Joined February 2017 Message
  • Day16

    Day 15 Christchurch....going home

    March 9, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    It was the coldest night yet camping in Akaroa. We actually had to start the van up in the morning and turn the heat on to get ourselves out of bed. We made our way into town to try find breakfast. Turns out not many places are open by 9am. This town appears to be run by the cruise ships, one of which was in the harbor, and this particular one seemed to be a floating senior citizens center.

    We got checked in to go swimming with the hector dolphins in the 14C water. Hector dolphins are an endangered species and only live around NZ. They are pretty small, a little over a meter long. Our skipper and guide said we could expect to see maybe 3 to 4 in a group, then we'd stop the boat and see if they wanted to come and socialize or do other important things dolphins have to do. We were in the boat about 20 minutes and spotted a pod that seemed interested in us so we got in the water (10 of us) with our 5mil wetsuits. It took the dolphins a couple minutes to start swimming around us but then at least one more pod came to join in on the action. Even the skipper and guide were excited to see this many dolphins in one place being so friendly. There were probably anywhere from 10 to 12 dolphins happily swimming and surfing around us while we gently bobbed around in the ocean.

    We managed to get our 45 minutes of dolphin time all on this spot and got told to get back on the boat. Heather had made a friend that didn't want her to go and kept swimming circles around her as she was trying to get back to the boat.

    Now we were real cold after getting out of the water so we slowly made our way to a calmer bay for some hot chocolate. The dolphins followed us for awhile surfing on the wake of the boat. We saw a sub species of the tiny blue penguin swimming around as well. We made it back to the wharf right at 2 for a quick hot shower before hurrying back to Christchurch to give the spaceship a finally rinse and vacuum before returning it. We made it in plenty of time. A short taxi to the airport and we had some dinner on the worlds smallest Plates for the food presented on them. We figured it was to keep people from lingering as half your food ended up on the table and made a big mess.

    We boarded our quick flight from Christchurch to Auckland and that was the last time chads ears popped. Luckily they were stuck at 8000 feet pressurization altitude so the long flight from Auckland to LAX was tolerable. We both got some sleep on the flight across the pacific. Chad got the big X on his global entry receipt again but we were still the first people through passport control and waiting for our luggage. LAX has a global entry line for customs/immigration as well so we walked right through that and have been sitting waiting for our next flight.
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  • Day14

    Day 14 Akaroa

    March 7, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Today we woke up and again headed to the tip of the Otago peninsula, hoping to see some soaring albatross. This is the home to the only mainland colony of the Albatross (in the Southern Hemisphere?). There was a short walk, with great ocean views, and lots of seagulls, but no Albatross. We then went to the yellow eyed penguins conservation place. These penguins are super endangered, mostly from humans. There are only 600 left on the mainland, and a lack of females makes their outlook pretty dismal, they are declining by 25% per year! At this place they have a penguin hospital, it was mostly full of penguins in their first year who didn't get fat enough to moult. They are being fattened up prior to moulting, because they don't eat for 4 weeks while moulting. There was one crested fjordland penguin there too.

    We then took a short bus ride to walk through a series of trenches to see some penguins in the wild. We saw Todd, a bachelor penguin who was moulting, and another under a tree. Lastly, we saw 4 penguins on the side of a pond who had all been fattened up in the hospital and were in the process of moulting. It was a very nice tour, but super sad to think that they probsbly won't be around much longer.

    In order to leave the peninsula we took the "highcliff road" which was indeed high and cliffy, but afforded amazing views of the surrounding ocean. We stopped for lunch at a point with nearby seals as our lunch companions and then proceeded down the road to our last stop of the trip, Akaroa. On the way we stopped to vacuum and wash the car, hopefully it stays clean until tomorrow!
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  • Day13

    Day 13 Portobello (Otago Peninsula)

    March 6, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    We woke up this morning to a couple lingering rain showers and leftover clouds. However it quickly cleared off and we had nearly perfectly clear skies all day at Milford Sound! It was a nice change from what we had seen yesterday.

    We drove the few minutes down to the village of Milford which isn't really a village, but an airstrip, parking lot, coffee shop/visitor center and a harbor/terminal for all the boats doing cruises of the Sound. We did the two quick tracks and went into the visitor center for coffee and tea. One thing we noticed was there were hardly any souvenirs here, just a few postcards. Maybe because it's so far out of the way they just bring the essentials in?

    We walked over to the harbor and checked in for our cruise. The terminal was relatively empty at this point, 10am. We waited around for our 1015 boarding and then got onto the Milford Wanderer. It was an old sail boat but quite nice all around. The skies stayed clear all day and we were amazed by the scenery and some of the biggest permanent waterfalls in New Zealand. A couple interesting things pointed out were that the Beech Trees were able to grow on such steep mountainsides by intermingling their root systems. Only about 30% of the trees actually had roots into the rock, during heavy rains or earthquakes an anchor tree could un-root and cause a tree avalanche into the ocean. The glacier that formed the Milford Fiord was thought to be around 1200 meters thick and moving at up to 7 meters per day. This was a very active glacier. Another impressive thing about this is not only are the cliffs coming out of the water tall, but they continue down around 300 meters. The moraine the glacier left near the Tasman Sea was about 250 meters tall so the ocean is only about 150 feet deep where the sound meets the sea vs the 900 feet in the sound.

    We went a ways into the Tasman Sea because it was so pleasant out. There have been reports of 30 meter tall waves there, today there was just a few swells. As we turned around the guide announced that our first class tickets had just turned into economy. We found out what that meant a few seconds later when we turned into the wind. It was a very windy (and slightly wet) ride back into the Sound. Once in the sound the wind was more manageable. We arrived back at the harbor about 1245 which was now crowded and the large parking lot reserved for busses completely full. We timed our cruise perfectly.

    We got back to the van and started our long drive to the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin. We enjoyed the views back to Te Anua since they were so obscured yesterday and stopped for gas and a couple breakfast groceries. Heather got to drive the majority of the way to Otago since it was pretty rural and straight. The views consisted of green rolling hills full of sheep, cows, perfectly manicured wind breaks and tree farms.

    Upon arriving on the Otago peninsula we stopped for a quick dinner and then headed down to the tip of the peninsula for little blue penguin viewing! It was very cold and windy, but Chad got to wear his long underwear for the second time this trip! We hiked down to a viewing platform and they turned on some lights, which are supposedly supposed to mimic the moonlight. The penguins come ashore in "rafts" which consist of groups of penguins that all come in together. Tonight they were coming in in groups of about 10. Once reaching shore they have to scramble across some rocks and then find somewhere to sleep on the hillside. They are so clumsy, but all eventually made it. We saw 63-64 penguins in total, and left a little early cause it was cold! As a bonus we saw a couple albatrosses sailing around just before dark.

    We arrived back at our very busy holiday park and collapsed into bed.
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  • Day12

    Day 12 Milford

    March 5, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Chad fell asleep by 9 pm last night and slept straight through to nearly 7 this morning. His man cold is better today. We were on the road by shortly after 8 and headed towards Milford Sound.

    The weather didn't look too bad as we started our drive as the anticipation built for what is supposed to be one of the best stretches of road in New Zealand. Not long after the clouds got lower and lower and the helicopters trying to give tours eventually turned around and scud ran (runned?) back home. We decided to try the Key Summit Hike, Chad was hopeful we would hike through the clouds. After an hour of walking uphill through the mist we came to a junction to go Howden Lake/hut or Key Summit. We were still hopeful so went to the lake first hoping the clouds would lift.

    Howden Lake sure would have been pretty if we could have seen more than 200 feet. The Howden Hut was a bunk style cabin for backpackers, we didn't go inside because a sign said to take off your wet clothes, although we saw a few people ignoring the sign anyway. The facility did have flush toilets and running water which was surprising as we were an hour's walk from anywhere. The way it sounds all the huts on this particular track are like this. Needless to say the clouds did not lift by the time we got back to the Intersection. We asked some people coming down how the weather was and it was the same so we opted to not hike another half hour up with no reward.

    We got back to the car around noon and went to the shelter/bus stop to make some lunch. As Chad was Loading up his sandwhich with whatever leftover samdwhich meat that was in the leftover bag and adding pringles for a little something extra, the person next to him was making a wrap with hummus, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and cheese......out of his backpacking gear. It made us a feel a bit inadequate.

    We drove on further and did a quick walk to the Lake Marian water fall before turning off down the gravel Hollyford Road. We made a quick stop at a store/cabins/museum to look around before driving to the end of the road Humboldt Falls. Chad saw an airstrip on the way so naturally pulled off to check it out. A quick hike to the humboldt falls was worth it. It was a pretty high, 3 tiered water fall. We made our way back to the main road, getting the van completely filthy from the wet gravel and continued on to Milford. We got to the Homer Tunnel just in time to wait the 7 minutes for the light to change so we could go through the 1.5 lane wide tunnel. The wait was worth it as we got to take in all the waterfalls around us. One good thing about the wet day was all the water falls. Everywhere you looked there was water running down the mountainside. It was the same on the other side of the tunnel.

    One more stop before Milford brought us to The Chasm Falls. This was more of a deep channel that a river cut vs a waterfall. Impressive nonetheless. We arrived at the Milford Sound Lodge around 3 to check into our site. It was still drizzling so we got settled in and went for a beer in the lodge. Then decided to shower before they got too crowded. Back in the van we made up our "couch" and read for awhile. This is the first place with no functional WiFi or cell service. We figured we'd get an early start on dinner since we had to use the common area since the weather wasn't cooperating. It was still really busy, but we got our salmon and green beans cooked and found a place on the couch to eat. We've been sitting in the front of the van reading since. It'll be another early night. It's still raining.
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  • Day12

    Day 11 Te Anua

    March 5, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Today we woke up in our secluded spot, with great views of Mount Cook, it was nice not to wake up in the crowded wal-mart parking lot style national park campground. There are no designated sites in the doc campground, it's just a free for all. We then got on the road to Te Anua. We stopped at a salmon farm stand and bought some fresh salmon, we also bought some fresh fruit from a fruit stand. The highlight of the day was going to Fergburger in Queenstown, which Chad had been waiting for the whole trip. It was delicious. We finished the uneventful drive to Te Anua and found our very nice holiday park right on the lake. We did laundry and then heather convinced Chad to go to a bird sanctuary. We saw a kaka (parrot) and also a bird they thought was once extinct, but they found a hold out in Fjordland. They are called takahe, they are a chicken like flightless bird, who were brown and fluffy on top, but blueish purple on the bottom, they kind of looked like dinosaurs.

    We finished the night with smoked salmon, cheese sticks, boxed wine, and carrots, a real classy meal. We went to bed early to awake early for the drive to milford sound.
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  • Day10

    Day 10 Glentanner

    March 3, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We woke up this morning around 7 and pulled the blinds open in the van to a beautiful clear view of the sun reflecting off of snow and glaciers of the peaks we couldn't see when we arrived last night. It was a bit breezy but not to cold, and clear skies so we were excited to start our day so we could get a little more up close and personal with Mt. Cook. We had our normal breakfast and ran out of gas to warm water for coffee and tea (which has been the normal time for us to run out of butane). Luckily we had another bottle to get our needed morning caffeine.

    We drove our van out of the camp site to the day park area where we started our Hooker Valley Hike. There were a couple glacial lakes we passed on the way, which were a milky, muddy color as the big sediment hadn't settled out yet. Later in as they drain into Lake Pukaki the water is a brilliant blue color as the big sediment is gone and just the fine glacial rock flour is left. We crossed a few swing bridges and started to get glimpses of Mt Cook in all it's sunny glory. The hike ended at Hooker Lake which had a few icebergs floating in it. The clouds hadn't completely burnt off yet but the skies were clear enough for some photos and good views. We headed back to the car for our lunch if sandwiches (again). It was about 8 miles round trip.

    At this point we were unsure of what to do next, as the other hikes we tentatively had planned weren't going to be any better than what we had just done. And one of them involved 2200 steps. We decided to head to The Hermitage (hotel/visitor center) to find an adventure. The kayak tours of Tasman Lake only left at 9am so we got stuck with the boat tour. We paid another $20 to get into the museum to kill some time. Sir Edmund Hilary was a bad ass, first person to summit Everest(highest point), visit the South Pole (most southerly point) and the North Pole (most northerly point) among many other things.

    We then boarded the tour bus for our ride to the Tasman Glacier. On our tour was a giant group of asians, a newly wed Asian couple (whom we had seen at the blowholes with her in her veil and he in a suit jacket), and lots of older white people. We got to the site and we're given a lecture about not walking too slowly or else you would be forced to return to the bus. We boarded our boat with Pancho (a guy from Mexico with an American accent and kiwi words) our captain. The water ranges from 3-7 degrees Celsius in the first three feet and then 0.03c under that. The lake was 240 meters deep at its deepest and about 5km long and 2km wide. We saw cool icebergs, 10% above water, 90% below, they are constantly turning and changing. We got to within 500m of the terminal face, and he said the terminal face was 12 stories high (it didn't look like that). The part of the glacier under the lake was 200 meter thick and extended at least 150 meters out from the terminal face. This is where icebergs 3-5 foot ball fields break off and explode to the surface. Eventually causing 3-4 meter high waves in the shallower parts of the lake. We then returned back to the museum and watched a cool movie about search and rescue in the mt cook area.

    We tried to use the public showers in town but they were about 5 people waiting so we went to the DOC campground again figuring we would try in the morning. That campground was like a Walmart parking lot and Chad didn't think he could handle all of that tonight so we drove down the road a bit. We found Glenntanner Holiday Park which has offered us peaceful and better views of Mt Cook than we would have had in Mt Cook village. We are very happy with that decision.
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  • Day9

    Day 9 Mt. Cook

    March 2, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Last night we slept in a real bed! It was a much needed luxury, although heather was up hacking for most of the night. We woke up and were treated to a hot breakfast! It was nice to not have to cook or do dishes for 2 meals in a row. We then ventured into Queenstown, which was a shit show. We finally found parking spot on our second pass through town. We went to the isite to find an adventure activity, however, we just couldn't convince ourselves to spend 600$ for 5 seconds of exhilaration. Therefore, we decided to head to mount cook via a couple wineries. First we stopped at the best grocery store we've been to yet, and stocked up on supplies(that may have been the highlight of Qtown, after the real bed and hot breakfast of course)Heather bought some otc morphine for her cough, hopefully that helps tonight.

    We went to three wineries and at the second we did a tour of their manmade wine cave. The central otago region is famous for their Pinot noir grapes, also Pinot Gris are popular. Chad tried gerwisterminer wine for the first time and liked it. They have some dry reislings in this region, which were also tasty. We went and watched a couple people bungee jumping and then got on the road.

    The weather was a little yucky today, lots of wind and threatening to rain. We drove past lake Pukake, which was an amazing azure blue, with the mountains behind it. We arrived at our campground right when the rain was starting. It was blustery and rainy, so we created a couch on our bed and watched 1/2 a movie. There seemed to be a break in the weather, so we collected our cooking stuff and ran to the communal shelter. We made some yummy quesadillas and then quickly retreated to the shelter of the van. We finished watching our movie and then went to brush our teeth and it may have been snowing? We are going to bed and the campground appears to be tucked in at the base of a huge mountain, we can see the bottom of the glaciers. We are hoping to wake up and be amazed at the view!
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  • Day9

    Day 8 Queenstown

    March 2, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    We got up this morning and found for the first time the inside windows of our van were not completely covered in condensation. We must finally be far enough away from the coast. Our only plans for today were to do a hike to Rob Roy Glacier and then head to Queenstown.

    We drove about 1.5 hours through Wanaka to the Raspberry Flat parking area, fording a handful of streams to get there. The parking area seemed busy, but it was also the start of a longer multi day trek. We began our hike along a bright blue river before crossing it via swing bridge. Then we started our ascent up a canyon which was quite steep. It seemed as if we were never going to get there but after 2 hours of straight up we were finally rewarded with great views of the glacier and so many waterfalls you couldn't count all of them. One was particularly spectacular, a very thin, 200-300 foot drop into a lush green delta. Overall the Rob Roy Glacier was the prettiest and least populated of Franz Josef or Fox, you just had to work a little more to see it. Hiking down was a bit easier, but as with all hikes with lots of vertical, the knees and toes took a beating on the way down while your lungs and heart rate took it on the way up. Overall we hiked nearly 8 miles and were pretty wore out by the time we got to our B&B in Queenstown which will be the first real bed we've slept in in over a week.

    The Embassy B&B sits atop a hill over looking the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu. Our host recommended a tavern for dinner which we went to as traffic was terrible and Fergberger seemed like too much work at this point. Heather promised Chad we would get Fergberger later when we came through Queenstown again.

    It's going to be nice sleeping in a real bed, and not having to put shoes on and climb out of a minivan to go to the bathroom in the morning.
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  • Day8

    Day 7 Somewhere near Wanaka

    March 1, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Today we woke up in our fancy 'top 10' Holliday park in fox glacier. Heather coughed all night, but luckily Chad said he didn't notice. The weather app said it would be sunny from 8-10 am, but it lied. After walking back and forth through other people's campsite (no clear part to bathroom or kitchen) we got on the road to lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is supposed to be an amazing reflection lake, however secondary to the clouds, the mountains were completely covered :( we tried to walk slowly, but the mountains never came out. A note to ourselves, and whoever may read this, if it's clear go to Lake Matheson regardless of if it is a good time of day. If it's still clear that night or next morning, go again. It is where most of the typical "this is NZ photos/paintings" are done. After a conciliatory chai tea we headed to fox glacier.

    Upon arriving at fox glacier there were still lots of low lying clouds. The bonus was there were no helicopters. We hiked up a very steep hill (with no stops allowed secondary to potential rock fall) and at the top there was a foggy/cloudy view of the glacier. There were also two kea parrots. They had very hooked, sharp looking beaks, and apparently like to destroy parked cars. Chad could see why as many people tried to get as close as possible to them. Them destroying car antennas was probably some sort of pay back. We took a couple pics and headed back down the steep hill. At the bottom of the hill we turned around and the clouds had cleared right above the glacier. Mother Nature is a bitch! We got a couple nice pics of the cleared glacier and then got on the road.

    On the way to mount aspiring national park we tried to stop at an ocean overview, but the sand flies swarmed us as soon as we got out of the car, so we pushed onward. We had lunch at roaring billy falls walk. We met a funny Israeli guy we did the hike with. We didn't know if he saw us leave and chased after us because he needed a break from his family or he figured we were Americans and needed to find out what was on our minds. He asked us "what the fuck is with Donald trump" he proposed a "non religious, non gender, iq tested colony on NZ for people from the world, which we thought wasn't a terrible idea. We then went to Thundercreek falls and fantail falls, Chad liked thundercreek better. The water in the river and under the falls was a beautiful aquamarine blue color from the glacier flower. Next, we hiked a stiff 1/2 mile uphill to a lookout of both sides of haast pass. Once again the clouds covered our main view, but we were able to get a peak at mount Brewster before the clouds completely hid it.

    A quick trip to the Blue Pools where the water was completely clear and bright blue concluded our hiking adventures for today. Young foreign boys were jumping off the swing bridge into the pools until a film crew told everyone to vacate the bridge so they could have a clear shot. I asked what they were filming and the kiwi responded "an ad for tourism NZ, like we need more people coming to this place". Kiwis are pretty abrupt and sarcastic, we like it.

    We made our way a few KMs down a gravel road to Kidds Bush camp site. It is our first DOC (Department of Conservation) camp site that we have stayed at. It's about half the cost of the typical "Holiday Park" (KOA),but has unpotable running water and flushing toilets,but no shower. It is also a free for all. If your van or car/tent will fit, you're good to go. It still seems much more peaceful than a Holiday Park though. We are nestled on Lake Hawea, where the sunsets are great, although short, and the stars are amazing. This is one of our first adventures that we have been graced with this little light pollution, clear skies and no moon.
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  • Day7

    Day 6 Fox Glacier

    February 28, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    It was a cold night in Franz Josef and a chilly morning which made it hard to emerge from the comforts of our humble abode. Our normal breakfast of yogurt and muesli was a bit different due to finding passion fruit yoplait. Chad might figure out how to use his personal French press by the end of this trip. This morning he could stand a fork up in it the coffee it was so thick.

    We were on the road by around 8 and one of the first at the Franz Josef glacier terminal face track parking lot. We hiked up the path with the views of the glacier and surroundings getting better around each corner as the sun started to light everything up. All the helicopters flying people to the glacier were quite obnoxious, but we would be flying on one later today. On the hike down we took a couple short spur trails, peters pool (great reflection pool) and sentinel rock.

    By the time we got back to the parking lot it was nearly full, and it was not a small lot, of camper vans. We drove back into town to try get some cell service or Wifi to try book a few reservations for the upcoming days. We made some lunch in front of the Indian food restaurant and proceeded to check in for our HeliHike of Franz Josef Glacier.

    After all the check in procedures we finally walked out to the helipad where we got our quick, to the point, briefing. Our helicopter landed and the pilot got out and fueled his helicopter by himself. (Chad obviously noticed this, and the fact that no one was standing by with fire extinguishers, no long sleeve shirt and all that other stuff we have to do in the US) We all crammed in and took our quick 5 minute flight to the bottom of the glacier. We were promptly off loaded as the others waiting to get their ride back patiently waited.

    The on ice briefing right next to the landing and taking off helicopters every 5 minutes was quite difficult to completely understand. The basics were something along the lines of; if you do things you're not supposed to, you'll slip and then die. We hiked up the glacier about 1/3 of the way. We hiked through some neat crevices, the blue ice was really cool. While we were on on the glacier small ice chunks kept breaking off, and were quite loud, however, then, a huge chunk broke off from the face and tumbled to the ground below, and it sounded like thunder as car sized chunks were pulverized into a muddy brown mess as it turned into what resembled an avalanche. We ended our helihike with another short ride down the valley in our helicopter and then made our way to the top10 fox glacier holiday park. Where we parked in a big gravel pit.

    We had dinner at the lake Matheson cafe, with beautiful views on mount cook. The food was really good, and we even got homemade ice cream with homemade cookies in it, yum!
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