Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy Easter and New Zealand South Island Reflections

We have completed our month long tour of the South Island and what a trip it was. Mostly because the weather was on our side the entire four weeks, which is rare in southern NZ. The weather here can make a trip super enjoyable or plain miserable, with unexpected road closures. While I was fearing a slip blocking the main (and only) road down the West Coast, it was a bridge washout, 3 days after we drove over it, that closed this road; that was close. We felt so lucky to have been able to visit that part of the country (West Coast) before it was cutoff for 2 weeks waiting for a new bridge span. The West Coast (often called the Wet Coast) features blow holes, charming creek trails, long swing bridges, pancake rocks, blue pools, rugged beaches, and glacier hikes.

The only sad part of our trip was the Christchurch mosque shooting on our first day on the road. We, and the whole country, have been trying to grasp how something so common in the US, especially living in the state (Colorado) where some of the worst shootings took place, could happen here. Kiwis are welcoming and understanding of different races and religions. Auckland is a huge melting pot of Kiwis, British, South Africans, Australian, Chinese, Indian, Russian, Korean, Afghans, Syrians, etc... The fact than an Ozzie did it, as the prime minister Jacinda Ardern called out, is a relief: it was not “one of us”, this time. Still, we thought we escaped that type of violence in this corner of the world, and it was a sad reminder that mental health issues and white supremacy are a plague everywhere.

Spencer timed his arrival to Queenstown the day it poured all day (and took out the West Coast bridge). That worked out well for jet lag recuperation and wasn't bad enough to shut down our trip on the coal steamer TSS Earnslaw.
Mom hanging on to her treasure
Fiordland National Park was as incredible as we read about. While Doubtful Sound - the longest of the two main sounds - is worth seeing, Milford Sound definitely has the wow factor with sheer walls of rocks shooting in the sky and towering waterfalls. The road to Milford Sound is packed with gems to taunt you along the way. Because it rains 80% of the time in Milford, it felt even more special to experience it in clear weather. We swam in Doubtful and kayaked in Milford. The amount of rainfall received the week before created a deep top layer of fresh water that made you feel (and taste) like you were in a lake.
Milford Sound overnight cruise boat
An update from our previous blog entry; we now LOVE Wanaka. The town is quiet and subdued yet with superb eateries and cafés. No traffic. Great hiking trails. The Rob Roy’s Glacier track was our favorite. Mountain biking trails that follow the lake and cross rivers on a swing bridge were like biking Betasso with a river to follow. Sweet…. 
Fat time mountain biking in Wanaka
We ran into Young Adventuress Liz at a local coffee shop. We have been following her expat funny blog and thanked her for pointing out the Allbirds shoes to us. Our whole family swears by these comfy shoes.

AllBirds gang. We just can't live without those shoes

We took LOTR tours to learn about some of the movie locations. Twenty years later, the movies still generate revenues for local tour operators, most of them operated by Kiwis who were recruited to be extras on the film set. It seems that pretty much everyone in the country was involved in some form or another to help produce the film. They were even recruiting tourist extras from camp sites, and horses from wherever they could even if they had to paint them to fit the movie. Our tour guide claimed to be the best “dead person” in the movie. The best part about these tours were the stories they told us about the film logistics and insights about actors. Did you know Viggo Mortensen is an avid fly fisherman? He would go fishing between scenes. He also was arrested by police for carrying his sword in town dressed as Aragorn. And Peter Jackson is a tea addict who only hires personal assistants if they can make proper tea at their interview. They had to be pretty creative at dealing with the NZ infrastructure to do what they needed. They ended up taking out the electricity of an entire town with the generators they had on set.
3 Riders of Rohan!
While several of the hiking trails were closed from storm damage, we had a chance to see 5 of the 27 NZ glaciers - Franz Joseph, Fox, Tasman, Mueller and Rob Roy. Seeing glaciers makes you feel humble and aware of the human impact on the environment. Likely these glaciers won't be there for the next generation at the rate they are receding. Sad.
Walkwire in Fiordland National Park

The place that surprised us the most was Mt Cook National Park. The drive to the park is absolutely stunning. You are driving on a plain that used to be a glacier and you are confronted by the tallest mountain in NZ. You get there and there are icebergs floating in a lake below a glacier.

Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki
The lakes adjacent to Mt Cook (Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo) have an unreal turquoise blue from glacier water. Never saw water that blue in my life. Mesmerizing.
Lake Pukaki crazy blue water
All in all the South Island is definitely worth an extended visit; so much to see and so much distance to cover. That said we feel like the North Island is often under rated with what it offers:
  • Northern tip with Cap Reinga, sand dunes, large Kauri trees, ninety mile beach and golden beaches.
  • Rotorua and Taupo with their geothermic activity and rapids.
  • Western beaches with black sand and surfers.
  • Coromandel peninsula and its white beaches.
  • Mount Maunganui and its walking trail circling a volcano.

On the way back up we stopped by Nelson, still our favorite spot in all NZ to savour it one more time.

We are now back in Auckland, enjoying the long Easter weekend (kiwis get Friday and Monday off). Luckily we were able to move back into the same beach cottage we have been renting for the past many months. Made the re-entry to work life a bit easier, while we were readjusting to traffic, public transportation, and crowds. The entire South Island population is the size of Auckland so we have been spoiled having roads literally to ourselves for kilometres on end.

"Winter is coming" (in June here) ... GoT addiction is going and so is our addiction to warm sunny weathers.
NZ Fall colors
We will be in Boulder early June to relocate Ms. Alizée from Maine to Lake Huron, where we found a marina managed by a Kiwi (in Sanilac). We plan to sail her to the Canadian North Channel over the US summer months while keeping up with our open water swimming.  

Drop us a line ( if timing works out to connect while we are in Boulder, Maine or Lake Huron. 

Happy Easter!