New Zealand - Could it get any more spectacular???

Trip Start Jan 04, 2011
Trip End Mar 23, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, February 21, 2011

Finally have some time to write a few words about our time in Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound...
After being wowed by Dunedin and spending some really nice time with our friend Carolyn (Jamie's penpal from childhood) and her family, we headed off to Wanaka where Carolyn and Rob have a holiday home in the mountains.  On our way to Wanaka, we stopped off for the afternoon in Queenstown, which dubs itself as the "adventure capital of the world".  Naturally we visited (but did NOT partake in) the world's original Bungee Jump (they now have 2 additional even more terrifying bungee jumps.  Quite a sight to see someone jump off a bridge head first, with ankles tied to a cord.  Most opted to simply reach within a few feet of the river water below, some took the head and shoulder plunge!  As twisted as this may sound, it was fun watching (other) people scream in horror!! Then took the gondola ride up to the top to get tremendous views of Queenstown and it's setting on the lake surrounded by jagged mountains.  Once up there, we took a ride down the luge.  Lots of fun.  Don't think they like people going down at fun (read: fast) speeds, but I did pass 3 people on my way down and took some corners in a very sharp lean.. ok ok, nearly tipped over on one corner, but it was a lot of fun, even if it didn't involve jumping off bridges :)  Queenstown reminded me of Banff or Jasper, but a more developped, more touristy, more hip version.

After Queenstown, we continued on to Wanaka where we stayed at Carolyn and Rob's lovely holiday home.  It was a lot of fun to spend the weekend all together, especially with her two sons, Ben, 11, and Sam, 9.  They had to be two of the nicest kids I've ever met.  Both so polite, so well-mannered, so thoughtful, yet so different from each other.  Ben, the pensive quiet one and Sam the effusive outgoing little imp.  We had great meals and drinks in the evenings and spent such fun-filled days being exposed to the true Kiwi lifestyle.  On our first day there we spent most of it in Rob's jet boat. Think it was my very first time on a jet boat, and hopefully not my last.  Looked like a motor boat, but this thing had a massive 8 cylinder car engine that propelled it like a jet!  Vroom vroom!  We took it out on big Lake Wanaka for a ride in that inspiring alpine landscape.  Incredible feeling whizzing along the foot of these giant mountains, which within minutes change from gentle grass-covered slopes, to rock-faced cliffs, to almost desert-like brown mountains. Eventually we started with the really fun stuff... riding the "biscuit" as they call it.  It's basically an inflatable mattress that is pulled by the jet boat and riders get a thrill ride from riding over the wake (and sometimes getting doused by it), being pulled in sharp turns and bouncing hard over waves.  All at very high speeds.  It was particularly fun being the spotter in the jet boat watching the riders go flying off the biscuit into the lake... teheheheh.  Jamie had so much fun, he went on twice.  The second time with Sam, who is a total maniac on that thing - continuosly letting go of the handles, standing up on it, dancing on it, etc.  At the end of the day I got to drive the jet boat myself around the lake.  Loads of fun for sure.

Our second day was spent in Rob's 4x4 touring the area around Wanaka.  We got to see more spectacular scenery - crystal clear rivers, suspension bridges, alpine mountain bike trails, massive rock faces laden with rock-climbers... but the most fun part of it had to be off-roading.  I guess since I've never had one of those massive 4x4 beasts, never realized you can drive this thing anywhere,regardless of whether there is a road or not... We went over rocks, steep grass covered hills, through and over bushes.  I felt like a kid with a big power truck smashing over anything and everything.  All were fun, however the most excitement had to be driving through the "fords".  These are basically dips in a dirt road where you have to cross water.. sometimes fairly deep water, which causes a huge splash over the entire car.  Jamie particularly enjoyed the first one we went over, when the little imp Sam leaned over Jamie (who was sitting by the window) and lowered the window, thereby allowing Jamie to get a good feel of how much water the SUV displaced.  The other thing I should mention here is the different scents in the fresh New Zealand air, especially in the Wanaka area, between the smells of the various trees and the smells of herbs (especially thyme growing wild), it truly is a different and unique experience this place called New Zealand!
As all good things must come to an end, it was sad to say good-bye to Carolyn, Rob, Ben and Sam.  Each one of them so kind and so fun to be with.  What I've begun to realize on this trip is that it's not so easy saying good-bye to people who live on the opposite side of the world - 15,000 kms away!  :-(  Having said that, I am hopeful that we will see each other again - sooner rather than later.

After we left Wanaka, we drove toward Milford Sound, stopping overnight in Te Anau.  The closest accommodations to the famous beauty of Milford Sound which is still another 1 1/2 to 2 hour drive from there.  The next morning, even though it was raining cats and dogs, we headed to Milford Sound.  Interestingly enough, the heavy rainfall provided an extra spectacular scene on our final approach to Milford Sound.  As we got closer and closer to Milford Sound, the road got narrower, more winding and the mountains steeper.  We also started to see waterfalls gushing down the mountain sides.  At one point the entire 360 degree view around us was steep rock face mountains with a waterfall every 20 feet right from top to bottom.  Never seen anything even remotely like this anywhere else in the world.  A totally surreal experience.  That alone was worth the drive to Milford Sound.  However, once we got to the sound and boarded one of the 2 hour cruises up this renowned fjord, we saw even more unique vistas - seals basking on rocks, waterfalls so high up that the water evaporates before it hits the sea, and very high mountains that rise abruptly from the sea (including Mitre Peak which is one of the highest mountains in the world rising from sea level).  It again was lots of fun watching people being blown across the top boat deck as we approached the gale force winds of the open ocean and people being soaked by the mist of massive waterfalls as we sailed by them.

After a good night's sleep back in Te Anau, we awoke to a day that would become a very dark day in New Zealand's history.  As my previous post stated, Christchurch was devastated by a massive earthquake.  Still find it hard to talk about it.  Just hope and pray for those affected by this tragedy.  So I'll just end this blog here for now.


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