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Published: January 7th 2017
Clearest water I've ever seen
Apologies - I don't have pictures for this one yet. The guys have taken the majority of the photos the past few days due to me being the driver, and the few that I've taken, I've used my actual camera for instead of my iPhone and haven't downloaded them onto the computer. Since it's late and this took about an hour to recap, I'm skipping them for now (but may go back and add them in a few days, we'll see.)
We've covered a lot of territory over the past few days. Our supposed 5 hour drive to Fox Glacier from Christchurch actually took more than 6. We made a few stops to take pictures, and the road through the Southern Alps was filled with more twists and turns and ups and downs than an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so there were very few opportunities to drive the posted speed limit of 100/km. We stopped at Franz Josef Glacier first and popped into the visitor's center to get a professional's opinion on what to do. The gal recommended hiking to the glacier in town first, and to do the second one in Fox either later or in the
It was very windy down at the lake
morning. We had a very late lunch at King Tiger
, where Jason and I each had some sadly disappointing curries but Dave ended up really enjoying the dal makhani. I was strained and exhausted from the long stressful drive through the mountains, so I skipped the hike and napped in the car while the guys went to see the glacier. Without the assistance of a professional guide, they were only able to get a little less than half a mile from the Franz Josef Glacier
itself, but they said it was cool nonetheless. Once they made their way back to me, we finished the last 30 minutes of the drive into Fox Glacier and checked into our hotel. It was an adorably basic place with 3 twin beds and not much else, but the view of the mountain across the street was unbeatable. We had some fries and wine at the bar at the hotel (veg options were very minimal, so you do what you can), then stayed up late and watched Terminator. I also started practicing my Kiwi accent. Oi tehl yeh woot, eets a beet hahdah thayn yood theenk. End oi down't theenk oi'll ehvah geet thee "o"s daown.
The next morning, the guys hiked to the Fox Glacier
, and I rested up for another long drive into Queenstown. They were able to get closer to this one, but the hike back was more arduous than they were expecting. This drive was supposed to take about 4 hours, but we stopped quite a few times for pictures, and once for lunch too, so it also took more than 6. It was less scary and intimidating than the previous day's drive, but it was still another long day in the car. We stopped for a beach walk at one of the most beautiful lakes any of us had ever seen - Lake Wanaka
. Jason even commented afterward that it had just become his favorite place in the world. The water was crystal clear, looked greenish blue, and the shoreline was made of rocks that had been worn smooth over time. The mountains made the perfect backdrop on the sunny day, and it didn't even matter that it was windy enough to make whitecaps on the water.
During this leg of our road trip, I noticed there were quite a few smallish animals dead on the side of the
Yellow Eyed Penguin
This young guy was in the hospital for an injury possibly caused by a boat's propeller
road through this part of the country, but we never saw anything alive aside from some birds. Turns out, they were stoats
, weasel-like mammals introduced in the 1880's in attempt to curb some pests, but who have since become quite invasive and pests themselves. They kill too many of the beloved kiwi birds, and the government has taken to poisoning with something called 1080
in order to keep their population from taking out the kiwi birds. It's quite a shame all around.
The last part of this drive into Queenstown was filled with winery after winery; we probably saw two dozen just back to back before making it into town. After we dropped our bags and car at our hotel, we walked into the town center and had dinner at Hell Pizza
. They're an international chain with vegan options, and we were all pleased. We didn't have a ton of time in town last night after taking so much time on the drive down, but I’m really looking forward to going back again tomorrow, and we might even stop at one of those wineries. This morning we had breaky at a little healthy fast casual spot called Rehab
Yellow Eyed female
This poor girl was also in the hospital; you can see her bandaged feet.
I actually had lunch for my breakfast, as I didn't feel like eating a smoothie bowl (Jason liked his though), and Dave also enjoyed his breakfast. We quickly got back on the road and headed toward Dunedin, and I was braced for another 6 hour drive in the car, since my Maps app estimated 3 1/2, but this time it was actually an accurate estimate with very few dangerous or scary curves, and ample opportunity to drive the actual speed limit. We even had some time to relax in our apartment hotel before heading into town again for dinner. I think we're all a little bummed we're not spending more time in this place, simply based on the hotel we're in. It's a full suite with 2 bedrooms, living room, and fully loaded kitchen. It's exactly the type of place I've stayed at when visiting D.C. and Reykjavik. We had a great (though early) dinner at Dog With Two Tails
, then dropped Dave back off at the hotel before Jason and I headed off to Penguin Place
This turned out to be the highlight of the trip so far for me, and I was very pleased to have taken the extra
There was a whole colony of male bachelor seals on the peninsula near the penguins' safe beach
drive out to the end of the peninsula and spent the money to visit this Yellow Eyed Penguin
conservation reserve. Highlights: donation based (no government funding), good information provided regarding the decline of the endangered species, good protected viewing areas of the penguins in their natural habitat (very cool underground trenches with small viewing windows so humans don't look scary to the penguins), no humans are allowed on the private beach (to protect the shy penguins from getting scared off and not returning to land in time to feed their chicks before the food in their tummies is digested). It was quite depressing to learn that in just the past 4 years, the population of penguins that nest at this location has dropped from 19 pairs to only 6 pairs this year, and they assume only 500-600 are left in the wild, though they aren't sure because nobody else monitors them as closely as is done at this location. Some reasons explained for the population decline were over-fishing which both takes away their food and causes them to become bycatch in the nets, human interference (think the beach example from above), and habitat decline. In this area alone, rabbits have dramatically increased
in population since there aren't many natural predators for them, they've been taking over and also eating the vegetation that the penguins would naturally use for living purposes. Sadly, the rabbits and other animals, who are predators - like feral cats and others, are poisoned, trapped, or shot in attempt to keep the environment as safe as possible for the endangered penguins. OK, enough of the depressing lesson, we did get to see some seals too, and now that we're all tucked in for the night, looking forward to heading back to Queenstown early tomorrow morning.
2 more days and we're heading back to Sydney.
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