I spent a week in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. I stayed in a nice hostel and met up with Adam and Rosie quite a few times. I visited the Te Papa museum to see a brilliant WW1 Anzacs exhibition as well as lots of interesting Maori exhibits. Particularly interesting was learning the story of how the Haka dance came to be (this is the fearsome war dance used by the All Blacks at the beginning of rugby games). I also went to Parliament for a tour of their Beehive style building. I learned some very interesting facts about their PR voting system and the fact that they only have a lower (not an upper) house. I also spent an hour watching a question and answer session in which opposition MP's were just as badly behaved as at Westminster, asking questions like "Do you have confidence in your ministers, and if so, why?" But then shouting over the government minister as he tried to give an answer. Finally, I also visited Weta Caves, where they create a lot of the CGI, as well as the costumes and weaponry for major films like Lord of the Rings, Avatar and more. It was really interesting to see. Wellington is definitely a nicer city than Auckland.
Leaving Wellington, I took a three hour ferry ride to the south Island and then went to Kaiteriteri. This would have been a very beautiful place judging by the photos but it rained a lot. I did manage to do some walks, including a lovely one in the Abel Tasman National park (named after the Dutch explorer who first discovered New Zealand in the 1600's). The park is full of rainforest which ends right on the beach making for some fantastic scenery. Unfortunately the rain meant the sand flies were out and I got bitten a few times.
After Kaiteriteri it was time to head to the wild west coast of New Zealand, once the centre of a gold rush and coal mining, but now just small towns dotted along the coastline. However, first I visited Nelson lake, with some great mountain scenery surrounding it. Heading down the coast, I visited the Pancake Rocks and also Cape Foulwind, so named because Captain Cook's ship was driven out to sea by the wind there. Cape Foulwind is also home to a colony of cute seals. Another stop on the way down was Lake Mahinapua, where I got to carve a leaf shape pendant from a piece of Greenstone (Nephrite), a sacred rock to the Maori people.
Unfortunately the bad weather didn't let up when we arrived in Franz Josef either and I worried that I would not be able to do my number one goal on the south island - to visit the glacier. Thankfully, on the third day that I was there, the weather cleared for a beautiful morning and I was able to take a helicopter ride up on to the glacier, and then to walk around part of it - including through crevasses and a tunnel. I even got a chance to drink cold fresh water direct from the glacier streams. It was amazing! In the afternoon, I decided to do a skydive. I had missed out in Taupo due to the weather, and I was told the skydive in Franz Josef was second best in the world (after Mt Everest one) as you could see the glaciers, snowcapped mountains, rainforest and ocean coming down. Unfortunately that one was booked so I used a different company, which turned out to be a disappointment due to the fact that it was both more expensive and I only got to see the mountains and glacier from the plane, not on the dive itself. I was extremely nervous going up in the plane and hanging my feet out over the side once we were ready to jump, but surprisingly, as soon as we left the plane I felt much calmer and was able to enjoy the beautiful views. I did manage to muck up the landing, but wasn't injured so that was good. I'm glad I did the skydive and would probably do another one in future, but only if it's a very clear day next time.
After Franz Josef, we left the West Coast and headed inland. The bus stopped off at a few more lakes, including lake Matheson where, on a clear, windless day, you can see Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected like a mirror image on the lake. Unfortunately it was cloudy so I couldn't see the tops of the mountains but there was still a good image of the surrounding areas reflected in the water. I also stopped at 90ft high Thunder Falls to get a photo that looks like I was drinking from the waterfall, and at Ships Creek to explore a rainforest swamp area with "dinosaur trees". And then, after three weeks with barely a view of the sunshine, it finally graced us with it's presence as we got close to the most stunningly beautiful place I have seen in New Zealand so far - Wanaka. It is a small town but it is next to a lake with snowcapped mountains in the distance. Nearby is Lake Hawea, and together the brilliant blue skies and snowy mountains made for breathtaking scenery. A nice walk around the lake the next day, and it was time to move on to my next destination - the famous Queenstown.