Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wellington New Zealand

Well, here we are in Wellington, New Zealand – Windy Welly as the natives call it! We have had beautiful weather and haven’t really experienced the big wind they talk about. We did have a little rain on our last day – but as soon as we stepped outside the blue sky appeared and the weather is lovely again! Our tour guide says we are a lucky group and have brought the good weather with us.

Wellington is at the southern tip of the North Island and directly across Cook Strait is South Island. Wellington is built around Wellington Harbor and is surrounded by steep hills. The main streets form a semicircle around the harbor with all the side streets going off at odd angles.
From our 6th floor hotel room in the Amora Hotel we have a lovely view of the harbor and can watch the ships coming and going.

We arrived on Sunday evening. On Monday, February 15, we had our city tour.  One surprise was a visit to Weta Cave. It turns out to be the headquarters of the Peter Jackson movie making empire. We saw a movie about the history of the company and were quite amazed at all the movies they have worked on and all the special effects they have invented. We also saw the Roxy Cinema (an old Art Nauvoo theater), Mt. Victoria and part of the botanic gardens, and drove around the harbor.

In the afternoon we had a tour of the Parliament. What an interesting political set up the New Zealanders have. Can you believe that they do not even have a constitution? It is a little too complex for me to talk about, but it is a fascinating subject. The building itself is most gorgeous – lots of wood, stained glass, and art work. The Maori culture has also influenced some of the structure.
Suzanne at Te Papa

On Tuesday we visited the Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum of New Zealand. We had a wonderful guide who gave us a great feel for this country and increased our appreciation of its beauty and culture.

After a final shopping spree and a farewell dinner with our travel companions, we are heading for home!
Don at Wellington Harbor

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Our last day on South Island in New Zealand

Sunday, February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day) turned out to be another big travel day. We went by bus from our beautiful resort hotel in Punakaiki to Christchurch – from the semitropical west coast of the South Island of New Zealand to the semi arid east coast – from the Tasmin Sea to the Pacific Ocean. 

Arthur's Pass NZ
Along the way we saw much of the same scenery as before – pine forests including Monterrey pine and Norfolk pine; glacial rivers and clear trout filled rivers and lakes; small towns with old and new houses; abandoned coal mines (loss of jobs) and several monuments to miners lost in mining disasters; grass covered plains with cattle (beef and dairy), sheep, deer and even a few llamas; beautiful wild flowers (including tons of Lily of the Nile); many one lane bridges; at least one car accident because foreign drivers forget to drive on the left and crash into the locals; windy mountain roads; and roundabouts at most intersections.

We made one stop at Toby Hill Sheep Station. It was so much fun to see the sheepherder work his dog and round up a few sheep and hold them at bay. Those sheep tried hard to escape, but Pete was in control! Then we had a sheep shearing demonstration and the look on the sheep’s face was priceless (oh, no, not again!).

In Christchurch we had a quick tour of the Antarctic Museum and saw some darling blue penguins. Christchurch had two terrible earthquakes about 5 years ago which destroyed much of the town. Today they had another 5+ one and most of the penguins were hiding in their nesting boxes. I found their sensitivity rather amazing.
Can you see the one brave penguin?

In the late afternoon we boarded a plane and took the one hour flight to Wellington where we will spend our last three days in New Zealand.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Our final drive along the West Coast

It is Saturday, February 13 and we are back on the bus headed for our scenic circle drive along the west coast to the northern end of the Southern Alps.

Our first stop was for a walk on the Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) in Paparoa National Park. This is a fascinating formation of stacked rocks formed undersea and over millions of years pushed up and eroded. They really do look like a stack of pancakes.
Paparoa National Park
They were formed of limestone layered with mudstone. The mudstone eroded away leaving the pancake formations of limestone. In addition this rock has eroded and formed caves and crevices which create “blow holes” (sprays of tidal water) when conditions are right. What a lovely walk!

Our next walk was a little more strenuous and Don and I chose to take the shorter route to see the seals basking on the rocks rising from the sea below the cliffs. We also learned about the Waka (one of the flightless birds that is almost extinct).

Gold stamp mill at Blacks Point
We ended up in Reeftown for several interesting educational experiences. We had a tour of a gold mine museum, learned about Reeftown’s role in being the first town to have DC electricity in the 1870’s, ate lunch in a local cafe and bakery, drove to Blacks Point to visit a museum of mining and historical objects (all the stuff we threw away in the 60’s), and ended up at a peaceful home with a gorgeous garden near the river to have tea. The weather was perfect and we had a lovely time.

When we got back to our hotel our guide built a fire on the beach and cooked us a delicious bar-b-q of lamb, chicken, and sausage. After a walk on the beach we headed to bed. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Tour group barbecue at Punakaiki

Friday, February 12, 2016

Gaciers in New Zealand

It is Friday, February 12 and we are continuing our journey north along the west coast of South Island, New Zealand. It was a long day on the bus, but it is a large bus with lots of room for our sixteen tourists, guide, and bus driver.

We have crossed the mountains from the dry side to the wet, almost tropical side of the island. Today’s drive took us from Fox Glacier with views of Mt. Cook – the 12,500 ft. tallest peak to Franz Josef Glacier which is close to the Tasmin Sea. We stopped in Westland National Park which surrounds the glacier. This glacier is unusual because it has formed with a large oval shaped nave (the original snow field) and a long narrow tongue (the part that flows down the mountain), in this case almost like a waterfall. The glacier has grown and receded many times over its recorded history. Sometimes it grows as much as 17 feet in a week! There are many reasons for this, most involved with climate fluctuations and rainfall. Right now it is receding!

The Park has very tropical vegetation, except where the glacier has destroyed it. However, it does seem to come back fairly quickly. We traveled along the river that flows out of the glacier. The water is very grey and milky looking – that is how you know it comes from a glacier with all the rock and sediment from the glacier. We took a long walk along the river to almost the edge of the glacier.

After that we had some fun shopping for greenstone, which is a very important stone to the Maori. They find a lot of it in this area and they carve and grind it to make jewelry, weapons, and tools. It is very strong. We saw a factory where they were carving it and, of course, the shop where they sold it. There are 5 or more shapes that have special meanings such as strength, friendship, protection from evil, safety on water, etc.

Tonight we are staying in Punakaiki which is a lovely spot along the Tasmin Sea in a hotel which is built like a tropical resort. We have a view of the ocean and are surrounded by fountains and gardens of tropical plants. Tonight we even went out to look at the Southern Cross – the sky was so clear and beautiful.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Traveling to the west coast of South Island

After spending three nights in Queenstown we climbed back on the bus to head for the West Coast of South Island. We spent Thursday, February 11 driving north and west through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery.  We stopped at Mrs. Jones Fruit Store to sample some of the myriad fruits grown in the area. 

Then we proceeded to Aurum Wines for a tour of the vineyards and wine tasting. We learned that this part of New Zealand was perfect for growing grapes and stone fruits because of the temperate weather, cool nights, and high UV because of the hole in the ozone layer. We had been warned to be careful of the strong sun and it was nice to learn that there was some benefit to it!
Suzanne walking in the bush

The west coast of New Zealand was not opened up for many years. The mountain range is very rugged and there are only four passes. We traveled over the Southern Alps through the Haast Pass named for the explorer who discovered and explored this area. At one point we traveled over the longest one lane bridge in New Zealand. There were two pullout areas on the bridge so cars could pass each other – otherwise you had to wait for the section to be clear before proceeding. People are amazingly polite about this system!

Thunder Creek Waterfall
We made several stops to take pictures of the waterfall at Thunder Creek, the permanent ice fields of Mt. Hooker, the herds of deer being raised for venison, the beach at the Tasmin Sea, and the almost tropical forest that came down as far as the ocean. We even learned about whitebait fishing.

We ended up driving along the Tasmin Sea and stopped at Fox Glacier where we checked in to the Distinction Fox Glacier Hotel. Don went to look at glow worms after dark!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Queenstown, the Adventure Capital of the World

We arrived in Queenstown about noon on Monday, Feb. 8 and immediately got on a bus to drive north east to Arrowtown. This was the site of a gold rush in the 1800’s and is now a one street tourist Mecca with shops and restaurants. Later we checked into the Heritage Queenstown Hotel which is located several blocks from the center of town.

Queenstown is known as the “Adventure Capital of the World.” People come here to bungee jump, jet ski, 4 wheel drive, hydro boat, zip line, etc. We didn’t come here to do that, but have enjoyed watching those activities. Queenstown is located along the shores of Lake Wakatipu  with the Remarkable Mountains to the west. The town mainly consists of stores, restaurants, tourist attractions, and apartments. Most of the employment is tourist oriented and lots of young people come here to work and play.

On our second day we traveled to Milford Sound which is on the western shore of South Island. It was a fairly long bus trip because we had to cross the Remarkable Mountains which go directly north to south along the western coast of South Island (much like the Rocky Mountains). Milford Sound is one of 14 fjords along this western coast line. It is in Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage site which occupies the south west corner of South island.
We had a lovely cruise out to the Tasmin Sea and back admiring the hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the sheer rock walls. We saw seals sunning on the rocks and lots of birds. The fjords were formed by glaciers and there is even a glacial moraine at the end of the Sound where the water is quite shallow.

We got to see more of the New Zealand country side and learn more about the country as we drove. We saw lots of sheep in the pastures. The primary tree was the beech tree (not like our beech) which made good wind breaks for the sheep. However, the land is being transferred over to cattle for dairy farming and many of the trees are being cut for pasture. They also raise deer to sell for venison. New Zealand is also known for honey production and the Manuka tree is a favorite for the bees. Unfortunately, they are also cutting those down for pasture land. I guess we never learn not to fool with Mother Nature!
Don at statue of William Rees, Queenstown NZ