Monthly Archives: October 2012

Mission (Bay) Impossible!

Sunday 28th October

We have had quite an eventful day in Mission Bay today! No we didn’t spot Tom Cruise but were shot at (more later!) and walked almost a marathon to get to Mission Bay!

It was a rather ordinary Sunday morning and we took the bus from the Britomart transport centre but as we approached the Mission Bay vicinity we were informed by the bus driver that the main road to Mission Bay was shut due to an Auckland marathon and that we would be dropped off some distance from Mission Bay and would have to walk! After undertaking this rather long walk we arrived at Mission Bay – and it was beautiful! The beach was lovely and it has a really nice feel to the area. There is a gorgeous park with a fountain right next to the beach. There is also a row of nice cafes and restaurants set back from the beach along the road. We spent some time in the lovely sunshine on the beach. We ate lunch at John’s favourite NZ food place – BurgerFuel! It is quite a cult food place over here – well known for it’s healthier than usual ‘fast food’. We also treated ourselves to an icecream from the equally popular Movenpick – which was some of the nicest ice cream I have tasted. Heading for the bus stop we decided to take the bus back to Auckland (this time from the usual bus stop as the road was now open). Whilst aboard the bus on the way back it seems the bus was shot at twice!!

We heard two huge ‘cracks’ while travelling on the bus and assume rocks had possibly been flicked up onto the glass but on closer inspection and discussion with the bus driver and passengers there appeared to be two bullet holes in the glass.

As there were no bullets visible and no one had been hurt John thought it might have been an air rifle. But it was clear that we were targeted but someone! The front passenger door was shot and begun to completely shatter as the bus continued its journey. One of the side windows was also shot, split into hundreds of tiny cracks but did not shatter by the time we reached our final destination (luckily not far away!). We were a little shaken up but escaped unhurt and had really enjoyed our time at Mission Bay! A quiet evening in watching Survivor on the TV beckons!

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The holiday is over but the adventure has only just begun!

Saturday 27th October onwards

I am writing this from our apartment in Auckland, with a view of the city and of the wharf in the distance. Our 5 week ‘holiday’, which begun our New Zealand adventure is now officially over. I do say this with a heavy heart and obviously we all wish our holidays could last forever. Yet I know how incredibly lucky we have been to have had such wonderful experiences. It is true though that the holiday took a huge amount of planning and organisation and it was such a success mostly because we organised and planned it all so well. The places we stayed and visited, and experiences we had were incredible. I will be working on a highlights posting for the blog over the next week, as I reflect and look back on our time here in New Zealand.

‘Reality’ though is here for us now. We want to enjoy our time we spend in NZ as much as possible and make having such great experiences as sustainable as possible. To do this the key (as with most things in life) is having money! So we know our next step needs to be to make money. There are also a number of other things that we need to think about and do over the next few weeks to make sure our start to our lives in NZ is a successful one. I have included a list below in case anyone is doing/thinking of doing anything similar or is just interested:

Work/Jobs: Our prime goal when planning our time in NZ was that my husband, John (who works as a software development contractor back home in the UK) would try and get a contract here. The most likely places for this are either Auckland or Wellington. So we have started the search (www.seek.co.nz is a really great website for all jobs over here) and he will start applying for these soon. Regarding my work situation I currently am working on some self-employed projects and will wait to look for anything else until I know where John’s work will base us.

Accommodation: We are currently staying for the week in an apartment at the Celestion Waldorf Apartment Hotel and got a very reasonable weekly night. We are here until Nov 3rd and will then plan our next accommodation once we have a better idea where we might need to be. We will either need short term more apartment type accommodation, or will start to look for something longer term (depending on where we end up).

Phone/Internet: We sorted our phones out in Auckland today, due to some very helpful people from Telecom. We had already unlocked our iPhones back in the UK, so purchased a NZ sim card and (after connecting it to iTunes in the Telecom store first) were able to use our sims right away. We also have a great deal on the sim (a prepaid or pay-as-you go option) rather than a contract, which is $19 for 60 mins of calls, 5000 texts and 500mb of data – paid each month but without a minimum term contract. We will also have to adjust to having new phone numbers! Internet is definitely more expensive over here and free wifi is not as widespread as back home. Things are a bit better in Auckland though with there being free wifi at certain places in the city, and we have a good deal with our apartment for a week’s usage. We have also purchased a Telecom 0800 calling card (Talk4Less) with a cheap rate per minute to allow us to call the UK (and speak to our families) cheaply.

Tax registration: We need to register to pay tax here in NZ to enable us to get jobs and work. To do this we need to complete IRD forms, and take these with ID and a few other bits to a post office – which we plan to do on Monday.

Bank/Money: We have already opened a NZ Westpac bank account whilst in the UK, but now we are here we can go in and after giving all the info/ID we will be able to officially activate the account and obtain debit cards etc.

Travel: The Britomart (main transport) centre here in Auckland has a very helpful information desk. We spent some time there today getting a few maps for buses and trains to enable us to visit a few places we had planned to.

Food: Our goal with food is to try and save money and live quite cheaply. There is an excellent 24 hour Countdown supermarket a 5 minute walk from our apartment, so hope to use this a lot. Obviously we will also have the odd meal out now and again!

Thanks if you have read this far – I know this post isn’t as glamourous as my previous holiday postings, but I thought it might prove useful for anyone in a similar situation.

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Great Barrier Island: a step back in time to paradise

Monday 22nd to Friday 26th October: Great Barrier Island

What a different and completely amazing experience! We spent 5 wonderful days on the remote Great Barrier Island off the coast of Auckland. It is only accessible by boat or air from Auckland, and is similar to the Coromandel Coast – after once being joined together. There are many differences between the way of life on the island and usual life in New Zealand. It was a privilege to experience this and to explore the beautiful remote and rugged island – which seems like it is a whole world of its own!

For anyone interested in going there or just for those reading generally I will be my usual honest self in explaining life on the Barrier – as I am sure you will want to know what it is really like!  We took the 8.00am ferry from Auckland and arrived on the island at about 12.45pm. As previously arranged a lady from Aotea car rentals met us with our Toyota Starlett (16 years young) and we set off on the short drive towards our accommodation at Shoal Bay Lodge. Having driven on many a crazy NZ road, the roads on the Barrier still surprised us! Almost completely single track, and many partly rough gravel our little car (named Dug because his number plate is DUG142) found his way to our accommodation where the owner Geraldine met us and showed us around our house  – Shoal Bay Lodge – for the week.

Over the course of the week we spent time exploring the island and here are some of our highlights:

  • Remote and deserted stunningly beautiful beaches. We were completely alone on all of the beaches we visited and spent time on. They really are such beautiful beaches and amongst the best we have ever been to. We think Awana Beach was probably our favourite – where we spent lunch on Wednesday in the gorgeous hot sunshine. Medlands beach was a very close second, and the most accessible and our most visited – another wonderful beach. The least accessible beach was Kaitoke beach – down a steep gravel track- but again such a beauty and really worth the trip. It is just so different to the UK where you always see other people on the beach. Here you feel like you are alone on a remote tropical island and like the only people in the world!
  • Walks – the island is famous for its numerous walking tracks and we only did just a few of these in our time here. Our favourite was the walk to the Kaitoke Hot Springs. We walked through native forest and spent time dangling our feet in the relaxing natural hot springs which was lovely. We also walked to Windy Canyon lookout (up about 188 steps – we counted!), for gorgeous views around the island.
  • Serenity – the peace is very welcome. When we watched our first sunset on our second night we just looked out at the sky and water and everything was still and peaceful and it was lovely.
  • Experiencing the beautiful scenery from roadside lookouts and general driving around the island with very little traffic.
  • The fun/different roads – windy, steep and single track (and partly rough gravel) but adventurous!
  • The birdlife – we have seen many smaller native birds (tui, brown teal) and were also very lucky to see a few of the rare North-island kaka. We also heard the little blue penguins on the beach at night.
  • The pace of life has meant for the first time on our holiday really we have been able to properly relax and enjoy going at a slower pace or just taking a few hours to read and relax.
  • Sunsets – most nights we were here we watched the sunset from our bedroom balcony and it was absolutely stunning. We also saw a few North island kaka flying around which made it even more special 🙂
  • The friendly locals – everyone we came across and spoke to was really friendly and helpful.

To ensure I provide a balanced view of the Barrier I must include some other things of note:

  • I would definitely recommend to fly rather than take the ferry to the island. We took the ferry with Sealink there but the crossing was rough (due more to the rough water – although apparently this is the second roughest stretch of water in NZ – rather than bad weather), and ended up flying back as were quite worried about being ill on the ferry back. Flying only takes 30 minutes (the ferry takes 4 hours 30!!) and it goes very often (quite a few times a day) – plus the views of the island are amazing. We flew with Great Barrier Airlines who were great. The main reason we didn’t fly in the first place was due too luggage allowance (they say there is a 15kg limit including cabin baggage, but we just paid excess for ours). If you do end up taking the ferry and get sea sick then the best place is right down the bottom of the boat at the back – this was the only place we could go to stop from being ill!
  • It is a pretty backward place! Although this can clearly be a positive as it is a little like NZ many years ago there are also a few drawbacks to this that affect everyday life.
  • Food and shops and eating out are the main one. My advice to anyone coming to the island would be to bring your own food for the duration of your time here. Many of the food places are not open for very long or at suitable hours, or are incredibly expensive, often with bookings required. The option of cooking your own food is also not great because the general stores are VERY limited with this stock and and what they do have is VERY expensive (I think we paid £5 for 2 pints of milk!). In fact, one store (Mulberry Grove store) was selling food dated 6 months out of date – scary!
  • Power – there is no mains power on the island, so everywhere relies on gas/solar and generators. We arrived at one cafe at lunchtime asking for a menu and were told that there wasn’t any food until after 4.30pm when the generator came back on, but they had coffee if we wanted it!
  • I know I put very few cars as a positive but we were still a bit surprised at the reliance on cars to get from a to b. We expected it to be suitable to walk all around to get from place to place but there are no real footpaths so you have to walk along the roads (which are dangerous enough!) so despite us trying it, walking is not a safe or viable option really!
  • Reliability of cars! Our lovely little ‘Dug’ broke down on us on a penultimate day on the island. We had parked at a remote bay South of Claris and he just wouldn’t start! We very luckily had phone signal (one of the only parts on the island) so was able to call people to come and help. They came out after about 35 mins of waiting – explaining we were also very lucky that the mechanic was on the island today! He checked the car over and the battery was completely flat (not due to anything we had done!) so he replaced it and we were ready to go again!
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3743 kilometres (2326 miles) completed!

Saturday 20th October and Sunday 21st October: Lake Tekapo to Auckland

3 weeks and 5 days ago we arrived in Christchurch in New Zealand and 3,743 kilometres later we were back in Christchurch dropping off our little car – nicked ‘Barry’ the Barina Spark. He (Barry) had done so well to get us around the whole off the South island, and to have coped with some of the roads and situations he was put in! We were really sad to leave South Island and watched the beautiful mountains disappear behind us on Saturday as we drove from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch airport to catch our flight. It was with a heavy heart that we dropped Barry off back at Hertz and boarded our flight to Auckland. From the airport we got the Airport Express bus, which dropped us off at Auckland Uni and we then walked to our accommodation at Quest at Carlaw park. Sunday was spent exploring Auckland. There was an international triathlon on which we saw different bits of as the cyclists and runners passed us – but this also meant many of the roads closed and a lot of the walkways were restricted so this did mean exploring was a little more difficult! We still managed to explore the harbour and wharfs and Queen’s street and visited Auckland i-site. Having visited Auckland back in 2010 we did a lot of the more touristy things then, and knowing we have at least a week in Auckland when we return from Great Barrier Island we decided to take it easy today. Enjoying a nice pizza from Pizza Fresco and a trip to Countdown for supplies for the Barrier we completed a good day in Auckland, looking forward to the adventure ahead.

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Beautiful Lake Tekapo

Friday 19th October: PM Lake Tekapo

We then drove to Lake Tekapo and checked in to the Lake Tekapo Scenic resort (where we stayed on our visit back in 2006) to enjoy our gorgeous view of the lake. Lake Tekapo is a really beautiful lake and such a lovely blue colour – it is probably my second favourite lake after Lake Pukaki – and definitely worth a visit (usually on route between Christchurch and Queenstown). We headed straight up to the Mount John Observatory (as the road up here closed at 5pm) and took in the stunning panoramic views of the lake. Heading back down we then ate pizza at the Lake Tekapo Tavern (quite a strange place, which burnt our pizza and ended up cooking another one and giving it to us for free!) and enjoyed a lovely walk along by the lake. We also took a longer walk to the Church of the Good Shepherd and enjoyed the views from there. We are driving to Christchurch tomorrow and will be really sad to leave South island but hesding to Auckland and then on Monday our Great Barrier Island adventure begins!

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The magnificent Mount Cook

Friday 19th October: AM Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo

Our wish came true this morning and we awoke to bright blue sky and a perfect view of Mount Cook (see pic to the left)!  It had also snowed overnight so there was loads of snow on the mountains and it looked really beautiful. We decided to change our Glacier Explorers boat trip time to get on the earlier one at 9.30am (instead of 11.00am) to make the most of the good weather. After breakfast we checked in for our trip and boarded a coach to take us out towards the Tasman Glacier lake. We then took a 15 minute walk from the car park with a small group of others to the Tasman Glacier lake. The Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in New Zealand and pretty spectacular! See more photos in my gallery below. We were separated into smaller groups and allocated guides – ours were named Duncan and Claire and were great guides. We boarded our small boat onto the lake and set off on our boat trip. We were out on the lake for around an hour and had a fantastic time. We got really close to the icebergs in the lake – so we could touch them, and were also able to touch and hold small sections of ice that had broken off the icebergs – which were like crystals. Claire was very informative giving us loads of interesting info about the glacier. The weather was simply perfect and the views were incredible. We also got within a few 100 metres (no closer due to safety reasons!) of the glacier face whilst on the boat, which was wonderful to see. The trip flew by all too quickly but we really enjoyed our time and soon headed back to shore for the short walk and bus journey back to the hotel. Following lunch at the Sir Edmund Hilary alpine cafe we sadly left Mount Cook – travelling back along the beautiful Lake Pukaki in lovely sunshine (see a couple of pics below). I will post separately about the rest of the day on a Lake Tekapo post.

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The road to Mount Cook and exploring in the rain

Wednesday 17th October: Oamaru to Mount Cook

Leaving Oamaru and the lovely little blue penguins behind we headed towards Mount Cook. We made a stop at a remote place called Elephant Rocks – definitely worth a look if you are in the area! It was this amazing collection of unusually shaped big rocks – some that looked like elephants. It was also cool because this was used as the filming location for Aslan’s camp in the Narnia film. We had fun taking some photos here (see gallery below). We then got back on the road and took the road along Lake Aviemore which passed over Benmore Dam – which was quite a sight. Food in Omarama was next on our stopping list as we headed for Mount Cook. We took a short detour at Twizel up into the more remote parts to hunt for the Plains of Rohan (a filming location for Lord of the Rings) – after some hunting (and going down a few private roads!) and gorgeous scenery we found the right spot! It was great to see 🙂 Back on the road we drove on the road straight up to Mount Cook – via the unbelievably gorgeous Lake Pukaki – definitely my favourite lake in New Zealand! We passed it back on our 2006 trip to NZ and a picture I took then forms the main pic for this website. The turquoise colour was so bright! We did notice that the weather in the direction of Mount Cook wasn’t so great so braced ourselves as we headed on the road up there. The weather did turn and wind and rain hit. We were happy to arrive at our hotel (The Hermitage Hotel) which was comfortable and if we had better weather the view of Mount Cook from our room would have been great. Unfortunately we had ridiculously noisy neighbours who decided to have a crazy shouting match for ages (and people appeared to be piling into the room for some kind of gathering) – so we asked reception to move us along the corridor to a different room away from them and were pleasantly surprised when they upgraded us to a superior room and a higher floor with an even better view. Good service by the Hermitage! We enjoyed watching a thunder and lightning storm from our balcony that evening.

Thursday 18th October: Mount Cook

We awake to yet more heavy rain here at Mount Cook and on contacting the activities desk about our planned Glacier Explorers boat trip on the Tasman Lake to see the Tasman glacier we discovered our planned trip at 11am wasn’t going ahead and with the forecast poor for this afternoon we re-booked it for tomorrow morning in the hope the weather will improve – fingers crossed! We didn’t let the weather deter us though and headed out into the crazy rain for a couple of walks (Bowen Bush Walk and Governor’s Bush Walk) which were enjoyable despite the weather! We saw some native birds and trees and enjoyed watching the rushing waterfalls and river. Lunch at the Old Mountaineer’s Cafe beckoned while we plan a little further exploration later today. Hopefully the rain and mist will lift overnight and we will have fine weather for our trip tomorrow as we are really looking forward to it.

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Little blue penguins – about 200 of them!!

A highlight of the holiday so far alert!!:

[Note: the above picture is copyright of the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, as we purchased this from them as were not able to take photos of the penguins ourselves when in the viewing area.]

It has been a busy few days with quite a bit of travelling, but we have continued to have an amazing adventure here in New Zealand – and we especially enjoyed seeing the most amazing little blue penguins – for more details see Tuesday 16th update.

Monday 15th October: Curio Bay to Kaka Point

The wonderful sound of the waves washing against the shore outside our gorgeous studio in Curio Bay awoke us this morning. It was with a heavy heart that we packed up to leave as this is probably our favourite place we have stayed. Despite not being visited at night by the lovely little blue penguins (other people in the visitor book mentioned this had happened to them – as they nest below the studio) we did hear them calling out last night on the beach which was still exciting. Back on the road we stopped at the humorous named ‘Niagara Falls’ – which is one of the smallest waterfalls in the world! Lake Wilkie was our next stop – to which we took a nice walk through the forest looking at all the lovely trees. We ate lunch in the Catlins cafe in Owaka which was again delicious, before completing our drive to Kaka Point (via a rather windy Cannibal Bay – reached by a very precarious narrow gravel road on the edge of the cliff!). After checking in to our room at Cardno’s Accommodation we headed to Nugget Point Lighthouse. We took the walk up to the lighthouse and noticed the weather was closing in – but also saw a nice rainbow. The lighthouse was quite a sight and we took some pictures here. We then drove back to Roaring Bay (after passing a camper van hanging over the edge of the cliff being rescued!) for a short walk to the hide but decided not to wait for the penguins here (because we were really high up on the cliff and they would have been tiny dots – and we had already seen them much closer up in Curio Bay – see previous post). Returning to Kaka Point we stopped for some chips and took them back to our room to eat to end a good day!

Tuesday 16th October: Kaka Point via Dunedin to Oamaru – and the little blue penguins!

We got on the road quite early this morning and were driving to Oamaru. We stopped at Dunedin (gaelic for Edinburgh!) on the way – and really enjoyed the few hours we spent here. The city is really quite pretty with lots of nice old buildings. We discovered a lovely food place (after a recommendation from a man in the information centre) called Ratbags and Innocent Bystanders. They played cool music (Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead) and had delicious pizzas – we ended up with a ‘special’ half metre pizza as there was an offer on. After visiting the old train station (apparently the most photographed building in New Zealand!) we got back on the road. Stopping at Moeraki Boulders we were a little underwhelmed but only because it was high tide and we knew it was best visited at low tide and/or sunset/sunrise – plus there were tonnes of people there so it felt very touristy.

The highlight of the day was still to come though as we headed in to Oamaru. We checked into our nice room at Highfield Mews after stopping at Countdown for food. After a few hours relaxing here we drove over to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony to see little blue penguins come ashore. These penguins are amazing because they are only 40cms tall! As we had purchased Premium Seats for this we headed to the Premium viewing area to watch the penguins come ashore. The people working there gave a commentary explaining how the site is set up for conservation and how the penguin colony’s natural habitat is preserved and they are protected in their colony from predators and encouraged to breed (so their numbers increase 10% each year). They also gave extra details about how they use special lights which helps us to see them but which the penguins don’t recognise so they think it is dark etc. The details are important though as some people might think the place could be exploiting the penguins but it isn’t at all – it is really helping them. Anyway, on to the evening – once seated we waited for the various ‘rafts’ (groups of penguins) to arrive. You can hear each raft as they are in the sea from the little ‘quacking’ noises they make and then you see them slowly one by one come out of the ocean on to the beach and start to climb the cliff. On the evening we saw them a seal (luckily not a predator of the penguins!) was lying on their route to their nesting houses. This caused the little penguins to slowly creep up behind him before then running (and falling!) off to their houses. The way they run is so cute – they stoop onto their front and rise again, flapping their wings and waddling along. One of the three rafts we saw had  91 penguins all running together up the beach to their homes – which was the most the woman working there said she had ever seen in one go! It really was an incredible experience to see them. As I mentioned earlier we weren’t able to take photographs of them but I have posted one above which I was able to purchase from the shop. Before we left the colony we went outside and headed down the road to see a few more come in along the shore and managed to get a picture (without a flash which was allowed outside!) which ended a memorable evening!:

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The beautiful Catlins region

Sat and Sun 13th and 14th October detail: Catlins region of New Zealand

Saturday 13th October: Manapouri to Catlins

Awaking to yet more pouring rain we packed up and left Manapouri heading south towards the Catlins National park. We took the Southern Scenic route and as there was no sign of snow the journey was quite a smooth one. We stopped at Invercargill (and whilst we are sure a very nice/functional place not one of our favourite of our trip) for shopping and a quick trip to McDonalds for free wi-fi.

At Fortrose – the entrance to the Catlins National Park – we took the rougher gravel road south heading for Waipapa Lighthouse. We arrived at the lighthouse and had a lovely walk around this area. Leaving here we took another longer gravel road towards Curio Bay – arriving late afternoon at our amazing studio at Curio Bay Accommodation.

The evening involved a penguin sighting which I have already posted about – amazing! 🙂

 

Sunday 14th October: Exploring the Catlins area

As I write the ferocious wind is whistling and howling around our lovely studio here in Curio Bay. Watching the waves from our studio is brilliant and they are so high and wild because of the weather. We have just come in from another evening of watching the penguins come ashore at the petrified forest (see my separate penguin sighting posting for more info and pictures for this). We have had a great day exploring the Catlins area and absolutely love the scenery here. We have visited a few different places on our drive up to Owaka and back. A couple of places we wanted to visit (McLean Falls and Cathedral Caves) were both closed – McLean Falls because of a huge rockslide so it was very dangerous, and Cathedral Caves because of extreme weather. We didn’t let this stop our adventure plans though! We headed for Owaka and stopped at Florence Hill lookout for fabulous views – coming across sheep and lambs being moved from one field to another which was fun!

Next stop was Purakauni Falls (along another interesting gravel road!) which was beautiful and very photogenic. I tried out a slower shutter speed on my camera here and got some good pictures. We ate a delicious lunch at Catlins Cafe in Owaka and visited the quaint visitor centre.

 

 

 

On our return journey to Curio Bay we visited Matai Falls (upper and lower) and again took some wonderful pictures. Arriving back at Curio Bay we headed to see our penguins and then for a quiet night in enjoying the absolutely stunning views. This is definitely a place we don’t want to leave!

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Penguins in the wild – in the Catlins region of New Zealand

Sat 13th and Sun 14th October: Penguin sightings 

This is just a very quick (but very amazing!) update while we have very limited internet in a tiny cafe in Owaka in the Catlins – to say we have seen yellow-eyed penguins (three in total!) in the wild here at the Petrified forest (in Curio Bay) in the Catlins. It is THE most incredible thing! Especially because my husband is a huge penguin fan and absolutely loves them. The penguins that we saw are amongst the rarest in the world and there are only about 5,000 of them left in the whole of New Zealand.

On Saturday night after local advice from the man who runs the camping ground shop we headed to the petrified forest and after waiting for about 25 minutes, at about 6pm, one amazing yellow-eyed penguin appeared out of the water. He seemed very aware of his surroundings and took his time sussing everything out. As the signs told us everyone kept at least 10 metres from him to give him space. He then took his time to slowly waddle up the beach and into the bushes behind – he was there for about 50 minutes which was amazing!

Then on Sunday night we headed back to the same spot and this time at about 6.20pm we saw two yellow-eyed penguins again almost in the same spot. The weather this time was INSANELY windy (we actually struggled to stand up/walk) so the penguins were much quicker at coming ashore and heading up into the bushes.

It really was an incredible sight and one we will never forget.

As I am sure you can imagine we took loads of photos – see a few more below in my gallery. John also did some amazing videoing so we have edited a few highlights together of the first yellow-eyed penguin we saw on Saturday night and posted the video below. Take a look!

I will post separately about the Catlins area – as it is really incredible and full of such amazing and varied scenery (and weather!).

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Doubtful Sound? A doubtful sight!

Friday 12th October: Doubtful Sound

Today we visited Doubtful Sound – a place we have been looking forward to going for ages but it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Let me go back to the start to explain.

Shortly after arrival at our rental property yesterday we were visited by one of the owners – we called by to tell us that we weren’t able to go on the Doubtful Sound tour we had booked on (Doubtful Sound Cruises) due to a problem with the boat and instead we were going with Real Journeys. This was quite a disappointment to us as we had deliberately chosen Doubtful Sound Cruises as they were a smaller boat and we were hoping for a quieter more intimate trip. We had no other choice at this time so knew we had go with this option. We were woken on the morning of Friday 12th by incredibly heavy rain which wasn’t the best noise knowing we had our trip ahead! Later this morning a nice lady that works for Doubtful Sounds Cruises stopped by to pick us up and explained that it wasn’t a problem with the boat but that we were the only 2 people booked with them so it wasn’t able to operate for just 2 people. This made more sense but we were still very disappointed. The visibility was also really poor and we knew that it was going to be difficult to see the scenery on the tour – which we had been really looking forward to. The people that worked for Real Journeys did their best to tell people it was the best weather to visit in because of the waterfalls – which was nice enough – but it was a shame to only be able to see a few metres ahead at a time and we couldn’t really see the views ahead! Still, we had a good day and enjoyed what scenery and waterfalls we could see. Here is a brief outline of the day for anyone interested in taking this trip.

Boat departed from Manapouri at 9.45

Boat trip across  Lake Manapouri – took about 50 minutes.

Arrival at West Arm Visitor Centre

Coach trip along Wilmot Pass Road – one of NZ’s remotest and most expensive roads to build (to help construction of the power station in the 1960s) –  40 minutes

Boat trip out on Doubtful Sound –  there were only about 40 people on the boat which held 120 but I can imagine if it had been full it would have felt very crowded! – about 2 hours 45 mins. Unfortunately for us there visibility was very poor by this time of the day, but me and John still made the most of the it sitting outside for a lot of time enjoying what we could see in the wind and rain! We were also the only people to brave going up to the top uncovered deck for further views in the strong wind and rain! Actually quite a few of the people didn’t go out on deck at all and stayed inside either eating or sleeping (some people!). We enjoyed our time out on deck and treated ourselves to a nice hot choc and choc bar on the lower quieter deck in the warm when we couldn’t feel our hands anymore – with gloves on!

Coach trip back along Wilmot Pass Road – 40 mins

Coach trip down into Manapouri hydro-electric power station – 45 mins. The coach travelled down a 2km spiral access road underground which was exciting! And we then took a short walk further down to the lookout point over the machine hall – it was nice and warm here and dried us off a bit!

Return boat trip back over Lake Manapouri – about 50 minutes.

We returned back to Manapouri at about 5.30pm.

We were wet and windswept but had had a good day. Despite our initial disappointment at a switch to our booking operator we made the absolute best of it and the day. We do realise that we didn’t see Doubtful Sound at all at its best (which is why I might sound a little low key about it) – but that is part of having to go on the day you have booked on. Doubtful Sound is supposed to be one of South Island’s highlights and I am sure that on the right day it absolutely is but it just so happened that on our day we didn’t see it at its best. Still, the weather is meant to be worse tomorrow with snow expected so some would say we were lucky!

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Queenstown on a budget (but in style!)

Thursday 11th October

We sadly and reluctantly left Queesntown today – but made some good money savings and our money went a long way today so I thought I would share! After checking out of our apartment we headed into the town centre to take a boat trip out on to the lake. We decided on Queenstown Lake Cruises – on the Queenstown Princess. This trip was a real bargain at only $25 (NZD) each – for a whole hour and a half! There were only a handful of people on the boat too so it was nice and quiet. It travelled all over Lake Wakatipu and was a really enjoyable trip. We then headed for our favourite place to eat – Winnies Gourmet Pizza Bar/ A great deal here is the meal deal at lunchtime – only $15 for a small pizza and drink – so we made huge savings here too! Following this for afters we tracked down a cookie shop called Cookie Time to use our 2 for 1 voucher (saving $3!) and ate our delicious hot cookies on the Queenstown lake front. Our final saving of the day came at the Queenstown Underwater Observatory for which we obtained free entry for going on the boat cruise. Not sure this was worth the $5 entrance fee anyway but it was free so we enjoyed it!  The weather was also really lovely today and we enjoyed some nice blue skies and sun. The road to Manapouri was calling, so after stopping for groceries at New World supermarket in Frankton we set off. We stopped off at Kingston – which houses the only working steam train in the Southern Hemisphere – it was cool to see this! We also saw loads of British street names in this area – including Somerset street. We stopped off at a lovely picnic spot for further great views of Lake Wakatipu. Taking a detour via Te Anau (a place we were quite underwhlemed by in 2006 and where yet again underwhelmed by!), arriving at our rental property on Motu-Au-Close in Manapouri.

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‘Remarkable’ Queenstown

Monday 8th October and Wednesday 10th October

We spent two full days exploring the beautiful town of Queenstown – with the Tuesday in between spent in Glenorchy (which I have posted separately about). We spent a day here back in 2006 when we visited before but decided to come back this time for longer – 3 days and 4 nights. We have really enjoyed the time we have spent here and also have an enjoyable morning left tomorrow after we check out before we start the drive down to Manapouri.

Monday 8th October

We headed straight for the Kiwi Birdlife Park this morning – as my husband John is a huge fan of kiwis.  The park are very much focussed on conservation and helping save and preserve NZ’s native birds and wildlife which is great. The kiwi houses were our first stop once we entered and we saw two lovely kiwis here. They were right up against the glass and were so beautiful! Going into kiwi house two we saw two different kiwis here and this time they were running around lots so were great to watch. We saw the Conservation show at 11am which was brilliantly run – we saw and learned about lots of different native birds, saw a naughty possum and also a tuatara (a species around since the time of dinosaurs!). We walked around the 5 acre site – and saw other birds such as the kea and tui. We then headed into the town centre for lunch and came across Winnies Gourmet Pizza Bar. We ate lunch here and the pizza was delicious! We then spent the rest of the day exploring Queesntown and relaxing.

Wednesday 10th October

We spent another great day in Queenstown today. We explored the shops and town this morning – visiting the Lord of the Rings shop – but not being able to afford any of the memorabilia! After another lovely lunch at Winnies we decided to take a trip up to the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak. We did take this gondola on our trip back in 2006, but loved it so wanted to experience it again and are really glad we did! The gondola ride up was brilliant and the views from the top just as brilliant as we remembered. This time we decided to go on the Skyline loop walk, which took us away from the people and up into the forest for higher views – it was a lovely walk. We finished the afternoon with a yummy muffin and milkshake at the cafe. We will miss Queenstown but are sure we will back on our year’s adventure!

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Glenorchy: home of Lord of the Rings

Tuesday 9th October

What a day! We loved the day we spent in Glenorchy and we think it probably has some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen in all of New Zealand! We didn’t manage to visit when we came to New Zealand back in 2006 and it was a high priority this time round – and didn’t disappoint! Despite the weather being a little overcast to start with we felt it was ‘moody’ and created just the right atmosphere for us to be heading into Lord of the Rings country. We left Queenstown early in the morning and drove up along the lake to Glenorchy. The drive was spectacular and was probably the drive with the best views we have seen in NZ. We stopped at a few lookouts along the way to take it all in. We stopped at Wilson lake on the way – a filming location for LOTR where they filmed the Ithilien camp scenes. Arriving in Glenorchy – it was pretty much deserted! It only has a population of approx 500 people, but we only saw a couple of other cars around at that time.

We headed to the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway and took a nice 1 hour 20 min walk around the lagoon – walking a lot of the way of a new boardwalk that we were informed was only finished last week and was built by the community. It was a great walk and is highly recommended! Coming back into Glenorchy it was a little busier now with a few people wandering around. We spent time down at the lake and exploring the Glenorchy shed/info hut. It was demolished back in 1999 when there was a big flood and the LOTR crew helped rebuild this after this happened. We went to Foxy’s Cafe for a nice basket of chips for lunch.

Then … the moment had finally arrived – for our Lord of the Rings (LOTR) tour! John is a massive fan of both the books and films (I would go as far as to say he is a LOTR geek!), and I have also read the books and watched the films multiple times. Anyone not a fan on LOTR may not want to read on as the names/locations will mean nothing to you! However any LOTR fans reading will know all of the reference points and locations. Pictures are below – in my gallery – with labels too! Firstly – our tour guide was AMAZING! He was from Glenorchy Journeys and was called Alan and was a local and true Kiwi and had such insight and knowledge about the area and the films. He also talked about how he was lucky enough to have recently worked on the new Hobbit film assisting at their location sites in Glenorchy and had all sorts of stories about cast and crew! He picked us up in his 4WD vehicle and we went off-roading around the Glenorchy area as he pointed out various filming locations for LOTR and The Hobbit (and the Wolverine film and also Narnia). We looked across to the filming location for Isengard (obviously minus Sauron’s CGI tower!), went to the forest where they filmed Boromir’s death (very exciting!) and scenes of Lothlorien. We also saw the trees that inspired Peter Jackson to film the Ent scenes here, and looked across to the snowy mountains where they filmed the Misty Mountains scenes. We travelled past the new filming location for hobbiton for the new Hobbit film, and also entered a forest they used to film a scene in the new film. Visiting the landscape used for the opening to the Two Towers was also spectacular – as we looked out over the land where Gandalf rides Shadowfax. Alan was a fantastics guide and we throughly enjoyed the day and were sad to leave Glenorchy – they home of the Lord of the Rings, but can’t wait for the new Hobbit film and to spot all the places we have been.

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The road to Queenstown

Sunday 7th October: Fox Glacier to Queenstown

Gorgeous blue sky greeted this morning as we awoke ready for our long drive to Queenstown from Fox Glacier. We checked our having enjoyed our stay and started on the road early. The weather was lovely – with clear blue skies! But also very chilly and our car had frozen overnight for the first time. Our first stop on the road was Bruce Bay – which we stopped to take some pictures and also saw the sandstorm that was whipping up – it was quite impressive!

Next up was Knights Point Lookout where the views over the coast were brilliant and looked even better in the sunshine. We then stopped at Haast for a quick lunch break before we were back on the road again – stopping at various lay-bys for views of the mountains which was beautiful. The Blue Pools walk was a welcome stop further down the road – it was a 30 minute return walk to a lovely area known as the ‘Blue Pools’ where the water is a gorgeous blue colour. It involved crossing a few more swing bridges – although none were as crazy as the Wainui Falls one!!

The road then took us alongside Lake Wanaka which was stunning and we stopped to take some photos from some great lookout points. Leaving Lake Wanaka behind for a bit we came upon Lake Hawea – also very beautiful. Puzzling World was next on our list of stop points. Having visited here in 2006 we just stopped to enjoy some cake at their lovely cafe. We also captured a replica shot of my husband using their ‘unique’ toilets – that we also took back in 2006 – see pictures in the gallery below!  A quick trip to Wanaka and lovely views of the lake followed. We then took the crazy Crown Range Road – a shortcut through to Queenstown and arrived at our wonderful Villa Del Lago apartment with an incredible view of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables! We now have a few days to enjoy Queenstown – including kiwis, lord of the rings and much more!

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Glacier country

Saturday 6th October: Fox Glacier

A loud clap of thunder woke us this morning as we then listened to heavy hail fall onto our skylight in our cosy apartment at Fox Glacier Lodge. We knew from this moment that it wasn’t ideal weather for our Glacier hike today!! The bad weather had really come in and the local people even said it was quite freak weather for this part of the country. I think quite a bit of the South island had been hit by the bad weather. It was just bad luck and we decided it wasn’t the best idea to do the hike and weren’t too disappointed as we had been lucky enough to do a heli hike on Franz Josef glacier in 2006. We took a wonderful walk to Lake Matheson – where the reflection would have been perfect on a perfect day but was still gorgeous nonetheless! We also enjoyed a lovely lunch at Cafe Neve. In the afternoon we took a short drive and brilliant walk to the glacier face (just as a massive wind and hail storm hit!). We got within 200m of the glacier which was great. We also saw a kea in the car park as we left which was cool.

We finished off the day with an eventful drive to Gillespie’s beach – a 50km round trip in a tiny car on a rough gravel and very windy road! It was a lovely beach though – just incredibly windy but the waves were awesome 🙂 The road to Queenstown awaits tomorrow!

 

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The wild and wet west coast!

4th and 5th of October: Golden Bay to Fox Glacier

We have covered about 550 kilometres in the last few days – travelling from Wainui Bay in Golden Bay (near Takaka) down the west coast to Fox Glacier. We were expecting it but the weather has really changed! It has been really wet and windy (and foggy in places) today but hasn’t really mattered as we have been in the car most of the day! The scenery has been incredibly beautiful along the west coast though – very rugged (lots of sea and rocks!) and really beautiful.

Thurs 4th Oct: Wainui Bay to Punakaiki

We left our hideaway in golden bay in the morning, stopping off at Takaka on the way for a few bits of shopping and to quickly update my blog in the library and set off on our drive.  We headed for the Nelson Lakes first – to Lake Rotoiti, and stopped briefly for a picnic in Tapawera first. Arriving at Lake Rototoi it was a stunning lake and we had a wander around. We came across a kiwi zone on the walkway but didn’t see any (probably because they are only nocturnal!). Leaving here we carried on our journey and on the way come across workmen cleaning a single track bridge (see picture in my gallery) which held up traffic for about 15 minutes!! We arrived on the west coast and stopped at a couple of small beaches on the way to Punakaki. The weather had turned much colder and wilder so seeing the waves crash against the rocks was pretty spectacular! I took lots of pictures of the sea and rocks (Dad – you would be proud!) and we enjoyed spending time on one of the coves.