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).

IMG_6786

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.

IMG_0175

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

IMG_6304

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_6392

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

https://occipital.com/360/embed.js?pano=5mSJpq&width=640&height=480

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.

A Sunny Sydney Sunday

Easter Sunday I awoke to a beautiful sunny morning in Sydney. I had not planned appropriately in my packing to attend church on Easter Sunday, and originally thought that I was just going to be a total Easter slacker, but that was not to be the case, as you will see. I started my morning walking back to Central Station (about 10 minutes from my hostel, if that). My bus tour was a 48 hour pass, and I still had the second “loop” to do, which would take me to the famous Bondi Beach.

The drive out to Bondi was pretty cool – again – you definitely can see the Victorian influence on Sydney.

When I disembarked the bus at Bondi, I was greeted with some pretty fantastic vistas, and an interesting site – a church that had set up a “beach-side” Easter service on the lawn by the beach – and I was right on time. I popped into the service and enjoyed it before continuing my journey to the white sand glistening from Bondi.

I plopped on the beach – and enjoyed the views of the waves, the sunshine, and yes, the surfers.

It was a quite enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately, I did have some work I needed to do, which required wifi – as well as a blog update I started last night that I wanted to get rolling, so I went to the place where I knew I could get some decent WiFi, and complete some work – no where other than McDonald’s (which they call Macca’s here in Australia and New Zealand). I grabbed a coffee and knocked out some work.

Once I had finished both my (crazy large) coffee – and my work, I set back out, and re-boarded the bus. I rode the Bondi Bus back – taking in new views – and adding a chapter to my future book of things obnoxious tourists do, brought to you by a bunch of young adults with a selfie-stick – seriously – I could write a book – about obnoxious tourists from all over the world.

The views, as usual, were fantastic – despite selfie stick girl trying to impress the young men with her (who I have hopefully cropped out of all the pictures).

 

At this point I decided, since I had paid for the bus, I would use it to see the city for the rest of the day. I started by transferring buses at St. Mary’s Church – so I walked around a bit, and was even rewarded with a cool water show from the fountains.

After that little detour, I boarded the bus, headed for the Royal Botanical Gardens, where I spent the rest of my time (until they closed at dusk). I was rewarded for staying in the Gardens by the amazing views at the end – Y’all  – Sydney is certainly a beautiful city!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After I left the gardens, I caught the bus once more, and headed to Darling Harbor for dinner – another bucket list item for me, as I headed for a Brazilian Churrascaria – oh it was yummy!

I left Darling Harbor, caught an Uber to my hostel, and crashed – excited about a big day tomorrow in the Blue Mountains – and seeing some koalas, kangaroos and more!

 

W.O.W. – A museum with something for all tastes (fashion, art and cars!) – and an exciting journey for me!

I know that many of you are eagerly anticipating information about my school visits, however, I am working within the bounds of some ethics and privacy considerations and other logistics – I will share more general reflections soon when I have visited more schools, I promise – but my time in Nelson was fantastic. Gaye Bloomfield (@gayeblooms) Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Coffee lover and teacher extraordinaire (can you see where we would totally get along?) went out of her way to make me feel welcome, and planned a spectacular week for me visiting schools of all levels and with all unique feels. I really feel like I have “experienced” all levels of Kiwi education now, and that sets me up quite nicely for the framework of my project.

I did get a few opportunities to play as well – starting with a lovely dinner and conversation on Monday night with Gaye. We had a delicious meal and talked for hours about all sorts of things – I think given a combination of enough coffee and wine, we could solve some serious world problems!

Check out the awesome dessert we had:

IMG_3551

Tuesday afternoon I had some free time, and explored the National WOW Museum – a unique museum that combines the Gallery of fashion from the World of Wearable Art shows, along with this massive collection of rare and classic cars both from all over the world.

The outfits were amazing works of art, and in each and every case, someone did wear them for the show. Many are thematic, and some were quite, well, off kilter might be one way to describe it, but I was in awe of the precision and the artistry of the pieces. In some cases I have included the description next to the photo, while in others you can just use your imagination. I did have a few favorites.

At the end was a viewing room where you could watch a video of the highlights of the World of Wearable Art Show, a huge international design competition where these amazing pieces are unveiled.

After the fashion art, I wandered to the next gallery – full of classic cars, super fancy cars, engines and other mechanical type stuff. Y’all – I am way out of my wheel house here – mostly I’m like – look a shiny car – but there were some seriously cool vehicles here to see.

Look through the album for yourself – there were cars that make today’s mini cars look gargantuan, cars that were the size of tanks, and my personal favorite item of luxury – the car with recliners in the back seat (If you can afford that car, my guess is you have a chauffeur, and you are enjoying the recliner).

It was also interesting to see the cars that obviously were collected and imported (remember, they drive on the left here).  It was a cool variety – and I know some of you (I’m looking at you Tom Green) will be quite in heaven looking at these cars.

While I was at the Museum I got a rather exciting email response to something I have been working on since before I left the US – because my project is focused on the use of digital technologies in a variety of situations, I have really strived to find schools of all types, all over New Zealand to visit and connect with.  The carrot that was dangling out in front of me was the ability to visit a school with significant geographical isolation (which is hard, because these schools are very small – we are talking 20 or so students from grades 1 – 8 typically, and only one to two teachers, one of whom is a teaching principal). We had communicated a bit before I left the US, but I had been unable to schedule with school just starting here (Feb is their first month of school here), but I got a response, so in May I will be given the great opportunity to visit this school on Stewart Island (and do some programming with those students). Stewart Island, also called Rakiura is the island south of the south Island of New Zealand, an island that is home to less than 400 permanent residents. The only way to travel commercially to Stewart Island is by a small ferry across the  Foveaux Strait, or a fixed wing flight from Invercargill. At 47° South, it is likely the furthest south this girl will ever travel! If I am lucky – I might even get a chance to view the Aurora Australis – talk about a bucket list item! I am going to make an adventure of this trip, knocking out my South Island school visits during the week, and my bucket list items on the weekend. I will start by flying to Dunedin and visiting schools (and MIEE Rachel @ibpossum), then a weekend road trip through the Caitlins to Invercargill to head to Stewart Island, followed by a weekend in Te Anau and Milford Sound, then a trip to Christchurch to see some schools (and stay in a hostel that was once a jail), before checking out the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and Lake Tekapo and the Mount John Observatory before heading back to Windy Welly. (I have not forgotten about Queenstown, by the way – I am attending a conference there in April). All in all – can you tell I am excited for this? It looks like I am going to be on the road for much of April and May, with trips to schools in Auckland;  a brief vacation during term break to Australia (Sydney and Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef); Energise Conference in Queenstown, then my South Island Adventure.

After exploring the museum, and doing some work in the cafe, I headed back to the hostel, then grabbed dinner at a lovely Mexican restaurant – where I had my first truly authentic Mexican food since I have been in NZ – Fajitas for the win!

Tomorrow I have school visits and a board meeting, which I am quite excited about attending, before I head back to Wellington and the North Island on Thursday. Nelson has been good to me!

Old Ships, Old Buses and Old Churches

Today was my final day in Picton, and my bus was scheduled to leave at around 1:30, so I had plenty of time before I needed to be at the bus stop – and Picton is tiny, so it made sense just to leave my bag at the hostel and grab it before the bus instead of schlepping it around town with me and wherever my adventure today might lead me. I checked out, checked in my bag and set off. Sadly, the bakery is not open on Sundays, so I headed to the waterfront to a little café for breakfast and coffee. After I was finished I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Picton is small, and I had pretty much toured the town – I didn’t want to go for another hike and get all sweaty before boarding a bus (common courtesy, my friends), and the other wildlife tours and such would not allow me the time  to make it back for my bus.

I turned to Google to decide which museum, or other event on the waterfront had the most appeal, and the universal verdict was the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum. I walked across the harbor park and started my journey back in time with this ship, the 9th oldest surviving ship in the world, and the oldest surviving merchant ship in the world. It was also the last surviving convict ship that transported the convicts to Australia – The Edwin Fox was a renaissance ship – serving many roles in its majestic and historical lifetime.

The Edwin Fox was built in Calcutta India in 1853, and was beached in Picton in 1897. The museum takes you through the process of the ship’s amazing construction out of Teak, the voyages and changes to the ship, and the abandonment and subsequent damage to the ship after being left on the shores of Picton. The historical society eventually purchased the ship hull from The New Zealand Refrigerating Company LTD for the whopping price of 1 Schilling, and began to work of relocated, refloating and eventually dry docking this piece of maritime history.

You start your journey by going through the museum and watching movie about the history of the boat – I could have gotten lost for hours here, looking at the pieces recovered from the hull, the construction specifics and the stories shared.

Once you step outside you start to see the ship, and get a feel for the scale and size of her, as she is still a bit shielded from view by the covering over the dry dock bay.

There are lots of “bits and bobs” (anchors, and other remnants) splayed across the yard.

At the anchor you get your first view of the ship, as well as the pumping system that keeps the ship dry docked in it’s new home.

As you enter the ship area you have two choices, board the ship, or go underneath it into the ship bay. I decided to start by checking out the outside of the ship – the layers of wood under the deteriorating copper was something like an artwork, showing the effects of time, salt, wind and water on the majestic hull of this ship.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once I had walked around underneath and around the hull, I went back up to the ships entrance, and got to explore the inside of this ship.

The ship had 2 decks, the hold and the top deck. The top deck had been arranged to show you what the ship would have been like for its various uses, and what living on the ship would be like. The thing that stuck with me was the steerage class bunks – that were tiny as is, but were where an entire family – most often a Man, Woman and 4 children or so lived. Talk about cramped and gross conditions – it was very easy to see how disease could spread. There were also models of the convict areas as well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You also get to venture down into the hold, and this was where you could see much of the hidden damage that occurred due to the ship being left on the shore, and even more insight into the layered construction of these ships.

I had a lovely time exploring the ship and museum, and finished before my alarm, so that was good. I wandered back to the hostel to repack my bag for the bus journey, and then wandered to the bus stop. While there, I went to take a picture of Mini-fig Merry with the luggage, and was reminded of another picture I took with the same set up, in Amsterdam at the train station as I got ready to board my overnight train to Switzerland in 2015 on my grand European adventure. This got me to thinking about the places this luggage has traveled, and I did some quick math, and discovered that this luggage has traveled almost 40,000 miles, and will definitely cross that threshold this trip!

The bus arrived right on schedule, sadly, it was not the lovely Intercity bus with wifi, but a sub bus, so a bit old and less comfy, but workable for the short trip to Nelson.

The trip was uneventful – and the scenery driving through New Zealand was stunning, as usual.

I arrived in Nelson, walked a few blocks and checked into my hostel. Once I was situated, I decided to go out and explore Nelson, on a very sleepy Sunday when most everything was closed. In my wanderings I discovered it was Nelson Beer Week, so I took note of a few events, then wandered around the city, ending up at the Christ Church Cathedral – and attending their Sunday Night worship service before heading back to the hostel and an early bed time before my fun school visits this week.