Monday, May 11, 2009

South Island with Polly

(First, an apology. Mark points out that I have failed in timeliness, the essence of blog-worthiness. He's right and I'm sorry. I will only say this in my own defense: I've been too busy experiencing life to devote the painful amount of time it takes to upload all these photos. Mmmm...let me see. I went to New Zealand and had a really great time sitting at my desk uploading photos of our touristic exploits to blogger. OR. I was a little delayed in posting travel photos because I was actually living in New Zealand: spending time in my kids' schools volunteering, learning the Maori language, cooking in the local hospice kitchen, planning and preparing a vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free meal for the lovely ladies in my Kiwi book club, and learning how to build a fire in the woodstove so my family doesn't freeze in our charming, but uninsulated and drafty Kiwi house. I need to get better at that particular task so it doesn't take so much time.)

So, during the boys' Easter break - that's what they call it here, not so PC as in the US - we spent six days campervanning around the South Island. Flew down to Christchurch and picked up this lovely beast, which Mark then most capably drove many many many kilometres over the next week or so. (They are a bear to manoeuver but he did well - except for that one time he pulled out without unplugging the power but we won't go into that...) A first for all of us and, overall, a success.
The view from the front two seats was awesome - unfortunately, although those of us in the back could stretch out and play scrabble, the view was not quite as good from there as a regular car, nor the ride as smooth. Still, it was nice to have our own food/fridge and emergency toilet facilities whenever we needed them. And not to have to unpack and repack every night. The three double beds were spacious and comfy and the campsites were all neat and well-tended with hot clean showers, good kitchen facilities, and gorgeous views in almost every case. Below is the sunrise over the Southern Alps and the ubiquitous sheep as we pulled out of our first campsite.
First stop - the gloriously blue Lake Tekapo, which has a darling little stone church built by the original settlers with an amazing view of the lake.
The weather being clear, we decided to head directly to the famous Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain and homebase of Sir Edmund Hillary, statue below. Mount Cook is the snowy one in the background of photo below. There's a lovely new visitor center with lots of history of climbing the area over the years and a poignant book listing all those who have lost their lives, which happens still every year due to unexpected weather and freak rock avalanches.

On to Queenstown, a hopping tourist city with a spectacular setting and lots of adventure activities. The South Island is so campervan-friendly that there were not one but two holiday parks (campsites) almost smack-dab in the middle of the city.

Just outside of Queenstown is the famous Shotover Jet, operating since 1970. We all enjoyed the 360-degree spins and "near" brushes with the sides of the canyon.

The above is really us.

These two are photos we took of other groups.

Then up the Skyline gondola for gee whiz, yet another spectacular view - this time of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu with Queenstown right below. Boys luged again too while I spent 30 minutes on the phone planning the excursions of the next couple days.

We arrived in the tiny town of Manapouri in the dead of night, over the dead bodies of many a possum (they're a huge pest here, so one is actually encouraged to help with the eradication program while driving...although we didn't take that to heart). The next morning, we left our aptly named campsite, Possum Lodge, for a boat/bus/boat trip to Doubtful Sound, the first of two sounds we visited in New Zealand's Fiordland, one of the world's wettest regions with an amazing rain forest meets Arctic fjords landscape.
The weather was not particularly cooperative this day, but supposedly not unusual and did enable us to see yet another rainbow on our first boat ride over Lake Manapouri to the bus, which drove us through rainy, emerald green forest to the Manapouri hydro power station. We wound our way underground to see this power station, build in the late 1960s to power an aluminium smelter 171km south in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. It took 1,800 men eight years to build and is really quite impressive and, as our tour guide pointed out, we are obligated to go see it really because it is the reason the road we were driving to Doubtful Sound is there at all. He also noted that it's unusual in that it is a hydro plant that does not have a dam, using instead the natural 178-metre difference between the level of the lake and the Tasman Sea at Doubtful Sound to generate the power.

It cleared briefly as it often does, before the rain pelted down again.

The boat ride itself on Doubtful Sound was blustery and wet but beautiful in its own way. During wet weather, hundreds of temporary waterfalls spring up along the cliffs above the sound since there is very little topsoil to absorb the water. I think I took photos of at least half of them.
Crawfish (koura) is big year-round business in these waters and this is where the fishermen hang out. Unfortunately the market for them is so big overseas, Asia mostly, that I have yet to see any here.

The captain pulled over at one point and invited all those who were interested in sipping the cleanest water in the world to come to the front deck. He did not mention that they would likely also be soaked by the cleanest water in the world.

Back in the campervan that night, we cooked at home.

Well, some of us cooked - Nikko took advantage of the serious TV set up in the common dining room to catch the end of the Masters. Yes, campervanning is really roughing it.

Many of the campsites we stayed at were very eco-friendly, including this one.

We were at Te Anau, a beautiful lake over which we traveled the night we arrived in yet another boat to visit some glowworm caves. We had a fantastic view of the night sky on our boat ride and then fascinating echoes of that view in the caves themselves where glowworms twinkle like so many stars on the cave ceilings above you. (No photos allowed and no talking as the glow worms don't like that, apparently.) The caves themselves were also very cool, carved out in sculptural arches, bowls, and waterfalls by the acidic water that flows through them. Te Anau means "cave with a current of swirling water" and these fabled caves were "lost" but then rediscovered in 1948. For those unfamiliar with glowworm life cycle details, the glow is their way of attracting food to a long sticky thread they suspend beneath them during the nine months of larval stage. They glow brighter when they are hungry. Their adult life is only 1 to 2 days during which they don't eat because they have no mouth.
Lake Te Anau.
This was the Real Journeys boat we took to the glowworm caves.

Polly with her favorite rare New Zealand bird, the Takahe, which she got to see in the feather during our trip to Kapiti Island bird sanctuary. There is also a sanctuary for them near Lake Te Anau.

The next boat trip was to Milford Sound - bus stopped on the way at Mirror Lakes. Indeed they were.

We had better weather on Milford - actually, the two sounds were nice to see in such divergent weather.

Mitre Peak is the tall peak in the rear left of the photo.
And yet, still there were rainbows.

The boat in the picture below gives you some sense of scale. The vastness of the landscape is truly breathtaking.

Fur seals sunning themselves.

The u-shaped valley behind Nikko and Polly is a classic example of a hanging valley, carved originally by ice. The definition of a fiord/fjord, we learned, is an ice-carved valley flooded by the sea after the glacier's retreat .
The ship/boat we were on is behind us.

We stopped at a cool beach on the way to our next destination with cairns everywhere - there are a lot of them in general all over the South Island. But there are more campervans.

Nikko built this awesome one and then took this awesome photo of it.

Breakfast outside the campervan at Lake Wanaka where the kids were excited to go to Puzzling World where all manner of optical and other illusions entertained them while I took a short solo hike.

View from the top of my hike up Mount Iron.
View back down onto Puzzling World where my dear family were amusing themselves.

I prefer to hang out with wrinkly merino sheep.We made it to Fox Glacier as the clouds gathered and dusk was falling. Groups that had climbed or taken guided tours to it were just returning to their buses. You can get a sense of scale by identifying those tiny figures of people in bottom foreground of photo.
We thought we might get a peek at the other big glacier, Franz Jozef, but rain swept in during the night and pounded on.
Still, we were cozy in our little campervan.

Except for poor Mark having to do the final waste water dump as the rain continued to dump from the sky.

We drove back to Christchurch, across a blustery Arthur's Pass where we tried to picnic but the bugs were indeed as bad as we had been forewarned. A final walk by some caves - and a final rainbow. For this trip at least.

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