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Visiting New Zealand (Last installment)

Monday, January 4th, 2010

West Coast, Southern New Zealand

We returned to Chicago on New Year’s Eve. Due to the attempted bombing of the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit during Christmas, we received hand search to our bags and pat down to our bodies at Auckland Airport. But our flight departed for Los Angeles on time and we able to get upgraded on a United flight from LA to Chicago.

Over the last few days, we have looked at the photos we took in New Zealand several times. We continue to marvel at our experiences—the beautiful sceneries, our daily hiking, and the delicious food. It is fair to say this is the best, and the longest, vacation we have ever had.

My “record” experiences include the following:

  1. I have never seen so many sheep and cows in my life;
  2. I have never eaten so much lamb in such a short period of time and loved every bit of it;
  3. I have never gone through so many different climate and vegetation in a given day;
  4. I have never viewed so many waterfalls in a sound or mountain; and
  5. I have never witnessed so many creeks/rivers along a hiking trail.

Patio View from Te Puna Wai Lodge

A few observations/recommendations:

  1. Kiwi people are very friendly and patient;
  2. The water in the lakes, rivers, and ocean fronts is clearer and sky bluer in the Kiwi land;
  3. Abel Tasman, Routeburn Track and Milford Sound are places one must see in a lifetime;
  4. My highly recommended places include: the botanic garden in Christchurch, Te Puna Wai Lodge B&B in Nelson, Boat Shed Restaurant in Nelson (do the “trust the chef”menu), Hunters Wines in Benwick, Marlborough (wines and food), Franz Josef Glacier, Boardwalk Seafood Restaurant in Queenstown and Redcliff Restaurant and Bar in Te Anau.
  5. Make a trip to New Zealand when you can—it’s definitely worth it!    

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

Visiting New Zealand (8)

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

It took us nearly two hours driving from Queenstown to Te Anau, a small town located between the well-known Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. We checked into Cats Whisker B&B and took a 3-hour hike in a nearby park, with the easier hiking trail so far.

Waterfall at Milford Sound

The following day, as Mary took a cruise tour to Doubtful Sound, Francis and I drove an hour and a half to Milford Sound, the best attraction in New Zealand. The Sound is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rice above 3,900 ft or more and can receive 250 mm rainfalls in 24 hours. We took a cruise to view the sights and witnessed numerous waterfalls cascating down the cliffs, some stretching a thousand meters in length. The captain brought our attention to rock faces of the mountains: “They are 200 million years old,” he said. “There is little soil remaining on the cliffs,” he continued, pointing to a section where there were only small bushes. “It was created by a tree avalanch 20 years ago. It will take 120 years for the vegetation to fully grow back.” We were awed by the beauty and resilience of nature.

The cloud was high when we departed the harbor, but half way through our tour, it came down and covered the cliffs on both sides. We could hear the rapid waterfalls around the boat but couldn’t see from where they came from, as if they fell down from the sky. I used one hand to shield my camera lens and tried to capture the amazing scene until the lens cover got wet and stuck. The rain added another mysterious layer to the beauty of the Sound, and before we knew it, the low cloud swiftly moved away and soon the rocky mountain ranges revealed themselves again, with pine trees and other vegetation spreading from the surfaces. It was breathtaking.

Me at Key Summit

On our way back, we went to Key Summit, the other end of the Routeburn Track. The plants on this side of the trail were different from the ones we saw a couple days before on the other end. It took us nearly two hours to reach the Summit. Surprisingly, we saw a large flat area covered with Alpine plants, in rich red or yellow color. And thick layers of moss coat the tree trunks and branches, making them appear ancient. Another magnificent sight, coupled with snow-covered mountains that looked close by.

By the time we returned to Cats Whiskers, Mary was already back. We would compare and share pictures, we promised. We went to the Redcliff Restaurant that our hostess recommended as the “best in town” and enjoyed a wonderful dinner of fresh fish, steak, and venison. While Mary and Francis seeped their wine, I had a bowl of my favorite pumpkin soup. This was our last dinner together before parting our ways—Mary would take a 5-day guided hiking tour to Milford while Francis and I would drive back to Queenstown and take a flight to Auckland and then to Chicago via Los Angeles. We toasted to our unforgettable time in New Zealand. On our walk back to Cats Whiskers, we saw a “Scoop It” sign in front of a BP Gas Station and each got a large scoop of ice cream. We laughed and licked on our ice cream back on the street, finishing the last leg of our journey with a perfect sweet touch.       

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

Visiting New Zealand (7)

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

We arrived at Queenstown and checked into Trelawn B&B on the order of town on Christmas Eve. Trelawn Lodge is located above a steep cliff, overlooking a river and mountain ranges. Later that evening, after a wonderful dinner at Broadwalk Restaurant at the harbor downtown, I indulged myself in the outdoor hot tub at Trelawn and enjoyed the fantastic view.   

Christmas Breakfast at Trelawn

Michael and Nery of Trelawn hosted a nice Christmas breakfast for their guests—a family of three from England, a family of four Americans who were living in Singapore and us three. We finished two bottles of “bubbles” by the time breakfast was over. Earlier that morning, I went out for a jog all the way to town and was relieved to see one biker on the road—at least, I was not the only one out at 6 A.M. on Christmas Day.

We took a cruise the following day and visited a sheep farm. Our farm guide Marvin demonstrated how the “working dogs” herded the sheep—they took their job darn serious and the sheep ran crazy at their barking and chasing! Then Marvin went on a stage, grabbed a large sheep and sheared its thick fur in less than 10 minutes while explaining the process. He said a worker can shear more than 300 sheep a day! Quite an eye-opening experience for me.

A View on the Routeburn Hiking Trail

A View from the Routeburn Hiking Trail

The most exciting event at Queenstown, however, is the long hike at Routeburn, another national park. Different from Abel Tasman, Routeburn felt like a tropical forest, nourished with plenty of waterfalls and creeks. Every step of the way was accompanied with the melodious sound of water running or falling and birds singing. Moss and ferns covered the ground of the dense forest. We walked for four hours and were intoxicated with the unbelievable beauty of nature.

Our friends in the U.S. have raved about the magnificence of Milford Sound, our last stop. I wondered how it could beat the views of Routeburn Track!     

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

Visiting New Zealand (6)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Our guide Julie

I had been to glacier before, in Canada, and climbed the hard, round-shaped ice. It was cold and slippery. But here at Franz Josef Glacier, everything is different. This Glacier is about 12 kilometer long and on both sides of the mountain ranges are lush vegetation and waterfalls. Mary and I joined a guided group. Despite seeing pictures of people standing on ice in their shorts and t-shirts, we arrived in layers of fleece and windbreaker.

Our group was large, about 50 people. We were divided into two and later, as we reached the foot of the glacier, further divided into four, each with a guide. I urged Mary to join the first group, so we could go faster and reached the highest designated point first. Mary smiled and complied—she’d rather go with a slower group and take more pictures.

Our guide Julie was young, energetic and beautiful. She was born in Switzerland, she told us, and had been in New Zealand for 6 years. She walked in the front, telling us facts about the Franz Josef and constantly using a pick ax with a long handle to open the trail for us. She said their team would be up in the morning every day to fix the trails.

“How fast do you think the Glacier move in a day?” she asked us.

“Two inches,” one said. “Five meters a year,” another raised his voice.

Julie smiled and shook her head. “It moves four meters a day!” she announced and showed us how they had changed the trail up the Glacier from left to right as the season changes. “Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are two of the three glaciers in the world that have vegetation by their sides,” she said with pride. Fox Glacier is just around the corner and is 20 kilometers long.

Me, excited at the Glacier

We climbed the steep ice stairs, hanging on to a rope and went down a narrow “corridor” that had been only opened for tourists for two days. Mary and I edged through the narrow path, taking pictures of each other touching the ice.

Julie took off her long-sleeve sweatshirt and walked on the ice as if it were plain, flat ground. We moved our heavy gears carefully and hang on the rope that Julie constantly re-enforced. We took a break on the top level of our climbing and took in the spectacular views above, below and on both sides of us.

The walk down was as challenging, if not more, as the climb up, but just as enjoyable. The image of the shining glacier and lush plants side by side seemed surreal, even as we witnessed them with our own eyes. What an eye-opening experience and fun.

More to follow.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

Visiting New Zealand (5)

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Abel Tasman

It’s hard to believe Abel Tasman National Park, with a Coast Track that extends 52 kilometers and an area covering 23,000 hectares, is the smallest national park in New Zealand.

We drove for about an hour from Nelson to Kaiteriteri and took the cruise along the coast up north. Richard recommended us to get off at Tonga Quarry and hike back to Anchorage, a distance of about 15 kilometers. Richard is thin and fit. He said he could cover the distance in an hour and a half. “You can easily do it in 4 hours,” he said.

At the ticket office, however, we received different advice: “It will take you 6 hours without a break,” a young man behind the counter told us. “Get off at Medlands Beach, so you can enjoy a lunch break and do some side trips.” We looked at the map. It’s 10.6 kilometers, about 7 miles. The last cruise returning to Kaiteriteri was at 5 P.M. We decided to be conservative.

It became chilly as the boat picked up speed. We tightened our three layers of clothing, but still felt cold. But attracted by the gorgeous view, we remained on the upper deck. We saw lush vegetation on the mountain range and groups of people in bright orange or yellow Kayaks along the coastal line. The water was crisp green and appeared calm in mid morning. We eagerly snapped pictures in all directions. The captain introduced the attractions along the way, but I couldn’t catch a word of his statement in his unique Kiwi tone, in the midst of the roaring engine.  

We got off at Medlands Beach and followed the well-marked and treaded trail, climbing high up steep hills in the dense forest or going down to the open oceanfront. We passed numerous waterfalls, long or short suspension bridges, and water pools. We ran into people from time to time, hearing different languages, but for the most part, we were by ourselves, surrounded by nature. We could hear birds singing, but in the thick, lush trees and bushes, we couldn’t see them. It took us more than three hours reaching Torrent Bay, about two-thirds of our way. We took a break and had our packed lunch on the beach.

The wind became strong in the afternoon and waves crushed the rocks at the foot of the mountain, creating spectacular views. We took more pictures. We watched the 3 P.M. cruise depart Anchorage on top of a hill and reached the beach in another 30 minutes. We made our way in 5 hours and had some time to spare. Mary threw down her backpack on the sandy beach and enjoyed her sunbath. Francis and I took off, exploring the camping area and the short trail nearby.

Our boat came 10 minutes before 5 P.M., picked up the hikers waiting on the beach and took off in 3 minutes. “Wow, they don’t hang around and wait!” I exclaimed, feeling relieved we were not late.

You must visit Abel Tasman and experience the hiking and scenery if you ever get to this part of the world. Every single minute was filled with wonder and beauty.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

Visiting New Zealand (4)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Nelson--a view from the patio of our B&B

 Nelson looks like a town carved out of mountain ranges—each house on the hills appears to have a steep, narrow drive way and a fantastic view. I did my early morning jog first uphill around the Te Puna Wai Lodge area and felt like I was running slower than walking. In one section, the narrow road came to a dead end and I climbed the zigzag stairs to another street. I took many pictures as the sun rising above the horizon.

Being on vacation, I forgot which day of the week it was. I was amazed by the “quietness” of the town—no cars moving on the street and no pedestrians either. Only later I realized it was the weekend.

I soon ran down the hill and charged directly to the sandy beach nearby. As I crossed a major road to the ocean side, I was looking at the right side of the street and ran across without stop. I heard the squeaking of tires behind me and felt a car passing by inches behind. I shuttered and looked back. Yes, the oncoming traffic was on my side, coming behind my back and I nearly got hit by a car, one of the few I saw early in the morning—by “early”, I mean between 6 to 7:30. I raised my hand and muttered “Sorry!”. A middle-aged Kiwi was staring at me. He must think I was an idiot.

The beach was beautiful, though, and miles long. With the tide retreating, the fine sand felt firm. I ran along the curving line, breathing in the fresh air and feeling like a bird. During the entire hour-long jog, I saw a total of six people and two dogs.

Richard and James, the two hosts of our lodge, cooked us a most healthy breakfast: a mix of fresh fruit, muesli with blueberry yogurt, fresh orange juice with pulp, and toasts of multigrain bread with lots of pumpkin seeds and nuts. When I thought breakfast was over, they brought out the hot meal: a nicely arranged plate with slices of bacon, scramble egg, and roasted tomato. I love food, and despite feeling full, finished the cooked meal as well. Hey, we were about to hike for half a day in Abel Tasman National Park, I excused myself for the indulgence, I would need some extra energy.

Mary smiled at me. “That’s impressive,” she said.

Later that day, when we ate dinner at Smugglers, a local restaurant, she looked at the Billy Bones Ribs I ordered—a huge pile of pork ribs that even surprised me, she didn’t comment, but took a picture, with me biting into one large piece. She laughed, sipping her glass of Pinot Noir, and said I should treat her better from now on. That picture could serve well as blackmail.

More to follow.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

Visiting New Zealand (3)

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Serisen Estate

Serisen Estate

 We checked into Vintner’s Retreat at Renwick late in the afternoon. In the last hour of our drive, most of the sights coming to view were vineyards and signage of small wineries on both sides of the roads. We set out shortly to explore Hunter’s, a winery with a reputable restaurant. We took a walk first in its beautiful garden and the vineyard before sitting down to a wonderful dinner of seafood, lamb rack, and steak. We were so impressed by Hunter’s Pinot Noir that we decided to return the following morning for a wine tasting.

Most of the wineries open for tasting at 9:30 A.M. We started ours from Hunter’s. The hostess, a woman in her fifties, was very knowledgeable and full of hospitality. The tasting was free and she poured 7 different kinds of wine for us. Even I, who have very limited capacity for alcohol and rarely touch wine, had a sip of each category. My favorite was Riesling. 45 minutes later, we walked away with two bottles of superb Riesling and a bottle of MiruMiru, a wonderful sparkling wine that our hostess called “bubbles.” We bought it for our Christmas celebration.

We proceeded to Serisen Estate, an organic winery where we bought another bottle of Riesling. On our way out, we tasted the Olive Oil produced at Serisen (they grow more than 5,000 olive trees) and couldn’t leave without purchasing a bottle—it was the most rich, delicious Olive oil I had ever tasted.

We then went to Cloudy Bay, a high-end winery where we purchased a bottle of Pinot Noir, and to Bladen, a small family-owned winery where we bought another bottle of Pinot Noir. By the time we got on the road to Nelson, I felt like I was floating. The conversation between Mary and Francis soon faded away. When I came to in about an hour, we were well in the beautiful Richmond Range. I shook off the wine effect and eagerly took everything in, with the help of my camera.

We checked into Te Puna Wai Lodge, a B & B right by the oceanfront in Nelson. We looked forward to explore this coastal town and do the cruise and walk at Abel Tasman National Park.

More to follow.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

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Visiting New Zealand (2)

Saturday, December 19th, 2009
Gondola Ride, Christchurch

Gondola Ride, Christchurch

We spent 3 days in Christchurch, exploring the city on foot and taking a day trip to Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, about an hour’s drive southeast. The scenic drive along the ocean on the mountain ranges was breathtaking and seafood at the oceanfront in Akaroa was delicious.  

Right in the center of Christchurch is the beautiful Botanic Garden, about 33 hectares. It is very well maintained and has a wide range of flowers and trees. There must be more than a hundred varieties of roses alone. I was amazed that there was no entry fee for such a well managed place that must required a lot of work. I fell in love with the garden and jogged along the winding trails each of the early mornings we stayed in town. Quite a joy and luxury.

While in Christchurch, we also took a bus to the Gondola at the out skirt of the city. We enjoyed a fantastic view of the area. We sat in the front row on the bus, trying to get oriented to driving on the left side of the street, as we would pick up our rental car the following day. Both Mary and Francis volunteered to drive, which suited me just fine—I had no desire to handle the traffic on the “wrong” side of the road.

We originally planned to take one-day trip on the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth to enjoy the scenery. But the price sticker of $335/person for the 4-hour ride gave us a shock. We optioned to drive to Hanmer Springs to enjoy the hot spring and outdoor swimming instead. It turned out to be a good choice. Sitting in hot, natural springs ranging from 33 to 41 degrees Centigrade was fun and swimming in the mineral-rich water was out of the world—the water seemed to hold me still and moving forward required a lot more pull and kick.  

We moved on toward Blenheim further north after spending two hours at Hanmer Springs and enjoying a lovely lunch. We planned to spend a night in a resort in the wine country and do as many winery visits and tastings as possible in a day.  

The drive, as we experienced the day before, was eye opening—it was post-card beauty along both sides of the highway. And the herds of sheep and cows in the valleys and hills were quite a sight as well—I had never seen so many of them in my life.  

More to follow.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,

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Visiting New Zealand (1)

Thursday, December 17th, 2009
Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

We (my husband Francis, my girlfriend Mary, and I) planned our vacation to New Zealand during the December holiday season several months before—a nice break from the winter in Chicago to the warm summer in New Zealand.

We left Chicago on Sunday, December 13th and had a bumpy start—our flight was delayed for nearly three hours due to some unspecified computer problems. We boarded the plane and left the gate on time, only to return and got off the plane as the technicians came on board to fix the problem and test  the engine by restarting it. We waited anxiously and worried that we’d miss our connection flight to Auckland, New Zealand. By the time we landed in Los Angeles, we had such a tight schedule that we rushed to walk across the two parking lots to reach Terminal 2 where the Air New Zealand flight would take off–we didn’t take the risk of waiting for the terminal bus to take us there. Fortunately, we made our connection.

We lost a day during our 13-hour flight. I heard many people rave about the good services of Air New Zealand, but was not impressed. The dinner and breakfast served on the plane were better, but between the two meals, no flight attendent served water for hours. At one point, I was so thirsty that I went to their workstation and requested for a cup of water. To pass time, I watched 3 movies on the way. By the time we landed in Auckland, it was early Tuesday morning. We made another transfer to Christchurch in southern island soon after and landed in our final destination as scheduled.

The crisp spring air greeted us, refreshing and comforting. And the first thing we noticed on our way to the city was the lustrous green leaves and colorful flowers on both sides of the streets and in the meticulously maintained gardens in the front yard of nearly every house. We were delighted. Less than an hour after checking into our centrally located hotel, we were out exploring the city. We stopped by a vegetarian café at Cathedral Square and enjoyed a healthy lunch and a variety of fruit and herbal tea—a lovely way to start our visit.

More to follow.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.,