03/17/2013, Wet but not so Wild in Wanaka
We have recovered from our commune experience, and are feeling pretty groovy. John even shared his glass of wine with me tonight - I guess we are each touched by our life experiences in different ways. But now back to the real world, it has been a wet and dreary day all day today. Made our way from Fox Glacier to Wanaka today, without many stops along the way - just too rainy to see much.
So I failed to post a blog or pics last night but I have a very good excuse. We ran into our friends on Evergreen, Heather and Jon, last night! What are the chances? Pretty darn slim I will say! (Must be all that groovy karma we've been channeling!) I just happened to be digging something out of our van around 6pm, and looked across the parking lot and happened to spot Heather digging stuff out of the back of their van! So we ended up hanging out in our cabin for the evening, doing dinner, drinking champagne, and swapping stories. It was great catching up with them. They have been site seeing the south island but traveling in the opposite direction, so it was great to get their perspective of what to see as we make our way further south then east.
We are spending one night in Wanaka (cute little town in the mountains and on a lake), but we need to get to Queenstown so John can catch a flight to Whangarei tomorrow afternoon to address Orcinius stuff. Should be back on Wednesday - his birthday! So I will have a few days to myself to concoct a celebration scheme for his return! We don't have wifi with the room tonight, so hopefully can try to post some pics from tomorrow night's hotel.
And regarding the bathroom comments from yesterday's commentor - let it be known that we had our own private bathroom last night, and I didn't have to pee a single time during the night, and neither did John. Funny how that works.
Life in the Commune
03/15/2013, Greymouth, NZ - South Island, West Coast
I almost got this blog posted last night, but ran out of battery just a few seconds prior to hitting the APPLY button. So now it is Saturday morning, John is making our sandwiches for the day (in the communal kitchen) and I am posting the blog that I thought I might have lost last night! We will be on our way to Fox Glacier this morning - and possibly heading straight on through to Queenstown as John may have to fly up to Whangarei early next week to address some boat/insurance issues. We will see how it goes after a few phone calls this morning.
So here be the blog I intended to post last night (pictures to follow hopefully tonight if we aren't to late in finding our next accommodations)...
We had a calm crossing from North (Wellington) to South Island (Picton) on Wednesday. We drove straight on through to Christchurch after getting off the ferry - only to find there was no room at the inn! Everything was booked for miles around due to a Flower show. What are the chances? First Hamilton, now Christchurch. We have perfect timing! So, on we drove way way south of town, and just before we were about to turn around and head towards Arthurs pass to try our luck in that direction - we found a little place - attached to a restaurant - attached to a bar - attached to a liquor store - with a grocery store half a block away. Perfect! And, the rooms had just been renovated in 2012 - they still smelled brand new! Nice!
Thursday we headed across Arthurs pass. It was a beautiful drive. Along the way, we did one of the shorter tramps called Devil's Punch Bowl. The waterfalls at the end were beautiful, but the steps zig zagged continuously for most of the way up - almost like climbing "the tower"! But we made it, and the view of the waterfalls at the end was well worth it. From there we drove on into Greymouth, to venture into our very first hostel experience. (Note how similar the pronunciation is to the word hostile! Just kidding).
We are staying 2 nights at a hostel called Global Village. It's a bit quirky - very colorful - and a bit like being taken back to the 60's with a hippy village atmosphere (less the music). It scored 93% in the ratings guide - which is pretty darn good. But guess what? We are the oldest folks in the entire place! Rumor has it that adults our age also frequent these establishments on a regular basis while traveling here in NZ. This is our second night, and we have yet to run across anyone else (besides the hippy proprietor) over 25. We stick out like sore thumbs. Not that everyone isn't nice enough - but we just feel a bit out of our element. And there is not en suite bathroom (no private bathroom attached to our room), only communal his and hers latrines. I was kind of hoping those days were done after making it through Officer Training School almost 30 years ago. Not so much that I mind schlepping my bathroom gear back and forth each morning, and evening. But - the midnight run (or 3 am potty run) can be a bit of an inconvenience. I think I held off almost 2 hours in the middle of the night hoping to make it til daylight, before finally giving up and making a break for it. John only made it an hour. So as interesting as this may be, and as "fun" as the ambiance looks, I think this may be our first and last hostel event for this trip (at least with communal bathrooms). But let it be known, the bathrooms are very clean - as stated in the brochure. So moving on...
Today we drove north and explored a place called Pancake Rocks (aka Punakaiki). The rock formations actually look like huge stacks of pancakes. Now that was cool! The trail through the shrubbery and rain forest was beautiful and well maintained. The views across the Tasman Sea were great - a very calm ocean out there today. Well worth the visit. We also ventured a bit further North to check out an old gold mine. We finally stumbled upon Mitchell's Gold Mine another 45 minutes north. It had great potential as a tourist stop, but was not being well maintained - all we got for our 10 bucks was a quick 5 minute run-down of how gold was mined back in the day, then we were told to move along down an overgrown path that following some old railcar tracks with a smattering of shallow tunnels and rusty hardware along the way. This could really be a cool place if they put some thought and effort into explaining what you were looking at, and telling a more in depth story behind it all. The mine itself is actually still being mined - just not actively the last few months due to the draught along the coast.
So we are back at our Global Village for one more night, then onto Fox Glacier to check out the sites and activities there for a day or two. So far the scenery has been spectacular - and we haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet! Can't wait to see and share some more!
Wellington in a Day!
03/12/2013, Wellington, NZ
We did it. Wellington in a day, top to bottom - so to speak.
Yesterday we drove the 6 hours from Rotorua to Wellington, with a pit stop at Huka Falls. The falls were quite impressive - water getting squeezed from a normally 100 meter wide river, to a 20 meter wide gorge with an 11 meter drop. It is the most visited waterfall in NZ!
The drive went from beautiful lake country for the first couple of hours, to high dessert for the next 3 hours until we neared the ocean on the west side. Most people find the drive a bit boring, but I was enjoying the wide open views, rolling hills with a smattering of windy little gorges every now and then. It was actually very scenic - at least this first time!
We are staying 2 nites at City View motel - free parking (rare in Wellington), free wifi, large clean rooms, and 1 block from Cuba Street with tons of restaurants and shopping. Only down side is it's a bit of an uphill walk at the end of the day to get back to the room. But all the better to wear that tasty dinner off! We had an excellent meal last night at Istanbul restaurant - and it was 2 for 1 nite! On the meals - not on the drinks. And the food was great and plentiful - would definitely go back again.
We managed to fill the entire day up today. Imagine that? All do to fine planning by yours truly... Anyway - John kept up very well. Very few moans and groans, at least until the final few blocks back to the room. We started out with a cable car ride to the top of a hill where a cable car museum, an observatory, and the botanical gardens reside. The view was terrific and not a cloud in the sky. We made our way through the cable car museum (it was free), and we learned (and what I thought was pretty cool) is that there are many private homes throughout Wellington with their own private cable cars - since so many of the homes are built on the side of such steep hills around the city. They had a couple of restored cable cars on display that were pretty cool. And we also learned something about winding gears and pulley systems, but I think John retained a bit more of that than I did. We did a short walk about the gardens and observatory then took the cable car back down the hill and made our way to the government buildings.
Wellington is the national capital of New Zealand, and has some very cool looking government buildings. One is the Bee Hive, which currently houses the executive wing, and really resembles a bee hive! And then there is the Old Government Building, which is the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere - it is very impressive. There was lots of activity outside the capital today - including a pro-cannabis protest (if that makes any sense?) with a few protesters marching (or more accurately - chillin out) on the steps of the capital. I wanted to talk to them about some other options, such as moving to Washington State, but John thought it better not to get too involved. So off we went for some more site seeing.
We visited a really beautiful, old, wooden church - St. Paul's cathedral - right in the middle of downtown. We got a great tasting beer at the Thistle Inn (built no later than 1840!). And we went to Te Papa - the national museum of New Zealand (it was also free). What an impressive museum - really well done. It was a bit late in the afternoon by the time we made our way there - so our dogs were barking. So we weren't able to dig deep into every part of the museum - but we touched on each area to some level. It definitely is worth the better part of a day. We noticed there is not much for marinas in the immediate downtown area - which surprised us. We thought there would be more with all the water everywhere. The finale of the day was a ride on bus route Number 14 - taking us on a ride around the most scenic parts of the city - beautiful views and houses. We eventually found a bus to take us back to city center, had a nice dinner at an Irish pub on Cuba street, and then back to the room to pack and relax a bit.
Tomorrow is the ferry ride to Picton. We are going to try and head straight down to Christchurch to begin our south island tour. We figure if there is time left over, then we will explore out the northern end of the South Island.
Now to pick through and pick out the best of the pics from today - see the picture gallery for the latest.
Down and Dirty in Rotorua!
03/10/2013, Last night in Rotorua
Well, I am just adding a few of the best pics to the picture gallery tonight, but the one picture posted here says it all. Yesterdays visits to 2 different geothermal parks were absolutely amazing. We did both Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu - they were both unique and beautiful. If you ever come to this area, you must do at least one of these parks - if not both. Both have self-guided walks that can be as short as 30 minutes, or as long as 2 hours depending on your interest and mobility. We ended up walking the entire length of both parks - probably close to 4.5 miles. And John did terrific! I have been hiking quite a bit since we returned to NZ, and mostly up a very steep hill each time. This was John's first big trek and he did great. We even took the 'path less tramped' and did the steeper climb at the second park - very steep and lots of steps! The colors of the different thermal pools and terraces vary from vivid green to cobalt blue and bright red-orange, depending on the minerals present. And everything is bubbling because it is so hot. The water, the ground, the mud - is constantly boiling. Very cool!!! So to speak!
Today was a relaxing day. We spent part of the afternoon at the Rotorua Museum, built in the early 1900's, it used to be a Bath House and was used as a place for soldiers to recover during World Wars I and II. Today it is a very cool museum that not only tells the history of the bath house (and was built based on the bath house in Bath England), but it also has a great exhibition of Maori culture. After the museum we got down and dirty at Hell's Gate Mud Spa - gotta try it at least once! We did a mud bath and sulphur spa treatment. We had the pools and spa entirely to ourselves - it was very relaxing and we felt great afterward (hence - why I don't have as much energy to write a long blog tonight!).
Tomorrow we are off to Wellington for 2 nights, then taking the ferry across to Picton on Wednesday - finally arriving on the South island for more site seeing adventures. We'll keep ya posted along the way!
A WOW Wonderful Day in Rotorua!
03/09/2013, Rotorua, New Zealand
I think I said "WOW" more times yesterday than I ever have! We are in Rotorua, (North Island) and are really enjoying the sites. Yesterday we visited 2 Geothermal parks about 20km south of town. Both were terrific! But before digging into yesterday's adventures, I will start at the top with a quick rundown of the previous few days.
We finally tore ourselves away from Whangarei and our lovely B&B stay at Riddlesden on Thursday. Jeanette and Alistair have treated us so well, and we became so comfortable (and entrenched in our room!) that we stayed a few extra days beyond our planned departure. Good thing, as I was able to make it through the first 2 seasons of Downton Abbey! Jeanette is also a fan of the show, and chased down the first 3 seasons on DVD for me! I will get caught up on season 3 when we return in April. John spent the last few days getting a plan together on Orcinius. Even though the insurance claim has not been settled (could be a few more weeks still), we have decided to move forward on making the repairs on Orcinius anyway. We are financing the repairs and will let the insurance claim catch up with us as things progress. So it will be interesting to see if she will be ready for the migration North to Fiji by late May - we are keeping our fingers crossed!!!
We had planned to spend Thursday night in Hamilton and visit the famous Hamilton Gardens on our way to Rotorua, but there was not a room to be had when we arrived! Some sort of heavy equipment (tractors, trailers) convention going on. So we pressed on the extra 1 ½ hours to Rotorua where we have found a very nice room at the Arista Motel. We have a very large room with kitchenette, living room downstairs, and our bedroom upstairs in the loft. We even have our own hot tub in our private outdoor patio in the back! The Rotorua area is known for its geysers, mud pools and thermal springs, so here at the motel all our hot water is provided from the geothermal activity - and is unlimited! We also met Mike, who recently acquired the motel and has updated all the facilities here - they are rated #7 on Trip Advisor. He also has a 3 kids, one of which is 4 year old Joshua who is very sick with a brain tumor (go to savingjoshua.net). He and his wife split their time between the hospital in Auckland and running their motel here in town. So if you come for a visit here in Rotorua, we would highly recommend that you stay here at Arista and give your support to this young family. Mike has also been a huge help in directing us to the best sites to visit in the area - there is tons to see and it can be overwhelming trying to sort thru it all.
Friday we did some errands around town in the morning, then went to Te Puia to get learn more about Maori culture and to see the geysers. This is where they preserve the Maori arts of carving, weaving, and stone cutting - the students here compete for scholarships that allow them to learn their craft here for 2-3 years, then go back home to share and teach with their community. We also got to see our first kiwi bird! Kiwi birds are flightless and nocturnal, so at the kiwi house exhibit, they turn the lights down low during the day (when all the visitors come thru to see them), and turn the lights up at night so they can hide and get some sleep!
From Te Puia, we drove out of town a few clicks to check out the Mamaku Blueberry Winery. I guess we should have called first because they were all out of wine - haven't had any since Christmas. Sine the winery was a bust, it was time for a little adventure! On the edge of town is the Skyline Gondola which has gorgeous views of the Rotorua area and it's lake. And it has a luge! What a blast! We went down 3 times - on 3 different tracks - each getting steeper and faster as we honed our luging skills. On the last one John was in the lead, just coming out of a turn and pouring on the coal, when all of a sudden there was a dip in the road! We both took some air, landed hard, but didn't miss a beat! I wish he had worn his go-pro camera (as we had contemplated) - I could swear I heard a bit of shriek followed by a massive grunt when he hit the pavement. But can't prove anything without the evidence! What a blast! We went late in the afternoon and had most of the track to ourselves. Then we stumbled upon a wine tasting room just before taking the gondola back down. It was a few minutes before 6 (just before closing of the tasting room), but we snuck in and ended up talking with Brent (the proprietor of Volcanic Hills Winery) for over an hour and tasting some mighty fine wine. His chardonnay was the best I've had here in NZ - and we bought 3 bottles (at least to start with). His wine tasting room was the prior gondola stop at the top of the hill before the new gondola was installed. The old gondola stop had been sitting empty for 10 years before they turned it into their tasting room (the winery itself is at the bottom of the hill). What a cool place! With excellent views! And I forgot to take a picture. Well, not of the view of course, but hanging out with Brent in the very cool wine tasting room. Oh well - guess we gotta go back!
We ended the day with an excellent meal at Indian Star Tandoori Restaurant in downtown Rotorua.
I will end this blog entry here for now, and hopefully will update it again tonight with yesterday and today's ventures, as well as a gallery of pictures. (I got some really cool pictures yesterday - took well over 400 pics! that I need to sort through.....). All for now,