Aotearoa - land of the long white cloud

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Sunday, April 3, 2005

New Zealand really is as beautiful and diverse as the scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies show - lots of tall mountains, volcanoes, pristine lakes, green forests and rugged coastline. It's quite a contrast to Australia. There are few native animals here - mostly birds and no snakes. With no predators, some of the birds kinda devolved and lost the ability to fly (e.g., kiwi). Unfortunately, humans in their infinite foresight brought in such animals as possums, cats and sloats which have proved disastrous to the native species. (For example, they introduced possums to hunt for their fur (possums eat the eggs of birds). The possum population exploded so to reduce the possums, they introduced sloats. Now there are still too many possums but also too many sloats. Brilliance in action.) Humans have also introduced various flora which hurt the native plants and trees as well. The government and people of today seem much more environmentally aware and are taking measures to help the native flora and fauna.
The first people to settle in New Zealand were Polynesians who sailed from somewhere in the Pacific (no one's quite positive where from). The Polynesians of New Zealand would later be come to be known as Maori. They split into various tribes that fought for control of the land. European explorers and settlers eventually arrived and did as they did in the U.S. and Australia - killed the locals and took their land. Unlike those two countries, the British signed a treaty with the locals and a blended English-Maori culture has developed (that's not to say there weren't problems or discimination though). Being Polynesian, the Maori culture is similar to that of Hawaiians. New Zealand currently has about 4 million people; 1/15 (6%) that of the UK's population despite NZ being a little bigger in size.

Alrighty, on to my actual trip. Leaving Sydney, the gods seemed to be against me making my flight - the bus took 20min to arrive, the check-in line was huge and as I got near the front they diverted me to a longer queue, the immigration line was long, and security stopped to give me an extra inspection. Just as I got through that, the last call for boarding announcement came over the intercom. I made it though! I arrived in Christchurch (South Island) and caught the shuttle into town to a hostel in the center of town. Christchurch has a bit of feel of an English city, complete with river and punting (like Oxford and Cambridge). I'd been to New Zealand and Christchurch 5 years ago on a trip so had seen the city already. I just took a wander around along the Avon River and through the Botanic Gardens. Those are both quite pretty.

My second day in Christchurch was sunnier, so I spent more time in the parks reading. I checked out some live music at the bar in the hostel - alright cover band. Realized I have to get used to being alone again and not having friends to go out with for dinner / nights out.

I bought a pass with a bus touring company called "Magic Bus". It's supposed to be more for the 20-something and over crowd (there's another company that does a "party" bus). The Magic Bus picked me up bright and early from my hostel on Tuesday (March 8). Everyone on the bus seemed withdrawn and quiet. "hmmmm...maybe i should've got on the party bus..." We had a couple stops for snacks and views before arriving in Kaikoura in the early afternoon. Kaikoura is a small town on the east coast and is famous for its dolphins and whale watching. One thing I quickly discovered is that all "optional activities" (e.g., whale watching, bungy jumping) are very expensive. Due to budget constraints, I had to pass on swimming with dolphins. Instead I paid NZ$5 to rent a bike and peddled along the coast and up into the hills and hiked around a bit. When I got back to the hostel, everyone who went on the dolphin swim said it was an amazing experience (maybe I should've forked out the dosh). The evening was spent gathered around the tv with most everyone else.

Got the Magic Bus again the next morning for a ride up to Nelson. We made a stop in Picton for people to catch the ferry north and to pickup new passengers. The few people I had met all got off there. Nelson is the gateway to Abel Tasman Nat'l Park. I took a bus and boat out there the next day and did a hike on the coast. Probably wasn't the smartest thing to do as my left foot had been hurting pretty bad (not sure why). Along the way, I met a couple young ladies - Emma from Ireland and Beth from South Africa. We hiked most the way together stopping at various bays to check out the view and down to one of the beaches for lunch in the rain. The weather cleared a bit and we went to a couple other nice beaches. Six hours later and my foot is killing me. Oy! Unfortunately, the ladies were traveling the opposite direction around the south island as me so I didn't get to see them again after that.

Somewhere along the way I read that the NZ$ had reached a 22 year high against the US$. Joy. No wonder everything is so bloody expensive. I figure the US gov't or IRS owes me some sort of travelers kickback for screwing me over on the exchange rate.

Another ride on the bus but we had quite a few scenic stops on the way to Greymouth. We stopped at Lake Rotoiti with tall mountains all around it first. Travelled along Buller Gorge to Cape Foulwind and did a short hike there. Stopped at Punakaiki and got to see the Pancake Rocks (layered rocks). Most everyone on the Magic Bus was staying at the same hostel, Noah's Ark. It's cool 'cuz each room has a different animal theme. Greymouth had a tornado the day before so I was anxious to get out and see the destruction. It had torn off several roofs and wiped out an old mill. Besides seeing that, Greymouth had little else to offer. I went to a place with a cheap bbq dinner and met a Swedish couple from the Magic Bus there. They were very friendly and on a similar schedule as me. New Zealand has a lot of travelers from various parts of Europe (also Americans, Canadians, Israelis and just a few from other parts). It kinda helps when meeting people from Europe and being able to say you've been to their country and possibly to the city they're from. At the restaurant/bar we watched a horrible cover band. We could only stand so much though so had to leave.

It was a good thing I met the Swedes (Magnus and Annette) the evening before 'cuz the Magic Bus driver forgot to pick them up at their hotel the next morning (I had to go to the front of the bus and remind him). We stopped in the town of Hokitika for breakfast and I went off wandering for pictures (that's normal for me). There were some pretty views of the mountains from a bridge by the river. The bus ended up stopping just a little outside of Hokitika for even better views of the mountains.

We had another stop in the town of Ross, which used to be a gold-mining site. There wasn't really much to do and we were there like 45 min. I think Magic Bus must have been getting kickbacks from the "pan for gold" business there. Anyway, we eventually made it to Franz Joseph. Very small town but it's close to the Franz Joseph Glacier. Several people were scheduled to go on glacier hikes or heli-hikes the next day. A bit too pricey for me, plus my foot was still hurting. I did end up going out to the glacier with several people just to look at it. I did a bit longer hike to get right up next to the glacier with a couple girls - Viola (from Germany) and Morgane (France). Morgane had that really cute French accent. The wind is cold blowing off the glacier and it's quite impressive when you get right up next to it. The girls didn't want to wait for the shuttle back to town so we ended up walking the several km back (oy, my foot was killing me again). I cooked some dinner back at the hostel and chatted with a very lovely redheaded girl from England (did I ever mention I like redheads?). But then Morgane came and sat next to me so I felt obligated to talk to her instead (life is rough). Sometime around washing dishes I got drawn in by the Simpsons on tv and lost the girls. One has to make sacrifices for Homer and the gang.

Had a short ride on the bus from Franz Joseph to Fox, another town by a glacier. The town is very small and mainly just another stopping point for glacier exploration (rates here are about half as much as Franz Joseph). I hired a bicycle from the hostel and rode out to Lake Matheson. On the way the mountains were visible, but by the time I got to the lake they were clouded over. Didn't make for as good of photos. I was rather lazy most the day back at the hostel. In the afternoon I rented a bike again and rode out to Fox Glacier. Did a hike to the base of the glacier. This one was kinda cool as there was a river running from under the glacier. The mountains were still clouded over at sunset so not much point going to the lake for pics. Of course, once the sun went down the clouds all cleared off. I wandered along a glowworm path that evening (glowworms are bugs that hang glowing strands to attract and catch other bugs).

The Magic Bus was 45min late picking me up in Fox as it took everyone to Lake Matheson first. I at least got to spend a little time there again and the weather was better for pictures.

There were some more scenic stops on the drive - Thundercreek Falls, an ocean viewpoint and Makanora. I got off the bus in Wanaka with the Swedes and since the weather was really nice, I just lay out in the sun by the lake. Went out with the Swedes that evening for dinner and drinks. I got to spend a little more time in the sun wandering around by the lake getting pics of the lake and mountains the next morning.

The bus was right on time in Wanaka and took us to Queenstown with a stop by a bungy site where Magnus did a jump. Queenstown is situated next to Lake Wakatipu with mountains all around it, including the Remarkables. The city is known as the adventure sport capital of New Zealand. I gave myself a few days in Queenstown to chillout and do whatever.
The day after arriving, I took a tour on the "BBQ Bus" to Milford Sound. The price was the same as the other tours but also included a bbq lunch. Had a few scenic photo stops along the way. The weather at Milford Sound was quite nice (except that Mitre Peak was covered by clouds, but I guess it always is). Had a two hour cruise through the fiord seeing waterfalls, dolphins and seals. The mountains rise straight up from the water so it's stunning and dramatic scenery.

I hung out that evening back at the hostel with some English girls, one of whom I had met back in Franz Joseph. Natasha brought up an interesting question another traveler had asked - "what's something you don't like about New Zealand?" You sit and think for a while and nothing comes to mind. I think that says a lot about the country. The only thing I would say is that it's expensive but many places are.
Then came St Patrick's Day. The first order of business was to go around town pinching anybody not wearing green. Ooooh, and there were quite a few. I got many an angry glare and suffered some verbal abuse. Being a wise and creative fellow, I brought along a red jumper to throw on any cute girls so I could give them a kiss instead. After being bailed out of jail later that afternoon, I met back up with the Swedes at the hostel. Had a couple drinks there then went into town to check out the Irish pubs. I actually got ID'd at the first pub (you only have to be 18 to get in). Of course, I was older than the doorman. The English girls found us at the main pub in town. Hung out with them and listened to some cover band. Checked out the other Irish pub - the music was better (traditional Irish) but not too exciting a crowd. Back to the first pub and stayed around there a while longer. Not too terribly an exciting evening in Queenstown.
Slept in Friday then took a tour up to Deer Park Heights above Queenstown. Several scenes from the LOTR movies were filmed here. One in particular has the Rohan refugees passing by a lake with snow covered mountains in the background. Quite a nice area. Speaking of LOTR, nearly every hostel had the movies and there were LOTR souvenirs at all the shops.

Woke up with a sore throat Saturday morning. :( On to Dunedin on the south-eastern coast. Dunedin apparently means "Edinburgh" and the city is supposed to be Scottish but the only traces of Scotland I saw were the street names and a Scottish store. So I figure by their reckoning, Portland is an Irish city since there's an Irish store and several pubs. I wandered around the city with a stop by Cadbury World (though I didn't pay the $15 for a tour), checked out the University area and perused the city's art gallery (free). I was originally planning a couple days in Dunedin - glad I only stayed for one night 'cuz it's not too exciting a place.

The rain the following day seemed to have everyone on the Magic Bus in a mopey mood. We stopped by a spot on the coast that has the Moeraki Boulders. They're large, round-shaped rocks scattered around the beach in this one area - kind of cool looking.

The bus then took us inland and I got off in Twizel and caught a shuttle to Mt Cook Village. The weather was alright that first day but Mt Cook was still shrouded by clouds. I hiked out to a viewpoint with a guy from Singapore. On the way back we got some alright sunset pictures.

The next morning there were low clouds throughout the valley so you couldn't see much of anything. I had a fever too so was feeling very fatigued, but still went on a hike. Just a little into hiking I felt tired enough to just sit down and sleep for a few days, but pressed on. Probably didn't help my cold much. I crossed a couple swinging bridges but the views weren't so great with all the clouds so I just went back to the hostel.

After the hike, the shuttle picked me up and took me to Lake Tekapo. A tiny church called The Church of the Good Shepherd sits on a little peninsula in the lake and is the subject of many a photo. I wandered over and got some pictures of my own - though it's not quite as nice with cars, tourist buses and people all around it.

Just took it easy in the evening since I had a cold. I woke up bright 'n early the next morning to get more pictures of the church. The weather was cloudy so the lighting wasn't so good for those pics.

Rode out again on the Magic Bus with a stop by the Cookie Time factory! Cheap cookies! I like their logo (it's a big, red hairy monster that's kinda dopey looking). Full circle around the south island and back to Christchurch. Since I'd already been there, I just did a quick wander around the city then went to see a movie ("House of Flying Daggers"). Not too terribly an exciting day.

Retracing the same path on the Magic Bus with the same stops on the way to Kaikoura. I still was a bit sick so thought I probably shouldn't be playing around in the cold ocean with the dolphins (though maybe they could cure me). Just wandered around town a bit and took it easy. See, there are boring days when traveling.

On the bus ride towards Picton I met some girls from Spain. You don¡¦t find too many Spanish traveling around these parts. Plus it lets me practice my pathetic Spanish speaking skills. Unfortunately, they were continuing around on the south island and I was catching the ferry to the north island. The ferry took me to Wellington on the south end of the north island. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and a reasonably large city. It started raining in the early evening so I only did a little bit of wandering around.
It was raining again the next day in Wellington. I took a cable car up a hill for views of the city, though it wasn't so good in the rain. Down through the botanic gardens to the parliament area then to the Te Papa museum. Te Papa is kind of a history of New Zealand museum including quite a bit about the Maori. There was a kind of neat exhibit about the 1970s with various film clips, tv commercials, media print, furniture, etc from that time. They even had an ABBA tribute band playing, but they weren't so good. I was in the museum almost 3 hours so my head started to hurt and I had to get out. "Brain's full, I'm leaving!" Yet another evening of chilling out back at the hostel.

The Magic Bus driver that picked me up in Wellington was named Purple. Yes, he was kind of a hippie guy and would always wear at least one thing purple. We stopped by the Mt Bruce Wildlife Preserve and got to see some kiwi. There were supposed to be various other birds and lizards there, but I didn't see many. The final destination for the day was the art deco town of Napier on the east coast. There was a big earthquake in 1931 that destroyed most the city so it was rebuilt in art deco style. Today that's about all it has to offer. In about a half hour I had wandered the central part of town, seen the art deco buildings and was left wondering what to do next. Boredom is probably the biggest cause of crime - "I'm bored", "me too", "what should we do?", "hmmm, want to rob a bank?", "alright". Back on the south island while riding around on the Magic Bus I had confirmed that I am now allergic to peanuts through scientific research (I ate some). In Napier I furthered the scientific study and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (thinking maybe the jelly would somehow counter the peanut's affect) - I was hurtin' for about an hour so I shouldn't eat peanut butter anymore. No more Reese's!!! No more Tillamook chocolate peanut butter ice cream!!! Ooooh, life is cruel! (I'm slightly allergic to orange juice too. I need to test if pure squeezed oj is ok.)

I continued on the bus through some pretty mountain passes to the town of Taupo right next to the lake of the same name. I came here to see the lake and to do the Tongariro Crossing, a one day hike through mountains, volcanoes (Mt Doom from LOTR was shot here) and lakes in the middle of the north island, but the weather was bad the whole time. People at the hostel had been waiting for a week to go and were still probably going to have to wait several more days for the weather to clear when I left. The weather in Taupo itself wasn't that bad. I went for a long, long walk to Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon thermal area and all the way back to town (over 10km). Craters of the Moon was kinda cool with lots of steaming vents and some boiling mud. In the evening, I chatted with my roommates Lea (Switzerland) and Rose (England) for a while. It turns out they got Easter eggs from the hostel that morning! I didn't get anything from the Easter Bunny staying in Napier! Ergh! I'm gonna get that bunny...
The next morning Lea, Rose and I went walking along the lake to find a place that rents kayaks. The weather wasn't so good so we ended up bagging that idea. I missed my opportunity to see "Spongebob Squarepants - The Movie" for them. Oh well. In the afternoon we went sailing on the lake out to a Maori carving (weather was better).

Back at the hostel that evening we played some Yahtzee and cards. Lea was very cute but was painfully shy and quiet. I think every Swiss girl I've met has been quite attractive but too quiet.

Had my morning muffin (I've been eating a lot of muffins in NZ) and caught the Magic Bus north. We had a 2.5 hr break in Rotorua. The entire city stinks of sulphur 'cuz it's in a thermal area. I'd been there before on my last trip to NZ. This time I wandered out to a spot I found on my last visit where you can look through a fence and see a geyser in a thermal park (without having to pay the $22 entrance fee). I also went down by the lake to see more steaming vents. It stunk really bad down by the lake. Back on the bus to finish the trip to Mt Maunganui. Chew (guy from Singapore I met at Mt Cook) was on the bus. He and a couple young ladies from Argentina (Luciana and Laura) came with me for a wander along the beach. I'm more interested in meeting people from places like Argentina or Spain than England or Canada just 'cuz I hardly meet any of them traveling and I like their culture. It was around sunset time on the beach and we were able to get some good reflection pictures. I don't think I've ever been on a beach with so many cool shells. We wandered back through town with a stop at the pub before going to the hostel and cooking dinner. People were watching a really bad movie from the 80s on tv so I just went to bed early.
In the morning, the hostel owner took a few of us to the mountain for a hike up. It was quite steep and the weather was already warm so it was a bit of a workout. The views from the top were nice - you could see out over the ocean to some of the nearby islands and the town below.

Walked back along the beach and said goodbye to the Argentinians (got their e-mails so maybe I'll get to see them when I go to Buenos Aires). The weather was great that afternoon so I just went and laid on the beach. A couple people I'd met previously arrived on the Magic Bus that evening so I chatted with them.

Another beautiful day in Mt Maunganui the next morning so I wandered the beach before catching the Magic Bus. We had a long stop in Thames to wait for another bus for picking up more people. There's little to do in Thames so I'm not sure why they just didn't have us leave Mt Maunganui later (I could've had more time on the beach!). The bus got us into Auckland around 5pm. Angela and Nigel (from the Africa overland tour) live there and offered me a place to stay. I met up with them downtown after they got off work and rode the bus out to their place (north of town a ways). Ange cooked us dinner and we just hung out and chatted.
They both had to go to work in the morning. I took the bus into town and checked out some of the parks and the art gallery (free...seeing a trend here?). I probably would've gone out to One Tree Hill but apparently the lone tree atop the hill was removed a few years back (Maori had attempted to chop in down in retaliation for the original tree being cut down by the European settlers some 180 years ago). Good thing I saw the tree when I was here 5 years ago. I checked out various souvenir shops for really cheesey NZ gifts, but didn't find anything that met my cheesey expectations. Wandered down to the America¡¦s Cup Marina where there are lots of big, fancy yachts. Just like Cannes, no one invited me aboard or gave me lots of money. Dang rich people. I caught a ferry over to Devonport for views of the Auckland skyline.

Back to the city and walked around a bit more...realized Auckland isn't really too exciting. Again, being in cities around NZ and Australia makes me miss the history and architecture of Europe. Jamie and Anna (also from the Africa tour) came over to Ange & Nige's that evening to visit.
Nigel borrowed his mom's car so he could take us up the coast to Ange's mom's beach house. Ange's friend, Cherie (aka, Muffin), came along with us. Nigel warned me that Cherie talks a lot. At first she did and her calling Ange "Muffin" and Ange calling Cherie "Muffin" got a bit annoying, but then she settled down and was quiet for a lot of the ride. Nigel took us to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. It is a pretty setting with some nice beaches. The real way to see it is to take a boat ride around all the islands, but that costs lots of money. We had lunch in the town then went south to Ngunguru where the beach house is. It was a pretty nice house close to the estuary that links the town to the ocean. We went out along there to a little beach and went for a swim. Cherie was tip-toeing around trying to avoid stepping on any starfish (she's afraid of bugs, starfish and probably anything that moves). She looks good in a bikini so you have to forgive her these little things. We got some takeaways for dinner then ate and chatted back at the beach house. Nigel turned on the rugby so we veged in front of that before bedtime.
Ange, Cherie and I walked into town the next morning to get some stuff for breakfast, and so that they could have some coffee. Had breakfast at the house then took the kayaks out to the estuary. Cherie and I kayaked out across to a little island and explored. Then Nigel and I took the kayaks further out and "surfed" in the little waves.

Back to the beach and laid in the sun briefly before going back to the house and cleaning it up. We drove down the coast stopping at a couple picturesque spots for photos and made it to Auckland in the late afternoon.
I was up very early to catch the shuttle to the airport Monday morning. On the way there, the sunrise was very pretty. Had I been driving, I would've stopped a couple times for photos (sunrise behind Auckland skyline, sunrise behind lake with lone fisherman in boat).

New Zealand is definitely one of the prettier countries I've been to. Having nice weather betters the experience and scenery. I'm not sure what I was doing when I came here 5 years ago as I missed out on a lot of the better stuff (and didn't even know about it). I may have been more city focused back then. There are still many things I missed out on in NZ - glacier walk, bungy jumping, swimming with dolphins, some of the longer treks, kayaking in the Abel Tasman, the Tongariro Crossing, Mt Taranaki, Coromandel Peninsula and further up the coast above Auckland to Cape Reinga. BUT I did get to see a lot and it was a great experience. To anyone going to New Zealand, I'd say don't spend much time in the cities (they don't have much to offer) and focus on the outdoor activities.
favourite NZ saying: "sweet as..." (sweet as what? I don't know. Something really sweet.)

"Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Nana nei I tiki mai
Whakawhiti t era
A upa ... ne! ka upa ... ne!
A upane kaupane whiti t era
- The Haka (Maori chant)
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