New Zealand - Just Beeeau-tiful!

Trip Start Aug 03, 2004
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5
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Trip End Jan 27, 2005


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Saturday, September 11, 2004

After arriving at Rachael's, (Mary's Auntie) in Wellington via Auckland we were pleased to have the home comforts, proper towels, a nice comfy clean bed and room, a washer and a hot shower. We spent a few days there seeing Wellington where we visited the Te Papa museum and found out more about New Zealand.

Rachael and Richard kindly lend us their sporty WRX for us to see some of the sights of NZ. We headed for the South Island first and a ferry ride and a drive took us to Abel Tasman National Park. On arriving, we were sorted in a lovely room with our own shower and a kitchen to ourselves and ready to make tea when there was a power cut, so no tea!

In Abel Tasman we had a fantastic day kayaking and very wet day walking. We saw some good scenery and Abel Tasman is worth a visit. Then we headed down the west coast to the Glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef, staying at Franz Josef. Again, some lovely scenery on the way to Franz Josef but the weather was wet so not many stops were made. However, as pointed out by the owner of the Kayaking Company at Abel Tasman, Buller Gorge and Punakaiki are just beeeautiful!

We decided to do a glacier walk on Franz Josef so we were kitted out with crampons and boots. It was great walking on the glacier; the higher we went the bluer the ice was. We also decided a helicopter flight would be good, so no expense spared, we flew over Franz Josef to Fox glacier where we did a snow landing, brilliant. It was such a clear day, seeing Mount Cook and the glacier was fantastic and we only had to share the helicopter with the pilot.

Then to Queenstown via Lake Wanaka which is a really pretty setting, a lake with mountains around which is seen so often in NZ. Queenstown has no end of adrenalin rush activities; we declined the various bungy jumps but opted for a jet boat ride with 360 degree turns and a whitewater rafting trip. Ig was buzzing for the activities but Mary was a little reluctant. Despite this she said at the end of rafting 'it wasn't long enough'. Needless to say, she was the first one in the raft to dive onto the floor and hold in for dear life each time we went over a rapid. A day spent skiing was different to that spent in Europe, there were only four lifts but nevertheless a good day.

From Queenstown we went to Milford Sound spending a night in Te Anau, another pretty little town. The day to Milford we experienced low cloud, rain, heavy rain and snow and had to carry snow chains. We were told that Milford Sound has many days of wet weather, and we went on one of them. Due to the low cloud we could not see the top of Mitre Peak but where treated to some spectacular waterfalls, hundreds of them and a great cruise on the sound.

It was then back to Queenstown where we stayed overnight before heading north. Queenstown really is a great place to spend a few days, although it can put a hefty hole in your budget if you indulge in the nightlife and activities - naturally we did both! Our favourite bars were The World and Red Rock. We didn't make it to a club as we were too knackered after all the excitement (some would say we're getting too old!).

After Queenstown we made the drive back up to Picton in two days, stopping for a night in Christchurch. We hadn't allowed for any more than a few hours to see Christchurch as Ig has been before and wasn't impressed. After a walk around the city centre Mary was inclined to agree, although she pointed out that the river(Avon) is quite picturesque. Highlights on the way from Queenstown to Picton included Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo (both extremely blue) and Kaikoura (mainly known for whale watching but quite picturesque too).

After a pitstop at Rachael's in Wellington we began our 'tour' of the North Island with a drive up to Taupo. Around Taupo we spent a day exploring the attractions of Huka Falls, Aratiatia Falls and The Craters of the Moon thermal park. Taupo was also where we had the windscreen of the car replaced due to a rather large stone chip we'd managed to sustain on the outskirts of Christchurch.

In nearby Rororua we experienced the thermal activity and Maori culture for which the area is famous. We began with a wander around the impressive thermal park at Hells Gate, followed by a mud bath and outdoor spa which was good despite an annoying attendant who thought he was entertaining us with his crap japes. We also visited the Whakarawerewa Maori cultural centre where we saw traditional dancing (including a haka) and the geysers and boiling mud pools.

Despite a wet day in Rotorua, Ig also decided to have a go at 'Zorbing'. This involves being rolled down a hill inside a huge transparent inflatable ball. After careful consideration, he opted for the 'hot wash' (in which the centre of the zorb is also filled with warm water) rather than a 'tumble dry'. Ig was persuaded to go down the 'more hardcore' slalom course while Mary watched - she had (mysteriously?) hurt her back whilst picking up a pen the previous day! The experience was quite scary in a claustrophobic, disorientating kind of way and the fact that the attendant forgot to let Ig out of the zorb once it had come to rest added to this. Nonetheless, it was good for a laugh and is another box ticked on the list of adrenalin activities.

One of the main objectives for the North Island was to do the Tongariro Crossing - a one day walk through the breathtaking volcanic scenery of Tongariro National Park. We'd heard this was a good thing to do but weren't quite sure what we were letting ourselves in for until we reached Extreme Backpackers in Turangi, who we'd picked out for their guided Tonagariro Crossing service. The problem is that whilst the Tonagariro crossing is a 13km walk that can be attempted by anyone of reasonable fitness during the summer months, in winter the top is covered in snow metres thick, and high winds and icy temperatures, together with the risk of avalanches make it slightly more tricky! Anyway, we decided to give it a go and got kitted out with crampons and ice axes ready for our ascent.

The first attempt was over before it had begun (despite us getting up at 6am to prepare) due to a high avalanche risk. Next day the weather was better so off we went with our guide Peter and the rest of the group of volunteers. After a steep ascent past the perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone of Mt Ngauruhoe (Used as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings) we donned our crampons and tackled the high point of the track. This involved struggling up an ice covered ridge, virtually on hands and knees, with an ice cold gale force wind trying its best to blow us back down. It was a releif to get onto the top and out of the wind.

It was here that Peter announced that we wouldn't be walking down by the usual route but instead making a 'controlled sliding descent' (ie on our arses) using our ice axe as a brake. We were both well up for this and Ig quickly followed Peter down the ice, getting up a bit of speed and overtaking the more cautious guide. It was at this point that Ig saw a red and blue flash as Mary came flying past on her front, obviously more along the lines of 'bobsleigh kaikaze' than 'controlled descent'. With a look of fear and screams of "I can't stop!", she quickly faded into the distance with her ice axe grating along the ice. After veering off to the right onto a flatter patch of ice it became clear that she wasn't going to plummit off the edge as she'd genuinely believed and Ig was relieved to find out that we were going that way anyway so he didn't have to go and fetch her!

The rest of the descent passed off relatively uneventfully and we made it back to the hostel with aching feet and and empty stomachs late in the afternoon. Mary was still in fits of giggles about her involuntary attempt at the Luge. We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience but were a little disappointed not to see the blue and green volcanic lakes which feature in the postcard shots (they are frozen in winter).

After dropping off the car and saying goodbye to Rachael, Richard, Helen, Thomas and Andrew, we took an internal flight from Wellington to Auckland where we had a couple of days to see the sights before moving onto Australia. We took a cruise around the harbour, went up the Skytower and had a wander round Viaduct Harbour - the home of NZ's Americas Cup challanges. We also managed to get completely wasted for next to nothing on the Sunday evening after we wandered into 'The Globe' bar for a quiet drink. We weren't aware at the time that on Sundays they have 60 litres of punch which they give away - and there's no limit on the number of glasses per person. Needless to say we were worse for wear when we stumbled out hours later! Our drunken radar quickly located the nearest kebab shop. The next day we were somewhat queasy and Ig was only just holding onto his stomach contents as we visited Kelly Tarlton's underwater world for a look at the fish and the penguins.

We really enjoyed our time in NZ and although we had spent a bit more money than planned (Can you spot the pattern developing here!?) it was worth every penny. Besides the thrilling activities and stunning scenery, we were particularly impressed by the standard of the hostels in NZ - great facilities and a double room for 15-20 GBP per night.

Observations

- There are hardly any people outside Wellington an Auckland but lots of sheep!
- It's a bit backward outside the cities - like England in the 1970s
- It's beautiful, almost everywhere you look there is a mountain and a lake
- There are heaps of adrenalin activities to suck the cash from your pocket
- The hostels are generally very nice and well equipped
- They have a stupid priority left turn driving rule
- The people are very friendly but don't seem to have good manners
- They don't like Aussies

Often Heard Phrases


- Beeeautiful
- Good as Gold
- Eh? (After every sentence)
- Heaps (Meaning lots)
- Sweet as Bro!
- How's it going - Good thanks (Standard greeting and response - any other response confuses them)

Our Highlights

- Glaciers (hiking and snow landing)
- Queenstown (skiing, rafting and jet boating)
- Abel Tasman kayaking
- Tongario Crossing
- Rotarua, the Maori Cultural Centre and Geothermals

Soundtrack to our trip

- Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics (Heard quite often around and about - they are a bit musically challenged)
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