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Sydney Reunion: Cohen, the Bergmans and New Zealand

The Bergmans, Adam and Ryan in Darling Harbour

It’s been almost a year since Kristen and I first set foot in Sydney, and what better way to round out 2011 in Australia than with a hometown reunion. The latest addition to our visitor log was Adam Cohen, a childhood friend of mine, who planned to spend a couple weeks with us over Thanksgiving. This happened to coincide with another childhood friend finishing a study abroad program in Melbourne, where his family met him to begin a trip through Australia before heading home. Due to a little luck in timing and scheduling, we all were able to meet in Sydney and get together on the other side of the world.

Adam and the Bergmans then flew to Cairns for some diving before the Bergmans returned to the U.S.A. and Adam came back to Sydney, at which point he and I boarded a plane and began our trip to New Zealand.

After doing a bit of research and reviewing options for a good road trip, we decided on a loop through the South Island, beginning and ending in Christchurch. Our original intention was to rent a campervan for the long weekend and stay out in the countryside, but the logistics didn’t work out for our itinerary, so we just planned to rent a car and make a few stops on the way.

The Fergburger logo in Queenstown

After a late arrival, we left the guest house and drove off into the New Zealand countryside. Departing from Christchurch, our route took us through a variety of different Regions before we reached Queenstown that evening. In addition to the fields and rivers of coastal New Zealand, we drove the winding mountain roads past spectacular lakes (Tekapo and Pukaki) before reaching the Hotel Mercure in the Fernhill region of Queenstown. We checked into the hotel then got some dinner at that most popular of Queenstown burger joints, Fergburger.

No trip to Queenstown would be complete without a little thrillseeking and an adrenaline rush, so after a visit to The Station, Queenstown’s hub of everything extreme, we decided on hang gliding and drove up to the base of the Remarkables to jump off a mountain with only a guide and a wing. After catching a few thermals, taking in some stunning views, and getting a chance to pilot the glider (under careful supervision), we reached solid ground and continued on our journey through the Southern Alps.

Franz Josef Glacier meltwater heading to the Tasman Sea

Though the coastal plains of the island are nice, the real attraction is the mountains, and the next two days would not leave us disappointed. Our journey out of Queenstown towards the west coast took us past a pair of stunning lakes: Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. We then continued to drive through the first of a handful of national parks, stopping occasionally to check out waterfalls and other roadside attractions, before emerging from the Haast Pass and reaching the town of Haast on the coast. From here the road took us over and around the foothills on the coast before we reached the next of the South Island’s attractions.

An Otira Gorge Road Viaduct through Arthur's Pass

Descending from the mountains through temperate rainforests, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are among the most unique and accessible glaciers in the world. Visitors can drive to within a couple kilometers before completing the last part of the journey on foot, coming as close as 100 meters to the face of each glacier. While it’s possible to take guided tours onto the glaciers themselves, we contented ourselves with viewing them from the public hiking path before spending the night in the town of Franz Josef.

The final leg of our road trip took us back into the heart of the island, through yet another national park and an area known as Arthur’s Pass. Cutting across the middle of the South Island, the route is one of the few connections between the east and west coasts. As you might expect, building roads through the mountains can be challenging, but the Kiwis constructed an impressive set of viaducts to connect both sides of the island.

Devil's Punchbowl Falls waterfall in Arthur's Pass

We stopped again for a hike to a nearby waterfall before continuing back to Christchurch, where we stayed before our early morning flight the next day. We unfortunately were unable to explore much of the city, as the CBD is still closed off as a result of the recent earthquake. After an early wake-up call and a flight across the Tasman Sea, we returned to Sydney and began packing again, this time for the return trip to America for the Christmas holiday.

There are lots more pictures from the trip, check them out on Flickr!

Buterbaugh Family Visit: Queenstown, New Zealand

Standing in the valley of Isengard

After a couple days of sightseeing in Sydney and a quick trip to visit Ayers Rock/Uluru, the Buterbaugh family was back at the airport on the way to the tour’s next stop. Queenstown lies in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, often regarded as the more scenic of the two islands. Situated next to a lake between the mountains, Queenstown reputedly received its name after a resident quipped that it was “fit for Queen Victoria”. Whether that’s true may never be known (Victoria never visited), but the area certainly lives up to the Māori name for the lake: “Wakatipu”, or “hollow of the giant”.

Ryan and Dad doing the Haka

Our first excursion was one that many visitors to New Zealand take: a tour of the film locations for the Lord of the Rings. While few actual sets remain (the most notable of which being Hobbiton in Matamata, near Auckland), the landscape of New Zealand and its place in the movie trilogy is just as stunning. Our Safari of the Scenes took us through Glenorchy to the film location of Isengard before stopping on the way back to the site of Ithilien Camp near an area known as 12 Mile Delta.

Our helicopter on a glacier

Upon returning to the Heritage Queenstown, we picked up Kristen at the airport before continuing to the Skyline Restaurant for a Kiwi Haka show and dinner. For those of you who follow rugby, you may already be familiar with the Haka performed prior to every game by the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team. The ceremonial dance is performed for a variety of reasons, but the one we watched prior to dinner was designed to include audience participation. Getting on stage was a bit embarrassing at first, so we did the only thing you can do: jump in with both feet, stick your tongue out and yell at the top of your lungs!

A Shotover Jet Boat, mid-spin

The next day started off early with one of the highlights of the entire Australia and New Zealand trip: a helicopter sightseeing tour over the Southern Alps and Milford Sound. Milford Sound is listed as one of the top attractions of the South Island, but it’s rather tedious to get to by foot or by car. Not so by air, and the views are way better. Our fantastic tour guides at Over The Top took us on an unforgettable ride over Queenstown, past Milford Sound and through the mountains before landing on a glacier and letting us get out and see the mountains up close. After spending a bit of time on the ice and snow, we got back into the choppers and continued back to Queenstown.

Our second tour of the day, and the final tour in New Zealand, was a ride through the Shotover Canyon on a Jet Boat. The Shotover Jet boats are specially designed for the canyons, incorporating extra maneuverability and the ability to run in as little as 4″ of water. They also sport one other feature: the ability to perform 360° spins on top of the water. Coming impossibly close to the canyon walls at full speed, the pilot would casually twirl his finger around in the air, which was code for “hold on tight”. He’d then spin the boat completely around in under a second and continue on with barely a pause. After disembarking, we stood on the shore to watch the next boat come in for the perfect photo opportunity.

This brought us to the end of our time in Queenstown and I have to say that I agree with the fellow who declared the place fit for royalty. Queenstown is a fantastic place for thrillseekers, adventurers or those seeking a few days of relaxation punctuated by the occasional jolt of adrenaline. Setting all of that aside though, the place is just beautiful, which is reason enough to add it to your list. I’m glad we did.

Panorama of Queenstown, New Zealand