Since our last update we have bid goodbye to Melbourne and Australia and are now in New Zealand.
We flew into Christchurch, which is pretty, cold and quiet. We are getting around New Zealand on the Kiwi Experience Bus, which means a lot less organising is required on our part, but it has taken us a while to get used to being told where we are going as opposed to deciding ourselves. It also means spending a lot of time on coaches during the day, which can get a bit dull.
Our first stop after Christchurch was Kaikoura, where I (Zoe, if you hadn't guessed) had my heart set on swimming with dolphins, despite the freezing temperatures! I signed up, but found our 15minutes before we left that it was cancelled as they couldn't find any dolphins...Great!? Thankfullly, the route we are taking means we go through Kaikoura again (in a couple of days time in fact) and so I'll hopefully get another opportunity.
Instead of seeing dolphins, we went to the nearby seal colony...Except couldn't see any seals. Eventually we realised we were practically standing on the seals. It was just they looked very similar to the browny grey rocks they were lying on!
After Kaikoura we headed to Nelson, where we almost got stranded for 4 days because the bus was overbooked. After Nelson was Westport, where we both signed up for jetboating. This was something we'd never heard of before, but it only cost $69 and sounded fun. Basically, 20 of us squeezed into a jetboat, which sped down a river swinging scarily close to the rock faces of the gorge and spun around soaking us all (we were all dressed in waterproof trousers, splash jackets and safety goggles, so looked fab!?). On the way back upstream, Doc, the driver, introduced us to 360 degree spins, which soaked us even more and were very exciting.
After a night in Westport we headed on the next day to Lake Mahinapua (I think that's the correct spelling). We stayed at this backpackers place in the middle of nowhere, where the Kiwi bus have a themed party. Our theme was a P- Party, so everyone had to go dressed as something beginning with P. James went as a pirate, with 2 "parrots" (which were in fact Easter chicks) on his shoulder and I went as a present, which was a good idea until I needed the loo and was too wrapped up to get out of my costume! The P party was good fun and gave us a chance to get to know the other Kiwi-ers better.
With lots of hangovers on the bus the next morning we were off to Franz Josef. Franz Josef is the township next to the Franz Josef glacier and we had signed up to hike up the glacier the following day. however, the weather had been so bad over the last couple of days the glacier had been closed to hikers. Luckily, despite some rain, the next day arrived and we were told the hike would be going ahead! Yay!
We were once again wrapped up in waterproof trousers, raincoats, boots, gloves and hats, and had crampons to put on once we reached the glacier. The guides gave us a very scary talk about how dangerous the glacier would be today after the last few days of bad weather and how it should only be attempted by those of a good fitness level. Having done no real exercise in the last 4 months James and I were a bit worried.
It turned out we shouldn't have worried as the glacier climb was fine. We were in the second group (meaning we decided we were some of the fittest people there!?) and our guide cut steps for us up the glacier. It was really beautiful up there and we squeezed through crevices and crawled through wormholes. All very fun. We also got to have lunch up on the glacier and saw a Kea bird, the only alpine parrot and it has the intelligence of a 4 year old child. Interesting stuff. Other exciting things on the glacier - we found out that one of the guys in our group (Adam) had got weed on the night before...The guy on the bunk above him wet the bed (too much alcohol for him!) and it dripped through onto Adam! Hehe. Also we later found out Adam did Chemistry at Bristol, but was in the year below us, so it wasn't quite as bad that James hadn't recognised him!
From Franz Josef we went to Wanaka, where we both did a sky dive. Once again on the morning of the dive it looked like it might not go ahead due to the low clouds, but they broke up eventually. James had managed to convince himself to do the skydive, but the higher the plane went the paler he got and when the door of the plane opened there was fear in his eyes (see photo in the photo section). James was first out of the plane, which he wanted!? So I watched James get thrown out of a plane by the man attached to him. I was third out and couldn't quite believe I was about to fall out of a plane at 15,000 feet! The first second your stomach lurches, but then you're just falling and not really scared anymore. It was amazing (I have some great DVD footage of me just going "wooooow, woooow, wooow" over and over again). After falling, 12, 000 feet the parachute is opened and you can admire the scenery a bit more then when you're falling! And you get a very graceful bum landing in a field. Definitely worth the money. It was good to get to the ground and see James was smiling (and the look of fear was gone) - he'd actually really enjoyed the experience.
Despite enjoying the sky dive I couldn't persuade James to join me in a canyon swing in Queenstown. The canyon swing is 109 metres above ground (over a canyon) and you free fall 60 metres (more than in the Ben Nevis bungy in Queenstown, which is 134 metres high), finally going into a nice swingy arc at 150kph. With the canyon swing you're attached by your waist, not your feet, which appealed to me and you don't bounce either, you swing. Plus, there are lots of ways you can do it, not just a dive like the bungy. I decided to do my first one forwards, and somehow ended up being convinced that running off the ledge would be a good way to go!? The guys who run the canyon swing try to wind you up and freak you out as much as possible. I was being told that I had to make sure I ran straight out, otherwise I'd hit rocks. They then started to question whether the rope I was attached to the swing with was fraying so much that it would break under my weight. With all this I was thoroughly freaked out by the time I'd convinced myself it was time to run off the ledge. But I did it. It was amaaaaazing! You just fall so quickly and get this great rush as you fall and then you swing and you realise you're not dead, which is the best part!!
second swings at the moment only cost $29 so I thought I might as well go for it. But they have a rule you can't do the same swing twice. I was "advised" I should try a backwards swing, so opted for The Chair, where you sit on a chair that's seatbelted to you, on the edge of the drop and tilt yourself backuntil you just fall off. I thought I'd been scared in the last one, but I was absolutely petrified doing this one. The guys seatbelted me in and moved me to the edge, sliding me just a little too far, so that one leg fell off. In the DVD afterwards you can see the 2 guys are in complete control, but at the time I was convinced they'd just accidently slipped and that I'd been seconds away from plunging off before they were ready! The guys were like "Sorry, sorry, you were just so light we didn't realise you'd slide that far!" and then they told me to just tilt my chair back to which I replied "no!" Eventually I did though and then just as gravity took hold of me and I began to fall one of the guys grabbed me back and said "sorry! One minute" turns to James, who was taking photos of me from the spectators point, and says "Are you ready there mate?" Is he bloody ready??? I'm about to tip over a ledge!!! So I had to go through the whole tipping process again, with the whole thing massively built up, and then I tip over and spin a few times and then swing!! It was even better than the first one! Loved it! The photos should be up in our latest album, so you can see me plummet into a canyon on some garden furniture...Quite a sight!
We also did a trip to Milford Sound yesterday, which is meant to be the most stunning place in New Zealand. It's a large expanse of water that meets the sea (and there's some complex freshwater/saltwater mix, which is important) and is surrounded by imposing mountain scenery and stunning waterfalls. Unfortunately, it was really cloudy and foggy when we went, so we couldn't see a great deal!? The mountains we did see were very impressive, however, and we got to go to the underwater observatory they have built, where you can see sea creatures that normally only live at great depths of the ocean, but due to the fresh water/salt water thing going on it makes them grow at only 9 metres. We got to see some very valuable black coral, which is in fact white, and lots of fishes.
We're off back to Christchurch tomorrow and then heading to the north island. I'm off now to recover from the canyon swing...It was so good!