Alright, let’s do it. While I’ve got lots of cool pictures to share from the South Island trip, there’s too much science to get to to dwell forever on it, so let’s get the rest done in one fell swoop. I’ll go light on the paragraphs, with most of the commentary contained in snarky photo captions… Ready? Go!
Where the cool kids go to ski! And do other outsidy stuff! No snow when we were there, but a pretty cool town on a pretty lake with some pretty mountains, and lots of restaurants and buzz going down at night.
The most obvious and touristy (but still worth it) thing to do was to take the gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak above the town, with a great view down over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Bob was a pretty savvy businessman to build his restaurant/viewing platform/luge track up on His Peak. Maybe Donald could learn a little about winning from Bob. I bet Bob is tired of winning from winning so much. Anyway…
With a little more time to kill before dinner, we used the internet machine to look up more things to do, and settled on the drive north along Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy at the top of the lake. It is apparently regarded as one of the world’s top scenic drive. Having now driven it, I won’t dispute that. The views all along were absurdly beautiful, and the windy road was pretty fun to drive on, too!
Back in Queenstown, we got to enjoy a nice dinner and a sunset-ish from the lakeshore. The next day we also took a little walk around before heading out.
After finishing, we set off on the drive to Te Anau, the southernmost point of our journey, stopping for a few diversions along the way.
Te Anau and Milford Sound
After a long drive through not much of anything, we got to Te Anau–the last outpost of civilization on the way to Fiordland and Milford Sound. It’s possible to take a multi-day hiking trip out that way, but that will have to be for another time. Instead we opted for a bus to boat tour. We stopped a few times along the road back up to the west coast, finally arriving at a boat terminal where we’d get floated out to the sea.
The ferry took us out to the mouth of the Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea. Despite clouds earlier in the day, it was actually so sunny at first during the boat ride that all the photographs were super washed-out. So I sat back and let all the silly people take all their photos and enjoyed the view and waited for better lighting.
And then on the way back, I leapt into action!
After the Milford Sound part of the tour, we made a couple more short stopoffs on the way back to Te Anau, then headed towards Dunedin to start working our way back around to Christchurch.
A lot of my colleagues make a lot of jokes about Dunedin having really crappy weather all the time. So of course when we got there it was raining. But contrary to the stereotype, it was actually quite nice there while we explored for a couple hours before moving on. So by my calculation, it rains 50% of the time in Dunedin.
On the drive back to Christchurch, we stopped at an interesting geologic site, the Moeraki Boulders. Located on the beach near the town of Hampden, they’re a bunch of super nice and round, sometimes interesting fractured…boulders. I know, you’re thinking only a geologist would care about a bunch of big rocks on the beach. But actually they were pretty cool! And lots of people were there, so I’m not alone in my nerd-dom.
The second time around in Christchurch we actually got to look around for a short bit. It’s pretty easy to see the impacts of the huge 2011 earthquake that caused so much damage. Pretty good 1st-world example of the devastation natural disasters can cause.
Back to the North Island!
Having had a pretty low-key New Years Eve at a little park gathering in Christchurch, we flew back up north to Auckland to start the new year with a short trip around the North Island. Since I’ve been to a lot more places up here, I could play tour guide and take my parents to some of my favorite spots. Unfortunately, the weather that was so perfect on the South Island was long gone, and things were pretty ugly for most of the second part of the trip. The biggest downside to this: NO VOLCANOES!!! Seriously, I look at volcanoes for a living and the few days we tried to go to Taranaki and Ruapehu, there was more or less nothing to be seen. What a bummer. At least we got half a look at Taranaki from the plane.
We did stop at a bird sanctuary, which is cool, because I like birds (#birds). And we got to see a Kiwi! They’re nocturnal so no pictures, but they’re super big and fluffy and awesome. And the place is on my way to do fieldwork every time, so I will get my fill of Kiwi-watching while I’m in NZ. We also took a stop to see the Waitomo gloworm caves. A bit touristy, but pretty cool to take a boat ride through the darkness with all the little glowy dudes on the ceiling (but, obviously it was dark so no pictures).
After an ill-advised drive over some pretty treacherous dirt roads in a torrential downpour, we arrived at Ruapehu, where we saw…nothing. I thought if we drove up to the ski field, we might punch through the clouds and get a view. Alas, still nothing. So on to Taupo, where we at least got to see a waterfall. We also stopped by some hot pools. I’d been to them before at night during the winter. In that setting they’re pretty creepy…but still better because they’re far less crowded than daytime during the summer!
Finally, it was on to Rotorua for the final bit of the trip. On the way we stopped at the Waiotapu thermal area, kind of a Yellowstone-lite. Nice enough, but nothing quite compares to Yellowstone, so it’s not really a fair fight. We also took a look at some of the lakes that I’ve been to on previous trips.
And that’s the deal! Lots of things! It was a bit rushed, but not too bad for two weeks. With those things covered, my glaring areas in NZ that I haven’t been to include the northern part of the South Island, and the North Island’s east coast, among other things. I’ll have to fix that soon!
In the meantime, coming up…science, geology, volcanoes!