FiNZ 52 – Mt Doom

Our last major NZ bucket list item was to hike the Tongariro Crossing – New Zealand’s most popular day hike. Tongariro National Park is an amazing plot of land full of active volcanoes, craters, and piercing blue lakes. We knew we had to make it here before we left. Plus, Mt. Ngauruhoe was the inspiration of Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t go home without being able to answer “yes” to everyone that asked us “did you see Mt Doom!?”

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Tongariro National Park

Unfortunately, the trip from Christchurch is not easy. Tongariro National Park is in the middle of the north island. Luckily we had some leftover airpoints we weren’t sure what to do with other than use for some free flights (shoutout to Air New Zealand!). We convinced a couple of my colleagues to go a bit crazy with us and fly up to Wellington Friday night, drive the 4 hours to National Park, hike all day Saturday, drive back to Wellington Saturday night, and fly back to Christchurch at 7am on Sunday morning.

The predicted weather did not like our plan. A weather “trough” decided to flow over the north island Friday through Saturday. This meant Sunday was supposed to be beautiful, but alas…Sunday we would be flying home.

00Our shuttle was cancelled ahead of time but we figured we would still make it work. We drove up to National Park in the dark and some rain, and fell asleep at 1am. We awoke, opened the window shade to find this…

01aand more specifically this…

01bSure it wasn’t sunny, but it still made Keith say “holy crap!” when he opened the curtains. We both jaunted outside to take some photos next to the giant kiwi sculpture…because that’s what you do when you see a giant timber kiwi right?

0203Despite no rain, the New Zealand weather god–also known as “Metservice”–kept telling us it was going to rain 19 mm every 3 hours (that. is. a. lot.). Since the shuttle cancelled on us, and the Tongariro Crossing is one-way, we figured we’d either do an out and back, or Keith would walk with us half way and then run back to drive the car around… We arrived at the DOC info center at the start of the track and the on-site ranger suggested going west towards Tama Lakes. He said the top of the Tongariro Crossing would be windy and cold, maybe rainy, the Tama Lakes walk you still saw the same blue lakes, the volcanos, and it was still park of the Tongariro Northern Circuit (another Great Walk!). So eventually we were sold and gave up on doing the official “Tongariro Crossing”

04And we were off…

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0606aAfter a couple hours we made it to our first blue lake, and continued up the adjacent ridge to make it to the upper Tama Lake and to stop for lunch.

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09On the walk back to the visitor center the clouds parted a bit more for our money shot of the volcano.

10We were all really loving the lava flow areas…

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Keith and the Flow

P1090015 P1090023Overall our journey was a success–our friends had a good time, the Flanders stepped foot on another Great Walk (that’s SIX out of nine for Jen!!), and everyone saw Mt Doom. We drove the 4 hours back to Wellie in the daylight and enjoyed a night meeting up with old friends and eating a hard-earned burger. Then it was up at the crack of dawn the next morning for this enjoyable flight back to the south island —

20This weekend is our LAST weekend! I can’t wait to write about that post next week!

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FiNZ 51 – Mt Fyffe

This was our last “unplanned” weekend of our New Zealand stint. The last thing I came up with to do was climb Mt. Fyffe up near Kaikoura. This is a hike I’ve been wanting to do the past year, but always pushed off as it was a fairly simple day trip. Therefore Sunday was the day — Keith wanted to get in one last trail run up a mountain before his final big race and I wanted to hike one last New Zealand mountain.

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Keith disappearing into the bushes

We had a pleasant drive up to Kaikoura and down the dirt road to Mt Fyffe carpark. I knew the trail was a graded 4 wheel drive track…that didn’t make it easy. Keith bolted off (although admitted that he walked a lot too) and I huffed and puffed my way to the hut. 2 hours in I saw Keith running down. He hadn’t made the summit as the trail got a little dicey and fairly windy while running. We realized the views were going to be similar if we kept going, so collectively decided to cut this hike in half (3 hours versus 6) and enjoy lunch in Kaikoura and an evening back in Christchurch.

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Post Run Photoshoot

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Sort of made it….

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Enjoying the View

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Kaikoura Peninsula

Since we had already made it to Kaikoura, we knew we had to drive a bit further to say goodbye to the baby seals one last time. The carpark was packed. These little guys are really no longer a “hidden gem” in the south island, yet they were still as cute as ever climbing up the river and playing in the waterfall.

On the drive back we figured we should try a new detour – “tourist drive.” It took us to a couple more secluded east coast beaches and provided some amazing sunset shots for the drive back…

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Tourist Drive Beach

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Canterbury Sunset

As I’m writing this, last weekend we went up to the north island to hike the Tongariro Crossing! It was a bit of a whirlwind, more on that in a couple of days!

FiNZ 46 – #EscapeFromFroston Part 2

This post is a bit late. Excuses — 1) this past weekend we were busy with a pretty epic hike (that post to come) & 2) There were just WAY too many photos to go through–between my photos and our guests there were thousands to check out. If you want to check out my Flickr album from this past week, go here.

Anyways, it’s hard to get folks to come visit us on the other side of the world (time, money, blah, blah, blah); therefore, we try to go all out when they do. So we took a few days off of work and managed to drive the guys around most of the island within the 10 days they were here. We drove around so much, I thought a map might be useful for visuals and blog organization… ūüėČ

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Our Journey and Trusty Crew

Numbers indicate what location we were in on what days the guys were here. Days 1-5 were covered in the previous FiNZ 45 post. Days 6-10 were covered on our 4.5 “long” weekend…which felt more like several weeks…you’ll get the jist as you read on.

Day 6

Keith and I thought it best to do a giant loop of the south as to avoid driving on the same road twice (if possible). So we headed out west on a beautiful sunny Wednesday afternoon. But not without a pit stop for a run mid-drive. With 4 distance-runners hanging out together for the week, the entire week turned out in a cross-country camp gathering. As much as I enjoyed breaking for exercise, daily was a stretch ūüėČ I figured this post wouldn’t be complete with some token selfies of the guys runs around the country–

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Starting Top Left Clockwise – Rapaki Track (Christchurch), Greymouth (west coast), Kepler Track (Te Anau/Fiordland), Queenstown Hill

Our first stop, which was probably poor planning since the car smelled like damp clothing for the rest of the week, was Cave Stream. Keith and I had done this previously and knew it would be fun to go back with first-timers. Luckily, it was a warm and sunny day, and the cave was a great way to cool off or “shower” after the earlier run.

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Scenes around the cave

Day 7

We spent the night in Greymouth, had a less than exciting dinner at the local dive, but enjoyed a quick west coast ocean walk. In the morning we diverted up to Punakaiki to show off the pancake rocks. The timing worked out perfectly as it was 30 minutes pre-high tide. This made SUCH a difference from our first experience. Sure, the rocks look cool, but the waves crashing up through them – incredible!

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Punakaiki Rocks & Blowholes

Then we were off to glacier land, but not without a lunch break at Hokitika and a side trip to Hokitka Gorge. We had some much better food in Hokitika (versus Greymouth), walked the beach with all its “stick-art”, found a great opportunity for a Titanic pose, and headed out to the beautiful gorge with its bright blue glacier water.

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Hokitika the town and Hokitika the gorge

We landed in Fox Glacier (yes, that’s the actual name of the town), got settled into our hostel and found dinner. At this point the West Coast was welcoming us with its typical pouring rain. Eventually the rain disappeared and we saw the forecast for the next morning was more pouring rain. So what do we do? Go for a glacier night walk of course…

We had the entire glacier to ourselves as we hiked up the path and enjoyed the silhouette of the mountains and sounds of waterfalls around us. It is truly amazing (and unfortunate) how much the glacier has receded from when I first visited it in 2012! (post here)

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Fox Glacier night excursion

 

Day 8

Keith and I were excited to drive through Haast Pass for the first time, but it was pouring rain…as expected. So the drive was okay, and at least the rain made the waterfalls truly spectacular. We made a few pit stops along the way running through pouring rain (the guys in bathing suits/shirtless) to get some token shots.

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Haast Pass views & Thunder Creek Falls (top right)

As usual in New Zealand, we got through the pass and the weather changed dramatically. The blue skies shown and the sun came out. We took several more pit stops on our way to Wanaka wear we stopped for a great lake-side lunch, and then on our way to Te Anau.

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Road to Wanaka (top half) Road to Te Anau via Queenstown (bottom half)

Day 9

We had a great night in Te Anau, and booked our last-minute 9am cruise in Milford Sound. This all meant we were up before dawn to make breakfast and start driving the winding road to Milford. It POURED that morning, which just meant the quiet 7am drive to Milford was mysterious and filled with waterfalls. Once we arrived the clouds started to lift and reveal all the beauty that is Milford Sound…

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Milford Sound Road morning drive (top half) arrival at a foggy Milford Sound (bottom half)

We hopped on our giant Jucy cruise (with a mere 10 other people; definitely recommend the earlier cruises –¬† less tourists!!) and watched as the clouds broke up and the sun came out over the fiord.

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Cruise into Stirling Falls

I don’t think we could have gotten more perfect weather. The downpour created thousands of waterfalls throughout the fiord, and the sun revealed all its other beauty. It was a truly perfect day in Milford Sound.

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Milford Sound becomes sunny and even more epic..

The road back we got to experience with blue skies and sun! We had a lovely warm drive back through the Milford Sound road and up to Queenstown where we spent our last night of the journey soaking up resort-filled Queenstown with good food, dancing, and souvenir shopping.

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Drive back along Milford Sound Road with the sun out

 Day 10

The last day we spent driving back to Christchurch. Mt Cook was cooperating with us because Lake Pukaki was its beautiful blue and Mt Cook was looking as clear as ever. We couldn’t help but recreate The Lion King with the cliff we came across…

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“Simba!” & Lake Pukaki/Mt Cook posing

Good thing Mt Cook decided to have amazing weather this past weekend as well. More on that in a few days…

Overall we had an amazing time with Chris, Josh, and Pete. Thanks guys for visiting, we hope you had fun too!

FiNZ 45 – #EscapeFromFroston Part 1

The guys have arrived! We put out a call to our friends and families early on in our journey and these three accepted the challenge. Chris, Pete & Josh decided to make it even more challenging by enduring a long haul flight to layover in Aussie versus Auckland. But alas, they made it intact and with only 1 bag lost to Virgin Australia :-/

Despite the bag fiasco, they arrived! We spent Friday afternoon introducing them to the city of Christchurch and made our last-minute plans for the weekend. We knew we wanted to go north but weren’t sure where. I did a quick Airbnb search found this place in the tiny village of Anakiwa–the start of the Queen Charlotte Sound track.

We had a base plan, so we were off early Saturday morning along the scenic Route 1…

First stop Kaikoura and the seal colony…

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Kaikoura Beach Walk

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Seal Colony

Next stop Picton for lunch and to get groceries (Anakiwa does not have restaurants or beer…), and then through a very windy road to Anakiwa! Our Anakiwa stay involved going for a run on Queen Charlotte’s Track, enjoying the harbor, and cooking up some dinner and breakfast at our Airbnb.

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Anakiwa Harbor

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Pete’s Point

The next morning we decided to go back through Lewis Pass and stop through Nelson. This was a fabulous choice as there was a perfect beach in Nelson which I got to enjoy while a couple of the guys were out running…again.

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Tahunanui Beach, Nelson

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Tahunanui Beach Boys

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Landslide Waterfall Pitstop

Monday night we did something a little different — Ko Tane! A colleague had told me about a local Maori experience dinner that everyone agreed we should check out. Not only did we learn a lot about the earliest settlers of New Zealand, I learned how to dance with a poipoi and the guys learned how to do a haka. We ended the night with a table full of meat cooked with traditional Maori methods.

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Ko Tane – Maori Experience

It was still too early to go to sleep, so our initial thought was to go to a bar. Then we remembered the Dance O Mat. Without Keith or I telling anyone what was going on, we drove to the gap filler location, I created a quick playlist, asked for a $2 coin from our guests, and plugged in. For the next 30 minutes we owned that Dance O Mat with Taylor Swift, Kesha, & Lady Gaga singing along. We definitely had a few tourists come over to take photos of us. #famous

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Dance O Mat!

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Goodnight Christchurch

On to Part 2!…

FiNZ 44 – Relax & Remember

We’re gearing up for three of our WPI friends coming to visit us over the next 2 weekends and another big hike after that. Therefore this weekend was a well deserved break. We even passed on going to the cricket match in return for lounging around not doing much.

This past Sunday, February 22 was the 4 year anniversary¬†of the most major earthquake to rock the city. I say the “most major” because from September 2010 through 2012 the city was rocked with pretty constant aftershocks. When I was here in 2012, feeling a small¬†earthquake every couple of weeks was normal. The February quake caused catastrophic damage in the central city and claimed 185 lives. The liquefied soil that emerged from the ground left the roads in shambles and buried cars.

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City Skyline Post Quake – http://i.imgur.com/0vZbD.jpg

So when the documentary¬† – “The Day the Changed my Life” – aired this week, Keith and I figured we ought to watch it to learn more about the city’s experience before we arrived. (It’s also available online to watch here). Like you’d expect, its one of those things that’s hard to watch.¬†I’d¬†liken it¬†to¬†watching a clip on 9/11. The documentary interviewed a few people who were involved in the aftermath – a reporter, a construction worker that helped retrieve bodies, emergency medical staff, and a husband of a wife that died in a collapsed building.

 

So when I ran around the park on 22 February, seeing the flowers magically appear on top of the construction cones throughout the city, I couldn’t help but reflect how and why I came to be here and my responsibilities as a structural engineer.

So to conclude a bit of a sobering post…

The city has come a long way, yet there’s still a long way to go. So for¬†this week, it’s a hearty cheers to Christchurch– The city that has humbly been my home for over a year. Until next week…

FiNZ 43 – The Wild West

How’s everyone doing back in New England and along the east coast? My parents sent me a photo of what life is currently like in Massachusetts–

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Definitely makes me appreciate enjoying the warmer climate after a year of winter!

As for our past weekend (that did NOT involve shoveling snow), we finally got out to the west coast. We’ve been saving a trip to the west coast for some time (more like¬†9 months!), mainly because it tends to always be rainy over there. But otherwise its a fairly easy 3 hour scenic drive over to the other side of the country.

Lucky? for us Keith volunteered me for his coworker’s marathon relay team when their female team member wasn’t able to participate. Keith and I drove to the tiny town of Reefton Friday night, picked up another hitchhiker from Germany along the way, and stayed at a lovely little hostel that used to be an old bakery…pretty much a¬†typical start to journey in New Zealand. The Buller Gorge Marathon was the next morning, each of the 4 of us had a 10.66km leg and the other team members drove the course in a van to cheer the runner on. It was a lot of fun and our team placed 7th out of 36 mixed relay teams!

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Since the day was still young, Keith and I hoped in the car and “did” the west coast for the rest of the day before meeting back with my teammates¬†for dinner. Our first stop was Charming Creek Walkway. We were told this walk was quite “charming,” and it definitely was! The west coast has their population mainly thanks to the mining industry. This walk took us along an old mining track–through tunnels, along a river, and along some old fun relics.

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Railway tunnels and Waterfalls!

At points it was a bit of a wanna-be horror movie setting, but quite cute in the daylight!

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Watsons Mill Abandoned Camp

Then we drove south along the coastal scenic route. It was GORGEOUS. I can’t believe I never made it out here my first trip to New Zealand. SO BEAUTIFUL! It reminded me a lot of Great Ocean Road in Australia, with less people. We stopped at the ever-popular Pancake Rocks to grab some obligatory photos. You’ll see the rocks are formed into tall stacks that sort of look like pancakes. No one really knows why…

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Then it was off to a typical Kiwi bach for the weekend! A bach is the kiwi’s word for a holiday home or vacation house. They could be cabins in the woods or extravagant houses. Keith’s coworker’s family had one on a beautiful lake with the southern alps beyond. That night we thoroughly enjoyed fresh pork, sausage, and lamb, that were all literally from one of my relay-mates farms (another “only in New Zealand” moment).

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Lake Brunner

The next morning it was time for some boating and waterskiing. Keith couldn’t pass up waterskiing at this beautiful spot, and in February nonetheless–

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While we waited on shore a weka came to visit. Weka are a threatened species of flightless bird in New Zealand, yet still more¬†prevalent than¬†kiwi birds. This is¬†probably the¬†closest we’ll ever come to a “sort-of kiwi” bird. So obviously Keith had to chase it down…

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You can’t catch me!

To make this post even more random, I’ll conclude with Christchurch’s celebratory Cricket World Cup fireworks! We kicked off the competition last week with a very large opening ceremony right in the nearby park. It was definitely a fun experience and likely a “once-in-a-lifetime” type event! When will I ever have a world cup opening ceremony in my backyard again?! I know most of my friends &¬†family have no idea what cricket is or how it’s played, but to give you some perspective, the opening ceremonies were predicted to have over 1 BILLION viewers.

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Fireworks over Hagley

This weekend is going to be a little more relaxed than normal. A few of our friends are flying in next week and we’ll have hectic plans for those next three weekends so I think it may be time for a break…maybe…

FiNZ 42 – High over Middle Earth

I’ve been avoiding sorting through photos from this past weekend because there’s just so many. Alas, I managed to pick out a “select” few and collage the crap out of all of them so they’d fit somewhat nicely here.

Friday was a precious New Zealand holiday – Waitangi Day, aka “the 4th of July New Zealand style.” Luckily, that gave us a head start to drive down to Queenstown and meet up with Kathy and Don Friday morning. Friday ended up being one of the most intense activity days we’ve had here.

To back up a bit, a freak cold snap had come across the country and Queenstown temps dipped to near 0 Celsius the previous two days. That meant that 1) the surrounding mountains were covered in snow in the middle of summer and 2) I was really glad I checked the weather and brought my fleece and winter hat.

Fortunately for us, Friday started to thaw the town up. Our first stop was the Shotover Jet–an activity Keith and I’ve been waiting until warmer weather (the joke’s on us) to do. I’ve heard its one of the “must-do” activities in Queenstown PLUS Prince William and Princess Kate participated when they were in New Zealand last April! I may have required the exact seat Kate sat in… Albeit a pricey activity at $130/person, if you’re going to do SOMETHING adventurous in Queenstown, pick the Shotover!

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Photos of our team and boat

We made it back to the center city just in time for…

THE RUNNING OF THE WOOLS!

which can only be further described through photos and video–

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Central Queenstown Running of the Wools

Soon after we were picked up and whisked away to the airport to do a Fiordland helicopter tour with Glacier Southern Lakes helicopters! Kathy had really wanted to do a helicopter tour but the weather had cancelled every trip until we arrived. We were more then happy to join and what an incredible experience–we landed at 3 planned locations and had to pick up a couple at the beginning in Glenorchy (because why get driven to the airport when the helicopter can pick you up outside?). It was the first time I’ve been in a helicopter and it was quite the first time!

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And we’re off!

Stop 1) Snow.

We were supposed to do a glacier landing but unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. Although landing in secluded Fiordland on top of a snow-capped mountain was pretty epic in itself…

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Stop 2) Beach.

We flew through Milford Sound, past all the tiny tour boats below, and landed on a deserted beach on the west coast. Once again, amazing–

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Stop 3) Milford Sound

You can’t come to New Zealand and NOT see Milford Sound. Despite the flocks of people, it’s simply necessary. This was Keith’s first time out here — I’m glad we finally both made it!

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Then we enjoyed a beautiful scenic ride back to Queenstown. I forgot to take more video along the way. The short clip below will have to do–

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It’s noteworthy that our trusty pilot, Alfie, was the lead pilot in all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming! I snuck a photo of him (far left) with Sir Peter Jackson. They’re surrounding the special camera they used while in flight.

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What a day. Possibly the most exciting day I’ve had in New Zealand. We enjoyed a well earned beer, had a great dinner at Cow, and bar hopped a bit the rest of the night.

Saturday we split up and Kathy and Don headed back in their campervan and Keith and I did some exploring on our way home too. We decided to check out Arrowtown and finally got our sheep photo we’ve been looking out for!–

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One of many excessive sheep+mountains photos

Then we decided to finally make the 10km journey to the clay cliffs. New Zealand has plenty of tiny tourist signs to natural wonders that people often zoom by. We figured we should finally check this place out and we’re glad we did. Check it out–

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And of course we ended our journey with yet another beautiful blue lake Pukaki, the water color is always so fantastic. Below you can barely see Mt Cook in the background through the haze. On to our next adventure!

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