Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Campervans in New Zealand Kick Ass!!!!
New Zealand is just too gorgeous of a place to not check out Troy's photos of South Island on our photo website.
We just spent close to three weeks in South Island, New Zealand and we loved it especially since it reminds us of Colorado, of course without the ocean and the gajillion sheep. Both are beautiful with huge mountains, snow capped peaks, gorgeous sunsets, rolling farmlands that are brown... excuse me... golden, high fire hazard, chilly nights, and perfectly clear skies. We did our fair share of driving, covering over 2300 miles in 18 days. Honestly I didn't know the South Island was big enough to drive that far. But drive we did and we saw as much as there is to see.
Spending three weeks in NZ Troy and I decided to rent a camper van instead of staying in hotels every night. As we found out a huge number of tourists do this so we were not original in our thinking. You would probably feel like the lonely fat kid on the block who has no friends if you were driving around in a little rent-a-car instead. Troy and I are not very good campers. We have discovered there are certain comforts we like to have while out in the big bad wilderness such as a refrigerator, toilet, shower, and a soft comfy bed. We are a little ashamed of ourselves but at least we can admit it. We definitely were happy with our shower/toilet combo since it's cold at night and the last thing we wanted was to have to do our business in the woods while we froze our ass off! Originally we planned on staying at camp sites every few days to use the power. But once we realized it was not essential to have the power to run our microwave so we could have popcorn we headed off the beaten path and camped every night next to rivers, lakes and beaches eating chili dogs (mmmm chili dogs), NZ green lip mussels and enough local wine to open our own liquor store. The beach was the best until Troy's handy dandy GPS told us it was full moon with high tide at 2am and the ocean tide got a little too close for comfort to our camper.
Speaking of the gajillion sheep, they are not very smart animals. We're driving down a dirt road and the fields on both sides of us are packed with sheep. Some how a lot of them were outside the fence so they were crossing back and forth across the road as we approached. It is amazing how quick they panic and freak out. We're driving as slow as we can so they can get out of our way (and to cause them the least amount of panic) but there is this one lone sheep that can't figure out what to do. "Which way do I go? Do I go this way, no I'll run this way. Oh wait, no I'll go back across the road. Oh shit, the truck is still there, where do I go, what do I do? Somebody help me! Ahhhgggh, I wish my brain wasn't so small so I could figure out what to do!" The sheep is running faster and faster as he criss crosses back and forth across the road until he finally manages to find the side of the road only to run full speed, face first into the fence. You could only laugh at the poor animal!
One thing we planned on doing when we got here was some hiking. We have become quite lazy on our trip so we definitely needed some exercise. Only we became a bit over ambitious on our first hike and ended up doing a 17 mile/28 kilometer hike. Considering over the last few months our main form of exercise consisted of walking from the train station to the hotel with our backpacks, climbing a few church steeples and swimming against current while diving, this hike just about did us in. But obviously we survived and didn't go quite as far on other hikes. One of our hikes ended at the base of a glacier with dozens of waterfalls running down the rock face with the bright sun shining everywhere. It was one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever done. We were feeling quite special since we were alone and thought we were the only ones who knew of this hike. That is until we turned around and on our trek back we must have passed at least 75 people heading toward the same glacier.
We also wanted to tackle some white water rafting which is one of our most favorite things to do and whenever there is an opportunity to go, we go. Unfortunately since it is not spring there is no snow run off so the rivers were not running very fast or high. We almost decided to not go until we were offered a little two person rubber duckie raft. This was a hoot!!!! In a normal raft that sits about six people, you sit fairly high above the rapids. And unless they are class three, four or even five (four being scary huge rapids) you don't get very wet nor is it horribly exciting. You just kind of putz along the river looking at the scenery. We love scenery and all but we can get that out of the windows of our camper van. So we wanted something a little more exciting. This little duckie turned class two rapids into class three+ rapids which was wild. We were down low in the thick of the rapids and were getting drenched at every bump and turn. Loads of freezing water gushing over our heads, water forcefully splashed into our faces, water going up our noses and filling our duckie with water. It was also a lot more work then on the big raft because Troy had to steer (instead of the guide steering) while I paddled us through the rapids before the rapids paddled us. We're both yelling at each other "PADDLE! PADDLE! GO RIGHT! PADDLE HARDER! GO LEFT, GO LEFT, GO LEFT! PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE! WATCH OUT FOR THE ROCKS! OHHHHHH SHIIIIIIT!" Seriously, it was a blast!!!!!!
If we thought we got close to the water with our rubber duckie, we got even closer when we went river sledging. We have never heard of this before we got here so we definitely had to see what it was all about and give it a go. What you do is you put on a really thick wetsuit, fins, helmet (mandatory to avoid getting your head smashed by a boulder) grab a glorified boogie board, jump in the river and ride the rapids just like you're riding a wave at the ocean. Talk about a face full of water at every turn not to mention the adrenaline of not having a raft to protect you from running into the rock walls. Our first run down the river wore us out because we had no idea what we were doing even though we were given instructions. It is definitely one of those things that looks easier then done. But our second run down was much easier and more fun since we had figured things out.
You can't come to New Zealand and not see the amazing wildlife that the country is known for. We saw a lot of sea lions from car parks while they sunned on nearby rocks but we hoped to get closer to them. My guidebook named several places on the west coast to see them up close but our best clue was knowing where the locals go. So on a rainy, windy day we headed to Sarat Bay in the hopes the sea lions would be out. After getting drenched walking in the rain and tall, wet grass we almost gave up until we turned the corner and saw four huge sea lions right on the beach about 50' away from us. We couldn't tell from their behavior if they were playing or fighting but we found out later that it is the mating season so there was some testosterone behavior going on, trying to woo the females towards the males [see video of sea lions]. We really had to keep our eye on them as we moved closer because we were told they move very fast on sand and since it is breeding season the male might have wanted to try one or both of us on for size!
Next was the Royal Albatross which is an endangered species. Birds don't normally interest us but these are amazing creatures. For one thing their wing span is 9' across. That is just enormous if you think about it. Second, they can spend years (yes years) out at sea never setting foot on land. The South Island is the only place in the world that has a mainland colony of breeding Albatross birds. All the other breeding sites are on small islands so it is very difficult to see these birds so close unless you're on the open ocean. Another bird we had to see in the wild were penguins. We lucked out at one beach as we saw one penguin come out of the surf and head to the grass where her babies were. But she was not that close and there was only one. We were greedy, we wanted to see more. Very near the Albatross colony was a penguin conservation reserve that is on private farmland but is open to the public to view the penguins that come and go from the ocean. I honestly have to say, these penguins were just so cute. I never use that word, but they were cute that I wanted to pick them up and hug and squeeze them. Though not so cute when they poop. It's a little sad that they have no legs, just feet attached to a fat belly and have to waddle and hop to get from one place to the next. I guess evolution forgot a few things when it came to the penguin. The penguin we saw is the Yellow Eyed Penguin or the Hoiho. These are very endangered with only 4000-5000 left in the world. We also saw the blue penguin which is the smallest peguin in the world, but they wouldn't come out of their little holes so we could see them better. We have a video of a penguin walking and a video of a penguin being fed if you are interested.
New Zealand also has the most unusual geological land. Everywhere we turned were either millions of years old petrified forests, odd perfectly shaped spheres of rock, cliffs of rock and sand that shot out of the earth like stack of church spires, deformed shaped bouders and disgusting sea kelp that looked like gigantic strands of spinach fettuccini. I know it's not the most exciting thing to write home about (which is obviously what I am doing) but the things we saw were just weird. Just look at the photos and see for yourself!
It's a good thing we're done with New Zealand because Troy is tired of driving. After 2300+ miles I don't blame him. Next up, Fiji then onto Vanuatu!