Tags: nz

Around the World. Fiordland, NZ

Just when I thought New Zealand couldn't possibly top itself, I went to Fiordland. I went to two fiords - Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. The two couldn't be more different.
Milford Sound is the "pretty" fiord. With beautiful green cliffs rising straight out of the water, waterfalls, and plentiful sunshine, Milford is the fiord that comes out good on photos. A playful school of dolphins that trailed our boat added to the experience. The sheer size of the fiord sides is impressive - yes, that is a full-size cruise ship on the photo below. 

Doubtful Sound was different. Remote, gray and forbidding, it's much larger and darker. Its beauty is understated - it's a place of quiet grandeur and scale. It's a true wilderness experience - our boat was the only thing for hundreds of miles. Just us, the forest, the mountains and the sky. I think Doubtful Sound is my kind of fiord. 

Tomorrow I head back to Auckland. Definitely looking forward to an urban environment, and lots of good eatin', as my friend Hazel is a notorious foodie.

Around the World. Wanaka, NZ

The previous night in Wanaka, I noticed a Turkish doner kebab place. I decided that I could reward myself with it if I go on a nice hike beforehand. Yep, that's how I work. 

The hike was a tough one, but I managed. Visions of decadent strips of meat helped get me through the toughest parts of the climb up the mountain overlooking Wanaka. The view, over both lakes and multiple mountain chains in all directions, was worth it. The dip in the lake right after - awesome. The doner kebab - heavenly. 

I then drove to Queenstown via yet another scenic road, although I would say the Haast one still takes the cake. Light rain greeted me as I entered Queenstown - and it was very welcome, as I had been dreaming of it while climbing in the merciless sun. So, another example of #pwm. Queenstown itself reminds me of one of those lake towns in Switzerland or Italy - a fairly compact, touristy town on a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. I had a terrific Thai dinner on a balcony, with another wonderful sunset as entertainment. With that, merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Around the World. West Coast Highway, NZ

Waking up bright and early, I had coffee on my "resort" porch overlooking the lake and the sleepy village. I then proceeded to Greymouth, where I had breakfast. The breakfast place was chosen solely because it also had wi-fi, but it was actually quite good. I then drove down the coast. The road skirted the edge of mighty mountains on one side, and golden beaches on the other, occasionally interrupted by flocks of sheep and cows. Sadly, the tallest peaks were shrouded in clouds. 

My first stop was an impulse turn into a narrow gravel road, which led me to a nice lake surrounded by mountains and forest. After a refreshing swim amidst a large group of kayakers, off I went. 

My next stop made my day. Literally - I basically spent most of the rest of the day there. Okarito was a tiny, Bolinas-like village around a pretty lagoon, with a great beach and views of the distant mountains. I climbed to the "Okarito Trig", which, from the pictures on the information placards at the top, was supposed to give me unparalleled view of the Southern Alps. If not for those pesky clouds. I knew the clouds were likely to clear up by sunset, so I briefly pondered staying on top till then - the vantage point was that good - but lack of water and the heat made me go back down. After a brief swim at the aforementioned beautiful and completely deserted beach, I decided to go on to Franz Josef glacier and check out the scene there.

The scene was the same - low clouds, which made trekking to the glacier kinda absurd. After a couple of hours walking up and down the main street, and attempting to take pictures through breaks in the clouds, I knew where I had to go - back to Okarito. Peaks were beginning to come into view and I had to hurry.
In a panic, thinking that I had missed the best view, I speeded to Okarito, and basically ran up the hill again. I made it to the top in 25 minutes, even though it was supposed to take 45 - such was my dedication to bring you, my reader, some great pictures. And it was worth it - all of the Southern Alps were now in view, bathed in perfect pre-sunset light. 

I have decided to stay an extra day in Glacier country - I like it here.

Around the World. Moana, NZ

I ended up in Moana completely randomly, as a hotel located here was listed as the cheapest lodging option in Greymouth, on the West Coast. Note that Moana is actually located on a lake, nowhere near the coast. The hotel, Lake Brunner Resort (maybe the name should have raised my suspicions), definitely didn't look like a resort, with reception in a pub, and completely vacant motel-like building next door. I didn't even bother asking if they had wi-fi.
Moana, however, turned out to be one of those unexpected magical places. A half-abandoned, almost deserted village, which reminded me of Russia, on the shores of a serene lake enveloped by mountains. I walked down to the water as the sunset was starting (yay for high latitudes - it was 8pm). I went past old fishing boats and a long-abandoned railway station, and through an empty vacation home to the water -completely alone and completely at peace. The only activities in the village seemed to be The Station Cafe ("serving morning and afternoon teas") and a group of firefighters practicing firefighting right next to the lake, with the setting sun lighting up their faces as if on stage. 
The sunset itself was one of the most stunning I have ever seen, with orange and red clouds reflected in the still waters of the lake and lighting the mountains from behind. I shall say no more - the pictures speak for themselves:

Around the World. Arthur's Pass, NZ

I landed in Christchurch, picked up the car, and headed directly towards Arthur's Pass. The New Zealand map I loaded on my GPS was nowhere to be found, so I went old school, rocking the road atlas. The road grew from scenic to spectacular to epic in about 30 minutes, and by the time I had reached the mountains, I was stopping literally every 5 minutes for a photo. Mointains towering over river valleys, covered with wildflowers surrounded me from all directions. Listening to Led Zeppelin as vinnipuh had taught me, I soon started hearing weird banging and hissing noises coming from the car. A moment of panic, until I realized the noises were actually coming from Led Zeppelin. 

The first stop was some interesting, Lord of the Rings-like looking rock formations dotting a mointain ridge, and looking down on the valley below. The LOTR association proved correct - Castle Hill, as the place was called, was indeed one of the filming locations. 

The mointains grew taller as the road climbed, and soon snowcapped peaks of the Southern Alps became visible. I went straight to the Park Office, where the ranger looked me over rather disdainfully, and suggested several hour-long hikes that seemed to go along the highway. I was firm, though, and was rewarded as the ranger recommended a four-hour hike, Bealey Spur Track, that had views as amazing as I had seen on any other hike I had gone on. This is my first day on South Island, by the way. The hike climbed through pine forest and alpine meadows up a ridge, with expansive, postcard views of the snowy Alps and the river valley below. The only disappointment was the fact that apparently New Zealanders don't believe in ending a hike with a bang, as the trail fizzled at some backcountry hut in the middle of the woods. 

After the hike, I drove down the pass via a mindblowing viaduct, continuing to stop at the most inopportune places for more pictures. I then drove down the valley on a very lonely country road to Moana, where I booked a hotel. Moana, however, deserves its own entry. 

Around the World. Auckland, NZ

After relaxing a bit and checking the score of the Broncos game (Pats 1, Religion 0), it was time to explore. I made my way from the house, down a street filled with various Asian markets, stores and restaurants (Best Indian Sweets, Persian Bread, Korean, Japanese and Chinese restaurants), to Mt Eden, a hill with commanding views of Auckland. On the walk over, I was struck by how much Auckland reminds me of Portland, OR, if Portland was filled with palm trees, and all bars and coffeeshops were replaced with Asian food. It's a charming, if rather sprawling city, with a compact, very Americanized downtown by the water. 
After taking in a beautiful view of Auckland and the surrounding bay, I made my way down. Eschewing the hip, foodie district at the foot of Mt Eden, I stopped at one of the aforementioned Korean places, and had delicious wonton soup and pork buns, as Korean TV blared overhead. 

I then went downtown to meet Hazel's friends, who are both also travel agents. After a tour of the waterfront, filled with yachts, and a few drinks (yep), we had dinner at an excellent NZ restaurant right on the water. The weather was perfect, the clouds reddened by sunset, and the snapper delicious. After dinner, we walked around the wharves some more, with Auckland downtown decorated with Christmas lights. 

Around the World: Auckland, NZ

After a great little stopover in San Francisco, with two separate parties (one, another excellent dinner by the_furman and mirelke , the other a superb brunch by vremyavpered, where I caught up with some really old friends), it was off to LA to begin my epic journey.

Luck started following me in New York (invited to pass a monstrous security line by an agent who thought I was on an earlier flight, and who I am to dissuade him), and continued on the to NZ flight, where the only open seat on the plane was located right next to me. After a pretty smooth trip, where I managed to sleep for a good 9 hours (something unprecedented for me), we started making our descent over Auckland. From above, New Zealand seems a true Shire-like pastoral paradise, with gentle rolling green hills and emerald-green water, ringed by golden beaches. I am now in Hazel's beautiful house, writing these words in a backyard  surrounded by flowers and filled with the sounds of (I would like to pretend) exotic birds. As much as I would like to stay here for the whole day, it's time to explore the city. A new continent awaits...