Wrapping up our time in New Zealand.
24.12.2011 - 05.01.2012 19 °C
Our final week and a half in New Zealand has taken us from beautiful Queenstown, to the small city of Invercargill, to the Scottish/college town of Dunedin, and finally to the battered yet resilient city of Christchurch. It has been a world wind tour this last week and a half, and at times difficult because of the holiday business hours, or lack there of.
We spent the Christmas holiday in Queenstwon at our favorite hostel, the Hippo Lodge. Christmas was strange, aside from missing our families, we had hot summer weather for Christmas for the first time ever. The lodge hosted a BBQ for all the Christmas orphans staying there, we watched lots of movies, and caught up on rest. We spent our last few days in Queenstown eating our favorite food, the Fergburger, spending lots of time on the lake shore, and even taking a dip in the cold water.
A few days after Christmas we headed south to Invercargill. This smaller city sits on the southern tip of the south island and, we discovered a little too late, was mostly shut down during the holidays. Initially we had planned to visit Stuart Island, home to the only Kiwi known to venture out during the daylight. However, after discovering the price of transportation to and from Stuart Island we decided it wasn't in the budget. Instead, we walked around the town and the local park. The Invercargill park is enormous and has everything from a rose garden, aviary enclosures, and even a small animal zoo. It was a pleasant surprise since we missed out on the trip to Stuart Island.
With New Year's Eve fast approaching we wanted to celebrate in a bigger and more lively city than Invercargill. Dunedin, just two hours up the road, is the 4th largest city in New Zealand and seemed like a good place to ring in 2012. Dunedin was settled by the Scottish and is home to several Universities, the Otago Museum, a vibrant downtown, and some of the rarest birds on earth, the Royal Albatross, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin and the Little Blue Penguin.
We spent New Year's Eve day at the Otago Museum, the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, and walking around the town. The Museum has a great Butterfly exhibit and a really fun exhibit all about faces. We had lunch at the Art & Craft Bar and Grill. This bar has a great lunch menu and became our favorite pub in town. McKenna enjoyed the chicken burrito,with spiced shredded chicken wrapped in a tortilla, shallow fried and served on salad with a lime guacamole. Scott had the opened face chicken sandwich, lightly breaded chicken served on a toasted baguette with salad, grilled pineapple, steaky bacon, and smothered in bbq sauce. They were both delicious and at a great price, we highly recommend this pub. After lunch we made our way to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory for a much anticipated tour and tasting. Scott was very excited and McKenna was less than enthusiastic, but was a good sport about it. After lots of food, chocolate samples, and walking around we headed back to the room to rest and get ready for the New Year's Eve celebration in Dunedin's town center.
The downtown center is in the shape of an octagon and for New Year's Eve the streets shut down around the even angled park and the pubs extend their patios out into the streets. There is a large stage for live music and plenty of food carts serving up a range of food to go with your favorite libation. We grabbed a table at our new favorite pub in town, The Art & Craft, where we met a group of arborists from Christchurch. We spent the evening chatting and laughing with our new friends and before we knew it the clock hit 12. We rang in the New Year with a loud and colorful fireworks display and singing with a mass of people that had filled the town center. It was great being one of the first cities to ring in the New Year, a first for us both.
After celebrating late into the night we spent New Year's Day resting and talking to family. We also signed up for a nature tour of the Otago Peninsula to view the rare birds that inhabit the area. It was a welcomed day of being lazy.
The Elm Wildlife Tour van picked us up the next afternoon and we embarked on evening of bird and seal watching. It took us awhile to get out to the peninsula but once we arrived we encountered a different species of bird around every bend in the road. Our first stop was the Royal Albatross Centre. There's a large breeding colony of Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Head, the northern tip of the peninsula. These birds have an enormous wingspan and once chicks leave the nest they spend 5-6 years at sea before touching land again.
Next we drove down the peninsula to a private farm that has maintained coastal beach habitat for the Yellow-Eyed and Little Blue Penguin as well as the New Zealand Fur Seal. First we hiked down to the beach where we saw little Blue Penguins in their burros and watched Yellow-Eyed Penguins come in from the sea and awkwardly make their way up the steep hill to their nests. We even got to see two fluffy chicks that were about six months old. The best surprise happened on our hike back up the hill, in the middle of the walking path a Yellow-Eyed Penguin was resting after a long day at sea. It was great to get up close to one of these rare birds. They are the largest penguin that doesn't live on the ice and the only ones with a yellow iris, hence the name Yellow-Eyed Penguin.
After close encounters with the penguins we moved to the large breeding colony of New Zealand Fur Seals. These creatures are adorable, and when we saw a group of pups playing in the tide pools I thought McKenna was going to jump over the rail and try and cuddle one of them. After watching the fur seals for a short while we took the long trip back to town, it was a great evening and we were both exhausted.
Our final day in Dunedin we took a long walk north of downtown to Baldwin Street. This street has a grade of 1 in 2.86 meters at it's steepest section and climbs to a height of 47.22 meters over a length of 161.2 meters. Basically, it's a really steep street and the Guinness Book of World Records designates it as The Steepest Street in the World! After our long venture out to Baldwin Street we strolled through another one of New Zealand's amazing botanical gardens. We have had a great time in Dunedin.
We are moving on to Christchurch this afternoon for our last day in New Zealand. Christchurch was hit hard by an earthquake in early 2011 and has since suffered numerous aftershocks, most recently as January 3rd. We will be staying close to the airport and not touring the city like we had hoped.
Check out our final week of photos at this link, Final Week in New Zealand
Our time in New Zealand has come to an end, and it has been an amazing beginning to our adventure. We have done and seen things that we will remember forever. We would like to end this blog with each of our favorite things about New Zealand and a few lessons learned on traveling.
McKenna's Favorite Trip Moments:
-Hiking the Routeburn Track in Mt. Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks.
-Seeing the Little Blue Penguin and Yellow Eyed Penguin in the wild.
-Visiting Nga Manu and all the people I worked with three years ago. It was nice to visit all the animals I helped care for and see the progress of the owls I hand reared.
Scott's Favorite Trip Moments:
- The Nevis Bungy Jump was the rush of a life time and I would do it again in a heart beat.
- Seeing a Kiwi up close at Nga Manu and learning about the fragility of the New Zealand eco system.
- Taking a swim in Lake Mackenzie with an amazing view of the mountain peaks on the Routeburn Track.
Lessons We Learned In Our First Month Of Traveling:
- We packed too much! When traveling for a long time it's best to bring multi -purpose shoes, more dry fit shirts, and leave room in your bag for food and souvenirs.
- We wished we would have brushed up on our conversions, specifically lbs to kgs and miles to kilometers.
- Trying to cover too much ground over a short time will wear you out. Places are more enjoyable when you leave yourself more time to enjoy the little things. Trying to cram everything into one day or multiple cities into one week you end up missing out on more than you think.
One last cheers from NZ!
McKenna & Scott