Mountains, Penguins and Swinging!

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Our next stop was Mount Cook but we had a bit of a
drive to get there so first thing in the morning Steve nipped out to pick up
our rental car which tried to fool us again, this time by being
automatic.  Richard of course made jokes about us not remembering which
side the indicator was during my Dad’s visit however I have to add that on this
trip he was the only one to get them mixed up…and on more than one
occasion!  After a filling pancake breakfast we were driving north in
beautiful weather past wine and fruit country out of one mountain range and
into another for stunning views all around and a challenging each other with a
taxing music quiz to pass the time.  Suddenly we found ourselves driving
past a lake that we all noticed to be far from any ordinary lake as it glowed
almost fluorescent turquoise giving it an other-worldly effect.  Of course
we pulled over and the cameras came out in full swing but little did we know at
this point that this effect on the water, caused by rock powder and…science(?!),
was common in this area and we were in for some real treats on a much larger
scale.  Soon enough we had put most of the mileage behind us and we got to
the shores of Lake Pukaki where over shimmering turquoise green water we saw
our first glimpse of Mt Cook.  Sadly we didn’t realize we could see it as
we assumed the one mountain still shrouded in some cloud must have been it as
it appeared to be the highest with the slight cloud cover.  In actual fact
we were looking right at Mt Cook next to it and therefore didn’t give it the
respect it deserved!  Mt Cook is the highest peak in Australasia and has a
tiny village consisting of a few hotels and chalets in the valley in front of
it a good 45 minute drive from any other civilization, and where we were staying
the night.


We managed to drive underneath what seemed to be the
only cloud in New Zealand on the way up to the village and it hovered over us
for the rest of the day giving us just enough time to risk the rental car down
an unsealed road labeled ‘Rental Vehicles Prohibited’ to see the Tasman Glacier
and the icebergs that had recently fallen off and were floating in the lake
below, before the downpour began.  Luckily our accommodation for the night
was excellent with big windows looking out into the valley and a well stocked
kitchen and games cabinet so we spent the evening tucking into a huge Shepard’s
pie, drinking wine, playing trivial pursuit and watching the storm.  Unfortunately
for Richard every question he seemed to get in the game was related to New
Zealand politics and history so it did give us young-uns an advantage for a
change!  The next morning the weather was worth the wait and I did my
usual trick of waking up at 5.30am and having a quick peak in the main room for
a sunrise which gave me the opportunity to wake the others up bright and early
as Mt Cook was glowing pink this morning and I knew they wouldn't want to miss
it.  As we were up and raring to go it only seemed fair to take advantage
of the Hermitage Hotels buffet breakfast next door (this place is the most
famous hotel in New Zealand) I managed to put down about eight plates of
wonderful fry-up, croissants, pancakes etc before we decided to embark on a
five hour walk.


Initially we had planned a kayak trip out on the
glacier fed lake to touch the icebergs but although the sun was shinning and it
was a stunning day the wind was just a bit too strong for them to run the
trip.  Never the less we actually enjoyed our hike more than I think we
would have enjoyed the kayaks as we got to see a lot more of the area and get
all the way up to an even more beautiful lake with blue icebergs floating in it
and the spring flowers were out in abundance so it was a real highlight of the
whole trip.  On the way back Steve picked what he thought was a hidden
spot off the main path for a quick toilet stop however he forgot to look up as
well as left and right so he missed the Japanese Tour group looking down on him
from the rocks above - unfortunate but funny!  We were back in the car
heading to the coast next but not before stopping for tea and a quiche at the
beautiful Lake Tekapo which puts all other lakes to shame with its stunning
setting surrounded by snow capped mountains and lined with multicolored lupins
not to mention the bizarre turquoise color that made me think my quiche had
been spiked!


A highlight of the journey for Steve and I was being
able to go to a supermarket outside of Queenstown when we could buy every-day
items for reasonable non-tourist prices so we stocked up on necessary items
such as toothpaste and wine to see us through for the next few months
Eventually we arrived in Omaru, the home of the blue penguins!  We were
staying in a more remote setting out by the sea, which proved to be more remote
than expected, so once we found it (which took about half an hour) we
dumped our bags and rushed off to Omaru to take our seats in time for dusk and
the march of the penguins.  This was a very different setting to our
previous penguin viewing at Curio Bay with my dad, for a start we had to pay to
get access to the area and were not allowed to use any cameras or recording equipment
so it was quite frustrating as we are such happy snappers but it was well worth
it as we saw well over a hundred penguins waddling ashore.  Some of their
antics were most amusing as it was breeding season so we experienced quite a
bit more than we bargained for with a few pairs of penguins, who proved to be
quite the exhibitionists!  Leaving the car park afterwards was difficult
as there were groups of penguins waddling around the harbor and grumpy guards
along the road stopping people getting out of their cars to take photos. 
It's fair to say that by the time we made it back to our accommodation we were
shattered but just about stayed awake long enough to eat ourselves silly again
before crashing out.


Next morning my sunrise check went unrewarded so I
managed to get back to sleep and let the boys do the same for a change. 
By the time we were up and ready to go the clouds had parted for us and we
started retracing some of the steps we took when my Dad visited that were
particular highlights.  First stop was the Moeraki boulders which we saw
at a higher tide this time but undeterred we still waded out to jump on and
between them.  We then headed to Shag Point where we did some clambering
on the rocks to get some excellent up close photos of a seal colony and a
slumbering sealion.  We also very nearly had the pleasure of seeing a very
annoying Japanese tourist get his arm bitten off by the sealion as he kept on
walking right up to it trying to stroke it even though it was quite clearly
roaring at him and showing his fangs, after trying to convince him this was a
bad idea and not getting through to him we resorted to taking photos instead -
some people aren’t worth saving, and you've been framed pays well!  He
somehow got very lucky and the sealion was too busy sunbathing to make a great
effort to go for him which I think we were all a bit disappointed about if
truth be told.  Richard was in his element as a wildlife photographer and
so of course we had to take him to the Otago Peninsula and Sandfly Bay also
where we could see more sealions on a beautiful beach (and run down the
sandbank again!).  The sealions were right on cue as we arrived and
between playing David Attenborough and running from the big ones we managed to
fit in a picnic and fend off some fearless seagulls that had their eye on Richards
sardines.  The long drive back to Queenstown was broken up with a really
great dinner stop in a small town called Alexandra which specialised in only local ingredients
and as they are in the middle of the farming/fruit growing region it was a real


Only one and a half days to go and you may think we
had crammed a lot in already but there was one crucial element missing which
was a thrill seeking activity which people come from all over the world to
Queenstown for.  In Richards' case the decision was made for him that he
and Steve were going to take on the Nevis Arc which is the world’s highest
swing.  Considering that Steve has been bugging me to go on it since we
arrived I was both surprised and impressed how little resistance Richard put up
and soon enough we were on our way out to the canyon and Steve and Richard were
tied into a tandem harness together being dangled over a 160m deep
canyon.  At this point I think there would have been some resistance but
the time for that had come and gone so all that was left to do was look
terrified and wait for the inevitable to happen...when they did get dropped
into the canyon I had no idea what was going on, I was trying to take photos on
one camera and video it on another but before I knew it they were dots in the
depth of the canyon!  Quite horrific!  Enough to make my stomach go
funny and I was still on the platform.  After they were winched up after
completing a 330m arc and the adrenaline had properly kicked in it was
impossible for them to stop grinning (or stop their hair from standing on
end).  Most amusing and why was I not joining in too...well the excuse I
have mostly been using is that I get it for free in my new job so not worth
paying to do it before I started.  Of course I've now been in my job for
three weeks and just haven't gotten around to it...yet...maybe....


I did however join in with the celebratory Fergburger
eating down by the lake listening to some live music in the park.  After
that I was sent off to work while Steve and Richard made the most of the rental
car and went back up to Glenorchy to have a walk around the lake and boardwalks
to recover both their composure and hairstyles in a tranquil environment. 
As it was Richards last night we had a very special treat eating at Botswana Butchery
which is top of the list of posh places to eat in Queenstown.  Of course I
like the posh part and Steve was happy with the fact they are steak specialists
so meat was in good supply.  The next morning we had time for a round of Frisbee
golf which proved to be a magnificent moment in history, in fact I think I read
in the paper that a statue of Richard is currently being erected in Queenstown
park to mark the date that he managed to throw a Frisbee into the basket from a
good 40m away.  I am reassured that of course this was entirely a feat of
skill with luck playing no part at all!  Tragic that I didn't have the
camera on at the time!  After that excitement we finished off the trip
with fish and chips by the lake before having to say good bye at the airport
and the two day trip home for Richard began.  I'm pleased to report that
he got home safely without any arguments with airport staff, unlike his trip
coming out.  So that's the end of another epic trip and we're back in
Queenstown for a while now but will be sure to keep you updated with our
adventures here too.


Lot's of Love,


Amy and Swinging Steve and hair-Raising Richard!
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