TIO NZ: Things That Move

Trains, planes, boats. And cars, and even a few kilometers on foot, though not as many as I had imagined.

The car parts, the airline parts, worked pretty much as expected: Air New Zealand was fine, the flight attendants more than helpful; driving on the left feels different, but we adapt.

White Island: Walking back to the chopper

The first different mode of transportation was a helicopter flight from Tauranga out to the active volcano, White Island. Stepping out of the bird onto the moonscape of a volcano was an experience I’ll never forget- the smells, the pinch of a too-strong blast of sulphur which forced us to don our gas-masks, just the thought that this slumbering giant had surprised, even killed people not too different from me in the not too distant past…

(Read more about Aerius Flights and White Island here.)

Then when we dropped off the first car in Wellington, at the south end of the Northern Island of New Zealand, transportation became fun, an adventure.

Of course we rode the tram from the center of Wellington up to the Botanical Gardens, which yielded an interesting ride and a spectacular view of this vertical city on the water.

In South Island Waters

Next we had a perfect crossing of the Cook Strait – contrary to expectation. There was a gentle breeze across the Strait, some lumpy water, but not what folks had advised might be the case: wind funneling through that narrow gap, “Roaring Forties” you know. No, it was beautiful, and I spent much of my time on deck just to be out in the air across this magnificent piece of water. And then: our Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry entered the channels and islands of Marlborough Sound.

It was like Puget Sound on steroids.

I was too busy watching this very insular world go by, but one of our fellow voyagers shot a gorgeous photograph of a dolphin spinning in flight, completely out of the water.

Stew Robertson: “Welcome aboard!”

Dolphin & boat

Birds of a feather…

A few days later, out of our base in Mapua, Stew Robertson of Abel Tasman Eco Tours, took us on a nautical excursion that can only be described as life-changing, outlook-changing.

Stew is a scientist, raconteur, a man fascinated by his piece of the world, not satisfied to accept the depredations we humans have forced on his little piece of paradise.

Stew educates from a deep knowledge of his subject, participates and leads the efforts to undo the damages wrought, organizes cleanups of the bays and inlets he cherishes, all of it with a sense of joy that has to be experienced to appreciate.

He dishes out knowledge gently, not to impress, but to engage. We completely enjoyed our day on the water with Stew and the dozen or so international folks from pensioners like me to the German couple with a delightful 4 1/2 year-old daughter and an inquisitive 1 year-old son, and everyone in between.

The dolphin show we were treated to on our way to and from the harbor was just icing on the cake.

(More on our adventure with Stew and other happenings near Mapua here.)

The Morgan & the Triumph

Speaking of icing on the cake, while I was doing our laundry in the garage at Accent House B & B, our temporary home in Mapua, I played Nosey Parker and lifted the skirts of the cover on some sort of automobile.

John, our host and co-owner of the place, acknowledged that the mysterious vehicle was indeed a beautiful 1993 Morgan. Recognizing a fellow enthusiast, he demonstrated the capabilities of this iconic British roadster on an exhilarating drive on some twisty roads around Mapua.

Icing on the cake, indeed!

TranzAlpine Train, nearing the summit…

The TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth on the wild West Coast mostly lived up to expectations. (Mostly, but not entirely. Read on for why.)

On the ride, we saw the beauty of the wild places. We were told about the engineering expertise and man-killing physical effort it took to create this important link across the South Island – getting the gold and coal across the Southern Alps to the commercial and agricultural areas in Canterbury.

Arthur’s Pass

Doing the trip again, however, I would probably elect to take the train one way and rent a car to drive a section of the rough coast to destinations father south, but that is a quibble. Sus felt it was a long day and that she did not need to see the same country twice. I agreed it was a long journey, but always feel a return trip (or hike) over interesting terrain is different from the trip out.

Different strokes…

For Kimm & Michael

Now we are on Lake Tekapo, southwest of Christchurch, nearing the end of our southward march on the South Island.

Yesterday we experienced yet another mode of transportation, another highlight of the trip: a sightseeing flight over Lake Tekapo, a glacier-fed reservoir, and around Mt. Cook (the highest peak in New Zealand, 12,218’)  and Mt. Tasman, the second-highest.

Air Safaris flies out of a small airstrip just out of Lake Tekapo Village. They fly a few different aircraft, depending on the number of passengers.

This is mountain flying at its most awesome.

Our pilot, Leon, flew 11 sightseers in a Cessna Grand Caravan, a single-engine turboprop, high-winged (better viewing) plane. The Caravan is a great mountain aircraft with adequate speed, good high altitude climb capability, and stable in the often-rough air conditions generally experienced in the vicinity of big mountains. We had some bumpy air, but I think most of us aboard felt that was a small price to pay to view the rugged terrain around Aoraki/Mt. Cook and the surrounding glaciers up close and personal.

Leon

 

Glacier

Unless one is very skilled at reading maps and has access to high-quality contour maps, it is difficult to really see how territory relates to its surroundings. Flying has always been the best way for me to visualize terrain, even if I intend to walk it. Yesterday’s flight gave me the overview of this area I craved, and so I was grateful the weather – which had started out cloudy that day – cleared for wonderful viewing conditions.

Wouldn’t have missed that ride for the world!

Today we drive to Lake Wanaka, then a few days later to Queenstown. At the end of the month we fly Air New Zealand back north to Auckland where we will wrap up this vacation, complete with one more means of transportation – a sailboat for three days in the Bay of Islands.

Stay tuned…

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Clint Viebrock

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