Saturday, 30 January 2016

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!

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')!

The Green Dragon bar

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!
Me doing a practice jump!

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.

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 the 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!

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 !

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.

Cormorants, more commonly known here as Shags

Familiar faces from the Galapagos!

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!

All of those gold bars are Crunchie bars!!!

Behold! The giant Cadbury Chocolate Bunny!

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!!)

Here is my first picture of Queenstown to end it off with but be sure to stay tuned for next month about the Routeburn Track, the Milford Sound, Queenstown and so much more! 

Monday, 18 January 2016

Tonga Whale Video Posted!

Hello everyone, Second Mate Meg here!

Just letting you know that I have posted the video of our Tongan adventure swimming with whales!
Here is the link:


Life on the Hard……..Half Moon Bay (Middle Earth Part One)

The View from our new home

The Boatyard in Half Moon Bay has been home for a week now.....We hauled her out on January 12th. The plan is to get her bottom repainted and to get all sorts of work done (sails, minor rigging work, drive oil & seals, prop service, furlers, etc, etc, etc..) .

“Living on the hard” means that we still live aboard, we can cook , do school and sleep on the boat, but without the usual soothing rocking of the waves or splashing sounds.....we are 10 feet off the ground, surrounded on all sides by asphalt with only Amelie’s Keel and some side supports keeping us upright !  We have a tall ladder leading us back to the ground when we want to go for a walk to the nearby beach or grocery store..... I’ll tell you,  the 5 minute walk to and from the bathroom and  the various sounds (grinders, air compressors and heavy machinery driving by) has been something we had to adjust to, but we are grateful to have a place to stay while Mark tackles the long to-do list. 

We leave in 2 days for our adventure on the South Island and we are getting pretty excited to go! Before we leave though, I wanted to give you an update on all that we’ve seen and done this last month.....

As you may have read in Meg’s last blog entry, we did have a chance to visit a few great nearby places with my sister and niece after their return from their tour of the South was four days until Christmas and so we packed the excitement in 3 days!

Just to summarize: We marveled at the Glow Worms as we silently floated by them in a boat, in total darkness in Waitomo Caves

We were thrilled as we spied dozens of Hobbit holes in a perfectly quaint setting beneath rolling green hills as we walked through Hobbiton in Matamata. 

We felt the heat in Rotorua, where the volcanic activity allowed us to experience geysers and boiling mud, and to feel boiling water rise up through our toes on the beach at Rotorua lake. 

Doe vs the Geizer in Rotorua

Christmas Eve and Christmas day were both rainy but it was perfect for us to enjoy quality family time together. We really enjoyed having family with us this Christmas as it made it all the more special. Playing games, watching movies and eating really yummy treats !....and even if the turkey cost us $90NZ (for a 10 lb turkey!!!), we decided to splurge and get one had been a long time since we’d had one! 

On boxing day we sailed to nearby Rangitoto (A volcano Island, just a couple hours sail from Auckland) and climbed up to the top to reap the benefits of its million dollar view of the city...well worth it ! 

We took a ferry into town on the 27th to go and see the much anticipated new STAR WARS movie. I had quite pedantically kept myself in the dark, not having read ANYTHING about it, no reviews, no headlines....and I think we were all pleasantly surprised. It was a good night out! 

The next day we had to say a fond farewell to our guests.....with one last stop with them, visiting a butterfly sanctuary on the way to the airport.

Since their departure we have been catching up on schoolwork and the odd boat projects.....but since we were in a marina, it all felt very different from what we are used to....being able to take the car and drive off to run errands at a moments notice. 

Speaking of driving.I find that my driving is very different than it used to be....After being at sea where everything goes slowly, I am slightly freaked out by the speed at which vehicles come my way on the road.Oh yeah. I am the biggest geek at the wheel now....I have my ole grandma glasses on, both hands firmly on the takes me 5 minutes to back up....moving at a snails pace and stopping and wrenching my neck looking left and right every few seconds....Add to this fact a steering wheel  and review mirror which are not where they are supposed to be and  windshield wipers going off instead of turn signals get the picture I think.

On New Years Eve we stayed up until midnight to see the fireworks at Sky Tower- Matthew was not sure it was worth it (he likes to get to bed early)….It was weird being somewhere where the sun is up until past 9pm on New Years….but the cold winds kept us from being too cocky about it being summer...we stayed awake by playing in the playground and enjoying dinner and fresh oysters at a waterside restaurant in the Wynyard quarters of the City. Bringing in 2016 slightly ahead of the rest of the world had a pleasant,somewhat eerie quality about it....well worth staying up past our regular bed time for. 

Waiting for  midnight….N-Y-E in Auckland City

A few days later we decided to go and visit the Coromandel Peninsula, just South of Auckland, My sister and niece had raved about it!  We approached this 3 day trip as a good dress rehearsal for our month long journey through Midlle Earth coming up soon.... 

It was a relatively short drive, stopping first in the small village of Clevedon, a friendly place to stop for lunch and to pick strawberries. 

Clevedon was also the place where, quite by chance, we stumbled upon a treasure trove for VW Westfalia lovers like ourselves.....A man who's name we never got, has a small business there called the "BUSHAUS" and this guy has, over the years, collected over 40 of these fun-loving german camper vans.....we enquired, and no, none of them were not for sale....he would rent them out for a nominal fee (and if you passed his 'interview' before he let you take one of his babies) but did not want to part with any of them for any price! No wonder we had trouble finding one to buy here on the North Island!  Once we were done filling our baskets full of fresh and juicy strawberries, we were on our way again, stopping at Miranda’s Hot spring pools for a dip, along with what seemed like the entire population of New Zealand- so we got out of there pretty quickly....and found a quiet campground at the South end of the Peninsula. 

The next day we set out - Our goal: to drive, the entire Coromandel Peninsula in a day. We set out, going West to East stopping every now and then to take in the grandiose views of the ocean. It was marvelous! 

The seaside road framed by overhanging trees, overlooking pristine water...then up and over the high hills onto the East coast where sleepy cottage filled villages were bursting at the seams with families taking their summer holidays. 

We walked the hour long hike to Cathedral Cove to enjoy the fantastic rock formations on the beach. We  loved our day so much that the next day we decided to drive it all again this time from East to West!

On our way back to Auckland the next day, we decided to stop in again to pick more yummy strawberries in Clevedon and we were told by the farmer that there was a Polo Game which was scheduled to start in less than an we jumped in the car and drove to the fields....threw together a picnic with what ever left overs we had and for the next two hours enjoyed the excitement of watching a live Polo game. The horses were kept just behind us and we were right in the middle of all the action.....what a thrill it was for all of us to experience this....a relaxed yet still quite sophisticated was all very “Horse and Hound”....I was almost expecting to catch a glimpse of Price Harry or William... as we sat with our strawberries and brie cheese....on the lawn.....the players greeting us in a friendly way as they trotted by us on their magnificent horses.....This was a great way to end three beautiful days away from home.


Since that weekend we have been working very hard, non stop....Meghan has been hard at work with school (7 days a week!) and Mark crossing off a few items at a time from his list of 101 items...One day, after school, MC took the kids off to a well deserved break to the West Coast (I hour drive). Our destination was see its famous Gannet Colony and to have a quick dip at the beautiful beach there.

Meg braves the cold waters to have the first swim in NZ

We have grown quite fond of these birds (also know as “Boobies” in the South Pacific). It was so neat to see hundreds of them gathered off the picturesque cliffs of the rugged West Coast of New Zealand!  We watched them, in wonder for a couple of hours  before heading back home again.

On another afternoon we stopped in at Howick Historical Village where the kids learned all about the early settlers in the 1800s. 

And so this bring us to today......We are getting ready to leave for our one month long trip down to the renowned South Island....just two more sleeps.....Amelie IV will be resting on the hard and we will head out in the 'M Mobile'.  Four wheels instead of a keel for this adventure!

We hope to have many scenic stops along the way.....and more than a few glimpses of middle Earth, as Peter Jackson envisioned when he filmed Lord of the Rings...

Stay Tuned....

With much love, from down under