Monday, September 13, 2010

New Zealand Diary

As I was quite tired most nights from a long day of driving, I didn't write full posts for each place we visited in New Zealand. Rather here are some thoughts/notes from each day's activities:

Auckland 8/25
  • Airbus to/from airport w/backpacker discount $21 per person RT
  • K-road, where our hostel was located, is a bit seedy in spots, but has great late night dining options, bars & convenience stores; it was a 20 minute downhill walk into the CBD via Queen Street, but a steep uphill walk coming back (or take the bus)
  • We took the ferry to Devonport around midday before the rain set in; easy 1 hr walking tour with free pamphlet from iSite, Mt Victoria climb. Saw colonial cottages, stately waterfront homes and World War II defenses that run deep into a volcanic cone.
  • Lunch & beer at Brew on Quay
  • Excellent museum - could have spent at least half a day but had to “speed walk” it because we arrived at 4pm and it closed at 5pm
  • Bus stops have automated updates
  • Fun to ride The Link bus (makes a big loop around town including some suburbs) for $1.70 per ride but it was very slow going in rush hour traffic
  • SkyTower was deemed too expensive at $25 minimum to get to the top and the weather was bad so no one was bungy jumping which would have been fun to watch
  • nonsmoking casino at Sky City - we each played $2 on $0.02 slots; I eventually won about $1 but gambled it all away for fun
  • Beer at Shakespeare Brewery Pub
Rotorua 8/26
"You’ll know you’ve arrived in the city of Rotorua when you see (and smell!) the geothermal steam plumes of Whakarewarewa. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people."
  • Drive here on the Thermal Explorer Highway was very scenic 3 hrs+: green rolling/steep hills, lots of cows, horses, sheep, alpacas (dairy farms)
  • Disappointed that our rental car (Toyota Vitz) doesn’t have cruise control but then realized that most roads are too curvy to use it
  • iSite (info center) - helpful staff, called several hostels to check rates & availability; tons of free maps but the best maps are NOT free
  • Went to cheapest hostel $60/nt double first but weren’t thrilled by tiny exterior room which meant having to walk outside to get to toilets/showers; YHA was much nicer for $62/nt (member rate + iSite discount)
  • $20+ to see geysers which are within traditional Maori communities and include cultural activities but local park with steam vents is free
  • Walked along the lakefront at sunset
  • Free Swine Lager at Pig & Whistle with coupon from iSite
  • Thursday night market: - small, mostly food vendors (whitebait or green mussel fritters), but stayed open late
  • Street names are all Maori so hard to navigate verbally
  • Wanted to try Croucher Brewery beers but after going out of our way to find the bar/restaurant, discovered it had closed and was now a construction site
  • Morning 8/27: walked around the thermal features at Government Gardens; bought new hiking shoes at Kathmandu (similar to REI in the U.S.)
Napier 8/27
"In 1931 a devastating earthquake nearly levelled the city of Napier. It was rebuilt in the style of the times, and is now considered the Art Deco Capital of the world."
  • Drive from Rotorua took 3 hrs plus a stop at Lake Taupo; scenery was mostly timber land & logging trucks; signs saying “protect our trees, save the world”; wineries (winter vines) once we were in Hawkes Bay area
  • iSite was helpful again - booked hostels, ferry
  • Can walk through town in 30+ minutes; more if you want to pay & visit NZ wine center, local museum
  • Cute Art Deco buildings but mostly comprising two streets
  • Nice South Pacific oceanfront walkway
  • No heat at Wally’s hostel - we had to ask for two portable heaters for our double double bedroom
  • The inside of our rental car now smells like sulphur (from Rotorua thermal vents) & bacon (from Arnold’s bacon & cheese flavored crackers we snacked on)
  • 2 Countdown supermarkets and 1 Pac n Save all in one block - bought local wines & brekky foods
  • Dinner with Penny Franklin’s friends Terry & Kaye Exeter at Boardwalk Café - bluenose fish special & Monteith’s Dark beer; chatted for several hours about traveling, politics, NZ v US differences, etc.
  • Weather was overcast in Rotorua and most of drive until we reached the bay area, then sunny w/blue skies, then overcast again, then partly cloudy night
Wellington 8/28
  • Left Napier at 9am; mostly sunny skies. Took the scenic drive up to Te Mata via Havelock North for 360 degree views. Passed more vineyards & orchards. Continued south on Hwy 2. More green hills, sheep, cows.
  • Spotted sign for Tui Brewery so stopped there to have a beer and eat our pbj.
  • Rained most of the way to Wellington. Low rainbow. Hwy is main road through small towns so have to decelerate to 50kph or less every 15km or so. Curvy mountain road with no warning.
  • Stopped in Lower Hutt but road back to hwy was not well-marked so wasted 30 minutes driving around; finally got directions at a liquor store and, a short drive along the esplanade later, with views of the bay & downtown Wellington, we were in the city
  • Many streets are one way so luckily we had good directions to the YHA and parked on street (free after 4pm Sat and all day Sun)
  • Huge hostel: got a 6th (top) floor double room but only one women’s toilet & two showers for entire floor
  • Weather was holding but much cooler & windy here; went for a walk along waterfront then had beer & potato wedges at Mac’s Brewery
  • Walked up Cuba Mall then down to Courtenay Street but even budget restaurant main courses with exception of fast food Chinese were $18+
  • Went to New World grocery store across street from hostel -- they have everything! Bought 18 huge live green-lipped mussels (1.4 kg) for $4.50 plus fettucine & fresh baby spinach. I steamed the mussels in Vidal (Hawkes Bay) Chardonnay leftover from yesterday then drank a Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc with our delicious budget meal.
  • Did laundry while mapping our South Island itinerary
  • Went to bed after 11pm to loud laughter & yelling of younger hostel-goers
Wellington-Picton 8/29
  • Rainy day; got up at 8am, had breakfast, packed, put stuff in car
  • Walked through farmer’s market on the quay
  • 2+hrs wandering around excellent Te Papa museum
  • Lunch at Khmer Restaurant
  • Grocery shopped at New World for tonight’s dinner on the ferry
  • Took free 1hr Parliament tour
  • Visited Old St Paul’s church (free)
  • Drove to Mt Victoria for 360 degree views in rain
  • Got in line for ferry by 5:30pm; didn’t drive on until 6pm
  • Settled in; ate dinner, rechecked drive times for South Island itinerary and revised slightly
  • Boat is rocking
Picton-Kaikoura 8/30
  • 6:30am wake up
  • Girl's netball tournament in Blenheim but 2 teams staying at our hostel in Picton
  • drove part of Queen Charlotte Drive - Marlborough Sound; beautiful views with some sunshine & fog
  • started seeing hitchhikers for the first time
  • Truck accident on coastal hwy near Kaikoura had closed road for 2 hours, but we arrived just after it had reopened
  • Close encounters with fur seal pups
  • $145 2.5hr whale watch boat trip canceled at last minute due to rough seas (would have gotten 80% money back if no whales sighted)
  • Decided not to do 30 minute $165 whale watch by plane because previous flight didn’t see any and there’s no money back guarantee
  • Disappointed we didn’t get to see any whales but glad we saw so many seals for free
  • Ocean view from YHA on the esplanade
  • Crayfish fritter lunch $9ea from pop-up truck on Fyffe Quay (whole crayfish -- as big as lobsters -- were $50 each!)
  • Hilltop/farmland hike over private land on Peninsula Walkway; very windy; seal colonies below
  • Booked accommodations & got itinerary assistance at iSite; started pouring rain while we were there
  • Filled up gas tank for tomorrow’s long drive
  • Bought groceries for tonight’s dinner (fettucine w/meat sauce, broad beans) + snacks; bulk pistachios were $2.99 per 100 grams, but when we checked out they rang up as $15 b/c we had scooped up 0.5kg (at $29.90/kg); needless to say they got returned immediately!
  • Booked remaining YHA accommodations in New Zealand through the hostel b/c there's no charge for the service
  • Nice bottle of local Pinot Noir for $10NZD complimented our dinner at the hostel
Kaikoura - Franz Josef 8/31
"The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are unique relics of the last ice age. Mighty rivers of solid white, tumbling down ice-hewn rock valleys, they are classically beautiful in the glacial sense. Nowhere else in the world have glaciers advanced so close to the sea at this latitude"
  • Got up at 7am; left hostel at 8:40; arrived in FJ just before 5pm with stops in Hanmer Springs, Reefton for picnic lunch, Hokitika
  • Overcast in Kaikoura, rainy all the way across Mt Lyford & Kaikoura range; sunny along west coast until just before FJ
  • Black lambs on some farms
  • Farms w/high fences for raising deer
  • What’s the deal with the 1080 protest signs?
  • Walked the full circuit of FJ to check out restaurant menus but everything was at least $16 per main course so we opted for the grocery store
  • Beautiful “golden glow/alpenlight” sunset in FJ
  • Homemade dinner: pan-seared lamb steaks, couscous flavored w/veggie soup packet, spinach, another bottle of Montana Pinot Noir -- all for $24NZD
  • Free sauna at YHA reminds me how much I want to install one in my own home someday!
Franz Josef - Wanaka 9/1
  • Up at 7am; out by 9am; arrived Wanaka by 3:30pm
  • 1.5hr RT hike to face of Franz Josef glacier; spotted several guided glacier walk groups but otherwise had the hike to ourselves; silence/flowing water; was raining when we left hostel but was just clear enough to see sunshine on the glacier; clouds moved in as we walked back to car
  • Fox Glacier looks different than FJ so nice to see both; walked part of trail about 20min RT to get better view of glacier face; beautiful blue pools of water reflecting snow-capped peaks; started raining as we got in car
  • Picnic in car at Lake Paringa (too windy to sit outside)
  • Steady rain over Haast Pass, couldn’t see mountains; weather finally cleared at Makarora to see Lakes Wanaka & Hawea - stopped several times for pictures
  • home cooked meal: mixed seafood in alfredo sauce on fettucine with mixed veggies + Gunn Estate ‘08 Chardonnay
  • Wanaka YHA has full service “cabins” with 6 bunks each (we shared ours with an older French guy); step outside to views of lake & snow-covered mountains
  • Very glad the iSite rep in Kaikoura suggested we continue on to Wanaka today instead of staying in Haast; we were already passing through Haast by 1:30pm and would have been bored to tears unless we had driven out to Jackson Bay
  • Can easily drive for 20-30min and not see another car/person
Wanaka - Te Anau 9/2
"An early European explorer described Fiordland as ""utterly useless except for mountaineers"", and that's why it's still so pristine."
  • Got up at 7am; cooked breakfast sandwiches (ham, eggs, cheese on toast w/kiwi fruit) with Smokey the hostel cat standing beside me
  • Let Greg drive for the first time from Wanaka to Queenstown (117km)
  • Pitstop in Q’town. Beautiful scenery but overcast & wet
  • Nice drive along shore of Lake Wakatipu
  • Deer farms around Mossburn
  • Arrived at Te Anau around 1:30PM
  • Wanted to book Milford Sound trip for tomorrow (our only day to do it) but forecast for heavy snow tonight so they’re closing the road at 5:30PM; hostel advised booking day trip to Doubtful Sound instead; I called Trips & Tramps and decided to book Milford Sound with them anyway and we’ll know by 8:30am if it’s totally cancelled
  • visited Te Anau Wildlife Center to see rare birds (takahe) but only saw a few as most were hiding in greenery
  • Quiet night at hostel: cooked dinner (pasta w/Italian sausage & red sauce, Goldridge Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir ‘09), did laundry, some time online
Milford Sound day trip 9/3
  • Up at 6:45; cooked full breakfast; Steve from Trips & Tramps picked us up at the hostel at 8:45; returned @ 5:15
  • Only one other couple (Peter & Leith from Cairns) on our tour
  • Road into sound was closed until 11am but we stopped several times for short hikes and morning tea & biscuits, so gates were open when we went through
  • First real snow accumulation (good snowballs!) at Monkey Creek
  • Trips & Tramps contracts to carry the mail so we made a couple of short stops (newspaper to hotel not yet open for season, personal mail to huge 22k acre farm)
  • Learned about stoats - the pest like a weasel that is being eradicated by trapping
  • 1080 is cyanide in pellet form dropped from helicopters to kill possums
  • Swarming sand flies at the boat dock
  • Captain opened bow sail on Tasman Sea
  • Saw Fiordland Crested Penguin, bottlenose dolphin, NZ fur seals (male juveniles banished from colony)
  • Keas outside of Homer Tunnel on return
  • Dinner: pan fried hoki, veggies, leftover pasta, White Cliff ‘09 Chardonnay (from Hastings)
  • 300th trip advisor travel map location for and 300th guided tour for Steve
Te Anau - Dunedin 9/4
  • Up at 7:30; on road by 9:30
  • Earthquake during night centered in Christchurch - I dreamt that I felt motion sick from either rocking of a boat or riding in a car but I didn’t actually wake up
  • Southern Scenic Route
  • Greg drove from c.1899 Clifden suspension bridge to Invercargill
  • Had planned to spend more time walking around Invercargill, but weather was windy & rainy so we just drove around Dee & Tay Streets and stopped at Invercargill Brewery for unofficial beer tasting; bought a 2ltr bottle of Pitch Black and a single serve bottle of The Mussel Inn Black Beer
  • Ate our pbj on the road
  • Turned off the main highway at Fortrose to explore The Catlins
  • Slope Point - southernmost point of the South Island, extremely windy and lambing season so path closed to actual location thru sheep field
  • Rainy for ½ day & extremely windy all day
  • Other stops: Curio Bay - petrified forest of 180 million year old fossilized Jurassic era trees & evidence of penguins but no sightings, Porpoise Bay - think we saw one Hector‘s Dolphin, hike to Nugget Point c.1869 lighthouse, fur seals, birds on cliff face, pair of yellow-eyed penguins from viewing blind at Roaring Bay
  • escaped baby lamb running towards us on road
  • Driving at night for first time long distance (no street lights, 2 lane road, 100kph)
  • Arrived in Dunedin at 7:45; checked into hostel; got dinner (heat & eat chicken & mushroom pasta and butter chicken w/rice) at Countdown
Dunedin 9/5
  • Slept in until 8am
  • Drove out to end of the Otago Peninsula along Portobella Road to Royal Albatross Centre; watched spotted shags nesting, floating on strong wind gusts w/seagulls; looked around the free part of the center, saw an albatross gliding just as we were leaving; drove back via high route to Larnach Castle but couldn’t see castle from road without paying entry fee
  • Smaller breweries were closed (Sunday/Father’s Day) but went to Eureka Café for lunch and drank Emerson’s Porter & Pilsner and 8 Wired Brewing Rewired
  • Walked around the old railway station and the Octagon (church & town hall were closed), picked up dinner groceries (cajun chicken soup, Puhoi Valley gorgonzola cheese) at Countdown
  • Came back to hostel to confirm flights, Seoul accommodations, read news reports of Christchurch earthquake & Fox Glacier plane crash (killed 9 people on takeoff)
Dunedin - Barry’s Bay/Akaroa 9/6
  • Up at 7am; left hostel at 9:30
  • Rained all the way to Oamaru - drove around neat old town; didn’t see any penguins
  • Stopped at Temuka livestock sale
  • Saw first earthquake damage in Lincoln plus cracks & lumps on Hwy 75 to Akaroa
  • We’re the only guests at Halfmoon Cottage - beautiful converted house on Barry’s Bay
  • Drove into Akaroa and saw earthquake damage - landslides, cracked roads, collapsed chimneys, broken memorial
  • this would be a great place to come in the summer and quietly spend a week hiking, kayaking, sailing, and just hanging out on the wraparound porch eating local cheese and drinking local wine
  • home-cooked dinner: roasted lamb chops, couscous, pumpkin soup, Whitestone Brie, remainder of Invercargill Pitch Black, The Mussel Inn Dark Horse black beer
Barry’s Bay - Christchurch 9/7
  • Up at 6:30am, out by 8:30
  • Did not sleep well last night due to aftershocks. Felt the first one while I was cooking dinner around 6pm; multiple ones during the night that kept us awake, first with rumbling noise then with walls & bed shaking (one registered 5.4 on Richter scale)
  • On drive into CHC airport area to drop off rental car encountered major street damage north of Te Tapu
  • Christchurch city center is ghost town. ALL but a couple businesses closed even though many are not condemned but have only been inspected from outside. Saw lots of fallen bricks, chimneys, cracks in walls, broken glass
  • Curfew in effect 7pm-7am so we transferred our hostel reservation from the YHA City Center to YHA Rolleston as we need to catch the shuttle to the airport tomorrow at 4:45AM.
  • Dropped bags at hostel and took a long walk around the city center. I do mean AROUND because most of the streets going through the middle of town were blocked by police & military due to unstable buildings.
  • Only businesses open on far side of town near Polytechnic University were Countdown supermarket and adjacent food court where we had lunch - lemongrass chicken soup noodles & spicy beef soup noodles
  • I had forgotten until Greg reminded me at lunch today that we “experienced” the earthquake simulator at Te Papa Museum in Wellington last week. Little did we know that we’d be “living” it a few days later!
  • Only business open on our side of town was Dux de Lux Brewery where we drank beer on the outside patio and spent the last of our NZDs
  • Walked through botanic gardens; overcast & damp but nice, quiet, some flowers/trees blooming, waterfowl
  • Ate light dinner of leftover couscous, foraged broccoli, 2 fried eggs; hummus & crackers; The People’s Pinot Noir
  • Quick showers since under water restrictions
Christchurch - Sydney - Seoul 9/8
  • Up at 4:15; shuttle p/u at 4:45
  • I only felt 2 aftershocks during the night; one stronger than the other but both enough to wake me up
  • Our Air New Zealand ticket included “The Works” (free movies, alcohol, breakfast)
  • Asiana - long 10 hour flight but got 2 hot meals plus a snack
Here are the links to my New Zealand photo albums:

North Island photos

South Island photos

Milford Sound photos

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