More Impressed with North Island

We had a long driving day to reach Taupo, a resort area on the lake of the same name.  For variation we selected a route up the central part of the lower end which took us into the forested mountains and then down, a bit west and then north to eventually an arid region at the base of two volcanoes, Mounts Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.  There is a military base there.  To reach Taupo we drove along the eastern side of the lake with the beautiful water.  With sunny skies we were able to feel a bit more excited about the North Island, valuing its own beauty.

Our reservation for the night was at a small highly rated motel with a short walk to the lake.  Though our room was small, we were able to make do and work on final packing for the flight back to LAX.  I even was able to do another load of laundry for free, but had to pay a bit for the dryer.  This made it easier to put the dirty clothes and shoes in one bag and everything else in the other.  We each kept a few items in our carryon so when we got to LAX we could take a shower in the lounge where we can enter with Priority Pass.  Although we had a kitchenette, we opted to eat out at a small restaurant with pulled pork as a specialty.  That part of town is packed with hotels and apartments for vacationers, stores, restaurants, and such for the numerous tourists during the height of the season.  It was ok for one day, but not really our style.  We had hoped to have our last evening in the woods but just couldn’t find the right place.

The next morning as we drove to Rotorua we saw clouds of steam rising high in the sky and then some just above ground.  Apparently, thermal energy was being captured, or not.  Rotorua has one very touristy expensive park one can enter and see geysers, but we opted for the low key free park not far away.  That gave us some great photography and entertained us for quite a while.  No geyers, but there were plenty of steaming waters and boiling mud.  Interestingly, there were a few birds in the scalding areas finding bits to eat.  I don’t know how they didn’t burn themselves.

After our last meal of peanut butter and cheese on crackers, we ventured on towards Auckland.  Near the airport we stopped for a better meal at the Post Office (my mushroom risotto was delish) filled the gas tank, returned the car to Sixt, and took the free shuttle to the airport.  There is a quite a long walk taking everyone passed all the duty free shops, which didn’t work on us!




Eerie Eels and Wine Country

Our angler friend had recommended that on the way to Blenheim we stop by Arnaud and look for the masses of eels around one of the lake docks.  Before we arrived we made a pit stop where I found a trail leading to an old cemetary and beyond.  Since it was only ten minutes away we decided to stretch our legs.  The path was very narrow and at one point it would have been easy to loose footing and slide down the slope we were crossing.  Making it safely to our destination, we saw maybe a dozen graves on a wooded hillside, some with headstones, each with their own iron enclosure.  Lyell Cemetery was in use from 1870-1900.  One grave was for a man who died in a mining accident and another for an English woman who only lived thirty years.

Arnaud is near Nelson Lake, home of the eerie eels .  One of the docks had several people near and on it so we assumed that’s where we needed to go.  Oh, yes.  A swarm of eels came out from under the dock to consume the bits of bread being tossed to them and the ducks.  It was really kind of creepy, like a snake pit.  This spot is also known for its mountain view and photo op, a much preferred visual for this author!


As we approached Marlborough Province we began to pass numerous vineyards.  It was quite amazing that they just went on for miles and miles.  Grape vines were everywhere as far as the eye could see and beyond.   Sometimes it was one side of the road and sometimes both sides.

We checked into our American chain motel for two nights and found that although the room was comfortable with a very generous bathroom and lots of space to lay out toiletries, there was no kitchenette, just a fridge.  That would mean having to eat out.  We weren’t even given a pint of milk, just tiny individual milk containers for coffee.

Needing to get out and about we meandered around the area and came across an Irish Pub which advertised Guiness and special entrees for St. Patrick’s Day the following day.  We ended up getting a whole baked chicken and sides at the grocery store.  What we didn’t eat that night we saved for lunch the next day.  For half the price of breakfast at the motel, we found two wonderful cafes with tasty choices for the mornings we were in town.

Besides vineyards where one can engage in tastings and expensive lunches, Blenheim is home to Wither Hills Park.  Wanting some exercise in the warm air, we opted to drive there and chose a trail that seemed right for us.  It began in the woods and eventually opened up to steep grassy hills.  Fortunately, the trail had many switchbacks making the ascent doable and bearable without too much strain.  With all the photographic views we stopped many times, which was also restful.  There was almost a 360 degree view of mountains in the distance from the top.  In neighboring fields were a few watchful cows who seemed curious with our presence.

As we mooooved on, the threat of rain became a real possibility, despite only one of three forecasts predicting the wet stuff.  We cut our descent short with the knee complaining straight-line trail requiring side steps to save the toes just a bit.  My trusty umbrella provided camera protection.  Above halfway down the rain ceased, and I joked about going back up to continue on the longer more gradual trail.  Um, no taker.  When we finally got down to the edge of the woods and rested a bit, Bill began talking with some hikers who had just arrived.  Having to pee, I excused myself and tried out the nearby outhouse.  I was shocked it was a real flushing toilet out in the distance of the park with still a ways to get back to the parking lot.  Very pleasant!

After a rest back at the room it was time to try out the Irish meal.  Despite the somewhat early hour, there were numerous people there and few seats available.  The music and festive decor of not only the space but also the people suggested this holiday was taken seriously.  They even brought in Irish dancers!  The food was ok and Bill appreciated the draft Guiness done correctly…..and he should know as he was trained at the Guiness factory in Dublin!

The next morning we had a few hours before needing to get to Picton where we were to take the return ferry to Wellington.  We drove to the coast, found some rugged coastal views, and took in the miles and miles of vineyards.

The return ferry had more amenities than the other one, and after having experienced the Alps, we found the scenery did not call our attention.  We reached Wellington, checked into our nondescript motel, purchased sandwiches etc. at Subway, and dined in the splendor of our abode.

Weird Boulders and Rainy Moana

This was another long day of driving, and for most of it a sunny sky allowed for a walk and more photos.  By late morning we had reached Castle Hill, not far from Arthur’s Pass.  Off to the left there was a parking lot and beyond it an enormous collection of very odd limestone boulders that seemed to have been dumped there by a giant.  They are a haven for those who enjoy bouldering.  We took the opportunity to pee and then follow the trails to get up close with the strange outcroppings.  There were small groups practicing their climbing skills and a large circle of seated folk doing something mystical, I guess.  Some of the rocks resembled heads, one reminiscent of those on Rapa Nui.

Back in the car we navigated through Arthur’s Pass where the skies showed a change to clouds and the predicted rain for our destination on Lake Brunner.  When we checked in to our hotel for the next two nights the receptionist commented that Moana and the west coast are known for their inclement weather.  Darn.  She also indicated some walks we could take in the area near the lake.

it was too wet out to enjoy the area so we relaxed, had dinner at the restaurant, and went to bed.  The weather in the morning was holding so we got going quickly.  It provided better photography than a bright sunny day would have, and it wasn’t raining at that point.  Moana Station is still open for the scenic TranzAlpine rail, but it has a history of over a century.  Initially it supported the local farming and sawmills.  The last stationmaster was transferred in 1967 when the timber industry declined and everyone else left eighteen years later.

Down by the lake there is a small yacht club, but that might have been using the term loosely.  We did see a tiny tour boat, a party raft, and couple of others moored while the rest were lined up on the shore.  Meandering along the lake we came to Arnold River where a lone angler was hoping for a good catch.  A trail took us to hanging bridge, at which point a drizzle began.  Continuing across we followed the looping path into the woods and back around.  Soft tree ferns were everywhere.  Maori ate the cooked heart of this type of fern but favored the black ones.  A warring tribe once camped overnight on the river on their way to attack another tribe.  The locals found out about it and as they plied their paddles in the dawn for a surprise attack, they disturbed a flock of white herons in the trees above the campsite.  The invaders easily won the ensuing battle.   The white heron is sacred to the Maori.  The feathers were considered quite special, and the longer plumes were worn by high ranking males.  The two dollar coin has a heron on the flip side.  Another story is of large scary creatures called Taniwha.  They were thought to guard the rivers and lakes, hunting and chowing down any unwelcome intruders.  Taniwha were blamed for any mysterious disappearances, but there haven’t been any of these creatures seen recently.  Hmmm.

When we returned to the bridge we tried another trail, but as it in the open we turned back.  As we recrossed the bridge the long angler came up behind me.  I asked him what fish were in the river and he told me brown trout.  He had caught quite a large one, enough to feed four with meat as pink as salmon, but he had it in his car.  He spied a ripple in the water and pointed out as a salmon.  I said I thought maybe it was  a Taniwha, which made him chuckle.   We talked to him for a while and found he is intrigued with spiders, of which there were several webs near us.  He gave us a lesson on them, courtesy of David Attenborough.  Cool dude.


Back in our room it was time for lunch and to get out of the rain which had returned.   When the clouds broke we drove to another trail which went up a hill with views of the lake.  Of course, by then the clouds were threatening again.  We made it up to the lookout, took in the view, and then began to continue on up to the next one.  Not making it too far before we could hear the rain hitting the leaves, we turned around and went back to the car.  Dinner was something not memorable from the convenience store.  We looked forward to the next day when we were going to head to Bleinheim, known to be warmer and drier.  Ahhhh.

Back to the Alps

Ready for a return to the mountains, we headed northwest towards Twizle where we hope to view Mt. Cook, the tallest national mountain at just over twelve thousand feet.  The elevation slowly increased and four hours later, with partially cloudy skies, we finally were gifted with the vista we had been seeking.  There is a rest stop on the shore of Lake Pukaki where the view is a straight shot across the aqua water.  It is quite popular, but a fit further down the road there was an even better viewpoint.  The clouds cleared the peak a bit and we were able to get better snapshots.


Having grown up with collies, and my sister showing and breeding them, I wanted to stop at Lake Tekapo where there is a statue erected in their honor.   Because collies made grazing the mountain area of MacKenzie County possible, the monument was placed by the runholders, sheep farmers.  Just a few steps away is a quaint stone chapel with a stupendous lake view from the pews.  Many weddings take place here!

Our rest for the night was a motel in Fairlie where there is a wonderful bakehouse with the most delicious savory pies!  Bill had one with chicken, and I chose salmon and bacon.  We took them back to the room where we enjoyed them while unwinding from the long day of driving.  Afterwards, needing a bit of exercise, we ambled back to town to find another statue, this one of James MacKenzie and his collie.  In 1855 he was the first known white man to enter that area.  After working as an itinerant shepherd, he leased land that had to be stocked with sheep.  He chose to steal a thousand of them from some of the richest people in the area and a few days later was apprehended.  He ended up in prison working in road gangs, though he escaped several times.  The following year he was recommended to be pardoned and sailed away from New Zealand.

As we meandered we saw several signposts indicating sports venues and a small park.  The village was quiet this cool fall evening so we enjoyed the peace and then stopped to get a few more groceries before retiring for the night.


Otago Peninsula and Penguins, Finally

After the usual breakfast we drove to be sure where we knew to meet for the little blue penguin viewing that night, toured the Royal Albatross Center after validating our tickets for the evening, and then headed off to explore a hiking path Bill chose in Okia Reserve to Victory Beach.  We parked the car and walked a good distance on a dirt road.  Once we found the trail we wanted the walk was easy with some wetlands and remnants of two volcanoes, called the Pyramids.  The loop trail did take us close to the beach and then access was quite quick.  I checked for wildlife but all I saw was san; no sea lions, fur seals, or penguins.

Along the trail we saw numerous small traps but nothing was in them.  One of the last ones had a dead hedgehog lying just outside of it.  I had never seen a wild one before!  As we neared the head of the trail we met a guy who was getting his quad ready, along with his trusty dog, who was going to check the traps.  While talking with him he confirmed there are no native mammals in New Zealand.  When the British came they wanted to make the country just like their own, so they brought in many animals.  Now the focus is to try to get rid of or contain those that have proliferated and cause problems.  The hedgehog had probably been in the trap but taken out by some volunteers, who job seemed a bit obscure to me and a nuisance to him.  At least they left it there so our guy could have accurate data.

We had lunch at a cafe nearby.  A Cornish pasty was pretty good for me and was reminiscent of my time in Cornwall England the summer of 1973.  Back at our cabin the bright sunny afternoon was good for a load of laundry.  The dryer seemed to take forever so I borrowed the clothes rack and hung our things to dry on it in the warm sunshine of our room with a view of the water.

About 7:30 we returned to the Royal Albatross Center to get ready for the briefing and viewing.  There were a lot of people!  We became a bit concerned that the crowd would keep us from having a good sighting of the tiny guys, so we took our place near the door. These penguins are only about ten inches tall and weigh just over two pounds.  Sometimes they are called “fairy penguins”.

When it was time to head out we were well in front and able to stand right at the railing as the sun slowly slipped behind the horizon.  On the beach were two fur seals.  One was quite content to nap while the other, a bit restless, returned to the sea.  After several minutes I suddenly noticed a V shape in the water heading to shore.  Wow!  A small raft of little blue penguins glided to the top and quickly righted themselves on the sand.  They were so tiny!!  Making their way over the beach was easy but navigating the small rocks to get up to their nests under our platform and off in the grasses was a bit challenging.  A few bright lights were illuminated at the base of the deck  so that we could see the penguins and get much better photos.  Flash photography was not allowed.  For an hour we oohed and ahhed as the miniature creatures waddled around making their way to feed their very hungry babies.  One baby in particular kept calling and calling, hoping the next few returning penguins included Mama.  We never did see the reunion.  This whole experience was clearly number two in top moments of our New Zealand adventure.  We had seen King Penguins, the second largest type, at Tierra del Fuego as well as Magellanic ones near Punta Arenas in Chile, and in contrast, these little things seemed impossibly big enough to survive.

By then it was 9:30 and the sky was glittering with stars beyond measure.   Time to head home, sleep, and continue the roadie.

The Catlins

This turned out to be a very long day of driving because we made a number of detours and took some walks. I did enjoy this very southeastern part of South Island, though. From lighthouses to dark sky with little blue penguins we viewed quite a bit.

First up was Waipapa Lighthouse with the iconic red door. Despite two or three cars we saw no one at first so were able to get photographs without human interference. When automation took over in 1976 the lighthouse keeper moved on.  Here’s some interesting insight into the life of a lightkeeping community.


While meandering near the lighthouse I spied two people down at the beach photographing something; perhaps it was seal lions or fur seals. Being curious, I trucked on down there to find a lone large fur seal basking in the sun on a pile of seaweed. We kept our distance but were able to get relatively close. The one man I spoke with said he had been there yesterday but there were lots of human gawkers who were spooking the lone male. He seemed fine with our quiet presence and kept trying to get a more comfortable bedding placement. He certainly was huge, and perhaps his colony had made him an outcast as he seemed a bit old.  As we were beginning to leave more cars pulled up so we had timed it well.

From there we drove a bit east to Slope Point which is the southernmost point on South Island, halfway between the equator and the South Pole. It is a ten minute or so walk through flat sheep field to a marvelous view of a rocky shore and deep azure waters. It reminded me a bit of Ireland.

Curio Bay promised penguins but being the well into the day, they did not show up. What we did see, despite reading that the tide would not let us, were fossilized Jurassic-age trees and stumps. They are quite rare but occurred because of the ash laden floodwaters from the volcanoes. The silification occurred within weeks or months of the flood before decay set in. It was pretty cool to be able to walk amongst a rather unique phenomenon.


Of course, there being a Jack’s Bay and Jack’s Blowhole, we had to make another detour. The bay was pretty normal and the half hour walk to the blowhole was a bit of a letdown as the tide was going out. We did get some awesome coastline photos and the blowhole is pretty deep at 55 m, though. The sunny day was pleasant and when we returned to the bay we were treated to sea lions who had just come ashore and were resting where the sand met the beach grass. There was a bull with three wives and a child who were entertaining with their attempts to get comfortable, covering themselves with sand, rolling around, and baby imitating its mother by propping itself up and opening its mouth wide.

We had one more detour to make on our way to Otago Peninsula for the night. Nugget Point has an unimpressive lighthouse, but the coastline is steep and craggy with sea lions far below. Along the cliff path someone was busy taking photos of something way down on the surface of the water. Using telephoto lenses we realized it was a huge fur seal trying to get chunks of lunch out of his humongous fish. The food chain in action. At the tip of the point is the short lighthouse with a series of domed rocks resembling nuggets protruding the surface of the water. Despite the late hour we did try to see yellow eyed penguins from the hide as it was within the time possibility of see them. Again, we struck out.

Bill kindly drove almost two more hours to Portobello where we had a motel reservation. Fortunately, the owners had a vacancy for the next night as well. As it was past dinner time for us and we could see penguins the next evening, we booked our cosy duplex with a view of the bay for another night. Then we trooped down the hill to the 1908 Restaurant for a quick supper of seafood chowder before heading to bed. Our waiter was older than us and seemed to love his job. We had a bit of a chuckle over his trying to explain the white wines to me. I asked about one and he said it was a bit lax. Being befuddled, he told me it did not have as much alcohol. I expressed I didn’t need much alcohol. When he kindly said said it was watery, I understood what that meant! I selected a different wine, and as all the others, it was a bit fruity and not dry enough for me. It was fine, though.

Stewart Island

There are two options for getting to this small island off the southern tip of South Island; the passenger-only ferry from Bluff which takes an hour and rough water is common, or a twenty minute flight with Stewart Air from Invercargill. We chose the shorter excursion for a round trip of US $213 each. We made the reservation a couple of days before and when we checked-in, there was no need for identification. One can have baggage put in the hold or simply set it on one’s lap in a rather tight space.

On the way over there was only one other couple. The seemingly too-young-pilot-to-know-what-he-was-doing flew solo; no backup-plan. I guess Bill was the go-to person in case of emergency, though he has not flown in decades. The flight went smoothly with the landing on a short runway of which every inch was used. We disembarked at the far end where a shuttle dropped off passengers for the return flight and took us four to the main part of town. Our hotel was just a few blocks along the harbor with check-in not for almost three hours. When the receptionist finally returned to her desk, she texted housekeeping to determine the status of our room. She said they were almost done so we could head over to drop off our bags. The very pleasant chambermaids let us in and finished the cleaning while we found a spot for a quick lunch of hot grilled sandwiches.


After settling in to our room for the one night, we stopped in at the local Dept. of Conservation office where they have displays, a shop, and trail information. The attendant told us to see penguins we could go to two spots. One involved more than an hour tramp back from the point in the dark; we passed on this since we did not have any lights. The other was at the wharf at sunset or after where the rare yellow penguins come ashore for the night. That seemed doable.

Wanting to scope out the area, we found a route to walk to the lookout point. On the way I could hear a bird singing a variety of tunes but had trouble spotting it. I finally found another one in a tree chattering away on a neighboring street. Later, someone told me it was probably a tui. Bill and I both mistakenly assumed the lookout point would be of the harbor, but it was around the bend a bit at Golden Bay. It was still a pleasant view. Nearby is the rugby field with sign warning drivers of kiwis. Apparently, they often hang out around the field at night. Off of one side is the Fuschia Trail which winds down through some woods to a lower street. I could hear birds but never did see any there.

From there we headed out to the wharf to determine it was the correct locale for the yellow penguins, and then we went up a neighboring hilly street to view the small church whose spire stands out in the view from town. We meandered a bit more after checking a map for other trails. We ended up at a broad smooth beach for bathing, though no one was there at the time. Across it we thought there would be a continuation of the trail but it just looked like rocky shoreline. We took another trail through some more trees and found ourselves doubling back to town. Oh, well. The steep walk up to the lookout and our meanderings to that point, we had already done quite a bit.

But the walking was not over. We tried one more trail which turned out to be longer and more tiresome than either of us has realized. To get to the trailhead we had to traipse up a very very steep road which required a few rests. The trail itself was wooded and eased down the other side. There were some long sets of steps and after not really seeing much, it ended at a street. A bit further down the hill was another trail which followed the coast. There were several long sets of steps going up and down with glimpses of the inlets giving us a required rest to appreciate them. After a while Bill checked the map and saw it was going to end near the lookout point from this morning! The chilly morning had warmed up quite a bit so I had to remove a layer or two as we progressed. We certainly got a lot of exercise and had worked up an appetite. When we finally got back to the room about two more hours had passed. It was time for a rest before dinner.

JPEG image-400AFE992E5B-1

There weren’t many options so we decided to eat at the motel’s bar, not having made a reservation for dinner. Though the tables were empty we were told we could not get a seat for at least two hours. The bar worked out fine. There was just one table left which had four chairs, so I wasn’t surprised when two women later asked if they could join us. Bill and I both had cod; Bill’s was fried and mine baked in lemon with a Parmesan crust. While we were eating the younger of the two women, about my age, started chatting with me wanting to know where we were from and where we had been. It turned out to be an exercise in listening to so many adventures she has had in her life. Finally, she turned the attention back to us and ended up giving us some advice about where to go to during our last week on the South Island. We did follow her suggestions, and it worked out quite well.

Darkness does not really come until nine, but I wanted to try to see kiwis and yellow eyed penguins. About seven o’clock I headed back up the very steep hill to the rugby field where the kiwis could be seen in early evening. I thought I could hear them in the woods, but despite playing their call on my phone, I never did see them. I walked to the wooded sides of the field and traipsed a bit into the trees, played the call, but neither saw nor heard a kiwi. Before it got too dusky, I went back down the Fuschia Trail and headed to the wharf. Bill met me there about 8:20 and we waited and waited for yellow eyed penguins. Nada. Zip. Bill went back to the room and I gave them until 9 but still nothing. Other people gave up when I did.

The next morning I bought some enormous date scones for Bill and a carrot cake for me for breakfast before setting out on our morning excursion. We were going to take a water taxi out to Ulva Island, which is world renown, but not to us, for being a predator-free reserve. For about US $15 each we purchased fare to take us over and back. Our boarding pass was a thick leaf with the name of the trip on it! The captain seemed to be a bit of a character and warned us as we landed on the island to walk slowly and give the birds time. It was all about going slowly.

Years ago there used to be a mail boat from Bluff and when it arrived, the postmaster would raise the flag.  That sent a message to the Patterson Inlet communities and gave the isolated neighbors a chance to visit and catch up with each other’s lives.

There were a few trails and we took the longest one first, to try to see the most. We did proceed slowly and spied a few different birds. One was the kaka, a native parrot with gray and greenish feathers. It sounds a lot like a jay. The robins are similar to the ones we saw in Ireland. As kiwis have been seen there in daylight, I was really excited when I thought I had spied one routing in the leafy debris in the shrubs. It took a while, but we finally realized it was just a very common weka. Quite disappointing. It guess I just wanted it to be one. The forty-five minute walk to the beach, where there was another weka hoping we had something, took us longer than that so we decided we better return the same way rather than take a different route. We had time for just three hours on the island. After a while a robin came up on the path and wanted to check out my pants. Oh, it was interested in the bright orange cord to tighten the cuff. It quickly decided it was not the tasty worm it was hoping for. After a while we branched off to another part of the island not far from the water taxi. We used the toilet and visited with yet another weka. From there we took another path to a lookout point and then headed back to the wharf. Lo and behold, while waiting two other wekas happened by! There was also a robin who came up close to my pants, but seemed to realize sooner that I was not toting a worm.  The common weka:


Back on Stewart Island we checked in for our flight and then ate a leisurely snack of the other date scone. The weather had gone from sun to a windy and cloudy day so it was quite chilly by then. We headed back to the warmth of the waiting room and took the shuttle back out to the runway. This time there were six other people and plenty of luggage. To keep the plane properly balanced, the pilot needed one of us to ride shot gun. I encouraged Bill to hop in front since he would enjoy it most and could help out if need be. I was in the very back of the plane with no one next to me. Just before we landed the woman in front of me turned around and excitedly told me we were making a grass landing! Well, that was a surprise! We don’t know why the young man did that as the runways were free. Kind of cool, though.

We spent the night in Invercargill at another motel. Queen Elizabeth Park is nearby and quite large. There are several gardens and a small area of various animals such as hens, peacocks, deer, and huge pigs. It is quite a pleasant area and well-maintained.

Lake Manapouri and the Excursion of a Lifetime

The AirBnB stay at an entire house for four nights was twice as expensive per night as we would prefer to spend, but it was comfortable, convenient, and the view of the mountains across the lake quite pleasing as we looked out the expansive living room windows. We saved money by eating in. A cooked chicken from the grocery store provided meals, including soup I made from the bones, for three nights. The owner left us eight eggs from her hens so scrambled eggs with cut up sliced ham in pita pockets made a filling breakfast for two days and gave us a break from muesli. I did a load of laundry each day which dried both outside on a line and then in the late afternoon on a rack indoors in the very warm sunshine.

The first full day there was overcast with some morning showers and chilly. We decided to check our reservation we had made with Southern Lakes Helicopters while in Wanaka, and confirmed where we needed to be. It was fortunate we did this as the booking was not for the tour we had requested, and we changed the time to an hour later to give the air time to warm. At that point it was just the two of us in the small helicopter for Doubtful and Milford Sounds with a gourmet picnic and three landings. We paid for this very expensive adventure of a lifetime, but it was something we both really wanted to do.

From there we headed up the road towards Milford Sound, despite the heavily overcast skies. Views were obscured but we did enjoy a stop at Mirror Lake where there were entertaining mallard ducks, another introduced species. The area was photogenic. We decided not to go further that day and headed back to Te Anau to buy groceries before heading home.  After dinner we walked down to the lake, erected a cairn using BIG stones, and found our way back through the woods.  Along the way was a tree with an accomodating branch where I could lie back with my feet up and a rest a bit.

The next morning the skies were clear!! I was so excited the weather forecast was looking true as in just three hours we would be airlifted over the tops of the Alps. We arrived early and were told our flight was delayed fifteen minutes and other people would be going with us. Not thrilled with having to share the ride we meandered along the shore line, watched a family of ducks get their breakfast and the little ones hitching a ride on Mama´s back, and returned to await our chariot. The chopper swooped in and gracefully set down on the pier. I was disappointed to see four seats in a row as that meant we would not each get a window seat where it is easier to enjoy the views. Eventually our lunch was loaded and the pilot, Sam Innes, was ready to take us off for a superior adventure. The briefing included that there would be three landings and after each one the six of us should rotate seats so everyone would get time in the front.

Sam took us out to the helipad on the dock and asked us all where we were from. The others were friends from Kentucky. Sam loaded our day packs into the hold and then it was time to take our places. Bill and I climbed into the back seat along with one other couple, while the others crammed up front with Sam. In talking with the woman next to me I found out she was a student a Hollins for two years and knew Suzy Mink. Such a tiny world. Then once we were all set with belts and headphones, Sam said he would take us to Doubtful Sound first. He immediately changed his mind to Milford Sound to keep the sun more behind us. What, no flight plan? He later told me it was better that way as circumstances change in a heartbeat. Then the rotors gently lifted us off the dock and we were airborne!

Being thrilled the skies were clear we were immediately taken with the stunning aerial scenery. We crossed several ridges and silently oohed and ahed at the views below us. Our first landing was on a very windy spot at the top of Sutherland Falls which he had zoomed out in front of to give us all a view. He kept the rotors going as we carefully got out to enjoy the wonder of the small lake at the top of the falls with mountain peaks all around.


At that point we switched places so Bill and I sat up front. It turned out to be the longest section by far before landing and took us over Milford Sound, along the coast, and to our picnic spot. The azure waters, tall waterfalls, rocky shoreline, a few fur seals, and majestic mountains were all simply amazing. I felt guilty we had the longest ride up front where the best photos can be taken, but certainly did not let that subtract from the adventure! Sam chose a spot he had never landed on before and did it so easily. It was quite a small space, actually! He shut down the motor, let us all out, and selected a setting for our gourmet picnic lunch. After helping him carry the goods, he laid out a small blanket and set out the food. Champagne was served along with cheeses, crackers, grapes, olives, fresh figs, chocolate truffles, and more. Water and juices were also options. We all chatted and got to know each other a bit. Thankfully, everyone was very easy going and we all got along fine.

Too soon our half hour was over and it was time to fly on. This time I had a window seat in the back which had less obstructed views than the middle seat. We soared over more of the Alps and soon landed at Doubtful Sound. To me it was the best landing view and seemed to outscore Milford Sound in its awesomeness. Sam took photos for us with the incredible background. Bill told me he had made an executive decision; we are going to return sometime when there will be snow on the peaks, and we are going to hire a helicopter for just the two of us. That’s fine with me! He felt the landscape was just stunning and wants to experience it when it is even more photogenic.

Snapseed 6

We then had to head back and end our amazing helicopter adventure. We were gone over two-and-a-half hours and felt we had been given a fabulous experience.

One the way home we stopped by a bird conservation where they try to rehabilitate and release as they can, and if not, they keep them safe and sound. There aren’t many birds but they seemed to have good space. They have a few rare flightless takahes, an owl, brown and green forest parrots called kakas, some regular looking parrots, and ducks. Entry is free and they ask for donations of a gold coin ($1 and $2).

Then it was home to revel in the wonder of helicoptering over the New Zealand Alps and reviewing photos and videos of our memories.

The next morning the skies were overcast and we were so glad we had made our helicopter ride the day before instead. We drove to Milford Sound with increasingly photogenic views along the way, but I was concerned the gray overhead would never give way. We did a twenty minute hike to see a chasm with interesting limestone carvings from erosion. A few other stops to photograph falls and marvelous mountains and then as we approached our destination, the skies suddenly cleared to brilliant sun. Yes! As beautiful as the sound is, it is less impressive from the ground than the air. There is a small airport there with several small planes and a few helicopters waiting to transport people for hikes and to enjoy the scenery. Cruise boats were coming and going while we had a picnic by the water.


Before getting back in the car we took a short but steep hike up to a lookout point of the sound. To me that was more beautiful than being at ground level. Then we had to head home, but on the way back we did a short hike up to see water tumble down the mountain in the river it had crafted out over the years.

Our time in Manapouri was ending, and it was time to venture onward to see what else would hold our interest.

From Wanaka to Lake Manapouri


In the morning I contacted a helicopter tour company as one of the musts for me on this trip was to get an aerial view of the Alps.  Helicotpers are my air transport of choice.  A flexible reservation was made to fly over Milford and Doubtful Sounds with a gourmet lunch for Wednesday morning.

As Lonely Planet suggested we take an alternate route towards Queenstown, we set Waze for Cardrona. A very small town with a distillery open for tours, it has a very long clothesline draped with hundreds of bras in support of breast cancer research in New Zealand. It drew several tourists while we there.

As we approached Queenstown the switchbacks gave marvelous vistas of mountains and promises of adventures to come. Bypassing downtown, we drove past the airport with a very striking background of steep jagged granite mountains. Along with some puffy clouds they provided a scenic backdrop for planes and jets taking off. A small golf course between us and the airport made me wish my brother would come down for a few rounds. Just past there was a field with an enormous herd of deer. There are no native mammals in New Zealand, but these immigrants sure behave better than those in the States. Apparently, over time they have been bred to be calmer and do not jump the fences to escape. Venison is on many restaurant menus, and I saw venison salami in a grocery store.

As we continued along towards Lake Manapouri so did the amazing vistas.  Bill had been wanting to see snow-capped peaks, and we finally got a distant view.


After a long day we rolled into Lake Manapouri and arrived at our AirBnB where Jo was waiting to settle us in to our house for the next three nights.  While talking with her, we decided to stay a fourth night so we could really see the area we had been waiting for, and in case the weather interfered with our highlight adventure.  This was our living room view:


The snowcapped mountain was just around the bend in the view, but what we had would certainly do.  Being able to relax, do laundry for free, and more easily prepare meals, was a welcome time to our roadie.  Jo even left us eight eggs from her hens in the fridge.

That evening we walked down the road looking things to do. There were two restaurants, one of which was part of a small store. Another was called The Church, Bar and Eatery! It was next to a vacant church available for rent and events. Down at the end is the pier with boats ready for later excursions to Doubtful Sound.  On the way back we stopped at the store to buy a few items and then went back to the house to plan the next day.

From Rainy Alps to That Wanaka Tree

The next morning the air was humid and there was light rain. As we drove further south on the west coast I checked the weather forecast which claimed the rain would take a break and the skies remain covered. We hoped that would be enough time as we approached Franz Josef Glacier to give us a chance to hike up to the edge, about an hour and a half return. Gearing up for inclement weather we began the gradual ascent. Not very far ahead there is an open area with a marvelous view of the mountains, a sneak peak at the glacier, and a twin set of high narrow waterfalls. We engaged in some photography and just as we began to continue on the trail, rain returned and the clouds hid the glacier from view. Sadly, there was no point in proceeding as it was evident the air was not going to be clear enough any time soon.


As we had the time we returned to town to visit the West Coast Wildlife Center to be able to view the kiwis in their nocturnal exhibition. Seeing one in the wild was not likely. The ones at the center are the Rowi kiwi, New Zealand’s rarest of the five species. They also have a hatching and incubation program which can be visited for an additional fee; with our luck there were no eggs or hatchlings the day we were there. After a bit of time letting our eyes adjust to the dark, there was one intently digging in the dirt with its long bill looking for tasty morsels of intervebrates and berries. Because the center cannot provide them enough natural nutrition, they give them an additional artificial diet of ox-heart, apple, banana, currents, peas, corn, carrot, cat biscuits, wheat germ, and a mineral supplement powder. They also give them earth worms and meal worms.

Kiwis are the only bird in the world to have their nostrils at the tip of their bill rather than at the base. They have an excellent sense of smell and use sensory pits at the tip of their bill to feel movement of bugs in the soil. Amazingly, they can live up to 50-70 years! They are monogamous and start breeding when they are about four or five years old. They lay up to four eggs a year which are incubated mostly, if not all, by the male for about eighty days. The eggs are huge at about twenty percent of the mother’s body weight. This is the equivalent of a human female giving birth to a six year old child. Ouch! The eggs weigh between 250-500 grams. When the chicks are born they are covered with feathers and can be independent at only two weeks old.

A short film showed researchers tracking kiwis in the wild and monitoring them for egg production. As introduced stoats prefer kiwi eggs and chicks to the rabbits they were to control, the kiwi eggs are taken to the nursery where they are kept in incubators and constantly monitored through the beginning stages of life outside the egg. At some point they are taken into the wild where they are still monitored. Ater looking at the rest of the exhibitions we returned to the nocturnal one to see if we could find both kiwis.  We did!  It was pretty cool to see the two of them busily looking for food. Photos are not allowed so we just have to rely on our aging memories.

After a quick lunch in the car of cheese and crackers we continued on. As it was still raining over the glacier we had to make peace with our few quick recordings and drive further south. At Haast we struck southeast, drove out of the rain and clouds and finally saw views we had been wanting. Our favorite was likely Lake Hawea with its miles and miles of aqua water and mountains in the background. Bill said it was what he had imagined all of New Zealand was going to look like.

After a long day of driving and improving vistas, we landed in Wanaka, accent on the first syllable. The highlight there, a thriving tourist town and quieter than Queenstown, is That Wanaka Tree, well photographed and known by others, not this author. We left our apartment after cooking for dinner, and went to the lake just before sunset and found scores of other cameras waiting to capture the perfect lighting of this tree standing alone in the lake. Sadly, some selfish idiot climbed it a few months ago to take a selfie and broke off a branch. It still looks appealing but a bit less so than it did.