Christchurch (May 2017)

07 May 2017
We drove 2 hours from Akaroa to Christchurch, by way of the gondola to see the view over Banks Peninsula, Lyttelton Harbour and Christchurch. Christchurch is a large city of 350,000 people. We stayed downtown, close to all the museums and activities. First on our agenda was to visit the "Quake City Museum" to learn about the 2011 earthquake. The earthquake was 7.1 magnitude with a center about a mile from the center of the city. There were 185 people killed and they have a sobering film featuring survivors recounting their own experiences (very touching and sad). The museum has a detailed scientific explanation of the phenomenon of liquefaction - when the shaking liquefied the ground and caused massive flooding burying streets and sinking buildings. Most of the buildings and infrastructure throughout the city were damaged. The inner city was blocked off from public access for 4 years in order to assess and demolish the buildings. More than 100,000 buildings were damaged and more than 10,000 had to be demolished.

Driving around the city is next to impossible as, still to this day, almost every other street is blocked off for construction. It took us >30 minutes going in circles to get to our hotel. Evidence of all the destruction is obvious, with whole city blocks demolished, scaffolding on lots of buildings and major construction activities everywhere. It made a lasting impact on us. Especially, all the historic buildings that were destroyed, the mere magnitude of destruction and, most of all, what the people have had to endure and are still enduring. Still, there are some remaining beautiful buildings and areas of the city. (See Photos)

We also visited the Canterbury Museum and Botanical Gardens. The Canterbury Museum had some great exhibits, including the birds and animals, the Antarctic exploration, the people, and the geology of NZ. My favorite thing was the "paua shell house", which was an actual house decorated with paua shells. The adjacent 52-acre botanical gardens are spectacular during the spring and summer, but it was fall when we were there. However, there are miles of walking paths and we did a couple of loops. There were hundreds of magnificent tree species, many that were over 100 years old. (See Photos)

We spent a half day at the International Antarctic Center which focusses on the Antarctic explorations, and has a penguin rescue center. We did the full-tour including a ride in the Hägglund, a penguin feeding, a 3-D movie, and a chance to experience conditions in Antarctica. The Hagglund is an all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle. We were strapped in and they drove us up steep inclines, then did it on the side, where we truly felt as if it would tip over. They drove us over logs, through a gulley and it was quite a demonstration of what the vehicle could do. Then, Tony spent most of his time in the Antarctic section learning about life at Scott Base, and the history of the Scott and Shackleton explorations. Of course, I spent most of my time with the penguins. They have wonderful viewing areas, where you can see them in their nest, on the rocks, being fed, and swimming underwater. They had 17 penguins (both little blue and white-flippered little blue) that had been rescued and, due to their injuries, could not survive in the wild. (See Photos) (See Video of Penguins)

We also spent a half day at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve which is a 45-acre zoo with over 500 animals. But, all the animals are in their natural environment; not cages. When you walk around on the trail, you have to go through doors and gates from one area to the next and most of the time, you are in the animal's habitat with them. Our favorite part was the brown kiwis, kept in a dark barn (because they are nocturnal). After our eyes adjusted, we could find the kiwis and had fun watching them as they were feeding on worms right by the path. So cool! We couldn't photograph them, but we did get some good photos of other birds, ducks, and wallaby, which we had never seen before. (See Photos)

From Christchurch, we decided to drive straight back to the boat in Whangarei because we'd been gone 5 weeks. If anyone is planning to visit NZ, please feel free to contact us for more information.

More Later - G&T

Akaroa & Hector's Dolphins (May 2017)

03 May 2017
From Oamaru, we drove 4 hours to Akaroa. It was settled by the French and later by British. It sits on Banks Peninsula, formed by a volcano, with bays radiating out in all directions. As it turns out, Akaroa was our 'personal favorite'. It is one of the most charming little sea-side villages with its colonial architecture and boutique arts and crafts shops. (See Photos)

We luckily found a great deal on a 1-bedroom cabin (the Akaroa Cottages). The cabin was totally secluded in the forest, with the sound of birds singing and a beautiful view of the harbor. I did a few early morning hikes and saw several new bird species including California Quail, New Zealand Pigeons, Bellbirds, and a Swamp Harrier. (See Photos)

The biggest attraction in Akaroa was to see the Hector's Dolphins, only found in NZ. They are the smallest and one of the most rare dolphin species. We booked a tour with Akaroa Dolphins and highly recommend them. The owner drives the boat and serves as the guide. Luckily, we were 2 of 4 guests on board that day, so we had the boat to ourselves. The other couple was from NZ and lots of fun. The owner brings his dog, Buster, who is known as "the dolphin finder". But, Buster had a sleep over at a friend's house and was so tired he was just sleeping. On our way out of the harbor, we were surprised to see a lone White-Flippered penguin. The White-flippered penguin is a subspecies of the Little Blue penguin and has similar coloring, but is slightly larger. There is a large colony of the White-flippered penguins on Banks Peninsula, but they are not usually seen in the harbor.

On our way out of the bay, the views of the cliffs and surrounding hillsides was nice, especially since we had a beautiful day. All of the sudden, Buster came to life, ran out into the cockpit and jumped up to the rail. Sure enough after a few minutes, we were surrounded by Hector's Dolphins! Amazing! He knew they were there several minutes before we could see them. We had a couple groups of about 3-4 dolphins that took turns playing in the bow wake and performing acrobatic routines for us. They are so stunning with their distinctive gray, black and white markings. They are only 4-5 feet long and weigh 90-130 pounds. (See Video)

On our way back into the bay, we got lucky again. We saw baby fur seals playing in a tidal pool, and we saw a Yellow-eyed penguin sunbathing on a cliff. Again, the penguin was an unusual sighting and really surprised the boat owner. We also saw the salmon farms, where they hand-feed the salmon every day, weather permitting. There is also a paua pearl farm in the bay. (See Photos)

More Later - G&T

Moeraki Boulders & Oamaru Penguins (May 2017)

03 May 2017
From Dunedin, we drove 1.5 hours to Moeraki to see the famous boulders. For all our geologist friends, this is a must see! The Moeraki Boulders are spherical boulders scattered on the beach. It is such a unique sight! They are like giant bowling balls, about 6 feet in diameter, weighing 7 tons. They are actually concretions formed in the sea over 60 million years ago. They are estimated to have taken 4 million years to grow to this size. (See Photos)

From Oamaru, we drove 1 hour to Oamaru to see the penguins. There are 2 colonies of penguins; a large colony of little blue penguins and another small colony of yellow-eyed penguins. The yellow-eyed penguins are rarer than the little blue, only found in NZ, and there are only about 1,700 pairs on the southern South Island and islands to the south. The yellow-eyed penguins are about 2 feet tall and weigh about 10 pounds. They come ashore at dusk to feed their young. We were lucky to see 2 penguins waddle ashore, but the viewing area is high above the beach on the cliff, so my photos are blurry. But, I did download some free internet photos.

Then we drove around the point to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. This is a commercial operation in conjunction with penguin research and protection. There are more than 120 pairs of little blue penguins that live at the colony and they provide nesting boxes for each pair of penguins. They also have a fence around the nesting area to prevent predators (dogs, ferrets, and possums) and allow the penguins to come and go naturally. Each evening, just after dusk, the penguins waddle up the rocky shore through the fence to their boxes. We were so lucky to see 109 penguins come ashore in "rafts" (groups of 6-20). They were so cute! They are the smallest penguin, only 12 inches tall, and weigh only 2 pounds. They also inhabit Australia, where they call them "fairy penguins". After they all came ashore, we got to walk on the boardwalk around the nesting area to see them. Many of them were standing just outside their nesting boxes, talking loudly and rubbing against their mates. This was definitely my biggest highlight of the entire South Island tour! (See Photos)

More Later - G&T
Vessel Name: Cetacea
Vessel Make/Model: Cheoy Lee 53' Motorsailor
Hailing Port: Houston, Texas, USA
Crew: Tony Wessendorff & Gail Corrigan
After 25 fun filled years as an environmental consulting firm owner, Gail sold her company and she and her husband, Tony the CFO, retired to go sailing on their boat Cetacea (see photo gallery). Cetacea was in St. [...]
Extra: P.S. Cetacea is the higher order biological name for whales and dolphins. Whales and dolphins are cetaceans. And our boat is a big fat whale of a boat, hence the name Cetacea! Not to mention that Tony & Gail, like all sailors, love whales.
Cetacea's Photos - Queenstown, NZ ( April 2017)
Photos 1 to 15 of 15 | Main
Tony at the top of the gondola
View from the top of gondola
View over Lake Wakatipu & Queenstown
The "Luge" at the top of gondola
Gail at the viewpoint on the hike
fabulous tree
Queenstown waterfront
Tony inspecting the Pinot Noir
The Kawarau Bridge Bungie Jump
Kawarau Gorge
Bungie jump
Crazy bungie jumper!