Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Fjordland is the isolated and iconic region in the southwest corner of the south island. Dramatic mountain ranges emerge from meadows and cool glacial melt cuts river and waterfalls across the landscape. The drive into Fjordland begins in Te Anau where the road winds through meadow, forest, and mountain to Milford Sound and the Tasman Sea.

Fjordland is home to some of the most well known and beautiful tracks in New Zealand. During peak season tracks such as the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track sell out of bunk space in the Department of Conservation sites, which are the only places to sleep during the multiday hikes.  So Claire and I took the opportunity to do day hikes on some of these tracks.
Hiking up to Key Summit during a break in the weather
Key Summit on the Routeburn
The weather during a day hike on the Routeburn track highlighted the schizophrenic weather patterns in New Zealand. Once reaching the Key Summit we found ourselves basking in T-shirts in the sun, dodging hail, and seeking shelter from fierce wind and rain. But calm breaks in the weather made the views spectacular and well worth the suffering.
A refreshing swim in Lake Marian
The campsites in Fjordland are numerous and popular. Campsites are placed in gorgeous locations with rivers or lakes nearby to help campers get access to water. And while access to fresh water is essential for camping, it also means that the sites in are swarmed by sandflies, particularly at dusk. The flies made a point of making themselves comfortable in our van, biting during the daylight and sleeping happily next to the windows during the night.
The view from our campsite in the Eglington Valley
Eglington Valley at dusk
Beech Forest near the campsite
One of the most famous and photographed places in New Zealand is Milford Sound. Rising a mile from the waters edge Mitre Peak is an iconic image and the highest coastal cliff in the world. Visitors view the sound by taking a 2 hours cruise to the mouth of the sound and back. The photos don't do justice to the size and scale of the mountains and peaks surrounding the fjord.

Mitre Peak on the left dwarfs the cruise ship

The Kepler track was another beautiful day hike. The meandered through trout laden streams, beech forest, bogs, and lakes.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The West Coast & Otago

We began our road trip driving down the west coast of the south island. The first stop was Punakaiki, an odd geological formation that has risen from the sea floor. Punakaiki is known as the “pancake rocks” due to the rocks flattened appearance.
Sunset on the first night was spent at Punakaiki

The next stop was the glacier region. We viewed both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier in the same day. Franz Josef is impressive and stretches far up the mountain. Every few minutes a helicopter flys tourists and hikers high up on the glacier. Far below, large groups outfitted in snow gear are led by guides (iceaxes in-hand) to the face where they will hike up the glacier for a few hours. At Fox, the glacier seemed to be less commercialized and required an hour or so long walk to the Fox Glacier viewpoint. The view was great and you could view the glacier from a much higher viewpoint than at Franz Josef.
Franz Josef Glacier
Fox Glacier
The next stop was Lake Matheson, which is famous for the reflected views of Mt. Cook in the lake's dark waters, unfortunately for us, the mountain was shrouded by clouds the day we visited.  The lake circuit takes under 2 hours to complete but provides ample scenic viewpoints.

Cloud hide Mt Cook in the background
A fern frond unfurling

After lake Matheson the road began winding into the mountains with a quick roadside stop called the Blue Pools, which I remembered from my last visit. The Blue Pools are a congregation point for large trout during the winter months that swim up from lake Wanaka. The pools are deep, blue, and cold.

Following the highway we wove through the mountains and into the Wanaka area. As pulled into our campsite for the we noticed a problem with our car horn. The horn would inexplicably honk when we hit a pot hole or closed a car door. Later we figured out that it was any vibration that caused the non-stop blaring noise, but we only figured this out after waking up everyone at the campsite in the early morning to their delight.
A meadow passing into Wanaka
The first hike we did was in Mt Aspiring National Park to the Rob Roy glacier. The track starts at the end of brutal 25km teeth chattering unpaved road. The track track then weaves through sheep pastures, across a long a windy swing bridge and up above a large meadow bisected by a river. Then climbing rapidly it moves into beech and fern forests and finally to a viewpoint for the Rob Roy Glacier. The viewpoint is a great spot to stop and enjoy your lunch, which is what the Kea's are counting on.

A close-up of Rob Roy, a hanging glacier
The Kea is a large parrot and the only alpine parrot in the world. Kea's have built a reputation as clever and amusing birds that are undaunted by humans and will approach to get a snack. They are also notorious for destroying cars in parking lots by pulling at windshield wipers, mirrors, and anything they can get their beaks at.
A Kea with Rob Roy in the background

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Nelson, known as the sunniest place in New Zealand, is a port town on the northern coast of the south island. It really does boast a warm and pleasant climate and is situated on a large bay. Claire's parents live in Nelson so we took a few days to visit, strategize about our impending road trip, eat good food, and search for a suitable campervan to buy.

Nelson is situated an hour away from Abel Tasman National Park. A stunning coastal track with frigged turquoise waters. We only walked for a day on the track but found it beautiful and enjoyable. The track meanders through coastal forest and lush ferns. One of the most memorable things about the track was the deafening sound of cicadas as you walked.

This whitebait fritter is a New Zealand specialty. Whitebait are juvenile fish caught in nets at the mouth of rivers. They are eaten whole and the entire body of the fish is clear or white besides the black eyes.
The fish stare back at you as they fry
We ended up buying this 1993 Toyota Estima from a Chilean fellow who was traveling New Zealand on working holiday visa. He was ending his trip after a few months of picking apples and working at a ski resort. The van was comfortable and came with all of the essentials for camping.
A photo of our Estima in Fjordland

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I arrived in Auckland to start off 5 weeks in the south pacific and the flight over was the first highlight. I used frequent flier miles book business class flights from SFO to Auckland aboard Qantas. The Qantas flight took off at midnight for Auckland and started off with a glass of champagne. The first thing I noticed about business class were the enormous seats, which reclined, folded, and expanded to my delight. My legs, when fully extended, did not come close the seat in front of me. Despite the late hour, the flight featured a full meal of sea bass with sauteed eggplant, salad with fresh mozzarella, and a glass of white wine. And afterwards, dessert of course. In the morning breakfast did not disappoint, and I arrived in Auckland a happy traveler.

On my first full day I took a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland to Rangitoto island. Rangitoto is a small volcanic island that is believed to be extinct today, but had erupted as recently as 600 years ago. While only 10km outside of central Auckland the island seems worlds away. The island is a covered with a mix of barren volcanic fields and dense forests. Various trails lead through these landscapes and up to the summit, 260m above sea level. The view from the top is stunning and features the entire Auckland region and beyond.
Lava fields, forest, and downtown Auckland from Rangitoto

The next stop was the Auckland museum. The museum sits high atop a hill in a large park overlooking Auckland and the harbor. The museum has a mixture of Maori culture and history, New Zealand natural history, and wartime history. The museum was the perfect size, interesting, and not overwhelmingly large in size.
A Maori storage house in the Auckland Museum

Another day trip led me across the harbor to the neighborhood of Devonport. The five minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland leads to a charming seaside suburb with victorian architecture and a great view.
Auckland from Devonport

Claire graciously hosted me in her flat in Parnell, a short walk from the CBD and most of the best sights in Auckland.