So New Zealand, South island, it already feels like we were there ages ago....
So we got off the ferry at Picton, but drove south west, straight to Nelson. On the map of New Zealand there are so few towns compared to England that went you come across one you assume its going to be busy, but no. There wasn´t a great deal going on in Picton so we ploughed on. Yet this wasn´t a chour in the slightest. Having the freedom to just choose exactly where and when to stop was brilliant. The only concern was reaching the next petrol station before we ran out, unthinkable at home but a genuine concern when travelling in New Zealand.
The next place we reached that resembled civilisation was Westport. Again not much happening in the town, (it was a Tuesday night or something) so it served as a place to park up and sleep. However, the drive from Westport to Greynouth...wow, that was something else. This coastal road was unbelievable. However we describe it, it simply wouldn´t do it justice. We were really lucky to catch it on a beautiful day, at a beautiful time. The sun was only beginning to set as we made our way along the winding road, surrounded by steep green hills on one side and cliffs leading down to desserted sun kissed beach on the other. We wouldn´t see another car for miles. This was probably when the feeling of complete freedom hit us. You´re there in thse incredible surroundings, feeling like you´re the only people on earth, ah it was so good.
After a night in Westport, our next stop off was in Franz Josef, to see the Glacier. We arrived some time in the afternoon and booked a day hike for the next day. Yet when we woke up it was teeming down wth rain and the hike was inevitably cancelled . So instead of waiting around for the sun, we spent the day at the hot pools and decided to press on southwards the following day, making sure we´d leave enough time to do Franz Josef on the way back up. This meant we wouldn´t get to see Christchurch, on the east coast, but we thought it was probably a price worth paying.
So on to Wanaka. This was a lovely little town on the edge of a lake, (as many of the towns in nz seem to be) set against some jaw dropping moutains. The south island really was surpassing all expectations in terms of scenery. We spent two nights here, one of which included us going to this bar as there was meant to be a live band playing, only to walk straight back out as we realised the band would be playing souly for our benefit. The worst bit was they visibly perked up when they saw us walk in. To be fair to Wanaka, we did visit between seasons, its a world class snow boarding venue apparently so I shouldn´t be too harsh.
We also did a paraglide here. Its when there´s a guy strapped to your back and you have a parachute behind you and you run off the side of a hill and the wind picks you up. Good fun, simlar to the parachute part of the sky dive (to state the obvious) but you get a lot closer to the hills.
The following day we made the hour drive to Queenstown. Our first night was spent in the camper, only to be woken by some guy from the council telling us not to "sleep on our streets!" So this gave us a legitimate excuse to go into a hostel for the remainder of our 5 days in Queenstown. I think we´d forgotten just how good a real bed was. A bit of personal space didn´t go amiss either.
Anyway, the reason we´d come to Qt was to try some adrenaline activities and we started off with the 43m Kawarau Bridge bungy. This was absolutely nerve racking but incredibly enjoyable. We decided to start off with a tandem, in the vain hope that this might break us in slowly! They sit you down and tie your feet together, you then have to stand up and shuffle to the edge of the bridge. I´m getting nervous just writing about it! You have one arm round each other then they tell you to hold the other one out in front of you as you dive off. So they count you down from 5 then thats it, you just jump/fall off! There´s a point, where you know you´ve let gravity take you that little bit too far and there´s no return! I loved that moment, its such an exhilarating feeling, just putting your faith in a piece of elastic. It was funny, our arms started stretched out but literally as soon as we´d left the platform we both had our arms wrapped round other other, holding on, shouting for dear life. Of course when we had our arms clamped round each other you can´t really tell when you´re going to hit the river below. So went we got dunked down to our waists it was a bit of a surprise. But we came out absolutely buzzing. Phew, it was emotionally exhausting but so, so good. And there was plenty more where that came from.
The next day we tried something called River Surfing, which is when you go down a river in a wet suit clinging onto a body board for dear life. This was bloody tiring, in the bus to the river we were a little tired from the previous evening but there was no need to worry about not waking up. As soon as we were in the water hangovers and any feelings of fatigue vanished. I think we looked at each other in disbelieve at just how cold it was. We had actually paid money to spend time shivering in freezing water. So you´re going through rapids and its quite good, but you don´t have much control, (even less in Westall´s case as he had constant cramp and had to be towed along by one of the instructors!) The hot showers at the end were most welcome.
I think the next day was when I did the Nevis Canyon bungy. 134m. There´s a platform strung across the middle of the canyon, so they take you across in a cable car, about 5 at a time. Westall came across to be my camera man, and once out in the mddle he was quite releived he hadn´t chosen to do one. I think the fact I´d done the bridge bungy already definitely helped. I would have been a total wreck otherwise. But this way I think I actually managed to enjoy it, sort of. The anticipation is the worst part, but again that moment when you´ve gone that fraction too far, so terrifying/incredible. Having gone though all that, I would still do another one so I must have enjoyed it.
So that was our fill of adrenaline activities, it was time for a more relaxing day. We had to get up about half six to get on a bus to Milford Sound. The coach ride there was impressive, with snow capped mountains then you board a boat and take you on a 2 hour cruise round the mouth of the river, which is surrounded with huge cliffs and waterfalls. I think the fact that we´d seen so many incredible landscapes on our drives, it maybe wasn´t as impressive as we thought it was going to be. Yet by this point I think we had been throughly spoilt! So we got back to Qt that evening, had our final Fergburger (the biggest/best burgers you are ever likely to have) and set off. I think we made it back up to Franz Josef that night, but when we woke up it was tipping down, yet again. Unfortunately we didn´t have time to wait around so we had to carry on up. At least this meant we had slightly more time to play with. If only this had been at the forefront of my mind prior to being stopped for speeding, on my birthday no less! I though this might have got us off the hook but it wasn´t to be.
So on the rest of the drive back up to Picton we came up with a ploy to get back at nz. Westall was going to stow away under the bed in the back on the camper, meaning we´d only have to pay for one ticket, ha! With this plan successful executed (he did get out for the 3 hours ferry ride) we carried on north until we reached Taupo, the town of the skydive, where we stayed the night.
The following day was the last big drive as we reached Auckland, we spent a night in a hostel here then on the day of the flight we de-robed Ebony of all the signs and memorabilia we had picked up on our travels. We then said an emotional goodbye to our trusty vechicle at the airport drop off and boarded our flight for the final leg of our trip round the world...
james and mark