Our last post from the road – Queenstown, New Zealand

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With mixed feelings, we can officially say this is our last blog post from the road. We will write another recap post, but our travels are over as we are leaving New Zealand tomorrow for the long journey back home to Philadelphia.

As a symbolic end to our trip, Kathleen and I wanted to do something memorable. Queenstown is touted as the adventure capital of the world. There are numerous activities available such as skydiving, white water rafting, bungee jumping (invented here), jet boat riding, paintballing, canyoning, etc. – the list is endless! So Kathleen and I decided on a package called the “Shotover Canyon Double Shot”. The first activity it included was a jet boat ride on the Shotover River. A jet boat works the same way a jet ski operates as water is sucked through the intake as shot out at a rate of 800 liters per minute! This allows the boat to accelerate at high speeds and more importantly turn on a dime.

Dressed warmly for the adventure on the river

Dressed warmly for the adventure on the river

The jet boat

The jet boat

The water temperature was around 48 degrees and the water was very shallow, but our jet boat flew down the river and the driver was fantastic at avoiding the canyon walls – giving us plenty of scares as we came within INCHES of the walls. The jet boat even did 360 degrees turns, getting everyone a bit wet with freezing cold water. Kathleen was excited and Prince William and Kate did this activity a few months ago when they were here in New Zealand! It was really excited and a good way to get our adrenaline pumping!

Speeding into the canyon

Speeding into the canyon

Narrowly avoiding the rock walls at high speed

Narrowly avoiding the rock walls at high speed

The royals in Queenstown

The royals in Queenstown

For our next activity, we decided to do the Shotover Canyon Swing. The canyon swing is…well, a big swing over a massive canyon. We decided on doing this activity as Kathleen and I could jump tandem together. She said she didn’t want to do anything crazy unless I was going together. Kathleen and I were each harnessed together, but unlike bungee jumping where you are strapped in by your ankles, you are supported around your waist. We walked to the edge of the platform and stared down about 400 feet below into the canyon floor. We did a count down from 3 and then took a small step off before free falling 200 feet straight down – a free fall that lasted about 3 seconds but felt much longer! You come out of the free fall into a gentle swing over the river. You are suspended over the river swinging back and forth gently for about 30 seconds before being hoisted back up. It was incredibly scary but it was a metaphor as Kathleen and I love doing everything together and we are never scared when we have each other. That mantra has really kept us going the last year and gotten us through difficult situations.

The canyon we will be plunging off of

The canyon we will be plunging off of

Strapped in

Strapped in

Proof that we did it!

Proof that we did it!

They had a deal where you could jump once more for $25, so I put my fears to the test again and did it once more, this time suspended upside down. This was much scarier, especially going solo, but it was another great adrenaine kick. Needless to say, Kathleen passed on the second jump!

Kathleen grabbed this shot of me before I "fell"

Kathleen grabbed this shot of me before I “fell”

Looking into the canyon swing

Looking into the canyon swing

After a fun and exciting few hours out at the Shotover Canyon, we went back to town and had a famous meat pie, something that is a must in New Zealand. They were amazing!

The amazing meat pie

The amazing meat pie

The next day, Kathleen and I decided to do something a little more calm and we went for a hike up the Queenstown Hill. The hike was about an hour and a half return, but it gave us some great views of Lake Wakatipu and the mountain range that surrounds Queenstown.

A beautiful morning on the lake

A beautiful morning on the lake

Beginning the hike up the hill

Beginning the hike up the hill

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Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

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We returned to town and went for another quick walk around the Queenstown Gardens which sits at a point just outside the main part of town and offers nice views of the lake.

The fern...national symbol of New Zealand

The fern…national symbol of New Zealand

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With all of this physical activity, we had dinner at the world famous “Fergburger”! Everyone we met (including locals) said you MUST eat here during your time in Queenstown. Often, you queue about an hour to get in then another 30 minutes for your meal. We were skeptical on just how good these burgers were, but we can both say that they were AMAZING! Kathleen went for the classic (still massive) and I had the Mr. Big Stuff – 1/2 pound of meat, bacon, BBQ and all of the fixins. It was really amazing and was perfect considering how much we walked that day!

Kathleen's Fergburger

Kathleen’s Fergburger

Loving the burger!

Loving the burger!

Hungry bear!

Hungry bear!

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We had an amazing sunset that evening as the clouds cleared over the mountains. Tomorrow, we had a 30 hour journey from Queenstown to Auckland to San Francisco then finally to Philadelphia. We have loved traveling on the road and this has been the most amazing year ever!

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Our final sunset

Our final sunset

Queenstown-We made it!

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After spending nearly two weeks driving from the North Island in Auckland all the way down the west coast and finally ending our trip in Queenstown, we made it!

So much beauty!!

So much beauty!!

We made it!!

We made it!!

Awesome view

Awesome view

We ended up taking a scenic drive to the city from Te Anau and we got some lovely pictures of the true beauty that is New Zealand!

Stunning beauty

Stunning beauty

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Snow capped mountains

Snow capped mountains

Baby lambs just born with their mother...we saw them off the highway

Baby lambs just born with their mother…we saw them off the highway

Mountains and sheep= New Zealand

Mountains and sheep= New Zealand

Our first day in town, we spent much of the day walking around and planning our fun adventures for the rest of the few days we were there. Our hostel sat directly on the lake, so we spent a few hours walking the lake and enjoying the scenery!

More inspiring views

More inspiring views

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Us with the Remarkables Mountains in the background

Us with the Remarkables Mountains in the background

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Milford Sound

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Rob and I decided to make our way down to the Milford Sound to catch the amazing views and all of the beauty there is to see in Fiordland! Unfortunately, the day we went, it was super rainy. This area gets 250 days of rain a year, so you’re deemed lucky if you see it when it’s sunny out. (apparently the day before, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky) haha

Tops of the mountains covered in clouds

Tops of the mountains covered in clouds

Rainy day driving

Rainy day driving

Driving to the sound, you realize how massive these mountains really are. So much snow on the tops!

Driving to the sound, you realize how massive these mountains really are. So much snow on the tops!

On our drive up from Te Anau, it was cloudy and dark and freezing cold! In order to get to Milford Sound, you have two hours drive around mountains, through tunnels, and steep (snow covered passes) with warnings for ‘Avalanches’ and ‘Rock Slides’. Needless to say we were nervous driving there. It got to 3 degrees Celsius or 37 degrees and sleet started to hit our windshield!

Our car's temperature reading is about 37 degrees!!! Feels like winter

Our car’s temperature reading is about 37 degrees!!! Feels like winter

The snow was so close to the road you could almost touch it?!

The snow was so close to the road you could almost touch it?!

Little 'mini falls' that drip down the sides of the mountains when it rains

Little ‘mini falls’ that drip down the sides of the mountains when it rains

That sign is scary.

That sign is scary.

The Milford Sound is a fiord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island, within Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve, and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. We boarded our boat (in the pouring rain) and were prepared to see the amazing beauty of the fiords. Since it was raining that day, we got to see so many beautiful waterfalls, lush greenery on the cliffs, amazing seals playing on the rocks and beautiful mini rain trickles along the mountains that you can only see when it rains.

The sound with the sun trying to come out

The sound with the sun trying to come out

Our boat for the afternoon, complete with a Pita Pit on board haha

Our boat for the afternoon, complete with a Pita Pit on board haha

The Milford Sount

The Milford Sount

When it rains, the waterfalls are in full blast. Once it stops raining, our guide said there is a 90 minute window before it dries up again. He said we were lucky to come on such a wet day. However, the rain prevented us from seeing the amazing snow-capped mountains that surround this sound.

Rob posing the wind and rain (gorgeous day out?)

Rob posing the wind and rain (gorgeous day out?)

Mini falls that run down the side of the cliffs

Mini falls that run down the side of the cliffs

So much water

So much water

Milford Sound was initially overlooked by European explorers, because its narrow entry did not appear to lead into such large interior bays. Sailing ship captains such as James Cook, who bypassed Milford Sound on his journeys for just this reason, also feared venturing too close to the steep mountainsides, afraid that wind conditions would prevent escape. We got to see the coast line first hand and cruised the Tasman Sea to see what Captain Cook would have experienced. It was really rocky and windy indeed!

Amazing

Amazing

Little falls

Little falls

Posing on the top deck before it began to pour again.

Posing on the top deck before it began to pour again.

Gorgeous, rocky coastline on the Tasman Sea

Gorgeous, rocky coastline on the Tasman Sea

After our time on the Tasman Sea, we turned back to the sound. Once in the sound, we saw amazing seals perched on the rocks, happily lolling in the windy, rain.

The sound covered in clouds

The sound covered in clouds

Sleepy seal

Sleepy seal

Showing off for the cameras

Showing off for the cameras

We saw more amazing waterfalls, one that was even higher than Niagara Falls. Many people tried to stay on the top deck to take a picture, but they got soaked! It was so powerful from all the rain. When it doesn’t’ rain, there are only 2 permanent falls you can see year-round. So we got lucky to see a ton of them the day we went.

Thumbs up for the rain

Thumbs up for the rain

Waterfall with the mountains in the background

Waterfall with the mountains in the background

In front of the large waterfall (PS: Kathleen has 3 coats on!)

In front of the large waterfall (PS: Kathleen has 3 coats on!)

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Rob admiring the waterfall from inside

Rob admiring the waterfall from inside

After our boat cruise, we stopped at a few look-out points along the way. Chasm Falls was our first stop and we got to see the amazing rain forest and falls that carve out the huge boulder below. On our way to the car park, we got to see a Mountain Parrot or a Kea. This parrot has adapted to living in these cold, mountainous conditions and are native to New Zealand. These are the world’s only alpine parrot. They are a happy, and curious bird who jumped on our car to investigate us! Soo cool!

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Special rock formations carved out by the waterfall

Special rock formations carved out by the waterfall

Walk to Chasm Waterfall

Walk to Chasm Waterfall

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More rain- stylish in the poncho

More rain- stylish in the poncho

So lush and green

So lush and green

Mountain Parrot!

Mountain Parrot!

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!