Monthly Archives: March 2015

March 31, 2015 Franz Josef Glacier and Greymouth, New Zealand

We left Queenstown and drove on the Haast Highway over Haast Pass, stopping along  the way to grab a shot of the Depot Creek Waterfall.  Since it was a long drive to our next destination, we stayedPicsArt_1428055408110 one night in the one horse town of Haast in the middle of nowhere,  and here is the horse to prove it. PicsArt_1428055531406 Haast had just one tiny antique looking gas pump, a couple motels and two restaurants with very limited menus.  One restaurant was the hotel restaurant.  After checking the menu we decided to drive to the other one down the street.  This restaurant had antlers hanging from every available space in the rafters throughout the restaurant.  Must have been over a hundred.  Eating while looking at partial deer carcasses and a limited menu convinced us to go back and eat at the hotel restaurant.  The sign on the restaurant door said “Beyond Your Wildest Expectations”.  We laughed.  Yep, pretty much described the town!  We did drive down to the beach for a look at the Tasman Sea before PicsArt_1428055703378heading inland. The Tasman Sea is a small sea of the South Pacific between Australia and New Zealand.  Since it was supposed to be chilly that night and I am very cold natured, we tried turning on the heat in the room with no response.  We asked at the front desk about the heat and they said it was controlled for the whole building by one control and they hadn’t turned it on for the winter yet.  When we asked about the electric blankets they advertised having, they said they never had electric blankets. They did give us a small radiator heater to take back to the room.  Kind of like a night in the Twilight Zone.

The next morning we continued on to “Glacier Country” and entered Westland Tai Poutini National Park for a three night stay at a town called Franz Josef Glacier.  PicsArt_1428055988695We came here to see the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.  We drove first along the seashore and then headed inland up the mountain pass through a rain forest setting with ferns and heavy tree cover.  The forests and woods on New Zealand are very thick.  The tiny town of Franz Josef reminded me of a ski village since it is tucked in the rainforest foothills of the southern Alps.  The town had one gas station, one grocery store and several restaurants.  No fast food here, not even a Subway. The gas here was about fifteen cents more per liter than we have paid anywhere else.

Our motel here was made up of ten little cottages and we enjoyed our cottage in the rain forest with a view of the snow capped mountains from our windows.PicsArt_1428315789605

There are around 140 glaciers that flow from the Southern Alps, however only Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers penetrate as far as the lush lower rainforests only 1,000 feet above sea level.

If you asked any ranger in a national park in the United States or New Zealand they would tell you that due to global warming, the glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate.  They say they are getting too much rain instead of snow in the winter and they will show you pictures of previous winters to prove it.  Yet there areas of the U.S. for example that are receiving record breaking cold temperatures and snowfall.  Global warming or not?  The whole debate gives us a headache.  We can only tell you what we see with our own eyes and let you decide.

As you look at the pictures of our hikes to see the glaciers, keep in mind we are hiking on land once covered by glaciers.  We saw signs showing us where glaciers once were not many years ago.  We passed several areas that used to be viewpoints but as the glaciers retreat, the hike is lengthened and the viewpoints moved in order to continue to see the glaciers.

We drove to a viewpoint where we could see Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and the Fox Glacier.  PicsArt_1428134533958PicsArt_1428134623641PicsArt_1428134687900PicsArt_1428135738823We then drove to the beginning of the Fox Glacier Valley Track to see Fox Glacier up close (meaning 200 meters away).  Fox Glacier is fed by four alpine glaciers and it falls 8,530 feet over eight miles. The hike was longer and steeper than we expected, with rock hopping over four streams and a very steep climb at the end on a rocky path.  Neither Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers are pristine white.  In fact they look quite dirty from the dirt and rocks that fall on them.PicsArt_1428136279437PicsArt_1428136800233PicsArt_1428137282498PicsArt_1428198835506PicsArt_1428136959959

The next day we did the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Track, a slightly longer hike but less steep and without any rock hopping over streams.  What made this hike special were the beautiful waterfalls we passed along the way to the glacier viewing area.PicsArt_1428139836990PicsArt_1428199739506PicsArt_1428199297771PicsArt_1428200164457PicsArt_1428200299322PicsArt_1428200542769

Our time here went by very quickly.  On our last day the owner of the motel brought us a basket of scones, still warm from the oven with butter, strawberry and raspberry jam.  They were delicious and we wolfed them down.

Leaving Franz Josef, we drove to Greymouth, stopping at Hokitika Gorge for a quick hike to the swinging bridge and a couple pictures.  PicsArt_1428315863987PicsArt_1428315966924PicsArt_1428315912045We stayed overnight at a lovely motel owned by a couple originally from the Netherlands.  We arrived in Greymouth on Good Friday and discovered almost everything closed for the holiday.  The two grocery stores in town, the shops and restaurants all closed.  It reminded me of what Christmas was like fifty years ago.  We found a McDonalds open and had dinner there.  While sitting there eating, a jeep pulled up giving us a full view of a dead deer draped over the spare tire on the back.  Didn’t bother Bill but a real appetite suppressant for me!

The next day we drove to Westport.  There are approximately 26 towns in the world called Westport, with many of them being in North America.  This is the only Westport in the southern hemisphere.

On the way to Westport we stopped by the Punakaiki coastal rocks which resemble huge stacks of pancakes and therefore are called Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.  These limestone rocks were formed thirty million years ago and have been sculpted by mildly acidic rain, wind and sea water.  The pancake effect was caused by immense pressure on alternating soft and hard marine life and plant sediment.  By the time we arrived at Pancakes Rocks there was a steady rain and gale force winds so strong it was impossible to keep an umbrella from turning inside out.  I could have possibly flown like Mary Poppins if I had tried to open one.  We put on raincoats and ponchos and refused to let the storm stop us.  We followed a nice paved trail that wound along the rocks with informational signs.  One sign said the rocks are gradually being eroded away by sea and wind.  By the time we returned to the car we were thoroughly soaked from the thighs down.  Unfortunately we still had an hour drive to Westport in wet clothes on a chilly day.  Amazingly even under these weather conditions  Bill was able to get some great pictures of the rocks.PicsArt_1428201370094PicsArt_1428201140224

This overnight stay in Westport ended our visit to the South Island.  We will take the car ferry back to Wellington Easter Day.  We will spend an additional two weeks on the North Island before flying home.

Some observations:

  • Almost all the motels we have stayed at are owner operated.  Along with fresh milk they offer laundry facilities.  Sometimes the laundry facilities are pricey, sometimes cheap and occasionally the washers are free and you can hang the laundry on their line or pay to use the dryer.
  • Internet has been much better than we expected and has been free at the motels.  Often it is unlimited and some limit the amount of usage.  It has enabled us to keep up with the blog and publish posts more often than we expected.
  •  We have noticed a lot of backpacker hitchhikers on the South Island.  Someone told us many of the restaurants employ backpackers on a short term basis while they are passing through the area.  They will work long enough to earn money for food and supplies before moving on.  All the servers in our restaurants have been young people.
  • Most restaurants add a 15% to 20% surcharge to your bill on public holidays, including Good Friday, Easter, and the Monday after Easter.
  •  While in Franz Josef we met several people from Florida on our glacier hikes including one who lives in Miami as well as several University of Florida graduates.  We also met people from Idaho, England and Australia.  There are a lot of Australians here on holiday.

March 28, 2015 Queenstown New Zealand

Queenstown is a hilly picturesque town along the shores of pristine Lake Wakatipu.  As if that wasn’t enough, it is surrounded by majestic mountains which are reflected in the water on a sunny day.  Like many other New Zealand towns, homes dot the hillsides.  Queenstown is knownPicsArt_1427946231934 as the “Adventure Capital of the World” since there are so many outdoor activities available to choose from.  It has a reputation for being the premier four season destination in the Southern Hemisphere and the world’s southern most wine producing region.  Queenstown is the birthplace of jet boating and bungy jumping.

We were not feeling particularly adventurous since it was drizzling and chilly when we got there.  It cleared up the next day but continued to be very chilly.  Autumn comes early to the South Island.tmp_20609-Queenstown tree-2006952504

While in Queenstown we drove one day to Glenorchy along the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu with breathtaking views.  The Queenstown area, especial Glenorchy, has been the backdrop for movies such as Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit trilogy, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, 10,000 B.C., Wolverine, and Prince Caspian.PicsArt_1427946109729PicsArt_1427946191873

We also drove to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Center.  In 1988 AJ Hackett and Henry Van Asch started the world’s first bungy jump facility in New Zealand.  This helped Queenstown become known as the adventure capital of the world.  We were able to stand on a large viewing platform and watch several people make the big leap.PicsArt_1427946577013PicsArt_1427946896046PicsArt_1427947072718PicsArt_1427947308639PicsArt_1427947236231PicsArt_1427947406658PicsArt_1427947478446PicsArt_1427947593831PicsArt_1427947802348PicsArt_1427947921007PicsArt_1427947713416PicsArt_1427947921007PicsArt_1427947713416PicsArt_1427947975236

Queenstown has plenty of tourists and traffic compared to other South Island towns.  They have a town center area with tons of shops and restaurants and it is a challenge to find parking during the day since we did not see any parking garages or public lots.  You can ride a gondola tmp_20609-Queenstown 1790877301and there are vendors everywhere trying to sell you any kind of adventure you can imagine.  It was common to see street performers and one evening we saw a young man in nothing but a thong singing very badly while being encouraged by a group of friends.  Our last night in Queenstown we went to a pizzeria for dinner.  We wondered why the crowds along the streets and in our restaurant were so rowdy.  We soon realized that New Zealand was playing Australia in the 2015 World Cup Cricket championship game.  We watched some of the game from our table.  Cricket is a strange game and the only way we knew what was happening was if the crowd cheered or groaned.  New Zealand lost, by the way, by seven wickets whatever that means.

Some observations:

  • New Zealand has its own version of American Idol (called X Factor), Dancing With the Stars and The Bachelor.  We also can watch the United States American Idol here on a delayed broadcast of several hours.
  • Kiwis love antique cars.  Wherever we are it is not unusual to see people driving around in them.  They love to take them out on the open road on a regular basis.
  • Even Bill is really tired of New Zealand food, especially New Zealand restaurant food.  We are both longing for American food right now!  Bill had goat for dinner tonight.  Sigh….
  • New Zealand has a ton of lakes, waterfalls and one lane bridges.

March 25, 2015 Te Anau & Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Yes, it was absolutely worth the wait in the cold rain to see the penguins, but we left them behind and headed to Te Anau.  This small town is beautifully situated beside Lake Te Anau, which at 110 feet deep and 40 miles long is the largest lake in the South Island and the second largest lake in New Zealand.  Most people come to Te Anau due to its proximity to Fiordland National Park.PicsArt_1427615306068

Fiordland National Park , New Zealand’s largest, is one of the last true areas of remote wilderness in the world.  It lies in the southwest corner of the South Island and is made up of three million acres.  Fiordland National Park is an amazing combination of valleys, glacial lakes and magnificent fiords, having been carved by glacial action over thousands of years.PicsArt_1427615582629

On our first day we drove from Te Anau to Milford Sound.  Rudyard Kipling visited Milford Sound in the early 1900’s and called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.  This Sound, located in Fiordland National Park, the northernmost fiord in the park, is a 10 mile long fiord over 1,312 feet deep.  The area receives over 22 feet of rain a year (over an inch a day average).  In the distance you can see mile high Mitre Peak.PicsArt_1427615780661

It was such a pleasant beautiful drive and we stopped at various viewpoints along the way.  Our favorite was Lake Gunn with its gorgeous reflection of lake, mountain and sky.PicsArt_1427615458593PicsArt_1427617260802

We had to go through Homer Tunnel, a one lane tunnel built in 1954 that is a little under a mile long.  We waited in line with all the tour buses and cars for the traffic light to turn green signaling we could enter the tunnel.  It felt more like driving through a cave than a tunnel with dim lighting.  So amazing how they blasted such a long tunnel through the side of the mountain. This ten percent inclined tunnel was carved from both ends simultaneously, and they met perfectly.PicsArt_1427615669230PicsArt_1427616254086

In Milford Sound we had our first encounter with the dreaded sandfly.  We had heard they are very bad on the west coast of the South Island and fortunately brought bug spray with us.  Within seconds of stepping out of the car I had five attacking one leg.  They have an intense bite and leave itching skin.  The bug spray has works pretty well so far.

The next day we had booked in advance a day cruise into Doubtful Sound.  We were supposed to go on Thursday, but due to a doubtful weather forecast (pun intended) we were able to reschedule for Friday.  Doubtful Sound, also in Fiordland National Park, is three times longer and ten times larger than Milford Sound.  It is the second largest fiord of the fourteen fiords in the park.

The area was named Doubtful Harbor in 1770 by Captain James Cook because he thought it was doubtful there was sufficient wind to maneuver his vessel into the narrow reaches of the water.  Early explorers wrongly called them sounds instead of fiords.  Sounds are caused by river erosion whereas fiords are carved and gouged out by glaciers.  This probably happened because most of the explorers were English and had never seen fiords before.PicsArt_1427618535277PicsArt_1427618486530PicsArt_1427618762216PicsArt_1427622680614PicsArt_1427621879966PicsArt_1427621780193PicsArt_1427618262431PicsArt_1427618003280

Our cruise started out early in the day when the tour company picked us up at our motel and bused us over to Manapouri where we boarded a boat for an hour ride across Lake Manapouri.  It was a beautiful ride with gorgeous views of the lake and mountains.PicsArt_1427617960648

Once we reached the other side of the lake we boarded a bus which took us through the rain forest over Wilmot Pass.  The only way to reach Doubtful Sound is to cross Lake Manapouri and cross Wimot Pass.  This steep, winding fourteen mile  road is New Zealand’s most expensive road and one of its most remote.  It was built in the 1960’s to provide access for heavy equipment during construction of a power station.  Floods, snows, mud and landslides lengthened the project from 12 months to 2 years.  We had a great bus driver who did a wonderful job maneuvering the mountainous road while keeping us entertained with information about the area.PicsArt_1427617740955PicsArt_1427617873570

The bus dropped us off at the dock at Deep Cove where we boarded a catamaran for a three hour cruise around Doubtful Sound.  At one point we briefly entered the Tasman Sea.  It was pretty chilly but we spent a lot of time on the deck enjoying the views.  We saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins.  There is a pod of about sixty that hang out in the Sound and seldom leave.  These dolphins are among the southernmost in the world.  They enjoyed playing around the boat, occasionally leaping in the air.  They were quick and hard to capture on camera.  We also saw one yellow eyed penguin swimming in the water.  Now we know what those penguins do all day while we are onshore waiting for their return.PicsArt_1427621208896PicsArt_1427621489576PicsArt_1427619519662PicsArt_1427624220489

The catamaran then dropped us back to Deep Cove where we once again rode the bus over Wimot Pass to the boat which took us back across Lake Mansour then to the last bus and back to the motel.  A marvelous ten hour day.  The tour company, Real Journeys, did an exceptional job and all their employees on the buses and boats were very friendly and helpful   They all truly seemed to enjoy their jobs.  And since there is no tipping in New Zealand no one was waiting during any part of the trip with their hand out expecting a tip.

We enjoyed meeting and talking with couples from Australia and France on the trip.

Te Anau, Fiordland National Park and all the area around it is truly a beautiful beautiful place!

Some observations:

  • Diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline at the fuel pumps.
  • The South Island is more mountainous than the North Island and has fewer people and more sheep, cattle and deer.
  • The South Island is colder, rainier and has many more bugs, especially sand flies.
  • The South Island has more tourists and Americans than we encountered on the North Island.
  • The South Island has more souvenir shops but less fast food restaurants.  Many smaller towns have a Subway restaurant but no other fast food.

March 22, 2015 Dunedin and Invercargill, New Zealand

After our visit to Mount Cook we stayed overnight in Timaru.  The next morning we drove towards Dunedin.  Along the way we passed the 45 parallel south which meant we were now closer to the South Pole than the PicsArt_1427353374559equator. We stopped at Katiki Point because our tour  book said we might be able to spot some yellow eyed penguins, the rarest and most endangered penguins in the world and native to New Zealand.   One of our goals while in New Zealand was to see penguins, preferably in the wild in their natural habitat.
We parked and began to walk along the beautiful coastline toward the point.  Suddenly Bill stopped and motioned toward a bushy area.  There, a few feet away, were two yellow eyed penguins.  So exciting!!  They are now at the time of year when they are molting, so they looked a little different from what you might PicsArt_1427256961287expect.  At first we barely moved and didn’t utter a sound for fear of scaring them away.  Once Bill took some pictures we moved closer down the path and they didn’t appear at all afraid of us.  This area is a highly protected reserve and we think they have become accustomed to people and know they have nothing to fear.  The area is under video surveillance and everyone is expected to follow the rules or face stiff penalties.
We proceeded down the trail and came upon one more penguin closer to the rocky shoreline.  What was really neat was there was also a fur seal not far from the penguin so we were able to get a picture of them together.PicsArt_1427257185593PicsArt_1427257249842
We walked to the end of the point passing by huge fur seals lounging on the rocks and upper hillsides.  We could have literally stepped over the seals and they would have cared less.  We enjoyed the view at the end of the point and walked back to the car, so pleased with our penguin discoveries.PicsArt_1427257784210PicsArt_1427257845710

Along the way to Dunedin we saw breathtaking views of the ocean with sheep grazing along the cliffs and people on horseback riding on the beach.   As we crested the top of a steep hill, we had a breathtaking view of the Dunedin nestled next to the ocean.  The first European settlers were Scottish settlers who arrived in 1848. It was originally named New Edinburgh but the name was changed to Dunedin which is an old Celtic name for Edinburgh.

“The people are Scotch.  They stopped here on their way from home to heaven, thinking they had arrived.” Mark Twain
Nearby goldfields generated wealth in the area and New Zealand’s first university, the University of Otago, was established here.  The discovery of gold encouraged the arrival of Chinese miners and by 1871 there were over 4,000 Chinese miners in the area.  Many settled permanently in Dunedin and are an important part of the community today.
We arrived in Dunedin late in the day since our penguin adventure took longer than expected.  We didn’t really have much time to explore the city before dark.  We did drive to Baldwin Street which is named in the Guiness Book of Records as the steepest street in the world.  The street runs from 98 feet above sea level to 330 feet above sea level with a slope of between 20% to 35%. The lower part of the street is asphalt but the upper reaches of the street, which is the steepest, is surfaced in concrete for safety on frosty mornings.2015-03-28_04-36-142015-03-28_04-35-56
Dunedin is often called the eco-capital of the world because of all the nature and wildlife in the area.  The Dunedin Railway Station is said to be the most photographed building in New Zealand.
I wish we had had more time to explore this charming city with its beautiful old Victorian and Edwardian buildings.
Next we headed to Invercargill.  Along the way our tour book suggested we stop by Nugget Point Lighthouse, which is the most photographed lighthouse on the South Island and a location often seen on postcards andPicsArt_1427258167378PicsArt_1427258384986 brochures of New Zealand.  The book said it was possible to see penguins here, though the best time to see them was between 5 and 6 PM  We saw a hide which is a little structure where people can hide so they can see the penguins but they don’t see us. It was early afternoon and we didn’t want to wait around that long since we still had a long drive to Invercargill.  We did trudge to the end of the trail where the lonely lighthouse sat on the edge of a PicsArt_1427258454378rocky cliff.  We enjoyed talking with a couple visiting from England.
Our time in Invercargill was short but Bill did have time to visit the E Hayes Motorworks Collection where there is a remarkable vintage motorcycle and car collection, but more importantly the world’s fastest motorcycle.  Ben Munro, built the World’s Fastest Indian, was born near Invercargill.  In 1920 he bought a Indian motorbike for $120 which he modified and tuned to a record of 190.07 mph, a world record.PicsArt_1427258753624PicsArt_1427258809437PicsArt_1427258654232PicsArt_1427258519862in 2005 the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian” was released and starred Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro.
Also while in Invercargill we spent one day on another penguin hunting adventure.  Using the tour book tip of best places to look, we first headed to the most southern point in all of New Zealand. Here we were the closest we would get to Antarctica.  While hiking to the point we walked in a field of sheep who at one point trotted ahead of us as if showing us the way.  I tried to get a picture of them up close with Bill but they were very skittish.PicsArt_1427258895661PicsArt_1427258977231PicsArt_1427259017269PicsArt_1427259083780
We intentionally set out late in the day because the best time to see penguins is around dusk when they swim back to shore to their nest after being at sea ALL DAY.  We joined a throng of people waiting anxiously PicsArt_1427259121841for their arrival in a roped off area with a DOC (Department of Conservation) employee there to be sure everyone followed the rules.  We had to stay behind the yellow ropes and no flash photography because they think it hurts the penguins eyes.  We waited an hour PicsArt_1427259916676and a half in a very cold drizzle until we were rewarded with one penguin fairly far away.  Just as we were about to give up someone spotted another one closer.  He washed up on shore and then proceeded to hop across some rocks and then stop and preen.  After watching him for awhile it was getting dark, we were pretty wet and really cold, and we had over an hour’s drive back to the motel.  Was it worth the hour and a half wait in the cold and rain?  Absolutely!!PicsArt_1427445322474PicsArt_1427444362975PicsArt_1427446952935PicsArt_1427445192178
Some observations:
We noticed many trucks with an engine breathing apparatus (snorkel).  Evidently they like to take their trucks and play in the water and need this engine snorkel.PicsArt_1427258088107
You occasionally see a business or house for sale, you never see land for sale.
It is strange to see deer fenced in.  We are used to seeing them only running wild.  Bill has enjoyed eating lamb and venison in New Zealand. Wild deer can be hunted year round.
The motel guest laundry and laundromats use cold water only.  This totally freaks out a germ freak like me!
We are enjoying meeting and talking with people from other countries around the world.  There are many tourists here from Australia, France, Germany and Japan.

March 20, 2015 Aoraki Mount Cook National Park New Zealand


Aoraki Mount Cook 12,316 FT

We had not originally planned on visiting this national park, but after reading about it we realized we were about to miss a real treasure so we changed some reservations and altered our itinerary to allow us to spend a day and night in the park.
In 1851 Captain J. L. Stokes, while mapping the West Coast of New Zealand, sighted a huge mountain which he named Mount Cook after Captain James Cook.  The Maori called the mountain “Aoraki” which means cloud piercer.  In 1998 Mount Cook was renamed Aoraki Mount Cook to incorporate its Maori heritage.  Aoraki Mount Cook is the only place to have its English name preceded by its Maori name.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park became a park in 1953 and is 270 square miles, with 40% of the area glaciers.  The park has 27 mountains with 140 peaks more than 600 feet high.  Mount Cook at 12,316 feet is the highest in New Zealand.  The park is a gorgeous combination of grasslands, huge river valleys, lakes and snow/glacier covered mountains.PicsArt_1427254251912PicsArt_1427254588800PicsArt_1427254635447PicsArt_1427254517456
Sir Edmund Hillary is New Zealand’s most famous New Zealander.  It was at Mount Cook in 1948 that he climbed his first major mountain, including the difficult south face of Mount Cook.  Hillary trained here for his Everest and Antarctica expeditions.PicsArt_1427255469862
We splurged and stayed overnight at the Aoraki Mount Cook Village – Heritage Hotel with a breathtaking view of Mount Cook from the balcony in our room.PicsArt_1427254836515PicsArt_1427254879336PicsArt_1427255062679
Before heading home the next day we decided to hike the Tasman Glacier Lake Trail which gave  us a view of Tasman Glacier Lake with small icebergs.  Our non-trusty tour book called it an easy 15 minute walk each way.  When are we going to learn not to trust that book?  The hike started out easy enough and we enjoyed meeting a couple from South Carolina along the way.  About a third of the way up the trail we started to come to some rocks to climb on.  Uh oh!  The climb got steeper with a greater number of rocks.  I do okay with steep trails, but I don’t do well with rocks.  I would have never made it to the top without my walking sticks and Bill’s patience and helping hand.  I felt like quite the wimp as young children sailed past me over the rocks and young people rerouted around me.  By the time we got to the top I was sufficiently traumatized and stood frozen to the spot while Bill took pictures of the lake.  The icebergs over the years have dwindled.
While Tasman Glazier is New Zealand’s largest glacier and icebergs periodically tear away from the face of the glacier into the rapidly growing lake,  the effects of global warming and other climatic processes are taking their toll on glaciers.  The Tasman Glacier is melting and calving at an exponentially increasing rate.  In recent years the Tasman Glacier has changed from mainly melting to a calving (pieces breaking from the glacier) and melting resulting in a lake that is rapidly increasing in size.
After Bill enjoyed the view and I pondered how in the world I would ever get down, we began our descent.  Did I mention we also had winds of around 30 mph during the ascent and descent?  Actually the descent wasn’t nearly as bad as climbing up had been but I was relieved to see the car in view.  This was my most difficult hike ever and I was proud of myself for doing it.PicsArt_1427256234540PicsArt_1427255799129PicsArt_1427256558840PicsArt_1427256491055
Some observations:
It feels strange seeing the leaves begin to change color and the farmers clearing their fields as autumn begins in New Zealand.
The drivers in New Zealand are very courteous.  If you turn on your signal to change lanes they immediately back off and allow space for you.  Merging is called “Zip” on traffic signs because you are supposed to merge alternating one lane at a time like a zipper.
Cost of living here is very high.  There is a GST (Goods and Services Tax) of 15% added to all goods and services purchased in New Zealand.
There is no industry in New Zealand so everything is brought in.  For example they ship their logs to Japan where they are made into paper products and shipped back to New Zealand.  Products may be labeled made FROM New Zealand products but it doesn’t say made IN New Zealand.  Everything in New Zealand is centered around farming and horticulture.  One man Bill talked with said a Ford F150 pick up truck here would cost about $95,000 New Zealand dollars.  The man has family in Dallas, Texas that he goes to visit and he said he is amazed how cheap everything is in America.

March 17, 2015 Christchurch, New Zealand

 We left Nelson and headed to Kaikoura.  During the two hour drive we saw many fields of sheep and cattle, as well as several fenced fields with large herds of deer and a field of llamas.  Venison is a popular item on menus here.
Shortly before reaching Kaikoura we stopped at Ohau Point where there were a large number of seals of all ages and sizes on the rocks and in the water.  People were able to walk down on the rocks and get up close and personal with the seals.  They had no fear of people and we hope that people respect the marine life rule: look but don’t touch.  While looking at the seals we talked with a family from New York State.  Always great to meet people from back home!!PicsArt_1426847688649PicsArt_1426845913329PicsArt_1426845997163PicsArt_1426846543154PicsArt_1426846327099PicsArt_1426846766240PicsArt_1426846945101PicsArt_1426847177841
We loved our motel room in Kaikoura.  For the equivalent of $106 American dollars we had a large room with a view of the ocean and small kitchenette, but best of all was the bathroom.  It had heated towel racks, a heated floor and a heater when you turned on the fan so the air was warm when you stepped out of the shower.  Loved, loved, loved it!PicsArt_1426848577753
After a short one night stay in Kaikoura we headed to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island with a population of 340,000.  The first recorded settlers here were Maori, with European settlers arriving in 1840.  In 1850 the first organized group of English immigrants arrived on four ships and are considered the city founders.  In 1856 it was declared a city and land was set aside to build the first dwelling, a cathedral.
It is called the “Garden City” but today it is very much a city under extensive regrowth and change.  The people of Christchurch are an extremely strong, resilient people full of hope and strength and resolve.  You see, since 2010 Christchurch has been shaken by over 10,000 earthquakes.  One earthquake was 7.1 magnitude, three earthquakes over 6 magnitude, fifty-seven over 5 magnitude, and many thousand more.  The 7.1 earthquake occurred in 2010, but the 6.1 earthquake in February 2011 did the most damage since it was shallow and close to the city center.  The 2011 earthquake killed 185 people and brought down many buildings already weakened from the 2010 quake.PicsArt_1426933713089PicsArt_1426932952379PicsArt_1426932886793
The destruction was evident to us as we walked and drove around the city.  Complete city blocks in the downtown area are now vacant after the destroyed buildings were razed.  In the face of all this tragedy the people have risen to meet the challenge.  Two perfect examples are the Cardboard Cathedral and Re:Start.
When the original Angelica Christchurch Cathedral was badly damaged in the quake, the people of Christchurch, just like the city founders before them, found a way to build a church.  Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed one of his famous “Emergency architecture” buildings in which a cathedral was built from 96 cardboard tubes, timber beams, structural steel and a concrete pad.  The cathedral opened in August 2013 and is a symbol of innovation, hope, and inspiration.  It is built to last for fifty years while the new permanent cathedral is designed and built.PicsArt_1426933949477PicsArt_1426933846113PicsArt_1426932273487PicsArt_1426931491835PicsArt_1426931983052PicsArt_1426931584830
Another example of the tenacity of the people is Re:Start.  After the quake destroyed their stores in the downtown area, business owners brought in converted steel shipping containers and operated business from these containers.  While many containers remain, we read that the containers are gradually disappearing as more permanent stores are being built.  We walked through the shopping area and had lunch at one of the vendors set up near the containers.  Bill had a lamb souvlaki which he said was very good.PicsArt_1426933050726PicsArt_1426933114187PicsArt_1426933266856PicsArt_1426933387410PicsArt_1426933449255PicsArt_1426933539195
There was evidence everywhere of construction as the city is hard at work rebuilding.  It is somewhat sad to see all the beautiful old buildings razed to make way for the larger new ones because the real charm of the city lies in these past structures.
As we walked their streets, ate in their restaurants, shopped in their stores, stayed at their motel, we were always met with smiling, friendly, cheerful people.  It was our pleasure to meet them.  They are an inspiration!
The next day we took a day trip to Arthur’s Pass which is the highest pass over the Southern Alps, connecting the east and west sides of the South Island.  The Southern Alps is a mountain range which runs along the western side of the South Island and forms a natural dividing range along the entire length of the South Island.  Arthur’s Pass is both a national park formed in 1929 and a small village where we had lunch at a small cafe.PicsArt_1427016427893PicsArt_1427016648557
After lunch we hiked to Devil’s Punchbowl, a 430 foot waterfall.  We use a tour book which we have found tends to underestimate the difficulty of the hikes, and this was another example.  This hike was marked as an easy though steep hike to the waterfall.  Not quite!  We met a couple coming back from the hike and the woman shook her head and sighed and mentioned 289 steps. Didn’t seem a big deal to us until we had started the hike and discovered that some of the 289 steps were cut into the earth and/or high steps which really presents a challenge for my short legs.  It was hard for me but the view at the top was amazing.  While there we met people from Seattle and Tampa, Florida.  For some reason we are meeting many more Americans on the South Island.PicsArt_1427015467225PicsArt_1427015243071PicsArt_1427014879996PicsArt_1427014239506
Some observations:
Most motels have guest laundry and if you don’t want to use the dryers they often have clothes lines outside.  Clothespins are called pegs.
Emergency is 111 not 911.
Reservations are called bookings.  When you go to a restaurant they may ask if you have a booking.
All New Zealand tap (faucet) water is among the world’s best and safe to drink.
On both the North and South Islands the motels all keep electric blankets on the bed.  The blankets are put under the sheet not on top of the sheet.  If you are not careful you will lay on one of the controls which is uncomfortable.  The first time we felt it we thought the springs were coming through the mattress.  We find having the blanket under the sheet where you lay on it with the wires odd.
The cold and hot water faucets are reversed with the cold water on the left and hot water on the right.
They include French fries (chips) with everything on the menu.  Bill ordered chicken parmesan last night and it included chips (no spaghetti). Bill asked if they would substitute mixed vegetables for the chips.  We are both really tired of French fries even though the fries here are always good.  I never thought I would say I am tired of potatoes, but I am!

March 14, 2015 Nelson, New Zealand


We arrived by car ferry in Picton on the South Island.  We were excited to see what how the South Island differed from the North Island.  We knew that less than one fourth of the population of New Zealand lives on the South Island.  We followed the coastline for awhile before starting a steep ascent up a curvy road with many large trucks.  We have learned it is a given that on any day when driving from Point A to Point B, at some time during the trip you are going to be driving on a steep and winding road.  We didn’t know that New Zealand was so mountainous.  The drive to Nelson took longer than we expected and we were tired by the time we arrived.
We were especially glad to be on the South Island since Typhoon Pam was forecast to hit the east coast of the North Island in the next couple of days.  We are expected to only get a little rain.
Nelson is New Zealand’s oldest city and this whole area known as “Marlborough” is known for having more sunshine hours than anywhere else in the country.  The entire region is known for seafood, horticulture and wineries.  This area is New Zealand’s largest grape growing region with 77% of New Zealand’s wine production happening here.  It is said that the wine from here tastes like no other wine anywhere else in the world.
One day we drove to Golden Bay to a beach there called Wharariki Beach.  We had read of a beautiful short hike from the car park to the beach.  The walk turned out to be more than we bargained for as it led us over four fences, through a pasture PicsArt_1426672580970PicsArt_1426672854574PicsArt_1426673018333PicsArt_1426673099564PicsArt_1426675502180with cattle and sheep grazing in the fields and then through up and over several sand dunes to get to the beach.  When we finally reached the PicsArt_1426673426484PicsArt_1426673332884PicsArt_1426673234442PicsArt_1426673555914PicsArt_1426673739899beach it was a beautiful sight to behold.  We walked along the beach and Bill took some pictures of seals on the rocks and PicsArt_1426674076114frolicking in the water.  We walked down the beach to a cave where we saw a mother, father and baby seal.  They were positioning themselves for a nap and didn’t pay us much PicsArt_1426675413421PicsArt_1426674944032PicsArt_1426674802960PicsArt_1426674441368attention.  Bill found a geocache and we headed back to the car.
The next day we went to Abel Tasman National Park, which was made a park in 1942 and is New Zealand’s smallest national park.  It is named for Abel Tasman, the first European in the region.  He never landed in New Zealand but was the first to see the area in 1642, even beating James Cook in 1770.  We thought it rather odd to name a park after someone who never actually set foot on the land!  The park is known for its golden beaches, tranquil lagoons, clear water, walking tracks and forested hills.  It is New Zealand’s most visited National Park.
There are no roads into the park so your options are to get their by boat or park and walk about twenty minutes into the park.  Many people prefer the water option.  You can get water taxis PicsArt_1426746544537PicsArt_1426746097099PicsArt_1426746000734PicsArt_1426745861974PicsArt_1426745573142that will drop you off and come back and pick you up after you have finished hiking and enjoying the beach.  We chose to take a three hour narrated cruise of the 50 kilometers of shoreline.  We passed by Split Apple Rock, Adele Island which is a bird sanctuary, and Pinnacle Island and Tonga Island with seals PicsArt_1426745417054PicsArt_1426745746543PicsArt_1426746450933lounging on the rocks.  Every cove had beautiful beaches with the clearest blue water.  The main rock along the coast is granite approximately 135 million years old.  The granite breaks down and forms the gorgeous golden quartz sand beaches.  We put some people from the States for the first time on our tour of the Parliament in Wellington.  On this cruise of Abel Tasman National Park we met a couple from Houston.
On the way home we stopped to find some geocaches and came upon this sign along the sign of the road.  We loved the picture of the pony on the pottie!PicsArt_1426746626627

Some observations:
Often the motel proprietor walks you to your room, turns on the lights, puts your milk in the fridge, etc.  A nice touch that is not done in the States.
Everywhere we go we notice all the motels have No Vacancy signs by the end of the day.
Many people, especially men have tattoos, some quite large.  Many seem to be typical of the Maori culture.
In order to qualify for citizenship you have to be under the age of 55.

March 11, 2015 Wellington, New Zealand

I forgot to mention in the last blog when we arrived in Napier we couldn’t figure out why there were cars parked everywhere…on every side street, full parking lots, and up on the grass.  Turned out they were having one of the 2015 World Cup Cricket championship playoffs.  New Zealand was playing Afghanistan.  There were quite a few Afghanistan fans staying at our hotel and dining in the restaurants.  Cricket is so popular in New Zealand and every restaurant TV had cricket games playing.  Seemed like a weird form of baseball to us!
Before leaving Napier we stopped by Pak n Save to pick up a few supplies.  I stopped by their bakery department and bought some fresh blueberry muffins.  They were delicious!  I told Bill at last I found something better here than back home.  Our sales receipt gave us four cents off per liter at their gas pumps so we decided to get gas there too.  Their gas pumps are without attendants so you put cash in the machine and push your pump number.  If you need money back you have to trot back into the store and wait in line at the service counter.  A bit of a hassle but with the price of gas here it is worth it to get the four cents per liter discount.
The drive to Wellington is four hours and with stops for lunch and rest it took us over five hours.  We took turns driving.  We have found driving here to be tiring.  It is as if you are constantly fighting your brain which is yelling that you are driving on the wrong side of the road.  And so much to remember with the turn signals on the right of the steering wheel and the passing lane to your right.
We arrived in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand around rush hour but fortunately most of the traffic was driving out of the city.  Wellington reminded us of San Francisco with its high density housing dotting the hillsides and the hilly streets.PicsArt_1426408702263PicsArt_1426414012484PicsArt_1426416659144
We settled into our motel and asked the hotel proprietor for a restaurant recommendation.  He said there was a restaurant at the bottom of the hill with great fish and chips.  We made the short walk down the hill.  After two weeks I have come to the realization that I am happiest ordering off the sides part of the menu instead of the entrees.  I can make a delicious dinner from a garden salad, fresh mashed potatoes and fresh bread.  Here I ordered a garden salad and some garlic bread.  It was the best salad I have had since leaving the States.  Bill said his fish and chips were the best he has ever had.
The next day we caught the city bus to the cable car.  When you board the bus you place your $2 coin in a small tray next to the PicsArt_1426415408139PicsArt_1426414160097driver.  A machine prints you out a ticket.  Seemed like a waste of paper to us but the purpose is to show proof you paid should anyone ask for it.
There was a line at the cable car ticket booth because there was a cruise ship in town and everyone wanted to ride the cable car.  We enjoyed chatting with a young lady who was a librarian at PicsArt_1426414286388PicsArt_1426414434844PicsArt_1426414988362the local public library.  She had hoped to make a quick run home via the cable car to pick up something she left, but got caught in the cruise ship line.  The cable car was fun to ride, especially the trip downPicsArt_1426415181715 when it was less crowded and we stood in front and Bill chatted with the very friendly cable car operator.  The trip up and back was steep and went through two tunnels.  Quite different from the cable cars in San Francisco.  The two cars are connected by ONE cable where the cars are  balanced, one car is going up and the other car slides down using gravity. As you can see the PicsArt_1426414782503PicsArt_1426415307090cable looks pretty small. At the top we walked through a cable car museum and enjoyed the great views of the Wellington area.
After lunch we walked to the New Zealand Parliament building.  After going through security we signed up for their next tour.  IWe had an hour to spare and they said we could sit in the public gallery and watch a Parliament session.  We went through additional security where we basically had to leave everything behind with the guards except what we had on and Bill’s wallet.  Today’s meeting was a question and answer session.  On one side of the room was the government and on the other side the opposition.  The opposition was asking questions of various government members.  The session was presided over by the Speaker.  We were amazed as the government and opposition members yelled at and interrupted each other and shook their heads and rolled their eyes.  We received a copy of the twelve questions being discussed.  There were such questions as:
To the Minister of Climate Change:  Is the Government’s objective to increase New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions or is the Government’s objective to decrease New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions?
To the Minister for Economic Development: What reports has he received on GDP growth in New Zealand’s regions?
To the Minister of Justice: What advice, if any has she received about Iriheke Pere given that it is over 18 months since he was shot in the back while he was handcuffed and not resisting arrest.
To the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made on steps to protect children? 
Some of the greatest heated responses came came from questions related to roads.  One member of the opposition asked the question to the Minister of Transportation: How much has been spent in total by the New Zealand Transport Agency on roads in the Northland region under the National Land Transport Programme set by the current Government since it was elected in November 2008?  This question led to a lot of yelling by each side and eye rolling by the opposition.  The man who asked the question then held up a big photo of the road mounted on poster board.  This infuriated the Speaker who asked him to remove it.  When the opposition man got up to take it out he held it up and paraded it out for all to see.  This infuriated the Speaker even more and he told the man to collect all his things and leave the session which he did.  It was all very entertaining and fascinating and we were sad when our hour was up and we had to leave for the tour.
We had a nice tour of the Parliament building, a beautiful old building. Next door is a building called The Beehive which is very much like our White House except it is not a residence.  PicsArt_1426415666243PicsArt_1426415558968Their elected government is confusing to us and we still don’t get the government vs opposition thing. The Crown (currently Queen Elizabeth) appoints the Governor General.  For the first time since arriving in New Zealand we met some Americans also taking the tour who where from California and Utah.

We finished the day with a drive through Mt Victoria Tunnel and a drive up a steep, narrow and winding road to the Mt Victoria Lookout which gave us a nice view of Wellington and the harbor.
The road was extremely narrow made worse by residents being allowed to park on the side of the road, making it a one lane PicsArt_1426415775513PicsArt_1426415904748road in places.  You never knew what might be coming at you as you rounded each curve.  A real nail biter for me!!
The next day we caught the Interislander car ferry from PicsArt_1426416196165Wellington to the PicsArt_1426416563374South Island.  Our ferry was named Arahura meaning “Pathway to Dawn”.  It is capable of carrying 125 cars and 550 passengers with a crew of  45.  It has eight decks.  We got there early and were near at the front of the long line of cars, motorcycles and campervans.
The trip took about 3 hours and we sailed 50 nautical miles.  It was a perfect day for sailing with blue sky and calm seas.  We sailed through Queen Charlotte Sound and Cook Strait.  James Cook first sighted land here in 1770, but he wasn’t the first PicsArt_1426417350246PicsArt_1426417262976PicsArt_1426417111149PicsArt_1426417054187PicsArt_1426416991400PicsArt_1426416928534PicsArt_1426416833818PicsArt_1426416747242European to do so.  More about that in the next blog post.
We landed at Picton, a small seaport on the South Island and began the drive to Nelson, our next overnight destination.PicsArt_1426417538107PicsArt_1426417436045
Some observations:
They only put the house dressing on salads, they never give you a choice of dressings.  Fortunately most of them have been very good.  A couple times I have been disappointed to find beans in my salad….lima, kidney, etc.  Love the roasted pumpkin seeds in my salads.
Pharmacists are called chemists.
Catsup is tomato relish or tomato sauce and is not as good as the ketchup back home.
Churches in New Zealand are small and plain, usually made of stone or wood.  We have not seen any large, grandiose churches.
Eggs are not refrigerated in the grocery stores.
There are no artificial sweeteners on the tables in restaurants.  Only sugar and raw sugar.
They do not put salt and pepper on the tables in restaurants.

March 8, 2015 Napier, New Zealand

We left Turangi and drove toward Napier.  We stopped at an an overlook, only expecting a view of the cloud draped landscape but were pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful waterfall Waipunga Falls.PicsArt_1426065419667

Our two and a half hour drive took us through pastures and I mountainous terrain before descending to the coast and a fabulous view of Hawkes Bay in the Pacific Ocean.  Due to its fertile soil and temperate climate, it has thousands of acres of farms, orchards and vineyards.  It is a major food producing area of New Zealand.
We arrived in Napier, scene of a devastating earthquake in 1931, and checked into our motel.  Our room was on the third floor and motels do not have lifts (elevators), so we had to haul all our stuff up the stairs.  It was all worth it when we opened the door to our room and saw the balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean and heard the waves crashing against the shore.PicsArt_1426066672862PicsArt_1426065903769PicsArt_1426065997719
Napier is a cool little town with tree lined boulevards along the beach and an art deco theme.  It is one of the cruise ship destinations and we saw a cruise ship in port while we were there.
We spent one day just exploring the little town, doing some geocaching and enjoying our ocean front balcony.
Our second day we chose to do a hike to Shine Falls.  It is 190 feet tall and without a doubt one of the prettiest we have ever seen.  It was about an hour’s drive from our motel along some PicsArt_1426068328493PicsArt_1426068548594PicsArt_1426067697716pretty winding roads that included six miles of gravel road.  We passed pasture after pasture of cattle sheep and horses along the way.  While the hike was advertised as “moderate” in difficulty, it did include some challenging ascents and descents and we were glad we had our walking sticks and hiking boots.  We started by walking through a pasture and the path led us over hills to the bush (forest) area.  We arrived at the falls hot and tired, but my oh my was it worth the trip!!  We sat for awhile drinking in the beauty.  Bill contemplated getting in the pool of water at the base of the waterfall until he felt how cold it was!PicsArt_1426068644368PicsArt_1426068183266PicsArt_1426068097150PicsArt_1426068003493PicsArt_1426067849044
Some observations:
In our travels so far around the North Island we have seen very very few billboards of any kind along the roadways.
I mentioned the price of gas in the last blog posting.  It has averaged us around $1.38 US dollars per liter so far.  There are 3.785 liters per gallon, which puts the gas in New Zealand at around $5.22 US dollars per gallon.
We often hear radio stations in restaurants and stores playing American music.
We have been able to watch American Idol, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and occasionally Fox News on about a seven hour delay.  Many other American shows we normally watch on CBS, ABC and NBC are several weeks to months behind schedule so we have seen many of them already.  We have also been able to watch some great American movies on the tv in our motel rooms.
Sometimes we see New Zealand on a map in a Visitors Center or on a weather map on tv and we are struck by just how remote and isolated New Zealand really is!  We really are in the middle of nowhere!  COOL!

March 5, 2015 Turangi, New Zealand

Our next stop was Turangi, about a 45 minute drive from Taupo.  We were glad we had timed our visit to Taupo just right since they were having an Ironman Marathon competition there that weekend and hordes of people were beginning to descend on the town, traffic was picking up and the hotels were all displaying No Vacancy signs.  I had practiced a little driving while in Taupo and felt comfortable driving to Turangi.  Along with driving on the wrong side of the road with the steering wheel on the right, the turn signals are on the right side of the steering wheel with up meaning left turn and down a right turn.  The windshield wiper control is on the left side of the steering wheel.  The lights on the right.  My biggest fear are the round a bouts where you drive on the wrong side of the road going in a clockwise direction in a circle.  Back in the States we drive in a counterclockwise direction.

We arrived in Turangi, a sleepy little town known as the “Trout Fishing Capital of the World”.  It is known for three things: trout fishi white water rafting, and its close proximity to Tongariro National Park.  Can you guess which of those three brought us to Turangi?

We checked into our home for the next two nights which was really a fishing lodge with several cottages spread around the property.  We are no longer surprised to receive our complimentary bottle of milk (we always have a choice of whole or skinny).  We were pleased with our cottage with a living room area, kitchen, bathroom and separate bedroom.

If you guessed Tongariro National Park as our reason for coming to Turangi, you are correct!  Tongariro National Park is the first national park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world.  It is a Dual World Heritage Area because of its cultural and physical attributes.  It is made up of three active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe.  It is a 80,000 hecacre park with lava flows, craters, hot springs, forests, and ski areas in the winter.  Much of the Lord of the Rings movie was filmed in this park.  Mt Ruapehu is New Zealand’s largest volcano with its peak rising to 2797 meters and the largest ski area in New Zealand.

We knew that bad weather was forecast for the next day, so after settling into the cottage we drove part of the way to the park in hopes of getting some pictures of the mountains before they became fogged in the next day.  We stopped at an overlook on the way back to grab a geocache and spent a few minutes chatting with some French tourists.  We are surprised we have still not met any Americans.PicsArt_1425893920648PicsArt_1425894203351

By now we were getting hungry and since the restaurant choices were very limited in Turangi, we decided to stop by the grocery store.  There was only one grocery store in town, a chain called New World.  They proudly advertise themselves as being 100% New Zealand owned.  We prefer Pak n Save since the prices tend to be a little cheaper, but the New World stores are always clean and the people very friendly.

We decided to get some bread, peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches since eating lunch out was getting old and we needed to pack a lunch to take to the park the next day.  We noticed you can buy sliced bread for sandwiches or thicker bread for toast.  One of the first things we did after arriving in New Zealand was purchasing a large cooler and that has really come in handy as we travel from place to place.

The frozen dinner selections in New Zealand are extremely limited, no matter which store you go to.  We settled on a frozen pizza to cook back at the cottage.  I needed something to cook the pizza on so it wouldn’t make a mess in the oven, so I walked up to the office and asked the owner for a cookie sheet and a pot holder.  He looked at me like I had three heads since he had no idea what I was talking about.  After explaining why I needed them he went into his house adjacent to the office and after consulting with his wife he came out with something resembRings (LOTR) a cookie sheet and a dish towel.  Guess they don’t use pot holders/oven mitts in New Zealand.

The next day we awoke to clouds and showers and drove to Tongariro National Park.  New Zealand does not charge a fee to enter their National Parks.  In return you are not furnished with free maps and information on the park like we receive in the States.  We passed the beautiful Tongariro Chalet on our way to the Visitors Center.  The rangers at the Visitors CenterPicsArt_1425894759930PicsArt_1425895367737PicsArt_1425895869605 were warning hikers about the forecast calling for heavy rain, cold temperatures and gale force winds, especially on the mountain trails which are famous for their hiking, one being the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  They had stopped running the shuttle that takes hikers to the beginning of the trails in an effort to discourage hiking that day.  There were still some die hard hikers who failed to heed the warning and headed out.  We contented ourselves with seeing two great movies about the park which explained how in 1887 Chief Horonwku presented the land to the Crown for the purpose of a national park to ensure the land’s everlasting preservation.  This area of New Zealand was one of the last to be settled.  Development was slow until the railroad reached there in 1909 and the first visitors began to arrive.  In 1936 WWII servicemen settled in the remote valleys under a government program to transform the forest into farmland.  Though initially prosperous, the farmers eventually gave up due to difficult access for trading and the Great Depression.  A bridge called “The Bridge to Nowhere” is a memorial to their dreams. Development began to mushroom in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the building of roads.

After finishing at the Visitors Center we decided to drive the loop road around the park and do some geocaching.  We had hoped to take some short hikes, but by now the rain had picked up and the wind was really whipping.  With temperatures around 50, not factoring in the wind chill, any hikes were unpleasant.  The rain did let up long enough for us to take a short hike to Tawhai Falls and we did stop a few times to grab some geocaches close to the car.  With the rain and fog we didn’t have a chance to see much except for field after field of sheep.  A lot of sheep! By the time we headed home the rain had turned into a steady downpour.  We stopped for a quick dinner at a pub and were glad to get home, somewhat wet and cold.PicsArt_1425896138763PicsArt_1425896362586PicsArt_1425896504018PicsArt_1425896702790

Some more thoughts on food:

If you want a burger most like back home go to a fast food restaurant.  All larger towns have a McDonald’s or a Burger King or both.  Wendy’s is most like back home but they are harder to find.  If you order a burger in a sit down restaurant it is standard for it to come with an egg, beets, carrots, lettuce, tomato and onion all piled on top. If you ask, they will leave off the egg and beets, but we went in one restaurant where the snarly waitress told Bill that is the only way they fix it and told him to order something else.  That kind of rudeness is rare here.  Most people are eager to please and helpful.

I am supplementing my diet with shortbread cookies, but I am getting tired of them.  They have never heard of White Zinfandel wine here so I have adjusted to drinking Rose and it isn’t bad.  Wouldn’t you know my one positive adjustment was wine? And I don’t drink that much.

Bill’s biggest adjustment was the coffee.  Both the price and the weak taste.  He finally decided to buy some instant coffee at the grocery store and uses the pot furnished in all the hotels to heat water.  American beer is also ridiculously expensive here or not offered.

Since we have no way to keep ice cream in the tiny freezers, we have broken our habit of eating ice cream at night.  Just as well since the ice cream here isn’t as good as back home.  There are no donut shops in New Zealand.  They have bakeries but things taste different.  I think it is the flour. French fries are always good and mashed potatoes are always fresh, never instant.

Some observations:

The government wants to make the country completely smoke free which makes the tourism industry very nervous because they feel it will keep tourists from coming.

Gasoline is averaging about $1.92 a liter.  Half of the money goes back to the government.  We got a free card from BP which gives us a few cents off at the pump and gives us more money off as we add up points from purchasing fuel. There is no pre-pay at the pump.  You pump your gas first and then go inside to pay.

No 7/11 convenience stores here.  They have something similar throughout the country called “The Dairy”.