A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Haere Mai

Goodbye, New Zealand (though I refuse to ‘farewell’ you. ‘Farewell’ is not, and never will be, a verb!)

And so the New Zealand part of our adventure comes to a close, way too soon. Despite the frenetic pace we set over the past couple of weeks, we still did not have time to explore the whole of the south island. We wanted to leave the glaciers and head up north via Greymouth, visiting a bunch of vineyards along the way, but sadly it was not to be. Instead we had to head back to Christchurch to return the rental car, promising ourselves that we will come back and complete the south island tour some time in the future.

Despite the adage about not being able to teach old dogs new tricks, Pete and I have learned a thing or two, and this post is really to sum up the good, the bad and the ugly, what worked and what didn’t.

Let’s start with the good stuff.

Trip highlights:

- Walking on a glacier (and having another helicopter ride).
- Getting up close and personal with cute little penguins, both at the Antarctic Centre and on the nature tour.

Trip lowlights:

- Invercargill. Not in the least helped by the fact that the weather was freezing cold, and when it wasn’t raining we had hail. Truly miserable!
I’m gonna upset people with this one, I’m sure, but what the heck…
- Milford Sound. Now before people start sending me hate mail and stuff, can I just say that I don’t really categorise this as a major lowlight, but more of a minor disappointment. Yes, Milford is pretty with its mountain scenery and lakes etc., but it was also a major drive from Invercargill. Pete and I both agree that a) it was something we had to do, just to say we’d seen it; but b) it perhaps wasn’t worth the time it took to get there, given that there are equally pretty mountains that are way more accessible.

*Okay, I’m wearing my flame-proof suit now. Fire away!*

Anyhoo, enough of insulting the Sound… what’s next?

Place on the south island we’d both like to live:

Main problem with living in Dunedin:
The lousy winters and horrible snowfalls.

Potential solution to the above problem:
Global climate change. Go to Dunedin (in the summer, obviously) and release loads of CFCs into the atmosphere. The hole in the ozone layer above Dunedin will widen, letting in more UV rays and heating up the land. Once Dunedin resembles Bali, we can move there with our sun lotion and beach towels and live happily ever after.

Reasons why potential solution won’t work:
1) I’m pretty sure the greenhouse effect doesn’t work that way; and 2) It’s a really evil idea, and although I have my moments, I don’t think I am capable of wreaking such environmental havoc.

Secondary potential solution to problem:
Buy some thermals and two dozen hot water bottles and learn to tolerate the lousy winters! We should be used to it – we’ve lived in Edinburgh, after all.

Other things we have learned:

It is possible to become inured to too much pretty scenery

For the first couple of hundred miles (or kilometers, if you insist) of rivers and mountains and what-have-you, we were all, “Ooh” and “Ahh”; for the next hundred whatever-units-you-prefer-to-measure-in our reactions were a little more understated, in a sort of a “Oh yes, very nice” kind of way; by the time we were heading back to Christchurch we were deliberately driving past every scenic lookout, and the only view that really grabbed our attention was an open-cast mine where trees were non-existent and dirt was piled everywhere. (I know, I know. We are a couple of city-raised philistines who have absolutely no business in the country!)

Driving is knackering

We have seen so many places over the last two weeks that my memory of the towns and cities we visited has merged into one big Mega-City. Although I have no sense of direction and am usually lost, it has been worse than usual recently because of the constant moving around.

This disorientation extended to Australia, too, and even caused us joint stomach ulcers on one way-too-memorable occasion. We made a brief stop-over in Oz in order to take advantage of some super-cheap flights to Japan (update coming soon), so got to see a bit of Brisbane and a bit of the Gold Coast. We had to brave one of the local malls to withdraw some cash, and had a major freak-out when we discovered that our bank account was showing a much lower balance than expected. Paranoia kicked in, and we started worrying about our account being hacked or other types of fraud… just to realize during a panicked phone call to the HSBC “Help, We’ve Been Robbed” hotline, that we hadn’t been cheated at all. The ATM machine was displayed our balance in Australian dollars, not New Zealand dollars, so of course it was lower. Once we’d stopped having simultaneous heart attacks and calmed down, we wondered why on earth we hadn’t realized this sooner. I put it down to the fact that Oz and New Zealand aren’t sufficiently different for us to recognize that we were in a foreign country. It sounds stupid, I know, but honestly, looking round that shopping centre there were very few clues as to our location. Many of the shops are the same, and there are branches of New Zealand banks all over the place. The style and layout of such buildings are similar, and most of the time I didn’t feel like I’d left NZ at all. Given all that, I think it was a reasonable assumption that we’d expect our balance to be displayed in Kiwi dollars. (Either that or we are complete idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to travel the world!) Still, we learned the hard way and won’t be fooled like that again.

We packed way too much stuff to bring on this trip

Remember I mentioned in a previous post that Pete’s backpack had up and died on in Wellington? Well mine waited until we were due to fly out to Australia before deciding to split its seams. After buying me a newer, smaller pack, we spent an evening whittling our stuff down to the bare minimum. Clothes now take roughly one quarter of our pack space, not one half, and we can now get everything into our backpacks if required, eliminating the need for separate day packs.

We cannot keep up the current pace of travel

It’s too disorienting and too exhausting. Our plans have now changed for the umpteenth time, as follows:

Instead of doing a mad tour of Japan, we are having a city break in Tokyo. We have a hotel booked for three nights already, and we hope to find another hotel where we can spend the remaining 8 nights. (Not having to get up in the morning and clear out every morning will be pure unadulterated luxury!) From Tokyo we fly to Bangkok, Thailand, where we will spend one week, before travelling a popular route through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

In conclusion:

The south island is beautiful, and I am glad we took the opportunity to see it before leaving New Zealand. We were both impressed enough that we may consider living there at some point - if we can overcome our abhorrence of cold weather, that is!

This was the easy part of our tour, and it has given us a chance to get into a routine in a familiar environment. From here on, things will be a bit more challenging, ‘cos for a large part of it we will be in countries where we can’t speak the language, and the locals may not speak English, either. It will be interesting, to say the least…

We shall update you on our Tokyo adventures soon.


Julie and Pete

Posted by Julie1972 22:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Why New Zealand's South Island has no Theme Parks

Or ‘adventures in motion sickness’

Hello all

This is the first of two posts finishing off the New Zealand part of our trip. I realise that I have been extremely slack when it comes to this blog, and really must make more of an effort to keep it up to date. I promise to do better in future.

Anyway, on with the blether...

New Zealand is not known for its theme parks. Gorgeous scenery, yes; sheep, for sure; but theme parks are thin on the ground in NZ, and a few days ago I think I worked out why. See, it’s the mountains that do it. The south island is full of ‘em, and it’s a bit of chore travelling any distance because soon or later there is going to be another mountain range to cross. And we’re not talking mini-mountains here, either. These are full-on big ’uns, all rocky and craggy and sprinkled with snow. You know, the impressive kind that look like they should have top secret research facilities hidden underneath like in all the spy movies. Actually it’s a miracle anybody attempted to build roads over ‘em at all, ‘cos I swear that your average New Zealand mountain contains more curves, chicanes, switchbacks and loop-the-loops than a Scalextric kit. We had to jump a ravine once. (Well, no, we didn’t, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if we had!) Anyway, this driving-unfriendly terrain is the reason that nobody has built a theme park on the south island: Once you’d driven there, you’d be too travel sick to enjoy any of the rides! That is my theory, and I’m sticking to it, so ner…

So, as you may have gathered, little old me has not had a good time of it on the mountain roads. After one particularly memorable trip, Pete even voluntarily drove 50 kms out of his way in order to avoid the same mountain range on the way back. (What a sweetie!) I’ve never been a good traveller, mind, and although it has improved somewhat over the years, I still get hit by it occasionally. And as if mad driving isn’t enough, I actually went and deliberately put myself in a position where a queasy stomach was pretty much inevitable.

One of the things I really wanted to do while visiting the south island was to walk on a glacier. Don’t ask me why; I saw a travel show once where people were hiking over glaciers in Switzerland, and I’ve wanted to try it myself ever since. Of course, glaciers are a major tourist attraction on the south island, given that there two humungous ones on the west coast, and a bit of time with the Internet-lover’s best friend (Google) let me know that there were a couple of options available:

1) Work for it - Grab some hiking boots, crampons and thermal undies, and undertake a 4+ hour arduous hike up the glacier.
2) Cheat - Hire a nice friendly chappy as a pilot, and get him to fly you up to the top of the aforementioned glacier in a fraction of the time and for no appreciable effort.

Wanna guess which option we chose?

So, off we went and booked ourselves seats on a six-passenger helicopter with a very friendly chappy as a pilot. We lucked out here, ‘cos we managed to get ourselves upgraded to a better flight for no extra charge. We were due to take a 30-minute trip that briefly landed on both the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, but instead we had a grand tour, flying over Franz Josef, passing by Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, and ending with a good ten minutes or so walking on Fox Glacier. It was cool – literally!

You may have already surmised that this trip was not the smoothest, given my earlier complaints about motion sickness, but in this case it was totally worth it. I think in this case you’ve been Typed At long enough already, so I’ll let the photos do the talking for me from here on. Enjoy!


Pete posing by our helicopter on Fox Glacier.


A bird's-eye view of a glacier.


Twin peaks: not the bizarre 90's TV show, but Mount Tasman and Mount Cook.


A close-up of the glacier ice. Apparently it has a blue tint to it due to a lack of oxygen.


One thing these pictures can't adequately convey is how bright is was up there. I now understand the meaning of the term 'snow blindness'.


You know people climb these things for fun? Glad we took the helicopter!

Posted by Julie1972 23:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged photography Comments (1)

Attack of the Killer Penguin!

Watch out! It's coming right for us!

One of the things we’ve been doing on this trip is chasing penguins. Not literally, of course; that would be unfair, ‘cos penguins can’t run very fast and it’s easy to catch them. No, what I mean is, we’ve been going on trips with the intention of spying on the funny little creatures.

This is not difficult; there are penguins all over the south island. They even have ‘penguin crossing’ road signs in some areas:


There are also many nature tour operators prepared to swap our hard-earned tourist dollars for a glimpse of penguins in the wild, and this is actually one of the best ways to see them. A lot of the birds live on protected grounds, so it’s a) hard to get close to them without risking getting shouted at by officials, and b) a pain in the neck even if you do choose to trespass, ‘cos some of the colonies are a bit inaccessible.

We decided to go the legitimate route, and booked ourselves on a Natures Wonders tour in Dunedin. I’m glad we did, ‘cos the path was rough, hilly and exceedingly muddy, so it was a good thing they provided transport.

It is quite a bizarre sight seeing penguins on a beach – they look so out of place. I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t more of them, and the hideout we were in was a long way from the beach, so most of the viewing had to be done through binoculars. I didn’t get many pictures worth seeing, except this one:


*Note: picture is grainy 'cos I had to use maximum zoom.

This little guy is a rare sight on the beaches of Dunedin, simply because he is a Crested Fiordland penguin and should be on the other coast. Of course, being me, I have spent many hours since then trying to think of reasons for this little fella’s defection from west to east. These are my ideas so far:

1. He’s got my sense of direction and is hopelessly lost.
2. Being stared at by Fiordland tourists all day became too stressful for him and he decided he needed a holiday.
3. He’s having a mid-life crisis and decided to (e)migrate.
4. Fiordland Penguin is disillusioned with life in the capitalist West and is hoping for a new start as Comrade Penguin in the Eastern bloc.
5. Mrs. Fiordland Penguin kicked him out of the den because he spent that week’s fish money on a second-hand ice floe from this dodgy bird down the watering hole.

Yeah, yeah, I know that last one needs some work, but what can I do? Things like that run through my head all the time. It’s quite exhausting, really.

Enough of that, I think. On with the story…

Yeah, so, after we’d all taken pictures of the few penguins on the beach and I was starting to feel vaguely ripped off, one of the guides called me over and drew back a panel in the wall. Just a few inches away sat the most adorable penguin chick I had ever seen! Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos ‘cos it would have disturbed them, but I really, really wish I could have taken one home with me. Cute overload, I tell ya!

I did get to experience a parcel of penguins in Christchurch, at the International Antarctic Centre. The IAC – amongst other things - rescues injured birds, tries to fix them up, and releases them back into the wild. This is where we encountered the Killer Penguin mentioned in this blog heading. Don’t believe me? I put it to you that the aforementioned penguin did:

- Squawk and screech loudly and threateningly;
- Flap its wings in menacing manner;
- Peck at numerous trouser legs and any body parts that got in the way of its beak;
- Trample Pete’s foot maliciously and with intent.

The perpetrator of these heinous crimes?


Meet Panya, a two year old Little Blue Penguin, who we got to see ‘cos we paid an extra $20 for a behind-the-scenes tour. We don’t actually know if Panya is a boy or a girl, ‘cos apparently it’s really hard to distinguish between the sexes until they are about three years old (without a DNA test, that is). I think what usually happens is this:

1. The keepers give the bird any old name.
2. They wait until breeding season and see if it lays an egg.
3. If it does, they check the bird’s current name and change it if required.

Cheaper than DNA testing, anyway, eh?

On our quest to pester penguins we encountered various other animals, so I shall leave you with a selection.

Seals that we also saw on the Natures Wonders tour:


This fella is still breathing, we think:


A surprise that we encountered on a beach on the way to Milford Sound. This guy could really move, so we didn’t want to get too close:


And, of course, the scariest beasties of all:



Hope you have a good one, wherever you are!


Posted by Julie1972 12:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged photography Comments (0)

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