Exploring New Zealand
The verdict is in, New Zealand is as beautiful as they say....
We visited the beautiful island nation of New Zealand from December 20 to January 4th. New Zealand is roughly the length of California so you can imagine that it is a big place to explore. The days we had were jam packed and provided only a slight glimpses of this wonderful countrySorry, this page is a big one and it may take several minutes to load onto your computer....
|We flew to LA and spent the night there before catching an Air New Zealand 747 for the 12 hour flight down to Auckland NZ. We stayed in Auckland for 3 nights to adjust to driving on the left side of the road and catch a few sites in that vibrant city of 1.5 million Kiwi. They call themselves Kiwis(kee-wee) which is after their national bird, a unique looking flightless chicken-sized bird with a very long beak.||An hours drive west of Auckland is a large mountain park that has really nice surfing beaches. We hiked up to an overlook of beautiful Piha Beach to see the surfing activity. Also, the whole Auckland area has fantastic sailing opportunities and thus the city is called "The City of Sails" for good reason. And they are proud to have whooped the yanks in 1995 to capture the America's Cup race.|
|We then caught another flight down to the south island town of Queenstown and the Southern Alps mountains. We had nice weather and some great NZ scenery including Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown. The Wakatipu name is from the Maori (more-e) language who were the native inhabitants of the islands. They are Polynesians similar to the people of Tahiti and Hawaii. They still play an important roll in NZ society and their names grace much of the nations landmarks.||NZ is synonymous with sheep. They are everywhere and number 43 million. Many of the farms are picturesque like this one with Fiordland National Park in the background. We stayed 2 nights in Te Anau (tea-ah-new) which is the gateway town for the national park.|
|Fiordland is home to several of NZ's great tracks. They call hiking trails "tracks" and backpacking is called "tramping". Hiking is merrily called "walking" and "walking" is somewhat of a national pastime down there. There are thousands of miles of tracks across the country and they are very fond of that fact. We chose to do the Milford Track since it is their most famous one. It cuts through the heart of Fiordland National Park. We took an hour long boat trip on Lake Te Anau to get to the trailhead. They tend to measure between points by using time instead of distance as you can see here.||Milford country is water country. Lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls and RAIN. Over 8 meters or roughly 25 feet of rain falls each year. Here's a nice view along the Clinton River of Chris on a long swing bridge in route to the first hut.|
|The first hut was called the Clinton Hut and was actually 3 buildings. 2 bunkhouses and a dining house. The covered porches you see were at each hut and were very nice to have given the incessant rain we'd have to endure over the coming days.||The next day it started to rain. The rain often cleared at times so we could get good views but to be honest, it was pretty darn wet most of the time. Below is a nice view of the river and some waterfalls. We soon would find out that we'd see many hundreds of falls over the next few days.|
|This whole area is in a rain forest(surprise!). It is beautiful with moss covering everything and diverse trees and plants. We stayed the second night high in the Mintaro hut. We really liked staying at the huts. Not necessarily since they kept us dry, but because we met lots of great people from around the world. We shared the track with 11 North Americans, 10 Australians, 11 from Holland, 2 from Sweden, 2 from Germany, and 5 from Japan. The Kiwis were smart and stayed home for Christmas with their families.||The third day brought us over McKinnon Pass which is above timberline(bushline to the Kiwis). It was stormy up there so it was great to be able to take a break in the Pass Hut before descending. The weather managed to break a few times while we were up there so we could see the spectacular scenery. It is somewhat similar to the mountains in Glacier National Park in Montana.|
|Here is a view looking down the Clinton Valley which had we hiked up||More rain. But lots of water makes lots of great waterfalls!|
|We met some of the Ents that stared in Lord of the Rings. The trees truly looked like Ents and I'm sure that is where some of the inspiration came from for the movie.||In a land of water falls, one has to be the biggest. And it is Sutherland Falls which is 1800ft high making it the 5th highest in the world. It sounded like an airliner jet engine.|
|Along the track we saw parrots called Kea. They are the worlds only mountain parrot and displayed the typical parrot smarts and playfulness. They were pretty big birds and enjoyed gnawing on hikers unattended gear.||The 3rd night was at the Dumpling Hut. It must have got its name from people feeling like soaked dumplings in a pot. We were soaked but got dried out at the hut and viewed the valley surrounding the hut with literally dozens and dozens of waterfalls. Perhaps this gave the inspiration for the elf's waterfall city of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings?|
|The final day on the track. You guessed it, all of those white lines are more waterfalls. Notice the fresh snow on the peaks. We thought it was suppose to be summer down here!!!||We made it to the end. In a country converted to the metric system, it was interesting to see they left the old sign up that listed the number of miles we had just trekked.|
|At the end was incomparable Milford Sound and the mile high peaks that rose precipitously from sea level into the clouds. Spectacular! We got on a boat that took us over to the town site of Milford where we stayed the night in a lodge.||The next morning we woke to find the rain finally gone and it would be gone for the rest of our trip. Milford Sound was magical in its beauty. We only had a short time to view this stunning scene since we had to catch a bus back to Te Anau. :-(|
|Wow! The drive back through the park was the prettiest highway we'd ever been on!!!!||We continued on and stayed in the happening resort town of Queenstown. It is the epicenter of Kiwi recreation and sports all of their adrenaline minded activities. They love doing crazy stuff like bungee jumping(they invented it) and jet boating through white water rapids which looked nuts to us. They also did other crazy things here but we chose just to relax and enjoy the fun downtown and gorgeous lake and peaks.|
|The next day we drove through the Southern Alps for miles and saw lots of awesome scenes and pretty lakes like Lake Wanaka below.||We took a side drive up into Mt Aspiring National Park. We saw some black swans along the drive. NZ has a very wide array of bird and marine life, but not much for land mammals due to its remote location.|
|Mt Aspiring is one of NZ's largest peaks and has many glaciers on it.||At the end of the long days drive was Westland National Park and the tallest peak in New Zealand, Mt Cook (12000ft) The full mountain rises right from sea level so it is a very large peak. We spent a couple nights here.|
|On the next day we took a helicopter tour on the Fox Glacier. We had a guided half day hike that was awesome! Here's an aerial view in route to the landing site.||Helicopter after dropping us off.|
|This was a big glacier by any standard and we got to explore it a little. We needed crampons and an ice stick to help. There were deep crevasses to be avoided.||The guide found a fresh ice cave; the blue color inside was outstanding! The translucent ice allows some sunlight to get though and that makes the blue color.|
|After the helihike we also hiked to the terminal face (end) of the glacier. It looked pretty gnarly here too. This glacier comes within a few hundred feet of sea level making it the lowest glacier at this latitude in the world.||The following day we drove up the west coast a couple hundred miles. One area we saw was a kiwi bird recovery area. They are severely endangered since non-native possums have propagated and decimated these ground dwelling bird's nests. The citizens are fighting back and eradicating the possums with full force to save their beloved national icon.|
|Wowzer, a turquoise river and the Southern Alps!!! This is typical scenery in the Southern Alps!||We stopped by Paparoa National Park which had some interesting "Pancake Rocks" along the coast. We then stayed the night just up the road in Westport.|
|Just before getting to Westport, we did a short hike to a seal colony. There were some cute brand new babies here and lots of frolicking adults.||The next day I could not pass up the opportunity to go "Cave Rafting" in Paparoa NP. Sharon isn't a big water fan so she decided to pass. It was actually more like cave tubing, but very cool none the less. The group donned wet suits and trekked though a nice cave.|
|Then we floated the tubes on an underground stream. What really made the outing special was the presence of glow worms. Have you ever heard of them before? They are tiny worms that live all over NZ. They actually glow green in the dark. Kind of like lightning bugs in the Midwest. The ceiling of the cavern had many thousands of glow worms that looked like the milky way stars at night. We floated through with them lighting the way and it was an amazing site. Click here to see a photo I found showing glow worms. After exiting the cave we had some fun small rapids to tube through as shown below. It was a hoot!||
We spent the last 2 nights of the trip on the north end of the south island next to Able Tasman National Park. This is an area of dozens of lovely beaches. We didn't get to spend enough time here but did go on a long hike to see a bit of the sparkling coastline.
Able Tasman is a world class sea kayaking area and it has a popular hut tramping
track like Milford. You can also comfortably tent camp there since it
is pretty dry in this part of NZ. This will be a place we'll need to
revisit the next time we come down here.
We caught a flight from Nelson back to Auckland.
The Kiwis are ultra proud of their Lord of The Rings movies. Air New
Zealand is dubbed the "Airline to Middle Earth" and they've painted a bunch of jets
with the characters from the saga. We saw the Frodo jet as we disembarked
on our flight back to the States.
All in all we had a great trip! A quick taste of what New Zealand has
to offer. It is a hiker, sailor, and adventurer playground.
Here is our
list of NZ tidbits that we learned during our trip.
If you are interested in some other facts about NZ, visit The CIA World Factbook - New Zealand