Diane and Darryl

Joined May 2017Living in: Berkeley, United States
  • Day19

    Hike to Blue Pools and Jet Boat

    February 20 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 64 °F

    After the flight, we took a 2-hour hike, passing by Blue Pools, which looked more green today due to the heavy rain overnight.

    As we continued on, so many people stopped us on the trail to ask where the blue pools were, as they had passed them by, ignoring the signs because they hadn’t seen any blue.

    On our hike we saw a Tui bird and a New Zealand wood pigeon. Great to see them in the wild!

    Our hike ended at the river’s edge without a building, boat or person in sight. Courtney pulled a bottle of champagne and plastic flutes from her backpack and we sat on the gravel beach sipping and skipping stones until our jet boat arrived.

    Jet boats were designed for New Zealand’s shallow rivers and are really fun, but kind of noisy. The boat driver would signal us to hold on when she was going to make a 360° spin.
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  • Day19

    We Take Flight!

    February 20 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 57 °F

    This was such an amazing day, it’s going to take two footprints to show it all with our photo limit. We started with a scenic flight which followed a braided river into Mount Aspiring National Park. The 4-passenger Cessna plane was snug, but the views were so spectacular!

    A braided river flows through a glacial moraine, and most of the water is under the gravel bed. After every heavy rain the braiding pattern changes as the gravel shifts around.Read more

  • Day18

    Biking the Arrowtown River Bridges Trail

    February 19 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 64 °F

    Our accommodations last night we’re at a Kiwi Holiday Park, a wonderful combination of campground and motel units with a communal kitchen and common room for dining, playing games, etc. Courtney cooked our breakfast before we set off for a 2-hour drive to the gold mining town of Arrowtown. The Arrow River is where they filmed part of the scene in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo crosses the river with Arwen after being stabbed by one of the Black Riders.

    We were fitted with mountain bikes for an 8-mile ride on a gravel trail which followed the river to the first commercial bungee jumping bridge. Fun to watch the jumpers!

    Driving to Wanaka, our overnight destination (yes, we were there with Backroads!), we stopped to drop a donation in at ‘Bradrona.’ It is a site in Cardrona that became popular for leaving bras on a fence. After the government took it down several times, a local farmer allowed it on their land, for breast cancer donations.
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  • Day17

    From Sea to Summit in the Rain

    February 18 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 41 °F

    We woke to rain in the Milford Sound aboard the Wanderer, so all was right in Fiordland National Park. After a hearty hot breakfast, we put on our wool caps and raincoats to enjoy the new waterfalls emerging down the sides of the fiord (proper spelling in NZ, not fjord). We got to spend time in the wheelhouse with the captain, checking out the instruments and getting warm for a bit. He can sit in his chair and steer the ship's wheel with his foot. The boat cruised out to the Tasman Sea and we kept a watch out for crested penguins heading back out to sea after nesting along the shores over the past few months. The best we could do was see a pair of white blurs swimming under water. We did catch some fur seals up a bit closer than we did on our Doubtful Sound cruise.

    For most of this trip, the daytime temperatures have been about perfect -- probably between the mid 60s to the low-to-mid 70s, depending upon sun or rain. We are at the 45th parallel south, which is equivalent to about Portland, or the northern border of Vermont. The long summer daylight hours have made it easy to fit in our outdoor pursuits, but make it a bit late to stay up for stargazing, usually, and the clouds aren't always cooperative.

    Back on land by 9:30 a.m., Courtney drove us up and over the pass again, through the national park, to another of New Zealand's Great Walks -- the Routeburn Track. This can be a 3 day/2 night trek, with stops at government-owned huts along the way. Our hike was an out-and-back to Key Summit in the dense rainforest. We donned our rain gear, including rain pants and began the 1000 foot climb over 4.5 miles. Because of the weather, we didn’t get the far-ranging summit views, but the terrain on top was a beautiful alpine rock garden.
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  • Day16

    Milford Sound with our new tour group

    February 17 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 57 °F

    Today we joined "New Zealand Trails," a locally-based tour company to do an 8-day adventure tour. It's quite a change from Backroads, in that we have four travelers on this group with one guide, compared to 22 and 4 guides. Courtney Kerin, our guide, is a world champion whitewater kayaker, and full of energy and passion for South Island. Our fellow travelers are a mother and daughter from Wyoming, and are enjoyable travelling companions.

    We began the day with a lot of driving to get from Queenstown over to Milford Sound. It is 50 miles between them as the kea bird flies, but going around the mountains takes about 4 hours -- over a large mountain pass called the Devil's Staircase, and through the mile-long Homer Tunnel. Near the top, we stopped for a view, and found a kea bird ready to make mischief with car tires and someone's sandal left on the ground. We also filled our water bottles with clean, clear water from a stream.

    Arriving at the Sound (actually a fiord) we went with a nature guide on a walk on the famed Milford Track. We learned about the trees and ferns in the rainforest, and tasted the Horopito, or Peppertree, leaf -- spicy! Last year, it rained 10.5 meters at Milford Sound, and they typically have 200 rainy days in a year. We hit a dry day! We then boarded our boat for an overnight in the Sound. The sunny weather and fair temperatures allowed us to spend plenty of time on the deck and watch the green fern-covered sheer walls of the fiord.
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  • Day15

    Free Day in Queenstown

    February 16 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 52 °F

    Today was a rest-up day spent checking in on business and family. Thank you, Carol, for covering my ProFacto work!! We also checked in with Erin and Ryan, getting the short version of Erin & Nick's fantastic Tanzania honeymoon (something to add to our travel list!), and updates from Ryan.

    Queenstown is a bustling tourist town, with opportunities for extreme sports at every other storefront -- jet boats, skydiving, and of course, bungy jumping! We didn't partake. Within two blocks of the town is a quieter lakefront pathway.

    Here we show a couple of photos of Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu, and a couple of memories of our Backroads trip.
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  • Day14

    Doubtful Sound, World Heritage Site

    February 15 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 59 °F

    “This is fine country for the waterproof explorer” — Richard Henry, 1896

    This was an amazing day! We are so glad it rained today because Doubtful Sound, actually a fjord (glacially carved and flooded by the sea -- vs river carved), is full of waterfalls when it rains. Only two waterfalls are present when it's not raining. Our boat guide said the temporary waterfalls will dry up within 30 minutes of the rain stopping.

    It took some time and logistics getting here from Queenstown -- we boarded a comfy coach bus for a 2 hour trip to Lake Manapouri, then a catamaran took us across the lake for an hour, then another bus drove us an hour to the dock at Doubtful Sound. All of the views along the way made the various legs of the trip worthwhile, and the 3 hours spent cruising down the sound to the sea and back were spectacular.

    We saw a colony of fur seals from afar, but did not see the pod of bottlenose dolphins that come into the sound, nor did we get to see the penguins, who have moved on during this season.

    A serious feat of engineering took place in the 1960s (idea conceived as early as 1904) -- a hydroelectric plant was built under Lake Manapouri. The plant supplies electricity to all of the south part of the South Island, but mostly to an aluminum smelting plant. Public outcry over the original plans to raise the lake level by 100 feet caused a revision of the plans. Today, the lake level is maintained with a 'habitable zone,' rising or lowering within normal historical limits to protect the shoreline life.
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  • Day13

    Final farewell to Backroads

    February 14 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 61 °F

    Dan and Laura organized a before-breakfast walk just as the sun was rising over the mountains around Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu. We strolled the quieter lakeside part of the bustling town, pausing at a memorial to victims of the Great War. Also on the walk was a memorial to British explorer Robert Scott, who spent a lot of time in New Zealand preparing for his Antarctic expeditions. We wandered around the (blooming!) rose gardens before returning to our hotel for breakfast and final farewells. Most of the group were returning to the U.S.

    We walked over to the Kiwi Birdlife Park, a private, family-owned conservation center, focusing on native birds, some reptiles and endemic trees and plants. The kiwi-feeding was a highlight of the day. These birds are nocturnal, so you view them in very darkened rooms, with just a little red light to see by (apparently they don't see in the red spectrum). We watched one for a long time probing its long beak into a decaying log, searching for bugs.

    We got to see several other birds -- the Morepork owl, the Kererū wood pigeon, and the naughty Kea--an alpine parrot that pecks at bicycle tires, seats, car weatherstripping, etc. The tuatara is an ancient reptile, born with a third eye on top of its head -- but it only gets to use it for the first 4-6 months of life. After that, the eye is covered in scales. We cut our visit a little short as the heavy rain was beginning to soak through jackets.
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  • Day12

    Final Ride - Rivers, Sheep & Song

    February 13 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 66 °F

    We shuttled 30 minutes out of Wanaka to avoid the traffic, got in a group photo at Glendhu Bay, then rode 22 up-and-down miles along the Clutha River to Tarras. Our route passed more pastureland -- finally more sheep than cows! A short shuttle ride took us to lunch at the Carrick Winery in Bannockburn, an area known for its Pinot Noir. There we were fed a fantastic assortment of small-bites, including cheeses, shellfish, local meats, breads and assorted veggies. Intense chocolate truffles and mini creme brulee for dessert!

    After lunch, we had about an hour-long van ride on to Queenstown, our last stop with Backroads. Here we had a farewell dinner, and leaders Dan and Laura made up a song for us to sing together. Take a listen to a clip on the video (Darryl and I are at the back).
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  • Day11

    Mount Iron Hike Above Wanaka

    February 12 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 68 °F

    This was another day with lots of options. Many in the group hoped to get a flight to Milford Sound, but the winds weren’t favorable for the flight over the mountains. There was a bike ride option as well, but we opted to hike to the locals’ favorite mountaintop view point.

    Mount Iron is shaped like a wedge, carved by a glacier on its steep, river-facing side (our climbing up side), with a more gradual descent on the farmland side.

    We stopped for lunch at the top and admired the view for awhile. Back at lake level, we wandered the cute town and enjoyed an ice cream.

    Back at the hotel Backroads hosted a blind NZ wine tasting with cheese and crackers. The Riesling fooled us all as it was not sweet at all.

    Having been wined and dined for days with Backroads, we opted for a food cart wood-fired pizza sitting by the lakeshore.
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