Archive for the ‘Australia/New Zealand 2010’ Category

Random Snorkeling at Lake Wakatipu

We started heading north from Te Anau to head to Queenstown.  We didn’t really have any solid plans of what to do there, but we knew we wanted to get there at some point.  Steve also wanted to try and find a nice place to eat because he had mentioned to me somewhat morbidly that since we were seeing so many sheep all over the place, he was getting a craving for lamb.  So off to Queenstown it was.  We started passing a small town called Kingston just before we reached a really large lake called Lake Wakatipu which was gorgeously crystal clear blue.  You could see way in the distance at the far end of the lake a few small towns.  We guess they were Queenstown and Frankton, based on our map.

So we started driving along the lake which was a beautiful drive.  We saw a picnic rest area off the side of the road and decide to stop and see if maybe it had an entrance to the lake.  It just so happened to have just that!  There was a cute little peddle beach next to the clearest lake water I have ever seen.  The water was cold, but felt refreshing since the sun was out and it was quite warm mid day.  Steve was the first one in.  I was chicken at first because it was so cold, but after Steve stayed in for a bit and then went up and grabbed his snorkeling gear, I caved and got in after him with my gear too.

While I was still debating the water temperature, Steve managed to easily find an assortment of bones at the bottom of the lake near the shore.  About 10ft or so down there were bones and he started tossing them onto the shore to collect them.  He also found an unopened bottle of beer, a street reflector, and a camera holder/case thing.  After I hopped in I found a few more bones as well to add to the collection.  So random!  We thought they could only be sheep bones.  They must have washed down into the lake somehow.  It was so awesome to be able to see so clearly under the water.  The visibility was great, but there wasn’t a whole lot to see.  But bone hunting was fun!

We spent a good couple hours snorkeling and laying around on the beach.  Then we got back on the road to Queenstown.  We got to a holiday park and set up camp.  Then we walked into the city center to check out the shops and find a bite to eat.  The city itself was small compared to back home, but the biggest city we came to so far in the south island.  It was like a cute beach town (even though it was on a lake).  There were lots of small shops and artsy stuff.  We ended up at a pub/restaurant that served flights of beer as well as lamb, had our fill, then went back to camp and tried to figure out what we wanted to do the next morning in Queenstown before we headed north.  We wanted to do some diving or some zip lining through the rain forest, but most of the activities would take up too much of our day and we needed to get up to Frans Joseph for our next adventure.  So we didn’t get to do anything in Queenstown, but we did get to enjoy a mini beach snorkeling adventure :)

The Millford Sounds

After we woke up and had some brekky in Dunedin we began heading west toward the small city of Te Anau to grab a camp site at the local holiday park and then begin our drive to the Millford Sounds.  As soon as we got to driving the landscape started to gradually change from green rolling hills to more mountainous scenery.  And more sheep!

We packed a lunch at the holiday park and got ready to head over to the Millford Sound marina.  I had thought based on looking up driving directions on how to get there that it would take about 1.5 hours to get there.  So we decided to allow 2 just in case.  As we started driving we soon realized we needed more time for our drive because the entire road to the sound was so windy.  We were riding along and taking in the amazing scenery around us which just kept getting better and better as we kept on.  I was itching to pull over and stop at the dozens of shoulders with amazing outlooks on crystal blue rivers and mini tramps through the rain forest to caverns and everything, but I knew we couldn’t afford to lose any time on the way to the boat.  We promised ourselves we would stop as much as we wanted on the way back as it would stay light much later into the evening.

But soon enough we looked at the time and we were closing in on our departure time for the boat that would take us through the sounds and we had no idea how far away we were.  Long story short, we made it but we ended up having to take another boat out since we missed the initial one.  The people at the marina were really nice (it seems like they run into people being late for their departures all the time) and didn’t charge us extra for moving onto another boat.  So all in all it worked out in the end and we got to experience the majestic Millford Sounds from the water.  It was a bit stressful trying to get there on time, but we made it.  And it was totally worth it.  The sounds were breathtaking.  I don’t think my pictures can really do it justice, you have to be standing there at sea level to really feel the immense power of the mountains around you.  The Millford sounds were carved away over millions of years from ice age glaciers.  Absolutely magnificent.

The cruise itself was really nice.  There was a top deck where you could stand and take pictures and an inside area with large windows.  It was pretty windy up top and I found it hard to steady my camera at times while up there.  They took us along the water all the way out to the ocean and back.  This sound was just one of dozens of water ways that were carved from the glaciers and they span all along the bottom south west corner of the southern island of New Zealand.  The cruise also took us up close and personal to a few waterfalls.  They said that only two waterfalls out of the dozen or so that we saw were permanent waterfalls in the Millford Sound, the rest appear after it rains and can disappear with hours sometimes.  I can’t imagine how awesome it would be to explore the sound one day and chart all the waterfalls, then come back another time and have them all be different!

Along the way back we also saw some seals basking in the sun on some rocks.  Some of them were getting feisty.

After the short cruise we started heading back to camp.  Now we could take our time and discover some of the things along the way that we missed.  First we saw this sign that said “The Chasm” and when Steve and i saw that we looked at each other with wide eyed wonder.  It was a 15 minute walk to “The Chasm” and we really didn’t know what to expect.  It ended up being a gigantic rocky pit that was carved out from the river that flowed through it.  It was really amazing, but not exactly what we expected.  I was sort of hoping there would be some giant pitch black hole in the ground.  It was still awesome though.

Another thing that was really cool on the way was a really creepy tunnel.  There were stop lights on each end and they stayed red for 15 minutes to let cars from the other side through.  There was no electricity inside the tunnel.  And just before you went through it there were small glaciers and waterfalls all around.

We also saw an Emerald color lake, make more strong flowing rivers, and lots of rain forest.  There was another stop as well that was very beautiful and we made it there just as the sunset was starting to appear.  Mirror lake was this small pool off the side of the road that was clear still water and made for some pretty photos.  There was even a sign off the side that mad the words “Mirror Lake” written backwards and upside down, so when it reflected into the lake it looked correct on the reflection.  Those clever kiwi’s.

The last leg of the drive back to Te Anau was amazingly beautiful.  The sun was setting ahead of us and seemed to slowly envelope the mountains and pastures with beautiful twilight colors as the night sky began to emerge between the clouds.  So if the day hadn’t been sort of out of wack with being late and changing boats, we would have never been able to see this beautiful sunset.  I liked this ending better :)

Swimming with the Dolphins and the Moeraki Boulders

Our first activity we had planned was to go swimming with the dolphins!  Our friend Joe mentioned this to us as well so we decided to give it a go.  One of the cool things about this particular dolphin adventure is that these weren’t just ordinary dolphins, these were endangered Hector’s Dolphins.  They are also known as the smallest dolphins in the world!  They have distinct rounded dorsal fins and can only be found in New Zealand.  There are only about 7,000 left in the wild and are highly protected.  But since they are very social creatures, and as long as touring companies follow conservation rules, people are allowed to swim with them!

We arrived at the dock where we were going to get ready to go out on the tour to swim with the dolphins and went to check in only to find out that I had accidentally booked the activity on the wrong day!  They were really cool about it and ended up having room on the boat that morning for us so we lucked out and got to go anyway (phew!)  First they had us suit up in wet suits and booties, then we grabbed our masks and snorkels and headed out onto the boat.  Here is Steve giving his best Steve Zissou impression before we headed out on the boat.  The boat in the picture below wasn’t actually the boat we went on, our had no windows and we got a little more wet than that one, the kids and parents and older folks went on the slower boring protected boat while us cool kids got to go on the super fast awesome party boat.

The boat ride itself took us out through the bay and out into the ocean.  The landscapes were beautiful and I got lots of photos while we were out searching for dolphins.  Neither of the boats had sonar or any sort of mechanical way of detecting the dolphins locations since they were very common.  It was much more fun to have the tour groups go out and spot them for themselves.  So along the way while we did this, we got to see lots of beautiful land formations and sea cliffs and even some cave entrances!  The captain also took the boat into a small cove that had some very interesting geographical rock formations.  I can’t quite remember what he said this was, but it looks like a large plate of rock that just juts down through the hillside.  Really neat stuff.

It took us a while to spot some dolphins and when we finally did get into the water it was really awesome.  They seemed a bit shy, but they swam right up to everyone and swam through the group of us as we were flailing around and making noises under the water to play with them.  I saw one coming toward me and dunked under the water just as he came near and I saw him jolt past me and slice through through the water!  It was awesome, and Steve did the same thing where he would go under just as they came near to get a really good look at them.  They were really cool.  Unfortunately this was one of those activities you can’t really bring a camera along with (I need to get a waterproof camera for things like this) but I somehow managed to get one shot of two dolphins swimming by the boat.  I didn’t think I got any since they were so fast, but at least it’s something!

After we swam with the dolphins for a while we had some hot chocolate on the boat and headed back to the dock to take a hot shower and dry off.  It was lots of fun and such a unique experience.  The boat hand took some pictures of everyone in the water, but they wanted a bunch of money for it.  We decided to pass on the pics.  We then enjoyed some sandwiches on the walkway near the water in town and then jumped back in the car and started heading south toward Dunedin to stay there for the night, but before we set up camp there, we had to make one more stop along the way and witness the iconic Moeraki Boulders along the east coast.

We got to the Koekohe Beach where the boulders were located and it was low tide.  It was also raining.  It wasn’t a huge bummer, but we did wear our raincoats and I had to wrap my camera up in a plastic bag to protect it while I took come pictures.  There was a small cafe/information center there but it was closed when we arrived so we didn’t have to pay to go down to the beach.  Normally you can just avoid the information center all together and take a longer route around along the beach, but we decided to just use the car park up there.  A handful of people were there and you could tell this was a spot tourists frequented.  The boulders themselves were so strangely beautiful.  Some of them were perfectly spherical and some were cracked open or broken into many pieces and created mini tide pools for smaller organisms.  Apparently throughout history there had been many more boulders, but any that were small enough to transport off the beach were taken by people.  Only the huge ones remain.

After this spectacular break in driving south, we continued onward to Dunedin.  We didn’t actually end up doing anything in Dunedin except have dinner and sleep.  Tomorrow we are heading west toward Te Anau to visit the amazing Millford Sounds!

Ariving in New Zealand

(~Bing Bong~  Please return to your seats as we resume the rest of the show. Ok!  Now that we are back home and have fully recovered from some jet lag, I’ll go ahead and start making the posts about our adventures throughout New Zealand!  Here goes!)

The plane ride over from Sydney wasn’t terribly long, but it was longer than I thought it was going to be.  For some reason I thought New Zealand was a bit closer to Australia, but the flight was about 5 hours long.  No big, the flight was actually really cool.  We flew with Emirates and they had free drinks and some fancy meal which wasn’t half bad!  They also had huge screens on the back of every seat and a big movie selection, so Steve and I watched Toy Story 3!  Any who, we got a little taste of luxury before heading straight back into travel mode in NZ.  We flew into the city of Christchurch and got our shuttle to take us to the rental car place.

The rental car company we went with was recommended to us from Joe whom we met on the Mike Ball excursion.  The place was small and quaint and the owner there was really nice.  He filled us in on some places to go and things to see, ran over the car details with us, etc.  The car we rented was a little Nissan hatch back thing that could have the back seat folded down, a wooden board laid out, and two narrow mattress pads laid out on top of that with sheets and duvets to keep us warm!  It also came with a small awning to attach to the back door while it was open, a portable gas stove with mini gas cans, table and chairs, dishes and pots and pans for two, and curtains for the windows for privacy!  I knew right away after looking at this car, which would end up being our home away from home for the next two weeks, that this leg of our trip was going to be a blast.  We waved goodbye and then I began driving to get some petrol at a nearby station…it took a good hour or so of driving before I was used to driving on the left hand side of the road with the steering wheel on the right.  It was pretty nerve wracking at first, but after that initial drive out toward Akaroa (about 2 hours away from Christchurch) I felt really confident about driving in NZ.

We started the drive out east toward Akaroa and were immediately enthralled by the landscapes of the country…and we hadn’t seen anything yet!  There were tons of sheep grazing on green rolling hills and the further away we got from the city, the more beautiful it became.  As soon as we got about halfway to Akaroa the straight roadways turned into an inclining windy mountain path which was fun to drive on my first day.  Just after reaching the high point of the windy road we saw the most amazingly beautiful picture perfect landscape of the Akaroa Harbor and all the bays that surrounded it.  It was awesome.  This was the beginning of me pulling over a lot throughout the trip to snap a few photos of the landscapes.

We finally arrived at the Akaroa Holiday Park just as it was getting dark and began to set up camp.  We were told that since New Zealand is further south in the southern hemisphere, it stays light out longer during the day.  The further south in the country you went, the longer the light stayed out in the summer.  It would typically stay light out anywhere until 9-11pm depending on where we were.  It was a bit deceiving as you would think it was only about dinner time when the sun was setting but it was actually closer to 10pm!  We had a late dinner of steak and salad on our portable grill after we set up the car for the night and got a good nights rest to begin our first excursion in New Zealand the following day.  Tomorrow we will be swimming with the endangered hector dolphins of New Zealand!

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