A Travellerspoint blog

The Ultimate Arcade Game

sunny 20 °C

Queenstown is basically the place you go to make all the bad decisions you can with the amount of money you have on hand- with enough bars to drink away any regrets you may be having about bungee-ing away your life savings, and getting a picture of your favourite tour guide tattooed on your back.

I got up bright and early - or slept in by Lani standards- at about 7 and took a little stroll around the area to see what Queenstown looks like in the light (we drove in at night…which is approximately 6:30pm here...see below) Between the mountains, the water, the flowers and the sun I can’t say I had any complaints and I was happy to gloat on a quick FaceTime chat with Mark (sorry friend). This was also when I got to ponder what stupidly fantastic activity I would spend some cash monies on.

Liz wasn’t keen on doing a water activity due to illness so we opted for paragliding. I will state right here our experiences and impressions of paragliding were quite different and I will only speak for me... I was highly underwhelmed… I can best describe the experience as floating in the air for a bit, with some awesome scenery, and then landing on your ass in a field.
I probably should have gone sky diving or Canyoning but luckily AusZealAsia has no shortage of tourist driven “Extreme” activity agents all claiming to be best so I opted to pocket my wallet for the day and save those activities for another great city.

We grabbed some Fish N Chips along main street then went for a walk around the waterfront. Since Mr. Whippy wasn’t serving Hokey Pokey Ice cream we got super excited to find it at the Night N Day store but were disappointed to find out that flavour wasn’t available as part of the $1 Ice cream Sundaes special. Since I knew I’d have a self inflicted stomach ache in about 25 seconds (note above: deep fried lunch) I decided spending more than a dollar was stupid. Alas, still have not tried Hokey Pokey but had a great cookies n cream sundae.

Liz went back to the hostel for some needed rest and I ventured out on my own. I headed down to the beach to have some french boy with a beautiful voice serenade me (Ok he was singing to his girlfriend…but I was eavesdropping so that counts right?). Once the sun set (5:00pm) it got quite chilly so I decided to check out the shops. I stumbled upon what I believe to be the best wine store ever (Yes I am more excited about this wine store than the Paragliding…and much less expensive) When you enter the store you’re given a card and they have bottles set up in dispensers for you to select your serving size (taste, 1/2 or full glass), the amount is then charged to your card and you pay for what you’ve tasted at the end of the night. I spent a good couple of hours here chatting with the staff and finding some new favourites.

This morning we decided to change our plans and make the quick, easy, drive over to Nelson. If you look at a map you will quickly realize that is obviously a lie as we drove essentially the entire length of the South Island. Thus what I will forever refer to as my favourite "race car arcade game” began.
Level 1: The road can best be described as the equivalent of the plastic tube structures kids make to send their marbles down. Luckily there are signs to describe the angle of the curve you will be facing (These look like stick men Yoga poses) as well as “recommended” speed. Ex: Full Wheel at 55km/h

LEVEL UP: Next they add a one lane bridge about every 500m. If you’re lucky you can see to the other side- if you aren’t then there are more signs advising to proceed with caution- since I had any sort of choice...
BONUS ROUND: Every few Km they will throw in a construction sign with a stoplight. There was big debate whether it was a game to see how long the Canadians would sit at the red light...
We passed the Bonus. The construction sounded similar to the capture of a dinosaur. On observation they were cutting trees on the highway.

LEVEL UP: Next the rain came. In heaps. Lucky for me there are also signs to say the road is slippery when wet.

LEVEL UP: And then 6:00 hit… and so did total darkness. So now it’s something like tree pose, at 25km/hr, on a slippery matt, in the dark, with potentially another vehicle coming right at me.

12 hours, a lot of playlists, two tanks of gas, some transport trucks and of course AMAZING scenery (of which we took no pictures, because this drive was already long enough- stopping is not an option) we made it to Nelson.

Posted by Flanilandlizard 04:56 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Blue Duck in the Bush

Sorry to disappoint all the Lani fans out there- it’s Liz again. I have a cold (the horror!), and so I sent Lani out to play while I rest so that I won’t be a downer for too long.

We’ve spent the last couple of days in what one tour guide referred to as the “8th Wonder of the World” (by my count, I’ve been to about 20 Eighth Wonders of the World at this point in my life): Milford Sound. Milford is located in Fiordland- basically, big mountains jutting out of the water.

The journey to Milford Sound (and, as the saying goes, Milford is not just a destination, it’s a journey. Sure, they can take credit for that, too) is 119 km, but takes a full day, because there are many beautiful stops along the way. First, you pass through farms of deer, sheep, cows, and more sheep. Then all of a sudden you are in a beech forest, keep driving and you hit the Southern Alps. We stopped for a “short walk”, AKA a 3 hour hike up to Key Summit (919 m).

Next stop: a 17 km detour off the main road, past Gunn’s Camp (that’s a real one-horse town), towards Humboldt Falls. Along the way we found a suspension bridge, which I am happy to report I walked across AND BACK, and even jumped once. Sort of. Lani reports that the suspension bridge was one of her favourite parts of the drive.

When we actually got to the end of the road, we went to see Humboldt Falls. It was worth a stop but was not fully flowing as it wasn’t raining.

After Homer Tunnel (a one-lane tunnel that we luckily caught the light for so we didn't have to wait; blasted right through the middle of a mountain. Why not, I guess? There was no other way to access Milford Sound until they created the tunnel in 1970), next up was The Chasm. Let me preface this by saying that my dear father spent 20 minutes describing everything we would see and do in Milford Sound on Saturday night. He doesn’t know this, but I actually wasn’t fully listening, just giving an occasional “oh yeah?” and “wow”. However, he left out the Chasm (as far as I know, again, wasn’t 100% engaged). The Chasm is the single prettiest thing I have seen thus far. Pictures won’t do it justice, but I’ll post one anyhow. The Chasm is a where the Claddau River has plunged through rock, creating eroded boulders and a natural rock bridge. The water is clear as glass, and the most beautiful colour. It leaves you feeling quite small in a big world, a gentle reminder that, in fact, the world has been spinning all this time without me, and will continue long after me. Walking back to the car, I was pretty jealous of all the people who were about to go see the Chasm for the first time.

Then, finally, we made it!

Milford Sound- a town with no cell service, satellite internet that costs $50 for 200 MB, and has only one hotel and one restaurant/bar. Accessible only by foot until 50 years ago. Nature at its most natural.

We headed over to the Blue Duck, the one place to eat around here. Turns out, the food is good, and the company is even better! We had some mandatory beer and journalling time (full disclosure: Lani had wine), then ordered dinner. We were expecting lame bar food, and were pleasantly surprised by a gourmet dinner with excellent plating (I think that’s a foodie thing to say), created by a British-trained chef who found himself in Milford and never left. Halfway through dinner, this incredible sunset happened:

That sunset is where Lani met Keith and Jenn; a couple of Pediatricians from San Diego who were spending a month in NZ. They were on night 4/4 in Milford Sound, and, yes, night 4/4 at the Blue Duck. We quickly struck up a conversation- they were playing darts, and we were using them as entertainment. We talked a bit of shop (Keith is a Peds Geneticist, and Jenn is a Peds Child Abuse Specialist. Interesting specialties), swapped travel tips, and drank more beer and wine.

Keith and Jenn taught us to play “Cricket”- a form of darts with a lot of rules, but basically you just throw darts at a dart board. This particular dart board was quite “waterlogged”, and so the darts liked to bounce right out. This added a new element to our darts game: you had to run up and touch the board before the darts fell out in order for the throw to count. And also, not get hit by bouncing/falling darts. Luckily, we had two physicians and a kick-ass first aid kit (courtesy of AHS in trade for unpaid overtime); but we didn’t get to use it.

Keith was my darts partner; and despite my impressive .100 average (do baseball statistics work for darts?), we managed to win at darts. Jenn is a pretty good trash talker, but I caught Lani on some toe violations, and also Jenn found herself face first in something called a Blue Duck in the Bush, created by friendly bartender Paul. It was blue. Ari, you would have liked it.

After darts, and pool (which I am even worse at than darts, if you can believe it. Trivial Pursuit, anyone?), we went to pay for our AMAZING meal, but Keith had sneakily payed for it already. Now those are friends worth keeping!! Unfortunately, they are headed back to San Diego after Milford. Thanks again Jenn and Keith!!

Ok, finally, what you’ve all come here for: kayaking on Milford Sound. We took the Rosco’s Milford Kayaking “Sterling Sunriser” Tour- and it was actually the private Liz and Lani tour, as no one else signed up for that one. They missed out!

We first strapped our kayaks on to Rosco’s jet boat (side note: Rosco has apparently been operating for 25 years, and is the unofficial Mayor of Milford Sound. There was never a vote, but everyone acknowledges that he is the Mayor) and headed out just past Sterling Falls. We hopped in our kayaks and began our five-hour kayaking journey.

The NZ Fur Seals were feeling particularly playful, and we hung out with them for a bit. We got quite a show- back flips, somersaults, swimming. We aren’t sure whether it was cuter watching the Seals or our tour guide Matt (from Atlanta) race the seals.

We stopped for lunch on a beach in Harrison’s Cove, and feasted while we were feasted on by sand flies. Maori legend has it that the sand flies were sent as a curse to keep humans away from Milford Sound, as the gods knew humans would exploit Milford by putting up beach condos and resorts. In any case, the sand flies couldn’t ruin the amazing-ness of lunching here. Sure beats the table in the back hallway of 4E2!

Final quick note about Milford Sound: we were told to hope for rain, as there are hundreds of waterfalls that flow into the sound during rain fall. It also rains about 80% of the time. However, it was an incredibly sunny day with very few clouds, and we liked that too… Matt told us they just tell people to hope for rain so they won’t be turned off by the bad weather that is likely to greet them. Sorry to all the people who never got to see Milford Sound like this:

We dried off, and headed to Queenstown for our next adventure. It took about 3 1/2 hours, but we were told it would take between 4-8 hours. Not sure what we did wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is the right Queenstown!?


Posted by Flanilandlizard 21:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

Clotted Cream and a Three Horse Town

This blog update is a couple of days behind; we apologize on behalf of New Zealand for the not-so accessible WiFi and also for keeping us busy having too much fun.

I’ll start with a quick note on the weather in New Zealand: it’s grey here. We’ve caught some sun in Akaroa and Dunedin. So, when we found out it was supposed to be sunny from sunrise until 1:00 pm on Friday, we decided we would get up bright and early to set out for the Otago Peninsula, home of the yellow-eyed penguins and the Royal Albatross Centre. Bad decision: although it was a beautiful drive, unfortunately the Royal Albatross Centre doesn’t open until 11:30. It was 9:00.

So we turned around and headed towards the other “gem” of the Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle. This is New Zealand’s only castle, and we are not sure who decided to build it atop a mountain, and how exactly they got up the STEEP hill to the castle before modern vehicles. Anyways, the weather was gorgeous, and the views even better, so we hung out for a while for mandatory journalling and reading time.

We also met a lovely Australian woman from Perth who had recently visited Canada and learned a song for school children about “dollars and quarters and nickels and dimes!”. We’d never heard of it, and she insisted we go back to primary school. On a side note: I’m unsure of the population of Perth, Australia, but it must be quite small because it seems most people from Perth are currently in New Zealand.

We then had some morning tea with scones and devonshire cream (yes, Dad- we had clotted cream!). We drank it along side the fireplace, and it was beyond lovely.

Speaking of steep hills (which I was, a little while ago), apparently Dunedin has the world’s steepest street, Baldwin St. We decided to go for a quick drive to check out just HOW steep this street was. We’ve both been to San Francisco, after all. It’s this steep.

Which is pretty steep, if at the top there is a car stopped, meaning you need to stop and then try and re-start the car. No, that won’t work, you’ll roll backwards. Luckily, some construction workers from Wellington (one of whom offered to be our tour guide when we go to Wellington) were there to save us from certain death. We made it back down safely, and I swear I wasn’t at all nervous.

For dinner, we decided to go to a Mexican restaurant that one of the people we met on the Brewery Tour worked at. Nothing too exciting, except for our German waiter named Antonio who had an Israeli accent, a thing for Asian girls, thinks New Zealand women are too “robust”, and is sort-of dating a Canadian-Mexican girl who is, luckily, quite slim.

Saturday morning: Rain. Like a lot. But we had heard amazing things about the Dunedin Farmers Market held at the historic Dunedin Train Station, so off we went. List of purchases:
Coffee (for me)
A Bag of Loose Tea (for Lani; sold to us by a lovely fellow ironically, alsonfrom Perth who gave us some travel tips)
Freshly baked bread
Fresh fruit and veggies
Hummus (from an Israeli ex-pat)
Babaganous, Tabbouli and Baklava (from a Lebanese woman with breast cancer)

Here is a picture from the train station taken the day before, when it was nice out, and I was happy (read: post-coffee).

Then we took our delicious purchases and headed to Te Anau. I can’t say much about the drive, except MOONEIGHBAAAAAA. Also, there is a town called Clinton (I kid you not, Dad, the sign says: Clinton- A Three Horse Town). Clinton is joined to a town called Gore via the Presidential Highway. What country is this again? No wonder it’s called New ZEE-land instead of New ZED-land.

A quick note about Te Anau. We stayed at a YHA Hostel, where we had a lovely log cabin all to ourselves and we’re pretty mad we didn’t stay longer. There was also free WiFi. We meant to take advantage of this by blogging and watching the How I Met Your Mother finale, but instead found a bar. See below.

I also took advantage of the small town atmosphere (read: not a hell of a lot to do), and went for a lakeside run. It reminded me of running at Kits Point in Vancouver, so of course I was a happy runner.

We went to the “locals" bar called “Moose” as suggested by our friendly hostel staff and there was a live band (The Flaming Moe’s; hands up if you get that reference). We met some lovely blokes who were going hunting in the bush for the next week. They tried to impress us by doing something called a Hardman’s Shot of Tequila. This entails snorting a line of salt, taking a shot of tequila, and then squirting a lemon in your eye. I wish I had video proof. It was beyond.

That didn’t really impress us, but we let them buy us beer all night anyways; and I won $10 betting on dogs with someone else’s money. We then danced all night to a set list taken directly from the Camp BB/BBYO Song Book (songs included: Listen to the Music, Don’t Stop, Brown-Eyed Girl, Down on the Corner, and Wagon Wheel- twice). All in all, a great night.

BONUS: It was Daylight Savings Time, so we got to “Fall Back” an hour, which made going to be at 3 am kind of like going to bed at 2 am!! Yay sleep!


Posted by Flanilandlizard 02:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

I Think I'm 25?

This morning started with our break out of Jail and Christchurch. It was grey and cloudy so we were all too pleased to move on. We began the drive to Dunedin through many a farm field and "One Horse Towns". Liz felt the need to make the noise of every animal we passed a long the way, becoming overwhelmed when there would be fields of lambs, horses and cows it sounded like this "MOONEIGHBAH". I think this would make a nice name for a child. Along the ride we tried to call Mastercard to activate Liz's pin code. It only took talking to 4 different people and being cut off twice before someone asked where we were calling from and promptly informed us that you can't change the pin from New Zealand. I did manage to memorize the card number and all of Liz's "security" information - this may come in handy.

We stopped at the Moreaki Boulders. Now, guide books describe these as "unusually large and spherical boulders", so we expected some really LARGE boulders .... at least twice my height-I have been to the Frank Slide after all. So, we paid our $2 and headed down the path through the trees towards the ocean in anticipation. We got to the beach and found: some rocks... that were sort of large and very spherical. As we got closer we had all sorts of questions about peoples' excitement. Don't get me wrong, it was lovely to be on the ocean, it was awesome to climb on rocks, but the description should be more along the lines of "perfectly round, medium sized rocks, surrounded by the ocean, with a great view".

We then had Lani's idea of a perfect birthday lunch- Cheese sandwiches. Don't worry, there was riesling jam to go with it.

Carrying on, we made it to Dunedin, full of sunny skies, breathtaking views, and the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Liz promptly informed the girl at registration that it was my birthday in hopes of getting extra free chocolate. It worked. Throughout the tour Debbie our tour guide gave me double what everyone else was given (except for the other lady on the tour whose birthday it also was. Birthday Theif #1).

Cadbury world was basically a live version of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory: there were chocolate waterfalls, secret rooms, and the workers' purple outfits made them look like Oompa Loompas.

After the tour we checked in Hogwartz, where we were given a quick run down of the town pointing out every art gallery and museum. These are clearly our favourite activities.

We then made our way to "The Octagon". The octagon is a lovely green space surrounded by cafes, restaurants and bars, with free wifi provided by the city, perfect sun to shade ratio and a lovely view of what is possibly a cathedral, nunnery, or an all boys school- TBD.

For our evening activity we headed to Speight's Brewery for a tour. Again, Liz quickly informed the tour guide it was my birthday, and once again there was a birthday thief. What happens in July that makes April 3 the best day to be born? It didn't take long to learn that the loud, sort of obnoxious girl on our tour also went to Guelph in Bachelor of Applied Sciences and graduated in the same year. I remember her... she pretended not to know me.

After trying 8 beers in my special "birthday size" tasting glass we headed for a FANTASTIC dinner in the Octagon at Alibi; thanks to Auntie Debbie and Uncle How for the great birthday dinner and thanks Mom for making Liz bring Birthday candles all the way from Calgary to put in my wine.

All in all it was a fantastic birthday, and since it was only barely my birthday in Canada, I will be enjoying a two day birthday! Thanks for all the messages and e-mails from far and wide- Love being loved from far away.


Posted by Flanilandlizard 19:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

Floating, Occasionally Quite Close to Dolphins

This day starts with wake-up call in the Addington Corrections Facility. Seriously. Lani and I got as close to sleeping in jail as (I hope, though I can really only speak for myself) we’ll ever be. Our lovely accommodations in Christchurch (ChCh, if you will) were actually an old jail, only closed in 1999; which has now been converted into a “unique” hostel “experience”.

The room came equipped with standard issue bunk beds, pyjamas (black striped, of course), and helpful tips such as: don’t drop the soap in the shower. Okay, okay, I’m kidding. We were allowed to wear our own pyjamas, and to come and go as we pleased. It was actually not bad at all, though not overly social: snitches get stitches, after all.

We broke out of jail early and headed out to Akaroa, an old French settlement on Banks Peninsula. It is one of the quaintest towns I’ve ever seen, with an outrageously beautiful landscape. More on that below. First, we stopped for coffee (this will be a theme, and Lani will be thankful for that!) at the McDonalds drive-thru. For those keeping track, yes, drive-thrus are also on the “other” side.

We continued on the unbelievably beautiful drive to Akaroa. (WARNING: The photo below may cause such adverse effects as jealousy, wanderlust, and a desire to jump into your computer screen).
I only held my breath and/or squeezed my eyes shut a few times (good thing, since I was driving).

Upon arrival to Akaroa, our good friend Mr. Sun came out to play, and thus, happiness ensued. We signed up for our swim with the dolphins, and ate a picnic lunch by the sea. Lunch was courtesy of Barrys Bay Cheese, an award winning cheese shop just a few kilometres outside Akaroa (Lani relented to my insistence on stopping, however, she let me know we can only go to one cheese shop per week. Rude.).

We then slapped on some wetsuits-easier said than done- and headed out on board the Black Cat vessel, with skipper Ben (Happy Birthday to Benny Boy) and crew. We found some dolphins, and jumped in!! The dolphins then promptly swam away, despite us blowing bubbles and singing into snorkels as instructed by Ben (supposedly makes the dolphins “play”, but really I think Ben was just trying to see what he could get a bunch of grown-ass adults to do while bobbing in open water). Thus, I have aptly renamed the “Swimming with the Dolphins” experience “Floating, Occasionally Close to Dolphins”.

All that being said, it was an incredible experience, and we did get up (pretty) close and personal with Hector’s Dolphins, the world’s smallest dolphins, in their only natural habitat.

We then had a beer and mandatory journaling time before heading over to The Little Bistro for what was sold as “the world’s best Seafood Chowder” by Lani’s Kiwi Dietitian friend Hannah. She did NOT let us down, it was truly incredible. Hannah, if you’re out there: More food recommendations, please!!!

We drove home in the dark. Slowly. Around switchbacks and un-guarded cliffs. On the left side. All body parts intact and accounted for, thank you very much!!!

Off to bed. In the morning, break out of jail in order to celebrate LANI’S QUARTER-CENTURY BIRTHDAY!!!!!


PS: Hi Mom!

Posted by Flanilandlizard 18:40 Comments (2)

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