Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Navigating New Zealand

Kia Ora from our last country on our international adventure, New Zealand! Our first stop was Christchurch, on the southern island. We arrived late but the next morning we went into the city to see the aftermath of devastating earthquake in 2010. The city is slowly rebuilding, but we were surprised at how empty things still are. We went to an information center and learned about the plan for recreating the city. The ideas seem pretty impressive, but as of right now there is not much around. There were tons of vacant lots and boarded up buildings. There was a temporary mall built out of what looked like shipping containers and one cute shopping street, and that was about it for downtown. We had fun shopping and learning about the exciting changes coming to the city. Hopefully their big plans come to fruition soon.

The temporary mall built out of shipping containers in the Christchurch. As we walked through the city we saw most of the building were empty or knocked down.

The Cardboard Cathedral, destroyed.

Found a tram and a street with some of the city's old charm.

The next day we picked up our campervan and hit the road. Meals, wheels, and bed all in one. It was fairly comfortable but since we are not such good campers, we had to get used to living in a car. By the end, we learned to love our temprary home. It allowed us to see a lot more than we otherwise would have been able to. 

The house of Nickel-Nguy.

Our first destination was Omaru, a small town on the east coast known for penguins, but we decided to stop on the way at EnkleDooVery Korna in Waimate, a "tame wallaby park" run by a lady who takes in orphaned wallabies. It was raining on and off all day, so we were the only people at the park and at first we were unsure if it was even open. It turned out to be perfect because we had the whole place to ourselves and got to cuddle and feed tons of wallabies. They were very cute and had great unique personalities. When we fed them, they would sometimes hold our hands in their little claw-hands while they ate. It was pretty adorable.

Kendra has them eating out of hand.

They were so friendly and hungry it took us over 2 hours to feed over 50 of these guys. 

Since the place was empty, we got to snuddle a tiny orphaned baby wallaby it its pouch. We named him Kiwi Bear. Almost as cute as the boy we have at home.

When we had our fill of wallaby love, we headed to see the blue penguins. They are out hunting all day, so we had to wait until it got dark to see them. Because it is summer in New Zealand, that was about 10:30 p.m. It was really cold and windy in Omaru, but we stood by the beach and waited for the penguins to come in. We got to see them come in from the sea and hop up on to their little rock homes. We weren't able to get any pictures of the penguins because it was so dark out and the flash is bad for them. They were very tiny and cute. 

The next day we hit the road again. As we drove through the county we saw so many lambs hanging out on the rolling green hills. Some grazed the grass in open areas but most lived on farms.

Sample lamb.

Our view driving through most of the South Island. Two lane highways with sparse cars.

We made a final stop on the east coast at the Moreaki Boulders on Koekohe Beach. The boulders are famous for their unusually round shape. They were smaller than we expected, but still pretty cool. The beach was very beautiful, with clear blue water. 

Kendra & a rock.

After the beach we were off to Queenstown, one of the most beautiful places we saw. We took a gondola up a mountain and played on the luge at the top. It was a great view and a pretty fun little activity. Queenstown is full of tourists and travelers, so there is a lot to see and do. We stayed in Queenstown for a day.

Queenstown, NZ from the top of the mountain. 

On the chairlift for the luge.

After a day, we were off to Milford Sound for two days. The weather in Milford Sound can change quickly and is often rainy and foggy, but we got lucky and had a really nice day there. We took the opportunity to take the cruise into the fjords. 

The Kea, the giant mountain parrots of Milford Sound that prey on tourists for their food. They are really beautiful little creatures.

Milford sound from the land.

Milford Sound from the boat.

New Zealand fur seals sunbathing.

Our trusty vessel.

From Milford Sound we spent a few days in Queenstown and Lake Wanaka, where we relaxed. We had some rainy weather, so we took the opportunity to catch a movie, sightsee around town, and hike short trails before driving to Mount Cook for more adventures. In Mount Cook we hiked to a glacial lake and up to a lookout point. It was really pretty, and we could see a bunch of avalanches in the mountains as we hiked in the valley.

On our way to Hooker Lake.

Us and a huge melting glacier, and the resulting lake.

Icebergs broken off from the glacier, bigger than they appear.

Avalanche action shot.

Jackrabbit booty.

The drive away from Mount Cook back to Christchurch was truly spectacular. We passed an amazing blue lake, so clear and still it was almost a perfect mirror of the sky.

Leaving Mount Cook National Park.

Us and the bluest, clearest lake.

After returning to Christchurch to drop off our van and get a good nights sleep, we got on a flight to Auckland for our north island adventure. We picked up a new camper van and hit the road. Our first stop was hot water beach, where you can dig a hole in the sand at low tide and it fills with hot water. The drive was a bit rough because it was raining and the road was winding, but the landscape was really interesting. It was basically a jungle. When we got to the beach, it was storming but we decided to try and dig a hot tub anyway. That lasted about five minutes before we gave up due to giant waves and crazy wind and rain, but at least we can say we tried! The next day we drove out of the rain and down to Rotorua, the "cultural hub" of New Zealand and center of geothermal activity. 

First stop in Rotorua: Hell's Gate for a mud bath!

Healing mud.

We had one really nice day in Rotorua and decided to take full advantage with a picnic. We stayed at a campground with a pool and a geothermal pool, so we had a beautiful relaxing day. In the evening we went to a Maori cultural experience which included a show, a simulated ancient village, and a dinner cooked in an earth oven. 

Summer picnic in December.

Traditional Maori welcome.

Maori woman in the traditional kiwi cloak.

Maori warrior at the welcome.

In the Maori village.

For our last day in Rotorua we walked around the town and enjoyed the parks. 

Rotorua boiling mud.

New Zealand trees.

Our next big adventure was the Waitomo caves to see the glow worms. We opted for the black water rafting trip, which involved floating down a river that goes through a cave in an inner-tube. The glow worms were amazing- it was like looking up at a million blue-green stars. In some places they were clustered together and it almost looked like cathedral windows. 

Excited for blackwater rafting through glow worm caves! A 3 hour trip in underground caves was so amazing and fun. They did not allow us to take pictures. They took pictures but in the aftermath, we forgot to get a copy.

After blackwater rafting we stopped at a bird park to get a quick look at a kiwi bird! Everyone in New Zealand calls themselves kiwis, and kiwis are the clear front-runner for national symbols, but they are almost impossible to see in the wild because they are nocturnal. We finally got to see one, and it was really cute! It was a fat little body with long legs, a tiny head, and a long beak. 

Kiwi time. The real ones are nocturnal so you are not allowed to take pictures due to past issues with the flash. They were very loving with their caregivers.

Our last days in a camper van was spent in Hamilton, which had an amazing garden. We had a really nice time wandering through.

Hamilton Gardens.

Hamilton Gardens Maori garden.

We drove back up to Aukland and returned our van, and spent a few days in the city before getting ready to come home to the States. Auckland is very pretty, and we had great summer weather. We walked around the harbour, checked out the gardens, and enjoyed city life. 

Sunny day at the Auckland Harbor.

Auckland sunbathing.

Now we are getting ready to fly to California for the holiday, ending our 3.5 months abroad. It has been such a transformative and wonderful experience for both of us. We've learned a lot, and we've grown a lot individually and as a couple. While we are sad to see this international adventure come to a close, we are much more excited to see our friends and family, and continue our adventures back home. 

Happy holidays!!!