Wednesday, January 29, 2014


It was a relatively short drive from Wanaka to Queenstown, and much of the country I passed through looked like this.

As I approached Queenstown, I started getting glimpses of Lake Wakatipu over the peak of the mountain that you must descend to the valley in which the city is nestled.  Then, when I reached the top, I enjoyed this amazing view.

It's a wonder I made it down into the valley along the mountain road with its countless hairpin curves considering this distracting spectacular scenery.  When I met people in my travels who had been to NZ, they always used superlative terms to describe it, and now that's all that comes into my head (along with a huge dose of WOWS).

I have a studio apartment here for four days, and I'm extremely pleased with the view.

And the view at the back isn't bad hydrangas.

There are a lot of tourists here.  The streets are crowded with them, and there are a lot of choices for outdoor adventures.  Just about every other storefront in town is selling an adventure activity of some sort, from lake cruises to bungee jumping to jet boat river rides.  I met some people from San Jose at Starbucks who were around my age, and the man was about to jump off a mountain in tandem with a parasailer.  Every day on the lake I see someone doing this.  I'm not sure what it's called...maybe paragliding?  This guy is being pulled by a powerboat.

There's a beautiful trail walk that goes by the lake and through a lovely park.  There are benches along the lakeside where you can sit and enjoy the view.

There were some lovely and well-tended flower beds in the garden park on the hill above.

And all different colors decorate in the rose garden.

Further along I noticed a clubhouse, and when I investigated I found a group of seniors playing lawn balls, which I believe is also called lawn bowling.  One of the spectators, Margaret, wasn't playing because of a recent surgery, and she explained the game to me.  I was enjoying the conversation with Margaret and the bowlers and missed the check-in time for a lake cruise I had planned to take.  Fortunately, I hadn't paid for it yet, and it was very windy on the lake anyway.

I've made two side trips from Queenstown.  A short drive away is the old gold mining town of Arrowtown, which has dozens of liitle boutique shops and lots of restaurants. 

 I had a decent Pad Thai here, complete with this very familiar photograph...the King and his wife.

Gold was discovered in Arrowtown in 1861, and one of the historic sites here is a partially restored Chinese settlement.  There were about 3,500 Chinese in this area in the late 1800's, living on the fringes of the European settlement due to discrimination.  The social center was Ah Lum's store, this restored three room building.

There were several small huts in this settlement, which apparently housed 4 to 6 men, and the Chinese grew their own food in terraced gardens along the hillside.  It's hard to imagine that many men crammed into this very small hut.

I haven't mentioned the sheep yet nor posted any photos, only because any time I've seen a pasture dotted with them, there hasn't been anywhere to pull over.  But there are thousands of them and you see them almost everywhere there is open pasture land.

I also took a leisurely drive along the lake toward Glenorchy.  It was a beautiful day, and I made several stops to enjoy the pristine views.  There are some stunningly beautiful and very large mountain lake in NZ and most of them are undeveloped.  Commercial and housing developments are prohibited by the government, so everyone can enjoy this unspoiled nature.

Today, I'm doing laundry and just relaxing because I feel like doing nothing.  That's a luxury even more pleasant when you consider the view.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


You can drive for hours along the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island and not see much civilization.  It reminds me of Alaska in that respect.  So you need to top up the gas tank whenever you get the chance.

On Saturday, i drove from Lake Kaniere to Franz Joseph to see the glaciers.  It was another gorgeous day with more spectacular scenery.  These mountains are so varied and beautiful, and there are beautiful pristine lakes with no houses or boats to be seen.  

And there are lots of cows.

When I checked into the motel in Franz Joseph, I was advised to visit the glaciers that afternoon because a large storm system was expected to hit the area in the night and hang around all day Sunday.  I was pretty tired of driving but heeded the advice and headed for Fox Glacier.  The hiking trail to the glacier was very rocky, and I don't own any good hiking shoes (surprise, surprise!), so I settled for a photo from afar.

Close to Fox Glacier is Lake Matheson, a mountain lake that can be reached only by hiking a trail through the bush.  This trail was walkable in street shoes, so I decided to do the 90 minute hike around the lake.  There were other people on the trail, but I passed only a few, enjoying the stillness of the forest and chirping birdsong.

At the lookout point, I met two young Italians, Alicia and Angelo, and had an opportunity to practice my Italian.  

The lighting wasn't great for photos of people but I managed to capture the landscape pretty well.

We walked back to the car park together, and along the way I learned that they were both from the Lake Como area.  Alicia is now living in New Zealand, working for a winery, and Angelo and his girlfriend are visiting Alicia.  I really enjoyed our conversation and walk together.  They were both very charming.

I took this shot as I was driving from the lake back to the main road.  I think Mt. Cook, the highest peak in this range, is in this picture.

It was getting late, and I was pretty tired, so I returned to the motel, had dinner and crashed.  I was awakened in the night by a howling rainstorm that continued into the morning hours.  So further sightseeing in Franz Joseph was impossible.  There was a young German girl staying at the adjoining hostel that was looking for a ride to Wanaka, which happened to be my next stop.  So I had some company for the next 4 hour drive.  It was a bit tense at first, because the rain was very heavy, and the first stretch was through very curvy mountain roads, but the rained gradually lessened as we continued south.  I had to forego some things I wanted to see on the way, but I was rewarded during the last hour and a half with sunny skies and a drive past two very large and stunning lakes.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I reluctantly left my friends in Auckland on Friday and winged my way to Christchurch on the South Island to begin my two-week car tour.  Let me say that I was already very nervous about the prospect of driving on the left in a car with the steering wheel on the right.  When I discovered that my order for a GPS unit got screwed up and there was no unit available, my nervousness graduated to panic.  It was just lucky that the GPS on my phone worked, and I was able to find my way to my B&B, despite the distraction of turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal every single time I needed to make a turn.  The next morning, I called the customer service department of the website car rental broker and made a nuisance of myself until they finally coughed up a borrowed GPS unit, and I set out for the West Coast.

My North Island friends warned me to be on alert for cattle or sheep being herded across the road from one pasture to another, and, sure enough, I had to stop for a cattle crossing within an hour.  That last cow just stopped in front of my car until the farmer and his dog urged her to finish crossing.  

There are cows of different sorts and colors here, like this one with a broad white belt around its middle.  They come in black and brown.

Sixty percent of the South Island is covered with mountain ranges, and I was headed for the Southern Alps, which stretch 500 kilometers from the northeast to the southwest, almost the entire length of the island.  Once you enter the range, there are photo ops every 5 minutes.  My first stop was at
Castle Rock.

There were some rugged mountains behind Castle Rock.

Along the way, I also saw some snow-capped mountains.

And just before I reached the seacoast, there were these lovely mountain flowers under a gathering of dark clouds.

I was happy to see the Tasman Sea near the town of Hokitika, because it meant that my long drive was close to an end.

It was a 4 1/2 hour drive to my first accommodation, a studio apartment on Kaniere Lake.

It's a small lake with crystal clear water, a bit too chilly for swimming, at least for me.

But these local denizens didn't mind.

I'm happy to report that all the Kiwis on the South Island survived my maiden voyage in the left lane.  Being left-handed in a right-handed world can be stressful at times, but in this case, maybe it helped!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


It's my last day on the North Island.  The last three days, the weather hasn't been all that conducive to sightseeing, so I had a couple of relaxing days just reading and surfing the Net for places to stay in the next few weeks.  Since I've been moving about more frequently of late, I'm spending a lot of time acting as my own travel agent.  It was much easier when I plunked myself down in one place for a month.

Yesterday morning, the sun was shining, so Michele and I decided to take advantage of the break from the rain and hop on a ferry to Waikeke Island in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, about 40 minutes from Auckland.  This is quite a large island with several vineyards, beaches, and coastal walks that attract lots of tourists.  

We wanted to have lunch at the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant, which the New York Times said was a "must see".

Michele is a vegetarian, and I decided to join her for a healthy platter of vegetarian food, which included roasted and marinated vegetables, artichoke fritters, pea and mint arancini, garden salad, cheese, crackers, bread, and tasty dips.  It was appealing to the eye, attractively arranged and decorated with colorful edible flowers, and very satisfactory to my taste buds.

This was our view as we savored our lunch and a glass of the vineyard's white wine, which wasn't up to the standard of the food, unfortunately.

The weather turned fairly abruptly from sunny to cloudly and windy--our server described this changeable condition as bipolar, which I thought was a clever term to describe the climate here.  We had planned to take a coastal walk after lunch and proceeded to do so.  This island is all rolling green hills.

Along the way, we saw this pukeko bird taking food to her two young chicks.

Then the weather changed abruptly again to rain.  We decided to hail the next taxi we saw and try to catch the 2 p.m. ferry back to Auckland.  Fortunately, even though we were out in the country, there were taxis taking people to and from the restaurant.  We caught one that got us to the ferry in the nick of time, and the driver charged us only half the meter fare....very nice woman.

I got a few very nice photos on the return trip.  There were some very large sailboats about.

This is the volcanic island of Rangitoto.

There were several small uninhabited islands like this.

Even when the weather is "bipolar", New Zealand is a beautiful country!  Today, I fly to the South Island where the scenery is said to be even more spectacular.