Friday, March 05, 2010


If you've stumbled across this blog because of a comment I left, please note I rarely write in or check this blog anymore. My main blog - the one I've had going for four years - is found HERE.

That said, if you are looking for travel info, please feel free to peruse the archives.

If you are looking for New Zealand information, please note that my other blog (the one here) will have plenty of New Zealand-focused posts during the month of March, so please visit :)

(note to Spammers - you suck balls. Comment moderation is officially on)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Staying in...Twizel, NZ

If for some reason you happen to find yourself in Twizel (a more affordable base for exploring Mt. Cook, doing a LOTR tour, etc), you should look no further than to book a night or two at the delightful Gladstone Cottage.

Your hosts Margaret and Peter (and dog Kharla) will give you a warm welcome (even if they aren't there, they'll write on the chalkboard for you) and drop off a scrumptious breakfast basket for the morning.

The cottage has wonderul leather couches and recliners in the modern living room, complete with DVD player, flat-screen TV and Sky cable. The comfy, cozy bedrooms sleep two people each and you even get a chance to do laundry in the spacious, heated-floor bathroom. The kitchen is full-equipped, making you feel inclined to go to the local (and new) Four Square grocery store and make your own food for a change.

Outside you have a quaint porch in which to relax with a bottle of wine and watch the sun set over the nearby Ben Ohau mountain ranges. And once it gets dark, be sure to go for a wander on the grass - the nightsky is Mackenzie Country is famous for its clarity. Indeed, I swear I've never seen so many stars in my whole life.

If you get tired of cooking but don't want to stretch your wallet anymore than you have to, the Thai restuarant in Twizel's "mall" has an amazing lunch menu where any of their scrumptious and authentic meals are $10 or less. Be sure to order a quenching Singha beer to go along with it!

Gladstone Cottage
Margaret and Peter Hands
32 North West Arch
PO Box 72
Twizel, 8773
New Zealand
+64 3 435 0527
$140 per night

Monday, November 02, 2009

New Zealand

I leave in 19 days. EEK.

Suffice to say, I won't be writing here UNTIL I actually get to New Zealand. Yup, gonna try and update while I'm over there so be sure to check back with this blog AND my other blog.

Speaking of other blog, having a few awesome contests going on right now for a whole bunch of swag and gift cards. Check em out HERE.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Otago Penninsula, New Zealand

The gorgeous Otago Penninsula, located along the lengthy, narrow Otago Harbour and near the University city of Dunedin, is one of New Zealand's most underrated jewels.

Volcanic in origin, it forms one wall of the collapsed crater that now forms Otago Harbour. The peninsula lies due east of Otago Harbour and runs parallel to the mainland for 30 km. Its maximum width is 12 km. It is joined to the mainland at the south-west end by a narrow isthmus a little over one kilometre in width.

The suburbs of Dunedin encroach onto the western end of the peninsula, but for the majority of its length it is sparsely populated and occupied by steep open pasture. The peninsula is home to many species of wildlife, notably seabirds, and ecotourism is an increasingly important part of its economy.

When I was touring New Zealand, I made an effort to fit this wonderful place into my plans. I was excited to see sea lions, penguins and the famed albatross on the Elm Lodge Wildlife Tour. This small tour group was the perfect way to experience all the beauty and grandeur that the penninsula had to offer.

First stop on our journey was just to admire the gorgeousness of the harbour. The first photo I took was the photo that would soon sum up everything about New Zealand. I think it's one of my favourite photos, ever.

(as usual, click on pictures to englarge them)

Next we stopped by a beach where I got to see a a box. I don't know where the photo of it went but I assure you it was a penguin in a box. The box was placed there by the Department of Conservation to provide safe nesting places for the blue penguin.

Anyway, our guide lifted up the lid and low and behold, a teeny tiny blue penguin peered up at us.

As if to outdo the penguin, we looked over to the bay where an enthusiastic sea lion provided entertained us with charades.

Here he is being a "torpedo":

Here he is being a "shark":

And here he is doing "yoga":

After the sea lion antics, we visited the Northern Royal Albatross colony, where the mighty albatross come into nest. This is the mainland colony for the albatross in the world.

These mighty birds might look small in these pictures but rest assured these are massive birds that weigh up to 19lbs and have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet! They live to be 40 years old on average and are considered in a "vulnerable" state, though kept off the endangered list thanks to colonies such as this one.

Aside from the albatross - such a stunning sight to see, by the way - the cliffs also housed various other birds, like these gannets:

After we saw the albatross, we drove four-by-four style across some farmers sheep paddock, heading towards a gloriously lit cliff and beach below.

At the beach we came across another sea lion, this one rather close up and "sleeping" - we were safe as long as we didn't get between him and the ocean. Though I think we did!

The main attraction here was the Yellow-eyed penguins that came ashore at dusk every night. Imagine our delight when these mighty birds waddled on shore, like tuxedoed men wearing yellow carnival masks.

And then we saw the sight that could only been seen in New Zealand. An intersection where penguins meet sheep:

If anyone is heading to New Zealand, a tour of the Otago Penninsula is a must-do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier, NZ

Another must-do/must-see experience in New Zealand is to go for a hike, or tramp as they call it down under.

New Zealand is world-reknowned for their tramping routes and have a variety of different walks to take, from one day to a week. While I've only done a few short walks (and am gearing up to do the Tongariro Crossing, one of the best walks in the world), one of the most memorable tramps took place on a glacier.

On the Wild West Coast of the South Island, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers slowly seep down from their lofty births, down towards the sea and the temperate rainforest of the coast. With 20km seperating the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, these are part of only three glaciers*** on earth which come so close to reaching the coastline. Because of this proximity, it makes these glaciers very easy for adventurers to explore.

I signed up with a half-day guided hike which was well worth the money. After strapping on crampons and getting equipped with pick axes and poles, we made our way across scrappy morain and glacial run-off alongside verdant cliffs and flowing waterfalls, to the edge of the mighty icey beast.

Up close, the glacier was massive and awe-inspiring. The terminus loomed up high above us, alternating between dirty crusts and ice-blue crevasses. I was suddenly glad I paid attention in my favourite class in high school - Earth Science - as I still retained a lot of knowledge about glaciers (which I thought would be useless!).

Click to englarge to see funny warning sign

Walking on the glacier was an amazing feeling, having all that *very slowly moving* ice beneath you. Though I was a bit shakey even with my spikey crampons on my feet and a pole to support me, it was thrilling to be able to enter crevasses, climb up ledges of ice and even go through ice holes.

The best part was taking stock of the situation and seeing how far we had really come - the view from the top was amazing, and even though it wasn't sunny like the REAL top of the glacier appeared to be, the contrast between white ice and green rainforest was amazing.


And now, a little bit of info about the glacier, thanks to Wikipedia: "The glacier is currently 12 km long and terminates 19 km from the Tasman Sea. Fed by a 20 sqm large snowfield at high altitude, it exhibits a cyclic pattern of advance and retreat, driven by differences between the volume of meltwater at the foot of the glacier and volume of snowfall feeding the névé. Due to strong snowfall it is one of the few glaciers in New Zealand which is still growing as of 2007, while others, mostly on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, have been shrinking heavily, a process attributed to global warming.

Having retreated several kilometres between the 1940s and 1980s, the glacier entered an advancing phase in 1984 and at times has advanced at the phenomenal (by glacial standards) rate of 70 cm a day. The flow rate is about 10 times that of typical glaciers. Over the longer term, the glacier has retreated since the last ice age, and it is believed that it extended into the sea some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

This cyclic behaviour is well illustrated by a postage stamp issued in 1946, depicting the view from St James Anglican Church. The church was built in 1931, with a panoramic altar window to take advantage of its location. By 1954, the glacier had disappeared from view from the church, but it reappeared in 1997. This is due to the highly variable conditions on the snowfield, which take around 5-6 years before they result in changes in the terminus location."

*** I believe I have actually been to the "other" glacier out of the three on Earth that come so close to the sea, the Jostedal Glacier in Norway. I didn't climb that one though. Been there, done that! :P

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Exploring the coast of Abel Tasman National Park

My kayak glided across the warm, clear waters which throbbed beneath the potent sun in aquamarine waves. To my left, a tiny blue penguin popped up and swam beside me for a few moments before turning translucent as it slipped under the water and piloted towards rocky islets; on my right were grey granite cliffs topped with rambuncious emerald vegetation and flanked by shimmering yellow beaches of the purest sand.

Tropical waters? Bleached beaches? Penguins?

Where the hell was I?

Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most visited parks in New Zealand, and with good reason. Located in the aptly-named Golden Bay, north of the wonderful hamlet/city of Nelson (which I have been honoured to have visited FOUR times this decade), Abel Tasman National Park encompasses only 225.3 square kilometres, which makes it one of the country's smallest national parks, but - man - have they packed so much beauty into one tight little package. Though most people come to this most gorgeous gem to tramp its famous track, which traverses podocarp forests, clean streams and sandy beaches, others choose to explore the park from the water, via kayaking.

My kayaking experience was with Kiwi Kayaks, one of the many quality companies operating out of Motueka and Maharua, the two towns closest to the park. As of this moment, almost all kayaking operators are conglomerating under one roof to be known as Abel Tasman Kayaking.

Like many good companies offer, I was picked up by bus in Nelson on a sleepy November morning (6:30AM to be exact). With the sun already strong in the wee hours, I knew it was going to be an epic day for exploring the park.

After we stopped in Motueka to pick up more people, we made our way to the coast, to Marahua where we watched the kayaks being hauled off a trailer and on to the golden beach. Because the kayaks had to be tandem and I was alone, I was paired with a fellow backpacker who thankfully had stronger arms than me.

Not that I needed them - kayaking was a breeze. We paddled lazily up the coast, stopping in at sandbars and small islands before beaching ourselves and having a healthy lunch on the silky sands. This was paradise.

Most kayaking tours offer full, half and overnight options and though I cheaped out and went for the most inexpensive version (half day at around $110) I felt I got my money's worth. The gorgeously warm weather helped, as did our affable hosts Steve and Lori (Lori who lived in Vancouver in a previous life) and the stupendous scenery and wildlife that surrounded us with every paddle.

We saw dolphins leaping (my camera wasn't fast enough to capture anything but a splash) off our bows, penguins scooting beside us (wish I could find THAT picture), giant sea birds soaring past, seals playing nearby, and even a wedding held out among a far reaching sand bar.

I firmly believe this park is a must-see for anyone visiting New Zealand - indeed for Kiwis themselves. Whether you kayak or walk, it will truly be a day (or two) that is forever seared in your mind. I remember smiling a LOT that day, and that's something everyone needs to do more often.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fraser Island - PART II

Why MORE Fraser Island? Well, because as I just found a lot more photographs that might do more justice to the place than the ones in the previous post ;) Anyway, if you haven't read the post before this, I suggest you do so now, just so you get a sense of things :) - CLICK ON PICS TO ENLARGE

A better look at the beach, which is surrounded by....

Red cliffs...

and shipwrecks....

Time for sand-boarding!!

...afterwards, rinse off the sand in tide pools of water - called champagne pools - which are a warm alternative to swimming in the open ocean - not only would the rough rip tides get you, but there is a very large quantity of Tiger Sharks patrolling the area...we could even see them from the beach!

Of course, you can always combine sandboarding WITH swimming at Lake Wabby

Then explore nearby creeks, such as Eli Creek where you can walk to one point and then float all the way down

Or just go to a normal lake - preferably when it's sunny out

There's always the pool at the Kingfisher Resort, don't forget...

Afterwards, you hope back on that 4X4 bus -

- to see tall trees

- and Kookaburas (who WILL steal your sanwhich out of your hand, btw)

-as well as more Goana lizards

Then it's time for nightlife at the hotel

Before you leave by ferry the next day...