Monthly Archives: November 2009

Wanaka to Fox Glacier

Wanaka Wanaka Wanaka

The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka was beautiful in a new New Zealand way. It felt like we drove through Summer Land, Peach Land, a little bit of Penticton, and a dash of Lilooet. 360 degrees of snow capped mountains and scrub bush and grasses.

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Almost at the top of the Diamond Lake trail... thank goodness!

Wanaka is a mellower Queenstown (sans $16 cocktails). There were a few cute businesses that made puns on the town’s name – “Wanakab” taxi service was my favourite.

Set on a beautiful lake, there are lots of hikes and bike trails in the area. We chose to do the Diamond Lake track up to a view of the mountains and lake. Known as “one of the most spectacular day hikes in New Zealand,” it was on private land, so there were lots of sheep around. I got an opportunity to work on my sheep communication skills – something anyone can be driven to when there are this many sheep around and so few people. Anyways, usually I don’t get much of a response from my “Ba-ahahaha-ing,” and I think it’s because of my accent. This time I got through to them though, but Miranda nearly abandoned me. I will be keeping the keys to the car for the next little while. 😉

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The view of Lake Wanaka from the top of the Diamond Lake trail

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A random beach on the way to Fox Glacier was lined with rock and drift wood sculptures - this little guy was just so cute

There is also this odd little place called Puzzling World in Wanaka. It was a puzzling place.. check out the toilets.

WTF... kinda cool in an incredibly tacky way

WTF... kinda cool in an incredibly tacky way

Fox Glacier

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View of Fox Glacier... if you squint your eyes you can see it turning up the valley

There are very few places in the world where you can walk directly from a temperate rain forest onto a glacier. At 13km long, 800m wide, and 150-300m deep – Fox Glacier is spectacular. It’s neighbour, Franz Josef Glacier, is very well known and more popular because until about 40 years ago the road stopped there, so it did not reach Fox. On my radar from beginning our trip to New Zealand, I talked to a lot of people about the difference between Fox and Franz Josepf glaciers, and which one I should explore. Most people told me they were pretty much the same, so it didn’t matter which one you did. However, after doing some Sherlock-Holmes-ing, I discovered that Fox is actually the cooler glacier to visit and the visually more spectacular.

What makes Fox Glacier so cool?

1. The valley that Fox Glacier is in has a sharp turn in it. This causes the glacier to slow down at the corner and get all squished up. Ice isn’t like playdoh, so squishing = big ass ice towers.

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Ice pick in hand - and towers behind. This was the highest up the glacier we got

2. The terminal face of Fox Glacier is too active and far to steep to hike onto directly,  so an hour hike along the valley side takes you up onto the glacier at a much higher point then on the Franz Joseph glacier. Benefit is that this means you get more time on ‘clean ice’.

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Blue ice tunnel

3. Fox Glacier Guides take you along the top of the glacier versus along the bottom of crevasses. Both are probably cool, but I can only handle looking at ice walls on either side of me for so long.

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Had to ham it up a bit

4. Okay, this one is a little dorky. Fox is receding, and because the the glacier is accessible from the side, you get to see some very cool glacial features. Like recession arches.

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Compression arch coolness... hah!

Overall, I’m sure that doing a hike on Fox or Franz Josef glacier would be awe inspiring, but I’m happy with my decision to go with the under dog. After nearly seven hours on the ice, I was exhausted  and exhilarated! So cool to see something that has carved out so much the planet’s geography up close and personal.

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Fox Glacier

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On the terminal face! 75 years ago the terminal face was at that big vertical rock face in the background of this picture

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Talk about a tunnel! This one was sooo cool. Officially called a "moulin" and carved out by water

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I felt like spider man in my crampons - climb anything anywhere!


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The Milford Road, Routeburn, and on to Queenstown

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The Milford Road - looking back

The Milford Road

We witnessed Milford Sound with spectacularly clear skies on the morning we left for Queenstown. Miranda and I agreed that Milford was more majestic with the fog and rain.

The long and twisty road from Milford to Te Anau was beautiful, and a little scary at times. The Homer Tunnel was particularly ‘fun’. It was built in the 1950’s to complete the road, and it goes straight through a big mountain. Only wide enough for one lane of traffic, there is a set of lights at each end. Often tunnels wind around corners, but this one actually dips down!

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Looking back as we approach the Homer Tunnel

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We couldn't help but stop at the Mirror Lakes one last time.

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Suprisingly the reflection looked more amazing then the real thing

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Where mountains meet water


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View of the lake as we drive into town

Queenstown is full of every extreme sport you can think of.  Neither of us being adrenaline junkies, we took the opportunity to explore some of the trails and scenery. A grueling hike up to the Skyline Gondola, turned out to be a bit of fun. At the top there was a free chair lift ride. It wasn’t very long, but had great views of the lake and town.

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All smiles on the free chair lift!

We also got in our first bungy jump! HAH! Fooled you… we didn’t actually participate in the action, but we did get to watch a girl take the leap of faith off a platform sticking out of the side of the mountain – right out over the city! Crazy….


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I love the thick mat of moss as the forest floor that you can see in this photo

A great drive through the country side to Glenorchy took us to the start of the Routeburn Track – another of the Great Walks. We did a day hike up to the Routeburn Falls Hut – lots of swing bridges, and views of the river. Once up at the Falls Hut, it was amazing to look down on the flats.

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Lots of swing bridges! Some more swingy then others

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How many beautiful rivers? Endless

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Miranda's camera has a cool setting where you can pick one colour to highlight - this one shows just how turquoise the water is

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A well named creek if I ever saw one

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View from the Falls Hut down onto the Routeburn Flats

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Just as we were heading back, a helicopter flew in over our heads and landed on the near by platform. Very cool to see one flying so close - also somewhat terrifying... and of course produced fits of giggles captured here


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Miranda’s Vlogs!

I don’t know why I didn’t post these sooner! Instead of blogging, Miranda has been video blogging or “vlogging” our trip. They’re awesome, so enjoy!

June Adventures

September Fun

October Travels

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Walking the Milford Track


Four days of tramping! Hah! I still get a kick out of that (‘tramping’); it sounds so much dirtier then just going hiking. Anyways, the Milford track is NZ’s most famous trail, and has been called the “finest walk in the world.” I would have to agree that it was spectacular. At 33.5 miles (53.5Km) it starts at the end of one of Lake Te Anau’s arms, winds up the Clinton Valley along the river’s edge, steeply climbs the Mackinnon Pass, and descends even steeper into the Aurther Valley, following the river again through the valley to an end in the Milford Sound.  The first day is super easy with a nice boat ride, and then only 5km walk through Beech Forest to the Clinton Hut.

Day 1 – Lake Te Anau to Clinton Hut


Where it all started! A 1.5hr boat ride on Lake Te Anau - a very calming way to start the journey

Clinton Valley from a side trail to a bog

Clinton Valley from a side trail to a bog

I didn’t take many pictures on the first day because I forgot to charge my camera! WHOOPS! It was like having a film camera for the whole track – flashback!

Day 2 – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut

Another fairly easy walk, but quite a bit longer. I woke up early and decided to get a move on because the weather report called for rain. It was a steady and slow climb up a few hundred vertical meters over the 16.5Km. It’s the start of the season, so a lot of the track is still raw from the winter’s avalanches. There were quite a few rock fall areas too. Apparently, the Fiordland area grows vertically the same amount as our fingernails in one year, but due to all the erosion from rockfalls, snow, etc the seismic action doesn’t add any height to the peaks.

I made it to the Mintaro Hut just as it started to pour! Luckily I had managed to get through day 2 and remain mostly dry!

Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut via Mackinnon Pass

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View upon reaching the Mackinnon Pass

This is the grueling day. Mintaro Hut lies right at the base of the Pass, so it’s a 1.5hr – 2hr hike up 1000m, and then straight back down on the other side. It was a foggy and rainy morning, and as we got higher up the mountain the rain turned to snow.

There were a lot of Keas, a sort of alpine parrot, as we climbed higher. They’re very beautiful with green and red feathers, but they’re also a pain in the but. They’re super smart, and like to play tricks on hikers… I got through the pass unscathed, but one guy lost his camera!

The Pass is where the really beautiful views of the Clinton and Arthur Valleys are from. I was disappointed not to get to see them because of the crappy weather, but then it all changed! It’s so true how weather can turn so quickly when you’re that high in the mountains.

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This memorial was built for Quintin Mackinnon who was one of the founders and first guides of the Milford Track... my camera has acted up since it had a bath so sometimes pictures are fuzzy. I like how old school this one looks with the sepia though. Oh - that bird on top of the memorial is a Kea.

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Wahoo! Made it to the highest point - fingers crossed the knees hold out for the way down

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I didn't have much hope that the fog was going to clear while we were on the pass, but then all of a sudden the sun and blue sky started to appear!

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And the fog lifts revealing the stunning Clinton Valley

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Ten seconds later this picture was taken - already getting socked in again!

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The view from the window in the long drop at the Pass Hut - must be the outhouse with the best view in the world


These lovely little flowers were poking out of the snowy slopes as we descended into the Arthur Valley

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Cascading waterfalls along the trail

Sutherland Falls

Sutherland Falls - the highest waterfall in NZ at 580m. You may remember that I claimed this for the Browne Falls in the Doubtful Sound too. It's disputed which is higher because Browne hasn't had it's height officially recorded.

Day 3 – Dumpling Hut to Milford Sound

Last day on the track! A gentle (thank goodness!) descent from Dumpling Hut down the Arther Valley all the way to the river mouth at Milford Sound.

Te Anau gets about 2m of rain fall a year… Milford Sound gets about 8m. Every day you’re on the Milford Track increases the likelihood that you are going to get very very wet. It was a rainy morning, but actually started to lift mid morning.

It’s a funny thing down here, they tend to call streams ‘trails’ instead. I don’t know about you, but I’d just prefer if they were honest about it – you’re going to walk most of the Milford Track along stream beds. It’s hard to hold a grudge about wet feet when there is so much beauty to look at.

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Pop Quiz: Stream or trail??

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If you guessed stream for the last one, you're wrong. These are both 'trails'

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At this point, why bother putting in that green bridge?

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Water falls like this make up for having wet feet

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Beautiful Beech forest dripping with moss and lichen - the lower reaches of the Clinton and Arthur Valleys


I made it! It looks like I'm about to pass out....

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Cute little boat to pick us up at the end of the track and transport us to Milford Sound "town"

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We passed BOWEN FALLS on the way to Milford! It was pumpin'!

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Made it to Milford - stunning once again




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Doubtful Sound 2 Day Kayak Adventure

I really wanted to do a kayak trip while in Fiordland, and had a choice between Milford and Doubtful Sounds. Milford Sound is more well known for it’s spectacular beauty and massive size. Doubtful on the other hand is harder to get to, has a lot less traffic, and offers more of a wilderness experience.  I opted for the Doubtful trip! Two days on the water with Fiordland Wilderness Kayak Adventures.

I was a little apprehensive that the weather would suck, and I would end up cold and wet for two days. Lucky again, the first day was a spectacular blue sky with relatively calm winds… good kayaking weather!

At 6:30am I jumped in the guide’s van, and saw Bruce’s sleepy face! Bruce was the guy I had met and hiked with on the Abel Tasman track. Neither of us had any idea the other was doing the trip or even in the area, so it was a pretty random surprise.

The day started early because we had to drive down to Lake Manapouri, then take a boat across the lake, jump in a 4WD and go over the mountain and Wilmot Pass, and down into Deep Cove where we could finally get into a kayak. The remoteness of Doubtful Sound is definitely one of the reasons it is so much quieter then Milford Sound.

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Looking down on Doubtful Sound from the Wilmot Pass

getting ready

Two guides and seven guests getting the boats packed up in Deep Cove

On the water by 10am, we had the whole day to explore the beginning of the main channel of Doubtful Sound and Hall’s Arm.

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Doubtful Sound here we come!

day one view

Hall's Arm

tree slip scares

The mountain sides are so steep that "tree slips" are very common. You can see the various stages of succession here


We spotted an avalanche high on the mountain side. Never thought I would see an avalanche like that! Very cool

The wind conditions in the afternoon were perfect for a little kayailing (aka kayak sailing)! I was so stoked about this because it is something that I have always wanted to try. I don’t have any pictures of it because I was the mast… requires two hands! Essentially we broke into two groups of two double kayaks. The folks in the back seats became masts by tying the top rope of the sail to the end of their paddle, and then propping the paddle up in their lap – lifting the sail high in the air. The folks in the front held onto the bottom rope of the sail, and pulled it in or let it out as needed. The hulls of the two kayaks worked much like a catameran. So much fun!

Camp was about half way down Hall’s Arm, and set up right by the river. They even had a mosquito net room set up to save us from the vicious sand flies. After dark we heard a Kiwi bird singing! They’re very rare, but have been making a come back because the DOC has been setting traps for the stouts (rat like creatures).

Next morning the fog rolled in.

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View up Hall's Arm from the campsite's beach

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I made Bruce do all the hard work while I had fun taking pictures! ... Just kidding

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Snake cloud

The water was like glass, with no wind at all! I’ve never seen water that flat. Just after we all got in our kayaks and pushed off the beach, we heard the sound of dolphins coming up for air. The swam right passed us – it was so majestic. They were a pod of bottle nose dolphins, and one of the southern most pods in the world.


Dolphin cruising past

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Kayaking away up the sound

reflective tree

The Navigator was one of four other boats we saw on the whole trip

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Time for some kayak-yoga... kayoga?


Up close and personal with one of Doubtful Sound's many waterfalls

Brown falls

Brown Falls - NZ's largest waterfall at 880m

We saw another two pods of dolphins that morning! One pod was very curios, and came right up to the boats. The water is so clear that we could easily see them swimming under and around the boats – amazing! Bruce caught them on film:

We also saw the Fiordland Crested Penguin. We saw a few couples fishing, so it was hard to see them in detail, but looking them up later of google revelaed that they’re pretty darn cool! Only found in Fiordland and occaionally the Antarctic, and there are only 1500 breeding pairs left.

The Fiordland Crested Penguin

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Fiordland National Park

Taking up a whopping 5% of New Zealand’s land mass, Fiordland National Park is spectacular. More hiking and camping for us- yay!

Fiordland is aptly named – the steep glacial carved mountains drop into deep green seas. With nearly 8m of rain a year, we have been SO lucky to have a handful of blue skies down here. Other then make tourists soggy, all that rain has also created a really cool phenomena. About 2m of fresh water sits on top of the salt water in the fiords – so there aren’t any barnacles or mussels clinging to the intertidal zone. Not only that, the fresh water has traveled down the mountain sides and become concentrated with tannins, which tints the water with a rusty brown colour. This has impacted the amount of light that reaches below the 2m of fresh water so much that the sea creatures living at just 4m below sea level are usually found below 20m!

Key Summit

Above water there is lots to look at too. To see the tops of the mountains you have to crane your head back all the way! On our first sunny day we hiked up the Key Summit, which we were told was the best hike to do if you only have a few days in the area.

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That is the Hollyford Valley behind me

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Reaching the summit of the Key Summit on the Milford Road

The Department of Conservation created a self guided nature walk brochure for the alpine area at the Key Summit. Miranda and I are putting together a little video footage to share with you… but you’ll have to be patient and wait for that. Looking around at the top it was really cool to see the hanging valley that Lake Marian sits in.


1 ❤ alpine

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Lake Marian sitting in a hanging valley

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I thought this little patch of moss was very sweet.

Lake Marian

Since we could see Lake Marian from the Key Summit we decided that it would be cool to hike up there as well to get a different perspective. It was a bit of a rougher track, but the turquoise/emerald lake was well worth it. We couldn’t stay at the top for very long because we were afraid the swarms of loonie sized mosquitoes were going to carry us off!


You can see the trail marker, but can you see the trail?

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Me looking composed shortly before an epic battle against the mossies

Road Trip Requirement

As with any road trip, you can expect at least one minor mishap. We got a flat tire. Not to worry – the friendly people of Te Anau were there for the rescue!

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Our car all jacked up

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Our friendly neighbourhood mechanic got us fixed up

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The culprit

The culprit was a rouge screw! We’ve kept it as a memento. The tire was patched and we were out of there in about half an hour. It was actually really cool to watch the tire being patched – I’d never seen it done before.

Mirror Lake

We caught Mirror Lake on a breezy day, so the sign was a little hard to read.

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A reflective sign - smart thinkin'

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Great views of the mountains from Mirror Lake

A Couple of Our Favourite Camps


The Eglinton Valley was pretty, but really cold and windy at night! Even had a bit of snow!

The Eglinton Valley was pretty, but cold and windy at night. Even had some snow!

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Henry Creek Camp - close to Te Anau and a little warmer then the mountain camp sites

Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay

A much gentler hike, this one followed the river into Lake Manapouri.

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Lots of suspension bridges along this hike from Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay


Trout fishing is popular along the river... we really wished we had a rod too!

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The Catlins – New Zealand’s Forgotten Coast

Nugget Point

The coastal drive along the south-east corner of New Zealand is often overlooked by travelers, but we found it spectacular for day hikes and camping. I think having a car is essential though because the big bus companies don’t go this route.

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Typical view along the Southern Scenic Route

Driving south from Dunedin, Nugget Point was our first stop. Home of New Zealand’s oldest light house (built in 1869), Nugget Point’s turquoise water was beautiful. I think I remeber reading somewhere that Nugget Point was named “Nugget” because the rocks along the point look like big nuggets of gold in the right sun light.

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Nugget Point - lots of ships wrecked here in the mid-1800's

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Nugget Point light house - the oldest in New Zealand

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Another windy day - I won "Best Hair" this time!

Purakaunui Bay

We camped at Purakaunui Beach the first night. It was the labour day long weekend and a great surf break, so there were a lot of people out there. A couple of families came in old school converted buses; one even had an old hand powered dryer attached to the grill.

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Evening reflections on Purakaunui Beach

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I'm an official entrant on Master Chef - Car Camping Edition

There was a woman fishing for Whitebait at the river mouth (aka ‘Whitebaiting’). She had caught a few, and was excited to enjoy the delicacy for dinner. Ali had told us that most people just eat Whitebait whole, and that it is an aquired taste.

“The New Zealand whitebait is small, sweet and tender with a delicate taste that is easily over-powered if mixed with stronger ingredients when cooked. The most popular way of cooking whitebait in New Zealand is the whitebait fritter, which is essentially an omelette containing whitebait. Purists use only the egg white in order to minimize interfering with the taste of the bait. Foreigners frequently react with revulsion when shown uncooked whitebait, which resembles slimy, translucent worms… read more


Bucket of Whitebait... they look like worms to me too

On the way back to the highway the next morning we stopped in at the Purakaunui Falls.


Purakaunui Falls

Cathedral Caves

After a few more small walks to waterfalls we stopped at Cathedral Caves. Accessible only at low tide, these caves were amazing. We only explored the first one. We had to crawl across the slimy narrow rock edge to avoid a hip deep tide pool, and then jump in when it was ‘only’ knee deep freezing (just been circling the Antarctic) water. As the tall ceiling came down to normal room height and took a sharp corner, we were submersed in darkness for a few moments. Then the light from the other end infiltrated the tunnel and the ceiling began to rise up to astounding heights again.

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Miranda near the entrance to the Cathedral Cave

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Me prancing into the light at the end of the tunnel

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The view from the far side of the cave

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The hot sand on our near frozen feet felt fantastic

Jack’s Blowhole

Next stop – Jack’s Blow Hole. Our timing was a bit off because we had to hit the Cathedral Caves at low tide, and Jack’s Hole is best at high tide. Another track on private land, we were lucky this one was open even though the lambs were out.

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Path through pasture and bush to Jack's Blowhole

As we were walking along the path to the blowhole we came across a little lamb trapped on the wrong side of the fence. I find it alarming because the little guys are always so stressed out and just keep running at the wire fences in the hopes that they’ll magically find themselves on the right side. They’re also scared of humans so it’s hard to help them get back. Miranda and I have developed expert lamb wrangling skills, so it only took us 5 or 10 minutes to get the lamb pushed back through the wire fence.

The actual blowhole is pretty cool because it’s not right on the coast line where you normally see blowholes. It is situated about 200m inland. At 55m deep, 145m long, and 68m wide, it is quite a sight.

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Water would be rushing in and out of Jack's blowhole... but we took this photo at low-ish tide

Curio Bay

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POP QUIZ: Is this wood or rock?

I think Curio Bay must have been my favourite stop in the Catlins. When I heard “petrified forest’ I thought, “cool,  we’ll probably see a few obscure fossils and a lot of interpretive signs.” I don’t think I could have been more wrong! One of my life goals is to find my very own fossil, but just seeing this petrified forest comes dangerously close to fulfilling that goal.

180 million years ago (MYA) this part of New Zealand was part of the super continent Gondwana. In the middle Jurassic period, about 170 MYA, volcanic eruptions and heavy rains resulted in severe flooding on hundreds of square kilometers. The exciting part was that the water was full of ash. The flood killed the forest and downed the trees, and silification occurred very quickly – essentially, all that ash got embedded into the sodden wood before the wood had time to decay.

“In the millions of years, since the sediments were buried deeply and impregnated over time with silica minerals, eventually turning the wood to rock. In some places fern fronds and leaves have been preserved as fossils within the mudstone rocks… read more.

Petrified wood is very rare because usually decay occurs before this process can take place. Here in Curio Bay, whole logs and stumps are still visible amongst tidal pools. Over the last 10,000 years coastal erosion has exposed these fossils from the limestone and sediment. Fossils are also visible in the cliff faces along the beach line, which indicates that this phenomena happened many times and created many layers of petrified forest and fossils.


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A few fossilized trees

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A larger tree stump - up close you can count the growth rings

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The bigger picture - all those lumps are tree stumps

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Balancing on a 170 million year old tree... sweet as!

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Another stump... this one was a small one (7-10cm diameter)

How Far South Can You Go?

Slope Point is the most southern point of the South Island. Somewhere on Stewart Island claims the most southern part of the country, but we couldn’t make it down there, so this is as close as we’ll get to Antarctica this trip!

slope point sign

Slope Point - next stop South Pole



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