We landed in Christchurch local time 1am to heavy rain and got the airport shuttle to the hostel. The reception had left us our key on a notice board so we crept upstairs and into our room expecting the 5 bed dorm that we had booked but were very excited to open the door and see a twin room with electric blankets and a flat screen TV; a very good start to New Zealand!
We slept all the way through to 11am the next morning and then walked into town wearing our raincoats. We stopped off at the Canterbury museum for a quick walk around then went on to the main part of town that was ruined in the earthquake; the area that used to be the CBD is empty and we ate sushi for lunch at the only restaurant that is still open! We went to the Quake City exhibition which gave the facts about earthquakes and the problems that Christchurch, and New Zealand, face and also had video accounts from people about what happened on the day of the big earthquake in 2011 which were all very moving. It was very well done and all the proceeds go to the charity helping to rebuild the Christchurch community so I would definitely recommend it. We did a quick food shop on the way home and bought a steak and cheese pie for dinner as a much needed break from pasta. Once back in the hostel we had the pie and then retreated to our beloved room and watched a couple of episodes of Friends on our TV in bed.
We checked out early the next morning and walked to the bus stop. The big green kiwi experience bus picked us up and the driver introduced himself and told us all about kiwi experience. It was a long drive to Kaikoura with some dramatic coastline to see. We stopped at Ohau point which has the biggest seal colony in New Zealand. The seals were so close and didn't seem concerned by us all and the camera, they carried on flopping around. After 10 minutes there we were dropped at our hostel, had half an hour to get ready and then walked down to the 'Whaleway Station'. After a safety video we all got on the boat and were warned that any people who might feel a little bit seasick should head to the back. Although both Nat and I would not have considered ourselves amongst the seasick inclined before, since our Whitsundays experience we were not putting anything to chance. On the way out the boat captain explained to us how they use a machine to pick up the sounds of nearby whales and wait for them to surface and the good sign was that they could hear a whale. During the 2 hour trip we saw 3 sperm whales surface and then dive down. The boat got so close and you can't really believe how big the whales are; it was an amazing experience. Nat and I had pasta for dinner, met some of the people on our bus and then had another early night in our nice warm dorm room.
We were up early for the bus and didn't wake properly until we reached Ohao Walk and walked up to a waterfall where there were hundreds of seal pups playing in the water. They were so cute and Nat and I were late getting back to the bus because we wanted to keep watching them. After a few more hours on the bus we got to the ferry terminal at Picton and picked up a new group of people that had come down through the North Island. We were going to be with this group all the way down to Queenstown so everyone started to get to know each other on the way through to Kaiteriteri. Once we got there we settled in the hostel, made more pasta, and then the entire group went to the adjoining pub for a pub quiz. We didn't win this one but it was fun!
Kaiterteri is in the Abel Tasman National park so we were given the morning to go on a walk, Kayak in the sea (there was no way I was doing this in the ice cold water) or just sit on the beach. Nat and I had a bit of a lie in and then walked up to a viewpoint. We were told that it was all one track to follow but we managed to get lost and spent the best part of an hour working out how to get back on course. The viewpoint didn't turn out to be that good and I kept thinking that there would be a better one further on so didn't actually take a photo.
We started our bus journey just after midday and had a food shop stop in Richmond along the way. Nat and I pushed the boat out and bought broccoli to add to our pasta for the next few days. The hostel in Westport hostel had a fire so after enjoying the broccoli pasta, we spent the evening as a big group chatting in the lounge- this was the evening where Nat was convinced to do a Skydive!!!
The next day's coach trip included a lot of stops: We had a couple of walks to coastline, walked to the Pancake rocks for lunch and stopped in Greymouth for a fancy dress outfit for that evening. The theme was 'anything but clothes' so Nat and I bought $3 laundry baskets to wear and big paper bags to wear underneath. We arrived at Lake Mahinapua at about 4pm and walked down to the lake. It was very pretty but very cold and windy so we didn't stay long before walking to the beach to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, the sun was gone by the time we got there but Nat insisted on walking down to make sure- it had definitely sunk. We were staying at the Poo Pub that evening and had paid a bit extra for them to make us all steaks and cheesy potatoes for dinner which was delicious and a great contrast to pasta. We all changed into our outfits in the freezing dorms and went across (Nat and I ran to get out of the wind) to the pub. It was a fun evening (still in bed by 12) but after the last minute decision to scrap the paper bags and wear a top and leggings under the laundry baskets, we didn't win the fancy dress competition or get the bungee jump prize- Nat was devastated! By this point the group knew each other really well.
We were up early the next morning for the drive down Franz Joseph. We had beans on toast at a strange café claiming to sell run over possum and I enjoyed a freshly made scone on the side. We arrived in Franz at 12.30 and divided into 3 groups for the glacier hike. It was a perfect day for it and we were lucky that we were able to do it because they had had to cancel the morning hikes due to strong winds. We were all kitted up in warm clothes and solid boots and then made out way to the helicopter pad. The helicopter trip up lasted about 5 minutes, all of which Nat and I kept grinning and squealing at each other. It was quite cold on the glacier as we put the crampons onto our shoes to help us grip on ice, but we soon warmed up. We hiked for 2.5 hours up, down and through the glacier. It was all so pretty and exciting and we also had a really nice group which made it a lot of fun- It made it into my top 5 experiences (Dad and Chris have got me to list my top things since being home)! We had the helicopter ride back and then headed to the hostel with the promise of a heated room. The room was very warm but the run to and from the shower was not so nice! That Saturday was the first Lions game so we all went down to watch the end of the All Blacks' game and the Lions. We drank quite a lot of wine and Nat and I became the biggest rugby fans!
The next morning we had a long lie in which, after all of the early morning buses, was much appreciated. We slowly got out of bed and then went for a walk towards the glacier. Nat and Harry seemed to think that we were going to walk all the way to it but after a bit more than an hour, and still unable to see it, we turned back. We got back around 3 and headed for the hot water pools that were included in the price of our heli-hike. The 40 degree pool was amazing for the first half hour but we moved onto the 36 degree pool when it got too hot. It was a very relaxing end to the day and it was a nice thing to do with the whole group. That evening we all paid for all-you-can-eat pizza, chips and garlic bread. We definitely got our money's worth and both Nat and I had to go and lie down soon after finishing because we were so stuffed.
We were up very early the next morning and stopped about an hour down the road at Lake Matheson for sunrise. We walked all around lake and were able to take lots of pictures of Mount Cook in the background reflecting on to the lake. It was very pretty but absolutely freezing. We stopped at some very pretty mountains and lake viewpoints along the way and arrived in Wanaka at 3ish. We walked around to the lake and then bought some food for dinner. Nat and I had run out of pasta so decided to change it up a bit with rice and sweet and sour sauce. Wanaka has a stunning backdrop with snow capped mountains. After dinner a group of us went to watch 'The Internship' at the Paradiso cinema across the road from our hostel. Rather than the usual seats, this cinema was full of sofas and it wasn't busy so we all had a sofa each! It was also a very funny film.
The following morning we were back on the coach and the first stop was puzzle world where some of the group attempted the maze but we sat and entertained ourselves with the many puzzles in the café. At midday we stopped at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy which was the site of the first ever bungy in 1988. 4 of bus did it and although tempted, I couldn't bring myself to do it- it was too nerve wracking just watching them! We got to Queenstown at 2 and then spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out our ski package for the following day. Nomads hostel that we stayed at included a free curry dinner which we enjoyed and then went to an Irish bar where I had a mulled wine and Nat had a cider around the fire- it was hard to imagine the you were having hot weather at home.
We were up at 6.30am on Wednesday for breakfast and were picked up from outside of the hostel at 7.15. Both Nat and I slept for the hour journey and got the top to the ski resort to find a white out. Despite the bad weather I skied all morning with a couple of other people from our bus and Nat had her first ever ski lesson. It was really good snow but I was very cold by the time we stopped for lunch and my fingers were numb- I haven't skied in cold conditions for a few years and I'm used to skiing in just a jumper and sun in April so it was a bit of a shock. We met up with Nat for lunch and then I went up onto the beginner slope with her before her afternoon lesson started. I was really impressed and pleased to see that she enjoyed it! The weather cleared in the afternoon and it warmed up a bit so I enjoyed a lot of good runs. At around 3 I went down to the baby slope and met Nat as her group were about the venture up on their first chair lift so I went with them. She was a little nervous at the top and almost crashed into another member of the beginners group (she will say it was his fault), but was very good on the slope down and had good turns. She looked like she had had a lot more than 4 hours of tuition and it was fun for me to watch. It was a long day so we slept again on the coach back and were dropped back in town at 6.30. We were too late for the free hostel dinner so we went to the legendary 'Fergburger'. These burgers had been recommended to us by everyone that had been to New Zealand and they didn't disappoint- they were massive and had an amazing garlic mayo! Later in the evening we went to a little pub to watch some more rugby and enjoy the free wifi before going back to the hostel for an early night.
I woke up to skype home the next morning and ended up talking to them for more than 2 hours- I kept telling them that I was home soon but that didn't stop the questions! We all then went to play indoor Mini golf which was so much fun but took more than 2 hours and Nat and I were the worst by far! It was a very creative course with little chair lifts and trucks to carry the balls to different points. We all had lunch at a pub and then walked around town for a bit of shopping where nothing was bought because we were living on a backpacker budget. For dinner we had the free pasta meal and then got ready to go out- it felt strange to be putting on make-up again. We had a really good night which ended predictably in McDonalds!
We woke late the next morning, had another Fergburger for lunch, said our goodbyes to the group and then caught bus to airport for our flight to Wellington. We had both loved the South Island and had a really good group on kiwi bus so we were sad to leave.
After an hour flying, we arrived in Wellington and caught the bus to our Nomads hostel in town. We had booked an 8 bed dorm beforehand but when we got there reception told us they had upgraded us to a 4-bed ensuit! It was raining but we wondered around Wellington and then went to the highly recommended Te Papa museum. It had a lot of information on the earthquakes and volcanoes that occur in New Zealand, and a preserved giant squid in a box and the story of how it got there which was definitely worth a look at.
In the evening we were very tired and so we ate the free shepherd's pie meal (it was tiny but free so can't complain) and were then in our pyjamas by 8pm. We both read our kindles for a bit and then went to sleep. There were only 4 people in the room so we had a good uninterrupted night!
The next morning we woke up early and were ready to check out when the lady on reception told us that the bus time had changed so we had another hour to wait- not ideal but I was very into my book so didn't mind too much. We met a new group on the kiwi bus who all seemed very nice but we didn't have too long to get to know them because we were dropped at the skydive site on the way into Taupo. Nat was very nervous but I was swaying between nervous and excited. We watched the safety DVD, got kitted up and then Nat and I filmed our first interview together and got into the plane. I was so pleased that Nat was doing it too because it made the flight up fun. I thought we were really high up at one point but I asked my guy and we were only 1000ft up, still 11,000 to go!! As we got to 11000ft my guy tightened all the strappings and attached my bindings to his. At 12,000ft he opened the door, I slid to put my legs over the edge, and he pushed us out. It was good that I wasn't perched on the edge for long enough to get really scared- I really think I would struggle to do a bungy where you have to push yourself off. The free fall was amazing but I had a bit of a blocked nose so found it hard to breathe and, although I tried to smile, my facial expressions are not very attractive and my mouth was wide open. The free fall lasted about 40 seconds and then the parachute opened and I could appreciate the view of Taupo Lake (big enough to fit the whole of Singapore within it) and the snowy mountains. I was first out of the plane and Nat was second so I was able to spot her floating above me! After we landed and got out of our gear, we waited in the TV room for our video showing. My video is so funny because of the faces that I unintentionally pull during the free fall- I can't wait to show everyone.
We were taken back to our hostel in a limo and then managed to wangle a 4-bed dorm for the same price as a 16-bed- we must have looked very poor! We had rice to use up for dinner but couldn't face it again so opted for the hostel chilli con carne deal instead (Nat had become a lot more adventurous) and then went to bed early after an exciting, but exhausting, day.
Nat and I both woke up the next morning very bunged up and feeling quite ill so we decided to take it easy for the day. We spent a couple of hours walking around part of Taupo Lake and then went back to the hostel to top up on decongestion tablets and spent the rest of the afternoon watching 'The Notebook' film in the tv room with our duvets and feeling sorry for ourselves. That evening we couldn't find another excuse not to have the rice so cooked it but because we couldn't taste anything, we didn't suffer too much. I definitely won't miss these cheep traveller meals once I am home.
On Monday we were picked up at 7am and taken to Waitomo. The bus driver was very jolly for early in the morning and kept us entertained on the way there- she thought that we were mad for signing up for the Black Labyrinth 3 hour black water rafting through the glow worm caves when it was so cold, and the closer that we got the more thought the same thing. The shock came when we put on our wetsuits that were still wet and freezing cold, the wetsuit shoes made my feet numb almost instantly! Nat and I were definitely rethinking our decision when the leader asked us to jump backwards 6ft into the cold river below for the waterfall simulator. Despite the group's apprehension, we carried our rubber tubes to the cave, switched on our head torches and climbed in.
The cave was pitch black and had water running throughout- it was very cool! We soon got over the temperature and even began to get hot as we climbed through but during the first waterfall jump the freezing water splashed up into my face and new water went down neck. As we floated through the cave on our tubes the leader told us to turn off our head lights and we looked up to see hundreds of glow worms on the roof of the cave which was pretty special. For the last part of the tour we were a minimum of waist deep in water so the group were quite cold by the time we reached the end. The warm shower and tomato soup that followed were greatly appreciated! We were picked up by the same lady and taken to Rotorua. Rotorua is known for its geothermal hot springs (and for smelling like rotten egg) so, after checking into our hostel, we went across the road to Kuirau geothermal park and looked at all of the steaming grey pools. From what I have heard, Nat and I were lucky to have blocked noses!
That evening was our last night in a hostel so Nat and I celebrated with dinner at a curry house. We had a really nice meal (it was almost ruined by a too spicy tikka massala but they kindly replaced it) but after suddenly realising that our trip was almost all over, we became very sad.
On Tuesday morning we had a bit of a lie in and then got a bus to Auckland. It was another 4 hour journey and Nat unsurprisingly managed to sleep the entire time. After arriving we walked to meet Simon, Scarlet (age 10) and Gene (age 7) at Albert Park (Simon is the son of my neighbours and before they moved to New Zealand in 2006 Jess and I used to look after Scarlet a lot). There was a big hill into the park which was not easy to climb whilst carrying our big bags so we looked a sweaty mess by the time we got the top. Simon then drove us up to Mount Eden which is a volcanic cone on the outskirts of the city that gave an amazing view over Auckland. We had Mexican burritos for dinner at Anna's house (Scarlett's mum) and we played the balloon game with Gene and Scarlett who were very excitable!
After a very good nights sleep in Scarlett's double bed I drove Simon's car (they have a different insurance system) to Auckland Museum whilst Nat map read. We spent a couple of hours looking around and were particularly impressed with the exhibition about the ocean. We then picked Simon up from work, swapped drivers, and went to collect Gene and Scarlett from school. It was a very wet day so Scarlett and Gene decided that we would go to the fun pool near to their house. We had fun in the wave pool and on the slides although it was slightly worrying that Gene coped a lot better in the wave pool than both me and Nat! For dinner we were introduced to kumara and had New Zealand savignon blanc.
Gene and Scarlett had Thursday off school and Simon took the day off work so we drove to Bethells beach in the morning; a stunning black sand beach with big sand dunes out on the West coast. We drove back into Auckland around midday and dropped Nat at the airport for her flight back to Sydney (Nat added on New Zealand last minute so had to keep her existing flight home from Australia). The rest of us had a toasty for lunch at Simons and then went out to black rock beach on the East Coast via Auckland bridge over the harbour. Both beaches were beautiful and we were very lucky with the weather. We went back to Anna's and watched Home Alone (Scarlett's choice) with a houmous snack and then set off for the airport for the second time that day. I was very grateful to Simon and his family for being so accommodating to both me and Nat and for showing us around Auckland.
I had very mixed emotions as I sat in the airport and was not looking forward to the long flight ahead. The first half of the flight to LA went quickly and I slept for a long time with a spare seat next to me, but after going through customs in LA I really didn't want to get back onto the plane! The second half went very slowly but I was very excited as we landed and then walked through Heathrow to arrivals. It was quite emotional when I saw Mum, Jess and Jamie waiting.
I had an amazing 6 months and will have to keep busy so I don't get too upset that it is all over.
Sorry that this is so late!
Lots of love xx