Friday, December 22, 2006

Christchurch – Cheviot – Kiakoura – Picton – Wellington – National Park – Rotorua

So we left Christchurch after another two nights at Casa Steve and hit the road for Cheviot, just south of Kiakoura. The dolphin swimming was booked for the morning that we wanted to go so we had some time to kill. After a few beers and catching up with Nath from work we go to Cheviot and decided we could go no further! We stayed in jail for the night – a cool 1900’s jail that they have made the two cells into rooms – they did add an extra window, but thoughtfully left the original window, complete with bars and original door, complete with little hatch to talk to the criminals through!! Very amusing!

So we got to Kiakoura to be greeted by rain and wind – our hopes for 5am dolphin swimming diminishing quickly. We got up at 5 and gave them a call – the trip was on as they had less wind than expected – so we rushed down there, got suited up in 7mm two piece wetsuits, with hood, and jumped on the bus to the boat. Once on the boat we headed out to one of the bays where they usually see dolphins, but after about 10 minutes they decided it was too rough to continue and we headed back to the shore, got back on the bus to the base, got out of the 7mm two piece wetsuits, with hood, and returned to our little room to watch dvd’s for the rest of the day as the weather was just foul. We re-booked for 5am the next day though and we made it to the bay second time. Just after we had got into the bay the captain said the swimmers should all start to get ready as the dolphins were about – then they blow this big horn and you all start jumping off the back of the boat into the 14oC water!

The dolphins are totally wild, so you have entertain them to get them to stick around, they don’t get fed by the company, so they don’t hassle you, they are just interested in you. It’s all very strange – they like it when you duck dive down (no chance of that happening in water that cold) and they like to swim in circles around you and stay about longer if you spin around looking at them while they swim around you. You are also encouraged to make noise as they find that interesting. A great experience and we are both so pleased we got to go – well worth the waiting around. By the end of it we felt a little sick… beware – treading freezing cold water for 30 minutes in a swell while spinning around and making noises can make you feel sick as a dog!
The photos don’t nearly do this amazing experience justice, but you get the idea…

Set your camera on continuous photos and take about 50, you’ll end up with one or two with dolphins actually in the air!

Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great, it looked better than this in real life!

So from Kiakoura we headed north to Picton. We had planned to walk the Queen Charlotte Track, but we both managed to pick up some sort of bug from somewhere and only managed to do a tour in the car. Very stunning area...

From Picton we got the ferry over the Cook Straight to Wellington – it was super windy, but a calm crossing (thankfully!) – despite the wind, when the captain announced that he had seen Orcas off to the front left of the ferry everyone braved to wind to try and catch a glimpse – sadly they had moved on already! In Wellington we visited Te Papa – the national museum and then headed north to Wanganui to try and find out about canoeing the river there.

We got there as the information place was closing but the nice man let us in anyway and sold us a 3 day adventure down the Wanganui river in a Canadian canoe. We had another couple of hours drive up to National Park where all the tours went from and we were treated to some spectacular views on the way…

Mount Ruapehu

The three days canoeing were perfect! The weather was awesome sunny & blue skies for all three days (resulting in burnt heads / knees / feet etc!) and it was very entertaining being in a big open Canadian canoe rather than the regular sort. It made for interesting times when we came to the rapids!! We camped the first night and then stayed in a hut the second night. Over the three days we covered about 90km of river, a slab of beer, a bottle of wine and mountains of food – a job well done.

We did a side trip (about a 40 minute walk) to ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’, which is a bridge to nowhere, in the middle of nowhere! It was supposed to be an area developed for farming, but by the time the bridge was finished everyone had moved to greener pastures and now it’s just there, in the middle of nowhere!

A constant source of amusement throughout the trip – the feral goats!!

We decided to stick around in Nation Park for the next couple of nights and do the Tongariro Crossing, hailed as the best one-day walk in NZ. I did this walk last time I was here and it was wicked so I’m glad we got the chance to do it. The weather was perfect – again (don’t worry, we are currently paying for those 4 days of perfect weather!) and there are too many photos to chose from! A great walk if you get the chance to do it.

From National Park we then entered the rainy days again and didn’t get a good look at Taupo Lake and the nice view you get there in the sun, or the good views of Rotorua. We had decided to go an see an old school friend of Rob’s the next day so we had to find something to do for the morning. Rob picked white water rafting (our 3rd time this trip) on the Kiatuna river. This one is special because you raft over the highest commercially rafted waterfall – a whopping 7m (~21ft). Now I wasn’t too excited about this – but the trip is only 45 minutes so I figured it would at least be over quickly!

There were four of us in the raft with two guides. So one of the guides was in the back – then it was the other guide and Rob, then the next couple and then me at the front. On my own! I wasn’t very happy about it!! But once we got in the raft and got going I wasn’t too bothered, that was, until we came to the bit with the waterfall. He took us near the edge and then got us all to stand up to have a look – you couldn’t even see the bottom where you would land – very scary. I totally tuned out when he started saying about how you have to go into a little ball if you fall out of the raft as the waterfall will suck you under and blah blah blah. I wasn’t very happy about being in the front on my own at this point. Anyway – over we went and upright we stayed, although you can see from the photos we disappeared for a bit!

After that bit it was all OK – for one of the rapids I even got to sit on the front of the raft with my legs over front bit, holding on with one hand, the other in the air – just like a crazy bull-rider! Sadly no photos of that bit! All in all an excellent activity and I will certainly recommend it to people!

Me and the other chick doing the Titanic as the guides made our raft ‘surf’ the rapid!

After this we called in at a 4WD place where we had a go at scaring the crap out of each other by driving up, down and through scary things!

So we had a lovely evening visiting Rob’s friend, a chance to wash things (everything smells clean!) and sleep in a real bed (ahh, the luxury!) and now we are back in Rotorua before heading to Waitomo to ‘do’ the caves tomorrow afternoon.

Other stuff:

We went to watch the new James Bond film – despite thinking the new dude wasn’t James Bondy at all – it was awesome! Go and see it if you can.

We have changed our ticket (mainly due to us wanting to go to Tonga, the Fiji coup & the great deals to Tonga!) so that we don’t have as much time in Fiji as we did (one month down to two weeks) – this left us with a spare two weeks so we are heading to Tonga to explore! Less than three weeks until we start our South Pacific tour!!!

It’s the 20th today and we still have no plans for Christmas, we are not even sure where we will be! This must be the most un-Christmassy I have felt ever! We have booked diving for 30th Dec, but again have no idea where to spent New Year, holidays like this should be scrapped when you are traveling!

Well, now it’s the 22nd and we have a vague plan of what to do for xmas, we are hoping to get booked into one of the DOC campsites here on the Coromandel afer purchasing our tent and trying it out (successfully) last night in Hahei. Photos to follow! Have a great Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Motueka – Collingwood – Heaphy Track – Westport – Punakiaki – Franz Joseph – Makarora – Queenstown - Christchuch

Able Tasman was at it’s best for two of the three days, the weather was awesome – and it was probably for the best that the majority of day two was cloudy as otherwise we would have had some serious sunburn! It was a great three days – and although the company we went with messed up our booking and instead of staying in the huts we ended up camping, we both ended up thinking that it was probably best that they did mess it up as by camping as we got to stay in some small campsites that you could only access by the water. Very cool.

Me and the kayak!

Split Apple Rock.

View from the lookout at campsite number one.

Both very glad that we waited for the weather to clear up as the scenery was stunning in the sunshine. We saw some gorgeous little bays, lots of seals, lots of birds and finally – some lovely sandy beaches. It’s the first time in months (and literally months) that we have been able to wear our boardies for 3 days in a row!!


View from campsite number two...

Beach - a real beach!!

After some recuperation in Motueka we decided that we would do the Heaphy Track (another of the great walks) – it’s the longest out of all the great walks (~85km) and takes a good four days to complete. We arranged with Stray (after three phone calls) to pick up our bags in Motueka and us in Westport (460km away) in four days time and started the walk. The first day was quite easy – the second day was long (27km) but an awesome walk through the red tussock fields that seem to go on forever. The third day was a nightmare of 6 hours of solid rain, where we discovered: 1) why most people walk in waterproof boots, 2) that the ‘waterproof trousers’ we had bought could only live up to the ‘trousers’ part of their name and 3) we did not like hiking in the rain… especially for 6 hours. But despite 1, 2 & 3 we also discovered that we although we didn’t like walking for 6 hours all soggy - we could, and weren’t that worst for wear of it afterwards. The last day was a nice easy walk and because we left early we got the best of the weather (it was nice and sunny for when we walked along the beachy bit and then we were under the trees when it started to rain!) and a lift to Westport by another couple that left early too – saving us a nights stay in the little town you end up in after the walk and $80 in bus fares! Result!

Red tussock land.

Lush west coast.

West coast inlet.

After a brief visit to the brewery in Westport we got picked up by the Stray bus and then managed to persuade the driver to drop us in Punakiaki rather than Barrytown for the night. A lovely little hostel by the beach, a nice pub meal and a sleep, then we were off to Franz Joseph for our second attempt at the Heli-Hiking.

After waiting two days the sun finally came out – which transformed a dreary little town into a stunning alpine village. Finally we could see why people would choose to live there! We booked onto the last heli-hike of the day and sat around watching films & the weather until check–in time.

It was all very ‘cattle’ like – everyone in – everyone pay – everyone out, but once up onto the glacier I think it was worth the money. Although almost everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited New Zealand has hiked on the glacier it’s still one of those things that you rarely get the chance to do (especially if you live in Europe). It’s also one of those things that won’t always be there for you to do either. I can highly recommend it to anyone who gets the chance – the photos don’t nearly do it justice.

Me with talonz on...

Climbing up an ice crevice...

The Mighty Glacier...

Me in a frozen tunnel..

From Franz we went to Tuatepere for the night again – via Lake Matheson see photo below! - and then onto visit Wanaka quickly before heading to Queenstown for the next couple of nights. We found a very nice little hostel (by accident) that charged the same price for a double as most of the other places in NZ rather than the extra $15 they seem to put on everything because it’s Queenstown! After an evening of pizza and beer we were ready to do something adrenalin creating the next day and Rob got to pick the activity. He wanted to paraglide off of Coronet Peak (one of the mountains around Queenstown), but when we called the company it was a mainly handgliding company who had one paragliding pilot. So I decided I would handglide having already had a go at paragliding-ish post sky-dive a few years back.

Lake Matheson

It was all very strange, you get set up and then run quickly off the edge of a ridiculously big mountain. I hadn’t really thought about handgliding before so I made the assumption that the handle/bar in front of you was where you ‘hold on’. It’s actually the ‘steering wheel’ and you are harnessed from your middle to sort of dangle. Very weird as it was a natural instinct to hold on and felt really silly when you didn’t! We had perfect conditions and actually climbed up to a higher altitude than where we jumped off at one point. The landing was very scary as you just sort of go head first towards the field and your feet drag along the grass. I wouldn’t say that I’m about to run out and buy a handglider – but it was fun and the views we had that day were awesome. The few photos and video that they took for us are pretty funny; we both went at the same time so we are in each other’s videos too!

Me running off hill...

Just after take off..

Me flying and smiling.

So now we are back in Christchurch trying to figure out what we are going to do for the next four weeks before flying out to "we're-having-a-military-coup-Fiji". Christmas and New Year are looming ever closer and we still don’t know what we will be up to! Diving sounds like an appealing option as long as I keep my mind off the water temperature! It’ll all work out I’m sure.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Franz - Makarora - Queenstown - Te Anau - Steward Island - Christchurch - Kiakoura - Nelson - Motueka

Well – we’ve had a little more luck with the weather! As soon as we got about an hour or two from Franz the skies started to clear and the sun proved it was still there. We stayed in this backwards out of way place with only one bar (what a change!) called Makarora, which in itself was very pretty. We work up early to go jet boating only to find out that they won’t go unless there are four of us (there was just Rob and I) so we ended up going for a walkabout in the forest for an hour.

Makarora in the morning

Ferns in the forest

After a quick stop in Wanaka we headed to the ‘extreme’ capital of NZ – Queenstown! Last time I was here in Queenstown I didn’t do any of the activities (apart from drink and eat) so this time we decided to cover the Shotover river as neither of us were that fussed about bungying. We did a jet boat and then took a helicopter up Skippers canyon and white water rafted down.

The jet boat was awesome. It goes stupidly fast and spins around and goes scarily close to the canyon walls. All good fun! It was freezing though – not that it made much difference to us as we were going to be in a raft within the hour! The helicopter ride up the canyon was wicked – especially as the pilot pointed out the road we would have had to take otherwise – a windy skinny dirt track on the edge of a very steep cliff face! Then it was about an hour and a half of white water rafting down – after the Tully the rapids were fairly tame, but the fact that the water is 4oC makes you super scared of being flung in the water (unlike the Tully where you get in voluntarily several times!), it was fun, but it cold and an hour and a half was just the right amount of time! One of the reasons we wanted to raft the shotover was the 170m tunnel at the end that you raft through – it was the best bit!

After this we met up with an old school friend of Rob’s and had a few more drinks than we needed and then got on the bus at 7am the next day to get to Te Anau – a good place to start if you want to do any of the walks in the area.

How cool do we look?!

After finding out the Milford track was booked until about March, and the Routeburn was waiting to be bombed to remove the risk of avalanche, we settled on the Kepler. We cheated on the first day and instead of walking along the beach from the start we took a water taxi to the end of the beach and started on what is known as the ‘grunt’. Straight up for about 3 hours from sea level to 1000m. After we popped out from the trees we had great 360 degree views of the surrounding area (Te Anau Lake & Manapori Lake) – from here it was a short 45 minutes to the hut – our first NZ hut experience! The hut was awesome! It was quite quiet (we are at the very start of the ‘tramping’ season really) so we had a section of bunks to ourselves – I can imagine it gets quite nasty when it’s full of hairy sweaty snoring hikers! We cooked ourselves some dinner and then went off with two fellow walkers to find the nearby caves. All natural and not restricted the caves we wicked – I was having Harry Potter flashbacks and therefore didn’t go too far in to explore but Rob and others went right in and they went on for ages! Very cool.

First hut of the walks!

The second day was the worrying day – the weather hadn’t been forecast that great and we weren’t exactly the best-prepared people out there! Because you were fairly high (around 1000-1400m all day apart from the last bit), any rain forecast for the area would have been sleet or snow where we were – great! We were very lucky with the weather though, and although it was SOOOO windy (I think I actually got blown over about 3 times due to the extra weight of the pack and gusts of wind coming exactly when I lifted one leg!!) we – thankfully – didn’t get too much rain / snow / sleet. We took the 10-minute side trip minus packs to the summit of Mount Luxmore and then spent most of the day struggling along in the wind. It was extremely dramatic scenery – snow covered saddles between two mountains that you knew you had to walk along – some of them had very long drops either side and with the wind I was constantly nervous of getting blown off the track!

The mighty Mount Luxmore waiting to be climbed!

It's very windy, very cold, and we are very tired - but we at the top of the highest mountain as far as we can see!

Look closely on that snowy ridge. People. This is when we realised we'd have to walk along that snowy ridge!

Look closely on this photo too and you can see the track

We did a side trip after dinner again – to a waterfall this time, we got to see a nasty possum on the way back to the hut – all very pretty, all very peaceful. The last day we decided to skip the last hut and walk straight out – it made it a really long day (23km) but it was worth it to know that at the end we were going to get a nice dinner and more importantly – a shower!! By the last hour we had both had enough and the aches and pains had got worst but we made it to the end and got the bus back to town.

A nice waterfall

By far the hardest bit of the walk was from reception of the holiday park to our room – all of about three and a half minutes, but after having sat and waited for the bus for about 45 minutes and then sat in the bus for another ten, both of our bodies had decided we had walked enough and didn’t want to walk anymore!!!

It was a great trek, and we covered about 50km in the three days and gave ourselves a huge confidence boost to do more walks. How very quickly you forget the agony it was to move about the day after we got back!

We spent the next few days recovering and then hopped back on the bus for the Milford Sound cruise and onto Tuatepere. We had THE best weather for the Milford Sound cruise, blue skies and hardly any wind – made a lovely change!

Me on the boat.

One of a million Milford Sound waterfalls.

We stayed overnight in Tuatepere and managed the early start to get to the farm to shear a sheep, play with a lamb and a calf and watch the working dogs do their stuff. A very entertaining morning and well worth getting up early for!


After the farm we went down to catch the ferry over to Stewart Island for our next walk – The Rakiura Track – another one of NZ’s Great Walks.

It wasn’t as good as the Kepler and it was a lot harder on people who have bad knees (i.e. us) because of all the steps you have to go up and down. Most of it is a boardwalk type track so we spent a lot of time looking at our feet as it was wet, muddy and slippery – I’m sure we missed some of the scenery because of this!! We had all sorts of weather – luckily whenever it was snowing or hailing or raining we were under the trees so we didn’t get too wet! The morning after staying in the first hut we walked along the beach for a bit and saw dolphins!!

On the beach!

Me crossing the first of three extremely scary bridges!

One of the huts.

Rob looking dashing in his hiking gear!

One of the many beautiful bays!

We then spent a couple of nights on Stewart Island not doing all that much before heading back on the bus.

We expressed from Stewart Island to Christchurch – with an overnight stop in Dunedin. We then slept on Steve’s floor for a couple of nights before heading off again on the bus (our free tickets allow us to go around the South Island as many times as we want in a year) up to Kiakoura for a stop (we didn’t do anything apart from decide that next time we come through Kiakoura we would do the dolphin swim) then got the bus to Nelson.

I'm ashamed to admit i've forgottne where this is.. somewhere between Dunedin and Chrstchurch that's stormy. ;)

Moraki Boulders on the beach...

A few yellow-eyed penguins on the beach - these guys are really rare so we were super lucky to have seen them!

Now – Nelson is the one place in NZ that gets the most sun of all NZ. And – just like last time we got to Nelson, it was pissing down! Not just a shower, but a full on, good 48 hours worth of heavy rain. We were supposed to head through to Marahau, but we hopped off in Nelson as the place the bus stops in Marahau is a bit…. Primitive (to say the least) so we opted for a warm cosy backpackers instead. We then hopped back on the bus the next day and we are now in Motueka.
We’re booked onto the kayak trip (3 days up the coast, then a water taxi back) starting tomorrow 8am – very excited, the weather is perfect right now (sunny!) and if the wind drops just a little then it will be the best weather ever! So fingers crossed it blows itself out tonight.

We got back to Christchurch about 3 weeks before we planned to, so we might do a couple of extra things on this go round. Next big stop is the glaciers to do the heli-hike, another weather dependant thing. I predict some more waiting coming up!

Until next time, keep smiling!