New Zealand - South Island


NZ: Last stop - Christchurch (before the quake)

We arrived in Christchurch almost ready to go home, having been on the road for 4 weeks.  We were invigorated by a warm welcome from our dear New Zealand friends who made the remarkable city even more memorable.  We walked everywhere and enjoyed the classic neo-gothic architecture and serene streetscape.  What a beautiful city! It was with much sadness that we heard about the devastation from this year's earthquake.  But New Zealanders are strong and resilient - they will recover.

Christchurch Cathedral (before the 2011 earthquake which destroyed the clock tower)

The clock tower from our hotel room in the historic Novotel.

Great War Memorial

Handy stroller hangers on the trolley
The Art Gallery - stunning!

Inside the Art Gallery

Arts Centre located in the former University of Canterbury buildings, sadly the Arts Centre was heavily damaged during the 2011 earthquake

This used to be the Engineering building.
Inside the Arts Centre

Gorgeous colours in the Botanic Gardens

Roses in all their glory

Christchurch Town Hall - also significantly damaged during the quake

The Town Hall Performing Arts auditorium known for its acoustics - reminded us of the Berlin Philharmonic Hall

Damage from the earlier quake

Our friends took us up to the top of the Cashmere HIlls for tea in this historic building The Sign of the Takahe.

Panoramic view of Christchurch and beyond
This wraps up our amazing trip to New Zealand and Australia - four memorable weeks in two remarkable countries -  doubtless people and places we would love to return to again.   Thank you all for coming along on the trip with us.

Next post - a retrospect on our 2009 Berlin trip


NZ: the TranzAlpine - Greymouth to Christchurch

We boarded the TranzAlpine Scenic Railway at Greymouth to begin the last legs of our NZ trip.  We have now been on the road for almost 4 weeks - it was almost with a sigh of relief that we sat down in our seats on the train and wait to be transported across the South Island to our final destination, Christchurch.  You can see below some of the scenery on the way - not the most spectacular we had seen, whether on this trip or in the Canadian Rockies - but quite unique in its way.

Saying goodbye to the west coast

The TranzAlpine approaching the long tunnel

The river meandering across the Canterbury Plains

Arriving at destination Christchurch's Cathedral Square


NZ: Helihiking on the Franz Josef Glacier

For us, it was an adventure of a lifetime - a hike on the Franz Josef glacier.   We had reviewed our options - the full day hike from the valley floor to the top was out of the question for us, we'd never make it.  The only physically viable option was the heli-hike, where we would be flown to the glacier by helicopter and taken on a two hour guided hike.  This could only happen if it didn't rain.  This hike was the biggest challenge on our entire New Zealand trip and we looked forward to it with much anxious anticipation. 
Our lucky streak continued and the day of the hike was sunny and warm (for spring), a windless cloudless day.  We still had to wait for the confirmation that the flight was on.  Then it took an hour just for everyone to get their gear, put them on and line up for the helicopter.  When we landed on the glacier, it was slippery and I was nervous I couldn't catch up with my group - most in their twenties.  But we were given crampons and it was a lot easier once we've got them on.  We had never done so much walking and climbing on snow and ice before.  You can see from the photos that the glacier surface was full of mountains and valleys, tunnels and crevices - it could get dangerous.  

The glacier from the valley floor to the top

Approaching the top on the helicopter

First glimpse of the blue ice caves

It was like we were on a jungle gym made of ice, we crawled through tunnels and we climbed up slippery chutes.

Doesn't this remind you of whipped meringue browned in the oven?

Our guide had to periodically break up the ice to create a less slippery path for us

What's going on with the other group?

We got pretty high up off the glacier floor, the way down was harder than the way up

Time to go back

We did a short hike later in the day to the foot of the glacier and looked up to where we were earlier in the day.  The experience would have been very different if we had not done the helihike.  This was all we would have seen in the valley.

Still a magnificent view - but a totally different experience.  We were so glad we did the hike!

Next Post - From Greymouth to Christchurch


NZ: the Road to Franz Josef

One of the high points of our trip was the helihike to Franz Josef glacier.  We looked forward to it with much anticipation as we approached the last few days of our trip.  We took a bus from Queenstown to Franz Josef along a famously scenic route. 

Just one shot of the miles of vineyards we saw along the way - 

The bus stopped briefly at Wanaka to pick up passengers.  We were allowed 5 minutes to stretch our legs.  Here is a shot of the tranquil lake -

We continued along the shores of Lake Hawea - a beautiful lake in a glacial valley.  This shot was taken from the bus - I would have given a lot to be able to get off and take more photos.

Same lake, from another angle-

One of the many spectacular mountains we saw along the way

The bus driver got off at Haast Pass, the pass that took us across the Southern Alps.  A friendly young driver hopped on and took us from here to the coast.   The road followed an ancient trail used by the Maori in their search for pounamu or greenstone.

Looking down from the bridge -

The waterfall near Haast Pass and the famous blue pools fed by glacial waters -

We reached the western shore of the South Island.  Here's a view of the Tasman Sea.

The Tasman Sea from another lookout.   To our surprise, the driver took us onto the beach to hunt for greenstone after lunch.  What an unusual and hospitable gesture!

Could it be Mt. Cook in the distance?

Next post:  the much anticipated Franz Josef Glacier!


NZ: Queenstown, South Island playground

Apart from being famous as Lord of the Rings country, Queenstown is also the destination for all kinds of adventure seekers - skiing, of course, bungy jumping, sky diving, white water rafting, you name it.  And the town demographics and nightlife reflected this.  We felt a little "old" when we were there.  Our most extreme sport was climbing the steep hill to hop on the gondola to the top for the panorama.  

Road from Glenorchy to Queenstown

Sky divers about to land/splash

Town centre
View from the top

Lake Wakatipu

Looking east towards Cecil Peak and Walter Pea

"The Remarkables" the magnificent backdrop to the town (Double Cone on the left is the highest mountain)

Queenstown waterfront

How perfect can it get...


NZ: Te Anau

Te Anau sits on Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island.  Surrounded by mountains, it is the gateway to Fiordland National Park.  We had planned an extra day here in case the weather didn't work out for a hike and also to allow us the option of taking an extra cruise - the one to Doubtful Sound, even more isolated than Milford Sound and possibly another "once in a lifetime" experience.  However, it involved an early start on a long bus ride and a long day on the boat.  After the very full experience the day before on the Key Summit hike and the Milford Sound cruise, we decided to take a break and spend the day relaxing in Te Anau instead.  We visited the local wildlife centre and took a side trip to nearby Manapouri.   You'll see below how beautiful Lake Manapouri is.  

Te Anau itself is a touristy little town with a population of less than 2,000.  We were surprised to walk into two shops both with Chinese owners.   Both ladies asked us the same question - did you like Canada?  Apparently both were offered the choice of emigrating to Canada or New Zealand from Hong Kong years ago.  There had always been a nagging question in their minds as to whether they had made the right decision. We assured them they had made the right choice - I'd emigrate to New Zealand if I were 10 years younger!  Clean air, fresh food - wonderful climate.  We were also pleasantly surprised to find two Chinese restaurants, both looking quite authentic.  We enjoyed an amazing ocean trout steamed the Chinese way - what a treat!  

Lake Te Anau

Mother goose sitting on her eggs

Some kind of waterfowl sitting on her nest

The incredibly tranquil Lake Manapouri

Our next stop was Queenstown from where we would embark on the last legs of our journey via bus and train.   Before we surrendered our car, we took a last drive out to Glenorchy, a 45 minute windy but scenic drive from Queenstown.  The view was spectacular!

Road to Glenorchy


A closer look

The lagoon 

Enjoying the view at Lake Wakatipu

Latte break in Glenorchy

Next post:  Queenstown, Lord of the Rings country


NZ: the famous Milford Sound

We arrived at Milford Sound in good time and in good weather - a pleasant surprise after all the dire warnings.   Milford Sound had the reputation of being the wettest place in New Zealand.  It was said that no matter how dry it was when you started out on the cruise, there would still be a good chance that you get wet weather once you're in the sound.  We were very lucky - we started off with threatening skies but it got sunny shortly into the cruise.  We picked the late afternoon cruise on the advice of one of the guide books as it would mean avoiding all the tourist buses that drove in from Queenstown for the midday cruises.  And it was excellent advice - we not only missed the hordes on the cruise, we also missed the buses and the traffic on the treacherous road to Milford Sound.  This was our view of Mitre Peak from the dock. 

Mitre Peak

Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park, runs 15km inland from the Tasman Sea, surrounded, as you can see, by steep cliff faces on both sides.  It was acclaimed as New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction and Rudyard Kipling called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.  This landscape was reminiscent of that seen on the Western Brook Pond cruise in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada.  The difference is that the Western Brook Pond cruise started at the month of the fjord and went inland while the Milford Sound cruise started from the tip of the fjord and went towards the sea.  The flag in the photo below could have been Canadian and you wouldn't know the difference.   See the next photo of Western Brook Pond and you will understand what I mean.

Western Brook Pond, Gros More National Park, Newfoundland

Spectacular waterfalls - lots of rainfall here plus it's spring

What luck - a penguin!

Seals enjoying the sun

To make it more perfect - rainbows!

View from the dock in the early evening - still plenty of light for the drive back to Te Anau.  It was a good day!


NZ: The road to Milford Sound

We flew from Wellington to Queenstown and missed the lovely northern beaches of the South Island - as usual  saving something for a return trip.  The best thing about the flight was that it gave us an unusual view of Mt. Cook (the highest mountain in New Zealand) from above the clouds.  Thanks to the pilot who announced the view and the empty seats that allowed me to scramble for a better view.  It was breathtaking!

From Queenstown, we rented a car to drive to Te Anau as our base for exploring the area.  If we had come to New Zealand 5 years earlier, we would have contemplated doing the legendary Milford Track - a 4 day 53 km track, once described as "the finest walk in the world".  As it was, reading about it was all we could do.  As a compromise, we took the "road" to Milford Sound instead.  And it was spectacular!   We were alerted to the first view by all the tourist buses along the road - Mirror Lake was as photogenic as expected - how perfect could it get!  And you could almost see it from the road, no strenuous hikes to worry about.

But we were gluttons for punishment - we decided to do at least one hike before Milford Sound.  The great weather allowed us to do the hike up to Key Summit - a two-hour hike, uphill all the way, which reminded us of the hike up to the Tea House at Lake Louise in Banff.  There was not much to see along the way, you just kept going through sheer faith that something good will be at the end, and the last half hour of the hike required a lot of faith!  
There was one waterfall...

And this enticing view near the top...

But in the end, it was all worth it!
This was the stunning view at Key Summit...

The way down was easy.  
Green stone?

And some pretty ferns on the way down

More majestic views of mountains on the drive to Milford Sound -

This looked like a receding glacier -

The short lineup to go through the narrow one way tunnel.  Apparently the waiting area is an avalanche area in the winter


Next post: the famous Milford Sound