourless cake! Wow was that decadent! Frank presented me with my beautiful NZ Greenstone pendant. I gave him a mushy card.
Feb 15th, we got up and took off for Fiordland!