We began our Southern Leg with a very scenic drive through the mountains and hills between Picton (where the ferry docked) and Nelson. Nelson was a cheerful town with more of a buzz than most of the places we had visited in the North Island. Unfortunately, because of our relatively late arrival here it meant that most of the hostels were full. We settled for a room above a bar, which seemed pleasant enough…until we woke up on Monday morning with fleas crawling over us and nibbling en route.
We quickly sorted ourselves out and moved onto Motueka, a town next to the Abel Tasman National Park. This was just a stopover town before and after the 2 day Sea Kayaking trip we did. This was a very surreal experience, as we would simply paddle away for a couple of Kilometres to a nearby island, chill out for a bit on the white, sandy beaches with clear blue water, an then pack up our things and move on. Having said that, the Kayaking was very tiring work, as the wind wasn't in our favour, and the waves were quite big. Also, due to a slight miscalculation and then a major loss of concentration, we only bought enough food with us to satisfy a Vegan Toddler! D'oh!
After a good feed and a shower, we moved onto Westport on Thursday 14th February. Here we would meet Louise Gundry (a friend of Matt's from Dorking) and her two friends, Sophie Roscoe and Sophie Maddison. We picked up Louise for the rest of South Island, and regularly saw the Sophies along the way too, as the Kiwi Experience bus they were on seemed to follow us around the island.
We moved onto Franz Joseph (via a drunken rainy night in Greymouth) and on Sunday 17th February the girls and I (along with many others) did a full day hike of Franz Joseph Glacier. Energy levels were not helped by having to sleep in the car, but sheer excitement would have got me through a tiring hike through this massive ice sculpture vertical limit style death trap. What an experience! The crampons, ice axe, glacial troughs an ice caves made it seem really tough, but in fact it was just very slippery and I had many tumbles. That evening, in a rather irrational moment I booked my bungy jump for the coming Tuesday…oh dear! The Monday in between was just a travel day between Franz Joseph and Queenstown, stopping off on the way in Wanaka (where Matt and I would later Skydive).
Tuesday 19/02/08 - Bungy Day
Plummeting at 120Kph into a canyon with a few strands of dental floss saving your life. standing on a tea tray looking down from 134m was incredibly nerve racking. "3, 2, 1, JUMP!!" was shouted from behind me, and I didn't disappoint! What a thrill! The adrenaline buzz surpassed past experiences or expectations. Edging to the end of the diving board was one of the toughest things I've done in quite a while. Then, to celebrate a great day, we hit town that night, big style! (also bumping into our Kiwi Bus friends again). A special mention must go to Fergburger - the biggest, best, tastiest burgers in the world, open until 5 a.m. every day. Anyone that has ever had one will nod in agreement. People in Queenstown say stuff like "Make sure you do a skydive, and definitely have a Fergburger!"
On Wednesday, wih 3 hangovers in our group, we drove 4 hours to Milford Sound, had 4 hours there, then drove 4 hours back. It was worth every single minute. We took a scenic cruise around this beautiful, unspoilt natural park, and gazed in awe upon some of the most amazing scenery in the world. The whole place looked like Jurassic Park. Simply incredible. Again, we bumped into our friends from the Kiwi Experience bus...stalkers!
Thursday 21/02/08 - Skydive Lake WanakaMatt and I both did a 12,000ft Tandem jump. This was one of the best experiences of my life thus far. I could see Mt Cook, various glaciers, lakes and many other mountainous regions. It feels like you are hovering because the ground is so far away it seems to get closer very slowly. But of course in reality you are falling at 200Kph (terminal velocity). After this adrenaline-filled day, and as it was our last night in Queenstown, we decided a big night out was in order. A few sociable drinks, all three of us getting lost, calling everyone in my phonebook at 3 a.m. (2pm English time) and feeling rather grotty on Friday were to follow. And then a Fergburger.
On Friday we sorted some things out in Queenstown, and then left for Dunedin at lunchtime. Here we met up with Laurence Hobden and had a beer with him in the evening. Laurence is also on his gap year and ha spent it based in Wellington, living as a Kiwi for 6 months or so, but he was doing a road trip of South Island with his cousin and so we arranged to see him here. It was really nice to see him again and hear about his travels.
Saturday saw us visit the Speights Brewery (New Zealand's No. 1 lager), the Cadbury's Chocolate factory (yum) and then move up the east coast to Timaru, as a stop over on the way to Christchurch. We chilled out in Christchurch on Sunday and then Monday saw us leave NZ, and finish our three week stint here, in favour of moving onto Australia.
Our final route throughNew Zealand was: Auckland - Tauranga - Rotorua - Waitomo - Tongaririo - Paraparaumu - Wellington - Picton - Nelson - Motueka - Abel Tasman - Westport - Greymouth - Franz Joseph - Wanaka - Queenstown - Dunedin - Timaru - Christchurch.