Monday, April 14, 2008

New Zealand trip comes to an end

I'd say that 11 days was way too short to see both islands of New Zealand, but I'm already itching to return home and to work. The trip was a success - I had an incredible time! Highlights, in semi-chronological order, with scenic drives in between:

1. Wandered Christchurch
2. Bungy Jumped in Queenstown where Gil showed us around
3. Milford Sound scenic bus ride, eco-tour with cruise and a flight back over the mountains
4. Heli-hike Franz Joseph glacier
5. Trout Fishing on Lake Taupo
6. Sky diving over Lake Taupo
7. Partied in Wellington
8. Hot springs and Mud pools of Hells Gate in Rotorua
9. Luging and watched friends Zorb in Rotorua

Then 10. - today drove to Auckland, where Max's brother, Nick, generously provided us a place to stay and a great lamb meal.

I stopped at an ATV tour for an hour. It was raining and the mud was awesome! The course through the steep hills and forest seemed particularly dangerous. Good times!

If I had more time, a few other cool things to do:
1. Sky Tower in Auckland (walk on top, bungy, or restaurant)
2. Scuba dive a wreck
3. Tropical area to the north of Auckland
4. Caving near Rotorua
5. America's Cup Sailing (racing) in Auckland
6. White water rafting
7. Mountain biking
8. Local zoo

They have an incredible amount of other activities from: paintball, motorsports, boating, hiking, horseback riding - you name it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hells Gate and Rotorua

Hells Gate, Rotorua - perhaps the stinkiest natural landscape I've experienced. The hot springs and mud pools were shades of gray and brown. They emitted a terrible sulferous odor, yet the area was interesting. It felt like an ominous movie scene waiting for the Boogie Monster to jump out or another planet from Star Trek. After walking the trail we had a mud bath and relaxed in sulferous spas. Probably nicer in the company of a woman, but had a good time anyway.

Rotorua was a shady place at night. Whereas wandering other locations, including the populated capital of Welli, felt entirely safe, last night was more like Oakland or Compton. Shortly after being solicited drugs, I was chatting with a drunk local who turned out to be a cop. Another local drunk who'd recently been kickout out of the club (the line we were waiting in) randomly decited to hit another man I was talking to in the back of the head without provocation. The officer went to talk to him - I followed a few seconds later. By the time I arrived, the officer was on the ground. I helped him up, noting that he was in shock and clearly needed stiches. The troublemaker decided to hit him as well. The rest of the story isn't worth mentioning - needless to say, there had been other incidents and fights that evening.


In the morning we met up with a group of Americans who happened to have lived in Seoul recently. They went "Zorbing", which is basically rolling down a hill in a giant inflated plastic ball. It looked great, but had to be done wet today due to wind conditions. I wasn't dressed for such activities.

After that we went "luging", which turned out to be a lot of fun. It would be best described as gravity fed go kart racing down a windy paved track. The same ski lifts that bring you back up automatically carry the luges and deposit them on conveyors, bringing them right back to the track - a clever system.

Should have gone with them to see the "World Famous" Sheep show, including a shearing and the Maori cultural dinner. Maybe next time.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lake Taupo

Got a short break waiting for my Chicken Tikka Masala and Nan - one of the things I miss living in Seoul. We just finished sky diving over Lake Taupo. We're on our way to Rotorua, the stop back was to get Austin's photos developed - who does that anymore? He had a good reason though, they were underwater pics from snorkeling in Australia.

It was a rough start this morning. They weren't messing around when I asked for my Pad Thai hot last night. Every bite was literally painful. Austin said his stomach was irritated like mine and he only mixed a small forkfull of my noodles into his. In retrospect I'm glad I only finished half of the otherwise tasty dish.

Skydiving was a blast. "Not so scary as exciting" according to our new Welsh friend Ellie, a young recent medical school graduate. Dead on as far as I'm concerned. The view was beautiful. Even at 12,000 feet instead of the more expensive fifteen. The jump "didn't do anything" for Austin, who's now all about the bungy jumping. I'd do it day in and out if I could.

Last night we arrived at Lake Taupo with enough time to charter a fishing trip. We were pretty much the only ones out that evening - a surreal experience. Austin was bouncing off the seats - one too many Red Bulls and he was ready for adrenaline induced adventure. But even he was obviously excited at the thrill of reeling in a Trout. Unfortunately, we both reeled in fish that below the 18" minimum - we were to go hungry for the night. We also both missed our first bites! The guide said we were unlucky, but I donno.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday 10th heli-hike a glacier

(Pics to follow) for now check out 07APR08, 09APR08, and 10APR08 pictures. Still haven't even touched the pics Austin took ;-0

Foo foo coffee for breakfast and we're off! The "helihike" didn't start until 10AM, but our short flight would put us well above the full day hike on the Franz Joseph Glacier. The tour was amazing! We flew close to the mountains, over a waterfall and circled the snow basin from above. This is one of three major tropical glaciers residing at sea level in the world - another in New Zealand and the third in Chile. The strange thing was how warm it was outside. More snow falls in the basin than melts, which compresses the ice below, forcing slow movement and an enormous glacier that's thaw resilient.

Wandering the glacier felt like a giant playground. The boots and ice spikes provided were incredible. Provided that you remember to keep your knees bent and ALWAYS point your toes forward, you could traverse almost anything - up or down! The guide would carve steps in the ice at difficult spots for the senior members of our group. I made my own steeper detours and Austin was usually nowhere to be found. Admittedly, it was intimidating to go down the steeper sections, but they would make it harder on themselves by sidestepping.

The other half of the day was spent on the road. We cut westward then drove up the coast. It surprised me how varied the terrain was over so short a distance. We'd stop at woodland forrest areas with blue waters and rinky bridges, jungles right out of Jurassic Park with glacier views, and beautiful lakes and ocean beaches.

The roads in the South Island are windy, single lane highways that often carve steep paths through the mountains. Bridges that share a single lane for both directions aren't uncommon. I felt like a wannabe rally car driver - not exactly drifting, but enjoying speed through the windies. Our trusty rental manual transmission Corolla, Ada, taught me a thing or two. Austin had never driven stick before, nor had he much experience in those conditions. After a little practice and instruction he wasn't freaking me out nearly so often!

We stayed at a cheap backpackers lodge that, despite the fancy French name, felt like a haunted house and reminded me of the Jail House.

Back on the road Thursday morning toward the Wellington Ferry. We managed to move our booking forward from 10PM to 2. This leg of the trip was mostly grassland surrounded by mountains, highlighted by trees changing colors to oranges and yellows. We also drove through another famous wine country and lots of livestock: Deer, cows, and above all, sheep.

Now I'm borrowing power for my laptop from the Ferry. Listening to my ipod in a lounge seat that's perched right in front of a center window above the bow - best in the house as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunday in Milford Sound

We're the little bus in the back (reminded me of a certain Maui Princess versus Gilligan's Island dive trip)

Guide had lots of good info...

a weird land bird that can't protect itself from mammals

Kea - mountain parrot that terrorizes visitors and locals alike - in a good way. Apparently won intelligence competition recently. They found that octopuses?? are very smart, dolphins not so much - just a lot of learned behavior, and the Kea is top dog. Smarter than monkeys according to our guide.

Mirror lake was cool.

Lunch in the bus (left) - our adventure guide (right). He kinda reminded me of the Crocodile Hunter.

Lots of cool short walk paths along the way.

More tops on the bus trip to Milford Sound.

Our Milford Sound vessel.

Mineral deposits in the rock. Copper and Cobalt, I believe.

Some Seals and lots of rainbows and waterfalls.

More Milford Sound cruise pics.

A 35 minute flight to avoid the 5 hour bus ride home. Someone else canceled so we got a discount. Apparently rare. I got to be the co-pilot.

Flying above the clouds on the way back - quite a site.

In the air over Queenstown

We landed on a grass "runway" next to a real runway.