Tag Archives: New Zealand

Dolphin Swim in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Sometime in my early twenties, I fell in love with dolphins. I’m not sure what led up to it, but I became obsessed with them, especially the bottled nosed ones with their ginormous smiles. I heard stories of dolphins rescuing people in the ocean and immediately had thoughts of jumping into the ocean so I could interact with them. Well lo and behold, more than a decade later, my wildest dreams came true. Toward the end of our 2 week trip in New Zealand, we signed up with Dolphin Encounter to hop in the ocean and swim with a bunch of dolphins. I thought it was going to be amazing, but nothing prepared me for this surreal experience of swimming with a pod of 500 dusky dolphins!!!

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The waters were freezing cold, so before anyone jumped in, we had to don these super duper wetsuits that made us all look like seals. I’m sure everyone secretly hoped there were no seal eating sharks in the ocean.
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From the boat, we could see dolphins for miles. Of course, out of a pod of 500, there’s bound to be a few playful ones. They really knew how to put on a show!
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Visibility in the water wasn’t great, but with hundreds of dolphins, everyone was within inches away from a multitude of dolphins swimming by. There were times when I swam in circles and the dolphins would swim around me until I got too dizzy to play with them. Then they thought I was a total bore and continued on their way. For something as playful as dolphins, it’s hard to capture their whole essence with just still images, so here’s a little video from my handy dandy iPhone! I had it encased in a Lifeproof case…either that thing didn’t work properly, or I didn’t seal things tight enough because I had water damage which made my phone go haywire. Thank goodness for Applecare!

Dolphin Encounter, Kaikoura, New Zealand from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

To swim with the dolphins, we stayed in Kaikoura, a small town on the east coast of New Zealand. Loving the idea of staying in a tree house, we booked a room at Hapuku Lodge. Turns out the tree house wasn’t quite a tree house, but an elevated room supported by metal beams. Not what we had in mind, but oh well.
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In Kaikoura, there’s also a large colony of fur seals. Great for gawking at if you have some time. Look at all the babies in the wading pool!
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But nothing beats the experience of seeing and interacting with some of the most intelligent sea creatures on the planet. Do it if you ever have a chance!
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Abel Tasman Kayaking

Located on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island is a must explore area called Abel Tasman National Park. It’s named after the Dutch explorer who was the first European to discover New Zealand. We arrived in the late afternoon at our lodge, Split Rock Lodge B&B where the friendly owner, Bert, offered us a couple of beers and showed us around. Two thumbs up for this place already! Great place to kick back and enjoy the view.

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The lodge is in a small town named Kaiteriteri. Bert and his wife Paulette are the sweetest people and will help with great recommendations for things to do and places to eat. After a day of hiking or kayaking, you’ll want to come home, open a beer, sit on your balcony and look out at the bay.
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We woke up the next morning to an incredible sunrise.
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We then headed off to do some sea kayaking with Kahu Kayaks, per Bert’s recommendation. This was probably one of the best, if not the BEST kayaking trip I’ve ever taken! It was low tide when we started with our group so we had to drag our kayaks out a ways, and by we, I mean Drew (well, I did help when it was on sand, but hopped in once we got a few inches of water below the kayak!) There are tractors out on the bay to help pull kayaks in and out during low tide.

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Being that it was early morning, the water was calm and looked like silky smooth waves.
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This video better illustrates how beautiful it was that day. Couldn’t have asked for calmer waters. Wish I filmed a bit more, but I had to start paddling before we got left behind!

Abel Tasman from lynn dao on Vimeo.

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We ended up paddling out to an island since the sea was so calm. Saw a couple of seals (no image since my iphone got fogged up in its waterproof case!)
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Drew was so excited about seeing seals that he walked around on his hands the rest of the afternoon.
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We found a huge rock formation that looked like a gigantic kiwi!
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Seafood around town is always fresh and delish. These mussels reminded us of a good friend of ours who went to harvest mussels one day while the rest of us were in class in college. He filled up two huge black garbage bags only to be swooped upon afterwards by a park ranger who took them both. I’m sure the ranger’s family had a feast that night! Oh well, se la vie.
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The next morning, another inspiring sunrise. What a great way to start the day.
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Interesting fact: the Maori name of New Zealand is Aotearoa. It means “the land of the long white cloud”. There were so many days where the clouds were just laying low in one long white line. Not big puffy ones, or wispy ones, but one long white cloud low in the sky. So the Maori Aotearoa is the perfect name for this land.

New Zealand: West Coast, Fox Glacier, & Lake Matheson

After four days in Queenstown, we finally got our driver’s licenses (and thus car!) and were able to get on the road. New Zealand’s South Island does not disappoint when it comes to scenic drives. Throw in a couple of great playlists and you’re set!

Kiwis drive on the left side of the road while seated on the right side in the car, so that took Drew some getting used to. Every time he wanted to turn on the signal, the wipers came up instead! Then there was a lot of drifting to the left side, since we normally sit on the left side of the car. It was all funny, but sometimes not a good feeling for the passenger when there’s a rock wall inches away!

Renting a car or campervan (which a lot of folks do) is definitely the way to explore New Zealand. Go at your own pace and stop when the scenery calls you.

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Tons of one lane bridges along the drive.
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Our destination on Day 5 was Fox Glacier township. We arrived right around sunset…good thing since the roads are windy and street lights are nonexistent it seemed. There are two glaciers around the area, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. We chose Fox Glacier -it’s a much smaller town, but I wanted to check out Lake Matheson, which was less than five minutes away from where we were staying. I had read the reflection of the mountains on the lake are breathtaking. The plan for the next day was to do a heli hike, where they helicopter you up the glacier, land, and hike around for a bit. Unfortunately, we didn’t book things ahead of time and being that it was the week of Chinese New Year (tons of Chinese tourists in New Zealand at this time) everything was booked. We lucked out though and were able to at least take a heli up to see Fox Glacier. It was AMAZING.

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A waterfall? Wasn’t expecting that, but I like.
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And for a peek into what it was like up there, a short video, set to LOTR music of course!

After the heli ride, we headed to Lake Matheson. I thought we’d park and the lake would be a few steps away. You actually have to walk a bit to get there and around the lake, but it’s a beautiful walk filled with greenery everywhere.

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We were hoping to see a real kiwi, but got this one instead. Still pretty neat!
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Our first peek at the lake.
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On a sunny day, you can see snow-capped Mt Cook and its incredible reflection on the lake. Obviously, this day was not it. But it was still a wonderful hike nonetheless.
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We heard there were eels in the lake and started looking for one.
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Found one. Awww, look at his cute little smile!
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Found a great spot to rest near the end of our roundtrip hike around the lake.
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An even better place to chill? Lake Matheson Cafe. The food there was GREAT!
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If you’re headed to see the Glaciers, and are trying to decide between the two, here are some things to consider:
1. Book a guided hike or heli-hike ahead of time if you’re on a tight schedule.
2. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef are about 30 minutes away from each other. Franz Josef township is bigger and therefore has more accommodations and restaurants. They also have hot pools in Franz Josef, which is pretty popular for those who hiked the glaciers during the day.
3. We stayed in Fox Glacier because we wanted to see Lake Matheson, but if you’re having a hard time deciding between the two, here’s a great blog post on the differences between the two glaciers.

Queenstown, New Zealand: The Adventure Capital of the World

New Zealand! I can’t believe we finally made it down to this incredible island nation. Two weeks is definitely not enough time to even see the South Island of New Zealand (let alone the North Island), but we made an unforgettable trip out of the time we had. Wasting no time, we flew into Auckland (in the North Island) and immediately took a flight down to Queenstown. When researching before the trip, I read that the best way to see NZ is by renting a car and driving so that you can take in all the outrageous natural scenery throughout the South Island. So, after arriving at the Queenstown airport, we headed to pick up our car. Why, for the love of God, did we NOT bring our driver’s licenses, I don’t know. I guess it’s because we’re used to just packing our passports since we’ve never rented a car in another country before. Needless to say, they wouldn’t give us a car without a driver’s license. Um, stupid, stupid, stupid! Thank goodness for good friends back home whom we called to mail us our driver’s licenses ASAP through Fedex. ASAP, according to FedEx, meant five days. Good thing I just booked our lodging for the first three days so we didn’t have to cancel anything.

So here we are on day 1, car less, waiting for the bus to take us to our first night’s stay.
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Of all towns in the world to be stuck an extra day or two in, I was SO glad we were in Queenstown. It’s known as the adventure capital of the world, and deservedly so. There is SO much to do here! But be ready to fork up some dough to do these adventurous things. Bungee jumping, skydiving, river rafting, river surfing!, hang gliding, paragliding, mountain biking, kayaking, you name it. But not everything has to cost a fortune here.

We decided to stay at a hostel on our first two nights to get a feel for the town and see if there was anything we HAD to do. Without a car, it was nice to be smack in the middle of town since most things were within walking distance. Adventure Queenstown had a few private rooms with a bathroom and was actually pretty clean.
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This was my first time staying at a hostel and it was a pretty good experience, except for the noise at night (but I wasn’t sure if that was from guests at the hostel or drunkies out on the street heading home from the bars). AQ’s owner, Brett has done an outstanding job building up this hostel in just a couple of years. The hostel has been repeatedly rated #1 hostel by several different organizations. Great service, clean rooms, tons of free stuff – free internet use & international phone calls, free rentals of GoPro’s, frisbees, and bikes. Here’s a look at our room, which had a sweet balcony hangout spot, where we drank our morning coffees with our delicious meat pies from Fergbaker.
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The guest sign-in wall at AQ:
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On our first day in town after a long day of travel, we decided to take it easy and explore this little town, first with a walk to Queenstown Gardens. They did an awesome job with this park. There was every single type of magnificent tree imaginable and great views of Lake Wakatipu as you walk the perimeter.
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The Gardens also has a bowling lawn, tennis courts, ice-arena, and one of the best frisbee golf courses in the world!
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Restaurants nearby are amazing. We had lunch at the Bathhouse. Incredible food with an incredible view.
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The view as we walked around the lake.
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Within the park.
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The frisbee golf course looked so enticing that we had to grab a couple of frisbees from the hostel and play.
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In the evening, we took the gondola up for some incredible views. The name of that beautiful mountain range is The Remarkables. Very fitting.
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On Day 2, we decided to do a You Vs Wild guided hike where our guide, Pete, taught us a plethora of survival skills. The first one was bird calling. Ok, not necessarily a survival skill, unless you can catch the bird when it comes by. And you’ll need some glass and a piece of styrofoam to rub against the glass to make a squeaking noise that attracts the birds. I caught it a little too late, but a bird really did fly to us and land on the stick Drew was holding out. It was like we were in a Disney movie for a split second!
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As we walked into the woods, we saw a creature by the stream – panning for gold. Yes, there is gold in New Zealand, so naturally there will be someone who sets up shop for a few hours hoping to find a small fortune. Not a bad place to be gold panning though.
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The hike itself was beautiful, and we could’ve easily done it ourselves, but we both have been wanting to take a survival skills class for a while, so this was a great way to do it. Bottom left image: Drew filling up our water bottle with some pure, fresh water (99.8% pure, says Pete). On the right, we learned how to make a noose trap to catch small mammals. And the bottom right, my new favorite berry EVER, the snow berry. These are the most fragrant, delicious tasting berries I have ever had in my life! No exaggerating there. I wish they would farm these and sell them here in the States. (Just please don’t genetically modify them like you do everything else food industry!)
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In the New Zealand forests, there are huts for backpackers to rest for the night. It’s no five star accommodation, but it’ll keep you warmer than sleeping outside with a tent.
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When backpacking, remember to always pack a couple of bottles of wine. Actually, what everyone should really pack is sand fly repellent. These are the most vicious little creatures on the face of the planet. Their bites are the itchiest of all itches and they last for days on end. Day 7 and we were still scratching ourselves. I went crazy one night trying all sorts of things to relieve the itching. At one in the morning, I found out that ice cubes worked best. As I write this almost four weeks later, I still see the sandfly bites on my legs!
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We learned several different ways to make fire in the hut.
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This was with a cell phone battery.
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Although I can’t say I’ve retained all of the information Pete taught that day, I can recommend his You Vs Wild tour for anyone who’s interested in more than just a hike.
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On Day 3, we decided (or should I say, Drew decided) to do a ginormous canyon swing. It was either Shotover Canyon Swing or AJ Hackett’s Nevis Bungee jump. (Little known fact: AJ Hackett created the world’s first commercial bungee jump off a bridge near Queenstown.) We decided to go with Shotover Canyon Swing since it was only a 15 minute drive from Queenstown vs 4 hours roundtrip for the Nevis jump. The Canyon Swing is 109m (357ft) vs the Nevis’s 134m (440ft), what’s an extra 80 something feet?

At the Shotover Canyon Swing office in town, there’s pictures and descriptions of the type of jumps you can do. They rate them by how many pairs of underwear you should have on, should you shit in your pants.
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I was getting nervous while the jumpers were getting ready, and I wasn’t even jumping! The freefall for this thing is almost 200ft – no thank you. I loved skydiving, but this is an entirely different animal. My crazy husband decided to do two jumps that day – the Pin Drop, where your hands are pinned behind your back and you jump off sideways, and backwards with a ukelele. Both required 5 pairs of underwear.
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These pics are from me, on the sidelines. I love how the rafters drifted on by for his jump.
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But pictures don’t do this type of experience justice. That’s why we have video! And yes, a whole years worth of brownie points to the hubby for what he said here!

For lunch that day, we had to see what all the hype was about with lines out the door at this joint called Fergburger.
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Down by the lake with the sea gulls was the perfect place to enjoy this massive burger. Yeah, it’s just as good as it looks.
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If I ever feed seagulls, I wanna see them work a bit for their food and put on a little aerial show.
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Later that evening, we checked into an apartment called Marina Mantra which sits right on the lake. LOVE this place! They have bikes for you to use, so we took a beautiful lakeside bike ride to the grocery store to buy some seafood for dinner.
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Day 4, it was a toss up between river surfing or horseback riding through what Drew likes to call Middle Earth. Being that Drew is a Lord of the Rings fan, we opted for a horseback ride in Glenorchy where they filmed some scenes for the movies. This was hands down the most scenic horseback ride experience we’ve ever had. Mountains, river crossings, and we even learned to let our horses run as we held on tight to their manes. (Most images here are via iPhone since they had me put my DSLR in a side bag for safety reasons.)

Here are the horses of High Country Stables. Mine was Big Red, who loved to stop and eat the flowers and grass.
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I can see why so many movies have been filmed in NZ. Wolverine and Narnia were filmed in Glenorchy as well.
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And for the most awesome horseback ride movie set to Lord of the Rings theme music…

Ok, sorry. Since it was all shot with an iPhone while I was riding a horse, it was more shaky than awesome, but the river crossing was pretty cool, right?

After the ride, the owner showed us a few of his favorite animals on the farm. Piggies!
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Since we had only planned on staying in Queenstown for 3 nights, but had to wait for our licenses to arrive, we needed to find a place for an extra night. We lucked out in finding that Pounamu Apartments had one room left since our other place no longer had vacancy. Pounamu is the Maori name for New Zealand jade.
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The next morning we woke up to these amazing clouds.
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And to the great news that our driver’s licenses had finally arrived!!! Road trip up the west coast on the next blog post!