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!