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Christchurch, and the end of my stay in New Zealand

Monday, December 15th, 2008


I’ve been in Christchurch for 3 days now, returned my rental car and tomorrow morning I’m flying to Sydney.  Christchurch is full of old buildings, parks, restaurants and bars or all kinds imaginable.  Also (big bonus here) it’s flat, unlike all the other major cities in the country, making it much more enjoyable to walk around.  I’ve eaten at several of the seemingly endless supply of Japanese places here and went to a Burmese place last night that was excellent.  In the 3 days I’ve been here I’ve eaten Japanese, Swiss, Burmese, Indian and Belgian, all of which were good.  The nightlife here seems to be pretty good too, stumbled upon good live music twice over the weekend.  


I’ve been in New Zealand for about 7 weeks now and explored a large portion of both islands.  Seen some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen, and the most diverse scenery of any country I’ve been in.  Here’s what I’d call the highlights of my time here.


Fiordland is simply stunning, I’ve never just stared at mountains like I did there before.  

Hiking on and around the Franz Josef Glacier was a great experience, glaciers kick ass.  

The Abel Tasman park is a collection of the nicest, most un populated beaches with hills going right down to the sea.  It looks like paradise and swimming in bark bay there it felt like it too.

The Tongarirro Alpine crossing is the best day hike I’ve ever done, between two volcanoes and an astounding amount of radically different environments along the way.


The wild life here is also fantastic (no, not the sheep, which are tasty!), I’ve seen 3 kinds of penguins (here’s a couple videos I took)

(unfortunately I wasn’t able to taste any penguin), seals, seal lions, albatross, sperm whales and quite a few kinds of birds that I have no idea the names of.  And I didn’t go to a zoo to see them.


Of the extreme sports associated with New Zealand, Sky Diving at lake Taupo was an amazing experience and I’d love to do it other places in the future.  I also had a fantastic time white water rafting the Shotover river by Queenstown and I’m already thinking about other places I can go rafting on this trip.



New Zealand is the best place to see the great outdoors of anywhere I’ve been or can imagine, diverse enough to include just about any kind of scenery you can think of.  The only failing here in my opinion is the towns in general just aren’t that interesting and the roads are insanely and too much of the time, unnecessarily curvy with far too many one lane bridges.  Oh, and someone needs to clue this place in on what good beer is.

Minor quips on the country are all I have though, it’s probably about the easiest country to travel around in that I’ve ever been in and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.  I even discovered a wine that I like!  I’m happy with the amount of time I had here too, less would’ve been ridiculous to see both islands properly and though I could’ve spent more time here and there’s plenty I didn’t see, 7 weeks is a long time traveling in one country and I’m ready to fly to Australia tomorrow and some real summer weather, no more crowded house weather with four seasons in one day! 



One other travel note, the longer I’ve been here the more I find myself increasingly excited about the places I am yet to go to on this trip.  I’ve been on the road for more than 4 months of my 13 now and I know some of the people reading this are wondering about this, but I’m not sick of traveling in the slightest, the more I travel the more I want to travel and the few (very few) tedious things that I’ve found about long term travel are far outweighed by the positives.


Right I’m thinking about Australia, and I feel myself turning into an ocean worshiper very quickly…


Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Kaikoura, due to the continental shelf drop off in depth near the coast here, is home to all sorts of marine life including what most people come here to see, whales. There’s several Great Sperm Whales living off the coast here year round, we decided to see them via light aircraft tour. The weather was perfect for it, clear skies making the ocean look irresistible, especially from above. We saw 4 of the whales, one near a sight seeing boat giving some perspective of the massive size of them (18 meters long).

great sperm whale

great sperm whale

After seeing the whales, we hiked around the peninsula here, home to the largest colony of red billed gulls in New Zealand, one of which stole part of my fish and chips from lunch right out of my hand. A despicable offense. Other than the lowly gulls, there’s other birds and the biggest seal colony I’ve ever seen, at least 200 fur seals there!

seal colony

fur seal colony

Lake Tekapo

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

On our journey North along the East coast of the South Island we decided take a detour inland to lake Tekapo.  The weather was great, even summer-like! A nice change from the South and West coast weather tendencies.  Perfect blue skies with amazing panoramic views of the Southern Alps.

Lake Tekapo

On one side of you there’s brown mountains with dry grass on them, then a couple lakes with incredibly vivid colours.

Lake Tekapo

And in the opposite direction are the mostly still snowcapped alps.

The Alps

Being surrounded by mountains creates lots of photo opportunities…

Mt cook with sheep

lupin meadow, lake tekapo and the alps

Continuing North heading to Kaikoura we arrived there right at sunset…

sunset from lupin meadow

Otago Peninsula

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Next stop after the Catlins was the town of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula just outside of town, home to all kinds of wildlife including penguines, seals and a royal albatross colony. Dunedin is full of steep hills (normal for all the major towns I’ve been to in this country) and quite a few cool old buildings. We got in town in the evening, stopped at the first hostel with beds available and headed out on the town. Civilization looks nice when you haven’t been around much for a week. Ate at one of the many Japanese restaurants in town (very large number for a town this size) where I got my fix of okonomiyaki, tempura and maguro sashimi. Delicious. After that we walked across the street to a pub with real cask ale and stayed there a while. As first impressions of a city go, this was a good evening.

The next morning the good weather had stayed so we headed off to explore the Otago peninsula. First stop was the Royal Albatross breeding colony at the tip of the peninsula, the only place these birds breed that isn’t an offshore island anywhere on earth. Saw adult birds incubating the eggs in the nests and quite a few juvenile birds who are returning looking for mates flying around. The wingspan on these birds is 3 meters, and they rarely flap them. Watching them soar effortlessly in the blustery wind by the cliffs is amazing, some came within a few meters of us in the air.

royal albatross

The Peninsula is also home to both yellow eyed and blue penguins. Since we’d since the yellow eyed penguins several times now (including having one cross the road in front of the car!) we went to the Blue penguin colony at dusk when they come back from their day of fishing. Blue penguins are the smallest penguin in the world at only just over 12 inches. Unfortunately since it was half an hour after sunset when they started returning it was too dark for any photography (flash scares them and is not allowed) but it was awesome to watch. While we were waiting, the seals entertained us…

seal pup

They came ashore in groups of 10-20, slowly waddled up on the rocks stopping along the way as a group. Then up the embankment and into the hillside where their burrows are. We were only a meter or two away from them at one point and we probably saw around 100 penguins before we left when we couldn’t see anything anymore. Hilarious viewing as they hop from rock to rock and waddle up the hills!

The Catlins

Monday, December 8th, 2008

After finding some excellent beer (long overdue over my stay in NZ!) in Invercargill, we headed East from there along the South coast.  Stopped at Slope Point, the farthest Southerly point on the South island.

slope point

Then on to Curio bay, home of a Yellow Eyed penguin colony, various other wildlife and a jurassic petrified forest.  Penguins are hilarious to watch, just walking over the rocks.

yellow eyed penguin
yellow eyed penguin

Got fully soaked in the afternoon watching a couple of them when out of nowhere it started pouring rain.  After that we found a hostel, overlooking a neighboring bay and dried off.

porpose bay

Went back to the cove in the evening when we saw 10 or so of the penguins and a sea lion.  While watching the penguins a rainbow appeared out over the cove…

rainbow over curio bay with penguins

The best thing about all this is there are hardly any tourists here at all, this isn’t on any of the main bus routes so far fewer travelers come here.  This leads to less facilities but remote destinations, while watching the penguins and sea lion we the only people at the beach.

Next morning we drove through the rest of the Catlins and on to Dunedin.

Mcleans falls

Then on to Cathedral caves, where we waded through the bay at low tide and explored the two inter connected caves there. Really high caves, I guess that’s why they are called cathedral…

looking out of the caves

The last stop in the Catlins was Nugget point, with incredibly inviting looking water which the seals were taking full advantage of.
seal swimming


All in all the South coast is great, only downside is the seemingly constant strong wind and ever changing weather. It’s off the tourist track, full of great wildlife, rocky coastline and beaches like this…



Sunday, December 7th, 2008

The next day I awoke to what sounded like a hurricane (or what I assume a hurricane could sound like) with gale force winds and rain battering the hostel.  So much for going kayaking.  Went outside and looked around, what I saw amazed me.  The amount of waterfalls on the surrounding mountains (which I initially had thought mind blowing) had just about doubled.  An absolutely incredible site.



Driving out of the area we passed many more waterfalls that weren’t there on the drive in.  It’s really hard to describe the feeling of being surrounded by mountains that are covered in waterfalls pouring into the valley.  Never seen anything like it.  7 1/2 meters of rain in a year has it’s benefits.

After leaving fiordland, we headed to the South coast.  Stopping en-route at some undeveloped public caves that ran for several hundred meters underground and had a good walk/crawl around down there.  Some cool mineral formations and lots of glowworms!

me caving

As soon as we reached the South coast the wind speed went up a few levels, standing on the top of some cliffs there facing directly into the wind coming up from the sea was a similar sensation to sky diving, albeit not as extreme.  The very thought that it made me think of sky diving says something though.  Good thing the wind here was accompanied with blue skies and not the sheets of rain from earlier in Fiordland.


Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Heading farther Southwest from Queenstown we drove to Fiordland, home of many mountains, glacier carved fiords and very little in the way of civilization even roads.  We drove to the one place you can drive to that’s reasonably deep into Fiordland, Millford Sound.  The weather here is wet and unpredictable, the annual rainfall here is an astounding 7 1/2 meters (24ft for those of you in the US).  Driving in on one of the coolest scenic drives I’ve been on we experienced rain, fog, sunshine and all 3 at the same time at one point.  Later on it tried to snow.

valley in fiordland

I have never seen so many waterfalls before, and the mountains here are stunning.  I’m not sure if they are the coolest I’ve ever seen, they may well be, but at least in my top 3.  The fiords were carved out by glaciers many ice ages ago and with the glaciers long gone today what remains are the huge fiords with rock faces going straight up.  Even more impressive when the valley is full of water like Millford Sound.

milford sound

The dense cloud cleared over part of the sound somewhat around sunset.

milford sound sunset

Next morning we took a cruise through the sound out to the Tasman Sea, the closer you get to the mountains the more impressive they are.  I’ve never had mountains draw my gaze like these before.

milford sound

During the cruise we also saw a couple crested penguins and some seals, all of whom sit on the rocks seemingly not caring about the hellish driving sleet at the time.


Monday, December 1st, 2008

After kayaking around Lake Wanaka in the morning we drove to Queenstown.  Perfect weather with cloudless skies, best summers day so far.  If you haven’t heard of it, Queenstown is the adventure capitol of New Zealand and where the bungy was invented.  No I didn’t do a bungy jump.  Basically any adventure sport can be done in the Queenstown area and a main road through town is almost 100% adv sport operators.  However the prices here are higher than other places in New Zealand for the same activities, due to it’s amazing setting on a lake surrounded by mountains + popularity.

Of what was on offer I wanted to do something I hadn’t done here yet and picked white water rafting, on the Shotover river (class iii-v rapids).  Never been rafting before, but I’ll definitely try and do it again.  Being in a raft that’s crashing into rocks and going through serious rapids is a blast.  Didn’t capsize or fall in!  Unfortunately such activities are not for taking cameras along so I have no photos.

Queenstown itself is full of accommodation, restaurants and bars, it seems like everyone in the town is on holiday there.  Spectacular mountain views all throughout town.

Heli-hike on Franz Josef glacier

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Heli-hike on the Franz Josef glacier. I can’t really describe it that well so I’ll type a little bit and posts lots of pics…

There are various different options for hiking on the glacier, most of them involve hiking to the base of the glacier which we did for free unguided. The alternative was the heli-hike. Helicopter ride to high up on the glacier, then hiking around on it for a couple hours before another helicopter takes you back down to town.


I’ve never been on a helicopter before so that was cool in and of itself, plus you are flying over a glacier. The weather was perfect.

view from helicopter

Once on the glacier, you get ice picks/axes and crampons and start hiking. Some parts were steep, some pretty flat. Some areas had huge towering chunks of ice, and there were a few ice caves and tunnels we went through. The ice formations are all unique, it’s different every 20ft you walk and the colour blue in parts of the glacier is stunning. Awesome hike. Here’s some pics…

me in an ice cave:
me entering a blue ice cave

the glacier

me in another ice cave:
me in an ice cave

stream on the glacier
me on the glacier

Another Ice cave:

me inside an ice cave

After that, we drove down the coast…

West coast lookout point

and across the mountains to Wanaka. Not bad scenery around here either…

near haast pass

Franz Josef glacier

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Well after sitting at the hostel for a 2 full days waiting out the downpour here it finally cleared up over lastnight.  We took full advantage of that, went out to the coast in the morning and then hiked up to the glacier in the afternoon.

ice cave, river exiting the glacier

The hike to the glacier was partially on a “trail” through rainforest and partially just going through the rock fields below the glacier along the river.  Some parts where there was an actual trail to follow it looked like a small trail, other parts we actual streams we were walking through or even more fun, waterfalls (some with water running, other not), some of the waterfalls had ropes to help you get up and down due to the insane level of steepness and slipperyness.  We started calling it the Ho Chi Minh trail at that point… 

me hiking through rainforest

Quite a few largish streams had to be forded along the way too, mainly because of the sustained rain the last few days.  My next pair of hiking shoes will be waterproof, for sure.

me crossing a stream

We kept passing danger signs, each one more serious sounding than the last.  Claiming it was not recommended to hike past certain points without an experienced hiker or guide.  While I realize there are levels of risk to the trail (most of which I think would be climbing on and around the actual glacier which we didn’t do), part of me can’t help but think that all the “glacier hiking” companies what want people to pay $150 for a half day hike up to and on the glacier have something to do with there being so many signs saying it’s not recommended.  Especially since the start of this trail is a tiny offshoot of the main short trail to a lookout point which is all most people do and there’s no sign at all there, not even one telling you it’s a trail.  I enjoyed passing the danger signs at any rate + going at a much faster pace than the hiking tours that we passed along the way.

the last danger sign we passed

The glacier looks more awesome and amazing the closer you get, it really is a sight to see, a massive river of twisted and crevice filled ice wedged in between 2 mountains. 

the glacier

Watching the milky grey water (full of superfine powdered rock crushed by the glacier) flow out from the base of the glacier is really cool. 


All in all it was 6 miles round trip and well worth the excursion, and drinking from the glacier was cool…

kissing the glacier

With the weather set to improve even more we have a helicopter ride up to the top of the glacier tomorrow, and hiking around on it.