Monday, November 20, 2017

November 20, 2017 - Queentown and heading home

We spent 2.5 days in Queenstown, which is a major tourist destination.  It's a busy town with heaps of tourist-based activities to tempt any visitor.  We decided to do a jet boat adventure ride on the Shotover River.  It was EXCITING!  I'm surprised they are allowed to run these types of activities because it seems like there is some real danger here.  There is a boat driver, who is running a fast jet boat full of passengers, at high speeds up a shallow and narrow river.  He takes you within inches of the canyon walls at high speed and does 360 spins in places you just don't think it could be done.  You will see what I mean from the following pictures and videos we took:

Ready for a jet-boat thrill ride.

A shot of us blasting through the narrow canyon at high speed.

Same place, now as the boat is heading back down the river.  Going maybe 40mph.
At times we were less than a foot from the cliff walls.  It was exciting, but a
bit scary at the same time.

The drive to get to the jet-boat adventure was exciting in-itself.  We hopped on the company's bus for the 40 minute drive to the jet boat facility.  The road is a dirt road, built in the 1920's for the gold miners to get their gold out of the Shotover Valley.  It's a steep valley, and the road is on the edge of a cliff, hundreds of feet above the river.  It was a bit scary to look out the window and see nothing but a sheer cliff without even a glimpse of the road we were on.  In usual New Zealand fashion, the driver was going a little to fast for my comfort....

The start of bus ride out to the Shotover River

Great views from the drive down to the river.  You can see the road winding
around over on the left side.

Looking down from the bus at the river below.  There are no guardrails.  At times
you could not even see the side of the road because we were so close to the edge.

Looking back at the road.  It is perched in that little notch they carved into the

Looking down on a section of the Shotover river, of which we had passed through
 on the jet-boat previously.  There is a suspension bridge there that at one time
was the highest bungy jumping bridge in the world.

While in Queenstown we played mini-golf and also went to a great wildlife conservation center that had some live Kiwis to see.  They are nocturnal birds so you never see them during the day.  They had them in a dark building where you could observe them close up.  They are very strange birds.  It was great to see 4 Kiwis up close.  They also had a lot of other native and exotic birds there, and also the Tuatara which has lived in New Zealand for 200 mllion years.

Click here for more info on the Kiwi

 Click here for more info on the Tuatara

Cindy go into a little trouble in Queenstown.  I got her out
of this mess, though.

Mini-golf in Queenstown, New Zealand.

One of the local birds at the exhibit

Tuatara, the last living member of the sphenodontian family.  Basically, it's a
dinosaur that is still alive today.  It exists only in New Zealand.

This bird was just hanging out at the sanctuary.  No fences or overhead nets were
there to keep him/her contained.

And now, the final "crazy van picture" of the day.  We are returning home tomorrow.  We have 3 sequantial flights in order to get home.  The first is a short 45 minute flight from Queentown to Aukland.  The next is a 12 hour flight from Auckland, and the last is a 2.5 hour flight from LA to Seattle.  It will be a long day getting home....

Saturday, November 18, 2017

November 18, 2017 - Te Anau & Milford Sound

Today we drove from Te Anau Downs to Milford Sound.  This region is commonly known as Fiordlands.   You can drive to one end of Milford Sound, but after that the only way to see it is by boat, helicopter, or plane.  We opted for a boat ride, suggested by the front desk person where we are staying, which is at the "Fiordland National Park Lodge".  The drive to Milford Sound is spectacular.  A winding road through forests and mountain valleys.  This road has been rated as one of the 10 best roads in the world:

Click here for 10 best roads of the world list

Picturesque drive on the Milford Highway.  Rated as one of the 10 best drives
in the world.

We came across this fantastic sight as we were driving to Milford Sound

There are waterfalls everywhere.  Bright blue water.

Our boat for a "three hour tour" of Milford Sound.  The boat cruises all the
way out to the Tasman Sea hugging one shoreline, and then turns around
and comes back along the other shore.  A great trip, which included lunch.

The wind kicked up and we needed our jackets.
It was a rare sunny day here.  Last summer they only had a
couple of sunny days, according to one of the crew.

Approaching a large waterfall.  It doesn't look like it,
but they said it's as tall as a 50 story building.

Starting to get wet from the spray.  Time to put the
camera away.

The Fiordland Crested Penguin.  We were lucky enough to see one.
New Zealand has two species of Penguins.

Re-entering Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea

Seal Rock

A group of kayaks near shore.  Great scenery in every direction. 
The Peak below is said to be the tallest mountain that rises directly out of the sea in the world.  It is over a mile high.  It is also on the short list for the 8th Natural Wonder of the World.

Click for list of "8th wonder of the world" candidates

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound.  5,560 feet tall. That's 280' more than Denver, CO!
Milford Sound is a World Heritage Site, as declared by UNESCO

One of the many waterfalls here.

A different view of that waterfall.  It is much taller than
it probably looks here.  Everything is much taller than
these photos can portray.

This tunnel on the Milford Highway is more than 3/4 mile long.  It was dark,
long, and one way (stop lights at each end to control the traffic flow).
 It was also sloped downhill quite a bit.  It's all bare rock too, with water dripping from the ceiling.

The entrance to the tunnel.  It cuts right through this
huge mountain.  Wow!
After the boat ride through the Fjords, we went for a hike.  No surprise there, as this has become the hiking vacation for Cindy and I.  Cindy found a nice 3 hour hike.

In the mountains again.  About 3,400 feet.

Great views from here.  

New Zealand has done a fantastic job with their trails.  We have been impressed.

Panorama from the top of our hike.

Cindy dunks her head in this little stream's waterfall. 
It was nice cold water and felt great.  We were quite
warm as there was no shade, and there were no clouds.

Yesterday when we arrived in Te Anau we headed for a playground in a park, at the boat basin.  I wanted to see the boats, and Cindy wanted the playground.  The playground wasn't much at all.  The boat basin was just strange.  I've never seen a mooring system like this before.  The odd part was how you get on and off your boat once it is tied in it's "slip".  A boat is tied to pilings at the stern, and then a few lines are run forward to rings embedded in the cement on land.  That all seems fine.  However, there are no docks to walk on.  Instead you have a home-made boarding plank on wheels that slides down an incline until it just touches your bow.  Then you tie off the ramp and use it to get on your boat.  The raising and lowering of this ramp is all done by hand, none had any sort of electric winch.  None seemed to even have a manual winch.  I can only imagine that these things are pretty hard to move.  Some had heavy metal frames and wheels that were falling apart.  The concrete those wheels have to roll on is very rough.  It must be a hard pull to get some of the ramps back to the top.  I can only imagine the damage that could be done to your boat if the boarding plank got away from you and rolled downhill.  I can only imagine the damage that could be done to your boat if the boarding plank got away from you and rolled downhill.  I think that walking down a wet, slimy slope to your ramp could also be a bit hazardous.  

The only way on/off the boat is to roll the "boarding plank" down the incline
until it is right at your bow.  Each plank would have to be customized to the
height of the boat, and how close the bow can get to shore.

There are not too many boats here.  Look at those ramps.  Wow

A couple of cute boats.  Again, look at this boat's 'boarding plank".

We found a better playground a block away.
A few more "crazy van" pictures to share:

So true   :-)

A group of guys getting ready to hike.
Lots of interesting vans here in New Zealand.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

November 17, 2017 - Big hike at Wanaka, New Zealand

We did it!  Cindy really wanted to do a BIG hike today, and we did one.  The Isthmus Peak trail was estimated to take 3-4 hours one way.  We did it in about 2 hr 40 min going up (including quite a few short breaks), and about 2 hr coming down.  We passed three people also headed up, while on our way up.  I guess we are pretty fast.  The views were spectacular!  The weather was perfect.  We started at about 7:30 AM with no wind, cool temperature, and heavily overcast skies.  About half an hour before we reached the summit the skies had cleared and the sun was out.  A nice breeze had arrived to balance out the heat of the sun.  It was sunny for the entire return trip down the mountain, and it was a lot warmer than when we were headed up.  We are happy that it was nice and cool for our trip up.

The climb was a tough one.  The difference in elevation from the start of the trail to the summit is 3288 feet.  We traveled 4.8 miles each way.  We were on the move for 4 hr 10 min and spent nearly 45 minutes at the top eating some snacks, drinking water, and enjoying the view.  For comparison, Snoqualmie Pass (WA state) has an elevation of 3022 ft at the highest point of the freeway.  So, we climbed more elevation than driving from the Seattle waterfront (sea level) to the top of the I-90 freeway at Snoqualmie Pass, and we did it in 2 hr 40 min!

I am very happy that were able to do this.  After yesterday's defeat on the gnarly Glacier trail, I feel like I let Cindy down.  Today I proved to myself that I can still do things like this at a pace that Cindy can deal with.  I am definitely slower than her, and I can tell that either she has gotten faster the past year or two, or I'm slowing down with age.  Either way, she's the better climber now!

Driving from Wanaka to the Isthmus Peak hike.  

We had to pass through several gates that keep sheep and
cows from escaping.  Some the trail was on private land,
which was used for sheep and cattle grazing.

For parts of the lower section we were next to the sheep.  That made the easier
portions of the trail more interesting.

Nice easy trail.  We will be going higher than that ridges, up some steep terrain.

View from part way up.  The sky is getting brighter, but the temp is still cool.

Gaining altitude fast.  We are now as high as the ridges we were looking up at
just a short time ago.

One of the nicer sections of the trail.  

Typical section of trail.  Basically on old dirt road that has become hiking only.
Lots of loose rocks and steep sections.  There was no shade.

Panorama view from the top.  Click on the picture for a larger image.

Very beautiful!

Victory.  We did it!

Stunning scenery from the summit, 4,563 ft. above sea level
Near the bottom the cows had moved into the shade since the sun came out.
We were pretty warm by the time we got back to the bottom. 

 Two more crazy vans from today:

Kevin, you will like this van!

The right side

And the left side