I have to start this off by telling you about my incredible experience today swimming with a pod of wild dusky dolphins!! Absolutely AMAZING!!!! I just wish I could describe what it was like but I'm struggling to find the words that encapsulate the whole encounter and the feelings I experienced, i'll try!! It truly was a magical few hours though, definitely one of the highlights (maybe even THE highlight!!) of my entire trip. Initially we weren't going because the company didn't have the minimum numbers but some people came along last minute! Plus Rob wasn't keen - kept moaning about what temperature the sea was going to be (ZZZzzzzz..!) Anyway we got kitted out and all 12 of us headed out to the pacific ocean in search of dolphin pods, well we found one and it was HUGE - 400-500 dolphins in that one pod, and they were everywhere!! So we all pulled on our snorkelling gear and jumped in!! As soon as I hit the water I forgot all about being cold (even thought that first few seconds knocked the wind out of me!) because I was literally surrounded by the dolphins, some leaping out of the water and I felt them around my legs and playfully weaving around me! They are totally wild animals and therefore not obligated to play at all, so is our job to entertain them! Apparently if you circle the dolphins, dive underwater every so often and make noises they love it! So funny hearing everyone making dolphin noises! I can't believe how fearless they are - they totally make eye contact with you, and love swimming around you in circles, and it's quite scary at times when they suddenly brush up against you from the back! The crew were saying we were really lucky to have so many around us, plus being the first group of the day to swim with them means that they are much more playful. Ace.
Haha, just realised how much I've written already about one trip!! It was wonderful though, gutted I never had my waterproof camera, got pictures on board the boat though. Our whole week and a bit in New Zealand has been fantastic, I just love it here, completely different from Australia though and it's been hard trying to fit everything we want to do in the south island in 2 weeks. There is also a lot of driving involved, we've been trying to get up as early as poss to keep days free for activities but it's been a struggle - our van is so cold at night and our sleeping bags are sooo cosy....!! Driving at night sucks too because you miss all the amazing scenery, I didn't realise how beautiful New Zealand was - everywhere you go has jaw-dropping views.
Anyway, back to the start!! So we arrived in Christchurch after collected our van and spent one day seeing some of the city. First we went to this International Antarctic centre which is a huge complex built for the administration of the NZ, US and Italian Antarctic programmes, really interesting plus we stood in this huge chamber that allows you to experience first-hand -18 degrees wind chill. We also went up the Gondola to take pictures of the great views of Christchurch and Lyttleton Harbour which the Southern Alps in the back drop.
After that day of sightseeing we started to make our way South and stopped off at Lake Tekapo. This is another beautiful place - huge torquise lake with hills and snow capped mountains as a back drop. Sat and had lunch by the lake and wondered around the small town. Then it was on to Mt Cook national park where there was more spectacular scenery and Mt Cook - highest peak in Oceania at 3755m, got some great photos. High up in the Mt Cook national park there is the Tasman glacier, it's the first glacier I'd ever been to see, we only walked to the snout where it was covered in masses of moraine making it pretty ugly actually!!
Next stop for us after Mt Cook was Dunedin - lots of Scottish influence here with Robbie Burns statue symbolising the Scottish settlers. First thing we did here was visit the Cadbury factory - was so good!! Basically they make all the Cadbury chocolate for the whole of NZ, some of Australia and Asia here, and it smells amazing!! We toured around, seeing all the chocolate bars on the assembly line, also went into this silo and seen 1 ton of chocolate being dropped from a trap door into this huge tank!! But the best part was having a bag each to fill with as much chocolate as poss - I was in my element! Dunedin also has a brewery (Speights) and is home to the worlds steepest street. We drove around a bit before heading to Te Anau.
We stayed in this fab caravan park in Te Anau before being picked up early the next for a kayaking trip at Milford Sound. This place is one of the biggest tourist attractions in NZ because of the sheer weather-scuffed cliffs and peaks that surround the huge fiordland. It is also popular because of the scenic drive from Te Anau to Milford - we didn't get to see much with all the fog but I was just happy it wasn't raining. The kayaking was amazing, definitely the best way to appreciate the true beauty of the place, rather than from a huge boat and we had this cute fur seal follow us around! Rob and I had to share a kayak though, this led to plenty arguments and I also got eaten alive by Sandflies, so itchy!
The next 2 days after Milford it rained which was crap because we had driven to Queenstown and were hoping to spend a couple of days here checking out the adventure capital. Rob did manage to get a bungy jump in, not my cup of tea?. And a lot of the Lord of the Ring's scenes were shot at a private park next to the town so we made the effort to hunt them down, one in particular being the bit where Aragon is pulled over the cliff by that hairy bear thingy in the 2nd film, you know the bit??!! To get there was a bit of a trek - completely surrounded by donkeys, llamas, deer and goats who chase you for food, plus the rain had made visibility poor.
After having enough of the miserable Queenstown weather we headed back North to the village of Franz Josef which is famous for it's huge Franz Josef glacier. Rob and I decided the best way to see the glacier would be to go on a full day trek and it turned out to be a great day - hiked about 2 km up this glacier, through crevasses and using our ice picks to pulls us up steep walls, and the blue ice was remarkable! Plus it was a sunny, happy days!!
Then it was the dolphins at Kaikoura! That was this morning, was only for half a day so we drove to Picton afterwards and are about to catch our ferry across to the North Island tomorrow. Can't wait, will be completely different and I've a lot I want to see in a week!
So that's been the last 2 weeks of the trip, going to sign off now, think I've written enough! Hope you are all well, keep in touch and take care of yourselves!!
Lots of love Nikki and Robert xxx