Bye bye New-Zealand

Now at the Christchurch airport, we are almost sad to leave this wonderful country. Our last day we spent driving through the Southern Alps to Hanmer Springs, where we plunged into the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools (suggestion from the Christchurch guy we met in the plane to Auckland). A nice relaxing afternoon soaking in the spring waters seemed to us the best way to conclude the trip. And nice it was :-). The more perhaps because they had a super bowl waterslide, that kind of looked like a big toilet. On floating rafts we sled down a steep pipe to end in a giant bowl where you made several circles until being flushed down (mostly backwards) to the end of the slide. Rafts for two people were a lot faster than those for only one, but hanging in- (centripetal) or outwards (centrifugal) did not have a significant impact on speed and number of rounds before the flush down. As we tested. Also two older women, who had a bit more weight to carry down than us, enjoyed their ride. They made noise for a complete kindergarten and came out the first pipe with enormous speed. Fun it was, even on a for me (Elise) sad day. The person who invented this thing should be nominated for the Nobel prize. For peace. For making adults laugh like young children.

Bye bye New-Zealand. Hope we meet again.

Wanaka, the glaciers & Arthur’s Pass

Wanaka was our next stop after Queenstown. A small village at a beautiful lake in the Alps. We took the time to spend there one afternoon and night for some relaxing at the beach and swimming in the lake. Ánd to cook a monstrous amount of pasta with bolognese sauce (done by master chef Patrik in the big kitchen of YHA Wanaka) to bring to Fox Glacier and Arthur’s Pass, because we knew we would have active hiking days there and not much available to buy. We also rented a kayak on lake Wanaka, quite a bit more relaxed paddling than on the wavy sea in Abel Tasman.

The way to Fox Glacier led us along beautiful blue lakes, creeks and waterfalls. So we made many steps on the road where, how is that possible, met a few times our driver/guide to Milford Sound. And he recognized us! Kiwis are usually very welcoming and friendly people.

We did a day-long hike on Fox Glacier. After a walk through the rain forest (yes, a rain forest), we got crampons under our shoes and started our climb on the ice. We passed under-ice water falls and a very narrow ice tunnel, where we managed to crawl through. Not without getting completely soaked, though. The guide said that the ice was so dynamic that the tunnel will have completely collapsed within a week. We climbed up to more or less half of the total glacier height, which could be pretty steep at times. Spectacular and very exciting to explore this dynamic ice mass so up close.

The day after we had a look at Fox Glacier’s twin brother: Franz Joseph. This glacier has retreated so much lately that the lower parts are not safe for walking anymore. It is a lot steeper than Fox Glacier, and quite a bit shorter too. But it has similar blue and white ice structure and sharp peaks of ice.

In Arthur’s Pass National Park, situated around one of the three passes that cross the Southern Alps from east to west, we decided to go for a day walk to the summit of Avalanche Peak. Or a climb, better to say, and quite a climb: 1100m of steep elevation to the summit at 1833m. But we made it! The view from that high was fantastic: 360 degrees of (snow-capped) mountain tops around us. The way down was, although less strenuous, even more difficult. But we arrived safely down and just enjoyed beer, wine and a good pasta bolognese meal.

 

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Milford Sound

On the 26th of January, we went to Milford Sound, in Fiordland National park. Quite a bus ride in the morning, four to five hours, but that included many sightseeing stops at waterfalls, lakes, Te Anau, and mountain views. And a very amusing and knowledgable bus driver! The boat trip over the fiord was fantastic. The walls of the mountains rising up from the sea were so incredibly tall that any ship passing by was dwarfed by that. And they were so steep that they almost seem to bend backward. The green mountain walls (beeches growing horizontally), the dark green-blue water and an occasional snow-capped mountain top made a wonderful scenery. Completed with waterfalls to which we came close that we could almost fill a glass with water. After the boat trip, we went for a helicopter ride. The most exciting thing we have ever done! We flew closely along mountain walls and rocks, to the top of one of the glaciers, where we could get out. We saw lakes high in the mountains, snow-capped mountain tops that stick their head through the clouds. Then we flew back down, again closely flying along walls, rocks, left, right. Very scenic and extremely exciting! For me (Elise), that was the most sunny and warm, but also stunning and thrilling birthday ever!

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Queenstown: the para-glide

Queenstown, located at a lake in between the Alps on the South Island, is the major centre of adventure activity. Jetboating, bungy jumping, skydiving, … Probably fun, but very expensive and not necessary to our opinion. So we decided to have a relaxing day, take the gondola up and enjoy the view over Queenstown and lake Wakatipu or perhaps go for a short paddle on the lake. While waiting for the gondola, we saw many paragliders coming down from the mountain, their colorful chutes contrasting with the blue sky. Peacefully gliding down or spiraling in acrobatic manouvres. Then, having a picnic at the top of the hill, I decided, why not? If anything, with such great weather, this is the day (pre-birthday also). And suddenly you sign yourself up, get your body weight written on your hand and another stamp saying ‘flown’ (to get the gondola up again). The pilot was this kind of cool and sporty guy. You know the type: well-trained, muscular, sun-tanned, sunglasses. Another chairlift up and a walk further uphill, so I thought, I have to run to catch up with that guy. But already at the first turn, he started saying that it was nice to be out of the sun for a while (Hot?), and in the second he wanted to have a break and catch a breath (Ehh, tired?). On top of the hill, there was a grass mat. The pilot laid out the parachute and I got a kind of backpack on with a build-in sitting compartment. And many straps, over your chest, hips, in between legs (‘Sorry’). Unprepared as I was, I was wearing a dress. And leggings, that was the good thing. He got himself in a similar backpack-chair and started to attach me to himself, himself to the chute, me to the chute. “Flying and landing is easy, but with the start I need your help”, he said. But when I looked down our 3m long ‘runway’, I saw… not much. Trees, deeper down… Hmm, very much against your own in-bred survival mechanisms to throw yourself in there. I had to walk forward, while he put up the chute and then we should start running. I did as instructed and started walking, but when he said ‘keep walking’ there was already hardly any ground under my feet. When the running part was about to start, we got a heap of wind and suddenly…we were flying! That was a very cool sensation to suddenly fly over the tree tops! And with the view on the blue lake and over the city, it was wonderful! And windy in the air. We flew at about 45 km/h, the pilot said. We went left and right, slowly coming down until we flew over the gondola station. “Hey, there is your boyfriend! Wave!” I could hardly find Patrik (hidden behind his video camera :-)), but the pilot could. That was practical (I thought), or amusing (hè thought: “You don’t even recognize him!”). At the very end, we made a spiral down, circling almost horizontally (at least, it felt like that ;-)) above the city and making me loose all sense of what was left and right. The landing was very smooth. Back on solid ground again. The 10 min flight felt like 10 seconds, unfortunately. And so it happened that I made my first paraglide! And so it happened that the rest of the day I walked around with my body weight written on my hand. Visible for the waiter who, when we ordered a beer, cheerfully asked: “And? How was the bungy?”

Aoraki

Mount Cook was our next destination! It is New-Zealand’s highest peak (almost 4000m) and has several glaciers. We made a few short walks to different view points, and through the valley of one of the glaciers. We climbed the 1810 steps up to 1307m at one of the mountains opposite Mount Cook. Quite a steep climb, but so worth the effort. We were rewarded with a fabulous view on Mount Cook, some of its glaciers and glacier lakes and the valley.

 

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Whales, dolphins, seals and penguins

The road between Picton and Kaikoura was a very nice one. Mountains, wine yards, ocean, it had it all. Complete with a breeding seal colony at Ohau rocks just before Kaikoura. So cute, those baby seals!

In Kaikoura we went for a whale watching tour. On board of a speedy catamaran, owned by a local Maori family, we could experience the ocean at its best. Pffff, an average roller coaster ride was nothing compared to that. Equipped with a hydrophone to listen to whale sounds in the water, they seem to be very well able to trace the whales. And indeed, quite soon after we had taken off from shore, we saw our first whale. A spermwhale, Tiaki, they see him more often on their tours, recognized by the shape of his back fin. These whales spent a short time at the surface to breath, spraying fountains of water, before they dive in the ocean again. For about ten minutes we could see him lying there, then the magical moment came. A few more breaths, his back arching, and then his gigantic tail, sticking out of the water, to disappear again for 45-60 minutes in the deep waters of the ocean. On our tour we saw another sperm whale up close, one at a distance (mainly recognizable by the whale watch airplane circling above it), a seal and an albatross. Back at the shore, I (especially my stomach) was happy that the bumping and bouncing was over. And I was not the only one. We met two Dutch ladies, and one of them had had an even harder time aboard: ‘Zo, dat zit erop’.

Dolphin swimming was next! I thought, they stay closer to the coast, the boat is smaller and less fast, it cannot be that bad. But when they came with a seasickness warning áfter we had signed up, I got a bit nervous already. The actual dolphin encounter was more than great. Equipped with wetsuit, fins and snorkeling gear were we launched into the water. The one second you could see four, five dolphins swimming underneath you and the next second they were gone, fast as they are. They get really close to you in the water and circle around you when you turn. Very special! But the waves…hmpf. When traveling with the boat it was OK, but then lying in the water, waves that shake you up and down, looking beneath and around you, making circles AND singing in your snorkel (that should attract the dolphins, they don’t see much, they hear more), and then getting back on the shaking bouncing boat again… I was happy they had empty buckets on board, for that specific purpose indeed.
After five swimming attempts, it was time for the cameras and really, the dolphins did not disappoint! Jumps, summer saults and combinations of that, these Dusky dolphins are known for that. There were so many that I did not know where to look. Some also saw a more rare Hector’s dolphin, but I missed that one.

In Oumaru, it was penguin watching time! First we saw yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore, six pieces that walked their way from the water to their nests at the other side of the beach. Later, around dusk, blue penguins in a bit larger number came ashore. Entertaining views!

 

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