Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Queenstown, NZ

From Australia, we flew to the South Island and took a bus from Christchurch to Queenstown. The bus was definitely the way to go - not only was it very affordable, but we also had a chance to see the central region of the South Island and relax at the same time.

The ride was beautiful - we had the perfect day for it. Plus, even though the bus was a normal city-to-city route, the driver still gives a little bit of commentary about the area you are driving through.

Here are a couple of my favorite pictures:

flowers at Lake Tekapo

with Mt. Cook

Queenstown itself was awesome. It's known as the adventure capital of NZ and I can definitely see why. There are plenty of adrenaline options, including bungy jumping, canyoning, skydiving, hang gliding, jet boating, etc. There is no shortage of things to do in Queenstown and it has a great night life.

Our first couple days there Erik and I relaxed in town, went out for a jetboat ride, and did a little bit of hiking. We saved the more extreme activities for when some of Erik's friends from the US arrived (such as the canyon swing, which I will get to in a moment).

We were able to do a lot of fun stuff while in Queenstown, so I'll just list them all out...

Queenstown Hill Walkway (Hike)
Erik and I took an evening to do some exploring around town, including the Queenstown Hill...

Kawarau Jet
Erik and I also took a jetboat out on the Lake Wakatipu and up the Kawarau River. It's amazing how the boats can move over water just a few inches deep. The main attraction with the boats is that they are incredibly maneuverable. The driver makes you feel like you are going to crash into the wall, then will suddenly jerk the boat back or do a 360 degree spin... it was pretty insane.

Out on the town
Erik also had some friends come over from the states to visit us - here we are enjoying two for one beers!

Skyline Gondola, Luge & Hike
The Skyline Gondola was right outside our hostel. It's a steep 1,500 ft ascent to the top of the gondola.

The views from the top were gorgeous....

One of my favorite things we did was the luge. We all bought 3-ride passes and loved it! You ride a 3-wheeled plastic cart down an 800m track - it was great. Here I am taking things very seriously with Erik, Emily, and Gwen.

and Emily coming into the finish line...

We also did a little bit of hiking around before heading back down the gondola. Here are the ladies taking in the scenery.

mmmmm... Thai food
We had a nice meal out together as well - I had scallops and teddy-bear shaped rice -

Canyon Swing
Our big adventure was the Shotover Canyon Swing. It's sort of like a bungy jump - however you swing out rather than bounce. Here I am on my second jump...

I sat in a chair and tipped back until I fell... and fell and fell. The swing is 360 ft above the river. It was terrifying, but a ton of fun! My first jump was my favorite though - rather than sit in a chair, I simply stood on the platform and jumped off. I was so petrified I couldn't even scream.

Queenstown Botanic Garden
After our wild adventures at the Canyon Swing, we decided to relax for a bit at the Queenstown Gardens and along the waterfront. Here Erik is giving Jason a boost to climb into a tree. In my opinion, this was probably the riskiest thing we did all day.

(this particular attempt was unsuccessful!)

Walter Peak High Country Farm
Emily and I spent the afternoon across Lake Wakatipu at a high country sheep station. We had a great time taking the steamship across and learning all about the sheep farm (including a sheep dog demonstration). Here is a Emily with one of the little lambs -

One of our favorite parts was the sheep shearing demonstration - sitting like this does not look very comfortable for the sheep.

We all had a great time in Queenstown... it definitely is a must-see in New Zealand.

Album links:

Bus ride from Christchurch to Queenstown

Queenstown, NZ

Friday, November 30, 2007

North Queensland, Australia

The weekend after Thanksgiving we started our month of travel before heading home for Christmas. Since arriving to NZ, Erik and I had tossed around the idea of checking out an island or two in the South Pacific, however this seemed to be a bit out of our price range. Instead we decided to visit tropical Queensland (the northeast portion of Australia).

We spent most of our time in Port Douglas, which is a lazy tourist town north of Cairns. I had a great time in Pt Douglas, but it's not exactly a hotbed of social activity. What I mean by that is there didn't seem to be much to do at night. However our hostel had a fun bar and we met some nice people on our rainforest tour. We met up with them one night to hear some live music and have a few drinks.

The #1 item on my list in Australia was the Great Barrier Reef... Here is a picture of a very, very, very small portion of the GBR from the plane - so cool!

Anyway, we took a snorkeling tour of the reef one afternoon and had a ton of fun. The weather looked rather threatening on our way out, but the ocean was quite calm and by the time the afternoon rolled around there was some sunshine.

Here is a picture of us on the boat and of our captain - all of the tour guides were a riot.

(He sure is working hard!)

Our snorkel trip included 3 stops... I was bummed when we weren't able to see the "normal" stop #3. It was supposed to be the site with sea turtles, but the area was covered in jellyfish, so they turned the boat around and took us to a different place. However, we saw heaps of fish, beautiful coral, and some massive hundred-year-old clams.

Our other big adventure was a day-long tour of the Daintree Rainforest. There were only 6 people in our group (plus our guide). Everyone on the tour was very friendly and we all got along really well. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point on the trip I became the guinea pig for all activities. I believe it began when our guide picked up an ant and asked "Who would like to taste this?" I was the only one to volunteer, so after that I was "volunteered by others" to be the first to try/do anything (such as tasting the exotic fruits, sticking my head in a tree, acting like I was going to get cut in half, you name it. By the way, tasting the ant involved sticking your tongue out so the guide could touch the ant's green butt to your tongue. It tasted like a chewable vitamin C tablet.)

(That little stunt probably had the highest risk of injury compared to anything else I have done here... but I survived!)

Another fun tidbit from the rainforest tour was that one of our fellow tourists kept calling Erik "Rick." At first I tried to emphasize Erik's real name by using it whenever I addressed him, but that didn't work. After awhile it was simply hilarious, and I became worried she might catch on and correct herself. Erik claims he didn't care... but I know better than to believe that. (Otherwise I would have started calling him Rick myself!)

Here are a few pics from the tour -

Bloomfield Falls w/ our tour group (we drove for an hour on a gravel road, through streams and all to see this... since I was in the backseat, I was not a huge fan of the driving part)

Cape Tribulation

Me swimming in Noah Valley (private land that the tour company leases - the water was perfect, nice and cool, and clear so I could watch for snakes... there were none)

After the rainforest tour we stopped at Hartley's Creek Crocodile Farm where we saw koalas, tons and tons of crocs, and a crocodile show. It was very interesting and there is no amount of money that could make me get into a pool with this guy!

The focus of the show we watched was on how easy it is for a crocodile to kill you... real family friendly.

The last thing I wanted to mention about Australia is to triple check your calendar if you ever decide to visit North Queensland. Killer jellyfish season had just started when we arrived, swimming was prohibited in coastal waters (ie. on the beach). This was awful. It was hot and humid, and you couldn't even dip your feet in since the jellyfish are known to be in ankle-deep water. The only place you could swim was in this minuscule netted area. (It's hard to see in my pictures that the deepest point in the netted area the water is barely above your knee.) This was also the least crowded we saw the area...

I cannot emphasize enough how disappointed I was about the beaches being closed. Look at all this beach... NO swimming on "Four Mile Beach" - What a tease!

Disappointed or not, the jellyfish didn't stop me from having some fun and building a masterpiece one afternoon...

...and true to Dillhoff tradition, I worked hard to save the castle from the incoming tide, but without my brothers' moat-building skills, the it fell quickly.

All in all, our Australia trip was great... to see all 200+ pictures (yikes!), check out the Queensland, Australia photo album -
Queensland, Australia