A Travellerspoint blog

The end of our trip!

Thanks for reading.

semi-overcast 60 °F
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On our last day in Christchurch we had a few more hours to enjoy the city. This city was our favorite in NZ due to its focus on the arts. On our way to the Cathedral square we stumbled upon a cute alleyway that caught our eyes. It was called Sol Square and there were several restaurants, coffee shops, art dealers, pubs, and lots of art installations hanging around. Check out the Mini Cooper that was high above our heads!

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I found myself needing a little breakfast even after the delicious meal the night before, but Sol Square’s shops didn’t seem to be open. Jeannine, however, had spotted a vegetarian restaurant at the square near the Cathedral. We made our way there and found the restaurant and a lovely artist market in full swing too. Lotus Heart Restaurant is on the second floor of an historic building overlooking the Cathedral Plaza. The place had lots of pictures of an Indian Guru named Sri Chinmoy and every table had little cards with his aphorisms. I jotted a few down that caught my interest and thought I’d share this one with you:

We must follow,
first and foremost,
the advice that we give
to others.

The menu read like a series of culinary delights. I selected the one called “Flax-oat French Toast” with a chai and Jeannine got scrambled eggs, veggies with a ginger-apple-lemon juice. The French toast was made with flax seeds, oat flour, nutritional yeast and rice milk batter with whole grain bread sprinkled with cinnamon and maple syrup and served with fresh fruit and edible flower petals. Delish and so pretty we took a picture.

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After that great breakfast we set out for a little walking tour of Christchurch which was mentioned in our guidebook. It took us back through the Cathedral Square and down Regent street which was built in 1932 in the Spanish Mission style:

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Then over to the river, called Avon of course, to see the shallow punting boats taking people on a romantic float.

Punting on the Avon

Punting on the Avon

We also saw an adorable family of Paradise ducks walking in the park. These ducks breed only in New Zealand and are unusual because the female’s feathers stand out more than the male’s. The female has the white head in the photos below:

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We met up with Franz for one last night and caught up with them on our trip. The last day was one of packing and saying good-byes. It’s hard to imagine the trip is coming to a close. We fly back to California tomorrow to spend the weekend there and will head back to Austin on Monday morning.

Posted by Aeren 09:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (6)

The Very English City of ChristChurch

Last stop on South Island

sunny 63 °F
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We planned two nights for Fox Glacier because tourist brochures said the drive from Queenstown to Fox Glacier was supposed to take seven to eight hours, but my GPS said only takes 4:30 hours. I can only imagine the brochures meant for us to stop a lot along the way. We arrived early enough at the hotel to go to Fox Glacier the same day, which we covered in our blog “Bait and Switchback”. So the question remained what to do with the extra day? Checking our guide books we found some short treks we could take that didn’t involve climbing a mountain.

First off we headed to Lake Matheson. The lake’s hour and a half trail was well designed with bridges, boardwalks, a few inclines but not difficult to walk. In fact, all the short, local trails we’ve walked on have been lovingly maintained. The paths are covered with small rocks and wherever there is some water run-off, they design small drains with rocks arranged around them to look more natural. There were plenty of places to stop and admire the view of Mount Cook.

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

After getting back to the parking lot we stopped for a quick bite to eat at the Lake Matheson Café before heading out to historic Gillespie Beach. The beach was the scene of heavy gold mining activity. In 1932 a gold dredge was built that extracted gold from the black sand on Gillespie Beach. We hiked up to see the remnants of the gold dredge.

But the draw for Jeannine and me was just the beach itself. It was unusual to see a beach full of large round pebbles and grey sand. I took a moment to build my own cairn.

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Scenes from Gillespies Beach

Scenes from Gillespies Beach

Next morning we took off for Christchurch but first we had to cross the Alps. It was discovered long ago that Arthur’s Pass was the best way over so we took that route. The Pass is famous for dramatic views and interesting rock formations. We stopped in a small town to get coffee and were treated to a Kea prank (Kea are the intelligent alpine parrots we mentioned before.) While we were waiting in the café Jeannine spotted some fluttering movement in the kitchen by the open back door. Turns out a Kea flew in and grabbed a bag of bread and took off with it. We went around the back to snap a picture.

Kea enjoying the spoils of his trip to the kitchen.

Kea enjoying the spoils of his trip to the kitchen.

A few hours later we arrived in Christchurch which was a Church of England settlement modeled on 19th Century English society. In 1850 four ships set off from England to create a slice of England in New Zealand. We only have a day to explore the historical area so , I selected a hotel that is in the heart of the city center called the Hotel So. It was billed as a cool modern, hip, designer hotel with state-of-the-art technology and eco-friendly architecture. It did not bother us that the room was only 12’ x 8’ because it was so cute. At only $69 NZ ($51 USD) it was bargain for the location.

We left the comfort of the hotel to seek out food! On our way to a vegetarian restaurant we stopped at ChristChurch Cathedral. The doors were open and they were having an Evensong Service. We decided food could wait and attended the service. The voices of the choir were an angelic blend of boys and men and we were transfixed. We found out that the Cathedral Choir has sung Evensong regularly since 1881 and that the Cathedral Grammar School was opened before the Cathedral to train choristers to sing at the Cathedral Services. Today the 20 boys in the choir receive scholarships at the school maintaining this 125 year tradition. It was quite spiritual to stand in that space.

ChristChurch Cathedral

ChristChurch Cathedral

Christchurch shops

Christchurch shops

We continued to the restaurant called Dux de Lux. The restaurant is in an old Tudor mansion and was quite busy. You stand in line to order from a wonderful menu of vegetarian options and homemade beer and then take your seat. We got there just before a huge rush. The business was surprising because it was a Wednesday night. After a meal of corn and vegetable fritters and tofu red curry with ginger roasted vegetables we struck out again for a stroll to work off the meal. We wandered over to a striking house across the street with beautiful sculptures and found it was the headquarters for the NZ Dyslexia Foundation. One of the most original sculptures was “Talking Seats” where you sit down and a voice comes on to give you a story about dyslexia. It was quite touching.

Dux de lux

Dux de lux

Christchurch Dyslexia Foundation

Christchurch Dyslexia Foundation

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To satisfy a request from our readers, we have included a photo of one of the workman in shorts and boots!

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Posted by Aeren 00:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Bait and Switchback

Turning a 40 minute stroll into a 2 hour hike!

sunny 55 °F
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Jeannine and I found a little stone Anglican Church to go to Sunday services. It was a tiny congregation and the people were warm and inviting. After church we stopped for a bite to eat at a local French restaurant and talk about the sermon over French bread, quiche, and a salmon and shrimp pate. We’ve discovered that although there are a good many restaurants in New Zealand, a national cuisine seems hard to categorize. I’ve read that it is driven by local seafood and seasonal variations, but generally the restaurants that purport to be NZ cuisine tend to be heavy on the beef and lamb. So we’ve haven’t had much “typical” NZ food.

St. Peters Anglican Church

St. Peters Anglican Church

The day was considerably cooler and it being Sunday we decided to take it easy and rest for a while. Around five we went out for a “short” walk. It was supposed to be a 40 minute hike up to the now defunct 1-mile hydro-electric power station. But as we approached the end of the trail I noticed that it connected to an actual 1-mile hike up Bob’s Peak to the gondola complex. I said, “Jeannine it will be fun! We can get a bite to eat at the top and take the gondola down.” She didn’t seem convinced about the “fun” part, but she went along with it. The trail could barely be called a trail at times. We clamored up tree roots, alongside an old water pipe, across several wooden bridges, and all the while wondering, “Are we going the right way?” and just as that thought creeps into our consciousness we see another orange triangle on a tree indicating we did make the right choice back there.

Gondola trail, if you can find it.

Gondola trail, if you can find it.

Jeannine, rightfully, felt ill-prepared for the trek. We forgot to bring water! What was I thinking? As we continued up the very steep climb we finally came out on an opening with a sign announcing “Midpoint Clearing.” I wondered, midpoint to what? Trail markings became an issue again. We found ourselves with three possible trails and no sign saying marking way to the gondolas. Jeannine approached a hiker who was making her way down and asked her if this was the way to the gondolas, but she replied she’d been walking a different trail and didn’t see gondolas. We keep hiking up and see another split, but this one had a big sign announcing the Fern Loop Trail and a little tiny 4x4 inch square with the symbol of the gondola and an arrow pointing the opposite way.

We continued up on that trail. With no water or snacks Jeannine was quickly losing steam. Nevertheless, she dug through her backpack looking for anything to eat and found a little stash of trail mix; she looked like she’d won the lottery and I was happy she wasn’t going to start gnawing on tree bark. It gave both of us the final burst of energy that took us to the gondolas. And so this 40 minute walk turned into a two hour hike.

Skyline gondola

Skyline gondola

View from the top

View from the top

This is the mountain we hiked up.

This is the mountain we hiked up.

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The next day we decided to take a short hike to a glacier! I promised Jeannine we would just do the 1 hour hike to the terminal face of the Fox Glacier and that would be it. No professional tours hiking up the glacier, no ice tunnels, and definitely no heli-treks (helicopter to the top for a hike).

We left Queenstown and drove up the west coast toward the famous glaciers on the South Island. Along the way we got a view of the rugged west coast beaches. You wouldn’t exactly want to curl up with a book on that cold beach surrounded by dead tree branches and stones but it was striking to look at.

Don't you want to curl up on cozy Westland Beach?

Don't you want to curl up on cozy Westland Beach?

Seekers are everywhere, even at Westland Beach.

Seekers are everywhere, even at Westland Beach.

That afternoon we went to see the Fox Glacier in Westland National Park. There are 60 different glaciers in the park but the most famous are the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. They are about 8 miles long and are impressive sites. As we drove down the road to the parking lot signs marked where the glacier had been in 1748 and 1932. It was remarkable enough to see the loss from 1748, but the loss from 1932 was even more striking. It must have been over 2 kilometers! We arrived at the parking lot and walked about 30 minutes to get to the glacier. Look closely at some of these pictures and you’ll see the dots that are people and you get an idea how massive it is. The trek to the face of the glacier was fun in itself because you follow the small rivers of snowmelt in a rocky, barren valley. We had to tip toe over rocks to cross the rivers until we finally arrived. We waited for a chunk to fall off the face, but nothing happened so we trudged back as a light rain started.

Fox glacier with tiny people on the left for scale.

Fox glacier with tiny people on the left for scale.

Aeren fording the river to Fox Glacier.

Aeren fording the river to Fox Glacier.

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Posted by Aeren 14:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A town fit for a Queen

Queenstown, New Zealand

sunny 66 °F
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It’s been some time since our last bicycle fix and we sought out a bike rental shop in Queenstown. We knew better than renting a tandem again and got two mountain bikes instead. There is a nice trail that follows along the lake from Queenstown to Frankton and we stopped several times to photograph the mountains, water, and flowers. The only real rough thing about the trail was the wind off the lake…our mountain bikes were being whipped around so we had to fight to keep them upright. All in all it was a great workout!

Braided rivers flowing from the mountains are a common site.

Braided rivers flowing from the mountains are a common site.

These wonderful flowers grow everywhere.

These wonderful flowers grow everywhere.

After riding we stopped at the Queenstown Gardens to check it out. This being Saturday there were lots of people at the Queenstown Lawn Bowling Club. It was fun to see the guys decked out in all white rolling the balls on the pristine lawn, but for some reason women could wear whatever they wished. Lawn bowling is a game we’ve seen throughout New Zealand, unlike rugby, this is a gentle person’s game. People were in teams taking turns rolling a small ball down the lawn towards a smaller white ball. The object is to get your ball closer to the white ball than you opponent’s ball. It looks rather relaxing and not nearly as complicated as croquet or cricket.

Lawn bowling

Lawn bowling

This is the amazing view of Queenstown from our hotel window…

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After a quick stop to freshen up at the hotel we headed out some 25 minutes away to Arrowtown. It is a charming place that's known as the best preserved gold-mining town in the area. The main street of the town is full of little shops with original buildings from the 1860s. As we arrived, we headed for the area known as the Chinese Settlement. When the area was being mined for gold, Chinese miners filled a gap when European miners pulled up stakes and left for a west coast gold rush. The Chinese miners were segregated on the outskirts of town. They lived in small one-room stone shacks where you could barely stand in. Despite contributing 40% of the workforce, they were isolated, lonely, and discriminated against. In 2002 the New Zealand government issued an apology to Chinese descendants and declared the Chinese settlement an historical site investing funds to restore several homes and create a heritage trail to let people know about Chinese contributions in New Zealand’s history.

Stone house in Arrowtown

Stone house in Arrowtown

Tiny stone houses from the Chinese settlement.

Tiny stone houses from the Chinese settlement.

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A cultural aside
This will come as good news to some, but NZ (and Australia) are stuck in a musical time warp somewhere between the late 80s and early 90s. Everywhere we go we hear Billy Idol and even the GoGos on the radio or in stores. I thought I had heard my last Phil Collins ballad ages ago but I’m suffering through them once again.

Posted by Aeren 12:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Fumbling toward Milford

Can we just get there?

sunny 64 °F
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Jeannine has had a few must-see sights on her list for a while…things like the Taj Mahal, the pyramids in Egypt, and Milford Sound. She can finally cross Milford off the list because today was set for a cruise at Milford. We had plans of starting early in the morning to drive the two hours to Milford. Unfortunately, the night before at 11:00 pm I had a moment of panic as I lay in bed and tried to remember if I turned off the lights in the car when we arrived. I donned my fleece and shoes and headed outside to have my worst fears realized. The car was dead! I checked with the hotel clerk and she said the two gas stations in town don’t open until 7:30 or so. I tried to go back to sleep (without waking Jeannine) with the help of Sufi breathing and chants.

Kepler Mountains view from Te Anau with Fiordland on the other side of them.

Kepler Mountains view from Te Anau with Fiordland on the other side of them.

The next morning we found the gas station open at 7:00, but the mechanic didn’t arrive until 8:00 so we went to have breakfast at our new favorite café, The Olive Tree — pancakes with blueberries and eggs with a wonderful mushroom sauce, yum. A quick stop at the gas station, $30NZ poorer, and we were on the road again.

On the drive up from the nearby town of Te Anau we learned that Milford isn’t really a “sound” (a river valley flooded by the sea) but rather it’s a “fiord” (a glacier-carved valley that’s been flooded by the sea)… details, details. We stopped to take photos of Te Anau Lake, Mistletoe Lake, and Mirror Lake and because it was a clear, calm morning the mirror effects on the lakes were impressive. Jeannine glanced at one lake as we passed and had a shock when she saw a perfectly upside-down mountain reflected in it.

Mirror Lakes (not mirroring)

Mirror Lakes (not mirroring)

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

We were both curious about the Homer Tunnel which cuts through a mountain to get to the fiords. The guidebooks list all kinds of precautions and warnings about the dangers of the tunnel and we were expecting a tight squeeze. As we approached, it was so small it did look like a penny stuck on a pumpkin. But they only let one side through at a time so it wasn’t too bad.

Entrance to Milford

Entrance to Milford

We arrived at the visitor’s center and got a coffee while we waited for the cruise. The classic view of Milford shimmered outside the window with the famous Mitre Peak in the distance. I started talking to a couple next to us and discovered that they were also from the USA traveling from California. We had a nice talk and all got on the boat.

Milford Sound with wonderful mirroring effect!

Milford Sound with wonderful mirroring effect!

We moved out on the water toward the Tasman Sea, following the path the glacier took as it carved out the fiord. We were treated to sparkling waterfalls, penguins, and fur seals as we cruised along. I was really happy we’d purchased the telephoto lens for our camera. Even with the rocking of the boat I was able to catch a few good shots.

Fiordland crested penguin

Fiordland crested penguin

Fur seals

Fur seals

On the way back out of the mountains we made a few stops to take a look at the temperate rainforest where the famous Milford Track winds through. In a couple of the parking lots we got a close-up view of the Kea birds that we learned about at Rainbow Springs. These birds are known to be super-intelligent and curious. In a video they were shown to solve puzzles and cooperate to get food. They also like to destroy cars by ripping the rubber off of windshield wipers and from around the doors. We kept an eye on our car.

Kea bird

Kea bird

A Cultural Aside…
Another clothing trend we like is how the big, brawny workmen wear little billowy shorts and big work boots when they’re working. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, they’ll be working on a road crew or building something, wearing a hooded coat and those silly shorts. It never fails to amuse.

Posted by Aeren 14:20 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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