Kayaking in the rain

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We left the town nearest to Abel Tasman National Park around 8:30 in the morning as we had a long day of driving ahead of us. After about 3 hours of driving windy roads (which are their national highways), we came to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks to stretch our legs and see the rocks against the sea cliffs. The Pancake Rocks are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes during high tides. We walked around for a few minutes and we were lucky to catch this sight between rain showers.

The rough west coast of New Zealand

The rough west coast of New Zealand

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The pancake looking rocks

The pancake looking rocks

Sight of the blowhole

Sight of the blowhole

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About another 2 hour drive and we pulled into the town of Franz Josef, named after the glacier which is just a few miles away. By this point in the day, the rain had stopped and the clouds cleared a bit and from our hostel, we had a nice view of the Southern Alps which is the mountain range that runs down the length of the Southern Island.

Driving along the roads

Driving along the roads

Sighting of the Southern Alps

Sighting of the Southern Alps

The next day we had pre-booked a morning kayak trip around a nearby lake. In the brochure, it advertised mirror like water with the snow capped mountains as a background – alas that was not meant to be today! With heavy rain beginning around early in the morning, we reluctantly agreed to keep the trip as planned. The rain was heavy…and cold – around 48 degrees. It was just Kathleen and myself and our guide so we at least got to go at our own pace. We set off across the lake, fighting a strong headwind. We came into a small bay and then paddled up a still stream into a kiwi bird sanctuary. The kiwi birds are very rare (endangered) and nocturnal, so we knew we didn’t have a chance to see them, but it was neat to see what their native environment looks like which is full of ferns, moss, and thick trees. After resting our muscles for a bit, we headed back to shore and back to the hostel to change clothes and warm up!

Early going

Early going

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Into the kiwi sanctuary

Into the kiwi sanctuary

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Abel Tasman National Park

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To burn off some calories from our wine excursion, we went to hike around Abel Tasman National Park which is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track!

Famous rock formation off the coast

Famous rock formation off the coast

Awesome day for a hike

Awesome day for a hike

Blue-green water looks like the Caribbean!

Blue-green water looks like the Caribbean!

So peaceful

So peaceful

We left early in the morning via boat and took a small cruise around the waters. We then got dropped off at Torrent Bay and worked our way down the coast to Onetahuti beach which is shaped like a horse shoe and is one of the longest beaches in the Abel Tasman National Park. From the beach you can see Tonga Island which is home to the seals!

Hiking king -- always with the backpack

Hiking king — always with the backpack

View at the highest point on our hike

View at the highest point on our hike

The water is so clear and green-blue!

The water is so clear and green-blue!

Suspension bridge-- very Indiana Jones

Suspension bridge– very Indiana Jones

Pushing the rocks apart

Pushing the rocks apart

We hiked for two hours and stopped at a secluded beach for lunch. We were amazed at the blue color and clarity of the water and the premium beaches. It was so nice out that day (yay no rain) so we had a great day of hiking and exploring.

Lunch spot!

Lunch spot!

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Hiking buddies

Hiking buddies

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

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Along the 10 mile trail there were beautiful look-out points, suspension bridges, ferns, trees and lots of birds. From the look-out points, you could see all the way down the beaches. So lovely!

Such gorgeous water!

Such gorgeous water!

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We made it to our final bach, Onetahuti which was super quiet and peaceful. Our boat picked us up 4 hours after we began our hike. Needless to say we were tired! On the ride back we went to see the seals on Tonga Island. Here many of the females and pups live since it is so protected.

Our boat coming to pick us up!

Our boat coming to pick us up!

Happy Seal on Tonga Island laying in the sun

Happy Seal on Tonga Island laying in the sun

Wine Tasting in Marlborough

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Only about 20 minutes south of Picton is the famous wine region of Marlborough. Kathleen and I worked our trip around where we would spend our anniversary hopping between vineyards and cellars sampling New Zealand wine! Marlborough is nowhere near as big and commercial as Napa so the distances between wineries were only a few kilometers and most wineries were free or only a few dollars for tastings. Every winery offers a Sauvignon Blanc which is the signature wine of the region – it does very well in Marlborough with the climate and soil. We liked every Sauvignon Blanc we tried!

We were lucky as the sunshine followed us from Wellington and we had a lovely day for wine tastings. The first stop was Cloudy Bay winery.

Someone is so excited!

Someone is so excited!

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Cloudy Bay Winery

Cloudy Bay Winery

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Peeking into the cellar

Peeking into the cellar

Next, we drove a few miles and visited Villa Maria Winery – we had to stop as Kathleen’s high school was named Villa Maria. The woman at the winery told us it was one of the first wineries in New Zealand and in order to be more recognized, they named it so it would sound like Italian or Spanish. None the less, the wine was very nice!

Villa Maria

Villa Maria

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After the first two wineries, we checked into our B&B into the small town and then took out their double bike to ride to the nearby wineries. We stopped at Forrest Vineyards and enjoyed a nice wine sampling out in the sunshine.

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One more winery for the day, but the clouds started moving in and it got chilly. Since it is late winter in New Zealand, there are not leaves or fruit on the vines, so they sheep are free to graze in the vineyards to keep the grass low – it’s a win-win as the sheep are fed and their dropping also help fertilize the grapes for the upcoming season.

Chowing down

Chowing down

So excited

So excited

Our double bike!

Our double bike!

It was a really fun way to spend our anniversary! The following day we drove about another two hours to Nelson, but en route we stopped for lunch for some famous New Zealand greenshell mussels that come from the nearby Marlborough Sound. We tried a sampling platter and we had steamed, grilled, smoked, marinated, and fried mussels – all were fantastic and incredibly fresh!

Mussels are my favourite

Mussels are my favourite

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Ferry Crossing to the South Island

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After four busy days in the North Island, it was time for us to cross the Cook Straight and head to New Zealand’s famed South Island. The South Island is know for it’s dramatic scenery that was portrayed in the Lord of the Rings. We left our hostel at 6:45 am and checked into the Blue Bridge Ferry by 7 am for our 8 am departure. We drove our car up on the ship and settled into the lounge for the 3.5 hour journey to Picton.

All set for the ferry

All set for the ferry

We left the Wellington harbour and sailed into the Cook Straight. We were lucky as we had a very calm day as this area of New Zealand is notorious for strong winds. The weather started out a bit cloudy but turned into some very fine scenery!

Leaving Wellington

Leaving Wellington

Kathleen making herself comfortable

Kathleen making herself comfortable

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Entering the Cook Straight

Entering the Cook Straight

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We entered the Queen Charlotte Sound and that is where the scenery became amazing. The fjord was narrow, but it was full of green trees and a sea green ocean. Very beautiful!

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Into the Queen Charlotte Sound

Into the Queen Charlotte Sound

Kathleen and I on the top deck

Kathleen and I on the top deck

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A sea plan taking off

A sea plan taking off

We docked into Picton around 11:30 am – it was a very beautiful journey between the two island and we are excited to explore more of the South Island ahead of us!

A great day out in Wellington

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We spent a full day in Wellington which turned out to be a nice Sunday. We had seen there was a Sunday market in the city and we headed down there around 11 am. Wellington sits right on the water and the market was right along the waterfront making for a lovely day out.

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Wellington skyline

Wellington skyline

Wellington harbour

Wellington harbour

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There were fresh fruit and vegetable stands as well as food trucks with cuisine from all over the world! I started with a German sausage complete with kraut, onions, and mustard. Kathleen opted for a lamb curry rotti wrap which was amazing. We also had some Mexican tacos…we couldn’t resist! Lastly, we found a sweet from Hungary that was a “chimney” – it was baked dough then rolled in hazelnuts with the inside lined with chocolate – awesome! It was very fitting to see food stands from most countries we visited on the trip – Chile, Brazil, India, China, Malaysia, Philippines. Kathleen and I just wished Philadelphia could offer these international choices!

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Kiwis galore in NZ!

Kiwis galore in NZ!

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German sausages

German sausages

Viva Mexico!

Viva Mexico!

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Finished product

Finished product

Despite all the food, our visit was not just about eating. We visited the wonderful “Te Papa Museum” – Te Papa means “Our Place” in Maori. The museum was free and was dedicated to both the natural and cultural history of New Zealand. Exhibits showed how isolated New Zealand has been for millions of years – did you know that there are only two mammals native to New Zealand, and they are both bats! While Australia is full of marsupials (kangaroos, koalas, wombats), New Zealand is full of birds such as the kiwi and mountain parrot.

In the recreated fern forest

In the recreated fern forest

Te Papa also had a great history section about the Maori and Polynesian people of the Pacific. While we were there, a group of Tongans were performing for the crowd.

Kathleen with the Tongan girl

Kathleen with the Tongan girl

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How the Polynesians crossed the massive Pacific

How the Polynesians crossed the massive Pacific

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We decided to celebrate our 2nd year anniversary in Wellington that evening and had dinner in a nice gastro-pub. Kathleen fittingly had beef wellington in Wellington, New Zealand.

Kathleen's beef wellington

Kathleen’s beef wellington

We had a busy 4 days in the North Island and tomorrow we are going to cross the Cook Straight and take the ferry to the South Island.

Geothermal National Park

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After our exciting night with the Maori people, we went to explore the Geothermal National Park. Just 30 minutes south of Rotorua, we arrived just in time to see Lady Knox Geyser go off! The geyser is set to go off using soap powder! Back in the day, this area was used for prisoners to field the area and farm. During their breaks they would wash their clothes in this hot, geothermal water saving time from lighting a fire and boiling water to wash their clothes in. The prisoners did this every week and eventually, all of the soap powder caused it to erupt one day. Scientists discovered that the geyser will spring to life whenever it deems fit, but the act of the hot water mixing with the soap powder spurred the reaction even more!

Geyser before she blows

Geyser before she blows

Gaining some height

Gaining some height

Full blast!

Full blast!

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

After that, we took a walk to see the hot mud pools. It looked very much like Land Before Time. The hot mud was boiling from the geothermal water that runs below.

Mud Pools

Mud Pools

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Lastly, we hiked through the park to see all of the amazing geothermal sites. We got to see the “Devil’s Den” with smoke and sulfur spewing out.

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Geothermal Park

Geothermal Park

Sulfur cavern

Sulfur cavern

Hot pools of tar

Hot pools of tar

Path through the thermal hot pools

Path through the thermal hot pools

Sulfur sticking to the trees

Sulfur sticking to the trees

Sulfur coating the surface

Sulfur coating the surface

Beautiful waterfall that runs into a super green lake

Beautiful waterfall that runs into a super green lake

Gorgeous lake behind Rob

Gorgeous lake behind Rob

We also got to see the “Champagne Pools” which were my favorite! It looked like a huge hot tub with tiny bubbles reaching the surface. I loved all the steam and colors too!

Water pooling on the surface caused this erosion like this

Water pooling on the surface caused this erosion like this

"Champagne Pools" that look like a glamour hot tub with tiny bubbles

“Champagne Pools” that look like a glamour hot tub with tiny bubbles

It was so hot you could feel the heat radiating off the surface

It was so hot you could feel the heat radiating off the surface

The multitude of colors in the "Champagne Pool"

The multitude of colors in the “Champagne Pool”

Devil's Den?

Devil’s Den?

Super Green Water! Looks like the river in Chicago on St. Patrick's Day.

Super Green Water! Looks like the river in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day.

Champagne Pools from afar

Champagne Pools from afar

So much heat and steam

So much heat and steam

After our fun in the park, we drove to Huka Falls. Huka Falls you can witness the phenomenon of natural hydro power – more than 220, 000 litres of water per second. It was so powerful and the sound was so loud!

River running into Huka Falls

River running into Huka Falls

Huka Falls!

Huka Falls!

After a quick visit, we stopped and had a picnic before we continued our long journey to Wellington (roughly 5 more hours to go!).

Wide-open (left-handed) roads

Wide-open (left-handed) roads

Scenery as we drove

Scenery as we drove

Rest stop for a meat pie (yum!)

Rest stop for a meat pie (yum!)

Kia Ora (Welcome) to New Zealand

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Kia Ora! You hear those words everywhere in New Zealand – it is Māori for “be well” and is used as a greeting. We left Sydney and flew about 3 hours across the Tasman Sea and landed in Auckland.

Landing in New Zealand

Landing in New Zealand

We spent only one night in the city before we picked up our rental car the next day and drove about 2 hours south to the town of Waitomo. The town is famous for their glowworm caves. New Zealand is unique as it is the only place in the world to find glowworms. These small worms attach themselves to the to ceilings of caves and then produce a sticky thread that is suspended down for a few inches. They then produce a chemical to make themselves glow which attracts other flying insects in the cave (like bugs to a light). Once the insects are stuck on the sticky thread, the worms pulls them up to eat. But with thousands of glowworms in the caves, it makes the ceiling look like stars. We were not able to take pictures inside the cave, but below is a picture from the brochure.

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The glowworms

The glowworms

After our time in the cave, we drove another 2 hours to the town of Rotorua. That evening, I pre-booked a Māori Cultural Show and Dinner. Kathleen loves cultural shows so she was excited. The Māori are the original people of New Zealand who came here from French Polynesia around 700 years ago. Their looks, language, and culture are very similar to the people of the Pacific such as Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and even Easter Island. The evening started out with the unveiling of our dinner, the traditional Hangi meal which is cooked underground using hot stones for hours. For dinner, we had lamb (how could you not in New Zealand), chicken, kumara (sweet potatoes) and other steamed veggies.

The Hangi Meal

The Hangi Meal

Next, we were taken down to the natural spring and stream on their property. The Māori warrior men came down the steam in a canoe like boat. They were chanting and despite the cold night (around 50 degrees), they had traditional clothing on.

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Kathleen and the Māori statue

Kathleen and the Māori statue

Māori  arriving

Māori arriving

We were then taking into a mock Māori village (a bit cheesy), but the chief came out and he was HUGE. It’s no wonder the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team is the best in the world – the Māori are massive dudes. The Māori girls have painted lips and chins (they would normally be tattoos) that represent owls and the men have other tattoos around their face to represent either bats, owls, kiwis, or a parrot.

The massive chief

The massive chief

There some songs and other dances, including the Māori girls. The highlight for me was seeing the Haka dance – really badass.

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Women dancing

Women dancing

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The haka

The haka

After the show, we enjoyed the Hangi meal. It was really good and both Kathleen and I enjoyed seeing and learning about the local Māori culture of New Zealand.

The hangi meal

The hangi meal

After dinner, we took a night walk around the original village in hopes of seeing more glow worms and kiwi birds. We did, however see the spiritual and very sacred area were the stream bubbles up from the ground and begins. This is extremely symbolic for the tribe since water is life-giving.

Forest lit at night

Forest lit at night

The moon high above during our walk

The moon high above during our walk

Magical spring

Magical spring