Time to update again as we haven't since Nelson. Our Kiwi Experience experience is pretty much at an end now having taken the bus all the way down to the bottom of the south island and up to Christchurch. Though we have a pass that can take us back up North we realised it'll be far cheaper to stay a bit longer down here and then fly up to Auckland to do the Bay of Islands just before we fly to Fiji.
So leaving Nelson we joined our new bus and bus mates for the journey across to Kaiteriteri a small beach settlement on the outskirts of the Abel Tasman National Park. We were pleased to see a familiar face in a Canadian guy called JD from our previous bus and even happier to be informed that our old bus friends James and Ollie were also still there too and were to be on our bus the next day. We checked in and headed straight to the beach to relax in the sun then go for a walk exploring around the area mainly to waste some time until we could make some dinner. Having managed that we soon joined the boys at the bar outside the hostel and played a couple of card games until the sand flies became too annoying. A relatively early night meant we were fresh the next morning but the bus wasn't to leave until 1230 so we had to waste time watching TV and reading as it was pretty overcast. Our new (to us 5 anyway) bus driver, Guy, introduced himself and his numerous rules (if you ever said the words Mine, Beer, Time, Flip Flop then you had to do 10 press ups….you'll have to trust that it is pretty tough and you end up doing A LOT of exercise). He also made us do "speed dating" moving along a seat a time for 3mins to meet new people. Obviously weren't too keen to take part in this but was actually good and at least got people talking. Westport was the next stop, a fairly nothing town on the west coast of the south island. Having been reluctant the 5 of us decided we would go on the 3 legged pub crawl Guy was organising (a far cry from our moody previous driver). It was pretty amusing anyway and ended up a good night and met new people to recruit to our expanding team and Hel even managed to find some Ouzo to drink!
The next day everyone was pretty tired from the late night and early start but it was down to Lake Mahinapua to the "Pu Pub" - a pub/hotel in the middle of nowhere across from Lake Mahinapua. 15 years ago the owner Les, now 87, agreed to host only Kiwi Experience travellers and it became a renowned party night in the bar. It was fancy dress (linked to the letters WTF) and we had an hours stop in the port town of Greymouth to get our outfits together. After much deliberation and indecision us boys ended up going as a football team but to keep costs down we ended up buying cheap tshirts and shorts from the boys section of a cheap Warehouse store...Edd ended up in age 16 shorts and a 12 yr olds tshirt (which wasn't the worst of it among the lads) and Hel went for a bed sheet/Toga. It was a fun night with lots of imaginative dress including road kill, facebook, a wizard and more. The bar closed at 1am or so and we were greeted by the clearest night sky we've ever seen, so many stars it was unbelievable and almost hard to process. The next morning was another early start with many people battling hangovers, not helped at the first stop which was an odd Bushman's museum with a video on how they used to hunt deer from helicopters…the last real New Zealand men apparently. After this we headed further south to the well known Franz Joseph, a small town located next to the glacier. Here our old crew were back together in many ways as FJ is a 2 night stop so 6 or so of our friends from our old bus were on their second night and we had a good catch up in the Monsoon bar. The next morning we headed out for the Glacier Hike, a must-do activity in NZ. It was the whole day from 9-6 more or less and covered approx. 11km up the rock and ice into the glacier to explore the caves and mazes within it. A really good but tiring day though we still had the energy to join everyone in the bar as Guy had free drinks to give out (both of us had our names drawn from hat which was lucky!) as well as the reward for best fancy dress from the Pu pub. It was another fun night made better by JD's birthday starting at midnight. Having watched him win a hula-hoop contest and dance off we then toasted in his birthday and headed for bed before another early start and to leave the 3 boys behind as they were staying an extra night.
From FJ we headed to Wanaka (via Lake Matheson an impressive mirror lake reflecting the Southern Alps and Mt Cook) a small town on Lake Wanaka. Hel wasn't feeling too well so we trecked up the hill to the medical centre and back down to get her some medicine. We'd also given in and decided to treat ourselves to a double room due to Hel not feeling too great, which was great after spending the last few nights sharing with the boys. Guy decided to try a new thing out of hosting wine and cheese by the lake so Edd popped down to support this venture whilst Hel chilled in the room. It was actually really nice, a stunning evening with incredible surroundings. Our room had the unprecedented luxury of a TV so we watched Get Him to the Greek and enjoyed a very early night for the first time in a while. The next morning Edd was up at 630am to go and do his Sky Dive which had to be cancelled the evening before due to wind speed. Luckily it was an amazing morning and not a cloud in the sky. The freefall was intense but really enjoyable experience able to look out over the mountains, Wanaka and Queenstown from such a height! The sky divers were then dropped at Puzzling World (Hel had managed to get all the bags on the bus by herself in Edd's absence jumping out of a plane) before we all headed to Queenstown via the Kawarau River bungee bridge where many of the group were booked to jump. Best thing was a 10 year old girl who wanted to, got to the edge and burst into tears so they took her away to relax and then she came back and managed to actually do it! Impressive as wouldn't get either of us anywhere near doing a bungee!
The legendary Queenstown was the next stop, most people's favourite place and its global reputation as the Adventure Capital of the world was heightened by the England dwarf throwing during the world cup! We checked into Nomads hostel which is new and thought to be among the best in NZ. Hel and I went for a walk around to explore Queenstown and enjoy the views right onto the lake. Then Guy had organised the "Last Supper" (most people split up from the bus in Queenstown due to differing time spent there) which was $10 all you can eat pizza at World Bar (they even did dairy free for Hel). In truth our greed more or less ruined our night as we were so full we struggled to enjoy the night out that followed plus Hel was still on her tablets, but we were still able to catch up with our mates from the first bus again for first time since FJ so had a few drinks in Altitude with them before heading to World Bar with our bus. We were so full that more liquid wasn't helping and we were back at the hostel by 1230am ahead of an early start the following morning to do our "Bottom Bus" trip which goes around the South Coast.
Having been used to 50 bus mates we were shocked to see that the Kiwi Exp Bottom Bus was actually a mini bus and there was about 8 of us! But we headed South toward Dunedin via a short stop for lunch in Clyde. We got into Dunedin late afternoon and had a quick tour around in the bus including seeing the "world's steepest street" and headed out to explore (we were lucky to have been given a 6 bed dorm but we were the only 2 people in it) before starting our Speights Brewery Tour at 7pm. It was really good and at 8 you were then able to sample all their range from beer to cider, soft drinks and even ice cream. We had a quick, late, dinner after and then enjoyed an early night before a 7am start again the next day. We stopped at a few spots in the Catlins National Park on the way to Invercargill and were lucky enough to see NZ Fur Seals, Sea Lions chilling on the beach, Hector's Dolphins (very rare pygmy ones) and Yellow Eyed Penguins. Despite awful weather with stupidly heavy rain we were lucky to have the rare experience of seeing all 4 animals! That evening wasn't too much to write about just chilled with our bus mates and relaxed for a much needed early night (they'd all had slightly longer in party town Queenstown so were also in need of a rest).
Leaving Invercargill the next day we joined up with the Kiwi Exp Milford Explorer heading to see Milford Sound the incredible and well known fjord (not a sound after all, despite the name). More seals as well as many waterfalls spouting from huge great cliff faces supplemented a buffet lunch on the cruise which gave all us travellers a chance to stuff our faces again. It was another long day and we got back to Queenstown at 8pm but luckily our friends Mike and Alexandra had mentioned to reception at the Black Sheep Hostel (where Hel had stayed in 2006) that we knew them so we were in the same room which was good. We went to see our old bus friend Tom who was leaving the next day and chilled with him for a bit before another relatively early night so we could make the most of our next 2 days to enjoy the spoils of Queenstown.
Another early start greeted us for our morning of White Water Rafting on the Shotover River. We got kitted up and headed along a very precarious route down to the put-in spot and made our way down the river with our American guide Kyle and it had two exhilarating grade 4 sections (highest/most rough is grade 5). The base site had a sauna and showers to warm up after which was cool. We then headed straight to the infamous Fergburger for our huge burgers which were just as impressive as everyone has claimed in the past. We walked around town some more and ended up going to the cinema to see Sherlock Holmes 2 as the wind had picked up and we were quite tired so just fancied a chill. The Sunday was pretty relaxed also and we headed up the hill on the SkyLine Gondola to get views out over Queenstown and the Southern Alps. We felt compelled to make the most of our short time in Queenstown so had another Fergburger (different ones!) for lunch before a quiet afternoon (after Hel's skydive was cancelled due to the wind) ahead of going out for another old bus friend Rhys' birthday which was a Geek themed fun night spent in their Base hostel and then a bar called Cowboys, which served litres of beer, free bar snacks and had a buckling bronco.
On Monday we headed down the hill to Nomads to get on the Kiwi Experience again and we hopped off 4 hours later in Tekapo. Luckily it was a stunning day and really warm so we had a walk along the lake and then chilled in the sun for a while listening to music. Spent the evening watching some TV back at the YHA we were staying at ahead of moving on the next day when we watched Sione's Wedding to waste time before heading to Christchurch where we eventually were able to find Olivia (the driver got lost trying to find the cross roads as the streets here are all messed up due to the red zone restrictions) and head back to Olivia and Mark's lovely, modern and earthquake friendly house in Papanui.