Well, we've made it back to Wellington on the North Island which means our 'magic' tour of the South Island is over (sob!). we all absolutely loved the South Island, the scenery is stunning - snowy peaks and mountains everywhere, beautiful lakes reflecting the autumn colours of the trees and for the most part good sunny (but COLD!) weather.
We started our magic bus tour at Picton, the ferry terminal having come across the Cook strait (through the MArlborough Sounds, unbelievable views from the top deck) and went straight on to our first stop of Nelson from which we took a day trip to a very rainy Abel Tasman Park. We spent the day first cruising along the coast on a boat and then trudging back along the coastal path for 4 hours in the pouring rain with very little in the way of scenery to look at (not the best $60 we've spent!). In consolation, the occasional break in tree cover seemed to co-incide with when the sun shone wihich did make for some niec photos of rainbows (probably not enough consolation for being drenched though!). Next stop was Greymouth on the West Coast where we went on a Montieths brewery tour with the rest of our bus. As you might imagine it involved a lot of free beer and then a whole lot more beer in the pub later with the, er.. 'interesting' locals! (it is a very nice beer though and apparently they sell it in Waitrose so I know what I'll be drinking when I get back to England!). Its been good getting know lots of new people on the buses, a real mix of different ages/types of people. Nice to add a bit of variety to our group of 5!
Travelling down the West Coast we stopped of for a bit of gold panning in the Ross Goldfields (and of course struck it lucky! - no nuggets unfortunately though, just a few flakes), visited the first of quite a few seal sanctuaries and also stopped off for an even more rainy walk to the Pancake rocks. Next stop was Franz Josef in glacier country and luckily we seemed to leave all the bad weather behind us from there on in. We stayed at a really nice hostel with free soup (!) and awesome views of the mountains and glacier and got an early night in preparation for ten hours of glacier hiking the next day. Having opted for the longest and most 'adventurous' package of walking, we (well Edith, Laura and I) were a bit nervous of finding our fitness levels lacking and collapsing with exhaustion somewhere on the glacier but it turned out to be one of the nbest days I've had. It was tiring and a long day but the pace was slow due to the terrain so we all kept up. The hardest bit was actually getting to the glacier - because of heavy rain over the previous week the rivers had swelled too much to cross and so we had to take a detour whihc involved 2 hours of climbing through bush and up and down lots of ladders to get over large rocks. The ice around us was incredibly blue and clear and it was such a sunny day that the whole glacier glistened making it very picturesque looking down beyond the glacier to the valley below. A definte highlight!
After the compulsory celebratory night out in the one of two pubs on offer in Franz(again meeting some 'interesting' locals) we were up and away the next day heading to Lake Wanaka for a more chilled out stop. On the way we stopped off at the very pretty Lake Matheson near the Fox Glacier, one of the most famous 'Mirror Lakes' in the South Island giving reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, two of the highests peaks in the Southern Alps Range. It was so early in the morning when we arrived that we were the first of the tourist buses to get there and there was still morning mist over the lake - very mystical!
The drive on to Lake Wanaka was also stunning (I think I might be over-using that word but only because so much of the South Island is, well, stunning!) with more moutnain ranges and lots of lakes. I think that despite the cold (and occasional rain!) Autumn is a really good time to be here as when the sun shines, all the reds and oranges of the trees really 'make ' the views, Lake Wanaka in particular. ITs a really nice little town on the end of a large lake with little else around. It is however home to Puzzling World (illusion rooms that mess with your mind, an extremely hard 2-storey maze and loads of puzzles!) and an oddball cinema where all the seats are a random array of sofas, chairs and cars (!) and in the interval everyone has hot chocolates and warm home made cookies (my kind of cinema!)
After a bit of (much needed) chilling out the next day in Lake Wanaka, we were all ready to hit the adventure capital of the world... Queenstown where we stayed for 3 nights and which is where i will pick up later as again I've managed to run down my credit to 3 mintues remaining! Bye for now xx