Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

New Zealand Holiday – Video Slideshow, Photo Gallery + Final Trip Summary

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Almost 4,000 pictures, several hours of video, a bunch of adrenaline packed activities all summed up in a 6 minute video slide show.

also check out photo gallery from our New Zealand holiday.  Don’t worry… I didn’t post all 4000 photos :)

This was by far one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken.  Here’s a quick recap of what we did with links back to the previous blog posts.

Day 1 – 3 : Arrived on the South Island of New Zealand.  Overnight at Bronte Lodge.  Went road cycling near Nelson and did a kayak and hike day trip to Abel Tasman.

Day 4 – 5 : Mountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track.  Overnight at the Portage Resort Hotel and Vintners Retreat.

Day 6 – 7 : Whale watching and dolphin swimming near Kaikoura.  Visited a secret seal colony.  Watched a Sheep Shearing show. Overnight at Hapuku Tree House Lodge. Also had a short visit to Hanmer Springs on the way to Christchurch before we stayed overnight at the Charlotte Jane.

Day 8 – 9 : Travel on the Tranz Alpine over to the west coast.  We made a brief stop at Shanty Town before we arrived at the Franz Josef Glacier for our scenic helicopter flight and day of Ice Climbing.  Overnight at Te Waonui Forest Retreat.

Day 10 – 11 : Travel to Wanaka and stayed overnight at Minaret Lodge.  We went skydiving from 15k feet, Miki took a scenic Tiger Moth flight and I did a acrobatic flight in the Pitts, went fishing on lake Wanaka, hiked to the top of mount iron, and topped it off by the fly, hike, jet boat “Siberia Experience“.

Day 12 – 13 : Travel to Fiordland with an overnight at Fiordland Lodge before heading to Millford sound.  Took a quick sidetrip to Glow worm caves in Te Anau.  Hiked to the Key Summit and many other scenic spots on the way to our overnight cruise on Millford Sound.

Day 14 – 16 : Travelled back to Queenstown and stayed at the one of the best places on earth… Blanket Bay.  We did the Shotover canyon jet boat ride, Bungy jumping and the Nevis Arc, and finished up the trip with a hot air balloon ride hours before we caught our flight back to Tokyo.

Like I said, one of the best vacations ever.  Contact Emma at New Zealand Travel Designers and she can help you put a trip like this together for you.

Pitts Aerobatic and Tiger Moth Flight

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

One of things I’ve never done before our trip to New Zealand is go on an aerobatic flight.  So, during my research for the trip I stumbled across Silver Demon Aerobatic Flights and knew I had to do it. Luckily we were able to squeeze it into the itinerary during our stay in Wanaka.  The pilot is the New Zealand national aerobatic champion so he knows his stuff.  He’s a funny guy with a huge ego but I guess when your a national champion that earns you the right to think pretty highly of yourself.

Here’s some info on the Pitts Special (pictured below).

Pitts Special Aerobatic Aircraft

Here is the path of the flight he took me on.  I don’t really understand the diagram but you can try to decipher it  by checking out an explanation of the “Aresti system” here.  All I know is that it was a wild ride, I spent a lot of it upside down, and had a nice green complexion when I was finished.

Aerobatic flight plan

A short promo video for the flight.  They didn’t have the camera installed in the Pitts when I did my flight but they have it in most of the time.  Would have been nice to get some video of my flight.  As you can see from the video, it is one heck of ride.

Miki didn’t want to do the Aerobatic flight… especially after she saw the nice shade of green I turned after my flight :)

Instead, she opted for the scenic flight over Lake Wanaka in the open cockpit Tiger Moth which was used as a WWII trainer.  The flight is run by the same company (and the same pilot).  It’s just marketed under a different name.  Classic Flights.

Vintage Tiger Moth

Self portrait

Promo video of the Tiger Moth flight by Classic Flights.

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

We spent one night at the Fiordland Lodge just outside of Te Anau before headed out to Milford Sound.  There a several nice stops along the way so take your time.  It took us about 8 hours to make the 121km journey but we stopped at almost every sight along the way.

Key Summit

The highlight of the drive to Milford Sound is the detour we took to hike to the key summit.  The key summit is about a 3 hour round trip hike that follows the start of the Routeburn Track then veers off to the summit about an hour in.  The views are amazing and the weather cooperated with us that day.  Dress warmly though because the wind was killer.

Entrance to Milford Sound

I did some research on the best trips to do in Milford Sound and everyone said that the overnight cruise is best.  With that recommendation our agent booked the overnight journey on the Milford Mariner run by Real Journeys.  Real Journeys is a big, very commercial company that runs several different tours.  They also did the glowworm cave tour we did in Te Anau that was mediocre at best.

Milford Mariner

The ship was pretty well appointed.  The rooms were decent as was the food.  The staff were pretty friendly and the slideshow they did at night was educational and entertaining (lots of Aussie jokes).  Overall, not a bad experience BUT I wouldn’t recommend it during the winter.  By the time we pushed off it was almost dark which didn’t make for good pictures.  During the summer it stays much lighter later and the sun rises earlier which gives you more daylight hours to take photos, kayak, etc.

Milford Sound

Also, a storm was rolling in so we couldn’t go very far out into the sound.  Also, because of the “storm” which turned out just to be a bit of rain, we had to go back to the dock to tie up for the night.  We basically had an hour on deck at night before it got to dark and then less than an hour cruise in the morning in the dingy (the ship was still tied to the dock).  Nobody was sure why they didn’t take the ship back out so everyone could enjoy one last view of the Sounds.  Instead, only a few people who didn’t mind getting cold and wet went into the dingy for a short trip just outside the port.

The three main reasons to do the overnight cruise for us were:

  1. Venturing further out into the sound than you would on a day trip
  2. Sleep overnight anchored in Milford Sound
  3. Kayaking in the early morning right from the boat with no other tourists around (avoiding all the day trip people)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t do any of those things.  Like I said, not a bad experience and not totally their fault because they couldn’t control the rain but a day cruise would have been a much better choice… and much cheaper.

Waterfalls in Milford Sound after it rains

Couple of video clips from the Key Summit hike, some stops along the road to Milford Sound and from the overnight cruise on the Sound.  Enjoy…

Abel Tasman – Kayaking and Hiking

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Our guide Emma from NZ Travel Designers planned a very full day us in Abel Tasman.  None of the operators in Abel Tasman run a trip like she did for us.  We asked for an action packed itinerary every day and she delivered yet again.  We started off in Marahau and took a ferry up to Tonga.  From there the ferry dropped us off with our kayaks and started our 4 hour paddle down to Torrent Bay.

Along the way we stopped at the Tonga Island Seal Colony and then stopped at a beautiful white sand beach for lunch. Our last kayak stop was Torrent Bay.

We left our kayaks on the beach for the ferry to pick up and then headed on our 4 hour hike back to Marahau.

It was a long tiring day and the weather didn’t totally cooperate with us but it was a still another great day in New Zealand… and we had some great fish in chips for dinner at the Smokehouse Cafe (HIGHLY recommended).

New Zealand in Infrared

Monday, July 5th, 2010

A while back I converted an old Canon 30D to infrared.  I used a company called LifePixel but there are several others that can do it for you.  You can even do it yourself if you are so inclined.

After you have a converted SLR you still aren’t done.  The pictures need some work after you get them out of the camera.  LifePixel has a photoshop tutorial that works but I do most of processing in Lightroom.  Here is the best tutorial I found to help you process the photos in Lightroom.

After you’ve done all of this you still need to play around a bit to find out what works and what doesn’t.  I haven’t mastered the technique yet but here are some that I liked from the trip.

Shanty Town, New Zealand

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Shanty Town is a funny little tourist attraction on the west coast of New Zealand just south of Greymouth.  A stop here wasn’t on the plan but we had some extra time and saw a sign that they have gold panning there so we though we’d go check it out.  The summary is, I wouldn’t go out of the way to visit here but if you have some extra time it’s not a bad place for a pit stop.

A couple funny clips of Miki playing with the trail whistle and panning for gold.

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).


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…