Category 'New Zealand'

It’s not often you get excited about a drive but I was relishing the opportunity to travel the scenic Mount Cook Road once again as we made our way out of Aoraki / Mount Cook and down the east coast. But as usual low lying clouds insisted on hampering my plans, though Lake Pukaki was looking particularly stunning and the sky was an insane colour. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3317,3320,3318,3319,3562,3322"]   We travelled through Twizel, which didn’t seem worth a stop, to Omarama (if you’re headed to Queenstown turn off here via the reportedly beautiful Lindis Pass) and toyed with but decided against visiting the Clay Cliffs. The road travels on through the Waitaki Valley which is particularly pretty. [caption id="attachment_3323" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Lake Benmore near Otematata[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_3335" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Fields of yellow, everywhere[/caption]   We lunched in Duntroon where we discovered the delight that is New Zealand bakeries and their delicious range of interesting treats before exploring nearby Elephant Rocks, a collection of large limestone rocks in the middle of nowhere where not another soul was to be seen (well, except for some curious cows and skittish lambs). I love to photograph surreal landscapes and so these kinds of stops are always a must for me, although Castle Hill along Arthur’s Pass provides a similar experience if you can’t manage both. The rocks themselves were created because this whole area was once under the sea and now they act as a nesting place for local birds. You may recognise the area as Aslan’s camp from the Chronicles of Narnia films. The rocks are housed on private land but are free to visit and have basic toilet facilities if required. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3324,3327,3325,3326,3331,3330,3332,3329"] [gallery columns="1" size="large" ids="3328,3333"]   Afterwards we made our first petrol stop and nearly had a heart attack over the price of petrol at $1.87 per litre, about .60c more expensive than Australia! And this is apparently cheap. What the hell New Zealand?! Our stop for the evening was Oamaru which is a little like stepping back in time and then travelling to the future because this town has a bizarre obsession with all things Steampunk! Take a wander through the ye olde Victorian district with its fabulous old buildings and then visit the massive Steampunk HQ, full of rusty treasures, where you’ll delight in the infinity room. [gallery columns="2" size="large" link="file" ids="3337,3338,3339,3350,3340,3341,3342,3343,3344,3347,3346,3345,3349,3348"]   Oamaru is also famous for its colonies of blue and yellow eyed penguins but due to the wild, windy weather (the worst the town had seen in weeks apparently – just my luck!) we decided to forgo a night out in the elements for a quick glimpse as they waddled home from the sea. You can take day tours of the blue penguin colony (put Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony into your GPS or follow the signs) but for some inexplicable reason this wasn't offered to us when we visited. Maybe next time penguins. We stayed at: ASURE Ambassador Motor Lodge, Oamaru, totally worth it just for their excellent drier which ACTUALLY dried our clothes within 30 mins (gasp) and was free! Also, free muffins (yay). We stopped at: Elephant Rocks, Duntroon and Oamaru including the Victorian District, Steampunk HQ and the Blue Penguin Colony We wore in Spring: Being a windy day a puffer jacket with hood was ideal plus layers including thermals. We were told it was unseasonably cold and overcast though. Distance: Between Aoraki / Mount Cook Village and Oamaru is approx. 2.5 hours, not including scenic stops.

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Today was drizzly and foggy, and what perfect weather to take a four hour 10k hike? Rugged up in our best weatherproofs we walked Mount Cook's Hooker Valley Track through scenery so out of this world that I coined the phrase ‘that’s some Lord of the Rings shit right there’ which was then repeated ad nauseam for the rest of the trip. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3293,3296,3294,3295"]   If you’re only in the Mount Cook area for a short time this is the one walk out of the numerous on offer that the locals say is a must-do and once you see the utterly gorgeous views you’ll understand why. Bright yellow tussock grass, surrounded by snow-capped mountains with the aquamarine Hooker River bubbling by, this was quite possibly the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen.   [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3297,3299"]   [gallery columns="1" size="large" ids="3298,3310"]   The walk is flat and not difficult but I still found it a touch strenuous towards the end, likely from the 8kg of camera gear I was carting and the light rain that plagued us the entire way. I definitely recommend driving to the start of the track and walking from there rather than adding an extra hour to the journey by walking from the village as some of the guidebooks suggest and if you’re only here for a REALLY short time, at least walk the 15-20 mins to the first swing bridge for the immense view.   [caption id="attachment_3300" align="aligncenter" width="960"] The look-out over Hooker Valley[/caption]   Speaking of swing bridges, there are three along the track which you’ll either find fantastically fun or a crime against nature, depending on how you feel about heights and the sensation of the ground moving as you walk. If you need a rest there’s a small hut, approximately 2/3rds of the way in that acts as a rest stop and toilet break. For us it was a much needed reprieve from the constant rain and a chance to refuel with some snacks. [gallery size="large" ids="3301,3303,3302"]   About ten minutes after you’ve started clawing at strangers screaming ‘is it much longer?!’ you'll reach the farthest point of the walk, a spectacular glacial lake, featuring the remains of rapidly melting icebergs. The lake is flanked by Aoraki / Mount Cook, NZ’s tallest mountain, which was sadly in hiding while we were there but the view didn’t suffer for it.   Once you’ve drunk in the scenery the return journey follows the same path back and my tip for serious photographers is to use a wide angle lens on the way in and a zoom lens on the way out so you can capture the stunning vistas in their entirety and some close up details for interest. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3312,3306,3308,3311"]   Unfortunately we were so exhausted and wet by our return that we guzzled a pack of choccy biscuits and fell into bed without dinner and in my greatest regret of the trip I missed out on doing the walk to Tasman Lake, but I guess you have to save something for next time!

  • We wore (in spring): Snow boots (we loved our snow boots because they kept our feet dry but sneakers will do fine otherwise), rainproof pants and jackets, thermal underwear, gloves, scarf and beanie. The scarf turned out to be really handy for wiping water off my camera.
  • Take on the walk: Camera, sunscreen (for sunny days), rainproof gear (for wet days), snacks and at least one bottle of water (get from the village before you leave and expect to pay a fortune).

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When I received an invitation to a wedding in New Zealand I thought to myself, why not? New Zealand has never been high on my bucket list of destinations which I suspect is due to the “friendly” but actually somewhat damaging rivalry that Australians have with New Zealanders. Unfortunately this meant that I had NO IDEA that New Zealand is the world’s best kept secret and is actually the most stunning and friendly country on earth! Move it to the top of your destinations list STAT and for tips on where to go and what to do make sure to refer to this blog series. We arrived in Christchurch around the start of spring and after pursuing cherry blossoms in Japan earlier in the year I was delighted to discover that Christchurch was chock full of cherry blossoms in peak bloom and without all the pesky crowds that Japan draws. [caption id="attachment_3237" align="aligncenter" width="600"]A cherry blossom in Christchurch Botanic Gardens A cherry blossom in Christchurch Botanic Gardens[/caption]   In a strange juxtaposition Christchurch is still very much suffering the effects of the 2011 earthquake as evidenced by the multitude of beautiful ruins. But if you’re like me and are fascinated by abandoned buildings a slow drive around the city centre is like stumbling into a bittersweet dystopia. Christchurch contains so many utterly gorgeous heritage buildings, both intact and otherwise, that I was disappointed to have scheduled so little time here. Had I known I would have forgone that trip to the Re:START shipping container mall with its tourist fodder and ludicrous parking prices and spent my time strolling the streets admiring the buildings. (No photos to show because not enough time obvs.) NB. You'll hear a lot of people say they wish they'd spent LESS time in Christchurch but I think that's because there's just so much to see on the South Island, not that Christchurch is necessarily a crap place to be. [gallery columns="2" link="none" size="large" ids="3238,3239"]   When the Botanic Gardens take up roughly a third of the entire city centre you know it’ll be worth a visit and Christchurch’s gardens naturally did not disappoint. We spent an all too brief morning here after breakfasting at the gardens’ Ilex Café where the waffles are so damn good we came back for them again at the end of our trip and wandered among the gorgeous spring blooms where I had visions of Alice stumbling into Wonderland. In fact I’m planning an Alice inspired art series using pictures I snapped here.   [gallery size="large" link="file" columns="2" ids="3243,3244,3241,3242,3240,3245"]   That afternoon we pointed our hire car towards Mount Cook and at the first sighting of snow-capped mountains pulled over and took roughly 100 photos completely unaware of just how many snow-capped mountains our future held.   [caption id="attachment_3248" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Snow! Snow![/caption]   I recommend you make your first major stop on this drive at Lake Tekapo, 27km worth of brilliant blue glacial waters of which the main road passes only the very tip. This is where you’ll find the Church of the Good Shepherd, which has become almost a rite of passage for astrophotographers due to its location in a dark sky reserve (meaning there’s no artificial light pollution). Unfortunately what we found was bus-loads of tourist and a church far tinier than expected, but as I quickly learned from New Zealand, even when conditions are disappointing the views are still so mind-blowingly stunning that you come away feeling like you’ve experienced something magnificent regardless. If you’re all about star chasing be sure to spend a night here but from what I’ve heard it’ll be a far less solitary experience than you’re probably imagining. Also, summer is a recommended time to visit when the picturesque lupin flowers are in bloom. [caption id="attachment_3249" align="alignleft" width="960"]lake-tekapo-mountains Views of Lake Tekapo[/caption]                     [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3250,3251,3247,3252"]   Further on is NZ’s largest lake, Lake Pukaki and its Information Centre where we stopped for an ice cream with a side of views. [caption id="attachment_3253" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Lake Pukaki Lake Pukaki[/caption]   This lake then accompanies you almost all the way to Aoraki / Mount Cook. The road to Mount Cook is 40 minutes of pure bliss. With an icy blue lake on one side and snow covered mountains in every other direction it’s hard to know where to look but do keep an eye on the road in case freshly shorn sheep are wandering across because this is New Zealand after all!   [caption id="attachment_3261" align="aligncenter" width="960"]the-road Photo stop on the way to Mt Cook[/caption] [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="large" ids="3260,3256,3257,3258"]   We arrived at Mount Cook just on dusk to see the surrounding mountains quickly swallowed by fog (mountains? what mountains?) which dashed my plans for photographing the stars but meant I could get comfortably cosy in the South Island’s snow covered heart. Be aware that due to its remote vicinity Mount Cook’s food choices are expensive and mediocre at best so self-catering is highly recommended. [gallery columns="2" size="large" link="file" ids="3262,3254"]   [caption id="attachment_3259" align="alignright" width="300"]You can't be driving and doing this at the same time Skip driving for selfies with mountains[/caption] We stayed at: Azena Motel, Christchurch (terrible, suggest trying Merivale area instead) and Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge (good for budget and self-catering but most people stay at the more costly Hermitage). Recommended photo stops: Christchurch City Centre (many roads closed to public), Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Pukaki, and every roadside pullover on the way to Mount Cook (or get your non-photographer friend to drive and use a high shutter speed to freeze the moving scenery). We wore: In spring it was mainly foggy and overcast, cold, but not freezing. Suggest layers and a puffer jacket with hood. Distance: Between Christchurch and Mount Cook Village is approx. 4 hours, not including scenic stops. Please note, although Fox Glacier / Franz Josef is close to Mount Cook on a map, you can only get there by helicopter so you'll need to drive to the West Coast to access it. This confuses TripAdvisor so make sure you're staying in the right township.

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25
Mar

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 4 : Mount Cook to Oamaru

It’s not often you get excited about a drive but I was relishing the opportunity to travel the scenic Mount Cook Road once again as we made our way out of Aoraki / Mount Cook and down the east coast. But as usual low lying clouds insisted on hampering my plans, though Lake Pukaki was looking […]

11
Mar

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 3 : Aoraki/Mount Cook, Hooker Valley

Today was drizzly and foggy, and what perfect weather to take a four hour 10k hike? Rugged up in our best weatherproofs we walked Mount Cook’s Hooker Valley Track through scenery so out of this world that I coined the phrase ‘that’s some Lord of the Rings shit right there’ which was then repeated ad […]

25
Feb

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Days 1-2: Christchurch to Aoraki / Mount Cook

When I received an invitation to a wedding in New Zealand I thought to myself, why not? New Zealand has never been high on my bucket list of destinations which I suspect is due to the “friendly” but actually somewhat damaging rivalry that Australians have with New Zealanders. Unfortunately this meant that I had NO […]