New Zealand’s South Island: Christchurch March 17 – 22 2016

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On the plane from Queenstown to Christchurch was the most interesting air sickness bag we’ve ever seen. It was interesting enough to share.

IMG_2214At the Christchurch airport we picked up a rental car and with Hank as driver, sitting on the right side of the car, we  boldly made our way to the seaside town of Sumner.

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This time our Air B&B was perched on top of a cliff with very winding roads. The sea views were amazing from some areas along the road. At our unit  the advertised sea views were visible only when standing on the bench in the yard. The apt though was well set up with a washer & dryer and a pretty private garden. We drove back down the winding road to get groceries and past a pair of peacocks walking across  the road. We later found out that the birds belonged to a neighbor.

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 We drove to the supermarket for dinner and then back to the apt before dark settled in on the winding road.
We slept until late the next morning, did laundry, relaxed  and worked some on blog updating. We looked ahead at visiting Akaroa, a seaside village about 1 1/2 hrs away. Its the only French colonized village remaining in New Zealand. We booked a tour to sail on a gaff rigged wooden ketch to see Akaroa Wildlife; seals, dolphins, penguins and  other sea birds.  In the afternoon , we explored Sumner village & found a cave formation in volcanic rock on the beach.
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We watched a group of teenagers at a surfing school and walked to find an early dinner at Clink which besides having good food, had an interesting history.
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Across the street from the  restaurant we saw shipping containers stacked against the mountains. We found out that this was  a result of the 2011 earthquake that affected Christchurch and its surrounding areas. We would see a lot of work being done for earthquake restoration over the coming days.
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We were up early in time to see a beautiful sunrise and then to set off for Akaroa. The GPS took us through a winding mountain  route past sheep farms & many curvy turns. We saw a rainbow on the drive and beautiful seaside views. the views and rainbow was gift we accepted for the harrowing mountainous drive.
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 It  was the day of a 100 km cycle competition from Christchurch to Akaroa.  We passed some of the cyclists on our way.
We got to the wharf in time to board the ship for our 3 hour sail.
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We sailed past a Maori village, Anuku, that was built almost 200 years ago. We also sailed past  a swimming blue penguin (like the ones we saw in Melbourne, AU ),  shags diving for fish and pods of Dolphins and a fur seal colony.
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Hector’s dolphins
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After the sail we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the serenade of a jazz saxophone player by the dock.
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We drove home on a less frightening route than the curvy mountain roads.  We passed a small sheep farm and stopped to take a photo. The farmer came over & invited us to climb his fence to visit the sheep. Shelley accepted the invite & had a great up close & personal visit with his sheep .
IMG_2340 We stopped at a market for dinner & cooked back at the apartment.  Another day driving in New Zealand that ended safely!
We awoke to another beautiful sunrise and  drove to  Christchurch to see the sights.
We took a guided tour through the Botanical Gardens ( 22 acres) in  what is called a Caterpillar, cause it creeps along the garden, and then walked some of it on our own.
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IMG_2363This is a topiary of a moa which thrived in New Zealand until 800 years ago when the huge flightless bird  was hunted to extinction  by the Maori people. It’s nearest cousins are the Australian cassowary and emu. It’s displayed by a black tree fern which is prevalent in New Zealand.
 We walked down the street from the gardens to our next stop; punting on the Avon. We boarded a small punt boat that was pushed by a pole down the Avon River, a spring fed River.  It was a relaxing boat tour
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IMG_2378A photo of another boat that passed us.
IMG_2402We bought a day tram pass to ride the Christchurch  tram around the city on tracks. The trams were built in 1903, 1910, 1925& 1926.  We saw many buildings that were under construction since the 2011 earthquake.  70% was being rebuilt.
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IMG_2415This is a shopping mall rebuilt from shipping containers.
 
We stopped by a grocery store for dinner food & the next day’s lunch for our train journey across the southern alps.  We watched the movie Cliffy, about an Australian potato farmer who ran in the 1983 Sydney to Melbourne marathon. We heard about him when we traveling through his town when we were on a tour from  Melbourne. The next morning were up early to catch the train  and set off for Greymouth, on the west coast, through the Southern Alps.
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 The ride was the purpose for the trip. We rode through a 5 km tunnel and passed  beautiful mountains, gorges and rivers .
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Greymouth is a modest little town that originally developed following the discovery of gold in the 1860s. They were also a coal mining town. We were seated with a New Zealand couple. Barbara worked for the railroad, and Tim is a third generation farmer with 1500 sheep and about 50 cows. He and his 80 year old Dad run the farm together. We enjoyed spending time talking to New Zealand natives.  We drove back to Sumner for dinner in town before heading back up the twisty mountain  road  back to the apartment. We woke up to see the sunrise before packing our suitcases to travel to Sydney later in the evening. We drove down the winding roads for the last time & headed off to Christchurch. We went to  the newly opened ( since the 2011 earthquake) art museum,an art installation named 185 chairs  created in remembrance of those who died in the 2011 earthquake and the cardboard cathedral.
IMG_2480The outside of the newly opened Christchurch Art Museum
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The Cardboard Cathedral
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Then we were onto the airport , returned the car (yay!) and were heading to Sydney, Australia.
 

New Zealand’s South Island: Picton, Mt Cook, Queenstown March 11 – 17 2016

                            We left the North Island by ferry and headed to explore the South Island

 

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We had very rough passage on the ferry through the Cooks strait. The waves were crashing up over the bough at times.

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We were happy when we docked and were off  the ferry , picked up by our wine tour representative who whisked us away to catch up with our wine tour group.   This was the Marlborough region in the  Valley known as a white wine, Sauvignon Blanc, region. We visited four wineries. One of them, Lawson’s, was  a family run winery known for creating the first screw cap for wines to save the cork trees. After our tour we were dropped off at our motel near the Picton Harbour. We settled in and  walked the few blocks to town to find some groceries for the next few morning meals and a dinner. Picton’s Harbour area is a beautiful spot filled with boats and green mountains in the background.

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In the morning, we set off for the harbor for kayak adventure.  Double kayaks, OH NO! Remembering our experience in Vietnam, we hoped this one would work out better.  It turned out that this kayak was much sturdier than the other complete with a rudder and protective wet proof gear. We successfully kayaked 6 miles through the waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound past sea birds and beautiful mountains.

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We had lunch and wandered the town in the afternoon. We liked our lunch restaurant enough to go back there for dinner.

The next morning  we had time to visit the  maritime museum of The Edwin Fox, built in 1853 and the only survivor of the sailing ships that brought immigrants to New Zealand.  A preservation society worked hard to obtain, restore the ship and build the centre for the ship to be seen in Picton Harbor.
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We were on the train to Christchurch, a five hour journey past coastal waters on one side and mountains on the other. We rode past many sheep , cattle and deer farms.

We arrived in Christchurch and got to our hotel where we’d stay for one night. We had an early morning bus to catch to Mt. Cook National Park. 

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Waiting for the bus to Mt. Cook

We were able to leave some of  our luggage at the hotel to retrieve it when we returned from Queenstown, which we were visiting after our  Mt. Cook experience.

Mt Cook is the tallest mt. in New Zealand, used by climbers readying themselves for Mt Everest. The cloud cover prevented us from seeing the peak,but we were in awe of the beautiful scenery.  We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel in Mt. Cook National Park.

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Walking around the park we saw these ducks walking everywhere together. We found out that they are paradise ducks and they mate for life. The feather colors are so pretty.

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The next morning after breakfast we set off for  glacier exploration.  On the way to Lake Tasman, the glacier lake, we drove through the Tasman Valley, past mountains that were used in Lord of the Ring films, past Mt. Wakefield with a waterfall streaming down the mountain. We had a 20 minute walk to the lake where we got on the boats to see icebergs and Tasman Glacier up close. The waters in the icebergs  had a deep blue color which we learned was from glacier rocks forming a rock flour.

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The next day from Mt cook we took a bus to Queenstown and got in around dinner time.
We walked around town in the morning. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. We saw para gliders and many ads for bridge bungee jumping and river rapid paddling, but we were not tempted to join them. We got picked up for a wine tour of Central Ortego wineries instead.
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We drove we past a famous bungee jumping bridge,
Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jumping
 
 and stopped to  watch river surfers in a river named The Roaring Meg, named during the gold mining years.
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 On our way to dinner up the mountain via gondola we saw a para-glider. We were happy to just be observers!
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We boarded the gondola skyline enjoying the scenery as we rode up.
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The next day before our flight to Christchurch we took a bus to Arrowtown, another famous gold mining town. We  explored the Chinese miners’ village, the village of the New Zealand Miners and the historical museum.
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That afternoon we flew back to Christchurch. We chatted with a couple at the airport who own a hotel in Blackpool England. maybe we’ll add that to our future travels.

More North Island New Zealand: Napier and Wellington March 7 – 11 2016

We’re sorry that some pictures are turned sideways, depending on your viewing medium. Enjoy our adventures, even if they’re skewed. 
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We arrived in Napier and were picked up at the station by John who was taking us around for an informative city tour.  Napier is a community that was destroyed and recreated by a 1931 earthquake. The entire city was rebuilt in Art Deco style and architecture.  Hundreds of buildings have this common theme.
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There were also art deco murals murals around the town
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Our hotel was directly across from the beach. We woke up early to watch the sun rise.  There was an arch built to capture the millennium sunrise. We captured it too.
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 After breakfast, we set off for a wine tour of the Hawke’s Bay region. At Mission winery  we saw workers picking the first grapes of the season. It was the end of their summer with fall right around the corner.
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At Church R0ad Winery we tasted wine right from the barrel and we had a wine and food pairing as a part of the experience.  It is amazing how much better some wines taste when paired with the right cheese, fruit or protein.
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We had a nice dinner near our hotel where we met Ana and Edmund, a couple from Malaysia we had met on our wine tour earlier that day. We woke up to another  beautiful sunrise and took a walk to see the public gardens which had a man-made waterfall.
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 The NZ aquarium was right across the street from our hotel.  We saw penguins that had been rescued and rehabilitated , a great sea turtle exhibit, and a pair of kiwi.
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We were on the bus at 1 pm for the 5 hr journey to Wellington. We got into Wellington in the evening and to our city hotel.  In the morning we took a cable car that rode high above the city.
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From there we connected to a shuttle to see Zealandia, a nature reserve built by the city at an old reservoir site.  It is surrounded by a long stretch of fence walk designed to keep out cats, stoats, possums and rodents, all of which are introduced species that have decimated the New Zealand native wildlife. We saw many shag (cormorant) & a nest with  shag babies. There was a takahe,  a native New Zealand bird that is almost extinct, a saddleback bird, black parrots,  a tuatara , a reptile only found in New Zealand that is  descendant of the dinosaurs and a huge insect called a weta.
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image                                                                              A shag nest with babies
image                                                                                                 a takahe ; looks like a  small dodo bird
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                                                                                                 a weta
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We had dinner by the harbour.As we walked around the harbour we saw this great statue hanging over the water.
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We met Hunter Bell for breakfast.  Hunter was in Wellington from his NYC home on business.  Since we weren’t able to see him when he was last in Atlanta, it was great fun to see him here.
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 We set off to the Seal Coast for a tour. We passed by wind turbines & deer on private farm property
Hank fed bread to some of the deer. We rode over rocky and bumpy terrain to reach the area where seals were lounging. It was incredibly windy . We now know why it’s called windy Wellington!
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We then visited the Te Papa Museum and saw an incredible exhibit called Gallipoli (the WW1 battle in Turkey in which hundreds of NZ solders were killed). The group at WETA Workshop (think Lord of The Rings) prepared the exhibit in which the altogether lifelike models of the soldiers and nurses depicted were about twice human size.
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We walked around the harbor and saw a fun steampunk amusement park from Barcelona with a Ferris wheel set up with toilet seats . It was a part of the New Zealand Arts Festival . Thanks for letting us know about it Hunter!
We were up early the next day to catch the ferry to Picton – on to the South Island  of New Zealand