31 December 2011

Melbourne's Street Art

Melbourne is a city full of hidden treasures. Hidden lane ways and alleys hide bars and restaurants that only locals and a few cued in tourists know about. Artists also feel a creative energy in these little veins and capillaries of the city and color the walls with their images. I'm glad that the city has embraced the art scene in such a way as to allow these artistic displays to remain and not be deemed as mere "graffiti."

One such hidden treasure (well, maybe not hidden but it is in an alley!) is Hosier Lane which is between Russell and Swanston streets in the Melbourne CBD. The buildings on either side of the alley are ever-changing canvases for Melbourne's street artists. I need to start visiting every few months to see all the new artwork!

Here are some of my favorite images from Hosier Lane at the moment:

Illustration of traditional Maori facial tattoos

By the way, Happy New Year! Matt and I are headed to some festivities with some friends this evening. Here's hoping we stay out of trouble!


22 December 2011

New Zealand Trip 2011: Days 5 - 7

I hope you enjoyed reading about the first four days of our New Zealand trip. Get ready for more spectacular pics from days 5, 6, and 7!

Day 5: Mt. Cook/ Aoraki

Mount Cook ("Aorkai" to the Maori people) is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. We got up early on Day 5 and drove about two hours from Wanaka to do a day hike near the base of the mountain (climbing to the top requires solid mountaineering experience and gear, neither of which we have). Mt. Cook/Aoraki is also a sacred place to the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, and they are not really keen on people standing on the summit believing that this diminishes its sacredness.

The day hike yielded some pretty amazing scenery! The weather was absolutely perfect with temperatures in the high 60's and cool breezes. The only problem was that we forgot sunblock and I ended up with a bad sunburn on the back of my neck. (You can take the girl out of Texas but ya can't...)

This isn't Mt. Cook but a beautiful scene at the start of the hike.

Swing bridge across the river. Those are fun!

Matt with Mt. Cook on the hike to the base of the mountain.

Mt. Cook is the highest point on the left. Glacier is in the middle - it's a lot bigger than it seems in this picture as it is about 500 meters away from where we are standing.
Chunks of glacier slowly melt in the glacial pond. It goes without saying that this water is super cold!

Mt. Cook from afar with the bright blue waters of a lake in the foreground. Gorgeous!

Some of those you nerdy types (I consider myself part of this group) might like to know that some scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed near Mount Cook. I think the big battle scene in the final movie. There is a lot of open space with no signs of civilization so it was just the "Middle Earth" location that they were looking for. So cool!

After our hike, it was time to drive back to Wanaka where we were staying. We did have to stop on the way to get a shot of some of the beautiful wild flowers that were growing everywhere!

They were kind of like purple and pink bluebonnets but much bigger!
Day 6: Visit to Queenstown

This day we decided to "wing it" - we had no real plan for the day other than to go explore Queenstown which is a pretty big town with lots of tourists and touristy things to do. That typically isn't our speed but it was a chance to rest up from all the hiking we had been doing.

After breakfast, we got in the car and headed for Queenstown. These drives that we took on the west side of the island were great in and of themselves for all the wonderful scenery that we got to see. The road from Wanaka to Queenstown was especially dangerous as it was steep and winding through mountains.  I had plenty of cars behind me on the road since I had to take it slow and careful as I am not used to driving in such conditions. At least there were plenty of opportunities to stop and see some great look-outs.

Look-out point on the way to Queenstown

When we arrived in Queenstown, we wandered around, looked at some shops and had a bite to eat. Our impromptu plan was to take a gondola up a to see the view of the town and the lake.

View of Queenstown from a higher altitude.

In town again, I took a few more noteworthy shots:

It wouldn't be New Zealand without a statue of a man and his sheep!

Some of the historical buildings on the lake.
Queenstown reminded both Matt and me of ski resort towns that we had been to the in US. Indeed, during the winter months, there are a lot of skiers in town. We remarked on how many American accents and other non-Kiwi accents we heard in Queenstown. Very touristy. We were eager to get back out to the wild beauty that we had come to New Zealand for.

Day 6: Drive to Te Anu and a day hike

More driving! Our destination: Te Anu. This was to be our jumping off point for seeing Milford Sound.

After the 3 hour drive from Wanaka to Te Anu, it was early afternoon and therefore we had plenty of time to get some hiking in.

Another swing bridge!
Crystal clear river, this time with a green hue*

Our reward: secluded lake with mountain back drop

*Another Lord of the Rings filming sight! I feel so starstruck!
Day 7: Milford Sound and Key Summit Hike

I took the initiative and bought two tickets for a boat ride around Milford Sound (it's actually a fjord, it was mistakenly named a "sound" by the first Anglo explorers).

What can I say about Milford Sound? It is insanely gorgeous and humbling. My pictures do not capture the awe I felt  by the tall peaks.

It may not look like it but that waterfall is actually 50 stories tall! Things are much larger than they appear...

Seal pups sun themselves on the aptly named "Seal Rock"

The tallest point on the right is Mitre Peak

God's Country
The boats show just how large the mountains are.

Getting up close and personal with the waterfall

This is one of the "permanent" (glacier fed) waterfalls that feed into the fjord. When it rains, the sides of the mountains come alive with thousands of rain-fed waterfalls. The weather was clear when we went...I almost wish it had rained so we could have seen all the waterfalls! 

The boat did leave the calm waters of the fjord and ventured out onto the waves of the Tasman Sea. My poor, prone to motion-sickness husband was such a trooper! Luckily, the water was relatively calm and we only spent about 10 minutes in the open water so there was no chundering.

Milford Sound was awesome. The only problem was the biting flies! Ugh! At least they kept to the shore and did not follow us on the boat and out onto the water.

After our spin around the sound, we found hike to do nearby that went up to Key Summit.

Wonderful views from the top:

Pretty little waterfall along the trail

Do you see that lake in the very middle of the picture? That is Lake Marion.

Matt takes great joy in photo bombing!

True to form, I HAD to stop the car on the trip back to take some photos of beautiful sites along the way.

See the pretty flowers on the left? Those are what made me have to stop at this spot. The river, flowers, and the mountains: such an idealic scene.

Mirror Lake
Phew! That was a lot of photos! I hope you enjoyed them because I sure enjoyed taking them.

Stay tuned for the third and final post about our trip to New Zealand featuring photos of the beautiful town of Dunedin!

Thanks for reading,

16 December 2011

New Zealand Trip 2011: Days 1 - 4

My wonderful husband and I took a 10 day trip to NZ to celebrate our first year of married bliss. One word summary of our trip: awesome.

I LOVE New Zealand!! The country was just my speed - I felt so at ease there. Perhaps it is the stunning natural beauty of the land, or the laid back attitude of the kiwis...either way I felt more at home there than I have any place for a long time.

Because there are so many great photos to share, I am going to break up the trip into 2-3 posts.

Day # 1: Arrive in Christchurch

Our flight took us to Christchurch on the southern island of New Zealand. I didn't know what to expect since an earthquake devastated the city in February of this year.

On the trip from the airport to our hotel, everything looked pretty normal. It wasn't until we dropped off our bags at the motel and set off on foot to explore that we really saw the damage left by the quake.

Basically, the entire central business district was fenced off; the buildings within were abandoned and in various stages of demolition. It was like a ghost town. Not a single soul walked the streets among the fenced off buildings. Only a handful wide-eyed tourists wandered the perimeter of the disaster zone trying to comprehend the damage that the locals were all to familiar with. It was quite a sobering experience. I watched the news footage of the quake several months ago but seeing all the buildings with huge cracks running through them really communicated the impact of the quake to me on a physical level. This was real. And it was terrifying.

I took no pictures in Christchurch.

Day # 2: Drive through Arthur's Pass and Arrive at Franz Josef Glacier

Due to the damage in Christchurch, we only planned to stay one night. The next morning, we had an early breakfast and headed west towards the other side of the island. The plan was to travel through Arthur's Pass which is where the road travels through a mountain range in the middle of the island.

It was a little tricky due to the combination of winding mountain roads and left-side driving. It was our first encounter with the beautiful terrain that NZ has to offer. Because I was driving and I take most of the photos, there are no photos of Arthur's Pass.

After driving all morning and into the afternoon, we arrived at our destination for the next two days: Franz Josef Glacier.

That first afternoon, we did an easy hike to get up close and personal with the glacier.

You can see what looks like a white river end just above my head: that's Franz Josef Glacier!

It was amazing to see the area that this glacier had chewed up over the years. You can see all the boulders and stones in the pictures above where the glacier had once been. It looks like a dried up river bed but that used to be a mountain!

Mouth of the glacial run-off river.
The glacier is melting and a huge river flows from the thing. You can see the hole in the above photo where the water eventually leaves the glacier and flows through the valley. We didn't get too close as there is a lot of danger from the glacier breaking off and falling. This photo was taken from about 200 meters away...I had to really zoom in to get this photo!

Matt posing by a waterfall that flowed into the glacier-cut valley.

Day # 3: Hiking near Franz Josef Glacier

The hike that led us directly to the glacier was only about an hour round trip. With both Matt and I being keen on hiking and nature, we decided to take a longer hike for a grand, sweeping view of the glacier and some of the surrounding mountains.  

Looking at the sign for the hike, I wondered just what I was getting myself into!

We decided to do the hike to Alex Knob
I think they overestimate the time it takes to complete these hikes because we made it to the top in about 3 hours. We were rewarded with some stunning views for our efforts:

At the top of Alex Knob

View of the glacier from a higher altitude. It's a lot bigger when you can see all of it!

The entire hike took about 6 hours. We rightfully ticked off our exercise requirement for that day! The hike down was pretty hard on our feet and joints and we were pretty sore afterwards. We washed up and hit the (very) small township for a bite to eat at a lovely restaurant.

Day # 4: Visit Fox Glacier then drive to Lake Wanaka

Because one glacier is never enough, we set off early the next morning to see the Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier is a 30 minute drive from the Franz Josef Glacier. Here are some shots:

Don't get too close! Sheets of falling ice are bad for one's health.

This guy walking around on the glacier provides some scale as to just how big the glacier is.

Yours Truly mugging with The Fox
Again, I was taken with the amount of land that this glacier has chewed up and spit out over the past several thousand years. What a mess! (but still quite fascinating to a nerd like me!)
After seeing Fox Glacier, it was time for some more driving practice on our way to the town of Wanaka (rhymes with Hanukkah). We stopped along the way to see the Blue Pools which are created by melted glacial ice:
I couldn't get over how clear and blue the water was! So beautiful but COLD!!

More clear water

What's with the scowl?? Matt hanging out on the suspension bridge enjoying the view.

Another photo opportunity presented itself when we were almost to Wanaka: an incredibly blue lake with a mountain back drop:

Upon arriving in Wanaka, it was close to dinner time so we ate and planned our agenda for the next day: a trip to Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain!

Please stay tuned for the next installment of our New Zealand trip. There are so many more breath taking scenes to share!

Thanks for reading,