Monday, January 02, 2006

New Zealand Trip - North Island Pictures

Wellington & Napier
We arrived in Wellington late on the ferry from Picton, but found that the Motel we had booked ahead was very nice, and very close to town, with lots of cool restaurants and bars around. The next day we spend the morning at Te Papa - a good museum, and easy to spend a few hours in. The only disappointing thing was that they'd covered the roof (which is supposed to have amazing views) with an art installation that blocked out nearly all the views except through small post-card sized slots in the candy-striped walls. Grrr! From there a long (sour-worm-fuelled) drive to Napier (we were tempted to go back for the cricket, and in retrospect wish we had: a one dayer between NZ and Oz, which the Aussies won by only a couple of runs - and apparently the stadium was half empty!) It was nice to wander around Napier though. The whole City was flattened by an earthquake in 1930 and rebuilt in Art Deco style. In fact the Masonic hotel had already been destroyed by fire in 1890 and rebuilt: not the luckiest hotel in the world.

Lake Taupo
We ended up staying in Taupo for two days. The view across the lake to the (active) volcanoes on the far side is stunning. We also visited the turquoise Huka falls behind town, and a few local thermal sites. It was probably our most activity-filled location. We rented a small boat to go sailing on the lake, and later that day Ralph did his sky dive, rounding off with my fave, a game of mini golf (never say I lack excitement in my life...)

Waiotapu Thermal Reserve
I don't think we were expecting to be very impressed by the thermal stuff, added to which we visited on a rainy day, but actually we had a great time at Waiotapu - very colourful, and the boiling mud is fab, as are the tiny champagne bubbles on the champagne pool. One of the most bizarre things we saw was a black-billed gull standing guard over two eggs in the middle of the artists' palette - a bright red and yellow hot plate of minerals. Each to their own I guess!

Auckland, Muriwai, Piha and Karekare
Arriving in Auckland we had a nice walk around town, but decided there wasn't anything we were desperate to see. We spend out first evening enjoying the nightlife of Ponsonby, and then on the final day we hired a car again and visited some of the West Coast beaches - all under an hour's drive from Auckland. First was Muriwai, where a couple of minutes walk from the carpark gets you past the surfers and fishermen to a busy gannet colony. The chicks were hatched already - pic below shows feeding time (smelled *terrible*). Then we drove on to Piha beach (covered in bright orange and yellow gazinias) where we had lunch (Piha pie and coffee). Ralph climbed Lion Rock, and we watched the surfers for a while. Flowers from the dune grass behind the beach looked like strange sea creatures washed up on shore. Finally, to Karekare - almost black sand, and very windswept on the day we went. This is where some of The Piano was filmed, and it feels miles from anywhere. There is also a beautiful waterfall just behind the beach. The Pohutukawa flowers were just out (they'll be fully in bloom by Christmas), and we spotted a Monarch butterfly feeding on one: they migrate huge distances. Amazing to think that a tiny butterfly can cross continents. Finally, back to Auckland for dinner on the harbour front and a farewell drink at the top of the Sky Tower.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Zealand Trip - South Island Pictures

Christchurch and Akaroa
After a pleasant afternoon kayaking through the botanical gardens in Christchurch (past lots of cute New Zealand scaup chicks, already diving under water for long periods and coming back to the surface covered in tiny water droplets), we spend the following day visiting the Akaroa peninsula.

Moeraki & Otago Peninsula
These boulders fell out of the cliff (some can be seen still half buried in the cliff). Nobody is quite sure how they were formed: several are broken open to reveal a "honeycomb" type structure inside. Originally there were many boulders of various sizes: the ones too large to be carried away are still there. We also had a walk around Moeraki village and Shag point, where we saw seals, shags and a very brief glimpse of a yellow eyed penguin. After Moeraki we stayed in Dunedin, and visited the Otago peninsula, where we saw Yellow eyed penguins and Albatrosses from much closer quarters, thanks to a system of underground viewing tunnels at Penguin Place (see RWS below) and the viewing building at the breeding colony of Royal Albatrosses at Tairoa Head.

Milford Sound
Even the drive to Milford is beautiful: we saw several Keas (very noisy mountain parrots) on our way and did a good short walk up to Key Summit, with a beautiful tarn and mountain views at the top. Once we got to the Sound we went on a great overnight cruise on the 12-berth MV Friendship. As well as seeing rare Fiordland Crested Penguins (see RWS below) and a small pod of dusky dolphins, we enjoyed fantastic scenery and had an early morning kayak before we left.

Queenstown and Wanaka
From Milford Sound we drove to Queenstown (where Ralph did his Bungy - see below) and then the next day along the Crown Range Road to Wanaka, where we had another great walk - this time in the Diamond Lake conservation area, with great views of Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park, as well as Diamond lake itself (near the beginning of the walk), which was throwing up beautiful reflections of the sky.

Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook
From Tekapo, where the lupins and beach flowers were particularly perfect, we took a wonderful scenic flight over Mount Cook. The weather didn't seem great when we set out - but in fact we got great views of Mount Cook as well as the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.

Kaikoura & Marlborough
Once we arrived in Kaikoura we had a good (though longer than expected) walk around the headland. The next day was swimming with dolphins, which was a terrifying (for somebody not used to swimming in the open sea, let alone effectively in the middle of a dolphin-motorway!) but brilliant experience. After that it was a drive through the Marlborough vineyards to the ferry at Picton.

RWS (Random Wildlife Shots)

A selection of "Random Wildlife Shots" of birds from NZ. Unfortunately I couldn't find a yellowhammer or pukeko or gannet with eyebrows.

- Australasian Gannets (Muriwai)
- Yellowhammer (Kaikoura)
- Pukeko (Rotorua)
- Penguin - no eyebrows (Yellow Eyed Penguin - Otago Peninsula)
- Penguin - eyebrows (Fiordland Crested Pengiun - Milford Sound)
- Albatross - eyebrows (White Capped Albatross - seen from the Picton-Wellington Ferry)
- Albatross - no eyebrows (Northern Royal Albatross - Tairoa Head)