Our final few adventures on the South Island

We continued to explore the West Coast of the South Island, by driving from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier.

We have already used up all of the superlatives in the dictionary, describing this amazing land, but we  really wish we had some more to draw upon.

The drive itself (about 5 hours) has to be one of the most scenic routes in the World.  That’s quite a claim, but we went through so many different landscapes it was hard to believe. We started off through lakelands, mountains, then sea shore and tropical forest, before arriving at the Glacier. It was extraordinary.

As the weather was not with us, you’ll have to take my word for it, for the most part.  Here’s the Arrowtown, a historic town near Queenstown and one of the beaches on our way to Franz Josef.

 ArrowtownBeach on way to Franz Josef

 

We also spotted some of the rarer native birds in their habitats.  The first is the NZ wood pigeon, the Kereru which is about three times the size of our native birds. Honestly, it was a wonder the branch could hold these two up!

Wood pigeon

 

The other cheeky chappy, just walking around the car park is the Kaka, a member of the parrot family. He seemed completely unfazed by the traffic and the people.  Many of the cafe’s nearby have signs saying keep an eye on your food as there will be no replacements if a Kaka steals it.  Sounds very like the Seagulls on Brighton Beach.

 

 

kaka franz josef 

At the end of our 5 hour trip, we arrived at Franz Josef Glacier.  This was a most extraordinary sight, and one that the pictures cannot really convey. It is like a frozen waterfall coming over the top of the mountain.  It’s the cold mountain air and the warm air from the sea meeting on the mountain face that creates this effect.  The perpetual glacier has probably had a presence for thousands of years, but the glacial face has receded at least 30 metres over the last 150 years.  An impact of global warning?  We simply do not know.

 Glacier 1Glacier 2

 

 

We continued our journey through Arthur’s Pass the following day which took us back to Christchurch airport.  It is an epic journey and we are so pleased that we got to enjoy the mountain views.

 Arthurs pass

Next adventures will be on the North Island.    

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Milford Sounds’ amazing

One of the iconic locations in New Zealand, in a country which is full of them is Milford Sound, a spectacular Fjord on the South Island. Mitre Peak is the largest of the summits at 1690 metres, but it has many spectacular mountains along the route.

We decided it was too important to pass by, so we left our hotel in TeAnau, at 5am. so we could take the 9am cruise. It was a wet and misty morning, which only added to the experience.

It’s called Milford Sound, but should more accurately be called Milford Fjord. What’s the difference I hear you ask? Well it’s all to do with how they are formed.  A Sound comes from a valley being flooded by water.  A Fjord comes from Glacial action where mountains are formed and push against each other and the glacial caps melt. The effect is a very crowded mountainous region, usually in a u shape with deep bodies of water. However the early European settlers didn’t seem to know the difference so the name Milford Sound has stuck.

The boat trip took us right the way out to the Tamsin sea, through some of the most dramatic landscapes imaginable.

 

There were plenty of waterfalls as you sail through. Here’s a couple.

Despite the cloud, the views were pretty spectacular from every angle and the photos here don’t really do it justice.

 

Sometimes Dolphins can be seen in the Sound, but we were not so lucky during our visit.

We did see some of the young Seals that hang out here, until they are strong enough to go it alone.

From Milford Sound, we went on to Queenstown, which has an enviable lakeside location. The weather here was considerably brighter and warmer than what we had driven through to get here.

Walking around the town, we were tickled to see this take on the Zebra crossing.

On the road to Te Anau

We drove from Invercargill to Te Anau today and what a fabulous route it turned out to be. We shunned the easier Route 1, preferring instead to follow the more scenic Route 99.
During the three hour drive, we meandered through forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and even hit upon an Alpaca ranch.

It’s hard to capture the beauty of the place, even with good pictures, but here is a glimpse of some of the sites we have seen.
The Monkey Island bay is as beautiful as it looks.

We drove through the mountain passes, and it was a moody vista with the thick cloud bank and layer upon layer of mountains. Even to our eyes, it looked like you were watching a 3D film without the glasses on.

Close to Te Anau, we happened upon the WildWool Gallery, where we spoke to the owner, a wonderful woman called Jessie Haanen, who was both informative and passionate about her Alpaca’s. They are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand for their wool (not for eating) and it is becoming another premium product alongside Merino wool. Most of the animals here were bred and reared by Jessie and her husband. Jessie also makes some fine products from their wool, including silk felted scarves, wool scarves, gloves, hats and many other clothing items. Well worth a visit.

In the evening we visited the Bird Sanctuary of Te Anau, where many endangered and rare endemic birds are looked after. It’s difficult to catch these birds when they are in aviaries, but here is the selection we managed to see.

Many of these birds are under threat due to habitat loss, human activities and predators introduced with the European settlers. The last one shown the Takahé is very rare, with only 300 birds surviving.

Being Vegan travellers has had its challenges. Many places still cater very much for mainstream and we have had to pick our way through menu’s, which given the high number of young and independent travellers is a bit of a surprise. We found the Potpourri Vegetarian café in Dunedin where we managed to get a hot breakfast ( a rare treat).This morning we tried the Tuatara Café  in Invercargill, which is a lovely place to hang out, but had limited hot savoury options for us, so no hot breakfast today. In Te Anau we stopped at Habit Foods, which offered a Tofu option which was quite tasty. We won’t starve, but we wish that finding food options didn’t feel like a chore.

Tomorrow we head to Milford Sound, so we’ll have much more to report soon. Little man was feeling a bit shy today, but perhaps he’ll make a show tomorrow.

Waimate Workaway

We’ve been a bit quiet over the last few days as we have been busy working away at Jimmy and Mary’s place in Waimate (pronounced Why Mat-ee). The area between Christchurch and Waimate is quite flat and full of pasture and agriculture, so it reminded us a lot of Ireland.

The work so far has been general gardening (lots more weeding😊) and house painting.  The weather has been a bit cooler than we might expected, at around 16 – 18c with some cold and breezy days.  Not much need for shorts yet.

The town of Waimate is small and quiet with most shops closing at around 4pm.  It’s most famous claim to fame perhaps is that it had the first shopping arcade in New Zealand. Now a derelict building, you can see that it once would have been a grand affair.

We have been enjoying getting to know our fellow ‘Workaways’, enjoying time with our hosts and playing lots of card and board games.  There are quite a few musicians in the house, so we’ve been treated to a few impromptu Ceili’s. The house is situated at the foot of mountains with some sheep grazing opposite.  Very peaceful and pleasant.

 

Today we have a day off so we have taken in an inland tour of the lakes.  Here is Lake Tekapo.  The Collie is a monument to the dogs that helped the early settlers to graze sheep on this open and mountainous landscape.

 

 

This ended up being a great stopping stop for launch at The Tin Plate https://www.tekapotinplate.com/  which served Gluten free Vegan pizza.  Happy days!

 

 

Christchurch charms

We landed in Auckland and after a quick overnight stop, travelled on to Christchurch. After the country had experienced a heat wave, the tail end of a cyclone hit the island causing major disruption and some coastal damage. We now find the temperatures considerably lower at around 18c and plenty of rain – not far off the Irish summer conditions now.

Christchurch city centre is still in a sorry state, 7 years after a devastating earthquake struck, killing 181 people. Many of the cities oldest buildings were affected including the Cathedral that the city is named after. There are many parts of the city that are still empty or roads closed down or rubble sites. However the New Zealand ingenuity shines through with many pop-up businesses, car parks and even a ‘pop up’ Cathedral made of materials such as shipping containers, polycarbon and cardboard. It sounds like a very ugly affair, but as you can see from the picture, its really very elegant.

We visited the Antarctic centre in Christchurch, which was the stop that Captain Scott and his expedition stopped in 1901 to prepare their supplies before travelling on to Antartica. Christchurch has been a key centre for Antarctic explorers ever since and houses an impressive visitors centre. In the visitors centre you get to see some of the rescued little blue penguins , experience what a snow storm feels like when it hits -24c (bloody cold, I can tell you), and see a 4D Ice voyage film where you are shaken, stirred and liberally sprayed with water.

As part of the experience we took a ride on a Hagglund, which is an amphibious all-terrain vehicle specifically designed for arctic conditions. That sounds tame, but was more like a roller coaster ride, as they took us through a specially designed assault course to showcase its capability.

After the excitement of the Antarctic, we took in the serene surroundings of the Botanical Garden. The range of trees and plants is wonderful to see and the rose garden had a riot of colour. In addition to the amazing trees and plants, there were some wonderful sculptures. We even got to meet a mother duck and her Ducklings. Very cute.

 

 

And what about this cute little rainbow we saw.  Anything strange there?

Next stop Waimate for our next working experience.

Kauai’s delights

After the wonderful experiences we had on Maui, we did not know if it’s little sister Kauai would live up to expectations.  I had visited both islands over 25 years ago and I remember enjoying Kauai more, but would it live up to expectations second time around?

It’s hard to describe the feel of the islands, but they are all different.  Where as Maui is called the Valley Isle, Kauai is known as the garden isle.  Maui just felt a bit bigger, a bit more resorty in comparison to Kauai, which is just as beautiful, but a bit quieter.

We started by visiting the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ which is just as impressive as it sounds.  Over 3,000 feet above sea level, which stunning ravines that lead all the way down to the Ocean.  We were lucky with the weather and managed to get a clear view.

 Next we visited the many beaches on the south side of the Island.  The one that gave us far more than we could have anticipated was Poipu beach, a favourite for snorkelers. I was able to see such an array of tropical fish that I lost count.  I did not have an underwater camera, but here are a few of the fish that I was able to swim amongst that day. Parrot fish, Trigger fish, Wrasses, Butterfly fish, and xxx that I have been able to identify. The pictures are from others, I just wanted to share how amazing they looked.

 

 

So we had already have a very special day, that didn’t feel like it could get much better when we saw a bit of excitement going on further down the beach.  It was being cordoned off to allow a huge sea turtle and a monk seal to rest.  They both just lay there quietly a few feet from each other, whilst we were all taking pictures from a safe distance. It was an amazing sight to see.

 

Both species are protected, after being hunted to near extinction and their numbers are steadily growing. The sea turtle has only a 1% chance of reaching maturity, so it seem like a miracle seeing one that is well into its middle years judging by its size.  Apparently they can live for up to 100 years.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is native to the islands and endangered.  There are approximately 1500 surviving so it was a pretty special sight to see one just in front of us.  He  was a male of about 5 – 7 years old according to the conservationist volunteer, only lifted his head from time to time, but otherwise stayed quiet and still on the beach.  

Both bask on the beach to rest in between hunting.  It might be only an hour, or it might be a day, depending on how much they need to recuperate. Simply amazing.

The wild hens and cocks are everywhere and many were on the beach that day, which tickled me no end.  They seem to be in as good a shape, if not better than any that I have seen ‘tended’ in the farmyard back home.

The next day we explored the north island felt quieter and the beaches were no less stunning.  The landscape here felt lush and more like tropical rain forests.

 The Ha’ena beach is the end of the line, with the rest of the North East of the island being mountainous with no major roadways. The beach was no less stunning than Poipu, but not ideal for swimming as it has a steep dip from the beach and the waves were quite high.  We watched it for quite a time and took many pictures, as it was quite mesmerizing to watch.

Our food choices were not too bad here.  We had breakfast from EatHealthy Café, only down the road from our hotel and fully Vegan.  We also managed to get dishes from the local Grill on the hotel premises, so a thumbs up for having alternatives for us. There was also an excellent coffee place called Imua coffee.

After a quick overnight stop in in Honolulu before flying onward to New Zealand.  Although we will be sorry to leave these shores, we rather suspect we will be back at some point.  

Aloha from Hawaii.

We forgot to book little man a seat, so we hope he can hang on for the long flight ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The humpbacks of Maui

One of the highlights of our stay on the Hawaiian island of Maui was our encounters with the majestic Humpback Whales that visit these shores between November and May each year. The bays around Maui provide the sheltered and shallow water needed for Humpbacks to be able to birth their young and provide a safe place whilst the cubs build up their strength and skills.

There are many other places that you can watch Whales, but not many where the Humpback can be seen.  Only 30 years ago the Humpbacks were on the brink of extinction, but conservation efforts have proved successful and it’s numbers are now steady and growing to a point that they will be taken off the endangered list.

I took a sunrise trip with Pacific Whale Foundation to see these beautiful creatures offshore.  The trip was 2 hours long and was well hosted by the crew and naturalists on board.  We were well educated on Whale behaviour, habitat and migrating habits.

Whilst we didn’t have Whales hugging the sides of our boat, we did get reasonably close to these gentle giants, but it is very hard to capture them.  Later in the day we stopped by the main viewing point in Maui to watch the Whales from land and  again were not disappointed. Here are a couple of photos, which whilst not super sharp (as they were taken a long way off) do show how visible the Whales were even from land.

 Whale tailWhales

 What we learnt about these gentle giants was as follows: They migrate from Alaska which is their main feeding ground to warmer shores during the winter months.  55% of the population come down to Hawaii, the other 45% are split equally in the migration to Japan or Mexico.  The migration is for mating and birthing purposes.  The gestation period is one year, so those that are lucky this year will be returning to give birth next year. They need relatively shallow waters for birthing (the Maui waters are less than 300ft), they are warm as the young take a few months to build up their blubber layers. They also need to be free of predators, of which for the young would be the Killer Whales. So there are only three places on the planet that fit the bill. Contrary to what most of us would believe, they are not looking for an abundance of food and in fact there is very little that they can eat whilst in these warmer shores, so lose up to a third of their body weight whilst taking their winter vacation. When they do return to Alaska, the journey will take them between 4 and 6 weeks to complete. I did hear some of the mesmerising Whale Song whilst we were out on the boat.  It is only the males that make the sounds and there is no clear theory for why they do, but is mostly likely to be about social cohesion of the group rather than for attracting females. It certainly felt a privilege for us to be able to get relatively close to these majestic creatures and see them in action.