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Sunday, January 31, 2016

NZ’s Most Mischievous Bird

Franz Glacier kea, New Zealand's mountain parrot,
pilfered apple in beak.
"Kea combine curiosity with calculated resourcefulness.  Once learned, they remember how to manipulate locks, draw back bolts and open doors to reach food…. The aviary kea throw stones to attract the keeper’s attention."
-Queen's Park aviary, Invercargill, New Zealand

Mine, this kea seems to say, with apple-icious satisfaction.








It was my birthday, and I’d just reached the trail’s end.  I gazed up at what is left of the most crowded New Zealand outdoor attraction, Franz Josef Glacier.  Honestly, considering the level of foot traffic popularity, I felt a little let down.  Guess Glacier National Park in the US, particularly Iceberg Lake, spoiled me a bit.


Apple gone, this kea was sussing out its next Franz Glacier target.
Suddenly, a whir of wings descended.  Their breadth seemed hawklike, as did the brown and white wing colors, accented with orange.

Then the body  -- a parrot sporting what looked like a middle-aged beer belly.  Its body movements were equally gawky*, moving in waddles and hops. 

*Caught on video -- will add a short clip later.

Awkward as it appeared, it was one canny bird.

Kea tackles a Franz Glacier hiker's unattended purse
in hopes of more food.
Quickly, it zeroed in on a woman eating and apple, and nabbed it.

Off it hopped, relishing its “catch” with great gusto.  Next it tried to charm another hiker out of his lunch.  No luck.

Off it hopped to a pile of purses, pulling at one with its beak, to no avail. 

Mountain parrot waddles swiftly across the parking lot in the rain
at The Chasm, Fiordland, Milford Sound.
Convinced no further booty abounded, it took off.

I’d met my first Mountain Kea.  Its antics made my day.

Fortunately, we discovered more since – or – rather they discovered us.

Despite the rain, in Milford Sound we were visited by Keas in two locations, both banded and numbered.

The first was at the Chasm, where it literally ran across the parking lot to check out us and the other visitors.  Unfortunately for that one, folks were more interested in taking photos than sharing food. 

This Milford Sound kea seemed as grumpy
about the rain as we were.
The second Milford Sound kea stopped by the same foxglove festooned alpine stream we did.  This one was a bit luckier as Wayne’s a sucker for feathered fellas and despite the warnings, can’t resist sharing his food with them. 

When we wandered through Invercargill’s Queens Park aviary, we weren’t surprised that the placard there extolled kea’s cleverness, calling them one of the smartest parrots.  “Who me?” the cartoon kea said, next to the note that mischievous keas threw rocks at the keepers to catch their attention.

While I’ve never had a pet bird nor had an urge for one, I confess, a kea would be cool.  Not sure, however, I’d like being outsmarted by a “birdbrain!”

"Who me?" quips the rock-throwing kea, after braining a keeper
at Invercargill to get her attention.

Location Location

This blog post was written about our New Zealand South Island late January road trip stops at Franz Josef Glacier in Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park and nearby Invercargill.  We are currently just outside Christchurch in South Island, working our way back to our boat Whangarei Town Basin Marina, North Island, (S35.43.474 E174.19.599) targeting a February 8th arrival for a haul-out in Riverside Drive Marina.

Cruising by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand.  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016.



Thursday, January 28, 2016

NZ's Mist-ical Fiordland & Milford Sound

Wicked Camper Van in front of us on the way to Milford Sound,
with the apt quote :It is what it is.  You just gotta get used to it."
"What do I want to do on New Zealand's South Island?  Go to Milford Sound," Wayne declared.  There wasn't really a why, more a "because it's there."  Simply put, Milford's the "most South" Wayne wanted to go.  Everyone needs a turning point.  Milford Sound was his for New Zealand.

Impromptu waterfalls on the cliff at the Milford Sound tunnel entrance.
And why not?  Arguably it's the most famous and likely most visited part of New Zealand's enormous Fiordland National Park*.  While it's easy to scoff, some tourist attractions are just that for a darned good reason.  If you've seen many New Zealand photos, Milford Sound images like Mitre are probably in the mix, garnering "oohs and ahhs."  They feature jagged, towering peaks, white snowy tops, azure skies reflected off glassy surface of Milford Sound.

*Fiordland is New Zealand's largest park, at over 12,500 square kilometers.

Happily, the tunnel through to New Zealand's Fiordland National
Park  s vastly improved over when I drove it 15 years prior.
Later that day, in Invercargill,  friends asked in mock sarcasm, snickering a wee bit,"You got rained out of Milford Sound?!?"

Facts are, those lovely Milford Sound photos were well timed.  One of the rainiest places on earth, Milford Sound rains about two thirds of the time, and does so in prodigious volumes.  Milford Sound gets about 268 inches of rain annually.

Instead of the several days we planned making day trips from our Te Anau lakeside Department of Conservation tent campsite, we bailed.  

Actually, we were lucky.  When we arrived the night prior in nearby in Te Anau and set camp in a forested campsite softly carpeted with pine needles, it was dry.   A little later, we admired the lake laying atop the surprisingly comfortable beach of small, rounded pebbles. 

A couple gals hamming it up in their  de rigeur rain ponchos
near Milford Sound Visitor Center.
Overnight, I awoke a few times to the sound of light sprinkles.  The overcast morning skies lulled me into a late sleep.  Once awake, we hurriedly slurped down instant coffee "to go" from our camp stove, and in the last minute or so breaking camp, "just in case," it began sprinkling again.

Driving toward Milford Sound, the sprinkle became a rain, then an unremitting downpour.  Prophetically, the van in front of us proclaimed, "It is what it is.  You just gotta get used to it."

This Milford Sound area placard explains the view....
Given this is what the view actually looked like,
imagination was required.
Indeed, whatever happens is all part of the adventure.  The rain made for amazing waterfalls.  Everywhere we looked, if there was a vertical surface --and we were surrounded by them -- there was at least one waterfall cascading down.  Many exploded not only down, but also out.  The volume of water was so great it couldn't cascade down fast enough.

The Milford Sound Visitor Center made a killing on their poncho sales.  The crowds were a bit too much for us, with cement floors providing the perfect acoustical system for reverberating sound.  It may have provided shelter, but we weren't going to see the Sound from inside.  We moved on.

The Chasm is one of the short walks we took
in the rain before leaving Fiordland.
Rocks hollowed out by the force of the water at The Chasm.
Leave it to a fellow Washingtonian in
Milford Sound to use a grocery bag to
keep herself dry.  She lives in La Center,
WA.
Mystical or mist-ical, Fiordland's Milford Sound is still worth a stop.

While we spent far less time than we'd planned in Milford Sound, beating a hasty retreat led us sooner to Invercargill, where our friend John Kalb insisted on giving up his bed for us in his house full of guests.  

More on Invercargill in a future post.

We decided the views wouldn't be worth the price
especially on such a misty day in Milford Sound.
Location Location
We're currently road-tripping in New Zealand until ~February 8, 2016.  We're in South Island's Otago area in Oamaru working our way back up New Zealand's South Island.  This post is about our travel a few days ago, January 25-26 2016 in the Milford Sound area in Southern South Island, New Zealand.  Meanwhile our boat is in Whangarei's Town Basin Marina (S35.43.474 E174.19.599), soon to move to Riverside for haul out.  

"Summer" in Fiordland meant the rivers were
graced with foxglove blooms.
Cruising by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand.  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016.

















Sunday, January 24, 2016

NZ’s Ferry Nice Connection

Wellington quickly recedes into the distance as the BlueBridge ferry heads from New Zealand's North to South Island.
Quiet room on BlueBridge Ferry from Wellington to Picton.
The "long white cloud" aka New Zealand, is actually two long islands, one North, one South.  To get between the two, there is no road.  You have to either have to fly or get their by boat.  The stretch between the two, with Wellington on New Zealand's North Island and Picton on New Zealand's South Island is called Cooks Straight, and is a very challenging stretch of water.  It's very windy*, with strong currents, sizable chop and some tight areas with lots of nasty rocks.

*Windy Wellington hits over 35 knots at least once daily about 1/3 of the year.


Note this woman's hair?  She was halfway
between the cabin and the deck.  Did I
mention Cook Straight gets windy?

As we wanted to explore South Island mostly by land we opted for the ferry, which allows cars.  

At the time we booked, our trip online with BlueBridge for one car and two passengers was a little under $260 New Zealand (about $175 USD), one way for the 8 am ferry.  For a bit extra, we could've booked a queen-sized bed for the 4-hour passage.  If we take the red eye on the way back, and we may, we might do just that.  The red-eye is less expensive so the difference nearly washes out.


BlueBridge South to North-bound ferry passing us.
Notice the whitecaps?  Guessing winds were 25-35 knots then.
There is another ferry company; we chose BlueBridge as they're less expensive.  We're not sure the difference, but BlueBridge could easily pass for a hotel and even had a movie theater where they played 2 free back-to-back movies.  We opted to take in the scenery instead.


At last, New Zealand's beautiful South Island begins to come into sharp focus on the ferry.  Notice how flat the water became?
No whitecaps here!
The scenery is spectacular!  It's hard to do it justice, and even then hard to choose which out of the few hundred photos I took were the best to include.

FYI - for prospective ferry-takers... 

  • You need to arrive an hour before the ferry's scheduled to depart, but don't be surprised if the ferry doesn't leave on time.  We drove aboard at 7:40, but didn't leave until 8:40 and arrived about an hour late in South Island.  Relax and enjoy the ride.
  • Food and drink are quite expensive.  I wish we'd brought a thermos of hot coffee as a very small serving cost $4 NZ.  In the cafe, the coffee wasn't very good, though the barista coffee, which opened later, made a decent small latte for $4.50 NZ.
  • Dress for wind if you want to enjoy the deck.
As New Zealand's South Island's Queen Charlotte Bay opened up,
the wind picked back up.  That's why this sailboat
is only flying a reefed jib.
As sailors whose boat more often than not averages a poky 4 knots, it was also exhilarating to move along at what was probably 25 knots on BlueBridge, even in some hefty winds.

"You'll regret you didn't take your boat when you get to the Sound," we were told.  Perhaps, but crossing the Cook Straight that day on BlueBridge, we were very happy we didn't.  And we were fortunate enough to do it on a beautiful, sunny day.

Plus, at the end of it, we could simply drive off and begin our land exploration.




Again, a calmer spot on Queen Charlotte's Bay
New Zealand South Island.
Our boat will be ready for more cruising before long.  Meanwhile, we're enjoying this break overland in New Zealand.

There were several sweet little bays like this
coming into New Zealand's South Island.
Location Location
We're currently road-tripping in New Zealand until ~February 8, 2016.   This post is about our January 20, 2016 travel transition between New Zealand's North and South Islands.  This post* was written on January 23, 2016 in Haast, New Zealand's South Island, and set to post the following day. We expect to spend about 2 weeks in South Island.  Meanwhile our boat is in Whangarei's Town Basin Marina (S35.43.474 E174.19.599), moving to Riverside for haul out between the 1st & 2nd week of February.  

*We're usually out of wifi range and when we're in it, we're often spending more time socially than on-line.   Several more catch-up posts are on the way.  









View overlooking New Zealand's South Island Picton and the ferry at the ferry dock.


Cruising by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand.  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016. Since arriving in New Zealand, November 21st, we've sailed less than 200 miles. Meanwhile, we've already put well over 1,800 kilometers on the car we bought just over a week ago.

Friday, January 22, 2016

NZ Birthday Wish: Clean White Sheets, Queen-sized Bed, Endless Showers & Wifi

Road tripping New Zealand, South Island between'
Marlborough and the West Coast.
We're road-tripping in New Zealand and had no idea where we'd be when my birthday rolled around.


Buller Canyon, New Zealand's
longest suspension bridge.













My birthday's tomorrow. 










Couple crazies crossing the Buller's Gorge another way.
Buller River, below the suspension bridge.
Wayne's promised for over a year, last birthday (in Bocas del Toro) and our anniversary (in March -- we were on a non-stop 32-day passage between Galapagos and the French Marquesas) that we'd celebrate with a nice dinner out, clean white sheets, queen-sized bed, and endless showers.










New Zealand's misty "summer" coastline inspired
the 1st "motel" room in a year (for my birthday).


Today, given a forecast of 50-60 degree damp, misty "summer" temperatures and viciously fast, biting swarms of West Coast black sand flies, it was time.













Even with mediocre weather, Pancake Rocks was still pretty cool.
Beach at Pancake Rocks, New Zealand's South Island West Coast.
"Any place you want, for your birthday, darlin'" Wayne said, "under $150 NZ."  That would be $100 USD these days.

As we entered Greymouth, at the end of a long road trip, with another planned for tomorrow, "where'-- as U2 says -- t'he streets have no names" (at least the ones we were looking for listed in our guide book for lodgings) . The hotels we stopped at either weren't hotels are weren't going concerns.  We settled for the first place we stopped at that looked like was in business, the vibrantly purple and orange colored Duke Hostel.
Hawk's Craig overhang on Highway 6,
bound for New Zealand's West Coast.




"Look, honey, it's a deluxe hostel!" Wayne exclaimed.  Uhhh, that's Duke, I pointed out. Deluxe.  Duke,  Deluxe.  Duke.  I was right.
Hawk's Craig, Buller River, New Zealand's scenic Highway 6.
Duke Hostel, Greymouth, New Zealand,'s West Coast of South Island,  pilfered from their website.

Still, for $79 NZ (about $50 USD) we do have clean white sheets, a queen-sized bed, without a private bath, that at least means Wayne would look unseemly pounding on the door to the women's showers.  Of course, in a hostel, long showers are not usually practical anyway.  Still, as Meatloaf croons, "two out of three ain't bad," and whilst I write this, we're using free and speedy wifi, listening to a great local rock station. 

We're pleasantly full after eating some yummy gluten-free pasta with tomato garlic-wine sauce with added kalamata olives and onions, that I cooked in the hostel's super-efficient kitchen.  

While most folks dream of sailing, we are thrilled any time we're off the boat and can enjoy more than 18" at the foot of the bed.  The rest is a bonus.
Our room tonight at Duke's Hostel, Greymouth New Zealand.

Location Location
We're currently road-tripping in New Zealand until February 8, 2016.   This post is about our travel in the area South of Raglan, North Island's West Coast.  This post* was written in Greymouth, New Zealand's South Island, where we expect to spend about 2 weeks.  Meanwhile our boat is in Whangarei's Town Basin Marina (S35.43.474 E174.19.599), moving to Riverside for haul out between the 1st & 2nd week of February.  

*We're usually out of wifi range and when we're in it, we're often spending more time socially than on-line.   Several more catch-up posts are on the way.

Cruising by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand.  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016. Since arriving in New Zealand, November 21st, we've sailed less than 200 miles. Meanwhile, we've already put well over 1,500 kilometers on the car we bought just over a week ago.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

NZ's Lovely Bridal Veil Falls, Northland's Western Side

New Zealand's Bridal Veil Falls, North Island.
Who can resist an easy waterfall walk?  Not us!  Especially when we're looking for a respite and a gentle leg stretch as we bombed our way between New Zealand's Raglan (watch for a future post on that) and New Plymouth, both on New Zealand's North Island's West Coast.

Bridal Veil Falls fit the bill perfectly, even if it seems to be one of the most common names for a water fall.  Bit of a detour, but worth it.

Falling 55 meters (~180 feet) is a respectably long fall.  

Wayne and me at Bridal Veil Falls midpoint.
The trail with viewpoints above. midway, and below is well designed, with non-slip metal mesh covering over solid wood steps and sturdy hand railings. Its 261 steps from top to bottom were accomplished easily by families of all ages, speaking a smattering of different languages.

While many New Zealand estimated trail times seemed to be more apt for athletic rather than average hikers, it really is easy to make it to Bridal Veil's base in 20 minutes, and about as easy back up.

Bridal Veil Fall's base offers a sweet place to rest.
It's a great place for a picnic.  While we wolfed our sammies at the car before we started, we discovered there were a few picnic tables just past the trailhead, and there was also a great spot to stop at the base of the falls, too.

Location Location
We're currently road-tripping in New Zealand until February 8, 2016.   This post is about our travel in the area South of Raglan, North Island's West Coast.  This catch-up post* was written in Wellington and set to post while we're in New Zealand's South Island, where we expect to spend about 2 weeks.  Meanwhile our boat is in Whangarei's Town Basin Marina (S35.43.474 E174.19.599), moving to Riverside for haul out between the 1st & 2nd week of February.  

*We're usually out of wifi range and when we're in it, we're often spending more time socially than on-line.   Several more catch-up posts are on the way.

Unfortunately, car break-ins are a rampant problem
at popular New Zealand attractions.  This sign
warned Bridal Veil Falls visitors.  We took heed.
Cruising by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand.  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016.  Since arriving in New Zealand, November 21st, we've sailed less than 200 miles.  Meanwhile, we've already put well over 1,000 kilometers on the car we bought just over a week ago.















NZ: Wild Surf & Windswept Dunes of North Island's West Coast

Hardy souls tacking Port Waikato's waves.
Going vagabond means while there's often much uncertainty on where we'll rest our heads for the eve, we have the freedom to stop whenever something catches our fancy.  After our relatively brief stop in an Auckland 'burb, we meandered off New Zealand's primary Highway, 1.  

Our next set destination was Raglan, which is still on New Zealand's North Island, but South of Auckland on the West Coast.  We stopped at Nikau Cave overnight to break the trip up.

Our goal was to take in the countryside, stretch our legs periodically, and keep our fun on the frugal side.  Fortunately, New Zealand offers many excellent free attractions. Here's a few highlights that caught our fancy if you happen to be traveling this particular stretch.  

Port Waikato
Hardly the spot to loll around in the sunshine on a white sand beach and gently dangle your toes in the water, Port Waikato's a surfer beach though at the time we passed through it looked more rough than rad.  Twas rife with signs cautioning those who enter to beware the rip tides, and keep their forays between the narrow flagged stretch on the charcoal colored sand.  We were delighted to observe from the shore and happier still we chose to conduct our exploration over land, rather than cruising off this rugged coast in our sailboat.

Wind sculpted waves across Waikato Sand Dunes' surface.
Waikato Sand Dunes
Near Port Waikato, we stopped again at Waikato Sand Dunes.  New Zealand may be a long skinny country, but despite 51% of the island dedicated to grasses (primarily pastureland), it does not lack for variety of ecosystems on the other 49%.  Just a few miles from Port Waikato's rugged surf stretched a calm estuary, a flat, gray pond reflecting that cloudy day.  Sand dunes dramatically loomed up on one side of the estuary.  As we wandered the dunes, the skies gave us some glimpses of sunshine and even a little blue sky.

We chuckled over a couple boys hurling their body down the dunes for a good slide, whilst fishermen busily plied the estuary.

Then it was back on the road to Raglan.

Waikato's stark sand dunes yielded to rolling hills of
vibrant green grassy cow-pleasing pastures.

The reality is as amazing as much of New Zealand is, particularly for budget travelers like us, there's simply some stretches where the diversion is little more than a leg stretch.  With more time, the opportunity is better to explore more deeply.  For us, from Auckland to Raglan, and Raglan to New Plymouth, we were more focused on the destination than the journey.  The trade-off?  More time to spend more time where we want, without killing ourselves to get there.

Location Location
We're currently road-tripping in New Zealand until ~February 8, 2016.   This post is about our travel in the area between Auckland and Raglan.  We're in Wellington and this Wednesday morn catching the ferry first thing in the morning to New Zealand's South Island, where we expect to spend about 2 weeks.  Meanwhile our boat is in Whangarei's Town Basin Marina (S35.43.474 E174.19.599), moving to Riverside for haul out between the 1st & 2nd week of February.  

Cruising by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand.  We will resume serious cruising when cyclone season ends in ~April 2016.  Since arriving in New Zealand, November 21st, we've sailed less than 200 miles.