Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Drive to Milford Sound

On January 2, we were scheduled to kayak at Milford Sound. Unfortunately, with all of the rain, the road to Milford had been closed for a couple of days and we didn't know if it was going to open back up in time. Well, it didn't open in time for our 9am kayak trip, so that was cancelled, but it did open at 11am, so we were able to drive there from Te Anau for an afternoon scenic boat ride (more on that in the next post). I'd say that the drive to get there was just as, if not more beautiful than Milford Sound itself. I think the rain actually added to the amazing sights.

One of our stops along the way was Mirror Lakes, which (when it's not raining) has a lovely reflection of the mountains in the water. We didn't get to see the reflection, but the lupins were pretty. Lupins are the pink and purple wildflowers that you see everywhere when driving around New Zealand at this time of year. I couldn't get enough of them!

Because of all the rain, the water levels everywhere were high. This rushing river was super loud, and I could see why the road had been closed for a few days, as the bridge looked like it could easily be flooded.

The rain did make for spectacular waterfalls all over the rocks. It reminded me of my trip to Uluru, where it never stopped raining but gave us a unique viewing experience. This picture is just before you go through Homer Tunnel (over a kilometer long!), and the one below is the view just after going through the tunnel.

Another stop along the way is called The Chasm. You do a short walk through an extremely green forested area to see swirling water rush through deep rock holes. It was pretty cool.

These birds are called Keas, and they are the world's only alpine parrots. You see them hanging out in parking lots on the way to Milford Sound, because the tourists feed them. We even saw one Kea trying to chew on the molding of a car roof. The owner of the car didn't like that too much!

Even though it was a long, wet drive, the road to Milford Sound was one of the prettiest I've seen. I wish we could go back and experience it in the sunshine as well!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back in Melbourne

We made it back to Melbourne late last night, so we're getting back into the swing of things today. I have plenty of stories about our crazy time in Byron Bay, but I'll save those for when my parents come back through (they are in New Zealand right now) and I can use some of their pictures. Anyway, I also have some posts in the works about the Australian Open and Luna Park. But tomorrow I'll get back to the posts about our trip to New Zealand and try to finish those up by the end of next week!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stranded in a Cyclone!

We are currently stranded in Byron Bay. Our flights were cancelled, there is no way for us to get to Sydney until at least tomorrow, and the rain and wind haven't let up for three days. Oh yeah, and the power went out about an hour ago. So much for our glorious beach vacation/ Australia Day/birthday celebration! I'm down to 7% phone battery, so I should go now. Hopefully we'll get home tomorrow and my family will be able to get to New Zealand somehow.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Family Is Here!

My mom, dad, aunt, and uncle are in Australia! We are all in Byron Bay for the weekend...trying to have fun despite the rain. Today we hiked to the lighthouse. Lots more to come when I get back to Melbourne and my computer. Happy Australia Day!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Year's Eve and Other Queenstown Activities

After our exciting swing ride and bungy jump, we headed back into Queenstown and ate a late lunch at Fergburger. This place is a must-visit, and the wait for food is over an hour. But it's worth it; the burgers are awesome! You don't usually get big, juicy burgers on this side of the world, but Fergburger is the real deal. Yum.
Later that night, we started our New Year's Eve festivities with drinks by the campfire at our caravan park. We met some fun folks, including some people from Michigan! When it got closer to midnight, we walked into town, where we were able to see the short fireworks show over the lake.

Then we hung out in town for awhile and danced to the live outdoor music. The band played fun songs, and we had a good time despite the cold, rainy weather. After a couple of late-night slices of pizza, we headed back to our campervan and enjoyed our first sleep of 2013.
Another must-do in Queenstown (which we did a few days later) is the Shotover Jet. This crazy boat ride zips through the canyon, doing fast spins and going ridiculously close to the rocks on the side. It's like a roller coaster ride, and it's tons of fun. If you ever end up there, look for a picture of our friends Kristy and Nigel on the wall inside the building. Kristy was the 3 millionth passenger! Anyway, Queenstown is full of great stuff; more to come on our time there in future posts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nevis Swing and Kawarau Bungy Jump

The last day of 2012 was probably one of the most exciting of the whole year. We were in Queenstown, New Zealand (the same place where we had gone snowboarding in August), and we purchased a combo deal to do the Nevis swing and the Kawarau bungy jump in one day. 

Nevis Swing
First up was the Nevis swing, which is the highest swing in the world. I actually wasn't scared about doing it at all, as we thought it would be just a fast, smooth swing over the canyon. I did start to get a little nervous when they hooked us in and we had to sit down in our leg straps, as I thought there would be a bench or bar of some sort to sit on. When they released us, I was shocked. There was a 70 meter drop! I guess I hadn't done my research; I thought the swing would be a nice morning "warm-up" before our bungy jump in the afternoon, but it was quite a thrill!
This was our view looking down in the canyon from the top of the swing before they let us go. I've included the video (they actually let me hold our camera as we rode) below, but I'd just like to point out that the blood-curdling scream you hear belongs to Zack, not me. I'm the one laughing like a maniac. What a rush!

Next we were off to do the Kawarau Bridge bungy jump. This is the location of the world's first commercial bungy jumping operation, so we were doing the original, real deal! This picture shows our view from the bridge near the jumping platform. Yes, the water is actually that color.

Zack and I had pumped ourselves up for this 43 meter bungy jump for a long time, even practicing our countdown and how/when we would jump (after 3 or on 3?!). I was glad that the Kawarau site lets you jump in tandem, because I sure didn't want to do it all on my own. Zack had bungeed before, years ago in California before I knew him, but he has been scared of heights ever since he took them up on their offer of a second and third jump for only a few dollars more and did a backward jump that messed with his head. I had a minor meltdown before we went to get strapped in, but then I had to be the brave one and force us to take the plunge when we got up to the platform.

The build-up was much scarier than the actual jump; it was over so quickly. I remember thinking that I didn't have a choice when it was time to leave the platform, because if I didn't do it right away, I would freak myself out and stay up there forever. And since Zack was attached to me, he had to come along when I went! 

I definitely remember seeing the awesome blue water as we jumped. You can make requests about not touching, touching, or getting dunked in the water below, and the workers try to calculate it correctly based on your weights. They got it right, and we both got to touch the water like we wanted (I wasn't up for getting dunked!). The other main thing I remember was all of the blood rushing to my head as we were hanging there after the jump. It kind of gave me a headache!

So now I can cross bungy jumping off my bucket list. I'm totally glad I did it, but I'm not sure I would do it again, unless it was at a really awesome site like this. It was kind of one of those "been there-done that" sort of activities, but I'd definitely recommend that everyone do it at least once. Our bungy jumping video is below (Zack edited it a bit and added a fun song). I'd say we ended the year of 2012 with some excitement, right?!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Canyoning in Wanaka

December 30th was spent canyoning outside of Wanaka. We were scheduled to do the "Big Nige" trip, but the water levels were so high that they only let us do the "Niger Stream" trip, which was pretty extreme with the amount of water pumping through the canyon! When we first arrived, we had to hike up a hill with all of our gear. This might have been the most difficult part of the day, but the scenery was nice!
Then we put on our super thick wetsuits, helmets, and harnesses and started our adventure. We got to abseil down a few large waterfalls like the one seen here.

We also got to do some ziplining, some cliff jumps (including one really high one!), and some sliding down water chutes (including one head first!). The sliding was my favorite part.
Sometimes you didn't even know what the bottom looked like; you just had to trust the guides and slide down into a big pool of water at the bottom. The canyon was awesome; it was like a naturally occurring water park!

Canyoning made for a really fun day full of adventure, and we're so glad we did it. I'll end with a video of Zack doing one of the jumps with an oh-so-graceful landing!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Puzzling World in Wanaka

On Saturday, December 29, Zack spent the morning doing some rock climbing while I took a little hike near the lake we were camping next to in Wanaka. In the afternoon, we went to Puzzling World. This attraction includes all sorts of illusions and puzzles and such. It was somewhat entertaining, though I wouldn't say it was a must-do. I've included pictures of some of the more interesting parts of the place.

The faces on this wall would "follow" you as you moved, kind of like the Mona Lisa.

I'm actually standing up straight.

Zack and I are standing in the same room!

This is what it looked like up close.

From a certain angle, you see this.
The indoor area had all of the above illusions (plus lots more). Outdoors was the maze. You had to find four different colored towers (one in each corner). It took us quite awhile and was quite frustrating at parts, especially when you ended up at dead ends or couldn't find your way to the bridge you needed. Eventually we found all four towers and then took the shortcut out because we were sick of the maze by then! The picture below shows just a small portion of the maze.

This was near the toilets.

Out in front of the place you could take funny pictures with this clock tower, and one of our masterpieces is seen below. Puzzling World was a decent way to spend a cloudy afternoon in Wanaka.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

On December 28, we spent the day exploring the two most accessible glaciers in New Zealand. We were hoping to do some ice climbing, but one glacier company wasn't running trips anymore and the other didn't have room for both of us (even though I tried to book over a month in advance). We considered doing a guided hike instead, but we figured since we had spent plenty of time exploring St. Mary's Glacier in Colorado ourselves, that we didn't need to spend our money on that kind of trip, though lots of people say they're awesome (you're not allowed on the glacier without a guide). Anyway, we first visited Franz Josef Glacier, where there was a 45 minute hike to get near the face of it. This picture shows our view near the start of the walk.

Along the way, there were massive waterfalls to enjoy and a strangely colored gray river leading out from the glacier. I'm standing next to the waterfall in the picture below, so that may give you an idea of its size, and that doesn't even include the upper part of it!

When we got closer to the glacier, I was struck by the blue hues in the ice. I've never seen anything like that in snow, and it looked really cool (ha-literally!).

We, um, sort of snuck under a barrier rope to walk farther along the path to get closer to the glacier. To be fair, lots of other people did it too (I know, I know), but that included a guided glacier group, so I knew it couldn't be that dangerous. That meant we got to see this ice cave and got a much better view of the blue hued glacier.

A nice, older California couple took this picture, and we ended up walking all the way back to the parking lot with them, chatting the whole time. They were traveling around the South Island in the opposite direction as us, so it was fun to swap stories about what we'd seen and where to go.

Then it was time to head to Fox Glacier, only thirty minutes away from Franz Josef. On the way, we stopped at Lake Matheson, hoping for some good pictures of snowy Mount Cook reflected in the lake. No such luck, but when the clouds parted for a brief moment, I did get a glimpse of the big mountain we would see later in our trip from the other side.

When we got to Fox Glacier, we saw that it would have been another walk of over an hour to get close to the face of it, so we decided to just see what we could see from some lookout points and call it good. It seemed pretty similar to Franz Josef in that there were waterfalls in the nearby area, blue hues in the ice, and a long walk to get near it. There was this funky pond (pictured here) with bright green and blue colors in it that was kind of unique.
Fox Glacier
After our time at the glaciers, we had a three hour drive to Wanaka, where we would spend the night. More on Wanaka tomorrow!