Holy smokes, I Live in New Zealand.

Wanaka, Queenstown and Environs.
August 5, 2008, 7:38 am
Filed under: Actual Travelling | Tags: ,

I finished off my Mount Cook day with a two-plus hour drive to Wanaka – the next Queenstown; seriously, invest in property there.  It got really foggy at the end of the trip.  It was so hard to see anything at all there!

Alternate link.

It was a holiday Monday so the prices at all the restaurants were up a few dollars (to pay the overtime wages, most restaurants add a surcharge of a couple of dollars or a fixed percentage to the bill).  I had a very expensive hamburger dinner as a result.  It was fantastic.  None of the area hostelfolk were interested in attending due to the cost of restaurants that day.  This is one of the charms of having a real job.

The next day, I did the skydive.  I think everyone knows about the skydive by now: 15,000 feet over Wanaka, with ALL of the important landforms of the South Island visible all around.  EVERYONE has told me that I was really brave for doing it, but I still don’t see why it was such a big deal.  The operation is staffed by consummate pros, my tandem guide has been jumping for 16 years and it was his third jump that day, the weather was good…I got over my jitters with math.  Mathletics.  That said, I’m in no hurry to do another jump anytime soon.

After the jump it was off to the great South Island adventure tourism destination: Queenstown.  I think about one quarter of their downtown is built up with backpackers’ or hotels.  It’s on a giant lake surrounded by giant mountains.  It is in a valley of sorts, ringed by ski resort mountains buffered from the community by vineyard upon vineyard.  I was feeling pretty stiff from the half marathon a few days earlier and my ankle was still throbbing a little bit from the descent incident at the Tarns (I was bounding down too fast), so I did an hour at a spa on a backpacker’s deal ($20).  I had a bachelor’s dinner of a tin of pasta and one litre of orange juice, and spent the evening at the bar by myself, pouring over my maps and being ignored by the fleets of teenagers dumped there by the tour buses.  It made for some great writing ideas, at least.

I did a wine tour the following morning.  Awesome.  I think I’m a wine snob now because I can pick out a “Central Otago aromatic” from the shelves at the LCBO (I found only one in Ottawa) and know why they always describe wines as tasting or smelling like pears or peaches and such (that’s just how they choose to define the taste of a wine…with a little more detail than “dry” or “sweet” or “spicy”).  I goofed around with an army guy from Honolulu most of the time; I wouldn’t mind living in Honolulu, I think.  I also ate lunch at the one winery with a family on vacation from Minnesota who were celebrating their daughter’s graduation from med school.  WONDERFUL.

South Island 117

Full album here.

The drive through the area was fantastic.  Just some unbelievable topography down there in New Zealand.  Queenstown and environs were just gorgeous.  No wonder so many Aucklanders are moving down there.  I could have stayed. myself.


Aoraki Mount Cook.
July 18, 2008, 2:42 pm
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My next stop was Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.  Aoraki/Mount Cook is the tallest point in New Zealand.  It was where Sir Edmund Hillary did his Everest practice.  My goal for the day was to hike about 300 metres uphill to a small, little ledge housing the Sealy Tarns.  Tarns are small, mountain lakes usually fed by glacial or snow melt.  I learned that lesson the hard way.

To exorcise this demon, I changed into my running gear and started hopping over brambles (ignoring the groomed trail 200 metres to my left) and rock falls to make it to the trail.  It was up, up and up.  It took a little over two hours to make it to the tarns, where I spent a half hour giggling like an oxygen deprived schoolgirl.

South Island 075

Full album here.

It was a lovely accomplishment after getting destroyed in the half marathon the day before.  I only rolled my ankle once during the climb (and it was the good ankle not involved in the half marathon debacle).  It was a wonderful day.  I called home after I had finished the climb.

Afterwards, I went to the resort hotel and bought an expensive fruit juice.  It was most satisfying.

Alternate link.

No Pictures Break.
July 17, 2008, 2:03 pm
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After Hamner, I returned to Christchurch for a night of sleep.  The next step was a half marathon in Christchurch.  It didn’t go well.  I cramped up (or pulled a muscle, or something stupid like that) at 13k and hobbled most of the rest of the way.  That’s the last I will ever say of the Christchurch Marathon (the course was okay, a couple of the volunteers were jerks, and there was a group of Canadians running and I high fived them).

I then drove onward to Lake Tekapo for the night.  I stopped at a salmon farm along the way.  For $3, you got a little pail of food and could feed the fish.  They would frenzy around the food.  It was amongst the best $3 I have ever spent.

At Lake Tekapo, there was an outdoor skating rink and some hot pools (I don’t think they were geothermally powered).  I invited the hostelfolk out for a skate; nobody accepted the offer.  It started raining after while and the soft ice became more like slush.  I was one of the better skaters out there.

Admittedly, this is a very boring post.

Hamner Springs.
July 16, 2008, 1:40 pm
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The second stop was a two day, one night adventure in Hamner.  Hamner is a ski town of sorts, in that Christchurchers escape there for the weekend but it’s a little bit away from the nearest ski hills.  There are hot pools there (which I did get to partake in with a rented bathing suit…eeep) and I had a wonderful little pizza from some no name place on the main street.

I went with the same friend from the train trip, who coordinated the arrival of all of her Christchurch friends for the night.  We ate nachos and drank fine cabernet sauvignons (wine) all night long.  It was pretty good.

South Island 020

Full album here.

Tranzalpine Train Ride.
July 15, 2008, 1:36 pm
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I’m finally going to get caught up with my South Island trip here on the blog.  I was gone from May 29 to June 7, and I basically did a big circle from Christchurch through Wanaka, Queenstown, Te Anau, Invercargill and Dunedin before heading to Christchurch Airport.

My first South Island adventure, however, was a daytrip on a train through the mountains from Christchurch to Greymouth through Arthur’s Pass.

South Island 012

Full album here.

A friend and I grabbed some newspapers and rolled through one of New Zealand’s more historic rail corridors. The area we travelled through was made famous by its coal deposits. The elevation changes used to require changing engines twice to pass through the tunnel and has left a legacy of ghost train towns in its wake. Diesel engines are capable of doing what people can’t. Arthur’s Pass was one of two passes a family of surveyors was investigating for a train route through the Southern Alps. This route was chosen as “the best of a bad lot.” And the son who was surveying this particular option? His name was Arthur. Lunch in Greymouth consisted of pasta and seafood at a Speight’s Ale House. It was wonderful.

Alternate link.

June 27, 2008, 1:20 pm
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I heard Rotorua described as “the Niagara Falls of New Zealand” on a few occasions.  I’ll agree with that to a point.  The shopping district is full of souvenir shops and daytime hours only, and it is the forces of nature that draw people to the area.

Rotorua sits on a key geothermal hot spot, so the area is full of hot springs and geysers.  It was in this area that the legendary volcanic eruptions that created many of the North Island’s larger lakes (and saddest stories) occurred.  There is a high sulphur content in the water, and much of the city smells like rotten eggs.  Even the surrounding countryside has the odour, as evidenced in my drive from the airport.

(Edited to add: the sad story referred to above is the Mount Tarawera eruption.)

rotorua 053

Full album here.

European settlement occurred in the late 1800s, drawn to the hot springs as a health care and spa retreat.  The main bath house is now a museum.  In the photo album you will see a picture of the old bath house and adjacent Government Gardens.  This was an old banner photo of mine from back in January and February.

Maori settled in the area several hundred years ago.  The springs made for good cooking; in fact, the surface of the earth is so warm that it flows through your shoes and up into your body in places.  Rotorua is a centre of Maori culture and settlement, and there are several places that offer a Maori village experience.  Any visitor to a Maori marae (sort of like a “village centre” in that village life focusses upon it, it is a very spiritual place) is challenged by the community. This involves facing/manning up to the aggressive moves of the community’s warriors and, after all is said and done and you are not classified as a threat, accepting their peace offering. Hard to describe, and great to experience (way beyond touristy tacky…way beyond…). This is what it looks like. 

Alternate link

(Editor’s note: This is my 150th New Zealand post.  I’ve been in New Zealand for 278 days – in fact, my 400,000th minute in New Zealand was spent in bed this morning – including today.  I’m moving at an every-other-day posting rate.  Awesome.)

Stupid Freight Train Derailment.
June 21, 2008, 10:25 pm
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So I’m running in Wellington this weekend – Half Marathon #5 (and final) on my New Zealand trip. It was to be a 12-hour train ride through the backcountry of New Zealand’s North Island.

And of course, there was a freight train derailment just past the halfway point.

We did manage to ride up the legendary Raurimu Spiral which, as Wikipedia notes, is a winding/roundabout-ish stretch of track that crosses a 135 metre change in elevation.  At the top is a “major” train station at National Park (the name of the village is actually National Park, and it is at the gateway to Tongariro National Park, the second oldest in the world).  The restaurant was chockers (CHOCKERS!) with somewhat stranded tourists.

They loaded us up on buses for 3/4 of the remaining trip, and then a 1.5 hour, speedy drop into Wellington. 

It was a great way to stay idle for the day (important if one is trying to run a sub-1:40 half marathon), but even if I was sticking around I don’t think I’d be taking the twelve-plus hour train again anytime soon.  I had already purchased a ticket for the two hour (including travel back to my room in Auckland) flight on Sunday night.