Archive for January, 2011

Crossing Islands and the Te Papa Museum

After staying the night in Greymouth, which was pretty much unplanned but not unwelcomed, we headed north to Picton.  Our original plan was to spend the morning to afternoon in a town called Nelson, but with the stranding events in Hokitika, we decided to just keep on north until we got to Picton.  Picton was the city in the south island of New Zealand where you can catch one of two giant ferries that will take you on a 3 hours boat cruise over to the north island and to the city of Wellington.  The boats can even take vehicles as well!

The drive was a bit long, but we made it to Picton with a bit of an evening to spare.  We also originally wanted to drive through a town called Havelock which was nationally know to have the best green lipped muscles.  However, when we got to Picton, the drive to Havelock (since we didn’t originally pass through it) would have set us back at least an hour and a half each way.  Since we had been driving all day we weren’t really in the mood for more of it, so we plopped down in the holiday park and decided to try one of the local restaurants in Picton for some green lipped muscle experiences.  To our luck we managed to find a nice cafe that not only had delicious green lipped muscles, but also some local brews that were exceptionally good!  Up to this point, it was hard to find any sort of beer that had some heft and bite to it, it was mostly watered down commercial beer or something that tried to be bold but was too afraid to take that extra leap of flavor and bite in case the consumer might spit it out in disgust.  We were happy to find some good delicious hearty strong beers for once in our trip and had to try as many as we could and still be able to walk home.  Steve can probably elaborate more on the beers we had, but I remember one being called Moa.  It is named after the ancient extinct giant bird creature that used to inhabit New Zealand.  They touted their beer as being ‘rare’ just like the bird.  Apparently there are myths and legends of them still existing in small numbers in New Zealand, so the beer is a tribute to there rarity, not their extinction.

After dinner we headed home and ended up meeting and drinking with an English man who was traveling all over New Zealand by himself.  He was fun to banter along with and he was even taking the same ferry we were the following day so we drunkenly vowed to make sure we woke each party up just in case we slept through any alarms.   Luckily we all made it up the next morning, only kind of hungover (mostly tired) and headed to the ferry!  Now up to this point I had been using a prescription motion sickness patch for when I had to be on a boat in rough water, I get pretty sea sick if the weather is bad enough.  But I had used it all up in Australia.  I wasn’t concerned about this large ferry being a problem but i took some Dramamine anyway.  However, after getting along on the boat, the water did become quite rough and surprisingly knocked that gigantic boat around something fierce.  Lots of people were getting sick, luckily I didn’t, but I did have to go lay out on the outside deck toward the center of the boat.  It helped a lot and the fresh air was nice.   And after 3 quick hours we made it to Wellington!

We arrived and knew our next stop was going to be Ohakune.  As we got into the car and drove it off the boat (so cool) we started driving along and started seeing signs for the Te Papa Museum and I immediately said “OH YEAH!” We had originally planned to stop and check out this awesome free museum but almost forgot!  We followed the signs and parked the car and headed in!  It was a huge museum with 5 floors.  Almost every exhibit was free and there was so much to see.  We didn’t even get all the way through it before our feet were yelling and the tiredness of a drunken sleep  started setting in.  We did get to see some amazing things though.  They had lots of intractable exhibits about the earth and its plate tectonics and earthquakes and things like that.  They had an earthquake simulator that looked like it was built like a house and we went in and it was a wee little quake.  We were like “We’ve felt bigger” and gave each other a comical look of disappointment.  There was also a lot of exhibits on the native animals of New Zealand.  Lots of exhibits on their agriculture as well and how various plants and animals were introduced to the country over time.  And then we saw the giant squid exhibit.  This thing was massive!  Steve had a blast checking out this one.  There were also lots of exhibits about the native Maori people of New Zealand.  Lots of exhibits on green stone and jade and even some sacred art inspired by the Maori people.

It was awesome to check out and totally free!  Well, except of course for parking.  That’s how they get ya.  After walking around the museum for a while we headed back to the car and then hit up a grocery store to stock up on some food form the rest of the week.  We started driving along toward Ohakune to stay at a holiday park there.  We made some dinner and got to bed to rest up for the next day.  Onto tramping the Tangariro Alpine Crossing!

Jade and Bone Carving in Hokitika

Today us going to be an exciting day because we can get our art on!  Hokitika is known for being an artsy crafty town in the south island of New Zealand.  They have lots of interesting things that go on throughout the year in this tiny little town.  One of their main attractions to the town is their sale of real jade and green stone items.  We started the day off by walking through some quaint but hoity toity jade shops and saw lots of beautiful pieces of jewelry and art.  Lots of it was pretty expensive, but it was fun to look at everything.  Our friend Joe from the Mike Ball expedition mentioned a jade carving studio and told us “if you get one souvenir from New Zealand, go there and learn how to carve your own jade jewelry.  So we did!  We decided we wanted to make this an all day thing to allow for the most time to utilize the tools and facilities to carve our own jade and bone pendants.

We parked our car nearby and walked through the other shops first, then headed over to the Bonz’n Stonz Carving Studio and Gallery.  The studio was fairly small, but it had a large glass window when you walked in so you could view the carving studio in the back.  We approached the counter and expressed interest in carving our own jewelry and were greeted by a nice Czech man named Martin who introduced himself as his tutor for the day.  he brought us to a small upstairs room above the studio and gallery and had us sit at a table with pens, pencils, paper, and books of reference for jade and bone jewelry to get us started on designing our own!  He briefly went over some basics, but really didn’t have any restrictions for us in terms of what we could or couldn’t do.  So Steve and I nestled into design mode and started making some drawings.  I had tried to think of something before hand that I might want to make and wear and have it be something to really remember our memorable trip by.  Just drawing away, I almost felt a little pressured to make something beautiful and great like some of the amazing jewelry I saw in the shops prior.  I basically gave into a basic shape I really liked and added some little flourish circles onto it and said “I like this one!”  Steve kept drawing away while I took my design downstairs.

By this time there were a few other eager carvers arriving to join in on the fun.  The first thing I had to do was pick a piece of jade I wanted to use for my pendant.  They had a lot of colors and types to choose from so I began searching.  I found one I liked and then had Martin cut it down to a workable size.  I then began roughing out the overall shape of my jade!  It was lots of fun, but also quite difficult to work with.  I could totally see myself sitting in a shop like that all day carving beautiful pieces of stone, whether it be jewelry or charms or what have you.  The jade, or sometimes called green stone, is a precious rock that was used heavily by the native Maori people in NZ before western settlement came.  There were lots of traditional Maori designs that had many meanings and we learned later that Martin was actually a student himself as well and was learning the technique AND historical purpose of jade carving from the shop owner, Steve Gwaliasi.

Steve followed down to the studio shortly after I began and he chose to create his pendant out of bone instead of jade (jade was more expensive, but I at least wanted one of us to try it.)  Steve began by choosing a piece of real bone from the piles of pieces to use as his pendant.  The bones looked like femur bones from animals, perhaps sheep (baaaaa.) or other farm animals.  The tools we got to use for the carving were mostly similar but I ended up using a few that Steve didn’t need to since we were carving different materials.  Jade is tough to carve and you always have to have a constant stream of water flowing over your work so it doesn’t chip and crack.  I felt like I did a really decent job on my pendant, but feel like I could get the hang of the tools with a little more practice and nail some techniques.  Steve took a few pictures of me working and then I took a picture of our pendants.

You might spot future pictures of us with our pendants on as we wore them throughout the remainder of our trip :)

After we spent a long but accomplished artsy day in the carving shop we decided to hit the road early and get to the next town.  When we got back to the car we went to go look for the car key and it was no where to be found.  We were completely dumbstruck.  It has to be in the shop, we emptied all the pockets of the day pack and didn’t find it.  It was then no where to be found in the shop either.  It was super frustrating to have lost the only key to the rental car!  We retraced our steps over and over for at least an hour or two.  The only option was to call a locksmith or some sort of roadside assistance to help.  Unfortunately, the entire town was spending the weekend down at the horse races (apparently they happen once a year and EVERYONE goes, and we mean everyone)  No one was in town, and those who were, were at the bar celebrating the horse races of the day.  The locksmith was at the horse races, and the hardware store was close, pretty much everything was shut down by 4 or 5pm when we were done carving.  I decided to call the rental car company on a coin pay phone ($1 a minute, ouch) to ask if there was some sort of hidden spare key or anything on the car.  The best he could do was give us the key number for a key cutter to look up on a computer to cut the correct key (without them having to take out the locks on the car and match a key to it.)  The next thing we did was attempt to call the locksmith which went to voice mail each time, but we left a heart felt message anyway that went something along the lines of “Please cut this key and bring it to us, we are on the corner of X and Y and will be here all night and tomorrow as well if you can bring by a key…”  It seemed like a long shot.

We did manage to get into the car with the help of a screwdriver from the carving shop though.  This was before we called the town locksmith.  We also searched everywhere in the car as perhaps we locked it in the car, but didn’t find it.  So Steve and I threw up our frustrated arms and decided to pass some time and see if the locksmith might show up and save the day.  Steve went and got us some beer from the liquor store and we sat on the curb near the car and drank while Steve read Steven King to me while we passed the time.  If worst came to worst we were just going to sleep in the car right there and then and hope to get help in the morning, then drive like the wind to make it to Picton in time for the ferry the day after.  We were enjoying the story when suddenly around the corner came a van and on the side of that van it had the lettering which read “J&C Locksmith” and we jumped up and cheered!  He had gotten our message!  And he even had a key with him!  And guess what…they both worked :)  Heck. Yes.

We had a nice chat with the locksmith and his friend, who drove him to us since he was enjoying drinking at the races all day.  We paid him his quoted price and it didn’t matter at that point how much he charged because we were saved from being stranded!  He was a really nice guy and even gave us an extra key for free just in case.  We said our farewells and hit the road once again.  It seemed so far throughout our trip that even if something didn’t work out or didn’t work in our favor, something always prevailed through and we ended up having a great time if not greater.  Even though we were stranded for a while in Hokitika, we were able to enjoy some cold beer and catch up on some reading .  The worst case scenarios really weren’t that bad if we had to face them, so we were completely ready to make the best of any situation we had to face.

We hit the road again and I sang in the car “On the road again!” (over and over because that’s the only line I know from that song) and we drove for about an hour and stopped in Greymouth to stay the night and then drive all day the next day to catch our ferry to the north island.  In Greymouth we busted open the drinks again and decided to go check out the beach.  It was dark by now and the sky was clear and littered with millions of stars.  The Milky Way was spread across the night sky as well.  I love places where you can see the night sky so clearly, its rare to find places like that back home.  We headed to the beach and ended up meeting some folks who were having a camp fire on the beach.  The beach was not a sandy beach, but a rocky beach.  They were sharing wine and we said hello and we ended up sharing the fire with them in exchange for company and good conversation.  We talked about lots of things like the differences between our countries (they were from New Zealand, but on holiday in the south island) and about our travels, places to go, things to see.  It was fun.  Then we all retired for the night and got a good nights rest after an adventurous day.  Tomorrow we are off to Picton!

Glacier Hiking at the Franz Josef Glacier

I mentioned in my previous post that we arrived in Franz Josef to arrive for our booked glacier hike at the Fox Glacier the following day.  Well we woke up in time to call the office about the road closures to the glacier and unfortunately since it had rained all night the road was still closed and the hike was canceled.  We were pretty disappointed as this looked extremely awesome to try here.  I haven’t done much hiking, let alone glacier hiking!  So I was really excited to go, we both were.

Fortunately, there was another glacier that did hiking tours right in Franz Josef, where we were staying.  It was a completely different glacier, but hey big deal, as long as we get on the ice!  We called them up and they had availability the following day for a half day hike that left in the AM and would give us a good 3 hours on the ice.  We sat in the car and debated if it was possible to stay another day in Franz Josef to go on the hike the day after.  We had already booked a number of other things that we already paid for, such as the ferry to get to the north island in a few days.  Was it worth it to stay another day and glacier hike or just continue onward with the original plan?  Heck yes!  When else are we going to be so readily able to hike on a freaking glacier.  In New Zealand.  So we made a few more phone calls, changed around our itinerary a bit and spent an extra day in Frans Josef so we could glacier hike the next day.  And boy was it worth it!

So before we did the actual hiking, we had a full day to do whatever we wanted since we had to wait.  We looked up some things to do in the area, the town was incredibly small, but managed to find a few things to do.  The first thing we did was go to the tiny ass wildlife habitat in town to view some actual real life kiwi’s!  They were captivity bred Rowi Kiwi’s which are the rarest type of Kiwi in existence in New Zealand.  They are also nocturnal birds, so we had to view them in a really dark room.  They were pretty cute, from what I could see anyway, and were so strange to watch.  They are just bizarre little wingless furry bird lumps that sniffle around in the dirt for grubs and stuff.  They definitely resembled some sort of ancient creature because they were just so bizarre to look at.  After the kiwi viewing, there was a super small glacier information exhibit and some other small things and then that was it.  The tickets were $25 a piece for a tiny ass little viewing.  Kinda of a rip off, but We are glad we saw some actual kiwi’s finally.  After the Kiwi viewing we went to a cafe and had some pizza for lunch and a few drinks before heading back to camp to laze around and read and watch a movie we brought with us on our laptop.  The rain kind of prevented us from wanting to go out and explore, but we enjoyed our cozy indoor car movie time before hitting the sack and getting ready to glacier hike the next day!

We woke up and packed up camp and headed to the Franz Josef Glacier tour office to check in.  We were handed all of our gear and briefed on the hike itself before hopping in the bus and heading out the the glacier!  We had about a 1 hour hike to get to the actual ice from the car park as we walked through the rain forest and a huge rocky valley with cloudy white water rivers leading away from the glacier.  It was surprisingly warm and sunny at the glacier all day and we were SO happy we decided to wait a day to do the hike.  The landscape was of course beautiful and we had lots of fun learning from the guides about the geography around us.

As soon as we arrived to the very base of the glacier we had a steep climb up large rocky mounds before we actually got on the ice.  The large rocky mounts were actually apart of the glacier, but movement from the glacier and rock avalanches caused the ice to be completely covered in rocks.  This was the hardest part of the hike since it was so steep, but it sure warmed everyone up (literally) before getting on the ice.  We went a bit further and took a short break to put on our crampons before getting onto the actual ice itself.  I felt like a hardcore wilderness trekker with my crampons and my little pack around my waist while stomping along the ice of the glacier!  It was an amazing feeling to be walking on such a large body of ice and then turning right around and seeing a rain forest and blue sky!  I thought, how could such a large body of ice exist in such temperatures, it wasn’t even remotely close to freezing temperatures.  The higher we went though, the chillier it got, but as long as we kept moving it was fine.

Near the beginning of our hike on the ice the guide found a small ice tunnel and told everyone to wait where we were while he found the exit.  Making sure it wasn’t dangerous with water flowing and going with the flow of the actual glacier, he let all the girls on the tour crawl through the tunnel if they wanted!  He said it was probably too tight of a fit for the guys, so us gals all got on our raincoats and squeezed through the tony short tunnel and it was totally fun!  We have a video of me emerging from the opposite end and it looks like I am sliding out of a hole penguin belly style and being born through the womb of the glacier, aahaha!  It was fun.  We kept on and got to see lots of magnificent formations and hear lots about glaciers and how they are formed.  We even at one point heard a low almost thunderous crack in the distance and the guide told us that there was a small cave at the very front of the glacier that formed the week prior that was cracking and changing as we spoke.  It was really cool to be on such an active part of geography.

All in all it was an amazing thing to experience.  I never knew that one day I would be able to stand on an actual glacier and revel in its powerful beauty.  A one of a kind experience.  I’m glad New Zealand has so much diversity in its geography.  After the hike we headed back to the shop and turned in all of our gear.  We then received a free pass to the local hot water pools to warm up after the hike, so Steve and I got in our swim suits and headed on over to the hot pools!  They were outdoor pools with varying temperatures between 36-40 degrees celsius ( around 90-100 fahrenheit?) it was fun to relax in the pools for a while and chat with some locals and other travelers.  Then we took some showers and hit the road again heading off to Hokitika!

We arrived in Hokitika fairly late, but managed to find a holiday park with someone open to pay for the night.  On the way to the holiday park we passed a cemetery sign and a sign that read “Glow Worm Dell.”  It was late and dark, but Steve was intrigued to see what the old cemetery looked like and we both had no idea what a “glow worm dell’ was.  So we ventured out with some torches and checked them out.  The cemetery was super old and super creepy at night.  I couldn’t stand it, Steve was holding the torch and I couldn’t control what I was illuminating and swear I was seeing things in the distance…super creepy…kept looking straight up or down to not catch the glimpse of any undead creepyness that might be lurking about.  The glow worm dell was really cool though!  It was this little short path that led to the inner part of these tall cliff walls that had glow worms living there!  Steve and I spotted two glow worms initially when we walked in, then I could have sword as I looked ahead of myself there was a break in the ‘trees’ ahead and light was shining through, but it turned out to be more glow worms!  Kinda creepy, but it was beautiful and nice to get a first glimpse of the glow worms!

We then headed back to camp to get rested before we headed into town the next morning to learn to carve our own bone and jade pendants!  See you tomorrow!

Puzzle World and the Toy Museum

After Queenstown we started heading north onto Frans Josef to be there in time to do our next awesome adventure, but along the way we made a few pit stops to some really cool places.  The first was the famous Puzzle World of New Zealand.  This place was really cool and unique!  They had illusion rooms, puzzles, and life size mazes!  The tickets were cheap and we had a blast for a good couple hours roaming around seeing what this intriguing place had to offer.

The first thing we did was walk through the illusion rooms.  There were a number of weird puzzle illusion like things to see.  There were a lot of 3D holographic images hung as paintings on the wall that changed when you walked by them, there were some interesting puzzle teasers painted on the wall and large optical illusions to really tweak your mind out.  There was an entire room that was built at an angle and then everything inside was built normal so it looked and felt like you were literally defying gravity while walking through it!  At some points just turning around and trying to walk gave this really disorienting feeling of being almost drunk and you almost fell on your butt!  It was a lot of fun.  They also had some water that looked as though it was flowing upwards because the angle of the room, it was really cool and we had never experienced anything like it.  It totally felt like we were in some weird Dali surreal world or something.  Here is Steve standing on some steps in that crazy room.  Haha, don’t mind the horrible ruler/level placement on the wall.

The next area had this big open room with lots of concave sculpted faces that you could walk through.  If you covered one eye and walked past all the faces, they seemed to follow you wherever you walked!  I have a video that I will post as soon as I can because it’s hard to picture how it was, but it was almost kind of freaky!  The heads were of famous people like Mother Teresa, Einstein, and so on.

There was also another room that had a perspective trick similar to the ones they use in the film industry.  They will sometimes build a room that is built at an angle to make the parts in the back look much small or larger than they actually are to cast the illusion of distance.  They used this trick in the Lord of the Rings movies apparently, but it was a cool room.

After playing around in the illusion room we went outside to the human maze to try our luck.  I decided to make a map on a piece of paper of places we had been so we wouldn’t get terrible lost.  Sometimes we would walk by people and they would say “Hey!  How much for the map!?”  It was fun!  The goal was to find your way to each of the four colors towers in each corner of the maze.  There were also staircases that rose above the maze to go across to other parts of the maze.  Sometimes little kids would stand up there and yell out directions to their friends.  We eventually made it all the way through without cheating (except for the fact I was making a map :P )  and it took us at least a good hour to get to all the towers.  They also had “emergency exits” in case you got lame and wanted to quit early.  We totally got through it though.  You can only see one tower in this picture, but this was taken fro the opposite tower from the green one, and the others were just off to our right, about equidistant apart from these ones.

After the maze we pretty much saw everything there was to see at Puzzle World so we decided to hit the bathrooms before hitting the road.  To our surprise there was a large painting inside the entrance to the bathrooms that was painted to look like the old roman bathrooms!  We got a few pictures just for fun.

After Puzzle World we headed up the road a ways to find a Toy and Car museum.  There were lots of old and new toys here in this giant warehouse all on display within glass cases.  They also had lots of antique and old things from the past such as cameras, gadgets, and the like.  There were plenty of old cars too.  Some seemed to be in restored and great condition and some were just there and looked like they might run?  There were also some old military and service vehicles like old firetrucks, a tank, a few airplanes, etc.  It was like an organized hoarder who collected anything from our past :)

After having all that fun we continued north toward Franz Josef to get a campsite for the night.  We had booked a full day glacier hike the following day and decided to check in with the Fox Glacier office about our booking.  They informed us that the bookings had been canceled today and possibly the following day due to the rain.  It wouldn’t normally be a problem if it rained on the glaciers, but the road to the glacier the bus used to get there was flooded.  We were a bit concerned that we might not be able to do our glacier hike, so we decided to check back in the morning and find out if ours was canceled or not.  So off to sleep in the car with the pattering of rain!  It is actually kind of annoying to camp in that car when it rains, but we managed quite well.  Onto the next adventure!

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