It's been a while since we last updated, I'm sure a few of you thought we had given up on it. This is not the case. I started writing this entry over a month ago. My laid back, some may call lazy, attitude has just prevented me from posting it when we have been on the internet. Anyway. Neither of us are 100% sure how the last blog ended, but Jade thinks she told you we were leaving Magnetic Island and heading to Cairns and Cape Tribulation so i'll continue from there.
We arrived in Cairns at around 7pm and headed straight for the hostel. Despite booking dorm rooms we were given keys to our own double room (our first private room in Australia), which as an extra bonus came with free WiFi. The average price in Oz is about $6 Australian, about 4 pounds, an hour. So this is where we stayed for our 5 nights in Cairns. We planned to spend our first full day shopping around for boat trips out onto the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and to Cape Trib. After browsing through at least two dozen brouchers, and chatting to a number of different tour agencies, each of them contridicting the other on which was the best and worst companies to go with, we finally decided upon a trip from Port Douglas to the GBR and a two day one night trip to Cape Trib. This left us with the next day free to explore around Cairns. As it seemed as though there was little to do, we headed to Kurandra, the village in the rainforest, and visted Barron Falls. As we were visiting in the dry season the amount of water flowing over it was minimal compared to the wet months, however it was still impressive. Well known for its markets, after the walk we browsed the stalls in the village centre. A shop selling traditional sweets was the highlight for both of us, but other than that the only thing of any interest was an aboriginal man carving and painting boomerangs by hand.
The following day we woke early for a 6.30 pick-up as we had to travel an hour north to Port Douglas for our dive. Despite concerns over her ears, she had problems equalising when we dived in Koh Tao, Jade decided that she would go on the first dive as it was included in the price. By the time we had been given our briefing we had reached our first dive site on the outer reef. It was amesome. Much better visibility and a greater array of fish than Koh Tao. The first dive was used for us to get comfortable under the water rather than looking for fish. This was the purpose of our second dive. The only names of fish I remember are Parrot fish and Angel fish, we found Nemo and Jade held a Sea Cucumber. I don't think trying to describe it to you any further than this would do it justice, but overall the experience was amazing. One of, if not the best thing we have done since we have been away.
The next day was another early start, 7.30, as we were heading to Cape Trib. Along the way we stopped for a Saltwater Crocodile spotting boat trip along the Daintree River. After hunting down a few juviniles, about 1 to 2 years old, we found a 75 year old adult male known to the locals as Scarface. He was 4 metres long and weighed 600 pounds. The urge for a Steve Irwin esk moment did arise when we were told that he had no teeth. He wasn't the biggest Croc that roamed this stretch of water though. A day earlier passengers spotted a 5 metre, 900 pound beast known as Fat Albert.
About an hour later we arrived in Cape Trib. That afternoon we took a walk to a fresh water creek in the rainforest before heading to the beach where you could see two World Heritage Sites meet. The Great Barrier Reef with the Daintree Rainforest. The next morning we went for a walk along the beach to a lookout point. Along the way a dog adopted us as his owners. He came in handy. I managed to knock a coconut down from a tree and he insisted that we played fetch with it. But rather than retrieve the coconut and bring it back he ran into the sea with it and ripped off the green outer shell with his teeth, something you would need a knife for, leaving us with a coconut in the form you would find it in the supermarket. Not long after he got distracted and we continued our walk, looping back round to our hostel so we could catch a bus to Mossman Gorge. A pretty but very touristy spot just outside of Port Douglas we both had a dip in the water. Jade nearly got taken with the current, but after teasing her for a bit i jumped in and pulled her out.
Our next day was a day of travel as we left Australia for New Zealand. After getting just two hours of sleep, we left for the airport at 2.30 am as we had a 5 am flight down to Sydney. This was followed by a flight to Auckland, before a final flight to Christchurch where we landed at 9 in the evening. In the three weeks prior to our arrival, New Zealand was experiencing an Indian Summer, locals saying that it was the hottest and driest Autumn they had had in years. We were greeted with rain, and according to the weather forecast it was expected to stay for the next 6 days or so. They were pretty much spot on. So our first two days in Christchurch were spent shopping for winter gear. We planned only to spend two days here before heading to Kaikora but due to a full Stray Bus (the company we were travelling with around NZ) we were stuck in Christchurch for an additional two days. One day was spent looking around the museams and taking a trip to Lyttleton, and on the other we visited the Banks Peninsula, which was meant to be beautiful but rain and cloud prevented us from witnessing the spectacular views that people had told us about.
We finally managed to jump on a bus to Kaikora, a place renowned for Whale watching and swimming with Dolphins, however the weather scuppered our plans. Jade had fancied the latter but boats were not running due to the sea conditions.
After a hostel bound day we headed to Blenheim to stay with Gary and Carol for three days, where we were welcomed by an unfamiliar yellow object in the sky.The morning was spent helping to pick figeos on the farm before heading to a winery in the afternoon for wine tasting. As amateurs, it was challenging enough pronouncing the names of all the grape varieties. I was proud of myself for being able to recognise apricots in a Savignon Blanc and toast in a Chardonnay, but my favourite part of the experience was when Jade told the winemaker (I don't know the correct name for his job so winemaker will do) that the Reisling didn't taste of anything. That evening we were treated to a roast leg of lamb, (something, according to Jade, that I hadn't stopped going on about since we arrived in NZ) followed by a chocolate and orange tart.
The sun was out again for our second day so we decided to go for a two hour walk in the hills around Blenheim, which gave us views encompasing the sea and snowed topped mountains. This was followed by a bit more work on the farm, before we were treated to a homemade pizza.
Order was resoted on our third day, and rain prevented any outside activity. The day before Gary and Carol had mentioned that they'd let us behind the wheel of the tractor (they probably prayed for rain the night before), but as this was a no-go the morning was spent in a very interesting avaiation museam before heading to the cinema to watch the Kiwi film Boy. That evening the kitchen was under our control. We russled up a Moussaka and an Apple Crumble.
On Wednesday morning we reluctantly left home comforts and Gary and Carol's hospitality as we headed across to the West Coast of the South Island, our first stop being the Abel Tasman National Park. Renowned for its popular three day tramp, we decided that a walk was on the cards. We opted against the three day trek and instead went on what ended up being about a 22km walk which gave us views of the stunning coast line, spotting pup Fur Seals along the way.
The hill-billy town of Barrytown was our next stop down the coast as Stray had prepared an evening entertainment for us there. With a population that couldn't have exceeded 20 it seemed a bit of an odd destination. To be honest I was surprised people lived there at all. I think that if we had stayed any longer than we did I would have considered suicide. But despite this the night was quite fun. We were told that the evening was fancy dress and that theme was things beginning with G or P. With little more than a bedsheet at our disposal, Jade chose to go as a Greek Goddess, which inspired me to throw my idea of Ghandi out the window and go as God instead.
A hangover filled bus left Barrytown early the next morning for Franz Josef. After stopping in a few old gold mining towns along the way, we arrived in the evening and booked a glacier walk for the next day. We awoke to rain. A bit disappointing as the three weeks leading up to our arrival had been sun. Despite this we set in our "waterproof" clothing. The rain was coming down so hard the first hour and a half was spent looking at our feet and there was no sign of it stopping. I don't think either of us were having much fun. However as we climbed higher the path that our guide was constructing became more interesting and the rain began to ease. We were crawling through holes in the ice, climbing ropes, shifting round lakes (made whilst we were climbing due to the amount of rain) and squeezing through crevices. After a 6 hour climb we arrived back at the bus freezing cold and soaked through, but agreed that despite the conditions it was still an experience we had enjoyed though it would have been better had the weather been nice.
From Franz Josef we headed to Makarora in Mount Aspiring National Park. This was pretty much a nothing day. We stopped at Fox Glacier, took a walk around Lake Matheson (also known as MIrror Lake) and had a look at a few waterfalls, but by the time we reached our destination it was getting dark so prevented us from doing anything. We did visit probably the windiest spot on earth though. Picture yourself in Michael Jackson's Earth Song and then times it by 10. A gust of wind that took my hat off gave Jade the giggles and me probably the most intense workout that I've had since January as I chased it for about 100 metres.
From Makarora it was a short drive to Wanaka, out first stop of the day. If we had more time this would definately have been somewhere where we would have jumped off the bus and stayed for a few nights. It is by far the most picturesque place we had visted (this would be challenged by Queenstown a few hours later). A small town centred around a lake with snow topped mountains in the background. In the few hours we had there we browsed it's boutique shops and had coffee by the lake and marked it as a place that we must visit in the future. From here we headed to Queenstown. What a great place. It had a ski resort feel to it. Like Wanaka it was centred around a lake with snow topped mountains surrounding it, the only difference was that it was bigger. That night we headed out for dinner for the first time since SE Asia. Our destination, the famous Fergburger. Other travellers had told us that the burgers are bigger than your face and a portion of chips to share between four would be plenty. They didn't lie about the burgers. They were bigger than your face. I was determined however to prove that the second insight was wrong. It was. And there was the added bonus that unlike the last occasion I tried to eat more than was humanly possible I didn't get heart burn. So with our bellies full, a group of us headed to a few bars where I seemed to get an endless supply of half price drinks because there was a different promotion every half an hour. In one place we were served cocktails in teapots.
The next day I set off early with a group from our bus to conquer The Nevis Bungy whilst I left Jade in town to look around (she says she spent 45 mins in a sweet shop). Having said that I would never do a bungy, I wasn't sure how I had ended up tied to a piece of elastic 134m above the ground. It's the third highest in the world. But despite the nerves I initially had when I signed up for it the day before, when I was standing on the platform I felt relatively calm. There is video evidence if you don't believe me. On my return, Jade worked her way through another Fergburger (her second in about 18 hours), we took a gondola up the side of a mountain which gave us amazing views of Queenstown and the mountains surrounding it. After a relaxed night in a local pub we hit the hay as we wanted to be fresh for skiing the following day. We got up to the piste as the lifts were opening, giving us a whole day on the slopes. Having not skied for a few years I thought I would be a bit rusty but by the end of the day we had both been down a black slope, and I had been selected to represent Cyprus at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
A 6.45 start the next morning was not appreciated, but we had a fairly long drive from Queenstown to Christchurch as we began our three day journey to the North Island. We would also spend another night in Kaikora along the way. My plan for the first days bus journey was to sleep. Not only was I still shattered from skiing the day before, but it was also the start of the World Cup that evening and given the time difference with South Africa I worked out that I was going to be up most of the night. The matches in NZ kick off at 11.30pm, 2.30am and 6.30am. I am slowly becoming nocturnal. Despite dozing in and out of conssiousness, I did pick up on some of the amazing scenary we were passing. For most of the day we had snow covered fields either side of us, and our drive took us to Lake Tekapo which was surrounded by mountains including Mount Cook, NZ tallest mountain. We arrived in Christchurch early evening, and for the first time saw the city without rain.
We left for Kaikora around 8am the following day, however despite the sun being out and temperatures reaching around 17 degrees (by far the highest we had in NZ) dolphin swimming was again cancelled due to roughs seas. The positive side to this was this time around we were not stuck in the hostel. The negative side was that I spent most of that time outside of the hostel trying to find somewhere that was going to be playing the England game only to find out that after 2 hours of searching that our hostel was showing it despite the women who was on the front desk earlier in the day saying they weren't.
A coach full of voices berating Robert Green set off for Picton the next morning as we headed for the ferry that would transport us to Wellington and conclude our trip around the South Island.
New Zealand: The North Island, will be posted in the next day or two, so stay tuned.