Ready, Abel, and Tasman

One of the most popular tracks in New Zealand is the Abel Tasman track, in the north of the South Island. The track meanders along one of the most beautiful stretches of coast we’ve ever seen – and at this point, we’ve seen quite a few. Blond sandy beaches, ridiculously clear turquoise water, caves and coves, and New Zealand’s typical lush rainforest towering above it all. One can enjoy the track on a kayak or walking, or mixing both – as we did. We started with two days of kayaking in a double-kayak, taking everything we needed with us on the kayak – it’s impressive how much one can store inside a kayak! Naturally there’s plenty of wildlife (seals, birds, fish, pretty shells) that was easily viewed from the kayak. It was fun to build our own “itinerary” by landing on whatever beach we wanted to – most were pretty empty. We overnighted in our tent – or “tented” as they locals would say. After two days of kayaking we had the kayak and our bag picked up and delivered to the starting point, while we continued walking another (marvelous) day and had a boat pick us up at the end of our walk.

As you’ll see in the photos, this is a gorgeous gorgeous place and kayaking it was a unique (though definitely not easy!) experience. We loved it!

The holiday park we stayed at the night before starting the Abel Tasman track was a good preparation - a "micro-cabin" with a nice track to the toilet.

The holiday park we stayed at the night before starting the Abel Tasman track was good preparation for the track itself – a “micro-cabin” (or nano, actually) with a nice track to the toilet.

After a surprisingly thorough 3-hour safety briefing / kayaking instructions we were off to kayak with this lovely beast. Here we're recovering from the lively rain we had in the first two hours of kayaking.

After a surprisingly thorough 3-hour safety briefing / kayaking instructions we were off to kayak with this lovely beast. Here we’re recovering from the rain we had in the first two hours of kayaking.

Waiting for our clothes to dry...

Waiting for our clothes to dry…

Our kayak, emptied from all our bags, tent, sleeping bags, and food, almost ready to be carried up to be stored for the night, safe from a high tide of four or six meters high. The beach we stayed on is quite popular, that big boat in the background was playing dance music into the night..

Our kayak, emptied from all our bags, tent, sleeping bags, and food, almost ready to be carried up to be stored for the night, safe from a high tide of four or six meters high. The beach we stayed on is quite popular, that big boat in the background is actually a floating hostel…

After a long day of kayaking, including passing something called "The Mad Mile" where we definitely tested the stability of the kayak, we got some well-deserved rest on the beach...

After a long day of kayaking, including passing something called “The Mad Mile” where we definitely tested the stability of the kayak, we got some well-deserved rest on the beach…

Ahhh...

Ahhh…

Followed by a dip in the sea.

Followed by a dip in the sea.

Sunset...

Sunset…

And sunrise... Our walk on the third (and last) day included two crossings only possible at low tide. Since low tide was pretty early in the day, we woke up at the awesome hour of 5:45am. It was actually pretty cool to walk during sunrise.

And sunrise… Our walk on the third (and last) day included two crossings only possible at low tide. Since low tide was pretty early in the day, we woke up at the awesome hour of 5:45am. It was actually pretty cool to walk during sunrise.

This lagoon is almost dry now, but in a few hours it will be full of water coming in with the high tide. This is the reason we had to wake up so early and be here before the high tide.

This lagoon is almost dry now, but in a few hours it will be full of water coming in with the high tide. This is the reason we had to wake up so early and be here before the high tide.

Lots of shells in the low tide.

Lots of shells in the low tide.

After crossing the lagoon, looking back. We made it while it's still dry, phew!

After crossing the lagoon, looking back. We made it while it was still dry, phew!

The walk was absolutely stunning. From now on we'll let the photos speak for themselves...

The walk was absolutely stunning. From now on we’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

50

55

60

70

75

The post-track coffee + wedges were sweet as, mate!

The post-track coffee + wedges were sweet as, mate!

Our bag, with "all kinds of junk attached to it", as the delivery boat crew who had to carry it described it.

Our bag, with “all kinds of bloody rubish” attached to it, as the delivery boat crew who had to carry it described it. We prefer to call it “the art of packing”.

Up the West Coast

Ah, the West Coast of the South Island. Land of gorgeous strips of sand and sea, 7000mm of rain per year, gazzilion sandflies and about 120 residents.

On our way up north we did a short day walk on the famed Kepler track and discovered a lovely hidden beach, hiked a glacier, got bombarded with 150mm of rain in 24 hours, visited a gorgeous gorge and enjoyed a marvelous sunset around some crazy rocks. On our next visit to New Zealand we’ll be sure to spend more time on this wacky, pretty as a picture, coast!

A hidden beach near one end of the Kepler track.

A hidden beach near one end of the Kepler track.

N enjoyed a beachside picnic while A took a dip in the freezing water.

N enjoyed a beachside picnic while A took a dip in the freezing water.

We were delighted to come across some Alice in Wonderland mushrooms. Poisonous?

We were delighted to come across some Alice in Wonderland mushrooms. Poisonous?

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there". Or is it a smurf home?

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”. Or is it a smurf home?

We were still gorging on the beautiful fruits we bought on the way up here #####  ######

We were still gorging on the beautiful fruits we bought on the way up here around Cromwell.

On a side trip from Haast township to Jackson Bay, which is at the end of nowhere. Torrential rain and cute penguin signs (no penguins, though - maybe they didn't have umbrellas)

On a side trip from Haast township to Jackson Bay, which is at the end of nowhere. Torrential rain and cute penguin signs (no penguins, though – maybe they didn’t have umbrellas)

Franz Josef Glacier. You can imagine how the flow of the glacier carves these steep U-shaped-valleys through the mountains.

Franz Josef Glacier. You can imagine how the flow of the glacier carves these steep U-shaped-valleys through the mountains.

On our climbing tour on Fox glacier.

On our climbing tour on Fox glacier.

Walking on ice.

Walking on ice.

The cool and lovely town Hokitika.

The cool and lovely town Hokitika.

The Hokitika coast, unguarded.

The Hokitika coast, unguarded.

Guarding the coast. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

Guarding the coast. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

From the cool town of Hokitika we traveled to Hokitika Gorge, which was, indeed, gorge-ous. No photoshop here, just clear water mixed with some glacial sediment.

From the cool town of Hokitika we traveled to Hokitika Gorge, which was, indeed, gorge-ous. No photoshop here, just clear water mixed with some glacial sediment.

Enjoying the blue.

Enjoying the blue.

Walking back from the gorge, lots of Ponga tree-ferns, which look like beautiful combinations of fern and palm.

Walking back from the gorge, lots of Ponga tree-ferns, which look like a beautiful combination of fern and palm tree.

The view from our picnic spot at the gorge.

The view from our picnic spot at the gorge.

From Hokitika we headed north. What you don't see in this photo, and is quite amazing, is that the returning waves here superimpose with the coming waves. It's like a physics class.

From Hokitika we headed north. What you don’t see in this photo, and is quite amazing, is that the returning waves here superimpose with the coming waves. It’s like a physics class (<– A’s stroke of nerdiness for the day)

We last-minute booked a cute hostel right on the beach, and the owner urged us by phone to arrive by sunset...

We last-minute booked a cute hostel right on the beach, and the owner urged us by phone to arrive by sunset…

... and this is the sunset, definitely worth getting there on time.

… and this is the sunset, definitely worth getting to on time.

A didn't miss the opportunity for a sunset swim.

A didn’t miss the opportunity for a sunset swim.

The next day, we waited till high tide and went to check out the famous Punakaiki ("Pancake") Rocks.

The next day, we waited till high tide and went to check out the famous Punakaiki (“Pancake”) Rocks.

They were pretty cool!

They were pretty cool!

Working on a blog post in a cool coffee shop in Westport. Was very tempted to buy some of the artwork on the walls. Wasn't sure how to ship it, though.

Working on a blog post in a cool coffee shop in Westport. Was very tempted to buy some of the artwork on the walls. Wasn’t sure how to ship it, though.

 

 

“The Finest Walk in the World” (aka Milford Track)

Fiordland National Park in the south-west region of the South Island in New Zealand is an area more than half the size of Israel, but is home to only a few dozens of people and has just a few roads. With hard granite mountains, carved by glaciers, the whole park is a monument of opposing natural powers: The mountains climb almost perpendicularly from the fiords, and the huge amounts of rain (some areas average 9000mm – 9 meters! – of rainfall annually) create hundreds of waterfalls and grows dense rain forests even on these bare perpendicular rocks.

Milford Track is hailed as “the finest walk in the world”, and since we have done ALL the other tracks in the world, we can attest to that. Impressively, soon after Quintin Mackinnon had discovered the track (connecting Te Anau to Milford sound) in 1888, he started taking tourists along the track (back then it was 10 days return trip), and it immediately became a popular tourist destination. A road from Te Anau to Milford sound was only completed about 70 years later, and allowed tourists to walk one way and return by car.

The track itself is a 54km (33.5 miles), 4-day walk that traces one glacial valley to its source, climbs a steep pass, and goes down the other side of the pass following another glacier to the sea, where it becomes Milford sound (it is called a sound, but is actually a fiord). These U-shaped valleys, carved by slowly moving glaciers, are amazingly steep.

We had a great time walking Milford. You constantly hear about it when traveling in New Zealand (“have you done the Milford?” “Are you going to do the Milford?” etc) and we were glad to discover the hype was, indeed, justified.

The first two days of the track were grey, misty and a bit rainy. Fortunately, it's the third day that's the most important...

The first two days of the track were grey, misty and a bit rainy. Fortunately, it’s the third day that’s the most important…

Lots of waterfalls coming down the fiords.

Lots of waterfalls coming down the fiords.

Looking up at the mountains, it's a direct transformation of clouds to waterfalls.

Looking up at the mountains, it’s a direct transformation of clouds to waterfalls.

Going on a "Nature Walk" around the hut we stayed at on the first night with the DOC Ranger. Typical quotes: "This area gets 8 meters of rain every year, hopefully you will not exeperience all of it in the next five minutes"; "This tree is really awesome, unfortunately this is a nature reserve so you can't just take it home"

Going on a “Nature Walk” around the hut we stayed at on the first night with DOC Ranger Pete. Typical quotes: “This area gets 8 meters of rain every year, hopefully you will not exeperience all of it in the next five minutes”; “This tree is really awesome, unfortunately this is a nature reserve so you can’t just take it home”

Typical dinner at the hut: delicious pasta with vegetables and Kindle. Meals had to be carefully planned on tracks, as we carry everything for four days on our backs, as well as carry the trash with us to the end of the track.

Typical dinner at the hut: delicious pasta with vegetables and Kindle. Meals had to be carefully planned on tracks, as we carry everything for four days on our backs, as well as carry the trash with us to the end of the track.

On the third day the bad weather vanished as we climbed up to Mackinnon Pass . This is the stone memorial for Mackinnon (who himself disappeared from his boat near the start of the track ust a few years after finding this pass) at top of the pass, at the height of 1154m.

On the third day the bad weather vanished as we climbed up to Mackinnon Pass . This is the stone memorial for Mackinnon (who himself disappeared from his boat near the start of the track just a few years after discovering the pass) at top of the pass, at the height of 1154m.

Panoramic view of the mountains and fiords surrounding the pass.

Panoramic view of the mountains and fiords surrounding the pass.

The pass is a very exposed area with lots of wind, so even though it was a warm, sunny day, at this particular point we were pretty cold.

The pass is a very exposed area with lots of wind, so even though it was a warm, sunny day, at this particular point we were pretty cold.

"The loo with the view" - the pass's toilet.

“The loo with the view” – the pass’s toilet.

The view from the loo.

The view from the loo.

A long, steep U-shaped glacial valley, viewed from the Mackinnon pass.

A long, steep U-shaped glacial valley, viewed from Mackinnon pass.

Passing the pass...

Passing the pass…

... A black ninja makes an appearance!

… A black ninja makes an appearance!

Woohoo! It's a happy day.

Woohoo! It’s a happy day.

Going down on the other side of the pass, the ninja strikes again.

Going down the other side of the pass, the ninja strikes again.

So nice to go down constantly sorrounded by unobstructed views.

So nice to go down constantly sorrounded by unobstructed views.

Passing a pool of clear blue water.

Passing a pool of clear blue water.

Following the track, we spent another night at Milford Sound and took a short cruise the next day.

Following the track, we spent another night at Milford Sound and took a short cruise the next day.

The perfect weather continued.

The perfect weather continued.

Clouds just above the waterfall and below the mountains.

Clouds just above the waterfall and below the mountains.

Milford Sound is home to a bunch of very frequently photographed seals.

Milford Sound is home to a bunch of very frequently photographed seals.

The iconic "Mitre Peak" at Milford Sound.

The iconic “Mitre Peak” at Milford Sound.

 

Fiordland And

Fiordland, the south-west region of the South Island, is New Zealand’s largest National Park and is half the size of Israel. We spent about two weeks in the area, culminating in walking the famed Milford Track Great Walk (next post! spoiler – it was amazing). Our base in Fiordland was the tiny town of Te Anau (sounds like “have fun” in Hebrew) where we got to know Toni’s pizza really, really well. From Te Anau we went on several day trips and hikes in the area, including a kayaking trip on Doubtful Sound and a drive up and down Milford Road. The weather, once again, cooperated and we were lucky to see many sights in really optimal weather conditions (while they are often described in guidebooks as “misty”, “drizzly” and “cloudy”).

This area of New Zealand may be the most spectacular in this already-spectacular country – hopefully the photos capture some of this.

map

Milford Sound (point B) is probably New Zealand’s premier tourist spot, yet this 120km/two hours road from Te Anau (point A) is the only way to reach it via land (and the only real road in whole of Fiordland). At the bottom you can see Bluff, which is the southernmost town in the South Island.

Some native residents of Te Anau.

Some native and migrant residents of Te Anau.

Warming up the camera at the beginning of Milford Road.

Warming up the camera at the beginning of Milford Road.

Mirror Lakes. Full of reflections and tourists.

Mirror Lakes. Full of reflections and tourists.

Tracking up Routeburn on the way to Key Summit. This picture is one of many similar  ones, where each time you look up and have to take a photo because it's so darn  gorgeous.

Tracking up Routeburn on the way to Key Summit. This picture is one of many similar
ones since each time you look up during the hike, you just have to snap another photo because it’s so darn gorgeous.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

Sometimes we took photos of us taking photos.

Sometimes we took photos of us taking photos.

Mt. Christina and Lake Marian.

Mt. Christina and Lake Marian.

A wee alpine lake.

A wee alpine lake.

In addition to our Lonely Planet New Zealand guidebook, we're also using a guidebook called "NZ Frenzy". Its recommendations can be hit or miss, but this one was definitely a huge hit! When you're reach the summit of the Key Summit track, the book recommends another 30-minute walk which brings you to this place - in our opinion this spot is really the point of the entire track: Key Summit is so named as it's the meeting point of three different valleys / fiords. However only from this point, and not from the "official" summit can you actually see the three fiords merging (only two in the picture as our lens isn't wide enough...). In short, this was an absolutely amazing viewpoint and the book fully justified its price :)

Our fringe New Zealand guidebook, called “NZ Frenzy”, justified its price with this little secret trip, off the end of the “official” Key Summit track: continuing for 30-minutes brought us to a summit view of three valleys/fiords merging (though the camera could only capture two as the lens wasn’t wide enough). An absolutely amazing viewpoint.

More of one fiord.

View of remote Dusky Sound before starting our kayaking trip. To reach this point, we drove to a meeting point, went on a short minibus ride, took an hour long boat ride and then another 30-minute bus drive. Remote indeed.

View of remote Doubtful Sound, before starting our kayaking trip. To get here, we used four vehicles: We drove to a meeting point, went on a short minibus ride, took an hour long boat ride and then another 30-minute bus drive. Remote indeed.

Kayaking in Doubtful Sound! Note the color coordination. We kayaked on an excellent small guided tour with five other kayaks.

51

We were lucky to see this lone Fiordland Crested Penguin who apparently was out-of -season for making an appearance (not our best penguin shot, for significantly better
ones see our Catlins post and Fauna page)

 

Moo, Meh and Apples (Farming in New Zealand)

Alongside tourism, farming is another major economic force in New Zealand. Lots of land,
water, sun and what seems like a good dose of old-style, honest and not-
as-industrialized approach to farming, made us appreciate it all the more.

Did you know? There are 31 million sheep in New Zealand. There are 4.4 million people in New Zealand. This means that there are 7 sheep per person. If you think that’s a lot, it is nothing compared to 30 years ago, when there were 22 sheep per person! (source – this amusing article by the New Zealand Department of Statistics). So yes, all the sheep jokes you may have heard about New Zealand are probably true, and we did see a lot of sheep, sometimes in unexpected places.

Grazing sheep and cows have the most beautiful grasslands (often overlooking the most amazing views), and the grass must grow like crazy with all the rain here. In many of the places we stayed we saw coops, where free chickens lay eggs. Unlike the USA’s “free range chicken” cynical definition, these chickens are really free and proud, and are surprisingly smart and funny animals to interact with. (N’s comment – their eggs are delicious, too :))

Some farmers sell their produce from the back of their trucks, and they are happy
to talk about the pesticides they use (mostly, they don’t) and the fertilizers
they add. Many times, a “fruit shop” is just a stall or a cabinet along the road,
with bagged produce and a price list. It’s the “honesty system” – take what you want, put the money into the box, and drive on. Other farmers participate in one of the numerous farmers markets taking place at least once a week.

Even the supermarkets here get something right – we regularly buy lettuces so fresh that their stem is still wet. Prices can be ridiculously expensive though, so we try to buy everything we can at the farmers market. Summer, fresh produce, reasonable prices, yum!

Sheep grazing while enjoying the awesome views of Otago Peninsula.

Sheep grazing while enjoying the awesome views of Otago Peninsula.

NZ Sheep obey traffic signs!

How did the sheep cross the road?

One of Cromwell's famous roadside fruit and vegetable shops. This one, despite looking very fancy, had no seller around and operated on the "honesty" system.

One of Cromwell’s famous roadside fruit and vegetable shops. This one, despite looking very fancy, had no sellers around and operated on the honesty system.

Another one of Cromwell's shops. Prices are really low for produce that's in season - in this case, stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines etc).

Another one of Cromwell’s shops. Prices are really low for produce that’s in season – in this case, stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines etc).

Just few minutes drive from the wonderful Curio bay in the Catlines (###link to our post###),  is this local farm and next to it, the local shop.

Just a few minutes drive from the wonderful Curio Bay in the Catlins – a local farm (back) and a local shop (front).

Every town that respects itself has an annual A&P show (Agricultural and  Pastoral). We couldn't time out travel schedule to match those, but luckily we finally  experienced one in Wanaka (###link to our post###), which was a huge event in the area.

Every self respecting town has an annual A&P show (Agricultural &
Pastoral). We couldn’t time our travel schedule to match those, but luckily we finally experienced the show in Wanaka, which was a huge event in the area.

It was part a zoo

It was part a zoo

Part a beauty contest for gigantic Angus cows

Part a beauty contest for gigantic Angus cows

part competitive animal farming

part competitive animal farming

and part town festival with music, food and shopping. Notice the singer showing off a gigantic vegetable on stage.

and part town festival with music, food and shopping. Notice the singer showing off a gigantic vegetable on stage – her entry to the gigantic vegetables competition.

In several regions of New Zealand a more lucrative agricultural industry is doing well - New Zealand wines are world famous (and rightly so, we're glad to confirm after thorough research).

In several regions of New Zealand a more lucrative agricultural industry is doing well – New Zealand wines are world famous (and rightly so, we’re glad to confirm after thorough research).

Many wineries and vineyards are open to visitors and offer a delightful experience of wine tasting, lunch, tour and nap (I wish).

Many wineries and vineyards are open to visitors and offer a delightful experience of wine tasting, lunch, tour and a nap (I wish). This is Mission Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand’s oldest winery, established in 1851.

Fishing is also quite popular, and in Westland we suspect there may be too  much rain for almost any other type of agriculture. We got 150mm of rain in 24 hours - this is the annual rainfall in many other places in the world. This truck is selling an interesting combo of coffee and whitebait - a small fish (or a blend of several types of fish) usually fried and served as fritters.

Fishing is also quite popular, and in Westland we suspect there may be too much rain for almost any other type of agriculture. We got 150mm of rain in 24 hours – this is the annual rainfall in many other places in the world.
This truck is specializing in whitebait – a small fish (or a blend of several types of fish) usually fried and served as fritters, and of course coffee.

 

 

Lake Wanaka – Special Multimedia Post

The city of Wanaka, just like Queenstown, resides next to a wonderful lake, surrounded by high mountains. Yet, the atmosphere in these cities is quite different, Wanaka being the relaxed, calmer, adult sister to hyperactive Queenstown where the young crowd queues for Subway sandwiches and nightclubs alike.

We spent a few days at Wanaka, using it as a base for amazing day-trips nearby. One day we climbed to the base of a glacier named Rob Roy, the other day we drove to see the strikingly blue Blue Pools (and were chased away by evil sandflies), and on top of all that we condensed a four day track into a single day: We flew in a helicopter the first two days’ worth of walking (spectacular 20 minutes), walked a bit (3-4 hours), and then a jet-boat took us to the end (30 minutes). Amazing day and one of the (many, many) highlights of our trip.

We loved Wanaka, with its perfect weather, great food and coffee, and delicious local fruits and vegetables.

 

The scenic road from Queenstown to Wanaka.

The scenic road from Queenstown to Wanaka.

Wanaka Lake! Full of boats, swimmers, sunbathers and birds.

Wanaka Lake! Full of boats, swimmers, sunbathers and birds.

We spent the first night in our lovely tent (no, it didn't come in a suitcase as the photo might imply).

We spent the first night in our lovely tent (no, it didn’t come in a suitcase as the photo might imply).

In addition to great outdoor pursuits, Wanaka also offers other high quality entertainment.

In addition to great outdoor pursuits, Wanaka also offers other high quality entertainment.

Driving on the Haast Highway, this is the photogenic Lake Hawea.

Driving on the Haast Highway, this is the photogenic Lake Hawea.

New wallpaper!

New wallpaper!

 The "Blue Pools" is a 30-minute walk off the Haast Highway. The pools are indeed blue and beautiful, too bad this attraction also has the highest number of Sandflies we encountered in our entire trip! They actually have a board talking about sandflies at the beginning of the walk. Quickly cancelling our plans to have a picnic near the pools because of the sandflies, we ended up having lunch in the car - and still had a few stray sandflies getting in.

The “Blue Pools” is a 30-minute walk off the Haast Highway. The pools are indeed
blue and beautiful, but too bad this attraction also has the highest number of sandflies we encountered in our entire trip! They actually have a board talking about sandflies at the beginning of the walk. Quickly cancelling our plans to have a picnic near the pools because of the sandflies, we ended up having lunch in the car – and still had a few stray sandflies getting in.

Our vehicle for the day... Starting our Flying - Walking - Boating experience!

Our vehicle for the day… Starting our Flying – Walking – Boating experience!

The helicopter takes us to the start of our hike.

The helicopter takes us to the start of our hike.

The views are awesome. A wee alpine lake.

The views are awesome. A wee alpine lake.

Snow and glaciers as viewed from the cockpit.

Snow and glaciers as viewed from the cockpit.

Alpine / glacial lake. The special opaque turquoise color is caused by "glacier flour" which traps the blue color.

Alpine / glacial lake. The special opaque turquoise color is caused by “glacier flour” which traps the blue color.

Our helicopter takes off after dropping us off at the beginning of the track. From now on we actually have to walk...

Our helicopter takes off after dropping us off at the beginning of the track. From now on we actually have to walk…

The beginning of every track should be a dip in an almost-freezing pool of crystal clear turquoise water, as demonstrated by the brave A.

The beginning of every track should be a dip in an almost-freezing pool of crystal clear turquoise water, as demonstrated by the brave A.

Starting the 3-hour walk. As a fellow walker defined it, "Welcome to paradise"

Starting the 3-hour walk. As a fellow walker defined it, “Welcome to paradise”

Typical view during the walk. No photoshop was applied!

Typical view during the walk. No photoshop was applied!

Mountains, river, snow - the works!

Mountains, river, snow – the works!

The world's best looking bus station.

The world’s best looking bus station.

Here comes our jetboat!

Here comes our jetboat!

Driving to Rob Roy Glacier track, we were accompanied by many animals, including deer.

Driving to Rob Roy Glacier track, we were accompanied by many animals, including deer.

And sheep.

And sheep.

Always a good sign to see.

Always a good sign to see.

Do they only like Toyota from here on? After serious rainfall, the "fords" along the road become too deep to cross.

Do they only like Toyota from here on? After serious rainfall, the “fords” along the road become too deep to cross.

N enjoys the view...

N enjoys the view…

... While A photographs his shadow. Can't stop being excited over the color and clarity of the water.

… While A photographs his shadow. Can’t stop being excited over the color and clarity of the water.

The mighty glacier! With a representative waterfall of melting ice.

The mighty glacier! With a representative waterfall of melting ice.

N contemplating global warming and the best spot for post-track coffee.

N contemplating global warming and the best spot for post-track coffee.

And for the multimedia part: Check out this clip of Israeli singer Keren Peles, called “Lake Wanaka”. (embedded in the post, you can go here if you can’t see the video inline)

 

 

 

Fun in Queenstown (and Routeburn)

Queenstown is a city that has it all – a beautiful lake, mountains overlooking from above, hiking tracks, wildlife, and ski in the winter. To top it all, this is where commercial bungy jumping started, and every other conceivable crazy activity can be found here for a price – from mountain biking on cliff edges to tandem paragliding and skidiving and jetboating in the river canyons, and of course heli-skiing, heli-hiking, and heli-everything (A may or may not have done some of these). Of course, while the young crowd is in the city, bring on the shopping, night clubs, cruising, drinking, bad fast food — well, Queenstown has it all. We were also happy to find a great french cafe with fresh pastries (“Les Alps“), and a great Indian restaurant with the best service (“Spice Room“). N also loved our big shiny room at Nomads hostel, conveniently located just in front of Les Alps cafe. Can you tell we loved Queenstown?

Many things to do around Queenstown, in every direction you go. We walked one leg of the popular Routeburn track – up to the falls where the first track hut is located, and down again, surrounded by mountain and snow views and clear blue rivers.

* Special note to our family and friends celebrating Passover, Happy Passover! Miss you!

On the road from Invercargill to Queenstown we encountered this delicious mobile strawberry store, with the best strawberries we've ever tasted... yum! The best part - no pesticides, and sold by the farmer directly.

On the road from Invercargill to Queenstown (coming from Stewart Island) we encountered this delicious mobile strawberry store, with the best strawberries we’ve ever tasted… yum! The best part – no pesticides, and sold by the farmer directly.

Typical lookout on the road to Queenstown.

Typical lookout on the road to Queenstown.

On queenstown's lakeshore, hanging with the locals.

On Queenstown’s lake shore, hanging with the locals.

Queenstown, as seen from the cable car ("Gondola").

Queenstown, as seen from the cable car (“Gondola”).

Picture perfect view.

Picture perfect view.

As you can see, New Zealand is pretty far from everywhere else (except the south pole).

As you can see, New Zealand is pretty far from everywhere (except the south pole).

Typical queenstown activity - Bungy! Note - this is NOT us, just a random person who happened to be jumping as our cable car was passing by...

Typical Queenstown activity – Bungy! Note – this is NOT us, just a random person who happened to be jumping as our cable car was passing by…

Wahhhhhhhhh! Again, NOT us.

Wahhhhhhhhh! Again, NOT us.

He survived! (this is not us, mom)

He survived! (this is not us, mom)

On the Routeburn track, getting dwarfed by the trees.

On the Routeburn track, dwarfed by the trees.

Routeburn view.

Routeburn view.

This is the real color of the water - no photoshop or anything. It comes from the green stone (official name - Greenstone) at the bottom of the river, and the unbelievable clarity of the water.

This is the real color of the water – no photoshop or anything. It comes from the green stone (official name – Greenstone) at the bottom of the river, and the unbelievable clarity of the water.

unbelievable clarity of water, take 2 - all the dark greenstone is covered with water.

Unbelievable clarity of water, take 2 – all the dark Greenstone is covered with water.

Quintessential Routeburn view (aka "brochure view").

Quintessential Routeburn view (aka “brochure view”).

No showers & no Kiwis, but lots of beaches on Stewart Island

Stewart Island, the “third island” of New Zealand, is the southernmost place in the country. It has a population of 400 in total, living in one town – Oban. (Notably, tiny Oban was the only place in New Zealand we had trouble sleeping at night in our hotel room, due to noise from loud drinkers downstairs at the pub. The hotel generously provided ear plugs in each room – thanks!). The rest of the 647 sq mile / 1746 sq km island is a national park. Tourists like us flock to it to walk the 3-day Rakiura track, and to try and spot one of the 10,000-15,000 Kiwi birds living in the wild. It is considered the best place to spot these nocturnal flightless birds that look like that.

The Rakiura Track was our first “Great Walk” – a collection of 9 multi-day tracks defined by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) as even more awesome than the other tracks. A Great Walk means sleeping in DOC huts that you share with 10-40 other walkers; a typical hut has a room with wooden bunk beds with slim mattresses, a room for cooking and eating, water tanks, and very basic toilets outside. Everything else – electricity, cellular reception, showers, flush toilets – is missing. The greatest upside of these huts is that they make the post-track shower the most heavenly shower you have ever experienced, guaranteed.

The track itself was nice, with isolated sandy beaches and decent views of the island and the ocean. As to the kiwi birds, we’re pretty sure we heard them walking around and sniffing for food at night (having no natural predators, they are not afraid to be loud), but we didn’t get to actually see them (spoiler alert – we did get to see them later on on our trip during the Milford Track!).

Stewart Island is the A marker at the bottom of the map.

Stewart Island is the A marker at the bottom of the map

The view just walking around Oban, the only town on the island, was even more beautiful than the 3-day Rakiura Track...

The view just walking around Oban, the only town on the island, was even more beautiful than the 3-day Rakiura Track…

On the way to the track.

On the way to the track.

The beach just outside the hut on the first day.

The beach just outside the hut on the first day.

N hand-washing the shirt for tomorrow at the luxurious on-site facilities.

N hand-washing our shirts for tomorrow at the luxurious on-site hut facilities.

It was nice to get back to Oban, where cooked food and a hot shower awaited.

It was nice to get back to Oban, where cooked food and a hot shower awaited.

Kaka is the Maori name for these smart parrots. They fly all over Oban making beautiful calls. They stop for a visit at all the hotels where tourists like us feed them peanuts.

Kaka is the Maori name for these smart parrots. They fly all over Oban making beautiful calls and stop for a visit at all the hotels where tourists like us feed them peanuts.

When they get a peanut, they hold it with one leg / arm, and munch on it - very cute.

When they get a peanut, they hold it with one leg / arm, and munch on it – very cute.

8 minutes water taxi from Stewart Island is Ulva island - "a small island off a small island off a small island". The entire island is a nature reserve for birds.  The leaf in the photo is so large, hardy and common people were using it as postcards till the '70s.

8 minutes water taxi from Stewart Island is Ulva island – “a small island off a small island off a small island”. The entire island is a nature reserve for birds.
The leaf in the photo is so large, hardy and common people were using it as postcards till the ’70s. Yes it is weird!

This Robin - heavily ringed and tagged - is not afraid of people. On the contrary, people disturb insects which it enjoys eating, so it comes to us and waits for us to move. If you dig a bit with your shoe, it will feast on those insects you just disturbed.

This Robin – heavily ringed and tagged – is not afraid of people. On the contrary – it is smart enough to come close and wait for us to shuffle our feet for a bit, after which it will eat the insects our shuffling exposed.

This young Weka - another flightless bird we like - walked around us on the beach for a while.

This young Weka – another flightless bird we like – walked around us on the beach for a while.

This magical creature is actually two Wekas fighting, probably on territory.

This magical creature is actually two Wekas fighting, probably on territory.

Dolphins, Penguins, Sea Lions and Pandas* at The Catlins + Surprise Video!

The Catlins is a region in the south-east part of New Zealand’s South Island. It feels like the most deserted area of the country: No cellular reception, lots of unsealed roads, and less tourists (but no worries, the coffee scene is blossoming nevertheless). We stayed for four nights at the same accommodation A stayed at 13 years ago (!), which was just as great as he remembered. Overall visiting The Catlins was one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Wildlife is so accessible here: Want to swim with dolphins? Go swimming at Porpoise Bay, where a pod of 20 or so dolphins lives and will come to check you out. Want to see penguins? It’s a 10 minute walk from the dolphins. Sea Lions? A little drive up north. And so on, all with free and uninterrupted access.

In short, if you visit New Zealand, spending a few days at the Catlins is a must – it feels like the “real” New Zealand, unspoiled, non-commercialized, with tons of wildlife and very few tourists.

A lookout above Oyster / Tautuku bay, typical Catlins beach : long, beautiful, mostly empty. We saw two surfers there once - busy day!

A lookout above Oyster / Tautuku bay, typical Catlins beach : long, beautiful, mostly empty. We saw two surfers there once – busy day!

We stayed at the amazing "Hilltop Accommodation" - imagine a comfortable home (including a dishwasher!) on top of a hill overlooking this view, with only 1-2 people at most staying there with us.

We stayed at the amazing “Hilltop Accommodation” – imagine a comfortable home (including a dishwasher!) on top of a hill overlooking this view, with only 1-2 people at most staying there with us.

Nugget Point is an impressive lighthouse.

Nugget Point is an impressive lighthouse.

These are the "nuggets".

These are the “nuggets”.

Sea Lions playing at Surat Bay.

Nearby is Surat Bay, where we walked on the long beach, careful not to step on sleeping Sea Lions. Some of them were awake and gave us awesome photo ops.

The darker is a male, who came out of the ocean and woke up his sleeping lady friend who was sleeping in the sun.

The darker is a male, who came out of the ocean and woke up his sleeping lady friend who was sleeping in the sun.

Eventually she got tired of him and went back to the water.

Eventually she got tired of him and went back to the water.

Walking to the entrance of Cathedral Caves. We discovered two (related) things: 1) These are only accessible during low tide 2) N's hiking boots are extremely water-resistant!

Walking to the entrance of Cathedral Caves. We discovered two (related) things:
1) The caves are only accessible during low tide
2) N’s hiking boots are extremely water-resistant

We entered from one cave, came out of the other cave.

We entered from one cave, came out of another.

NZ Sheep obey traffic signs!

NZ Sheep obey traffic signs!

During the one-hour drive from Curio Bay (where the penguins are) to Hilltop, we saw at most one car each time. But we had to slow down for other road users: 4 deer, 4 possums, 3 rabbits, 2 porcupines, and 1 owl (most of them during nighttime).

Penguins! At Curio Bay - today, a nesting place for dozens of Yellow Eyed Penguins. Millions of years ago, a forest that was covered in a volcanic eruption. You can see tree stumps all around.

Penguins! At Curio Bay – today, a nesting place for dozens of Yellow Eyed Penguins. Millions of years ago, a forest that was covered in a volcanic eruption. You can see tree stumps all around.

Amazingly and inexplicably, these penguins are not as afraid of humans as the penguins we saw elsewhere in NZ. They basically came to us.

Amazingly and inexplicably, these penguins are not as afraid of humans as the penguins we saw elsewhere in NZ. They basically came to us.

Young chubby chick ("Schmendrik") still growing its feathers at 6-7 weeks old.

Young chubby chick (“Schmendrik”) still growing its feathers at 6-7 weeks old.

His (skinny) parents greeting each other after a long day.

His (skinny) parents greeting each other after a long day.

And preening...

And preening…

The family united!

The family united!

Surprise video – here’s a video N took on her iPhone of the penguins at Curio Bay:

Can’t get enough of our penguin photos and videos? We now have a whole page dedicated to the animals we see on the trip.

* no pandas

Dunedin (The Invisible)

Dunedin is a major city by NZ standards, or a cute university town by US standards. It’s located at the tip of the famous Otago Peninsula, and of course, no surprises here – lots of wild animals come ashore to the peninsula’s rugged beaches, including penguins, seals and birds of all kinds. The peninsula also features a rare colony of Royal Albatrosses, impressive 3-meters-wingspan birds that fly and glide better and longer than most others.

We stayed at an AirBnB home with amazing waterfront views and an extremely friendly Kiwi couple who invited us to enjoy fresh herbs and tomatoes from their beautiful garden. Having tried to grow tomatoes ourselves, we concede – theirs were sooooooo much better, and our daily salads were simply amazing. Their neighbors have taken the herb garden a step further (no pun intended – see photos below), growing vegetables and herbs in a big backyard greenhouse and selling fresh produce literally on their doorstep – you can’t go more local than that.

In short, Dunedin was a winning combination of a great little town (=great coffee), gorgeous water views and accessible wildlife. And did we mention the tomatoes?

Breakfast at our hosts' garden, with fruit and herbs from the garden

Breakfast at our hosts’ garden, with fruit and herbs from the garden

the neighbours' "storefront". Take what you want, leave a wee money in the box. Apparently these neighbors sported a peacock as a pet, and offered an attractive promotion - buy $3 worth of produce, get a free peacock feather! Guess what's in our trunk right now!

The neighbors’  “storefront”. Take what you want, leave a wee money in the box. These neighbors also sported a pet peacock, and offered an irresistible promotion – buy $3 worth of produce, get a free peacock feather! Guess what’s in our trunk right now!

AllPress coffee roasters, excellent. In the words of our hostess: "Saturday morning at the Farmers Market and then at AllPress... it is quite civilized, isn't it?"

AllPress coffee roasters, excellent. In the words of our hostess: “Saturday morning at the Farmers Market and then a Flat White at AllPress… Quite civilized, isn’t it?”

A view of a typical Otago Peninsula beach

A view of a typical Otago Peninsula beach

At the entrance to another beach, a sign with the six most commonly used languages in New Zealand. Number four: Hebrew.

At the entrance to another beach, a sign with the six most commonly used languages in New Zealand. Number four: Hebrew.

Same beach, different angle

Same beach, different angle

picnic with a view

Picnic with a view

A young albatross that just took off. They walk slowly and clumsily, but once in the air...

A young albatross that just took off. They walk slowly and clumsily, but once in the air…

...they use their huge wings and the strong winds ("roaring forties") to glide effortlessly. According to the staff working in the colony, once these young albatrosses leave their nest they circle the wild seas for a few years, never bothering to come to land, until they come back to mate

…they use their huge wings and the strong winds (“roaring forties”) to glide effortlessly. According to the staff working in the colony, once these young albatrosses leave their nest they circle the wild seas for a few years, never bothering to come to land, until they come back to mate

Gliding, they barely flap their wings. Thus, this is probably a rare photo!

Gliding, they barely flap their wings. Thus, this is probably a rare photo!