Aaaaaaaaaaah [pause for breath] aaaaaaaaaaaah

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
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Trip End Apr 16, 2011


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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Saturday, February 5, 2011

We had a quick stopover in Auckland with Gordon's uncle Mal and family before a seriously scenic flight to Queenstown where we were due to meet our friends George & Steve who were on a final holiday after 18 months in New Zealand. We found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare before they arrived so spent it flicking through the hundreds of leaflets on ways you can exchange cash for adrenalin that the town had to offer.  Partway through this Gordon sidled off outside to make a call insisted Sarah stay inside.  He came back in looking part smug and part guilty and eventually confessed with a smirk that he’d just booked us both for a skydive the following week.  The look on Sarah’s face was priceless.

It was great to see George and Steve and we went straight out for dinner and then to a quiet little bar that had 2 for 1 drinks.  We were so busy enjoying ourselves chatting and catching up that we didn’t notice the bar filling up around us and in a particularly memorable moment Gordon & Steve went to the bar and came back to find a girl (almost naked and paid for by the bar) dancing on our table.  It turns out that we’d found the cheesiest bar in town that was fast filling up with 18 year olds drinking a lot of tequila in anticipation of the upcoming wet T-shirt competition.  Oh dear.  Feeling a little old we decided there was only one way to cope with this and quickly headed to another bar where we got straight into the tequila and ended up dancing the night away.  Next morning we were feeling a little fragile to say the least – which was perfect as we’d booked to spend the day wine tasting.  Woops.  Happily the hair of the dog actually seemed to work a little and we recovered enough to keep (mostly) straight faces as the vineyard owners talked us through their lovingly prepared wines and we all nodded and sniffed and declared that yes, absolutely, we could smell plums and cherries and honey and leather and tequila....oh no... that was last night.

The next day we said goodbye to George & Steve and got on our first organised tour in New Zealand to Milford Sound.  This was our first experience of New Zealand tours and what became a universal truth about the verbal diarrhoea of any guide/instructor/bus driver/boat driver; none of them would stop talking about uniteresting stuff. Our bus driver turned out to be a prime example of this and the entire way to Milford Sound we got a non-stop commentary about each building and vineyard we past, the gold-rush days, how the road was built, the fact that Queenstown was called Camptown to begin with (we had this one 4 times), the number of sheep farms, blah de blah de blah.  Happily we had an audiobook loaded on the i-Pod for just such an eventuality and happily tuned him out.  When we got there Milford Sound was worth the long drive and tedious commentary, we had a gorgeous day and despite having seen a lot of fjords in Norway this was breathtaking.

After Milford our next stop was a long arranged walk of the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s great walks.  The Kepler is a 4 day circular walk near Te Anau and was absolutely brilliant.  The scenery was different every day from forests to mountain passes to lakes and beaches and although we had some gusty wind we even managed to avoid walking in rain and got some gorgeous clear views on the day we went over the mountain passes.  We’d opted to stay in the lodges rather than risk camping in our very lightweight tent and with the wind at night we were quite pleased with the decision.  The lodges were pretty comfortable and had fires and tables to sit around to play a Monopoly card game some of the other hikers had brought which we got a tiny bit competitive about.  The only downside was that every evening we had to sit through a talk from the ranger at the hut.  These covered a similar (and obvious) theme of turning off the gas when you’d finished cooking, taking your rubbish with you, not putting anything in the toilets etc and should really have only taken about 10 minutes.  These talks were obviously highlight of the day for some rangers though. At the second hut the ranger talked for a full hour and a half, we’re not quite sure what about as after half an hour we’d subtly resumed our Monopoly game in the corner.  The best moment was when he told a story about the annual Kepler challenge when people run the whole route of the walk in a single day.  Apparently there is an elderly British guy who’s done most of the challenges  who, according to the ranger, "has verbal diarrhoea- just doesn’t stop talking ". He didn’t get the irony but judging by the smirks around the place the rest of the hut did. We didn’t find any of the days too difficult or long and we were normally in the lodges by 3 or 4 pm and we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves and the pace that we’d gone as we arrived back into Te Anau for lunch on our 4th day.  That was until we put that in the perspective of the times Gordon’s uncle Mal has managed on the route; he has spent the last 2 years training for and doing two massive running challenges raising money for Leukemia research.  Both years he’s run 7 different walking routes in 7 consecutive days that were each more than a marathon a day – and over mountains - and both years for the final day he has done the Kepler challenge.  This year, despite having done 6 crazy runs in the previous days he made it round the whole Kepler track in less than 10 hours, which put what we thought was our quick walking rather into perspective!  (BTW he’s raised over $250,000 so far but if anyone wants to contribute you still can at http://www.7in7fundraising.org.nz/donate_to/177)

After a very well earned hot lunch & cold beer in Te Anau we headed back to Queenstown where unfortunately the weather finally turned on us and the following day we woke up to driving rain.  This meant that we had absolutely no option but to rest our weary legs in bed and watch movies.  What a shame.  Feeling a little more recovered the next day we picked up the adrenalin packed pace a bit with a morning jet boating in the gorgeous Skipper’s Canyon (including a side trip to see the now defunct Pipeline bungy that Gordon threw himself off in 1999) and an afternoon 'river boarding’ which is basically going down a river and through rapids with a body board and flippers.  Gordon had done this a couple of times before but it was a new experience for Sarah.  Once we’d got the hang of it it was great fun and being down in the water makes the rapids feel huge.  Sarah’s first couple of rapids though were, shall we say, less than elegant putting Gordon in mind of a drowning dog as she spluttered around in the white water.

We next moved on to Wanaka (where en route we found that even the public bus drivers think they are tour guides and heard “the story of Queenstown” for a 5th time) where Mal & Sal had very kindly lent us the use of their holiday home there.  This was also where Gordon had booked us to go sky-diving.  We’d successfully forgotten all about that as we’d been so busy but were now starting to get very very nervous.  Luck seemed to be with us (or against us?!) though as the weather was perfect and so our very first afternoon in Wanaka we found ourselves driving out to the airport in a nervous silence.  After an incredibly brief instruction video (hilarious because it seemed to assume we would be able to willingly jump out of a plane) we were introduced to our instructors.  They weren’t obviously depressed or suicidal so so far so good.  And so feeling more than a little surreal we found ourselves strapped to a nice Serbian chap each and climbing into a plane for what was no doubt a very scenic flight over Wanaka (We can’t honestly say we remember much of the flight).  Next thing we knew the door was opening at 12,000 feet and Gordon had disappeared out of it.  By this stage I (Sarah) couldn’t remember anything at all from the briefing video so just let myself be steered over to the door where Uros manhandled me into the right place and jumped for both of us.  The first few seconds were completely disorienting and my stomach was left somewhere entirely different to the rest of me but once we’d stabilised it was brilliant.  The views were absolutely amazing over the lakes and mountains, although we appreciated them a while lot more once we’d finished freefalling and knew the parachute had opened.  We landed back on solid ground with rather shaky legs and rather a lot of adrenalin.  It was definitely worth the nerves!

After a couple of days of more sedate activities in Wanaka our final blow-the-budget activity for the area was to head to Fox Glacier, via the gorgeous Haast pass and a hike up Mt Shrimpton, where after a bit of dithering we decided to splash out to try ice climbing rather than join a glacier walk.  It turned out to be a great decision.  We ended up in a group of three with a brilliant guide and with proper crampons were able to see a lot of the glacier as well as trying our hand at climbing it.  We were also able to feel very cool when we came across a group of about 10 people on the day walk who looked in awe at our ice picks and packs and asked their guide what we were doing, to which she replied in a hushed whisper “They’re the ice climbers” while we tried to stand looking nonchalant absently swinging our twin ice axes and not fall over and ruin the effect.  It was a brilliant but completely exhausting day hauling ourselves up some fairly overhanging cliffs and Sarah had the novel souvenir over the following days of a completely purple kneecap - the result no doubt of a particularly challenging climbing move and absolutely not from slipping on the flat on the way down.
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