Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My travels to NZ

Written Monday and Tuesday, March 30th-31st

G’day.  So I have to apologize for slacking on the blog it’s been a long time since I wrote one.  I have been caught up in a time warp filled with a trip to New Zealand, having my family visit WA, my birthday, and then exploring with my brother who stayed in WA for an extra week after my parents left.

Going back a few weeks, prior to my trip to NZ, I pretty much spent the week getting some school work done and hanging around campus.  I guess the most exciting thing I did that week was going to Mandurah for the crab festival.  Mandurah is an hour south by train and each year they have the festival.  It reminded me of a very miniature MN state fair, except that crab was the main food of choice rather than deep fried foods.

Anyways on to the NZ trip.  

NZ Day 1: I flew from Perth to Auckland, NZ where I met up with my fam.  In Auckland we had to go through security and customs.  Overall it was pretty uneventful with the exception of the food finding beagle, which thoroughly loved my brother’s bag.  The beagle proceeded to return to my bro’s bag, which was filled with a rather large assortment of food, no less than three times.  After we escaped customs, starbust still in hand, we found our way to our connecting flight.

From Auckland we flew to Queenstown, which is in the southern part of the south island. One of the first things that stuck me about NZ was just how mountainous of a country it really is.  Flying into Queenstown was quite an experience; seeing all the mountains and lakes was pretty sweet.  One thing I learned really quickly about Kiwi’s is that you should never insult Lord of the Rings.  Just before we touched down the movie my dad asked if I had ever seen the film and my response was that I turned it off 10 min into the film cause it was like watching Star Wars with trolls on crack, which resulted in a dirty look or two from the Kiwi’s sitting in front of me.

When we finally de-boarded the aircraft and stepped onto the tarmac, I was immediately struck by the soft cool breeze of a NZ early morning.  After the usual airport duties of findings our bags and locating the rental car, my dad found himself with the daunting task of driving on the left side of the road, and sitting on the right side of the car.  To back up just a bit, prior to even the driving, it took us all about 10 min just to figure out how to start the car…but after that we were off…until we got confused on how to get out of the car lot…but then we were off…until we got to the first round about…and then we were off…finally…to Queenstown city center.

The first day was pretty laid back due to jet lag and overall tiredness from traveling.  Given the time difference from WA to NZ and the fact that I did not sleep at all on the flight over, it was equivalent to pulling an all ‘nighter.  So it wasn’t a real fast paced day. We checked into our hotel, the Glebe, found a great breakfast place (if you are ever in NZ or WA order yourself a flat black…its one amazing cup of coffee).  Following breakfast we decided to check out the gondola, which travels to the top of a mountain overlooking all of Queenstown.  It was a short walk to the bottom of it where we found out that they were charging people $20 for a round trip ride.  Given that there were 4 of us, we were not about to pay $80 for a seemingly 5-10min ride up…so after finding a hiking path, we decided to hike only a ways up to check out the view; we had no intentions of hiking to far, especially given that Brett and I were wearing flip flops.  After hiking for around 30min we had yet to find a clearing where we could “check out the view” so we decided to continue going up.  Long story short, an hour later we thought we were pretty much to the top so we continued hiking only to find out from a nice person hiking down that we were still 20 min from the top…turns out that we were about 30 min from the top.  Regardless to say we ended up hiking all the way up to the top, quite an over ambitious effort.  But, once there, the view was almost…almost worth it (see the photos in the NZ album).  We snapped some photos and hung out on top for a while before hopping on the gondola down for a “free” ride back into town.

The remainder of the day was spent finding a restaurant to fit everyone’s tastes, which to save another long but short story, turned out to be quite some effort given everyone’s jet lag and general tiredness.

Day Two in NZ was spent traveling from Queenstown to Te Anau, which was three hours south.  I quickly learned that the majority of NZ is covered in sheep, mountains and lakes.  It is a very beautiful country to drive through and the three hour drive passed surprisingly quick.  The roads in NZ are pretty narrow and extremely windy.  They also change in elevation quite often and very quickly.

Once in Te Anau, we found our hotel, lunch and such.  The afternoon was spent hiking along a “supposedly” famous track (hiking trail).  While the walk was beautiful and scenic for the first hour, the view never really changed so we found ourselves looking at the same kinds of trees, plants, and lakes for quite some time.  It reminded me of the mythical “Sherwood forest.”

In general Te Anau is a quiet and sleepy town.  Te Anau, while surrounded by beautiful mountain valleys and lakes, was almost entirely surrounded with tourists and tourist busses…which gets a little old after a while. .  The main and almost only reason we stopped in was to break up the drive to Milford Sounds, which is about 6 – 7 hours (one way) from Queenstown.

Day Three was spent traveling from Te Anau further south to Milford Sound.  The drive to Milford was one of the most scenic I have ever been on.  We passed multiple glaciers, crystal clear lakes, extremely high mountains, waterfalls, and valleys…a few sheep too.  The road to Milford was very steep both gaining and losing elevation quickly…and the entire ride was one sharp curve and turn after another.  Arriving into Milford we were greeted with an impressive view of the fjord.  The fjord is really really impressive with vastly steep walls.  In addition, the amount of green that is in the fjord is quite amazing.  It rains a ridiculous amount in Milford (thankfully we had a mostly sunny day…a rare occurrence at Milford…we were really lucky to see the sun) which makes everything really green…it reminded me of Seattle in some ways.

While in Milford, we took a cruise through the entire fjord on the “Milford Wanderer.”  The pictures I took will give a better impression of the fjord than I can describe so check out the album for a better idea of what it was like.  We essentially cruised around Milford for 3 hours or so taking photos and sightseeing.

After the cruise we poked around for a short while later and proceeded to drive back to Te Anau for the night.  In Te Anau we walked around, found some dinner and a cocktail before calling it a night.

Day four entailed the short drive from Te Anau back to Queenstown.  Once we were back in Queenstown we checked back into the Glebe and decided what to do for the day.  We settled on taking a drive to Arrow Town as it was raining a bit and overall not the nicest outdoor exploring day…Arrow town was originally built as a Chinese immigrant-mining town.  I was originally quite skeptical about the whole idea but it turned out to be a fabulous day.  Arrow town was probably the most unique place we explored.  It is filled with many cool shops and delicious looking restaurants.  Check out the photos again for better visual representation. 

After Arrow town we continued our exploration via car by driving to the original bungee jumping site just outside of Queenstown.  While none of us jumped…as we were planning on skydiving later in the week…we did enjoy watching people hucking themselves off of a bridge.  It was pretty cool to see the original place where bungee all started.

On the way back, we took a different route back to Queenstown through the wine country of southern NZ….grapes…grapes…and more grapes….along with the occasional winery made for a scenic drive back.  That evening back in Queenstown we went out for a great dinner at Captains and Brett and I stayed out pretty late going to a couple Irish pubs that were hopping in town.

Day five was a great day that took us from Queenstown to Wanaka where we decided to climb the Diamond Lake Trail.  Wanaka was the least tourist filled area we stopped at and was one of my favorite towns we spent some time in.  Apparently, it is a ski town in the winter as there are 2 or 3 different ski resorts within short distance.  The town also has a great view of Mt. Aspiring in the background.

The Diamond Lake trail was just a short way down the road from Wanaka…bought 20-30min.  Along the way we passed many people rock climbing the many boulders and nice looking faces…made me long for my climbing gear I left in WA…but oh well.  The trail essentially involved climbing up a mountain via a trail that deteriorated the higher we went.  It was a 2 hour hike/climb to the top.  Once on the summit we were greeted with another set of amazing views from the glaciers of Mt. Aspiring, to the surrounding mountains, valleys, and lakes below us. (see photos). After the climb we explored Wanaka for a while…I ate a kebab…and we cruised back into Queenstown to plan out the following day and grab some grub. All in all it was a GREAT day and enjoyed by everyone.

Day six had been allotted as our “adventure day” where we were supposed to go skydiving in Queenstown…unfortunately we woke up to a cloudy, cold, and at times rainy day.  Being optimistic, we walked into town and registered to jump anyways as they would refund us if it got cancelled.  I was really looking forward to it…especially cause we got my mom talked into jumping…which took a little persuading as she is a bit afraid of heights.  We were set to jump at 2 so we hung out and shopped around Queenstown, got some lunch and waited for time to happen.  Unfortunately it just wasn’t our day to jump, as the weather never broke and really only got worse as the day went on.  We were informed of our misfortunes by the skydive shop and were soon faced with the task of finding something to do for our last day in NZ.

As it turned out, we ended up with the option of wine tasting or mountain biking…Brett and I had found a shop earlier in the week that rented full suspension downhill mountain bikes for a reasonable price…and we had seen some really nar looking downhill tracks on the mountain with the gondola overlooking Queenstown.  As it were, Brett and I settled on the mountain biking, while my parents decided to take the afternoon and sample some of NZ’s pinots.

Brett and I rented our bikes, opted for the full-face helmets (as the tracks we had seen were pretty ridiculously steep and narrow) and set off toward the mountain.  This time, rather than walking up the entire mountain we proceeded to combine walking and biking straight up the mountain…instead of taking the 3 hours or so to climb the mountain it took us 45 min to bike up it…we hauled.

Once we had topped out, caught our breath, and snapped some photos we hit the trail.  The first run was rather hesitant and slow as we were getting used to the bikes and the trail…but man was it fun.  We ended up sessioning the top half of the trail 4 times before heading all the way down the mountain.  The trails were really steep, really fast and really pretty ridiculous.  I went over the bars twice…though no blood was shed : ) ….check out the photos.

After we made it all the way down the mountain for the last time, Brett and I cruised around the town for a bit before returning our bikes and meeting up with the ‘rents for dinner.

Overall we salvaged a day that started out pretty disappointing and turned it into my favorite day of the entire NZ trip.  We packed up and left early the next day to show my fam where and what I have been up to in my new temporary home…WA

 In general my time spent in NZ was epic and I would return to NZ any day of the week.

**I will write about the time I got to spend with my fam in Perth, my birthday and the extra week that Brett stayed with me in Perth in the next day or so…until then I hope spring is on its way soon to all of you…Cheers

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