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Voyages of Sarah Jean II
We're Fiji Bound!

It is hard to say goodbye to the beautiful Bay of Islands!

New Zealand has been our home for the past 6 months. We've enjoyed living in Opua in the Bay of Islands. This country is beautiful and the people are so very friendly and hospitable. We explored the North and South Islands in our campervan and have some wonderful memories and a ton of photos. Winter is now approaching in the Southern Hemisphere and so it is time sail north to the tropical islands. This cruising season we will explore Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia and then we'll return to NZ again in late October or early November to escape cyclone season in the South Pacific.

We plan to set sail tomorrow on Thursday, May 17 - New Zealand time. There is a good weather window opening up and about 25 boats are leaving with us tomorrow, including our friend Mark on "Merkava". The wind will be from the SW so it will be behind us and will push us up to Fiji. The passage is about 1,200 nautical miles so it should take us 7-8 days. We may decide to stop at Minerva Reef if the weather is suitable. This is a circular reef where you can enter through the pass anchor in 30' of water. It apparently feels like you are anchoring in the middle of the ocean! Cool!

Norm will write an update each day while we're on passage so you will be able join us on our adventure. The weather is cooler now in NZ. We're wearing jeans and jackets and there have been frequent rain showers. We're looking forward to sunny weather and warm tropical breezes in Fiji. We plan to make landfall at Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu.

Hiking the Abel Tasman Track

This would be our most ambitious tramping day yet. We really wanted to experience this famous great walk on the shores of Golden and Tasman Bays in Abel Tasman National Park. When we were here a month ago at the beginning of our South Island adventure we kayaked in the park. Now we would enjoy the views of the golden beaches and azure waters from the trails on shore.

The nice lady at the i-site in Takaka suggested a route for us on the coastal track. She looked particularly fit and I hoped that I could do as well as her. I am certainly feeling more fit now after all our hikes in NZ than when we first stepped off the boat after our passage from Tonga last October.

Whew! Norm and I both had tired feet at the end of our day, 28 km and 8 hours later! But wow, it was a wonderful hike. Amazing views, some steep hill climbs and a few moments of relaxing on golden sand beaches. You can catch a water taxi to various places in the park to begin hiking but opted for a full circle loop. We hiked from the carpark in Wainui, up Gibbs Hill to Totaranui, along the beach at Anapai, out to Separation Point, past the Whariwharangi Hut and back to Wainui. The sun came out in the afternoon and yes, Norm took a zillion photos.

Abel Tasman Park is one of my favourite places in NZ. At the west end of the park there are fewer people. We passed only a handful all day on our hike. The town of Takaka is very funky and you can access Cape Farewell from here which is wonderfully remote. I could easily come back to this area of NZ again someday.

Glaciers on the Wild West Coast

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 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

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

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.

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