A blog about climbing full time on the road.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

south island

We took a break from climbing to travel around the south island for a few weeks. And, like everyone says, it is a beautiful and amazing place! It's been a while since we posted since we've been having so much fun traveling around and seeing all there is to see.

steak, bacon, and mushroom pie. boy will we miss these.

We've been abroad for almost eight months now and as amazing as New Zealand is, we have to admit that we're experiencing a bit of travel fatigue. As luxurious as we thought we were being when we rented our van,  living out of a small van for four months straight can get a little old. (luxurious compared to living out of a tent, but small compared to our VW van at home). The continual search for toothpaste, food, nightly routine of smashing sandflies against the windows (at this point I am looking forward to going back to the mosquitoes in Thailand after living with these annoying little guys for two months!), sitting out the rain, etc has started to ware on us a bit. I know we're not going to get any sympathy with this comment either, but after seeing so many beautiful and new places, our motivation to do one of the amazing overnight treks here or even to hike a few kilometers to a nice view point has waned a bit. So, with the abroad portion of our trip nearing an end, we've decided to "splurge" a bit by staying in more expensive campsites with indoor cooking facilities, booking a few tours, and sometimes, even though we're in an amazing place and the weather is beautiful, just sitting inside surfing the net a bit.

So, with that being said, we still have seen and done some amazing things while we've been traveling around.

royal albatross
Royal Albatross
We started by heading to the south of Castle Hill to Mt Cook which at 12,316 ft is quite an impressive site to behold. It has glaciers all around it, and a glacial lake with icebergs floating in it. The park is excellent and we had perfect views for our hike to the glacial lake. We even got to hike across some suspension bridges that were being replaced by newer ones. Always fun to know that the bridge you're walking is currently being replaced...
mount cook
Mt Cook, and us.
petrified tree near the Catlins
After Mt Cook we headed to the East coast to the Otago peninsula to see the rare Yellow Eyed penguins, and other wildlife such as albatross and fur seals. We continued south to and west through the Catlins, and ended up in Te Anau where we pretty much sat around for a day and rested. We went on a tour to a glowworm cave which was some epic Indiana Jones kinda stuff. The cave was amazing with a roaring river coming through it and huge waterfalls. It was so loud the tour group leader had to shout and even then it was hard to hear. It climaxed with a very slow moving section of the river in which a small boat was navigated through the river to a grotto with glowworms hanging from the ceiling. I must say it was one of the best experiences of either of our lives. The river noise became dead silent and the tour group respectively obeyed the no talking request. This made it a pitch black, silent boat ride through an underground cave while looking up and seeing small green specks shining from the ceiling. Those were the night sky of stars and yet they were glowworms patiently waiting for a meal by attracting insects with their glow. Spectacular tour and one of the highlights of the trip.

Cassie on the glowworm tour


yellow eyed penguin
yellow eyed penguin
otago coast
beach sunset

For Matthew's birthday, we were planning on going to Milford Sound. This looked a little doubtful though since when we arrived in Te Anau, the road to Milford was closed due to a rock slide and they didn't know when it would be opened again. After a few days in Te Anau, we decided to a least drive as far down the Milford Road as we could in hopes that the road would open. The drive was amazing in itself, but luckily the road crews were able to get the road open and we made it into the sound. Really it's a fiord, since it was glacial carved, but the name has stuck. We booked a tour through the sound which also included a stop at an underwater viewing area. The conditions in Milford sound allow sea life which is typically found only in deeper ocean water to occur in much shallower water. They built an underwater viewing area about 6 stories below the surface to view all the fish and corals there. This was one of the coolest things we did since it was like being inside the biggest aquarium you can imagine. We saw all kinds of corals, starfish, anemones  and fish, I even saw a manta ray which apparently is quite rare (like one a year is seen). On the surface in the boat, we were able to see fur seals, penguins (fiordland crested which is the second most rare penguin), and waterfalls. It was a bit cloudy, so we couldn't see all the surrounding mountains, but it was quite spectacular and again, worth the money for the guided tour.

Milford Sound (really a fjord)
birthday dinner. simple and excellent.
fjord viewing building. a floating underwater building.
fur seal
fur seal

Haast Pass
mirror lake
We left Milford Sound and started to make our way up the West Coast to see the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers. The west coast is notoriously rainy, but we lucked out and had some beautiful weather. We'd seen and heard about New Zealand's whitebait fishing and fritters and had heard the west coast was the place to do this. These are some native fish in New Zealand, all called whitebait, but actually one of 6 or so different species of galaxiids. These fish spawn in fresh water, the larvae drift out to the ocean then after 6-9 months then come back upstream to spawn. They are netted as they are coming back upstream,  once caught, they are fried up whole with a bit of egg into a fritter. It was quite tasty. These might be the first fish we've eaten whole.

whitefish batter

the final product. yum!

We visited the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers which were impressive, but since we've seen a number of glaciers before in Alaska, we really enjoyed hiking through the rainforest even more. After visiting the glaciers, we headed up to the small coast town of Okarito. We spent an afternoon on a really cool rocky beach there then the next morning rented kayaks to tour around the Okarito Lagoon. We rented from Okarito Nature Tours who were amazing. They gave us great info on when the best time to go would be, lots on info on the birds and wildlife we'd see, and were great people to talk with before and after. If you're on the West Coast, check this place out. It's a 3000 hectare lagoon which is home to more than 70 birds and has views of the mountains. We saw the white heron and royal spoonbills as well as numerous smaller birds. We could kayak up into some small streams which went into the forest as well. It was a great way to spend the morning!

you may be hit by either white or black rocks...

curled fern

rainforest. just a mile from the glacier!

Royal Spoonbill
After Okarito, we made our way back to Castle Hill where we are now. We just have a few more days in New Zealand, then off to Thailand for two weeks. We're really looking forward to staying in hotels and bungalows rather than the van and eating curries and other good food that someone else will cook for us. We're planning on doing a two night snorkeling tour near Khao Lak which we're pretty excited about. It'll be our first overnight snorkeling tour. Haven't slept on a boat in quite a while so it should be interesting.

Also many of the pictures here were taken by Cassie who has been taking a lot of shots lately. She's getting quite the eye!

We're starting to really look forward to seeing the fam back in Ohio for Christmas. Can't wait!!!

amazing waterfall

another amazing waterfall. we are actually getting quite tired of waterfalls now...