Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Zealand Day Three - May 26th, 2009 (Part Two)

There were signs leading off the main highway to our destination and, as we had noticed a few times before, the signs didn't say how many kilometers away we were, but rather, how many minutes away we were. We were excited, and a little nervous all at once!

We just had to stop and take pictures at nearly every sign - I think deep down we really just needed a few more minutes to try and stomach what we were about to do.

We pulled into the parking lot and couldn't believe our eyes. On the opposite side of the road from where we parked was the same landscape we'd seen ever since pulling off the highway - pastures and livestock. Yet, on our side of the road next to the parking lot was a HUGE canyon named Gravity Canyon.

Maybe it doesn't seem so huge to you, and no, it's not the grand canyon, but it was still quite impressive. There were three options of extreme rides we could choose to participate in at the canyon - bungee jumping above the river, swinging out from the bridge after a 50m freefall, or the option we had chosen before arriving: riding the Flying Fox. If you look real close at the next picture you'll see a tiny speck on the right edge of the river... that's two people on the ride we were about to embark on!

We walked across the bridge and had to hike up the hill on the other side of the canyon; first along a dirt path, and then up several flights of stairs. We had to be reminded to not only look at our feet, but also at the branches that were growing above us.

We waited at the top for a while and watched a few other people take their turns before we were allowed to jump to the front of the line and go before the other 15 or so people from some travel group went. This is where we watched people get strapped into this contraption...

And then plummet face first down this drop at over 100 miles per hour!! Talk about exciting!

We had to put on a harness first, which hooked into a body length blue vest thing, which then was clipped on to the contraption that sped you down the wire. It was quite the process. Eye protection was required - you never know what bugs might unfortunately come across your path.

At the beginning and end of the ride you're positioned at such a steep angle that the blood tends to rush to your face to the point it nearly looks purple, which allowed Ashley and I to have a good laugh at each other on our way back to the top after our ride. Here we are ready to go!

Even though we had both anticipated having our stomachs hit our knees during the drop, the ride was super fun! It never felt like we were falling; it was a smooth - yet fast! - slide to the bottom part of the canyon. I would recommend it to anybody! We happily made our way back down the stairs and dirt path afterward, and watched a few people bungee jump and swing off the bridge before pulling back out on the road. There was still a lot of day left in which to explore!

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Zealand Day Three - May 26th, 2009 (Part One)

Having gone to bed much earlier than our first night in New Zealand, Ashley and I both woke up way early - in fact, it was still dark outside. I leaned over my bunk to see Ash check the time, and when we learned it was not long after 5am we attempted to fall asleep again. This however, did not work. After a few minutes of laying in silence I announced "Well, I'm awake now," and laughing, we both rolled out of bed and got moving. We made breakfast in the hostel kitchen, packed up, and got rolling out of town as the sun was coming up.

Since we had extra time on our hands by not going to the South Island, we decided to turn off on whatever road looked interesting and do some exploring. The landscape is beautiful, and it changes so quickly!

We became big fans of the panoramic shots. The first dirt road we wandered off on took us up some rolling hills past hundreds of sheep (very common) where we could see the light fog move across the area we had just driven through.

Another road took us off into a forest and then out to a small camping area next to a river and a ribbon-like waterfall. This was one of my favorite areas.

After our forest adventure we were once again in pasture-land, and even pulled over to take some close ups of the sheep, but they were all afraid of us and ran away. FAST. Nearly the entire day I was constantly saying that New Zealand seemed to remind me of somewhere else - no matter where that somewhere else was. On top of the hills in one pasture area I could have sworn I was in Ireland.

Having heard much about these cookies when people discovered I was going to New Zealand, Ashley and I broke out the package of Tim Tams and thought they would go great with the laid back feel of the day. Our first impressions of the cookies weren't anything amazing... we thought they were good, but didn't quite understand what the fuss was about. I thought it was comparable to E.L. Fudge. However, over the next day or two we quickly became addicted!

Ash and I got really good at reading the not-so-thorough maps that we had collected, and made our way to our next extreme adventure.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Zealand Day Two - May 25th, 2009

Ash and I woke up to the sound of birds twittering outside and the newley risen sun beginning to peak through our camper-van curtains. Being the girls we are we headed to the bathroom first to get our faces ready for the day. Surprisingly enough, we had energy!

We packed up and made ourselves sandwitches ahead of time to allow for maximum playtime and then decided to take a picture of our camper-van old-school style.

Peter One (the campground dude) saw us up and bustling about and invited us in to eat breakfast with him before we headed out on the road. We had already helped ourselves to cereal we had bought with our groceries, but thought it would be rude not to accept the invitation. We went into his home/trailer/office/building thing and ate some toast (I even tried vegimite on a corner of mine - yuck!) while Peter showed us a few maps and brochures he had picked out for us of things we could do on our drive to Wellington. We finished up, cleared our dishes and bid the man farewell.

One of the brochures Peter had given us was of an authentic Dutch windmill that was built in some small town, and seeing that it was only a block or so off the main road we decided to pull over. The windmill was cute, but we were more surprised about the signs we found nearby...

We wondered why New Zealand (or any country for that matter) would glorify such a profession as stripping, but none the less we laughed and took pictures.

Of all people I know, Ashley is the queen of jumping pictures. Everywhere she goes - she jumps! So of course, we needed to get one by the windmill... but after multiple failed timing attemps, this is the best we got:

Heading farther South we ended up right along the Tasman Sea and stopped to walk out on the VERY soggy beach - where water would pool under your feet if you stayed in one place too long - for pictures of the sunshine. Ashley had a work companion who was quite the wet blanket the week before our trip and constantly told Ashley that it would be rainy and cold throughout our entire trip, and that we would have already missed the leaves changing colors (since it was Fall going into Winter). This put Ashley on a determined mission to take lots of pictures of sunshine and Fall colors. We conquered.

We entered Wellington in a downpour. I'm from Colorado and am familiar with bi-polar weather patterns where one goes from using their heater to their air conditioner in their car within the course of one day, but MAN! New Zealand can go from sunny to pouring in about 0.5 seconds sometimes! Wellington was one of our worst rainy experiences however, and we really didn't mind too much.

The original plan of our trip included a ferry ride from Wellington to the South Island for more adventures, but since we had decided while in LA that it would be impossible to get as far South as we wanted to go we began to reconsider once in Wellington. We had been informed of big storms that had been happening in and around Wellington by Peter, and heard more stories once in the city. The water had been so choppy between the islands that cars aboard the ferry had been turning on their sides. We decided that it wouldn't be worth the risk and felt good about our decision to stay on the North Island. At least now we have an excuse for a future excursion to New Zealand's South Island!

We wandered around part of Wellington for a while in the rain, checking out some docks and finding a strange orb suspended above a tourist/arts complex on our way to the information building. We wanted something fun to do!

The information building did not disappoint! We signed up for a tour and were informed that we would be the only two with the guide - no one else had signed up because of the weather. We were also put with "the best" tour guide, who picked us up in a van and took us up some nearby hills to begin. What kind of tour would one take in New Zealand? Take a look!

There are spots all over both islands where Lord of the Rings was filmed, and we're not huge LOTR buffs or anything, but we had to do something - we would have shocked many people if we had come back and said we didn't go to any of the film locations. Our guide took us to a public park and led us alond the path where Ashley mysteriously turned into a hobbit.

He also showed us a spot that was used in a couple of scenes from Fellowship of the Ring. I was grateful he had a book with still frames from the movie to help us recognize the locations. The picture with the hobbits hiding is easy to see the trees in the background match up, but it's harder to see in the scene where Frodo says he thinks they should get off the road... the branches come from the tree on the left in my picture.

In the same park we saw an area where the hobbits were running through the trees, and hobbit Ashley felt the need to do the same.

After spending more than an hour in the cold and drizzle with our tour guide, he drove us back down the hills and took us to another area of Wellington close to where Peter Jackson resides and showed us Weta Cave. Weta is the company who did a lot of the graphics in all three LOTR movies, so they had a few interesting characters from the movie lurking around.

The tour ended there and we were dropped off back at the information building. Ash and I didn't see any more draw to linger in Wellington after that and headed back to the car to drive North up a different highway. Our tour guide had marked a couple of places on one of our maps of other nearby film locations, so we took a few side roads and were lucky enough to find one of the sites - Rivendell.

The weather didn't let up much as we drove on into the darkness, and found ourselves winding up and down a few mountains at the edge of a sheer cliff as some thick fog rolled in. After an hour or so of praying for our lives as cars still managed to whizz past us we decided that our nerves had taken enough and we stopped in Masterton and found a hostel for the night. We were very grateful to have our own room, but had to build up a bit of courage to conquer the unisex bathrooms/showers. We were blessed however to find that two of the four shower stalls were behind one locking door, which we took advantage of! After we had enjoyed our long and very hot showers Ashley and I headed to the kitchen and chatted with a couple of German guys while preparing our soup and hot chocolate. We decided to have a proper meal inside of our room and obviously engaged ourselves in some very formal conversation.

Day two was over and we were happy to hit the sack. We were so tired that not even the child singing through the walls of the neighboring room could stop us from falling asleep faster than normal!