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… 😉

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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 😉 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!

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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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FiNZ 36 – Holidays Part 2

Post Kepler Track we wanted to stay somewhere a bit more “homey” for Christmas day. A while back we looked around for a nice little house rental but they didn’t really exist or were already booked. So we ended up living the life of luxury for a couple of nights in the Te Anau at the “Rainbow Lakeview House.” The house is actually for sale if anyone wants to go halfsies…or more like quarterlies on it–a mere $1.35 million. Although, if you ask me that is low in comparison to a beautiful piece of land like this in the States. A bit pricier of a rental than what we initially wanted, but given the fact that we had stayed in hostels or huts the past week, we didn’t feel bad about it.

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Lakeview Living Room

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Majestic mountains from the front porch

We made it to the grocery store right after we hopped off the Kepler Track and picked up a modest Christmas meal for 2– the tiniest ham known to man, a few potatoes for mashed potatoes, salad ingredients, broccoli casserole ingredients, and a box of brownie mix. It was quite the perfect couple meal!

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Christmas meal

It was a great, relaxing 48 hours of looking out the windows, playing pool, calling our families to wish them a happy holiday, or watching Christmas movies.

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Pool time

On Boxing Day (think, the Commonwealth’s version of Black Friday) we celebrated by treating ourselves to a tourist journey. We booked an overnight cruise with Real Journeys on the Doubtful Sound. Around New Zealand its pretty easy to do things on your own, but every once in a while, it is LOVELY to have someone do it for you. This was a bit of a splurge, but a few coworkers had done it before and vouched for it, and we really wanted to see Doubtful Sound (the fiord that lives in the shadow of its uber touristy neighbor – Milford Sound).

Here’s a quick map, below, of points along our cruise. To give you an idea of how remote Doubtful Sound is….we had to take a shuttle to Manapouri, an hour boat ride across Lake Manapouri, and then a 40 minute bus ride on a dirt road down to Deep Cove, population – 2 (yes, TWO) to get to the boat dock.

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Enginerd alert – once we pulled into the west bank of Lake Manapouri they pointed out the hydroelectric power station. This was built in the 60s and uses water power generated from the flow of water from Lake Te Anau and Manapouri, through a very long man-made tunnel, into Doubtful Sound. The power station COULD power the entire south island, but instead most of it goes to the nearby aluminum plant, and about 15% gets put into the NZ grid. The initial ideas of a power station really brought the country together in terms of environmental consciousness. The population (a petition with over 200,000 signatures was submitted – a TON for little New Zealand!) convinced owners to only build on terms that the lakes would remain at a normal level without killing the habitats surrounding them.

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We (about 50 of us) then all stepped onto the beautiful Fiordland Navigator, found our bunks, and set sail! Keith had a ball with my camera over the next 24 hours. It was quite hard to pick out only a few photos, but hopefully this is a good compilation of what we experienced!

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Riding in style

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Seal Colony

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We anchored in a small cove where we were able to participate in water activities. Keith and I jumped for the kayaks! The sandflies were BRUTAL–two got my in the eye and my face was very puffy for the next day; however, the kayaking, and running into a pod of bottlenose dolphins was very worth it!

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Keith then decided to take advantage of the “swimming” option…

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Top deck at nightfall

The next day we sailed into one of the southern “arms” of the sound which had the most beautiful scenery. At the end of the “arm” we stopped and the engines were shut off and we all stood there in silence for several minutes taking in our surroundings. I’ve been told this is usually a pretty epic part of the journey. However, for us, it started pouring at this point, which just meant we were listening to rain pouring everywhere while getting wet.

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Nerd alert–I was pretty excited to see a visible fault line area in nature. The picture doesn’t really capture it…but it’s there.

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“Flanders hiking(?) photo of the week”–

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Proof that we slept somewhere

Overall a great “touristy” experience. I would highly recommend Real Journeys Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. The crew really took care of us, the food was incredible (and plentiful!), and we got a very comprehensive tour of Doubtful Sound. I believe only one other tour company sets foot in Doubtful Sound, and I didn’t see them while we were there. So if you don’t want the crazy hype of Milford and still want to experience a beautiful fiord – I highly recommend Doubtful Sound!

We just got done with some great BBQ-ing back in Christchurch, and on to some more adventures tomorrow. This has been one heck of a blogging week!

New Zealand 27 – An Unexpected Journey

Get ready for a photo-heavy post. I’ve been putting this post off a few days because I wasn’t quite sure how I would write it. The Milford Track is 4 days, 33.5 miles of beauty, crazy weather, and entertaining times with new and old friends. I was at once considering the educational route, to inform the public exactly what the track was like, but after the fact that just doesn’t share the story. You have to do it to justify it. The pictures we have are just not good enough to fully explain, but they will have to do…

When my coworker said he was going to put together a trip to the Milford Track in Fiordland, I was the first one to jump on board. The New Zealand Great Walk is arguably the most beautiful hike in the world — one of those “must do before you die” type events. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fans, all of those sweeping mountainous landscape shots occur in Fiordland. The hiking (or tramping as Kiwi’s would say) season didn’t officially start until this past Tuesday, so we chose to complete this in the off-season. Lucky for us that meant cheaper hut fees, far fewer people to deal with, yet a lot more caution involved. We got together after-hours to discuss food preparation, safety gear, and avalanche safety. Those years in Girl Scouts just didn’t cut me out for this kind of stuff!

Luckily, once the departure day arrived, avalanche warnings were low to moderate which ended up meaning we didn’t need to worry too much when on the track. A key point to the Milford Track is that there is no easy way to get there–it is a one way route that involves dropping your vehicle in Te Anau, a bus ride to Te Anau downs boat dock, a 2-hour boat ride to the start, 4-day walk, boat ride through Milford sound to the nearest town, then an 1.5 hour bus drive back to the town of Te Anau. Although a lot of travel, it is a bit surreal realizing you really are far, far away from any civilization. Let the photo documentation begin (most photos courtesy of coworkers, especially in the snowy pass where I was far too concerned about staying warm and hydrated then taking out my camera to capture the moment)…

Coffee with a view – boat ride from Te Anau downs to the trail head

Like any good Department of Conservation, they like to make sure they overly caution the tourists–

Reasons not to do the track off-season…just made us all feel more intense

The first day involved a very short (5km) hike to the first hut. This all just ended up with us instantly bonding with the 8 other hikers on the trail with us and playing an entertaining game of Spoons where multiple losers agreed to complete some entertaining tasks–

Hut Games #1 – 4 person push up

Hut Games #2 – 6 people fitting into the toilet

Hut Games #3 – wheelbarrow races

Day #2 was a bit more like typical Fiordland–cold and rainy. We continued to follow the river through the amazing valley and several avalanche prone areas. This all meant that not all the bridges were in place and we got to put those gators to good use.

River Crossings

Bridge Crossings

After a very cold night in hut #2 (where I actually bartered with a coworker to give me their below freezing sleeping bag which I in turn agreed to carry over the pass the next day) we woke up not-so-ready to tackle the challenging day ahead. The night was full of torrential rain, sleet, and snow which meant we heard avalanches come down around us frequently and knew we’d be dealing with quite a bit of snow on day #3.

Starting to tramp up the switchbacks to the pass

Seeing the cross on top of the cairn memorial may have been my favorite site all day – to know we had finally made it to the pass and any danger of being pummeled with snow was gone. The memorial cairn is for McKinnon. He was a major part of helping create the track and unfortunately went missing one day on his Lake Te Anau boat ride to the trail head.

After trudging through the rain & snow, posing for the money shot in front of the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial Cairn

View from McKinnon Pass

All of us were pretty happy to see McKinnon shelter

Once we finally did encounter a dangerous area of the track, the DOC made sure to warn us. No chance of us taking this track, we headed down the “less scenic” emergency route which made me wonder how incredible the cut-off track must have been.

The disadvantages of doing the track during snow season

Day #4, it was all downhill from here, literally. Which meant a whole lot of waterfalls. As much as I hate to say it, I was actually sick of waterfalls by the end of this trip. They were everywhere!

Sutherland Falls – 5th tallest waterfall in the world

I couldn’t contain the excitement knowing this was my last can of preserved meat for a long time…

Canned food = a balanced tramper’s lunch

After a long 33.5 miles (New Zealanders used to work in feet & inches long, long ago), we finally made it to Sandfly Point–the end of the trail. Beforehand I made sure all major skin areas were covered and those exposed were globbed with DEET. Sandfly bites are no joke, I am still itching the 6 that got to me.

Survived the 33.5 miles never having to learn how to use the bright orange emergency locator beacon

Waiting for our ride to town at Sandfly Point

Final boat ride through Milford Sound

At the Sandfly Point shelter there were a few historical boards with old quotes. I’ll leave you with my favorite to conclude this weeks post–

“Fifteen years after leaving the Milford Track I repeatedly dream I’m still there…with these great mountains, waterfalls and forests and the river…The actual reality is something that is almost indescribable and I often say to people, ‘Have you walked the Milford Track?’ and when they say NO, I say well you must do it before you die…” – Dan Greany