Kia Ora from New Zealand! (That's our stock bit of Maori language so far - we'll be bilingual soon). Sorry it's been such a delay since our last blog, it's been a pretty hectic two weeks. Since we left Melbourne we've driven the whole coast line of New Zealand's incredibly beautiful south island. We can't begin to describe how stunning almost every km of the journey has been. Since we started it's been sheep; seals; sheep; penguins; sheep; mountains; sheep; glaciers; sheep; beaches; sheep; forests and the odd sheep has been sighted along the way too.
We landed in Christchurch and checked into a lovely hostel just outside the small town centre and near to the Botanic Gardens. The hostel did smell oddly like school, but it was friendly and we shared our dorm with just one other inmate, a friendly guy from Sweden. Also, we are yet to meet a single Swedish person that's not intelligent, friendly, speaking perfect English and easy to get on with. Next stop, Stockholm. On our first evening in Christchurch, the town was holding its big Christmas partay in the park - "Coca Cola's Christchurch Christmas Carols" or something similar. It was great and pretty much the whole town turned up for the live music and fireworks display. All very festive despite the fact that it was hot! Having a sunny Christmas is just something we're going to have to live with I guess.
The next day we picked up our now beloved Jedi and took him to the park for a run out. Afterwards we wandered into town for some dinner and found a lovely English themed pub called The Bard. Our decision to go here was based almost entirely on the fact that they were serving roast dinners complete with yorkshire pudding and gravy. Not only that but they were holding their weekly quiz. Needless to say we came a respectable last place thanks to questions which went something like, "Which 1950's Kiwi politician recently married an obscure 1960's Maori-born sheep farmer?". Still, we played to our strengths and were in our element for the "pull-a-name-out-of-the-hat-to-win-a-50-dollar-bar-tab" round. This historic victory kept us in drink for the evening and lasted until we came back the next morning for breakfast! Great pub.
After doing a massive shop for essentials like soup and beans we were on the road. The first stop was the nearby town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. The main reason for visiting here was that Lonely Planet had told us we could get the best fish and chips in the world at the Akaroa Bakery (this was later confirmed with glee by Chris Mole). However, the town was closed when we arrived at the ungodly hour of 6:30, so crying, we headed to a campsite nearby for a shower and some pasta that wasn't the best fish and chips in the world. The drive from Christchurch was beautiful, very dramatic scenery, strangely made all the more impressive by the thick mist that hung over the mountains. All very lovely, although the drive over the mountains was a bit testing at times.
The next morning we drove the last of the Peninsula and joined the highway down the coast towards Oamaru. This town too was closed when we arrived (notice the developing theme), but this wasn't too much of a problem as we'd gone there to see the world's smallest species of penguin - the little Blue. There's a big colony of them established on the tip of the town and protected by the government. They come in from feeding at sea at sundown and you can go and sit in a small grandstand and watch them nervously walk the three yards from sea to home - and they're brilliant. They're obviously very at home in the ocean and pretty unsure of themselves on land as shown by how slowly they travel that tiny home straight. Honestly, a group of around five to ten of them took around fifteen minutes. They'd all get about halfway from the rocks to their house then the one at the front panics for no reason and retreats back to the rocks to wait for another five minutes. They'd repeat this process three or four times before some brave trooper would get half way, get fed up at seeing the one at the front about to retreat, then throw caution to the wind and sprint home. Absolutely brilliant entertainment.
The next morning Jedi flew us down to Dunedin, one of the bigger towns on the coast. We spent a couple of days here as it was very scenic, quite chilled out and there was plenty to do, including the world's steepest residential street - it's steep people. The town's art gallery was interesting enough - the highlight/lowlight was the exhibition by an obviously deranged individual with sculptures of Disney characters in war scenes, eg little Thumper the Rabbit getting shot by Snow White. Odd stuff. We escaped from here traumatised but safe and headed for the beautiful Otago Peninsula. Lanarch Castle, on the top of a hill overlooking the town and the lake below had great views, an Alice in Wonderland theme and tasty scones. The views were incredible and the gardens were a good walk despite the rain. It was then a short drive to Sandfly Bay which was the setting for Rois being the happiest I think I've ever seen her. For some reason she likes cold windy beaches. This was one of them. It was also beautiful and impressive and had small families of massive sea lions dotted around sleeping on the shore. We got some great photos but stayed a fair distance away from them at all times! As if seeing these sea lions in the wild wasn't enough, we were lucky enough to see the rarest penguin in the world (the 'yellow eyed penguin') tottering his way across the sand. He too was pretty scared and unstable on solid ground so we were able to watch him for about half an hour before he was able to navigate the small slope home. This was definitely a highlight of our whole trip so far. For some reason we then decided that we'd earned ourselves a posh dinner so we went to the restaurant at the region's brewery (nicer than it sounds, honest), and had delicious lamb, chicken and sweet potato fries. After all, we'd earned it......
Our drive down the east coast around the bottom of the south island passed through the Catlins National Park. This too was spectacular (can you tell I'm running out of adjectives?). We drove throughout the day and stopped off regularly and the always impressive lookouts and short walks along the way. At Nugget Point we saw more sea lions lounging around on the rocks below us. We stopped and walked to the comically named Jack's Blowhole and had lunch at Purakanui Waterfalls. The drive in the afternoon took us all the way to the southernmost point of mainland New Zealand at Slope Point (NB this is easily the windiest place in the world, the photos of us here are not posed or exaggerated, we both genuinely were concerned that we'd be blown off into the sea. The directions sign there was quirky but served as an anchor for us too! At least our hair looked good.) Our night in the town of Invercargill on the south coast was at a lovely campsite where we slept for a long time and managed to call home.
More driving the next day, this time up the west coast a few miles inland up to small Te Anau. This was probably the most picturesque town along the way and was set right next to Lake Te Anau and surrounded by alpine forests and mountains. It's so nice that you're not allowed to camp within ten km of the town, which I guess is good but it's irritating. We drove out a little way and parked for the night on a cliff overlooking the lake - it was very *insert new positive adjective*. The next two days were day tours to nearby Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. THe first we visited on a dry day , and sailing among the massive piles of rock sticking out from the water was very special. We were lucky with the wildlife too as we saw the resident pod of blue nosed dolphins swimming alongside our boat. As well as this there were seals and the very rare Fiordland crested Penguin. Respect to this one as he was much less scared than the penguins we'd met so far. There was also a pair of Kiwis (the national bird of New Zealand) flying around the side of our boat.
We camped for the night at one of the Department of Conservation campsites on the shores of Lake Te Anau. We've realised that these sites are the best places to stay as they're all in National Parks and cost around $6 per vehicle. Even though they don't technically have showers or luxuries like that, they do have a toilet and are always in the most perfect locations. Around 10 that night it started raining, and it didn't stop until 9pm the next day. This meant that our trip around Milford Sound (similar to Doubtful in that there are huge chunks of rock that seem to be growing out of the sea) was now complete with hundreds of waterfalls over the edges of the rocks. Added to the mist over the sea and it was very much like Jurassic Park. We were also allowed to ride at the front with the captain in his little room and get the best views in the house. Please note the funny 'Captain Rois' photos in the Milford photo album.
The next stop was Queenstown - the adventure capital of New Zealand. Our biggest adventure here was booking into a hotel as Rois had been ill the night before we left for Queenstown. It's a quaint little town set next to beautiful Lakes and is deep in 'Lord of the Rings' country. The water was completely transparent and ice cold, and the views on the drive in were typically amazing. We sort of joined in the adventure theme of the place the next day in a sort of passive way by watching other people throw themselves off a tiny platform towards the ground with a piece of elastic round their waist - apparently the bungy jumps we saw are quite tame too! Sorry Dad, Si, Eoghan and Fiona, there is just no chance of us doing a bungy. Having said this we had gone a bit wild by getting in the cable car up to where they bungy from, so we'd had our fill of adrenalin. As if this wasn't enough we then went luging at the top of the cable car which was great fun and didn't involve a potentially fatal elasticated jump from a rickety shack built into the mountain - everyone's a winner.
The drive that day took us all the way from Queenstown up to the village next to Mount Cook. The first stop on the way was possibly the nicest village in the world, called Arrowtown. In an eerie repeat of our experience at Akaroa, the main reason for stopping here was that the Arrowtown Bakery's pies are legendary. So naturally, as we pull into Arrowtown, the Bakery is..... closed! I admit here that I got rather stroppy at this point and wasn't about to miss out on another "legendary" kiwi culinary experience, so we found a lady counting money at the back of the bakery, got her attention and asked her, homeless-tramp style, for any pie they had left over. "What flavour do you want?" says she. "Steak, Bacon and cheese please" say we. Not only did she return with the pie of legend in hand, but she let us have it for free!!!!! Oh happy day!!!! I'm happy to confirm that the Arrowtown Pie is indeed a legendary pie.
We arrived late at Mount Cook and rose early (at 5!!! then immediately back to bed, then up for real at 6) the next day to beat the Japanese tourists on the walking trails. Unfortunately the whole time we were there, the summit was covered in cloud, so we couldn't quite see as impressive a view as we'd hoped, but it was an impressive sight none the less. And not a Japanese tour bus in sight. The drive to our next stop of Wanaka was an exhausted one - even Jedi was feeling the strain - and we arrived late in the afternoon pretty much ready for bed. On the drive there we'd passed a salmon farm about half way to Wanaka and bought two of the nicest salmon fillets for around two pounds each. We braved the wind and rain a cooked them up in the evening (legendary salmon here too) before parking up in suburbia for the night. As were were settling down we saw an angry looking bloke approaching our camper, and as Jedi was too tired to put up the protective forcefield, he knocked on our door. Pretty terrified but putting on our best stern faces and voices we opened the side door and asked him what he wanted, fully expecting him to tell us to gerroff his land. He didn't, and instead asked us if instead of sleeping in the campervan would we like to sleep in the spare double bed in his house. Baffled and slightly ashamed of our stern faces we said thank you but no. He almost insisted and told us that if we changed our minds then his house was just that one there and that we should give him a knock later. What a country this is! Friendly people and friendlier pies.
Over the next few days we took the driving a bit easier and stopped more regularly and for longer. On our way up here to Nelson where we are now we stopped for the day at the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. These were both very impressive but by this stage our tiredness levels were so high that we weren't able to fully appreciate them - for example I didn't even do the twenty minute walk to the Franz Josef Glacier viewing point. Pathetic really. We made a detour on our way here via a small village called Jackson's Bay in our quest for legendary fish and chips. This time we struck gold, and satisfied, we carried on up the highway. We're now in Nelson, a nice enough town on the very top of the south island. We are getting our boat to the north island tomorrow where we've no real idea what we'll be doing for the next two weeks! Whatever it is, as we're in New Zealand it'll no doubt be beautiful and involve either fish and chips or sea lions in some way. Until next time, take care and see you all in a scarily short amount of time! Lots of love as ever, James and Roisin