Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Counting sheep

Have you ever counted sheep in your sleep? We have sure noticed a lot of sheep grazing in the fields in New Zealand where it is said that there are more sheep than people!

You lookin' at me?

We started heading back north on the South Island and made a short stop in cute Queenstown for a bite to eat. Para-gliders were jumping off the mountains around us under their colourful canopies. And we watched as a 100-year old coal-fired steamship filled with tourists billowed its black smoke around the lake. We motored to the top of a hill and looked down on the pretty valleys and waters.

Queenstown from above

On our more inland route through Cromwell and Twizel, we came upon the small town of Tarras. Have you ever heard of Shrek, a Marino type of sheep? We saw Shrek's photo in a Tarras café above a barrel of sheep wool.

Famous Shrek

Shrek escaped from his enclosure of South Island New Zealand and then hid in caves for 6 years, never being shorn of his wool during all that time. When he was discovered in 2004, he was carrying 60 pounds of fleece which was auctioned for charity.

Mammoth Shrek with his owner (copied from internet)

Shrek was fond of children and the elderly and became quite famous. He was the star of children's books and made celebrity appearances where he raised $150,000. Shrek died at age 16 of old age and circulatory problems.

We finally ended our day at the small service town of Fairlie...time to count sheep...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Milford Sound

With a destination of Milford Sound today, we made sure to fill up first thing in the morning (after almost running out of fuel yesterday) and headed inland through the Haast Pass, where there are no settlements, and again sped along some gorgeous hilly and winding roads and past some large lakes. On one road, we encountered a flock of sheep being herded down the highway by their shepherd and his dog...

Baaa-d for traffic

We don't usually do touristy things, but we stopped at an interesting attraction, Puzzling World, in Wanaka. It housed various displays that played with your mind and equilibrium. Such as optical illusion displays that made it look like golf balls and water rolled up hill, and 168 faces on the wall that seemed to follow you. One distorted room was even used in the filming for the Lord of the Rings movie.

There was also a good 1.5 km maze of passages that took us almost an hour of fast tracking to make it through (it even had emergency exits!) Check out their website at www.puzzlingworld.co.nz.

We wanted to make it out to Milford Sound for the night. So we pressed on through Te Anau, out into the valleys surrounded by steep mountains, up along formidable narrow mountain roads squeezed between precipitous rocky crags, and the 1-km pass being a 1-way tunnel. We exited the tunnel on the side of a mountain and snaked our way down to Milford Sound where we took in the famous scene at the ocean inlet shores, with the mist giving it a surreal, fairy-tale look. Rudyard Kipling, a famous author, described it as the 'eighth wonder of the world'.

Milford Sound

But, one problem! Only one very expensive lodge and it was getting late. We were expecting more of a town with a choice of motels. Oh well, it was back an hour and a half to Te Anau. It was a good thing we had a fast bike because we made good time, arriving just at dusk and found a nice B&B After a quick check-in, we went downtown for some good Chinese.

Milford Sound is only 308 km from the southernmost town of Bluff but we would not be continuing any further south on our tour.

(The next morning, we met the interesting owners of the B&B where we slept last night in Te Anau. He was a helicopter pilot between jobs that took him various places around the world. As it turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance - the owner of Vancouver Island Helicopters who Aaron, Jordan's son, had designed a house for. Small world sometimes.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rocks and ice

Starting the 4th day of our motorcycle tour of New Zealand, we only travelled a kilometre down the road from Punakaiki to Pancake Rocks. Unusual layered strata and rock formations gave it that name and scientists today still cannot fathom how it came to be in layers.

A mystery of nature

Judy exploring the layered walkways

We followed the coast mostly that day along a winding road bordered by the superjacent mountains that spilled 2 glaciers - Franz Josef and Fox. We could not leave the motorcycle and its gear to explore either of these glaciers so we felt fortunate that we had previously gotten so close to a glacier with Sea Turtle when we were in Chile.

The grandeur of Franz Josef Glacier

We failed to purchase gas at the last service station and, being a very remote area, as the miles clicked by we were getting concerned as the low fuel light was flashing! So we made a stop at a fish farm who said they didn't have any gas, even though we saw quads and equipment in the yards. Then we stopped at a farm that had tractors, etc. but no one was home. Finally we saw a lodge on Lake Paringa who reluctantly sold us 10 L at an EXORBITANT price with an indifferent Take it or leave it.

We continued to ride along and enjoyed the scenery of snow-topped mountains that reached up into the clouds at our side...

Fabulous scenery

...and that night got us to the one horse village of Haast.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

NZ moto tour

A plan while in New Zealand was to do a road trip to the larger but less populated South Island while the southern summer remained. Even though we have use of a car, the roads here are a motorcyclist's dream. But that called for a good weather window. So when Jordan saw that the weather forecast was for an extended period of warm sunny weather over both the North Island and South Island, it was decided.

Auckland, 4 hours south, has all the motorcycle rentals, but in Whangarei, just an hour south, we found a motorcycle shop that had a bike they could rent. A quick packing and bus ride had us to the bike and off we went on February 22nd for a 10-day tour. Objective: to the south end of New Zealand's South Island and back.

(F.Y.I. New Zealand consists of a few territories and several islands, many not populated. The 2 largest are officially called the North Island and the South Island.)

The bike we rented was a rather fast street bike and the 1st day it quickly took us down to the big city of Auckland where we stopped at Immigration to submit for a needed extension to our given 90-day Visa. That done, we headed south through Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic. Here, while traffic crawls, it's allowed for motorcycles to go between lanes and all drivers are courteous and respectful of that, many moving over to accommodate us.

The famous Sky Tower behind sailboats in marina

By the end of the 2nd day, we made it to the southern tip of the North Island to the City of Wellington, New Zealand's capital. Known to be a windy city, it's situated on a large bay amongst steep hillsides. Its nickname is Wellywood due to the filming of movies such as King Kong, Avatar, and scenes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We visited Wellington's Cuba Street, a kind of eclectic place to hang out with a good choice of eateries, etc.

We managed to procure space on the Interislander ferry for the next morning for the 3-hour trip to the South Island. The ferries here are commercially run and are nice and comfortable. We had open mild seas for half the time and the later hour was through a meandering inlet to the small town of Picton.

Perfect motorcycle roads

Now on the South Island, the first route we chose gave us a scenic and very winding road along the north coast, through cute little seaside towns with kickback atmospheres. That first late afternoon got us out to the west coast beach to Punakaiki where we checked into a nice room 100 metres from the pretty, deserted beach.

Coastal scene

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saying goodbye

It was time to say a sad goodbye when Jordan and I dropped my daughter Lainey and her fiancé Tim at the Auckland Airport very early in the morning for their 05:50 flight to Australia where they would do another week of exploring before returning home to Canada.

We all had a fabulous time and Lainey and I had stayed up late every night reminiscing and sharing stories and cocktails as the 2 men retired earlier. During their stay, the weather had fully co-operated with not a drop of rain and only the occasional cloud. Tim had helped Jordan constantly with the handling of Sea Turtle and both asked lots of questions. We believe that we have 2 future sailors in a few years!

We miss the both of them and tears fall as I write this! (Lainey and Tim: we look forward to seeing you soon at your July wedding!)

Ciao for now...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Busy last day

We departed from Kaitaia at the northern end of Northland New Zealand with Lainey my daughter and Tim her fiancé. The kids were still un-nerved by the experience of driving in a vehicle on the opposite side of the road. It just didn't feel right to have Jordan driving on what, by Canadian standards, would be considered the passenger side of the car and on the left side of the road with large semi-trucks coming toward you! But Tim felt that it was a good initiation for when he would be doing the driving in a couple of days in Australia.

Eeeek!

We headed south along the west coast and made it safely to Bayly's Beach, with the ocean surf crashing on one side and dramatic orange coloured cliffs rising on the other side. We once again walked the shoreline but this time collected a few nice shells on this sunny and gorgeous day.

Lainey and me in the surf (courtesy of Tim)

The beach seemed to be pretty hard packed so down came the car. But it was not as hard packed as we thought, and after doing a few fancy manoeuvers, we got stuck! But no fear, a bit of hand digging, and we were free. This is actually New Zealand's longest drivable beach but is not as well known as Ninety Mile Beach.

Almost there... (courtesy of Tim)

From Bayly's, we bypassed nearby Dargaville for lunch, a cute little town on the west coast with not much to see since its decline after decimation of its timber. So we headed to the larger artsy city of Whangarei on the east coast where a heart-pumping accident was avoided as a very spiky tractor suddenly pulled out to make a right-hand turn through the passing lane but Jordan's great driving skills saved us as he hit the brakes and swerved to miss it.

There are more craftspeople proportionally living in Whangarei than anywhere else in New Zealand and more shopping was required by our guests!

Next on the to-do-list was visiting a winery, a first for Lainey and Tim. Just outside of Whangarei, we pulled into Longview Estates where we sampled several very delicious red and white wines and purchased our favourite choices. We were regrettably unable to tour the facilities as it was near closing time.

Our host with Tim, Lainey, and Jordan

After a busy day, it was getting a bit late (18:00), when we arrived in Auckland and again every place was displaying a No Vacancy sign. After 1.5 hours of driving around searching, we finally found 1 motel but it only had 1 bed. Lainey and Tim decided that they must take the room as others were waiting in line to book it if we walked away, so Jordan and I would have to say our goodbyes and drive late into the night to return to Opua instead of early the next morning.

But wait! Is that a hide-a-bed? As the Kiwis say, yeah, yeah, yeah! This made all of us very happy and we spent 1 last night together.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good and bad experiences

This morning, we returned from sailing the islands to our Opua anchorage with Lainey and Tim (my daughter and her fiancé), passing by a huge cruise ship with Tim busily snapping pictures, and we packed for a 2-day exploration of northern New Zealand.

Tim had expressed a real interest in parasailing. So our first stop was in the small town of Paihia 5 km from Opua where they boarded a tour boat, headed out into the bay, and floated high up into the sky reeled off from the back deck of the tour boat.

Unfortunately, float was NOT a term to be used as the driver jerked the ropes quite hard, lifting them high and then dropping them suddenly before lifting again, which really terrified my daughter. She totally hated the whole adrenaline-pumping experience, but Tim had been quite thrilled. They reached a stunning height of 1,200 metres, New Zealand's highest parasail. Through her tears, Lainey didn't even see the amazing view of the Bay of Islands from up high. But we all give her a lot of credit for trying it even though she has a fear of heights.

Flyin' high...

Coming in for a landing

We decided Coopers Beach, an hour from Pahia, was a nice stop for a breather and a walk on the quiet sandy beach. Then under cloudy skies, our next stop was at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. Before the last Ice Age, an unexplained act of nature had knocked down huge prehistoric trees which then became entombed in mud and peat swamps. Deprived of oxygen, the trees have been preserved in perfect condition. With Radio Carbon Dating, it has been proven that the Kauri forests grew during the period 30,000 to 50,000 years ago and beyond!

At the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, some of the prehistoric Kauri wood is brought from the swamps and made into many of the cherished beautiful items - from furniture to decorative utensils to tourist tat - that are offered for sale. The wood, with its hues, textures, and sheens that change under differing shades of light, is considered a collectible investment that will one day no longer be available.

Lainey and Tim atop a huge Kauri wood stump

The cafe and information centre was closed for the day but Jordan and I hope to return to this spot in the future when it is open to see the massive Kauri log that has a spiral staircase carved into it leading to the upper level.

We next headed to the upper NW coast of New Zealand to Ninety Mile Beach, which in actuality is only 68 miles long but still impressive! The sand was hard packed so we drove the car onto the beach and along the crashing surf of the shoreline for quite a distance. We also strolled the beach but did not find very many nice shells.

Sand as far as the eye can see...

It was starting to get late so we tried to find accommodation near Ninety Mile Beach at the town of Kaitaia. It was a forest of No Vacancy signs but we finally found 1 available motel. Exhausted and starving, we went directly to the dining room before taking luggage to our rooms. The service in their non-busy dining room was atrocious and we would have left but were afraid of not being able to find anything else open. We waited forever to be served and had to call over the waitress numerous times. Thankfully there was a plus side...the food was absolutely delicious!

Monday, February 18, 2013

More of Paradise Bay

Lainey and Tim (my daughter and her fiancé) were enjoying life at sea and the boating experience so much that they decided they would like to spend 1 more night aboard before returning to our Bay of Islands anchorage and explore New Zealand by land. Jordan and I were both surprised by how much Lainey and Tim loved sailing and our lifestyle!

Still at Paradise Bay of Urupukapuka Island, we went ashore to stroll the white sandy beach. We had a riot on the tree swings hanging from monstrous trees with huge root systems and then hiked to the top of the hill through the forest with all of its delicate fern trees.

Lainey giving Tim a push

After a great hike and a great day, we returned to Sea Turtle to spend our last evening lazing aboard in the setting sun with cold cocktails. Tomorrow will be travelling on land for a quick tour of northern New Zealand before the kids catch their next flight.

Sea Turtle faithfully waits

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cool waters

This morning, Tim my daughter's fiancé, Jordan, me, and Lainey my daughter (as in the photo below) motored - as no wind - from Roberton Island in the Bay of Islands of New Zealand over to Urupukapuka Island where we visited 4 separate idyllic bays. At Urupukapuka Bay, we had a beach picnic lunch before going for a hike.

Smile everyone! (courtesy of Lainey)

After lunch, we did a 10-minute climb to the top of the lush green hill for a 360° view, had a gander at a flock of sheep as we walked by, and then continued down the other side to Otehei Bay where we found the small Waterfront Bar and Café. Lainey and Tim wanted to swim in the ocean so I braved the cool ocean water with them and went for a short swim in the deserted water. Jordan said No way and grabbed a quick nap under a shade tree - we've been too spoiled by the warm temperatures of the tropical oceans!

We hiked back to where we started, and using the onshore cold shower, showered off the saltwater before returning to Sea Turtle.

Tim enjoying the wait!

Lainey and Tim suntanned on deck while we motored to our third bay, the nearby Otiao - also known as Indico Bay - (S35°12.803' E174°13.474') where Jordan jumped in the water and cleaned the prop of barnacles which were slowing down Sea Turtle's movement. After a quick scrub, we moved to our last anchorage of the day at Paradise Bay (S35°13.087' E174°13.667') where we watched the skies as the sun majestically set.

Orange radiance of setting sun (courtesy of Tim)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

First time to sea

With my daughter Lainey and her fiancé Tim eagerly waiting, we upped the anchor from Opua New Zealand to take them on their first cruise in a sailboat.

We cruised across the bay to historic Russell which was long ago known as the Hell Hole of the Pacific due to rowdy whalers and drunken sailors! We explored the Christ Church of 1836, the country's oldest church that is scarred with musket and cannonball holes from an 1845 battle.

Then we continued onwards...

Lainey and Tim - here we go!

...and anchored in a protected cove of Roberton Island (S35°14.019' E174°10.130') - also known as Motuarohia Bay - where a large tour boat joined us and we could see that a wedding was taking place on the top deck. We dinghied to the beach and hiked through grass flats and native forests to the top of the hill's great view where we watched as the wedding party also came ashore for memorable photos.

Wedding party on beach at left, Sea Turtle in front, tour boat on right

Lainey on stairs returning to beach

Back at Sea Turtle, we were treated with the frolics of dolphins! Lainey was ecstatic as this was her first sighting of dolphins in the wild. We all wanted to swim with them but alas they were not quite close enough and were swimming away and not towards us. Perhaps next time...anyone for a cocktail?

PLEASE come closer (photo courtesy of Tim)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Family arrives

At Opua in the New Zealand Bay of Islands, we have been very busy getting everything shipshape for the much-anticipated visit of my daughter Lainey and her fiancé Tim. They arrived on Valentine's Day, February 14th, early in the morning at the Auckland Airport (at 05:30, I did say early!) which was 4 hours away from where we are anchored. But we got up real early and drove to pick them up, making them wait for only a brief period.

After a short tour of Auckland and a couple of nearby towns, back at Opua we introduced them to our favourite lady, Sea Turtle. With a couple of quick lessons on boat terms and how to use the head (toilet), we next dinghied to nearby tiny Pine Island for an appetizer-potluck with a group of sailors. What a good introduction to boat life for our visitors! Lucky that we had our new dinghy as it would have been difficult for 4 people to fit into our old dinghy.

Jordan, Lainey, and Tim (top left) with enthusiastic group of sailors

As usual, the next day we had some friendly ducks pop by waiting to be fed, which Jordan willingly obliged. Later that day, Lainey and Tim were treated to the high energy of sailboats racing through the anchorage and close by Sea Turtle, a twice weekly event, as we planned a cruise through the Bay of Islands.

Toe feeding

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bigger and better

Bigger and better, you say? What is bigger and better? We have a new RIB, a rigid inflatable boat, ergo a dinghy with a hard bottom.

Our old dinghy definitely needed upgrading. Especially in wet rough weather as in New Zealand. The weather here has sucked big time lately. And it seems we have been wet non-stop in these waters in our old small dinghy. So we got a new one with bigger pontoons, hence we are higher out of the water. And its nose points up out of the water, so we can plane better and stay much drier.

Next, we had to make new chaps for this purchase. With the use of a friend's shop, Jordan created the pattern (a very difficult job, I think) and I spent the next 3 days sewing it, using material that the new dinghy had been packed in. Jordan also created a step at the nose of the dinghy as it has a V-shaped floor and this now makes for a much better step-in. All in all, we think it turned out pretty good!

Good team work!

But now, this bigger and better dinghy needs a bigger and better outboard. Is bigger better? Never mind, now a bigger and better outboard is on order...what next?