After 5 weeks in New Zealand we have finally left and arrived in Fiji and our last week was certainly very eventful so this blog will end up being another long one. My last blog finished just before we were due to get the Tranzalpine on Wednesday 8th so I will start this one from then. What I neglected to mention in my last blog was that on that Tuesday (the day I wrote the last blog) we headed into Christchurch and did the touristy things. First we caught a gondola to the top of this hill which supposedly allowed for amazing views of the city and then we took a tram ride around the city. The reason I forgot to mention these were that I actually forgot, which kind of tells you how great it was! The ride wasn't as good as the one in Queenstown and the view wasn't that great either. The tram ride was OK but again nothing special, so if you ever go to Christchurch don't bother doing these - or in fact just don't bother going to Christchurch.
Good, so now I can write about the fun stuff. As I mentioned in the last blog, we were due to get the Tranzalpine on Wednesday and so we woke up really early and drove to the train station. This was probably one of the coldest days we've had since we've been away and as we have both sent all our warm clothes home we were sat in the train station with blankets around us. We looked like a couple of hobos and were praying that the train carriages were heated. The journey itself was around 3 hours to Greymouth and went through the Albert pass which goes through Mount Albert. Some of the scenery was truly spectacular, snow capped mountains, viaducts and forests and lakes made the journey seem really quick. The viewing deck of the train also made the views seem even more spectacular and in no time we had reached Greymouth. As this was a day trip we were due to get the same train back and so had around 45 mins to walk around. Overall, we were happy that we had done this but were also a little disappointed. After all everything we had read said this was one of the best train journeys in the world but to be honest - although very beautiful, we both expected more. But hey, it was a nice way to spend a day.
The following day we left Christchurch and were heading to Picton to arrange our ferry trip back to the North Island. We passed through some really lovely towns, the pick of which was Kaikoura and did a quick drive on yet another unbelievably scenic route called the Queen Charlotte drive. But as we were short on time we just stopped in Picton for the night before catching the ferry to Wellington early on Friday. By the time we had reached Wellington it was around 11am and as we were heading north to Turanga were caught in the Easter traffic jams. Seeing as this has been the first time in 4 months that this has happened to us we were moaning, complaining and cursing anything and everything! By the time we had reached Turanga it was around 6pm and so we treated ourselves to a huge Burger King!!!
I should also just point out that the reason we were in Turanga was that I had planned to tackle the Tongrariro Alpine crossing on the Saturday. This is a very difficult 19.5 km day walk through just about every terrain that you could imagine and in parts you climb to almost 2,000 meters. For those of you who have watched Lord of the Rings it's Mount Doom and so consists of 3 active volcanoes. Sally wisely declined doing the walk and so dropped me off at the start of the track at 8.30am. I thought I would get there early to avoid the crowds, but when I got there it resembled Piccadilly Circus at rush hour! And I don't just mean loads of Japanese tourists taking photos - there were families with children who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old. Again, I should point out that this walk isn't a joke, besides the obvious dangers of walking through active volcanoes it had snowed the previous day and so parts of the track were very icy and so very slippery. Anyway, as I have done a few walks since I've been away I was very quickly over-taking all the families and tourists and climbing up the mountain.
The first climb was a steep set of stairs and I don't just mean a few. i reckon there was at least 1,000 steps and by the time I had reached the top I was beginning to seriously regret that BK the night before. So I got to the top and thought the hardest part was over. The I looked up and there was an even steeper climb coming up, but I powered through thinking that must be it. When I got to the top it was a giant crater and the view was amazing. The whole place was covered by snow but the sun was shining and so it was actually really hot. It was beautiful and the flat walk across the crater was a relief on the legs, but it wasn't to last long as there was another even steeper climb coming up. By this point the climb was almost completely vertical and as I have already mentioned the snow and ice made it quite dangerous. Steadily I made my way to the top and was rewarded with the most amazing sensation of triumph. Standing at 2,000 meters really makes you feel on top of the world and I felt so proud that I had reached the top. And when I looked in one direction and noticed the most beautiful trio of thermal pools, I knew that all the hard work was worth it. So I continued the walk and headed down towards the thermal pools which again was an experience. The climb up was on snow and ice and the climb down was on dirt and again was such a steep decline that could sit down and just slide down! I reached the pools and had a quick snack and continued towards the Blue Lake. The lake was a gorgeous clear lake that was completely still and so it was the perfect place to have some lunch and think about the fact that I still had half of the walk left.
Anyway, to cut the story short after 6 hours, 19.5 km, about 5 blisters (1 huge one - seriously not kidding, it was the size of 2 50p coins next to each other), a sore left knee, pulled groin and hamstring and a thumping headache I reached the end line. It was an awesome adventure, probably one of the highlights of my trip so far and something that I will never forget and definitely worth all the pain and blisters.
Needless to say that I was very sore on Sunday and so we drove to Waitomo and just spent the day lazing around our hostel. I had booked to go on a caving adventure on Monday so I was resting my aching limbs. By the time Monday arrived I was still really sore, but I just had to bite the bullet and go and do a caving adventure. This involved me having to first abseil down 27 meters to the entrance of the cave, which without wanting to blow my own trumpet I did masterfully. Schwarzenegger would have been proud!
From there went on a 1 hour walk in water to see the glow worms which was pretty amazing. From the glow worm caves we made our way through some tiny gaps and holes (yes I did managed to fit through them) to an underground river for some black water rafting. This basically involves getting on a dingy and letting the river take down a pitch black cave. Sounds easy enough doesn't it? Well, it should have been, but someone had stolen my dingy (erm, the larger size one) and so I had the smaller one and was having trouble getting my arse to fit into the hole of the dingy. It was like trying to fit an elephant into a polo mint! 10 mins of me jumping on this dingy and flipping into water passed before our tour guide who was bursting with laughter gave me the bigger dingy and I was on my way. So after a few hours of walking/climbing/swimming in the caves our tour was completed by a 27 meter rock climb back to the top. It was actually one of the best tours I have ever done and would love to do caving again. In the evening we went for a nice meal and I even tried Ostrich for the first time!
That afternoon I was determined that I should get Sally into the caves and so booked a slightly easier way to experience them via a boat ride into a different and bigger glow worms cave. This actually ended up being really good fun as well and the cave with the glow worms was pretty amazing.
And so on Tuesday we left Waitomo and on the way to Auckland stopped at Rainbows End (a theme park) for the day. As you have probably guessed by now we are both huge theme park fans and are planning to do all the big ones in the USA and so had a lot of fun spending the day there.
We arrived in Auckland on Wednesday and after giving our little car back spent the day lazing around. On Thursday we took a ferry to Rangitoto which is a volcano around 20 mins away from Auckland and walked to the top for some amazing views of the city before coming back to Auckland and going for a lovely dinner on our last night in New Zealand.
For me New Zealand had some amazing scenery and I had a lot of fun there, but think that 5 weeks is more than enough. If we were there for any longer we would have been bored and I think overall we both liked Australia a little bit more. Sorry New Zealand!