NZ Day 7: Through the Pass

There was lots of traffic on our drive today. Did we mention New Zealand is full of sheep?!

We left Queenstown to drive north along SH 6 and through the Haast Pass. It’s the lowest of the three main passes through the Southern Alps, and there are no settlements for almost the entire route.  Instead, the forests are virtually untouched with moss covered beech trees and ancient ferns dominating the landscape.

Winding through the Pass, we stopped at a couple of waterfalls and a set of cerulean pools amidst the forests.  The water really is intensely blue due to a combination of purity and sediment.  We wanted to wait for some penguins at one of the beaches, but the sandflies were out in force and drove us off.  Shortly after, the rain set in so we made haste to our hotel.

This was another drive that started out with beautiful mountains and lakes.  The impending rain made the clouds stick close to the mountainsides and gave them a mysterious aura.

Despite the natural beauty around us, the highlight of our day was the sheep jam.  A group of shepherds was moving their flock from one field to another. The sheep completely blocked the road and cars were forced to slowly crawl through a seething mass of wool and hooves.

The flock was expertly guided along by several shepherds and a multitude of sheepdogs. The shepherds actually had the dogs penned up in the back of a truck and would let them out a few at a time as needed.  The sheep seemed to enjoy their excursion and were totally unfazed by cars and buses pushing through their midst.

Our internet connection is spotty, so there won’t be many pictures for a few days. We’ll get the best of them uploaded but will post more later. We’re in Fox Glacier for a couple of days for more hiking and hopefully sunnier weather.  Pictures are here, with more to come.


NZ Day 6: Gone Fishing

With an extra day to spare in Queenstown, we (read Drew) elected to go fishing. Finding a guide was relatively easy; we’d asked the last time we were in Melbourne for recommendations. The fishing was anything but.

Our guide drove us an hour out of town, past Glenorchy, to a gin clear stream. We were near Lake Sylvan, at the southern end of Mount Aspiring National Park. The overcast sky made spotting the fish difficult and the clear water made their spotting us easy. Still, we tried our best. Without waders, the water was cold and left our legs feeling a bit numb.

Nothing was surface feeding and we only caught a glimpse of a tail. However, being out in a river surrounded by alpine meadows was wonderfully relaxing. We’ll drive further up the west coast tomorrow. A few extra pictures here.

NZ Day 5: Queenstown

Queenstown is a wonderful place to use as a base station for further adventures. There are tons of restaurants, shops, and beautiful scenery. From Queenstown, you can pick any adrenaline producing sport that NZ allows. We opted for none of that. We spent the morning walking along the coast of Lake Takawapui. The lake is beautiful and town extends right to its edge. There is even a coal powered steamer that ferries tourists around for most of the year.

From there, we regrouped and headed to the local ski resort. During the summer the slopes are usually open to hikers. However, the road, which rises almost 1200 meters, was closed for off season repairs and major construction on the lodge. Not deterred, we had lunch at a vista overlooking town before heading to another trail.

We did a 10k loop that included a historic gold mining area. We found a restored shack that was used by a miner during NZ’s depression era (1930s). The man who built it continued to live in Queenstown (he stopped mining due to WW2), but would visit his shack occasionally. We didn’t find any gold but we had a great hike. The trail was stepper than expected, but we found some stunning views at the top of the trail. We made it back to Queenstown exhausted and ready for dinner. Pictures of the day are here.

NZ Day 4: Milford Sound

Spending 8 hours on a bus may not sound like a great day, but driving and sailing through Milford Sound (technically a fjord, but who’s pining?) makes it worth while. The drive there was through some spectacular alpine passes, with flowing streams and flat lakes. The water is glacial run off and supposedly safe for drinking (although we’ve lived in the south too long to actually try any untreated water). The Sound itself is bounded by craggy, snow capped mountains and definitely lives up to the hype.

The tour itself was fairly uneventful. The glass roofed bus was a nice touch – you could really see the mountains towering over you the whole trip. We stopped at a few places along the way to stretch our legs and look at lakes, streams, mountains, and waterfalls.

Once at Milford Sound, we hopped on a boat and headed out to sea. The cruise through the sound was calm except for the small bit where we crossed out into the Tasman Sea. This area is known for its high winds, but it helped keep the temperature down so we didn’t mind. At the dock, it was nice and sunny with clouds skirting the mountain peaks. However, the further out to sea we got, the foggier it became.

We don’t know if we’d recommend doing the bus tour, but only because there seemed to be some great hiking along the way that we would have loved to do. We like to travel a bit more at our own pace; however, overall it was a great trip.

There’s really no way to do justice to the grandeur and majesty of the area. It could be in parts of the Rockies or parts of Austria. Rather than waste our time trying to explain it, go look at the pictures.

NZ Day 3: The Road to Queenstown

Imagine the steepest hill you’ve walked up. Now make it steeper. No seriously, raise the grade. Now imagine that for every 9 feet you walk forward, you walk up 3 feet. That’s Baldwin Street where we started our day. It’s in a cozy suburb of Dunedin, and holds the Guinness World Record for World’s Steepest Street. Ashley absolutely had to walk up it. It’s murder on the legs. However, Thomas, the resident cat, was very happy to have visitors. At least as happy as cats get.

Much of the rest of the day was spent driving in and out of the rain. We took the scenic route along the coast and stopped for waterfalls, miniature dolphins, and petrified trees.

The weather was chilly, although more normal for the region, and the rain was nice. The dolphins decided that under the water was more fun than above and none showed. The petrified trees on the other hand were interesting. They sit right on the shore and look more like stumps than anything else. Drew expected more like the petrified forest in Arizona, but these stumps were more worn down by the pounding surf. The easiest ones to make out were the downed logs stretching across the beach.

The rest of the drive took us through rolling hills and banks of clouds. That is until we reached Lake Wakatipu. We crested a ridge and began to see craggy peaks above the clouds. For most of the drive these were obscured by the low hanging clouds, but eventually the tops started to peek through.

Also, have we mentioned the sheep? Sheep farming is quite a big deal. It was rare for us to go more than 30 minutes without seeing at least a few of these guys.

Once we made our way into Queenstown and checked into the hotel, we made our way downtown to grab drinks and dinner. It was Ashley’s birthday, so Drew treated her to a drink at an ice bar. The drinks weren’t bad, and overall the experience was a lot of fun.

The rest of our pictures can be found here, here, and here.

NZ Day 2: Dunedin

When we arrived in Dunedin, the first thing we noticed was that it was bright. Despite it being 7:45, the sun was still shining. After a very long day we were exhausted but had a hard time crawling in bed since sunset wasn’t until after 9pm.

The next morning (sunrise at roughly 0620), we set out to explore the town. We found a delightful Chinese Garden and spent a good hour walking around and enjoying the peace and quiet.

The main train station (top pic) is an impressive site and the interior is filled with ornate widows and mosaics. There was also an art gallery and sports museum inside, in addition to still being a working train station.

From there we went to The Octagon, which is as close to a town square as Dunedin has. We visited the First Church of Otago, which is a lovely Presbyterian church overlooking the city. Lunch (Japanese, including real ramen) was delicious. Afterwards, we picked up some postcards and souvenirs and took a quick break to rest our feet.

To end the day, we made our way to the Speight’s Brewery for a tour. The tour was an odd mix of historical facts and brewing technique. It was interesting to hear about how the Christchurch earthquake four years ago affected the entire island and not just the city. As a result, Speight’s had to close down it’s old school brew house and build a new one to take on extra brewing work. The old equipment was much more interesting than the new (we may have been on one or two brewery tours before…). The tastings at the bar were excellent though – visitors are encouraged to pour their own and sample anything on tap. We enjoyed it enough to stop by the Ale House right down the street for a second round and some dinner. We’ll spend tomorrow driving along the coast before heading into the mountains.

More pictures here.

NZ Day 1: Oamaru and Moraki

Day one of our grand adventure to NZ started out gray and cool. We picked up our rental car in Christchurch and headed down the east coast of NZ to Oamaru. The drive down is through rolling farmland. There are, as rumored, lots of sheep. There are also crazy road signs. Some locals told us this was the most boring drive in the country but we found it lovely. There is so much green and the tall evergreen hedges separating fields were unique.

Oamaru is a cute town about two hours south of Christchurch. It has a historic district full of Victorian era buildings that is the main shopping hub. It’s also home to the Steampunk HQ. Part modern art exhibit, part junk yard, the HQ is definitely a quirky attraction. The Infinity Portal was definitely worth the visit though. The mirrored room contains a variety of colored lights that change to soothing music. We could have spent more than the two minutes our token got us.

Oamaru is also home to the tasting room for the NZ Whisky Company. In 1997, the last distillery in NZ closed down, and in 2010 this company bought up the remaining stock. Drew was impressed with how light the cask strength samples were, although Ashley remained partial to her Tassie whisky, Nant.

From Oamaru, we headed to Moraki. The peninsula is home to ancient round boulders, penguins, seals, and an amazing seafood restaurant. Ashley walked amongst the rounded stones while Drew got out the kite and enjoyed the stiff breeze blowing.

We stopped at Katiki Point Reserve to try and catch a glimpse of the yellow eyed penguins. These rare birds are unique to New Zealand and the lighthouse is supposed to have great views of them. Initially, we didn’t find penguins, but the seals were out in force. They seem to enjoy the protection the cove offers them and were quite happy in the cold water. We saw two penguins and heard several more before we had to head off to dinner. With more time, it would have been a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Before we headed off to Dunedin, we stopped at Fleurs Place. A coworker of ours used to wash dishes there and highly recommended it. The little shack sits on the end of a the pier in a tiny fishing town. They serve fish fresh off the boat and all organic produce. The cod was heavenly. Being so landlocked, we forgot what really fresh seafood tastes like. To finish the evening, we drove to Dunedin and finally realized how far south we really are – even at 9pm, it was still light outside. More pictures from the first day are here.