Posted by: catamarantwooceans | February 19, 2011

Land Trip in New Zealand

 After finishing my boat maintenance business in Opua it was time for my other plan, doing a land tour of NZ. A friend recommended a company named “Kiwi Experience” (www.kiwiexperience.com) that has a system of routes covering the whole country, taking you by bus to most of the interesting places and arranging your accommodations too.

The Green Bus

They also make it possible to participate in the many activities available, like skydiving, hiking trips, kayaking, bungy and some other NZ crazy inventions, like Luging and Zorbing – that’s going downhill on small carts or a big transparent beach balls respectively.You can either follow their schedule staying on the same bus for the whole route, or hop off in places where you want to stay longer and, in coordination with the head office, hop on another bus and continue.
As a lone traveler this was ideal for me but I did have to make some “Head tuning” for it. This is a program aimed mostly at young backpackers. The accommodations are hostels, where you can at times get a room for yourself but sometimes it’s a Dorm, 4 or even 6 people in a room. Toilet and showers are almost always communal. I decided I could live with all that and booked a program called “Funky Chicken” that takes a minimum of 20 days to complete for 500$ NZ (about 400$ US).

29.1.11 – Saturday – Bad weather that started yesterday persisted with winds and rain. We left Auckland, after a short visit to Mount Eden and made our way to Whitianga. On the way we had to stop, take all our luggage  out of the hold below and put it in the cabin, least it gets wet as we crossed deep puddles.

Flood

 The way to Cathedral cave, supposedly an interesting place, was blocked by a mud-slide so we went to a nice beach to “Chill out”. I went on a hike to a headland I saw in the distance, sinking in mud almost up to my knees. It was fun…

30.1.11 – Sunday –  Rotorua

I first went to visit the Te Puia geothermal park, where one can see a nice Geiser (a few others in there are dormant now) and some bubbling mud pools. They also have a dark room where a live Kiwi is kept.

Geiser

Mud-pool

In the evening we went to a reconstructed Maori village, where, after going through a seemingly aggressive welcoming ceremony, we saw demonstrations of traditional activities, like weaving, wood carving and warrior training.

Welcoming Warriors

There was a concert of Maori song and dance. The center piece being the Haka: this famous ceremony with men shouting loudly, their eyes bulging and tongues protruding. The last feature was a meal, cooked in the traditional earth oven. The problem was that they took the food out of the oven well before we sat down to eat and it became dry and lukewarm.

Earth Oven

 The whole thing felt a bit phony, too   touristic and commercial, although I can appreciate the genuine wish to preserve the old ways.

31.1.11 – Monday – Waitomo

The town boasts many caves in its limestone mountains, in which you can see glow-worms. Those have a light emitting tail, attracting insects that get caught in sticky substance on it. Going into the cave was not more than “nice” but then we boarded a small boat that took us into an unlighted passage out of the cave, and on its roof, just like stars on a clear night, there appeared thousands of glowing worms, this was impressive!

1.2.11 – Tuesday – Taupo

This town sits on a huge lake of the same name and is a center for all kinds of extreme activities, foremost of which is skydiving. Many of the young ones did the tandem jumps from altitudes between 12000 – 15000 feet. Yours truly decided he had enough parachute action, planned and unplanned, in his youth and instead went for a two hours walk along the river Waikato.

River

Huka falls on the same river is an attraction worth seeing, not for their height but for the huge quantities of water passing through a narrow channel to fall into a bigger basin below.

Huka Falls

The young ones also go for the night-life, which in most cases take the form of excessive beer  consumption, resulting in bleary eyed mornings and napping on the way instead of looking at the beautiful scenery.

2.2.11 – Wednesday – We started the day with a two hours hike to the Taranaki falls near Tongariro national park. Good weather and nice scenery with Mount Tongariro in the background.

Mount Taranaki

Next we drove to River Valley lodge, reaching it late in the afternoon.

River Valley lodge

3.2.11 – Thursday – It started out as a farm near a fast mountain river, to which the lodge was added.They have white water rafting and horse riding trips that as all tourist activities in NZ are not inexpensive so  I just did a Yoga lesson, swam for a few seconds in the freezing water and enjoyed the view.

 NZ is full of rivers, streams and creeks and the amount of water flowing out to sea is astounding, especially for someone from Israel, where water is so scarce.

On the way to Wellington we passed through and stopped for a while, in the town of Bulls, where every establishment has this name implanted in its sign. A few examples: Police – Constabull, Designer’s outlet – Labulls etc.

Police station sign

Town-Hall

We reached the capital of NZ in a rainy evening that deterred everyone  of going outside. Wellington will remain in my memory for two reasons; first – I had to sleep in a six bed dorm. Although my companions were quiet and the bed comfortable I slept badly. Secondly, as we left the room early, in the dark, I forgot a plastic bag with my hiking shoes, swimming trunks and a towel, never to be found again…

4.2.11 – Friday – From Wellington we took the ferry to Picton in the South Island. The last part of the trip passes in narrow channels, really a place to visit on a yacht!

We drove on to Nelson, through fertile land with a lot of vineyards. This time I stayed with an Israeli friend, Erez Goldberg, who lives there with his family. Nelson has a relatively dry  and sunny climate and is near the Abel Tasman national park in which I went hiking the next day. A catamaran with a folding gangway put me ashore where I went for a 2 hours walk in the beautiful, clean-air, forest and sea environment.

Landing Cat

Abel Tasman park view

6.2.11 – Sunday – A short visit to lake Nelson started the morning, we then drove west to Westport, stopping on the way to let some people go for Jet Boating and ATV trips. Not for me, of course, I detest all those high power toys. This being a Sunday the town looked deserted. The only place I could have something to eat was a local pub, where they served Pizza. I got into a conversation with a local guy and had to explain the Middle East complicated politics.

7.2.11 – Monday – We went to Cape Foulwind south of Westport to do a “seal colony walk” but not just the wind was foul, it was raining too hard to walk for more than a few minutes. So we were taken to the finish point where we hurried to a viewing point, saw the raging sea and two seals in the distance and retreated back to the safety of the bus.

Foul weather

We then came to Greymouth, we were taken to the “Salvation Army” store to buy stuff for a costume party planned for our evening destination – a hostel near Lake Mahinapua.

This hostel is owned and run by an octogenarian gentleman by the name of Les Lisle. The driver guide was happy to describe him as a grumpy old man, but as we came there, Les boarded each bus (there were two now, due to the big number of people) and gave a briefing with humour and goodwill.

Les Lysle

Les, with the help of the D.Gs (driver guides) made a fabulous steak dinner all for the princely sum of 11$ NZ.
After dinner it was time for the Party. There were a few inventive costumes; interestingly many guys masqueraded as females while no girl posed as a male.

Party time

Inventive (?)

The girls

You may ask yourself: “Did Miki wear a costume?” and the unbelievable answer is:”He did!” Look at this last picture ,straight out of Harry Potter novels.

Identify the Dementor

8.2.11 – Tuesday – On to a place called Franz Josef, where tourism around the big glacier by the same name is a big business. I did a Kayaking trip on lake Mapourika – nice, although it was raining a bit in the beginning, clearing up later.

Kayaking

9.2.11 – Wednesday – I booked a half day trip to the glacier. We were given woollen socks, boots, crampons – those are the spikes you put your shoes in to walk on ice – and started hiking. This phenomenon of a frozen river coming down the mountain is a fantastic experience. We were lucky to have cloudless sky and a warm day. Beautiful trip!

Glacier

On the ice

Having fun

10.2.11 – Thursday – On the way to Wanaka we stopped at Matheson lake, where a fantastic view of Mount Cook can be seen on the horizon as well as its reflection in the lake.

Matheson lake

Wanaka itself, a pretty town on a lake shore, served just as a stop on the way to Queenstown and points beyond.

11.2.11 – Friday –Before leaving Wanaka, we visited an establishment called “Puzzling World”, dedicated to all sort of illusions, holograms, mazes and puzzles.

How many animals?

Tilted room

We drove on to a Bungy jumping site, 43 meters high, on Kawarau river where some of our group did this strange, challenging and expensive (180$ NZ) act. It was very interesting to note the difference between the jumpers. Most of them just leaned forward into the fall while the brave ones leaped forward as if from a springboard.

Bungy

 I spoke to a guy who did it, trying to understand how he felt. “I was not so much afraid on the platform; the beginning of the fall was scarier and then the pull on the ankles as I reached the low point was sudden and quite strong”.

One of the guys compared it to the Skydive he did:” There you have a great feeling of floating on air, seeing great distances all around you and when the parachute opens, you glide down so peacefully”. In both activities they had total confidence in the operators, not considering the possibility of an accident. I should say that the Bungy site we visited has a 100% safety record in all the many years it operates (ever since 1988, I believe). A few of our guys went on to do a Bungy jump from 134 meters, Wow!

Getting into Queenstown, our driver guide, Mattie, gave a big briefing about the “Bar program” for the night. It seems that the town is a famous party town, with something like 70 bars in a very small area. Some of our boys did not wait for the evening and started downing beers on the lakeshore. Perhaps they were training for the coming night’s action?

In training?

12.2.11 – Saturday – Today, for me, was the high point of all the tour – going to Milford sound. Milford sound is actually a fjord, created by a retreating monster glacier some 10 million years ago. The way there is via a town called Te Anau, which is the entrance to Fjordland, a huge national park and a Unesco designated “World heritage site”. The road to Milford sound is simply spectacular, passing in forests between high, almost vertical rocky mountains, crossing rivers and finally going into a tunnel, 1200 meters long. As we approached the sound the weather deteriorated. Rain fell and clouds descended and covered the mountain tops. Our driver guide said that the fjord looks even better when it rains. Let’s find out!

We boarded a big catamaran, where we first got a good lunch and sailed around the sound, reaching its entrance on the Tasman sea.

In Milford sound

This was when the cloud-base rose, revealing a multitude of newly created waterfalls, releasing tons of water into the sound.

Waterfall

Visiting an underwater observatory at the end of the trip (not so impressive, bad visibility, just a few small fish and marine plants) we learned that so much rain water fall into the sound, causing a unique phenomenon: an upper stratum of 3-5 meters of sweet rain water on top of the lower, heavier seawater. Just for your information, the rainfall in the south west of South island is recorded in METERS and the annual quantity for Milford sound is SEVEN meters! Where I come for we use millimetres for the same purpose…

On the way back the weather improved some more and we could see hundreds of the same sort of “new waterfalls” everywhere we looked.

Close fall

Astounding!

13.2.11 – Sunday – Last day on the road, going to Christchurch. I decided to cut the trip short. Got homesick, I guess! 

New Zealand is a perfect tourist destination, especially for nature lovers. The views are magnificent. You can hike, bike, camp, go by bus, car or camper and do all the crazy or normal activities. In short – It’s a great fun!

Now that I’m home it is time to plan for April, and the continuation of the sailing voyage!

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