Week 36 - November 23, 2018 - December 02, 2018 - New Zealand!

NEW ZEALAND!  It took us all of about one minute to decide to spend our last 18 Australasia days to be in New Zealand.  We arrived in Auckland still in awe of all that we experienced in Australia and very excited to explore this 'new' land. 


   Leaving Perth                Arriving in New Zealand                  Maori welcome at the airport             First sunset

Our first order of business was to visit the Auckland National Museum and walk through a bit of New Zealand history, which included a fun and interesting show of Maori dancing.  With the weather not cooperating, the museum was a perfect start to our time on the island(s).

The museum included several well done exhibits for WWI and WWII as well as the indigenous, flora and fauna history of New Zealand.  In a very short time, we learned quite a lot about this wonderful little country and became even more excited to get started on our exploration.

  Maori show                        Beautiful lobby and names of those lost in the World Wars
   The Kiwi bird - and why New Zealanders are called 'Kiwi's'                        Moa birds - Maori's hunted to extinction

  Huge nautilus fossil (about 4')           Very cool artifact - Maori polishing stone                 Maori artifacts

  3.6 million years ago - footprints left behind                                Victim of Pompeii volcano eruption

   Maori longboat and head carving              Maori artistry in their buildings


One thing we learned from the museum is that New Zealand and its indigenous people, the Maori, are Pacific Islanders and have little to nothing in common with their Aborigine neighbors.  It really surprised us at how much the Maori are like the 'Hawaiians' or the 'Samoans' and their boat-building and carved art was remarkable.

We drove around Auckland a bit and took advantage of the clearing weather and ventured up to the summit to take in a view of the city. 

   Hilltop monument to Sir Campbell                        Taking in the views of Auckland and its cinder cones

  Already in love with the countryside             


It was our intention to spend more time up in the north island, however, forecasts of a couple days of rain drove us to the south island.  Along the way, we got to drive through some very interesting volcanic country as New Zealand, like Hawaii, was built by volcanoes.  We drove through Rotorua, a tourist enclave based around the thermal and geyser parks that sprinkle the area.  It was cool to drive by the various areas where you could see the steam rising from the ground.


    The geysers and steam vents were fantastic roadside attractions


And then, we arrived in Wellington.  The city in and of itself is a nice visit, but as we were tipped off to a special place, I was excited to have my first 'Hobbit' experience.  With New Zealand being the field location for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies, I was super excited to learn about how the movies were made and especially, to walk through my memories of my own imagination that I had while reading the books, oh so long ago. 

We had been given great advice to visit WETA, the special effects creators in the movies directed by their local boy, Peter Jackson.  The tour (not to mention the gift shop) was awesome and not only included fascinating tidbits about The Hobbit and LOTR, but also gave us a peek at their remake of The Thunderbirds, a puppet-action show that was popular in the 1970's. 

   Galdalf in Wellington               Happy place!         Having fun with the Trolls    
  Gollum - WETA built the technology for Gollum (and Avatar)                         LOTR carvings

  Gerson taking on Azog, leader of the Orcs                   Hobbit feet                    Other WETA creations


The Thunderbirds' show was created with puppets and with the use of small models and close-up camera work, the show appeared to be larger than life.  We were in awe of the detail of the model sets and especially the everyday materials they used in creating some of the 'scenes'.

  Thunderbirds home model                   Thunderbirds model landing strip
   Thunderbirds props                                I remember this cockpit view                 
  A WETA employee's bearded dragon died so he froze and casted in silicone (as they did for their movie creations) - creepy but cool

  WETA was named for their ugly indigenous bug, and this is exactly why they wanted that name

With Wellington living up to its stormy reputation, we hustled our way onto the ferry and crossed over to the south island for a drive down the east coast.  As we had seen so many beautiful beaches with azure waters in Australia, we knew we would see the same along the coast of New Zealand.  Thus, we decided to drive along the coast during the rain so we could be over on the west coast when the sunshine was predicted to show itself.

  Ferry ride was a bit dreary                      Some nice coastal views and waterfalls

  Some local fur seals                                      No joking about the seals - they lounge everywhere

  This got our interest - deer farms are all over NZ

As we ventured down the coast, we learned of a worthy project that Christchurch started but has grown to include several other cities on the south island.  In order to beautify the city as well as allow the local artists to express themselves, many buildings and other structures became a canvas for their art.  There are over 150 such buildings/structures and we spent over an hour trying to see as many as possible.  Much like the Australian flowers of spring, I found the art colorful and interesting and loved taking the photos.

  Loved them all!

  Countryside and quaint homes                      Our view for much of the day                    A break in the rain


We made a special stop in Timaru, the birthplace of a friend of ours, Marylyn, whom we met in Chalten, Argentina in 2004.  Since then, we have spent many a wonderful holiday with Marylyn's family and especially enjoyed our New Year's Baja trips.  It was fun just to tool around this nice moderate sized town and then it was back to the coast to continue our journey south.

  I found a friend in Timaru                                   More building art                                  Stunning church

  I loved this - Oamaru self claimed Steampunk capital                                 Oamaru - Victorian Precinct


    Love the trunk carvings                                      Near Oamaru - looking for penguins (no luck)

   More different flowers and Flax                                    

With the weather continuing as predicted, we just kept driving through the towns along the east coast and taking a few errant turns in several of the towns just to take in the sights.  A favorite town was Dunedin.  With its architecture, murals and Scottish ambiance, it was a delightful town to stay the night.

  Coastal views                                  Dunedin's architecture was superb

   Dunedin was fierce competition with Christchurch for extraordinary building murals


  Just a random little 19th century cemetery                                      Cargill Monument (William Cargill, early leader)


We had a 'must-see' place on the west coast to experience and it did not disappoint.  As we drove into Fiordland National Park, we were in awe of the stunning green hills patchworked with bright yellow flowers (Scotch Broom - considered a pest plant) and the snow-capped glacial mountains standing sentinel in the background.  It was quite a lovely sight and we stopped off at several crystal clear glacial lakes.

  Towns and countryside on the way to Fiordland National Park                          Incredibly beautiful

   Lakes and rivers were in competition as to the most beautiful                        And then, there were the mountains


Fiordland National Park is the largest of the National Parks in New Zealand and unless you plan to 'tramp' (as New Zealanders call hiking) through the park, you can only see a very small area by car.  Thus, we only were able to experience a small portion of this magnificent park as we drove out to Milford Sound.

It was one thing to have to drive through a one-way tunnel that went for several minutes under the massive mountain, it was another to be surrounded by thousands (no exaggeration) of waterfalls.  Oh, and being accosted by Kea's while waiting to go through the tunnel was another highlight.


  Waterfalls everywhere                             Milford Sound                             Cool path over waterfalls

  This Kea bird obviously knows that people waiting to enter the tunnel will pass the time feeding the birds

   This was a loooooong tunnel              Extraordinary beauty of New Zealand

  Gorgeous flowers


We stopped into Te Anau Bird Sanctuary and we were able to see up close and personal the thought-to-be-extinct Takahe.  This strange looking bird, seems to come from a prior geologic time and was re-discovered in the nearby mountains.  Through thoughtful breeding and reintroduction to the wild, the birds are slowly making a comeback.


  Kaka parrot being silly                                  Vivid green parrot

   Takahe are a strange looking bird


From Te Anau, it was a leisurely drive up the west coast of the South Island and stopped in at one beautiful area after another. 

  Another deer farm                                     One of several glacial lakes

  Lake Wakatipu - stated to be one of the purest (cleanest) lakes in the world             


We stopped off at Queenstown with the thoughts to spend some time there and we were not there very long to realize that the town was a bit too overwhelmed with tourists and decided to move on.  At one time, we saw no less than seven water activities (tours) happening in the same harbor.


   Queenstown and a lot going on in a small place

  Bradrona - raising awareness of breast cancer                    Awesome rainstorms

  Typical New Zealand view                                    Waterfall and my contribution to the rock stacks



We were able to pass by the Fox Glacier in the late afternoon and took the opportunity to view the glacier from a few vantage points.  Unfortunately, a combination of a recent cyclone and the recession of the glacier, the road to the foot of the glacier was closed and our only view were from quite a distance away.  However, we were soon to have an entirely different view of the glacier that made us forget about the lack of road access.


  Stunning shoreline                            Views to the Fox Glacier                      Pleasant walk to the Fox Glacier view

  A New Zealand staple, fried whitefish (fritter made of batter and baby white fish that are rather gelatinous - definitely an acquired taste)


And then the day came when the sunshine elbowed its way past the clouds in earnest and we were treated to a spectacular helicopter ride over glaciers and around a mountain.  We had actually booked a 40 minute, late afternoon flight tour and with the clouds creeping in and a reduced flight plan, we opted out and rescheduled for first thing the next morning.  Unfortunately, or rather almost unfortunately, there has to be three people booked for the flight for the tour to proceed and when 8:30 a.m. came around, we were still the only participants.  With the sun blazing in all its glory, the wind taking a rest, we knew how special this time was and were not going to let our chance at this helicopter ride go by without a fight.  With a little negotiation and a bit puppy-dog eye pleading look, we agreed to pay the 'infant' price for the 'third' seat and away we flew, just the two of us and our own private pilot.


  Franz Josef was our launch to the glaciers                      Glacier guides being taken first                Front row seat

We flew out of the town of Franz Josef and the tour went along the Fox Glacier, around the Franz Josef Glacier, circled Mt. Cook and as the clouds permitted, caught a glimpse of the Tasman Glacier.  And, if that was not enough excitement and glacier appreciation, we had a snow landing wherein we could played atop a glacier.

  Waterfalls along the way                          The Fox Glaicer                     That blue!


  The glacial fields are alive and moving

   Everywhere we turned, breathtaking!                   

  The clouds only added to the experience - there is a glacial lake down there somewhere


   We covered a lot of mountain territory!

The highlight of this once-in-a-lifetime experience was our landing on the top of the mountain above the Franz Josef glacier.  We had our little mountaintop to ourselves and we made the most of it.

  Franz Josef Glacier                     Coming in for our landing              Our own mountaintop (with the pilot of course)

  On top of the world                    We just loved, loved, loved this                Snow sparkles

   I especially loved the crevices and cracks                           On our way back - still beautiful

   A resounding thumbs up!                   Blue glacial rivers are stunning


We left Franz Josef in a bit of an adrenaline high and worked our way up the west coast.  We detoured through a few little towns and made our way up to Punakaiki.  Along the way, we continued to see stunning landscapes and several more colorful building murals.


   Hokitika had a nice little main street                          Greymouth - murals and a statute to fallen miners

  Beautiful coastal views and some strange trees


  Wandering around Pancake Rocks                        Awesome blowhole

  Stopped to have fun in the small Punakaiki Cave        Stopped to take a view picture and made a friend

   Just a nice drive up north


We finished off this week anticipating a couple more days on the South Island and then back the North Island where we planned on cavorting with some locals, glow worms and hobbits!


Home Page     Diary Page 29     Diary Page 31    Diary Index