New Zealand Part 2 – Good Friends and Gorgeous Scenery

Hi Everyone!

We are finally getting the New Zealand, Part 2 Blog out! It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since our trip, but going through the pictures now has brought up all the great memories. After all of this time, we are finding this blog fun to write and to share!

If you remember from the Part 1 blog, we left off having boarded the inter-island ferry at Wellington to head to New Zealand’s exciting South Island. With Moby-Canardly (our rented motorhome that looks like Moby the whale and can hardly get up hills) tucked safely in the bowels of the ship and Ned and Kat tucked into the upstairs bar, we were on our way, looking forward to more exploring!
The three-hour ferry ride through the fjords was easy and gorgeous!
On February 7, 2018, we landed in the lovely port town of Picton. We wandered the quaint streets, had a nice meal and spent the night (illegally) parked in the town parking lot for $5! In the morning, we discovered the South Island’s talking restrooms…
These bathrooms were a riot. If the electronic sign outside indicates that the stall is available, you open the door and enter. You are then greeted by a voice saying “Welcome. You have ten minutes until the door will be unlocked!” Then loud Barry Manilow elevator music plays while you stress over your allotted ten minutes! Everything from the toilet to the water faucet spoke some message to me; it was all very high tech, but just a little creepy!
Our destination for the day was Riwaka, several hours east of Picton where our good friends, Taylor and Christine live…but first, we were informed that we HAD to have lunch at the Mussel Pot in Havelock on the way to Riwaka. The famous, green-lipped mussels were incredible!
The scenery along the way was spectacular, but we did notice quite a lot of logging going on (we heard later that it is quite controversial). Because of the large amount of rainfall and the sub-tropical climate, everything here grows rapidly. But, unlike in Oregon, we really didn’t notice any new and/or sequential forest plantings. Hmmm…
Many hillsides were clearcut like this.
Once in Riwaka, we enjoyed several very relaxing days hanging out with Taylor and Christina. Here we are taking a swim in the beautiful Motueka River.
Taylor shared one of his favorite spots with us…the Abel Tasman National Park, where we took an awesome hike…
…and a swim in the crystal clear waters of the Tasman Sea!
We found these giant hedge-rows fascinating and wondered how they were all kept so nicely trimmed…’till we saw this operation! These hedges are widely used in New Zealand to protect fragile crops (like kiwi fruit) from wind damage.
Wow! “The World of Wearable Art!” The WOW Museum in Nelson was such a treat, and another inside tip from our local friends. We had never heard of it, but evidently the concept is known internationally and was started right here on the South Island. Artists from all over the world are invited to participate by spending at least a year creating incredible “wearable art.” The culmination is a fashion show of sorts, where the participants are judged and winners announced…but the real thrill for the artists is being able to see their masterpieces on stage, paraded around by some of the most renown models in the world!
Every piece was amazing and creative…materials being a cornerstone of the work. We saw everything from inner tubes and valve stems to brilliant stainless steel. The one above is all postage stamps from around the world!
The best part for Ned was that the WOW museum was attached to an antique car museum. Guess where each of us spent most of our time!
We had a fantastic visit with Taylor and Christina, who had moved to New Zealand several years ago from Southern California. It was really fun catching up and having locals take us around to their favorite spots.
We were sad to say goodbye to Taylor and Christina, but ready for more adventure and exploration. Heading south along the spectacular West Coast, we found the roads were windy and circuitous, but in very good condition. Ol’ Moby just kept motoring along for us.
At Cape Foulwind, we were happy to find the weather absolutely perfect. According to the signage, the place was appropriately named, but we lucked out and took a gorgeous hike along this rugged coastline.
Another great scene from our Cape Foulwind hike.
Farther south, we saw a sign for Pancake Rocks and couldn’t resist taking a peak. A short walk brought us to these fantastic rock formations. As you’ve seen in our other blogs, we seem to be attracted to great rocks, and these were some of the best!
Continuing down the West Coast, we eventually arrived at the quaint town of Franz Josef. Unfortunately, we were finding more crowds as we went south and found out that it was the Chinese New Year. As it turns out, New Zealand is a relatively short and inexpensive flight from China! It became difficult to get good photos without throngs of tourists in them, and the roads were jammed with hundreds of other rented motorhomes. It was almost embarrassing to be just another one of them…Oh, Charlotte, where are you when we need you?!
It was a quick, but crowded, hike to the Franz Josef Glacier…and beautiful when we arrived!
After Franz Josef, the stunning scenery continued as we turned eastward into the interior of the island. The lakes were just as beautifully blue as in Patagonia!
We were a bit sick of the crowds when we found this quiet, secluded lake quite by chance! Lake Ohau was just enough off of the beaten path to give us a much-needed break from humanity.
It was lovely, but WINDY…
…and we were exceptionally happy to have our trusty Moby-Canardly where we could enjoy the scenery, get out of the wind, camp for free by ourselves…
…and eat what had become our favorite, easy, New Zealand dinner…salad with bag lettuce, avocado, tomato and oil and vinegar…made and eaten right in the bag…
…and New Zealand’s famous smoked salmon (albeit farmed) eaten right out of the bag. Our water conservation ways from long months in Charlotte have never left us, and any way to keep from washing dishes is great with us!
From our quiet respite at Lake Ohau, we set out once again to face the other tourists; all of us vying to visit New Zealand’s awesome attractions. Our next stop was Mt. Cook (seen off in the distance).
Remember Bev, our trusty stuffed penguin mascot? She’s still with us, enjoying New Zealand’s spectacular scenery, too!
We parked at the Hooker Track trail head and headed out on the 6.6 mile “hike” to the foot of Mt. Cook. Having been on some crazy, remote hikes around the world, Ned and I found this a little white-washed for our taste. In order to ecologically tolerate so many footfalls and to allow a wider range of hiking abilities, the entire way has been “paved” with a smooth, gravel walkway (there were even baby strollers along!). It was also insanely crowded with literally hundreds of other tourists. We had to run nearly the whole way to get past the slower moving masses. The suspension bridges were especially fun to run on… (trying hard, of course, not to bounce our fellow tourists into the river. Ha!).
Ah, a moment alone on the trail.
A glimpse of the spectacular Mt. Cook with tourists…
…an even nicer view without tourists! Mt. Cook is 12,200 ft. In elevation and well worth shimmying through the crowds!
The hike ended at the glacier, which is just behind the glacially-muddy lake!
The park wanted a whole $23 to camp among the throngs, so we drove a bit down the road, just outside the park boundary, and pulled over in a large turnout area well off of the highway. We tucked in for the night, loving the sunset on the mountain and the quiet. We were eventually joined by four other noisy, “copy-cat” campers, but at least it was free!
Back home, Ned had shown me a faded old photo of a cool, stone church, which he had visited in 1982. He said it was all by itself on the shores of deserted Lake Tekapo. We were excited to return to the spot and see The Church of the Good Shepherd. Once again, everyone else was there to see it too. In fact, the entire lake shore surrounding the church, once windswept grassland, is now developed with restaurants, gift shops, hotels and condos. The parking lot was filled with cars and tour busses, and it was impossible to get a photo without people in it. Wow, times have changed on this poor, over-loved island!
I had just a split second to get Ned alone with this well-deserved tribute to the working dogs of New Zealand.
Heading further eastward toward the coast, around the town of Geraldine, the scenery was classically bucolic, the rugged coastline and glacial mountains giving way to lovely, rolling green hills and agriculture.
We even saw several farms where deer are raised!
Our next destination was Temuka (just north of Timaru), where our friends, George and Suzy own an 800-head dairy. Back in the ‘80s, Ned was introduced to the Leslie family by a fellow traveler. George’s parents, Bill and June took him in and put him to work on their then, 200-head dairy farm. He formed a lifelong friendship with the family and a highlight of our current trip was to spend time on the farm and visit with son George and his wife Suzy, and maybe get our hands dirty with a little farm work. We were thrilled to be away from tourists and to jump in to regular New Zealand life with helping hands! George showed Ned how to operate this tractor, and I got to ride along while he plowed a good portion of this field.
George with his cows.
Chasing cows on quads and plowing fields…we had a blast. Of course, we didn’t have to get up at dawn every day, rain or shine, to do it!
George’s dairy operation was impressive! These are the girls waiting to get in to the milking barn…
…which is set up on a turn-table! The girls step on, one-at-a-time…
…then get hooked up…
…and take a spin around the turn-table, being mechanically milked while eating hay the whole time…and then get un-hooked and spit back out!
Milk is literally flowing through all those pipes!
This is the big Fonterra milk processing co-op, just down the road from George and Suzy’s place. Each farmer buys shares in the plant equal to the number of cows they are milking; if they want to add more cows to their operation, they have to buy more shares. Seems to be a favorable system for everyone!
George and Suzy also took us to a Wallaby preserve, of all things! Wallabies have become a huge nuisance animal, a hazard to agriculture. A single wallaby eats four times as much grass and crops as a sheep, so they are hunted and trapped along with possums, rats and ferrets. The very controversial chemical, 1080, is currently mass-sprayed to kill vermin.
…but this is Gwen, who loves and rescues hundreds of them. Gwen was an absolute riot, telling Ned a dozen times that he needed to cut his hair!
After visiting, we could see why Gwen loved them so much; they were adorable! We could also tell (by George’s attitude toward them) that they really are a problem for agriculture.
George and Suzy look on…but, actually, they were enjoying feeding and petting them too.
Having left George and Suzy’s farm, we headed south down the east coast…our destination now was the southern-most tip of New Zealand. Along the way, we stopped for more fun wildlife encounters.
Bev was so happy to finally see her penguin relatives!
Bev was not, however, very impressed by my bad penguin impersonation.
Another cool spot, the Moeraki Boulders, was also jammed with tourists. Our photos below make it look like we are all alone, but it took some time and effort to have it look that way!
The placard told us that the spheres were started as tiny pebbles or shells 55 million years ago, then buried in mud, while lime was deposited slowly and evenly around the shells and pebbles over time, creating these amazing formations.
More exploration on the East Coast led us to this unpretentious looking building…
…which turned out to be a famous and fabulous restaurant!
Fleur’s Place!
More classic New Zealand scenery as we wandered southward.
Another random stop led us to this great beach hike and the Isas cave.
We enjoyed some fun tide pool exploration.
The giant seaweed looked like spinach pasta!
It was so nice wandering the nearly empty beach!
By now we were getting really good at finding hidey-holes for camping! We hadn’t paid for an RV park or camping place since early on the North Island!
We made it! Slope Point…southern-most point in New Zealand! Now we have driven from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island! The latitude is pretty far south here, so we were now donning some warmer clothing.
In the very southern town of Invercargill, we made one of the greatest discoveries ever…E. Hayes & Sons…a very cool, antique car and motorcycle museum inside a huge and fabulous hardware/gift store! And to top it off, the main feature was…The World’s Fastest Indian! Yes, Burt Monroe (remember the movie with Anthony Hopkins?) lived in Invercargill, spending twenty years modifying his 1920 Indian motorcycle for speed. Ten times he traveled all the way to the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, setting three speed records (one of which still holds today!). Here, in this most unsuspecting of places, is the impressive display of all of Burts efforts, including an enormous “wall of shame” with all of his broken and failed parts.
This is the “shell” Burt built to go over his Indian to improve speed and stability.
We loved the cool, old, antiques displayed among the mundane auto and hardware items!
Heading back north again, but on a different route, we arrived at the wildly-touristy Queenstown. The town is beautifully nestled on the shores of the lovely Lake Wakatipu, but once again, we found ourselves mired by the throngs.
Ned, once again reflecting back, told me that this kiwi statue was out on the beach by itself last time he was here. Now it is surrounded by a giant riverboat and dozens of restaurants and shops.
Another Ned must-do, take a thrilling jet boat ride up a rocky gorge! Ok, that was well worth the visit; very fun!
Any of you remember hearing about the earthquake that nearly destroyed the city of Chistchurch in 2011? Seven years later, the devastation is still highly evident. Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, with over 400,000 residents, and it was incredibly sad, but still heartening to see the vast efforts being made to replace or restore the 1,500 buildings lost in the quake. Controversy also abounds as the debate rages between the final destruction or restoration of the city’s heart and epicenter…the Christchurch Cathedral.
Shipping containers seemed to be all the rage in Christchurch…some were stacked high, holding up entire buildings, while still others were set up as (temporary) shopping malls, appropriately named…Container Malls!
Coincidentally, our friends from Canada, Art and Kathy were on the South Island at the same time we were there. Kathy is a talented musician and had been asked to perform some concerts with the famous New Zealand guitarist, Graham Wardrop (his fabulous music is available on iTunes and other music apps). We met up with them at Graham’s home outside Christchurch and were treated to several very special, private concerts!
A backyard BBQ with good friends, complete with a private concert. This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip!
There is just something wonderful about absorbing soul-deep music in an intimate gathering, and we were so blessed to have Graham and Kathy share their heartfelt passion for music with the two of us.
In Kaikoura, on the north-east coast, nearly at the end of our seven-week sojourn, we were treated to yet another magical highlight…a dolphin encounter! Not tame, domesticated dolphins, but wild ones! We boarded a small boat at 5:30am and were motored an hour out into the open ocean. Then, at first light, we donned wet suits and snorkel gear and plunged into the cold water…only to be surrounded by dozens of playful and quicksilver fast dolphins. The experience was dream-like and special beyond description. We spent nearly two hours with these incredible animals as they darted and spun around us, mere inches away! That was definitely a “Pinch me. Did we really do that?” moment!
Looking at the photos, a year later, has reminded us of how many great memories we made in New Zealand. We were disappointed by the growth and crowds; Ned had wanted to show off the quaint, rural Islands he fondly remembered. But it is still an incredibly special place, and we were greatly enriched by our seven-week visit.
Up next…Ned and Kat are racing in Mexico (twice!). In March we will be doing a 5-day, off-road race on the mainland and in April another 5-dayer in Baja! We still harbor dreams of taking Charlotte to Europe, though, so stay tuned!

New Zealand Part 1- North Island; Nice Folks and Natural Beauty

Hi Everyone,
Greetings from New Zealand! As mentioned in our last blog, Kat and I are on a seven-week adventure down under in beautiful Kiwi country. New Zealand is made up of two long, kidney bean-shaped islands which are kind of stacked one on top of the other, forming “north” and “south” islands. Here is a shot flying in to the capital city of Auckland, located roughly 2/3 “up” the north island.

Since we are only here for seven weeks it was kind of pointless to ship Charlotte here, even if we’d wanted to. New Zealand laws regarding the temporary import of vehicles would have never let her into the country. She is too dirty! NZ is very strict regarding any foreign dirt, dust, spores, bugs, etc. entering these remote islands, polluting their fragile ecosystem. The funny thing is, ever since humans first set foot here a thousand years ago, they’ve been screwing up the island’s ecosystems to the point where today, for example, 90% of the original wetlands have been destroyed, and many of the flightless birds, unique to New Zealand, are extinct. Only in the last thirty years or so has a conscious effort been made to reverse the trend. So, Charlotte, with her South American dust cooties behind her door panels, in her headliner and stowed away deep in her frame rails, would be a potential eco-nightmare for this already eco-ravaged country!
So, what is a van-livin’ couple to do? We found a cool website called ShareACamper. It’s like an Airbnb for RVs. We rented this stylin’ 1997 Fiat Ducato-based motorhome, or campervan as they are called down here, from a nice gal in Auckland named Sally. We named it Moby Canardly ‘cause he is kind of a big white whale and can-hardly get up hills! But, as I write this, after covering 2,000 miles of the north island, ‘ol Moby has been good to us, with trouble-free mechanics (are you listening Charlotte?) as well as providing us with cozy living quarters, complete with a shower, indoor cooking and couches to sit on (hope Charlotte’s not listening!).

Here I am in Sally’s kitchen going over the particulars on Moby. Looks like she’s chewing me out, but actually, she is a very nice lady, and the whole rent-an-RV experience has been a great way to go.

Downtown Auckland with the city’s famous Sky Tower dominating the skyline.
It is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere.

As the city’s focal point, all tourists are drawn straight to the base of the Sky Tower…

…and sucked into the ticket office and up the elevator…

… to stand on the thick glass panels in the floor and take pictures looking down roughly 720 feet!

Wandering the streets of downtown Auckland, we were serenaded by these rockin’ Krishna folks.

Hanging out in the Viaduct Basin district where all the cool bars and restaurants are. This posh area was built along the city’s waterfront when NZ hosted the Americas Cup sailing races in 2000.

When in NZ you eat lamb, and what’s better than a big lamb shank?

Drawn back to the tower for a night shot.

First breakfast in NZ… had to order the biggest thing available! We’ve been blown away by the freshness of the food, the ease of finding gluten free items on menus and the overall made or grown in NZ vibe to the food chain.

True to Ned and Kat form, we figured out early that you can pay 5 bucks to park all night in a city car park. No “no camping” signs, so perfect cheap city accommodations!

Meet “Bev,” the Ned & Kat travelin’ penguin mascot. We found her face-down in an aisle, far from the toy section, in a “Warehouse” store. (NZ’s version of Wal Mart.) She was lost and scared so we scooped her up and are taking her for a ride. I asked the nice older lady at the checkout stand what her name was. She said, “Bev,” in a classic Kiwi accent. I told her, “that’s our new penguin’s name!” She was flattered…I think.

Practicing selfies on one of the many gorgeous beaches lining the entire coast of this unique country.

Bev sees cows for the first time; quaint pastoral scenes abound as we roam the countryside.

This is a Kiwi bird and its egg, stuffed, because you’ll rarely see one in the wild. They are nocturnal and almost extinct due to introduced rodents like possums and rats that have wiped out most of New Zealand’s flightless bird species.

This is a quarter scale replica of the Endeavor, the boat in which British explorer, James Cook, “discovered” New Zealand in 1769. 700 years earlier the Maori peoples from Polynesia had settled the islands, rowing here in long canoes.

Really incredible scenery…

“Be right, stay left” the Kiwis say. Hmmm…is that positional or political?

“Best fish and chips on the north island,” we were told…and they were right! The restaurant offered three different types of enormous chunks of caught-that-day fish. Of course, we had to try them all and happily pigged-out while enjoying this fun, over-the-water view.

Different way of thinking down here…watch out or get run over!

There are still more sheep in NZ than people!

Jones-ing for a 4X4 while checking out 90 Mile Beach.

Cows with sand dunes. Don’t see that every day.

Cape Regina lighthouse. This is about the furthest point north you can go in New Zealand.

Tormented oceans. This is the confluence where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean come together.

Kat on a rock.

Sand surfing seemed quite popular up north. Take a Boogie Board, climb up a huge sand dune following a whole line of other people, and slide down without hitting each other. We took a pass.

Some of the whitest sand dunes we have ever seen were off in the distance.

The giant Kauri Trees are endangered, but are now revered and protected. This particular tree is 2,000 years old and is named “Tane Mahuta.” In Maori cosmology, Tane was the ‘giver of life.”

Crazy, big ferns lined the little back roads we love to follow.

Tourist Adventure Thrill Time.
We spent the big bucks and signed up for a five hour “extreme” adventure in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves in the central part of the north island. Donning wet suits, helmets and climbing harnesses we first repelled 100 Feet down into a tiny “birth canal” hole in the ground.

We emerged into a huge cave system with a river running through it. Trading our climbing ropes for inner tubes, we were instructed to jump off a tall ledge into the river.

During the next three hours we swam up and down the river in the tubes, rode zip lines into new parts of the cave…enjoying an incredible, celestial-like view of magical glow worms…

…took fun photos…

…climbed up huge waterfalls (tall people advantage)…

…or drowned climbing waterfalls (short people disadvantage)…

…and crawled through super tight little tunnels (short people advantage).

Hours later we crawled through our last tight tunnel and emerged into daylight. Overall, it was a very worthwhile tour and adventure.

Old Friends Visiting Time.
Lorne DePape and I crossed the entire continent of Africa, together with 19 other crazies in a large 4X4 truck, back in 1980. We have kept in touch ever since. He and his wife, Carol, emigrated from Canada to New Zealand 26 years ago. They graciously hosted us at their beautiful beach house in Hahei Beach along the eastern coast of the north island for several days.

Just south of Hahei Beach is Hot Water Beach. Laughing, Lorne said we had to check out the “lemmings” on this beach at low tide. Seems there are hot thermal veins of water that run beneath the sand in one particular spot. Every day a large congregation of tourists form on the beach.

They bring shovels, dig holes and practically sit on top of one another, soaking in the sandy, hot water.

Voyeurs

Also on the agenda for the weekend we were in Hahei beach was the Leadfoot Festival, a car race up the long, winding driveway of retired, international-famed, race car driver Rod Millen. Millen, a native Kiwi, has put on the event for four years with, as we learned, mixed feelings from the local townspeople. Understandingly, many of them don’t like the noise and crowds the race brings to the area. When this “petrol-head” announced he was going to the race, while attending a local’s cocktail party the night before, I was met with several “greenie’ comments regarding my choice of entertainment!

Another attraction in the Hahei area is Cathedral Beach. We had a nice hike to this scenic spot, along with plenty of other people who had the same idea. It is late summer here and tourist season is at its highest right now. We have been assured by many that things will slow down next week when all the kids go back to school.

More Tourist Attractions.
In Rotorua we splurged for a canopy tour above the rain forest on zip lines.

Fearless!

Tucked up for a landing.

Graceful!

Dufus.

Momentarily out of the rain forest and rolling down the “desert Highway’ toward the South Island.
We are filled with great memories of the North Island and are looking forward to checking out the next island.

“Not so fast!” Moby Canardly said, and gave us a massive blowout just north of Wellington, the city where we catch the ferry to the south.

This nice, ex-pat Dutch Farmer immediately stopped to see if he could help us. Finding the jack and lug wrench in Moby’s bowels was a project. Oh, for Charlotte and her full tool kit about now.

We could just about see the air in the spare tire provided so we decided buying two new tires would be a good idea. We camped in the parking lot of the first tire store we came to. In the morning the guys hooked us up with new rubber. We kept the ten-year old left rear as a spare, dumped the toasted spare and shredded, right rear flat. We have found everyone in any trade industry job here to be super friendly and the tire guys were no exception, despite us waiting on their doorstep at 7:30 am.

The Big Ferry to the South Island.
We loaded Moby Canardly at 2:30pm for the three-hour ride to the next phase of our adventure. Stay tuned for our continuing adventures in Part 2 of Ned & Kat’s Down Under Adventure!