South + West = OMG

Trip Start Apr 22, 2011
Trip End Jul 19, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Sunday, May 29, 2011

Now I understand why the South Island gets all the attention. While there are absolutely fantastic places / landscapes / beaches  .... in the North Island, the SI is mind blowing. Truly mind-blowing. 

Nelson to Haast. Driving along the west coast.
When I get back, I’ll be sharing hundreds of photos with you. I suspect 1/8 of the way through, you’ll be thinking “another ocean shot or another mountain shot or another ocean/mountain shot”. I’ll apologize to  you now. To you, they’ll generally all look alike. To me, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  The west coast bus rides were, well - stunning. (btw - I seem to have a pretty good ability to take decent photos while on a speeding bus)

Not the blueberry kind. Pancake Rocks. On the west coast of the SI is a teenie, tiny town called Punakaiki. Don’t blink, because you’ll miss this amazing phenomena, the Pancake Rocks. Massive rocks resembling stacks and stacks of pancakes with the ocean splashing syrup over them (that was either really corny or really poetic, or maybe both :)  Seriously, the ocean/rock thing always instantly captures my spirit. This was so cool. You get to the spot by going through what feels like the jungle (and I’ve been to the Amazon, so I know that it truly seems like a jungle). Splashing sounds in the distance, then BAM! Pancake Rocks. Wow.

BIg Piece of Ice.
Not that it was on my list of things to do before I kick the bucket, but if it were, I can now check off - hiked a glacier. Franz Josef Glacier, that is. At first I was a little nervous, even with crampons on my boots. I had visions of falling in a crevasse (“no one has ever been injured on this hike”. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin their record). The hike to the glacier was stunning. 104 photos later, we’re on ice. Wasn’t so scary after all, or maybe I was so in awe that it made me forget my fear. (honestly, I wasn’t THAT frightened). There are several glaciers in NZ. I’ve now conquered one of them. Phew.

I loved this place. A small coastal town with a huge lake (yup, Lake Wanaka). And of course the mountain backdrop. I reconnected with Thelma & Louise (er, I mean Yvonne (the former nun) and Connie) in Wanaka. I was staying in a mediocre hotel (with a beautiful view) and they were staying in this fabulous lodge a 5 min walk away. We hung out at the lodge that evening where I had a chance to meet Wayne & Mandy (owners) and their boys Cory & Ryan (cute and cute). I became Cory’s bff after giving him a very brief tutorial on how to take photos on my iPhone. Did I mention he was cute. Wayne and Mandy could write the book on “hospitality at it’s finest”. They are some of the sweetest people I have ever met. They invited me to breakfast with Y&C the next morning. Yum. The beauty of Wanaka and the beauty of the Enoka family.

Lord of the Rings. Or if you’re from NZ - LOTR.
I remember while watching LOTR on the big screen thinking - I gotta go there. Check. So freakin’ amazing. Milford Sound is a big tourist destination, but there’s no hint of hollywood. They say you’re lucky if you get rain when you do Milford Sound (waterfalls are all temporary, so it’s all about the rain). You all know by now that good karma has been my travel companion - so, yup - it rained and produced what seemed like a thousand waterfalls. Low clouds, rain, the sound from the thousand waterfalls all created a mystical, magical experience. Gorgeous.

Speaking of karma.  I keep flirting with mishaps, but come out of it on the best possible side. I’m out in the rain, top deck and I see what will be a spectacular photo. Not paying attention, I slip on the stairs and ass-bump to the bottom, whacking my hand and elbow (on all 15 steps), iPhone mid-air. I’m surrounded by people in a flash, all asking “are you okay” and I’m saying “where’s my phone!”. Karma - iPhone is aok and no broken bones. My elbow is still tender (this was 10 days ago) and the bruise (which covers half my left butt cheek) is various shades of purple and yellow. (I was going to take a picture, but decided I’d spare you). Karma.

When I was in Wellington, I spent an hour talking with Mark at the iSite (information centers all over the country). A day away from taking the ferry to the South Island, I wanted to start initial planning (ha). Mark told me about Doubtful Sound, Milford’s step sister. Doubtful is in the heart of a designated World Heritage area. It is so expansive and imposing. You can actually feel the power of nature. We (remember, at this point I’m with my girls, Yvonne & Connie) started the journey at Lake Manapouri (which is sprinkled with 34 islands! and is considered NZ’s most beautiful lake). A gorgeous 20 minute boat ride to Wilmot Pass where we boarded a bus - up, down, waterfall, waterfall, up, down, down, down, and you’ve reached Doubtful Sound. OMG. We then boarded another boat (only 15 of us that day - it was like having a private tour). By time we arrived at boat #2, the rain (more like mist) had stopped - sun occasionally peeking through big puffy clouds. 497. The number of photos on the 2 hour journey through the Sound. I know, I know. Even the boat crew was impressed (or maybe they thought I was nuts). This is where I met Eugenia (see Girl Power blog entry) - my new buddy who makes the best kick-ass hot chocolate in the world. Doubtful - Cinderella indeed.

We got the best of both world’s - Milford in the rain/fog, Doubtful rainfree w/ glimpses of sun. Heaven.

The Three Stooges
At this point, I’ve been hanging with Y&C for 2.5 days (we stayed in this quaint town called Te Anau, a starting point for Milford and Doubtful Sound tours). At dinner on the 3rd night, they invited me to travel with them along the south coast. I was beyond thrilled!  So many times I tried asking the bus driver to stop so I could take photos, but that never worked - now I’d be a backseat passenger in their Toyota Corolla. Stopping wouldn’t be a issue (they’re as freaky as I am about photo-ops). YAY!

Mind blowing to the 800th power.
The next three days, we drove the South Coastal Route. Holy shit. I didn’t think it could get any better than the Sounds. Well, not the case. Honestly, I thought I might burst with joy. 

**Slope Point - the most southern tip of the South Island. It is SO windy, the trees are literally horizontal (poster-worthy photos from here). Stunning is a watered down description.

**Curio Bay - one of the world’s largest petrified forests. The kelp was HUGE. Close your eyes and imagine the biggest spinach fettucini in the world. Got amazing photos from this place - if I have to say so myself. 

**Nugget Point - named this because the sea-worn rocks look like gold. Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A gorgeous lighthouse at the point - because it wasn’t already stunning enough.

Farewell, Thelma & Louise
After a night’s sleep in Balclutha (as special as it sounds :), an early start. From here we drive to Dunedin (where Rajesh, a fellow continuum-ite, was born!), again, the scenic route. We make a stop Whaihola, another beautiful lake by the same name....home to black swans. And here we meet Burt. A stately, gentle, quiet 86 year old resident of Whaihola, on his daily walk along the lake, sporting his hand-made cane which is as handsome as he. I’m not sure if we made his day, or he thought we were weirdos asking if we could take his photograph. His eyes reminded me of my dad’s. 

The Remarkables are just that - remarkable!
From Dunedin, back on the bus for a journey to Queenstown. You think at this point I’d be sick of quaint towns on a lake facing a mountain range. Not. Queenstown sits on Lake Wakatipu. The Remarkables are one of two mountain ranges in the world that run north to south (our own Rockies being the other).  I arrived in the evening, so to my delight, the view from my hotel room the next morning was - the Remarkables (sound of long deep breath). The sun was in full force, my iPhone itching to take more photos. As luck, I mean karma, would have it, it was the last weekend for the TSS Earnslaw cruise to Walter Peak high country working farm (sheep - finally, up close and personal! These buggers are quite skiddish making for tough photographing) The TSS is also known as “Lady of the Lake” and is believed to be the oldest working coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere,  If interested, you could go into the boat’s belly and see the workings of a steamship. Young guys, tight sweaty t-shirts shoveling coal into the pit (or whatever you call it). 12 photos. 

Once we get to shore, we’re greeted by perky hosts who invite us to a bbq. Yum, yum, yum. But not until I’ve taken another several photos. I mean, there was a lake and mountains, and you can never get enough of those shots, right? After the bbq, a tour of the farm. Tom was our guide. He was a total hoot (and a looker, if you’re into the rugged farm type - which apparently I am). The herd dogs, Betsy and Ping, were super hyper and very impressive during a sheep herding demonstration. I didn’t know this, but the dogs are bred to kill (yikes!). If they get eye contact with a sheep, it’s off with their heads (not literally, but you get the picture). Even though the sheep are much larger than the dogs, they are completely frightened of them. Interesting little factoid shared by the sexy farmer. 

The world record for shearing sheep in a 8 hr period is 427 (or some insane number close to that). Holy moly! Tom sheared one in 3 minutes which I thought was very impressive. AND, they shear it in one piece!  Tom invited me up to see the “finished product”. As I was taking a picture of her, the sheep stomped her hoof at me as if to say - hey! give a girl a break. I’m having a baaaaa hair day (heehee). Love the sheep. Hmmmm, maybe that could be my new profession.

The next day I spent poking around the outdoor market, and strolling along the lakeside and through the Queen’s Park. It was quite nippy despite the sunshine, and at this point, my brain is shifting to Australia. Today, I flew from Queenstown to Auckland, and am now on a flight to Sydney.

I had an epiphany while in NZ - my soul was craving the wild outdoors. Wide open space. Quiet - in my head. I feel renewed. Thank you, New Zealand. Your beauty has medicinal powers which I am immensely grateful to have experienced. I will be back, but for now....Kake Te Anua.
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Leigh Firn on

Hi Freda
I'm glad you are enjoying NZ and I enjoyed reading your posts. Sorry Wellington did not live up to my hype but then again am very biased. Did you look up any of my friends?

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