Have been in New Zealand for nearly four weeks now, and have managed to see most of the country in a trusty campervan called Zaphod!! I arrived in Auckland on February 1st, and met my cousin, Alice, in a hostel on the outskirts of the city centre. Alice had some spare time before starting here degree in March so decided to come out and meet me in New Zealand for a few weeks. So we decided to hire a campervan to see as much of the country as possible. We went with a company called spaceships, who have bright orange people carriers converted to allow poeple to sleep in the back. Each van has a spacey name, we saw Apollo and Megatron and even Hoff, so were a little disappointed to get Zaphod, no idea what it means, please let me know if we were missing something!!! It did serve us very well for just the whole time we had it, even if I did smack my head every morning on waking up!
We left Auckland on the 2nd Feb and headed north towards the Bay of Islands, where we spent our first night before heading to Ninety Mile Beach and spent an afternoon quad biking along the beach. A very fun activity although if you ever intend to have a go, bear in mind that if you try and talk to the person behind you when there is a head wind it might catch a little bit of dribble and blow it into the passengers face..... sorry Al!!
We headed back towards Auckland after a morning of body boarding on very small waves. A night in Auckland gave us time to find one of the greatest desserts ever made. A pizza crumble, pizza base, layer of custard, apple and blackberrys and then crumble!!! It was splendid!!
From here we went to Rotorua, the smelliest place on earth, but also very nice once you get used to the smell generated from the sulphur from the thermal area it lies on. I did worry the whole time we were there about the possiblity of the earth just opening and swallowing us up. We did a tour of a maori village hear, lead by a very camp maori guy who sang to us and showed us round the thermal area, we also got to see a few displays of maori singing and the haka, which is always amazing to watch.
After a couple of nights in Rotorua we stopped briefly at Lake Taupo watched some crazy people jump off a great height with a bit of elastic tied to their ankles and then stopped just south of the lake to do some white water rafting on Lake Tongariro. We were the only two in our boat plus the guide, and it was really good fun. From here we stayed at National Park a village near the Tongariro National Park.
The next day we did a canoeing trip up the Wanganui. This was something we had both wanted to do due to saying our Grandad always had if you ever asked him where something or someone was. "Up the Wanganui!!' Our grandparents met and were married in New Zealand and this was the first of a number of places we wanted to visit related to their time here. We didn't manage to find any of the things Grandad said were 'up the wanganui' but it was a really good trip. We weren't quite expecting the amount of rapids and I was bailing out quite frequently. You can do a long stretch of the river over 5 days but we opted for just an afternoon, getting picked up further down the river and then taken back to our car. We spent another night in National Park, in the car park of a very nice hostel where we could stay for free.
Our intention then was to go to an RAF museum at RAF Ohakea where Grandad was based, I'd found it by chance as it happened to be marked on the road map we had. When we pulled up at the base we were told the museum had been closed for 6 years!! We were offered a postcard of an aeroplane as compensation, delighted!! We drove on then to Wellington, the capital city.
The van became a bit of a pain at this point, as parking was very expensive. We were told of a hostel we could park the van overnight cheaply, and spent the first night there, but asked for our money back for the second night as it was the worst hostel I'd ever stayed near!! Rowena's Lodge, Wellington, don't do it!!! We parked up in a small car park by the water the second night.
We didn't think too much of Wellington itself, it was nice enough but not too much to do. There were some lovely houses near the bay and a good drive along the coastline. We went to the Te Papa national museum which was good, but I think the wet weather while we were there dampened our spirits a little. We spent a fair time trying to find ....... Caves (forgotten the name) related to Lord of the Rings only to find a small shop with figurines from the film, a collectors dream, but not the best thing we've seen in New Zealand.
We caught the ferry across from Wellington to Picton, arriving in Picton through the Marlborough Sounds which were stunning. We'd spent the first week being amazed by the views on the North Island but the South Island have impressed even more!
We drove straight to Blenheim from the ferry, which was where our grandparents were married and lived. Blenheim also happend to be the wine capital which was a coincidence as I like wine! We hired bikes the following day and found the church where Nanny & Grandad were married, not in the same state as it was in 1950, it had undergone a few renovations, but we had a little chat with the vicar before going to find the house where they had lived. The afternoon we then hit the vineyards on our bicycles, very enjoyable there was even a chocolate factory and schnapps tasting on the way too!!
From Blenheim we had a short stop in Nelson, which was a really nice town with lots of cafes and nice shops, before heading up to the Abel Tasman National Park. Here we did some sea kayaking, getting to see seals and a small penguin. We were in a group of about 8 which included a kiwi couple who insisted on bringing along Trevor their blow up whale!
We hit the road again that evening and stopped off at a caravan park in the middle of nowhere, heading for the west coast, we got chatting to an interesting Polish couple now residents of the US. They'd travelled all over the place and told a rather amsuing story about Whale meat!
Next stop was Greymouth, it was as the place name suggets, a little grey. We arrived in the evening and the town was dead, with little to do we had resigned ourselves to an evening of wine and cards, untill the hostle owner, where we were staying in the car park of over night recommended the Montheiths brewery tour. Fortunately they also did cider, so we went along, I had to drink samples of 8 beers inorder to then get my free cider! We then got a free meal at a local pub, where we went with some Irish people who were on the same tour. Entertainment was even thrown in with a punch up in the bar. If it wasn't for the Montheiths I'd recommend avoiding Greymouth at all costs!
Franz Joesf was the next stop, day one was really nice and warm, we booked a glacier walk for the next day when it was cold and wet. We did the walk in the late afternoon and had to get all the waterproofs on. Alice and i found ourselves in the fast group, the hardest part being actually getting to the glacier itslef! When we did get there we had to climb up about 200 steep steps, it got a lot easier when we actually got onto the glacier, but it was pretty cold up there! We walked a far way up the glacier and then came back having to go through a narrow crevice, we were at the front I followed Alice down then unfortunately got my foot caught behind my knee and before I knew it I went face first into the ice! I still have the bruises to prove it!! We managed to get the rest of the way unscathed!
From Franz Josef we drove on to Queenstown, which was a great place. We spent the day seeing the sights, and I continued to avoid any crzy jumping off things activities. We did go up the gondola to get amazing views of the town and then went up a little further to do a luge run, which was little go karts style things, very good!! Back down in the town we attempted a game of golf frisbee, unfortunately after about 4 holes we had lost sight of the fun aspect of the game, and having lost my frisbee up a tree for about 15minutes, the game was boycotted and finished in a draw.
The next day we were in Milford Sound doing an evening cruise, again the weather was alittle cold but the views continued to be stunning. The boat trip went out through the fjord, falsely named a sound, out to the sea.
We then wanted to get up to Kaikoura to do some Whale Watching, this was a good two days driving to get up there, but we had to keep stopping to get our cameras out for the amazing views. My favourite being a view of Mount Cook across a milky blue lake! We spent a night at Lake Tekapo which amused Alice no end, although I'm not sure that was the correct pronounciation of the name.
We arrived at Kaikoura on Monday and decided to spend our last 3 nights there, We booked up an early morning whale watching trip for Wednesday. Tuesday we did a walk along the Kaikoura peninsula, and then had a short spell on the very stony beach. I attempted a dip and on stepping into the water I was soon knocked onto my backside by the most enormous wave, and managed to get up to see Alice and an onlooking couple very amused by my misfortune!
The whale wtaching was a 7.15am start, we had to wait at the office a while so I decided to get breakfast there, which was in hind sight money down the drain! We had to sit inside the boat as it travelled out into the sea. We managed to see a sperm whale which is a resident in the area owing to the canyon which sits under water. The whale was pretty impressive to see, but the boat was pretty rocky and I was beginning to feel a little under the weather, it didn't help that we had to keep going back inside, which was when I removed my very tasty breakfast from my stomach into the very nice sick bags. A very nice member of the crew was soon at my side taking my filled bag and repplacing with a new one, what a job!! As I began to fill this second bag there was a cry from one of the passengers, 'Orca!!'' as everyone rusjed back outside I was otherwise occupied! I did manage to get out and see the two Orca diving around in their natural environment, it was fantastic.
Thursday then was our final day with the van, it did serve us well and we must have driven over 5000km in it, we even had a DVD player in there. The roads in New Zealand were eventful, I'm not sure any of them are straight, but the winding adds to the dramatic scenery.
We've had two days seeing Christchurch, we did some rowing on the river Avon, just about managing to stay in the boat, visited the Botanic Gardens and enjoyed the shops. Alice has now left for a week in New York, and I find myself about to start another phase of this trip. With two months left money is running low, so I have found myself some work in Blenheim in the vineyards starting Monday.