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Voyages of Sarah Jean II
Glaciers on the Wild West Coast
03/09/2012

Nowhere in the world do glaciers come this close to the sea. The Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers are awe inspiring, both long and steep rivers of ice. As we hiked up to the edge of the glacier helicopters buzzed overhead. It was a picture perfect sunny day and the tour companies were doing a roaring business. Just over the mountain range is Mt. Cook, the highest peak of the Southern Alps. For a price of course, you can fly over Mt. Cook as well. It was tempting being such a glorious day.

The views from the Top 10 Holiday Park at the Franz Joseph Glacier were impressive. Sitting in our lawn chairs with a glass of wine, a good book and a great view was a nice way to end the day.


Hikes in New Zealand
Beth
03/09/2012

Beth and Cinda hiking near Wanaka.


They are everywhere. Hiking or tramping as they call it here is so easy in NZ and the tracks are all well marked with signage. When we met up with our cruising buddies Fred & Cinda, in Lake Wanaka it was easy to find a hike to do together. We chose Iron Mountain not far from the town center. We walked and exchanged stories of our respective road trips in New Zealand. Cinda and Fred are both trained outdoor guides from Alaska so they were tenting but staying in the same numerous holiday parks as us with our campervan. We needed more talking time so we hiked the river trail next and watched the fly fisherman catching trout. Fred and Norm reminisced about their fly fishing days.

New Zealand's natural assets entice many to come here. Enjoying the outdoors in ingrained in Kiwi life from family camping trips to elite mountaineering, wandering into the wilderness is a national habit. Tramping or hiking or trekking is the perfect way for an encounter with NZ's natural beauty. There are thousands of kilometers of tracks, many with huts where you can stay the night while completing multi day tramps. The trails and huts are all maintained by the Department of Conversation and they do an amazing job. If you want to stay in the huts you need to book ahead and pay, particularly for the Great Walks, including the popular Milford, Abel Tasman, Queen Charlotte and Tongariro Northern Circuit.
Day hiking is free, even on the Great Walks. We found it's a wonderful way to stay in shape and enjoy NZ's spectacular scenery.

I hope we can continue our "hiking habit" when we are home once again in Beautiful BC.

Queenstown – NZ’s Adventure Capital
Beth
03/09/2012

The amazing Shotover Jet Boat rips through the narrow river canyon!

Kiwis are an adventurous lot and in Queenstown you can get it all - skydiving (my sister Sandy did it here!), bungy jumping (it began in NZ), jet boat rides, whitewater rafting, hang gliding and the list goes on. Queenstown has a distinctive Whistler feel. In winter it is a ski town with about 4 resorts in the area. Sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu the village is very walkable with restaurants and upscale shops and a backdrop of rugged mountains. It was quite cool when we were there and the mountains actually had snow overnight. It looked and felt like winter! It's usually 30 degrees in Queenstown at this time of year but this summer NZ has experienced cooler than average temperatures.

To warm up we climbed the short but steep hike up the mountain in the morning for views over the Queenstown. We took the gondola down and then we were ready for an adrenalin activity. The Shotover Jet ads state that it has thrilled over 3 million people since 1970. "It's the World's Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride". I had watched videos on U-tube and it did look thrilling, so we plunked down our money to partake in one of the adventures Queenstown had to offer. Our driver was an ex-stunt man and had me holding on for dear life and screaming as he drove the boat inches from the steep rock walls on the Shotover River. He spun the powerful boat around in 360 degree turns producing good g forces. It was definitely exhilarating, just like the ads said. We felt we got our money's worth.

On the drive out of town we were distracted by the spectacle of bungy jumping. People stand gingerly on the ledge of the Kawarau River Bridge facing their fears. Some perform graceful swan dives as they leap and are caught by the bungy seconds before they hit the water. Others nearly have to be pushed off shouting "No, no, no!" S as they plunge towards the river below in a tangle of feet and arms. Very entertaining to watch but I certainly didn't jump, not with my fear of heights. Some NZ thrills are best left to others.

Simply Stunning Milford Sound
Beth
03/09/2012

Most travel brochures for New Zealand will feature photographs of Milford Sound, in Fiordland. It's usually a "must see" for most visitors to NZ. No matter how many photos we had seen of Milford Sound, we were still stunned by the first glimpse of 1692 m high Mitre Peak and Pembroke Glacier, dominating the vista from the shoreline. Sheer rock cliffs rise out of the deep dark waters.

We checked into the rustic but cozy Milford Sound Lodge with "Gertie", plugging her in to one of the powered sites and then walked to the waterfront to see the sound. Another couple was sitting in the sun on the park bench also enjoying the vista. They were cruisers from the UK who had also crossed the Pacific this year! S/V Salamander. Small world! We chatted and had a beer with them at the pub, exchanging stories.

Norm and I chose to explore the sound by kayak the next day. We prefer the quieter and more intimate nature of kayaking to the cruise boats of which there are many in Milford Sound. The tourists come in by the busload all day long to board the cruise boats. Our kayak group was lead by an experienced guide who pointed out the rare fiord crested penguins to us, as well as NZ fur seals. After paddling for a bit we beached our kayaks and walked up to Bowen Falls where we felt the full force of its magnificence. It is one of 3 permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound.

A hike up to alpine area of Key Summit the next day provided amazing views of the mountains and valleys in Fiordland. There are many day hikes such as this one, accessed from the beautiful Te Anau/Milford Highway. On to Queenstown, our next stop on our South Island tour.

Biking the Otago Central Rail Trail
Beth
03/09/2012

The Otago Central Railway was built in the late 19th Century linking small gold mining towns in the South Island of NZ. When the railway was closed, the rails were removed and the trail resurfaced. There is now 150 km of trail for biking stretching from Middlemarch to Clyde. The historic route contains old bridges and tunnels that were used by the trains with gob smacking scenery!

Norm and I woke up in Dunedin to clear skies and what promised to be a sunny day. So we hurried up to Middlemarch to rent bicycles to cycle the Rail Trail. The most scenic part of the trail began further north in Hyde so we began our day there and rode from Hyde to Waipiata and back to Hyde, a total of 50 km. We met a group from Australia who were biking the whole trail, taking 5 days. At the end of their day the tour operator would pick them up and their bikes and whisk them off to a cozy country inn to spend the night. Sounded like fun to us. But alas, we had only the day to enjoy the trail. Although we had sore butts at the end of it, we enjoyed the beautiful river valleys and gorges, the rural farmland and of course the riding! Great exercise!

47 Degress South
Beth
03/09/2012, Stewart Island, NZ

There is a big difference between 47 degrees South and 47 degrees north. We discovered this at Stewart Island which is located south of the South Island in NZ. Even though the latitudes are the same the cold wind blows up from the Antarctic at 47 degrees south and it can feel mighty cool, even in their summer. There was a wood stove in our cabin which we kept stoked for warmth. Our home in Vancouver is at 49 degrees north and our climate is much more temperate than Stewart Island. The weather changes every 10 minutes at Stewart Island. It will pour rain and then the sun will shine for the next 10 minutes. Coat on, coat off. Crazy!

Stewart Island reminded us of one of the more remote but quaint Gulf Islands in BC. There is one store, one pub, a pier for the ferry, a couple of hotels, a small collection of cabins and a ton of hiking trails. The locals all wear gum boots. Native NZ birds are everywhere. Just outside our cabin door we viewed wood pigeons, kakas, tuis, bellbirds and parrots. On our hikes we would consult our trusty NZ bird book for names of any birds we didn't recognize. 85% of Stewart Island is a national park so it offers some of the best birding in New Zealand.

A highlight on our visit to Stewart Island was a boat tour of Patterson Inlet and hike on Ulva Island, a bird sanctuary. On the way to Ulva dozens of albatross surrounded our tour boat including a couple of Royal Albatross. What a treat to watch these magnificent birds soar. At dinner that evening the local blue cod was absolutely delicious and perhaps the best fish and chips I've ever had! Ask for it at the South Sea Hotel if you visit Stewart Island. We highly recommend this unique island with its slower, simpler lifestyle.

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