Fukuoka’s Central Fish Market

Fresh Fish

LOTS of Fresh Fish

Rose and I decided to check out the Central Fish Market this morning.  It is only open to the general public one Saturday a month and today was the day.  We wanted to get there early so we could see the “best fish”.  But, I must admit, we really had not put much thought into the idea of actually buying fish.  Seriously, how would we get it home and where would we put it?  We got off the subway at Akasaka station and headed north.  As we made our way along the 3-4 blocks to the market we quickly realized that we did not have all of the required equipment.  People were heading to/from the market pulling along their wheeled luggage.  The bags being pulled by people coming from the market all had the tails of fish sticking out of them…and who knows what else was on the inside.  I suspect that these once used pieces of luggage have become special-purpose fish toting equipment.  Could you really imagine packing one of these bags full of your “finest” clothes after it had been stuffed full with fresh fish?  I don’t think so.

Restaurant on Walk Home

Cool Seafood Restaurant near Fish Market

We made it to the market and just sort of followed the crowd to get to the right building.  It reminded me of the farmer’s market in Georgia that we would go to about once a month as a child. Except, instead of fresh vegetables and fruit (okra and peaches) the market here is focused on fresh seafood (tuna, flounder, crab, shrimp…).  A couple of the vendors at the stalls tried to get us to buy things – although I think they were more focused on entertaining themselves (and us) by making fun of the gaijin who could not speak Japanese – in a fun-loving way.  However, we did get to watch a live lesson on filleting a fish – picture the guy at Costco with the juice machine – it didn’t look too hard, I need to give it a try.

We left the market and continued a LONG walk to Tenjin and then all the way back through Ohori-koen to catch the subway back home.  Also, on our walk to Tenjin from the market, we saw a cool looking seafood restaurant that we definitely have to go back and try when it is open (it was 10am and Rose refused to eat seafood for breakfast).  If you are interested in going, let us know…of course, this is directed at those in Fukuoka.

I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the Central Fish Market if you find yourself in Fukuoka on that one day a month when it is open to us common folk. And don’t forget to bring your suitcase!

NZ: The Final Chapter

West Coast Beach

The Wild West Coast finally has sunshine!

It was only fair that the next three days would be brilliantly beautiful.  We awoke to clear blue skies.  We waited for the latest report on road conditions (which was suppose to be posted by 8am but wasn’t).  Gay called the Transportation Department and they told her the road would be open by 9am but to expect delays.  We had breakfast and decided to take a nice long walk along the beach.  To finally see these beaches and mountains in full sun was such a treat.

Afterward, we packed up and headed back to Westport and grabbed another cup of coffee for the road.  The Buller river was still running pretty high, but the road was open.  Hwy 6 followed the Buller river and the way the road was carved into the canyon made us wonder how this road ever stayed open.  There were multiple areas where it was obvious they had to clean up mudslides, tree slides or rock slides (called ‘slips’ here).  The closer we got to Nelson, the less damage there was.  However, there was one road still closed (the one from Nelson to Blenheim which we needed to take in 2 days), so hopefully that would not be an issue for us either.

Robert having lunch in Nelson

Robert having lunch in Nelson

We arrived in Nelson, parked, and checked out the city.  It was larger than we expected (a whopping 45,000 residents).  Built around hills, it reminded me of San Diego – but instead of Mexican influence it was very British.  A huge Gothic looking Cathedral towered over the town.  Lots of flower baskets and European style cafes lined the sidewalks.  We had a wonderful lunch eating outside, people watching and just enjoying the weather.  We then checked into our apartment for the next two nights.  It wasn’t really an apartment, but rather 1/2 a house.  It was half way up the hill with an incredible view of the Tasman Bay from our veranda.  Originally built in 1908, it had all the charms of grandma’s house.  Wooden floors, big rooms, stained-glassed windows, unusual light switches, lots of antique furniture, lovely artwork, a cast iron claw foot tub, fireplaces, and a wonderfully stocked kitchen.  Oh yeah, we could live here.  We wondered what kind of discount they’d give for a 3 month stay.  🙂 The only problem was…we didn’t want to leave this place.

our veranda

View from our Porch

After getting settled, we left to pick up some groceries and then came right back.  We popped open a bottle of wine and hung out on the deck the rest of the day eating cheese, smoked salmon, and crackers.  For dinner we sauteed some seafood and made herbed smashed potatoes with fresh green beans.  It was totally awesome.

The next morning, after breakfast, we decided to head to the beach and maybe do a boat ride….everyone kept telling us to go to Kaiteriteri, so we did.  OMG, the whole city of Nelson was there as well as 500 campers that looked like they had no intentions of ever leaving.  There were people and boats everywhere.  This was not the secluded, romantic beach we envisioned, so we headed back to what now seemed like the quiet calm city of Nelson.  We went for a nice long walk around the port, downtown, parks and our neighborhood.  We then picked up some more seafood for dinner and headed back to our little haven for another wonderful evening on our porch.

I was sad when we had to check out the next morning.  I didn’t want it to end.  We met the owners of the place, an older couple who have lived there for 41 years.  He use to be a mountain climber, now he’s a cyclist and a Zen Buddhist.  She was/is an artist….she actually painted all the pillow cases, sheets, curtains and tablecloths in the apartment.  He had lots of stories to tell…I wish we could have stayed and listened to them all, but we had to get going.  We were informed the road to Blenheim was now open (but with delays), so we wanted to give ourselves enough time to make our flight.  While we saw some spots which experienced slips, we eventually drove through a valley in which the road was all but washed away and it looked like the whole village of Canvastown had been under several feet of water.  This area of the island was undoubtedly hit the worst by the rains.  We thought about driving to Picton (to see where the ferry arrives), but Robert was anxious to get rid of our rental car which he felt was about to fall apart.  It had developed rattles almost everywhere and the hubcap was very loose.  No worries.  We made it to Blenheim with plenty of time to spare.

Plane at Blenheim

Time for Departure

We decided to walk around the town, which now looked like a whole different city than it did 2 weeks ago…there were people everywhere.  We settled on a Thai place for lunch and then returned to one of the wineries we visited two weeks ago to pick up a bottle of wine for the evening.   There are NO security checks at the airport here, so we could actually still bring a bottle of wine on the plane. 🙂

The winery was also packed with people.  There was music playing outside, people were hanging out and eating in the courtyard.  After tasting all their wines again and making a purchase, we filled up the car and drove to the airport.  We eventually boarded our small plane (which had no cockpit door) and enjoyed the beautiful views of Marlbourgh Sound, the mountain peaks, beaches, lakes, and volcanoes as we past over them on our flight to Auckland.

We arrived safely in Auckland around 6pm, checked into our hotel and had some dinner.  Since New Year’s Eve is not a big deal to us, we didn’t stay up (we also had to be back at the airport by 7am and I wasn’t in the mood to party).  Robert hates it when I get melancholy.  While I really was looking forward to getting back to Japan (because I do love it there), I loved it here too.  The people were so friendly, the food and wine delicious, and the island is so pristine, beautiful and wild.  I really do hope we get the opportunity to return someday and spend a lot more time.

NZ: The Wildly Wet West Coast

Coastal Scenery

The West Coast

We woke to heavy rain.  We knew it was coming, and we knew it was not going to be a typical storm.  The precipitation forecast models indicated dark purple (meaning very heavy rain) for at least 36 hours.  Fortunately, we weren’t in a big hurry to go anywhere.  This old farmhouse turned B&B was a great place to hang out – until they kicked us out.

Our tasty breakfast was served from 7-9am.  The combined kitchen and dining room in this place was huge.  Conversations at the table revealed that everyone at the B&B was headed north today, since there was no reason to hang around town…as every activity was canceled.

When we finally checked-out , we were given a calender, map and information sheet.  It still ended up being a beautiful drive – with even more waterfalls than before (if that’s possible).  We noticed the rivers were rising quickly, some were already rushing from all the rain in the higher elevations and the water color was now brown.  There were a few stretches where water was already crossing the road.  My trusty driver was probably getting a bit worried about potential flooding.  Fortunately, the rain let up as we moved north and in spots it wasn’t raining at all.  We stopped a couple of times to view the wild beaches and rocky coastline.  We even stopped in Hokitika to check out a few jade shops and watch one guy work in the studio.

Weka (baby raptor)

Weka (a miniature raptor)

We continued our drive down the coast through Greymouth and then to Punakaiki.  Another break in the rain allowed us to walk out to the pancake rocks and blow holes.  Because of the storm, the surf was exceptionally high and the sea was quite dramatic.  Our hotel was very close by so we checked into our eco-suite (which is a nice way to say: not fancy).  We had a pretty view and a nice little patio area. We were soon visited by a Weka who obviously was not afraid of people and kept acting like he wanted to come in our room.  He even charged at me when I opened the door and then rapped on the window with his beak.  Robert joked that he was from Jurassic Park since he looked and acted like a miniature velociraptor who wanted to kill us.

When I booked our hotel room three months ago, I opted for the package that included dinner, drinks and breakfast….which ended up being a great move, because neither of us wanted to go back out in that storm to find some dinner.  We hung out in the lounge, drinking beer and wine and watching the waves.  We then moved to the dining room to have our meal and a few more drinks.

Kitty so cute

The Cafe Kitty

After another great nights sleep and a big breakfast, we checked out to move to our next place, a B&B about 90 minutes north near the end of the West Coast highway.  On our approach into Westport, we noticed the highway to Nelson was closed (which we needed to take tomorrow).  When we crossed the Buller river it was running bank to bank.  We now knew why all those river beds we crossed were so huge, and I was hoping it wouldn’t get any worse or we’d be stuck in Westport for a long time (actually, that wouldn’t be so bad).  It was in Westport that we learned about all the road closures on the South Island due to flooding and slides.  We had to call our B&B to make sure we could still get there.  After checking out the town and getting some coffee we made our way further up the road.  The rain storms were coming in like waves with at least some blue sky and calm breaks between them now.

We stopped at the Drifters Cafe to have a beer and split a lunch.  A super soft, cuddly kitten was there for us to play with.  We ordered the red chicken curry which was very good and by the time we finished it was time to check into our next B&B.  We met our host, Gay and her dog (ironically named Storm).  We unloaded our stuff and told her we really wanted to do the hike along the river to see the waterfall.  She told us how to get there and gave us a couple of torches (flashlights) for the tunnels.  It appeared as if the storms may have finally stopped – so out we went.

Huge Falls at Charming Creek

The Falls at Charming Creek were like Niagra Falls

The trail followed an old mining rail track (there were lots of cool mining relics along the way).  The sunshine was so beautiful and shining brightly in the canyon as the river below rushed along something fierce.  There were several spots where we were very tempted to turn around, but we kept going.  Dark clouds quickly set in and all I wanted was to get to one of the tunnels.  Fortunately, we made it to the tunnel just before it started raining hard.  We had to wait 5-10 minutes before we could continue our hike.  We passed several other hikers coming back who apparently didn’t have shelter during the last downpour.  The rains created temporary waterfalls requiring us to go through them in order to get to the swing bridge.  And to see Mangatini Falls we had to cross that bridge.  Robert nearly chickened out (he doesn’t like heights), but I went across.  Robert soon got up enough nerve to cross the bridge….and he was glad he did.  The falls were WAY bigger than we had imagined.

On our way back, the trail and temporary waterfalls were already drying up.  We were almost back to the B&B when the final storm came through.  We hung out for the rest of the evening drinking a bottle of wine and conversing with our host about the storm.  Later we went back to the cafe for an incredibly good pizza and to check out the local rivers.  They all had come down a good bit…we were hopeful the highway would be open in the morning so we wouldn’t have to take the detour.   The other couple staying at our B&B came from Nelson and they had to take the 4 hour detour to get here.  We kept checking the NZ transportation department website and slowly the roads were opening back up.  By the time we went to bed all roads were open except two (one of them was our road to Nelson).

NZ: The Amazing Glaciers

The day after Christmas things were back to normal in Queenstown and the Boxing Day sales had begun.  Lucky for us that meant we got our new camera (similar to the one I just killed) at 30% off normal price.  We still weren’t able to take pictures – not until we got to our next B&B and had a couple hours to charge the battery.  Why can’t a camera company just make one battery to fit all their cameras?  Why do they all have to be different?

After our purchase, we were off to the West Coast.  We climbed back over the Crown Range, and followed alongside the shorelines of both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and into the Makarora river valley.  After passing the small community of Makarora, we entered into Mt Aspiring National Park.  I expected another dramatic pass to get over the alps, but it never happened.  Turns out, this is the lowest pass through the Southern Alps at only 1,600 feet.  We were now back in the beautiful rain forest with waterfalls every 15 feet.  At times I felt like we were in some digital movie created by Steven Spielberg…it just didn’t seem real.  We stopped near Haast to use a rest stop and were greeted by the native sand flies.  They weren’t anywhere near as bad as I read about, but they were a bit of a nuisance….enough so that we ate our sandwiches in the car rather than at the picnic table.

We continued our drive…passing some cyclists.  We were amazed at how many cyclists there were on this island and despite the weather how they sucked it up and rode through the rain and brutal winds.   We eventually passed the turnoff for Haast and the view of the ocean was in sight.  We now started heading north.  This part of the coast had rocky cliffs like Big Sur.  The beech forest was now mixed with ferns of every size (some as tall as palm trees).  The forest was so thick we could barely see through all the plants and trees.  Sometimes it was like driving through a tunnel when the trees formed a canopy over the road.  We passed more streams, lakes and waterfalls.  After about an hour we finally saw a road for the Fox Glacier.  Only being a couple miles in from the ocean, we wondered how far away it was.  We drove past the exit, crossed over a large bridge, and saw another access road to the glacier which said it was only 4k (2.5 miles), so we decided to “give it a go”.  We arrived at a gravel parking lot and saw people taking pictures, so we stopped to have a look.  Right there in front of us was the glacier.   I had no idea it would be this close to the ocean or this far down the mountain.  It was nothing short of amazing.  We were totally bummed that we couldn’t take a picture.  We walked over to a large sign and read a notice informing us the hiking trail to the glacier was closed due to an ‘ice dam’ that had formed over the last few days and was now in danger of breaking.  They warned that no vehicles should be left in the car park over night.  On that note, we decided to continue on to Franz Josef hoping the weather held out long enough for us to see that glacier too.

Another View of the Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier

Another 30 minutes north we saw the turn off for the Franz Josef glacier and drove in.  We got a glimpse of this one from the road.  It looked like a long huge frozen river.  We parked the car and walked through the forest to the lookout point.  There were no restrictions on hiking to this glacier, so we continued on toward the terminal face.  As we got closer, we could see people hiking on top of the glacier (they appeared the size of ants).  It took about 30 minutes to get there, and actually, the closer you got, the less you saw, because the glacier is so large you can no longer see past it.  It was pretty cool to see one of the few glaciers that is actually advancing.  There were signs and pictures along the way, showing the glacier at different stages over the last 150 years.

We walked back to our car and it started to drizzle.  We drove up to the township and found our B&B.  We checked in, charged our battery, had some tea and cookies in the lounge area and talked with our host about the area.  We then drove around town to find a place to have a beer.  We settled on The Alice May.  I had the locally brewed Ridler bier which had a citrusy flavor, Robert went with the Black bier (similar to a Guinness).  We watched some cricket on the TV (which was being played at the MCG in Melbourne), and decided to stay for dinner too.  I’m glad we did…the food was great.  We shared some sweet potato soup, fish & chips, and an evilly delicious sticky toffee pudding.

As we were leaving, I noticed we had another break in the storm, so we decided to drive back to the glacier (with our new working camera).  When we got there, it had cleared up enough for us to see it again. 🙂

I did some research later and learned that the Southern Alps actually have some 140 glaciers.  Only two (Fox & Franz Josef) actually make it all the way down to the rain forest.  This is the only place in the world (other than Argentina) where this occurs.  It is truly spectacular to see…logically it seems like these glaciers shouldn’t be here and they should have melted long ago.

NZ: Christmas in Queenstown


Downtown Queenstown

Queenstown is a great city loaded up with visitors from all over the world.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a place where we heard so many different languages and accents.  We spent Christmas Eve day just enjoying the area.   We both slept in, relaxed, had some breakfast and then took a walk along the lake trail into town.  We found the restaurant we booked for Christmas dinner, did a little shopping, grabbed a coffee at Starbucks and then headed back for some lunch.  After lunch, we stopped at a winery and then drove to Arrowtown.  Arrowtown is an old gold mining town about 15 minutes from Queenstown which is now full of cute shops and home to the best cherries in the world.  We used to think Rainier cherries were the best…but these are perfect.  They look just like them, but they are bigger, juicier, yet crisper… and oozing with flavor.  We bought a huge container of them thinking they would last us a few days…wrong, they were all gone within 24 hours.  In fact, they were so good, I may never eat another cherry again.

Since it was nearing 5pm…most of the shops were closing up for the long Christmas weekend.  New Zealand is a very traditional place, so very few things would actually be open on Christmas day (other than Starbucks, a few other eateries, and some tours).  We headed back to our apartment, made some dinner and then decided to watch the Lord of the Ring movies, since we planned on heading out toward Glenorchy where they did a lot of the filming for the movie. We also charged our camera battery and did two loads of laundry.  We were ready for our big day tomorrow.

Road to Paradise

The Road to Paradise

Christmas morning was absolutely beautiful.  The apartment manager kindly left a present of chocolate covered almonds by our door.  We made some sandwiches for lunch, and headed out of town after a quick stop at Starbucks.  Queenstown was nearly void of humans…which was so nice.  We then followed the road along the north shore of Lake Wakatipu…which is huge and mysteriously shaped like a snake.  We stopped once during our drive after the big bend where you could see up the Dart River valley and Mt Aspiring National Park.  After about 45 minutes we entered the small township of Glenorchy.  Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much activity here either.   We sort of wanted to take the jet boats up the river, but supposedly they were booked.  No worries, we could drive to Paradise ourselves and then do a hike in the park.  Well, the pavement eventually ended, and then we started crosssing creeks since there were no more bridges.  Now I started wishing we had a SUV.  The first two creek crossings weren’t bad, and the scenery just kept getting more spectacular, so we kept going.  Eventually, we came to another creek.  We started to question whether our little Nissan could make it since it didn’t have much clearance.   It would not be good to be stranded with a rental car in the middle of nowhere on Christmas Day (fun maybe, but not good).  We parked the car to test the water height and “sploosh” went our camera…right out of my pocket and into the stream.  🙁 Our plans now had to change…we couldn’t cross the creek, so we decided to try the road on the other side of the Dart River.  We easily got to Sylvan Lake campground and decided to hike to the lake instead.  After walking across the swing bridge and a good ways into the forest, we discover this place was like a marsh in some areas…and getting worse, so back out we came.  Frustrated with our failed attempts at hiking, Robert cheered me up while we had lunch at a lovely spot along the river.  We then decided we should just head back to Queenstown to find out where we could buy another camera tomorrow when the shops reopened.

We found three different stores that sold cameras in town, so we returned to our apartment and decided to do a run-walk along the lake trail to substitute for our missed hiking opportunities.  After a shower, some champagne, cheese, crackers and smoked salmon all was well.  We walked to our restaurant and had an amazing five course meal while looking out over the lake.  We wish we had some pictures of that for y’all.

Despite the camera mishap, it actually ended up being a wonderful day!

NZ: Milford Sound

6am Cordrona Pass

The Crown Range Summit at Sunrise

We woke at daybreak (5:00am), showered, packed and left our B&B at 5:45am.  The worst part about leaving that early was we wouldn’t have time for our wonderful breakfast. 🙁  Amazingly, Blythe was up, had the table set, and was ready to make us breakfast even though we told them not to bother since neither of us have an appetite that early in the morning.  Besides, I had at least 5,000 calories worth of chocolate the night before which prevented me from sleeping very well.  Fortunately, Robert did all the driving (apparently, my driving scares him even when I’m well rested).

It was an incredibly clear, crisp morning as we started our 4 hour drive to Milford Sound.  As the bird flies Milford Sound isn’t far at all (just over the mountains), but by road you have to go way out of the way to get there.  Most people take the bus-cruise-bus option, but we both preferred to be on our own time schedule so that didn’t appeal to us.  This was a truly interesting and amazing drive.  We stopped briefly at the top of the Crown Range for a spectacular sunrise view of the valleys below.  We weren’t the only ones up that early driving to Milford but it sure looked like it most of the time.  We encountered areas where the winds were literally howling…making me very thankful we didn’t rent a high profile vehicle or camper van.  We drove through huge expanses of uninhabited (and uninhabitable) land.  We made it to Te Anau by 8:00am (which is the 1/2 way point), filled up with gas, got some coffee, and picked up a sandwich from Subway to take with us for lunch.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

As we headed out of Te Anau the landscape gradually turned from semi-arid to rain forest.  The road followed Lake Te Anau and then the Eglinton river valley deep into the canyon.  All of a sudden it felt as if we were in another world.  Thick dark forests and snow capped mountains covered with waterfalls.  The road steadily climbed in altitude until we came face to face with a solid granite mountain.  It was here that we waited for our turn to use the one-lane Homer tunnel.  This 3/4 mile long tunnel looked very primitive with it’s solid rock walls and no lighting.  Without any turns, it descended steeply into the Milford Sound canyon, where we then followed a series of switchbacks that took us back down to sea level and the entrance to Milford Sound (which is really a fiord).  The first sight of the fiord was pretty spectacular, mainly because of the sheer size of the mountains rising straight out of the water.  It was also completely still with the mountains being reflected in the water.  The clouds sure didn’t hurt the view either.

Seals napping

We put on our rain gear and had a bite to eat to hold us over until we returned from our 2-hour cruise (hoping to avoid a Gilligan’s Island experience).  Although it was not raining when we left the dock, we didn’t want to risk getting soaked in this place which receives over 275 inches a year.  We chose to take a smaller boat that could get closer to the waterfalls and wildlife and also took us out into the Tasman sea for a view of the entrance from the ocean.  Due to all the recent rains there was no shortage of waterfalls.  Watching the other boats in the distance gave us a good perspective on just how large the waterfalls and mountains really are.  We were lucky to get a few breaks of sunshine allowing us to view the fiord in sunlight.  We saw two colonies of seals and a couple of ‘tree avalanche’ areas (which were caused by heavy rains).  I was a little worried about the swells we would experience out at sea, but they actually turned out to be quite fun.  A few passengers were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and got drenched, others chose to be drenched when our boat moved under the waterfalls.  This whole experience was simply a ton of fun and unlike anything we’d ever done before.

After the cruise was over, we finished the rest of our lunch and stopped a few more times on our way back to Queenstown to take more pictures.  Robert even let me drive for about 1/2 hour (but no more after that).  We made it to Queenstown by 6pm and checked into our apartment.  It was located on Lake Wakatipu and had great views of the lake and mountains.  It also had everything we would need for the next two days.  We could walk to town in about 20 minutes along the lake trail.  We drove to the grocery store and picked up stuff for our breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next couple days.  It was so nice to have a place completely to ourselves and a washer and dryer to do some laundry. 🙂

NZ: The Elusive Mt. Cook & Central Otago

Road to Mt. Cook

Lake Pukaki – on the way to Mt. Cook

Our quest on day 4 was to see Mt Cook, but waking up to rain was not a good sign.  After packing our bags we headed south and eventually the rain stopped and the skies cleared up.  We came to Lake Pukaki whose color is (I kid you not) a fluorescent Carolina Blue.  Even on Google Maps this lake looks freakishly light blue – and fake.  But WOW is it incredibly beautiful!  We drove the full length of the lake into the canyon that houses the access points to Mt Cook.  The closer we got, the windier it got and clouds were forming quickly.  By the time we got into the National Park it was mostly cloudy, and by the time we got to the end of the road it was pouring rain so hard we couldn’t see anything.  We hung out at the resort and drank a cup of coffee and checked out the museum and shopped, hoping the storm would pass, but no such luck – this thing was going to stick around all day.

Shrek the Merino Sheep

The Shrek’s Wool

We left the park and the skies gradually cleared as we continued our way south into Central Otago.  We stopped in the incredibly cute and tiny town of Tarras for a long lunch and to check out the shops. We also learned to appreciate just how crazed people here are about their mountain bikes.  We saw a guy who had his bike attached to the side of his motorcycle – still not sure how he got on and off.  We also got to see raw wool from Shrek (the famous sheep that eluded shearers for six years) which was pretty cool.

We then headed west following a huge river toward the town of Wanaka which is situated on another huge lake.   This is a beautiful and well planned mountain town – with lots of parks and open spaces so everyone can enjoy the views.  Bike trails and walking trails make it very conducive to outdoor activities.  And plenty of shops and restaurants for us to check out on another day.

B&B in Cardrona

Waiorau Homestead – our B&B in Cardrona

Our next B&B was in Cardrona which was 20km outside of town.  This particular B&B is ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for the South Island (so I just had to find out why).  It quickly became obvious as we drove down the driveway.  Not only is it in a beautiful secluded location across from the Cardrona Ski Mountain, but they greet you with a glass of wine and a platter of cheese and fruit.  The house (circa 1928) was restored, retaining it’s charm, yet it is fashionably decorated.  The hosts are extremely pleasant and helpful and they make you feel as if the place is all yours….so we pretended it was and just hung out enjoying the beautiful grounds and views for the rest of the day.  They offered to cook us a lamb dinner, but we decided to check out the historic hotel and pub in Cardrona instead.  Being the off-season for the ski mountain, we pretty much had that whole place to ourselves too.

The next morning we headed for Bannockburn and Cromwell – which some argue has the best pinot noir in the world, so we had to check it out.   Neither of us are wine experts, but we were not disappointed.  As for the best in the world?…well, we still have lots of places to check out before we can make that call. 🙂

The Kea Bird we saw on the way to Milford Sound

We headed back to Wanaka where it was drizzling on and off.  We checked out the shops and Robert was finally able to get his hair cut by someone who could speak English.  The spring rain storm moved out revealing snow on the mountain tops in the distance.  The forecast was calling for some ‘fine’ weather over the next 3 days so we decided to venture into Milford Sound tomorrow.  This meant we’d have to get up pretty early in order to make the long drive.  We ate an early dinner in Wanaka and headed back to our B&B where they had a large plate of desserts waiting for us.

An interesting tidbit I learned is that four National Parks on the South Island comprise a UNESCO World Heritage area (Westland National ParkMt Aspiring National ParkAoraki/Mt Cook National Park and Fiordland National Park.)   Two-thirds of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Park is covered with forest – beech and podocarps – some of which is over 800 years old. The only alpine parrot in the world – the kea – also lives in the park, as well as the endangered flightless takahe, and a myriad unique marine animals.  What an amazing place.


NZ: The Drive to the Southern Alps

Sorry about the delay in posting to our blog…we were so busy (having fun) we didn’t have time to write in our blog.  But now that we are back in Japan, with a few days to just relax, we can catch up.  It’s also wonderful to be able to ‘re-live’ the experience again by writing about it.

Road to Lake Tekapo

The Road to Lake Tekapo

After two wonderfully relaxing days in Blenheim drinking great wine and eating great food, we began our 600 kilometer drive to Lake Tekapo in the Southern Alps.  The south island of New Zealand is not very populated.  All the main highways are just two lanes (one lane each way) with many roundabouts and one-lane bridges (which you take turns crossing).  They are curvy, back-country roads with few cars (except around the main cities, but even then a two-lane motorway is very uncommon and stop lights are rare).  The countryside on the northeast part of the south island is green rolling hills with mountains in the background.  It looks like a combination of Oregon and Washington.  The range of plants and flowers that grow on this part of the island is incredible, and everything blooms profusely.

As we drove south, the vines and orchards were soon replaced with farms: crops, sheep, cows and deer.  We crossed several gigantic river beds which made me imagine just how much snow melt/water run-off this island has accommodated….it’s both mind boggling and scary.  We drove through a lot of little country towns, saw very little traffic, and tractors on the road became a common obstacle.  By the time we were in the foothills, the terrain started looking a lot like Montana.  We had great views of the mountains and the alpine meadows were covered with lupine.

We arrived at Lake Tekapo around around 5pm, but, since it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, we had five more hours of sunlight to enjoy the area.  We were lucky to see the lake on a sunny day.  Glacier formed lakes have remarkable colors that keep changing as the day progresses.

Church at Lake Tekapo

The Church at Lake Tekapo

It’s frustrating that camera’s can’t truly portray what a place is really like.  We walked along the lake taking pictures of the various views as well as the infamous church that sits on its shore.  We had dinner at a casual Japanese restaurant with a fabulous view of the lake.  By 10pm the clouds had come in, so night-time sky viewing at the observatory wasn’t going to happen, but we were so tired from the days events, it was a probably a good thing.

Our B&B was great too. It had nice views of the lake and lots of friendly dogs and cats to play with.  We slept well, since it rained all night, and it was still drizzling in the morning.  Steve and Jenny made a fabulous breakfast for us which included local sausage, bacon, honey, with scrambled eggs and roasted tomato, mushrooms and onions.  All this was in addition to muesli, freshly sliced fruit, homemade yogurt, tea, coffee and juice.  While all our breakfasts were wonderful, this one was the best.  After this one, we knew that we were both going to have to diet after our trip was over.