Day 1: The alma mater, beautiful lakes and mountains

On Day 1, we travelled from Christchurch to Lincoln University, Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook Village and ended up in Omarama, driving a total of 433 kilometres.

We spent a night in Christchurch before we started our 6-day drive around NZ’s South Island. After picking us up from the airport, our local driver Graham took us around Christchurch, showing us remnants of devastation that the 2011 earthquake had left on the city.

ChristChurch Cathedral – ruined after the 2011 earthquake

Graham reached his hand out to the dashboard compartment and took a postcard from his leather organiser. It had a picture of the cathedral before it was destroyed by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that killed 185 people. It has been 7 years since that calamity but till today this world heritage building has not been rebuilt due to the ongoing public debate regarding funding for the work. Graham mentioned that an agreement has finally been reached and 2018 will be the year when reconstruction will finally happen.

Postcard of the cathedral before it was destroyed
Cardboard Cathedral

To serve the spiritual needs of the locals, a cardboard cathedral was erected not far away. The designer of this transitional house of worship is Japanese architect Shigeru Ban who specialises in the construction of structures from cardboard tubes for disaster areas.

The “faulty” GPS

Our boracay blue Holden Trax

The following day, we went to pick up our rental car. We got a Holden Trax 1.4L SUV in my favourite colour, blue. However, as we left Christchurch to head to Lincoln about 20 minutes away, I noticed that the NavMan GPS unit which the car rental gave us wasn’t charging when plugged into the dashboard and the battery level was nearly nil.

This wasn’t good at all, it would be unsettling to drive around South Island without the GPS unit working because who knew what the cellphone reception was like in the more remote locations if we had to rely only on our phone maps. I called the lady at the car rental who suggested that the car cigarette lighter point was faulty because she had taken out a second SatMan thinking that the first unit she set up was faulty (so essentially she gave us a faulty car without thinking too much about it). We agreed to return to the car rental and swap for another vehicle. Tip to remember for next time, make sure you can charge your GPS navigational unit (if it’s not a built-in one) before leaving the car rental parking lot!

Lincoln University

This drive around South Island trip has been a life-long dream for my dad who went to university in Lincoln in the 1960’s but never had the time back then to undertake the long journey. So naturally, he wanted to make Lincoln the first stop and walk down a bit of memory lane.

We met up with a man named Mr Ian Collins from alumni services who took us around campus. During a trip to the dining hall, Mr Collins took out a long framed black and white photo and showed my dad a group shot of new students (including my dad) during his year of admission, 1963. My dad had never seen that photo so he was very excited about it.

Dad and mom, with his class photo of 1963

We then walked to the Ivey Hall, during which I saw my dad skip and joyously clicked his heels – he never looked happier! He claimed he felt like a young man again. My mom and I chuckled to see my dad so animated and excited to be back at his alma mater.

Ivey Hall was a university administration building where my dad went to every day to check and send letters. This place was his precious connection to the world outside of Lincoln back in the days when e-mail and mobile phones were not in existence.

Mr. Collins showing mom and dad Ivey Hall
Souvenirs from Lincoln University

We then visited the building where my dad’s dorm room was, it’s now been converted into a pantry. After we were done walking around campus with Mr Collins, we said thank you to Mr Collins and bade farewell as we had a long drive ahead of us.

 Mr Collins gave us some parting gifts in the form of leather credit card holders with the Lincoln University logo emblazoned on them (two pink’s for mom and me, one black one for dad). We then started to make our way down to Lake Tekapo.

Lake Tekapo

We headed out westward along State Highway (SH) 1 about 214km to get to Lake Tekapo. This is a lake where the colour of the water is an unreal milky turquoise blue that you won’t ever forget.

While on SH 1 heading to Lake Tekapo, we drove on the longest road bridge in NZ, the Rakaia bridge. We then turned right from SH 1 to merge with SH 79 and drove through Geraldine to reach Fairlie which had this magnificent stop and breathtaking view.

Stopover at Fairlie in Mackenzie region

After navigating through mountainous roads, we started to approach the township of Lake Tekapo. Your jaws will drop at the first time you see this lake from the highway, a view of pure turquoise beckoning you seductively from the distance.

First view of Lake Tekapo – stunning!

Nearby there is a church and the view from there is equally amazing. While to visit Lake Tekapo is free, there is a coin box at the church entrance if you would like to give a donation.

Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo

The lake is so beautiful, you feel like you could stare at it forever.

Me walking at Lake Tekapo
A bridge at Lake Tekapo that takes you across to a souvenir shop and some restaurants
Us across the bridge at Lake Tekapo with the church now behind us

Lake Pukaki

As much as I wanted to spend more time here, we had to keep on moving as we still had to get to Lake Pukaki, which is another 40 minutes away. Just like Lake Tekapo, this lake was a shimmering milky turquoise caused by reflection of light on small particles of glacier flour (or finely grounded glacier rocks) in the water.

Panoramic view of Lake Pukaki, with Mt. Cook in the horizon centre
Panoramic view of Lake Pukaki, with Mt. Cook in the far horizon (centre)
Another view of Lake Pukaki

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Lake Pukaki is a very long lake, we probably drove around 30 kilometres along it to reach Mt. Cook National Park Village. We originally wanted to stay there for one night but because it was fully booked out, we had to bunk in Omarama. Nonetheless, we still wanted to drive up to the village to see the village and Mt. Cook closer.

It was during this drive along Lake Pukaki that I first encountered my first one of many one-lane bridges of New Zealand on which only cars in one direction could pass at a time (traffic on the other side will have to wait their turn), which freaked me out a little bit. But because there were few cars travelling to Mt. Cook Village at the time, navigating that first bridge was relatively stress-free. As there are many rivers and creeks to cross in the countryside, NZ makes these type of road bridges because they require less maintenance and are more cost-effective.

Mt. Cook Village

Mt. Cook (or Aoraki as it’s known in Maori, meaning ‘cloud piercer’) is New Zealand’s highest mountain standing at 3,724 m. In the national park, there is a village at the foot of the mountains called Mt. Cook Village. To get there you will definitely have to drive along the length of Lake Pukaki.

Here are some of the scenic views of our drive to Mt. Cook Village.

The view enroute to Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village
The view en route to Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village
Driving along Lake Pukaki
Mt. Cook as seen from the road

At Mt. Cook Village, we took a bathroom break and stretched our legs while admiring the snow-capped mountains that stood majestically before us. I really wished we had more time to spend here but alas that was a sacrifice we had to make on this trip. I noted a few walking tracks that were nearby and told myself that I had to come back again another time to go for these bushwalks.

View of the mountains from a car park at Mt. Cook Village
Some walking tracks at Mt. Cook Village – Governor’s Bush and Red Tarns

Some other activities in our itinerary that we had to miss out at Mt. Cook was to head out to Tasman Valley for a lake cruise to view 500-year-old glaciers and also, visit the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a tribute (museum cum planetarium) to the late New Zealand explorer. Sir Hillary was one of the first two known climbers of Mt. Everest in Nepal (the other one being Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay).

It was then time to make a U-turn at the village and drive along Lake Pukaki again in the opposite direction, southbound so that we could reach our night accommodation at Omarama which was more than 90 kilometres away.

The map of our driving on Day 1:

Day 3: The southernmost tip and endemic birds

Day 3: We drove down to Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost tip via Invercargill, and then up to Lake Te Anau and saw endemic birds. More than 400 kilometres of road was traveled on this day.

Lake Te Anau is our final destination on day three, and it is more than 5 hours drive away from Dunedin. En route, Dad wanted to visit Bluff, the southernmost tip of New Zealand – just to say we’ve been there!

Bluff was not on our original agenda and we had another long day of driving ahead of us, so we decided to forego visiting the Otago Peninsula to save on time. The peninsula only about 20 minutes away from Dunedin and the albatross breeding centre is a popular tourist attraction here.

We arrived in Invercargill around lunch time and we stopped to have kebab. After a bit of walking around the city, we got back into the car and drove another 1/2 hour to Bluff.

Bluff is the southernmost city in New Zealand and is a port and gateway to Stuart Island which lays further south.

We went to a lookout point in Bluff and drove up a large hill. We saw a man walking up the hill and he waved at us. Because we took a wrong turn to reach the lookout point, I had to reverse the car and get back on to the main road to get there. The man we saw earlier had already arrived, wow he was a fast walker!

At the top of the lookout point, we could see the harbour and Stuart Island. I was told that only 400 people live in Stuart Island and some 15,000 kiwi birds flourish there!

We left Bluff and drove north to Te Anau, about 187 kilometres away. The weather was overcast and as we got into Te Anau, it had started to rain. Te Anau is a popular lake resort and I have many friends who have visited from Malaysia. The day was cold and gloomy and it was late, so I decided to visit the nearby bird sanctuary as it was still open.

We had Indian food that night, the weather was raining and cold so hot butter chicken with nan bread actually sounded good.

I stopped by this bird statue to take a photo, and once I was done, a Chinese man nearby asked me to help take his photo. Somehow he thought I was from India, and when I said I was from Malaysia, he said he was too!

Te Anau is fjord territory and located near Fjiorland National Park. Lots of people who visit Te Anau come to take lake cruises to see the beautiful fjords in the area. I saw many people queuing outside the cruise venues to board ships at night. Since we only had one night to stay in the area we had to forego this activity. However, upon driving out of Te Anau to head into Queenstown the following day we came across a few stops that overlooked beautiful fjords, so at least I had some exposure to these magnificent things.

Colleagues and friends recommended me to visit Milford Sound and take the lake cruise up there to see the fjords, which is another 2 hours drive away north of Te Anau Lake. Gordon at work tells me that on the drive to Milford Sound there will be a section of the highway when you would see a mountain “sinking” on the horizon as you drive closer to it.

Since Milford Sound wasn’t in our original itinerary and as much as we wanted to go see it, we didn’t because 1) the weather was less than ideal (raining) and 2) that meant we’d be spending almost two hours on the road just to get to Milford Sound, and then have to drive another four hours from Milford Sound to Queenstown! (There is no direct road from MS to Queenstown, we learned that the department of conservation did not want highway to be built through the national park).

A few days later when we were back in Christchurch, Graham our local driver told us how dangerous the road up to Milford Sound is from Te Anau if you are not used to driving there. He tells us of a tragic accident that involved two young German tourists who lost control of their car at a notorious road bend and collided with a bus that ended up on top of their car! Sadly they perished as they were trapped when their vehicle caught up in flames.

In hindsight, my parents and I made a wise decision not to push ourselves to go to Milford Sound. It would have been too tiring of a trip and we wouldn’t be able to see or do much in Queenstown had we done that.

The 6-day drive around South Island

Me at Lake Pukaki with black Holden Traxx we drove around NZ

Between 18-23 February 2018, I made a memorable and time-aggressive road trip around New Zealand’s South Island with my parents, not unlike an adrenaline-pumped episode of the Amazing Race! We drove almost 1,800 kilometres in these six days and saw many unforgettable sights that took our breaths away. Considering I was travelling long distances with two senior citizens, I feel blessed that everyone came out of it relatively healthy and refreshed. Heck, my dad did a lot of the driving than mom and I was!

The road trip started after we flew into Christchurch from Auckland. Granted, we weren’t able to see everything that the travel agent suggested we do in the itinerary they prepared for us, but we did as much as we could and skipped out certain places and activities to fit our timeline. After all, it is a holiday, why stress out? While we tried to keep to the driving schedule, we kept our itinerary open and loose and picked and chose what we could cover for the day.

I am breaking down my South Island experience into 7 separate blog posts, each highlighting one day of adventure. Click on the link below that piques your interest first or just go day by day and follow me on my adventure:

  • Day 1: The alma mater, beautiful lakes and mountains
    (Lincoln University, Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook Village)
  • Day 2: Penguins, ancient boulders and world’s steepest street
    (Omarama, Oamaru, Koehohe Beach, Dunedin)
  • Day 3 – The southernmost tip and endemic birds
    (Invercargill, Bluff, Lake Te Anau)
  • Day 4 – The cruise at the adventure capital (Queenstown)
  • Day 5 – The reflective lake (Lake Matheson)
  • Day 6 – Helicopter ride to Fox Glacier, the continental train
    (Fox Glacier, Greymouth to Christchurch)
  • Day 7 – Christchurch (tram ride, punting on the River Avon, gondola views from Mt. Cavendish)

Day 2: Penguins, ancient boulders and world’s steepest street

On Day 2, we drove from Omarama to Oamaru to see blue penguins, then to the strange Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, and finally landed in Dunedin to walk up the steepest street in the world. We covered quite a number of kilometers of road on this day.

Omarama

After a full day of driving, we spent the night at Omarama. It was a quiet town and there weren’t many options for food where we stayed but we managed to find fish and chips for dinner before retiring for the night. We didn’t do much in Omarama, only bought some groceries for the road and refilled our gas the next day. Omarama is a favourite destination for glider pilots it seems. Our itinerary suggested seeing a sheep shearing demonstration at a local cafe but we didn’t have time for that.

"Incorrect GPS maps an issue."
Yikes. GPS gone wrong.

While grocery shopping, I saw this newspaper headline at the supermarket, something I think most tourist drivers in NZ would not want their GPS units doing!

We set up the GPS to Dunedin which was our final destination for the day. It was a wet day, drizzling throughout so we were careful in our driving. A lot of country road lay ahead of us and the speed limit in NZ is usually 100km/h. There are signs every now and then reminding foreign drivers that “NZ roads are different”, meaning people should be more patient and keep to the speed limit. It’s not the German autobahn we’re talking about here.

While driving in South Island, I saw a lot of farm fields with these giant irrigation sprinklers spraying water (or not) on the crops.

Pivot irrigation for farming on a field, as we left Omarama

Temperatures were in the low teens (Celsius) when we departed Omarama and it felt like the early onset of winter. It was a far contrast to the sunny warm day we had the previous day. Talk about drastic shift in weather pattern!

En route, we stopped by a power station along Waitaki River to have a look at the dam.

First of eight power stations along Waitaki River

 

Waitaki River power station
Turbine built in 1941, used as a generator. Made of cast steel and weighs 17 tonnes!

Oamaru

We drove for about 1.5 hours along State Highway 85 before reaching SH 1 and turning right to enter Oamaru.

My kakapo companion – turning right now to Oamaru
View of the seaside at Oamaru

Oamaru is a known spot for blue penguin sightings, so we decided to drop by and see some. We found a centre called Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, you have to book in an evening viewing session to see the penguins coming on to the shore at dusk after they’ve been fishing and swimming at sea the entire day, which at the time we were there (summer) meant around 8 pm.

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

It was still early in the day and we weren’t spending a night in Oamaru, so sadly we had to miss this spectacle and settle with going through the penguin museum and walk around the premises.

Me at the penguin crossing in Oamaru
A penguin burrow with shed feathers
Blue penguins are also called “Fairy penguins!” 🙂
How my mom measures up to the different species of penguins!

We also looked at some penguins kept in a special (musky-smelling) shed where they are all molting (i.e. losing their baby feathers to make way for adult ones), but we weren’t allowed to take photos as they were enclosed in dark boxes and could be stressed out. So we left the shed after viewing them and walked around the compound in the rain to read up more about the animals.

A female blue penguin typically lays two eggs at a time
Viewing deck of the penguin show – can you spot the sleeping seal?

After getting some penguin souvenirs, we went to grab some lunch before heading out to Dunedin.

A rainy day, Waitaki District Council building in Oamaru
Leaving Oamaru on a rainy day, Waitaki District Council building to the left

Moeraki Boulders

On the way down to Dunedin, we stopped by Koekohe Beach where some huge unique boulders are located. To enter the beach, you drop 2 dollars into a collection box at the top of the stairs and then walk down to the beach.

It was still raining so we walked carefully down the stairs and onto the gravel path that leads to the beach.

Walking down the gravel path to Moeraki Boulders
Welcome to Moeraki Boulders
My first view of Koekohe Beach

At first glance, the beach didn’t look very impressive, especially since the weather was so cold, miserable and uninviting. Teluk Cempedak beach in Pahang had bigger and more impressive boulders than this, I initially said to my mom.

But then upon coming closer to the big rocks, I could see why they were special and a bit out-of-worldly, they were unusually round and had a curious, sulphur-coloured core. With cracks on the surface (called septaria), Moeraki Boulders even resembled prehistoric dinosaur eggs! They are said to have been formed 60 million years ago.

Mom posing with the Moeraki boulders
Kids photographing some broken up boulders – notice the yellow calcite
Have you hugged a boulder today?
Here’s a boulder unassumingly jutting out from the bank

Here’s a photo of me emerging from a boulder like a hatchling, taken from my Instagram:

We had seen enough of the ancient round boulders so we left after about an hour to continue our journey to Dunedin before it got too late.

Dunedin

The coat of arms of Otago University in Dunedin

Dunedin is the second largest city in South Island and is home to Otago University where more than 20,000 students attend university. It also boasts having the world’s steepest street, named Baldwin Street, according to the Guinness book of records!

The name Dunedin came from the Scottish Gaelic name for the capital city of Edinburgh. No matter how many times our local Kiwi friends said it for me, I had a difficult time trying to remember how to correctly pronounce “Dunedin.” So while in the city, I made a short video to remind myself.

After checking into our motel, we drove to the foot Baldwin Street, where the world’s steepest street is, it has a whopping 35% grade!

Baldwin Street

At the foot of Baldwin Street:


Baldwin Street became the steepest street because when planners in London were drafting out plans to build streets, they drew grids without considering the terrain. As a result, Baldwin Street was born.

Baldwin Street is a residential street so if you’re visiting, please be respectful to the people living here and keep noise to a minimum. I saw some tourists here making such a ruckus here as they attempted to run up the hill and take photographs at the same time. It was quite cringing to watch.

Mom and Dad braving up Baldwin Street

You can opt to walk up the street or take the stairs on either side of the road. We decided to take the stairs as it was less stressful and safer to do. While walking up, I saw a female runner panting and puffing up the street with her headphones on, I honestly thought she was going to collapse at any moment but she kept going till she reached the stop. She definitely had lungs of steel and calves of a beast!

As you reach the top (if you can last that long), you’ll be rewarded with a photo spot at this mural.

A mural awaits you at the top of Baldwin St

The view from the top was calming and breathtaking. I bet property prices up here cost a pretty penny. The street is made from concrete instead of asphalt so that it doesn’t slide downhill in hot weather!

The view from Baldwin St as we head down
The view from Baldwin St as we head down

I saw some cars driving up the hill, presumably in gear one because I could hear the engine revving so hard. I could also smell burning tyres as the cars finally got to the house it was trying to get to!

House on Baldwin St

There is a small souvenir shop at the bottom of the hill where Baldwin Street starts that you could drop by and have a look at. I didn’t go in but from the sign, I read you could get ceramic souvenirs and also a certificate of completion stating that you’ve successfully walked/run/cycled/etc up Baldwin Street!

Souvenir shop at the foot of Baldwin St – you can buy a certificate here for $2, saying you’ve gone up Baldwin Street

(After my trip back from New Zealand, I found out that there is a chocolate charity race called the Jaffa Race in which Jaffa chocolate balls labeled with numbers are raced down Balwin Street! How cool is that! Check out this video of that bizarre race.)

With Baldwin Street done and dusted, we drove around the city that was now getting quiet and stopped by the Dunedin railway station for some photos. The railway station, opened in 1906, is stunning and had a beautiful flower garden in the front.

Mom and me in the garden of the Railway station at Dunedin
Distance from Dunedin to Edinburgh & other major cities
A vintage train on display at Dunedin train station

Dunedin also has a Cadbury World which is situated just across the street from the railway station but media reports that the factory part of it is to be closed by March 2018.

Dinner at The Reef in Dunedin – excellent service and food

Before ending the night, my parents and I went to have dinner at this nice seafood restaurant in town called The Reef. It was also to commemorate my belated birthday back in January. The service here was excellent and the lady who waited on us meticulously described the special of the day, which was a fish dish. We all ordered the same thing!

Fish special of the day, along with a side of kumara potato wedges

I also had a side of kumara potato wedges, which is a Maori sweet potato that has low starch content and is supposedly better than normal potatoes. I liked it with the chilli aioli sauce. Because our portions were so generous, we ran out of room for dessert!

And that concludes our day at Oamaru-Dunedin. It’s time to recharge and get rested before we tackle Day 3.

The Detour to Danau Seran

On our way to our planned weekend getaway of Kandangan from Loktabat Utara in Banjarbaru, we made a detour and stopped by a popular lake spot called Danau Seran, or Lake Seran in neighbouring Guntung Manggis district, just 10 minutes drive away. The water there is said to be a beautiful green-blue hue and I was curious to see it.


Continue reading The Detour to Danau Seran

Searching for Bekantan in Banjarmasin

I created a 10-minute video documentary, showcasing my first encounter with the proboscis monkeys (bekantan) of South Kalimantan, and also my interview with the passionate lady who runs the bekantan rescue center in Banjarmasin. Watch the video then read my story.


Continue reading Searching for Bekantan in Banjarmasin

Reviving myindo.com

It has been a long time since I left myindo.com, since 2008 to be exact. It was a personal travelogue website I ran in the 2000’s on my passion for Indonesia, a close yet different country to my native Malaysia (hence the chosen domain name).

Then I lost interest to write about my travels. My interests shifted (I took up running and started a blog on that). I entered my thirties, and got caught up in the rat race and life in general. The age of social media came, stayed and consumed my energy and attention, leaving me mentally fatigued.

But a recent humble yet eye-opening trip to South Kalimantan in January 2018 has inspired me to reboot this server and lease it a new life. I wanted to write about visiting new places again, share my personal anecdotes, stories and even videos (I enjoy making them). This inspirational quote by a Moroccan scholar particularly resonates with me:

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Even if no one else reads or views this blog, at the very least, I would have left a digital footprint behind for my old age where I can read and recollect where I went, and what I did. I know we have Facebook for all that these days. But nothing beats owning your own personal website, and coming from someone who grew up as a teen coding HTML using Notepad in the mid ’90s, it’s still a novelty and something I treasure.

This time my scope will be broader. I’ll cover places and topics that fascinated and left an impression on me.

Here’s to a whole new edition of myindo.com – I hope you’ll have me again, old friend. Let’s do this.