Sunday, March 29, 2015

NZ 3.5: Rafting

During our whitewater rafting trip in Rotorua, we got the guide to let us flip the raft over on one of the rapids. And as luck would have it, one of the other passengers had a GoPro camera and the raft was equipped with a camera holder.

We exchanged email addresses with Leo, our new Brazialian friend and owner of the GoPro. He just sent us the video this weekend and it's pretty cool. Leo is the guy in the front on the right. Chris and I are in the third row of the raft. The guide and a a guide-in-training are in the very back.

Enjoy the video!

I promise to get some more pictures up soon. This weekend just slipped away from me and now we're watching a friend's dog for a week, so things are a little crazy around here. But soon!
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NZ 4: The Land of Ice and Fire

Something that's so interesting about New Zealand is that you can see an active volcano one day, and then next, head south and you can climb on a glacier. Oh and did I mention that the glacier ends in a rain forest? The strange mix of hot and cold, of fire and ice, is what makes this group of islands so spectacular.

I'll get to the fire part in my next post. For now, let's focus on the ice.
New Zealand has quite a few glacier. Two of the most prominent are Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Chris and I were lucky enough to have good weather and be able to fly out on a helicopter to Fox Glacier. Apparently the weather is pretty unpredictable and flights get cancelled about as often as they actually go up. So we were relieved to wake up to blue skies.
The view from the helicopter!
That's the glacier in the middle, curving down to the left.
Here's a video I took as we were approaching the glacier in the helicopter. (I got to sit in the front seat on the way out!)

Our guide out on the ice. She took us for a 3-hour hike on the glacier. And yes, she had to use the ax a lot to cut away parts of the ice so we could get around.
To give you an idea of just how massive this glacier is, take a look at that little black spot on the left, just above the middle of the picture. That's a group of about 12 people. And then further to the left, I think that's another group even further up. And we were standing in the middle of the glacier. This thing was enormous.

Chris in an ice cavern!
Climbing through an ice arch.
As you can imagine, this little escapade was pretty pricey. But it was definitely one of the more unusual, awe-inspiring activities I've ever done. I remember standing there and saying to Chris "We're hiking on a glacier in New Zealand right now. Who does that?" haha The ice formations were so beautiful and it was really neat wearing those spikes on our boots and walking on slick ice. Also, this was our first time in a helicopter, which was pretty awesome itself. It was a short ride, but so cool. Especially when you luck out and get to sit in the front seat like me! (Sorry Chris!)
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Monday, March 23, 2015

NZ 3: Adventure Capital of the World

In addition to elves and dwarves, flightless birds and sheep, and more rolling hills than you can even imagine, New Zealand is the land of adventure. Bungee jumping and skydiving were both made popular in New Zealand, among many other adrenaline-inducing activities.

Chris and I are definitely up for adventure, but neither one of us are entirely fond of sports. So our choice of activities fell somewhere in the middle. Some extreme stuff but no falling out of the sky. haha
This is the first commercial bungee jump operation in the world.
One of our favorite activities was the jetboat ride on the Shotover River in Queenstown. We had so much fun that we decided to buy the DVD they made for us. The video is a mix of promotional footage and actual shots inside the jetboat during our ride. They had a camera mounted in the front and back. Chris and I got there early and managed to snag the front two seats, next to the driver.
Another fun activity was driving off road in an ATV. This was on farmland, and we drove through a muddy swamp, over huge hills and through forests. Chris was a crazy driver in a very good way.
Another popular watersport in New Zealand is what they call black water rafting. Instead of rapids outside, we went tubing through an underground river. We even jumped down a few small waterfalls. I didn't really get any good pictures of this, so you'll have to use your imagination from this picture I snapped of the pictures they took (this was the only good one so we didn't want to pay for all of them ...) I'm in the front on the left and Chris is to the right of me.
And of course, we also partook in the usual white water rafting as well. These pictures turned out great, so we decided to splurge and buy the disk of pictures they took during our trip. Here's a few of my favorites.
At one point, we got our of the raft and climbed over to a six meter waterfall. And then we each jumped off it back into the water. Might have been the scariest thing I've ever done! We also convinced our guide to let us flip the raft. One of the guys on our raft had a Go Pro and took a video of it. When/if I track that down, I'll definitely post it!
And if that's not enough excitement, we also toughened up and headed up high in the treetops for some ziplining. For some reason this doesn't scare us as much as bungee jumping.
See what I mean in the video below. I'm fearless!
But not fearless enough to give this parachuting thing a try. In the two pictures below, these guys would jump off the top of a mountain and glide down to the beach in Queenstown. I think they were trying to land on a raft just out from the beach. We saw four guys come down, and one of them came really close. Two of them smacked down on the water so hard it really sounded like it hurt.
My personal favorite adventure activity was Zorbing. This ridiculous concoction involves climbing inside a giant clear ball that has a little water in the bottom. The ball is suspended within a larger ball, so you can't see our very clearly, but you also don't feel the ground bumping up under you either. And then, well, they push you down a hill.
There are three tracks, so you can go straight down, down a big curve with a drop, and down a zigzag course that tosses you around like you're in a washing machine (that one was my favorite).

Of course there's even more adrenaline-pumping activities to be found in New Zealand. These are just the ones we encountered first hand. And we did do a lot of other fun activities, but since they were a little less heart pounding, I figure I'll save those for a different post.
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

NZ 2: Middle Earth

I'm sure most of you already know that the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed in New Zealand. And many of you also know that Chris and I are geeks, so of course we had to check out the Middle Earth lore during our visit to New Zealand.
First up, in fact, the very first thing we did when we arrived, was visit Hobbiton. This little "village" was actually built for the Hobbit movies and was used to film the scenes of the Shire. The original Hobbiton was built to be temporary, and they actually burned some of it down for the scene where Frodo imagines the Shire being attacked. The rest the took apart and destroyed. So when it came time for the Hobbit movies, they decided to build a permanent set that people could visit once the movies were complete.
And it was adorable. Seriously so cute. It was neat to see the different sizes "houses" they built, depending on who was standing in front of them. Gandalf stood in front of the tiny houses, the hobbits stood in front of the nearly full-sized ones.
They have five gardeners that keep Hobbiton looking green and lush, but in truth, it was fall in New Zealand, so in the picture below you can see where Hobbiton ends and the real countryside begins.
Our guide told us that the party scene for Bilbo's birthday, which is about three minutes long in the movie, actually took three nights to film. They actually set it up like a party and had all the actors eating and drinking and dancing for three nights in a row. Doesn't sound like a bad gig.
Inside the Green Dragon Inn, we each got a beer that's brewed just for Hobbiton, and ordered a couple beef and ale pies. Yum! 
For some reason Smaug's head was hanging out near the pond in Hobbiton. 
Hobbiton was the only set that still exists in New Zealand. Everything else was either CG or taken down after filming. But a lot of New Zealand's natural features were also used in the movie, such as Mount Ngauruhoe (below), which was used in part to create Mount Doom. 
The Remarkables (the redish mountains in the picture below) were also used in various scenes in the movies. For some of the shots, the mountains were covered in snow, which happens throughout the year. They said last summer the Remarkables were mostly covered in snow!
The Shotover river was used for the scene where Liv Tyler's character is crossing the river with Frodo and she summons the water to wipe out the wraiths.
But since the river was too deep for the horses, they combined the shot with this other nearby river, which is much shallower and the horses could actually cross easily. (We were on a tour that drove through it!)
The river below was used when the fellowship is sailing down that river and they pass by the giant statues of the kings. (Could I be more vague? Probably not). 
The picture below was from our tour guide's photo album. He worked on the films and had some neat behind-the-scenes pictures, including this one of the actors who actually played Pippin. As you can guess, the smaller actor was used for shots where the hobbits stood next to humans or elves, so they appeared very small. 
Besides the actual film locations, just driving along the countryside often reminded us of different scenes from the movies. Much of the country has a very Middle Earth feel to it. Also, the safety video on the Air New Zealand flights was filmed by Peter Jackson, so that's pretty hilarious. You can view that video here. Enjoy "the most epic safety video ever made!"