Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wizards, sea lions, and penguins...oh my!

By the 14th, we left Timaru and never looked back. We journeyed 2 hours south (without mechanical breakdown!) to the city of Dunedin. We didn't know much about the city before arriving other than it was a college town and home to the brewery of our favorite New Zealand beer, Speight's Golden Ale. But as we descended the first of what would be countless hills into Dunedin, we soon discovered that our days in the coastal city would be filled with absolutely gorgeous scenery.

We checked into a hostel atop another of Dunedin's enormous hills. This was no ordinary hostel, however. No, this one was called Hogwartz and was completely Harry Potter-themed. For these two dorks, sleeping across the hall from the door to Gringotts was almost as exciting as meeting HP himself. That evening we walked around the downtown area until it began raining. This confirmed our tentative plans to return to Hogwartz to watch one of the Harry Potter movies.

The next day we took advantage of the sunshine and drove the the Otago peninsula just outside of the city. This turned out to be one of the best days we've had since arriving in New Zealand. The very narrow and windy road along the coast of peninsula was a bit terrifying at first but the view was breathtaking. We drove for about 45 minutes (making several stops to take pictures) until we arrived at New Zealand's one and only castle. There we took a self-guided tour of the inside of the castle and the gardens. From the tower at the top of the castle we could see all of the peninsula and Dunedin.

A half hour drive from the castle took us to the very tip of the peninsula where there is a huge albatross conservatory. "Alba-what?," you say? We'd never heard of them either. Albatross are basically enormous seagulls and they are nearly extinct here in New Zealand. The birds themselves aren't exactly exciting to look at but the cliffs they live on along the coast were incredible.

Instead of driving along the coast on the trip back to the city, we took Highcliff Road which provided us with a totally different view of the peninsula. It was amazing. Ignoring the insanely windy roads and dangerously huge cliffs with very few guard rails, this trip was one of the coolest things we've ever done. Beautiful green hills speckled with sheep and newborn lambs passed by our windows and in the background lay sandy white beaches and the deep blue water.

About halfway back, we stopped at Sandfly Bay. Here we took a 40 minute walk down to a beach where you can see sea lions and penguins in their natural habitat. The walk begins at the top of a hill (next to a green field filled with sheep, of course) and leads you down to the beach where the sea lions are burying themselves in sand after a long day of hunting for food in the sea.

You can pass them (giving them plenty of space and not disturbing them) and walk to the end of the beach where you hide in a small wooden shelter to view the penguins on the rocks at the bottom of the nearby cliff. These penguins apparently scare pretty easily and so you must be very quiet inside the shelter. We stayed there for about 45 minutes and ended up seeing only one penguin (thanks to some loud and obnoxious people scaring them off). Nonetheless, it as quite an experience.

On our second day in Dunedin it was raining again and we were pretty sure that nothing could top our day on the Otago peninsula. We were wrong. In one glorious day we toured a chocolate factory and a brewery. Both tours were complete with plenty of samples which made for big belly ache at the end of the day. Totally worth it.

By the morning of the 17th, it was time to begin our trip to the west side of the south island. After a four hour drive, we arrived at our new home in Te Anau. We are renting a room in a small house that we share with 3 other girls. Our roommates are backpackers like us and are all very nice. Cody and I are in the master bedroom with the master bathroom, so luckily Cody doesn't have to share a bathroom with 4 girls. The house is in a new development near Lake Te Anau and is surrounded by mountains. It is really cool to be surrounded by beautiful scenery the second you step out the door.

We met with our bosses and began our new jobs the very next day. Our bosses, Franz and Maria, are German and immigrated to NZ about 6 years ago. They own the Naturally Fiordland Cafe and Settler's Steakhouse in downtown Te Anau. Our shifts are split up between the two restaurants. Our first week on the job has been...interesting. But that is another entry altogether.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hello Bluebird. So long Timaru.

It’s hard to believe but our time here in Timaru is almost up! The past few weeks have been filled with lots of tomato picking and leaf trimming, a few walks along the country roads of the Canterbury plains, several trips to the library to lounge and read, one more car purchase, and a trip to the most beautiful lake in New Zealand.
Last week, we scrapped together the last of our savings to buy another car. This time we were a little smarter about it. We shopped around for a bit and ended up buying a car our bosses had seen while driving through the small town next to Timaru. The man selling the Nissan Bluebird has had about 3 of them and likes to fix them up and sell them again. He knew everything there was to know about the car as he had done all of the work on it himself. After a few test-drives it was a done deal. Though our budget is a bit tight now, we’re really excited to get back on the road and see more of this beautiful country.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from the greenhouse and drove about an hour and a half to Lake Tekapo. The lake is made from glacier water, which gives it an incredible turquoise color. Its unreal! Along the shore of the lake is an old church. It can’t hold more than 20 people but it sure has an amazing view. There are also several walking/hiking trails around the lake. We unknowingly chose the steepest one but with frequent breaks (filled with several disbelieving looks at each other and arguments over whether we should turn back) we somehow managed to tough it out. Making it to the top of Mt. John made all of our pain and suffering well worth it. The view was breathtaking.

We rested awhile and devoured our PB &J’s before trekking back down Mt. John. Back on level ground, we rewarded ourselves with a couple of beers and a round of mini golf.

This weekend our bosses, Helen and Kerry, are heading to Christchurch for a concert. We’re planning on tagging along to see more of the city and maybe meet up with Cody’s friend, Will, again. By Wednesday morning we’ll be saying goodbye to Canterbury Tomatoes Ltd. and making our way further south. We’re going to check out another small city, Dunedin, for a couple days before traveling west to our new home in Te Anau. We’ve rented a room in a small house there and begin waiting tables at Settlers Steakhouse on the 18th. We’ll be sad to leave our friends (and the sheep) in Timaru but we’re anxious to begin the next chapter of our New Zealand adventure!