Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back to Auckland and the Harauki Gulf

Return to Auckland  
We arrived back in Auckland the night of March 23rd expecting that marina security could take us out to our boat which was moored at some pilings (no dock).  Well, no go.  So we had to get yet another motel room (another 2 bdrm as it turned out).  But it was nice enough and had TV!  Yay!

However the next morning, we were able to get back to the boat and move it to a dock next to RNZYS, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.  It has a great view of the nightly races on the Wataita Harbour and internet!  Yay!  We really enjoyed the facilities there, but it was a long bike ride into town, sometimes against the wind.  But we got a bunch of errands done over a few days.  And as a bonus, we discovered the nearby Auckland Fish Market, so happy day.
America's Cup catamaran
We had to get back to Gulf Harbor to pick up our dinghy from the canvas maker, who made a new cover for it.  Then, we went back to Auckland for some reason I've now forgotten.  Ugh.
After a night we moved over to RAYC (Royal Akarana Yacht Club) , met our friends Brian and Marian for a nice dinner at Mission Bay, and left Auckland for good.  really...
Beehive Island seen from Kawau Island
We went to Kawau Island for "just a couple nights".  But a big westerly wind came up and we were parked there for a week....  not a bad place to be.  There are well maintained public and private trails.  They're well marked whether with signs (public) or cairns (private).

There's a cairn at the fork in the trail. You can't miss it!
We went back to Gulf Harbor for a night for showers and shopping.  We set off for Rakino Island to meet up with our friend Mike.  His crew included a 100 year old guy and an 80-some odd year old guy!  Really!  But they were interesting and we had a nice visit.Of course the weather was completely calm, so we motored.
The weather was predicted to remain very calm, so we were FINALLY able to set out for Great Mercery Island, a goal I first made back in November!!!!  ackkkk.

South Island, cont'd: Milford Sound to Queenstown


The next day, we checked out of the Manapouri and departed for Queenstown.  We hit it off with Fikrye and she found us a terrific 2 bedroom lakeside motel unit to share.  She had her own car, so we planned to rendezvous over there.  The apartment was great, and it had a dishwasher (Yay!), washer and dryer, and .... TV!!!! Yay!

Queenstown has European alpine lake resort town atmosphere, but less traditional and younger in spirit.  There are young visitors everywhere.  A gondola rises from the center of town to a nearby mountain peak.  Bill and Fikrye walked up to the top.  I rode the gondola (duh!) and met them.  There are neat observation decks, restaurants and cafes at the top.  Also, luge tracks and most importantly mountain biking trails.....  Don't for forget paragliding as well.
 We drove over yet another stunning high mountain pass to Lake Wanaka on the other side.  The fall weather was again, sunny, clear and calm, with a hint of fall in the air.  There were a few trees turning autumn colors.
On the return trip, we drove through the renowned Central Otago wine country and a scenic rocky gorge, where bungie jumping originated.  Looking at the site, I'm not sure how the idea was conceived.  It didn't inspire me to want to jump off that bridge.  We flew back to Auckland from Queenstown.  Domestic flights in NZ are so relaxed compared to the US.  The scenery as beautiful as we flew over the Southern Alps on a sunny afternoon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

South Island, cont'd: Dunedin to Milford Sound

After we dropped Susie and Charlie off at Dunedin airport, Bill and I got a room in a big Victorian B&B.  Our hostess was a charming young Russian woman from Vladivostok.  She had a bubbly smile and a lovely accent.  It was St Patrick's Day, and every pub had it's own live music.  So we roamed the town a bit and had a Thai dinner.  

The next day we headed toward the Fjordlands region.  We found fun backpacker lodging  in the hamlet of Manapouri, on the shores of Lake Manapouri.  The property had several cabins (cottages) and a larger 3 bedroom holiday house.
Manapouri backpackers property map
It was empty when we arrived.  We dropped off our stuff and went to explore the nearby area.  When we got back, I noticed that someone else had dropped of some things there.  She turned out to be a charming Turkish-German woman, named Fikrye.  Later, a young Swiss school teacher showed up and finally 3 young German kids moved in.  It was a busy place.  One of the kids made bread.  There was a well equipped kitchen, a wood burning stove, and TV!!! Yay!  The nights were getting chilly, so Boy Scout Bill chopped the wood and kept the fire going.

The next day we took some day hikes near the lake.  Every trail we set foot upon in New Zealand is beautifully maintained.  They've really got it figured out.  What a pleasure.
Swing Bridge near Lake Manapouri
 The following day, we drove up to Milford Sound.  It's a spectacular forest and mountain drive.   We took an early morning cruise on Milford Sound. It was a beautiful, calm and sunny, perfect for a cruise.
Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

It's a stunning place and justifiably famous for New Zealand.  The sound (fjord) is sprinkled with waterfalls along the steep shores.  The tour boat could handle 50 people, but there were only 10 of us.  Our fellow passengers included a retired Irish couple and a young Austrian family, from Salzburg.


We had a beautiful afternoon drive over a high mountain pass, with a one lane tunnel at the top.  The view from either side is stunning.  We stopped for several short hikes on the way.

South Island, cont'd Blenheim to Dunedin

Yikes!  April is almost over and I'm still catching up on March! Doh!

From Blenheim, we drove inland to Hanmar Springs, a hot springs town in the foothills.  It was balmy early fall weather.  We had a good time bathing in the town pools.  Most of the pools were just normal, though overheated swimming pools.  We had a nice cabin on a hillside.  The proprietor gave us tomatoes from his garden.  We had a pleasant BBQ dinner and watched the first Lord of the Rings movie.

Next day we drove south to Kaikoura, on the coast, for some kind of birdwatching.  I forget what.  We had a really nice 2 bedroom unit in a "holiday park", which is a trailer campground and motel.  It had TV!!! which was crucial because the Japan earthquake and tsunami had just happened and we were riveted to the unfolding disaster.

For a more trivial disaster, while cooking dinner, I set off the fire alarm.  It's very loud and broadcasts over the whole property, and cannot easily turned off.   We had to find one of the maintenance people to turn it off.  Susie spent the kids' inheritance on some crayfish (jumbo lobsters) and we had a fabulous meal.

Next stop, Oamaru (more birdwatching, penguins this time.  Sorry, no photos.  Maybe Susie has some).  We stayed at another fine holiday park.  The town has a unique older section with beautiful limestone fronted buildings in an artsy district.

Cool Art Car in Oamaru
On to the Otago Peninsula (the very south end of South Island), for guess what!  No not penguins this time, albatrosses.  At the far end of the peninsula, a spectacular ocean bluff, are the albatross nesting grounds and a fine visitor center with cafe.  It was a beautiful spot and the weather was fine, sunny and breezy.  Susie found us a quaint backpackers (budget) cabin over looking the bay.  Of special interest was the miniature railway.  The engine and cars were former mining equipment.   The owner said he had helped build the Driving Creek RR we rode at Coromandel.

After a couple nights, Susie and Charlie had a flight from Dunedin to Auckland to Seattle.  Together, we toured Dunedin, which is a charming university town.  We spent several hours at the wonderful Dunedin museum (and cafe).  They have great geological, wildlife and south pacific peoples exhibits.