[Shotover River Valley from Coronet Ski Area (outside Queenstown)]


New Zealand Trip

December 2003 - January 2004

Pictures from our December 2003 - January 2004 New Zealand Trip


Prelude and En Route

New Zealand - known as Aotearoa or the Land of the Long White Cloud to the Maoris - has long been on our list of must-visit places (perhaps even higher up than Australia, truth be told.) Once again, we followed our preferred approach, of finding a small travel agency, preferably run by one or two people who were deeply knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the area we wanted to travel. And once again, we were lucky to find just such an agency - DesigNZ on Travel, run by Russell Wenn and Julie Collier. They live near Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, and travel all over the country (most of their recommendations to us were based on their personal experiences) - and, oddly enough, Russell's parents even live in Adelaide! We started emailing with them back in March, and had things pretty well solidified by April - and then it was just a matter of waiting with growing excitement. We'll give away the not-too-surprising ending here - we had a wonderful time, and would recommend Russell and Julie to anyone wanting an interesting, personalized, and high quality trip - in addition to doing all the bookings, they provided us with detailed route guides, and copious notes of things to do along the way.

So on to the story - after last's year's rush to get out the door on Christmas Day, we decided to allow ourselves a leisurely Christmas - so we didn't plan to leave Adelaide until the morning of Boxing Day (Dec 26). We got to the airport in plenty of time for our mid-morning departure, and after a delay due to a passenger's medical problem (first an on-board wheelchair went down the aisle past us - then two attendants came tearing back in the other direction, grabbing the medical kit and defibrillator, and heading towards the back of the plane), we had a pleasantly boring flight to Sydney. It was nice to be in Sydney between flights and not have to rush!

North Island

Auckland

Then on to Auckland, again without events (and no speeding tickets, unlike the previous year.) We gathered up our luggage, called the rental car company to confirm the car for the next morning, and got on the shuttle to our hotel, near the airport. Since it was Boxing Day, and we arrived about 10 pm (but only feeling like 7:30 pm, since New Zealand is 2 1/2 hours later than Adelaide), no restaurants were open - so it was time to hit the minibar in the rooms for a bedtime snack for the girls, then we all turned in.

Saturday the 27th dawned partly cloudy, as forecast (we had come prepared for changeable weather, and the possibility of continual rain, but were hoping to beat the odds again as we had in Tasmania nearly two years ago.) We headed into Auckland, with only a couple false turns (we had only a highly simplified map and a few directions from the car rental bloke.) Once there, we hit the main street, and what did we see? Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and a Whitcoull's bookstore, all within a block - we had to stop (or at least Tim did). We went into the bookstore, and began our usual process of stocking up on books about the local area we were visiting, then off to Dunkin' Donuts for donuts, and Starbucks for coffee. We headed back to the car with our purchases in hand, and drove out to Kelly Tarleton's Antarctic Encounter / Underwater World.

Kelly Tarleton was a diver who wanted to share the beauty and character of the undersea life of New Zealand waters with everyone. In 1983, he gathered the resources to convert some unused sewage holding tanks into a unique (at that time and for New Zealand) aquarium - his idea was to build acrylic tunnels through the tanks, so that visitors could walk through and under the marine life living in the surrounding tanks (a similar idea is in place at the Seattle Aquarium and other places around the world now.) At the time, no such acrylic tunnels were available, and although companies in both Germany and Japan thought they could do it, Kelly decided to do it himself - he procured 32 extremely large panels, built a mold and oven, and bent the acrylic himself (with a little help from his friends!) Testing showed that it was sufficiently strong, so they were installed in the tanks; a moving walkway was installed inside the tunnels, and the tanks were filled. Then Kelly and colleagues began catching marine life and transplanting it into the tanks - and the exhibit opened in 1985. Sadly, Kelly died only weeks after the opening. It was a wonderful experience to glide slowly through these tunnels, while thousands of marine creatures swam and crawled around outside. The highlight was perhaps the huge rays swimming overhead and darkening the tunnel as they passed over. We would certainly have stayed longer if possible - as it was, the throngs of people made it hard to just stay in one spot and observe as we would have liked.

Since completion of the aquarium, additional attractions have been added, including a fascinating replica of Robert Scott's base cabin from his 1911 South Pole attempt (once again, Tim had problems with the emphasis put on Scott's achievements vs. Amundsen's - he was muttering throughout that someone ought to put up a replica of Amundsen's hut next door, so people could see the difference between a serious, professional approach and a bumbling, amateurish approach.) Scott brought along a piano, printing press, and large stores of canned / preserved British food so his team wouldn't have to rough it too much (there goes Tim muttering again about how Scott brought most of his problems on himself by not understanding the environment he was dealing with and failing to learn from natives who lived in such an environment - such as the antiscorbutic properties of a native diet.) There are also breeding colonies of King and Gentoo penguins (observed via a "snowcat" tour through a replicated Antarctic landscape - complete with ice and snow, and some reasonably happy penguins!) Upon leaving, Lucy and Clara decided they needed a King penguin to add to their stuffed animal collection - so Silky joined us for the remainder of our trip (although since Tim kept calling it Fluffy, the girls decided to rename it - but only after they had acquired another "Silky" at Christchurch airport on our way out of the country.)

A number of things soon began to impinge on our consciousness regarding New Zealand, and these impressions solidified over the course of our stay. Among the things which struck us immediately were the following:

Hamilton, Cambridge and Rotorua

Finding our way out of Auckland involved a false start where we headed east along Mission Bay and tried to circumvent the city center, but finally decided to bite the bullet and head back through the city so that we'd have a chance of getting to Rotorua by evening. We drove south to Hamilton, through farmland with lots of deer ranching in evidence, in addition to cattle and horses (the Hamilton area is effectively the equestrian centre of New Zealand.) From Hamilton, we continued to Cambridge, ate a snack on the large village green and visited the Cambridge Country Store (an arts and crafts store located in an old church.) We had intended to revisit this general area, to take in the Hamilton Zoo, various caves - and, dare we say it - Hobbiton! (Tim must have just seen too many "Frodo Lives" signs in his earlier, impressionable years, as he wanted to see WHERE Frodo lives (or lived...) However, as happened too often on this trip, we ran out of time - even though New Zealand is only the size of England, the twisty, hilly roads, one-way bridges, and all the tourists in slow campervans just made getting around slower than we would have liked. By the end of the trip we had done about 4000 km over 17 days.

Sidenote: Many times one hears about how the USA or Australia have tampered with their natural environment, often holding up New Zealand as a green ideal - but the reality is that much of New Zealand was more effectively cleared of forest and put into pasture - currently, approximately 25% of the country is vegetated - and a larger percentage of the country has been "domesticated" (as the analysts put it) than in either the US or Australia. New Zealand has been very heavily converted from forest to paddocks, and ranks right up there with the US and Australia (if not exceeding them) in the extinction of various native species. Extinctions have been caused by the usual means - clearing of habitat, hunting (e.g., the Moa - which was actually hunted to extinction by the Maori, not westerners, for a change), or, following the Australian model, by introduction of non-native animals. For example, rabbits were introduced, as with Australia - but New Zealand compounded the problem hugely when they introduced ferrets, stoats, and other small predators to handle the rabbits. However, rabbits proved to be much harder to catch than all the native animals - which were generally quite defenseless, since there are no native land predators in New Zealand to threaten the native birds. In fact, there were no native land mammals at all other than two species of bat. This has led to the extinction or severe endangering of many of New Zealand's unique birds, such as the Kiwi. Deer are another such introduced species, along with Australian Brushtail Possums, the latter of which cause huge damage, devouring thousands of tons of vegetation daily. Even moose were introduced into New Zealand - and some might still exist down in the Fjordlands! And also, as with Australia, some of the most beautiful scenes have been influenced by imports; as we were to find in the Fjordlands, imported Lupins provided some colorful accents to the magnificent scenery (as in the Snowy Mtns.) Lupins are considered a pest, and attempts to eradicate them are often made - but in this case, there is frequent public outcry, as many of New Zealand's "postcard scenes" feature these plants! In addition to flora and fauna disruptions, New Zealand has also done some geological changes to the landscape - as the US and Australia have caused havoc in places by pumping too much fresh water from wells (bores in Oz), New Zealand has disrupted some of their thermal features by extracting too much hot water or steam to generate power.

Sidenote Redux: One of the aspects of New Zealand we most enjoyed (besides the green and all the fresh water) was the absence of dangerous critters. In Australia, we constantly worry about the girls scrambling over rocks, or running through the bush, due to the prevalence of poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions, etc. However, in New Zealand, we were once more comfortable in relaxing and letting them explore to their heart's content.

We arrived in Rotorua in late afternoon, to blue sky and clouds, and a somewhat warm day for the area (high 70s / low 80s). We found the Swiss Lodge Rotorua without any troubles, and were soon moving into our chalet (here and here.) The girls immediately began exploring the chalet, grounds, floatplane dock (here and here), and lakeshore (note the tree with red flowers; this is an example of the ubiquitous Northern Rata - or Northern New Zealand Christmas Tree); see also this Norfolk Pine (it took us a while, both here and in Oz, to realize that these large trees were Norfolk Pines - they are quite different from the smaller pines most commonly seen in the US, and raised as house plants.) The girls were delighted to find mother ducks and ducklings and a pair of black swans with their cygnets in tow. Clara and Lucy were quite taken with the swan's habits of flipping over in order to feed under the water - "Bottoms up!" became a catch phrase guaranteed to send both of them off into a fit of laughter. And there were two house cats - Tom and Jerry. While Jerry was quite shy, Tom was more than willing to move in with us. The Swiss Lodge is located on the west shore of Lake Rotorua (You'll notice lots of lakes starting with "Roto" in New Zealand - it means "Lake" in Maori; "rua" simply means two or second - we think the name - like the lyrics of many operas - sounds better when you DON'T know the language...) One concern we had before arrival was whether or not the well-known odor of Rotorua (from all the hydrogen sulfide generated by the vast array of thermal features) would be intense enough to cause us problems - but on the lake, there was no smell at all. However, when we drove into town in search of dinner and a grocery store, we found a different situation. At first, Lucy thought it smelled like frying bacon, and considered it pleasant - but that soon changed. It was fascinating to drive through town and see steam venting everywhere - from the back (or front) yards of homes, bodies of water, and even from storm sewers. Dinner brought one additional surprise - one of Lucy's teeth came out in a bite of steak - and we didn't even know she had a loose one.

While on the surface, Rotorua seems like just another tourist town, with some Yellowstone-like features thrown in for frosting, the reality is that the residents are living in an active caldera, and it is quite a dangerous place to be - not generally from spectacular events like major eruptions, but from poisoning by the deadly hydrogen sulphide gas or scalding (either from an accident with a known water / steam source, or a new source coming into being unexpectedly.) There are occasional eruptions, which can provide considerable excitement (in 2001, one of the small pools in Kuirua Park in downtown Rotorua exploded unexpectedly, hurling rocks, mud and steam 100 meters in the air for 10-15 minutes; fortunately, only the park vegetation was damaged rather than people.)

We enjoyed sitting on the deck, watching night overtake the lake. We still managed to get to bed a little earlier than the night before, and woke to a cloudier day than previously (the birds woke Tim up at sunrise; here's a picture he took looking across the lake). We were scheduled to attend a Maori cultural show / concert and Hangi (traditional Maori feast) that evening, so were hoping the rain would hold off. We headed out to Rainbow Springs, one of a couple of nearby native wildlife parks, and enjoyed an audio tour (everyone gets an MP3 player and headphones, and can select various commentaries as they wander about.) The park has a mix of both native and non-native displays. The former include a nocturnal Kiwi house, where we got to observe kiwis roaming about. Rainbow Springs takes part in a Kiwi recovery program where eggs of wild Kiwis are brought into the park, hatched, and the young raised until they can be returned to the wild. Kiwis are extremely endangered, as they are pretty much defenseless in the wild; most of the surviving wild birds are located on islands off the NZ coast, where predators have not been introduced. Another interesting native is the Tuatara lizard - the park has both young and mature Tuataras on exhibit - this one is about 10-12 inches long. Tuataras are unique in that they even predate the dinosaurs, stretching back 225 million years. They breathe approximately once per minute, and don't mature until they are 30. Among the non-native (but still interesting) displays are the Redwood grove (a grove of California Redwoods planted about 70 years ago - they are already quite impressive, as the climate causes them to grow about twice as fast as in the US) and the trout - in particular, they had a blue trout - which is even rarer than the albino trout we saw in Tasmania (the blueness is caused by a similar genetic mechanism.)

One of the common native trees of NZ is the Ponga (tree fern). As we were to learn, these trees are put to many uses. At Rainbow Springs, they were used as fencing (and living fence posts in some cases). The Maoris also used them in the building. Nowadays, perhaps the most common use is to carve them into souvenirs for tourists. The Rainbow Springs gift shop, along with most other tourist gift shops in NZ, as we were to find, sell these knick-knacks carved from the Ponga trunk. Small vases, boxes, etc. - these are quite attractive, given the "hand-carved" look the grain from the fern branches provide.

On the way back to the chalet from Rainbow Springs (only about 10 minutes), we stopped at de Flute Glass to watch Ron Van der Vlugt and his assistant doing some freehand glass blowing. With rapt attention, the girls watched every step in the process, and after awhile, Clara whispered to Sandy, "Mom, maybe I could be a glassblower when I grow up..." If this interest isn't just a symptom of Clara's interest in everything, it may be genetic - Tim almost went to grad school in chemistry instead of physics, just so he could learn to blow glass... In the evening, the girls explored a bit more, then, as planned, a van came to pick us up to take us to our Maori Concert and Hangi. The van took us to the Tamaki main office, where we found another 150 or so people waiting for the evening event. Eventually, we climbed onto busses for our trip to the recreated Maori village. All the people involved in the operation were Maori; our bus driver, Tony, was no exception. He proved to be quite a character, and gave us an enjoyable and educational ride to the village, about 15-20 minutes south of Rotorua.

Along the way, Tony provided us an overview of the evening to come, along with the customs and protocol that applied. He also taught us a few words of Maori, including one of the phrases we were to see and hear throughout New Zealand - "Kia Ora" (pronounced Key Oar-ah) is a general welcome of greeting - used the way we would use "Hello" or "G'day, Mate." (It took Tim a long time in South Oz to realize people didn't think his name was Mike - it was just their pronunciation of "mate".)New Zealand is a two language country, with Maori and English both used throughout - one of the intriguing things was to see all sorts of forms or signs which had both English and Maori translations.

As we left the Tamaki center, Tony informed us that our bus was serving as a Waka (canoe) for us tonight in carrying us to the host Marae (village or village square more accurately). Since it was a canoe, he had us practice our rowing strokes. After he decided we weren't going to get there given our technique, he moved on to selecting a Chief for our delegation. Although this is considered an honor by the Maori, there was a distinct lack of volunteers, and a preponderance of people staring out windows - so Tony chose a Canadian who made the mistake of sitting in the front seat. It is the job of the Chief(s) to enter the outer yard of the village, to be greeted / challenged by a warrior of the host tribe, who will go through a ritual involving intimidating gestures and movements, culminating in the placement of a peace offering (a tree branch; note the warrior beginning to remove it from his waist in this picture. To signify their peaceful intent, one of the visiting chiefs will then pick up the branch. At this point, the Karanga (welcome call - essentially a short operatic-like call from one of the senior village women) will be heard, followed by a Powhiri (welcome dance) by the warrior, whose gestures will symbolically clear the way for the visitors to enter.

Unfortunately, the pictures of the Maori challenge and welcome / call to the concert don't show the most unique aspect of the traditional Maori physical display - the extended tongue and bulging eyes. The best display of this nature came at the end of the evening (see description of closing ceremonies below.)

Entering involved following twisty paths through the fortifications (as the Maori's explained, their main problems with the arrival of European's was not the guns of the Europeans, since the Maori were very experienced at trench warfare, layered defenses, etc. - they understood what guns were, if not how to build them - what they understood, they could fight - it was, as with American Indians, the diseases that did them in.) Villages were always built on hills and well-fortified. Once through the fortifications, we found ourselves in the Marae (the villages), where many traditionally dressed Maori were demonstrating various activities throughout a replica village. These traditional activities included weaponry displays, hand games, and Poi ball twirling (which is also part of their traditional entertainments and is used to develop coordination and forearm strength).

After we had wandered about the village awhile, it was time to enter the Wharenui (the big house or meeting house) for whaikorero (speeches - more lessons about the Maori and their culture), hongi (traditional nose presses between the Maori leaders and the nominated chiefs) and a cultural display of stories, songs and dances. (We didn't get a good picture of the Tamaki meeting house; here is a picture of a similar one from Te Whakarewarewa.) The Rangi-a-Tea cultural troop performed various songs and dances, did Poi twirling, and juggling, and also demonstrated some traditional instruments such as the butterfly (a bull-roarer - which was sometimes used to mask the sounds of warriors moving into position to attack.) One feature of the ceremony is that traditionally, women and children are not allowed to be seated in the front rows, in case fighting should break out between the hosts (on stage) and the visitors. Following this show came the trip to the Wharekai (the food house), where food cooked in traditional hangi (earth ovens) was served. Hangi cooking involves heating stones over a wood fire until they are white hot, putting the stones into a hole in the ground, then putting baskets of meat, vegetables and pudding on the stones, and finally covering it all with a wet cloth, hessian and finally earth, then allowing it to cook for several hours. The food comes out smelling and tasting much like wood-fired barbeque-cooked food.

Following dinner, we had a chance to wander the village. Here are Clara and Lucy posing with a Maori carving, demonstrating their intimidation techniques. This is one of the many typically-ornate buildings in the village. After everyone had had plenty of time to browse through the Maori "treasure houses" (i.e., shops), everyone was called back into the Wharekai for the closing ceremonies. All the bus driver / guides, wait staff, and other Maori gathered at the front of the dinner hall for the closing ceremony (Poroporoaki) - which included a Haka (very interesting when performed by all the tie-wearing Maori - it struck Tim as a good way to start a business negotiation - and put the fear of God into the other side!) (The New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team have in fact adopted the Haka as their standard way to begin rugby matches - unfortunately for them, it didn't work on the Australians or British in this year's World Cup.) In fact, this demonstration provided the best example of the bulging eyes and protruding tongue - not by any of the traditionally dressed Maori, but by one of the other fellows who did a lot of the talking at the various events, and who was dressed in a white shirt and tie - this Haka was perhaps even more impressive than the one at the beginning, partially because it WAS performed by a bunch of guys who managed to look very menacing in spite of their suits!

However, the high point of the evening may have been the bus (or should we say "Waka") ride home with Tony. He continued to be very animated, and cycled through all the nationalities on the bus, getting each group to sing a traditional song from their homeland (and he kicked it off for the Canadian chief by singing "You Are My Sunshine" - which we figured covered the US as well!) - the Aussies sang "Waltzing Matilda", the Poms "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (to raucous laughter, since that is the theme song of the now-world-champion British Rugby team), and no one understood the song that the Swedes sang! This was followed by Tony trying to teach us a Maori love song (he eventually gave up and sang it himself), then teaching us to count to five in Maori - and finally, as we approached the outskirts of Rotorua, he had us practice "Yee Haw!" - we discovered why as soon as he approached the nearest roundabout - and burst into "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain", while spinning this full-size bus around and around and around the roundabout - everyone was still chuckling as we pulled in to drop off the first load of passengers. We arrived home late and tired, but having enjoyed the evening greatly.

When we woke the following morning, we found that the previous day's intermittent showers had disappeared - and we had real rain. However, it was our last full day in Rotorua, so we felt the need to try and see some of the remaining (and far too many) items on our list. So, we headed off back through Rotorua to the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. Te Whakarewarewa is essentially a reconstruction of a Maori village in the midst of an extensive thermal area (a mini-Yellowstone of sorts.)

Sidenote: Maori names and pronunciation - You may have noticed that there seems to be a nearly-repetitive character to Maori place names, and a common occurrence of a few consonants. Well, there is a good reason for this - there are only 13 letters (a, e, h, i, k, m, n, o, p, r, t, u, w) and two digraphs ("wh" and "ng") in the Maori alphabet. The only real surprise in pronunciation is that "wh" should be pronounced as a soft "f".

Sidenote Redux: there has apparently been a broad resurgence of interest in Maori heritage and culture over the last 20 years - with the inclusion of Maori as an official language, and many Maori organizations springing up to ensure the preservation of, e.g., the language, the crafts (such as traditional carving), etc. - as well as the enthusiastic involvement of the Maori in businesses such as the Tamaki organization. Some observers have dismissed this as a cheapening of the culture, sort of "Maori as just another roadside attraction," but we felt that the activities we observed and took part in were genuine - if the Maori involved were "just" showmen or business people - they were doing an excellent job of it! One of the things that struck us on the North Island was the heavy involvement of the Maori in all aspects of life - and the cheerfulness of everyone we met (after our stay on the South Island, we decided that New Zealanders are just cheerful by nature, whether of Maori, European or Asian descent!)

In spite of the rain, there were a number of tour busses already at the village when we arrived (traveling at absolute peak season as we did, we ran into a lot more tourists than we normally do on our usual off-season or shoulder seasons trips - but we still managed to find lots of solitude when we wanted it). We decided to explore the thermal features first, in particular the most famous geyser at Te Whakarewarewa, Pohutu, which erupts from 10-20 times per day. Unfortunately, on rainy days, it never erupts in a single large burst, but tends to just continually emit steam and smaller streams of water. Here is an overview, which also shows the lush green growth, especially of ferns (in this case, fern trees or Ponga). The underside of the Ponga leaf is silvery, which give New Zealand one of their common icons, the fern leaf. This picture provides a bit of a close-up, and you can barely make out the geyser at the core of the white cloud of steam. The geyser has produced a fairly impressive set of sinter terraces (these are perhaps 15 feet high), although they don't hold a candle to the pictures of the famous pink and white terraces formerly located nearby - until an 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera covered and destroyed them. Although the destroyed terraces were not as large (so far as we can tell) as, e.g., Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot Springs terraces, they were perhaps more spectacular, and people came from around the world to see them.

Also on offer at Te Whakarewarewa are a variety of boiling / bubbling mud fields (once again influenced by the heavy rain). Clara remarked that "it looked prettier than it smelled!" One of the boiling mud ponds is known as the "Frog Pond" - apparently because the popping mud reminded someone of a hopping frog. We wandered about a bit more, exploring strange smoking holes in the ground, and marveling at a duck which apparently lived very close to one of the terraces with hot water pouring off it, and bubbling all around. Eventually, we had enough of the rain, and headed back to the village proper.

We investigated some of the village buildings, including a large meeting house; here is a close-up of some of the wall detail - notice how all the surfaces are carved, painted or woven - Maori buildings are the most completely decorated (inside and out) that you can imagine. Carving is extremely important to the Maori's - it serves in a similar way to the Australian Aboriginal dances and songs, to capture and pass on the history of the tribes and the people as a whole. Here is a typical set of three carvings, each of which have stories associated with them. The one on the left commemorates one of the most famous stories, that of how Maui fished the North Island out of the ocean (the South Island was his canoe). Maui was a Paul Bunyanesque figure out of Maori legend who was the maker / discoverer of much of what we take for granted today, such as fire - and is even responsible for the length of the day, since he caught the sun and beat it until it agreed to slow down.

The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute is also based at Te Whakarewarewa. It was established in 1963 and is largely responsible for a resurgence of interest in Maori carving skills, and the creation of new carvers to maintain the art. They have carvers working in open studios, so it is possible to stop and watch them for as long as you like, or wander through the adjacent museum/exhibit hall - finally ending up, of course, in the shop, where you can purchase the carver's art, among other things. Eventually, we decided we'd had enough of a good thing, and that the rain was not going to stop, so it was back to the chalet for hot baths and soup.

Lake Taupo, Turangi, the Desert Road and the drive south

Tuesday morning, we had a leisurely start for our trip to Wellington, on the southern tip of the North Island. Since rain was expected all day, we weren't in any particular hurry. As we drove south through the pouring rain towards Lake Taupo, there was considerable steam from geysers, lakes and mudholes. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand, and a mecca for fishermen. As we drove through Taupo, there were lots of tourists, and No Vacancy signs everywhere. We left the township of Taupo, and followed the eastern shore of Taupo south passing through Turangi, the self-proclaimed trout-fishing capital of New Zealand (it seemed we passed through more than one of those, however - we certainly passed too many giant trout even for Tim to take pictures of all of them!) After we passed Turangi and headed south through the Tongariro River, we came into beautiful countryside.

The Tongariro is one of the legendary rivers of the world of trout fishing - and especially fly-fishing. Zane Grey was hired to come and fish this river (and others) in the first half of the 20th century, and then write about them. His book "Tales of An Angler's Eldorado," described trout fishing of an order that few who had not fished New Zealand could imagine. More recently, Tom Gleissner and Rob Sitch (producers of the movie "The Dish", and also of one of Tim's favorite shows, "A River Somewhere") revisited the river, and produced a show about it. Tim had been thinking about fishing the Tongariro, but the more he read about it, the less sure he was - these days, there are at times so many anglers in the lower reaches of the Tongariro, that the phenomena even has a name - "The Picket Fence" - which describes the line of anglers side-by-side across the mouth of the river. Most of the fishing holes on the river are named as well - and even sign-posted from the main road. This all sounded a little bit too desperate for Tim - who would much rather fish a river of lesser renown if he could do it with some semblance of privacy.

Since it was still pouring, we drove off up some forest tracks, in general search of the Tongariro headwaters. We ended up alongside an unnamed tributary in the Kaimanawa Forest Park for a car-bound picnic lunch. We passed a sign to the "Pillars of Hercules", but had the traveling bug on us to get to Wellington before dark, so left that to explore another day. So it was back onto the main road, and south along the Desert Road. Now, it is hard to believe that New Zealand has a desert, even on the leeward side of the mountains - but they did have a relatively dry and brown area (by NZ standards), with scrubby growth, and fewer trees - and lots of hairpin curves (where Sandy kept reminding Tim of the advice some of our Kiwi friends had given us - "In New Zealand, the recommended speeds on curves are correct, not set too low as in Oz"!) This is also the area the NZ military uses for exercises, so there were plenty of signs warning us to stay on the road, and not wander about. West of the Desert Road is Tongariro National Park, containing some spectacular volcanic peaks (Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe) which feature excellent skiing in winter. Unfortunately, the clouds were too low for us to see more than the base of Mt. Ruapehu (we think.) This is one of many examples (rather like Seattle and Mt. Rainier) where you really need to spend days in a location in order to catch it in all it's weather conditions - including at least partly clear skies - so you can see what's actually out there!

We passed through Waiouro, Hihitahi, Taihape - and as a sop to the English-speaking - Bennetts Siding - and the road gradually took us from the center of the country to the west coast. The countryside became more "traditional" New Zealand - or at least the New Zealand you tend to see in travel books and magazine ads - not the high craggy peaks, but the lower, rounded hills, covered with paddocks full of sheep, and very green. Some blue sky began to appear, which pleased us - maybe we weren't doomed to two weeks of continuous rain! One of the sites Tim had to stop to photograph was a cafe - inside a DC-3, located in Mangaweka. Along the way, we passed near many Lord of the Rings locations, but continued onward, until we got our first look at the Tasman Sea near Paraparaumo. We had a spectacular drive along the ocean, albeit through steadily increasing traffic and towns to Wellington.

Wellington

In Wellington, we made our way to the Museum Hotel de Wheels. Why the odd name? Because the hotel was relocated 120 metres in 1993 in order to make way for the new Te Papa National Museum! (Follow the above link for more info and pictures of the move, including a video.) Inside the hotel is an interesting display showing how the hotel was raised up, railroad-style cards and railroad track set underneath, and the hotel first moving parallel to the road, then switched onto a perpendicular set of rails and moved across the road to it's current location. Tres cool! We dumped our luggage, then walked along the waterfront / beach to find a place to eat. We eventually found a floating seafood restaurant which could take us without a "booking" (reservation) - as in Australia, they were concerned that we would only have 2 hours to eat - apparently the Kiwis make a night of it when out eating as do the Aussies. However, we finished easily within our limit, wandered back to the hotel, and had a good night's rest.

The next morning we packed, loaded the car, checked out and walked across the street to Te Papa (or The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to use it's full name.) We had moved our ferry reservations from morning to afternoon to accommodate a visit to the museum, but there was far too much to see in a few hours. One of the special exhibits which we explored was on dinosaurs - with a particular emphasis on a series of finds from China that provided several "missing link" species between dinosaurs and birds - the so-called feathered dinosaurs. We found this fascinating, and are amazed at what can be deduced from a few incomplete fossils. For example, the researchers can go from this to this (although they do admit the color selections are entirely arbitrary - for an even wilder flight of fancy, check out the Caudipteryx reconstruction!) However - even given the reconstructions, there is still far more that we don't know about these feathered dinosaurs - just how much like birds were they in their behavior? Did they preen, or molt, for example? Still lots to uncover - whether through more fossils, educated guesses, or the use of technology to create a real Jurassic Park.

Also on special exhibit were a collection of the dresses of Kiri Te Kanawa that Sandy and the girls found very interesting - they traced her history from finishing second in a singing contest wearing a home-made dress to her most recent performance in dresses of exotic fabrics nearly impossible to craft into a dress. And of course there was a very large display of Maori artifacts, and some additional oddities - such as a Holden with a body of corrugated iron by Jeff Thomson. Other attractions at the museum include a variety of arts and crafts (many too modern for Tim's taste), as well as an extensive Maori section, including a reproduction of a small meeting house, many artifacts, and a large single-hulled canoe. The Maoris were great sea-goers, with huge single-hulled canoes that could hold 20-30 people, and double-hulled canoes that could hold far more (these are what it is believed were used by those first Maori who populated New Zealand from the Cook Islands some 700-1000 years ago.

Cook Strait

From the museum, we retrieved our car and headed for the InterIslander ferry terminal, where we dropped off the car, checked in our luggage, had a forgettable lunch, and explored the terminal and shore area while waiting for our ferry to arrive. We discovered that we were going on a "double-decker" ferry, the Aratera, with rail cars on the lower level, and trucks and passenger cars on the upper level. However, we were going as walk-on passengers for a change, and hoped that our new rental car would be ready and waiting at the other side. We watched the shore birds and the small diesel engine moving cars on and off the ferry, then eventually boarded ourselves. Sandy settled in with the luggage at a window booth, while Tim and the girls headed off to explore. Soon we were underway, getting a good view of Wellington (including the unique beehive-shaped Parliament house) - and mostly blue skies above!

We soon passed out of the harbour, but were always in view of some land - whether the North Island or the South. In the middle of the strait, we passed the other ferry, heading along the opposite route. There was also onboard entertainment, ranging from TV and a movie to live entertainment in the forward lounge - New Zealand's own Beatles Tribute - The Zeatles. First impression from looking at these guys is - oh no! The wigs have got to go! But listening, and watching - they were really quite good, and took on the voices of the four Beatles reasonably well, and played their instruments well. In the picture above, left to right, they are George, Paul, Ringo and John - and you could really tell this, before they introduced themselves. However, it was a beautiful day outside, through a beautiful passage with lots of green-covered hills and islands, so we didn't spend too much time inside (Tim even got very windburned we later discovered - he looked like a boiled lobster - however, unlike a severe sunburn, he didn't suffer any ill effects.) Along the way, we passed the sister ship to our ferry heading in the opposite direction. The passage across the Cook Strait took about three hours, with a large chunk of it spent working our way through Tory Channel, then into Queen Charlotte Sound and on to Picton. There were very few signs of habitation - and at one exciting point, some dolphins showed up and rode our bow wave for a while.

South Island

Picton, Queen Charlotte Drive and Nelson

Then we were docking at Picton, and walking off to retrieve our luggage at the airline-like carousel, and carrying it into the rental car office - only to be told that there was a problem, and they didn't have the car we had reserved. The "good" news was that they had found a clapped out old Toyota Previa with a miniscule engine and scrapes and scratches all over (at least we wouldn't have to worry about damaging it on unsealed roads!) After calls to the head office in Christchurch (being New Year's Eve didn't help), with promises by National to do what they could to get us the car we had asked for (a 4x4 with a bit more power for all the hills and unsealed-road exploration we intended to do.) Shades of Chevy Chase and the movie "Family Vacation!" So we loaded up (at least the car had plenty of luggage space) and tackled Queen Charlotte Drive - a road our agents had described as "winding road, narrow in places, recommend stopping to admire scenery as road requires attention." Interestingly enough, the road was curvy enough in spite of the hills, that the Toyota managed OK, and Tim even managed to overhaul a few other cars - good thing we were very lightly loaded this time.

As recommended, we did stop a few times - although not as often as we would have liked, as many of the places to pull over were on the wrong side of the road, and on or near hairpin curves, which made reentering the traffic flow difficult (not that there was much traffic - but a corollary of Murphy's Law states that if there is only one other car on a 75 km stretch of twisty, hilly road, it will appear in your rear-view mirror the instant you pull out into the road). We did find a couple overlooks that provided (here and here) attractive views over the area. We passed through the town of Havelock, and crossed the beautiful Pelorus River (which features in any book about New Zealand trout fishing.) Continuing on, we decided to stop in Rai Valley to get some drinks, as we were running low on water; the takeaway fried chicken looked good, and it was getting somewhat late, so we decided we better take advantage of the opportunity to eat. The road continued somewhat hilly and twisty, and the views wonderful, with the road eventually coming back to meet the sea (Tasman Bay) just before the town of Nelson. Nelson is a fair-sized town, serving as the center for this northwest section of the South Island. We were planning to spend a little time in Nelson in the future, but right now, we just wanted to make it to our cabin for the night, so it was on to Richmond, and then into Brightwater (home of Ernest Rutherford, New Zealand's most famous scientist, and one of the great physicists of all time.) We turned off onto what seemed like the right back road, and on a hope and a prayer, made our way to our residence for the next four days, The Last Straw Cottage.

Brightwater

The Last Straw Cottage (here and here) is actually built out of bales of straw, and was completed in 2000. It was purpose-built as a B&B by Jon and Lynne Young, and is a beautiful cabin, with all the small details well thought out. (It seems as if we are overusing the word beautiful in this travelogue - but it also seems so appropriate for so much of what we saw and experienced in NZ.) They did much of the work themselves (we enjoyed looking through a photo album of the construction process) and much of the woodwork came from one very large macrocarpa tree - the floors, ceilings, kitchen cabinets, stairs (including large single-piece landings), doors and window frames. Beside the cabin was a very small creek and a large willow tree, which the girls immediately began to explore. However, it was getting a bit late, so we unloaded and settled in for the night. Inside, the girls were delighted to find a claw foot tub for baths. Sandy and Tim were delighted to find a wonderful "breakfast hamper" from our hosts - fresh croissants, muffins, eggs, bacon, fresh-squeezed orange juice, etc.

The next morning we had another leisurely start, with more exploration by the girls. There were lots of sheep in the nearby paddocks (making us think of the movie The Dish, where the big radio telescope is located in the middle of a sheep paddock - as we were), as well as several horses - including a foal, who we later learned might end up being named "Whisky" for her whiskers. The girls continued their climbing in the willow - at one point, they were practicing airline-like "emergency exits" from the tree. We also got an occasional glimpse of a pukeko, one of NZ's native birds (although this one actually can fly, unlike many of it's brethren - no doubt part of the reason why it is not endangered.) Even if it was relatively common, it was still skittish enough that we never managed a picture of it.

Aside: one thing that has struck us so far in New Zealand is the whiteness or relative cleanliness of the sheep - perhaps it is because they've just been shorn, or just that the higher rainfall in general keeps more grass on the ground, with less dust kicked up - in Oz, we had grown used to reddish-brown sheep - they seemed to take on that coloration from all the dust very quickly after shearing.

Yet another aside - has anyone noticed how Australian our spelling is becoming? Whenever we paste our text into Word for a final spelling check (we're not completely lazy - we always proof read and manually spell check as we go - but the automated checkers still occasionally find something) - we notice all the highlighted words which are correctly spelled, assuming an Australian (or British) spelling. Just as long as we don't pick up the purely-Aussie habit of using apostrophes in plurals (which is taught in school here as well!)

Tim belatedly realized that it was New Year's Day - and his hopes of finding an open shop for a fishing license were slim. He phoned all the likely places in the phone book to no avail. So, since the day was warming up (sweltering by New Zealand standards anyway - the Nelson area was in the midst of a heat wave - temperatures in the mid 20s C - upper 70s, low 80s F) we decided to visit a beach. We headed off to Rabbit Island, just a few minutes away, and found a lovely, uncrowded beach, with plenty of room for the girls to run (and for unpowered "go karts" to be to pulled along the beach by kites.) Sandy grabbed a picture of Tim looking "very Australian" to her way of thinking. The girls had a great time playing on the beach and swimming, and really didn't want to leave. On the way back, we stopped in Richmond at a grocery store (one of the few open). The girls played in the yard and trees, Sandy read, and Tim caught up on his journal and did a little drawing.

The second day of the new year dawned sunny, so we decided on a quick run up to Cape Farewell, then we'd come back in time for Tim to get a license and do a little fishing. Or so we thought. However, what appeared a reasonably quick trip on the map proved otherwise. We headed back to Richmond, then north along the shore of Tasman Bay. After passing the town of Tasman, the road crossed a long stretch of mud / tidal flats. Since the tide was mostly out, we were able to notice an interesting phenomena contributed by earlier passers-by - messages spelled out in rocks on the mud flats. There must have been hundreds of them - some were messages between people or groups, others were of the "Kilroy was here" variety, and others were favored sayings - examples include "Agnews" (was this a passer-by, or someone who lived through the 70s and Watergate) and "Keep in Real." (On our return trip, the water was over many of these; so the tides must be relatively gentle in order not to immediately destroy the majority - there were far to many for them to all be new - although given the crowds we were to pass, and the occurrence of visoNZ this weekend [more later] - it could be possible.) Also along the way, Clara noticed yet another "giant roadside attraction" - this one another kiwi. We followed the coast road as far as Riwakai, then headed inland and uphill towards Upper Takaka. North of Motueka we passed lots of orchards of various sorts, and some hop fields similar to those we had seen in Tasmania. As we climbed to higher elevations, we could have sworn we were in the Pacific Northwest - for example, this picture, could have been taken in the PNW, given the evergreens in the foreground, and the hills (with tree farms and clearcuts) in the background - until you notice the Fern Tree on the left (and perhaps the road markings...)

As we continued northward, we found ourselves circumnavigating Abel Tasman National Park. One of the reasons we wanted to stay in Nelson was the proximity to Abel Tasman National Park - so it seems odd to report that we never actually made it into the park per se! We skirted around the edges, and would have at least driven in a ways on a track and done a bit of bush-bashing, but we just ran out of time. Near the summit of Takaka Hill (more of a small mountain range, which separates the Tasman Bay and Golden Bay) we stopped at the scenic overlook / parking lot of Ngarua Caves, to admire the view out towards Tasman Bay. From here, the road twisted downhill towards Golden Bay, then north to Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit, the northernmost part of the South Island.

Since it was the height of summer, there were a lot of people around, especially in the small towns along the way (most of which had a normal population of no more than a few hundred people - but they were swelled to 1000 plus with tourists - mostly hikers (or trampers as they would say here), beach lovers, and some latter-day hippies.) New Years is also the time for New Zealand's biggest "rave" or dance party, and the Abel Tasman / Golden Bay region is the site for it. This party was is called visioNZ, and passing by the perimeter, in a sheep paddock, it seemed a mini-Woodstock (very mini - only 5000 people). The emphasis is on music and spreading the philosophy of zero waste. We eventually reached the tiny town of Puponga (which reminded Tim of the town of Selleck in western Washington State - very much a flavor of "the end of the road" and "the real bush starts here" - although in an oceanside setting, rather than a forest / hills setting.) We wondered about the frequency of accidents by German tourist upon seeing a number of signs stating "Left / Links" - do the Germans have more trouble staying on the left than others? Germans and Japanese do seem to constitute the majority of travelers to NZ, as in Oz - all the major tour companies have German and Japanese language tours. Something else we noticed here (and elsewhere in NZ) were signs advertising "Tame Eels" - apparently keeping eels and hand-feeding them is popular here.

While you can walk out along Farewell Spit, or take an official 4x4 tour, we decided to just visit Wharariki Beach, which was supposed to be situated along the most spectacular bit of coast on the north side of the South Island. We eventually found our way to the start of the trail to the beach, and although the parking area was quite crowded, we found a shady spot for a quick lunch. We had been noticing all the deer ranches since day one, so Tim had picked up some venison salami for our lunch - although he didn't tell the girls what kind it was until they were well tucked in! Lucy is pretty unsentimental about animals (or perhaps has not completely made the connection between the paddock and the dinner table) - but Clara has been increasingly making noises about become vegetarian - although she has never quite been able to make the leap!

After our lunch, we headed for the beach. The walk involved hills, sheep paddocks (oh, well, guess we'll have to answer yes to the usual Australian Quarantine question regarding recent visits to farms, paddocks, etc.), crossing fences without gates, and lots of sand dunes. The sign said 20 minutes for the hike, but we think that actually meant 20 minutes until you could see the ocean - then you had a half kilometer of dunes of loose sand to cross, which takes a fair while. We passed through some idyllic scenes of hills, trees, streams and sheep grazing - in general, the area was substantially drier than other parts of NZ - however, it was still lush relative to our South Australia reference. The beach and surrounds were magnificent, with seals lounging on the rocks - unfortunately, the trip had thrown our schedule out the window, so we arrived significantly after low tide, and the seal rocks were surrounded by enough water that we didn't want to cross it. As Lonely Planet says, it's a beautiful place to get away from the 'rat race' of Collingwood (Collingwood is the last town before the Cape, and the center of services for the area, with a nominal population of 250.)

The girls enjoyed this beach as well, in spite of Sandy and Tim's admonition to stay mostly dry, and not to cover themselves with wet sand (since we had no good way of washing and drying them, and no change of clothes, for the long ride back to the cottage.) Once again too soon for the girls, we were heading back over the dunes to the car. We didn't see any penguins, and didn't explore as much of the beach and rocky coast as we would have liked - but we had a three hour drive to get home. The parking lot was substantially emptier when we got there, although there were still people arriving and heading off over the hills to the beach. On the drive back out, we noticed the "Old Man's Head" on the hillside, and paused for a picture. We enjoyed the drive back, and determined (yet again!) to return and give the Abel Tasman National Park it's rightful due. Upon our return to the Last Straw Cottage, we found riding lessons taking place (there are stables at the cottage - visitors are invited to bring their own horses as well!) - Clara of course immediately gravitated to the training paddock and watched. Late in the evening, well after sunset, we observed (or rather heard) a strange phenomena - all the stock in the area started a loud chorus - horses, cows, bulls and even a couple donkeys somewhere over the hill - since there is no wildlife in NZ to threaten stock of this size, we wondered what was up - it was like a scene out of 101 Dalmatians, when the animal telegraph is reporting that the puppies are missing!

Saturday morning was another beautiful day, and we decided to head back into Nelson so Sandy and the girls could enjoy the Nelson Saturday market while Tim acquired a fishing license and some local knowledge and flies. The market was very crowded, so we didn't spend as much time there as we intended - although we did get some fresh blueberries - and New Zealand "sodas" for everyone (ice cream, syrup and carbonated water). We stopped in a Turkish kebab place, then took them to the Botanical Reserve to eat. In additional to the botanic gardens, this park has been designated as containing the geographical center of New Zealand - and, more importantly to many New Zealanders, this was also the site of the first ever Rugby match in the country - when Nelson College played another Nelson team in 1870. The rugby field is surrounded by beautiful old heritage trees (most of which are non-native).

We then headed back to the cottage via Richmond for groceries, and a quick stop at the Rutherford memorial. Ernest Rutherford was one of the great physicists of the 20th century, and probably the greatest New Zealand scientist of all time. He was born and raised in Brightwater, and went to university here, later leaving New Zealand for Britain, where he made his name. In his later years, when he received honor after honor, the British nominated him for a peerage. He chose "Lord Rutherford of Nelson" to commemorate the region of his birth. Although Lucy agreed to pose for a photo, the girls were really more interested in the nearby paddock of cows (here and here.) At the cottage, we stopped only long enough for the girls to get into their bathers (swimming suits) and have a snack of fresh blueberries and raspberries, and then off to the local swimming hole Lynne had told us about. It was an idyllic spot on a bend in the river, with slow water, riffles, and a hole deep enough for diving from the riverside rocks. Since it was a hot day (for the area), it was full of people - but the girls had a great time swimming, floating, and generally lounging in the water. As Tim has had to constantly remind them (or justify our decisions to them!) it is always best to leave someplace before you want to, rather than wearing out either your fascination with it or your welcome. And so another day slipped by, and the shadows were lengthening, signaling that it was time to head home for baths, packing and pizza, since the next day would be the longest of the trip. Clara and Lucy got a very pleasant surprise when Lynne stopped by with our last breakfast basket, and asked if the girls wanted to go help her move one of the horses from stable to paddock. Of course they were off like a shot, and were excited to give "Fattie" a snack (Fattie is a 21 year old grey horse who had always taken great interest in our comings and goings) - followed by a quick bareback ride! Clara got to ride Fattie to the paddock, then Lucy got to ride her around inside the paddock. For the girls, it was a wonderful treat to end our stay. All four of us had a wonderful time at Last Straw Cottage, and would heartily recommend it to anyone needing accommodation in the area. We certainly hope to return again before too long (by this time, we had been having such a good time in NZ, that we were thinking of returning before we completed our next major exploration of Oz.)

Nelson Lakes, Hokitika and the West Coast

Sunday morning, we managed to get off by 8:45 am, and swung by the swimming hole so Tim could take a couple of pictures. Then it was onto the main road - first stop, Nelson Lakes National Park. Tim has wanted to visit here ever since seeing an episode of A River Somewhere where Rob and Tom stay at the lodge on the north end of Lake Rotoroa (not Rotorua), and explore the fishing in the D'Urville River at the other end of the lake. Nelson Lakes National Park comprises two major lakes (Rotoroa and Rotoiti), a number of rivers (e.g., the Gowan), and some seriously scenic mountains (this is the northern end of the Southern Alps - the magnificent mountain range that makes up the spine of the South Island, and includes the highest mountain in Australasia, Mt. Cook). Flowers are also plentiful. Lake Rotoiti is the focus of most of the tourist activities, with a variety of lodges, jet boats, etc. Lake Rotoroa is by far the more tranquil - and it was certainly beautiful in spite of the grey clouds - and the sand flies! Rob and Tom didn't exaggerate about the bloodthirstiness of those little critters - they combine the bite of a horsefly with the maneuverability of a small Aussie fly - and they travel in flocks. We foolishly wandered out to the shore without bug spray on, but soon dove back in the car to get out the Aerogard! Sandy and Clara got pretty heavily bitten, while Tim and Lucy managed to stay relatively bite-free. Tim had thought he might stop to at least wet a line in one of the area rivers, but after re-examining the map the night before and adding up the distances, he decided we better keep moving. So it was goodbye to Nelson Lakes, and on towards Westport on the west coast.

From Nelson Lakes, we followed the Buller River, which would accompany us all the way to Westport and the sea. We passed Murcheson, continuing on through lovely river valley scenery, until we finally stopped at a roadside park overlooking the river, at the former spot of the Lyell township - a short-lived gold-mining town which is now nothing but a few foundation rocks and some descriptive historical markers. At one time, a large town had grown out of the side of the hill, with most houses supported at least partially by stilts. We had lunch, and the girls had a run, but soon the flies chased us back to the car. Then it was back onto the twisty, turning, up-and-down road, until we passed into the heart of the Buller Gorge, another attractive river gorge, albeit a bit touristy in places (although in more of a 1950s US vein - these aren't the glitzy, high-tech tourist traps of Florida and California, but with more of a home-made, evolved-over-the-years flavour.) At one point there an attraction which boasted both the longest swing bridge in the world, as well as a "Flying Fox" over the gorge - the girls thought this was cool - to be able to walk across on the bridge and then return on the flying fox - either in a harness or just holding on - they were keen to try it, but Mom and Dad vetoed it (neither the first nor the last time on this trip when we had to disappoint the girls, and tell them to "wait until you're 21!") We reached the decision point of west to Westport and Cape Foulwind, or south to the coast - and once again, decided we needed to keep moving south. Soon the coast came into view near Charleston. We immediately ran out of descriptions that could do justice to the coast - all we could do was stop frequently to admire the views and take pictures (for example, here and here) - rugged cliffs, fern and cabbage trees, rata (called the New Zealand Christmas tree for it's red flowers that bloom at Christmas time) everywhere, craggy cliffs, and broad beaches. The cliffs in these pictures were once climbed by Maori using flax ladders, in order to reach the inland areas for additional food sources. Later, gold seekers used iron ladders to scale the same cliffs.

Traffic wasn't too heavy along the way, and not many people were exploring the beaches or roadside stops. One of the popular "destinations" on the west coast, the Pancake Rocks, was, however, overflowing with cars and people. This is one of the few places right on the coast with services as well. Since we weren't there at the right time for the associated "blow holes" to be shooting spray (as with the Tasmanian blow holes, they require a high tide), we decided to give the crowds a miss, and continued south. The ocean continued to be simply stunning, with glorious panoramas, and so many shades of blue and turquoise - after a while, Lucy said "It's so pretty, it makes me dreamy." We pulled into Hokitika in mid-late afternoon, found our hotel, checked in, and headed for "down-town" Hokitika to check out the "Greenstone Capital of New Zealand." Greenstone is the local name for Jade, and much of it is found on the local beaches. The girls were anxious to head for the beach and do a little jade searching themselves, but first we visited a couple of jade shops, and ended up buying necklaces carved in that shop of local jade for Sandy, Clara and Lucy as souvenirs. Sandy and Lucy both chose traditional Maori symbols, while Clara chose a jumping dolphin.

We then headed out to the beach to explore. The girls were soon picking up every vaguely-green-tinged stone they could find, running back to breathlessly ask "Do you think it's jade?!?" Clara eventually found a tiny piece which seemed like jade, and Sandy found a larger piece. They also discovered bits and pieces from wrecked boats (the area around the mouth of the Hokitika River was / is notorious for ship wrecks, and there are a very large number in the area. Between them, the girls brought back a couple double handfuls, which we said we'd sort later. We went back to the motel for a bit, and the girls immediately started playing characters with the rocks, while Tim and Sandy sorted out the evening's sleeping arrangements. It worked out as in the Boxcar Children stories, with one room for the girls, and one for the boy. Then we ate dinner at one of the local hotel pubs, and headed back out to the southern tip of the beach, where the Hokitika River meets the sea, and watched the sun set. There is a little park adjacent to the beach, with a model sailing ship as a combination memorial to all the ships that have sunk off Hokitika and a playtoy for kids (see here and here.) The girls were having a good time watching the fishermen, and playing tag with the waves, and at one point Tim got them to sit on a log with their back to the sea (it was on a high point, and well out of danger - although it didn't seem so to them) - this led to the following interesting sequence of pictures: here, here, here and here. After the sun was well and truly down, we headed back to the north end of town, to explore the glow worm dell.

Glow worms are essentially the New Zealand equivalent of fireflies, with a biochemical glow they can turn on and off. The difference is that in addition to the adults being able to glow, the larvae can also glow - these are what form the glow worm formations. They find a moist, warm, dark spot, anchor themselves, lower one or more sticky "fishing lines" and then turn on the light after dark to lure other insects in, to get caught on their spider-web-like lines, and provide a meal for the larvae. Glow worms are only rarely found in quantity outside of caves, or very hard-to-reach grottoes; the glow worm dell of Hokitika is unique and well-known for this. We arrived while there was still light in the sky, walked in, and couldn't see any glow worms, so we returned to the car and listened to some Harry Potter for a half hour or so, then walked back to the glade. Upon our return, we were thrilled to see hundreds of points of light scattered across the side of an overhang, in the bushes, and over the ground. We admired them for a while, then headed back to the motel, as it was well past the girl's bedtime - even on holiday - and we had another long drive on the morrow.

Monday the 5th we were up fairly early, and into town to have breakfast at a cafe that was just opening. Then we were once again southward-bound. Mist / clouds / fog were hanging over the mountains. There was minimal traffic (not surprising, since there is very little along this coast besides Hokitika, and we were pretty nearly the only people up and about in town at the time we left.) The road south passed over hilly ridges separating broad river valleys (of the Waitaha, Whanganui and Whataroa rivers). As this picture of the Whataroa River shows, many of the rivers were of a milky blue, due to the grit from the glaciers which sourced many of the rivers. We stopped in Whataroa for morning tea. The weather had been steadily closing in, with more and darker clouds, and threats of rain. This isn't surprising, as the west coast of the South Island is right in the Roaring Forties, and there is little to impede the moisture-laden winds until they hit the west slopes of the Southern Alps - resulting in tremendous rain and/or snowfall, and a large number of active glaciers.

We stopped at the visitor center alongside the Waiho River, which drains from the Franz Josef Glacier, for restrooms and a look at the book shop. We weren't intending to explore the glaciers today, given our schedule and the low clouds. However, the river and valley looked so attractive, we thought we'd at least drive up towards the glacier as far as the unsealed road went. Along the way, we got glimpses of the glacier suggesting that the clouds weren't as low as they appeared, so when we arrived at the parking lot at the end of the road, we decided to head up to Sentinel Rock to see what we could see. We followed the path along and over the stream, through the forest, and ultimately out onto an overlook which provided a good view of the lower part of the glacier, and allowed us to take a family self-portrait (amazingly enough - everyone was smiling for the camera at the same time.) Franz Josef glacier is very fast-moving as glaciers go - moving as much as a metre forwards or backwards, depending mainly on what the snow season was like five years previously (the amount of time for the residual snowfall to compress into ice and work it's way down the mountain.) We made our way back down, and back onto the main road. From Franz Josef glacier, we continued further south through Westland National Park, passing Fox glacier, and then turning back towards the coast.

At this point, the long-threatened rains arrived, coming down like pigs and chickens. As we were driving, we noticed cascades of water coming down off the steep hillsides adjacent to the road - this made us slow down and look up, and marvel at the astonishing array of cascades above us on the hills - the hills were simply covered with small and large waterfalls, being fed by the downpour. See here and here for a couple fuzzy pictures taken through the downpour. We drove on for a while, then turned around and drove back north for a bit, so everyone could see the cascades on the other side of the car. Fortunately, there wasn't much traffic - those cars that were on the road were also behaving much as we were - enjoying the spectacle, and / or trying to capture it in videos or still pictures. The amazing thing to us was the number and size of these waterfalls - they were hundreds of metres tall, and full of water. The Pacific Northwest is relatively green and wet - but the waterfalls there just can't hold a candle to the number and immensity of the waterfalls (even the temporary ones, as many of these were) that we saw throughout the west coast of the South Island.

We worked our way along the beautiful Haast River valley, crossing many more one-way bridges. The green-blue water tumbling over the rocks, with steep, greenery-covered cliffs to either side, and mist hanging about the top made for a stunning scene. We passed through the Gates of Haast, and back down the other side of the pass along the Makarora River. The river valley opened up into broad expanses, with low hills covered with sheep and cattle. We were treated to occasional glimpses of the snow-covered peaks of the Southern Alps, and some blue sky here and there. The river eventually flows into Lake Wanaka (New Zealand's 4th largest lake, and the South Island's 3rd largest.) Once again, we retreated into sensory overload at the scenery, after conditioning by 2+ years in exceedingly dry South Australia. The lakes, with their snow-covered mountain backdrops - even the small bits we could see between the clouds (and in summer, when the snowpack is at it's minimum) were impressive - and there were hardly any people about - whether in cars, boats, or on foot.) We followed the shore of Lake Wanaka (see here, here and here) for perhaps a third of it's length - 20 kilometers - then the road zigged over to the shore of Lake Hawea, which lays parallel to Lake Wanaka (and ranks as the 8th largest lake in NZ). We followed Lake Hawea for another 20 kilometers or so, through the town of the same name, then around the resort town of Wanaka, along the Clutha River to the shore of Lake Dunstan (hardly a footnote in the lake stakes - this one is barely 20 km long in total, and quite narrow.) From Cromwell, at the southern tip of Lake Dunstan, we turned west and entered the final leg of our long trip to Queenstown. For those keeping score, and wanting the complete story of the biggest lakes in NZ, Queenstown is located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, NZ's 3rd largest lake. We continued to pass through rolling hill / sheep country, and eventually came to Kawarau Gorge - scene of the first commercial bungee jumping facility in the world - and of some scenes from Lord of the Rings ("the Pillars of the King". We watched a bungee jump over the river, and of course the girls wanted to try. Not this year...

Queenstown

To quote Lewis and Clark, "We continued on..." - through Queenstown and out to Canyon Ridge, our rental house overlooking the Shotover River - jet-boat heaven. Our house was located on the edge of the canyon, overlooking the river far below. We arrived after the jet boats had stopped running for the day, so it was very quiet. We unloaded, then headed back into town for dinner in a Mandarin seafood restaurant overlooking Lake Wakatipu. We watched the steamship T.S.S. Earnshaw come into the dock, unload and reload, then head out with another load of tourists for an evening cruise. This is a working steamship, built in 1912, and running on the lake ever since. On our way wandering back through town after dinner, we ran into a classmate of Clara's (named Lucy) and her mother - we had known they were coming to NZ for the holidays as well, but weren't sure if our schedules would overlap (their itinerary was still evolving and we had already left town by the time they knew there would be an overlap.) That was a lot of fun, to meet up with friends far from home - we made arrangements to meet them for dinner the following evening, then headed back to our house.

We continued to feel the oddity of the lack of wildlife on and about the roads. Every now and then (quite infrequent) we would come across a possum (Australian Brushtail) that had been road-killed - but we never saw wildlife on the roads at night / dusk (unlike Tassie, where we had to go at 10 miles/hour to avoid all the wildlife, or Oz where we had to be extremely careful to avoid kangaroos / wallabies on the road.) Lots of domesticated animals - sheep, cows, horses and red deer - and a few birds - but nothing else.

Sidenote: Many of the artisans and shop owners we came across or dealt with in NZ were people of a similar age to us - we noticed a lot of radios/stereos playing music we instantly recognized and responded to - these are all children of the 70s, and we felt a kindred spirit with them. One of Tim's favoured memories was of Ron Van der Vlugt blowing glass to the music of Pink Floyd, with Ron dancing his way across the studio to get to the radio to turn up the volume for a particular song, working the glass all the while...

Tuesday morning we slept in, allowing the girls some play time inside and out, before heading out to Arrowtown, a historic gold-mining village which has been partially restored, and generally made into a tourist trap. It also serves as a starting point for various hiking tracks, and is, inevitably, the location for several Lord of the Rings scenes. Unlike some of the other gold-mining villages in NZ (such as Lyell) and others around the world, some of the Arrowtown buildings were actually well-enough built to survive the fall-off in gold mining. We had lunch in Arrowtown, followed by a look through the local historical society museum - which had a lot of unusual artifacts, including the original extremely compact piano from the T.S.S. Earnshaw steamship (it could pack into a relatively small box - perhaps for protection from the water). Tim found some whisky glasses carved from horn. The girls found a pump organ which was quite interesting, as well as a blacksmith shop with bellows they could operate, a display of medical instruments from the time, a Maori legend display and a large set of intriguing mineral samples.

From the museum, we walked along the Arrow River, where the Lord of the Rings "Ford of Bruinen" scene was (partially) filmed. We were amused at all groups wandering about with their copies of Ian Brodie's The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook - although we couldn't laugh too loudly since we had one too... From Arrowtown we headed back towards Queenstown, then turned north to climb up to the Coronet Peak Ski Area, where we took this panoramic picture looking to the south and west. The Remarkables mountain range is near the center of the picture; a tiny fragment of Lake Wakatipu near the right-hand side; the Kawarau River valley is in the middle, and the Shotover River valley to the far right. (See also here.) Then it was back to the house for some relaxation, before heading into town, and part way around Lake Wakatipu to have dinner with the family of Clara's friend Lucy, at their hotel, the Aspen. The dining room is perched above the lake, with floor to ceiling windows, providing a wonderful view of the lake. We had a long enjoyable evening (probably longer than we should have, since Lucy's family had to make an early start the following morning for Milford Sound) - however, the latitude (somewhere below 45 degrees South) and the long summer twilight kept us going. As we watched the T.S.S. Earnshaw dock again, James (Lucy's dad) told us they had gone on the ship earlier in the day, and he had relieved the piano player for a few minutes to play Climb Every Mountain for the passengers.

The scenery reminded us a lot of the Canadian Rockies - albeit without, for the most part, the snow which caps many of the Rockies year round - we would really like to come back to NZ in the fall or spring, to see more snow-covered peaks. The forests are also still reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest - perhaps even more so here than up near Nelson, given the reduced numbers of fern and cabbage trees - but also much like the Rockies, given the addition of a lot of beech trees to add a deciduous air.

We returned to the cabin about 10 pm, and enjoyed sitting outside and watching the river and mountains by the bright moonlight, before turning in. The remaining twilight and the bright moon were sufficient to keep the sky blue and clouds white, even while the forest and canyons were in relative darkness. One thing we had been worried about was just how obtrusive the jet boats on the river below would be. Fortunately, they are apparently constrained to run only between 8 am and 6 pm, so evenings are relatively quiet. The constant passage of jet boats during the day, however, made Clara wistful for a ride in one of them - but, like bungee jumping, and Evil Knievel-esque flying fox rides across canyons, we told her the really rough jet boat rides would have to wait, and were something to look forward to in the future. We did want to take the combined jet-boat ride / 4x4 trip / hike up the Dart River, which is supposed to be absolutely spectacular (and the jet-boat portion of the ride is much more sedate) - but we didn't book in advance, and there were no openings available while we were scheduled to be in Queenstown.

Here are a couple more pictures we took from the backyard of the cabin; this one is looking down the canyon towards Queenstown during twilight; this is a closeup of one of the common grasses in the last rays of the sun.

We had been worried after our rainy welcome to the Rotorua area, but were pleased with the turn of events since. The days in Queenstown were gorgeous, cloudy / overcast in the mornings, but burning off to blue sky and scattered clouds by mid-morning. Wednesday was no exception, so after a leisurely morning, we headed off to Deer Park. En route, we ran into a massive traffic jam - something we were quite unaccustomed to in NZ. The crowds seemed to be focused around the local oval, and later, from the top of Deer Park, we could look down into the oval, and see quite a crowd and what appeared to be a cricket match. We later found out (and this shows how out-of-touch we were with news throughout our trip - we avoided TVs, radios and newspapers the entire time) that New Zealand was playing Pakistan in an international Test cricket match.

Deer Park is a hill on the outskirts of Queenstown, overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. (Here's the view of Queenstown from the hill.) Because of it's bareness (not too many trees, but a couple mountain tarns [very small lakes] and some scenic, rocky outcrops) and the beautiful scenery on all sides, it was used as ....drumroll... a setting for several Lord of the Ring scenes. However, unlike many other LoR sites, Deer Park has been used in a number of movies, including The Rescue, from 1986, when a full-size replica of a Korean prison was build on one of the sub-peaks (and is still there.) Deer Park is also a wildlife park of sorts, with herds of goats, red deer, llamas, and even a buffalo (American Bison) wandering about.

The girls were quite taken with the goats, but also had a good time just running around. This picture of Sandy gives a good idea of the views from the peak. And this picture reveals the birth of another LoR fanatic! In most of the LoR scenes, there was substantially more snow on the mountains, which leant them the traditional NZ look of snow-covered crags. The girls explored about the tarn, and found a lot of red and blue damsel/dragon flies - including a dead one, which Clara decided needed a proper burial and memorial at the water's edge! We headed back into town for lunch, and a chance for the girls to decide on a souvenir. We ate lunch at the interestingly-named Winnie Bagoes. We sat at a streetside (actually, pedestrian-street-side) table. When we first arrived, Tim glanced around, and saw a statue of a woman on the other side of the street. He wondered who it was, then was promptly distracted. However, Lucy soon came up to him and said "Dad, that statue moved!" Another look, and we realized that it was a lady dressed all in grey, with clothing that looked like concrete, a grey hat, and grey hair/makeup to complete the illusion. She did a fantastic job of standing absolutely still, and only moved when someone dropped a coin in her basket - then she did a graceful bow as a thank-you. The girls wandered over, dropped in a couple coins, got a smile and bow, then came back for our pizza. The pizza turned out to be the best we've had since moving to Oz 2+ years ago. Then it was back to the cabin for laundry and packing in preparation for our trip to Doubtful Sound the following day.

We then headed back into town for "final" narrowing down of their souvenir choices, followed by dinner, and back for final selection of their souvenirs. In the end, both chose Paua (abalone) shell items. These shells are very drab in their natural state, but once the rough outer cover has been scraped or sanded off, they are glimmery, multi-colored shells of blue, purple, turquoise, and silver. Lucy chose a polished shell along with a natural / partially polished shell, while Clara chose a cat pendant of Paua. We returned to our cabin under a cloudy sky - perhaps presaging a wet day coming - which wouldn't be surprising considering that the various sounds (e.g., Doubtful, Milford, etc.) get rain approximately 200 days a year. And, while we were hoping for a sunny day, we really weren't expecting one, considering our trip into the Fjordlands was starting from Lake Manapuri, whose Maori name is Rotoua (as opposed to Rotorua) - and which translates as "Lake of Constant Rain" - not a good omen!

Manapouri, Doubtful Sound and the Fjordland Navigator

Thursday morning we departed for Lake Manapouri. We followed Lake Wakatipu to it's southern tip, and entered the valley of the Mataura River - one of the best brown trout rivers in New Zealand. As with Lake Rotoroa, Tim had to stop and at least look about for a bit and take a couple pictures, with a promise to be back. (It was both fun and galling to Tim to be back in a land where good-looking trout streams were a dime a dozen - but not to have the time to stop and relax and enjoy exploring them!) We arrived early at Lake Manapouri, checked in at the Real Journeys center for our cruise, and stored our luggage. Just after noon, we boarded the Fjordland II, a (relatively) small boat (perhaps 30 passenger capacity) and set off across the lake towards the West Arm of the lake, where we would catch a bus over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. Tim and the girls went up on top, out in the open, in spite of the wind and intermittent rain. As we cleared the river mouth, and the captain kicked the boat up onto cruise, Clara's eyes glittered and her grin grew wide - she's a real speed demon!

On the way across the lake, our pilot kept up an intermittent commentary on the lake and it's surroundings. As is not uncommon, things physics-related stuck in our mind - one was the surrounding mountain range, named for the astronomer Johannes Kepler, home of the Kepler Track and the Kepler Challenge, a footrace around the mountains. We also learned that there were native trout (actually a species of grayling) in the lake, and although Brown trout had been planted, few were left. At one point, we nosed in under an overhanging cliff to get a good look at the geology of the area - we were soon to learn this was a common tendency of Fjordland boat / ship pilots - they like to get close up and personal with cliffs and waterfalls.

As we approached the West Arm of Lake Manapouri, we passed the reason why we would be able to make our trip to Doubtful Sound by this route - an underground power station. Lake Manapouri has sufficient hydraulic head relative to Doubtful Sound to make a power station viable. The only problem was the location - the large and heavy parts required to build a power station had to be transported to the site somehow. While barging them across the lake wouldn't have been a problem, upgrading all the roads and bridges between the town of Manapouri on the eastern shore and the nearest deepwater port would have been far too expensive. Instead, the decision was made to bring the parts in via sea, and take advantage of the deep water at the easternmost end of Doubtful Sound (known as Deep Cove), and build a sturdy road over Wilmot Pass between Deep Bay and West Arm. This road was the most expensive road ever built in New Zealand at the time (costing $2/cm).

We offloaded from the boats into a confused mass of people at the West Arm visitor centre - there were two busloads of passengers heading for the overnight cruise with us, plus another couple loads coming/going for day cruises. The sand flies were also out in force - we retreated into the visitor centre, and tried to slap on some bug lotion. Shortly thereafter, we loaded up on our bus, and headed off over Wilmot Pass. Because of the new road, the formerly 12 hour walk is now a 20-30 minute bus (or coach, as they say) ride. Our coach driver informed us that the drive was much less exciting now that the trees had grown up along the edge of the road, blocking the shear dropoffs from view along the way. However, it was still exciting enough for us when two busses met coming around a corner in opposite directions, on what appeared to be barely a one lane road! Our driver told us he wasn't allowed to say too much about the natural history of the area, or our nature guide on the ship would be unhappy with him - but he proceeded to anyway. We passed many waterfalls and beautiful old beech trees (the phrase "oversize bonsai" describes them well.) An additional unique feature of the area between lake and sound was the presence of tea trees (or Manuka) - these are not the tea trees of Australia, but simply called that because Captain Cook tried to brew tea from their leaves. They are well known for their honey (Manuka honey is supposed to have lots of therapeutic properties.)

We also learned (for the first, but not the last time) about the ecology of the sheer cliffs surrounding Doubtful Sound and common throughout the Fjordlands in general. Looking at the greenery-covered cliffs, it is hard to believe that there is actually almost no soil on top of the rocks. First, mosses of various types take up residence, covering the bare rock (we passed an area of broad cliff near the road known as the Moss Garden, which featured many different varieties, including Sphagnum - although it was passing on into the second stage.) The second stage is when small plants start growing in the moss, using it as surrogate soil. The sphagnum moss in particular holds a lot of water (20 times its weight), and provides a hydroponic-like substrate (in fact, sphagnum moss has been a big export for NZ in the past, although the reserves are getting low.) This process continues, with larger plants growing, effectively without soil - instead, their roots tie each other together, and help hold each other up. This continues all the way up to large trees such as beech and rata. Occasionally, (frequently in an earthquake, which are common in the Fjordlands), a section of the moss / plant / tree fabric will tear loose, and peel down the side of the cliff, exposing bare rock, where the process starts again. This happened most recently and spectacularly in August 2003, when a 7.1 earthquake hit the area, bringing down a lot of slips, as well as damaging the road and rerouting some of the streams and waterfalls, causing ongoing troubles with road maintenance.

The flora of the Fjordlands is dependent upon plentiful rain - and that it gets. Back at Manapouri, the "Lake of Constant Rain", the annual rainfall is 1 metre. At the tip of West Arm, near the power plant, it is 2-3 metres. At deep Cove, it is up to 5-7 metres. And out at the west coast, on the edge of the Tasman Sea, it is 7+ metres - all those Roaring Forties storms carry a lot of moisture! So, it was not surprising that the rain had steadily increased as we crossed over Wilmot Pass and descended down towards Deep Cover, passing many waterfalls. We boarded the Fjordland Navigator in the rain, and went to the main lounge to hear what our next 24 hours would be like.

Dave the Skipper gave us a quick safety briefing then it was "Right, then, let's get this thing moving!" and he was off to the bridge, while some other members of the crew gave us an additional briefing. Then Dylan showed us to our rooms (quite nice - the Fjordland Navigator is a new ship, 44 metres long, built in 2000, and well-designed for it's purpose.) There were about 7-9 crew members (we can't recall exactly), and over the course of the trip, they worked together magnificently. Whatever needed to get done was done, and they shared all the chores. Dylan, the crew member who greeted us and showed us to our cabin, was later seen preparing the dinner, then mopping up, and at one point, piloting the ship. The crew works seven days on, and seven days off, and appear to love it. One of the crew was an American from Ohio who had come here three years ago on a working holiday, and just stayed. The "lead" lady told us one important thing to remember in the Fjordlands - "Some people learn to love the rain, others just get wet!" The current state of the "lovely" weather was a running joke throughout our all-too-short voyage.

While the briefing was still going on, we felt the ship start to move out from the dock, and head down the sound towards the sea. Although all these bodies of water along the coast are called "sounds", due to an early mistake by their discoverers (Capt. Cook among them), they are actually fjords. The difference is that fjords are formed by the action of glaciers, and then flooded by the sea, rather than other mechanisms (e.g., filling with fresh water from glacier melt or rain). In fact, the consistent inconsistency goes in both directions, as there is an arm of Lake Te Anau which is really a sound, but which is misnamed as a fjord. The Fjordlands are an extraordinary area - the Fjordlands National Park covers most of the southwest coast of the South Island, and makes up perhaps 5% of NZ's area. Together with Mt. Cook and Westlands National Parks to the east and north respectively, it makes up a World Heritage area covering 10% of NZ. Given the steepness of the terrain, the amount of rain - and now, the protection as a National Park - there is very little access into the Fjordlands. Other than the road cut to the head of Milford Sound in the 50s, all access is by boat - either across one of the lakes such as Manapouri or Te Anau, or from the sea, up the Sounds (in fact, sea-going tankers have in the past come up Doubtful Sound to fill up with fresh water at the head, where the water from Manapouri enters the sound.)

We cruised down through the misty fjord / sound, and admired the 100% vegetation cover (as mentioned earlier, in spite of NZ's reputation as a green country, this is not the norm - currently coverage runs on average about 25%; even before it was settled by Maori, it was estimated to be only at 80%). The waterfalls / cascades were impressive in variety, and simply beyond counting. The wind in the main channel was also impressive, (here are Lucy and Clara enjoying the effect.) We worked our way down to the mouth of Doubtful Sound, and felt the ocean swells under our ship, while we watched a smaller day-cruise ship pop out into the ocean, and dance about a good bit on the waves, while Skipper Dave made comments about the state of the stomach of those passengers. Sandy and the girls went back inside, but Tim stayed out "enjoying" the rain / mist / fog / moisture (any fresh water is good after a long spell in dry South Australia!) (See here and here.) An interesting fact about Doubtful Sound is that the top layer of water in the sound is fresh water - so much water comes down in rain and off the mountain sides, that it collects on top of the salt water, resulting in a unique marine ecology - including the presence of many deep sea creatures at much shallower depths than one would find in the open ocean. We nosed up to a small island at the mouth, covered with NZ Fur Seals (the same species that we saw on Kangaroo Island last year--no wonder they are all resting on the rocks!), then turned about and headed back in (see here and here), and followed Bradshaw Sound to our overnight anchor point in Precipice Cove. (Note the rock formation beyond the seal rock in the previous picture; these are known as the Hare's Ears - the resemblance is even more striking from a distance.) Then it was time for off-ship activities. Yet again, the girls were desperate to try out ocean kayaking, and yet again, we had to disappoint them because there were only single-seater kayaks available. Instead, we went in one of the motor launches on a nature cruise / walk about the cove with Theresa, the onboard naturalist.

We learned more about what we had been seeing on our trip through the sound/fjord, particularly in the way of vegetation. The dominant species, besides the mosses, ferns, fern trees, and small bushes, are the Rimu (a very tall tree with weepy foliage - these are the tallest trees in the rainforest, and tend to be the oldest), Southern Rata (although it shares the common name of New Zealand Christmas Tree with the Northern Rata, the Southern Rata is actually a tree from the start, whereas the Northern Rata starts as a vine, and gradually takes over the host tree, killing it, and "becoming" the tree), and the ubiquitous beech trees (which certainly look as if they should be the oldest trees rather than the Rimu - but the beeches average 100-300 years old, whereas the Rimu live to be 1000 years old.) We also learned that sand flies don't need sand - the rocky shores around the cove were fine with them! (While Captain Cook gave Doubtful Sound its name because it looked doubtful to him to be a useful anchorage, a later whaler was quite happy to find shelter inside the sound - however, he soon discovered the sand flies, and wanted to rename it Blood-letting Sound!) Fortunately, we had put on bug screen this time, although Sandy, Clara and Lucy would continue to suffer from their pre-existing bites for some days yet. Tim was apparently not to the sand flies' taste...

Right beside the ship in this picture is a slip of the type previously described, whereby a large section of vegetation on the cliff let loose and fell into the cove. This particular slip actually happened while the Fjordland Navigator was anchored for the night in the cove on a previous trip! No damage was done to the ship, but it took hours instead of minutes when they departed the next day, to work their way around all the floating debris.

We returned to the ship having greatly enjoyed our nature trip, watched the kayakers being taken back on board, and wondered at the sanity of a couple of folks out swimming (although it wasn't THAT cold - 15 C, about 59 F). Of course Lucy and Clara wanted to dive in as well - it was a little easier to dissuade them this time, by suggesting they dip their hands in the water ("It's not THAT cold, Dad" said Lucy - guess she doesn't remember turning blue in a small Montana pond once on a sunny July day, when the water temperature was probably higher than this!) Then it was time for a very nice dinner, cooked by the same crew that were doing everything else - and then we had to skip the nature slide show, as it was already 10 pm and breakfast call was 7 am. We got the girls in bed (we had two adjacent cabins - Sandy and Clara in one, Tim and Lucy in the other), then Tim enjoyed a snifter of scotch (actually New Zealand single malt from the South Island Milford distillery), leaning over the rail outside out cabin, enjoying the stars and the general surrounds. The only way it could have been better was if they had a way to run the ship off batteries in the evenings, to avoid the noise of the generators which provided a low background rumble to the sounds of the water.

Morning came quickly after a good night for everyone - we were up at 6:30, and didn't need the "wake-up call" provided by the anchor going up at 6:40. We were underway by 7 am, and went to have breakfast (noting that the Kiwis call Rice Crispies "Ricies", rather than the "Rice Bubbles" of Oz) while Skipper Dave headed back down Bradshaw Sound towards the main channel of Doubtful Sound. As we headed out, the skipper let us know that we were in a relative drought locally - we had only received 3 of the 6 inches forecast for the night, while over at Milford Sound they had received 10 inches. However - even 3 inches was enough to get the waterfalls running well, and to have water streaming down every hillside. He took the ship very close to one sheer vertical rock face so we could look up at the water coming down across the whole face, with some moss and ferns growing where it could get a grasp - and a tiny bit of blue sky up above. As we came out to the main channel, he nosed the ship up next to a small island that was essentially a compact display of the Doubtful Sound flora - it had one of all the main species of tree and bush on it - rimu, rata, beech, fern, etc. Among the facts our nature guide provided throughout our voyage was the information that the presence of beech trees in NZ, Tassie, South Australia and parts of other continents was evidence for the theory of Gondwanaland, the supercontinent. Beech trees are apparently not spread by birds or by sea, only by dispersal on land.

On this journey around Doubtful Sound, we had seen a wide range of conditions - from hard rain, to falling mist, even a little blue sky and sun, with some rainbows thrown in as well. However, there is one ritual that all ship captains in these waters must go through - driving into a waterfall. So, along the way, we nosed into Lady Ellis falls - a spectacular set of falls nearly 3 1/2 times higher than Niagara at 160 metres - and they were really roaring with all the overnight rain. Tim went onto the upper deck, to try and get a picture of the ship and falls, without getting too wet. He noticed Clara and Lucy in the very nose of the lower deck, and headed down to warn them what was coming - however, as he stepped off the ladder, they had disappeared, and while he was looking around for them, Dave finished his approach, and the bow of the boat was in the waterfall. Needless to say, Tim was completely soaked - and didn't get any "close encounter" pictures. He eventually located the girls, safe, warm and dry (and amused at his soggy state), inside with Sandy, who had been watching from below, and signaled them out of the way before the close approach! Here's a consolation picture, a set of falls that we can't identify as to name.

However, all good things must end. It was a wonderful, too-short cruise. The crew was fabulous - so good-natured and helpful, and working so well together. We had talked to our nature guide about the Fjordlands in general, and learned that the Navigator doesn't make the overnight trips in the winter; instead, it makes multiday trips, visiting several sounds, with half as many people. It sounded fabulous to us, so we immediately started making plans to come back in the winter! (After returning home, we learned that only kids age ten and over are "recommended" for the multiday voyages - we'll have to see if "recommended" means "allowed" - because both the girls thought this was a marvelous idea.) We docked back at the Deep Cove pier, amidst a sandfly explosion, and quickly boarded the bus. Our bus driver this time was different, and took more of a get in, sit down and hold on approach, without the patter of the outgoing trip.) Back to the visitor's center, then into the smaller boat (Fjordland Explorer II this time) for the relatively-dry trip back across Lake Manapouri.

Te Anau, Mt. Prospect and Milford Sound

We gathered up our stored luggage at the Real Journeys headquarters in Manapouri, then headed into Te Anau (on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island) for lunch. This trip was to be a very short one, as we were going only as far as Mt. Prospect Station just outside Te Anau. We arrived at the 9000 acre sheep station mid-afternoon, and were greeted by Joan Cockburn. Ross and Joan have been running this B&B accompaniment to their station for 17 years. The station house itself is laid out with a separate three bedroom wing, attached to the main living / dining area. The house is set in stunning gardens, with ever-changing panoramas of clouds over the distant mountains beyond the extensive flowerbeds.

Joan showed us our rooms, then invited us to go to the paddock / shed complex where the lambs were being drafted (sorted into male and female, and large males being separated out for immediate sale.) There were 3000 lambs on the property at present, so they had quite a job to do. Their foreman / station manager was Grant Cockburn, son of Joan and Ross, and he was doing the actual sorting, with a couple helpers (and a sheep dog) to keep the lambs moving. At first we wondered how he could be sorting the lambs so quickly, when we realized that the lambs had their ears clipped to indicate girl or boy. The large male lambs are immediately sold, the smaller males are put out to pasture to feed-up, then sold. Of the ewes, about 1500 will be kept, and the rest sold. They also sell any one year old ewes that are barren. Grant had been in banking, but decided to give that up and return to station life, where he now pretty much runs things day-to-day.

The work on a sheep station is pretty continuous - next week would be crutching the lambs (shearing the dirty wool around their rear ends - the resultant wool patches are called "dags" and are the source of the frequently-heard Aussie expression "daggy" to indicate something looking dirty, run-down, etc.) The shearing of the mature sheep will happen soon thereafter (the wool may well go into storage; they currently have the last lot in storage, waiting for the dollar to improve and bring the price of wool back up). Then it will be time for the initial processing of the Merino lambs (docking their tails, vaccinations, clipping ears) and so on. The Merino sheep have their lambs approximately two months later in the season, since they are less robust than the "standard" sheep. Cold springs are bad for all sheep - this past spring (September) was quite wet, and the losses were high amongst the standard sheep; however, by the time the Merino lambs were born, in November, it was warm and dry, so their survival rate was substantially higher. In addition, there are three herds (mobs, as Ross would say) of cattle (cows and calves with a single older bull), plus a group of yearling bulls to process. We went out with Ross in his 4x4, along with a couple of sheep dogs riding in a trailer, to watch him shift a couple mobs of cattle to new pastures. The first mob caused some problems - apparently a inexperienced hand had tried to shift them recently, and allowed three strong-willed heifers to have their own way - now they're making trouble for everyone. Eventually the job was done, and the second mob went easier (although some of the calves in that group weren't keen on cooperating either!).

Upon return to the station house for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, we met a retired British couple from Shakespeare country who were staying in the third bedroom. They are nearing the end of a trip through Oz and NZ. The girls were thrilled to then get to go and feed some baby animals. A while back Ross found a baby lamb that had been abandoned, so he brought it down to a small fenced paddock by the station house, to keep as an attraction for visitors. They also had two twin calves - these were not a pair of twins, but each were separate halves of other pairs, that had been taken away from their mothers so the remaining twin could grow more expeditiously. The girls were wondering what would happen to them when they grew up, and we told them we figured there was a message in the fact that the lamb had a name (Sandra!), but the calves only had numbers. They enjoyed bottlefeeding all three nonetheless. Shortly thereafter we all sat down to a very nice home-cooked meal by Jo. The Pavlova (a traditional Aussie dessert that actually originated in New Zealand) was a particular hit - until that point, Tim had never understood the Aussie fascination with this particular concoction - but he had to have second's of Joan's version! Clara and Lucy have been quite taken with the environment of the station, although Clara was quite concerned with the end destination of the lambs, and still doesn't like the idea that they end up on people's tables. She primarily ate the chicken entree at dinner. The girls were on best behavior, and were very patient and polite throughout a long (and to them, fairly boring) meal - we were very proud of them.

The next morning, we woke to a double rainbow over the valley which would stay with us all the way to Lake Gunn on the Milford Road. Then an early breakfast, and off to Milford Sound for another cruise. We had been uncertain about whether we really needed to do two cruises, but we wanted to see all the scenery of the Milford Road anyway, and this gave us a second chance at clear weather. So off we went, with minimal traffic on the roads as we had hoped (we had moved our cruise reservations to mid-morning, to avoid as many of the tourist bus crowds as we could.) Although the scenery was magnificent (there's that over-used word again) - lakes, rivers, cascades, glittering cliff faces - we decided we would do our stopping for pictures and exploration on the return trip (although Tim did have to stop for a picture of the still-barely-present rainbow over a patch of lupins, so we made good time, and arrived to find no tour busses at the visitor center. We checked in, then went exploring - and discovered that our ship - the Milford Mariner - was the sister ship to the Fjordland Navigator, the ship we had overnighted on - it looked nearly identical in fact. Eventually it was time to go onboard, and the girls immediately began picking out differences between the two ships. We picked up our lunches, and were amused to find Washington State apples in them - NZ produces apples as well, and relatively-near-by Tasmania is known as the "Apple Isle" - but these apples had traveled a much longer way.

Milford Sound is relatively short compared to Doubtful Sound, so it didn't take long for us to make our way once again to the Tasman Sea. There was more "traffic" in this sound than we had seen in Doubtful - we saw several smaller cruise boats during our cruise. While we were hoping for a sunny day, we instead got what the probabilities of precipitation told us to expect - rain - with intermittent showers and mist! We did see a few small patches of blue sky - but as with most of the other iconic mountains of NZ (e.g., Mts. Ruapehu and Cook), we only saw the base of Mitre Peak, the mountain which towers over the eastern end of Milford Sound. We had another good crew, who ensured we got to see a lot of the vegetation (for example, here's another picture of the ubiquitous Rata), seals and waterfalls up close, while informing us about the ecology and history of the area. Given all the recent rains, there were waterfalls-a-plenty, including one set of four very tall temporary waterfalls - temporary, but reliable (and synchronized) enough to have the name "The Four Sisters." On the taller, threadier falls, you could sometimes see the water coming down, turning into mist, and disappearing - only to reform into visibly falling water on the rock 50 metres below and become a waterfall again.

As we've previously mentioned, cruise boat captains like to nose into waterfalls, and one of well-known falls where they do this is Stirling Falls. This time, Tim managed to avoid getting soaked, although a couple of the crew members went out on to the very front of the boat and did a Leonardo diCapria number under the falls - they were well-and-truly soaked after that. Here is a picture of the falls from across the sound, to give some perspective on size - note that these falls are "only" 150 metres (nearly 500 feet) tall, and are nowhere near the tallest true falls in Fjordland (that honor belongs to Sutherland Falls, at nearly 600 metres tall - however, there are many temporary cascades along the sound at close to 1000 metres). Note also the U-shaped valley typical of the glacier-carved fjords - and you can just make out in the distant yet another higher hanging valley behind it, with its own waterfall coming down. The picture doesn't quite go high enough to show the "shoulders" of the valley, which indicate the maximum height of the glaciers - although here they were up to 2000 metres tall - considering that the surrounding cliffs tend to be on the order of 1000 metres above the water, this gives you an idea of just how massive the glaciers were, and how deep the fjords are in places.

One of the unique aspects of Milford Sound is Harrison Cove, which is a flooded hanging valley - it is one of the few places in Milford sound that is shallow enough for boats to anchor. This also allows another unique structure to exist - an underwater observatory which floats (and is anchored) in the cove. If you plan (and book) ahead, you can get off one ship at the observatory, and get picked up again later. This allows you to see the unique marine life of the sound in a completely natural setting - since it is not the flora and fauna in a container - but the people! As with Doubtful Sound, the top layer of water in Milford Sound is fresh water, which, as previously mentioned, contributes to a unique microclimate under the surface.

After we had briefly docked at the observatory to let off some passengers, we motored over to the other side of the small bay, and the captain carefully set the ship pointing into the cliffside a few metres off, minimized relative motion, and turned off the motors for a few minutes of silence. It really was quite extraordinary to be in that environment, with the sound of the cascades and a few birds audible - but nothing else. The immense feeling of peace and calm certainly encourages one to come back and explore by some non-motorized means! After we started up again, and continued the cruise back to the dock, we learned that while the area has a number of earthquakes, including last year's 7.1 quake, the region is long overdue for a major once-every-300-years quake. We also learned that while the Franz Josef glacier we had visited a few days ago is considered a "fast" glacier by modern standards, the glaciers which carved Milford Sound moved at up to 7 metres / day! Our last stop before docking was a close inspection of Bowen Falls from the front deck of the ship.

We arrived back at the visitor centre to encounter hordes of people and busses - we were very glad to have come early! We headed back, making frequent stops to admire the scenery and take pictures. Not far from Milford Sound is the Cleddau Valley - the valley walls are largely bare rock (primarily because this region is "avalanche central" for the area - in winter, there are constant avalanches, which are of sufficient magnitude to take out larger, mature trees - and there are so many of them, that the hillsides are largely scraped clean of significant vegetation. A side effect is the mosaic of waterfalls and general glittering appearance of the cliffs after / during a rain (i.e., most of the time!) Near the top of the road up the Cleddau Valley, just before the Homer Tunnel, we noticed some Keas in a small turnout - so Tim had to swing around and head back, and get some pictures.

Then it was on and into the 1.2 km long Homer Tunnel, which passes through / under the Homer Saddle. The tunnel is barely two cars wide (apparently, at times they try to regulate the traffic to one-way only every half hour, but perhaps since the tour busses tended to ignore this, they gave up.) It is also unlit and unlined, which means there is lots of water dripping from the roof and running down the 1-in-10 roadbed. Until the Homer Tunnel was finally completed in the 1950s, there was no road access into the Fjordlands. The only access was via water or a long tramp over, e.g., the Milford Track (to give an idea of how the popularity of the area has surged, in 1950 there were 1200 walkers along the Milford track each year; now the annual number is 11-12,000!)

Immediately on the other side of the tunnel is the Gertrude Valley, which provided several reasons for us to stop - there was a beautiful cirque above us, with snow still on it, and clouds hanging over the top; there was still snow (albeit fairly rotten) across the street for the girls to investigate; and there were more Keas checking out the cars in the parking lot. Keas are the juvenile delinquents of the parrot world - they are very inquisitive, and have large, powerful beaks which are perfect for supporting their nosy habits. They particularly like cars, and can tear up windshield wipers, door seals and soft tops in no time at all. Stories abound of their enthusiasm for new experiences - from stealing nails from construction sites (which are later found in some high place, sorted by size) to pulling the lead heads off roofing nails, taking them to the top of the tin roof they were removed from, and rolling them down the roof, apparently enjoying the sound! One adult Kea immediately claimed our car, and took up position on the mirror, checking out the contents. Nearby, a juvenile Kea was fluttering around, looking for trouble. At one point, two Keas were walking along side-by-side, and Lucy commented "They're marrying!"

Heading back to Te Anau, we passed the "45 degrees south latitude" sign - in the last year we've traveled from 45 North to 45 South - it seems like a lot - but it's only half the distance between North and South poles. We passed through the Eglington Valley, and once again admired the wild lupins near Cascade Creek (see also here.) This is one of the areas where the government did some spraying to kill of the lupins since they are non-native - and met with great public outcry since they are so pretty. Note also the color of the water in the creek.

After we returned to Mt. Prospect Station, Ross offered to take us to the top of Mt. Prospect itself, which provides a good overview of the station and surrounding countryside. It was still a cloudy, windy day, but we enjoyed the trip up the unsealed track, with Tim hopping out regularly to open and close the gates. We passed by some Merino sheep, as well as more cattle and standard sheep on our way to the top. The girls immediately noticed that the Merino lambs still had their tails (for another couple weeks, anyway.) We understood now why Ross still keeps three horses to help with the muster on the rough and rugged sides of the hill. Once there, we had a panoramic view from Lake Manapouri and the Kepler Range in the south, to Lake Te Anau in the north. At the turn of the century, when Ross' grandfather first came to this property, it was 40,000 acres in size. Over the intervening years, the state has taken 10,000 acres, and other property divided amongst Ross' father and his uncles has been sold, resulting in Ross' current 9000 acre station. On the way back down to the station house, we stopped so that Ross could turn a cast sheep upright. When the wool on the sheep gets very thick, and soaks up a lot of water, the sheep sometimes roll onto their backs and get stuck in that position. This is frequently fatal for the sheep, since they can choke if no one finds them and gets them turned back over in time. Fortunately, this sheep was just fine. They've had a number of cast sheep lately (not surprising, since the sheep are about to be sheared, so their wool is at it's longest) and lost some.

We returned to the station house, and met a new pair of guests, another husband and wife from the UK, who had also just flown in from Oz - however, they were died-in-the-wool fly fisherman, and had been down in Tassie fishing. They lived in the famous "chalk stream" country of Britain, on a trout stream. They had been to Mt. Prospect before, and knew Ross and Joan from way back. While we were chatting, the girls went out to feed the animals again - they had given the calves names, since they didn't like saying "Here, #119. Good #119!" Then it was back inside for another excellent dinner. We once again had to excuse ourselves relatively early, to get the girls showered, packed and in bed. The party continued well into the night - at least we weren't leaving quite as early the next day as we had to for Milford Sound, so Joan didn't have to get up quite so early to get our breakfast!

Sunday dawned relatively dry, with some blue sky. We had breakfast, took our leave, and headed back towards the main roads. We stopped to take a last picture back over the sheep fields towards Mt. Prospect. We had intended to visit a last Lord of the Rings site which was located adjacent to the station property, but our van started making some odd noises, and we decided we should get back onto sealed roads, and closer to mechanical help, rather than driving further off the beaten path. So, we about-faced, and headed back to Highway 94. We were soon on our way back towards Queenstown, and passed a "Wilderness Scientific Reserve" along the road - we hadn't seen any of those before. We also passed a Red Tussock Conservation Area, dedicated to the preservation of one of the native tussock grasses which takes on a burnished coppery color. The change in dominant climate was also interesting - we went from a fire danger of Low to one of Extreme Danger in an hour. The weather cleared some more, proving reasonably good lake and mountain vistas as we traveled back towards Queenstown. We stopped in Kingston, at the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu, for coffee - and primarily because Tim hoped to catch a glimpse of the Kingston Flyer, a restored steam locomotive which makes regular tourist trips along the valley. We arrived, and no train, so while Sandy went into the Kingston Cafe for coffee, Tim and the girls headed down to the lake to practice skipping stones. But, soon there was a horn blast, and here came the Flyer. Tim watched, and took a few pictures, then it was time to continue retracing our route along the lake.

Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo

We bypassed Queenstown and headed back out along the Kawarau River. We had intended to follow a secondary track up over Cardrona pass, the highest main road in NZ, but decided that although the car seemed to have settled down, we didn't want to take a chance at this stage. So we stayed on the main, sealed road into Cromwell, where we stopped at a bakery to get sandwiches for lunch. Then we turned north and followed the eastern shore of Lake Dunstan (on our arrival earlier in the week, we had followed the western shore) on through Tarras, over Lindis Pass, and down into Omarama. Then it was a short run to Twizel and the Mt. Cook lookout over Lake Pukaki. True to form, we only saw the base of Mt. Cook, but this picture provides a good idea of the color of the lakes in the region (see also here). And then only one more lake - Lake Tekapo, and we were at the final motel of our NZ trip, Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort . We checked into our "family room", and the girls went exploring across the field towards the lake. (Lucy liked the preceding picture better, but Tim and Sandy preferred this closeup.)Then it was time to head off to dinner - we chose a Chinese restaurant (not that there was much choice!) which served an excellent garlic pork. Back to room, for a quiet last night of reading and watching the scenery. Lake Tekapo is advertised as having the "clearest, darkest skies in NZ" - there are even several observatories on top of the hill adjacent to the lake - unfortunately, our one night was cloud bound - yet another reason for a return visit which will allow us to stay put for longer periods of time.

Christchurch and Home

We were up early, and the first customers into the next-door cafe, then it was back on the road to Christchurch. We admired the clouds rolling in through the mountain valleys, giving the appearance of avalanches or glaciers - then we gained sufficient elevation that next thing we knew, we were driving into the clouds. We had some rain, but it was a generally easy drive. We rolled into Christchurch, and found the car rental place without problem. After some extended consultations (we apparently weren't expected), they managed to check us in, inspect the car, and organize a ride to the airport. Once at the airport, we checked in, and the girls discovered the Antarctic Center gift shop (it turns out there is an Antarctic exhibit similar to Kelly Tarleton's located at the Christchurch airport) - so they decided they needed a sibling for Silky/Fluffy, the penguin they had acquired in Auckland. They picked one out, while Tim picked out a couple of small duty-free bottles of scotch he hadn't seen before. The flight to Sydney left on time and without incident; we made it through immigration, customs and quarantine without problem - turns out they didn't care about our time in paddocks, or any of our food items - only some wooden Christmas ornaments! And then on to Adelaide, with the girls snoozing a bit on the way (it was 10 pm local time when we arrived - 12:30 am according to the clock the girls had been on for the past two weeks. We caused some consternation in the taxi ranks at the Adelaide airport, since we needed a station wagon - but soon we were pulling into our driveway, rousted the girls out and into bed, and the trip was over. Eight hours later, Tim was on the way to work.


Pictures from our December 2003 - January 2004 New Zealand Trip

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