We got back from New Zealand about a week ago now. Here is a link to some of our best photos, a few of which will be linked to in the story of our trip. We took a lot, but as you can see, they are amazing. Here is Kim's recounting of the trip itself with alternating realtime journal entries and current memories:
We started our trip on Feb. 4, 2006 in Auckland on the North Island and stayed in the Grey Lynn neighborhood. Kiwis (the name for New Zealanders) are big on using neighborhood or subdivision names in mapping and navigating. Auckland was a very nice city and modern like San Francisco and we arrived for sunny weather since it was high summer in New Zealand--its summer is November through January, and tourist/good weather season is between October to April. The drive from Auckland to Wellington was beautiful, lush, and green, and forest/jungle looking, except for "Desert Road" which truly did look like a desert. Then we took a ferry from Wellington to the South Island to a small city called Picton, and the ride took 3 hours. We drove on to Christchurch and stayed there. We toured the city on foot and saw the Christchurch Cathedral, went up the tower to get views of the city from up high, went to Cathedral Square, went to Starbuck's, the visitors center where they had around 10,000 free pamphlets, and to the wonderful restaurant strip on Oxford Terrace and ate at the Coyote restaurant twice in one day. We also went to the botanic gardens and took several pictures. Then we drove on to Queenstown. Queenstown is a cute little skiing tourist town with a huge lake in front and huge mountains behind. It was so scenic John loved it, and he wants to go back to visit. During the winter its mountains, The Remarkables, are covered with snow and it makes for lovely photographs of the city. While in Queenstown we took a bus as close as we could to Milford Sound and boarded a boat to tour it. There is no car access through there and it's only accessible by either a 4-day hike or by boat. It was beautiful and those are the pictures you see of us on a boat starting up at 5,200 foot peaks jutting straight out of the water. In some of the pictures you can see what appears to be a little boat that might be a white dot floating at the bottom of a mountain/peak (in this one look to the bottom right on the downward slope of the mtn.), but it's really a 450-person cruiser and not just a little boat or dinghy, which makes for a size comparison to show the viewer of a photograph who's not there in person to see what we saw. (Pictures that have little white dots for boats include Milford_Sound_018, _021, _026, _034, _040, and _041...see if you can spot them.) I love the beautiful blue water.
Then we drove on to the west coast through what seemed like a jungle, and looked a lot like Hawaii, through Haast Pass to get to the remote town on Haast. There were lots of birds in Haast Pass. Pictures don't seem to do the area justice. There were many mountainous, picturesque views and we were puzzled as to why they didn't even get a mention in our NZ travel guidebooks, and we had 3 of them with us. We concluded that this is such a gorgeous and diverse country that the writers would have had written volumes of books if they covered everything. Along Haast Pass there were views of lakes with huge mountains in the background, some with very jagged rock-tops, some with a little snow on them even though it's summertime. But as we got to the west coast it got more lush green and dense, so since there are already so many subtropical plants there it looked like a jungle. We stopped and took a picture of some jungle mountain-sides with clouds going through them, and a river below. There were lots of birds chirping though we couldn't seem them hiding in the trees.
After our stay in Haast we continued driving along the west coast and stopped off to hike in the rainforest to see Fox Glacier. This is a real glacier in a rainforest. This picture you're looking at is of a different spot up north to get to it. The first southern stop we had to go through rainforest and get rained on to get to it and peek through bushes, but our photos from that viewpoint came out pretty hazy. So these are our better pictures of it, not totally submersed in rainforest, though. There are 2 here in New Zealand, and one other in Chile.
After leaving the glaciers and driving on we arrived north of the South Island in Nelson to stay. The next morning we set out for Abel Tasman National Park to take another boat to yet more car-inaccessible areas. Here we scaled the beautiful coast along with the kayakers, and John and I decided to get off the boat at one of the stops and take a 2-hour walk though the forest/jungle. The pictures of the lagoons are snapshots we took during this walk. At the end we had a picnic up high with the best view of the end lagoon, because John and I decided to run some of the way and beat the rest of the people on our same boat and made it there in 1 hour and 20 minutes to our pick-up spot. Early bird gets the worm. :-) The next day we drove through and explored the Marlborough Sounds, which are beautiful too. There are lots of them, so we made stops to get out and peek, went to a cafe, toured a large park garden, and went out on a dock.
Wellington is beautiful little city as well. The morning was crisp and cool. Wellington is the technology center of New Zealand (photo misnamed Auckland).
Today (2/17/06) we stopped and took our time and toured Auckland, and it's a beautiful sunny day. First we went downtown and visited the Skytower and saw the city from overhead. It has a lot of coastline, water and sailboats. Then we walked around downtown looking for Starbuck's, and it was much like any major metropolitan area. Dad and I walked around the Ponsonby area which was nice and had city views from a hilltop. The houses look like small California villas/ranch-style homes. We all drove around the Parnell, Tamaki Drive, and Mission Bay areas. That night at 11 p.m. we caught our flight home back to the real world. Until next time! (Link to all pics here.)