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Wanaka

Wanaka

By on Feb 10, 2015 in New Zealand, Places, Southern Island |

After spending a week in Queenstown and the weekend discovering the beauty of Milford Sound and the surrounding fjordland area, we decided to spend the week about an hour north of Queenstown in Wanaka.  First: We mispronounced the town name the entire time we were there.  From the way it’s spelled, we thought the name was similar to Fozzie the Bear’s punchline: wakka wakka.  Wanaka, Wanaka.  While we thought we were hilarious (maybe too much time spent in the car), it’s actually pronounced like whan- ah- kah.   Good to know.  Now you can fit in like locals. Wanaka is a beautiful lake town.   Being close to Queenstown, its tourism is increasing, but overall it’s a much more laid back town.  Willow trees line the sandy shores next to the main street.   There are even duck crossing signs.  The downtown area has some restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafes including Federal Diner that had some tasty sandwiches.  How can you not like a place that has a sandwich entitled Totes Ma’gotes?! There are some gems in this town: Paradiso Cinema where you can relax on a couch and eat some food while watching a movie and Puzzling World – Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness.  The town holds a little something for everyone. Our time in Wanaka went by fast – the weather wasn’t great so we used the opportunity to get caught up on some work, but we did venture out on a hike and walked along the shore line and explored some places downtown.   We saw the full moon rise over the mountains surrounding the lake from the balcony of our apartment, hiked to a high point overlooking the town, ventured to some shops, and listened to the cows in the backyard.   If you want a more upbeat time, Queenstown is definitely the place, but there’s still a small town feel to this neighboring town that makes it feel like...

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Milford Sound and Lake Marian

Milford Sound and Lake Marian

By on Feb 5, 2015 in New Zealand, Places, Southern Island |

To prepare for our trip to New Zealand, we read through a lot of blogs, books, and websites about places to visit in New Zealand.  We quickly realized Milford Sound was a must see especially after one blog explained the following:   Queenstown is the place where tourists come to vacation while Milford Sound is the place where Queenstown residents go to visit.  Rudyard Kipling described it as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”  We had to see for ourselves what all the hype was about. The drive from Queenstown is about 5 hours or you can make your way to Te Anau, a small half way point between Queenstown and Milford.  We made our way to Te Anau on Friday night (long summer days provide plenty of sunshine until around 9:30 or 10pm).  We stayed at the Village Inn at Te Anau which had an old town theme to it.  Each room had signs above it making us feel like we were closer to the wild west than the middle of New Zealand. Rain prevented us from exploring the town too much, but there’s a beautiful lake and great shops to take advantage of. From what we read, it’s better to head to Milford Sound early or later to avoid tour busses and traffic.  So we hit the road at around 6:30 after downing a quick cup of coffee (the gas station wasn’t even open yet).  Note* there’s no gas station at Milford Sound, so fill up before you head out  (we made it with enough to get back but there are no gas stations if you need one). The drive is worth the early morning wake up.  The single lane road winds through forest, mountains, past sheep and cow farms (a few deer farms too).  Even on an overcast, dreary days (which is most days), the views are spectacular.  The road is riddled with look outs, scenic overlooks, a long tunnel through a mountain, and hikes.  Since the drive is about 2 – 2 1/2 hours from Te Anau and our  morning cruise check in was 8:50, we only stopped a few times, promising we would spend some time on the way back.  Driving on winding roads in the...

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Queenstown: Hiking, Adrenaline Swing, Fergburger, and the walk around the lake

Queenstown: Hiking, Adrenaline Swing, Fergburger, and the walk around the lake

By on Jan 29, 2015 in New Zealand, Places, Southern Island |

To get to Queenstown, we decided to drive down from Hokitika.  There’s really only one road.  The ride is beautiful, but there was a lot of silence as our car only has radio and there aren’t a lot of radio stations on that leg of the drive.  We split up the drive with a stop at Fox Glacier.  It’s a quick hike.  About a half hour to the top where you can see the glacier.  Apparently you can’t walk on the glacier unless you do a heli tour.  Even though the glacier is a little dirty, it’s still pretty amazing to look at.  And the hike made us feel like we were in Jurassic Park.  Huge walls of stone separated the valley created by the glacier.  It was a nice way to split up the 7 hour drive.   Arriving in Queenstown, it was warm.  We checked in to our hotel and drove in to town for some food.  There, we had a giant delicious burrito from Caribe Latin Kitchen and walked along the beach while people danced to music and sunbathed (it was around 9pm on Sunday). The next day, we talked to the hotel and ended up getting our hotel room moved so we had a lake view (it never hurts to ask).  Thanks Mantra Marina.  You made our week!   The view from our new room overlooks the lake and mountains, not to mention it’s only about a half hour walk into town.  It’s pretty ideal. Queenstown reminds us a bit of a resort town in Colorado similar to Vail, Aspen, or Telluride.  The difference… The weather.  It’s summer here 🙂  We won’t experience the ski/snowboard culture that’s supposed to be amazing during winter here Adventure Capitol of the world.  Colorado may be packed with outdoor activities, but it’s got nothing on Queenstown.  Strolling along the roads in downtown Queenstown, you can wander in and sign up for luging, white water rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding, jetboating or the adrenaline swing to name a few. The lake.  The town is surrounded by mountains, but it also has a huge lake that is breathtaking. We were able to take a hike around Lake Hayes (about a 15 min drive out of town)....

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Kaikoura: Seals and Albatross and Dolphin Encounters Oh My!

Kaikoura: Seals and Albatross and Dolphin Encounters Oh My!

By on Jan 26, 2015 in New Zealand, Places, Southern Island |

After catching the ferry from Wellington to Picton, we picked up our rental car and drove to Kaikoura.  The drive is beautiful.  Since we’ve been without a car for over a month, it was nice to get behind the wheel again.  Brief shout out to the windy roads of Waitomo that helped prepare us for any kind of driving. As soon as got close to Kaikoura, we saw a look out point that had a view of the ocean and a colony of fur seals basking on the rocks.  We watched in awe as the fur seals fought each other and baby seals hobbled along the rocks, curious and wreaking havoc. Seals basking on the rock.  They didn’t even move when large waves crashed, spraying them with water.   The seals were feisty when we saw them.  Several started fighting.  These two started yelling at each other on the rocks.  The one on the right even swatted his/her flipper at the other. Besides the fur seals, the landscape was spectacular. The next day was our big adventure: The dolphin encounter.  If this isn’t on your bucket list, it should be.  Will had talked to someone who said she had done the swim in Kaikoura with dolphins and we had to do it.  Both of us thought it sounded neat-o, so we made it fit into our trip.  Best. Advice. Ever. It was one of the most amazing things either one of us has ever done.  Here’s our best explanation of the amazement that is the dolphin encounter. Sign up for the Dolphin Encounter swim.  We did this over a week ago to make sure we had a spot.  There’s lots of checking in and making sure the weather will be alright.  Good thing for us, the weather was warm and there was barely any wind.  We couldn’t ask for better conditions. Pack a bag with warm clothes, water, sunscreen, etc.  Since we don’t have towels we had to hire some from the Dolphin Encounter.  Lots of people did.  No big deal Check in – get fitted for our wet suits aka the stuffed sausage suits (go to the bathroom first, wet suit etiquette peeps), watch a lovely video explaining you may...

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Wellington Writers’ Walk and CBD (Central Business District)

Wellington Writers’ Walk and CBD (Central Business District)

By on Jan 26, 2015 in New Zealand, Northern Island |

Wellington has been our home for the past month.  We’ll post a special Mt. Vic blogpost soon (31 days hiking to the top), but for now, we want to talk about the small big town, Wellington.  It’s small.  The population for New Zealand’s capitol is about 449,000 people.  It has a small town vibe for it being a city.  Considering we traveled around the world to get here, we’ve run in to a couple of people in Wellington.  Will decided to rent a desk in a tech company downtown.  Heather, the woman he rented the desk from, shouted hello as we passed her several times throughout the city.  Then there was New Years.  We had ventured to the harbor to watch fireworks (we can now say we rang in the New Year first) and ran into John, a guy Will used to work with in Denver.  He ended up showing us a Japanese beer bar where we caught up with him over drinks.  Then, a girl Will did study abroad with in college ended up renting a desk at the same office where Will did.  Small world. Besides being a small, big city, Wellington is known for its culture and coffee (also it’s beer, but I’m pleading the fifth on that one).  Cuba St. downtown is full of street artists, shopping, and sculptures.  We passed by a jazz quartet jamming, then strolled further down to see two little girls playing Three Blind Mice into recorders.  You never know what you’re going to find there.  Not to mention there are outdoor stores similar to REI.  We found some good deals there, but be forewarned, the prices change daily.  Seriously.  The workers there actually told us that they change the prices and sales daily, so keep an eye out and be patient, but not too patient. Some of the sites downtown. A street performer about to perform. This diving platform sits right next to Te Papa, the museum in town.  The museum is free and a great way to spend the day.  Watching people jump off the diving platform is pretty entertaining too.  This day, it was too cold to jump, but we definitely saw some people jump before we left...

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Wellington: Botanic Gardens and Zoo

Wellington: Botanic Gardens and Zoo

By on Jan 22, 2015 in New Zealand, Northern Island, Places |

There’s lots to do in Wellington, especially when the sun comes out.  New Year’s marked the kick-off of Summer in the City in Wellington.   February is when summer events go into full swing, but January still had enough fun things for us to do around town.   The Botanic Gardens have a summer concert series with local musicians slated to play a few times during the week.  We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, so we packed up some food and libations for a picnic and made the trek to the gardens. There’s a few ways to get to the gardens, all of them include up.  After another uphill climb, we joined a packed lawn (we found a spot on the hill next to the lawn), laid down our blanket and enjoyed a picnic along with people watching.  It was the first concert with blue skies.  Bubbles floated above people’s heads as we took in the surrounding gardens.  People watching was plentiful.  We were surrounded by different accents and watched a group made up of one Gandolf hat wearer (must have gone to a LOTR or Weta Studios tour) and a bunny onesie suit.   Wellington’s town motto: The place of the possible.     The Botanic Gardens makes it feel like it’s true.  Entry to the garden is free.  We went to hear a country-folk band perform, but there’s a concert for almost everyone at the Botanic Gardens.  You just have to check their schedule.  After listening for a while, we strolled around the gardens at dusk, enjoying the light exhibits incorporated into the place of the possible.  The lights  in the stream are meant to signify the mutated fish that were a result of nuclear pollution.  It made us think of the Simpson’s 3-eyed fish and glow worms.   The stage.  People didn’t stand up on the lawn.  The bubbles were blown out from bubble machines located in a few places around the stage area. Definitely a fun way to experience some of Wellington’s culture.   This past weekend, we decided we needed to venture outside the city a bit but was torn between Zealandia and the zoo.  After looking at the map, it was an easy...

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