Sunday, December 31, 2017

NZ South Island Campervan trip - West Side and Putangirua Pinnacles

So when I left you we were sleeping just west of Arthur's Pass at Jackson's Retreat Alpine Holiday Park. I think this was our favorite holiday park that we stayed at (the nicest for sure). As luck would have it, we were trying to get up and going early too. I think that was one of the big bummers of our trip, we were trying to see so much of the country that we spent a lot of time driving to get everywhere but didn't have a lot of time to just linger anywhere. At the same time, we also felt like we barely scratched the surface of what all there is to see in New Zealand. I think to really "properly" see the South Island you would need at least a month and probably allow your self a couple days in every area (we only attempted part of the top half of the South Island too...Mildford Sound and Queenstown would have just been too much to attempt with us flying back out of Wellington), but I digress.....


So, we got back on the road and bee-lined it for Haast. Lucky for us, it wasn't frosty (though a quite chilly 38°F) this road sign made me laugh every time we saw it (which was a lot)! I guess I'm just used to seeing 'when icy'....frosty makes me think of a cold beer or a friendly snowman. We had pre-booked ourselves a mid-trip stay outside of the campervan and at a resort (figuring our backs may be getting sore and we may be wanting a little room to stretch out). Having not seen penguins very often in the wild (just that lone one last year from the boat...which was just a head....), we picked a place that was located by a beach where penguins nest from August - December (and it was October....so it was during nesting season). We arrived at the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge just at the end of the lunch period, so we were able to grab a quick bite. We dropped our stuff in our rooms (we had to get two rooms....three person limit, so with four people....you can do the math....but we could really spread out!) and then headed down to the beach to find the penguins.


The fresh New Zealand air as we walked through the fern filled woods was wonderful, we got to cross over a large creek on suspension bridge (the bridge had a person limit....so you know it was fun walk over)!


While there are ferns in the US, there are not tree ferns in the US (that I know of....in the south), so the novelty of these large ferns and their photogenic nature makes for thought-provoking photos....


Richard captured this one....looks so peaceful and gives you warm fuzzies (you just can't hear the kids asking how much longer...lol).


Funky lichen/moss combo stuff (I took botany many, many years ago).


Our first sight once we made it on to the beach, the remains of some thing's dinner....


At first glance, we noticed the rough surf and towering boulders in the water (but no penguins yet).


We start walking down the beach, looking for the cute little waddlers.....nary a fine feathered friend. We were standing on a rock, got hit by an extra big wave break, and everyone was getting antsy (Richard even started wandering back). When I spotted a lone penguin waddling up out of the surf. I started snapping pics, but was also trying to make sure everyone was seeing the little penguin (one kid was squeezing water out of their pants, the other was playing in the sand, and Richard was around the corner).....so I only ended up with a lone good/focused photo of our lone sighted penguin!


That is a Tawaki (New Zealand for Fiordland Crested Penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and they can only be seen in southwest New Zealand and have cool yellow crest (feathers on their heads). There are about 3,000 pairs and they nest in the coastal rainforest. So the above penguin was likely just feeding in the ocean and walking back to its mate & chick in the rainforest we had just so quietly walked through. We waited around a bit more, but did not see anymore penguins...but we saw one and called it a success! Later after dinner, when talking to the lodge owner they were surprised we saw this one. Being a public beach, people don't always follow the 'stay behind this point signs' and will get too close and bother the penguins. So this beach tends to have less than another more private beach that they offer tours to (for a $$$ fee of course).


Great shot of Mason. We then began the return trip back to the lodge, which of course went much quicker than the walk to the beach! Amazing how that always works...lol. Something about this photo makes me think about Clarissa fearlessly bouncing off into the world ahead of her! Tugs at momma's heartstrings!


I used the afternoon to get our luggage reorganized. I don't think I have ever rambled on about packing cubes before, but I have really started to love them more and more....so I shall now. So they are zip-able bags that you put inside your suitcase. For this trip, we organized a cube per day. So in each cube I had a complete outfit per person. So then for day 2, I pulled cube the big pink cube and had outfits for everyone. I/we did not have to dig through multiple suitcases to find someone's pants or socks. I also then had a place to put everyone's dirty clothes from day 1. Day 3, I pulled out big orange cube etc. By completely planning outfits it prevented us from overpacking clothes, since space was a premium on this trip as we were trying to only have two duffles. (Other ways we have used the cubes on past trips is each person has their own color....so like when we are at my in-laws and kids/grown-ups are staying in different rooms it makes unpacking easy). Back to the afternoon, since I had done laundry the night before, I got all our outfits repacked up and Richard took advantage of the campervan being luggage free to sweep it out real well. I'm not sure what the kids did...lol.


After dinner, we did the night sky/glow worm walk. It was actually right along the highway, unfortunately, it was a cross between cloudy and a full moon. So the clouds made it so we could not see many constellations, but the moon made it too bright to make glow worm photography possible....boo. It was really neat to see glow worms in the woods though, it looked like how I imagine it would be see Tinkerbell and her fairy friends flickering/flying around in the woods at nighttime. We also got the chance to see the actual the glow worm larva! If you remember from our last trip the glow worm is not a worm but actual an insect (Arachnocampa luminosa). The larva makes nest and hangs mucus strings from the nest. So our guide found a larva and we were able to get up close and see the tiny larva (maybe a centimeter long) and it's silk snares with drops of mucus. After that we went to bed....we had another early morning!


Can you guess what we were going to do? We drove one hour back north back up to Fox Glacier.....we had booked a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier! It's a pretty good business plan Fox & Franz Heliservices has - a 20 minute round trip ride to the top of a glacier with time to land on the glacier and get out and walk around! Children were half price (and we got this last trip in before Mason became a teen...so he was still the child rate)....so it wasn't too bad for a really neat experience (it was our pre-planned "highlight" of the entire trip).


Flying up into the Southern Alps (before this trip I did not even know that was the name of the range in New Zealand). The Southern Alps are called Kā Tiritiri-o-te-Moana in Maori and according to Mr. Wikipedia extend almost the entire length of the Southern Island.


A waterfall we flew past on our way up. There are apparently seventeen peaks in the Southern Alps that are taller 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) in height. The highest being Mt. Cook at 3,724  meters (12,218 feet), with Mt. Tasman coming in fourth at 3,497 meters (11,473 feet). We were flying up to Mt. Tasman which sits right next to Mt. Cook. Both mountains run along the main divide (separating the east/west sides of the island). Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers descend from the west side of Mt. Tasman and Tasman Glacier descends from the east side of Mt. Tasman. Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in the Southern Alps at 23.5 km (14.6 miles) long. In comparison, Fox Glacier was mere 13 km (8.1 miles) and it's neighbor Franz Josef Glacier is a measly 12 km (7.5 miles).


At this point, we were thankful we opted to not hike up...lol. Grant it we wouldn't have hiked up to the top of glacier, only the face which is about six kilometers from town. Fox Glacier has a unique distinction of being one of the few glaciers to end in a lush rainforest.


So, still wrapping my head fully around the exact definition of what a glacier geologically is (typically I go with cold, don't like, moving on). Glaciers form where there is more snow/ice accumulation than there is ablation (melting). What makes the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers so special is their cyclic patterns of advance and retreat, both annually and longer (7 recorded cycles over the last 200 years). There is up to 45 meters of snowfall on the top of the glaciers annually. At times of advancement, the glacier is said to advance up to seven meters a day! The last advancement was in 2009.


Reaching the top of Fox Glacier, that is Mt. Tasman looming in the background. The other helicopter and people standing on the glacier look so tiny!!


Here is the drone footage Richard shot on our ride up to the top of the glacier and some we both shot  on the glacier (at some point we traded cameras to be fair :)....so you never really know who took which photos....).


It appears everyone is thinking this is pretty cool!


The very tip top of Mt. Tasman looks larger when standing on the glacier not just approaching it. (I thought it was funny when editing the video and watched Richard record me taking this photo...).


This would have made a great Christmas/Holiday card photo....had I not been floating on a cruise ship in the South Ocean and gotten around to sending some out this year....sorry family and friends :). Take this as your consolation prize.....


Even better family photo with the helicopter we flew up in. For my interested brother, it was a Hughes 500c helicopter and it had a 284kw/380hp turbine engine and the power plant was One Allison 250 C20 (whatever all that means).


The sky was so blue up here (must have something to do with the ice/light reflecting...super scientific huh!). You can see where the glacier starts it's downward slope.


Doesn't even look like we are on Earth anymore, almost looks like an alien landscape.


I was chatting with our pilot Kieran. I was telling him about the time Mason and I climbed over ginourmous boulders and touched the Chalaadi Glacier in Georgia. So now the two of us have touched glaciers in both hemispheres....how many people can say that?!?! You can also hear me on the video telling him about how the kids never see snow - hence why they were throwing packed ice at each other and having a blast!


Close up of Mt. Tasman's peak.


On the way up to the glacier, Clarissa and I rode in the front of the helicopter. She loved this....best view of everything! On the way back, we were told to hop in the back (so that Mason & Richard could get a chance to enjoy the great views), she was not happy about this arrangement.


About to take off, caught the helicopter blade.....


The end of the glacial flow.


Looking back up the flow, towards the top of the glacier.


Another waterfall, we circled over it but with the sun, it was hard to actually get a good photo of it.


Clarissa and I climbing out of the helicopter after our ride.


Clarissa had smuggled a piece of the glacier back in her pocket unbeknownst to me. She then proceeded to ingest it.....uh no Doc....I don't know how she ended up with that bacterium from the ice age :z


Our helicopter taking back off after refueling.


After perusing the gift shop, we refueled and got back on the road. About 30 minutes away from Fox Glacier is the town where you can easily access the Franz Josef Glacier. The town is bigger and more tourists visit this glacier (I think due to proximity of the glacier face). On our way to Haast, I had seen the no-drones sign but been too slow to get a photo. So I was ready this time! They have banned the flying of drones in the town due to all the helicopter traffic.


This boggled my mind a bit....ocean front grazing land for the cows! No wonder the cheese and yogurt are so yummy in New Zealand....it's made by happy cows. I can only imagine the development that would be on property like this in the US.


So as you know we were driving a Jucy campervan.....we discovered there is a secret signal of sorts among the Jucy campervan drivers (oops, spilling the secret). We coined it the JucyWave....so whenever we saw another Jucy van, we'd wave to the other drivers....but only Jucy campervans - other campervans didn't wave to us.....(so we didn't wave to them). It was fun....I think our favorite wavers were a group of three Asian girls that had this choreographed waved then they giggled afterwards. So then I attempted to catch someone waving (easier said than done...it's like that horrible math problem two Jucy vans are traveling towards each, both are going 80km, at what point do you snap a picture to get the correct angle of the sun to avoid window glare)...you can kind of see the driver's hand up...lol.


We had a long drive that day to the top of the South Island. We made surprisingly good time though (we were staying to the western side of the Southern Alps, so it was only towards the end did we hit some curvy stretches of road. The holiday park we stayed at the night was a bit odd. The main draw was it had some eels you could feed from the riverbank (novelty for the kids) and we were able to borrow (not rent) towels for free but we had to pay for hot shower water! One New Zealand dollar for five minutes of hot water....needless to say, we paid for hot water.


The next morning, we had to get up and get going we had to drive another 30 minutes or so to get to the ferry landing and get checked in. I laughed once we were checked in, lined up to board the ferry, and looked back....saw all the Jucy vans....every other van was literally a Jucy van! Once onboard, we found some good seats and relaxed for the four hour trip back across Cook Strait (takes an hour longer heading north...must be going against the current).


So long South Island....it was fun! While I was up on the top deck snapping some photos, I saw some dolphins! I was able to snap a couple (literally two) photos before they were gone. They aren't super sharp, but I think they are Dusky Dolphins!



Around the South Island, Picton is tucked in amongst many small islands. So Richard and I enjoyed the scenery and took some photos along the way (the kids stayed inside and partook in free wifi!!).


Cute little lighthouses dotted many of the shorelines.


Somebody may (or may not) have forgotten to pack their razor charging cord....and decided to embraced the mountain man look.


Richard got this shot of the Southern Alps as we cruised past.


Cool artwork on the ship! It incorporates a number of Maori gods, company logos, as well as tell the Maori legend of Kupe, the ancient navigator who discovered New Zealand.


Of course, on a four hour trip we had to eat some lunch....coolest kid's chicken strip meal presentation ever!


Before we knew it, the ferry was entering Wellington Harbour and we were viewing the windy city scatter across the hills.


After, disembarking we somewhat winged it on which way to go...lol. The GPS was all you turned me off and I was on the South Island and you turn me on and what?!?! aaahh, trying to find a signal. Of course, you are also in a line of cars/campervans being directed to get off the boat now, then navigate around the terminal, which you do until you hit a fork in the road...luckily we guessed correctly! We also stopped to refuel. We discovered New Zealand has a large number of un-manned petrol stations, which if you pay by credit card should be fine. Only hiccup is most countries do the chip and pin method and for some reason the US credit card companies think chip and signature is more secure (I really don't see how it is). Luckily, one of our cards does allow for chip and pin (and at some point in the past I had updated the pin to one I could remember from the default random issued pin!). But again...I digress....we had a destination and we were on our way! Ugh....and when you see this on the GPS you know it's going to be a sloooooow drive!


We are finally there!


That face just cracks me up....here is the cuter photo.


So about an hour and half from Wellington there was another location where a scene from Lord of the Rings movies was filmed at. You have to hike in to the spot. The signs said it would take 2-4 hours "return" (round trip to us Americans). So we followed the signs and headed down the trail.


There was an upper trail and a lower trail. We opted for the streambed lower trail. Which at one point required crossing. In our attempt to pack light we only brought one pair of shoes each (and flip flops)....luckily we didn't have much trip left, so we were just careful (and nobody got their shoes wet!).


We made it to the edge of the cool LOR movie location. So Richard got out the Drone E. McDronephace and the kids opted to do some "parkour" as they call it...jumping over small streams via big rocks is what I call it. I took scenery some shots. Unfortunately, we didn't get much drone footage, after doing a battery change we were getting a registration error and of course had no cell/internet signal.



Hey mom, I rolled up my pants...that helps right?!?! Uh, no.....


The real good spot was still further ahead (we had walked about an hour and looking at the map we were a little more than halfway in). We opted to stop at this point (since we had another destination a little further down the road to go to) and head back.


So do you recognize the LOR location? Did you guess where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli rode to meet the Army of the Dead? (I personally do not really understand what that means....google helped me with that....). Regardless, it was a cool geological example of badlands....


So we continued on down the road towards the Cape Palliser lighthouse. According to the Lonely Planet guide and google maps, it was a 20 minute drive to the lighthouse. So that would be easy.....but we did not get there till 45 minutes later (thank you time stamp on photos...lol). I think partly due to the roads as you see above. While beautiful and scenic, they were white knuckle inducing curvy without guardrails and lovely drops right into the ocean! There was also a bit of road work in a number of spots where the speed limit was super low/one lane as you drove over rocks. Then the road ended and the GPS said we had arrived at our destination and there was just a signing pointing which way to go on a gravel road...but no lighthouse in sight. So we headed on down the gravel road. We rounded a corner and could finally see said lighthouse high up on a hill but still had three more little fishing settlements to drive through (all via gravel road) before arriving at the lighthouse. One little settlement had a paved curve which happened to also have a runoff stream going over said road that also happened to be on an incline....needless to say it was fun to drive.


So the reasons I wanted to visit the lighthouse (I have always been drawn to lighthouses) is that you can climb it....well kinda. You can climb the 251 stairs up to the lighthouse, but you can't actually enter the lighthouse (that was a bit of a bummer). So the kids and I headed to the base of the stairs, while Richard headed over to the added bonus of this stop (you'll find out soon).


I got a little artsy before I started skipping up the long hike up. Clarissa on the other hand, bound right up to the top and taunted Mason and I for being so slow.


Clarissa really wanted to go inside the lighthouse. From the sign, we learned the light first shone from it in 1897. The light switched from oil to electricity in 1954 and became fully automated in 1986. When it became fully automated they no longer needed the lighthouse keeper...so there is no one there to let visitors in. We looked down at our tiny little Jucy van and at Richard on the beach...can you pick him out among the rocks?


This is what we looked like to Richard when he decided to make the trek up the stairs. As you can see, Clarissa still has energy to spare even after climbing up the stairs!


The view from Cape Palliser were wonderful! If you look far off into the horizon you see some mountains (we lucked out it was a clear day). Those are the Southern Alps of the South Island! Cape Palliser is the southernmost point on the North Island.


Looking further along the road less travelled that appears to keep going on - to where, who knows!


So after Richard hiked up. We all hiked down to the bonus attraction at this stop.


There is a fur seal colony here! Given the remoteness of the area and relatively few tourists.....they didn't really seem bothered by us and we got some pretty awesome photos (with the zoom lens of course!).


We guesstimated there was about 50+ seals hauled out on the rocks.


Some had a good side that they wanted us to photograph...lol.


Others told us to speak to the flipper.


This gives you some perspective as to how close we were (and how well they are actually camouflaged on the rocks). The seal is right in the middle of the photo right by the tide pool. Don't see it, I'll zoom in to the fur seal.


See it now? I heart zoom lenses!


Mason decided to use the un-maned lighthouse's equally unmanned port-a-potty. It reeked. So he thought he'd go wash his hands in the water (which we stopped him...saying the seals likely use this water based on the beach odor and it probably wasn't cleaner). In his effort to get to the water as quickly as possibly he nearly walked right into the seal - kind of a brown one  about two body lengths directly in front of him (Mom of the Year Award Nominee here....I'm just taking photos while this is happening...lol). Richard and Clarissa were yelling his name and he did stop...lol.


Which we got the stink-eye from waking this fellow for yelling stop at Mason so loudly.


This one was a cutie!


Most of the fur seals though couldn't be bothered for pictures and just kept sleeping.



This fellow was our cue to leave...he may have been just looking for a mate (it was getting to that time of year).


But when he started showing teeth, we headed back to the campervan (obviously, not before Richard got these shots).


I think this was honestly one of the highlights of the trip. Along our way, we saw signs for penguins crossing the road. We weren't expecting to see any on the beach around the seals, but we hoped to see some on our drive home.


Once back in the campervan, we headed for the holiday park. We were starting to chase sunlight. Google Maps had said it should have be about a 40 minute drive, but given it took that long to get to the lighthouse from the Pinnacles, we knew we would be running late. We attempted to call the holiday park, but we could never get a strong enough cell signal to get a call to go through. Eventually we got there (it only took an hour, so not too bad). Of course though, the holiday park office was already closed for the day. I called the emergency number and explain why we are so late. The owner seemed used to circumstances said her son should be there to just knock really loud. So Clarissa took care of that one for me. We appeared to have awoken him from a nap (early 20 something kid). He checked us in and we did our usual asking for towels to rent.....talk about a deer in headlights look. He didn't know what to do and just said they didn't have any, so I asked where we could get a hot meal and he directed us down to the lone restaurant in town. As we were sitting down to eat, the sun was starting to set.


And boy was it a beautiful sunset!! So beautiful that Clarissa and I went outside to get the good camera and take some more photos!


She insisted on people pics.....so I obliged....but it was cold!!! Like I said....it was a stunning sunset! So many rich shades of pink and purple! Photos really don't do it justice.


While Clarissa and I were outside taking photos, Richard was chatting with the bar tender/waiter/chef/inn keeper....it was a small town and you had to be a jack of all trades. The lack of towels and our aching backs (3 adult size people....as Mason was about to pass me in height) sleeping in the campervan that night and flying out the next morning w/o showering....that was the straw that broke the proverbial camels back....there was a room available and he booked it. We all had nice warm showers and dry towels to use! The Inn provided a basic cold cereal and fruit breakfast, but we had some leftover food in our fridge so we finished off what we could and left the rest there (it wasn't much some pears, shredded cheese, eggs, and some condiments). Hopefully, the Inn Keeper or another guest were able to use it.

We had to get on the road! We had two hours to drive that super wiggly (see GPS image above) stretch to get back to Wellington, we needed to stop for another Starbucks mug and to fill our cooler with cheese! You may think I jest....but this was some serious business! Fiji has some very strict importation rules. No dairy from countries other than Australia and New Zealand. So before the trip I had printed off the the biosecurity rules (we could bring back up to 10kg per product for personal use). Also, for some reason none of the grocery stores had been stocking good mozzarella cheese for months (it was October and I hadn't been able to find any since July! By which time I had used up all my that I had stored up....here if you see it, you buy it, and hoard it). Having kids that love homemade pizza with no mozzarella can be a minor inconvenience (there is this local cheese called "pizza cheese" but no description on the label as to what pizza cheese is made of). I only ended up getting about 4 kg of cheese and 2 tubs of yogurt (we weren't exactly sure how biosecurity would deal with the yogurt...but NZ yogurt is sooooo yummy!). We then had to drop the campervan back off at Jucy and take the shuttle to the airport! We made it with time to spare to eat lunch and take photos of airport dragons?!?


That blink....creepy!


And Gandalf flying on a giant eagle.....beware!


The flight to Fiji was pleasantly uneventful. We made it in by early evening, biosecurity checked out all our cheese and yogurt, they cross checked the receipts to confirm it was all purchased in New Zealand, it was so we were good, they stamped our form, we also got the drone registered at the airport (for some reason they didn't catch it when Clarissa and I flew in with it), and we then took the shuttle across the street to the hotel where we had left our car. Given it is discourage for us to drive between the two big cities at night due to dark roads and wandering livestock, we stayed the night in Nadi. The next morning as we were heading out to breakfast, I was walking behind Richard and Mason and realized they'd both packed a shirt from our Staycation and were twinsies!


We had plans to visit the Hindu temple in Nadi that morning, but it is under renovations and covered in scaffolding (and the outside is really interesting). So we decided to wait on that, but we did check out the Nadi handicraft market to compare to the Suva one. We like our Suva one much better (probably because we have a guy!). We were all missing our little Isa Lei so much we decided to head on back to Suva. As soon as we got home, we found the suitcase that had some kitty toys in it (they sell dog toys in Fiji, but not cat toys so we had gotten her some on our trip)....I think Isa liked her NZ souvenir!


All in all, we all enjoyed the trip. We are glad we did the whole campervan thing (can check off that box) and maybe if we had a bigger/self contained one that would have been a bit more bearable or if it was just Richard and myself or possibly we're just more cabin at the holiday park people....lol. One nice thing was lunch time was super easy on the long drive days. We just found a pretty place and stopped (like that waterfall or this marsh area). I'd pop open the back and make a hot lunch, Richard would play with the drone, and it was always something the kids would like...so everyone was happy. :) Also, because it was not a restaurant, we were all typically standing or walking around during lunch so it was more of a leg stretch stop than dining someplace would have been!


If New Zealand ever shows up on a bid list, we probably would consider bidding it because it is such a beautiful country and with so many different unique landscapes to explore. We took over 900 photos and videos over the 10 day trip (8 of which were in NZ), I whittled it down to the 145 photos and 3 videos....so I tried but it was tough with so many to choose from!