Monday, December 25, 2006

Our trip to the NZ South Island

We recently got back from a two week adventure to the south island here in New Zealand. We heard that the south island was beyond description and that it was something that had to be seen to believed. I would completely agree.

For the next sections you can scroll around google maps to see where we went.

Click for Google Maps

My parents and sister flew into Auckland and we started our journeys. We started by flying from Auckland to Christchurch which is on the center east coast of the south island. We picked up the RV and drove to Lake Tekapo. On the drive to the lake we traveled through flat farmlands with fields of lupen. The first thing that you notice when you get there is that all of the rivers and lakes are an odd creamy light blue color which is very distinctive.

The weather was extremely cold and windy at the start of the trip so we really couldn’t get out and walk around too much in any one spot. Our plan was to camp at lake Tekapo for the night but since we had a fair amount of daylight left we decided keep driving on to Twizel(pronounced: Twy-zehl). My sister’s boyfriend’s cousin is a fly fishing guide/magician/kung fu actor who lives in Twizel although we weren’t able to hook up with him.

The following day we drove to Omarama which is one of the world’s greatest gliding locations and you can see why by the drive there. You are surrounded by steep mountain faces on all sides and the wind blows like it has nothing better to do. We got there and prepared to glide but the weather socked in it got canceled. We were driving out of town towards Oamaru and I remembered that I had left my video camera on the seat of one of the glider so we had to turn around and drive back. By a stroke of luck when we got back the weather had cleared up so up we went. Roberta and I went up in separate planes and worked our way up to about 8k feet and got some great views. I ended up getting motion sickness and had to turn around after an hour but Roberta kept going and stayed up for over two hours.

While we were up flying, my family went up to the base of Mt. Cook which they said was one of the highlights of their trip.

We then drove over to Oamaru and saw the Moeraki boulders. They are these big spheres on the beach that you can check out a low tide. My sister got stuck in one with much comedic value.

Another one of the major highlights of the trip for everyone were the penguins in Dunedin. If you drive out to the point where the albatross reserve is there is also a penguin area. You get there right before dark and sit down next to this little trail and the penguins come in from the ocean in a big flock. They then walk up this wee trail right in front of you. Honestly there were penguins walking within a few feet of us. It was a very surreal experience. The sounds that they were making were amazing.

After that we headed inland towards Queenstown to start the preparations for Routeburn tramp. Driving towards Queenstown we traveled through a ton of farmland and wineries. That area looks like the place to go for wine tours.

We arrived in Queenstown and found an RV park right in town where we could walk to everything. We spend a couple days there before we got the word that they had closed the Routeburn track due to snow and really bad weather. Supposedly there was 6 inches of snow on the top and people were stuck in the huts for 40 hours. I heard a story about these two groups of trampers at a bridge. The river was up and almost over the bridge and the first group decided to chance the crossing. Right after the last person got across the bridge collapsed. They were also helicoptering people across impassable sections of the trail.

After that we headed to Milford Sound where the rest of the family did a 2 hour boat trip and Roberta and I did an overnight trip. Our overnight trip was really fun. We had a whole four bunk room to ourselves and met some nice people from the UK. The only way to describe Milford Sound is with pictures.

Roberta and I decided to get a rental car at that point and do our own thing for a few days. We stayed in Queenstown for a couple more nights and were really glad that we did. We did a little winery tour and had some great wines then went to the AJ Hackett bungie bridge which is the site of the world’s first bungie jump. It is now all packaged and cheesy. They play it off as extreme but there were many other activities that seemed more adventurous and that actually required a bit of skill.

In Queenstown we went hang gliding which was a great experience. You basically get all strapped into this harness and then jump off a cliff with wings attached to your back. The instructor told us to just keep running no matter what until we were flying. We did a little ridge soaring and then landed on our bellies. Fun stuff but I still like flying sailplanes better.

We then drove north on the west coast up towards the glaciers. There are two amazing glaciers right next to each other, the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers. The town of Franz Joseph seemed a little nicer so we decided to stay there. The next morning we got up and took a helicopter ride up to the top of the glacier which was definitely a highlight of the trip. Neither one of us had ever been in a helicopter so it was a great experience. It landed on the top of the glacier and we got out and were able to walk around. Check out the pictures to see the sheer enormity of the place.

Our next destination were the pancake rocks. They are a neat formation on the coast with blowholes and such.

From there we headed east over to the Hanmer Hot Springs for a relaxing next to last day in the south island. They weren’t so much hot springs as they were warm pools. I guess we were spoiled by the Tabacon hot springs in Costa Rica and the natural pools in Oregon. We did meet a nice couple of guys who said their highlight hot springs were in Budapest which is now a destination on our life travel list.

The last day we spent in Christchurch and we stayed in a hotel called The Camelot which was medieval themed. We kept cracking jousting jokes with the owner but he wasn’t laughing. Both of us really liked Christchurch as the downtown area was quaint and had some historic charm.

All in all it was an amazing trip and we are planning on doing it again to focus on sights that we missed.

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