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Melissa5 Feb 20th, 2007 04:16 PM

New Zealand South Island SPLENDOR: Celebrating 25th Anniversary Surrounded by RIBBONS OF WATERFALLS!!! Feb. 2007
 
We have just returned from Paradise!!!>:D< My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a 2-week trip to the gorgeous South Island of New Zealand, (February 2007). It was an active and romantic((L))trip with magnificent scenery. Oh, the glory of it all...

<b>OUR ITINERARY</b>

Dunedin / Otago Peninsula

Invercargill (day-trip)

Fiordland:
-Te Anau
-Doubtful Sound overnite
-Milford Rd.

Queenstown
-day-trip to Glenorchy

Mt. Cook

West Coast

Day-Hikes:
-Routeburn track (from both ends)
-Rainforest walks on sw coast

Scenic Drives:
-Haast Pass (to west coast)
-Milford Rd., Fiordland
-road to Mt. Cook
-Otago Peninsula, high road
-portion of Southern Scenic route between Dunedin &amp; Invercargill

<b>TRIP HIGHLIGHTS</b>

<u>Milford Rd. Waterfalls, Fiordland</u>

Driving down Milford Rd. one summer evening in the rain, we discovered the most astonishing sight. We were surrounded by steep canyon walls soaring straight up thousands of feet. Dozens and dozens of waterfalls poured down the vertical cliffs. We stopped the car and stood out in the rain. I will never forget the look of ecstasy on my husband's face as he stood in awe, surrounded by ribbons of waterfalls. ((*))

One other car stopped and excited young people piled out to share the exquisite moment. A young woman threw up her arms and twirled in a circle in the rain, in the glorious rain.

This experience was even more exciting than our first boat trip on Milford sound in the spring, 22 years ago.

Cost of being surrounded by glorious ribbons of waterfalls in the rain on Milford Road: TOTALLY FREE!! :-D

COMING UP NEXT: More Trip Highlights, followed by a detailed trip report, including accomodations, best food, and memorable experiences. THANKS to everyone who helped us plan this fantastic trip!!!!!



Melnq8 Feb 20th, 2007 06:35 PM

The moment has finally come, Melissa's much anticipated trip report! Looking foward to more details so I can re-live beautiful NZ through another's eyes....

wilees Feb 21st, 2007 05:01 AM

Looking forward to the rest of your report!!

Tim_and_Liz Feb 21st, 2007 12:44 PM

Welcome back-- glad you had a fantastic time!

Liz

SenohDH1 Feb 21st, 2007 03:21 PM

Great to hear from you. Hope all of your worry time was more than worth it. We also loved the waterfalls and the rain. We hope your rain suit made the trip more enjoyable.

Melissa5 Feb 21st, 2007 04:08 PM

<b>CHATTING</b>

Melnq8: Thanks for recommending Little India in Queenstown! The BEST Indian food on the planet! It was awesome!
Little India, Queenstown: My rating: 10/10 Tantalizing, delicious, and authentic. Laid-back atmosphere.

wilees: Thanks for hanging in there with me...getting organized for a long report! :-P

Tim and Liz: Enjoyed your trip report and now I hope you don't sleep through mine! :-D

SenohDH1: My pre-trip worry time is unavoidable and irritating but mildly entertaining. #-O The waterproof breathable jacket was great...never did buy the waterproof pants but we hit good weather, very little rain. Mostly sunny. Cool mornings, warm day-time, and cold evenings. A bit of rain here and there.

<b> TRIP REPORT CONTINUES BELOW:</b>

Melnq8 Feb 21st, 2007 04:16 PM

Melissa - glad you liked Little India! I could go for some right now (and it's only 8:13 am here).

Melissa5 Feb 21st, 2007 05:01 PM

<b>TRIP HIGHLIGHTS:</b>

<b> STARLIGHT ROMANCE:</b>

<b>Aoraki/Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge</b>
<b>and</b>
<b>Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki</b>

Oh, the stars! Trillions of twinkling stars in an inky black sky! Ah, romance... ((L)) Because of the absence of city lights on <b>Mt. Cook</b> and also on the <b>West coast</b> at the Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, on a clear summer night, the sky is like nothing we have seen before...

The milky way is real, and there it was in the black of night, and we were astonished to think of how there are trillions of stars just in the Milky Way alone...

I felt like the luckiest woman in the universe to be celebrating our 25th anniversary and to behold the stars together from inside our room at the Aoraki Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge. This was the least expensive room I booked on the whole trip, and the most romantic, with a window to see majestic Mt. Cook in the daylight, and the stars ((*)) at night... (Seeing the stars through glass isn't as good as going outside but still really romantic.)

We also had a wonderful view of the stars from the communal deck at the Aoraki/Mt. Cook Alpine lodge...right on our floor. No glass, just you and the alpine air!

My husband was inspired to sing me a song about the mountains, the stars, and having your feet on the ground. We had our bottle of wine which we had bought in Queenstown. Romantic sigh...:-X

Something about driving all the way up the mountain, as far as a car can go, and having the clouds part to reveal Mt. Cook in all her majesty...breathing in the pure mountain air...catches at my heart every time. This was our second visit to Mt. Cook and it just keeps getting better every time! (1st visit: NZ spring; second visit: NZ summer)

Starlight was even more astonishing from the Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki as, even though it's just off the highway on the west coast, there are no other buildings or lights nearby for miles and miles. Also you can see glo-worms from the dark highway at night, just a short walk down the road from the Wilderness Lodge!

Cost of Starlight, Glo-Worms on highway, Romance, and Husband's Serenade: TOTALLY FREE! Pure magic.

I hope I haven't confused you by mixing up 2 different places in the same review...Mt. Cook and the west coast are 2 different areas, of course, but we had excellent star-gazing opportunities in both areas.

Highly recommended:

<b>Aoraki Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge</b>
www.aorakialpinelodge.co.nz
My rating: 10/10 for a lodge in this price range on Mt. Cook.

$165 NZ for a room with ensuite bathroom on the upper floor and an astonishing view, especially for this price.
Room is clean and basic and our view was wonderful. Friendly staff, well-run lodge, independently owned, NOT part of the Hermitage collection...Don't confuse this lodge with the Aoraki wing of the expensive Hermitage hotel...totally different places.
Cheaper rooms available. Communal areas to share with other guests: kitchen, homey lounge &amp; deck with wonderful view. Self-serve laundry also available at the lodge.

<b>Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki</b>
www.wildernesslodge.co.nz
Expensive.
My rating: 9/10 for a luxury lodge in this price range. Gourmet dinners and hearty breakfasts included in room price. Short guided walks included.

Fantastic place if you like nature, as we do, with great food. Do NOT be so foolish as to stay here if you don't like nature. I loved this place! It is gloriously isolated in nature, although just off the highway. Nothing else nearby. No TV, thank you. We love it this way. Driving distance to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers for your day-trips. Large washers and dryers free for guests' use.

COMING UP NEXT: MORE TRIP HIGHLIGHTS, Plus Accomodations, Food, and Activities


Melissa5 Feb 21st, 2007 10:17 PM

<b>TRIP HIGHLIGHTS:</b>

<b>DOUBTFUL SOUND OVERNITE:</b>

My rating: 9/10 Very special. ((Y))
Cost: Outrageous; Don't look. Just book.
:S-

Our overnite on Doubtful Sound aboard the Fiordland Navigator with RealJourneys was relaxing and magical.

Each &quot;RealJourney&quot; is unique. Fiordland is moody...she can be bright and playful; mysterious; wet and wild; mystical; winking and playful.

We need to slow down as our hearts are too small and will burst with so much joy.

On board the Fiordland Navigator, we slowed down on Doubtful Sound.

My favorite moment on Doubtful Sound was &quot;The Sound of Silence&quot; in the morning.&gt;:D&lt; By this time everyone has bonded. Then they turn off the motor and the boat sits silently on the water. Everyone is respectfully asked to turn off cameras.

Silence descends. The stillness of the morning is pure magic. The water was so still and clear we could see the surrounding scenery clearly reflected in the water. From my notes:

Morning magic...
Silence, birdsong...
Mountains, foliage, sky, and even the moon are reflected in the mirror of the peaceful cove of the fijord.
Detailed reflections...we can see the leaves of the foliage in the water!
Awed, a holy silence heals the spirit.
Utter joy and awe shared with the group.
My husband's arms are around me.
We have all become a community.

Silence like a joyous song in your soul
rises to join the wordless voice of the rainforest, on the mountains, rising out of the fijord...

A seal frolics in the peaceful cove of the fijord.

Out of the silence
magic shimmers
and the mountain
sees her beauty reflected
in the sea
and we are one
in Fiordland.

We are singing
with no words
in the language of all living things.

More Details of Doubtful Sound Overnite:

-We saw NZ fur seals and pups on a small rocky island

-Dinner buffet was very good: lamb, chicken, salmon, vegetarian dish, salads, and desserts.

-Breakfast buffet was disappointing. Plenty of food but just okay.

-Our room: we had cabin 18 on an upper deck with windows, nice view. We had a twin cabin since it was an anniversary. (A quad costs less.)

TRIP REPORT WILL BE CONTINUED!!!

Maria_H Feb 22nd, 2007 04:06 AM

Sounds like you had a fantastic time Melissa - our trip in October just feels like a nice dream now. I was also quite moved by the &quot;sound of silence&quot;, though our relections were rather misty and our fabulous view of the stars was at the Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge - we even saw a shooting star. Great memories...

Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 10:58 AM

Maria H: Don't your great memories of NZ just call you back? I know ours do...

<b> HIGHLIGHTS:</b>

I have so many more highlights to share! But I want to organize this better, so you will find more highlights in the following trip report organized by area:

&lt;TRIP REPORT:
HIGHLIGHTS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS:

<b>DUNEDIN &amp; OTAGO PENINSULA</b>

<b> Wildlife Tour of Otago Peninsula w/ Robert Brown (Wildfilm New Zealand)</b>

Our wildlife tour of the Otago Peninsula with Robert Brown of Wildfilm New Zealand was fantastic! It was one of our favorite days on the entire trip. ((Y))

My rating for this tour with Robert and his wife Christine: 100/100
Very Special; A Rare and Unique Opportunity!((*))((*))((*))((*))

My husband is a biologist and we were thrilled to spend a day with Robert Brown, Wildlife Photographer, and his wife Christine, for $110 NZ each. Private tour, including transportation and snacks and lunch.

Robert Brown set up Wildfilm New Zealand, free-lance filming, and works with Natural History New Zealand, National Geographic, Discovery, and the BBC. He is a fantastic Natural History cameraman, and a &quot;behavioral camera specialist&quot;. Christine is skilled in sound recording of wildlife.

Both Robert and his wife Christine are fascinating &quot;real&quot; people, easy to be with, and they both have very keen eyes and ears for spotting wildlife.

Normally Robert only gives tours for the folks who are staying at their b&amp;b. However right now their old b&amp;b is closed and they are opening a new one at Broad Bay in the Dunedin / Otago Peninsula area. Their b&amp;b attracts wildlife photographers, naturalists, biologists, etc.

We got lucky as I e-mailed Christine and during our stay in the area, Robert had a break between the 3 films he is working on, and was able to take us on a personalized full day tour.

It was thrilling for my husband, a biologist, to be taken by an expert to the natural areas on the peninsula where he could see native wildlife in natural areas. Robert was fascinating to be with and it was wonderful for me to have Christine along...I admire her Kiwi spirit of independence and self-reliance and she has an amazing keen eye.

Both Robert and Christine are native Kiwis who can trace their ancestry back generations.

We enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch outdoors of chicken, a pie similar to quiche, scones, tea, and wine or beer, and several other tasty items.

Robert showed us a blue penguin in a natural nest on a beach. It was very educational watching the care Robert takes not to disturb the nest while getting a good photo, and even to erase his own footprints...

We also saw NZ Fur Seals, southern sea lions, and native birds including oyster catchers, stilts, and other wading and shore birds. We enjoyed many enlightening conversations.

Fortunately we had already seen Penguin Place, as the beaches where Robert would normally take you to see the Yellow-eyed penguin were currently closed by the DOC (Department of Conservation) due to some baby penguins dying from a possible disease. For more info on the threat to penguins:
www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/news/news.html

If you are interested in wildlife photography, Robert does Wildlife Photography/Film-making Workshops.
To contact Robert and Christine Brown:
www.wildfilm.co.nz

If you are a wildlife photographer or a naturalist, and you would like a tour with Robert, you will have to remain flexible in your schedule. It is difficult to book a tour in advance due to Robert's filming projects. We just left a day open in our schedule and I e-mailed again about a week before we left, and was fortunate indeed that Robert would be available on one of our days in the area.

We hope to see Robert Brown and Christine again someday! Thanks to Christine, I learned that if you can't go over a barbed-wire fence, you can always go through it. :S- (No, we weren't tresspassing, it was his cousin's farm! I thank her large sheep-eating dog for not eating me...:-/d

<b> COMING UP NEXT: PENGUIN PLACE AND DUNEDIN ACCOMODATIONS &amp; FOOD...!</b>














Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 11:15 AM

Oopsie: a couple of minor typos above. But the fodors site froze and wouldn't let me continue to edit the above post. The very last emoticon above was supposed to be: &quot;I thank her large sheep-eating dog for not eating me. :-d

BillJ Feb 22nd, 2007 04:05 PM

Dear Melissa5: You notes and free form observations/poem re: Doubtful Sound overnight brought tears of joy to my eyes as I remembered our own Sound of Silence moments in the Sound. The dolphins had been riding our bow wave, and when the boat stopped, they circled around and began this chatter, as if to say, &quot;Hey, what gives? Let's go.&quot;
But the silence and grandeur was a joy to behold and stays with us a year later now. Thank you for bringing it all back so well.
And, can't wait for the next installment.
Bill.

Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 04:23 PM

BillJ: You had dolphins! Cool! Thanks for taking a moment to share your reply. I write because I love it, and I need to express all that I experience...but I always hope at least someone is getting something out of it! I think each RealJourneys overnite is unique... And thanks to all of you who shared yours, that is what prompted me to book the Doubtful Sound overnite for our anniversary. A great choice! (-:

<b>COMING UP NEXT: Penguin Place, Albatross Center, and more...</b>

BillJ Feb 22nd, 2007 05:15 PM

I think you are very acurate. If you went there 100 nights, there may never be one like the other. We had very cold and rainy weather, which only increased the waterfalls. In the morning there was a dusting of snow higher up the mountains. We saw some blue sky, but mostly swirling mist in the deep green rainforests, and waterfalls everywhere.
Penguins were absent, as it was molting time in early March, and they were hiding in the forest. But we saw seals, and yes, the dolphins.
I love your comment: Don't look, just book. My thoughts exactly. It will always be one of our most cherished memories of travel.

ElendilPickle Feb 22nd, 2007 06:20 PM

Beautiful report, Melissa! I look forward to reading the rest.

Lee Ann

Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 07:27 PM

BillJ: It is fascinating how different and equally special your overnite on Doubtful sound in March was (NZ autumn)...you had rain and waterfalls and swirling mist...we had sunny skies and reflections in the water in February (still summer)...totally different and equally memorable!

ElendilPickle: Thanks, Lee Ann! Here comes more:

<b>PENGUIN PLACE:</b>

Our 7:15 pm tour of Penguin Place on the Otago Peninsula was terrific! It surpassed our expectations. My husband, who is a biologist, said it was better than he had expected.
My rating: 9/10...Terrific Job!

Please note that this was a sunny summer evening. Wildlife always has seasonal cycles, and you may not see any of this in a different season or at a different time of day...just call or write them and ask.

I pre-booked by phone before we left, about 2 days ahead of the tour.
www.penguinplace.co.nz
&quot;a private conservation effort funded entirely through profits from the tours&quot;

Our excellent tour guide was Robert. (Note that this isn't the same person as Robert Brown, wildlife photographer, who I mentioned previously...these are 2 entirely different Roberts!) Robert started our tour out by heading straight for the penguins. This was perfect, as this gave us extra time with the penguins, and all of our questions were answered during the penguin viewing time.

In fact our 90-minute tour became almost a 2-hour tour...he asked if anyone had to be back on time and we all voted to have the extra time!

The land was more beautiful than I had envisioned, showing efforts to re-plant and label natural habitat. There is a pleasant walk down towards the ocean with lovely vistas. We saw a fuzzy fat baby penguin right next to the path, and the mother.&gt;:D&lt; Amazing. Nearer to the sea we saw our first fur seals. One reminded me of a grizzly bear!

We witnessed a pair of adult penguins greeting each other with their loud vocal sounds...Fascinating to watch their passionate ritual greeting.

A special treat, we went down to the hide where you can see the adult penguins (fathers?) coming in from the sea. Out of the water they waddled, and strutted confidently onto the sand, then move more slowly as they are out in the open on the beach. A fur seal nearby. They fluff up for a while on the shore, standing a healthy distance apart from each other. As the penguins moved onto the beach, the waning light cast a shadow in front of each penguin, on the wet sand. So beautiful. Stirring and memorable. I couldn't believe it. Bring binoculars for an even better view, though the view is good with your eyes alone.

One penguin flaps his very short stubby penguin &quot;wings&quot; Wow! I can't forget those Yellow-eyed penguins at Penguin Place.

Around $30 NZ each, money well spent. Penguin Place, the 7:15 pm tour in early February (NZ summer) on a fine day, is highly recommended. Special moments. Thank you, Robert. No flash photography.

These are wild penguins, and this isn't a zoo. Humans introduced ferrets and stoats to NZ, which eat baby penguins and birds. Without the efforts of humans now to trap the predators, the penguins and birds of NZ could become extinct. (NZ had no native land mammals...they were introduced by humans, messing up the balance of nature!)

The hides where you walk into to view penguins are a clever idea...the visitors are &quot;caged&quot; instead of the wildlife! 8-) Part of the walk is outside, and part is inside the hides.

Suitable for all ages...I would say only for children who are able to behave and keep quiet, over the age of 4...good for seniors too...but didn't look wheelchair accessible, I don't think...

We think Penguin Place is doing a great job at conservation. ((Y))






Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 07:35 PM

<b>Coming Up Next: Albatross Center, Dunedin Accomodations &amp; Food...Plus More... </b>

Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 08:57 PM

<b>Is PENGUIN PLACE for Children?</b>

A special note about taking your children to Penguin Place:
Penguins are easily frightened. Tour groups are expected to stay with the guide and talk in quiet voices.

Therefore, your child isn't ready for Penguin Place unless he/she can walk quietly with a group, no running about, for up to 2 hours. Also, your child will need to tolerate up to 2 hours of speaking in quiet voices...no whining and shouting. You cannot really leave the group as everyone must stay with the guide.

So I must revise my advice above... Whether your child is ready for Penguin Place isn't dependent on his/her age...it depends more on the personality and interests of your child.

Your child must also be able to understand that he/she cannot approach or attempt to touch the penguins. (Who would run for cover!)

Melissa5 Feb 22nd, 2007 09:50 PM

<b>ALBATROSS CENTRE</b>

We have waited for 22 years, since our first visit to NZ, to return to the Albatross Centre.

Unfortunately, our recent visit to the Albatross Centre in February was disappointing. :-[
My rating for our tour: 4/10 ((N)) Disappointing

We paid around $30 NZ each for the 60-minute tour of the Albatross Centre. It starts with a short film and a talk by your guide. Unfortunately, our guide geared our talk to the level of a 5-year-old. Our guide was unable to answer questions. I am not sure if this was caused by a communication/language problem, or if our guide needed more training.

Our guide was very enthusiastic and sincere, I think. Therefore I won't name our guide. More training is needed, I feel. Also, our guide told us that only the ranger actually goes out and sees the birds on the nesting grounds. Therefore you are being guided by someone who hasn't been any closer to the birds than you are...

But I must say that not only did we receive little information from our guide, some of the information was wrong! #-O

There is far more information available on the web-site, and in the little free pamphlet we picked up from the visitor's center, than we got on the tour we paid for!

Therefore I recommend you look at the web-site before you go, and peek into the free visitor's center (very small) at the Albatross Centre, and stand in the parking lot or sit outside with a coffee at the cafe and see if you can see any Albatross flying... Don't bother paying for the tour.

I have noticed a few others have also complained on-line about the Albatross Centre tour.

As you may notice, we aren't hard to please...we have loved almost everything I planned. But we came to the Otago Peninsula especially to see the Albatross, and this was really a disappointing tour. :(

The web-site with good info:
www.albatross.org.nz

Your 60-minute paid tour will give you only 30 minutes viewing time with the birds. During this time, what you see depends on the season and your luck. All we could see was a few birds sitting on nests...we couldn't see any of the babies. When our time was up and we had to leave, there were a few adult birds (mates) flying.

The Albatross is a magnificent bird with a huge wing-span. If you try to spot one from the parking lot, you are looking for a bird which hardly flaps it's wings at all...it seems to just glide on the wind...

The young Albatross stays at sea continuously for up to 5 years prior to reaching mating maturity! Incredible! However we weren't told any of these amazing facts on our paid tour. Instead, I found them out later when we happened to be speaking with various naturalists on our trip through NZ. Also when I returned home I had time to throughly read the free brochure and browse the web-site.

I have my own theory about this...because the Albatross Centre has a toilet, and a cafe, and it doesn't require much walking, it probably attracts some tour groups...so it doesn't really have to work at attracting visitors. In fact there aren't a whole lot of other toilets on the Otago Peninsula. I feel they may have started taking their visitors for granted, and we didn't feel respected as intelligent visitors.

If the Albatross Centre is reading my review...I suggest that someone who is very knowledgeable and in charge of the center accompanies all of the tour guides and listens to what visitors are paying to hear...and conduct a new training workshop for the tour guides, please! You may even want to have 2 types of tours...one for biologists and naturalists and adults...and, well, another one for 5-year-olds! ;)


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