New Zealand, Part 2

Hi again, now from the South Island of New Zealand!

We've finally gotten around to another trip report. (We're on vacation, you know!)

So if you've been to New Zealand before, you'll understand what we mean when we say — we now know what sandflies are. If you haven't encountered them, well, let's just say they're worse than mosquitoes and they're everywhere on the South Island. Here's one about to attack Laura:

Giant Sand Fly

The last time we wrote, we were still on the North Island, just leaving Rotorua. Since then we've explored glow-worm caves, done a bunch of wine tastings. Here's the Cloudy Bay Winery, with their amazing Sauvignon Blanc:

Laura - Wineries in Cloudy Bay

A very cute morepork that came to visit us at dinner one night:

Morepork (owl)

Hiked along some amazing coastline — along Cape Foulwind. Really, it had amazing winds:

Laura - Cliffs - Photographing

One-lane bridges that also share the same road with trains:

One Lane Bridge with Train Tracks Combined with Road

Falling 12,000 feet from an airplane (we both did a tandem skydive in Wanaka - such a gorgeous day):

Parachuting - Laura

Amazing sunsets from remote beaches:

Kayaking - Sunrise - Blumine

We were woken by screaming wekas in the middle of the night:

Weka

We jumped on trampolines (they seemed to be at every holiday park we visited):

Geoff on Trampoline

We spun 360 degrees in a jet-boat (another "thrill" ride in Queenstown — you speed up and down a canyon, inches from the walls and they spin the boats around 360 degrees every once in awhile - lots of fun and very wet!):

Jet BoatJet Boat - Laura Geoff

We saw thousands of sheep (yes, they are everywhere!):

Laura - Car, Sheep

We've been having a great time and are both doing really well. The weather has been pretty weird, even for New Zealanders. Some have said this has been the worst summer in 10 years — not much sun and lots of rain. Coming from Seattle, we love every minute of it! As we're now heading into their fall, our bodies are pretty confused. Winter, summer, fall and then spring in Seattle? It's beautiful though, and it has been fabulous to have this time to explore such an amazing place.

A few more highlights....

Glow-worms in Waitomo:

Near the middle of the western coast of the North Island, there are a variety of caves that are known for their "glow-worms", or larvae of a type of gnat that happen to like wet caves — and they glow to catch their prey. One of the popular ways of seeing these worms is to do "black water rafting", or tubing through the subterranean rivers of the caves that these worms live in. We did a morning of this, starting with an abseil (rappelling) down into the mouth of the cave:

Laura Absailing - Like My Outfit?

We had all sorts of equipment on — from a harness to do the abseil, to carabineers to keep us from falling into nasty places, a full wet suit and top, a helmet with a caving light, and at one point, a huge inner tube — wow! The gear! The abseil was tons of fun, we leapt into the river (swimming with a big eel), saw amazing glow-worms and exited the cave by climbing up several waterfalls. After being inside the darkness of the cave for 3 hours, the green color of the New Zealand countryside was intense!

We fell in love with the glow-worms, so we went for a walk down the road after dinner where we heard we could see some more. We started our walk just before dusk, not seeing many as we started out. We started to head back along the river back towards the carpark and began to notice the glow-worms all around us on the riverbank. Places we had walked by before that showed no signs of them were now filled with these little guys. Hundreds of them seemed to be peering out at us from the undergrowth, shining brightly back at us. This is not a photo of a starry night sky. It's of the riverbank completely covered in glow-worms!

Glow Worms

This was by far one of our favorite experiences, especially since we were able to get away from the typical tourist groups and have a peaceful experience together.

Kayaking in Queen Charlotte Sound:

After we caught the ferry to the South Island, we went on a four-day paddle in the Queen Charlotte Sound. We used Marlborough Sound Adventure Company out of Picton, which was terrifically professional and helped us plan a great trip. One of the main goals we have here in NZ is trying to find areas that still have native forests and bird life — there aren't many places remaining, but some of NZ's islands come pretty close! with this goal in mind, we obviously wanted to get out as far as possible into the Sound and away from where most people could go. We paddled over 25km our first day, to Blumine Island, so that we could spend the majority of our time far out in the islands.

Kayaking - LauraKayaking - Laura

The paddling in this area was gorgeous but very windy for most of our trip. Each night we would struggle to paddle into the end of the bay where our next campsite was — but the location was always well worth the struggle! On two of the three nights we had gorgeous bays all to ourselves, with spectacular sunsets and full moon rises. We learned about the native bird, the weka. It is like the kiwi in size and in its flightlessness, but is quite different in personality. It is reminiscent of a hen, as it uses its feet to kick up bugs from the undergrowth, but it screams and grunts more like a pig when calling to its friends. Some are also tremendously mischievous, like one that tried to run off with our large garbage bag when we weren't looking. Aren't they cute?

Weka

Every campsite that we came across always had a resident weka to greet us. We also paddled to an amazing bird reserve where all pests (introduced mammals such as stoats, possums, rats, etc.) have managed to be eradicated. Some rare bird species have also been re-introduced to the island. These birds were very friendly — coming out to greet us as we arrived.

Kayaking - Laura Geoff PaddlesLaura ShellsLaura Kayaking - Birds

Exploring the Western Coast:

We spent over a week exploring the amazing West Coast of the South Island. It's a fairly unpopulated area — tiny towns that used to be big gold mining areas, but have now returned to obscurity. We spent most of our days moving slowly down the coast, doing little hikes to get tastes of what the areas have to offer. We did a day-hike along the southern end of the Heaphy Track — an amazing 5 day trek from the mountains that ends with a day of hiking right along the shore. We decided to just walk that last part — the forest walks were lined with nikau palm trees and the shore had huge crashing waves on its empty beaches. It was an amazing day.

There are several public caves to which you simply bring your "torch" (flashlight) and you can go inside and explore. One had huge spiders with large balls of eggs hanging from the ceiling. Another had huge cave wetas (really large crickets). Others had tall ceilings. It's great that they let you explore them on your own - we've never found any other tourists with us in the caves. On the southern end of the coast we spent a day kayaking in the Okarito lagoon.

Kayaking - River

We found white herons there that are apparently a pretty rare find in New Zealand. We paddled up into some of the forests along side the lagoon and found amazing old trees. There were tons of the giant New Zealand Pigeons flying overhead. Yup, there is a native pigeon and it's beautiful. It's a enormous bird, but when it flies it sounds just like a familiar city pigeon.

The west coast also was a great place for Geoff to really work on his driving. As you can assume, driving on the left has taken a little getting used to but he's done a great job. Well, the west coast can be a challenge in that there are many one lane bridges. One direction has the right of way and you need to slow down for most bridges. We even went over the longest one-lane bridge in New Zealand. Well, that was nothing compared to The one-lane bridge that also shared the its single lane with the train track! We had been warned about these bridges but we didn't really believe it — too funny.

One Lane Bridge with Train Tracks

Hiking on the glacier:

The glaciers in NZ are incredible in that they are so close to the ocean. One moment we were at the shore, and only 20 minutes later we were by the base of a glacier. We spent a few days exploring these glaciers, doing view walks and hikes up to their bases. Geoff had never been in a helicopter before, so we took a heli-hike up onto the glacier. We were lucky to have a small agile group of 6 with us on our trip — we were able to travel through some pretty amazing ice caves on the glacier. The helicopter ride up onto the glacier revealed the great contrast between the ice and the surrounding forests. So beautiful.

Ice Hiking - Crack, GeoffIce Hiking - LauraIce Hiking - Laura, Geoff

Spending time in Queenstown and Wanaka

We've been in the central and eastern side of the South Island for about 4 days now — such a different place after the very unpopulated, lush western coast. It's like going from western to eastern Washington — a dramatic climate contrast. And over here, everyone's into the adrenaline sports — this is the birthplace of bungee jumping. We haven't added that to our list yet, but we done some other pretty wacky stuff! We had a beautiful tandem sky dive experience over Lake Wanaka. Those first few seconds of free-fall... whooooo!

Parachuting - GeoffParachuting - Lauarby

We also tried a wacky activity called "fly-by-wire". It's fly-under-wire, actually. We piloted a plane-like vehicle (but with no wings) that was attached to a cable suspended above a deep valley. They winch you up to get you going, and after you're released you can control the engine's thrust and direction to fly around. I didn't think I was too interested in trying it (not as much as Geoff) was but I ended up really enjoying it!

Laura doing Fly-by-Wire

Yes, we've had fun in Queenstown — by far the most touristy place we've been to in NZ. There are huge flocks of mostly Japanese tourists on buses, and lots of shops aimed at them — but nonetheless we've been having fun exploring the area on our own.

Here are some other things that we've seen along the way...

Farmer's milk cows block the road — like a train — to get then from the fields to their farms. We were caught by this herd for awhile. Moooo!

Cows Blocking Road

Our mascot, Iwik the kiwi, crossing the road. We've seen a real kiwi in a kiwi-zoo. I'm hoping we'll see a real live one on Stewart Island. They're usually nocturnal and aren't easy to find.

Kiwi Crossing

We like to take our poor car, "Steph", on safari every once in awhile:

Laura Car Safari

Making food in one of our little Holiday Park cabins - they can be tiny!:

Laura Dinner in Cabin

Silly signs here in New Zealand:

Laura - Falling Rocks

We liked this tunnel:

Laura Geoff Tunnel

Laura's morning ritual of packing the car. She almost has it down to a science now.:

Laura Packing Car

Good food and wine:

Laura Geoff - Dinner in Restaurant

A typical lunch - we try to find the most scenic place around, with the least amount of bugs. AA maps are great for finding access to the water:

Laura Geoff - Picnic

Lots of suspension bridges across rivers around here — fun!

Laura Geoff - Suspension Bridge - Heaphy

That's all for now. We hope you are all doing well! We'll be in touch again in a few weeks — with more stories!

much love,
Laura and Geoff