day six: october 5, 2015: posting to the blog + doctor's point beach + tunnel beach
It was another windy/rocky night. :/
The next few places we wanted to visit were only going to be good at low tide, which was later in the day so we had some time to kill. I knew there was free wi-fi at the cafe near the Moeraki boulders so we headed down to get our first blog post up from the trip. Oof, it was super slow and after sitting there for almost 2 hours, the site re-loaded and didn't save any of the photos that uploaded in the 2 hours. Feeling defeated, we started to pack up our stuff and decided we would do it in the next major town, which we would hit that night. Just before we left, Jonathan saw a posting for free wi-fi at the local library and a past user said it was the "fastest" he had used on his journey through NZ, so we went for it.....and well, it took us just about another 2 hours to get the one post up. Ahh, I hope this isn't pre-empting every time we're going to want to post on this trip. Luckily, it was free and the view over Palmerston was a sight for sore eyes.
With low tide finally upon us, we headed down to Doctor's Point Beach to check out two sea caves, which were pretty awesome. The guidebook boasted sparkling sand and blue waters, but it was a little overcast so we didn't get to witness that...BUT the sea caves were pretty awesome.
Next, we headed over to Tunnel Beach. As we were making our way down, a kid said to me, "That was a realllly tough hike, I would think twice about doing it." His grandpa just kinda laughed and reassured me that it wasn't that bad. The whole time we were hiking down, I was just thinking to myself, "Sh*t, we're going to have to climb this back up!". This area got its name after a man named John Cargill in the 1870s commissioned a tunnel to be built to create access to the beach below by his daughters. The tunnel is still there and fully functional, pretty crazy. Although when you peer down the tunnel it makes you wonder if it goes down into a dungeon. It was awesome to explore the sandstone cliffs towering above the roaring water, pounding against the cliffs. We walked down the tunnel to find a little cove below, where the water couldn't reach at that time...pretty crazy to know that there are crazy waves, not too far away. The hike back up was a little intense but actually a lot quicker than I had imagined. :) So yes, the grandpa was right -- it wasn't that bad.
day seven: october 6, 2015: nugget point + purakaunui waterfalls + waipohatu loop walk
We woke up super early this morning to head over to the Nugget Point Lighthouse to watch the sunrise. I was a little bummed we had to get up so early, because it was the first night in a while that there was no wind, where we could sleep peacefully.
We drove about 1.5 hours away and walked over to Nugget Point Lighthouse. It gets its name from the rocky "nuggets" coming our of the sea just below. It's not often you get up to see the sunrise, so even though it was a lot of driving it was definitely worth seeing. Seeing the sunrise is probably something we should all do more often.
Next, we made a quick stop at Purakaunui Waterfalls and then on to hike Waipohatu Loop. Oof, another stressful hike...I guess in actuality, it wasn't that bad...but in the moment, I wanted to scream...I'm literally the worst. It was a beautiful hike through what almost felt jungle-like, but not as humid. It was nice that there weren't bugs to have to worry about too. While on the hike, we visited two waterfalls and then made our way back to the camper. Roundtrip, the hike was about 3 hours. It's pretty crazy that not too far away...the farm land continues and it would be so easy for someone to not know that was just below the bush. We ended up setting up camp perched up on a cliff with the ocean roaring down below. Pretty awesome campsite.
day eight: october 7, 2015: waipapa point + shipwreck + bluff + cosy nook
We made a few stops today as we headed to our next destination, Te Anau. We were, yet again, awakened by intensely strong winds shaking the campervan. We woke up pretty early and headed over to the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, which is the southernmost lighthouse on the South Island. It was a little windy out, but it was cool to see the wind against the waves and pushing them to shore.
Next, we made a stop at the Greenpoint Ship Graveyard. There were a few visible boat wrecks from the path -- most from the Bluff oyster fleet that were left here to rot.
We, then, made a quick stop in a small town called Bluff, known to be the oldest settlement in New Zealand. It was the closest port to Australia, with immigrants from the UK and elsewhere making their first destination on this wharf. We enjoyed panoramic views from the top of Bluff Hill.
Before making it to Te Anau, we made a quick stop at Cosy Nook, which is a little community of ocean front cottages where local fishermen live/have lived. We parked here for lunch and got to experience the crazy "Roaring 40s" winds hit the waves into the rocks below. Just as we sat down for lunch in the van, it began raining. Perfect time to leave for Te Anau.
After our rain filled drive to Te Anau we decided to take it easy and catch a movie since it was raining. After the film let out, the sky had cleared and Jonathan went to get the camera and shot the night sky. Needless to say, it was a beautiful night.
day nine: october 8, 2015: fiordland national park + gertrude valley + milford sound
Today, we drove about two hours from Te Anau to the Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Most guidebooks say that it rivals the US' Grand Canyon and Yosemite -- but I guess we'll have to see about that!
Our first hike was through Gertrude Valley that would ultimately end in an icefield waterfall. The hike was relatively easy and flat -- my kind of hiking :). But it was pretty cool, because we would go from rock beds to almost a lush forest then back to rock beds...then a forest..then another rock scramble to the base of the waterfall. It was amazing to look around and see other mini waterfalls cascading down different parts of the mountains surrounding this valley. We got to enjoy hike with not a single person in sight, which was pretty awesome.
We then continued down the road, one of the most scenic in New Zealand, and made our way to the Milford sound. As we waited to drive thru the Homer Tunnel, some keas (mountain parrots) tried to make a feast of our bikes. The Homer Tunnel is a man-made .75 mile long tunnel linking the Milford Sound to Te Anau and Queenstown...going through the Darran mountain range. It was AMAZING to drive through, come out...and see the sheer face of the mountain behind us.
It was the perfect day at the Milford Sound as we were able to clearly see Mitre Peak -- named after the mitre headwear of Christian bishops. The mountain rises near vertically to 5,560 feet, just over a mile, from the water of the sound -- more technically, called a fjord. The Milford Sound was pretty, but I'm not entirely sure it rivals the Grand Canyon and Yosemite
Having a little bit of extra time on our hands, Jonathan decided to go for another hike to Key Summit. I was feeling a little bit under the weather so he went alone. The hike started with non stop switch backs up thru some old growth forests. On the way up, there were a few small waterfalls right next to the trail and constant water running down the moss and ferns along the trail. Once above the trees, the view opened up and from the top you could see three different valleys. The weather was perfect and barely any people hiking the trail. He was able to get some great shots of the trail up at the summit and the surrounding peaks.
This next pic is just a random lake on the drive back from Milford Sound.
day ten: october 9, 2015: te anau + glow worm caves
We decided to take it easy today and enjoy some down time in Te Anau. We rode our bikes around the lake and then booked a trip to the glow worm caves off Lake Te Anau. We took a 25 minute boat ride across the lake and then a guided tour through the glow worm caves. In order to protect the glow worms, we weren't allowed to take any photos, boo! But of course, Jonathan tried to be sneaky and take photos. No luck. Once in the cave, we got into a 14 person boat and our guide pulled on a chain in the pitch black to pull the boat through the cave. Since we were in complete darkness, it was pretty interesting how all of your other senses come into play and your awareness of what's around you changes. The sound of the water through the cave was amplified and so was the sound a wailing baby on our boat! Humph! Slowly, we started to see little dots of bluish green glowing throughout the cave. Supposedly, the brighter the light, the hungrier the glow worms are. It was pretty interesting to learn that in this part of its life cycle, its main priority is just to eat. It does this for something like 11 months before turning into a small fly. Once a fly, the male's only goal is to mate with as many females as possible before it dies. Since the adult flies have no mouth or stomach, they survive only as long as the energy they've built up and stored during their life as a glow worm. Then for a female, she basically gives birth to 150 glowworms and places them individually all over the cave before also dying. Technically glow worms aren't really worms, they're maggots, but I guess the term glow maggot doesn't have quite the same ring...
**So a bit of a side story -- this summer, while I was doing research for this trip, I came across a travel blog called GQ Trippin, which followed a Bay Area couple and their adventures on an around the world trip couple years ago. It was easy to see that they had an amazing trip, still continuing to find time to travel even though they're back at work, and all around an awesome couple. So, I reached outto them and luckily, they agreed to meet up with us for lunch. When they heard that we would be stopping in New Zealand, they immediately promised to introduce us to their friend Jay who lived in Queenstown. Coincidentally, with only exchanging a few messages on Facebook, we ran into Jay today in Te Anau as he and his partner were making their way back to Queeenstown from an overnight cruise in the Doubtful Sound.
day eleven: october 10, 2015: kepler track + queenstown
Before making our way to Queenstown, we did a short hike on the Kepler Track, which normally is a 3-4 day hike. We started at Rainbow Reach and walked through a lush forest, over some swing/bridges to Shallow Bay of Lake Manapouri. Walking through the forest was really peaceful and serene - it was awesome to only hear the birds chirping in the distance.
We then made our way to the infamous, Queenstown, known to be the adventure capital of the world! Did you know that the world's first commercial bungy jump originated here?
We stayed at this awesome, quirky holiday park called Queenstown Holiday Park and Motels Creeksyde. It was in a perfect location tucked away above town, just a short walk to the town center.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Fergburger then met up with Jay and some of his friends to celebrate his birthday! There must have been 15+ people there and no one was from New Zealand -- they were all transplants from all over (Malaysia, Hawaii, Chile, Holland, England, Ireland, Washington DC, France, and the Philippines) who now call Queenstown home. It was really fun to be able to share our story and also hear about all their different jobs in town and what brought them to Queenstown. So happy to have made new friends, wish we were able to stay a little longer!'
day twelve: october 11, 2015: ben lomond summit
No extreme activities today -- although, today's hike sorta felt extreme to me. We opted to try and do the Ben Lomond Summit Hike. I think it's named after a mountain in Scotland also named Ben Lomond. We took the Skyline Gondola, which takes you to an awesome viewpoint high above Queenstown-- and started on the hike from there. Oof, another semi-demanding hike...but it was pretty cool to take in the surroundings and watch Queenstown get smaller and smaller below. Jonathan was a ninja and made it to the summit, while I waited for him just below the saddle taking in the beautiful views.
Both nights in town we were blessed with some great sunsets, hopefully the weather keeps up.
And we'll leave you with a little dude we found on the way home from dinner.