Day 11 – Boating and Exploring

This morning was my last full day in Northland, so I decided to see if I could take a boat trip out to the hole in the rock and check out the Bay of Islands from the water. It was a gorgeous day for a boat ride – and in the winter you might get the chance to swim with dolphins, so I thought why not – even if it would be quite nippy – it might be worth it. The boat ride was great, and it only rained on us during our lunch stop. The scenery was remarkable!

The dolphins were hiding though – and the seas were a bit rough – so the chances for swimming were looking grim – but that was ok. I did get to see little blue penguins in the water – SO cool!

Hole in the Rock was really scenic – but the seas were rough – I was impressed when our captain was able to take us through the hole (you can see the video later in the post)!

Check out the cool Wahine (woman) formation in the rock:

There is a legend dealing with safe passage on the seas and this formation.

We then cruised through the bay to our lunch stop – Otehei Bay.

 

Lunch was a standard kiwi barbecue, then we got to explore the island. We did have a pop up rain shower – but then it all cleared.

On the way back we did see dolphins – but the water was too choppy to attempt swimming with them – but it was great watching them flip and play with the boats.

Check out this video overview:

I got off the boat in Russell, planning to explore a bit before taking the ferry back to Pahia.

I caught the last ferry back to Pahia, then explored a little there.

On my way back to Kohukohu to pack and get ready to head south the next morning, I made a little stop at Haruru Falls.

This was a great way to end my Bay of Islands Adventure – and get ready to head south – hopefully the impending winter weather will hold off for my last few days in NZ, or at least not block the roads I need to access.

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.

Last Day Exploring in Australia

So today (Saturday) was my last full day in Australia – and it was a full day, as I ventured outside of Cairns to Kuranda.

I had a fun day, and it was action packed!

But first, I will share with you my adventure on Friday – Friday I had no plans, the weather was gross – so I took the opportunity to do laundry (as dull as that is) and some paperwork I needed to knock out, as I have about a 24 hour turn around when I arrive back to Wellington before I leave for Dunedin and my road trip with the awesome Rachel to the Energise Conference in Queenstown. However, in teh late afternoon the showers had cleared a little bit, so I spent some time at the pool, then decided that I wanted to try something new for dinner, so I headed to the Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant to give it a try. I settled on the be sampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut milk) – and it came with rice, pickled veggies and some sort of sprouts side dish that was spicy and good. It was delicious – and the portion was huge – I only finished about half before I was stuffed.

But anyway – back to today. I caught my shuttle at 7:30 and headed to the Railway Station to take the Scenic Railway to Kuranda.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so I spent some time exploring the railway station, museum and old cottage before boarding the train.

The construction of the railway was treacherous, and was completed with hand tools. . . Crazy!

The ride up was gorgeous.

The train stopped briefly at Barron Falls Station – with great overlooks:

Then we finished the journey and arrived in Kuranda.

Kuranda is small and super touristy – but I decided to hit up the 3 wildlife parks – starting with the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

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Then, my next stop was the Bird Sanctuary – these birds were amazing – and very mischievous – you can see my friend (A Macaw) who decided to hang out and try and open the zippers on my backpack!

At this point it was pouring, so I stopped for lunch, where I had a reptile join me beside my table and I had a sampler platter of Emu, Kangaroo and Crocodile – and made the mistake of posting the picture with #minifigmerry on Twitter – and got some interesting tweets – about the inhumanity of consuming meat – whoops. . .

After lunch, I headed to the last of the Wildlife parks – the Koala Sanctuary – I had not planned to do a wildlife experience here, as I had done one in the blue mountains – but the girl convinced me – they had an extra spot – and I could actually hold the koala – so I did it – the cost was less than $15 USD, by the way.

Meet my friend Yoshi:

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It was like holding a sleepy toddler – Yoshi kept leaning his head in.

I explored the rest of the park.

Then I headed back to the Cable Way. There were 2 stations on the way down – and I was able to stop at each, walk around and enjoy the rain forest before ending my journey and catching the bus back to the hotel.

It was a great day – and a neat way to end my Australian Adventure – now I guess I should pack – I have an airplane shuttle to catch tomorrow!

Auckland Adventures

So this week I am finishing my term 1 school visits in the Auckland area, so that means time for some travel adventures outside of Wellington, and this is my first venture back to Auckland since my brief stop here upon arriving in New Zealand to transfer planes. The Auckland Airport is not my favorite, after some bad experiences there, so I am hopeful that the city of Auckland redeems their airport for me. I won’t delve into my issues – but some better signage and some customer service might be helpful. . . I have been in a lot of airports in lots of countries, and for a major city, the Auckland Airport has just been disappointing.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Auckland, caught the Sky Bus to Britomart (the train station by the waterfront area), and as I had several hours until I could check into my AWESOME AirBnB, I stored my luggage at the ferry terminal and headed to take a bus tour with Auckland Explorer. The weather was dreary and rainy, so it was a good day to just take the bus tour and attempt to get a feel for the sprawling metropolis that is Auckland (Auckland is the “big city” in New Zealand, with a population of just under 1.5 million. About 33% of New Zealanders live in this city. Actually, Auckland, because it is spread out and very “suburban” reminds me a lot of metropolitan Atlanta (with much better public transit, BTW) While the tour was a hop-on-hop-off tour, I knew I only really had time to ride both loops straight through, so that was what I did. The pictures are not the best – taken from the bus through rainy windows, but I was able to see some cool buildings and landmarks and get an overview of some cool aspects of Auckland’s history.

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After the bus tour, it was still pouring, so I decided that instead of trekking to the house via bus and walking in the rain I would just take an Uber from the ferry terminal  to the house – best $5.00 Uber decision ever – I would have been drenched, because the sky opened up and poured buckets as we were pulling away from the Ferry.

I checked in and met Coco, my lovely Air BnB host. Her house is in an excellent location, and my room is just perfect (and unlike much of Auckland – Coco has free, unlimited Wifi, which is why I am able to update my blog so easily here!). I got settled in, and sent some emails to verify my visits with schools this week, then decided to venture out for dinner. The Asian influence in New Zealand is rich, so I find myself always trying the different types of Asian food and varieties here, so I set out to a restaurant I found online that had “Shabu-Shabu” which is the Japanese equivalent of a Hot Pot. I had never had it before and it was yummy!! (In short, you have a grill at your table, and a pot of hot broth, and you put your meats, veggies, dumplings and more into the pot and cook it at the table. I enjoyed the food and the wait staff was a ton of fun – I think they liked my accent! LOL!

Thursday I had a  school visit, so I was out early that morning, then wandered back to the city after, and decided to check out the Sky Tower. Admission is 30.00, or you can have lunch and go up as a part of your dining experience, so I opted for the late lunch route and enjoyed dining in the revolving restaurant (just like the SunDial my ATL friends), and enjoyed the views while the restaurant rotated. I spent just a little over 30.00, so I felt it was a good deal to get a meal and get to go to the observation deck as well (I was lucky to get a reservation, I think because it was an overcast kinda day). (Check out the bungy-jumpers – from the tower).

After my late lunch/dinner, I did take a quick little detour into the Sky City casino – played just enough to earn back the money I spent (plus some – I think it is the Dave Stenner influence- I tend to break even or better in casinos) and went back to the house by way of the grocery store where I picked up some food for breakfast and lunches.

Friday was another fun school visit, and I even got to help students with programming, which was SO MUCH FUN!

After my school visit, I came home a bit (It was just a few blocks from where I am staying) then I decided to just wander to Britomart and decide what to do from there. As I wandered to the city I thought – hey! Why not take a ferry somewhere and grab dinner, then head back – I googled the many ferry options and decided that I would catch the Ferry to Half Moon Bay, because on Friday nights it had 2 later ferries, so I would have time to eat with out rushing. The ferry ride was great, and it was cool to see Auckland all lit up from the water. My dining options were limited in Half Moon Bay, but I went to a Thai restaurant and had a dish of Sizzling Garlic Lamb before catching the Ferry back to he CBD and the bus home.

Saturday was my day for adventure, but I did sleep in a bit and got a lazy start to the day. I decided to check out some remnants of volcanic activity in the Auckland area so I ventured to Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, where I started with the Takapuna Heritage Walk. This walk did not disappoint, however it was not an easy stroll (as I was doing it at High Tide) and involved balancing on a sea wall as waves crashed against you, and climbing over, around and navigating through Lava rocks. It was gorgeous though, and totally worth it. I packed a picnic “LunchDinner” and enjoyed it on lava rocks about 1/2 way through the beach walk.

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I walked and enjoyed sunset on the beach before heading home. I received word that my snorkeling tour for Sunday was cancelled due to rough seas to the north, so I checked out BookMe (A NZ site sort of like Groupon) and booked a sailing tour of Auckland Harbor.

Sunday I strolled around Auckland checking out some parks and other fun locations before I headed to the Viaduct Harbor for my Sailing experience. Sailing is definitely a thing in Auckland, which is know as the “City of Sails”. Sailing in Auckland Harbor was a great experience, and I am so glad I did it, even if it was completely unnerving when they laid the boat down almost completely on it’s side, but it was a thrilling kind of fun. (In customary NZ fashion, you can also see Bungy Jumpers (not me!) getting ready to “dip” in the harbor from the bridge).

More school visits for me Monday and Tuesday (plus a fun dinner with Nikkie and Crew), then home to Wellington on Wednesday. Term Break (2 weeks off) starts on Good Friday for schools, and I head to Australia on Saturday!