Fiordland, Freefall and Fumeroles
Trip Start Oct 17, 2006
42Trip End Jun 23, 2007
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The first night here we stayed at a Department of Conservation campsite which is a legal form of free camping. It was a remote and peaceful spot by the side of the lake. We had dinner and wine on the beach whilst the sun set behind us, in total peace except for the annoying sand flies that constantly ravaged us! Woken by scrabbling sounds, we discovered an uninvited visitor during the night... a mouse had got into the van and was investigating our food cupboards. We never saw or heard from him again so either he escaped or died from eating too much of our food!
The next day we hiked up through the forest to the gondola. It was a steep climb but worth it for the fantastic views down over the lake and over the Remarkables mountain range. Still struggling to meet Kiwis, in the evening we met a group of rowdy British lads who'd been on the booze all day and were playing drinking games with vodka. We were invited to join in but escaped after a couple of rounds, our excuse being Jon's skydive the next day!
Jon had been talking about doing a sky dive since we first started the trip but lacking that "danger" gene, it took the peer-pressure of knowing that Helen, and both Jon's sister and dad had all jumped out of planes in the past to spur him into action! He describes it as follows:
"When the morning of the jump came, I felt surprisingly calm signing away my rights but everyone in the briefing room was noticeably quiet and when we arrived at the airport. A nervous laugh was issued by all when it was announced that there was a toilet there! The plane used for the jumps was a tiny, single prop, which just about fitted in 3 sky divers, their instructors and a personal camera man each. I had to wait an hour for my sky dive, during which we watched the others hurtling down from a ridiculous height and reaching a terminal velocity of 200km/h before their chutes opened. Eventually my time came.
I suited up with the 2 other rookies, in a stylish one-piece grey jump-suit, matching soft helmet and flimsy white-framed plastic googles... a fashion parade this was not! After a brief instruction on how to leave the aeroplane and how to land safely, we were marched onto our waiting plane
It didn't take long to reach 12000ft and there was no ceremony in opening the door and exiting the plane. The others seemed to exit in seconds, then it was my turn. Strangely I didn't feel nervous, although perhaps a little hollow. My instructor pushed me to the edge, where I was perched so far out of the open door that not a part of me was in contact with the plane. I put my head back, gripped my straps in front of me and suddenly we were tumbling forward. We did a somersaults or two during the first few seconds as the sky, plane and earth all tumbled past my eyes in a very disorientating way, then the small droge chute opened to stabilise us, and although we were rapidly reaching terminal velocity, it felt like we were floating. During the 45 seconds of free-fall, my personal cameraman kept me entertained by grabbing me by the hands so that we were forced into a spin, then pulling me head-first towards the ground. With all these distractions, it was difficult to pose for the camera and appreciate the amazing scenery rapidly coming towards me!
In no time at all the cameraman disappeared then I felt a pull at the shoulders as my body abruptly slowed, pulling us to the vertical as the parachute was deployed. The rushing wind from before was now absent and I enjoyed my first proper view of the surroundings. Uros put us into a few stomach-churning spins, then as we approached the land, I noticed my cameraman, already down and filming us! We hit the ground gently enough to land on our feet just in front of the the cameraman, and I just couldn't stop smiling..."
After the adrenalin rush of the sky dive, we thought we'd better find something new and exciting, so we drove to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland in the far south of the island. The next day we drove the beautiful road to Milford Sound. The first rain of NZ hit us on the way but we'd been told to expect it - it rains most days in Milford Sound, the wettest place in NZ, with 6m of rain a year! The road wound down a beautiful mountain gully with waterfalls cascading down the side until it reached the Sound. Here we boarded a boat for a "small boat nature cruise". In reality, the boat was far from small and we didn't see much nature - a few birds and a few seals, but the views across the sound, with 700m waterfalls pouring down the steep sided, densely wooded cliffs was spectacularly beautiful. The trip encompassed a dramatic few minutes, where the entire nose of the ship was put under a 150m waterfall, drenching anyone on the deck, to the soundtrack of the group Faithless! On the journey back we stopped off for a couple of short walks but the weather had set in so we returned to the camp site to warm up. That night we met a really interesting Welshman who had spent the last 40 years in NZ and as a result had a strange Welsh-Kiwi accent. Apparently he came over here just to have a look and never left!
The next day was a real adventure day, sea kayaking on Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound is very remote so does not get as many tourists and seems even more atmospheric than Milford Sound. Having had the briefing on how to recover from capsizing, we were'nt feeling particularly confident when getting into our double kayak, and this wasn't helped by communication difficulties with the Kiwi skipper Reg. "Luft yer gear" he seemed to be saying, as Helen was about to get into the kayak
Kayaking is a fantastic way to see the Sound. The huge Jurasic Park-like cliffs look even more impressive, as do the waterfalls, when looking up from water level. We even paddled directly under a few waterfalls to cool down! We were extremely lucky to have a still day, and the Sound looked really mystical as the clouds drifted down towards the water.
The next day we had a mammoth drive back to Christchurch to return our campervan - 9 hours and 680km in one day! Once we'd returned the van we were waiting at the bus-stop to go into town, feeling rather peeved at having to use public transport again, when a guy appeared and offered us a lift into town. He even dropped us off outside a couple of hostels. Another example of the generosity of people in this country.
After flying up to the north island we spent a couple of days in Rotorua. On arrival we were hit with the smell of rotten eggs! Nicknamed "Sulpur City" it has the most energetic thermal activity in the country, with bubbling mud pools, gurgling hot springs, gushing geysers as well as the evil eggy smells. A highlight of the visit was the Wai-o-Tapu thermal wonderland which has many impressive features including brightly coloured pools, craters and blowholes, mineral terraces and geysers. Our visit was marred slightly by the influx of other tourists, as unfortunately we had timed our visit with the arrival of a cruise boat in the form of 4 coachloads of people! We also visited the Museum of Art and History, which gave an insight into the history of the town as an elegant spa retreat in the early 1900s, and we soaked up the health-giving properties of the water at the Polynesian Spa.
Our last few days in NZ were actually spent with local people! Lale who we met on the Inca Trail invited us to visit her and her family in the Bay of Islands. It was great to stay in someones house instead of a hostel for a change, and we were spoilt with home-cooked food, cakes and fantastic Kiwi hospitality. We went for a walk to the local Whangarei Falls, where most of the path had been destroyed by the recent flooding, including the substantial concrete base of a bridge, so we had to jump across stones in the fast-flowing river
Our last day in New Zealand was spent on the island of Waiheke, a short boat ride from Auckland, with beautiful beaches, picturesque bays and vineyards. We were treated to a beautiful sunet on the boat back to Auckland harbour. Off to Sydney tomorrow!