New Zealand, days 6-7

Yesterday we left Te Anau and drove the scenic highway to Queenstown. The highway followed Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables almost the whole way. We were able to stop to take some photos, and it actually wasn’t raining!



20130619-190620.jpgWe stopped for lunch and shopping in Arrowtown. Our bus driver recommended a pie shop which turned out to be a great choice. I got vegetable and Matt got steak, bacon, and cheese.

20130619-190722.jpgOur apartments are about 20 minutes from Arrowtown, on the outskirts of Queenstown. This is the view from our balcony(!).

20130619-190830.jpgMost of the attractions were closed by the time we got settled in (and then walked 20 minutes into town), so we just wandered around and did some shopping. I got a warm merino scarf.

This morning Matt and were picked up from the hotel for our Lord of the Rings Tour! There are several companies that do them and we picked a small local one based on the hotel’s recommendation. They weren’t kidding about it being personalized – we were the only people on the tour today! Our tour guide was great and really knowledgable about the area. It rained the whole time, which is why the photos look a little misty. Our first stop was the location of Wizard’s Vale.

20130619-190929.jpgAfter that we stopped at little beach by the tiny town of Glenorchy. Just over the ridge behind us was where they filmed scenes with the Rohirrim (horse riders). Apparently they sent out a call inviting anyone who could ride to come audition. The majority of the Rohirrim ended up being women dressed as men, because they were the better riders.

20130619-191049.jpgOn the other side of Glenorchy were the Dead Marshes. With the lovely weather we’re having, they looked just like they did in the movie. Minus the creepy bodies, of course. The mountains in the background were darkened for the film to look like Mordor.

20130619-191159.jpgA little further down the road we entered Mount Aspiring National Park. This spot is where they filmed the Fellowship being captured by the elves in Lothlorien. If you’ve seen the movie you might remember that little golden leaves are constantly falling in Lothlorien. To achieve this effect they vacuumed up hundreds of leaves from the forest and had the local schoolchildren paint them gold. (Peter Jackson made a very large donation to the school, too.)

20130619-191402.jpgAnd over here was the site of the battle at Amon Hen.

20130619-191535.jpgOn the other side of the forest we drove through an area where several scenes from Wolverine were shot. We didn’t stop for any photos there, though. After a while we came to the sheep farm that has been used for many scenes in multiple movies. It’s located in Paradise, New Zealand. It’s easy to see how it got its name. And apparently the farmer doesn’t have to do too much farming any more.

20130619-191738.jpgThis is the field where the battle scene from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was filmed. And that hill in the background is where they built Beorn’s house for the upcoming second film in The Hobbit trilogy.

20130619-191846.jpgHere’s a close up of the hill. See that little conical tree on the right? It’s fake.

20130619-191932.jpgTurning to the right we could see the location for Isengard. The tower was added using CG, of course.

20130620-112116.jpgAnd behind us was the edge of Fangorn Forest, where the ents marched out to destroy Isengard. Most of the film locations have no relation to each other in the real world, but these two did.

20130620-112203.jpgOur last stop on the way back was a campground where they filmed Frodo and Sam looking over a cliff to see the Easterling army and their Oliphants.

20130620-112351.jpgThis little ledge is the one Sam and Frodo peeked over.

20130620-112451.jpgOver all it was a great tour, and even a pretty good way to spend a rainy morning. For future reference (and if anyone’s interested) the name of the company is Pure Glenorchy. Highly recommended!

Since we were the only ones on the tour, our guide was able to drop us off at our next destination in Queenstown – the underwater observatory. Having spent most of our Queenstown money on the tour, we were looking for cheap things to do the rest of the day, and $5 to go under Lake Wakatipu sounded pretty reasonable. In the observatory we could see salmon, trout, long-fin eels, and the occasional duck swimming by.

The other thing we decided to do was to take the gondola up and get a good view of Queenstown from above. There was also a luge to ride (sort of like the alpine slide in Gatlinburg, but with no sides). On the way we saw some sheep and three goats nibbling on the mountainside. However, by the time we got to the top it was snowing and there was no view of Queenstown at all. We also had to forgo the luge because of the snow. But a least we got some nice hot chocolate at the top while we debated what to do with the rest of our day. We ended up getting a couple of pies to have for dinner later from a really amazing looking bakery. The guy that sold them to us was American and had a friend that went to UT Martin. Small world. Then we went back to a great discovery we’d made yesterday – Cookie Time! It’s a New Zealand brand of cookies, and they have stores where you can also get hot cookies and milk. And so I did.

20130620-112545.jpgWe’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out whether we’re staying here an extra night or not. Our next stop is Omarama, and the only thing going for it is the hot tubs, so we’d much rather be stuck here. Guess we’ll see in the morning…

(Also, it doesn’t look like my Flickr photos will finish uploading today. We have very limited free internet, when we get for free at all.)

New Zealand, day 5

This morning we braved the elements and went out for breakfast in the dark. The sun doesn’t come up here until around 8:00! Matt and I both got pancakes. Then we all hopped on the bus and headed for our next destination, Te Anau. About halfway there we stopped at the little town of Gore. They happened to have a very cute sheep statue.

20130617-200700.jpg There were some great views of the Southern Alps on the drive, although it was hard to get a good picture through the window of the bus.

20130618-082910.jpg Someone had brought The Fellowship of the Ring, so we started watching that on the drive, too. It was pretty amazing to watch The Lord of the Rings while looking at the landscape where it was filmed. Matt and I might try to go on a tour of some of the filming locations during our free day in Queenstown later.

We got to Te Anau just in time for lunch, and then we headed out for a tour of the glow worm caves. On the boat ride over we got some great photos of the mountains.

20130618-083041.jpgInside the cave is an underground river that flows into Lake Te Anau. The water is pure enough to drink without any filtration. After walking along the river up to the underground waterfall we came to the boat that goes into the glow worm grotto. It was pitch black except for the tiny lights of hundreds of glow worms that looked like constellations on the cave ceiling. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed in the cave since the glow worms don’t appreciate light or noise.

Tomorrow we leave for our two free days in Queenstown. Here’s hoping the weather improves!

New Zealand, days 1-4

Hello from New Zealand! It’s a dark and stormy night, and we’re finally back at the hotel early enough for blogging.

We flew out of Nashville to LAX Wednesday afternoon and from there flew the 12 hours to Auckland. And we actually slept this time! Well, by “slept” I mean I woke up exactly every 20 minutes, but it was still much better than the flight to Oslo. It helped that the seats seemed a lot comfier on this flight. Air New Zealand is probably our new favorite airline. The cabin of the plane was so tall, you didn’t feel all scrunched over like on other planes. The safety video was actually entertaining. Everyone had a touchscreen with the standard entertainment selections, but you could also see when everything was going to happen on the flight (food service, lights dimming, etc), see the menu, and even order food and drinks!

We got to Auckland on Friday morning and took a short flight to Christchurch. And instead of the usual gross pretzel snack, there was a choice of cassava chips or a New Zealand-made Cookie Time cookie. Also on board the plane was a group of conspicuously good looking men wearing matching grey outfits who turned out to be the French rugby team. Our bus driver, Maury, described rugby in New Zealand as “a sport bordering on religion.” The French team played New Zealand’s famed All Blacks in Christchurch last night (the All Blacks won, of course).

When we got to Christchurch we checked into the hotel and then went up to the Christchurch gondola, a tram that takes you up the side of a mountain. Even though it was cloudy there was a great view from the top.

20130616-195239.jpg After the gondola we went back to the hotel for our first rehearsal. There are only 25 of us and we had very limited rehearsal time, so we’re not doing anything complicated. Some of the pieces you might be familiar with are Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus and arrangements of ‘Tis the Gift to be Simple and Tenting on the Old Campground.

Most of the hotels, including the one we stayed at in Christchurch, don’t have free breakfast, so yesterday Matt and I went to a little cafe for breakfast. Matt’s latte was so pretty that I felt obligated to take a picture.

20130616-201430.jpg I got the blueberry pancakes with grilled bananas. And no, that’s not a chocolate milkshake in the background. It’s my iced coffee.

20130616-201459.jpg After breakfast we all got on the bus and headed to the International Antarctic Centre. Along the way we stopped at the Cardboard Cathedral, the temporary replacement for the Christchurch Cathedral, which was devastated in the earthquake of 2011.

20130616-201803.jpg We were also able to stop at the real cathedral.

20130616-201853.jpg The Antarctic Centre wasn’t overly impressive having just gone to the Fram museum in Oslo. The best part as definitely going for a ride in one of the Haggland vehicles that they use in Antarctica. Matt ended up getting some possum (!) gloves in the gift shop. Apparently the New Zealand possum is not at all like the American opossum. For one thing, it’s adorable and looks more like a flying squirrel than a giant rat. But for another it is a pest and hurts the kiwi birds, so they use its soft fur to make gloves and scarves. The gift shop girl told me not to feel sorry for them, but who could dislike such a cute possum enough to turn it into clothing?

After our Antarctic adventure we had our first concert, at St. Michael’s Church. We had a good audience, even though it was small.

We left early this morning to start our drive to Dunedin. There were lots of cows and sheep to be seen along the way! New Zealand is known for their sheep, but the actually have an even larger dairy industry. In the afternoon we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders. It had been raining all day and was also quite windy by then, so I opted to view the boulders from afar instead of trekking down the soggy beach to see them. As soon as we got to Dunedin we had our second concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a great space to sing in (similar to Church Street) but it was freezing! The very small audience was bundled up in scarves and hats, but at least they had space heaters in the pews!

After the concert we went to our hotel and then had the rest of the afternoon and evening free. Being a Sunday most everything was already closed, and the weather was too gross to do anything outside. So we wandered down the street in the rain to check out the options for dinner and breakfast and eventually found a Starbucks (with several of our friends inside; what a coincidence). It even had a fireplace. I did not want to leave.

Tomorrow we leave for Te Anau, where we’ll get to tour the glow worm caves!