"So this is Christmas"...apparently...It doesn't feel much like it here tho! There are a few Christmas dec's around the place, and songs playing in some shops, but no-one does Christmas like we do back home! It just doesn't seem like such a big deal here...and I never thought I would miss it, but I have to admit... I really do!!! Especially my sis' Christmas dinner with all the trimmings....Mmmmm.
Anyway, that's enough self torture, I will try to update you all on what I have been up to since the last blog....this could be a long blog I'm afraid, but I'll try not to waffle on too much!!!
On arriving in Queenstown I could tell immediately that I was going to like it, there's such a good atmosphere here, probably because it's the mecca of adrenaline activities, everyone wanders about with such a buzz...it's great!! And of course because this is New Zealand it's beautiful too. The town is on Lake Wakatipu (i think!) and the Remarkables mountains surround the lake. It's a little Alpine town, with lodges set within the pine forests on the mountain side and cool little boutique shops. I would love to come back here in the ski-ing season, because I imagine it would be fantastic fun, and it must be gorgeous in the snow. The nightlife is really good here too, and there is a fun little club called the world, which serves cocktails in tea-pots (bit like the Thai bucket idea) and on certain nights you can roll a dice and get the tea pot free if you get a number between 4 and 6...(which I did of course...wahoo!) I didn't do too much on my first trip to Queenie though because we only had one day before going on the southern bus loop.
So the next day we left to go to Milford Sound, and did a 2 hour cruise on the Fjords. It is stunning, and you don't realise the height of the mountains and Waterfalls alongside you until another ferry or helicopter passes beside it and is absolutely dwarfed in comparison.
The following day we travelled further south to catch the ferry over to Stewart Island, it was quite an early start, but that meant we had most of the day on the Island. Stewart Island is a really quaint little place, with a really friendly atmosphere. It's tiny, and the sort of place where everyone knows each other, and nobody has to lock their doors...they even leave the cars running while they pop into shops!! Well, if somebody did steal your car they wouldn't get very far! They also have excellent fish and chips...(pronounced fush and chups in NZ!) which Billy Connolly apparently said were the best he has ever tasted when on tour here! A few of us hired a car and spent the day exploring and discovering pretty little sandy coves along the coastline. That night we had a fun night out with the locals in the pub, and were invited back to the barman's flat after hours and Joe and Claire, a couple of my irish friends from the Stray Bus, entertained us with their singing and guitar playing, which is pretty damn impressive by all accounts!
The next day we caught the early ferry back to the mainland...(and a free tip to you all, it is advisable not to travel on a rough ferry after 2 hours sleep with a stinking hangover!) We drove through the Catlins on the way to Dunedin, and saw some impressive coastline and watched the baby seals playing in the sea, and struggling to climb up onto the rocks...very cute! There was a massive seal asleep on one of the beaches, but we weren't allowed to get too close. We arrived in Dunedin early evening and went straight out to the Speights Brewery for a tour and tasting. The tour was ok, but all we were really interested in was the tasting at the end to be honest!!! The tasting was good, we were left to serve ourselves from the taps for about 20 minutes, and lets just say we made the most of the allotted time!! We went on from the brewery to a couple of bars and had a fab night out in Dunedin, ending with Karaoke, which is always a favourite!!!
We left Dunedin for Queenstown the next morning after a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate factory, and some free samples...yummy!!
On Saturday I decided to go for it and do the Canyon Swing...it was excellent fun!!! (I will try to put my video on here, but if not it is on facebook if you want to look!) The Canyon involves jumping from a platform into a 100m canyon, freefalling for 60m then swinging in a 200m arc at about 150km per hour.....soooo coool!!! It really gets the adrenaline pumping, and when i looked at the drop I kept thinking i can't do it, I can't do it.....but i did, and when I was swinging in the canyon I thought, I need to do it again...so I did!! the second time I chose to do the chair, which meant i sat on a plastic patio chair on the edge of the ledge and tipped myself back on the chair until i fell off the ledge backwards!!! Sooo much fun!
The Stray gang had decided to nominate today as our christmas day as we would all be going our separate ways soon, so we went out for a nice meal, then had a big night out in Queenie.
On Monday we travelled up to Christchurch and spent the evening having a wander. Christchurch is a pretty city, and very, very English...with a big Cathedral and the River Avon running through the center, and a traditional tram. You can even go punting on the river...it's like they have taken everything stereotypically english and put it in Christchurch! Although it is pretty enough, I wasn't that keen on Christchurch, it didn't seem to have the same friendly atmosphere of most of the other towns and citys I have visited in NZ.
The next day we travelled up to kaikoura to do a Whale watching trip. it was touch and go as to whether we were going out, because the weather was getting worse, and we were warned the boat may have to turn back,...but we went, and it was defintely worth it!!! Within a very short time we saw a Sperm Whale, and the size of it was just immense!!!...about 16-18 metres long apparently! Although you can only see a small proportion of the Whale as most of it is underwater, you can still see enough to appreciate it's colossal size, and that it deserves a lot of respect!!! We watched the whale for about 10 mins, until it arched and dived down into the sea, leaving us with the famous tail shot. We were told it would be underwater for about 40mins, so we moved on to see what else was about.... Before long we were given a show by what seemed like hundreds of dusky dolphins!! They were everywhere, i didn't know where to look, in every direction around the boat were small groups of 3 or 4 dolphins diving over each other and then under the boat and out the other side...they are so quick, I tried to take photo's but everytime just missed them!!! It was brilliant watching them, they are so full of energy and appear to have so much fun! We went back to try and find the Sperm Whale again, but the captain couldn't track him, so after a while we turned back to shore...but a few minutes later he got a message through saying the reason he couldn't track the sperm whale is because his main predator is close by...the Orca!!! We were all so excited about seeing the Orca, i think it is probably the image that springs to everyone's mind when they think of a whale. It was amazing seeing them in real life, there were 3 of them playing about, and spraying through their blowholes...they are huge and so impressive...their fins are about 5 feet tall!!!...and i actually managed to get a couple of pic's of them with the white markings visable, so I was well pleased!! It was such a brilliant trip, and i think the images of the whales and dolphins will stick in my memory forever.
We travelled back to Christchurch the next day, and Joe, Claire, Caoimhe went for a farewell dinner, as this was our last night together before they flew onto Sydney. It was a lovely meal, but i was sad to say goodbye to them as we had travelled together for the whole of New Zealand.
On Thursday I flew back from Christchurch to Queenstown, for my last few days before I fly onto Sydney for Christmas.
Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and New Year!
Take care, Gemma xxx