New Zealand South Island
Apr 13, 2005
|The trip from Wellington to Picton was calm and quick - two hours port to port. On arrival, we were driven to collect our next hire car. Keeping with New Zealand tradition, we were now the proud owners of a Nissan Sunny Super Saloon. A 100% kosher granddad mobile! First, we took the scenic coastal and mountain route to Nelson on the north coast, driving by the Malborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds. We stopped off for an hour in Havelock for lunch. We had the most huge Green Lipped Mussels, a whole steaming pot full! They were delicious, and the beer they were washed down with was pretty good too! We then headed on to Nelson and checked in to the hostel. We spent the afternoon mooching around Nelson and planning the rest of our South Island trip.
Day two, Wednesday, we went to Abel Tasman National Park for a walk in the rain. We had planned to get a boat half way up the track then walk back, however, the weather was pretty abysmal so we opted to walk a way and turn around when we'd been soaked enough. As has been the norm during our New Zealand trip, within 45 minutes of us deciding to do this because of the weather, the sun was blazing down on us and we were hiking with most of our clothes tied around the waist! That afternoon, we went to Marlborough, arguably New Zealand's premier wine region. As we were there, and under much resistance from Jo, we went to a couple of vineyards to sample the local plonk. And very nice it was too. That night, we stayed in a really nice backpackers, a recently refurbished room, ensuite facilities and breakfast and all for just NZ$50 - around 20 quid!
The plan was to go to Kaikoura to see the sperm whales.... Cancelled due to rough seas. So, we headed down towards Christchurch then inland to Springfield. A small hamlet with the coldest YHA in New Zealand - our choice of accommodation for the night. En route to Springfield we drove past some pretty spectacular coast line. The New Zealand scenery is much more rugged than the vast majority of the Australia we've seen and also a lot greener. In quite a small area, there are mountains, beaches, cliffs, glaciers, valleys, and plains. Much more like the UK, Just more sunny days!
The following day, we followed the Arthur's Pass across to the west coast, getting up early enough to see the sun rise over the mountains and the valley. Down here, there is already quite a covering of snow on the higher peaks. We walked a couple of tracks on the way west and visited one of the sets from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe film. Nothing there and wet, so we didn't hang around. First stop on the west coast was Hokitika and a visit to a wildlife centre, mainly to see kiwis. Funny little creatures, but larger than we'd expected. We thought they'd be the size of a blackbird, however, they were more chicken-sized with a big beak! It was too dark in the enclosure for photos however. We also saw around 60 massive eels, up to 200 years old they were! Ugly creatures.
After lunch on a pebbly beach we headed to Franz Josef glacier where we walked out to the terminal face. Pretty impressive it looked. The glaciers in this area are currently advancing, up to 30 cm per day. Whilst we were there we saw (and heard!!) an colossal piece of the glacier fall. We found out that it was cheaper to hike the glacier at Fox than Franz, so decided to head there the next day.
We took the short drive to Fox and were kitted out in the kind of warm and waterproof clothing that might just have won us star prize at a bad taste party!!! Presumably so nobody would want to steal the kit (unless they were going to said party of course). We headed out on the glacier 9.30am walk in drizzle. The first part was a steep climb to reach the top, and it was pretty hard work. They claim you need average fitness, more like good fitness, especially if you're advancing in years. One lady in her mid fifties couldn't hack it and turned back before reaching the top. Her husband struggled on and was chuffed to survive the whole day. Anyway, we reached the top and stepped on the glacier. The two guides were cutting steps the whole time for us to climb up. That must have been hard work! Eventually the sun came out and we all warmed up considerably. We spent around 3 hours walking on the glacier, which was truly enormous. We only hiked a small corner of it at around 500 metres above sea level, the glacier goes up to 3000 metres (!) but the views of the valley were spectacular!
Fortunately, we didn't slip over at any point, but a rather embarrassed guide did! We found that particularly amusing - once we knew she hadn't broken anything on falling into a crevasse that is!!
The next day was Sunday, and as is the case every Sunday, we were craving roast lunches and fry ups. We, At last, had our first fry up sitting in the sun overlooking Lake Wanaka. A veritable feast of bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and too much toast. We were stuffed, so what we chose to do less than two hours later may sound a little... well stupid. We were strolling around Wanaka and saw an advert for $50 off skydives. As we were in the biggest adventure playground maybe in the world, Mark reluctantly agreed to take a drive out to the airport and suss it out thinking there was plenty of time to find an excuse.... Excuses were not to be and due to a cancellation we were kitted up and taking off less than an hour later.
Waiting on the ground we were so nervous but the whole event took on a more surreal feeling as we took off. The instructors did well to reduce our nerves by pointing out various highlights of the scenery. It certainly is picturesque with mountains, rivers and lakes. After dropping off a guy at 9000 feet (how weird does that sound), we climbed to our chosen jump height of 12,000 feet and opened the door. The rush of air was immense as Jo edged gingerly to the edge of the plane! After saying "you better jump you **********", Jo jumped. The thoughts of falling from a plane are forgotten as you pose for the camera on the wing. Then it's "3, 2, 1, Skydive" and we're out accelerating to 200 kph in 3 seconds and holding that speed for 45 seconds until the main chute is deployed. Jo's instructor caught his foot on the running boards as they dived which put them into a spin. Quite amusing and good photos! The jolt as the main chute went up was strong and the speed with which any other divers nearby continue to fall in amazing. Then the eerie float down to the ground. Enough time to take out a camera and take picture of the scenery. We paid extra for Jo to have her dive filmed and photographed. The whole 12,000 feet to 0 feet took about five minutes. It was an awesome experience and we were buzzing and smiling for hours afterwards. We were emotionally drained and after buying the customary skydive t-shirt, we went to the local brewery for a celebratory pint.
After that, we headed to Queenstown, accompanied by a Belgian guy called Johnno who we picked up from the roadside (he didn't know any famous Belgian's either). It took us about 2 hours to find accommodation in Queenstown but we settled for a place a few miutes walk from town.
After shopping, we just had to phone the parents to tell them we'd sky-dived! Shocked, but probably better that we told them after than before! Visions of answering the mobile at 8,000 feet!!
We spent a couple of days in Queenstown, catching up on emails when it rained and then go8ing to watch some bungee jumps. No way either of us will do that!!
After Queenstown, we headed to Milford Sound (actually a Fjord, not a Sound) on the west coast for a cruise around the Fiord. The drive to Milford took us through some mountainous terrain. The cruise at Milford took us the length of the fiord and out in the Tasman Sea, then back. The sides of the fiord tower some 1200 metres on either side, with many waterfalls along its length. The entrance is difficult to distinguish from, the sea and Cook sailed past twice and didn't notice it leaving it for a Welshman from Milford Haven to name it after he entered seeking refuge from gales.
Wednesday, we drove the length of the Southern Tourist Route along the Catlin Coast seeing similar scenery to Australia's Great Ocean Road, just a little cooler than South Australia. We saw lots of wildlife; seals, sealions, penguins, sea birds, everything except the elusive kiwi! We arrived in Dunedin (celtic for Edinburgh), the Scotland of New Zealand, around 8pm and headed out to find something to eat. We made do with a kebab each as most places had closed up for the night!!
Thursday, we spent the morning looking around Dunedin, including a flying visit to the Cadbury's factory. We then drove north to Oamaru where we saw more penguins - but at distance, so photos not too clear. We also went to the Moeraki Boulders, spherical lumps of rock which are periodically given up by the retreating sand stone cliffs, after being deposited thousands of years ago by glaciers during the last ice age.
Friday, we drove up to French Akaroa - though other than a couple of tricolors, not much French about it! The drive there was eventful. Jo leading us to a particularly high track, meandering around several mountains. Gravel road with no passing places and sheer drops into the valley!!! On exiting the track, we spotted the sign which said 4WD only!!! But the Granddad survived and got us there okay. We stayed in an excellent backpackers; very small and cosy. Jo made friends with the cat whilst we spent time relaxing in front of the wood burner.
Saturday, we went back to Kaikoura with the hope of seeing the whales. We travelled up via Hanmer Springs and walked up a hill or two and through the forest. We got to Kaikoura and booked on the 7.15am whale boat trip. After an early night, we got up at the crqack of dawn to get to the boat... only to find out it was cancelled. They told us the 10.30 might go out so we hung around for a couple of hours only for that tyo be cancelled too. We were loathed to wait around another two hours just in case the next boats went (ultimately all were cancelled) so booked onto a plane flight instead. At 1.30pm, pilot and seven whale spotters took off. We saw 4 sperm whales and hundreds of dusky dolphins. From a plane, we weren't really all that close but we got some good video of them and some okay pics. The whales are huge, 40 metres long and 40 tonnes. They look like submarines, until they blow out. After the 30 minute flight, we drove to Christchurch for our last night in New Zealand. We went out for a Thai meal that evening to start to acclimatize to the food we will soon be eating. So many whole chillies!!
Monday 11th, we sadly flew out of Christchurch and headed back to Sydney, where Mark's Dad, step mum, brother and step-sister were awaiting our arrival.