A Travellerspoint blog

April 2014

Our Final Week of Travels Spent in New Zealand!

sunny 22 °C
View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

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We arrived in New Zealand's North Island after two exceptional weeks of camping travels in the South Island. After picking up our new (very big, very fast!) car rental in Wellington, we sought out a campsite and then went to meet an English friend we met on our China trip, who had moved to Wellington. Although we didn't get to see much of the city itself, it was lovely to see a familiar face. We now also know the best place in Wellington to go for ice cream - thank you Tim!! We'd have loved to spend longer in Wellington, perhaps visiting Mount Victoria and Wellington's Botanical Gardens, but due to the amount we wanted to do in such a short space of time, the following morning we left Wellington behind and travelled on up to The Tongariro National Park (or 'Mordor' for all of the Lord of the Rings fans out there!).

We camped the night in Whakapapa Village, inside the NP, and the following morning par-took in the amazing 20km walk of The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is supposedly the best one day walk in the world, so we felt we just had to do it. Especially as the weather conditions couldn't have been more perfect for us; due to the risks involved, the weather has to be just right to be able to do it.
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I was still getting over my cold, but determined to do it anyhow. It is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done; trekking a 700m ascent to get to the summit, over rocky, rough volcanic terrain. And then, down the other side 1100 metres to the finish.
We saw so much breathtaking scenery though, it was almost easy to forget the difficulty of the walk; from huge volcanoes, to bright blue and green volcanic lakes. It took us 7 hours and 45 minutes to complete, and that was actually pretty good going! It can take people anywhere from 6 to 10 hours to complete!

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At the start of the walk - feeling very optimistic and ready to go!

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Mount Ngauruhoe - AKA Mount Doom in LOTR. Some people actually climb to the summit of this - but with no actual path, and a huge scree ski back down, we gave this a miss. It's also approximately a further 450 metres of pure ascent and would have easily added a further 3 hours to our tramp.

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We made it = 1886 metres above sea level! Having trekked from 1120 metres above sea level. We then just had to make it back down to 700m above sea level!!

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The view of the Red Crater from the summit.

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The view of the volcanic lakes from the summit.

After completing the walk - tired, aching and sore (I'd fallen over on the descent, landing on a huge rock) we treated ourselves to a lovely motel room for the night. We drove the hour on to Lake Taupo, which is New Zealand's largest lake - it's absolutely huge, being around the same size as Singapore, and checked in to our motel. After delighting in a glorious bath (remember, we'd also just camped for two weeks!), we promptly fell asleep. The following morning, after a quick stop to admire Lake Taupo and The Huka Falls, we headed on to Rotorua - the geo-thermal capital of New Zealand.

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The Huka Falls.

It only took around an hour for us to drive to Rotorua from Taupo, which was nice as we got to visit one of Rotorua's geo-thermal sights in the afternoon; Wai-O-Tapu. Because of the sulphurous activity, the geo-thermal sites smell (as does the entire town actually) rather eggy, but it's worth enduring the stench to experience yet another act of nature at its most amazing in this fantastic country.
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Ben and I with Wai-O-Tapu's main attraction in the background; it's bright green thermal lake.

We then checked in to another motel in Rotorua town, and spent the rest of the evening watching films and resting - we were both still so exhausted from The Tongeriro Crossing! And the fact we'd had such a hectic time in New Zealand in general.

The following day we left Rototua for Matamata - AKA Hobbiton! We'd booked on to the Hobbiton/LOTR film set tour - Ben is quite a fan of the films so I thought it was something we had to do whilst there. Although I'm not a real fan myself, the tour was so much fun and we both enjoyed it lots more than we thought we would.
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A pork pie and ginger beer in The Green Dragon!

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Bag End - the most famous of the Hobbit holes.

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It was a really insightful day, learning more about how film sets work. Some of the 'secrets' told to us where pretty amazing too - such as Sir Peter Jackson shipping over 30 Suffolk sheep from England, as he didn't think the New Zealand sheep at the farm were 'Middle Earthy' enough. Also, the tree behind Bag End, is actually a hand-made tree comprising over 400,000 fake leaves, which were hand painted just the right shade of green for the film. He also employed several young children from the local town to walk certain paths (ie. to the washing lines) to make them look authentically walked on! I didn't realise so much thought and planning went into a film set!
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We travelled from Hobbiton to Auckland later that day, with it being our last full day in New Zealand. As with Wellington, we didn't get to see much of Auckland itself due to our lack of time. But we met up with a friend of mine who'd moved to Auckland a little while ago, who put us up for the night. In all, it was a fantastic last day in New Zealand.

We left the awe inspiring country of New Zealand the following day, for our super long journey back home. We weren't too sad to leave though, as we'd had the most amazing time. It's such an untouched, natural wonder of a country and somewhere everyone should be lucky enough to visit in their lifetime. We are certainly planning on returning!
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Posted by AmyRossiter26 04:28 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland rotorua volcano new_zealand hobbiton bag_end north_island lake_taupo lord_of_the_rings tongariro_alpine_crossing mordor Comments (0)

Our Second Superb Week in New Zealand...

sunny 18 °C
View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

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After an amazing 6 days to the start of our New Zealand camping roadtrip, we left the spectacular Milford Sound and drove the four hours up to Queenstown. Both Ben and I really loved Queenstown - it's hard not to with its fantastic mountain backdrop, lakeside location and added to that a sense of adrenalin fuelled excitement and pretty cobble-stone streets lined with fantastic shops and markets. We spent two nights in Queenstown, exploring the town and visiting the market. Set right alongside Lake Wakatipu, it has to be the nicest location of any of the towns or cities we've visited. The market had excellent stalls, all of which sold beautiful items, from handmade New Zealand stone jewellery, to beautiful Merino wool scarves. If only we had just a bit more space in our backpacks!
Unlike most people who visit Queenstown, I didn't succumb to the temptation of adrenalin fuelled action! There's bungee jumps, paragliding, white water rafting and skydiving to choose from, but preferring to keep my two feet on the ground whenever possible none of those were really for me. Ben would have loved to, but as he had his sights set on doing some elsewhere in New Zealand, resisted. So instead, we both indulged in Queenstown's infamous Fergburger for the most delicious burger experience!!

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An infamous Fergburger - almost as big as my head! It was a lovely treat after a week of cup noodles and tinned hotpots!

After leaving Queenstown, we made a short stop in Arrowtown, which was the home to the first Chinese settlement during New Zealand's Gold Rush.
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It's also home to the quaintest little town, with sweet old-fashioned shops.
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We then drove through to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, stopping at some beautiful scenery along the way.

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We drove through Lake Hawea - one of the most beautiful lakes we saw in New Zealand. So blue!

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As well as Lake Wanaka, which gives great views of Mount Aspiring.

We arrived at the glaciers in time to take a short walk to the face of Fox Glacier. The walk took us through a stunning mountainous gorge, with the glacier at the end. It was amazing to see the glacier at such close proximity, the height and mass of it slightly overwhelming.
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The scenery on the walk to the face of Fox Glacier.

Following our walk to Fox Glacier, we drove the 20km further up the road to Franz Josef Glacier and camped there the night. The following day we walked to the face of Franz Josef Glacier, which again was amazing to see. Although disappointingly there was quite a lot of cloud clover by the time we'd walked the several kilometres to the face of the glacier.
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The walk to the glacier was really spectacular though, with beautiful waterfalls and gorges.
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Fox Glacier has an amazing forest, known as the Hobbit Forest - at night time it's THE place to go to see New Zealand's famous glowworms. It felt like a scene from a murder film; walking through dense forestry in the dark of night with nothing but a pathetic torch. But it was so worth it - we turned a corner and an entire wall was covered with the little specs of light. It was like looking up into a perfectly clear night sky. Every corner we turned, there were hundreds of 'stars' lighting the trees and rocks. Unfortunately, this isn't something I could photograph so you'll just have to go and experience it for yourself!

Fox Glacier is also home to Lake Matheson - known as the reflecting lake of Mount Cook. Disappointingly, there was quite a lot of cloud cover when we visited so we didn't get the typical scenery of the mountain reflecting off the lake entirely, but it was still really pretty with it's reflective waters and surrounding woods.
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Mount Cook at sunset.

In all, we spent three nights at Fox and Franz Josef glaciers - we had to stick around for perfect weather conditions so that Ben could do a skydive!
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We'd been told the glaciers are the second best place in the world to do one (second only to Mount Everest!) so Ben had set his sights on doing one whilst we were there. He finally got the opportunity to do one and said it was the best thing he has done!! I watched firmly from the ground, having kittens the entire time! Luckily, he made it back down in one piece!!
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We left the glaciers on day 11, and travelled on up through the South Island's west coast, seeing some of the most breathtaking wild beaches along the way. Hokitika, a quaint arty town, along the West coast, is particularly well known for it's beautiful beach.
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We stopped at the Punakaiki 'Pancake' rocks, which was well worth the short stop. The sea along this part of the west coast is so powerful, it's definitely not ideal for a swim; especially with all the huge rock formations, that take an endless battering from the sea's crashing waves.
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It's said this stretch of road along the West coast is one of the best drives in the world - and we could definitely see why. I think most of the 'best drives' must be in New Zealand, as every day we were awed by the scenery we drove through.
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Our aim for this day's drive was to make it right to the Abel Tasman National Park, but as the scenery along the way was so beautiful, and we found ourselves making lots of little stops, we only made it as far as a small town called Murchison. We found a small campsite/farm to stay the night on (waking up to the sound of Emus was rather strange!), and packed up early the following morning for our journey up to Abel Tasman.

Day 12, we drove the few hours up to Abel Tasman and then up on through to Golden Bay. We found a decent campsite, and then planned our trip for the following day. We wanted to experience the Abel Tasman National Park, but as I was over coming a horrible cold, didn't want to do a trek. We therefore chose a lovely boat cruise along the coastline of the NP, spotting seals along the way.
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The NP is a beautiful woodland, along the coastline of the Abel Tasman sea, parts of which are a Marine National Park itself. The waters are really blue, and abundant with lots of fish species. Sometimes, people are lucky enough to spot Dolphins! I did keep my eye out, but unfortunately they didn't make an appearance for us.
Although Abel Tasman is a beautiful part of the country, as we'd seen similar scenery in both Thailand and Fiji it wasn't as impressive as we'd both imagined.

Golden Bay, where we were camped, was really beautiful, with wild beaches. We visited one beach that was particularly stunning, which at low tide has a Durdle Door type rock formation. The beach stretches for miles, and with it's huge sandy dunes felt a little like a desert! Whilst Ben and I were there it didn't have another soul on it.
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This is just another example of New Zealand's stunning, dramatic scenery and tantamount to the variety of landscapes this one country has on offer.

After leaving Golden Bay and Abel Tasman, we made our way to Picton, where the following day we were to catch our ferry over to Wellington on the North Island. I was absolutely dreading the ferry crossing, after my awful seasickness in Fiji and because I'd heard the Cook Strait crossing can be one of the worse ferry crossing in the world. I spent the entire night fretting about it, convincing myself the ferry would capsize or worse, I would spend the whole three hours loosing the contents of my breakfast. In fact, I didn't eat anything the entire day prior to the journey to ensure that wouldn't happen! I was pleasantly surprised though as luck was on our side and the crossing was very calm - I even managed a steak pie (after starving myself I was absolutely ravished!) The scenery leaving Picton, through the Marlborough Sound, was beautiful and had the waters been a little choppy, it would have been an excellent distraction. As it was, the water was so calm we really got to enjoy the sights.
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So Day 15, we left the stunning sights of the South Island behind for New Zealand's North Island. After the amazing two weeks we'd had, we just hoped the North Island could live up to the high expectations set by the South Island!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 04:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown abel_tasman fox_glacier picton franz_josef_glacier punakaiki national_park seals skydive pancake_rocks glowworms fergburger cook_strait merino_wool hobbit_forest marine_national_park baby-seals marlborough_sound Comments (0)

Last Stop: New Zealand! Week One in This Amazing Country...

semi-overcast 15 °C
View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

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So we're now in New Zealand! Our flight from Fiji landed us in Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island, where we were met with RAIN - and you don't know how pleased we were! After four months of constant heat, we actually welcomed some colder climes.
The city of Christchurch itself is still going through extensive re-generation and re-building programmes following the huge earthquake it suffered back in 2011. Much of the city is still in tatters, whilst other areas are all shiny and new.
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A part of the city where the effects of the earthquake are still obvious.

In all, it was interesting walking around and seeing how the earthquake has affected Christchurch city, and how they've adapted to the ongoing building works. The city centre has a lovely street whereby the shops, cafes and restaurants have been constructed using huge carriage freights. I really like the concept behind this, as not only does it show a resourcefulness, it also reminds people of the earthquake but in a positive way, rather than trying to create a completely new city where no signs of the city's history remains.
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The city cathedral is still partially standing and as they are yet to decide what to do with it, It's much the same as it was when the earthquake destroyed it. I like that they've retained it as a tourist attraction, where it's history can still be enjoyed rather than just tearing it down or renovating it.

After stopping at The Warehouse (a huge shop that sells everything!) to purchase all of our camping supplies, we left Christchurch for Lake Tekapo. It was raining but spirits were high... We had our own tent, food in abundance (be it cup noodles and various tinned delights) and lots of exciting plans!!
We arrived in Lake Tekapo early evening, and chose a great campsite right by the lake. After setting up the tent (in the rain, and impending dark), we enjoyed a peppered steak hotpot (tinned, yet surprisingly good!) and embarked on our first night in the tent.
The following morning we did a short walk around part of the huge lake and saw the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd. The lake's waters are so clear and reflect the surrounding mountainous landscape beautifully. Definitely a great way to start our roadtrip!
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Later that day, we travelled on to Lake Pukaki. All I can say is; wow! We thought Tekapo was stunning, but Pukaki bought a whole new meaning to the word. With crystal, bright blue waters and a backdrop of the breath-taking Mount Cook it was, and is, the most awe inspiring view I've ever seen. It may sound ridiculous, but it actually bought me to tears. I felt so lucky to be in such an amazing place and seeing such natural, untouched beauty. We were also very lucky with the weather, as if it had been cloudy we wouldn't have been graced with Mount Cook's presence.
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We drove right to the top of the lake, up to where Mount Cook village is situated. It's a tiny village with serve-yourself petrol pumps, a small school, smatterings of motels and impressive mountain surroundings.

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The scenery on our drive up to Mount Cook village.

Later that afternoon, we travelled down towards the South Island's east coast, to a small town called Oamaru - home to the Blue Penguin and the Yellow Eyed Penguin (which is the rarest of the penguin breed). Upon arriving we made our way straight to Oamaru's Bushy Beach where the precious penguins are often sighted. Although we arrived in prime viewing time (from 6:30pm) we weren't lucky enough to spot any. Us, along with the thirty or so other hopeful tourists, were very disappointed, but I guess when viewing animals in their natural habitat you need to be prepared for a long often fruitless wait. Our luck wasn't all out though as the following morning we travelled a small way down the coast to Moeraki Point where we spotted not only tons of various seal species but several Yellow Eyed Penguins.
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They were so cute waddling around, and it was amazing watching them in their natural habitat. The seals were great too; the pups were playing in the water with their lazy mums sleeping along the rocks and grassy headlands.
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We got so close to some of them, and unlike the day before where there were loads of other people, it was just Ben and I with front row seats. This is definitely my favourite day of the trip, bar none. The specialness of seeing the animals in their habitats, combined with New Zealands fantastic coastal scenery makes it a day I'll never forget.

Whilst in Moeraki we also visited the Moeraki Boulders, which are a group of huge rocks planted along a strip of beach. They aren't a man-made creation, so a bit like our Stonehenge, they're a bit of a wonder. They make for very impressive scenery, and are definitely worth a quick stop.
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After our fantastic morning in Moeraki, we travelled further down the coast to Dunedin and The Otago Peninsula. Dunedin is a fairly small city and not worth a stop in itself, but is worth it to travel through to The Otago Peninsula, which is huuuuuge and actually more like an island. We drove around and then up through the top of the peninsula. The out-going drive took us along the pretty coast, and the return drive gave us stunning mountain and hill views.
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Following our drive around The Otago Peninsula, we left the coast and travelled the same day through to Te Anau, situated in the Fiordland National Park. This drive took us through stunning middle earth-esque scenery.

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At every moment, New Zealand's scenery is there to stun and amaze. This was at The Mirror Lakes, on the way to Fiordland. Absolutely beautiful.

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Te Anau is said to be the best tramping location in the world. So we saw it only fit to get in a little walk whilst there. We chose to do some of The Kepler Track's route (which is one of New Zealand's 'Great Walks'). In all, the track takes around five days to complete but we chose just a three hour return section encompassing parts of the park used to film some scenes in The Lord of The Rings films. It took us through beautiful, rich-green forestry and gave us gorgeous river views.
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The track finished at Lake Manapouri's Shallow Bay, where we were met with a fantastic mountain backdrop. If you complete the entire Kepler Track, you'll hike through some of these mountains.
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We left Te Anau early afternoon to travel on through to Milford Sound. This has got to be the scariest road I've ever driven (well, been a passenger to - as Ben was the lucky driver!) It meandered through dizzyingly high mountain-sides, and actually through a mountain too! The tunnel stretches over 1km in length and took over 40 years to construct! It felt never-ending, and whilst driving through it I couldn't help but think how much mountain was above us!

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Upon arriving in Milford Sound we set up camp for the night - this was probably our most 'authentic' setting, with forestry surrounding us and a view of the magnificent glacial peaks to wake up to.
The following morning we took a boat cruise up the Sound, or Fiord. We were really glad we were there to do the first morning cruise of the day as the water was so calm and pond-like and the morning sun cast perfect reflections from the huge mountain peaks onto the water.
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Milford Sound is absolutely stunning, and a definite highlight. Mitre Peak, the highest of the peaks, towers 1692m from the water, and finishes that deep below the water too! It's hard to believe the stunning Fiord was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. The glaciers carved out the inlet that was then filled by the sea upon the glaciers retreat. Nature at it's most amazing!
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Lady Bowen Falls - the highest of Milford Sound's waterfalls at 162m.

So all of this, and we're just six days in! It's safe to say New Zealand is one of, if not the, best country of our trip in terms of scenery at least - we love how varied its landscapes are, and how much you can see with just a relatively short amount of driving. The scenery is like nothing we've seen before, and the country as a whole feels so untouched. We're excited to discover what other delights this fantastic country has to offer.

Posted by AmyRossiter26 04:24 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lake_tekapo lake_pukaki new_zealand milford_sound christchurch moeraki south_island mount_cook fiordland blue_penguin moeraki_boulders yellow_eyed_penguin kepler_track mitre_peak lady_bowen_falls Comments (0)

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