Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Day 22. of 24 in New Zealand: Scotland?

Today we went to Scotland – at least that’s what we heard. But first things first. We got up in the morning. Not as early as I planned at 2am to photograph the stars. No, I was just too tired when the alarm went off and the sky was not visible when we went to bed and not when we got up in the morning. So I just guess that it wasn’t visible during the night either. But yeah, I was a ‘little’ bummed in the morning that I haven’t managed to get a good night shot of the Southern coast (or any other nice location we’ve been so far).

 

We left this little town called Bluff in the morning after breakfast at the Anchorage and drove in the direction of our next stop – which is as we heard very scottish – Dunedin.

 

We have already been to the southermost city (Invercargill), the southermost town (Bluff), the southermost town offshore (Oban) and today we went to the southermost point of New Zealand mainland called Slope Point. There is no road to Slope Point itself, but it’s just a 20 minutes walk to get there and it’s very windy – at least it was for us. I’m not sure if I even managed to get a good shot with the tripod.

 

The spot itself is really an understatement. There is basically only a sign post which has two directions: Equator 5140km and South Pole 4803km.

 

The Slope Point belongs to ‘The Catlins’. We also visited Nugget Point and the Purakaunui Falls also belonging to ‘The Catlins’. The Nugget Point has a beautiful view of – you guessed it – nuggets. Wave-eroded rocks that have the shape of gold nuggets. Walking there takes about 20 minutes.

 

On our way to Dunedin we had the best introduction into Scotland there is – Highland Cattle. Dunedin itself didn’t look that much like Scotland, but it has some old-looking churches and maybe with a little imagination and compared to the rest of NZ you could say that it is a little scottish. Well, it even has a Scottish Shop. :) Dunedin is the second-largest city of the South Island and the name comes from Dùn Èideann which actually means Edinburgh.

 

When we arrived at the B&B our host told us that there is the Royal Abatross Center, which has of course Albatrosses, but also blue penguins. It’s not like in a zoo, it’s more like a wildlife reserve and you can make a tour. That meant, we went outside at a specific hour when the little penguins normally come back from their feeding tour and watched how groups of around 20 little penguins stormed the beach and waddled to their home. They always come home at around 10pm, which is quite fascinating. You can see a big black spot in the sea coming closer to the beach really fast and as soon as they are onshore, they need quite some time to clean themselves and to come up the beach – sometimes they even get stuck for a few seconds in the grass. Very cute!

 

All in all the  action was over after around 45 minutes and we went back to our B&B.

 

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

Sunday, January 17, 2016

21. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Birds, birds, birds

This night I was just too tired to get up for the stars and the morning assured me that I hadn't missed much. Thick clouds were hanging in the sky, but the sun slowly came through.

 

We had to check in at 9:10am at the Bluff ferry station. Today we went even further south to Stewart Island and it’s only town Oban. This remote place has 'a lot' of Kiwis. But we didn't stay for the night and as Kiwis are nocturnal, the chance to see one was not very high.

 

If you like rollercoasters you should sit in front of the boat, as this is the place where it moves a lot. So you feel it in the stomach - in a good way. ;) And if you thought about writing postcards on the boat, forget it or it will look more like a painting than a written text. But if there is a fisherboat on the sea you might even see a few albatrosses. They are the largest seabirds and they feed by searching the surface for dead squid and fish – or by stealing from fishing vessels. They can have a wingspan of up to 3.3 meters and a weight of 8.5 kg. The ones we saw were likely to be the ‘White-capped’ Albatrosses. Which looks a little grumpy and can have a wingspan of about 2.5 meters.

 

After we arrived on Steward Island we checked out the local tourist information and booked a water taxi onto Ulva Island - a bird sanctuary 5 minutes away from Steward Island. On the Island you can find a lot of native birds like the Tomtit, Steward Island robin, Steward Island Weka, Kākā, Tūī, New Zealand wood pigeon and even the brown Kiwi.

 

Apparently there are around 60 Kiwis on the island - or basketballs with legs as the water taxi skipper told us. ;) And if you're lucky you can see them - sometimes even during the day. Unfortunately, we didn't see Kiwis, but the other abovementioned native birds were kind enough to show up. The weka was even quite bold. At first it didn't seem to notice us, then it stood still for a few seconds until we saw that another weka was nearing him and just then it attacked the other and chased him around the forest onto the beach. As soon as we ate some snacks it came really close and even tried to get into the backpack.

 

The forest on Ulva Island was really like you would imagine a rainforest. You hear birds everywhere around you and the fauna is very dense. An awesome experience. Unfortunately you cannot stay over night on Ulva Island, but Steward Island isn’t less impressive and it has a lot more Kiwis than Ulva Island – over 10’000. But comparing the area with the number of Kiwis, Ulva Island has 23 Kiwis per km2 and Stewart Island only 6. So the chance of seeing one is higher on Ulva Island. But as there are overnight tours on Stewart Island with a 99% chance of seeing a wild Kiwi, it’s not unlikely on both islands.

 

After Ulva Island we walked back on the two ‘nature walks’ called Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Walk. Still impressive and not as wild and lively as the birds on Ulva Island. At 5pm we checked in on the Stewart Island Ferry and had dinner at the Anchorage restaurant in Bluff (one of the few).

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

20. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Keas! And Bluff.

In the morning the Milford Mariner cruised further out until we reached the Tasman Sea and then back to the harbour.  The weather was a lot better and the waterfalls have almost completely vanished, only the big ones were still there. Interessting how fast the landscape can change. All in all, it was a great cruise and a very intense experience of the Sound.

 

Our nature guide on the cruise gave us a tip. We have to drive through the Homer tunnel and drive on the next carpark to see the infamous Keas. Well, it wasn’t the first on the left, but on the third car park we finally saw some Keas. These beautiful parrots are mostly green in colour, but as soon as they spread their wings, you can see a bright orange/red under the wings, which is normally completely hidden.

 

These parrots are really bold. They are used to tourists and love everything rubber-like – especially on cars. So as soon as you parked the car, they will come and try to rip off the rubber on the windows or attack the radio antenna. Be careful to park the car longer as it maybe gets completely destroyed by them. Our nature guide on the Mariner told us a story of a friend that came back to a destroyed car. Not only did they remove the rubber around the windows and the windshields, they even removed the caps of three tires and found it funny – apparently – to release the air on the tires. So three flat tires.

 

But I didn’t care about that. What I wanted is to capture the beautiful wings. So how can I do that? Of course only when they are flying or are about the fly away – easy. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as I hoped. Not only are birds a lot faster than landscapes, they are also very unpredictable. So I tried it a lot and lucky me there were many tourists around, so also many Keas around on the cars: first eight, then six as some Keas left as blind passengers on one camper van. Unfortunately, I had one problem which I didn’t notice. There is an option on the camera called ‘continuous focus’ and the camera was set to ‘static focus’, which basically means the focus will not follow the object.

 

It can happen that the camera has the wrong setting. No problem. But realising it afterwards in the car when there are no Keas around, is just plain f**ing stupid. So this is the photo I took:

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This is how it should look:

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Anyway, lesson learned. That’s definitely something that is not going to happen again. But unfortunately, there probably won’t be any Keas anytime soon. But I still managed to get a few decent shots. Btw. I broke my rule for this post not to use my RAW images during the trip as they take too much time to process and post, but as I had a little time now I made an exception.

 

After the Kea photo shoot we drove to our next destination – Bluff. This is the southernmost town of the New Zealand mainland. Tomorrow we will go to the really southernmost town, which is Oban on Steward Island.

 

Oh and we’ve been to Monkey Island – at least we saw it. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the classic game of LucasArts. It is located in the southwest. The name apparently comes from a ‘monkey winch’, which was used to haul boats ashore (Source).

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

19. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Milford Sound

As we didn’t have any internet on the Milford Sound cruise, this post is a little later online.

 

After an exciting day in Queenstown yesterday, we left early it in the morning, as we had a long drive ahead of us. Linear distance isn’t that long at all, but unfortunately there is no direct road. So as you can see in the location history, we had to travel quiet a curve until we reached our next destination – Milford Sound.

 

On the way we made a little stop in Te Anau. This is probably the last stop with decent internet or a petrol station. After this there is a nice drive with hairpin turns (serpentines). We stopped at Te Anau at a nice cafe called Sandlfy Cafe, where they served us a delicious ‘silver fern’ cappuccino.

 

Btw. ever heard of sandflies? They are like midges found in Scotland, but definitely a lot nastier. So, they bite and suck blood which leaves a large red itchy bump. And there are hundreds of them. We stopped one time with the car just a second in the wrong carpark and had a lot of them immediately in the car. Driving with all four windows open helped a little to get them out. Oh yes, and they are tiny, like 1mm long. So be aware and wear long clothes in these areas.

 

Anyway after fuelling ourselves and the car we drove to Milford Sound through a ‘one way’ tunnel with traffic lights and an information panel how long it will take until no incoming traffic. It is the Homer Tunnel. In the winter season it’s according to the Wikipedia article, too dangerous to wait outside of the tunnel due to avalanche risk, so the traffic lights are only for the summer.

 

We arrived in Milford Sound. The weather during the day was pretty bad. It rained all day, but I guess it was good for the land, as it was very very dry before. But the weather forecast promised us better weather in the morning the next day and as we had the overnight cruise in Milford Sound this was good news to us. It even cleared up already in the evening, which was even better.

 

We boarded the Milford Mariner and shortly after we cruised through the inlet of Milford Sound Fiord and saw up close a lot of waterfalls (as it rained all day), the rainforest, the mountains and a few fur seals. We then anchored in a sheltered cove and had the possibility to take a Kayak and explore the cove ourselves with a guide. Milford Sound was really a remarkable experience and especially the hundreds of waterfalls on one cliff alone were spectacular. In the evening the passengers of the Milford Mariner got a presentation about the wildlife and the nature of Milford Sound, which was not only informative, but also quite funny – thanks to Stu. Early in the morning I tried to capture the stars above the nice scenery, but on a boat, it’s just impossible to have a stable ground for 20 seconds. So, I guess I have a few art photos. ;)

 

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

18. Day of 24 in New Zealand: 3-2-1 Day of Heights

… or just the craziness of Queenstown. ;)

 

Today finally everything we planned for and didn’t even plan for worked. We got up in the morning and called ‘The Helicopter Line’, and they confirmed that the weather was good to fly. So this time it really worked. We got the see the beautiful scenery of Queenstown up to the Mount Aspiring and would land there on the ice on top of the mountain.

 

So we got to Queenstown airport, received once again the safety briefing, but this time no cancellation call after the briefing – puh! We and three others plus the pilot were going for the ‘Southern Glacier Experience’ – duration 50 minutes. After around 20 minutes flight we landed on the top of one mountain west of Mount Aspiring. This was a really cool experience. You cannot walk on the top, so it really is untouched ice and snow. Of course ‘untouched’ other than the hundrets of tourist that come with the heli. ;) After 5-10 awesome minutes on the ice we flew back to Queenstown airport.

 

This was number one of the crazy things in Queenstown. Afterwards we drove back to our B&B and walked into Queenstown for the Paraflights. Which is basically a parachute hooked on a boat. You strap in on the boat and it gradually releases the line and lets you fly around 182 meters (600ft) over the sea. This can be done in a tandem, which we and others on the boat did. For around 10 minutes we flew over Lake Wakatipu and saw Queenstown, the Remarkables and all the other nice landscapes. This is really a awesome option to see the surroundings of Queenstown from above.

 

After the Paraflights we needed something to eat. But not too much, so we decided for a little snack at the Hell restaurant – a pizzeria. The pizza was okay, just enough for the next trip. After lunch we had to check in at the AJ Hackett Bungy. No, not for the Bungy itself, but for the world’s biggest swing – the Nevis Swing. It swings in a 300m arc, 160m above the canyon floor. A little bus drove us and 20 others to the Nevis for either Bungee Jumps or Swings. As it is a private land, you have to take the bus, you cannot drive by yourself. It was approx. a 40 minute drive. That’s why the whole experience takes about 3 to 4 hours. Well at first I was anxious, but it changed soon to excitement and now that I’ve done it, I would definitely do it again. The only downside – as soon as it’s starts it is almost over. After they release you, you have a 70m freefall and then you have a few swings above the canyon.

 

After the Nevis Swing we had to eat something. So after doing the biggest swing of the world, we had to taste the best burgers in the world – the Fergburger. It is fastfood on the go. There are some places to sit, but as there are sooo many people there standing in line, you better just get your meal and look for a nice quiet place. And that’s what we did. I tried the Double Ferg with Blue Cheese – delicious. It is a really huge burger and the meat and sauce are just yummy. :)

 

And that’s it for the day. Tomorrow we will go futher south to Milford Sound.

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

17. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Queenstown

For today we didn’t have any plans (yes really!). We ate breakfast at our B&B and checked out the sites of Queenstown. As I wanted to photograph the stars of Queenstown I checked some webpages and especially the Lightpollution Map to see which area would be the best to get a really dark sky. Of course Queenstown itself is quite bright, so we checked the area to see if there are any sites which have a nice foreground. Especially the ‘Remarkables’ would be great for such a photo. 

 

At first we drove to the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge which is actually the bridge where bungee jumping really started – at least it was the first bridge used for commercial bungee jumps. Very interesting to see that almost every five minutes another person jumped from the bridge. All in all the situation, people in a good mood, cool music took away the nervousness of bungee jumping – almost. I didn’t do it though and I never considered doing it, but for the first time I didn’t have the feeling of ‘never ever gonna do it’.

 

Anyway, after watching some people jump and safely pulled into the boat, we drove further to look at other interesting sites around Queenstown. So, we drove to Arrowtown, which once was a gold rush town and there is still a little part that still has these ‘small town heritage buildings’.

 

Next we visited Jacks Point, which according to this site, provides a nice scenery to photograph the stars, but basically any point provides a nice scenery around the ‘Remarkables’. :) Unfortunately the weather is not looking too good at the moment as I’m writing this – so we will see.

 

At last we drove north along the ‘Queenstown Glenorchy Road’ to – you guessed it – Glenorchy. Along the Lake Wakatipu, which is a beautiful scenic drive along the east side of the lake and along the ‘Tooth Peaks’. After this we drove back to Queenstown to eat something and now we are back at our B&B.

 

Hopefully, tomorrow we will finally be able to get to a glacier. But we will see.

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

16. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Arrived in Queenstown

Just a short one as it’s already late.

 

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t clear today so we couldn’t go on the Franz Josef glacier. Bummer. :( So we drove down to Queenstown. On our way we stopped at a few view points with a few waterfalls.

 

Just before we arrived at Queenstown we stopped at Arthurs Point where just before us a little car got stuck in the gravel. Lucky us, we would have driven the same way.

 

So, no we are in Queenstown. A really beautiful place. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

 

Location History:

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Impressions:

Monday, January 11, 2016

15. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Mt. Cook says ‘No’

Today we got up at 3:30am. No, not because there was yet another fire alarm, but because we wanted to capture the sunrise and the stars. Of course it’s not as easy as getting out of the door. You have to get to a specific spot in order set the scene. So we had to get up at 3:30 to be early enough at the Lake Matheson to capture it in the perfect light. The Photographer's Ephemeris is btw the perfect app to scout the location for sunrise or sunset times.

 

As we got out the door, we saw only stars. Not one single cloud. Normally I like some clouds as they set the mood for the landscape. But in order to capture the night sky a clear sky is best. Although the initial plan was just to capture the sunrise.

 

So we got up, drove half an hour to the Fox Glacier and further as near as possible to the lake Matheson. Saw one goat and one possum (alive) on the way – still didn’t kill it. 

 

As we arrived at the parking space, we were not the only ones. Unfortunately there were already another car ready to capture the sunrise – ready to steal my spot. ;) So we packed our backs, switched on the flashlight and walked around 30 minutes around the lake, until we found a spot that had the perfect balance of foreground, water, mountains and sky. On the way I was thinking about taking one shot before arriving at the perfect spot, to capture the stars, but as we were kind of chasing one another for the perfect spot, I didn’t do it – and I could kick myself for not doing it. Of course when we arrived at the scene, the sky was already dimly lit and the stars not as clear as earlier.  Note to myself: Don’t hesitate taking a shot and do not focus on others.

 

After walking around the lake and arriving at the so called ‘view of the views’ we set up and took a few test shots to see which the best composition was and which lens to use. After taking a few photos and waiting for 30 minutes I didn’t like the spot completely. We were not as close to the water as I would’ve liked it and the mountains were not as clear. So I left the tripod for the moment and investigated the location. I found a place further below, took a few photos, but still didn’t like it as the water was not perfectly still. Now already a few other photographers arrived and walked by us. And we noticed that there was another spot called ‘reflection point’ – duh! So we went there where already a few people set there tripods up and waited for the sun to come up. After quite some time the sun went up behind the mountains, so we already thought that it would now just get brighter. But another half an hour later the sun flares were coming through the mountain peaks and lit up a beautiful scene. The water began to live and steam floating on the water was illuminated, trees lit up and the sunrays peeked between the mountains.

 

After this we went back to the car and drove to the next coffee shop to warm up, back to Franz Josef, where we ate breakfast and prepared for the Mount Cook Glacier Landing helicopter flight – the only way to get to the glaciers now. Unfortunately, as we were already getting the safety instructions, the flight was cancelled due to the weather. Looking out of the window we saw that the sky had really began to vanish into thick clouds. So we had to postpone the flight a couple of times today and unfortunately to tomorrow morning – our last chance to do this. Hopefully we will be lucky.

 

As the flights have been cancelled throughout the day, we decided we take a look at another glacier close to the Franz Josef called the Fox glacier. Like the Franz Josef glacier you cannot walk anymore on the glacier without a heli, but you can walk close to it. So we drove to the Fox and walking as close as we could get. Next to it there is a Fox Glacier Viewpoint, which also enables a nice view onto the glacier and if you see a sign called ‘warm spring’ don’t bother getting out of the car. It’s a bit more than a water puddle.

 

That’s pretty much what we did for the day. We checked out the Hot Pools, as this was what we initially planned to warm up after the glacier hike and are getting to bed now, as we maybe get up tomorrow really early again to take another shot at the stars.

 

Btw. forget all the weather apps and website for this locations. They are all wrong…

 

Impressions:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

14. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Exploring the base

We got up really early today – at 3:26am. Unfortunately, this was not our plan. We had in the middle of the night a fire alarm at our backpacker motel. So at 3:26 the alarm went on and after a few seconds - what felt more like minutes - we realized what was happening. Then the speakers went on saying that it is a fire alarm and that we had to leave the motel. Lucky us, we could go back to bed 10 minutes after the alarm. Reason for the fire alarm: unknown.

 

After this, we got up at 9am and explored this town called Franz Josef. It’s a neat little town with everything you can think of for Backpackers. A lot of motels, a supermarket, a lot of adventure tours, a hot spa and a few restaurants and bars.

 

After checking the tour for tomorrow we went by car to the foot of the Franz Josef glacier. Or at least that’s where it once was. A few years ago you could walk from there to the glacier, but nowadays the glacier retreated and the only way to get now on the glacier is with a helicopter. So if you did a walking tour a few years back, it’s not existing anymore. The glacier itself retreated a lot unfortunately, but nonetheless it was an extraordinary sight.

 

And if you thought about making some photos with a drone, they are forbidden at the glacier. But I’m quiet excited about the photos I took there. Unfortunately, it just takes too long to process them now, but after the holiday photo processing will start. ;)

 

After the little tour to the foot of the glacier, we went back, bought some food on the go and went to the West Coast Wildlife Center Franz Josef to see yet another Kiwi, in fact the rarest Kiwi of them all – the Rowi. They actually track down the eggs in wildlife, hatch them and set them out to the wildlife after they can look out for themselves. If it hadn’t been for them only 5% of Kiwis would survive due to stoats, cats and possums.

 

Location:

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Impressions:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

13. Day of 24 in New Zealand: Stuck in Westport

After yesterday evening where we got informed by the Jucy Rentals support that someone will call us today at 8am, we were eager sitting in front of the phone. We wanted to call them again already yesterday to make sure that we have a car this morning, but apparently the customer support is only working until 5pm.

 

Surprisingly or not, nobody called. So we called them and the person that should have called us had no idea about our situation. We waited again. At 10am we had to leave Bazil’s Hostel and Surf School, which was actually quiet a cool backpacker hostel, and decided to get some coffee and breakfast and await the call.

 

So we went to the place we were already yesterday before the breakedown and waited and waited. After 1.5 hours we called them back. They were still investigating what they could do. First option was to get a new car in Christchurch – 4 hours away from us. This was definitely no option for us, as we didn’t have a car to get there and the bus was only driving in the morning. Also we needed to be at the Franz Josef Glacier in the evening for the trip tomorrow morning. After they were investigating a little further we called them again and got informed that there is a second option. A couple will get us with a new car, we bring them to Greymouth, which was on our way, and then head on with our travel.

 

Unfortunately, they were still in Christchurch so that meant that we had to wait another 4 hours until someone would get us. But as this was the only viable option to get in time to Franz Josef we took it.

 

After breakfast we checked out the local parks, but as the wind was quiet stong we looked at other options were we could stay for the next few hours and ended up at Gibbys. They were so kind and let us stay there. But unfortunately they closed at 4pm and the couple wouldn’t arrive until 5pm, so we waited outside of the cafe for another hour until they finally arrived.

 

They were actually relocation drivers. (Yes, that’s a thing) who get cars from the rental company from one location to another. So they drove us to Greymouth and made a stop for us at the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. Interesting rock formations that actually look like piled up pancakes. Signs say that they don’t know how these formations were created, but Wikipedia explains it a little differently.

 

We got back in the car and drove to Greymouth to the B&B where our relocation drivers would stay the night before heading back to Christchurch by bus tomorrow. And then we drove further south to the Franz Josef backpacker hostel called Sir Cedrics Chateau Franz.

 

After this day we have mixed feelings about Jucy Cars. I had expected that they should have already done something yesterday. Instead they just waited until today to do something. That way we’ve lost now more than a day to waiting and driving. But today the support really helped us to get on the road again. So thanks to Ben, Elwyn and Chistine. But they definitely need a better tool (edoras? ;)) - we had to tell the same story over and over again.

 

Location History:

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Impressions: