We are now sitting in the Sydney airport*, waiting to board our flight to Guangzhou, China and then on to Hanoi, Vietnam, so it seemed the perfect time to finally catch up on the rest of our time on the Southern Island of New Zealand. Obviously.
*or, we were at the time of writing this. Then it takes, apparently, 6 more full days for me to choose and upload photos. We are in Vietnam now. anyway....
Cleaaaaaaarly a bit behind on relaying some of our trip highlights, and it has built up a bit, so this is my attempt at an abbreviated catch-up, hopefully short and sweet.
JK -- there's no way it will be short. Should I have broken this up into shorter posts? Maybe. But I didn't. You're welcome, and sorry. Let's get to it....
NEW ZEALAND (FROM VIETNAM!):
Wine country, and motherland of NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Adam said"meh," and I said "its gonna rock", and guess what, it did. Kick ass weather, and we went to more spots than we originally planned because it was so much fun. We stole grapes with permission off the vine (is that really stealing?), relaxed in hanging egg chairs, and maybe broke a few glasses (or just I did, that is). And no, not because I'm a lush, but because I'm a graceful idiot. Also went to a lone brewery out there in the sea of vineyards, lounged in beanbag chairs, and it rocked.
Abel Tasman: We blew our budget on a guided kayaking trip of this famed national park, known for its beautiful waters andgolden beaches. And it was totally worth it - even though it was cold, rainy, and the morning consisted of me trying not to throw up from the swells. We had double kayaks and a small group - it just our guide Matt and a Kiwi, Annie.
Highlights of the day included: the boat taxi to the starting point, which started with passenger boats loaded with kayaks being dragged alllllll the way into the water by tractor, then abandoning the tractor (someone else somehow retrieved the tractors from the bay, I don't understand those logistics), not throwing up after all (win!), seeing tons of seals and birds, "surfing" into a quiet estuary through decidedly unquiet surf, seeing our guide's kayak flip over in front of us in said surf (shit!), somehow avoiding them, and then after they were fine, having something like a boat-flip to talk about the rest of the day. The tour was a total highlight of NZ; we learned a lot about the birds, the maori history, environmental history, and we had a great time with guide Matt and Annie. But no pictures, because I'm sure the camera would have suffered the same fate as my fitbit (hey, who knew salt water wouldn't go well with a device that wasn't even waterproofed in the first place? WHO KNEW?).
This is one of th top 10 most beautiful places we've been, maybe ever, easily. Even the 20 min walk from the carpark (home of a couple peacocks, by the way) was gorgeous.
We got the tip from Matt and Annie to go here to see the baby seal pups playing in tidal pools at low tide. They were pretty damn adorable, and the tip was spot on.
We also tried out a local food called Whitebait, little tiny white fish cooked in a egg pattie. It's a thing here. I'm not sure I need that thing again.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
These two glaciers are huge draws for tourists - besides being cool because, hey, glacier, they are also unique because after they move down from the Southern Alps, they end in rainforest. Both are apparently really fast moving in comparison to other glaciers around the world, and have rapidly advanced and declined over the years.
For example, at Fox, 100 years ago tourist would step off onto the glacier from - what is now - an enormous cliff wall we looked up at, something like 200+ft high. In the 80's the glacier was smaller than it is now, but then it advanced again. 2009 was the end of the last big advance and was, I believe, hundreds of meters longer than it is today.
Check out this timelapse for the latest rapid decline from just one year, it's kind of fascinating...in 2009, I think the glacier would have covered a huge part of the frame, where the people are standing in the bottom corner was under glacier, etc:
To see the glaciers, the big thing here is to book a heli-hike tour (helicopter to glacier then hike around like Chris O'Donnell in Vertical Limits....just like that), or go on a scenic helicopter tour with a glacier landing. One of us wanted to do the helicopter thing, the other did not. But the pro-heli person is also super cheap, so we "compromised" with a 6 hour hike up to Alex Knob to see the Franz Josef glacier up high....which really, only one of us really wanted to do. But once up there, both of us were glad we did it. We took a guided (short) hike the next day at Fox glacier to know what the hell we were looking at, and got to go behind barriers and step over fences like badasses (or cheap tourist who opted out of helicopter tours, whatever). It was awesome. But unfortunately, people are not allowed to go ON the glaciers from the bottom anymore (guide or not); it's too dangerous, as the glaciers are too unstable.
This is the place you go to bungee jump (apparently is the birthplace of commercial bungee), skydive, zorb ( roll down a huge hill in a giant clear ball), jetboat up a river, or a million other crazy things. We did ALL of that (or none, you decide), and then we tried out their famous burger spot, the FergBurger (this one, not surprisingly, is true).
We did also, rather adventurously, go up in a cable car and watch others go by in what appeared to be the slowest luge on Earth, ever. Cool view, great little city. Also, fun fact, the lake is apparently one of the cleanest in the world, something like 98% pure.
We had been looking forward to Dunedin but I think the sheer size of it was a bit jarring after we were in the middle of nowhere for (what felt like) a while - Milford Sound was definitely isolated, minus random hollywood sets, and Te Anau was tiny.
Dunedin has a (big surprise!) Scottish and English influence from its colonizers, and it was a pretty cool town. Good coffee, good food, interesting Settlers museum with free exercise bikes.
But best thing about this area was the Otango Peninsula, which juts out into the sea east of Dunedin. We decided to check it out and were not disappointed. We went to 2 spots where you can easily hike out to on the coast, called Lovers Leap and the Chasm. Both spots are really close together, but you hike through sheep fields to get to them. At this point, we had been in this heavily sheeped country for 3 weeks, but this was our first chance at seeing these guys up close and personal, and I was pumped. Except wow, the sheep did not feel the same about us.
SIDE NOTE: oh my god its so hot. On the plane now, and there are no air vents on. Kanners aren't meant for this. Its actually a really nice plane, but what. is. happening??
The path is literally in the middle of grazing ground, and in fact, the whole area is actually closed in the spring to hikers for "lambing". So in some ways, you'd think the sheep wouldn't give two shits about you being around. But no, they were skittish as hell. They could see you coming a mile away and got the eff outta there.
Seriously. So sweaty. Why!??
Anyway, this peninsula was a definite eye-catching highlight. After we scared a ton of sheep by our mere presence, and took in the breathtaking views, we drove to the tip of the pensinsula and saw a bunch of albatross coming in at dusk (wow, they are huge), and a bunch of giant seals (or sea lions, I cannot tell the difference), who were just lazing around.
We stopped here for penguins but the whole town was an experience. We booked a hotel to get a break from the campervan, and unknowingly booked at a spot that was in the middle of an abandoned hospital complex, overlooking the town on a hill. Not at all like the start of a horror movie. Not. At. All.
The motel was named, obviously, Garden of Eden. I pride myself on chalking weird shit like this up to an adventure, but after driving up through what I perceived to be the setting for our mysterious murders, I said "no way, lets eat the cost of this." But Adam convinced me we at least look inside. Annnd, it was fine. I think we may have been the ONLY people staying in the entire place, but it really was a nice room. Someone in town later told us the hotel company had bought the entire hospital complex to make it all into hotels, but had only done this one part yet (and it used to be the maternity ward).
Seriously, If Vietnam is as hot as the inside of this plane is right now, I might not survive.
Anyway, the town was cool, and had a lot of its original Victorian era buildings around. This was different from most other towns we had seen because a lot of places in NZ apparently tore their charming, beautiful buildings down at some point in the name of progress (supposedly), leaving less than charming curb appeal in most places. Perhaps stemming from the survival of their Victorian structures, Oamaru has embraced steampunk and even had a museum of sorts; it was pretty cool. They had something called The Portal, which alone made the entrance fee worth it.
We ate the crap out of some amazing cheese at Whitestone Cheesery, samples some brews, ziplined like ultimate adventureres at their (meant-for-children) playground, and saw blue penguins.
The penguin thing was really interesting, and I think Adam's got a writeup on it - we were really excited to see these little guys.
How are the flight attendents not even breaking a sweat?? Are they mutants?
This was one of our rare, mostly-driving days. We stopped at a place called Riverstone for an amazing breakfast, strolled through their gardens and eyed the castle the owners were building (sure, why not) and then drooooooove. Maybe for 5 hours.
That's how compact and interesting this country is -- I think 5 hours was our longest driving day. Kaikoura is known for whale watching, and we booked the earliest tour at 645am the next morning, which rocked. They have all kinds of whales that go through the area because of a huge (sea) canyon that sits close to shore and is essentially a giant feeding ground. Locals even see the rare blue whale (our guide said she's seen 3 just this month) but I think the regular in town is the sperm whale, and we were lucky enough to see 3! Then we saw a bunch of dusky dolphins on our way back in; just a huge pod or several big pods - like a 100 dolphins - showing off, doing flips, breaching. It was a cool sight to see.
Kaikoura is a cool town outside of the whales, too. We went on a cliff walk, saw more seals, and munched on some mega sized crawfish the size of lobsters.
We stayed at a very cool farm that we wrote about earlier with hilariously loud cows and deer, then thought we'd head into Christchurch. But, we couldn't bring ourselves to spend the day on the road or be in a city, so we said, screw it, and hung out again in Kaikoura. Great decision. We got a little motel by the sea, and just relaxed.
Christchurch was our last stop in NZ, so we were a bit sad going in. Then...You go into town knowing a series of quakes had caused serious damage, but I didn't really get how much damage until we were there. The bigger quake was 5 years ago, but it feels like it was much more recent. Or not? I don't know how fast a city can rebuild, but there is a lot of frustration from the residents. And I can see why - It felt like every other city block was an empty lot being re-built, or a fenced-off site that was still unsafe but not yet fixed or bulldozed. Everywhere. 5 years later. Even our campsite, 30 min outside of town in South New Brighton had temporary kitchens and bathrooms from the Salvation Army because their regular facilities were still earthquake damaged. You can tell the "its been 5 years" bit is a huge point of contention as well -- artwork, posters and the like all serve to let frustrated citizens vent. Theres a long way to go to rebuild Christchurch, but it was still an interesting city.
And that was New Zealand. The end.
PS (because this isnt already way too long for anyone's attention span) -- Did you know POSSUM FUR was a thing? I didn't either, until I bought a wool hat at a market in Queenstown. I thought, sweet, something merino wool, how fitting! And it's cold (oh man I miss that sensation)....Then, "oh wait, what does this tag say? Oh, just that it's Wool + Silk (ooh!) + Possum fur. Possum fur...Huh."
So, fun fact, NZ originally had no mammals except for a bat that is now extinct. All mammals in New Zealand now are invasive. LIKE THE POSSUM. And incidentally, NZers are not so fond of possums, except for maybe, you know, their fur.
The end for real. One day, in Croatia we'll write about Sydney and Vietnam.