Saturday 30 January 2016

Middle Earth : A Journey Full of Unexpected Wonders

A Troll, WETA Studio

Gollum, Peter Jackson's WETA studio

Meghan at Hobbiton

Meghan On Amelie-January 2016
On January 12th, we hauled Amelie out of the water for her well-deserved manicure (aka: new bottom paint).  So, now we are landlubbers once again!We stayed on the boat for about a week after that.  Normally, boatyards are known as loud, stinky, filthy places but I think this one was not bad at all.  Sure, the ground was dirty and there was some noise but either than that, it was basically luxurious!  There was a nice bike path I could take everyday and there were hot showers, a normal sized washing machine, and a huge grocery store just a few minutes away (plus, the boat did not rock constantly)!

During those 8 days, my mom, Matthew, and I would often drive somewhere after school so we could stretch our legs.  For example, one day, we went to a gannet colony (FYI: a gannet is the same thing as a booby bird).  It was the newborn season so we got to watch lots of chicks interacting with the parents which was fascinating to see!

Me at the gannet colony with my Galapagos gannet shirt

After a week, we packed up our things and set out in the van for our big Whirlwind Epic New Zealand Adventure. Day I: Dinner in The Shire!
Me jumping the same fence Bilbo Baggins does
in 'The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey' when
he cries out, "I'm going on an adventure!"

On the 20th, we drove all the way down to Matamata for our evening tour at Hobbiton movie set.  As you probably read, my mom and I had already been to Hobbiton last month with my aunt and cousin but since my dad and Matthew had not yet been (and since we were highly recommended to go for the evening tour and dinner), we were delighted to come again.  It was really cool seeing The Shire in a different light and walking over the bridge to
 the Green Dragon pub/restaurant with the orange sunset sky was just magical!

The Rolling hills of Hobbiton, Matamata

A Hobbit hole at night

The Hobbit feast at the green dragon

Before we entered the Green Dragon, our tour guide warned us that he had never seen anyone finish a Hobbit feast (not even the team of rugby players he had once!) so I knew we were in for something big!  But, when he opened the curtains and displayed the glamorous hideaway, I was pretty taken aback!  It was so perfect, I almost didn't want to eat it (although it looked too good)!  It was without a doubt as good as the traditional feast we had on our first night in Tonga at the tiny village (or maybe even better) which isn't surprising because Hobbits are known to eat very well!  And, our guide was right... we certainly did not finish the food even though all of us looked like Bombur the dwarf (the extremely round dwarf from 'The Hobbit')!

Matthew at the Green Dragon
The Green Dragon bar

Mark and Meg at the Green Dragon

Day 2: Tubing in the Dark and Colourful Geyser Pools!
The next day at 9am, after getting back to the campground at midnight, my dad and I were getting ready for an awesome adventure at Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.  Again, if you read my last blog, my mom and I went to the Waitomo Caves last month but we didn't do the famous Black Water Rafting tour which is where you go tubing through the glow worm caves!

I am an adventure addict so this was one of the coolest things I have ever done (and that is saying a lot since I probably say 'cool' about 20 times each blog entry)!  Whenever I go on those lazy rivers at water parks, I enjoy them but I always think there is something missing and now I know what it is: adventure!  I think they should have a lazy river that is calm and smooth for those who want to relax and then one with whirlpools and waterfalls to jump down for those who want to get their adrenaline rushing!  Maybe all they need is a little Waitomo Caves vibe!

First, we got all geared up with our boots, helmets, head lamps, and super thick wetsuits since the water was 14 degrees celcius in the caves (just a little bit colder than the Caribbean right?!).  Then, we got our tubes and did a practice jump off a dock since we would have to jump off a couple of waterfalls (small ones).  Then, we put our lights on and in we went!

MC and Meg have a soak in a sacred hot pool

Meg and Dad's cave adventure

For a lot of the time, we were actually walking through water, not floating.  We would walk, then float, then jump off a waterfall and then repeat!  It was EPIC!  At one point, we all hooked onto each others legs and made a single file train and floated for about 10 minutes with our lamps off.  The ceiling looked about 20 feet above us and was just covered with glow worms!  It was so indescribably magical that I could have stayed there for hours (that is if I was immune to hypothermia!).

After Waitomo Caves, we kept driving south for a couple of hours.  That afternoon, we went to see the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park where we saw lots and lots of geyser pools that were all different colours.  There was neon green, aqua blue, sunset orange, mustard yellow, and event bright pink!

Day 3-4: Sacred Maori Pools and More 'Lord of the Rings' Sights
On the evening of the 22nd, we reached the special Kerosene Creek.  Although it is one of the many hot sulphuric creeks around there, it is curious that very few know of this serene Kerosene Creek.  We were told of it by Kiwis (who are basically the only people who know about it).  The reason for this is because it is very sacred to the Maoris and they don't want it overcrowded.  So, if you ever go to New Zealand and you go have a dip in Kerosene Creek, just keep in mind that it is sacred site meant to be respected.

Meg doing a practice jump!

The next day, we explored the magnificent Tongariro National Park.  This place has three mountains: Mt. Ruapehu, Ngaruhoe (don't ask me how to pronounce that, I have no idea!), and Tongariro.  Now, one of them is famous for being in the 'Lord of the Rings' movies and it is Ngaruhoe.  Can any of you guess what it is famous for?  The answer is it is Mt. Doom, also known as Mordor!  We didn't get to climb it but we did get to see a great view of it from the top of Mt. Ruapehu, the tallest mountain in the North Island!

On the drive to Mt. Ruapehu, we were driving through fields of just volcanic rock and I was starting to wonder why it seemed so familiar.  Then, I realized it must have been where they filmed the Fellowship of the Ring heading to Mt. Doom!  It looked too familiar not to have been and since Mt. Doom was right there, it made total sense!

The most common hike at Mt. Ruapehu is the 19 km hike up from the town.  Apparently, about 2000 people do it every day in the summer!  We decided not to do that hike but instead take the scenic chairlift up (Mt. Ruapehu is a ski hill in the winter) and then we did the 2 hour Skyline hike which is supposedly the most beautiful short day hike in the National Park. I think, it was actually better this way because since everyone is doing the 19 km hike, which takes you to a different part of the mountain, almost nobody else was doing the Skyline!  Just a word of advice though, if you hike this mountain, which ever way you decide to hike it, go on a sunny day (like we did) or else you won't be able to see the top of Mt. Doom or any of the valley below.

Gollum's falls: Where Smeagol goes fishing for raw fish in the
'Lord of the Rings: Two Towers' as he becomes Gollum

Day 5-7: Wellington to Kaikoura
If any of you are Kiwis or excellent geographers reading this, you may have taken a double-take when you read that title because to drive from Wellington to Kaikoura would mean driving through water in the middle since Wellington is on the North Island and Kaikoura is on the South!  Don't worry, we took a ferry across.

First view of New Zealand's South Island!

But starting in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand!  Wellington is also known as 'Lord of the Rings' capital of New Zealand!  It is here that we took a tour of Weta Studios which is, as you are probably guessing, where they made the costumes and special effects for the 'Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' movies!  Weta Studios is certainly not only known for working on those movies.  Here are some titles you might recognize that Weta Studios worked on: 'Avatar', 'The Adventures of Tintin', 'The Avengers' (the one with Robert Downie Jr. as Ironman), 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire', 'Rise the Planet of the Apes' , 'Narnia' (the first two) and there are so many more I had no clue had been worked on by Weta!

The tour showed us how various props such as machine guns are made or how war armour is designed so it is not too heavy for the actor.  We also saw how sometimes, they make miniature dioramas so they don't have to build a set the actual size (which is what, for example, they did for the castle in 'Narnia: Prince Caspian')! For me, who loves behind the scene facts, this was a big highlight!  Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed on the tour but it is fortunate for the fact that I can't spoil anything for any of you!

Meg and the Troll (Weta Studios)

WETA Studios

Matthew and the Troll, WETA studios

A famous Hobbit's feet (WETA studio)

Looking for the Hobbits’ Hide out at Victoria Park in Wellington

The next day, we said goodbye to the North Island and hopped on the ferry excited since we had heard that the South Island is even nicer than the North!

By the 25th, we made it to the touristic hotspot Kaikoura!  It was an adorable little town with a beautiful seaside, mountainous view, and an ocean filled with sperm whales, sea lions and up in the sky: a huge variety of sea birds!

One of the sea birds that made our time in Kaikoura especially special was the Albatross, largest sea bird in the world.  We have heard of these majestic birds since Galapagos but we have never seen one.  What really intrigues us to these animals is that they can go 5 years without touching land!  They mostly only come to land to breed every two years but either than that, they are out flying somewhere between New Zealand, Antarctica, and Chile!  Another amazing thing about them is that they almost always mate for life (although they say there can be divorces!) and they can live very old, averaging 30-40 years !

Sun rise Kaikura
We got up at 5 am to see the birds and it was worth it because we got to see a spectacular sunrise over the Kaikoura mountains!  When we got out of the bay, the first bird we saw was a Wandering Albatross, the largest Albatross, with a wingspan reaching up to 3 metres!  Since we went with a company called 'Albatross Encounters', we assumed we would encounter an Albatross but we did not know it would be as close an encounter as 6 ft!  The Albatross landed right off the boat, mostly because the captain put some fish out for him, and soon another one came and then another type of bird called a Giant Petrel, a big brown bird about three quarters the size of the Albatross!

It is interesting because whenever we go bird watching, the birds always somehow make me laugh!  The parrots in Panama, for example, had the loudest, most obnoxious cry which I couldn't help but laugh at!  The red footed boobies in Fiji would squawk really loud when you did something funny which totally made me laugh aloud!  Even the majestic condor in Peru made me chuckle a little when the male and female would chase each other in the air!  This time, it was when the Wandering Albatross kept squawking and shooing all the other birds away from the fish clearly stating, "It's all mine since I got here first!".

Then, a little bit later, a Royal Albatross came along but it was acting a lot more sophisticated and well... royal!  It just quietly sat in the water, not even trying to get a bite 
of fish.

Day 8-11: Making our way down to Queenstown
We kept driving down for the next few days making it to Oamaru, Dunedin, Invercargill, and finally Queenstown (which is where we are now).  We have seen lots of wildlife, great views, and lots of other cool things on the way down.

For instance, in Oamaru, almost the whole town is built like the Victorian Era!  We had a blast walking through all the antique shops and I even had a chance to sit on one of those really old bicycles (called penny farthing) with the big wheel at the front and the little wheel at the back. It was thankfully immobile though!

Also, we spent a couple of days in Dunedin and Otago Peninsula where we saw various things.  At the Otago Peninsula, we went to see more Albatross!  This time, it was a colony of Royal Albatross on land.  We got to see the parents in the nest with their newborn chick (since it is newborn season right now) which was really special.  I am glad that we took both the Albatross Encounter tour and this one because we learned a lot more information in this one but saw the Albatrosses better in Kaikoura.

Later that day in Dunedin, we went for a tour at Cadbury's Chocolate Factory!  Now, I have been on two chocolate factory tours before (one in Grenada and one in Peru) but those were not worldwide famous chocolate companies so I think I would have to say I preferred this one.  It was exactly like what I imagine touring Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory would be like!

Wow! It is hard to believe that all this has happened in just 11 days!  We have never stayed in one campground more than once except for in Kaikoura!  We have surely had a whirlwind 11 days and we have many more to come!
Yesterday, we arrived in Queenstown which is supposedly adventure capital of the world!  I would believe it because you can't turn one street corner in this town without seeing a sign for bungee jumping, or white water rafting, or a jet boat tour, or a helicopter tour!

Anyways, tomorrow, we are leaving our van for a bit because we are going on a 4 day hike through the mountains called the Routeburn Track.  The Routeburn Track, along with many other multiple day hikes such as the Milford Track, are called the Great Walks of New Zealand.  They are designated walks you sign up for and then you stay in cabins every night.  (Just a piece of advice if you ever plan to do one of these walks: book REALLY early in advance, especially if you want the non-guided walk.  No, seriously, in August, we tried to book a non-guided Milford Track and they were fully booked until March!!)

Be sure to stay tuned for next month about the Routeburn Track, the Milford Sound, Queenstown and so much more! 

Thursday February 11th 2016

Road tripping is all about those little unexpected joys you find along the way, with no true destination in mind, just a “lets see what we can discover today”  attitude” at the beginning of each day as we pack  up the car and go, turns out New Zealand is a GREAT place to do this!

Ok, so what did we see ? Here is a quick run down- using pictures instead of words.


Fast moving river near Huka Falls

Glass flower garden

Glass blower at work
Meg peeking through glass art

Boiling lake in Rotorua

Colourful lake Rotorua

Beautiful volcanic colours in Wai-o-tapu

Called the Artists' pallet this lake has an amazing array of colours

Boiling pond, Rotorua

Neon Green volcanic Pond

Thermal wonders, Rotorua
Desolation Sound 

The family with Mt Doom behind us

Mount Ngaruhoe (aka Mount Doom)

Matthew and Mark in Mordor with Mt Doom in the background

Skiers lodge on Mount Ruhapehu
Snow ! (Mt Ruhapehu)

Fun Holiday Park-Campground

A geothermal plant

Admiring Peter Jackson’s WW1 Collection and dioramas-Bleinheim

Watching local Aerobatics Bleinheim

Kiwi humour Bleinheim

Mount Ruhapehu 

Speight’s Brewery Tour in Dunnedin

Mosaic of a famous British Battle (re creating the Bayeux Tapestry)

Made from tiny metal clips taken from an old stiching machine

Interesting Organ- -Steam Punk- -Oamaru

World’s Largest Jersey (sweater)  -Geraldine

A great little book store in Oamaru

Shopping in Oamaru

Penny Farthing Oamaru

Steam Punk

Steam Punk

Steam Punk, Oamaru

The “Portal”- -A science Fiction Adventure- Steam Punk HQ- Oamaru

Devil's marbles, Moeraki Bouders

Matthew and Meg at Moeraki Bouders

Moeraki Bouders

Moeraki Bouders

A 119 year od Tuatara Native to New Zealand- -Invercargil

Burt Munros World Fastest Indian- Invercargil

Otago Peninsula

 Albatross sanctuary, Otago Peninsula

Steam tractor

Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown

Learning to Pan for Gold in Arrowtown....Success !

Sheep everywhere !

Mark and the kids in front of Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

Mount Cook in the Southern Alps

Close up of a Glacier

Mount Cook and the Southern Alps

Matthew in the Southern Alps

Sir Edmund Hillary's word resonate

Cormorants, more commonly known here as Shags

A royal Albatross
A wandering Albatross, the largest of the Albatrosses

MC meets a wandering albatross

Matthew and the wandering albatross

Royal Albatross in flight, Kaikura

Albatross, folding its winds

Albatross taking off

Familiar faces from the Galapagos, Kaikura 

Queenstown, Adventure capital of the world !

Eating the famous Ferg Burger

Sleighing in Queenstown

Mark and Matthew, Queenstown

The world in jelly beans, QT

Shot Over Jet Ride

The family thoroughly enjoyed their Shot over jet ride

Mark found a few Hobbits, QT

A field of Lavender

Mark has had to leave  us to go work on the boat, but there are 3 Ms who are still going, and there's lots more to see, so stay tuned !

Much love, 4Ms


Meghan On AmelieQueenstown: Adventure Capital of the World

We arrived back in busy, bustling Queenstown on the fourth of February late in the evening but the next day, we decided to take advantage of what the adventure capital of the world had to offer us!  First, we drove on down to the Shotover Jet headquarters.  Did you know that jet boating was invented in New Zealand?  Did you also know that the Prince William and Kate Middleton also rode the Shotover Jet?  Anyways, the jet boat takes you on a thrilling and yet, extraordinarily scenic ride through the canyon.  It takes you up to 85 km/h and, although it does have an engine which it uses, what makes it go so fast is the water that is driven in and driven out the back again at great force!

Our second adventure activity was the Skyline gondola ride up the hill.  At the top, the view is a million dollar picture!  The Remarkables, mountains that tower over Queenstown, set the backdrop with the ravishing, blue lake and the tiny city! After we completed those two "thrills" in adventure capital of the world, we decided to leave the other adventures for other places so we started heading north again.  We came briefly back to Queenstown for a day or two just to drop off my dad at the airport since he was flying back to Auckland to go work on the boat for a few week and then to fly back to Calgary to sort a few things out.  He later joined us back on the boat in Auckland on our return.