We drive due south on Route 6 again toward Wanaka, passed Queenstown, through Lumsden and make a sharp right westerly to our destination—Te Anau. This drive took 8 hours. We left at 8:00 am and arrived at 4:00 pm. The scenery was great, mountains and valleys, but Frank did all of the driving and could not often enjoy the views because the roads were so curved with switch backs and hairpins next to deep cliffs and/or rock walls. We felt comfortable traveling at 50 to 80 km/h, though the speed limit is 100 km/h. No way would we take those turns at that speed—even if the Kiwis would. Some hairpin turns were posted as low as 15 km/h with immediate acceleration to 100km/h. Janet often had her eyes closed. We were both was worn out at the end of the day.
In any event, getting to Te Anau by the evening was important; Don't want to drive at night when dusk comes early, need to get as close as possible to ”Fiordland National Park” for next days trip to the famous “Milford Sound”on the west coast and the Tasman Sea. We stayed down at YHA Hostel again; its corporate, not cute, but the level of accommodation is steady.
We decided to join an early morning full day tour with motor transport van and boat ride in Milford Sound. The mountains here remind of the Rockies, are monstrous and snow capped, and the threat of snow and the suggestion to have tire chains handy was a bit too much. We wanted to give the driver a break, not worry about snow drifts or landslides. It was a good decision. We signed up with ‘Fiordland Tours’ and Terry, our driver and guide was just fantastic. This was a 120 km drive and Terry gave us insight and stories along the way while we stopped at 19 quality photo sites on the trip to Milford Sound. Here are some photos of the stunning scenery of this UNESCO rated national Park. Some of the most remarkable sites are these:
1 Mirror Lake reflection of the Earl Mountains;
2 Fall’s Creek waterfall;
3 Hollyford Lookout over the valley and Darren Mountains;
4 The Chasm showing fascinating rock carvings; and
5 Gunn’s Camp visit to an unspoiled Marian Cascade.
The walks we took added to the experience.
Upon arriving at the docks Terry went ahead to get the boarding passes and lead us to the best seats on the second deck gallery of this very nice boat offered by “Milford Adventurer”. It is nice to have the Captain greet your guide by his first name. The Milford Soundis surrounded by high mountains, most covered with snow and a few kissed by clouds, and apparently the Sound is as deep under the water as the mountains are tall. The sun is out today and the sky is brilliant; this only happens about 150 days a year. The boat leaves Milford and we travel the length out to the Tasman Sea. It is high tide so the water line on the rocks is barely visible.
The captain and crew where great fun, making sure they talked to everyone and gave information, including a handful of NZ jokes aimed at Aussies, generally. The captain took the bow of the boat up under two tall waterfalls where the pounding water mist sprayed over those too close. We also moved close to shore several times to view a Penguin couple snarkingon the rocks, this was the first sighting of the mating season for the crew and was fun for us. There were also seals wallowing on the rocks, with some raising a flipper as if to say “hi”. The entire excursion was just great. On the drive back, our van was greeted by “Mountain Parrots”. They are hungry birds who walk after you. These rather large birds also landed on the top of the van and used their parrot beaks to nawon the rubber gaskets on the windows. They we were somewhat intimidating, but fascinating—their spanned large wings had interesting color patterns.
The next day we left under the cover of heavy rain toward the east coast of the South Island. The goal was to reach the city of Oamaru on the Pacific Ocean by dusk. We delayed some because we went shopping, but we were on the road by 10:00 am. The center of the South Island is flat, with large pastures and only occasional rolling hills; the roads were flat and straight which allowed us the opportunity to drive FAST, ie. 105 km/h, for us. We left the rain behind. The drive was scenic but not as spectacular. We stopped for great NZ ice cream, (love rum & raisin) and it so happened a pharmacy was next door and the NZ pharmacist filled the Aussie prescription for another asthma inhaler (price NZ$34/ price US$140).
We next stopped in the city of Dunedin for fuel. This large, spread out city in the flat lands near the coast was settled by Scots in about 1840 and touts a well respected university. Then we drove to Oamaru but decided to exit the main highway and drive the Beach route that hugged the water and occasionally wound its way through farm lands. The views were great. We finally landed at a really cute and well supplied boutique hostel called “Oamaru Backpackers”. The shared kitchen had large glass windows that offered a grand view of the Pacific Ocean harbor, bird layden docks and breakers; the sunrise was brilliant, albeit blinding bright in moments.
A short way north of Oamaru is the small farming village of Glenavy. We would not have come to Oamaru/Glenavy but for our planned reunion with the Kiwi couple, Georgie and Patty, who we met on the Morocco tour. They had invited us to come see them when we got to their home country of NZ. Of course, Georgie and Janet had hit it off well in Morocco, and Georgie being an elementary teacher asked us to come to the class and tell the kids about our one year adventure. Janet took this request very seriously and put together a really great presentation on the computer with photos and fact pages. The 33 kids seemed to enjoy the 1 ½ hour show and they had really good questions, and really good answers. We bought snacks too. The interaction was great fun. Georgie say she will have each child select one of our traveled countries to research and report on to the class.
After the class meeting, Georgie took us to a local dairy farm where about 20 calves had been born in the last 3 days; some of them born where wrapped in warming blankets. The farmer, Rachel, was feeding the calves by pouring large, heavy buckets off fresh mother’s milk into a multi-nozzle tub that was attacked vigorously by the hungry newborns. She would allow each group to suckle separately. These calves are weaned from the moms, immediately. Then we met Georgie’s parents, and her Dad, Digger, took us around his farm to see sheep and drive to this unusual shoreline covered with large prehistoric pebbles in the place of any sand. The shear quantity of these rocks made you think about the glaciers and the force of the water crashing the shore that brought them there.
We did celebrate by the reunion by having dinner at Georgie and Patty’s home on 2 nights. The dessert, sticky toffee pudding covered with carmel syrup was the knock out dish on the “hello again” first night. We talked about Morocco, London, and the other places we all had traveled. They had been working in London on a 2 year visa before returning to NZ. The second night we were treated to the most fabulous leg of Lamb feast; the meat came from Georgie’s family farm still run by her dad that covers about 700 acres in Glenavy. We talked about the classroom experience and about the farming business. They insisted we stay another day to see some other sights they suggested and that we go with them to the “Penguin Walk”. We agreed; they agreed we could take them out to dinner after.
The next morning we went to the the small water side village of Meraki. On the wet shore line is a garden of unique 3-to-4 foot diameter boulders. These dark boulders are absolutely “round” with a criss-cross pattern of minerals. Some boulders have even broken open displaying the caramel colored minerals, maybe quartz, that weaves through the stone; seemingly like an adhesive. These boulders were so cool, but in a limited area; so we chose to walk the beach and take in the fresh sea air of the Pacific Ocean. We then drove to the actual hilltop where the village of Maraki sits and had our picnic lunch overlooking its fishing harbor. This was a really picturesque town with ocean view hillside homes surrounding the small business area and center park.
The next excursion was to go back and visit Oamaru’s “Victorian”city section with stores and the famous “Steampunk HQ”. The HQ is a weird mix of weird metal art meets Mad Max in a civilization that runs on geothermal steam. It's is creative, wacky, and a bit too gruesome in parts for most kids. We enjoyed sitting in the Mad Max mobiles and, especially “The Portal”, a multi-dimensional star gate—this was a blast. We then walked through the stores selling art and NZ wool. Nice area –could use some place maker signage. See some photos of having fun at the Steampunk HQ.
At dusk we went to the penguins walk exhibit, where the little critters returning from feeding areas to their nests jump out of the surf and up onto the rocky shore and then waddle passed the seating area. We saw penguin! In any event, we had dinner reservations so we left early. We visited an 1867 pub called “The Last Post”, and all of us had wonderful meals, including fresh Blue Fin caught that day near the harbor. Patty had to attend the volunteer firemen brigade meeting back in Glenavy, so we called it a night and said goodbye to gracious hosts and new friends.
We left Oamaru by 6:30 am to drive to the second largest city in NZ, Christchurch. It was dark, but the roads empty. We had to turn in the rental car by 10:30 am, so we drove faster than usual, about 105-110 km/h, especially since its is a flatter valley with straighter roads.
We made it, with ½ hour to spare. Our Dorset House Hostel was only a 15 minute walk away. All was easy.
Christchurch is an interesting city. It is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake which damaged 80% of the town center. But, the folks are working aggressively to rebuild the structures with modern methods using steel cross-support girders and replaceable glass. The city looks modern. The city also has many buildings, including a large cathedral, with collapsed walls and roofing. Cleverly, the council allows the painting of street murals to hide and avert eyes from the damage. We enjoyed walking the city and took a on and off trolley around the center core. See some photos showing the damage.
On our last day in NZ we decided to "Tramp" in a national park outside of the city. We took a bus to the trail head and then walked the Ells Walkway on the Crater Lake Rim aka "Rapika" trail. We ended up doing a 9 mile loop which got more difficult due to mud slides from recent storms. We enjoyed having lunch at a summit local which overlooked the valley and water inlet; it was really beautiful. We then hooked up with the return bus and went back to the Dorset House where we picked up our luggage and went to another bus stop at the corner to ride to the airport. Actually we where staying at an airport hostel called "Jucy Snooze". The friendly bus driver made an extra stop to drop us near Jucy. Snooze; short walk , new complex, 10 minute walk to the airport terminal which was a good thing because the flight left a 6:00 am.
We flew Quantas Air to Sydney, Australia and then after a 3 hour layover flew American Airlines to LA, then after a 2 hour layover we flew to Chicago. The entire trip time was 28 hours. Now, back to reality in the USA. We will give some future updates and impressions in the near future. See you all soon. Frank and Janet around the planet.