Archive for January, 2011

New Zealand: Abel Tasman National Park

January 30th, 2011

 

We arrived in the South Island! We were in search of sun, and we found it!  There was much rejoicing!  After our change of plans to come to the South Island a day early, we also decided to go visit one of the national parks we had written off due to lack of time, Abel Tasman National Park.  It was also pretty much the sunniest place in the whole country that day as well, so we lucked out.  We left Picton in the morning, took a reasonably quick detour through Nelson and headed up the coast to Abel Tasman.  This national park is predominantly coastal, and the highlight of the park is the Coast Track, which is considered one of New Zealand’s “great walks”.  These “great walks” are several multi-day backpacks through some of the country’s most scenic natural areas.  We were able to complete the first day of the walk, camp on the beach overnight, and take a water taxi back to our starting point the next day. 

We started the hike in the afternoon, with the sun finally shining down on our very grateful heads.  My back was acting up in a major way, so Tom, being the gentleman/pack animal that he is, took most of the load for our overnight, leaving me only burdened with my camera bag and gigantic sun hat.  Honestly, the thing has it’s own zipcode.  The trail starts out crossing a tidal flat, then starts to gradually climb up onto the headlands overlooking the Marlborough Sounds.  The trail undulates up and down over the headlands, and turns inland and back towards the sea with the contours created by the many streams that cross the track.  Since the trail is so well traveled, it is in incredible shape, with very stout bridges and well maintained drainage systems for the *ahem* occasional rain shower.  We also saw some of the flora that is unique to New Zealand, such as the fern tree.  This plant is exactly what it claims to be.  It is a fern that grew up to be a tree.  They have enormous fronds and a woody trunk, but at the top, they’re all fern.  Weird.   

Since trail descriptions in New Zealand rarely include elevation gain, we were unsure how long it would take us to hike the 12km to the first hut along the walk.  We decided instead to camp at Akerston Bay, a small campsite about 8km along the trail.  In hindsight, there was no real elevation to speak of, and we completed our hike for the day quickly, but it simply gave us more time to enjoy our beautiful beachfront campsite.  The site has space for 3 tents, but luckily there were only one other French couple and ourselves there for the night.  Yay private beach!  Tom swam in the ocean, because when given a body of water, he will swim in it, no matter how cold, or lacking in fresh water to bathe the situation may be.  I puttered around oohing and ahhhing over our breathtaking surroundings. 

 

Eventually we retreated back up into the wooded area beside the beach to make dinner at the picnic table and let the other couple have some “beach time”.  They came wandering up a few minutes later though to ask if we were able to help them with their stove.  They had unknowingly purchased the wrong type of fuel canister for their type of stove, so we let them use ours to make their dinner once we were done.  After dinner, it had become completely dark, and we decided to go down to the beach and look at the stars.  Since we were so far from any major towns or cities, there was very little light pollution, and the stars where quite brilliant.  It was our first really clear night since arriving in New Zealand, so it was amazing to see how different the constellations were in the Southern Hemisphere.  We did see the Southern Cross, and sang the song as well. 

 The highlight of the evening walk, however, was while we were sitting in the darkness with headlamps off, looking at the stars, we heard a wet flapping sound coming from the ocean.  It continued and got closer.  I turned my headlamp on, just in time to see a little blue penguin scuttle up the little stream that runs from the woods to the ocean, and right into the woods themselves!  We visited a blue penguin colony later on the trip, and learned that this little guy probably had his nest in the rocks right inside the woods, and that he was returning to his nest for the night.  I really like penguins, and have never seen one in the wild, so it was a truly unique experience.  Tom tried to get a few photos, but the little penguin was a bit skittish, so they look more like Bigfoot photos than anything else.  Hopefully we didn’t traumatize the poor thing. 

The next morning, we hiked the last 2km to Anchorage, where the first hut of the walk is located.  We had arranged for our water taxi to pick us up at 1:30, but we arrived much earlier than anticipated.  We did a short hike from the hut up to an overlook and down to another small beach and back, but the weather was changing, and we were ready to get off the beach.  We hid up at the hut while showers rolled in and out, and Tom would rush down the beach every time a water taxi would come, to see if we could catch a ride back early.  Eventually, we were able to hitch a ride back with one of the earlier taxis.  The water was choppy, so I was focused on trying not to be sick, while Tom popped around taking photos.  We had to make a few stops on the way back, and he was eventually told to sit down by the driver.  There was a moment of hilarity when we arrived back at the boat ramp and the driver drove the boat up the ramp onto the boat trailer attached to a tractor.  The same driver then proceeded to hop out and drive the tractor pulling the boat down the street with us still in it.  Now, I’ve been in some strange transportation situations, but never have I ridden in a boat being pulled down the street by a tractor.  This was a new one for me.

 

 

 

We finally made it back to the water taxi outfitter and Tom fetched our rental car from the parking lot over by the trail head.  We weren’t too sunburnt, but the vitamin D certainly did us good.  We were now ready for the long drive down to Arthur’s Pass National Park for Christmas Eve!

New Zealand Days 4 and 5: Tongariro, Wellington, Te Papa and Weta Cave

January 23rd, 2011

The morning after the glowworm cave adventures, after eating another fabulous breakfast made by our wonderful hosts at Somersal Bed and Breakfast, we headed south to Tongariro National Park. We had been planning on hiking the “Alpine Crossing”, which has been dubbed the “best day hike in New Zealand”.  We were super excited.  However, the weather had other plans.  It poured down rain on the drive there, and when we arrived, the rangers stated that they were not advising hikers to go up into the pass due to 120 km per hour winds, very limited visibility and driving rain.  Frustrated, we asked about some short day hikes, then went over to an Internet cafe to assess our options.  We had planned on staying two nights in the park, then to head down to Wellington for a day and take the ferry to the South Island.  Since we were no longer going to stay in the park, we decided to head to Wellington a day early, spend the night and following day there, then take the ferry.  While this doesn’t seem that complicated, it did involve changing our ferry reservation, rental car drop-off and pick-up, and two hotel reservations. 

We did manage to do two short day hikes before we left the park.  First, we hiked down to this surging waterfall, which was only made more powerful by the influx of rain.  Afterwords, we did the “Mounds Walk”, where these mounds come out of the volcanic plane due to some sort of long ago volcanic activity.  While these hikes were interesting, the could not really make up for the fact that we didn’t get to do what we set out to do in this park, so we ate our sandwiches and got back in the car. 

 

 

We arrived in Wellington several hours later with enough time to check into our hotel and head to the closest brewpub.  We were exhausted, and a little frustrated, but there was a cool lunar eclipse, which did help, as did the killer view from our hotel room!

The next morning, we visited the Te Papa Museum, which is the national museum of New Zealand.  There is a very extensive collection of Maori (the native NZ people) artifacts and architectural pieces.  The Maori did a lot of work with the jade that is found in the rivers on the west side of the South Island, creating weapons, tools and ornamental jewelry.  There is a wonderful collection of these types of pieces as well.  There were also more modern exhibits on more recent NZ history as well as a very extensive natural history section, complete with a creepy giant squid.  It was a very cool museum, one of the best I’ve been to in quite some time.

 

 

Later that afternoon, we caught a bus over to the Weta Cave, which is in a suburb outside of Wellington.  For those of you non-nerds out there, Weta Workshop is a special effects and props company.  Most famously, they did the effects for the Lord of the Rings movies.  They have also done work on Avatar, District 9 and several other high profile movies.  They can’t offer tours of their workshops due to the fact that they are working on movies that have yet to be released, but they do have a visitor’s center of sorts.  There is an interesting video about the history of the company and some information about the different design areas that they work in as well as different movies they have produced effects and props for.  There are also many different replicas of orcs and swords for Lord of the Rings,  and a mini-museum of different minatures that have been created of different characters from various films.  Tom was excited when he got to hold one of the alien blasting guns from District 9 and pointed it around.  It was a wondefully nerdy experience. 

   

After leaving Weta, we gathered our luggage from our hotel and headed to the ferry terminal.  The Interislander Ferry looks like a small cruise ship.  It is far larger than any of the Washington State Ferries, and quite nice.  There were several passenger levels, a cafeteria and cafe as well as a movie theatre.  The ferry ride is three hours long, and moves through the Cook Straight , which is very choppy.  Let’s just say I am capable of being sea sick on a completely calm day on the Puget Sound, so I didn’t handle the rough Cook Straight all that well.  Luckily I had purchased seasickness medicine, which helped a lot.  Eventually we cruised our way into the Marlborough Sound and the waters calmed a good deal, enough so that I was able to go out on deck and take some pictures of the beautiful islands and pennisulas of the South Island in the setting sun.  We finally ended up in Picton that night, and were ready to begin our adventures in Abel Tasman National Park the next day.

Up Next:  Backpacking on the Abel Tasman coast.

New Zealand Days 1-3 : Planes, Cars, Glowworms and Mud

January 19th, 2011

OOOOk.  Are you ready?  I’m not sure I am.  Here we go.

Tom and I went to New Zealand over the Christmas holidays, and the question that inevitably is asked by everyone is, “How was your trip?”.   The answer I’ve been giving everyone is, “It was bipolar”.  When it was great, it was really really great, and when it was not so great, it was really really not so great.  There was rain, brilliant sunshine, a few torrential downpours, an earthquake, national flooding and blue skies.  We ate weird food like chicken flavoured chips, fancy McDonalds,  hokey pokey ice cream and lots of different Cadbury products.  We visited the mountains, the lakes, the glaciers and the beach.  We went to five different national parks and slept under the brilliant stars.  We saw the Southern Cross.  We experienced a wide range of emotions, from crushing disappointment to manic glee and everywhere in between.  In short, our trip to New Zealand is not one I will soon forget.

 

 

We left Seattle on Friday afternoon and flew down to LA with our two large backpacking packs, camera gear and “toy bags” for the plane.  The LA airport is it’s own special Hell.  The domestic terminals and the international terminals are not in the same building, and we had to shlep all of our belongings through two parking decks and across many busy streets to arrive in the international area.  It was also raining…I thought it never rained in LA??  After finally finding our correct gate and killing some time eating overpriced Burger King, we finally were ready to get on the plane.  We had a direct flight from LA to Auckland, New Zealand, so we were in it for the long haul.  The flight is every minute of 13 hours, which is a long time, if you were wondering.  We were in coach, which while being worlds better than flying coach domestically, was still the “low rent” district of the plane.  I was entertained by the safety video for Air New Zealand, which features their beloved national rugby team, the All Blacks.  They did serve us two full meals on the flight, (with complementary beverages, which were necessary after around hour 8…), and we had our own little screen thingys on the back of the seat in front of us which provided a nearly endless supply of movies.  Tom slept for most of the flight, and I spent most of the time trying to not to think about the vast expanse of open water thousands of feet below.

 

Another “program” on the tv screen was the “flight information” program which had a little icon of an airplane that you could watch creep slowly around the world from LA to Auckland.  After what seemed like days (which technically it was), the totally out of scale airplane icon arrived at New Zealand, and sure enough, there was LAND outside of our window!  Real LAND!  After getting off the plane we were processed through customs.  We had to declare our tent and our hiking boots for inspection due to strict regulations on soil contaminants being brought into the country.  As we were taking out our contraband, a man behind us in line says, “Do I have to declare these?”, and holds up two compressed fuel canisters.  Since these are so far against the normal rules of what you can bring on an airplane, they were of course seized immediately and the guy was taken aside for questioning, still looking baffled about what he had done wrong.  Luckily, our tent passed inspection, and we were ready to take on our rental car!  Don’t laugh too much at the pale person next to the car.  She lives in a world without sunshine in the winter months.

Tom drove on the left side of the road when we were in Ireland and the UK last summer, so I wasn’t to worried about his driving ability.  We plugged in our trusty GPS that we have dubbed, ”Penny”, and were off.  We decided to head south to our bed and breakfast where we would be staying for the next few nights.  Somersal Bed and Breakfast is a lovely little place with lushly landscaped gardens and incredibly kind hosts.  We were greeted with a warm smile and a cup of tea, which was nice, as it was raining, (you will sense a theme here).  They also had a few sheep, which everyone seems to have, and which also happened to be grazing right outside our window.  Quaint.  That night, we ventured  down to the local pub, where people kept wandering up to our table to chat, simply because we looked “new”.  The Kiwis, as the New Zealanders call themselves, were all very nice to us totally strung out and jet lagged foreigners.

The next morning, we feasted on a delicious breakfast prepared by our hosts, which was very similar to the “British” breakfasts we got at so many B&Bs in the UK, but there was bacon, so we weren’t complaining.  We then headed down to Wiatomo to visit the famed glowworm caves.  These caves are known for having millions of small, blueish pricks of light sprinkled along their ceilings.  These lights are the “worms”, which really aren’t worms at all, but larval stages of a type of fungal gnat.  Glowworms sounds better in the marketing material though.  There are many different outfitters who work in the area providing all manner of adventurous ways to experience the caves, but all we were really interested in seeing was the glowwoms themselves, so we opted for a more calm tour.  We booked with Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours, which gave us a three hour tour of two different caves, one wet, with the glowworms and one that was a drier, more traditional, limestone cave with all the formations that are typical to these types of caves.  Our guide was very knowlegable and gave us lots of details about the worms and caves.  In the glowworm cave, we walked for a bit and were able to see the strands the larve drop down to catch their pray who are drawn to their light.  We then boarded a rubber raft, turned out our lights, and our guide pulled us through the grotto hand over hand using a rope fixed overhead.  It was very peaceful in the dark with the little blue lights splayed out above us like so many strange and unfamiliar constilations in the night sky. 

 

The dry cave was also very interesting.  There were your traditional stalactites and mites and other beautiful limestone formations.  There were also several places where sinkholes had broken through into the cave, and the sky above was exposed.  These holes are dangerous traps for animals though, and there were the bones of a few unfortunate souls who misstepped.

Later that day, after we emerged into the land of light, (and rain), we headed up towards Rotorura to visit some of the active geo-thermal sites there.  We arrived too late to visit the Thermal Wonderland we had wanted to see, but were able to find the bubbling mud pools!  Let’s just say, you should be thankful these photos are not scratch and sniff.  The sulpher smell was nearly overpowering, as if a million eggs had all spoiled at once and you were forced to breathe it it.  Or as Ludo says in Labrinth  “SMELL BAD!!!”  The bubbling, burbling, squirt and  belching mud was pretty need though, even if it was noisy and smelly. 

 

 

Next up…Tongoriro National Park and Wellington!

Note:  The photo credits for many of these early photos go to Tom, as I was too jetlagged and crazy to take pictures…  

Note #2 :  These posts are long.  I am sorry. 

Note # 3 :  More photos can be found on my Picasa site or Tom’s Picasa site.

New Zealand Photos…

January 4th, 2011

Well hello there!  Yes, we went to New Zealand.  I took something like 1,100 photos, all of which need to be gone through and processed.  Slowly :)   Thank you for all of you who are asking to see them.  They will be posted here first, then I will be taking the time to blog about the different adventures.  Thanks!