Saturday, 31 March 2007

Half way home...

We spent four great days in Wanaka. It's a small place but they have some cool shops, a really nice sushi restaurant and the cheapest and quickest internet cafe! We went for a number of walks around the lake and up into the surrounding hills where the views were brilliant.

Mt Iron

We played crazy golf at a local attraction called 'Have a shot'. At this place you can shoot guns, bows and arrows, sponge ball cannons, and you can play crazy golf or hit balls at the driving range. Only four golfers were killed on the day we went to visit!

One of the highlights of Wanaka and a must do for anyone passing through here had to be the night at the Cinema Paradiso. The cinema is a small building which shows relatively recent movies. The building is hard to miss as it usually has a huge display on it's roof, linked to one of the movies being shown. This month's display was a giant killer sheep- promoting a New Zealand comedy called 'Black Sheep'.
Cinema Paradiso

We went in early on the Saturday afternoon to buy our tickets for that evenings screening. The guy in charge has lived in NZ for over 20 years but his Scottish accent was still pretty apparent- he was born in Arran and he informed us that we could order a meal for before the movie or for during the intermission! It became clear that this was not a normal cinema. We went early and had a lovely meal and then made our way into the cinema to choose our seats.

We sat up the back on the right!

We opted for the large couch up the back of the hall and passed the armchairs and convertible car on the way! It was like watching a movie in someone's living room. Well, someone's living room that has a car in it.

The way cinemas should be

The living room feeling was further enhanced when the Scottish bloke came out and thanked everyone for coming, told a little story about the cinema and then said that he hoped everyone enjoyed the movie. At the intermission we bought ice cream and probably the nicest cookie ever made! It was still warm from the oven and must have been about an inch think.

Monster Cookie, Cookie Monster

If you are ever near Wanaka, go see a movie-, the steak sandwiches are pretty good too! We left Wanaka on Monday, after making Ming a little bit less Mingin', and made our way to Fox Glacier.

Not so Ming

We stopped briefly for lunch at a quiet little place called Haast Beach but after being devoured by ravenous killer midges we quickly worked out why the place was so quiet!

Haast Beach

Quickly moving on from Haast we headed to the glacier region- Fox Glacier and it's neighbour Franz Josef Glacier are large, almost permanent, rivers of ice that slowly move under their own weight. You can go on guided walks across the glaciers or you can walk on the public paths to the glacier's terminal edge(the melting edge closest to sea level).

Fox Glacier

Franz Josef
We decided just to walk to the terminal of both glaciers on our own. The guided walks onto the ice looked good but they were pretty expensive and you still got quite close just walking to the edge. It was raining and it was really cold standing close to them, so walking on them must have been freezing!

Plastic Ponchos- Everyone will be wearing them soon

Stopping for a photo at the 'no stopping' sign

The glaciers are an amazing sight and these ones are particularly unique as they run parallel with rainforests.
A waterfall on the way to Franz Josef

Some of the icy peaks on the Fox Glacier

The tunnel at the terminal edge of Fox Glacier

The towns of Fox and Franz Josef are very little and there's not much to do other than go see the glaciers. Franz Josef is slightly bigger- it has an indoor ice climbing wall and a couple of really nice restaurants. We spent a few days visiting the glaciers and then we headed further up the west coast to Hokitika.

The grey sand of Hokitika Beach

Like almost all of the towns up the west coast, Hokitika is quite small and it has a funny name. We struggled to remember this one and over the course of a few days it was called everything from WalkieTalkie to HonkyTonky. We managed to meet up for dinner with David and Adam from our Fraser Island trip.

The lads enjoy tasty desserts

They are travelling on the Kiwi Experience coach and they were staying nearby so we picked them up in Ming and went out for a nice meal. After dinner we we to see some glow worms in a little cave. As you do...

Some places charge you for guided walks to see glow worm caves but there is a little cave at the edge of Hokitika that you can see them for free. The glow worms weren't that interesting but the scary guy who shouted at us for having our torch on gave us a good laugh! We dropped the lads off at their hostel and hopefully we'll meet up again at some point in the future.

We have been sleeping in Ming at campsites all the way up the coast and most of them have pretty decent facilities. Some of them have a nice TV room and a few of them have some interesting residents...

A Weka
This little guy is called a Weka, and he lived in some trees just next to our camping spot in Hokitika. The Weka is a pretty rare bird only found in New Zealand. This one liked apples.

From here we headed to Westport and jetboating on the Buller River! A jetboat doesn't have a normal speedboat propeller, instead it has powerful jets that suck up water and then the jets spray it out to propel the boat. This allows the boats to travel very fast in very shallow water.

After the jetboating we made our way to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These are weird rock formations that seem to have gathered in layers, a little bit like a pile of pancakes. They don't actually look that much like pancakes but they are still pretty cool.

At high tide the ocean pushes water up through the blowholes

The drive along the west coast was lovely and at times it reminded us of the Great Ocean Road in Australia. After the Pancake Rocks we stopped at a few small places and then arrived in Nelson in the north of the South Island. We went to Nelson City Church on Easter Sunday. It was a nice service and everyone was very friendly.

From Nelson we headed to Kaiteriteri. There was a nice little beach there and a lot of families enjoying their Easter holidays. Pamela was delighted when we managed to find a little place that was showing the Masters golf! We watched the final day of the tournament at 7.30am NZ time.

Kaiteriteri Beach

From here we drove to Farewell Spit at the north western tip of the South island. This charmingly named place is actually really pretty. We walked along the beach to the end of the peninsula where we struggled through some bushes and up onto the amazing undulating sand dunes.

The peninsula disappears into the distance

Pamela- are you sure you can get through here?

Ryan- there are footprints, you must be able to!

The dunes were amazing and although there were some footprints we were sure there was no one else around. You could see the wind gently move the sand around and our footprints were covered over very quickly. From the top of the dunes you could sea ocean on either side of the peninsula. This was an amazing place and the walk back along the beach with the sun setting was beautiful.

A (insert collective noun here) of ducks

We bid farewell to Farewell Spit(you can't buy this!) and then travelled along incredibly winding roads back towards Marahau, at the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. The national park is a large section of forest that holds loads of protected wildlife and plantlife. You can hire your own kayak and paddle alongside the park for days or you can combine kayaking, walking and camping. We opted for a half day kayaking trip that included lunch and a lift back in a speedboat! We were in a two man kayak. The kayak had a little udder that was operated from the back and both of us had to paddle...let's just say they should introduce kayaking in pre-marriage councilling.

Are you paddelling back there?

Of course, darling!

The kayaking was a little sore on the arms but it wasn't that strenuous. We made our way gradually along the shore to a lovely little beach where we stopped for some lunch.

Watering Cove

After lunch the water taxi came to collect us and take us back to the car park. Pamela and I were the only two on the watertaxi as the rest of the group had opted to walk further into the park. The driver stopped the boat in the middle of the water and asked if we wanted to see him catch some fish. Without giving us much chance to answer he threw a hand line into the water and within maybe twenty seconds he was pulling in a large fish. He was only using a little silver lure and the fish practically jumped into the boat. He proceeded to grab the fish and chop it's head off, much to Pamela's disgust. He then did this another three or four times. He must have caught four fish in about five minutes. The last fish wasn't quite on the hook properly and it spun around and sprayed blood all over the guy and Ryan. Pamela managed to avoid this as she was too busy steering the boat as the guy had instructed!

Pamela avoiding the sound of fish decapitation

One of our last days in the South island was spent back over on the east coast where we went whale watching in Kaikoura. The weather took a turn for the worst and we were unsure if our boat trip to see the whales would be cancelled or cut short. Thankfully the forecasted strong winds didn't strike and the trip went ahead as scheduled. We travelled out to the rough location of the whales where we waited until one surfaced. The captain of the boat had a hydraphone that he used to listen to the whales and detect their likely location.

The captain and his hyrdaphone

Once they knew the whale was about to surface everyone was instructed to watch the horizon for the first sign of the whale's spray. Once we spotted the spray we moved closer to the whale where we watched the huge creature until it decided to dive back under to continue feeding.

We got to see three massive Sperm Whales, one of them apparently fell asleep and has been known to stay asleep and surfaced for up to four hours. We didn't hang around for this one to wake up. We moved on to see another whale and the sight of its huge tail coming out of the water was amazing.

Once we had left the whales we managed to see some dolphins. Around 400 dolphins actually! They were quite small and very playful. They swam around and did loads of flips out of the water. It looked like they were showing off for us.

From Kaikoura we travelled back up to Picton where we caught the ferry to the North island, arriving in the capital city, Wellington. As we write this post it is Saturday the 14th of April and we are officially half way through our trip. Three months down, three to go!

Monday, 26 March 2007

Middle Earth...

We've been travelling and living in our orange spaceship for over a week now and we're loving it! The bed is pretty comfortable and you can't beat sleeping at the bottom of a mountain or beside a beautiful lake. The 'moonroof' is directly above where you sleep so you can lie and stare at the stars for hours. The night sky in New Zealand is truly awesome. We have never seen so many stars.

Watching a DVD inside the spaceship- it's not usually this tidy!

When we are not staring at the stars we've got a DVD player and dotted around the country are 'spacestations' where we can go and exchange our DVDs for free! If we see another spaceship on the road it is customary to wave and/or flag them down to exchange DVDs! All the spaceships have sci-fi/space related names. Ours is called Ming(Yup, Ming!)- the bad guy from Flash Gordon, and so far we have passed Dalek, Taybor, Galactica, Nasa, and Rimmer!

Cooking on the van is not as much hassle as we thought it would be. There's a two ring hob that spins round from the door and there are loads of compartments to store food and all our stuff. We have rustled up some pretty impressive meals and have considered setting up at the roadside selling rolls to tourists!

Cooking sausages down the woods with his dad has prepared Ryan for life on the road

Pamela smiles bravely while eating Ryan's cooking

We left Christchurch with our passenger (Diana from Uddingston!) and headed to Lake Tekapo for our first overnight in Ming. We Passed some unbelievable sceneryin the MacKenzie District before arrinving at the Church of the Good Shepherd, a tiny little church at the side of Lake Tekapo with an amazing view behind the pulpit.

Thsitles in the MacKenzie District- just like home!

Ryan at Lake Tekapo

Diana and Pamela

Ryanalf, the short grey wizard

A tribute to the sheepdogs of the region- stay boy, stay! Good dog.

The Church of the Good Shepherd

The view behind the pulpit- At least you would have something to look at if the sermons were a bit dull!

We dropped Diana off at her hostel and then set up for the night at our camping spot by the lake.

After dinner we want for a walk along the lakeside and then headed back to the spaceship for a night of star gazing and DVD watching. We woke up to some stunning views of the lake and then Ryan went swimming in it while Pamela made breakfast! It was very cold- the swimming, not the breakfast.

We picked up Diana and headed to Mt Cook. Mt Cook is the largest mountain in Australasia and Edmund Hilary used it to train for Mt Everest apparently. We went for a walk taking in the amazing scenery and taking a ridiculous amount of pictures.

Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki

Mt Sefton on the left, Mt Cook on the right (Mt Cook is actually the bigger of the two)

A suspension bridge

Pamela on the suspension bridge

Breakfast with Ming and a Mountain in the background

Since arriving in New Zealand we have taken more pics than we did our whole time in Australia! The entire country seems to be 'photographable' and we apologize in advance for over usage of the words amazing and awesome.

The camp that night was at a DOC- Dept of Conservation campsite. Pamela continues to refer to them as Dept of Conversation campsites. These sites are much cheaper but they don't have any facilities other than a toilet, maybe.

The next day took us through Lake Pukaki, Tarras, Twizel and eventually onto Wanaka. You will have noted already New Zealand's extensive collection of silly place names.
Ming at Lake Pukaki
The scenery along the way was amazing and we stopped at the roadside regularly to take pictures of snow capped mountains and rolling hills. We also visited our first Lord of the Rings location!

At this stage we(Pamela) would like to apologise for the unavoidable geek content that will no doubt bore most of you to tears. Pamela has patiently spent numerous hours being dragged around hillsides while I have tried to imagine a bunch of orcs standing on certain rocks or hills! The guide book takes you to the locations but it's still tricky trying to work out exactly where you are supposed to be looking!

The quest to find these locations and have them match up exactly with the pictures in the guide book has started to consume me and I have clutched the book tightly and referred to it as 'my precious' on a few occasions. Ticking off the locations is strangely addictive but many of the sites are along difficult dirt tracks where you can't really take a hire car- even if it is a spaceship. It became really frustrating after a while thinking that the spot you were looking for might be just around the next bend or just along the track. I have accepted that we aren't going to be able to see every single location unless we hire a helicopter. I'm still looking into prices for this.

LOTR Photo Game!
Rather than go into loads of detail about each LOTR pic we'll just put the odd pic up and call it LOTRa, LOTRb etc... For those who care you can have a guess at what scene was filmed there and post your answers as comments! For those who don't care then you can brush over the random photos of fields and trees!








Leaving the world of Middle Earth for a while we spent a night in Wanaka which is a lovely little town on the bank of Lake Wanaka. Here we stayed at a campsite with really nice facilities and Ryan and Diana did some crazy dives into the eel infested lake while Pamela took some wonderful action shots.

After Wanaka we headed to Queenstown and parted company with Diana. We had a great few days with her onboard the spaceship and hopefully we'll meet up again either on this continent or another.

Queenstown is a cool place. It has a reputation as a party town but we saw no sign of this. We are kind of in between the summer and the winter ski season so maybe things are a bit quiet at this time of the year. The town is surrounded by hills and vineyards and it sits on another huge lake- we can't remember the lakes name but it's a safe bet that if you shuffle around a 'W' a 'K' a 'P' and a bunch of vowels you'd come pretty close. There is a Gondola ride that takes you up into the surrounding hills and the town is filled with lovely restaurants and shops. A lot of the hostels and restaurants have large log fires and we have already decided that at some point in the future we must return on a snowboarding trip to Queenstown.


A bungy jumper near Queenstown

From Queenstown we spent the day at nearby Arrowtown. The site of a few LOTR locations as well as a lovely little town that dates back to New Zealand's gold mining era. Arrowtown is really quaint and the shops along the tiny main street wouldn't look out of place in a western movie.

Main St, Arrowtown




After Arrowtown we went to a place called Deer Park Heights. This is basically a big hill on which numerous groups of animals live. Many of these animals shouldn't really live together, or in New Zealand for that matter, but it makes for a strangely enjoyable few hours as you drive up the hill stopping to feed the miniature horses, alpacas, llamas, ducks, goats, highland cows, and deer!

A crazy donkey rolling around on the ground!

To add to the surreal nature of this hillside a number of LOTR scenes were filmed at the top and there's also an abandoned Korean prison, left over from an 80s movie set!




The hill on the left- LOTRn

A Korean prison from 1986 movie, The Rescue

After another night in Queenstown we got up early and tried to get to Paradise in our spaceship... this was much harder than you would imagine!

There's a little place called Paradise near Glenorchy, just north of Queenstown and this too was another LOTR location. The problem is- the road to paradise is hard to find and extremely treacherous at times. We crept slowly along a dirt track for ages, hoping not to damage our vehicle and just as we decided that we should turn and go back we approached a sign:

The sign says 'Film Crew'

We decided to continue for a little longer and eventually came to a large field filled with vans, tents, and cables. Across from this was a group of horsemen in costume with a young man in their midst. The young rider was dressed differently and clearly stood out as the star of the show. A large camera followed the riders as they rode across the field. We asked someone what was being filmed and they said it was a little New Zealand documenary. This was said with a smirk and it was clear from the costumes and size of production that this was no small documentary.

We cheekily took some photos and then drove on a bit looking for the LOTR site. We think we found the site but the road became extremely rough and eventually we came to a stream that blocked our way.

We headed back towards the filming and passed an old man who had the exciting job of stopping cars from getting into shot. He was happy to inform us that they were filming the new Narnia movie- Prince Caspian! The young horseman was clearly Caspian. The old man waved us through and we drove past while they were still filming. So when the movie comes out and you are watching a scene with Prince Caspian and maybe a dozen horsemen in a field, look out for a bright orange spaceship in the background!

It is clear to see why so many movies are made here as the scenery is breath taking and unlike most other countries, you can drive for miles without seeing any other people, buildings, pylons or any signs of life. New Zealand is Narnia and Middle Earth.

Glenorchy- it's just near Paradise!

Next on our list of must do's for the South Island was a visit to Milford Sound. We had to pass through the rather scary Homer Tunnel to get there.

Homer Tunnel

The view from through the tunnel

The view back to the mountain we just drove through!

Milford Sound is a fiord surrounded by spectacular mountains and in order to illustrate just how stunning the scenery was- we went on a two hour cruise and took 94 photos. The boat took us close enough to the mountains to feel the spray from waterfalls and it took us to a spot where seals lazed in the sunlight. The highlight of this cruise was undoubtedly the moment when a huge school/pod (pick one!) of dolphins appeared behind our boat. The dolphins swam with the boat and jumped out of the water as they played in the boats wake. It was awesome.

Pamela admires the view

Seals lying in the sun

Stirling Falls

The dolphins swam around the boat for ages and watching them was amazing. One of the dolphins was tiny and it was clearly a baby. At some points they were so close to the boat you could have touched them.
Sad to leave the dolphins behind, our cruise took us to an underwater observatory where we could view some of the wildlife that lives under the surface of the lake. This was cool but it didn't compare with the Sound or the dolphins.

We stayed the night at Milford Lodge- a nice hostel near the Sound. We enjoyed a quiet night sitting in their common room, where Pamela beat Ryan at Risk in a record breaking twenty minutes! She was clearly cheating and it's a stupid game for kids anyway.

We left Milford the next day and stopped to do a nature walk- recognised walks in New Zealand usually have names, signs, lookouts and sometimes wooden boardwalks to make them easier. We chose to do the Lake Marian walk which sounded nice and we didn't think it would be too hard. After two hours of struggling over rocks and tree roots we eventually got to the lake. It was hard work but it was worth it.

The 'pathway' to the lake!

Passing a stream along the way

Stopping for a much needed rest

Lake Marian- worth the effort!

We passed through Te Anau on the way back to Queenstown and then after another night there we travelled back to our current location- Wanaka. We really like Wanaka and will probably spend a few days here before setting our coordinates and zooming up the west coast in the spaceship.

We are nearing the midway stage of our trip and the time is flying by. Thanks again to everyone for their kind comments and good luck with the LOTR pics!