Thursday, April 30, 2009

Christchurch to Kaikoura

15.3.2009 (Sunday)

Mark and I decided to spend some time in downtown Christchurch today and get a feel for the city. We drove to city center—where the Cathedral was truly the center of attention, and headed towards the Art Center near the Botanical Gardens. We didn’t know exactly what to expect but were pleasantly surprised. As with so many of the towns and cities we’ve seen, the architecture is wonderful, and the streets are clean. There was a flower show going on at the Gardens, so everywhere you saw evidence of flowers.

The Sunday farmer’s market was going on at the Art Center, so Mark and I checked it out, only to see that this market was more artisans and craftsmen rather than farmers selling food. No worries; we checked out the wares and decided to have a coffee. We wandered about the downtown area for awhile; checked out the Punting on Avon, and decided to give it a shot after lunch. We ate Crepes and Paella from carts at the farmers market and then took a punting run down the river. It was quite relaxing; we’d have fallen asleep if our trip had been any longer.

Leaving Christchurch, we headed north again, our goal to stop in Kaikoura for the night. The East coast is not as mountainous as the West coast, so we made much better time. We saw a lot of cows and sheep and deer farms. As we got closer to Kaikoura, we started seeing wineries and vineyards, and decided to stop at Pegasus Bay. We met Matt pouring in the tasting room and tried several wines. We really enjoyed the conversation, and they made a fantastic late-harvest Riesling. It was nice meeting Matt, who is originally from Vancouver.

Dunedin to Christchurch

14.3.2009 (Saturday)
Saturday we got up early and had breakfast, looking forward to spending the day in Dunedin. After looking over our options we decided to go to the farmer’s market at the Railway Station and then drive out to the Otago Peninsula to see the Yellow-eyed Penguins. Sadly the Cadbury Chocolate factory was closed on Saturday, and we chose penguins over the Speitz Brewery.

It was an incredible day. The Railway Station is beautiful and the market offered many culinary delights as well as a great cup a coffee. We wandered about and really enjoyed ourselves.

After walking around town, visiting a few shops, and peaking in the chocolate factory, Mark and I drove out to Penguin Place on the Otago Peninsula. It was amazing—couldn’t believe how big it was—we drove for 45 minutes, winding along the water. The tide was out, so once again we wondered at the ‘beached’ boats lying on their sides in the sand.

Penguin Place was on a large sheep ranch, and they were excited to have 23 roosting pairs of penguins. Our tour guide was great and we had him all to ourselves. He talked briefly about the life cycle of the penguin and then took us out to the coast where they lived. We learned that the yellow-eyed penguin is a forest penguin which likes to roost under trees. They have pink feet that turn red when they’re over heated and they mate for life (usually!) We were fortunate to see several on our tour.

After spending time with the penguins, Mark and I started our drive north and headed to Christchurch. We stopped at several spots along the way—my favorite being Moeraki to see the spherical shaped rocks. They were amazing. We took some really cool photos and had a lot of fun.

We drove through several towns today, including Omaru where we hoped to see the blue penguins, but they were not giving tours until that night, so we decided to keep driving. Omaru is a beautiful city, with spectacular buildings out of limestone. We read that they were built at a time where the city wanted to show that agricultural buildings could be as beautiful as churches and other municipal buildings. Quite stunning.

I got to drive today—pretty cool driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but after awhile you get the hang of it. The only ‘scary’ part was coming into Christchurch at dusk; Mark was giving directions, there was traffic and lights and turns—oh my! So much to keep straight all at the same time! But I got us there safe and sound.

Tonight we’re staying in our first Top 10 Holiday Park, and despite the more expensive cost, it was really nice; we particularly enjoyed the large inflated jumping pillow!

Haast to Dunedin

13.3.2009 (Friday)
We put a lot of kilometers on the camper van, saw a few neat sites and made it to Dunedin. This is the largest city we have seen in NZ so far, about 120,000 people.

We started our day driving through the “Gates of Haast,” Cameron Flat, Makaroa, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. We stopped for lunch in Wanaka--eating our first BBQ in NZ.

Throughout the day we stopped by some neat waterfalls, and a large collection of rock stacks. Once again, we saw some incredible scenery. We saw our first-ever complete rainbow—where both the beginning and ending were in someone’s field.

Noticing giant fruit sculptures in Cromwell, Mark had to stop and take a photo, only to learn that it’s the heart of the Central Otago wine industry. We decided that we had time to do some wine tasting, which was a huge double bonus. We went to Rockburn and Mt. Difficulty. The views from Mt. Difficulty were incredible, and they are in the middle of a desert!

Cute town’s we’d find interesting to explore with more time: Alexandra, Roxburg and Lawrence.
Number of bridges crossed today: 74
Kilometers driven: 421

Notes from the drivers seat: Experienced a NZ freeway today in Dunedin. Was pretty weird to see a left hand exit as the norm. Had one small slip up giving the right of way at a traffic circle while trying to figure out directions. Otherwise, went well. Getting a turbo diesel camper van may have helped the lack of power up the long hills, but it’s all good.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Working the night shift

So it has been quite a change to my normal life to work on the night shift. Luckily, I work with a pretty fun crew and we keep things light hearted (usually). It is stressful and we have deadlines, but we joke around. This is especially good for me!

But it is quite weird to start work at 7 pm. There is a period of disorientation on the way to work, with people wondering if the sun is going up or down, and what day is it anyhow? On the way home, there is often a very nice sunrise, and continued confusion as to the day of the week. Payback comes when we all go out to breakfast weekly. Must be disturbing to the non-nocturnals to see a gang of winery workers eating breakfast and throwing down a few beers at 8 am.

When coupled with the unusually bright sunlight in NZ, waking up in the early afternoon to watch the airshow that is buzzing your house can be hazardous. Those first rays of sunlight made me feel like a vampire. You definitely have to ease into the sunlight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Zealand - The Little Things

One of the most popular posts on the Switzerland blog was this same subject, so here we go. I will update this post as more items of interest are discovered.
  • I apparently have a very strong American accent. I have a few Kiwis helping me identify exactly what this means.
  • Driving on the other side of the road is not that hard if there are other cars around. People tend to forget when they are the only car on the road.
  • Most bridges here are of the 1 lane variety, with a right of way sign. Can be exciting.
  • Almost nobody has a clothes dryer, and every house has a clothes line. I did this as a kid, but then the air pollution was too strong. The air is very clear here.
  • The sports are rugby, cricket, hockey (field hockey), and net ball, in order of popularity.
  • Net ball is like basketball, except you can't dribble and the hoop has no backboard. Seriously.
  • You are required to wear a helmet on your bicycle, but car insurance is not mandatory.
  • Dental and medical care is quite affordable, but not many hospitals.
  • Excellent lamb is about $2 US per pound. Good stuff.
  • Chicken is pretty expensive.
  • Chicken eggs have a vibrant orange yolk, and very flavorful. A little runny, though.
  • A LPG tank is referred to as a bottle.
  • Your car must be inspected every six months to renew the Warrant of Fitness certificate.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Franz-Joseph and Fox Glaciers

12.03.2009 (Thursday)

Today is Glacier day! Our goal was to see both Franz-Joseph and Fox Glaciers. It’s cloudy today, but not raining—so we’re happy. We get a good start, driving through many cute, small towns along the way. Ross, a historic mining town would have been fun to poke around had we had more time, but we were determined not to get side-tracked.

Stopped at a tourist spot and found the cool remains of an old bridge that reminded me of a Star Wars movie.

We reached Franz-Joseph first and while we were tempted to pay $$$ for a guided tour or helicopter ride, we opted to hike out as far as we could to the Glacier ourselves. It was a great hike among rocks, waterfalls and a lot of weathered stones.

You can see below a photo of a "Wicked Camper Van" who likes to quote sayings on the side--this one Mark liked about Chuck Norris.

Fox Glacier was closer, but recent hiker deaths closed off the trail to the base of the glacier. Regardless it was a beautiful day. We also took a drive out to Lake Matheson, where supposedly the glaciers are reflected in the lake’s surface, but weather conditions were not in our favor, so we had to settle for a beautiful lake hike, and bouncing along on their swing bridge.

Other views of note today: stacked rocks at Bruce Bay, incredible views of the coast at Knights Point, and the beautiful sand beaches on our drive into Haast.

We stopped for the night in Okuru, just past Haast Beach. It’s a nice camper sight, but tonight we were pretty tired, and mostly enjoyed the email, laundry and kitchen facilities. Mark is reading his new book, and I’m updating our blog!

Sadly, we have to end our trip south. We hoped to make it to Milford Sound or Dunedin, but time just isn’t in our favor—so our goal for tomorrow is to make it as close to Cristchurch as possible. It’s a long drive, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m excited to pass by some more Lord of the Rings film sights, and we’re driving for quite awhile along Lake Hawea. Should be beautiful.