Monday, April 25, 2011

Heading home

The group headed out on the  Qantas flight to Auckland, connecting to LAX and then Philadelphia.  Aidan and I hung out until my flight left at , I think his was going to Napier at .  To kill time we visited the Kiwi Birdlife Park near the Gondola (they very kindly admitted us free).  Very interesting information, we saw a kiwi feeding, such strange birds, they are in huge decline due to introduced predators.  Unbelievable the size of the egg that female lays compared to her body size.  It is equivalent to a human bearing a 35 pound child!  At least the male incubates the egg (for 3 months) 
A kiwi egg replica

They are the only bird that has nostrils at the end of their beak. At the conservation show we learned about possums, stoats and rabbits some of the worst offenders in this environment.  Prior to the introductions by humans, the only land mammals here were 3 species of bats.

They are training this rainbow lorikeet (another invasive) to show how they take over native bird nests and also to help raise money for the Kiwi Birdlife Park, which is funded only by donations.  It used to be a landfill and they have reforested with native trees over the last 30 years. 

the weasel-like stoat

We had a nice lunch in town—today is ANZAC Day.  Sort of like our Memorial Day or Veterans Day, it commemorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey early on the morning of 25 April 1915 during the First World War.  Several thousand lives were lost.

I connected with my flight Auckland-LAX, the first of back-to-back redeye flights (a nearly 12 hour layover in LA), to arrive in Gainesville the morning on April 26.  Will be glad to get some real sleep!  It was an amazing trip.


This was our busiest day so far!  We had opted to omit the Milford Sound trip as it requires 5 hours of driving one way, two hours of cruise in the amazing fjords, then 5 hours driving back.  Instead we had a jam-packed day of activities, starting with river rafting on the Shotover River.  Wow, just fantastic.  We suited up in heavy wetsuits and booties, jackets and lifejackets before departing in the van for the put-in point upriver.  Aside from the amazing scenery going through the canyon, we also rafted through the world’s longest river tunnel (170 meters) which was built to redirect the river in order to get boats further up river (around the rapids).  Unfortunately for the Australian builders, it was not engineered properly so they had to abandon the project at a huge loss of millions of dollars.  The Shotover River is the most alluvial-gold-productive river (per kilometer) in the world.  There are all sorts of artifacts from sluices to steam engines that were left by miners in the late 1800’s and 1900’s.  The drive down was a bit harrowing on the one lane access road built along the mountain sides…pretty exciting!  BIG drops with no guardrails.  Many people choose to helicopter in instead of driving down but flying through the canyon looked pretty scary too.  There is a very cool mountain bike track (one of the best in the country) that follows the old trail down.  The rafting trip took about 2 hours on the river—no one fell out of the boat and no one capsized, the guides were excellent.  We finished just before the bridge where the Shotover jet boats run.

After a picnic lunch in the warm sun, we walked next door to the Shotover jet boats and donned our raincoats and lifejackets.  I was bummed to learn that no cameras were allowed, but that is to make sure you hold on tightly at all times!  The boats have two big engines that pump through 200 gallons of water per minute and operate on 98% octane gas.  They rocket through the canyon at 50 miles per hour, getting extremely close to the edges and can travel in about 3 inches of water.  Quite thrilling indeed.  For future reference, the seat next to the driver is the driest (that’s where I sat!).


We were running a bit late for the Gondola Mountain adventures we had in store and took the gondola up to the restaurant area.  Then we took a ski lift up higher in order to get in carts and come back downhill on a luge track, great fun with very nice views! 

Luge with a view!

One ride and then we headed to the zipline tour – Ziptrek Ecotours. 

fantastic views of Lake Wakapitu from zipline platforms

They offered lots of conservation and sustainability information at each platform (we did four zips, there are actually six—ending in Queenstown at the base of the mountain).  The hike back up to the restaurant was pretty grueling but good exercise before a big dinner.  One excellent bit of info I learned and it seems like a great organization is Kiva.  They have a loan program to help people help themselves around the world.  Check them out and support!  98% of the loans are repaid and money can be loaned elsewhere.

One more luge ride and we had a delicious buffet dinner at the restaurant overlooking the lights of Queenstown.

When we returned to the lodge we had a raffle for the items that Aidan had picked up along the way, including our group mascot, a stuffed kiwi named Puka Nui (means fat tummy in Maori)...Aidan awarded  the New Zealand banner to Mike Cozza, who was ever-helpful on the trip!  But the whole group was wonderful.

Puka Nui (sorry he's sideways!)

Evan picking his prize---a piece of bungy cord


We got lucky with another day of mostly great weather.  With a prediction of 40% rain after it rained a good bit last night, we only encountered some light showers during our horseback ride this morning.  We started off crossing a pretty deep river, when many of our group got water in their boots and some of our guides were in up to their saddles (brr!). 

I unfortunately had a stubborn horse (is there any other kind?) that wanted to eat along the way and for whatever reason, he got spooked or something and bolted, leaving me on the ground!  So glad it happened on soft ground, not rocks…I fell on my left shoulder/back but no major harm done, thank goodness.  Having an English saddle did not help.  I’m fine. Got back on the horse and continued the ride, which lasted about 3 hours through some fabulous scenery (the valley was “Middle Earth” in Lord of the Rings).  I think we are all feeling it tonight—although we have some very experienced riders on the trip.  They divided us into two groups—ours being the less experienced bunch.  I don’t feel so bad as one the guides was thrown off her horse and it took off on a gallop for the barn.

We headed back to Queenstown from the ranch, which is located near Glenorchy, at the west end of Lake Wakatipu.  Had lunch back at the lodge and then we were off to Arrowtown for a rugby game on a beautiful sunny afternoon.  This quaint gold rush town is all-colorful now with the leaves (all introduced trees such as willows, maples and oaks) and are hosting an autumn festival next weekend.  The colorful trees were brought in from England and other places, most of the native New Zealand trees (beeches) do not change.

A "scrum"

Kicking the extra point

very cute bystanders!

irresistible leaves to play in

boosting team members up to get the ball after going out of bounds

About we arrived at the lake for our parasailing adventure.  What a thrilling ride that was!  Really gorgeous from up there too, I was so busy taking pictures I did not have time to be scared.  You take off and land from the boat, the views of the lake and surrounding mountains were magnificent.  As I mentioned earlier, Lake Wakatipu is 1200 feet deep, 6-9 degrees C, 53 miles long and over 100 feet below sea level at the bottom—98% pure, you can drink the water!

it is a LONG way down!

but beautiful

TSS Earnslaw - launched in 1912 it is the only surviving coal powered steamship on Lake Wakatipu

Friday, April 22, 2011


Good Friday

Another early morning with crisp, clear weather.  The holiday park is quite large with spaces for campers as well as motel units and dorm rooms.  After breakfast we headed out at into empty streets and we were quickly reminded it is a holiday.  Most all businesses (except tourist places) are closed until Tuesday for Easter, and Monday is Anzac Day, more on this later.  The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is about five hours with a scheduled arrival at the bungy jump at .  This is the most scenic day so far and spectacular weather.

First stop was Lake Tekapo for pictures.  A glacial lake, the water is a pretty blue/green color.  Here we walked into the small Church of the Good Shepherd and saw the sheep dog monument.

Back in the bus and our next stop was for lunch by the side of Lake Pukaki.  Bread, cheese, salami and fruit—another great picnic. 

Game of touch rugby

Unfortunately Mount Cook (12, 246 feet) was covered by clouds at the other end of the glacial lake but the rest of the Southern Alps were beautiful.  Aidan said we were among the 80-90% of people who do not get to see the mountain.  Pretty impressive range, there are 20 mountains over 10,000 feet!  As it is fall, there were lots of yellow leaves in the countryside as well as grapevines that have turned yellow with grapes ripening on the vine, like these being protected from the birds with netting.

We arrived at AJ Hackett Bungy.  Cost is $180 to jump—we had 9 brave jumpers, who all had a blast.  The bridge is built over the Kawarau River, about 130 feet above the river (like 13 stories!).  Dave was our first jumper.

They have cameras set up to take great pictures and sell the photos and a DVD if people would like to buy them.  Here are a couple taken by the bungy company--excellent camera set ups!

About a 15 minute ride into Queenstown, a super resort town of 15,000 that swells to 81,000 during the Dec-Jan (summer).  There is every kind of adventure activity imaginable here, and you can even mine for gold.  The town is at the edge of Lake Wakatipu, the country’s 3rd largest lake—it is over 1200 feet deep.  Our accommodation at Pinewood Lodge is really nice, the kids have a house to themselves with a private kitchen and dining room.  Aidan cooked our dinner--grilled hamburgers and sausages, yummy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


What a great day we had yesterday!  The sun came out and we had a wonderful  morning whale watching.  Kaikoura is a sleepy seaside town that has come back to life with whale watching and dolphin expeditions.  Just offshore is the Kaikoura trench where the bottom drops from 300 feet down to 3000 feet!  The perfect place for sperm whales.  The boat crew uses a hydrophone to listen for them and we found one right away.  It is believed that they use sound waves to paralyze their prey and have been known to knock a man unconscious.  As the whales are getting ready to come to the surface the pings become more rapid, called "shotgunning."

Listening for whales with hydrophone


He came up to the surface for just a couple of minutes and went back down again  Then about 10 minutes later came back up and stayed on the surface for about five minutes.  This was a whale they have been seeing here for about 20 years.  They come to the surface to stock up on air.  Then they sound for about 50 minutes.  It was amazing!  We also saw a few dusky dolphins closer to shore.

Feeding in these waters were a couple of albatross species and these petrels (I think they are Cape Petrels)
To give  sense of scale, the boat is the same as ours--about 55 feet long--and the whole whale is not showing
Then there was a chance to shop along the main street in town for about an hour--a big hit! 
Our lunch today was individual "meat pies" that we got from the local bakery.  Very Kiwi and everyone loved them--delicious!  Especially enjoyable as we ate them at a seaside park/seal colony--what a gorgeous sunny day.  The kids were really loving the up close views of the fur seals who were sunning themselves on the rocks.

Then it was back on the bus and heading south to Christchurch, where we visited the Antarctic Centre and learned all about the desert continent.  The Centre is located right next to the airport and the hangar where expeditions begin the 10 hour flight down there.  I think they said there are 60 research stations there!  The most fun part of the visit was the ride around the dirt track in the Haggalund, almost like a roller coaster!

This is us tracking through water up to the windows!

We arrived at our accommodation in the Meadow Park area of Christchurch (NZ's 3rd largest city) in time to let the kids shop at a nearby mall before dinner.  Then after dinner we all learned the Haka, a Maori war chant.  These kids are smart--they picked it up fast and did a great job learning the Maori words and actions.

Aidan teaching us the haka