Our Final Weeks in New Zealand

We have fallen a bit behind on the blog…..to catch everyone up, we have combined our last two weeks in New Zealand into one post.  We left New Zealand on March 31st, spent a whirlwind week in Western Australia (next post to come), and are now in tropical paradise in Bali, Indonesia.

After we finished the Routeburn/Caples tracks (last post), we headed further south into Fiordland National Park to visit Milford Sound.  We arrived late in the day, just in time to catch the last boat ride through the sound.  On a rare, spectacularly sunny day (it usually rains or is cloudy), we rode through the sound, passing waterfalls, glacially carved rocks, and napping seals, to greet the Tasman Sea.  We arrived back in port to catch the sun setting.  The Sound was so beautiful, we decided to return the next morning to Milford to catch the sunrise.

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Late afternoon at Milford Sound with Mitre Peak on the left

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Mitre Peak rises 1690 meters out of the sound

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Mitre Peak at sunrise

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Reflections on Milford Sound at sunrise

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Kate, ready to seize the day at Milford Sound

From Milford Sound, we headed to the bottom of the South Island.  We camped (for free!) at Monkey Island near Orepuki along Te Waewae Bay.  Here we scoured the beach, appropriately named Gemstone Beach, for hydrogrossular garnet.

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Te Waewae Bay

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Monkey Island at sunset

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Two of the pieces of hydrogrossular garnet that we found on Gemstone Beach

The next morning we took a ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island to hike the Rakiura Track.  The Rakiura Track is a 29 kilometer track, a three day hike, and is another one of the nine Great Walks. The terrain of the track was varied, following the coastline at times and crossing dense forest at others.  We stayed in huts both nights on the island and we again lucked out with the weather. There is usually a high chance of rain on the island, but we were greeted with partially sunny days.

Stewart Island is home to 20,000 southern brown kiwi, compared to the roughly 400 people who call it home.  Kiwis are nocturnal, flightless birds about the size of a chicken.  Native to New Zealand, there are five species of kiwi.  Of the five, two are considered vulnerable, one endangered, and one critically endangered.  The southern brown kiwi is considered vulnerable. Dan and I searched for kiwis at night, but sleep got the best of us and we were only able to hear their calls.  Two Israeli guys tramping with us were lucky to see kiwi both nights. They stayed up late drinking whiskey, so maybe that is the key to seeing this elusive bird.

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A mollymawk, a type of “small” albatross

Tui birds are endemic to New Zealand and are commonly found on off-shore islands.  They sing a unique melody, as seen in the video below.  Our Israeli friends likened the song to a dial-up internet connection.

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Kaka, a large, forest-dwelling parrot

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Both huts were situated on small bays

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Native bush

During our two month stay in New Zealand, Dan was on a hunt for blue pinkgill mushrooms which are featured on the New Zealand $50 bill.  They eluded us until our very last day hiking on Stewart Island.  We saw over a hundred of them!

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Blue pinkgill mushrooms

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Sometimes, there were endless stairs…

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Old steam-powered logging equipment

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After three days hiking on Stewart Island, we caught the ferry back to the South Island and headed for Curio Bay to camp.  Here, Dan enthusiastically jumped into the frigid water to swim with Hector’s dolphins, a small endangered dolphin native to New Zealand (actually the smallest and rarest in the world).  He spent over 30 minutes swimming with them (one curious dolphin came within a couple of feet), until his lips turned blue and he was shaking from the cold.  He says it was totally worth it!

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Campsite at Curio Bay

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Dan swimming with the Hector’s dolphins

From Curio Bay we headed to Hampden. We were only going to stay one night, but we found a holiday park with an awesome host, right on the beach and 15 minutes from the Moeraki Boulders. Here we collected agates on the beach (yes, we are rockhounds!) and enjoyed the largest scoops we have ever seen of hokey pokey ice cream (vanilla ice cream with honeycomb toffee).

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Apparently this is what “single scoop” translates to in New Zealand 🙂

We headed to see the Moeraki Boulders that night and we hiked to them from our camp the next day as well.  The Moeraki Boulders are large, spherical boulders consisting of mudstone, siltstone, and clay.  They are actually hollow on the inside and lined with calcite crystals.  They are often riddled with cracks so you can peer, or even climb into the boulders to see the hollow core and yellow calcite.

Moeraki

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Yellow calcite crystals from the inside of one of the boulders

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Our camp host directed us to visit Katiki Point to see yellow-eyed penguins.  As Dan was searching for blue mushrooms over the past two months, I was on a quest to see penguins.  They had eluded me until this day, and Katiki Point did not disappoint.  Yellow-eyed penguins are native to New Zealand and are endangered, with an estimated population of 4000 remaining. Our experience at Katiki Point was incredible!  Not only did we see yellow-eyed penguins, we were able to get up close to some of them as they crossed our path, returning from feeding in the open ocean to their nests for the night.

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Yellow-eyed penguin


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Some of the penguins were molting.  When they are molting, they cannot go to sea to feed since their plumage is no longer waterproof.  The penguin below was relying on its mate to feed it.

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Seal Lions at Katiki Point

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From Hampden, we slowly made our way back towards Christchurch.  Along the way, we visted the Clay Cliffs.  The Clay Cliffs are pinnacles comprised of layers of gravel and silt.  From there we headed to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to camp for the night. We camped in a valley with views of glaciers and Mount Cook.  One of the glaciers sent rock and ice thundering into the valley below all through the night.

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Clay Cliffs pinnacles

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The active glacier

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Mount Cook

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Glacial lake with the terminus of the Tasman Glacier in the distance

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Terminus of the Tasman Gacier

From Mount Cook National Park, we headed to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Christchurch was devastated by two large earthquakes; one in September, 2010 (7.1 magnitude) and another in February, 2011 (6.3 magnitude). Although the second earthquake was lower in magnitude, the intensity and shaking of this earthquake caused far more damage than the first, especially since buildings and infrastructure were already weakened by the previous earthquake. Along with widespread damage, a total of 185 people perished. Four years later, collapsed and condemned buildings still remain throughout the city.

While recovery appears slow, the city has been experiencing rapid growth with new buildings and parks sprouting up.  We noticed unique street art and large murals painted on many of the condemned buildings.  We also ventured to the re-START mall, a shopping mall made entirely out of shipping containers.

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One of many buildings damaged from the earthquakes

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Elephant mural

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Re-START mall, a mall with shops situated in shipped containers

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A coffee shop in a shipped container in re-START mall

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A memorial to the 185 people who died in the 2011 earthquake


In Christchurch, we packaged up our camping gear and collected rocks and shipped them back to the States.  We went from 1 large and 1 small backpack a piece to just the small backpacks. Feeling much lighter and more mobile, we boarded a plane bound for Perth, Australia.  Our time in New Zealand exceeded all expectations and two months almost wasn’t enough.  We would go back in a heartbeat!















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