Archive for June, 2010

Seals… lots of seals and a secret hiding spot near Kaikoura

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

There seem to be more seals in New Zealand than there are sheep.  We had two main seal encounters.  One in Abel Tasman and then several others near Kaikoura.  I wouldn’t have posted anything about seals because they are pretty common but I wanted to share a secret little spot that was very, very cool.  On the drive from Picton to Kaikoura there are several marked seal colony spots on the road but there is one that isn’t marked and it’s the best of the bunch.

It’s called the Ohau Stream Walk.  It’s marked by the blue pin on the map.

It’s about a 10 minute walk up to a little waterfall that is filled with over 100 seals and no other tourists around.  Most of them are baby seals so maybe they are only there specific times of the year.  The seals are very curious and come right up to you (especially after you’ve just had a big lunch of crayfish and didn’t wash your hands).

and another animoto video slideshow.   You getting bored of these yet… probably not because it’s likely I’m the only one who watches them :)

Hot Air Balloon Ride – A Great Way To See Queenstown

Monday, June 28th, 2010

One of things on our life list was to go on a hot air balloon ride.  I asked out travel agent if she could try to squeeze this into our itinerary and she was able to find Sunrise Balloons in Queenstown that fit the bill.  The one thing that we didn’t know is they only launch about 3 times per week due to weather.  The winds have to be absolutely perfect for them to launch so even if you don’t see a breath of wind outside your hotel there may be to much wind at elevation.  We only had two mornings we could go on the ride so it was a gamble.

We called the night before we were supposed to depart and the balloon pilot said the weather looks good but please call back in the morning to confirm.  The departure  time is about 6am so its an early start.  So, the next morning we called and to our disappointment he said we couldn’t go because of high winds.  Bummer.  Not a big deal because we went on a jet boat ride, bungy jumping and went on the gondola ride instead.

We had one last chance to go up.  The morning before our plan left to fly back to Tokyo.  So, we went through the same routine.  Called the night before.  He said it looks good but call back in the am.  We did AND it was a go.  We ate a quick breakfast the overnight porter at Blanket Bay delivered to our room at 5am and then took off to the departure point.

Check out the video slide show of our flight.  Surprisingly, this was pretty scary.  No straps, harnesses, bungy cords, parachutes or anything to hold you in or protect you if you fall.  Just a handmade wicker basket that doesn’t feel very sturdy.  It would have sucked to do all the adventurous stuff we did on this vacation and then bit the dust on what was supposed to be a tame hot air balloon ride.  Fortunately the pilot was very experienced and he got us back to land safely.


Blanket Bay – New Zealand’s Best Luxury Lodge

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Blanket Bay

We’ve stayed in some amazing places around the world but Blanket Bay tops them all. Blanket Bay is one of the few places I’ve heard of before I started doing research on places to stay in New Zealand. It’s billed as the best luxury lodge in the country and I have to agree.

We stayed at the Bronte Lodge, Hapuku Tree House Lodge, Minaret Lodge, Portage Resort Hotel, Te Waonui, Vintners Retreat, Fiordland Lodge in New Zealand.  All of which were excellent but none of them compared to Blanket Bay.

One of the best surprises in travel is the upgrade.  You always want it,  should never expect it,  and are always happy when you get it.  We had booked a standard room but were surprised to be upgraded to a suite upon arrival.  While I’m sure all the 16 rooms are great the corner suite we had was very luxurious.  It has just entered the shoulder season so hotel occupancies around the country were down.  This wasn’t just the case at Blanket Bay.  We were the only guests at the Hapuku Tree House Lodge and only 1 of 2 couples at the Te Waonui in Franz Josef.  If (more likely when) we go back we would choose the same time of year because the weather is still great and the chance for upgrades and more personalized service are great.

View from our private balcony at Blanket Bay

The location is one the biggest draws of Blanket Bay.  It’s only about 30 minutes from Queenstown but it feels like its in the middle of no where.  The lodge is also amazing.  Look at the photos below.  They speak for themselves.  Blanket Bay just did everything right.  From the wine tasting before dinner to breakfast delivered to our room at 5am so we could do the early morning hot air balloon ride to the impeccable service to the best view from a jacuzzi we’ve ever had… it was perfect.

Gallery of pics from in and around Blanket Bay

Check out a travel channel show that was done on Blanket Bay after the jump.  It’s a 23 minute show on Blanket Bay and some of the activities around the lodge.  We did the joat boating featured in the show and the hot air balloon ride (will be posting about that shortly).  The only thing we didn’t do is the helicopter ride to the secret fishing spot.  We tried to do that but all the rivers were very high due to the large amounts of rain they had in the previous weeks so they wouldn’t run the trip for us (maybe next time).


Macau Tower – 233 meter bungy jump. The highest in the world.

Monday, June 21st, 2010

It’s been over a month since we returned from New Zealand and did the awesome Nevis Bungy in Queenstown.  The Nevis bungy was great but was only 134 meters.  It was time to go bigger and the only one bigger in the world is the AJ Hacket Bungy Jump from the top of the Macau Tower.  The jump from Macau Tower is a jaw dropping 233 meters.  Almost 1oo meters more than the one I did in New Zealand.

Check out the video of the jump here.

We didn’t only jump off of stuff during our overnight trip to Macau.  We also ate… a lot.  Two restaurants are a must visit for foodies.  1 is Fernando’s and the other is Dumbo (as in the Disney elephant).  Both have great food.  Visit Fernando’s for the great clams and Dumbo for the very tasty prawns.

For lodging, we stayed at the massive Venetian in the enormous Rialto Suite.  Everything about this place is huge but not in a good way.  It’s just too big.  Plus, it doesn’t have any character.  If we were to go again we’d probably stay in the Four Seasons next door.  We walked around the Four Seasons a bit and while its still big it has a smaller feel to it.  The staff at the Four Seasons is also much better.  We weren’t even guests there but we got the standard Four Seasons treatment.

Advert next to the bungy jump.  SOOO TRUE!!!

Check out more pics from our quick trip to Macau.  Pics of the Rialto Suite are below as well.  By far the biggest hotel room we’ve ever stayed in.

Shearing Sheep in New Zealand

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Everyone knows that New Zealand is famous for sheep but what is surprising is that you really don’t see very many of them.  For all the talk about sheep in New Zealand and I thought they would be everywhere.  There are some 40-50 million sheep in New Zealand which is about 12 sheep for every person in the country.  There are 4 main types of sheep in New Zealand.  Romney, Drysdale, Peredale, and Merino.

The sheep they used at the shearing show we went to was a Drysdale.  The sheep shearing show is very close to the Kaikoura city center so its easy to make a quick trip out after whale watching or swimming with the dolphins. They also have a very friendly goat and a cat that keeps an eye on your car while your watching the show.

We also ran into a pack of Merino sheep on the road near Queenstown… twice.  The locals probably think it’s annoying when they need to stop on the road to let the sheep by but we thought it was great.

Sheep road block

Check out pictures and videos from the sheep shearing show and few other encounters with sheep.

…if you want a good laugh google kiwi sheep jokes.  The Australians and Kiwis have a long rivalry and pretty much every Australian we ran into in New Zealand had a sheep joke about New Zealanders.  All were funny but not a single one of them was PG rated…

Mountain Biking the Queen Charlotte Track

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

The Queen Charlotte Track

The Queen Charlotte Track is considered some of the best single track mountain biking in the world.  The track is 71km long but we didn’t have time to do the whole thing so we only did about 2/3 of it.  I would love to go back and do the entire thing someday and take a little more time to enjoy the scenery.  Like every other day of this trip, we were on a tight time schedule that didn’t leave much time for lying around.

Our route would take us from Camp Bay to Portage Bay on the first day.  After an overnight at The Portage Hotel we continued on the second day for Anakiwa.  Emma from NZ Travel Designers arranged all the bikes, transportation, food, basically everything and she also served as our guide for the 2 days.  She really helped Miki a lot (and me as well) with technique and building confidence on the sometimes very technical single track.  If you didn’t pay attention 100% of the time you could take a fall of a cliff that in places was hundreds of meters straight down.  Miki did have minor spill that left a good size bruise on her left bun :) but other than that we all made it down safely and had a blast doing it.

Check out some pictures and videos of our ride.  All taken with the amazing little Canon G11.  I couldn’t bring my normal kit because it would have been very difficult to carry 15kg of camera equipment on my back.  The track was hard enough as is.  As you’ll see in the video, the track was so steep in places we had walk up parts (even our guide walked it in places… which made me feel a lot better because then I could get off and walk too).  It was really, really, steep in places.

Sibera Experience and Jet Boating New Zealand

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Siberia Experience

Fly… Walk… Jet Boat. The Siberia Experience packs all of this in one 4 hour experience only an hour drive from Wanaka. You start out with a 30 minute flight deep into the bush where the pilot puts the plane down on a small, grass airstrip. The coolest part is that he takes off and leaves you there in the middle of nowhere all by yourself. The pilot just points you in the direction of the trail and says walk on the trail for about 3 hours and you’ll see the sign where the jet boat will pick you up.

The scenic flight was very similar to others we did in New Zealand but the experience of being dropped off in the middle of nowhere was very cool. The 3 hour hike was on a good trail with some amazing views. It was topped off with an exhilarating 40 minute jet boat ride. Check out the video to see how fast you go and how close to get to the rocks, shore, branches… very exciting.

We also did the Shotover Jet boat ride which is the one that probably gets the most press and was one of the original jet boat operations in New Zealand. It’s much more commercial that the Siberia Experience but its a worthwhile side trip you can do from Queenstown.