We left Fox Glacier and travelled via the picturesque but desolate Jacksons Bay, through the most incredible mountain scenery and on to Wanaka. We have just completed a fantastic 6 days in wonderful Wanaka (pronounced one-a-car; the locals get offended if you get it wrong), enjoying some great weather (back in summer gear) and being very 'Kiwi'. We probably wouldn't have visited Wanaka if it was not for Darroch, one of my old Platoon Commanders, who has recently made the town his home. Darroch left the Army about 2 years ago, which I thought a real shame as he was an excellent officer, but meeting him again it is clear that a few bold choices have paid off. He now works for a month in Africa then has a month playing in NZ, and as a keen mountain biker, walker and skier decided that the commute was worth while and appears to be in the perfect spot. Wanaka is on the shores of a lake of the same name and is surrounded by some serious hills, glaciers and two ski areas. It is stunning. A bit like Scotland, but without the rain. Or the very dour people muttering about the bloody English, Bannockburn and where to get the best deep-fried pizza.
The meeting of two ex-army blokes in such an environment had two obvious outcomes - physical activity and hangovers and as Darroch had been in his house for all of 4 days and was still in set up mode he obviously needed to waste a few days of his life. Darroch didn't help himself though; he is a fantastic host and J & I felt relaxed as soon as we walked in the door (which led to us staying a little longer than we planned - sorry Darroch).
When we were not sitting up until gone 3 am drinking fine whiskey, or at his friends 50th entertaining the locals with bad dancing, or seeing how many Jager bombs we could handle in the local pub, or trying to persuade Jodie that whilst the stars were indeed beautiful, she had to get up from the ground and come get back to Darrochs under her own steam, we were being very healthy. The three of us walked to the Rob Roy glacier which is found at the end of a lovely 90 minute uphill hike through lush forest (described to Jodie and I as a 40 min flat route by Darroch) and is beautiful. Its height means that it is brilliant white, rather than the dirty grey of others, and it's remote location means that it is utterly silent less for wildlife (including the rather cheeky Kea bird) and the explosive sound of ice breaking away and falling to the valley bottom.
After that walk, Jodie sat out the next and I think that both Darroch and I wished we had as well. We both wanted something a bit more challenging and after hearing that we should avoid Roy's peak because it was a 1200m constant climb up to 1560m, exposed to the sun and with no respite, decided that was the place for us. Two things kept us going; macho insecurity and the need to be at a party by 6pm. The good news is that we achieved the 3-4hr accent in 2 ½ hrs, ran back down in 1 hr and got to the party on time. The bad news was that the combination of all that exertion and rather stupidly dehydrating ourselves with beer, wine and whisky meant that we were both walking like Douglas Bader for a few days afterwards. However Jodie did manage a day of peace and quiet without husband trying to make her do stuff, which I think went down well.
We also had one of the highlights of our tour to date in Wanaka; Jodie and I went skydiving from 15,000ft, experiencing 60 seconds of freefall over one of the most amazing landscapes in the world. Those that know of my fear of heights (which is so severe I am rarely seen in stilettos) will know what a big deal this is. I have made a conscious decision that now I am no longer in the forces and being exposed to the fear and excitement of hard targeting out of a base in NI, crossing the Iraqi border or trying to motivate 100 Geordies, I need to keep my heart racing some other way, hence this act of lunacy. It is in the top ten things I have ever done.
Wanaka Skydive are an excellent company and made us feel as if we were with a professional bunch from the off. After a video, getting to sign away our lives (I deliberately did not read what I was signing - it may have put me off) and emptying my pockets of all loose change etc (which I thought was for safety reasons), we met our jump buddies, Adam and Chris. Adam was a scouser, so the emptying of the pockets made sense. They were both really nice guys and on the way up showed us all the sights; Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, Mounts Cook and Aspiring, many rivers and a few glaciers. Enough to stop us thinking what we were about to do and it was a beautiful, clear day.
At about 12,000ft they set about tightening our harnesses, putting on our goggles and going through what we had to do. Soon the door opened and it was time. I was the first out and Jodie second, with two others after us. I was glad to go first as it gave me less time to break down and cry like a small child, humiliating myself and watching Jodie lose all respect for me. I put my hands around my shoulder straps and allowed myself to be edged along the floor where we had been sitting and to the very small door, my legs went out and I sat on the edge pulling my legs up under the plane. Finally I put my head back on Adams shoulder he grabbed my forehead and then we were gone, spinning through the air, catching glimpses of plane, then mountains, then ground. After a few seconds there was a tap on my shoulder, the signal for me to bring my hands up in the classic freefall position and found myself spending the next minute hurtling towards the ground at 200kph, occasionally spinning right or left. It is an incredible sensation, like nothing that I had experienced before. It felt so stable, yet with an amazing sensation of speed, and allowed time to take in the view (and shout how incredible it was to the cameraman that came with us). As the ground grew larger, the camera man backed off and Adam deployed the chute, and after a the brief sound of the canopy deploying all was completely still and silent. We then floated down to earth, with me briefly taking the controls to spiral us right and left, taking in the sights and chatting, before a perfect landing and the opportunity to watch Jodie land safely. Both Jodie and I were on a real high, with smiles from ear to ear and calling to get back up and do it again. Fantastic. If you haven't done a freefall yet, do it; you will not regret it.
That afternoon we ranted and raved about the skydive to anyone we could find, which is why we were better off being loaded into a Canadian Canoe with Darroch and a picnic and spent the rest of the day on an isolated island, enjoying a sunny afternoon.
The final highlight of the stay in Wanaka was the Wanaka AMP Show. It is a proper country show, where people with rosy cheeks, big red noses and checked shirts come to town to show off their sheep, admire the latest tractors and catch up on the gossip. There was sheep shearing, animals made from vegetables (please see picture of 'porn puppy' and fat old ladies showing just how nimble they could be on a small carriage being pulled by evil looking Shetland ponies. There was even a terrier race, which was straight from a bygone era. Firstly a whole shed load of yappy terriers turned up; some were working dogs and obviously blood thirsty and mean, others were cherished pets, pretending to be nails but not doing a great job, and some weren't even terriers, just balls of confused scared looking fluff. Next to turn up was the Colonel. A real live ex Colonel, with white handlebar moustache, tweed jacket, handsome charger, and of course freshly killed rabbit being dragged on a length of rope. After the bait was presented a few times the chaos began, with evil dogs in hot pursuit, pets jogging in the back and the weak running away. It was nice to be able to spot the winners later - they were the ones with blood soaked mouths. Not sure you can do that kind of thing in the UK.
I am sure that you can see that it was with some reluctance we left Wanaka and Darroch. To make matters worse the weather once again closed in and shorts were replaced with trousers, flip-flops with boots.