Ah, Fiji, the final stop on our trip. We arrived in Nadi, Fiji on Friday (April 6) in the evening. There was no flight to Savusavu, our final destination, that evening so we spent one night at a place near the airport. It was hot and humid, so we checked in and then went for a swim in the pool to cool off. We called it a night pretty early after dinner, because we had a 7am flight. We arrived at the airport an hour before the flight and as we were waiting to check in a Chinese dance and drum troop started entertaining in the lobby. It was a little early in the morning for the drumming and made it very difficult to hear the ticket agent. We departed on time in our little plane and about an hour later arrived in Savusavu – the landing was one of the crazier ones we’ve experienced flying close to the trees and right over roof tops. Yikes! The airport was the smallest that we have been to.
We were picked up by the manager of the place we rented and she drove us to what would be our home for the next ten days. We were not disappointed when we saw the place and knew we had found the perfect place for the last stop on our journey.
It is a self contained unit called the “The Pod House” and is completely private. As you can see it comes with it’s own plunge pool, which we took full advantage of, as well as an indoor and outdoor shower, a full kitchen, an outside day bed and all the other amenities. Once we were left on our own, Don laid down on the bed and promptly fell asleep.
We were told that everything pretty much closes down on Sunday, so we would need to shop for food, as it was Saturday. After Don woke up from his nap we took a walk into the town of Savusavu which was about 6 km (~4 miles) away on a gravel road. It took us about an hour, but we were plenty hot when we got there. We went to the open air market and got some fresh produce, after taking time to figure out what everything was and meeting some helpful stall owners. Then on to the butcher to pick up meat, the grocery store for a few essentials and finally, but most importantly, the liquor store to get wine and beer. After finishing our shopping we went to a local cafe for a late lunch and then caught a taxi home.
The next few days consisted of mainly lounging around our place. Sunday was pretty rainy so we read, ate, napped and just enjoyed ourselves. We walked into town on Monday and picked up some snorkeling gear and more food. That afternoon we were able to get out and check out the water right in front of the house. There were all kinds of interesting coral and heaps of fish – all of this was just steps away.
On Tuesday, we rented a car (actually a 4×4 truck) for two days so we could get out and see the island a bit more. We were told that the woman who cleaned our place, Kalesi, would also make a Fijian dinner for us if we were interested. So, we contacted her and arranged to meet her at the market after we picked the car up. We bought food for our dinner the next night with Kalesi at the market and then she accompanied us home. Because it was a rainy day and not good for snorkeling, we decided to drive over to Labasa – the largest town on the island – and see the sites. Kalesi said she wasn’t doing anything that day and offered to come with us as our tour guide. We headed out and boy did it start to rain. The roads are not great and with the visibility challenges the rain added it was a tough drive, but Don did a great job. When we got to a view point at the top of a hill, we pulled over to take some pics. However, when we went to start the car it would not start. Ugh! Luckily Kalesi and Stina were able to push and Don was able to get it started. We were thankful to have Kalesi with us because she pointed out that the rental company had an office in Labasa, so we could have the truck checked out while we looked around the town. If it had just been us, we probably would have headed back to Savusavu. We found the rental car place and while they put a new battery in we walked around the market. Again, everyone was super friendly and we kept losing Don as everyone wanted to stop and talk to him. The market was much bigger than the one in Savusavu and it was fun to see what all was being sold.
After getting an ice cream to cool us off, we headed back to Savusavu. The weather was starting to clear a bit and the return drive was a little nicer. We dropped Kalesi off at her house and then headed home. On Wednesday, the weather was nicer and we thought we would take a drive on the “Hibiscus Highway” to see if we could do some snorkeling in Natewa Bay, as the information booklet at our place said it was good place for that. The booklet made it sound like it was fairly easy to get to and only about a 30 minute drive away. Well, we drove quite a ways and the road got sketchier even with 4 wheel drive – the road was undergoing some major construction.
We knew where the bay was, but if we continued on the road around the head we would be driving all day. Don had seen on the map that there were some roads that cut over to the bay, but we hadn’t noticed them on the way over. We turned around and with the help our iPad GPS we were able to find the first one, but after a bumpy ride down to the water we didn’t really see any access for snorkeling. We decided to try the other road, but again after quite a long bumpy ride we still hadn’t found access to the water. We decided to give up and head back. On the way out we saw some people waiting at a bus stop near a road that went down into a small village. We asked if it would be OK for us to go down and check out the water and the woman said that they would be happy to have us as guests. We drove down a bit more and found a place to park then walked into the village (it consisted of about ten houses). We met Isaac and Ite sitting on a bench and they offered to show us around. After walking down to the water and taking a look around, we returned to the village and they invited us to share kava with them – a tradition when someone visits. We had such a good time talking, laughing and trying kava with a bunch of the villagers! Mostly we found that it just made our tongues numb, the kava that is.
What an experience, we were so glad we stopped and it ended up being better than snorkeling. If we hadn’t needed to get home for our Fijian dinner Kalesi was cooking us, we are not sure we would have made it home that night. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed home. Kalesi was already there working on dinner, but her arm was hurting a bit so she had to enlist Don’s help with the shredding of the coconut meat for her coconut cream sauce. Don got the hang of it and was doing pretty good by the end.
For dinner we had pan fried fish, fern with coconut cream sauce, taro, kasava leaves with garlic and coconut, plus plantain-like bananas for dessert. It was a real treat and one of the best dinners we had on the trip.
We returned the car on Thursday and went back to our routine of walking into town and taking a taxi home. We enjoyed our walks and were continually greeted with “bula” (hello) by everyone we met – even people we didn’t see greeted us from their homes or behind a bush. It was kind of comical as we tried to respond and find the person greeting us.
The next few days kind of run together – all that running around had made us tired so we needed some time just to relax at our place :) We took walks into town, got some snorkeling in between rain storms and just generally hung out. The rain really only impacted when we were able to snorkel, but other than that it didn’t bother us much because it was so warm and humid. We had heard that it was best to buy fish at the market on Saturday mornings and Stina had decided that she wanted to buy some lobster to put on the barbi. So, we managed to figure out who was selling what and picked up a couple of nice lobster for dinner that night from the market.
On Sunday night we decided to go out for a nice dinner at the nearby Cousteau Resort. We enjoyed the entertainment – Fijian dancers, music, and crab races – and had a nice dinner. We were able to get some snorkeling in on Monday and Tuesday before we left and were just blown away by the varieties of coral and fish that we saw – on nice days the water is amazingly clear. Since we had such good snorkeling near our place, we didn’t take advantage of any of the boat trips, but we’re sure it must be amazing along the outer reefs.
After one last time in the water and soaking up a little more sun, we headed for the airport in the late afternoon to start our long journey home to Seattle. We really enjoyed our time in Fiji. It is such a beautiful place and we only saw one island, but what made it special was the people.
We arrived back in Perth on Saturday afternoon after a relaxing morning in Exmouth with our friends from The Trip of a Life Time. (FYI – this was the actual name of the boat trip for those of you who might not have known that.) We picked up our rental car and headed towards Fremantle (or Freo for short- Aussies like to shorten everything), a suburb of Perth, for a day and a half. We found another excellent place through one of the house rental sites and wished we were staying longer. We dropped off our luggage and then headed to downtown Freo. It reminded us a bit of some of our Seattle suburbs and of course we fell in love with it immediately. There was a lot of activity and even some street performers. We found a sweet brewery called The Monk to have some good food and a couple of beers. Just what the Dr. ordered. Afterwards we took a walk and found a chocolate and churros (Don’s favorite) place. Stina had a spicy hot chocolate and Don had churros with a chocolate dipping sauce….Mmmmm. After that we were ready to call it a night, so we headed back to our cottage.
On Sunday morning Don had a surfski lesson with Clint Robinson, so that left Stina to explore the Freo markets on her own. We had been worried that most things would be closed due to it being Easter, but Freo was hopping! There was a street market as well as the permanent market, similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle. Stina had a good time window shopping and buying a few things. In the early afternoon we met up after Don’s lesson and walked around the markets and enjoyed some street performances – the streets were jammed with people. We had lunch and then went to check out a beach art exhibition. There were many interesting sculptures placed all around and it made for a fun walk.
We decided it was time for a beer and found another good spot to have one. Our flight was at midnight, so we went back to our place to get packed and cleaned up. Then we went out and got some dinner before heading to the airport.
We arrived in Brisbane around 7am on Monday morning. Our place was not available until noon, so after picking up our car we headed over to visit our friends Jim and Tess and to grab some breakfast. We had a nice breakfast catching up and then a walk along the river. We talked big about staying up until the evening, but after checking in to our place (another great little self-contained unit in a house) we both promptly laid down and fell asleep. In the late afternoon we got out and walked along the South Bank and then found a nice spot for some dinner. We didn’t make it into the Queensland Martime Museum, but enjoyed these boats lying about.
On Tuesday we decided to get over to the Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin’s place) which was about an hours drive away. We knew it would be an all day event so we wanted to get an early start. We had a great day walking around the zoo checking out the native animals and especially enjoyed the interactive exhibits with kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas.
After the zoo we took a scenic drive through Glass House Mountains park and then over to Moreton Bay to drive along the water. We were tired and since we had such a well stocked kitchen, we decided to take advantage and made dinner at our place.
We had plans to see a lot more of Brisbane, but unfortunately on Wednesday morning Stina woke up under the weather for the first time since the beginning of the trip in Cape Town and really wasn’t able to do much over the next two days. We basically stayed at our place in the morning and then got out in the afternoon. Wednesday we went for a walk along the river and happened to run into Jim and Tess – crazy. We walked through the botanical gardens and even though there were some dark clouds and thunder, we never did get rained on.
On Thursday we took the CityCat ferry down the river to check out some other neighborhoods. The Greenpeace boat – Rainbow Warrior – was in town so we stopped to have a look. We had been advised to try a Moreton Bay bug while we were in Brisbane, so that evening we searched out a good spot and had us some bugs! They are lobster-like, but smaller, and with lemon or garlic butter they are delicious. We enjoyed our dinner and then went home to pack up again. We were sad that we hadn’t gotten to see all we had wanted to due to Stina not feeling well, but really liked what we did see of Brissi.
Our flight to Nadi, Fiji departed at 11:30 am on Friday and we got to the airport in plenty of time. (No traffic issues in Brissi.) We realized we only brushed the surface on our visit to Australia, but what we saw we loved. We will just have to make it back, especially to see all of our new friends. What another amazing piece of our adventure! Good on ya, Oz.
Shortly after Friday’s glorious sunset in Carnarvon, we walked down the road to meet the other guests and boat crew for dinner. There were 8 other paddling guests, paddling instructors Dean and Oscar, and 5 crew, for a total of 17. Needless to say it was a fun, rowdy time, and it became clear that the trip would be a hoot. We hadn’t yet seen the boat, the K2O, but were amazed to think that 17 folks could fit comfortably.
On Saturday morning Dean shuttled us from our motel room to the boat. We had some help loading our bags over from the wharf, and then were shown to our stateroom. We weren’t expecting a stateroom! It was a nice sized room with a great ensuite bathroom. We could live like this!
After some final preparations and a safety meeting, we started out of the harbor. Our route would take us up the Western Australia coast to Exmouth, most of which is bordered by the Ningaloo Reef. The Ningaloo Coast is a World Heritage Site due to its incredible biodiversity and unique aesthetics. We would travel both inside and outside the reef at various locations, depending on conditions and what we wanted to do.
The wind was really blowing, and before long the boat was rocking and rolling. K2O is a 60 foot long catamaran, so it isn’t much affected by small waves. This was the ocean! Shortly somebody spotted something large in the water. The boat swerved over for a closer look and it turned out to be a massive manta ray, perhaps 10 feet across. This ocean was alive in more ways than one.
The conditions were good, so it was time for a paddle. The process for launching and paddling was a little tricky. The surfskis were stored on the top deck. The crew lowered them down to the middle deck so the paddlers could sit in them and make necessary adjustments. Then they were lowered to just off the swimstep off the stern, trailing in the water. The bow was given to the paddler, and paddle in the other hand, the move was to jump in the water. Keep in mind that that boat would keep motoring forward to maintain control in the rough water. The paddler would then move to the center of the surfski and jump on and get situated, and then start paddling after the boat. It took a little while, being our first time, but we finally got nearly everybody in the water, paddling alongside K2O. In addition to the single surfskis, there were two doubles that Dean and Oscar would drive, and different people would swap in and out of the back seats. The recovery process after paddling was even more challenging, but we’ll leave that to your imagination.
The waves were really good, so we were surfing immediately. Don got to paddle a Fenn Elite SL, and found it to surf quite well. A camera was mounted to his head via a helmet so some action footage could be shot.
The paddling was fantastic and went very smoothly. Stina opted out of this first session because the seas we bigger than she was used to, and she was getting her seas legs. Late in the session, Don got off the single surfski and got in the Epic double with Oscar. Conditions had actually improved, and they caught some very big, fast rides!
Before going any further, we must mention that one of the crew was the cook. Not just any cook, either. The joke was that he looked and talked just like Jamie Oliver, but it was true!! And the food was amazing. We got three square meals per day, occasional snacks and hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and plenty of beer and wine to fortify us for salty water adventures. This was one of the amazing desserts we had to suffer through.
Each night the K2O would anchor in a bay or some other more sheltered location close to shore. Our first anchorage was probably the most spectacular, a cape lined by massive, crumbly cliffs. That evening Stina was ready to get her toes wet, so we took a short paddle around. This is what it looked like.
Our days continued with paddling, technique sessions, eating, reading, napping, swimming and snorkeling, more eating, and amazing sunsets and moonrises. By the third day Stina was ready for some big water action, so she got in the double with Oscar. These were the biggest conditions we’d seen, and Stina experienced some whiplash-inducing surfs! Twice during the trip we competed in unique races with handicaps and other challenges. In the “World Championship Relay,” Stina’s team took the win on time, but Don’s team got the technical win after penalties were assessed.
Each day brought fun sea life sightings. We saw dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, sea snakes, flying fish, corals, and many other fish. A whale shark was spotted, but due to the conditions most of us didn’t get to see it. In addition, we did a couple of hikes on shore and saw several species of kangaroos and wallabies, lizards, and cool birds. There were an incredible number of massive ant hills, and they were the only examples of wildlife that were easy to capture with the camera.
The wind blew hard every day except the last, which was great for downwind paddling, but difficult for technique practice. One day we were able to paddle up a little canyon called Yardie Creek, which was both gorgeous and protected.
By Thursday night we reached our final destination of Exmouth. We did quite a bit of paddling that day, and then headed to the one bar in town for some celebratory beers. It was weird to be wearing shoes, and around other people not on our trip. Fortunately we were able to go back to the K2O for one more night of blissful sleep on a gently rocking boat.
On Friday we packed up and said goodbyes to the crew and some of the other paddlers who were departing Exmouth that day. We put tips in a sack and gave it to the crew, for their outstanding work keeping us safe, comfortable, entertained, and well fed.
Due to some airline shenanigans, several of us were staying in Exmouth for another day. We checked into the Potshot Hotel, and generally laid low through the middle of the day because it was extremely hot. In the late afternoon, we took a tour of the area, seeing some great canyons to the south of town, and then the lighthouse, some old military stuff, and an old shipwreck north of town. After sunset we went back to the Potshot for a tasty dinner and retired to our (thankfully) air-conditioned rooms. On Saturday we had a mellow morning, and then caught our flight back to Perth. The Trip of a Lifetime had lived up to its billing – in fact, completely blowing away our expectations. It seems like we share a lot of sunset photos, but for us – and hopefully you, too – they never get old.
We said farewell (for now) to NZ on Thursday, March 14, and arrived in Sydney around 7pm after a short 3.5 hour flight. We picked up our rental car, a new Volkswagen Golf – the nicest and zippiest car on our trip thus far – and proceeded to make our way towards Manly, a northern suburb of Sydney. With Don’s good internal GPS, we only had one small detour before we were headed in the right direction. We arrived at our new home for the week and were delighted to see that it looked just like the pictures, maybe even better! As you know, we’ve been traveling in a camper van for the last 4 weeks, so this place seemed downright luxurious. It was a studio/mother-in-law like place with all the amenities ( kitchen, big bed, wonderful shower and TV) that opened up onto a pool with a covered sitting area. Oh yeah, it also included two friendly schnauzers that belonged to the owners of the main house. :)
Friday morning we awoke to the first rain we had seen in quite some time. We may have been a little more travel weary than we realized, because both of us confessed that we didn’t have the desire to do much. We hung out in our new place reading, catching up on email and generally relaxing until mid-afternoon and then went out to do a couple of errands. Don had made arrangements with Dean Gardiner to borrow a surfski while he was in town, so he could paddle around Sydney. However, we needed to figure out a way to transport the ski, so we went in search of a kayak shop to buy some sort of soft rack system. Once that was accomplished, we headed to downtown Manly to check out the town. We walked around a bit, bought a few groceries, and then decided to go have a beer and an early dinner at a local brewery.
The weather was sunny and warm, albeit a little windy, on Saturday and after lazing around in the morning (we did get some much needed laundry done), we finally got up the energy to go for a drive. We drove north to see the Northern Beaches and went as far as we could to Palm Beach, where we were able to do a hike up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
Even though it was windy (there was a big swell too) it was still fairly hot and humid, so we stopped and got some cool drinks and then headed home. Don went for a paddle out of Manly in his borrowed surfski and Stina hung out by the pool – lounging and going for a little swim. Yeah, did we mention how awesome our place was?! We bought a roast chicken (very popular around Sydney) and had that with a nice salad and wine for dinner. We continued to take it easy Sunday, staying local and checking out our neighborhood. We didn’t feel like dealing with the weekend crowds in Sydney and were still adjusting to city life. We had breakfast in Freshwater and then took a great hike along the beach and surrounding cliffs. As we were walking along the rocks we were surprised to find a remote control car trials contest. It was fun to watch, but unfortunately we didn’t have the camera with us. Later we hiked a section of the Manly Scenic Walk and then called it a day, because Don had decided to meet a group for a training paddle at 5:30am. (What?!)
Monday Don managed to get up at 5am and paddle – shock (for him) and awe (for Stina) – so that made it an early day. After breakfast we went to the Manly wharf. There was still some swell and the ferry ride to Sydney was a little rolly, but it was a nice day. We spent the day touring the city and taking in all that we could – doing a fair amount of walking and by the end of the day we were pretty beat. Don took some time to defend the city from invaders.
On Tuesday, we drove back to Sydney to see more sights. First we walked through the botanical gardens and were amazed by all the runners (maybe there’s a race coming up?). The trees, plants, birds and eels were cool, too. We learned about the wattle, and Don sang the famous Monty Python song, and then we cracked up about this (at bottom):
Next we took a drive to check out the famous Bondi Beach (and the beautiful beach bodies!). After a little lunch (California Mexican!) and a walk around the beach, we decided it might be better to drive a further north where there was a better hike with some nice views. We walked the cliffs around South Head, with amazing views in all directions. The cliffs are especially foreboding to the south.
Wednesday came and we realized we only had one day left in Sydney. Don was able to meet up with a local paddler in the morning and they did a long paddle in the harbour. After all the wind and swell of the previous days there were only a few small leftover waves to surf, but it was gorgeous. Stina did a little more laundry and then took a walk into Manly to do some shopping. We met up in Manly and then had to take care of some errands. In the midst of errands we were happy to find a local art gallery selling original aboriginal art. We found a piece that we loved and are now the proud owners of some local art – it has an interesting story behind it too so that makes it even better. After getting our errands done, or what we could before the shops closed at 5 pm, we decided to go for one last hike around North Head to see the views and snap a few photos of the amazing sunset. Then it was back home for packing.
Our flight to Perth on Thursday morning was at 10:10am, so we planned to leave at 7am to give us plenty of time – accounting for morning traffic and returning the car. We were out the door a little after 7 and our host came to say goodbye, but also let us know that there had been an accident and traffic was backed up. Apparently, it was not a typical morning in Sydney. A truck had spilled diesel in the harbour tunnel to Sydney. There are only two options for getting from Manly to the airport and they are the tunnel and the bridge. So we were basically screwed. In addition there was an issue with the trains causing them to cancel a few routes. People were sitting in traffic for hours and we were right there with them. Eventually the diesel was cleaned up and the tunnel re-opened, but traffic continued to be slow. We arrived at the airport at 9:45am, and knew we had little chance of catching our flight, but thought we’d have a go. Alas, we missed our flight and were put on one a couple hours later. Not too bad considering.
We arrived in Perth late, but safely. The rental car company didn’t have the VW we reserved so we ended up with a Mercedes – fancy! . We made our way to the hotel, got checked in and unloaded our bags before heading off to check out the sights. We drove along the coast to Fremantle, and then turned inland towards the Perth CBD. As we were driving along the Swan River we both happened to look over at the water at the same time to see a shark fin gliding by. “Did you just see what I just saw?!” “Uh, yeah!” Crazy. Unfortunately we didn’t have the camera along to catch the fin or any other sights, but the next morning we cracked up at this bus stop poster.
It had been a long day and we decided to find a place to eat. Perth is very expensive due to the mining industry in the area. We looked at some mediocre restaurants with insane prices and decided if we were going to spend that kind of money we might as well eat somewhere good. So, we found a really nice place where the chef chose what to serve us based on what was fresh and in season. It was probably the best food we’ve had on our trip! Stina had very little sleep the night before, so after dinner we returned to the hotel and crashed.
On Friday we had a few more hours to explore the Perth area. First, we stopped by a friends’ place to borrow some goggles for our upcoming boat trip. Nearby was a marine facility kind of like an aquarium, but more education and research oriented, so we checked it out. After that we took a nice walk along Perth’s northern beaches, with the gorgeous blue green Indian Ocean at our side. Our time was about up, and fortunately we gave ourselves enough time to get to the airport and return the car, because it took a lot longer than expected.
Our flight to Carnarvon was delayed by an hour, so we had extra time to write this post as we hung out in the little charter terminal. We met a couple of folks that would be on the boat trip with us, and talked excitedly about what it would be like. Finally our flight departed, and a few hours later we landed in the remote NW coast of Australia. Shortly after checking into our motel room we walked out and caught another glorious sunset, hopefully boding well for the upcoming week on the water.
There are so many things that we love about New Zealand and something kind of minor but of great importance to us is their public restrooms. First, one can almost always find a public restroom when needed and they are always kept very tidy. Many New Zealand towns have these cool ones, where you press a button that opens a sliding door. You enter, and press another button to close the door. A voice informs you that you have 10 minutes, and then the music starts! (A cover of “What the World Needs Now is Love”). We’re big fans!
Our freedom camping site near Westport sure was buggy! We came away with bites that itched for several days. And it wasn’t the last of the bugs. After a harried breakfast on Saturday we got out of there. Our first stop was Cape Foulwind, where there is a NZ fur seal colony. It’s a spectacular area, but the fur seals were kind of few and far away. However, the highlight for us was the wekas! They are another native ground dwelling bird like the kiwi, that we had failed to spot thus far. This inquisitive fellow was checking out our campervan, hoping for some treats.
Further south we entered Paparoa National Park. At Punakaiki is a spectacular site called Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. We arrived at low tide, so the the tide-dependent blow holes weren’t very active, but the rocks formations were spectacular!!
By early evening we reached the port town of Greymouth. A local brewery, Monteiths, is here, so we popped in for some microbrews and tasty tapas. We finally tried the revered green lipped mussels, which were excellent. Our campsite that night was by a beach, so we took a long walk and looked for the green, jade-containing stones. We found a few cool candidates.
On Sunday we went the short distance to Hokitika, known for it’s jade and jade carvers. Fortunately, we arrived the day after the wild food festival. It would have been fun, except for the overwhelming crowds. Stina shopped for her jade pendant, and found just the right one. NZ’s famous glaciers are just down the road, so after lunch we headed that way. We passed through Ross, where largest gold nugget ever was found in NZ. Then it was Hari Hari, with the “widest main street in NZ” and its famous speed trap. Near the little town of Whataroa is a white heron reserve that deserved a look. However, after a long drive down a very dusty dirt road, we struck out, seeing only the much more common, but cool pukeko birds.
We made it to the alpine town of Franz Josef in the late afternoon and our first stop were the “glacier hot pools.” We’re not sure if this place is using natural hot springs like the places we visited on the north island, but the hot pools sure felt good! We still had some daylight so we headed up the glacier access road and did two short hikes. The first was to Peter’s Pool, which offered great bird songs, and views like this.
We then hiked to the glacier viewing area and saw the Franz Josef glacier from afar. As light was waning, we decided to make a closer glacier approach the next day. At our campsite in Franz Josef we had a light dinner of cheese, salami, and olives, washed down with some wine. Don especially was dealing with all kinds of bug bites, mostly from Westport site, but a few new ones as well, so some anti-itch cream was applied and we tried to sleep.
On Monday morning we started with a breakfast in Franz Josef, and then drove a little farther towards the Fox Glacier, which we heard might be better. First we stopped at Lake Matheson, which is supposed to offer great views of the glacier and reflections of the surrounding mountains. The views were nice, but a breeze kicked up ripples and the reflection wasn’t working. The Fox Glacier access road goes up into a spectacular canyon, reminiscent of entering Yosemite. We did the hike up the moraine to the viewing area, and the glacier was very cool! The range of colors, the crevasses, the occasional falling rocks and ice blocks, and the surrounding peaks, all mind-blowing.
Our time on the west coast ended a little father south at Haast, and then we proceeded inland. The road gets very windy and steep, even by NZ standards, as it goes from the sea towards the big lakes of Wanaka and Hawea. There are some spectacular river gorges, waterfalls, and views of surrounding peaks. We stopped at the beautiful Blue Pools, which are at the confluence of two mountain rivers, but didn’t stay long due to the aggressive sand flies. As the landscape becomes a high plateau, it reminded us of the eastern Columbia River Gorge. It was very dry and sunny, which amplified the effect. We arrived in the town of Wanaka in the evening, tired after the long drive. However, it was an incredible sunny evening, and our campground had a hot tub, so it wasn’t all bad!
On Tuesday morning we had a nice breakfast in town and did a little souvenir shopping. We left by mid-morning heading towards the east coast. By lunch time we were along technicolor blue Lake Pukaki, with an amazing view towards Mt Cook. It would have been nice to linger longer here, or continue up to Mt Cook, but our schedule was pushing us further.
After a few cute towns, more impossibly blue lakes, huge sheep ranches and other agricultural fields, we finally reached the Pacific coast and the town of Timaru. It’s a nice setting, but the town seemed a bit industrial or lacking in character. It was a convenient place for the night, though, so we bought a few groceries and called it a day.
Wednesday was our last drive, from Timaru up the coast to our final destination of Christchurch. It was surreal to realize that nearly 5 weeks in NZ had passed. And then entering the earthquake-ravaged city added to the sensation. It was immediately clear that this place was unlike any other that we had personally experienced, still dealing with the massive effects of 4 big earthquakes (and thousands of aftershocks). One of our first sights was a poignant memorial to the victims on the lot where a beautiful church once stood – 185 white chairs.
However, across the street, the “cardboard cathedral” is being built, an innovative temporary church to replace one that was lost. And then across the street from there one sees the bulk of the downtown core – called the Red Zone – which is still cordoned off as the heavily damaged buildings and streets are being demolished. All around are signs and graffiti with messages of strength and hope. Arriving here was a real emotional roller coaster. After some exploring we decided to check out the suburb port of Lyttleton. It’s on the other side of a ridge, accessed through a long tunnel. It, too, was affected by the quakes, but to a much lesser extent. It’s a very scenic location, a deep bay surrounded by ridges. We would have liked to explore this and the neighboring Banks Peninsula some more, but it was getting late, and we need to find our final campsite in NZ.
This was it, Thursday the 14th of March, our last day in NZ. We packed our bags for the flight to Sydney, and sorted out some items to donate to a local charity, and other items to ship home. We had a few hours left, so we went to the Re:START shopping area. Adjacent to the Red Zone, they set up a shopping and dining area for local retailers, using shipping containers as improvised stores and cafes! It was a very impressive and innovative way to get the local economy rolling.
Here they also have an earthquake museum, one of the best that we’ve seen. In addition to all kinds of exhibits about the events of 2 years prior, there is a video with interviews of many affected individuals, and it was quite emotional. We were warned about its intensity, and it was suggested to just watch a small part. After this we saw a short video from a security camera that was rolling during the quake. It starts to shake, and you’re told to watch a man on the far side of the scene. As the shaking starts he ducks into the doorway of a building. Then the building’s facade crumbles down! After a while the shaking stops, the dust settles a bit, and you see the man emerge unscathed! Outside in the parking area, a big event was getting underway. It’s a children’s charity that uses wacky vehicles and characters, with water and foam spraying and other antics. It was hard not to smile, and we came away feeling that Christchurch was going to pull through their catastrophe stronger than before.
We leave NZ a little heavy hearted as we did not get to see everything that we intended. We truly had an amazing time though and know that we will just have to come back again to see more of this beautiful country. It is time to move on now for the next part of our adventure in Australia. G’day mate!
Our time in NZ is growing shorter now and we are trying to pack as much as we can into our remaining days here. How time has flown by! Unfortunately, it does not seem like we will get to see all that we had hoped to, so that just means we will have to plan another trip. Every day has brought something new and we have not been disappointed yet – just sad that we didn’t have more time (5 weeks seemed like a long time when we were making our plans).
On Saturday we arrived in Wellington in the middle of an arts and music festival. Thousands of people, mostly teenagers, were wandering the waterfront between venues, as the atmosphere shook from powerful bass speakers. We spent a couple of days in the area, checking out the city and the surrounding area. Wellington has lots of great graffiti murals, which we enjoyed glimpsing on the sides of buildings and in alleys.
On Sunday we drove east to Martinborough, a well known wine region. We had a great lunch, did some wine tasting and then ended up finding a nice camp site in Kaitoke Regional Park, which they used as the setting for Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. We did a great hike in the park and had fun seeing some of the spots where they filmed the movie.
We said goodbye to the north island and took a ferry to the south island on Monday (March 4) and arrived in Picton around 6pm. The entrance into Marlborough sound was beautiful; reminding us a bit of the San Juan islands. From Picton we pushed on through to Nelson in order to be closer to where we wanted to be. We got in around 8pm and decided to splurge a bit on a nice dinner at one of the great restaurants in Nelson. Then, for the first time since picking up our quirky little campervan (affectionately known as “Raisin” by us), we opted for a little luxury and decided to spend the night in a motel. It was nice to sleep in a regular bed.
We spent Tuesday exploring Nelson – a sweet town with excellent local beer and coffee – that Stina thinks she could live in. She even got to hang out with Luke Skywalker.
Unbeknownst to us, the Centre of NZ is in a park here, so we had to check it out. A short steep hike led us to the exact spot on top of a hill with commanding views of the region.
That evening Don met up with Richard from Flow Kayaks for a paddle and had the opportunity to test one of their surfskis. After the paddle we headed towards Abel Tasman National Park and made it as far as Motueka where there was a close to free ($5) campsite which helped to offset the cost of the motel. It really is amazing to see the different types of camping vehicles that are used here. There were definitely some homemade types at this site – one had a pet bird! We will try to take some photos of the variety and post later.
We stocked up on some good fresh veggies in Motueka and then headed to Kaiteriteri at the entrance to Abel Tasman which was only a short drive away. We found a camp site and as we were setting up camp and getting ready for lunch a woman with census forms came by. Since we hadn’t filled out forms, she asked us to do so. They had given forms to residents and campers the previous night, but we hadn’t been at a site with any census takers. She gladly gave us forms and we were able to take part in the NZ census! Later we took a hike to a nice beach in the park, at Coquille Bay, and then made a reservation for a rental kayak the following day.
On Thursday we had to report to the kayak shop at 8:30am for a lesson on kayaking (fun stuff) and finally got on the water around 10am. The water was an amazing greenish blue color and we were happy to be able to see the park from the perspective of the water and from a sea kayak, albeit a wider slower version than we are used to. It really felt good to be on the water and we spent the day exploring and also relaxing on some sunny beaches. We were able to see some NZ fur seals, but no dolphins much to Stina’s dismay. We got back in around 3pm and after a shower headed back to Nelson.
We heard that the South Island’s west coast is another must see, so after a final night in Nelson (this time in a campsite, with grilled burgers and a good beer from Nelson) we headed towards Westport after a slow start – Nelson was hard to leave! The drive to Westport largely follows the Buller River, which is absolutely gorgeous! The blue-green water has carved a stunning gorge. For the first time we spotted river paddlers, and stopped to take a pic.
We arrived in Westport in the early evening, checked out the town, and then found a free campsite. (The price of admission being a few mosquito bites.) We will spend the next few days exploring the west coast and the glaciers before heading over to Christchurch.
We really love NZ’s road side stands. It’s easy to find free-range eggs, avocados, all sorts of other fruits and berries, and in some places, the aforementioned oysters. It seems that one of our favorites, blueberries, is out of season, so they are hard to find and/or expensive. Strangely enough, kiwi fruit must be out of season. The ones we’ve bought in the store are from the USA!
On Thursday evening we finally pulled onto the Coromandel Peninsual. Thames is the first town as you arrive from Auckland, and probably the biggest in the area. This little car gave us a laugh, and we just made a short stop to take this photo and buy some provisions.
We were more interested in the natural beauty of the area, but we spent the first half of Friday checking out the shops and galleries in Coromandel, looking for good souvenirs and gifts. Then we continued around the N tip to the Pacific Ocean side – lots of wild crazy roads and incredible views. Hahei Beach sounded nice so we headed there, but were shocked to find a very crowded campground. After the nearly empty sites of Northland, we were amazed by the amount of people. In hindsight, it was a weekend, and within a short drive of NZ’s most populous city. However, we set up camp and then took a great swim in the ocean, which washed away nearly all of our “city” anxiety.
On Saturday we managed our earliest start since the African game drives and made it our mission to hike to Cathedral Cove. It was a spectacular morning hike, and our get-up-and-go was worth it to beat the crowds that were shortly behind us. Needless to say, the location is aptly named, and this photo barely does it justice.
A nearby attraction is Hot Water Beach. At low tide one can dig a hole in the sand, and it will fill up with hot spring water! The brochures picture a solitary couple in such a pool, but since it was the weekend, and a noon high tide, we suspected the crowds might interfere with this solitary experience. Boy, were we right!! However, it was fun to check out, and it ended up being more of a people watching experience for us. However, we vowed to find a more personal hot water experience in the upcoming days.
We continued down the east side of the Peninsula, and the next stop was Waihi beach. This was said to be the “safest” beach in NZ, but regardless, we were in need of a swim. Again we were misinformed, but managed to brave the surf for a short cool-off swim. On a short walk down the beach we saw a guy with a spec ski, and had a nice chat with him about paddling. His son has done the Molokai race twice. Then, we saw four guys head out through the surf in a “Catapult,” a wild double-hulled surf canoe. Fun stuff. Back in the van, Stina identified the mellow, healing waters that we needed. A small town down the road, Athenree, was said to have some excellent mineral pools, so we headed there. The small campground had the goods – two fantastic pools filled daily from the local spring. We had a nice evening soak, followed by a great morning soak. What a way to start the day!
After a most relaxing Sunday morning, we continued through the Bay of Plenty region. The Katikati bird garden sounded nice, so we took a walk through, and fed the variety of local birds. The ducks were cute, and the black swans captivated. A hilarious bedraggled goose cracked us up, and there were a few more exotic species on display. Here’s Don braving the busy beaks of the ducks and crazy goose.
We heard good things about Mt Maunganui, so that was our next stop. It’s a busy seaside town, and we arrived right in the middle of a big surf lifesaving competition. It was actually the NZ under 14 championships, and we were amazed at the number of competitors. We proceeded past the beach and took the famous hike around Mauao, the town’s namesake volcanic crater. The hour long hike ended with gelato at a renowned shop, which was perfect timing. Finally it was time to turn inland in search of more hot water and mud! Rotorua was our destination.
We arrived in the early evening, and were amazed by the sulphury “rotten egg” smell. It’s something you read about, but doesn’t quite compute until you experience it! It was early evening, so we found a campground by the lake that advertised thermal pools. It was a pretty generic site, but the pools did wonders for our achey bodies. It wouldn’t be our last soak.
On Monday we wandered a few blocks up to Kairua Park which had many thermal features like boiling mud, vents, and steaming lakes. It’s trippy, and amazing with so many unique features in such a small area. We got our fill of sulphur, steam, heat (and MUD), and went across town to the Rotorua museum. On our trip thus far we hadn’t visited many museums, so this was a nice break from routine. It’s a great museum in a fantastic restored bathhouse, with tons of Maori history and legend, fun art, and lots of goofy history about the bathhouse itself. In addition, it’s climate controlled, so we got a reprieve from the funky air.
It was time to move on, and in the early evening we arrived too late to check out a big paid thermal attraction. Nearby was the free Waiotapu mud pool, so we swung by there. You’d think that after all of the boiling mud in Rotorua we would have been bored with this, but the video may entertain you as much as it did us!
Just a few kilometers away was a campsite advertising quite a few hot pools, so we headed there. A short scenic drive led us down into the Waikite Valley, and at first we were baffled by the low clouds. Shortly we realized they are actually steam from the local boiling spring, Te Manaroa, and the river it creates. In fact, it’s the biggest and longest feature of its sort in the world. Right around the corner was our destination, the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. With 10 hot pools, this site was by far the best for healing our bodies, and yet another nice campsite! But despite the excellent relaxation, we were amazed by the spring and river, and took several walks up the gorgeous valley to wonder at the “boiling river.” Our photos don’t do it justice, because they mostly show the steam!
After Tuesday morning’s soak and hike, we had to get moving. It’s always hard to leave hot water behind, but we knew there was more cool stuff in store. Not to far away was was the mysterious-sounding Orakei Korako silica formations. You buy a ticket at the visitor center, and then a boat takes you across a lake to this massive formation. Hot water is seeping down a hillside, creating all sorts of mineral and algae formations. The colors and shapes are stunning. This is looking down on one of the main steps of the terraces.
We wandered around this wild landscape for about 90 minutes, checking out the many pools, seeps, geysers, caves, and formations.
Our next stop was Huka Falls, just outside the city of Taupo. The Waikato River drains the massive lake, and just outside of town it enters a narrow chasm. The dark blue/green water becomes a beautiful light blue and white as it churns through the little canyon, finally plunging over a big drop at the end. We could feel the massive energy of the water as we watched from several vantage points above.
We popped into Taupo to top off our food, and then proceeded around the north and west sides of the lake. Some waterfalls were marked on one map, but we never found them. However, we did find our best campsite to date, a free site near the little village of Omori. A cool creek burbled into the lake, and hiking trails went off into both directions around the lake shore. The full moon rising over the lake in the early evening was one of the brightest we’ve ever seen! (Check Don’s Facebook page for a pic.) The next morning we took one of the hikes, and discovered a very cool nature preserve above a neighboring town. Much of the old growth was preserved, and the bird life was incredible! Tuis and Fantails and many other species sang a constant song. The Fantails were especially cute, coming down to inspect us, and nearly hovering like a hummingbird as they wagged their showy tails. Shortly after returning to camp, a family of black swans swam serenely by our camp!!
Just down the road we saw a horse on the road! On this trip we’ve gotten used to narrow roads, and constant hazards like people and creatures and objects, but a horse was no good. As we approached he jumped into a small unfenced field on the left side. We pulled over, and Stina went to find the owner while Don tried to approach the horse. It was wary, but with some “horse whisperer” skills, the horse’s rope was finally grabbed. Stina couldn’t find owners, but did find a gate to a fenced area that she was able to open. As Don led the horse in that direction, a car pulled up, and the man said he knew the owner and would take care of the horse. Whew! Disaster averted.
The alpine town of Okahune sounded nice, so we headed there. It’s both a ski town, and the carrot capital of NZ – a funny combination. On Thursday morning we drove up the road to one of the ski areas on Mt Ruapehu (another active volcano!). The views were stunning. We did a great hike to a waterfall, which afforded even more views of the rapidly changing landscape.
We left the Tongariro area and headed towards nearby Wanganui National Park. The drive along the Wanganui River was described as beautiful and looked straightforward on the map, so we found the appropriate road. It was beautiful, but it was anything but straightforward. It was one of the most treacherous drives on our trip. A couple of hours of rough, dusty, twisty turny driving, and a few close calls with passing vehicles, and we made it. The river below was incredibly serene, often reflecting the surrounding mountains.
We camped outside the city of Wanganui at Kai Iwi beach. The beach has gorgeous dark sand from the iron content, and cool cliffs. The adjacent playground had some adult-sized attractions, including a zip line called the Flying Fox. It was a great way to blow off the stress of the wild ride along the river.
On Friday we stopped by Bason Botanical Garden to check out cool plantings, both native and foreign. Then we went into Wanganui, and discovered that it’s both an artsy and athletic town, with lots of good coffee (our kind of place!). After browsing and caffeinating our way around, we hiked the nearly 200 steps up a hill to the War Memorial tower, and then another 176 steps to the top of the tower. The views of the town and surrounding region were great! Wanganui had more to offer, but it was time to start moving down the coast towards Wellington.