A lot of good going to bed did me, as I woke up still sick the next morning- a cold I’d felt coming on got to me after a day on the ice. There’s nothing worse than getting sick while on vacation- and I was on vacation during my vacation! I thought that maybe I could get some rest during the 8 hour bus ride to Queenstown, but you’d be surprised at how action-packed it really was!
Our first stop was at Lake Matheson, the most famous of New Zealand’s many mirror lakes. It was beautiful, and even though Mount Cook (the highest NZ mountain) was hidden behind clouds, we walked to the lookout and took pictures that look like optical illusions!
Then, just as it was time to go Mt. Cook started to peak out for a photo.
We also stopped around 2 in the afternoon at a pretty little town called Wanaka which is right before Queenstown. Driver Stu had made special arrangments for two couples (both on their honeymoons, believe it or not!) who were unable to sky dive in Franz Josef, as it had been all booked up, to do it here. Normally, if a bus drops you off in a town, you have to wait for the next Magic bus to come through- be it the next day or two, and this doesn’t work for people who have already planned their short trip. However, Stu worked it so that he dropped them off at the airport on our way in, and went through to make his pick ups and then came back around to get them on our way out of town. We got back to the airport just in time to see them jump and I have to say it was a pretty spectacular sight. It was impressive to watch them fall: first as small little dots, then turn into colored parachutes and then land right in front of us- thanks to the expertise of the trained person they jumped tandom with.
When both couples had landed safely, I honestly teared up- much to the amusement of everyone else.
The craziest part, is that one of the couples on their honeymoon got off at the next and final stop before Queenstown to do the original first ever bungee jump! (Can you tell that New Zealand is known for its extreme sporting events- especially in the south island.) I couldn’t believe that people who an hour and half before jumped out of a perfectly good airplane were now going to throw themselves off a bridge! Talk about adreneline junkies… The Irish trio were also signed up for bungee and when we rolled in I could see them sweating from rows away. We got to watch them all take the 43 meter plunge (more if you wanted to get your head dunked in the river below…) and while some took more coaxing than others, they all did it! You couldn’t get me to bungee jump for a million dollars….. sky diving, however, I’ll admit looks tempting.
Overdosed with adreneline, we continued our journey and arrived in Queenstown about an hour later. Queenstown is considered like ‘the hub’ of the south island and is a quaint little resort town. Someone once told me it maybe has about 3000 residents, but at any given time there are 30,000+ tourists and more during peak snow season. When we arrived, we went off to our respective hostels agreeing to meet up where Stu had pointed out earlier around 8 oclock.
I made it another early night, as Stu had a full itnerary for those interested in bar hopping with him. After a warm scotch with water and lemon (for my cold, people…), I called it a night. Plus, I had my own adventures the next day.
Day 6: Queenstown
Seeing Queenstown by day, I had a little bit of an idea what all the fuss was about.
I had purchased tickets for the gondola and luge ride (gondola like cable car, not romantic boat. I know, I was confused too), which is one of Queenstowns quinnessential tourist stops. You ride a cable car up and and can have a leisurely look around or.. it’s New Zealand so you of course you can bungee or parasail off the cliff. I had decided that I would “luge,” as it’s apparently one of only three places in the world that you can do luging on like a track (not made of ice, I’m assuming.) I wasn’t convinced at first, but I decided I would go see what the big deal was about.
First, however, I had Shotover Jet. This is apparently a New Zealand icon as it has been done by several famous people while in New Zealand (Peter Jackson, George Lucas, to name a few). The ‘fatest jet ride in the world” was as extreme as I was planning to do this trip. It’s in the beautiful canyon on a river that in some spots has less than 6 inches of water! That’s enough, however, for the boat’s two Buick sized engines to propel water through two jets and out the back, coming out behind us as over 280km/hour. It also turns on a dime as they perform their famous 360 degree turns. It was a lot of fun, if also for the endearing woman who woud literally not stop screaming- even on the straightaways.
After my fast paced ride, I decided to slow it down by the taking the gondola ride. They offer to take your picture as you take off, but I declined, thinking why pay when I could do it myself for free!? Here I am in the cable car with views of Queenstown behind me.
The ride was beautiful and at the top so were the views. I checked out the luge thing, and decided that I could give it a go. You get a helmet and have to take the chair lift up and once at the top need to do the “scenic route” first before being allowed on the “advanced.” I warmed up a couple times on the scenic one (ok, 4) before I decided to give the advance a try and it was a blast as well. I couldn’t take very many pictures and it’s hard to explain but it is kind of like you’re going down the hill in a dysfunctinal tricycle.
After getting my fill, I headed back to do some shopping and exploring before the store closed and to grab some dinner before my evening engagment. The Irish girls, another girl from Germany who was travelling alone and myself had all made plans to meet up at the bar called Minus 5- a bar that since it’s made entirely out of ice the inside temperature actually flexuats between -5 and -10 degrees Celsius! We realized this was more of a tourist trap, but since we know I’m never one to forego a great photo opportunity, I was in! You can actually only stay inside for thirty minutes, as it’s so cold, and when I say everything is made out of ice, that means EVERYTHING- the walls, the bar, the seats and even the glasses!
They provide you with heavy jackets and shoes if you need, and the bartenders can only stay in for the half an hour with you…. We goofed and took photos but were definitley ready to go by the time thirty minutes had passed. We warmed up at the bar next store, approrpiatey placed and called The Broiler Room- which feels just like it’s name!
I said my goodbyes (leaving my counterparts at the bar was becoming a regular habit for me now) as I was still trying to kick my cold, and I was the only one having to get up for Magic the next day. Most people were staying on one more day to see the famous Milford Sound, but again, something that would have to be “next time” for me, even though many kiwis say it’s one thing you can’t leave New Zealand without seeing. Oops.
Day 7: Queenstown to Dunedin
Another short bus trip so that we arrive in Dunedin in time for those (ME!) who wanted to do the wildlife tours. This was why I had reserved two days here since the first was going to be soley out on the Otago Pennisula, where you can get up close to some of the rarest birds in the world, as well as sea lions and penguins. While most people picked the normal tour, I decided to fork over the extra money while I was in this part of the world to see the rare Royal Albatross colony. After a 45 minute drive out fo the pennisula, the rest of the bus stayed at the Albatross center, getting coffee and a bite and trying their luck searching the skies for the birds, while I was escorted up the hillside where the babies were sitting waiting for their parents to return with food. There are actually two babies in this photo, the obvious white one sitting in the path and then one farther up the hill, at the crest, if you can make it out.
By babies, I mean that at three months they already wieghed 6 kilos (heavy), and had a three meter wingspan. We were even lucky enough to see an adolescent bird lurking around and take flight. Adults are rare this time of year, and only appear to feed their young periodically. After our time at the look out was up, I would have liked to spend more time looking around the center but the bus was waiting for me to go out to meet the sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins as we were racing the sun.
We drove out along the inlets of the penninsula and then up onto a farmers beach front property. Up on the hill away from the beach was where they were replanting bushes in hopes that the yellow-eyed penguins would return in larger numbers, and this was already proving succesful. Everynight the yellow-eyed penguin will come in from sea to return to their life long mate and thier territory for defending. They do, however, have to make their way past the sea lions sleeping on the beach and although most often the sea lions have no interst, the penguins are rightfullly skiddish anyways. We actually met such a penguin ‘coming home’ as he was coming up the track while we were trying to go down it!
The penguins for some reason prefer the short grass of the man made track to the long grass, where they have to look for holes and be more careful of their footing. That means that when the penguins use our track, we’re forced up the hillside to wait for it to pass.
It was crazy how close it would get to humans, as those coming to this portion of the beach are used to the wildlife workers and tours. After letting it pass, we made our way to the beach to see dozens of sleeping sea lions! Against all common sense, I kept having the urge to just reach out and pet one- but I refrained.
This beach is mostly where the male sea lions hang out,and people often mistake the couples lounging together as male and female. In fact, it’s an example of a dominant sea lion practicing said dominance on a smaller younger sea lion until a female comes to replace him. (“Your mine. Play with me, and stay with me.” but nothing intimate.) Also, sea lions are in no way as faithful as penguins so they regulary switch partners and this way have companionship when they are inbetween females- as they are very social animals. Many times people mistake a sea lion wanting to play as signs of agression or attacking. We were told, however, that if a sea lion showed signs of wanting to play with us, we were in fact to decline and run the other way.
After a while, we had to walk back to catch a glimpse of the fur seal pups playing on the rocks. By this time it was getting dark so my pictures are lacking but it was still adorable to see them splashing about. They stay on the rocks for days waiting for their mothers to return from sea. Since mothers can be gone anywhere from 1 to 21 days trying to collect enough food for her and her young, the pups use this time to practice swimming in the tide pools. They have to be careful, however, as there are strong waves that can take the sea pups out to see where their fins are not developed enough for them to survive- as well as sea lions looking for an easy meal.
We hiked back to the bus and were dropped off back at the hostel close to 7 pm! It was a full day and I was exhausted. Being a Saturday night in Dunedin, and as it is home to NZ’s largest university I’m sure there were heaps of students out partying. Hillary, however, had a lovely evening in her hostel of laundry and internet.
Day 8: Dunedin
Not very many people on a timeline spend two nights in Dunedin, but I knew I wanted to see both the wildlife and the city. Dunedin is callled the “Edinbourough of New Zealand” and has tons of museums, galleries and not to mention- the Cadbury chocoalte factory! 😀 Cadbury is huge here- not just Caramel filled Easter eggs but year round chocolate treats. I guess it’s just like Hershey’s.
It was nice to get out of the cold weather in Queenstown and walk around the city. I headed through the center of town, called the Octagon due to its shape, over to the Otago Museum, that I’d heard a lot about from a colleage at school- especially the butterfly exhibit. It was again impressive. Not quite like Te Papa, but still an amazing free resource. I did have to pay to get into the butterfly exhibit, but it was worth it. Alone, it was difficult to get pictures of the butterflies landing on me, although I managed with a few one handed shots.
I decided instead to take pictures of other people with butterflies on them!
After exploring the other wings, with heavy natural history emphasis, I still had a couple hours before my chocolate factory tour at 3. I headed back to the Octagon where I had seen a bead shop. I had seen a similiar one in Queenstown, where I’d heard about how you could make your own jewelry and I thought it’d be a great opportunity to make a one of a kind souvenier. The cool thing is that there is no studio charge and you can take as long as you want, you just pay for the beads you use. The hardest part is deciding! I think I would do it differently next time now that I have a better idea, and even though I left with what the lady called a “very funky” bracelet, it’s still MY New Zealand funky bracelet that cost about $7.
It was time for the chocolate tour and since it was Sunday, I wasn’t going to see the actual factory operating but for a reduced entry price and the same amount of free samples I was more than satisfied. In fact, at the end they take you up a silo where the walls are covered with chocolate splatter and you watch as literally ONE TON of chocolate drops from a container, through a funnel, down to the bottom where it apparently gets pumped up again for the next group. The funny thing is though, that before the beginning of the tour, they tell you that cell phones or cameras aren’t allowed so I have no pictures from inside the factory. It was like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with how secretive it was!
After I made me way back to the hostel, I updated my “blog journal” so that I can remember all my witty comments to post here and had some dinner. My backpack meals are becoming very intersting, piecing together what I might have leftover from the store in the previous town…. A lot of instant soup. Or peanut butter sandwhiches. In the lounge, I wrote, read and eavesdropped on a group of German travellers trying to play Scrabble. It was actually fairly entertaning. After a day of not travelling, the rest was welcomed, but the next day I was off early to Lake Tekapo.
Day 9: Dunedin to Lake Tekapo
Today was another short day back inland to Lake Tekapo where I’d get a view of the mountains from the other side. The ride got off to an invigorating start as the bus took us to the World’s Steepest Street, just outside of Dunedin called Baldwin Street.
My friend John is becoming quite the cyclist- proving it this last summer by biking over the mountain pass in the middle of Washington State, managing roads that have a 7% grade (or was it 17%) incline. Regardless, I have found him his next feat— Baldwin Street in Dunedin, NZ. While I’m sure he could figure out the actual percentage from the 1 in 2.86 grade, we’re looking at least 40%-45% people. The bus stopped so we could get our aerobic work out and photo shoot of the morning
before continuing on the ride to Lake Tekapo. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful the lake was, nor the view from my hostel!
While it’s a quiet town with not a lot of flashy things to do, I decided I’d make the most of my trip and go for a horse ride around the lake, and then after dinner up to the internationally known observatory.
Two other girls from the bus were going for a ride, so the three of us got picked up and were off to the stables. It was fun, but honestly weird to be back on a horse after so long away from it! The trek was peaceful as we trudged along and the scenery was beautiful. I have to admit that I had wild visions of me racing along the New Zealand countryside like Arwin (that’s Liv Tyler’s Elf character in Lord of The Rings, for those who don’ t know) but I had to settle for the excitment of trying to prevent the 13 year old horses from eating berries off the path.
Back to the house for a quick dinner and then it was out to wait for my next adventure. The Mt. John Observatory is apparently internationally known and it’s sponsered by both Otago University locally, but another University in Japan so scientists are always using it to study something. The evening was too windy to open the “big” telescope, which was disappointing, but they dropped the price in half and we still got to look through telescopes with 100x magnitude. We drove to the top of the hill and even though the large telescope was closed, we were told that people are still monitoring this site and that we had to drive the final 100 meters or so with our headlights off so that those taking pictures from miles away wouldn’t confuse our headlights with a new star and then be sorely dissappointed to find out otherwise.
After arriving at the top of our dark ascent, I was closer to more stars than ever before. It was like we were looking at the roof of an electronic planetarium, the stars were so bright and numerous. We got an informative introduction, but I honestly don’t remember very much. We were told if we keep our eyes peeled we’d probably see some shooting stars, and as a result I was looking up the whole time she was talking. (But I did see three shooting stars!) We then got our opportunity to look through the telescopes, and see amazing sights. We saw the Orion and Tarantula Nebulas, where new stars are formed. We saw a constellation called “Jewel Box” where inside are several brightly colored stars that look like jewels (hence the name.) We also saw Alpha Centuri, which is the closest star to Earth second to the Sun and they closed with the grand finale of Saturn. It was so cool to see the rings and the moons, and seeing it look just like it does on the posters in classrooms, etc!
Back to town and off to bed so that I can start the final leg of my trip! At this point, nothing sounds better than the double bed I have at Heidi’s.