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We left the marina with a plan. A loose plan to see the South Island but with some specific sites in mind.
Our first stop was not far from Whangarei, our home base in NZ, Warkworth. Warkworth is north of Auckland but we had to get the cars WOF renewed and wanted to get an oil change and have the car checked before starting the adventure. While the car was being worked on we checkout the small town of Warkworth. It is a quaint little town on a river. We had some lunch and waked back to car shop. We drove about to a spot 20 minutes north of Auckland and stopped for the night. We had a salty dinner out and a good nights rest and then on to Rotorua the next day.
We made it through Auckland and on to Rotorua. While in Rotorua, we went to the Redwood Forest and did an hour hike through the maze of giant trees. There was also a tree top walk but we decided not to do this as it was raining and we weren't sure of the real difference in the view.
Thermal Park Rotorua
The following day we went to Wai-O Tapu Thermal Park. This was a really interesting active geothermal area with different temperatures and colors of water combined with sulfur and other naturally occurring elements for some interesting sites. We also went to the bubbling mud pools. This was really interesting to see the mud jumping and sputtering all over the surface. We continued south on a rainy afternoon to Okere Falls Track. It was a short hike and not raining too much, so we put on our raincoats and took an umbrella and we were off to see the falls. Great falls with lots of water. We also saw river rafting and canoes coming down the falls. As we continued the drive in the rain, we saw our first glimpse of black swans on the lake. I jumped out in the rain for a few photos and proceeded to pull back onto the road on the right hand side (the wrong side) of the road. Oops! Luckily, it wasn't a busy place and the oncoming car gave me the flashing headlights signal for "Hey American, you are on the wrong side of the road". I moved over and have not made that mistake again. You really have to think when driving on what is the "wrong" side of the road. We went to town and checked out Eat Street. Of course, we found some lunch at the Fat Dog Cafe. As we left the thermal park I literally walked out of the soles of my hiking shoes. I flopped my way across the parking lot to the car for a closer look. These shoes were several years old, but had only been used in South America so only lightly used but the glue and the center was gone. Steve checked his shoes and he was close behind me so while in town we had to get new hiking shoes. We waked around the lake located just behind the town and found lots more black swans and beautiful ducks with orange eyes, a Scaup. We also took a stroll through the Government Gardens and saw our first outdoor bowling in front of the pools. It seemed the elders were teaching the school children.
Next we moved on to Taupo. Taupo is cold and windy compared to the rest of the north island and we felt that on the first morning we woke up with very cold temps that warmed quickly. Taupo is a center of volcanic and geothermal activity. Lake Taupo is New Zealand largest lake that feeds into Huka Falls. We went to Huka Falls. Huge amounts of water flow here through a small area of rocks for a really dramatic effect. Spa Park is in town where hot springs feed into the river. The locals were out when we arrivedd there. Only one or two in the cold river and many people in the warm springs. We also went to Aratiatia Rapids when the gates were opened to allow flooding. The gate opens 3 times daily in the summer on a schedule. We were a few minutes late but did still get to see the gates while open. The river below the dam was flooded and it was very interesting to see trees standing, completely submerged, under the flooding water and then, when they close the dam, it recedes and the tree is standing on dry land. We took a walk around the new neighborhood that we were staying in and saw lots of black and white magpies making all kinds of noises in the bush. We went down to town and took a walk around the lake, had some lunch and enjoyed the warm sunny day.
As we continued our way south we stopped in Whakaronga, near Palmerston North. We stayed with a couple that owned a small steer farm. We went for some exercise around their home and check out the what our host said were million dollar homes on the farmland.
Next stop, Windy Wellington which we can attest to because the day we arrived we were sure the airbnb we were stay in was swaying in the breeze. Extremely windy. Wellington is the state capital with a city that surrounds a working harbor with sandy beaches and interesting architecture. There were several homes with cable cars or a lift taking them from the ocean front up the side of the mountain to their homes. We also went to the Te Papa Museum, which is probably the best museum we visited, in my opinion. Free, and really interesting and the life-like figures in the Gallipoli exhibit were awesome. They also have a giant squid under glass. I think the only one in existence. We spent a lot of time walking and exercising around the city. We walked around the edge of the water to Oriental Bay with a beautiful sandy beach and a water fountain on several days. A few people were brave enough to be in the water but most just about ankle high or sunning on the beach. We went up Mt Victoria both hiking and by car for the 360 degree views. The Old Saint Paul's Church was really amazing with its wooden interior. There was a wedding rehearsal going on when we were there. We went up mountain in the old cable car. This was used to get people from their jobs in town up the mountain side to their homes. It was a short ride but a long walk. At the top of the cable car we walked around the gardens and the observatory. Since Wellington is the capital, parliament is located here. It is open to the public for tours. There are two tours one 30 minute and one for an hour. We were not able to take the one hour one today so we opted for the 30 minute tour. It was very interesting to tour the building but also to hear about their system of government.
Next stop, Picton but first the Interislander Ferry, which is one of the large ferry vessels that take passengers, cars and freight across the Cook Straight multiple times each day. Cook's Straight is the water that separates the north and south islands of New Zealand. It was very windy and I was worried about the waves and swell. There were white caps in the bay so I assumed it may be a bumpy passage. We had to arrive an hour before the boat left, load the car on the ferry and find our seat. We took a seat at the front of the ship. The wind was blowing a gale, but coming from the north so the ride was great! Crystal clear blue skies, warm temps and great passage. What else could you ask for? The entrance to the Marlboro Sound on the South Island was amazing, really dramatic and beautiful. The entire passage was 3 hours long. One hour getting out of Wellington, one hour in Cook's Straight and one hour in the sound on the South Island. We waited our turn to exit the boat and found that first on does not mean first off. I think we were close to first on and last off. Oh, well. We exited with the masses and filled this little town with cars and people. There are several, I think maybe six or seven ferries that arrive here daily. We had lunch at the worst place in town. Reminds us to be sure to check Trip Advisor before we get to a new town so we have some ideas instead of picking a place on the fly. After lunch, we walked around the little town and then headed to Nelson.
WOW Museum Nelson
We arrived to Nelson, to stay with our host that our friends on Elysium and Cetacea, had stayed with last year! She was really fun and we enjoyed staying with her. There were great hikes right from her house and we tried out several of them. We went to the WOW Museum which stands for World Of Wearable Art. The museum was not my thing but I think the live fashion show held in Wellington might be fun. You lose some of the vision of the clothing by the fact that is is hanging on a dummy and not moving around on a live model. There was also a car part to the WOW Museum so we checked out the cars too. In town, we went on the Center of New Zealand Hike and saw lots of Fantail birds. Went to the Queens Gardens, the beautiful gothic style Christ Church Cathedral with it's beautiful stained glass windows. We also saw the Broadgreen Historic House, went to the Japanese Garden, did a walking tour of town and took a quick look at the Hallowell Cemetery with the most interesting information about the person and their deaths. Finally, we had a good meal at the East Street Vegetarian Cafe.
Abel Tasman Park
Able Tasman Park hike
Onward we go getting closer and closer to the ominous Takaka Hill. We stop in Motueka we are excited about our 4 hour hike in the Abel Tasman Park. We wait in a cafe for our boat to depart at 10:30 from Kaiterieteri to the park. We used Wison's Able Tasman Group at a cost of 69 NZ pp. We booked this tour while in Nelson to insure a spot. The four hour hike started with a boat ride along the coast with several drop offs for people doing other hikes.
Split Apple Rock
We went past Split Apple Rock. A rock in a bay that looks like a split apple. Our stop was Medlands Beach. We hiked from there to Anchorage Beach. We went over swing bridges, checked out waterfalls and Cleopatra's Pool, went over a bridge over the Falls River. We were surprised at the few number of animals we saw in such a remote locations. Really none, except birds. We did get a good video of a Bell bird singing and we saw a sneaky Weka stealing snacks from a hikers backpack. We successfully, and with plenty of time reached the pick up location. We sat down on a log on the beach and that was it. We were instantly tired. Glad the day was over because we were losing steam fast. On the boat ride back we passed Adele Island with fur seals lounging on the rocks. There were several cruising yachts anchored here. We had dinner at the Spring and Fern Restaurant with craft beer and cider. The next morning, as we headed on, we saw the wreck of the Janie Seddon and the Salt Water Baths. The best time to see the wreck is at low tide.
Onward and upward to Collingwood. We made it over Takaka Hill with no issues. It was actually better than most of the other roads because it was so up and downhill and windy that even the locals had to slow down so there weren't as many up on your bumper wanting to pass us. We had lunch in Takaka at the Wholemeal Cafe. With that road conquered, we stopped by Ngarua Caves. We decided not to go in but the ground all around was just a mass of rocks for as far as the eye could see.
We also stopped at Pupu Springs. Really beautiful crystal clear springs that you could see straight to the bottom of with no problems. This is sacred water to the Maori so you can not get in it anywhere or a stream that runs off of this water. A group of local kids in two cars followed us into the parking lot and we were a little leery of their intentions and sure enough they walked right out to the spring and right where the sign says don't touch the sacred water one of them had to jump in and film it on camera.
When we arrived to Collingwood we went for a walk on Golden Bay Beach. The tides here are so huge and the bottom so shallow near shore that when it is low tide it looks like miles of muddy sand before the water starts.
We also went to Farewell Spit and did the 1 1/2 hour walk on accident. We had planned on a shorter walk but took a wrong turn and it was quicker to continue on than turn back. It was a nice walk on a warm day with a good ocean breeze so we enjoyed the mistake on the Spit Track Circuit. We also went to Wharariki Beach/Archway Islands walk to see rock mountains and seal colonies. We saw a lot of fur seals and sand dunes there. We also walked Fossil Point and the View Point Hike, just a short 10 minute walk each way up a hill for some views. We had lunch at the Collingwood Tavern. It was pretty good to ok. The staff a little crusty and somehow still pleasant. I also had a piece of chocolate cake from the Courthouse Cafe that was great. Really rich chocolate and probably way to rich for the average person.
We left Collingwood, headed for some protection from the mountains, as cyclone Gita made its way across the country from the West Coast. We checked into our romantic cottage, got our groceries and found some candles and waited on Eighty Eight Valley Road. Gita did not cause any problems for us, mostly just a little rain and a little wind. This was a very small, quaint little town. The night after the storm passed, we notice thru the skylight above the bed the millions of stars in a super clear sky. Really awesome! We checked out all we could. The antique shop owned by our airbnb host, the oldest church in the south island, a bakery and grocery store we had breakfast at the maybe the only restaurant in town called the Cafe Rhubarb and I think that was about it. The owners of the airbnb had several sheep that they feed and would have sheer a few times a year. They said I could feed them. Of course I wanted to do that. I have never fed sheep before. I got into the gated area and shook the bucket with the sheep pellets inside. Nothing. I shook it again and the whole lot of them came running toward me pushing and shoving each other the entire way. When they got to me the pushing and shoving continued and I turned and ran for the other side of the gate with Steve laughing all the way. With me safely from the other side of the fence the sheep were fed.
We needed to wait a day or two after Gita for all of the roads on the West Coast to open from slips or rock falls. When made our way to Westport, our first town on the West Coast. We were in a great little cottage with everything we needed. We checked out the Seal Colony and Cape Foulwind Lighthouse. We did several hikes and saw the fur seals, the light house and more sand dunes. We had to hike up and down the sand dunes to reach the beach. We had dinner in town at Johnny's with gigantic hamburgers. Overfull, we made our way back to our accommodations.
The next day we started our drive south down the coast with a stop to the old Denniston Mines. A year or so ago this was open for tours, but has since been close until it is deemed safe. At the site there were a reasonable amount of remains from the old mine. The views were amazing from the top of the mine. We stopped at pancake rocks and blow holes. It is best to see these at high tide. That is one hard thing about seeing all of these amazing sites along the coast. A lot of the stops need to be seen at either high tide or low tide, which is sometimes impossible to accomplish and keep moving. We were there about 3 hours before hight tide so the blowholes were not that amazing but the pancake rocks were pretty awesome. On the drive we passed through Greymouth with some stops along the beach to "fossick", or look for stuff on the beach. I was looking for interesting shells, rocks and especially the Greenstone, but there are a lot of stones that look green on the west coast.
We stopped at Hokitiaka for the night. The next day we went to the Hokitiak Gorge Swing Bridge. We had good weather and it was amazingly beautiful. The milky blue colors that come from what is called rock flour, or deposits suspended in the water, were awesome and worth the 30 minute drive. We also went to Hokitiaka beach to see the word Hokitika made out driftwood. Also, still looking for Greenstone. We had a good lunch at Stumpers Bar and Cafe in town and then just in case we didn't find any greenstone, Steve bought me a Greenstone necklace at Wilderness Gallery. The artwork, mostly photography in this business was amazing, worth a stop in just to check it out. There are some traditions with greenstone like you can't buy it for yourself and you have to rub it on the person that bought it for you. We did all obligatory traditions and I got to wear my new necklace.
We left Hokitia with our minds set on seeing the glaciers. We started checking for flights to land on the glaciers about a week before our arrival and we were disappointed to find that they were all booked for at least two weeks. We did not realize that it was Chinese New Year Holiday. We could only find very expensive hotel accommodations for two nights at Lake Matheson. We were a little disappointed that we did not have the option to land on the glacier by helicopter. The weather was forecast to be rainy and windy anyway. We drove the last two hours into the glacier area in light rain and shortly after checking in it rained hard, sideways for hours. The forecast was for more the following day. To our surprise, when we woke up the next morning it was beautiful. Crystal clear skies, warm and calm. We went to the Fox Glacier viewing area a short distance from the hotel. Beautiful.
Then we went on to Lake Matheson or Mirror Lake. We were there at the perfect time. Very light wind, crystal clear skies and the glacier in plain sight. Then on to the hikes to Fox. Unfortunately, the closest trail to the Glacier had been damaged by Gita. An alternate trail was open but on the other side of the river which was flowing because of all the rain so we did get a good view but not as close as we had hoped. We could not find any accommodations from Hokitika to Wanaka so we decided to move on and forget about a landing on the glacier.
Haast Highway waterfalls everywhere
The drive along the Haast Highway was really beautiful with many places to stop and hike or view waterfalls. I think we stopped for 4 waterfalls and many many were visible from the highway. I think the big rain and Gita added to some waterfalls we were seeing.
Wanaka is a really neat town, so far one of my favorites for having a little of everything. "Wanaka, a resort town on New Zealand's South Island, is set on the southern end of its namesake lake with views of snowcapped mountains. It's the gateway to the Southern Alps' Mount Aspiring National Park, a wilderness of glaciers, beech forests and alpine lakes. Treble Cone and Cardrona ski resorts are near the park. Just outside the town is the outdoor maze and sculpture gallery of Puzzling World." Wikipedia .
Wanaka from Iron Mountain
The town of Wanaka is located next to the lake with beautiful mountains all around . The airbnb we stayed in was at the bottom of Mt Iron. We went for a walk and decided to head uphill first. We thought we had found just a little trail but found we accidentally, found Mt Iron. When we reached the top we had beautiful 360 degrees views. This was a great little town with a good vibe. We had great food at the Big Fig. The famous That Wanaka Tree in located in the edge of the lake. This is one of the most photographed trees in New Zealand. We were told the area has a lot of sun, even in the winter when it is cold many days have bright sunshine.
Drive from Wanaka to Queenstown
The drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was very beautiful also. We stopped in Arrowtown on our way and had a look around the town and the river. It was an interesting town with some old buildings but mostly just a tourist place for shopping. It is worth a a quick stop if you are passing through but mostly touristy. Queenstown was a very different town. For us, it is was fun for a few days but very touristy, very crowded with lots of high adrenaline activities. Having said that, it is also amazingly beautiful.
The lake with the towering Remarkable Mountains is awesome. The huge lake is the centerpiece of town and is crystal clear. There are beautiful trails and walks all around the lake and in the mountains. Wow! We tried to do a lot on the day we arrived because it was the day with a good weather forecast.
So, we went to the Queenstown Gardens which are lovely gardens along the lake with beautiful roses, giant trees and frisbee golf. We saw part of a frisbee golf tournament when we were there. We thought it might be a poor mans golf but after we saw the giant bags full of frisbees of different sizes and colors we may have changed our minds. The government has done a great job in NZ of keeping land along the water for public use. Almost everywhere we have been there are trails for walking and or riding a bike at the waters edge and through the mountains. We walked a long way along Lake Wakatipu.
Gondola view of Queenstown
Then we headed to the Gondola for a ride up and the views were lovely. We had time to do part of the Ben Lombard hike up the mountain before the sunset. We wish we had more time to go further. We came down to have dinner at Muskets and Moonshine. They had the best steak I have ever eaten. Wow! The next day, we hiked from our airbnb around the other side of the lake and then took a look around town. The parking in Queenstown is confusing. We had been parking all day for free. Then, drove through town with free parking and came to an area with about 10 parking spaces that were apparently pay parking. When we returned from our lovely dinner we had a parking ticket for 40. That made our reasonable dinner over 100 dollars. Lesson learned. Pay attention every time you park even if you have parked all over town for free.
Queenstown to Te Anau
Then we drove from Queenstown to Te Anau. This was a little more than a two hour drive with stops to take some photos. The town of Te Anau was larger than I thought it would be and really beautiful. There were lots of birds and Canadian Geese. There were also lots of food choices. We ate at the Ranch for dinner and I tried the fried Blue Cod. Not sure if I like it or not. The next day was freezing and we headed out to Milford Sound.
Road to Milford Sound
We took a one hour bus ride out to the sound with several stops along the way. We considered driving this ourselves but decided it may be safer to take the bus. The road does not have the best safety record, with all of the tourists looking around and the busses barreling down on them. The ride was beautiful. We stopped at mirror lake for a few photos. This was not as amazing as the Mirror Lake near the Fox glacier. After a short wait we went through the Homer Tunnel. While we were waiting we had a good view of the top of the glacier. Next we boarded the boat for the Milford Sound with about 50 -75 people.
The first sight when we pulled away from the dock was a huge waterfall off to our right. The sound was beautiful. There were several other boats coming and going. The waterfalls were not very big due to the lack of rain in the area. The boat tried to pull up under one to take a look but the wind was blowing the small waterfall off to one side. We went all the way out to the Tasman Sea and back. On the bus ride back, there a horrible motorcycle accident involving a man we saw in a cafe on our drive to Te Anau. This road is known to be bad for accidents.
The next day we left very early for a day trip to Doubtful Sound, a 20 minute drive from Te Anau to the next town. Then a fast cat boat ride across the huge lake for about an hour then a 1 hour bus drive to the sound. We used Go Orange for our Tour group. We heard from locals that the passenger number was smaller with this tour operator. We saw a few Fiordland Penguins on three occasions, they were in the distance and one seal. Pretty and much less commercialized that Milford, but maybe not quiet as dramatic in the height of the mountains or maybe just it was a more open feeling. Still, very beautiful.
Next a 2 hour drive from Te Anau to Invercargill after the Doubtful Sound cruise, which made for a long day. Steve was getting a cold and its windy and cold in Invercargill. Lots of tree hauling trucks on the way, going to load ships for export we were told. Took a look around town and the Queens Gardens.
Went down to Bluff and had lunch at Oyster Cove with all glass front and great views of the coastline. Saw the lighthouse and went up to highest point for lookout over town, water and Stewart Island.
We drove for several hours from Invercargill to Curio Bay in the Catlins and stopped at Slope Point, the southern most spot. Made several other stops along the way, Lighthouse and others off of main road onto gravel roads. We arrived at our great little cottage near Curio Bay. We went to see the yellow eyed penguins that are supposed to come out of the water at low tide or around sunset. Not sure which time takes priority if the two times are not near each other. We arrived around 3PM and decided to wait. While we were waiting, we saw the petrified trees that were in the rock formations at the cove. Lots of giant seaweed, all around the rocky crevices swayed back and forth with the seas. Steve went to the car to get his jacket and I saw one of the penguins come out of the water. He went directly behind a rock blocking my view.
As Steve was coming back from the car, he saw the penguin clearly on the other side of the rock. He called me up and we watched as the largest penguin we have seen with giant pink feet cleaned and air dried himself for an hour or so before he yawned and laid down for an afternoon nap in the dwindling sunlight. We did not wait to see more arrive in from their day of fishing satisfied with our sighting. The next day we checked out the bay next door to see if there were any Hector's Dolphins playing in the surf. We did not give it a long time but did not see any.
Purakaunui Falls Catlilns
We headed for our next destination not far away to HinaHina for a farm experience. We stopped at Purakaunui Falls, one of the most photographed falls in NZ. The lack of rain this year has certainly had an effect on the amount of water in the falls. It was beautiful and peaceful but not a lot of water flow.
HinaHina Sheep Farm
We arrived to the sheep farm and were told we could have a tour in the morning. We left with Tom around 8AM to watch him and his dogs moving the ewes from one pasture to another. What an experience. Having lived on property with animals for many years, I did not realize how exciting this would be for us. The dogs working with the sheep on his simple commands was amazing. Just a few words with the dogs name and they were moving hundreds of sheep though an open gate and not the next field. Tom explained to us that two of the dogs were sisters but one really had a way with the sheep. She seemed to naturally know how to move the herd gently where she wanted them to go. It was a really enjoyable and amazing experience. The room we stayed in had great ceiling to floor windows on two sides and the night sky was crystal clear the night we were there. The stars seemed to fill all of the space between the hills, the ocean and the sky. The views from the family property were really stunning, what a breathtaking place.
We made our way to the next destination, Dunedin, with stops along the way of Kaka Point, Roaring Bay to look for blue penguins, and the Nugget Point Lighthouse with a great little walk out to the rough point where the lighthouse was located with seals playing in the rough surf. We stayed right in town in a newly built apartment with views over the city, ocean and Otago Peninsula. We checked out the city, including The Cadbury Candy Factory. We found out that in 5 days the candy making facility would be closing down. We had no idea we were seeing the last of an icon. The Dunedin Railway station, the nearby museum, statues in the octagon and Baldwin Street that is supposed to be the steepest street in New Zealand. Not sure if it is really the steepest street. We also saw a lot of the Dunedin Street Art as we made our way around town. We tried to settle the battle between who has the best fish N chips, the North or the South Island. The north has Dori fish and the South has Blue Cod. One restaurant we found in town allowed a piece of each. Steve and I agreed that we like the Dori from the north Island a little better. Only our opinion.
We took a beautiful drive out to Otago Peninsula to see the Royal Albatross. We were lucky and did not have to go into the sanctuary as there were several albatross flying overhead for some really good views. There were also some seals or sea lions resting on the rough rocky surface below the cliffs.
Larnach Castle Dunedin
We stopped at The Larnach Castle to take a look around. The gardens and grounds were ok. Nothing really special, especially with all of the free Queens Gardens located in the various cities we have been to in the South Island. The home was interesting, but more interesting was the family history. Most of them ended up committing suicide and/or having affairs with other family members.
As we were leaving town we went to Tunnel Beach. I thought the walk was down a beach to see a tunnel but it was a walk straight down a steep cliff to the beach and obviously the hike back up the mountain side. It was really pretty spot with giant rocky structures and worth the effort to take a look.
We drove from Dunedin to Oamaru and stopped along the way to see the Moeraki Boulders. They are large round rock that look like giant marbles scattered along the edge of the coast. Some are perfectly round and others are cracked and broken. We were there when the tide was high so not the best time to view the rocks. A lot of them were in or partially under the water, but still a really neat rock formation to check out.
Oamaru was a really interesting town. Lots of oamaru white stone buildings in a quaint town. Some sections more modern and others very old and in good shape. We went to the Steampunk headquarters here. I have heard of Steampunk and had sort of an idea about what it was but we got to see first hand what it was all about. Really interesting but kinda, no not kinda, really weird art. I have a hard time explaining what we saw. You will have to check it out for yourselves. We stayed in a home built in 1880, which was really beautiful. There was also an opportunity to see the little blue penguins in a controlled setting here in town but we felt we were really luck to have seen so many in their natural habitat on the way down from The Bay of Island to Whangarei that we skipped this opportunity. We wanted to take the inland road from here to see Mt Cook and Lake Tapu but could not find any accommodations. We were tempted to take the longer inland drive around to Christchurch instead of the more boring and shorter route along the coast. The weather was forecast for rain on the inland route and with that information, no overnight stops and the longer drive we decided to take the coastal route.
Damaged Church in Christchurch
We arrived to Christchurch and could see a definite difference here in this town that in the other places we had been, even before actually arriving to the town. We stayed in an apartment that was brand new and located near where a lot of damage had been done by the 2011 earthquakes. The earthquake was a 6.2 that came in February. It followed a stronger quake in the previous year that was believe to have weakened many structures. 185 people died in the 2011 earthquake and thousands were injured. The majority of the casualties occurred in one building. Six years later the town was still recovering. One of the hosts we stayed with early on in our trip to the South Island was living in Christchurch when the earthquakes occurred. She said it was a very long time before they were able, if ever, to return to their home and collect any personal items. Some people still have not reach an agreement with insurance companies and settled their claims. Divorce, boredom and everything that comes along with these things were now a problem. The town had a section called Container Mall where temporary business were opened inside containers so the local people could get basic necessities, do their banking etc. All of the containers except a few were recently removed as the new buildings were up and ready for business. The old church right in the center of town was still partially standing and it had been recently decided that it will be restored instead of torn down but talk was still going on as to who will pay for the restoration. There were lots of gravel parking lots around and we were told that that is where a building was in the past and now all that is left is a gravel parking lot. Around town there was a lot of graffiti on the sides of, well, everything old. Many buildings had tape around them and were scheduled to be demolished in the future. The locals we met all seemed to have a good attitude and are making their way forward from such a life changing event.
As for us, with our time here we rode the tram around, went up the gondola but the view was not very good mostly due to weather, went in all of the museums, had some good meals, went to the Air Force Museum of New Zealand and enjoyed what remained of the historic buildings. The Air Force Museum was a free event and backstage tours were offered for 30 minutes at scheduled times. Our tour was given by a local that had been on and or worked on many of the aircraft in the building. He gave life to the stories behind the aircraft.
As we prepared to leave Christchurch we had another choice to make. DO we go out Arthur's Pass to see the interior or continue up the coast? We really wanted to go inland but once again, the weather made the decision for us. More rainy weather inland and it looked like a week or more of it coming.
We decided to head on to Hamner Springs for one or maybe two days of good weather and a few days of rain. We arrived after a nice drive and some really pretty views just before town. Hamner Springs reminded me of an old small out west US town. There was just a main road with beautiful mountains all around. It was a crystal clear day, warm and not expected to last, so we headed for an afternoon in the hot springs. We spent a few hours here enjoying the afternoon and the selection of different types and temperatures of the pools. We did get another day of pretty good weather before the rains started. We spent the morning driving around the area and enjoying the beautiful country. Then it got cold and rained and we were staying in a cabin and just enjoyed a day or so of down time.
We made our way next to Kaikoura. This is another town effected by recent earthquakes. In 2016 a complex 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit this area. Two deaths resulted, but damage to the coastal road and railroad were extensive. The road recently opened during the day beginning of 2018. When we arrived we had to drive through a huge area of road work to the south of the main town. When we arrived to our hotel we were given handouts that said keep your belongings together and your car keys handy. If the building shakes for more than a minute, meet in the parking lot with your keys and belongings, we may need to move to higher ground. The previous big earthquake caused a 7 meter tsunami. Comforted with those thoughts and the fact that we were in the middle of two construction zones that closed the only roads out of town if a shake of any kind happened or it if rained more than 20 mm. Mind you it had been raining for 2 days and it was scheduled to rain hard in the very near future and the fact a local told us they just had a small earthquake, a week ago oh, and did I mention we got the only hotel room available and for just one night. Needless to say, we were out of there at 7:30AM when the road opened hoping to not get stuck as we had a ferry to catch in three days.
It was raining the entire time we were there so we hate we did not get to see the town in any nice weather. We did drive to a look out point, walk around town and drive out to the sea lion colony and take a walk around.
Omaka Aviation Center
Glad we got to take the two plus hour drive to Blenheim instead of the long way around of 7 or 8 hours if the road north was closed. We arrived in wine country. We stayed in a home that grew grapes for a wine company called Cupcake Wines in the US. We repeatedly heard a noise that kinda sounded like a shot gun or maybe just a loud bang. We asked the owners what the noise was and he said it was devised to try to scare away the birds eating the grapes. Not sure if it was working but it was consistent. The views of the valley and the mountains were beautiful.
We went to Brancott Winery for a wine tasting and a purchase. We also went to the Omaka Aviation Center. This was a pay event. It was Sir Peter Jacksons private collection of WW1 and WW11 planes and memorabilia. Not all of the planes in this display were capable of flying. Most of the planes in the Air Force Museum in Christchurch were capable of flight. They chose not to fly them because of the risk of crash and losing the irreplaceable aircraft. The Omaka displays were put together using the WETA Workshop and the planes were displayed in a real life looking setting. You would have to see it to believe it but really realistic looking people and scenes.
Ferry trip back to North Island
We took the ferry back to Wellington a few days later. Two for two great ferry passages. The Cooks Straight Passage can be a tough on in the right weather but we were lucky and had two very calm and pleasant passages. We skipped Wellington since we spent so much time here on our way down. We went on to Paraparaumu. We did a little driving around locally and went to Southward Car Museum. Great display of old cars and motorcycles.
Durie Hill Elevator
Next we headed to Whanganui, a very interesting town centered along the river. It was rainy from arrival to departure and we only had one day here so we did some driving around the town, up to the Durie Hill Elevator and Tower. The elevator takes you from the top of the hill to town via a 213 m long pedestrian tunnel that leads to the elevator. I think this would have been a really fun town had the weather been good and we had more time.
We moved on to New Plymouth. I wanted a view of Mt Taranaki. It was cloudy and overcast with some rain on arrival day. We went to the Puke Ariki Museum, an art museum for some very strange kinetic art, walked along the coastal walkway, walked on the beach. The second day we got our photo through the Te Rewa Rewa bridge with a clear Mt Taranaki in the center.
At our airbnb we had tui and fantails singing in the trees behind the house all day. We drove out to the Pukekura Park and Pukeiti Gardens the Brooklands Zoo and the Taranaki Cathedral that was closed for restrengthening. Fun town with lots of traffic.
Our final destination was Wiatomo Caves. We stayed in Otorohonga in a beautiful home with great views of the pastureland and the mountains in the distance. We decided to skip the glowworm boat ride and instead do the Ruakuri Cave. I think we made a good decision. This cave had glowworms, maybe not as many and defiantly not in a boat but we got to see a really interesting cave, be in a smaller group, and hear some facts about the caves and their history. We also learned that the glowworms are not really worms but fly larvae. Not many people want to pay to see glowing fly larvae. It was a good day.
From our airbnb hosts, we heard we should check out the natural bridge and Marokopa Falls. This turned out to be great ideas. The natural bridge was really amazing and the falls had the most flow at a waterfall we had seen in the entire trip.
We finished off the trip by stopping about 40 minutes south of Auckland to relax. Then we had to regroup and drive back to before unloading the car and getting the boat back ready for us to be aboard.