Today is the last day of our near 3 week road trip in the land of Kiwis. Spent the past 3 nights in what truly is the most spectacular landscape in NZ - the Milford Sound. While we didn't pay to take the "Lord of the Rings Tour" from Queenstown [not sure what part of Middle-earth they actually show you], we found ourselves saying OOOH, AAAAH, WOW and pulling the car over yet again as we couldn't pass without capturing (or trying to) the beauty of the jetting peaks, mossy forests, monumental waterfalls with perma-rainbows, a thousand sheep being herded down the road (literally), layers of mountain ranges and valleys, bridges crossing over wide rivers, more sheep, and more sheep... Ariella and Susan braved an evening kayak in the sound, while I preserved my back by seeing the sound via a boat. Easier to take photos from a boat, but the gals cruised under waterfalls and used their oars as sails bc it was so windy. Luckily the wind was at their backs!
We've covered a ton of scenic routes, adventures and kilometers on our road trip from Auckland to Queenstown. Highlights include:
Outside Auckland in Pukekohe: Bill & Helen Kilkolly (my uncle Craig's friends) hosted us for 2 splendid nights on their 10 acre farm. They hooked us up with their son-in-law's abseiling company for a full day canyoning trip in Piha (incl a 150 ft. vertical drop!), helped us plan out our full itinerary for NZ, introduced us to their pigs, dogs, horses and cattle, served us home cooked meals, insisted we do laundry and simply are the most charming people we met here in NZ.
Rotorua: Do not, I repeat, do not sit in the mud baths at the geothermal springs in Rotorua. Instead of Hell's Gate, it should be called Smell's Gate. Even after throwing a tank top and a t-shirt away, I literally still cannot get the residual sulfur smell out of 1/4 of my clothing. Don't do it! Seeing the bubbling earth was cool, just don't cover your body in it.
Taupo: A skydiving mecca. Susan's birthday skydive. I wasn't planning to dive 'til about 1/2 hour beforehand when we saw the parachutes coming down over a lake the size of Singapore on a crystal clear day. Had to do it. Didn't have as much time as Susan to freak myself out about it. But I surely freaked out getting on the tiny plane, knowing that I was to be the first jumper, sensing that my tandem partner Laci (a Hungarian) was seriously crazy, seeing the extreme sport junkie Susan panic, answering to Laci when he asked me if I was scared, and then inching toward the open door to FREEFALL!!! there i was, there was the earth below. what a serious rush. 45 seconds lasts a long time when freefalling from 12k feet. Once Laci pulled the chute, we swirled round and round in circles, flew so close to Susan & Reno and could yell to them, and cruised in for a smooth landing. what a flight.
Picton: I like that Kiwis call backpacking trails "Tracks" and backpackers (the hiking variety) "Trampers". We didn't do any overnight tramping, but we did enjoy a day hike on Queen Charlotte's Track. Took a speed boat out to a tiny bay and hiked amongst ferns with views of the water all along the way.
Kaikoura: Hanging with the mammals. While swimming with the wild Dusky dolphins in the wee hours of the morning was exhilarating, beautiful and mesmerising, I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed swimming with the fur seals even more. I felt like an in-water spectator with the dolphins, even though they were less than a foot from my snorkel mask at times as the babies and moms followed each other in circles and lept out of the water doing backflips. The dolphins are pretty speedy and don't really stop. The seals, on the other hand, like to perform for their visitors (human or other seals) as well, but are homebodies. Once we swam to their alcove at high tide, I didn't have to move around too much to have a swim party with the seals - they swam around me in circles, flipped over and swam upside down, shot by with both finesse and speed, looked at me underwater with those cute big eyes, and were just happy to be playing around. The other half of their lives (or maybe more than half), they just sit around, bask in the sun and sleep (and snore). Not a bad life.
Susan is from Alaska and the scenery here in the Milford Sound is quite reminiscent of the Alaska 'wow', except for one detail - the palm trees and big ferns on trunks that look like palm trees. I don't remember seeing palm trees in Mordor on the big screen.
I think we'll all be confused when we have to drive a car with the steering wheel on the left, driving on the right hand side of the road. alas, that'll be a while.
p.s. I'll try to write more often and briefer from here on out......