Posting Auckland while Hanging in Hong Kong

So here we are in Hong Kong awaiting our flight to Bangkok. I am taking advantage of free internet to post some of Mike’s artsie photos from Auckland.

We really did not do much tourist stuff in Auckland. I think we are finally getting a bit travelled out!

We had a couple of nice meals out on the waterfront, and walked up the main shopping strip, but no museums or art galleries or sight seeing. We did go in to catch a movie however, and as you can see by the chaotic shot of our room, we did some major repacking before heading to Thailand. And that is where we need to go now – off to our gate for boarding.

The Birds and the Beards and Mount Manganui

No time to write the text for this set, but here are our photos from our visit with Warren, Debbie and their kids Jonathan (bowling a cricket ball below), Rachel (putting at right) & Samuel (with the ‘shell’ face below) and Warren’s sister Jen and her son Andrew (playing cricket) – her husband and other son were away at a golf tournament.

We’re off to Thailand in the morning – gotogo for now. Catch up in Hong Kong we hope!

Okay – we are now in Hong Kong awaiting our flight to Bangkok. We have a couple of hours to pass, so here we are.

Several of the photos here are from the Beard’s – Jen was a magnificent hostess and supplied us not only with beds for all of – the Birds family of 5 as well as us 3 – but also a yummy waffle breakfast and after our energetic hike up Mount Manganui, she fed us once again before we headed off for Auckland.

The view from the top of the mount were impressive as seen in Mike’s photos. Debbie and the kids chose to check out the pools around the edge of the mountain – it drops straight into the ocean. And we had lots of fun playing with the shells they collected.

From the hike, we made a stop by to check out Andrew’s cricket match – we were lucky to catch him bowling and you can see the action here in his very active pitch.

And then after a nice lunch, we had a final photo with the Bird clan before heading for Auckland and our final Kiwi experience before leaving the Australian continent.

Rotorua – a Muddy Stinky Day

From Waitomo, we were off to spend the night near Tauranga at Warrens sisters home. But en route we had scheduled a stop at Rotorua. Mike & I had been here back in 1989, and so were knew to expect the sulyphourous smell (that’s not my description – that’s the tourist-ized phrase for sulpher stink).

We visited Hells Gate – an accurate description for the surroundings. We saw not only Hells Gate, but also Sodom and Gomorah (two boiling pools of sulphurous mud), the Devils Cauldron, Devils Throat and more. Less goulish names included the Map of Australia, sulphur crystal valley, the mud volcano and the cooking pool where the Maouri cooked their food.

The temperatures were upward of 120 degrees C. This is possible due to the minerals which are in the waters which raise the boiling point above that of water.

We all shared in a mud bath in the healing muds, and then followed up with a soak in the hot sulphur waters and a shower. Left our skin silky smooth – but we still stink 2 days later!

We also did a Maouri carving – Kyle
is seen here working on his. Afterwards we followed up with cold one at the Belgian Bar in Rotorua where Mike had a lovely Belgian Chimay (his annual Christmas gift from George). We also passed by the Pig and Whistle – a Burlington mildly famous pub also – and Mike felt compelled to take a photo!

And then we were off to Warrens sisters place to meet up with the Birds and the Beards!

Waitomo Caves – Rap, Rock & Raft

From the Birds we were on our way to Rap, Raft & Rock in Waitomo Caves.

Our 5 hour tour included abseiling – drop by cable rope into the cave – you can see Kyle at left and Mike at right below descending, cave exploring, checking out the glow worms, crawling through some tight tunnels (or your basic spelunking), rafting in complete darkness through the cave tunnels, and then doing a rock climb out of the caves.

We were not allowed to take our own cameras for safety reasons – apparently some people become so involved in photo taking they can actually not pay attention to the important instructions (hmm, there must be other people like Mike in the world it seems :-). So the photos here were all taken by our guide Stuart.

We spotted the cave ‘eels’ and I even managed to pat one as the guide distracted it (they like to bite you as they are hard up for food!). We also spotted a Weta – kind of like a cave version of a cockroach – which is photoed here.

But the most impressive cave life was definitely the glow worms. When all our lights were out, they were like stars in the sky above us. They were so bright you could actually see their reflection in the water and the contours of the ceiling.

We also crawled through some tight channels – including Kyle almost getting stuck in a horizontal one that opened out into the water. Obviously we did manage to get him out.

And after some further wading in the waters, we all ascended with a final mildly challenging rock climb up the wall back out. It was heaps of fun, and with a small group of only 6 (the max size) there was not much time wasted waiting around.

Our group included 3 others all individually signed up – an Aussie girl from Sydney and 2 blokes from Germany. We ended up going out for dinner with one of the Germans at the Thirsty Weta – and as he said, we had the best of dinners – good food, good drink and good company.

And we all slept very well.

Bottom of the Top (or South end of the North)

After our ferry crossing, we picked up our new rental car in Wellington (after much confusion with terminals). We did not get away as quickly as hoped and combined with a wet rainy day, the drive to Havelock North was not very exciting or pleasant.

We arrived at Warren and Debbies place no problems, and found nice treats for us in the fridge even! The next morning we had a leisurely rise and a nice breakfast before heading to Napier.

Napier is a fascinating town since it was almost 100% rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake and subsequent fires. The 7.9 richter scale earthquake was horrendous and 249 (if memory serves me correct) people died. But the city made very smart decisions on their design. The organization for everything from immediate care of the wounded to the long term decisions on financing during the depression were impressive.

We enjoyed the afternoon touring around the town checking out the many varieties of Art Deco. Some of the buildings had Egyptian influence, some American Spanish, others had Maori designs worked into them, some were classical art deco and others were Art Nouveau.

The Pagani sign at left is included for Suzanne’s benefit – her not so common maiden name.
We also visited the museum where the works of artist Roland Hipkins were on display. He was an English painter who came to Napier as an artist teacher. He is mostly known for his painting ‘Renaissance’ (at right) which is based on the rebuilding of Napier. He returned to England for a while to establish his ‘name’ as he was not getting much exposure in Napier, but returned to New Zealand. One of his major influencing pieces is the one at left (Mike only remembers the name as ………Backyard).
There were also exhibits on the earthquake disaster including interviews with several of the survivors. Other exhibits included Art Deco artifacts and 20th century home innovations.
We ended the day with a trip to the top of Te Mata Peak overlooking Havelock North, Hastings and Napier as well as many miles beyond.
The limestone cliffs were all angled due to the plate activity around here (source of the earthquakes also of course). Mike had fun roaming around the hills and valleys amoungst the sheep.
And as you can see from the photos, once again the weather co-operated with us. Despite calls for more rain for the next few days, today was an absolutely wonderful, hot day.

Top of the South Island!

From Christchurch we headed up to Kaikoura on the East coast of the South island. I had been told by someone that this was the town rebuilt after a massive fire/earthquake in Art Deco. However, it turns out that town is actually Napier, in the North Island – near our following night stop.

Regardless, Kaikoura was an interesting town offering once again several extreme sport options – or a walk/hike around the waterfront coves where seals and bird colonies abound. After a leisurely rise and drive here, we took the afternoon to do the walk. Albatross also nest here, but unfortunately we did not see any of them – they were what I had hoped most for.

The limestone cliffs on the seaside are followed by rolling hills. The hills were actually fortified by the local Maori tribes, and if you look closely you can see the ‘stepped’ formations of the ‘pa’ (fort) on the hills remaining. Each step originally consisted of double rows of vertical spears to prevent the enemy tribes from ascending the hills.

So Kaikoura ended up an interesting stop en route to Picton for our ferry crossing the next day. The next day was wet and rainy for most of the day, and not very exciting. Which worked out not so bad as we were travelling by ferry to the North Island and then driving for many hours. But en route to the ferry we did pass another group (hmm, not sure of the proper term for that – Kyle thinks it may be a squadron 🙂 of seals.

Then no more photos till we reached the North Island en route to Havelock North where we are staying 2 nights at the Birds home. Warren and Debbie were in Canada several years ago on exchange and Michael taught with Warren. They are very kindly lending us their home while they are on vacation. We will hook up with them in a couple of days in Tauranga.

Lord of the Rings Day – Jan 4

From Milford Sound, we spent the day driving to Queenstown – a fairly lengthy drive. But we got away just after 9am from Milford, and made good time on the road. We had made all our stops on the drive in, so boogied out much quicker!

Once in Queenstown, we headed to the local self drive tour on a nearby lookout point. Several ‘miscellaneous’ scenes were filmed in this area. It was close to the base in Queenstown, and had a bit of variety within a short area. It was on private land – so you paid your entrance fee to their land ($20 was quite reasonable actually), where they now have lots of animals roaming around. It was quite interesting to see LOTR landscapes with deer, pigs, buffalo, yaks, goats, sheep, alpaca and more roaming around!

Also on the property was a movie set for a Disney film from the 1980’s ‘The Rescue’ (photo at left).

From the LOTR movies we have:

Kyle and Audrey walking across the scene where the Rohirrim refugees flee Edoras. Mike managed to find a similar shot from the movie – note the season is different, and we have walked further around the pond. It is quite interesting how perspective can make the scale quite different!

Michael posed on the cliff face that Aragorn was dragged over (notice the grass below which replaces the special effects of the river in the movie :-). The comic at left has actual lines from the movie – all the more humourous having seen the landscape. The goat on the cliff above is the same rock from another angle actually.

The hillside where Legolas did his amazing jump onto his horse before battle. Bit different angle from the movie scene at right, and different lighting and season – but the same spot.

Finally, a picturesque scene, which was just a nice view – but it may very well have been in one of the movies 🙂

And so while most tourists visit Queenstown as the adventure/ extreme sport capital of New Zealand (and perhaps even the world), the Montgomery’s spent their visit retracing the steps of the Orcs and the Hobbits 🙂 And we thoroughly enjoyed it!

To Milford Sound & On Milford Sound-Jan 3

On Thursday we had a bit of a late lie then after breakfast took a leisurely drive to Milford Sound. We were going for an overnight cruise on Milford Sound on a small ship (sleeps 12 guests).

The drive was incredible. We stopped so many times for photo ops, that we used up all the time we had put aside for hikes! The scenery was non stop. The drive to Milford Sound is just as inspiring as the Milford Sound itself. We are very pleased that we chose to drive ourselves rather than take the round trip by bus, which was an optional part of our overnight tour.

The mountains here are very different from the Rockies or the Alps. Because of all the rain, the vegetation is extremely lush. It rains over 200 days a year here on average. They don’t measure rainfall in mm – rather in metres! In Milford Sound they receive over 6 metres of rain a year on average. And that’s not snow remember – that’s rain.

To get to Milford Sound, you must travel through the 1km long tunnel drilled straight through the mountain. The Homer Tunnel was built starting in the 1930’s, but was not completed till 1952.

We boarded for a 4:30pm launch. Our tour took us out to the entrance to the Sound from the Tasman Sea. We saw seals and several sea birds as well as the amazing scenery. There were all the classic glacial landscapes. The Milford Sound is technically not a ‘sound’ at all, but a fiord – the waterway is an ocean filled glacier carved valley (a fiord).

The entrance to the fiord was missed twice by James Cook when charting New Zealand. It is well hidden due to the winding nature of the valley and the surrounding mountains. It was finally discovered by a sealer in 1823 when he was blown into the sound during a storm.

All along the way the waterfalls were running full stream – back to my comment about being so lucky with the rain – we have had amazing blue skies, but the rain the previous night supplied the waterfalls with all the water they needed to put on a fantastic show for us. Many of them would be dry by the morning. Because the mountains are so steep, there is little to stop the water from accumulating on the surface – so there are numerous waterfalls. If you enlarge most of these photos, you will see them all along the mountainsides.

After cruising out to the Tasman Sea, we returned to moor in the harbour back to the starting point of the Milford Sound (photo at left) – nice and calm waters for the evening! It is easy to not miss the scale of these mountains – check out the size of the boat at left against the mountainside.

After a bbq dinner, we went ashore for a walk along the end of the trail which leads from Te Anau. It is a 3 day hike – it was nice to just have to do the last few hundred metres!

The next morning several of the people took out kayaks – we choose to sit back and relax before our long drive to Queenstown – we have picked up a book on Lord of the Rings sites, so hope to check some out on the drive!

Te Anau, New Zealand; Jan 1-3 2008

After a wonderful start to the New Year in Dunedin, we headed to Te Anau for 2 nights. The weather prediction was not very encouraging, so I made sure to purchase extra waterproofing for our rain gear as we are overnight on Milford Sound from here. But fortune shone on us and despite one night of heavy rain (which you will hear later on was a very good thing), the daytime brought pleasant hiking temperatures and mostly clear skies with spots of clouds.

We headed to Manapouri for a hike on Jan 2. Kyle had unfortunately taken a travel sickness pill and was a bit drowsy on the hike – especially the first 2 hours which were basically straight up! But he survived and as you can see, the view from the top was spectacular.

The cliff overhang seen at right is where most of the look out photos were taken from. It is a view over the Fiordlands of the South Island, with just a peak at Lake Manapouri (bottom left look out shot).

All along the scenery was magnificent. The forest was very green – full of moss and ferns. Rocks were invisible as they were covered in moss. The trees were covered with hanging moss in some of the damper areas. Only our path was bare in places.

Back in Te Anau the view out over Lake Te Anau was also impressive as seen in the ‘mega panoramic’ below.

Happy New Year’s 2008 from Dunedin, NZ

Happy New Years! It is now 9:30 in the morning on January 1 – although you folks in Canada as still awaiting your celebrations.

We landed in New Zealand on the 30th late in the day after a whole of day of 3 flights to get here. It was cold and raining when we arrived, and with Mike having been sick with the flu for over a week, we did not start the NZ journey on a high note.

But we awoke on Dec 31 to a beautiful sunny day, and although it was cool, it made all the difference to see the sun after so many days of clouds and rain.

Dunedin is an interesting town as it is laid out around a central octagon. And Robbie Burns overlooks the centre of it all – this is a very Scottish town. The nephew of Robbie Burns was one of the founding fathers of the city.

The city is built on mountains – note that I don’t call them hills! and even skateboarders need a motor in this environment :-). The architecture is very interesting – a lot of gothic and 18th/19th century buildings most which have been well maintained.

In the morning we headed out to a local ‘minor’ attraction – Tunnel Beach. It was at the end of non-descript road – and it was incredible. You can see the limestone point in the photo. But what you can’t see is the tunnel that has worked through the rock to the beach below. You walk right through the rock to the beach below and it really is an awesome ‘freak’ of nature. And of course there are sheep and green grass everywhere!

We also checked out the steepest street in the world – I did mention that it is built on mountains! The gradient is at one point 1 in 2.81 – which is ridiculous! As you can see, I even end up taller than Kyle standing right beside him!
We celebrated in the town octagon in Dunedin with several other thousand people – locals and tourists both. We had a marvelous meal – the smoked salmon is fantastic here. Followed by a great dessert (as photoed here).

The octagon was home to lots of entertainment – there was a real mixed band playing for the whole evening.

And at midnight we had live piper playing Auld Lang Syne and lots of fireworks. A very memorable New Years.

So hopefully the sunny weather will signal a healthier Michael and it will help Kyle overcome his car sickness.