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Friday, March 30, 2007

Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua

There are two main geyser attractions at Rotorua: The Whakarewarewa Thermal Park and the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

At Whakarewarewa, among the other geysers, the star is Pohutu which means “Big Splash” in Maori. If you wish to see the greatest geyser in New Zealand, then this is the one. It erupts as many as 20 times a day and reach up to heights of 30 metres. Within this thermal park, you will see bubbling mud and hot thermal springs too. If you would like to experience Maori culture too, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute is located in the park. You will see skilled Maori carvers and flax weavers at work. There are concert performances in the evening and you can get to experience the hangi, the traditional Maori earth oven meal.

The other main geyser attraction is at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. I chose Wai-O-Tapu because besides the geyser, I had wanted to see the colourful pools and lakes of this geothermal area.

At Wai-O-Tapu, I was all excited to see the Lady Knox Geyser because it erupts daily at about 10:15am, reaching up to heights of 20 metres. It is amazing to know that even Nature has its own bio-rhythm and “clock” and keeps rather precise time too.

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu, Lady Knox Geyser, Photo10525
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Lady Knox Geyser minutes before she blows
Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, May 2006

As 10:15am approached, a park warden/guide walked into the enclosed area and stood in front of the geyser. I thought it was foolish of the guide to have done that because we can never be sure of the exact moment the geyser blows. In spite of safety precautions, we should never trifle with this hot shower system. The guide went on to explain about the phenomena of geysers and this guy acted so coolly as if he had eyes behind his head to keep watch on the geyser!

It was then he revealed that someone discovered soap powder could enhance the buildup of pressure and activity which causes the geyser to erupt! This discovery could have been made by convicts who in the past were using the water for their bathing and washing. The guide proceeded to pour soap powder into the mouth of the geyser and a few moments later, Lady Knox began to regurgitate and then she finally blew up.

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Lady Knox Geyser, Photo10531
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Lady Knox Geyser blows after taking in a mouth of soap powder
Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, May 2006

Without soap powder, Lady Knox will not be blowing at 10:15am every day. Left on its own, its cycle varies and the interval of its next eruption could be as much as 1.5 days later.

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Lady Knox Geyser, Photo10532
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Lady Knox Geyser blows at full force
Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, May 2006

It was spectacular watching the force of water coming out from Lady Knox but I could not help feeling kind of cheated. Human kind has once again interfered with nature for the sake of tourism dollars! However, the amazing colours of the pools and lakes in Wai-O-Tapu more than made up for this disappointment.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu means “sacred waters” in Maori. For many tourists, the colours of the pools and lakes in Wai-O-Tapu are simply amazing!

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu, Photo10600
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Amazing colour of a pool
Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, May 2006

Covering 18 square km, Wai-O-Tapu is covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumeroles. Beneath the ground, streams are constantly heated by magma and water has been recorded at up to temperatures of 300 degrees Celsius! The water is so hot that it absorbs minerals out of the rocks and passes out as steam at the surface which is ultimately re-absorbed into the ground. The wide range of colours of the pools and lakes in Wai-O-Tapu are due to the rich mineral content in the waters.

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu, Photo10547
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Collapsed crater
Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, May 2006

Rotorua – Geothermal Hotspot

In terms of geothermal activity, Rotorua ranks as one of the most active hotspots in the world. At one of the thinnest sections, the Earth’s crust is only about 17km thick and beneath it, molten magma!

The two main attractions that people come to Rotorua to experience are its geothermal activity and Maori culture. Rotorua is a city of about 53,000 people and of which a third is Maori. The city is located on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua. In fact, Lake Rotorua with a diameter of 16 km is the circular depression of a massive volcano! If you get your hands on a topographic map, you would recognize this feature of the land. Being at Rotorua, I would not have realized this at all. So while at this city, I was actually walking and sleeping on the rim of a massive volcano! This Rotorua “volcano” is one of several large volcanoes in the Taupo region. It is estimated to have last erupted about 140,000 years ago and the magma chamber had collapsed to result in the Lake Rotorua we see today.

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Photo10521
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Hot, bubbling mud pool
Rotorua, May 2006

The attractions of Rotorua mainly revolve around hot thermal springs, geysers, bubbling mud pools and other geothermal features. You will know you will soon arrive at Rotorua when you smell a rotten-egg odour in the air! This pervasive smell is due to the sulphur fumes which arise from all these geothermal activity. You may find this smell overpowering initially and it kind of makes your head woozy. Not to worry, you will soon get used to it and perhaps you will even crack some jokes about the smell too. My coach driver was joking about passengers boarding the coach and giving him funny looks because they must be thinking that he has been farting on the trip! Kiwi humuor. :-)

My New Zealand Vacation, Rotorua, Photo10523
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Bubbling mud, contributing its share of “fart” smell in Rotorua
Rotorua, May 2006

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Giants of the Puketi Kauri Forest

The main purpose of my vacation to the Northland in May 2006 was to see the giant Kauri tree. I had read about it and just had to see one for myself. As recent as two hundred years ago, there were still large tracts of these Kauri forests throughout New Zealand, especially in North Island. However, the arrival of the European settlers in the 1800s led to massive logging and decimated much of these ancient forests. The Kauri tree was prized for its huge size and strength of its timber and these qualities made it especially suitable for ship building. A mature Kauri tree is bare of branches at its trunk, except at its crown, so this made it particularly attractive for use as the masts of sailing ships.

The Kauri tree is a coniferous tree. Like the giant Sequoia tree of North America, the Kauri tree can grow to become a very large tree and it can live beyond a thousand years! A mature Kauri can grow to heights of 40-50 metres with trunk diameters of 3-4 metres. A young Kauri is characerised by branches along its trunk which gives it a shape of a cone (hence coniferous tree). As it grows, it continually sheds its lower branches. At maturity, branches are found only at its crown and the mature Kauri is characterized by its imposing trunk that is bare of branches.

Today, the largest area of mature Kauri forest is found in Waipoua Forest in Northland. It is a 2,500 hectare forest which contains three quarters of remaining New Zealand Kauri. The largest living Kauri, named after the Maori god Tane Mahuta, which means “God of the Forest”, has a height of 51m, trunk diameter of 4.4m and a girth of 13.3m ! Te Matua Ngahere, which means “Father of the Forest”, is believed to be the oldest living Kauri and estimated to be more than 2,000 years old! Some of the larger Kauri trees felled in the past could be older than Te Matua Ngahere.

My New Zealand Vacation, Kauri Tree, Pano34
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Giant Kauri 600-800 years old, trunk bare of branches
Puketi Kauri Forest, May 2006

Instead of Waipoua Forest, I had visited Puketi Forest to see these giant trees. That morning had begun with rain and mist. Fortunately, the mist had started to clear up when we made our way into the forest. My original photos of these trees did not turned out well and resulted in the blurred effect. I am a little disappointed that this is the best photo I have of these Kauri giants. This Kauri tree is estimated to be 600-800 years old and compared to Te Matua Ngahere, it would only be a teenager! Nevertheless, it was a great experience to have met and be awed by a living thing this old !

If you want another glimpse of the giant Kauri tree, turn on your speakers, click here for the video and don’t wait too long before you experience your magical New Zealand vacation:

100% Pure ! video (click here)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

World Famous Mangonui Fish and Chips Shop, Doubtless Bay

Mangonui is located at the Doubtless Bay region of Northland. Once a bustling and busy whaling port, today it retains its charm as a quaint fishing village with many of its historic buildings housing restaurants, cafes, gift shops and the post office. Interestingly, Mangonui means “big shark” in Maori. However, it is not shark or its fishing industry that draws many tourists and Kiwis here but fish and chips! The star attraction is its world famous Mangonui Fish and Chips Shop which is sited along the main road and enjoys especially good business from the tour coaches.

My New Zealand Vacation, Mangonui Fish and Chips, Pano324
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World Famous Mangonui Fish and Chips Shop
Mangonui Village, May 2006

This shop has the reputation of having been voted several times as the best fish and chips in New Zealand! As it is also a fish shop which serves the locals with fresh fish every day, I guess its “secret” lies in the freshness of the fish. I quite enjoyed its fish and chips and the order came with a generous serving of chips. Usually, being famous means a premium price but the price was reasonable at this shop (though I can’t recall how much I paid for the meal).

As a fish shop, it offers many varieties of fresh fish. You will get to select which type of fish to go with your chips. You will given an order number while your meal is being cooked. Many of the tours stop at this place so be prepared to wait for your food but you will get enough time to enjoy your meal. You may wish to dine on the deck which overlooks the harbour.

I had the time to wander along the road to enjoy this peaceful scenic view. There were a few albatrosses in the air that afternoon. They would glide slowly in the air, gain some height and then suddenly plunging down into the water with a “smack”, to emerge later from the water (could even see the fish in their beaks in some instances) and then flying off. It was kind of enchanting to see them do that again and again. The memory that Mangonui left with me was that of the albatrosses gliding overhead in this peaceful scenic place and less of the fish and chips in my tummy!

My New Zealand Vacation, Mangonui Village, Pano323
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Mangonui Village, May 2006

Monday, March 26, 2007

Giant Sand Dunes at Ninety Mile Beach, Cape Reinga

Below photo was taken on the hill at Cape Reinga. The islands off the coast are the “Three Kings” which according to Maori belief is where the spirits of the deceased would turn around to have one last look at land before heading out to the open sea towards their spiritual homeland of Hawaiki. The beach on the left leads to the Ninety Mile Beach and on the other side of Ninety Mile Beach lies the Giant Sand Dunes.

My New Zealand Vacation, Ninety Mile Beach, Cape Reinga, Pano42
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The "Three Kings" off Ninety Mile Beach
Cape Reinga, May 2006

The Giant Sand Dunes are a popular tourist spot. Many tourists take the opportunity to slide down the huge sand dunes. It probably is fun playing on the sand and even though the sun was out that day, I was not too keen to join my fellow tourists. It was very late autumn, perhaps even the start of winter, and we were all wearing our jackets and shoes when we stepped out of the coach. Taking my jacket, socks and shoes off for one hour in rather cool weather is definitely not my idea of fun!

If some day you plan to see the sand dunes and have your fun too, do come prepared to get dirty and wet. Some fellas got bumped off their boards on the bottom slope and flipped over and some others could not stop in time and ended up in the stream below!

Below photo puts the size of these giant sand dunes in perspective. Be forewarned, the ride down is exhilarating but you will find it a challenge walking up the sand dune for the next ride again.

My New Zealand Vacation, Ninety Mile Beach, Giant Sand Dunes, Photo10427
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Boarding on the Giant Sand Dunes
Ninety Mile Beach, Cape Reinga, May 2006

Friday, March 23, 2007

Te Paki Quicksand at Ninety Mile Beach, New Zealand

Ninety Mile Beach (the New Zealand one) is located on the western coast of Aupouri Peninsula. It is just a short drive away from Cape Reinga. Ninety Mile Beach is not really ninety miles long. It is actually only 55 miles (88 km). How did this “error” come about? My guide explained that in the past, cattle were herded along the beach. As cattle would travel about so many miles a day (sorry, I forgot how many) and it took several days/weeks to move the cattle from one end to the other end of the beach, it was deduced that the beach was 90 miles long! Haha……

The beach is quite flat and the sand compact and firm for most parts of it, so even large vehicles like coaches could travel on it at speeds of 100km/hr. However, if you plan to self-drive on Ninety Mile Beach, you will need to be aware that rental vehicles are prohibited from being driven on the beach. Rental car companies will bring to your attention that vehicle insurance cover excludes any loss from driving on this beach. It is because there have been enough instances of visitors driving on to the Te Paki Quicksand streams and having to abandon their cars!

My New Zealand Vacation, Ninety Mile Beach, Photo10420
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Car caught on the Te Paki Quicksand streams
Ninety Mile Beach, May 2006

On my vacation in May 2006, my guide pointed out that above car got stuck in the sand just 3 weeks earlier. Any car caught on the quicksand would be completely submerged in just 2 months. Whether it was a rental car or owned, this trip would have cost that driver a hefty bit ! In the photo, you can see the sand dunes which comes right up to the beach.

Instead of self-drive, you could book one of many coach tours which include Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach, boardsurfing on the giant sand dunes and a trip into the Kauri forest to meet the giants! If you book the 4x4 Dune Rider, you may wish to get into the front seat and have someone snap a photo of you in the “bikini”. ;-)

My New Zealand Vacation, Ninety Mile Beach, Photo10482
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4x4 Dune Rider, May 2006

On that day, we had the opportunity to walk on the beach, right up to the edge of the waves, to dig for Tuatuas (shellfish).

My New Zealand Vacation, Ninety Mile Beach, Photo10423
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Digging for Tuatuas
Ninety Mile Beach, May 2006

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pacific Ocean Meets The Tasman Sea, Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga Lighthouse was built in 1941. In 1998, it became fully automated and there was no longer any need for lighthouse keepers. Today, it still serves its function as a lighthouse. It took 6 photos to compose below panorama. You can catch a glimpse of the giant sand dunes again on the bottom right corner. Cape Reinga is at the northern tip of North Island and Bluff (indicated on the yellow signpost) is at the southern end of South Island. Between them, a long journey and I traveled that distance in May-June 2006.

My New Zealand Vacation, Cape Reinga Lighthouse, Pano41
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Cape Reinga Lighthouse, May 2006

Off the cape, you can see where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. This meeting of the seas produces very choppy waters. Do you see the two persons at the bottom right corner of the photo? Take note of their size and you can imagine how huge those white frothy waves are!

My New Zealand Vacation, Cape Reinga, Pano319
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Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea
Cape Reinga, May 2006

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cape Reinga, "The Leaping Place"

At the northern end of North Island of New Zealand lies Cape Reinga. It is often mistaken as the northernmost point of North Island. However, that privilege really belongs to Surville Cliffs which is some 30km away.

Cape Reinga is sacred to the Maori. In Maori language, Cape Reinga is known as Te Rerenga Wairua, which means the leaping-off place of spirits! In Maori belief, the spirits of the deceased would make their way to the cape and from this point, the spirits depart the mainland and make their journey in the afterlife to their spiritual homeland in Hawaiki. As they depart, they turn briefly at the “Three Kings” islands for one last look towards the land and then continue on their journey.

My New Zealand Vacation, Cape Reinga, Pano30
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The famous mailbox on the right
Cape Reinga, May 2006

New Zealand is often perceived as having lush greenery but at Cape Reinga you will discover a desert of giant sand dunes and quicksand! You will see the sand dunes on the left side of above photo. The “Three Kings” are the islands off the coast.

One of the things you may wish to do is to drop a postcard at the Cape Reinga mailbox. It is shown on the right of above photo. Postcards dropped at this mailbox will bear the special postmark “Cape Reinga”. There are no tourist shops around here so purchase the postcard and postage stamp prior to making this trip.

Continuing from the right of above photo is the Cape Reinga Lighthouse. While this area certainly looks like a nice picnic ground, out of respect to Maori, all visitors are requested to refrain from food and drinks on this sacred land.

My New Zealand Vacation, Cape Reinga, Pano31
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Cape Reinga Lighthouse, May 2006

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lord of the Rings at Deer Park, Queenstown

Finally, for the fans of Lord of The Rings (LOTR), here is a photo for you. Though having watched two of the movies, I have to admit I am no fan of the trilogy movies. However, I am a keen fan (read as fanatic) of New Zealand.

When I went up to Deer Park, it was not my intention to see the spots where the movie was filmed. My guide explained and pointed out some of the LOTR stuff but they simply didn’t register in my head! I was not paying attention and neither did I take any photos of the LOTR stuff. Instead of “Wow, LOTR!”, I was in my own fanatic world and my eyes were “Wow, Queenstown!”.

My New Zealand Vacation, The Remarkables, Deer Park, Queenstown, Pano142
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The Remarkables
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

The above mountain range is known as The Remarkables. In The Two Towers, the scene of the Rohan refugees making their way round a pool of water was filmed at this spot with The Remarkables in the background.

The view from Deer Park is so breathtaking! Someday when you are in Queenstown, do remember to visit Deer Park to experience it for yourself; to see as far as you could see, to feel the cool breeze and to enjoy the warmth of the sun on both East & West Summit.

Your visit to Deer Park would not be complete without seeing this beautiful animal at close range:

My New Zealand Vacation, Deer Park, Queenstown, Photo20709
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Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spectacular View from Deer Park, West Summit, Queenstown

The East Summit view from Deer Park is not complete without this view from West Summit.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Pano143
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View from West Summit, Deer Park
Queenstown, Aug 2006

West Summit offers a good view of Queenstown. From this spot, you can see Queenstown spread out along the edge of Lake Wakatipu. In the centre foreground, the residential area of Kelvin Heights leads into the Queenstown golf course. If you golf, do remember to pack your clubs for your New Zealand vacation. There are about 400 registered golf courses in New Zealand and this makes it the country with the highest number of golf courses per capita in the world! With a population of 4 million, that means there is a golf course for every 10,000 people!

If you are seeking for Paradise, just look straight ahead and follow the mountain range in the centre of the photo. Somewhere out there lies Paradise. We hear it so often: “the answer lies in front of our eyes”. :-)

If you are seeking for golfer’s paradise, Queenstown golf course (in the centre foreground of this photo) may be your place.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spectacular View from Deer Park, East Summit (Part II), Queenstown

In my previous posting, the photo taken on East Summit of Deer Park provided only 270 degrees view. Below photo provides the remaining 90 degrees view.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Pano138
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View from East Summit,
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

This panorama was composed from 6 photos, 3 for the top half and 3 for the bottom half. On the left, Lake Wakatipu flows out as the Kawaura river. You see the road that crosses over the river? That is a narrow single lane bridge and it is also where you will find the first and only pair of traffic lights (one on each end of the bridge) in the whole of Queenstown / Southern Lakes district. The traffic lights were only installed in the past year.

In the centre of the photo, the distinctive straight track is the runway of the Queenstown airport. You can easily spot the airport terminal (off centre, towards the left). The houses and buildings around the airport is the township of Frankton. By strict definition, Queenstown or Queenstown CBD (central business district) is about 7 km away. Like Queenstown, Frankton is an up and coming area in the district.

At one end of the airport runway (towards the right), another river flows out to meet the Kawaura river. This is the Shotover river where you will experience the exciting Shotover jetboat rides. For the Kawaura river, the landmark bridge over it, the Kawaura Bridge marks the spot of the world’s first bungee jump.

Follow the meandering Kawaura river and you will see Lakes Hayes between the distant 2 hills. The wisp of cloud (perhaps smoke) overhanging the left hill is where Arrowtown is located.

On the right side of the photo, the edge of the mountain is The Remarkables. Using this mountain edge, piece together the above panorama with the previous panorama (270 degrees view) and experience the complete 360 degrees panorama in your mind!

The view from Deer Park is simply spectacular!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spectacular View from Deer Park, East Summit (Part I), Queenstown

On the East Summit of Deer Park, you will find a building of Asian architecture. This building called “The Korean Prison” was a movie set that was built in 1986 for the children’s Walt Disney movie “The Rescue”.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20633
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"The Korean Prison"
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

My guide explained that it took several months to build the movie set which cost about NZ$ 1 million. So after filming was completed, it was just abandoned. While "The Korean Prison" stands out as a unique feature and landmark in the park, there are many who see it as an eyesore marring the spectacular view on Deer Park. Since then, movie sets constructed in the park have to be removed upon completion of filming.

What will you experience on the East Summit of Deer Park? “The Korean Prison” in above photo puts this panorama into perspective. Spanning about 270 degrees, it took 10 photos to compose:

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Pano134
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270 degrees view on East Summit
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

From the left, you see The Remarkables mountain range. The sky-blue body of water is Lake Wakatipu. On the left of “The Korean Prison” is Cecil Peak and the distant Walter Peak. On the right of “The Korean Prison”, you will find Bob’s Peak and beneath the mountain range lies Queenstown. In the centre of the photo, obscured by the mound behind “The Korean Prison”, where the mountain range stretches far away into the distance, you will find this place called Paradise!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Animals at Deer Park, Queenstown

In an earlier posting, I mentioned about bringing extra $1 coins to Deer Park, Queenstown but did not elaborate about this matter. The $1 coins are for the purchase of “sheep nuts” and $1 gets a full tin of this stuff. So what do you do with the “nuts”? Aha, that’s when your fun on Deer Park starts!

My guide called this stuff “sheep nuts”. They are actually small bits of dried food pellets. For sheep? One of the surprises at Deer Park is that besides the deer, you get to see a whole lot of other animals too. There are miniature horses, ducks, pigs, sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas …… even highland cattle and the North American bison. Calling it “The Animal Farm” would have been more appropriate!

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20593
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Ducks, miniature horses and ugly pigs!
“The Animal Farm”
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

These animals roam freely on Deer Park but some are kept within fenced enclosures. To get the animals to come to you, all you have to do is shake the tin of food pellets to make a rattling sound. One of my memorable encounters was with the goats and llamas. Shook the tin and I found myself surrounded by a couple of excited llamas and goats! As the llamas are almost as tall as a man, it was a challenge trying to keep the tin out of their reach. After being jostled by a couple of them, I started to smell like them too! Haha... Unlike llamas, the alpacas are nice, gentle and well mannered.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20618
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Excited llamas and goats!
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

Feeding the animals, having them slopped saliva on your palms, you will inevitably have a good collection of exotic saliva ...... so do expect to get dirty and smell like one of the animals on your trip!

To see Pavlov theory in action, shaking a tin in Deer Park will give you a good first hand experience of frenzied salivating animals around you!

(Click below for larger photos)
My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20658
My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20662
Young Kids
1-2 weeks old
Himalayan Tarn
(beautiful long hair)

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20720
My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20723
North American Bison
(small horns, big nose)
Highland Cattle
(big horns, big nose)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Alpaca at Deer Park Queenstown

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20597
How do I look in my new hairdo and fur coat ?
(a wolf in sheep’s clothing..... haha !)

Seriously, this woolly creature is an alpaca and it is native to South America. My first encounter with this animal was in Deer Park. It resembles a sheep but is much larger and it has a long erect neck. Like the sheep, an alpaca is covered in a thick coat of fur.

The alpaca is a beautiful creature, gentle in nature, intelligent and inquisitive. As a prey animal, it is cautious and nervous and like having its own space. In spite of encountering many visitors in Deer Park daily, the herd of alpacas was cautious with us initially and kept their distance. It took a few minutes before these animals calmed down and let us approached them.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20594
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Herd of alpacas at Deer Park
Queenstown, Aug 2006

In the snow-capped background, that is Queenstown below the mountain range.

Unlike the llama, the alpaca is not used as a beast of burden. It is reared mainly for its wool and meat. Compared to sheep’s wool, alpaca wool is warmer, silkier, feels more luxurious and lighter in weight. Another attractive feature, it does not contain lanolin (which the sheep has) and this makes alpaca wool almost hypoallergenic.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park, Photo20595A
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A beautiful alpaca
Deer Park, Queenstown, Aug 2006

For ease of dyeing the wool, alpacas have been bred mainly as white. Like sheep, you will find them in many shades of colour. As you see in the photo, an alpaca’s thick coat of fur gives it an appearance of an oversized long-neck sheep!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Deer Park Heights, Queenstown

Queenstown is so exciting with so much to see and do! I have been at Queenstown more than 10 times but it was only on this recent trip that I finally made my way to Deer Park Heights. With so much exciting places to see and interesting activities to do, it is so easy to put aside Deer Park Heights. Yeah, what can be so interesting about seeing a park with a couple of deers, right? WRONG!!!

One of the sites around Queenstown for the filming of Lord of The Rings (LOTR), I had thought this place was overhyped and oversold by all the movie attention. Well, I was proven wrong. My regret, I wished I had seen it in my earlier trips! Now that you have heard it from me, put Deer Park Heights in your list of must-see when you are in Queenstown.

It is easy to get to the park, just 10 minutes drive from the heart of Queenstown. You could self-drive or join the coach tours. Travel along Frankton Road (main road which leads into Queenstown), head towards the direction of Queenstown airport, cross the narrow single-lane bridge and turn to Kelvin Heights, the premium residential area in Queenstown. You can’t miss the signboards leading to the park.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park Heights, Photo20589
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Welcome to Deer Park Heights
Queenstown, Aug 2006

Deer Park is a massive 800 hectares! It is a private park which still operates as a working deer farm. An entrance fee of NZ$20 per car is paid at the gate. Though walkers get in free, you would be wise to pay the $20 and drive in. If you came well prepared for tramping in New Zealand, then by all means walk in. For those on the tours, the coach will bring you into the park

Besides sunscreen, hat/cap, warm jacket, …. which are the standard pre-requisites for your vacation in New Zealand, bring along the following to Deer Park:
- 1 dollar coins (if self-drive)
- memory storage cards for digital camera (else lots of film). You will be taking lots of photos on this half-day trip!

The excitement:
My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Deer Park Heights, Pano145
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Picturesque view from Deer Park Heights
Queenstown, Aug 2006

550m above Queenstown, this place provides spectacular, 360 degrees, breath-taking views of the basins, lakes and mountain range surrounding Queenstown!

Look out for my next few postings with even more stunning photos from Deer Park!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sofitel Queenstown – 5 Star Attraction

The Sofitel Queenstown is the first five-star hotel in this beautiful resort town. Located in the heart of Queenstown, it opened in the 2nd half of 2005. Within its first year, it has already been named among the top 20 hotels in the world by prestigious Australian travel magazine Gourmet Traveller!

Besides the usual classy offerings we expect of a five-star hotel, the Sofitel Queenstown has another interesting five-star attraction: the men’s toilet!

On the 2nd floor men’s toilet, there are life sized images of models behind the urinals oogling at the men’s manhood with binoculars, camera & tape measure! Talk about men’s insecurity with our “apparatus” and this cheeky wall display has these pretty gals checking out our little “johnny”! Haha!

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Sofitel, Toilet, Pano69
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Interesting wall feature in the Men's Toilet !
Sofitel Queenstown, Oct 2005

It would be a challenge choosing which urinal to use. Imagine standing in front of the gal with the tape measure and trying to keep a straight face. Fortunately, I was only in the toilet to shoot the above photo else the challenge would be keeping my aim on target in the urinal and you can’t if you are laughing!

When Sofitel Queenstown opened last year, word got around and many people, including the ladies, queued up just to view the men’s toilet. If you are wondering, there isn’t any interesting wall display in the ladies’ toilet. :-(
Sofitel Queenstown

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Sofitel, Photo434A
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Sofitel Queenstown under construction, May 2005

Besides Sofitel, another five-star hotel chain Hilton will soon operate in Queenstown too. In the years to come, more international visitors will descend on this alpine resort of New Zealand.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Queenstown, Adventure Capital of the World !

Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World. Besides spectacular scenery, being a great place for relaxation and honeymooners, this beautiful resort town is also the adrenalin capital offering lots of exciting adventures!

It is said that Queenstown got its name from being “fit for Queen Victoria”. How far back that was, I have no idea. Fit for a Queen..... for the rest of us, it definitely is a great place to be at. I have visited Queenstown more than 10 times and yet I am never tired of this place. I cannot describe it but this place has a special quality …. it energizes and makes me alive! It makes me want to live (beyond a mere drudgery existence)!

Queenstown buzzes across the 4 seasons. In summer and winter, the crowds converge upon this town. So secure your bookings (flight, car/coach, accommodation) in advance to minimize any upset to a good holiday. In autumn, things slow down a little yet it is still a good season to experience Queenstown’s autumn splendour. My first visit to New Zealand was in autumn and that vacation changed my life!

When it comes to adventure tourism, Queenstown is IT ! For land adventures, there are the two-legged varieties and you tramp from a few hours to few weeks (!!). For two-wheels, you mountain-bike and for four-wheels, you get 4-wheel drive adventures! Oh, I forgot, there are also other four legged varieties: You get horse-riding on Lord Of The Rings tours too!

In winter, the crowds descend on Queenstown for their winter adventures. With 4 main mountain ski fields within a radius of 100km, this white stuff is skiers’ paradise!

For water adventures, there is the leisurely cruise on Lake Wakatipu or the exciting jetboat rides on the rivers. If fish is your kind of adventure, then trout and salmon are your game.

For air adventures, the sky really is the limit! For something very mild, take the Skyline gondola and follow up with a more exciting luge ride down the hill (part of it only). For the moderate adventure, get on the scenic flights (helicopter or plane) with a snow landing. For the ultimate heart-thumping air adventure, throw yourself off Bob’s peak with your guide and paraglide down to Queenstown! Alternatively, choose an equally heart-thumping plunge over the Kawaura bridge, the original birthplace of bungee jumping and get your head dunked in the cold rushing waters of the mighty Kawaura river!

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Adventure Capital of the World, Photo20542
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Queenstown, Adventure Capital of the World, Aug 2006

If these adrenalin-surging activities are not your cup of tea, then head down to the vineyards for your glass of Pinot Noir. There are also lots of leisurely activities in Queenstown for your enjoyment!

Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Queenstown – Jewel in the Crown

If you have not heard of Queenstown, New Zealand, you have missed out something good. Thanks to the Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) movie trilogy, many people around the world “discovered” Queenstown in recent years. The movies were filmed in many locations throughout New Zealand and the spectacular landscape of the Queenstown region also provided the stunning backdrop to a number of scenes. My first visit to Queenstown was in April 1999 and that memorable vacation changed my life!

Located in a region of breathtaking scenery, Queenstown is often referred to as the jewel in New Zealand’s crown. It is situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by majestic mountain ranges.

Regarded as New Zealand’s premier tourist destination, it has been voted by readers of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure as the friendliest place in the world and ranked with Paris and Rome, amongst the world’s best destinations.

From a sleepy lakeside town 30 years ago, it has grown to become a sophisticated all year round international resort. Presently, it attracts about 1.4 million visitors per year of which 60% are international visitors.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, Pano157
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Queenstown Central Business District, August 2006

From the magnificent views of the mountains to the lake, beautiful walking trails, world-class wine from its vineyards, adrenaline charged activities, golf courses, ski-fields, ......

Queenstown is truly the jewel in New Zealand’s crown.

Aoraki/Mount Cook Village

If you plan to explore the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, do get to the visitor centre of the Department of Conservation (DOC) at Mount Cook Village. It would be wise to get necessary information and advice before venturing out into this vast terrain, especially if you plan to do it without any experienced guides.

Mount Cook Village is pretty small. There are just a couple of buildings around and that’s basically all there is about the village. If you want to be right into the national park and to be be as close to the mountains as possible, then you are at the right place.

You may wish to consider Glentanner Park which is about 15-20 minutes drive away. You would have passed it on the journey to Mount Cook Village. Glentanner Park offers a camping ground with cabins, power and non-power sites and restaurant facilities. It is also where the helicopters and planes take off for the scenic flights.

Alternatively, stay at Twizel or Tekapo but do know that the journey is about an hour plus for the one-way drive to Mount Cook Village.

In Mount Cook Village, there is limited accommodation but you can find the luxurious Hermitage hotel to the simple frills YHA Hostel. Whatever your choice of accommodation, you get magnificent 5-star views the moment you step out of the door!

The Hermitage surrounded by the majestic mountain range:

My New Zealand Vacation, The Hermitage, Aoraki, Mount Cook, Pano197
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The Hermitage
Mount Cook Village, Aug 2006

Monday, March 05, 2007

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

About 99km west of Tekapo lies Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. A United Nations World Heritage site, it spans over 70,000 hectares of breathtaking alpine scenery and contains 140 peaks over 2,000m high as well as 72 glaciers! It is home to Australasia’s highest mountain Aoraki/Mt Cook at 3,754m and the longest glacier in the Southern hemisphere, Tasman glacier at 29km.

It is an area of spectacular mountainscapes, tussock grassland, huge river valleys, endless high country and stunning turquoise blue lakes. In below photo, the distant peak below the noon sun is Aoraki/Mt Cook !

My New Zealand Vacation, Aoraki, Mount Cook, National Park, Pano208
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Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Aug 2006

Seeing the immense size of these mountains all around me, I am humbled and reminded of my human fragility and insignificance. One word sums up my feelings: Awesome !

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park will be a key highlight of your vacation in New Zealand. Some things in life are worth seeing and experiencing for yourself and this is definitely one of those!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

A small stone church situated in a stunning landscape. This is probably the best description for the Church of the Good Shepherd situated on the shores of Lake Tekapo. Built in 1935, it was the first church in the MacKenzie basin and one of several built to commemorate the early settlers in the area.

Most of the church is still in its original state. The boulders used in its construction came from the surrounding area and they were carefully chosen for their size, shape and colour. As requested by its donors, the tussock and rocks around the church were left in their natural state and even the adjoining land was gifted to ensure the church remained in this natural splendour.

My New Zealand Vacation, Lake Tekapo, Church of Good Shepherd, Pano222
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Church of the Good Shepherd
Lake Tekapo, Aug 2006

Sited on elevated ground, the church overlooks Lake Tekapo and offers a magnificent view of the surrounding Southern Alps mountain range. I have been at Lake Tekapo several times and this recent visit allowed me to experience its winter splendour.

Do remember to have a look inside the church. What draws visitors’ attention is the altar window that frames the stunning views of the lake and mountains. It took me 3 photos to capture this view of the altar window:

My New Zealand Vacation, Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd, Pano216
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Altar window frames the stunning view!
Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, Aug 2006

The Church of the Good Shepherd is one of the most photographed in New Zealand. I can attest to this with the many photos of this beautiful place in my collection. The photo on my first post shows the silhouette of the church against a spectacular background of blue skies and snow-covered mountain range.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lake Tekapo – The Road to Mount Cook

Traveling from Christchurch towards Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, along this route lies one of the most scenic lakes in the MacKenzie region – Lake Tekapo. A most spectacular sight the visitor will encounter is the beautiful turquoise colour of the lake. The lake is fed by waters from the glacier melt of the surrounding mountain range, the Southern Alps. It is the very fine sediments suspended in the glacial waters that give the lake its colour.

I have been at Lake Tekapo in autumn, spring and winter and each visit has been a new experience seeing various shades of colours ranging from turquoise to blue, even grey! I was fortunate to have seen the vivid turquoise colour on my first visit in autumn. Too bad, I only have the photos of the first visit on negatives and prints. Someday I will convert them into digital copies.

Below photo was taken on a winter noon day in Aug 2006. The colour is not quite turquoise but you get an idea of the vivid hue that makes the visitors go “Wow!” at Lake Tekapo.

My New Zealand Vacation, Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Aoraki, Pano249
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Turquoise colour of Lake Tekapo
Tekapo, Aug 2006

Across the lake lies the Southern Alps. In the centre of the photo, the distant mountain peak directly beneath the noon sun is Aoraki, Mount Cook!

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Zealand, "Land of the Long White Cloud"

New Zealand, called Aotearoa, “Land of the Long White Cloud” by the Maori, is a breathtakingly beautiful country. It is a land of majestic snow-capped peaks, pristine lakes, glaciers descending to rainforests, fiords, geysers, volcanoes, .... etc. Few countries can compare to having such geographical diversity.

The Wikipedia lists various explanations how the name Aotearoa came about but whatever legends or modern explanations, it is a land of such stunning natural beauty that the Kiwis (not the bird) refer to it as God’s own country !

Known also as sheep country, there are as many as 10 or more sheep for every person in New Zealand. With a population of about 4.1 million people, it is one of the world’s least crowded countries.

Stunning views, easy access, recreational activities, friendly people, clean and safe environment, .... whether you are seeking adventure or relaxation, all these are ingredients to a great vacation! I thoroughly enjoyed New Zealand and am certain you would too.

My New Zealand Vacation, Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, Pano26
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Land of the Long White Cloud
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, June 2005

Let me welcome you to the “Land of the Long White Cloud”.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My New Zealand Vacation

My favourite holiday destination is New Zealand !

The first time I had visited New Zealand was in April 1999 and it was autumn then. The wide expanse of land, crisp fresh air, rugged natural beauty ...... it was so pure, so beautiful that my senses took all of that into my being and I was left spellbound!

That first vacation turned out to be very special and it really never ended! Over the years, I have returned to New Zealand many times.

My New Zealand Vacation, Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd, Pano224
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Church of the Good Shepherd
Lake Tekapo, Aug 2006

On this blog, I will share about the beautiful places in New Zealand and I hope you will find my information useful for planning your own vacation too.

Enjoy My New Zealand Vacation !
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