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Published: January 6th 2008
The mountains that surround Queenstown
Hello again from the South Island…..
We’ve decided that scones are woefully underrated!!! New Zealand offers wonderful scones in most towns. We’ve decided that America needs more scones. It makes us long for our next door neighbor in Tampa-- Mildred always made the best scones!!!
We also wanted to mention that it is a different experience being south of the equator. It is quite strange when we drive south and it gets colder—because we are going further away from that invisible meridian called the equator. This makes the north island of this nation the warmer of the two…..very strange for us folks used to living in the northern hemisphere. And yes, the drains circle in the opposite direction south of the equator. This has been repeatedly tested.
We are currently at about the 45 parallel, which is somewhat similar to Seattle. The days are long this time of year with the dawn arriving at 5 AM and there is still light in the sky up to 10 at night.
We continue to be amazed at the remarkable beauty of this land. The scenery and topography change constantly when traveling, but it reveals more
Overview of Queenstown
View from Deer Park Heights
and more of the jaw-dropping sights beholding us. You never tire of looking at this land! We are also in trouble. We are almost out of adjectives to describe how nice this country and its people are. It’s a good thing we are leaving soon as most of the more popular adjectives have been used and we run the risk of repeating ourselves and are quite sure that this may already have happened. We apologize. We should have brought a thesaurus.
Since we last wrote we have been very busy and have been to many places --Dunedin, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, Punakaiki, Arthur’s Pass and back to Christchurch. We’ve stayed in 7 different lodgings since just after Christmas in the hopes of seeing as much as we can. We’ve pretty well decided that you could have a couple of years to explore this country and still not come close to seeing it all. It’s that cool here.
The drive from Christchurch to Dunedin takes about 5 hours. This journey was a little more unique in that it provided some of the few straight stretches of driving on the main highways. There are
Lupins with mountains
On the drive to Mildford sound
usually many curves and elevation changes on the roadways. The Kiwis are fairly fearless on the roads. We stick to the speed limit most of the time. For them it can seem like just kind of a suggestion.
Dunedin is a cute college town with Scottish roots. In Celtic, Dunedin means “Edinburgh”. This town has lovely old churches and beautiful architecture. The nearby Otago Penisula offers hiking, biking, kayaking, and a variety of wildlife.
When you are on long term travel as we are you need to use your entertainment dollars more wisely than when on a two or three week vacation. We went out to the Albatross Reserve on the peninsula and sat in the parking lot watching for the birds. We got out of the car and everything, but seriously, just hung out in the parking lot for a while. The grounds are so beautiful that we got out and wandered around. We found a cliff with hundreds of seagulls nesting just a few steps from where we parked. After watching them for awhile we went into the Albatross Center and got a cup of coffee and a scone and sat near the large
Picturesque Milford Sound
glass wall at the back. It was only a few minutes until we saw two Albatross take to the air. We didn’t have the camera ready so there are no photos but we were very excited to save the $70 not to go up to their “special” viewing site.
New Zealand is no different from a lot of places in this world. There are plenty of people willing to charge a fair amount of money for almost any vacation pursuit available to the excited traveler. Sometimes you just have to get out and look around a little, and you end up spending a lot less money. The following part explains it in more detail…….
From there we went to Penguin Place to see Blue Penguins and Yellow-eyed penguins. Here we were disappointed. To meet the tourist demand to see penguins up close and personal they have created a penguin sanctuary. The penguins can come and go to the sea and not be bothered by people. They have built little houses to lure the penguins up on the hillside to nest. This is one of those cases where the people are caged in, not the animals. Although
Peaceful and lovely
these penguins are solitary by nature, our expectations were that we would see more than just a dozen or so. We went there on the recommendation of a person at the tourist information office. MJ thought she had asked all the appropriate questions, but the person didn’t offer up honest information. We went back later to have a word with the manager of the office so that hopefully the next person wouldn’t suffer this experience.
However, MJ had been in Dundein in 1990 and saw penguins in a more natural setting. This was the experience that we were in search of….so the next day we headed to Sandfly Beach. It’s a public beach and the penguins come to shore and nest in the evenings. The challenge here was that to get to the beach, you must descend through a fairly steep sand dune. This part was pretty easy, but the trip back up the hill was quite a workout! This probably officially dissuaded us from hiking on sand dunes when we visit Dubai in March.
We took a picnic dinner and sat mesmerized by the sea, taking in the salt air for three hours. We watched
Milford Sound Waterfall
Powerful and 3 times higher than Niagara Falls
sea lions frolic on the beach. We finally got up and wandered to the penguin viewing area where we watched for another hour plus. We didn’t spot any penguins, as it was still a little early for them to return to their nests, but we decided to head back to town anyway. We had the most wonderful time that afternoon on the beach talking about friends, family and politics. As we headed back, on the far, far end of the beach, opposite of where the penguins “are supposed” to come ashore, we spotted four penguins heading across the sandy beach. We couldn’t see them very well because we were pretty far away but it was fun and exciting to watch their little bodies waddle across the beach in such a natural setting. They headed up the side of a sand dune - they climbed and climbed until they reached their nesting spot. We didn’t want to get to close and disturb them. They looked content in their environment. They were chortling, we don’t know if it was a happy chortle or a ….get off my beach chortle !!! We were happy and content. It is wonderful to watch an animal
Road to Milford Sound
Beauty around every corner
in their natural habitat.
One day we had planned to wander town taking photos of churches and buildings, which we did but it was a little gray and overcast and it made the photos a little dull so we went to a movie instead. We highly recommend “The Kite Runner.” For you who have read the book, the movie follows it quite nicely.
We also went to the Farmer’s market and bought New Zealand cheese, which is magnificent and fresh cherries; they have tons of cherry trees here. We had the most interesting conversation with a Greek gentleman who now lives in Dunedin and is a counselor at school…but owns an Olive farm on the North Island. He was selling his olive oil, which was quite tasty. We had an in-depth conversation with him about growing Olives and making olive oil…which we would not have been able to do if it were not for our book club. This month’s book is Olives; The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit by Mort Rosenblum…and the conversation was wonderful!!! Thank you Clyde.
As we drive from city to city we ooh, and aah a lot at
Eglinton Valley Viewpoint
On the road to Milford Sound
the scenery and have to be constantly on alert because there is so much to take in. Truly, if you snooze, you lose due to all the sites to take in, even while driving. We sometimes wonder if the Kiwis know just how beautiful their country really is. The sojourn to Queenstown was no different.
Queenstown is on Lake Wakatipu and is known as the adventure capital of the world. Bungy jumping was originated in Queenstown at the Kawarau Bridge. We had a wonderful time watching the young…and the sometimes not so young jump off the bridge. If you have the inclination you can parasail, hang glide, jet boat, canoe, kayak, or ride the luge. This is a town for the adrenaline junkie in all of us. We read in the paper that the health ministry reported that they spend about $70 million a year ($60 million US) just on sports injuries a year in this country which provides free health care to all. Remember, there are only about 4 million Kiwis here to begin with. Clearly there aren’t that many who indulge in all this craziness, but they do love extreme sports, and rugby is quite popular
Located in Dunedin
Queenstown offers something for everyone from fine dining to jet boating. We took a steamboat cruise on the lake, a drive to Deer Park to enjoy the great views and animals and took a short hiking. The steamboat was built in 1912 and runs on one ton of coal per hour!
We’ve been trying to take a hike every couple of days and enjoy the beauty surrounding us. There is hiking (called “tramping”) everywhere here and you don’t have to work hard to find a trail that suits your hiking needs.
When you come to New Zealand you must experience Milford Sound and the surrounding area. It is majestic. That’s an understatement. Words will fail you when you try to describe what you see. Around every turn you will find more sites that will take your breath away. Yep, they are that beautiful. We took a 2 hour boat ride on through the sound and out to the Tasman Sea. It was a wonderful day.
We hiked around Lake Matheson which you will see featured in many post cards in New Zealand. It is in the town of Fox Glacier which is
Taking in the scenery
north of Milford Sound. On a calm and clear day you can film the reflection of Mt. Cook in the lake. We were fortunate to experience it on a fairly clear and crisp day. We think the photos came out alright but you can tell us what you think.
Our next stop took us to Franz Joseph Glacier. We admit that we are a bit spoiled when it comes to glaciers as we have seen them up close in Alaska and had them in our backyard in Seattle on Mt. Rainier. The unique thing about this glacier is that it is so low elevation wise and when it melts, it empties into the river and the rain forest just below. This area reminded us a lot of the Pacific Northwest in many ways.
Up the road about 120 km is the town of Punakaiki, which is on the western coast and features some very unique “Pancake Rocks”. It is part of the Paparoa National Park and well worth a visit. When the tide is high and the winds are coming from the south west causing pretty good swells, these rocks spew water through their blow holes.
Viewpoint in Dunedin
The literature on these rock formations was fun to read as they described quite honestly that they really didn’t know how these rocks came to be where they are. They are obviously sedimentary limestone, but not found in the usual places. Always good to see the geologists stumped a little.
Our next stop was Arthur’s Pass. This is the south island’s equivalent of our Continental Divide. It was a pleasant drive through the Southern Alps and presented a 16 degree road grade at one point which tried mightily to tax our car’s engine. We made it up the hill and then cruised down to our next stop at the Bealey Hotel, where we spent some time wadding in the Bealey River, which was extremely cold from the mountain snow and sitting at the river’s edge discussing our future. You might imagine that was an interesting conversation. Picture us sitting on some rocks in at about 5000 feet talking about going back to work and where our next house might be!
We were a little surprised when we got to New Zealand at the cost of things. MJ was here for a month in 1990 and it was
Public beach in Dunedin
inexpensive and a backpacker’s paradise. Things have gone up since that time. Examples are: Gasoline is costing us $1.70 to $1.76 a liter. That means we are paying around $6 for a gallon of gas. Internet cost $6 to $12 per hour depending on which hotel or internet café we are in. A cup of coffee in a restaurant, a regular cup of coffee- nothing special or fancy from a coffee shop runs $3 to $3.50 per cup…and no free refills. A full English breakfast will set you $12 to $20. Basically that is bacon, eggs, toast, and potatoes…sometimes they give both bacon and sausage. Tourism is big business now and the tours and trips are priced for profit-- the price of seeing all of this beauty does not come cheap!!! Of course we realize that many things need to be imported to this island nation, but this is a bit of sticker shock, especially after Southeast Asia.
The Kiwis have their own unique way of describing things, just like other English speaking nations. Perhaps they have borrowed some from the British, and invented some of their own. Well, we hadn’t heard of all these terms, so we thought
Frolicking on Sandfly Beach
we would share what we could call:
Kiwi English: or how two countries can be separated by a common language. The "American" english word is first, the "Kiwi" english word is in paranthesis:
Shopping cart (trundler)
Car trunk (boot)
Cooler (chilly bin)
One other thing we had not mentioned previously; we will never forget the bright and starry, starry nights in New Zealand. The night sky is lit up with an incredible amount of stars which are quite hard to identify seeing as how we don’t know much about astronomy, and we’re also in the southern hemisphere. This is one of those things you really have to see and experience as the stars are plentiful and far away from the bright lights of the cities.
Well, that all from New Zealand……we’re off to Australia and the environs of Tasmanina.
More background information on New Zealand:
New Zealand's government consists of the governor-general (representing the British crown), a prime minister and cabinet (the effective executive), and a 120-seat unicameral parliament (the House of Representatives) whose members are elected for
It is really there, look to the right climbing the hill
three-year terms. The chief political parties are Labor, the National party, and the New Zealand First party. In 1993 a system of mixed constituency and proportional representation was introduced, giving smaller parties a greater chance to win seats. Administratively, New Zealand is divided into 93 counties, nine districts, and three town districts. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
The Labor party, led by Helen Clark , and its center-left coalition defeated the National party in the 1999 elections and formed a minority government. Clark's coalition retained power, again as a minority government, after the 2002 elections. After the court of appeals ruled in 2004 that Maoris could pursue land claims to New Zealand's beaches and seabed, the government passed legislation that nationalized the contested areas in an effort to prevent Maoris from gaining an exclusive legal title to them. The law alienated the government's Maori supporters and prompted the establishment of a Maori political party. Parliamentary elections in Sept., 2005, resulted in a narrow victory for Labor, which secured a plurality of the seats. Clark formed a government with the support of three smaller parties, including the anti-immigration New Zealand First party.
They have built little Penguin condos for them
New Zealand has been a leader in progressive social legislation. It was the first country to grant (1893) women the right to vote. A comprehensive social security system was begun in 1898 with the enactment of an old age pension law.
New Zealand has no extablished religion; the three largest faiths are Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic.
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