Blog #15 - We Say Trail Mix...They Say Scroggin'!

Last we left you, we had soggy undies from kayaking Milford Sound and were about to jump in our campervan to head to a friends’ cottage near Wataka, on Lake Hawae.  Our plan was to enjoy two days of indoor comfort and relaxation by a roaring fireplace. 

After a couple of intense days in Queenstown and two days of driving to and from (and paddling) Milford Sound, spent in our campervan, we were looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed, and cooking our meals in an actual kitchen and maybe even running an actual bath! :)

The drive through Fiordland, past Queenstown up to Lake Hawae took effort, steel nerves and iron bladders.  We arrived at night and it was like finding an enchanted cottage in the woods.  Sure enough, in the morning we saw it was right beside a magical lake.  It was just gorgeous and just what we needed.  It also had all the modern amenities, as well as a wood burning stove, which gave it a very cottagey feel.

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So we hibernated for the weekend.  We cooked fabulous fish salads and did a movie, wine and taco night…yummy!  Aside from a walk along the lake, the only trip we took of any significance was to the local, off kilter, “Puzzling World”, which is a larger than life collection of crazy mazes and optical illusions.  We were huge geeks that afternoon.

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Puzzling World is one of those places we’ll never forget and we are pretty sure there isn’t another place in the world like this.  It had the largest maze in the world (we think?) and tons of weirdo things to see and do.  Check this out: http://youtu.be/du25FPggqF4

We just loved our time in Wanaka and Lake Hawae.  We had been going at top speed from when we landed in Sydney, so shifting into down-gear was a welcomed change of pace.  A special thank you to Ian and April for letting us stay at their gorgeous cottage, as well to Diana for taking such good care of us while in Lake Hawae.   It was exactly what we needed before heading up the west coast to Franz Josef Glacier where we had booked a helicopter tour of the glacier and a guided hike.

With our batteries recharged (both us, and our electronics…), excitement was in the air as we drove for almost six hours to and up the rugged and remote west coast, soaking in the views (magnificent) as we went.  We made a few stops along the way, eating in a small town called Haast, at the tackiest “man cave” you have ever seen, and we also stopped to walk up to the newly completed “Haast Point Lookout”, which was quite grand.  It was a really hard steep climb, but a fantastic workout.

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When we finally arrived at our destination of Franz Josef Glacier, we were very impressed with its familiar feel.  The entire town was reminiscent of Collingwood, Ontario, or Mont Tremblant, Quebec, which in Canada are highly managed single-landlord “towns” (bordering on amusement parks) that are designed to give a ski village kitchy feel.  It was super-cute.  We rolled into town at dusk and saw in our lonely planet guide a holiday park that was advertising to be in the “middle of a rainforest…”.  Well, everything in the area that isn’t glacier is either mountain or rainforest… but this holiday park was super cool, with green-lipped mussels on the menu at their restaurant, so after a long day we happily rolled onto our non-powered jungle campsite and went for dinner…smooth!

At the base of the glacier, in the town, we were also well positioned to walk to the helicopter tour office in the morning, as well we were directly across the street from the glacier hot pools – where we planned to relax our nerves after being in a helicopter for the first time…so nervous!

Well, did we mention rain forest?  When we woke up that morning, all we could hear from the back of our van were gusty winds and heavy rains.  Helicopters aren’t great in either of those conditions, nor in thick grey clouds. 

Despite this rude awakening, we got ready as usual and headed to the tour office to check in.  As we almost expected, we were greeted by a blonde, 20-something surfer dude and his smile: “Sorry folks, conditions outside are not safe for flying so we have to cancel your trip”! 

We were disappointed, but with our refund in hand, we took the opportunity to move up our schedule and make the day a full-on driving one.  It was nine hours until our next stop, but now, we had a whole day to get there!  Also, it didn’t hurt that we felt two helicopter rides richer!  ;)  No point of getting upset.  Certain truths in life: you can’t fight city hall, and you can’t control the weather.

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So off we went up the west coast through blazing rain but otherwise still very beautiful scenery.  We made stops along the way to help break-up the drive.  We visited the famous Pancake Rocks and admired the coastal views as well we even took in a few rainbows including the elusive double rainbow!

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It was a crazy long day but we made it into Blenheim.  Here we were very close to Picton, where two days later we were scheduled to catch the ferry to the North Island.  For once, we were ahead of schedule.  :)

Ok so in our last blog we talked about DOCs vs. Holiday Parks and how they are a great way to save money because the only amenity is a bathroom.  Well lets just say we have gotten quite used to the “5 star” trailer park that we have not been to one DOC this week.  Bad campers!  We promise we’ll try to rough it in the North Island.  But for Blenheim, we checked in to a Top 10 Holiday park and fell fast asleep.

Now we must explain that Blenhiem is the de facto capital of the Marlborough wine region of NZ.  This is the wine capital of New Zealand and more specifically (arguably) the Sauvignon Blanc capital of the world, and so what do you do if you wake up in the middle of it??  You take a Tandem Bike Wine Tour of course!!  Duh!!! 

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You would not believe this, but we found someone who would rent us a two-seater bike, a couple of helmets, reflector jackets and a winery map, and send us off.  We left at around 10 a.m. in the morning, and we biked, had lunch, made friends and tasted wine until about 4 p.m.  In our day we visited Gibson Bridge (super-boutique Pinot Gris; husband and wife duet enterprise; only 6 acres; only bottle we bought the entire day), Saint Clair (up and comer), Rock Ferry (awesome organic wine, even better cheese board; super-friendly staff!), Allen Scott (great wine value), and of course, Cloudy Bay (the grape with the most swagger in town). 

Steph had never been on a wine tasting before and to do it by bike it truly was a unique experience.  We pedaled hard between stops (wineries are big!).  We spent the next two days rehydrating.

Shortly after we were in Picton, the place one catches the ferry to the North Island.  There isn’t that much more to say about Picton.  It’s cute and has nice shops and people, and of course it is the launching point to all the great treks of the Queen Charlotte track.  After our day of biking/drinking, we were a little too knackered to take on any section of the Queen Charlotte track, so we stayed on the mainland and got the best view we could from above on the Tirohanga Track.

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The next morning was ANZAC day in New Zealand (April 25), which is analogous to Canada’s Remembrance Day, and the US’s Veteran’s Day, so we awoke at dawn to the sound of bagpipes, and Taps (from a single trumpet), from the ceremonies in town. 

We made it aboard our 8 a.m. ferry, and that is where we are writing this installment of our weekly blog.  We are on the “Blue Bridge” to Wellington.  Being on this boat is like being a NY Mets fan.  This boat is a lot smaller than the competition, so it’s been a somewhat rough ride across the Cook straight.

Once we land on the North Island, we have a bunch of things planned and some friends to visit, and then we’re off to China on May 1stSo satay tuned for more adventures!  ;)  Oh and by the way, today’s word of the day is “scroggin”…otherwise known as Trail Mix…haha…we find this one funny!

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