January 26, 2010

New Zealand, a photo-round up

Category: New Zealand,Travel — Biella @ 8:59 am


Kiwis have to be one of the cutest birds of all time. A bit chubby and clumsy looking, they are (to me, at least), walking, breathing icon of furry cuteness. Truth be told, I did not see one “live” in action during my recent trip to New Zealand, but I did see a Weka bird which is pretty similar. (Micah and I just consulted the Internets and agreed that we did in fact see cherubic Kiwi not a Weka. In fact, Micah almost ran one over on the west coast of the southern island but his quick reflexes born from years of saving servers while typing saved the bird.

So as you can tell by now I finally got to go to New Zealand for a few weeks, even able to travel the south island before attending THE Linux conference of the region, LCA where I gave a talk (video to be posted when available). I jumped at the opportunity and was thrilled to find out that I could actually spend some time traveling around before the intense week long conference. So on January 5th I headed down with Micah to what I have found out is one of the windiest cities on earth (‘Windy Wellington’) for a few days before heading to the south island to do a loop on the northern half of the island.

I wanted to conquer the mountains made famous by a certain set of movies, but last semester was all about sitting in front of the computer, a sort of agonizing life of the mind, which did not prepare me physically for mountain trekking or as it call it there, tramping. So we decided to stick close to the coast (with one transalpine train that serenaded us through some awesome mountain passes) and hike along the coast, snorkel and swim, and kayak.

After Andrew showed us around Wellington, we headed to the sea town of Kaikoura brimming with sea life, such as seals, dolphins, and birds. The two highlights there were our snorkeling trip and a hike along the peninsula. Originally we were going to go diving but I arrived to NZ with a head cold so we opted for the sinus friendlier version and snorkeled in the massive kelp forest, which was strikingly beautiful (I am used to tropical reefs and waters). There happened to be a lot of seals and given their curious nature, they would dart over right next to you and play. One seal—I called him the twirler—was chubby and mellow and twirled next to me for a long while. The lady seals were sleeker and faster and liked to dive deep down and the zoom up and surprise you. As someone who has spent a lot of time underwater, I found it fun and weird to be with animals that pay attention to you given that most of the sea life ignores you.

The hike in Kaikoura was fantastic as well. You go high on a bluff and stare down at this water sparkling with the most beautiful blue hues brought out even more majestically by the white rocks. If I were to go back I would hike along the water and up above on the bluff.

After a brief stopover in Christchurch to visit a friend, we took the transalpine train (across Arthur’s pass) which was superbly beautiful and arrived on the west coast whose seas are far more rough, rocky, andtemperamental than on the east coast. The vegetation is lush as lush can be and you get the feeling that dinosaurs would have been a happy lot in these parts. The cool part about this area are the many rivers that feed into the ocean (we spent an afternoon swimming and exploring the caves in one) and then what are called the pancake rocks, which are odd geological creatures that really amaze.

We then made our way to the Marlborough Sounds area, which includes the city of Nelson (apparently the sunniest in New Zealand) as well as many olive and grape vineyards in outlying areas. We spent some time in the Alpine lakes region hiking but more of the time on the coast. The highlight for me and it is a place I would love to go back to is the Abel Tasman National Park. We spent time hiking and kayaking there and you can even hike down the coast for 5-6 days (there are excellent camping facilities along the way). The coast is simply majestic with alpine like forest conditions (unfortunately a cool old tree whose name I can’t remember is no longer common). This forest is situated along the most stunning waters, an electric but totally clear turquoise blue—deceivingly inviting because the water was quite cold (but not as cold as the Oregon coast over the summer, which I went swimming in only once after weeks of bike travel). Along with the blue, parts of the coastal waters were a stunning clear green that I have never seen despite my many sea travels. If you ever plan on going to the South Island, I would not miss this area and might even try to spend a few days or more hiking the coastal trails and listening to the cool-as/sweet as birds, one of which has double vocal cords so it sings what sounds to be like totally electronic bird calls.

We returned via the same ferry—a massive 7 story ship—from Picton to Wellington but the conditions were far far worse during our return trip. When we got out of the sounds, we hit the Cook Straight, notorious for being rough and tumble. And indeed, once we hit the waves, I felt like I was no longer in a boat but amusement park ride, the bow of the ship thrown high only to fall hard on upon the waves. It was sort of fun or fun for about 10 minutes until people, most especially kids, started yaking all over the place. It was really the most flagrant yakfest I have ever experienced (I mean it is a 7 story ferry, you can fit a lot of people on that boat) and that made the sail particularly difficult. I have pretty strong sea legs, never once getting sick sick during the year I spent at sea but massive yaking will bring out the sea sick feeling in even the hardiest of sea souls and I was thrilled to arrive in Wellington.

Wellington is the only large city I spent any considerable time in and it is a pretty awesome one. The city center area is flat and by the water, with a magnificent area filled with museums, the national library, parks, breweries, and piers where kids like to jump off high things. The botanical gardens were the most beautiful I have been to and since I am a flower nut, I was in high heaven.

In this area there are a ridiculous number of great coffee shops (NYC has a thing or two to learn as we don’t have enough, I suspect it has something to do with insane real estate prices). The city is surrounded by hills populated by houses, some of the precipitously perched on cliffs that require lifts to get to! It was a wonderful home base for what was a sweet as conference (as they would say down there). And I hope to write about it sometime soon.