Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

The good news is that I went to Milford Sound yesterday. The bad news is that it rained all day.

Located on New Zealand’s rugged west coast in an region named, appropriately, Fiordland, Milford Sound is a long, narrow fiord where sheer granite cliffs rise vertically from the ocean. The Sound was once described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ Maori legend attributes the creation of the fiords to a ‘titanic mason,’ Tute Rakiwhanoa, who hued out the steep sided valleys with keen edged adzes. This explanation seems to fit, as the sheer breadth of geological events that created this gash in the landscape is barely comprehensible. Geologists tell us that this otherworldly scenery was created by glaciers that advanced and then retreated, taking the underlying rock with them, allowing the Tasman Sea to intrude 16 kilometers into the land.

The bad news is that the bus trip required 13 hours along torturous, curving roads and I forgot to take my motion sickness medicine. The good news is that the trip incorporated numerous stops into its route.

Endangered Takahe birds at Te Anau Conservation Park New Zealand

Endangered Takahe birds at Te Anau Conservation Park

At our halfway mark we stopped for coffee in the small town of Te Anau (Tee AH nee yew) and purchased our lunches, as this town is the last outpost of civilization before reaching Milford Sound. On our way out of Te Anau we made a brief stop at a Department of Conservation park that is responsible for protecting New Zealand‘s endangered birds. Among these endangered species is the Takahe, thought for many years to be extinct until only a few pairs were spotted. Since that time DOC has been breeding the Takahe in captivity, from pairs that were injured and nursed back to health. These pretty birds, with their iridescent blue feathers and red beaks strutted around their cages for us, totally unconcerned with the fact they were on display as our cameras clicked. Read More

Today was an exploring day. I began by taking a ride on the ski gondola that climbs to the top of the hill behind the town of Queensland and ended with a walk around the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The gondola is not for those who are faint of heart as it ascends steeply and fairly rapidly with minimal clearance between the gondola car and the rock face of the mountain, but the views from the top are breathtaking, as these photos will attest.

Riding the gondola, high over Queenstown New Zealand

Riding the gondola, high over Queenstown

View from the top of the gondola ride Queenstown New Zealand

View from the top of the gondola ride

View from the top of the gondola ride Queenstown New Zealand

View from the top of the gondola ride

In between the gondola ride and my lakeside stroll I wandered up and down the steep streets of town in search of historical buildings, but other than a couple of old stone churches I found little else of a historical nature. Queenstown has an interesting past steeped in gold mining lore. Sadly, nearly all traces of this early history have been wiped out by modern development and redevelopment. However the town is undeniably picturesque – I was not disappointed with the scenery I discovered during my five-hour walk. Read More

I awoke from my mid-flight snooze when the plane began its descent toward Queenstown, New Zealand. We were flying over the red, brown and gold Southern Alps, their craggy peaks covered in fresh snow. The valleys between the peaks held a chain of lakes in their cupped palms. Formed of runoff from the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers to the west, their waters are an almost otherworldly pastel aqua hue.

The Remarkable Mountains lurk just beyond the airport in Queenstown New Zealand

Just beyond the airport, the Remarkable Mountains lurk

I was so focused on the astonishing color of these lakes directly that I had not been paying attention to our descent, so when I looked up I was startled to see just how close we were to the mountains. Queenstown sits on the shores of an alpine lake that lies at the very foot of the Southern Alps and landing here is somewhat tricky. The pilot threaded the plane in and around several mountain valleys as he made his approach to the runway. We flew so close to the mountains that the wingtips seemed to barely clear the valley walls. Although I couldn’t get to my camera as we were landing, I did manage to snap this photo as I disembarked from the airplane. The mountains are aptly named – The Remarkable Mountains.

Queenstown is beautiful. It took my breath away – not only for its beauty, but also for the temperature. Just when I had acclimated to the colder temps of the North Island I stepped into the arctic conditions of the far South Island. The high here yesterday was 15 degrees celsius, which is about 59 degrees Fahrenheit. The backpacker lodge where I am staying advertised heated rooms – one of the reasons I chose them – however they do not turn on the heat until about 4 in the afternoon and it’s turned off again around 10 AM. So, after checking in, my first stop was the local Salvation Army store, where I bought a coat, scarf, hat, and long woolen socks. Read More

When the Dune Rider pulled up to my hotel at 7 a.m. I knew that this was not going to be your typical tour. This purpose-built, four-wheel drive, air conditioned Mercedes coach sat atop giant tires designed to negotiate the quicksand streams of 90-Mile Beach, traverse rocky outcrops, and barrel through surf on its way to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand’s North Island. I was thoroughly intrigued and planted myself firmly in the front seat.

The Dune Rider does tours of New Zealand Northlands

The Dune Rider

Lush greenery of the Northlands New Zealand

Lush greenery of the Northlands

Our route took us past some of the most stunning scenery yet. The problem is that tours cannot stop every ten minutes for me to take a photo, so I did the best I could through the window of the vehicle as we were bumping down the pavement, attempting to show the lush green hills that dominated the landscape, although the photo really does not do justice to the beauty of the place. Read More

For the past 48 hours I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. After spending all day seeing the sites I returned to my hotel room each night and spent hours writing articles and preparing photos I’d taken that day. Most of the time this was no problem. Recently, however, I’ve taken so many photos that I’ve been up most of the night – at most I’ve had five hours sleep over the past two days. So when I got on the bus for the four and a half hour trip to Paihia on the North Island of New Zealand, I was so sleep deprived that I went out like a light.

Historic church Paihia New Zealand

Historic church

Paihia's waterfront New Zealand

Paihia’s waterfront

I awoke sometime later when the bus stopped to pick up passengers. Bleary-eyed, I looked out the window. At first I thought I was dreaming. I shook my head and looked again. I was staring directly into the eyes of a hairy beast penned inside a corral next to the bus stop. The strains of the old tune “Wooly Bully” echoed through my mind….surely this MUST be the creature from that song. It was the size of a large buffalo but was covered in long brown hair that grew down to the ground. Sticking straight out from either side of his head were long horns with ends that tipped upward like a Viking hat. He peacefully munched on grass, looking like a prehistoric beast if ever I saw one. Beyond him in the pasture were other unusual livestock – perhaps llamas or alpacas. Further down the road I saw horses “dressed” in coats that reminded me of the lead-lined shields used in hospitals when X-rays are being taken. These coats were draped over the horses, reaching almost to the ground and covering them from mane to tail. Weird. Welcome to the Northlands.
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The fast ferry made the trip from Auckland to Waiheke (Why-HICK-ee) Island in a flat 35 minutes. One of the many volcanic islands that dot the bays around Auckland, Waiheke has long been a favorite of New Zealanders (it is where they go to get away from it all) and it is easy to see why.The scenery is simply stunning. Jagged black basalt cliffs soar over seas ranging from blue-grey to midnight to aquamarine. Pretty black sand beaches tuck themselves between towering walls of lava. At low tide, pools stained with multi-colored algae offer up their micro world for exami- nation. Here and there, exposed sandstone and feldspar paint the rock walls in golds and reds. And deep, luscious green grasses have taken hold in the rich volcanic soils.

Tramping the trails on Waiheke Island New Zealand

Tramping the trails on Waiheke

Tramping the trails on Waiheke on Waiheke Island New Zealand

Tramping the trails on Waiheke

Tidal pool along the trail on Waiheke Island New Zealand

Tidal pool along the trail

What is perhaps most unique about Waiheke is that a series of interconnecting trails criss-cross the island, making its beauty accessible to anyone willing to make the effort. It is for these trails that I came to Waiheke – I hoped to complete two of the loops. I picked up a trail guide from the brochure rack inside the ferry dock and asked which of the trails would have the most stunning scenery. The man at the information counter suggested that I take the track on the north side of the ferry dock by going around the dinghies at the water’s edge, then following the bay around until I picked up the path. As an aside he added, “Ah, well, it’s high tide at the moment but I think you should make it around the rocks OK.” That should have been my first clue about what I was getting myself into.
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