Kia Ora or Hello from New Zealand!
Wow, what a busy month this has been travelling around this amazing and beautiful country. When we last wrote we were in Cairns and just about to fly back to Sydney. That evening we met up with our friends for some goodbye drinks in the Harbour. It was great to see them and a fair few tears were shed! The next day was spent trying to fit in as many of our favourite things as possible, such as a visit to Max Bremner Chocolate House and a Gelatissimo ice cream by the harbour.
Rather crazily we had booked a 7am flight from Sydney to Christchurch and so after creeping out in the early hours from Rich and Bex's flat, we headed to the airport at 4am! This was probably the best flight of our trip so far as the plane banked to right giving amazing views of the Harbour and city and was so calm. Holly loved it as the inflight entertainment had the entire first series of Ab Fab!
Once we approached the coast of NZ, we were greeted by these amazing views of the snow topped mountains of the South Island peeking through the clouds. Truly breathtaking! One of the great things about coming to NZ has been the chance to catch up with so many old friends who now live here. In Christchurch we were going to see Margaret and Cameron who had lived in Blackheath and had returned home to NZ about 3 years ago. Walking through the arrivals hall, we were met by Margaret and her beautiful daughter Isabella who hadn't been born when we last saw them. It's so nice when you arrive in a new country to be met by someone you know!
After relaxing and spending time at their home we headed out the next day with Cameron to pick up our campervan and explore the city. We had recieved an email a couple of days before leaving Sydney saying we had been given a free upgrade to a much larger campervan (purple and green Juicy Condo!) which turned out to be a real blessing and much more comfy. It even had a TV!! (shame you couldn't pick up any channels!)
As you probably know, Christchurch has been hit by two severe earthquakes in the last 18 months and now vast parts of the CBD are closed off with no access. Most of the buildings in this red zone will need to be demolished and the work will take decades to be completed. However, out of the devastation little pockets of good news seem to have arisen, such as the shopping mall that has developed out of converted shipping containers and now forms a hub of activity right next to the devastation. Also coffee shops which once were popular hubs on street corners which were turned to piles of rubble have set up mobile vans so they can still serve people. It was really sad to see how a city can be devastated like this and there are very drastic ideas to move the centre of the city 30kms. Hopefully this rebuild will give people the chance to rejuvenate the city centre. However, it still remains a highly active earthquake area with over 10,000 quakes recorded since september 2010. Fortunately, most are so small you cannot feel them and on our first visit we didn't notice any but on our return visit we did feel one which was a 3.8 magnitude! A very strange experience!
After a night of planning over maps, the next day we headed off and started our road trip. Our first stop was Lake Tekapo where we relaxed in the hot springs they have there. The journey down was stunning with us following the Southern Alps all the way, seeing snow topped mountains in the distance. Each time you went around a corner, you expected for the view to go but it just got better and better. It was a bizarre feeling relaxing in 38 degree water in this alpine setting, especially on a bitterly cold night. After cooking our evening meal, we were relaxing in our campervan when we suddenly realised that it had started hailing. It was so cold in the van that first night and we were so thankful to Margaret and Cam for lending us some warm clothes. In the morning we awoke to the whole campsite covered in snow. A beautiful sight and quite a welcome to camping in New Zealand!
The following day we headed onto Mt Cook to see the highest peak in New Zealand. The scenery was stunning and we did a couple of walks to see the terminal moraine or the end point of a glacier and then upwards to see the Tasman Glacier which has at it's base a river on which were a series of icebergs that had recently broken from the glacier. We were really blessed these first few days with stunning weather and the bright blue sky just brought out the amazing scenery.
Our next destination was Queenstown, which is seen as the adrenaline capital of NZ. Or to most our friends in Sydney, the home of the Fergburger..... the best burger in the world. We certainly had a picture of what we thought Queenstown would be like but were surprised in pretty much ever regard and loved the place. Finding a traditional British sweet shop, we popped in and Holly endulged in a sherbet dipdab. We also drove out to Arrowtown, a small but beautiful old style village with a traditional sweet shop selling fudge in all manner of flavours including.... Passionfruit! Heaven on a plate! We also explored the Chinese settlement of historic homes for the workers who came to the area during the gold rush in the 19th century. The evening was finished off by trying the ubiquitous Fergburger and my word it lived up to the plaudits! Sometimes people hype up something so much it can never live up to it - thankfully it did! Mmmmm
Now, if you are looking for somewhere where you can guarantee it is going to rain at some point, the West coast of NZ is a good shout. I think parts of it recieve 8m of rain a year (and you think the uk has it bad!) The drive to get to Milford Sound was especially stunning and dramatic and given all the recent rain, the waterfalls that were visible from the side of the road were in full bloom.
The west coast and the area around Milford Sound has been shaped by glaciers and on a beautiful day you can take a boat trip and sail down these massive fjords that are the end result of the glaciers gouging out of the landscape. It's also possible to do the trip on very wet and misty days like the day we had. Although the visibility was pretty poor, it was still really worthwhile doing. Captain Cook actually sailed right past Milford Sound when he navigated the coast of NZ, but because from the outside the entrance appears hidden and closed off, he completely missed it. It was only discovered when a sailor was looking for a place to hide from an oncoming storm many years later. We ended the evening at our camp site having a quiz-night and borrowed the kiwi version of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary. As expected, we did have a little weakness in that our Kiwi general knowledge was spectacularly bad!!
After leaving Milford Sound, we decided to head back to Queenstown for a couple of nights. Reading the local paper in Fergburger a few days previous, we discovered that Sir Ian Mckellen's favourite Fish and Chip shop was in Queenstown. Well, if its good enough for Gandalf.... Anyway, somehow I couldn't imagine him at Aggys Shack but we had to agree it were pretty awesome!
Whilst we were very tempted to go jet boating and rafting, we couldn't afford either on our tight budget so Holly suggested we walk to the top of the hills that overlook Queenstown. This was a clear demonstration of our frugal money saving antics which would save us $50 on a return gondola cablecar, so why not! After 40 mins of continuous uphill trekking I was wondering whether there was actually a summit to it! Eventually, an hour and a bit after starting and 1000ft higher up we arrived and were treated with amazing views over the city which made it worth it. At the top, you can hire 'luges' or little karts which you can ride on tracks around the summit, which was great fun. Walking down was far easier, until the sun set very quickly and we almost got lost in the woods! Thankfully, a cookie and hot chocolate after helped.
We then headed onto Lake Wanaka after a pretty hair raising drive up mountains and around hair pin bends in the campervan. Wanaka is a pretty small town, but is well known around the world for it's cinema. In peak season there are queues for the showings, but being out of season we rocked up and were able to see Marvel Avengers. You take your seat and they aren't just your typical seats but a mishmash of old airline seats, a lazyboy recliner and even an old Morris Minor from which you can watch the film from! Half way through, the lights go up for the interval and everyone goes out into the foyer where cookies have been baking and you can buy one for the 2nd half of the film. I think the Guardian newspaper said something like "this is how all cinemas should be" - completely agree!!
One of the things we had really wanted to do in NZ was to hike a glacier. We drove on from Wanaka through the Haast Pass towards the famous Franz Josef glacier. The scenery on the drive was incredible going through rainforest covered in mist. When we eventually arrived we were informed that the glacier was actually closed at the moment due to the front of it collapsing.... Eeek! Not to be deterred, we drove back 50km to the less well know but equally stunning Fox Glacier and decided to do a half day hike the next day. Waking up the next day to cloud and rain wasn't the best start to an afternoon glacier hike, but after getting our crampons and waterproofs on we felt like modern day explorers! It was incredible to walk on the ice that was now in retreat due to the warming of the earth. Our guide showed us around some of the structures on the ice, including a moulin, or cave, where running water had melted through a crack in the glacier to create a hole you can walk through. The cave had a pool of water at the base which you had to wade through - completely surreal moment. We also had to try and squeeze our way through a crevasse or two. All in all it was an awesome few hours and complete recommend it!
Heading back up the south island, we crossed through Arthurs Pass staying at a campsite just off the road. It was nice but very strange to be the only ones there! The campsite has a section of forest where glowworms live. Glowworms only live in NZ and Australia, so armed with a few torches we made a little trek through the forest, eventually finding the right spot and when we turned our torches off, suddenly the space was lit with the tiny blue lights of the glowworms. The light is actually coming from their bottoms as they burn food to attract insects towards them!
It was as we were driving along Arthurs Pass that we learnt that Christchurch had just experienced a 5.5 magnitude earthquake that afternoon. We felt lucky that we had avoided that by a day, however the following day as we sitting in Margaret and Cams lounge we did get to experience one first hand. Whilst it only registered 3.8 on the scale you could feel the ground rising you like a wave as it passed. After spending the evening with Margaret and Cam and having lunch in the botanical gardens, we headed north for our final few days in the south island.
That night we stopped in Hanmer Springs and visited the hot springs and sulphur pools they are famous for. While we sat there, a storm approached and blasted us with wind and rain, a pretty surreal moment.
One of the other things we really wanted to do in NZ was to go whale watching. Having seen humpbacks in California, we were really excited about seeing more whales here. Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see whales, due to the incredibly deep trench that runs along the coast which makes it a great spot for food. We were really lucky to see 4 sperm whales, but trumping it all was seeing a massive pod of around 500 dusky dolphins on our way into harbour. They live year round in Kaikoura and were in a very playful mood. It was hard to take it all in when we stopped as everywhere you looked there were dolphins leaping or flipping in the water and some even chasing our boat as we headed back to the harbour.
The area around Kaikoura is also well know for it's seal colonies and that afternoon we drove to see one and walked along the cliff edge looking down to see hundreds of seals all along the beach. The following day driving north we stopped off at a place called Ohau Stream. In the last few years the seals have started to use this stream as a nursery for the pups to play and interact in whilst the parents go out and feed in the open sea which the stream leads too. It was an incredible experience to see them at first hand after making this short walk from the main road. As you walked along the path, seals would be crossing metres in front trying to get to the stream and waterfall. As I was filming the seals playing, one crept up on me from behind. Unaware I was blocking his way to the stream, he started to bark and as holly nudged me to get me out of his way, he barged past me and nearly wiped me out.... A funny moment caught on cam!
Our last stop of the day and the South island was to the Marlborough wine region for some tastings! Holly will say it was the lack of lunch, but the wine as always went straight to her head and she was a little tipsy after we had visited 3 or 4 places! Luckily I was the designated driver....
We then camped overnight in Picton from where we were getting the overnight ferry to Wellington the next day and to start our travels up the North Island