Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We Missed Everything

For several reasons, we missed everything that was to see in New Zealand. At times it was bad luck, at times our parsimony, occasionally bad planning or just not enough time. Of course, we first missed the North Island, the bigger, more crowded part of the country. This happened some time ago, when we shortened our stay here by two weeks. Everything here is very expensive, so by missing things we "saved" a lot of money. The New Zealand Dollar (NZD) is between 0.82 and 0.84 American dollars.

The main attraction in Christchurch is the Anglican Cathedral. It was destroyed by the earthquake last year, it will remain a ruin, and we couldn't see it, hidden by other ruins in the closed city center. The Christchurch Art Gallery is closed because of the earthquake.

We missed the swimming with the dolphins in Akaroa, supposedly a unique experience with wild Hector dolphins, the smallest in the world. But it was to be in the open ocean, there was a big swell and we got our money back (665NZD). The girls missed the whale watching experience, Ileana was under the weather, Maria felt that 80% success rate is too low for her to bother (290NZD).

Was this Lewis Pass?
The next day we ended up in Hanmer Springs. It's a significant attraction for the locals because of its hot springs. It was raining, the pools were all outside, the pricing was confusing. We skipped, just rested for the night preparing for a very long trip the next day. It probably saved us at least 100 NZD.

There are several passes to cross the Southern Alps of New Zealand, with spectacular views. The most famous is the Arthur's pass. Deciding to go through Hanmer Springs, we chose Lewis Pass. Not only did we miss Arthur, but we also missed Lewis, it was poorly marked and we only realized half an hour later that that sign on the side of the road might have been it. Still we got enough views of the gorgeous scenery and moved on to a famous landmark in New Zealand, Reefton, the first city to have electricity in the Southern Hemisphere, in 1888. It is just a small modern village now, some history of the gold rush and just that, no time to stop, we just took some pictures of the main street and an interesting house. We continued our road toward the West Coast, passing just a few miles south of Westport. Countless attractions are in this area, but we skipped them all rushing to get to Punakaiki. This place is famous for its pancakes rocks and blowholes. The weather got perfect, the sun was up, the sea has calmed down. The blowholes are best seen at high tide, with high waves of course, but we had no way of knowing the timings. We arrived 3-4 hours after the high tide, we loved the pancakes, but the blowholes were quiet.
We stopped here looking for the Lewis Pass only to realize that we already missed it

A pretty quiet blowhole

One famous bridge for train and cars. Thankfully no train was coming when we got through it.

We passed through Greymouth, got to the supermarket, but it was too late to visit the local attractions. We continued our way south, passed nearby the famous Shantytown, but that closed at 5.30 pm. We arrived in Hokitika, found a holiday park 50 meters from the beach. We missed the full moon rising because we were watching the sunset and then missed the end of the sunset because we were watching the moon. We gave up on trying to see the glow worms, it was too much light with the full moon. A small village of maybe 1000 people, Hokitika becomes the center of New Zealand once a year, 10000 people come for its wild foods festival. This year was on March 9, but we couldn't wait another day. So we missed it.
Videocamera surrounded by waters, filming the sunset. 

Careful, it's hot!

Tasting the moon...

We went to the Franz Josef Glacier. The sun was setting, we barely arrived to see it lighted. It took time to convince my family to disregard the warning signs, pass the barrier, and climb a little hill. By the time four of us arrived there, the light was mixed, hard to take pictures with half the glacier in the shadow. We could have gone a little further, but because our daughter Ileana chose to wait by the barrier, we had to return in a hurry and missed the chance to touch the ice. Preparing for the trip, we entertained the thought of skydiving on the glacier, maybe taking a helicopter ride, or just a flight over. We missed all of these chances, we had no time or money for this and we were happy with what we saw. We passed on the guided tour. The cost of the visit was in the end zero, it could have been between 500 and 1250 NZD for any one of the above mentioned experiences. Same thing applies for the Fox Glacier, we saw it the next day just for free, again we were happy with the ground experience.
Before Fox, we stopped at Lake Matheson, for the picture perfect image of New Zealand, two famous mountains, Cook and Tasman, reflected in the waters of the lake. The sky was clear, the mountains were magnificent, we started the 90 minutes tour of the lake. We arrived close to the point of "view of views" and the mountains were now covered by a thick layer of clouds. No reflection, no great picture, we missed that.
Approaching the lake, a chance at the perfect shot...

... a few minutes later, the view is now closed! Exactly the same mountains in consecutive shots.

We continued our drive South, toward Haast, the last village on the highway on the West Coast. We passed by it, missing again a great view of the Tasman Sea. There wouldn't have been anything to see, it was raining hard and the visibility was close to zero. A few hours later the sky was clear again, we saw the lakes Wanaka and Hawea on our way to the town of Wanaka. We decided to stay two nights here, there are a couple of great views, it is a fun touristic center. From Johann, a Swedish diving instructor in Ko Tao, I learned about the Puzzle World, a local attraction. Next day was raining too hard to see anything, no question about trekking. We just stayed all day in the holiday park, when we finally arrived at the Puzzle World, I saw the sign "last tour at 5.30pm." We suspected that it was a little late, but we couldn't believe that it was 6.40!

The next day we went to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. There are so many experiences to be had here, a ride in a 100 years old steam boat, bunjy jumping, jetboat rides, mountain bikes, and on and on it goes. We would have done the paragliding. As we watched some people landing, it looked awesome and the guidebook said that the price can be 85-95$ per person. When we arrived at the top of the gondola, we saw the place for paragliding. The lady explained that they had to put that on hold because of the weather. It was nice and sunny, but some winds over the lake made the ride dangerous. The price was 199$, not reduced for children. The winds made us miss this, not my stinginess, and we saved another 995NZD!

We drove on toward Milford Sound. The main objective on our trip to New Zealand, it has an underwater observatory, you can walk on a platform under 15 meters of water and see the marine life of the sound. It is an optional addition at the end of some cruises, but it was not for the one that we booked. The observatory closes at 3.30 pm, our cruise was at 3 pm. We missed that, and we were forced to save another 200NZD.
The underwater observatory; it's there, but we cannot get to it.

No rain, nor clouds over Milford Sound

Just never enough pictures of this waterfall

Few people know that there is a third island in New Zealand, Stewart, at the bottom of the South Island. We would have had time to get to Invercargill, the southernmost city, then to Bluff, the last settlement and then we would have had to take a ferry for another hour. Stewart Island is one of the last places in New Zealand where one can see the Kiwi birds in their natural habitat, but there is a very small chance of that, they are nocturnal and very shy. It was a long shot and a long way out of our way. I was on the internet, reserving tickets for the ferry and, just before clicking on the pay button, I realized that it is hard to justify spending NZD552 for two trips on a ferry. So we missed that. Later, we would decide that even a trip to Invercargill is hard to explain and we bypassed that, shortening our driving by 140km.

When we arrived in Dunedin, we learned from our guidebook that the main attractions are outside of the city. The most important, is the Otago peninsula. It is an hour drive, and at the end of the road you arrive at the Royal Albatross Reserve. It is the only place in the world to see albatrosses and their chicks on the mainland. We learned a lot about albatrosses in the free exhibit, but we chose not to pay for a guided tour to see the only chick available. We saw the birds flying freely above our heads and we saved another NZD100. The other attraction on the Otago peninsula is the penguin. There are two species, the yellow eyed ones, the rarest in the world and the blue ones. You can see the yellow eyed ones on a private property, they charge a lot, NZD 240 for our family. The blue ones come only at sunset and some volunteers guide tourists in the dark. For free. But as we learned at the albatross center, these are very shy creatures and seeing people is highly disturbing. The risk is that with all the tourists coming, the penguins might be afraid to return to their natural habitat and their fate would be sealed. They blocked the access to the public beach where the blue ones come, to protect them, and I just couldn't morally justify paying a private person to see the free wild, penguins that just happen to land on his property. Ioan would have been the only one interested in that, but he agreed not to go, joking "I think you vote NO just to say that we missed another thing in New Zealand." "Of course", I said, "that's the reason we are not going".
You can see penguins at another place, further north from Dunedin, in Oamaru. We were there in the morning, the penguins come out at sunset, but again, after learning about their shyness and the danger that people might put them in, it just doesn't justify my curiosity and getting a couple of nice pictures. Similarly, on our Doubtful Sound cruise, I learned about a pod of dolphins. The cruise companies decided not to advertise the possibility of seeing them and set some rules to avoid a possible encounter, because if they initiate contact and search them out, it will put them in danger. I liked that, and it was OK for all of us that we missed the dolphins too.

We arrived in Christchurch earlier than we expected, partly because we wanted to see more of the city. I considered going up the local mountain in a gondola, it was closed for refurbishment until the summer of 2012 (NZD55). I also wanted to see a traditional Maori show as a cultural experience, the best seems to be at Ko Tane, but they didn't have a show on Sunday, the only day that would have worked for us (NZD 280). The alternative would have been Nga Hau a Wua, but they also were closed on the weekend.

So long is the list of things we missed in our three weeks in New Zealand, that it might feel like we missed everything. A good excuse to come back at some point in the future. Or maybe not.

We managed to see a lot of places, we managed to stay in our budget and we are all ready to move on to the next country. I have mixed feelings about our trip here, I would like to make sense and learn from what I did right and wrong about planning this part of our trip.

At least, we made it to the 45 parallel South

I wrote all the above more than a month ago. Somehow I kept accumulating negative feelings about New Zealand and they bubbled out some time ago. Check it out.

After that, everything got much better and I am slowly joining the rest of my family in having some very nice memories of this section of our trip. Including the above mentioned "missed experiences." It was a very expensive leg, more so, by adding the $6000 for our plane tickets to Hawaii. If money and time would not have been an issue, we might have done some things differently, of course. What started as a blogpost joke, became a running log of what we had to give up along the way. But we were lucky to have made it here in the first place and to see all the phenomenal places.

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