Lake Tekapo – It is all about the Sky!

My Journey to Lake Tekapo began with a bus ride. It was a fairly easy ride, and I arrived in Tekapo in the early afternoon.

Tekapo is a very small village, right on the bank of Lake Tekapo. The “downtown” area is a collection of shops in a strip.

I got off the bus, collected my luggage and checked into my Hostel, Tailor-Made Backpackers. The hostel was clean, quiet, and had great laundry and kitchen facilities, and even better – NO Bunk beds – which is always a great bonus in a backpackers!

It was a very, very foggy day, but I was watching the forecast very closely, because both of my activities here are weather dependent. One of my most anticipated activities in New Zealand was to go up to the University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory at night to see the Southern Sky. Of course, this is very weather dependent – because cloud cover will obviously impact the view. My tour was originally scheduled for Friday night, however tonight (Thursday) was looking pretty great, so I thought I would hold out for a few hours, see where things stood.

After I was checked in to the hostel, I walked back to town, where the fog was slowly beginning to lift.

My other sky dependent activity was an amazing flight experience, The Air Safari Grand Traverse, which was gifted to me by a friend who had been unable to use the voucher on a previous trip due to weather. (This friend wishes to remain anonymous, so I will just say a gigantic thank you). Unfortunately, while the fog was lifting, they were unable to get flight clearance, and asked me to check back in a few hours.

I decided to walk over to what maybe Lake Tekapo’s most iconic location, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is literally right on the banks of Lake Tekapo – and is a gorgeous stone chapel.

The fog lifted enough for me to really just enjoy the church, the lakeside, the crystal clear water and the amazing beauty that is just so quintessentially New Zealand.

Lake Tekapo is a glacier lake, and just like the Glacial Lakes that I remember from Switzerland the color was striking.

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After exploring the waterfront, with the fog still clear, and the weather forecast looking good, I decided to go into the Earth and Sky office to see if I could change my tour to tonight, since the weather looked more favorable. The early tour was full, but they did have an opening at the 11:00 PM tour, so I took them up on it.

I left the Earth and Sky office, then grabbed a burger in a neighboring restaurant, then went back to check in at the flight office. Unfortunatly, as we were waiting the fog rolled back in – we would try again tomorrow. Having explored the town, and hoping for a late night at the observatory, I headed back to the hostel to do laundry, take a little nap and get ready for the night – it is cold on the mountain – as witnessed by this funny video they have for you on the Earth and Sky website of what to wear:

Around 10:30 I headed out, bundled up, and with my DSLR, because the astrophotographers will hook your camera up to the telescope to catch images for you for you to get your own images, which is pretty exciting!

I got to the office, checked in and waited for the tour to depart. At the office, they gave us each Antarctica tested jackets, worn by actual scientists on the US bases – which I thought was pretty cool!

 

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We started the drive up Mt. John – which is fascinating. Lake Tekapo is in a dark sky reserve, so the street lights are a special type that will not interfere with the viewing of the night sky. It was still really, really foggy, but the tour guide said we were in to a real treat because the sky was clear above the fog which we would be above on the mountain. I will admit, at this point I started getting pretty excited – I was concerned about the fog and the uncertainty of the night sky above it.

Once we got to the mountain it got even more interesting. At a point near the summit, the tour driver had to turn off the headlights and we climbed the rest of the way in the dark – I was thankful he knew the roads well! (this was so that the headlights didn’t disrupt the researchers at using the amazing telescopes).

Y’all – I have lots of words – you read this blog – you know that – but seriously – I cannot put the amazingness that this was into words – beautiful, stunning, astounding, breathtaking, majestic – all come to mind, but don’t really do it justice.

Bad news is, my DSLR picked this night to be when it decided to finally bite the dust – it had been acting up for quite some time, so it was not a shock, but I will admit I was a little sad I couldn’t leave with my own photos.

However, the Astrophotographers always load pictures each night onto their Flickr account. I captured two of these images below from that night so you can get an idea of what I saw. (And yes – the sky did look like that!). (I was even so bundled I took off my Antarctic jacket – either it wasn’t that cold up there, I have really good thermals, or I am adjusting to a different type of winter – not sure which).

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If you want to see more images from the night, or other nights go check out: Earth and Sky Images. 

My night was May 25th – but if you want to see some stunning Aurora photos – check out the 28th as well – that is the night it surged and was flat out amazing.

The special treat our tour guide talked about truly was spectacular, and you can see it in the pictures – look at the layer of fog sitting on the lake – it looked like a blanket covering the ground – the scientists that were showing us around the sky said it was a rare sight – like once every 2-3 years.

The sky was so clear you could clearly see the Milky Way trail, and could easily pick out the southern sky constellations – I was quite thankful for my massive amounts of time in the Digital Star Lab taking every single Carmel Colt through there for the past few years, because I could really pick out lots of things.

Unexpectedly – the coolest thing was the 2 “dark spots” in the sky – which we do not see North of the equator – the Magellanic Clouds, which are actually spiral dwarf galaxies.

After a tour of the sky – where the guide used this crazy cool lightsaber-like laser pointer that shot across the sky to point out what he was talking about (I really NEED one of those), we got to look in several telescopes and look at features of the sky.

The time passed quickly – and before I knew it the tour was over and we were back in the shuttle headed to town.

 

Well after 2 AM – I was back at the hostel, and settled in for a quick sleep – I was meeting the flight crew at 8:00 – hopefully for a flight.

The next morning – with lots of coffee – I was ready to fly – the fog had lifted, and it was an amazing day to fly – I could not have ordered better weather!

The flight was myself and a couple with quite limited English, so I essentially had a tour guide/ pilot to myself.

I thought the Stewart Island plane was small – but this one was smaller – only 8 seats!

It was a Gippsland GA8 Airvan – specially outfitted for scenic flights with over window wings. Check out the safety info card!

The Grand Traverse took an amazing path, flying over Lake Tekapo, 4 prominent glaciers (Murchison, Franz Josef, Fox, Tasman) and the majestic Southern Alps (Including NZs two highest mountains – Mount Cook and Mount Tasman). This is another instance of the pictures saying so much more than my words ever could. Air Safaris bills this as the flight of a lifetime – and I must say – they are 100% correct.

Here is the path the flight took: http://www.airsafaris.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Tekapo-Route-Map.pdf 

I will stop talking now and let you enjoy the pictures – these are some of my favorite of the trip – but honestly – I am going to have a hard time deciding which pictures make the cut for printing and hanging up in my house – I think my decor may entirely change to New Zealand pictures!

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I even captured a video of us flying around Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman – and replaced the noise of the plane with music to make it easier to watch – I apologize for the shakiness – we did hit some air currents while I was filming.

What an epic experience!

After this I had some work to do – so I set off for a school visit, then decided that an afternoon/evening at the Tekapo Springs spa was the way to spend my last evening here. What a great choice!

Just check out this place:

It was freezing outside of the water – but AHHHH! What a lovely way to “chill out” – I even sprang for a manicure and pedicure at the day spa – so I was quite content when I did finally leave the spa. (side note – check out the cloud cover – I am so thankful I changed my observatory tour to last night!)

The next day I headed back to Christchurch to spend the night before catching my flight back to Wellington.

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A flat white before catching my bus to leave Lake Tekapo

This time in Christchurch I stayed in a really cool hostel, the Jucy Snooze – which featured these cool pods:

It was perfect, and thankfully walking distance to the hotel for my flight the next day, as their was some sort of taxi and uber strike.

Dinner that night was not as perfect, as I decided to forgo the last pack of my soup in my backpacker kit and have dinner out – at this highly rated teppanyaki restaurant (The kiwi version of our hibachi restaurants in the USA) – when about half way through my meal I saw a mouse scurry across the floor – and with that, I was done with my dinner. But hey – with travel you take the good, the bad, the strange and the gross – it all is a part of the experience – and it is a pretty funny story – in hindsight – that in a country where rodents are not native (and their is a huge push to e”rat”icate them (see what I did there- lol!) – I see a rodent, in a “nice” restaurant!

I went back to the hostel, and got ready to fly home in the morning.

It has been a spectacular few weeks on the South Island.

 

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Journey from East Coast to West Coast – The TranzAlpine!

Monday morning I woke up early and walked to the bus stop to catch my bus to Christchurch – the bus ride was fairly uneventful (really, really long), but there were these precious girls (about 10 students rode this bus to their school – almost an hour from Te Anau).

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They took turns reading to one another for the journey – it did make my heart smile.

The journey did, as all journeys in New Zealand do, have some lovely scenery – including a nice wintry wonderland.

Once I arrived in Christchurch, it was after dark, so I caught a cab to my hostel – one that I have been very excited to stay in – you see – I was staying in Jailhouse Accommodation – which is a hostel that is actually in the old Addington Prison, which has a fascinating history as a jail, women’s prison and a military camp. You can learn more about the prison here, as well as the artwork and artifacts that are all around the prison. 

The next day, I went to the train station, and lucked out, because another girl was also headed to the train station, so we shared an Uber, and chatted throughout the day. She was an American,  who is currently living in Hawaii (for work), but previously lived in the Atlanta area (where she still owns a home), and with close family ties to India. She is amazingly well traveled, and it was nice to chat with her – we shared travel trips, ideas and just genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. I thought I had a picture of the two of us, but apparently we were having too much fun when I took the picture – and I didn’t check it.

The weather for the journey was fairly awful, and viability was low, however, it was still pretty amazing to make this journey, and like so many historic railway journeys to think about the trials of the railway workers that forged the way through this unbelievable, beautiful, rugged and unforgiving landscape. Passing through the Southern Alps is an Experience I am not going to forget!

The TranzAlpine goes from Christchurch (eastern coast of South Island) to Greymouth (western coast of South Island) and back each day. This is at the narrowest part of the South Island. I was doing the return trip in one day, because of how my school visits panned out for the week (Which meant a very full day of enjoying the beautiful scenery – and being quite disconnected – not much cell phone service between villages). The journey started going between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass. Passing mostly through the Canturbury flats.

The interesting thing about this crossing was definitly the changing, diverse landscape from one side to the other.

At Arthur’s Pass we were able to get off the train and stretch our legs and take a few quick pictures.

 

When we arrived in Greymouth Shreya and I stopped in the Speights Ale House to share a drink before we parted (me back on the train, her off to explore the West Coast). The west coast is aptly named the Wild West Coast, because it has some of the most unpredictable and wet weather in New Zealand, and for a nation where 4 seasons in a day is not uncommon, and mostly expected, this is saying something!

On the ride back, because I wasn’t talking so much, I was able to capture a video of a portion of the journey – but I really did just savor the experience.

The skies are always just so stunning! (and I know the pictures from the train do not do the colors justice!)

 

Before I knew it the train journey was over, and I was back in Christchurch. After a snag with locating my bag (just a miscommunication between the train staff), I was headed to the Airport to pick up my rental car so that I could head to Methven for the night for my school visit tomorrow. (again some backtracking, but I was maximizing my school visits as I could this trip). The drive to Methven was uneventful (thankfully), but it was a pretty journey even once the sun set.

As I said, this was a quick trip, so I went back to Christchurch and checked back into Jailhouse for another night. As I was back quite earlier than I expected – before heading to my next location – Lake Tekapo – where I have some pretty awesome adventures planned, as well as a school visit (work and pleasure – always a good mix!), I decided to check out the International Antarctic Center.

Christchurch is the Gateway to Antarctica, so almost all flights to many of the bases on Antarctica originate here.

It was informative and really “cool” quite literally, as they had a simulated summer snowstorm that I got to experience. Talk about being thankful for layers (and walking out the door into the warmth)!

I dropped off my car, shuttled back to the hotel, and had a relaxing evening, including delivery of some fantastic Pad Thai. I also scored the luck of a bunk room to myself for the night, always a great bonus when staying in dorms.

The Milford Road, Milford Sound, and the Glowworm Caves

This weekend I headed to Te Anau, which is often referred to as the gateway to Milford Sound.

After landing in Invercargill, I had some time to spare, so I spent my afternoon at the Southland Museum – which was also conveniently the bus stop I would depart from on my journey to Te Anau. I didn’t take many pictures – they actually were not allowed in many places – but I loved the natural history section and the large collection of New Zealand species they had on display.

New Zealand has had quite the cold snap – so my scenery on the bus ride was quite the wintry wonderland. I arrived at the hostel around 5:30 – and was so thankful the bus driver dropped me off at my lodging location instead of the bus stop, because it was dark and cold.

I checked in, started laundry (I didn’t want to do it on Stewart Island if I could help it, since they pay 4x more for electricity down there than here on the “mainland”), and went to grab a quick dinner and some groceries.

As I was settling in at my room I saw an alert on Facebook that the Aurora was spiking – so I thought I would go at give it a look – being a little further north, with some cloud cover, I wasn’t sure I would see much, but I did spot the glow in the south.

It wasn’t much, but it was cool to see.

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Sunday morning I was up early to catch my tour to Milford Sound. I was picked up by our driver Simon at the hostel, and immediately knew this was going to be a fun day.

Simon is a live-off-the grid, NZ local who has worked in nature conservation, science and tourism most of his life. He shared amazing stories and his passion for the Fiordlands, and because this was a small tour continually tried to give us extra stops.

Our first stop was the Eglinton Valley Flats in Fiordland National Park. Here we could see the mountains all around.

You could still see (and feel) the frost on the grass!

 

We had perfect weather for our next stop – the wind was still – the sun was shining – which meant that the reflection from the Mirror Lakes was stunning!

We had a few more stops on our way up to Milford, and there were some pretty entertaining Keas and some scenery.

And then we arrived at Milford, with a few minutes to spare, so we got to take in the scenery before heading to the boat terminal.

It really was a perfect day to cruise Milford Sound (which is not a sound, but a Fjord, for what it is worth) even if it was crazy cold. Our cruise took us from the terminal all the way out to the Tasman Sea – which felt like the end of the world. It was an awe-inspiring, breathtaking and unbelievable journey. I know that the pictures cannot possibly do this justice, and the scale is so impossible to get, but I hope you enjoy them. I used my DSLR, so those pictures are in the slideshow, while the pictures from my phone are below in the grid. There are a ton of pictures, because even though it was freezing, I stayed on the top deck the entire journey – I wanted to savor every moment of this likely once in a lifetime experience.

Look closely and you will see seals and dolphins. Like I said, it was a perfect day!

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After the cruise we boarded the mini-bus and started the journey back to Te Anau – but Simon had more stops for us.

Our first stop on the way back was the historic bridge over the Tutoko River.

Our next stop was the Chasm – a nice 20 minute walk where you see some of the coolest structures in rock made by water I have ever seen!

In the parking lot this lady had this cool van that she had converted into a coffee shop, so while we waited on everyone to finish the trail, I got my favorite NZ coffee drink – a flat white – and we enjoyed the mischievous keas in the parking lot – what funny little birds!

When we reached the Homer Tunnel – we had about 5 minutes before the one way tunnel was opened up for us, so we had one last chance to get out and enjoy the scenery on this side of the Milford road.

Driving along the Milford Road is a beautiful experience.

After a few more stops (I felt like . . . but wait, there is more!), Simon dropped me back off at the hostel, where I had a few hours to relax and have dinner before heading to my next adventure, the  Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.

For dinner, Simon recommended a dairy that had fish and chips – since his tour was so wonderful, I thought I would take his recommendation. It was not a mistake. Yummy fish!

Then I walked to the glowworm caves for my underground adventure. Cameras are not allowed in the cave, but I bought the picture package to share the experience with you all.

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What you don’t see is the journey “under the glow” so to speak – guys – it was so cool – it really does look like the videos and pictures online, like this one, which is amazing:

or this one:

(these videos are from different caves, but the same experience applies).

It is DARK – which is what allows you to see the glow worms, and I will admit – getting in the boat when you cannot see anything is a little disconcerting.

WOW – today was certainly one of those epic days, that I am so fortunate to be able to have here on this New Zealand journey.

Stewart Island

 

 

In an trip filled with amazing experiences, this is one journey that Fulbright has given me that is just spectacular and will be a standout of my trip. Stewart Island is a location that many Native New Zealanders have never visited (and it has a population of less than 400 people).  As part of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, you have access to funds for professional development. Initially my PD grant was applied for to attend the Energise 2017 Conference in Queenstown – which was a wonderful conference and opportunity. After I applied for the grant, I received word that I was invited to visit the school on Stewart Island, which I thought was an incredibly cool school – and really would give me that last missing piece of understanding New Zealand school structure, diversity and remoteness. Because of it’s remoteness, accessing Stewart Island is difficult (and rather expensive), so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it happen. I had some funds granted to me by my lovely Gamma Eta DKG sisters, which I was thinking would use to make this visit possible, then I realized that if I maximized my budget by staying in more affordable lodging (hostels and cheap AirBnBs), I could use those funds and amend my PD grant proposal and make both work, and visit all the remaining schools on my South Island potential visit list – so  I amended my Fulbright grant, and set to work piecing together this 3 week journey, which led me to the lovely, remote, and wild Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura . (Rakiura means “glowing skies” – possibly a Maori reference to the Aurora Australis, which is visible sometimes at this southerly location, although others say it is a reference to the spectacular sunrises and sunsets). The history and establishment of Stewart Island is really cool, and if you are interested, you can read more here.

There are 2 ways to access Stewart Island commercially. You must cross the often treacherous Foveaux Strait to get to the island. The two options are the Ferry from Bluff and Flight from Invercargill. I hoped to do the ferry one way and the flight the other, but wasn’t sure how cooperative the weather might be. I decided to take my chances, and book the Ferry over, and the Flight back, and just hoped for the best.

Monday morning I got up and walked over to the meeting point to catch my shuttle to the ferry.

I thought this was a pretty gorgeous view on my way through Invercargill.

The hotel where I met the driver had this cool picture, which I thought appropriate as I embarked on my journey to this beautiful place.

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The ferry ride was gorgeous and sunny and the seas were calm – I am so glad I took the ferry today!

Once we arrived in Oban, I met my lovely AirBnB host Raylene, and I cannot express how much I lucked up with her! We drove up to the house, dropped off my bags and then Raylene drove me back to the center of town so I could make my appointment with Dave at Raikura Jade. I had struggled with what my “souvenir” from my Fulbright experience would be – I am not one for cheesy touristy things, but I felt like I needed something to have as a memento from this experience – and had thought that a Pounamu, or Greenstone pendant might be a cool thing to get, however, I discovered that according to Maori tradition, you should not buy one for yourself – in fact, many backpackers and solo travelers will buy them for each other to get around this. By carving my own Pounamu gifted to me by Dave (he gives the stone for free for those that pay for the workshop), I was able to get this “taonga” or treasure as my memento of this amazing Fulbright experience.

The shape I carved was a toki, which is said to represent strength. You can learn more about the toki by listening here.

I started by picking my stone from the bowl of stone.

Once I picked my stone, Dave started teaching me how to begin to carve the Toki shape. I used lots of tools, and he was so patient with me – Dave was a wonderful teacher. (additional note, Dave worked on the Lord of the Rings, as a part of the team that created Faragorn Forest, and he later worked at Weta for other Jackson films).

After the basic bones of the toki shape were done it was time to smooth out the stone – I used 4 different grits of sandpaper, and then I had a lovely pendant shape. Dave instructed me to rub it in my skin, so that my own oil polished the stone, and the shine was amazing – it really brought out the colors in the stone. Next Dave helped me braid my lanyard for the necklace – we used a 4 strand braid – I was not very coordinated with it, but Dave was crazy patient with me, and he even let me film him doing the 4 handed braid on his own as he finished the strand – just look at how cool!

Then we took the pendant back, made the notch and the hole for the lanyard, tied the knots to make it adjustable, and voila – my beautiful, finished toki.

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What a great thing to do!

My pendant complete, I headed across the town of Oban to Golden Bay where I enjoyed the view, the sunset and the peacefulness. I even had a lovely chat with a lady from the Department of Conservation who was waiting on some researchers to arrive on the ferry.

Tuesday was my first day in the school, and I had a lovely time getting to know the students and the school. After school, I walked back up to Raylene’s home, named Glendaruel and spent some time exploring her gardens. They are just lovely, and he backyard is full of the amazing bird life in New Zealand.

Tonight was the night of my Kiwi spotting tour, and the weather seemed to be cooperative. The kiwis however, were quite stubborn. But finally, after several walks around the area of Big Glory Bay- we spotted a lovely kiwi enjoying his dinner of grubs on the beach. I know the pictures are pretty horrible, but, hey – it is what it is. (and an added note – these are some big birds!)

 

Here is a video of the kiwi, and a video of the grubs that he was munching on.

Wednesday was another school day. Check out my commute for this week:

 

After school, I was still feeling a bit under the weather, I decided to stay in, and Raylene so graciously made some soup for me – have I mentioned how above and beyond she went (she also cooked us a lovely dinner of fish one night and we had a lovely chat about schools around the world)?

Check out the morning breakfast spread:

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The rest of the week was filled with school visits and enjoying Oban – I even got to teach the students programming – so it was a great school visit.

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One of the students even said I was their favorite visitor since Prince Harry stopped by the school – so I will take that as a complement!

Saturday morning I flew out on the very small plane – and now I am off to my next weekend adventure – Te Anau – to the Glowworm Caves and the one and only Milford Sound.

The Catlins – Sunday

Sunday morning I started by backtracking about 35 KM (about 22 miles) on twisty roads to a special location, Cathedral Caves. Cathedral Caves can only be accessed within an hour on both sides of low tide and even then only during daylight hours – so you have to consult the schedule and plan accordingly – and I was lucky – there are entire spans of days that you cannot access them at all. There is a slight hike down to get to the beach, and an access fee (make sure you have cash – there were some young girls that had to go try and find an ATM) for the trail – but at 5.00 NZD it is worth it for the trail to be maintained by the local land owners.

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After the 1.5 km walk downhill through some beautiful bush,

You emerge onto the beach – a peaceful, untouched beach oasis.

After walking down the beach – you arrive at the caves, and WOW!

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They were massive – and it was so incredible to see the changes to the caves by the sea water continually beating against the rocks. It was amazing.

After I had thoroughly explored the caves, I trekked back across the beach, and up the trail to my car.

My next stop highlights the Kiwi sense of humor. You will recall that yesterday I visited Purakanui Falls and McLean Falls, both beautiful examples of waterfalls, right?

Well, behold the New Zealand “Niagra Falls”

Next I ventured south – to Slope Point – the furthest south point of the South Island – which is located on a sheep farm (no joke, you cross through the pasture to get to the marker). The access is closed during Lambing season (September – November)

My next stop was the cliffs at Fortrose. It was windy – so I didn’t stay long, or get too close to the edge, but it was cool.

A bit chilly at this point, I was thankful to find a cafe and grab some Seafood Chowder and a hot coffee before continuing my adventure.

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Next up, I made my way to Bluff, and Stirling Point, which is often confused with Slope Point – Stirling Point is the end of the Motorway which stretches from the tip of the north island (at Cape Reinga) to here in Bluff.

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With some extra time before I needed to be in Invercargill and return my rental car, I decided to explore more of Bluff. This led me to follow signs to the Te Rau Aroha Marae. Such a unique Marae from the outside – beautiful!

Then I headed to the Bluff Lookout, thinking it might be a cool spot to enjoy the sunset.

 

As I headed up the path to the lookout, there were some informative signs about Moas, birds and other native wildlife, predators, pests and history.

It was a good call to head up here!

Check out the views!

Check out this panorama of the views:

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Finally, I headed to Invercargill, hit the grocery store, returned the rental car, did laundry and prepared for my next journey – I am off to Raikura – Stewart Island in the morning.

The Catlins – Friday and Saturday

Friday afternoon I picked up my rental car for a new experience – driving on the left. I have to admit, this was something that made me very nervous, but like most things that cause us to worry needlessly, it was not as bad as I anticipated. I found staying left to come very naturally after driving for a few minutes. The oddest thing? The fact that my blinker (indicator/turn signal) and windshield wipers were the opposite of what I am used to, so there were quite a few instances of turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker – but even that was remedied rather quickly.

The most interesting thing about driving in New Zealand: the maximum speed limit anywhere in NZ is 100 km/h – which is equal to 62.14 m/h (for the most part – this was not a problem, because most of my road trip was on wandery back roads in the Catlins, however, on the motorway out of Dunedin I was thankful for cruise control.)

My first stop through the Catlins was a stop to grab a bite to eat in a little town called Milton. I was lucky that I had a beautiful evening for the first leg of my road trip.

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After grabbing a bite, I continued to my next stop Kaka Point. I was racing a bit against the sun at this point, as it does get dark crazy early down here this time of year.

While it was darker than I would have liked, I did enjoy the beach and a nice coffee at the surf club.

Knowing at this point it would be too dark to continue to the Nugget Point Lighthouse, I continued on the way to my overnight stop, Surat Bay Lodge near Owaka. Most of my journey after dark was on little dirt roads, and even in the dark it was clear that I was passing through some amazing pristine country.

At the hostel, it was clear I was in penguin country.

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I must admit, I was thankful for the early darkness, because I was wrestling with a bit of a sinus infection, and sleep was a good thing. (You will notice in my pictures from Saturday that my poor sinuses were quite swollen, but all is well – thankful for packing a sinus rinse and some Zyrtec – not many pharmacies in this part of the world on a weekend.)

I got up early the next morning, and headed out for more adventure, starting with enjoying the beauty of Surat Bay.

My first walk/tramp/hike was Purakanui Falls – a lovely walk through the bush, leading to a beautiful waterfall.

After the falls, I stopped a few places along the road, including Florence Hill Lookout.

Next stop was the Lake Wilkie Walk:

After Lake Wilkie, I ventured to McLean Falls:

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Finally I checked into the Lazy Dolphin Lodge in Curio Bay, then went up the road to the petrified forest, where I stayed until dusk to get a glimpse of the lovely penguins.  The pictures of the penguins didn’t turn out, (too dark and too far away) but it was cool to watch them play in the water and on the sand.

Next up tomorrow, I have to time it just right, but I am planning to backtrack to Cathedral Caves, and hit some other cool points of interest along the way to Invercargill.

Dunedin and Taieri Gorge Railway

For Merry’s South Island Adventure Take 3, I started my adventure again in Dunedin.

I realized I had time after my flight to catch the Taieri Gorge Railway before I went to dinner with NZ Fulbrighter Simon and his family, so I booked the journey and headed to the Railway station – it is a gorgeous old building.

The journey through the Taieri Gorge was beautiful – It was a sunny, perfect day, and the ever changing landscape of the Otago region was highlighted in an amazing fashion along the gorge.

I got off the train at Wingatui, where I was met by Simon, and went to have a lovely dinner with he and his wife Sylvia, and their lovely girls. It was such an enjoyable evening.

The next day I went with Philipa and enjoyed hanging with her students and getting to experiment in her lab.

That evening, Philipa and Rachel and I had a lovely dinner at Emerson’s, then they gave me a tour of Dunedin by night – check out these views:

Friday, I spent the day with Rachel at school – it was so neat to spend the day with her (and I have no comment on the fire alarm) 🙂 – and her very awesome students.

After school, Rachel took me to pick up my rental car, which is the beginning of my next adventure, driving on the left and exploring the Catlins.