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Voyages of Sarah Jean II

On my list of "What to see in NZ" was Penguins! There is something about these birds (that don't fly) that are simple irresistible and I really wanted to see them. Well I got my chance in Omarau near Dunedin on the South Island of NZ. It was absolutely pouring rain that night so we decided to pay the $20 each to see the Little Blue Penguins from a covered viewing spot.

It turned out to be an excellent decision as these penguins don't return home from fishing all day at sea until dusk. After dark it would be very difficult to spot these 12" high small penguins, especially with our old eyes. The center had a special light that didn't bother the penguins but helped us to see them waddling up the beach and into their nests on shore to spend the night. The Blue Penguins are the smallest penguins in the world and are totally adorable.

Yellow Eyed Penguins are a little taller than their blue cousins and are very rare and they do indeed have yellow colouring around their eyes. We hiked out to Victory Beach the next evening on the Otago Peninsula by Dunedin to try and spot these birds and were rewarded by a private viewing of 2 families - mom, dad and youngsters. We didn't want to frighten the penguins so we hid among the tall grasses viewing them with binoculars and a telephoto camera lens. Norm got some great early evening shots!

Penguins! You can't resist seeing them when you're in New Zealand.

Stunning Mount Cook

Our cruising buddies, Neal and Ruthie from the S/V Rutea are also exploring NZ by road. We exchanged emails from time to time to see if there was a chance we might meet up. Our chance came and it was decided that Mt. Cook would be the spot, the highest peak in New Zealand. We drove over from Christchurch to meet our friends. As we rounded Lake Pukaki, the tip of Mt. Cook peaked up from the clouds. It was magnificent! The view kept getting better the closer we drove to the mountain. I swear we must have 100 photos of this great mountain!

The Hooker Valley Trail is a hike "not to be missed" according to the Lonely Planet Guide! On this day, the guide was incredibly accurate. The skies were blue, the sun hot and the company outstanding as we hiked this trail together with our friends. We crossed swing bridges, viewed glaciers, and arrived at a lake full of glacier ice with amazing views of Mt. Cook. New Zealand's favourite son, Sir Edmund Hilary used Mt. Cook as a training ground for his ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953.

Great hiking, great views and great friends! Thanks Mt. Cook!

Our Hearts Go Out to Christchurch

Today, Feb. 22, 2012 marks the one year anniversary of the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ that claimed 185 lives. We visited Christchurch last week and were saddened by what we found. The downtown core of 10 square blocks remains fenced off to the public. This is where most of the devastation occurred including the catastrophic damage to the historic Christchurch Cathedral. The efforts to rebuild the city core have been slowed by insurance claims, continuing tremours and controversy on the methods for rebuilding.

There is an exhibit in the excellent Museum of Canterbury showcasing a room full of handmade hearts. A woman from Napier in the North Island began making hearts for the people of Christchurch after the devastating earthquake. It caught on and soon people from all over NZ were making hearts for Christchurch. It is an impressive sight, this room full of hearts of all colours... it brought tears to my eyes.

Our hearts go out to Christchurch.

Biking Through the Vineyards

Red wine has always been our favourite, a merlot or a cabernet sauvignon but here in New Zealand white wine is what you will find. The climate here is best suited for growing the grapes for white wine. It doesn't get hot enough for red wine grapes to mature. What an excellent opportunity for us to expand our horizons and taste some local white wines in the Marlborough region of NZ! These vineyards are near Blenheim on the South Island, only a stone's throw from the ferry from Wellington. We rented some bikes at our holiday park and off we went, vineyard map in hand.

The biking in this region is easy, quite flat and the vineyards are relatively close together. It's a very fun way to taste the wines of the region. So you ask, did we like the white wines? YES! The Savignon Blancs were our favourite, a dry white wine and very refreshing on a warm sunny day. The pinot noirs were also excellent, a lighter red wine choice. A couple of bottles of our favourites from the wine tastings were purchased to enjoy in the holiday parks as we cruise in "Gertie" down the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand!

Sam - Our Kayak Guide
02/22/2012, Abel Tasman

Our paddles dipped silently in the water beside our double kayak. We were listening to Sam tell us a story of Abel Tasman and how he discovered this beautiful corner of the world back in the 1600's. Sam is an amazing young Kiwi man who, like many others New Zealanders, loves the outdoors. In the winter he is a ski patroller on one of the South Island ski hills. During the summer you'll find him leading kayak and hiking tours in Abel Tasman National Park. I was so impressed with his knowledge of the local flora and fauna. There wasn't a bird that he did not know or a tree he could not name. We learned so much from this 23 year old!

I spotted a Pied Shag, a bird that looks like a penguin from a distance because of its white chest. Fur seal pups were frolicking on Pinnacle Rock with their moms. Most of the males had headed out to sea to fish but the adolescent males were already assuming the assertive pose with their heads tossed back, very typical of the males.

We paddle around a point and yet another beautiful beach comes into view. The water is clear and turquoise in colour. Some people are swimming but it feels cool to us who have just spent 6 months in warm tropical waters. Sam is telling us another story, about a local fellow who once owned a piece of this park but reluctantly gave it up to the government. There are very few privately owned homes in the park. It consists mostly of well kept trails and deserted beaches.

Abel Tasman National Park - a real gem. If you go kayaking there, ask for Sam. He's amazing!

The Best One Day Walk in NZ!

The NZ Metservice weather report said that tomorrow would be "fine". In NZ that is supposed to mean sunshine. Well we woke up in our holiday park (campground) in the Tongariro National Park, looked outside our campervan to see only clouds and drizzle. AND it was cold - 8 degrees C, due to the high altitude. That didn't look very "fine" to us for walking what the guide book described as "The Best One Day Walk in NZ". Norm & I decided to wait another day as the forecast for the next day was "fine". Maybe the forecast would be right this time.

The next day was more of the same - clouds, fog and drizzle. Well we decided we couldn't wait forever so off we went in our layered clothing, toques and waterproof jackets. The "Tongariro Alpine Crossing" is a challenging one day 6-8 hour, 19 km hike rising up to 1886 m. You pass volcanos, climb lava flows, witness emerald lakes and experience stunning views. Well we couldn't see 10 feet in front of our face with the fog, let alone see mountains or the emerald lakes!

Mt. Ngauruhoe is called "Mt. Doom" from the movie "Lord of the Rings" that was filmed here. It's a very large, black, almost perfect dome shape mountain that we did finally see the following morning when the weather cleared. An impressive sight.

The hike was memorable despite the weather. We certainly felt like we had accomplished something significant and we hiked alongside many friendly Kiwis. The sun actually did shine in the afternoon with the fog lifting eerily to reveal the mountains in a scene that looked like it was from "Lord of the Rings".

The fatigue we felt at the end of the day was definitely worth it, but left us thinking "I wonder, where is the second best day hike in NZ?"

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