Drum roll please.... The New Zealand blog has finally decided to make an appearance! Only south island at the minute but better than nothing!
So.. Our flight landed in Christchurch and we headed straight for the car rental companies to find our campervan! However, none of the companies had heard of the ref number we were quoting, so our only chance was the lady at information, who helpfully googled our company and found us the number to call to collect our vehicle. In no time we were at the offices, checking over our new home, desperate to get on the road!
We were due to meet Gore in chch city centre, so armed with a map got going, and after a few wrong turns (my fault of course) ended up in chch
. The city was a real eye opener, lots of areas still in ruins from the earthquake, with whole streets blocked off awaiting construction to begin. After cruising around for ages searching for the hostel name Gore had told us, we were about to give up when we spotted a YHA, and walking around reception heard a familiar voice shout "moon face! Trowel features!". After an emotional reunion, we all headed outside to check out our new ride. The camper was perfect, it was like new and had plenty of space compared to our Jucy! And the kitchen was inside which was a bonus, no more cooking potatoes outside in the rain for Snellers haha. We drove to a nearby supermarket to stock up supplies, probably managing to disturb every locals shopping trip as we laughed our way round the aisles. Afterwards we sat down in the van, got out Gore's collection of pamphlets of every corner of the country, and decided on a plan of action, noting down everywhere we wanted to see then the best way to get around them (not difficult seeing as South Island has about four main highways! ). Because Gore wasn't already on the insurance, we had to make a quick trip back to the rental office to show them his drivers licence, then, with Gore at the wheel first, we went back into chch to explore. The town centre was like a ghost town, with piles of rubble where buildings used to be, and some big painted metal containers put up in place of the old cafes and restaurants, which made for a pretty cool effect. When we had seen all of chch, which didn't take long, we decided to find somewhere to sleep the night and to save the long drive to mount cook for the morning
. Naively, we thought that pulling up in a nearby park would work, and after cooking dinner were all tucked up in bed (Gore in a hilarious shelf like bed in the roof of the van! Watching him try and put his sheet on was so funny!) when a rangers car pulled up alongside, knocked on the door and told us we had to move within the next half hour. Snellers and Gore got into the front in their pants while I stayed in bed in the back! Eventually we managed to drive to a campsite just out of town, where we parked to stay the night legally!
Next morning we headed to McDonald's bright and early to stock up on sugars for our tea and weetabix, then left town towards mount cook, the highest mountain in the country. On the way we passed a gorgeous lake called lake Tekapo, spent a couple of hours there swimming (paddling in my case), taking underwater photos and having a beer, and getting the obligatory take a poo picture by the side of the lake! Then, we moved on hoping to get to mt cook by dark. It was a longer drive than we anticipated and got dark quickly too, but finally we could see the magnificent snow covered mountain and before long we had pulled into what looked like a carpark full of campervans, but was actually a "DOC" campsite, with an honesty box rather than a reception by which to pay. We parked up, cooked dinner and admired our surroundings, which even by dark were incredible. Mt cook literally seemed to emerge from the campsite, shining white in the moonlight, and we all looked forward to morning to get a proper look at where exactly we were
. After Snellers and Gore tested their patience by attempting to teach me Poker, we all went to bed, only to be rudely awakened what felt like an hour later but was actually around 7am, by a camp patroller who couldn't see the payment receipt slip on our windscreen as we hadn't paid .. Rookie mistake! That was also the night we were awoken around midnight to a loud roaring sound which sounded like it was right outside our van, only finding out the next morning that it was the sound of an avalanche way up on the mountain! Pretty cool! A few hours later we were all up and ready to explore, and after chatting to a couple of local women over breakfast, had been recommended a good walking trail around the base of the mountain. We got kitted up and ready to go, it was quite a hot day, but the walk wasn't difficult and took us past some beautiful scenery, such as snow topped mountains, really pale blue rivers and cute wooden footbridges. At the end of the trail was a small lake, quite obviously freezing cold due to the many icebergs floating in it! Having made a pact at Tekapo to swim in all lakes we stopped at, Snellers and Gore had to take one for the team, but were in all of twenty seconds before coming out bright red with cold! After taking far too many pictures of the amazing scenery, we trekked back to the campervan and made the big drive to Dunedin, to arrive by night. However we decided to stop off on the way, I can't remember the place, but it was a tiny campsite (another honesty box) by another nice lake
. Snellers and I had stopped off at some council showers before leaving mt cook, almost getting spotted by the police when I was in the back with a towel on my head rather than in the front seat! So when we arrived at the campsite, it was just Gore needing to go in search of a shower, only to find a "BYO Shower" which was pretty much just a brick room with a hook to hang a bucket or something off! Not ideal, however me and Snellers were more than up to the challenge, and filled a bucket up with freezing water from the campsite tap, throwing it straight over Gore as he stood shrieking like a woman in the cubicle. It was hilarious, and also very refreshing I'm sure, ha! Afterwards we cracked open some of the wine we had bought in chch supermarket, and while I fell asleep on the sofa the boys proceeded to polish off the whole box (along with a few beers I think ) before finally waking me up to put the beds down. Next morning, Snellers and gore went for the obligatory dip in the lake, which was full of muddy sand and old boats, it didn't look like the nicest swim. Then we hit the road to make our way to dunedin, another few hours drive.
We made it to Dunedin mid afternoon, and checked out the worlds steepest road before finding a Maccas and checking our facebooks over a few fantas. That night we cruised around looking for a quiet road where we could park up and sleep for free rather than paying the extortionate campsite prices. Thankfully there were a few little housing estates, and we slept there for the night, expecting a knock and getting asked to move, but none came. For our day in Dunedin we planned on going to the Cadbury factory and to the peninsula to look for albatross that nest there. En route to the factory, the boys stopped by a rugby store and picked up some NZ training shirts in the sale.. worse than women! The choc factory was really interesting, with a few cheeky samples thrown in as well. Then we, completely by coincidence I'm sure, found ourselves parking up by the new rugby stadium to eat lunch
. Gutted they had missed a match there the previous day, they went for a look at the stadium while I was confined to the car making the sandwiches! After lunch we made the long drive over to the peninsula to do a bit of bird watching (Gores idea, but we found the idea of seeing the bird with the worlds largest wing span pretty cool!). We froze on the cliff top for a good hour before we saw anything, me and Snellers play fighting to keep warm! Finally we caught sight of a bird which was apparently an albatross, but to me could've just been any old seagull as it was so far away! Not disheartened, gore suggested we go down to the beach to look for the yellow eyed penguins that nest there, yet when we got there we read that they didn't come up to the beach until sunset, and we had to leave before then to head south. clearly not a lucky day for bird spotting. However we did get pretty close to a seal sunbathing on the beach, who didn't look best pleased at the three of us taking millions of photos of him with our ugly heads stuck in the side of the shot! That evening we left Dunedin, an interesting if not slightly ugly town, to get as far towards the most southern city, Invercargill. The drive proved longer than expected, and we stopped off at a place called Porpoise Bay, another seal and penguin viewing place. We had a bit better luck this time when, after sitting on a high grass bank for an hour, Snellers pointed out a tiny black figure waddle up onto the beach and give himself a clean. It was far too dark to take any photos for evidence though
. Mission accomplished, we left to find the campsite, which was a basic little car park right on the seafront.
We woke up early ish to drive the rest of the way to Invercargill. Upon arrival there, it was clear that this wasn't going to be the most exciting stop of our trip. The town was grey and dull, and even Information couldn't recommend much for us to do besides walks walks and more walks! We ended up going to the cinema to watch the new American Pie film, which was decent enough, then we went to a big charity shop warehouse to pick up some warm clothes for the chilly NZ weather (having arrived from Aus with little more than shorts and vest tops). A few jumpers and a pair of "Steps pants" later, we were all kitted out and ready to leave Invercargill! Our next stop was to see an old friend of Snellers from rugby, Wormy, who lived coincidently in a place called Gore (aka the capital of brown trout fishing and asshole of new Zealand). When we arrived to Gore an hour later, we found a phone box and got some directions to Wormys house. He was a perfect host, letting us park up on his drive to sleep, and we sat around at his eating mcdonalds and chatting for the evening. Next morning we showered and ate breakfast at Wormys before heading straight back out of Gore via the big brown trout statue for a few pics. Not much to do in that place, although we did pick up some incredible local blue cod from the strangest little chinese-run chippy in the world
Next, we travelled up north to Milford Sound, which was a massive drive, completely bypassing Queenstown which we planned to do afterwards. We arrived there early evening after a long days driving, and went to check out boat tours straight away. Unsure of weather to do Milford or Doubtful sound boat trip, we checked out some of Gores many brochures before deciding to go for Milford sound, and booking a trip for the following day. It started early morning, and consisted of a boat trip down the sound, passing waterfalls, seals etc on the way. The weather wasn't great, freezing cold out on deck and grey skies. However the scenery was still really nice, the driver was informative and it was worth the trip. Straight afterwards, on a tight schedule, we drove back the way we came, down the gorgeous scenic route, full of steep cliffs and tunnels, ending up in a town called Te Anau, where we broke up the driving by stopping for a while. There wasn't much to do here other than eat the most AMAZING steak pies in the world and play a round of mini golf in which Snellers had a nightmare and gore emerged victorious! The town offered river tours but we decided to save our money for something we wanted to do more, and we left Te Anau a few hours later, a nice little stop-off!
All too soon it was time to head to Queenstown for the big bungy jump! No amount of playing "guess the song" on the trip there could distract us all from the fact that in a few short hours it would be D day
! Not going to lie, my excitement at seeing Queenstown was masked a little bit by the pure terror at the thought of the 143m jump! In qtown we checked into a really nice new little campsite called Q box, just out of the city centre. We then went to the bungy office and booked our jump for 9 a.m on the Saturday before we could chicken out! That night we did what most backpackers do when they arrive in a place like this and went out for drinks, having a few pre drinks first in the campervan which Snellers and gore had kindly gone to pick up from the shop ( or so I thought, before I found out the wine was out of date so cheaper, and so woke up the next day with the worst hangover I had ever ever had!). We were meant to be going on the luge the next day, but I genuinely couldn't move when I woke up and thought I may have to give it a miss. Fortunately I perked up after a shower, and we headed up to the cable car to have a go at the karts that everyone had so highly recommended to us. The luge was so much fun, you paid for the cable car ride plus 5 luge rides, they had a beginner track which you had to do first, then an intermediate track for afterwards. There was a chairlift to get up to the start of the track which was fun, felt just like we were going skiing! To drive, we had to push down on the handlebars, letting them back up to brake. Of course, the guys went zooming off to the bottom, no matter how hard I tried i couldn't catch up, so I just enjoyed the scenery instead! And the scenery was beautiful, with panoramic views of the town and the neighbouring lake
. They also took photos on the way down, so in between each ride we could go and check out how ridiculous we looked in our helmet. Before we got the cable car back down, we had a wander around the hills surrounding the track, and, possibly foolishly went and looked at a nearby bungy jump (a lot smaller than the one we were doing, which didn't make us feel great!). That evening we had our last supper before our imminent death by bungy the following morning, and got an early night.
Saturday morning was cold but clear, and we took a nice walk down to the office to get the bus to the Nevis, which was up in a canyon around 40 mins from the city centre. Everyone was pretty silent in the bus ride, and as we stopped off halfway there to drop most of the people at the bridge bungy, a mere 40 odd metres, we all started to get a bit nervous. At the canyon, we were strapped into our harnesses, weighed and bundled onto the cable car across to the bungy platform in no time at all. Snellers was to jump first, and the crew took no messing, they strapped his feet in and he was off the edge in seconds. Watching him go over the edge like that was so terrifying, but I was next, and barely had time to think what was happening as I was strapped in and waddled to the edge of the platform. It was too tempting to look down, and as they took a very unflattering picture and said "3..2..1..bungy!" I'm pretty sure I screamed before jumping off the ledge, and then was gone
! Everyone wants to do a big swan dive off the platform but thats harder than it looks, and I just ended up going off a half crumpled swan, but by that point I didn't are as I'd done it! I just remember rock seeming very close to my head, and having to reach up and release my feet after the second bounce, then I was cranked back up to the platform and set down on shaky legs. Me and Snellers then watched gore take the plunge, then the three of us, all on a massive buzz, got the cable car back across to dry land and had a look at our pictures, all deciding to buy the pics and DVD as they were just hilarious! Back in town, we headed back to the campsite via a pie shop (not as good as Te Anau) and made plans to go to the famous burger restaurant Fergburger and a few drinks that night. Again, we kept it cheap by having some beers at the campsite before hand, getting the camp chairs out and chilling outside until it got too cold and the biting flies got too much! That evening we ate the most delicious burger ever made at Fergburger (before we went we were recommended it by about six people and they were right!) that you literally couldn't hold with two hands it was so full of stuff! Legendary! Feeling pretty full, we then went for drinks at a lovely alpine style pub, meeting another English couple who gore ended up staying out later with while me and Snellers went back to bed exhausted!
Next day we woke up feeling relatively fresh while gore woke up with considerably less money and a considerably sorer head. The only solution was to go to Fergburger for lunch, not even ashamed! After that we played the next stage of the mini golf Open (gores hangover got the better of him and Snellgrove took victory) before driving out of Queenstown to head to Wanaka. We all loved this town so much, and could definitely have stayed longer if time allowed. It was small, with a nice alpine feel being a popular ski resort in winter, and there was just so much to do there it's hard to imagine ever being bored (although it is pretty expensive, and I'm sure staying here longer the Fergburger habit would have bankrupted us fast!)
The drive to Wanaka was a short one, and we arrived there late afternoon, found a DOC campsite and settled for the night, pretty intimidated by the psychotic ducks that inhabited the site and sat outside our door quacking the entire time we cooked dinner
. Next day was a busy one, we had an explore of the town, which was really pretty with a gorgeous lake (we found it like a mini Queenstown), then went to Puzzleworld, which was like an illusion museum, really good fun! There was a massive wooden maze outside it which we all got lost in for a good hour. After this we hired kayaks and went out on the lake, me and Snellers in a double which was always going to be a recipe for disaster, especially when he made me switch from the back to the front because I wasn't steering it properly! The kayaking was a lot of fun, and the landscape was just amazing, the lake so clear and still, I felt bad ruining the peace by being on it! For our second night in Wanaka, we decided to upgrade to a fancier campsite, after reading about a place on a brochure with a jacuzzi spa and everything! The place was brilliant, set right at the foot of the mountains, with sauna and hot tubs, a really good kitchen so we didn't have to waste our campervan gas, and free wifi! It was nice to stay in luxury for a night! The following morning we left Wanaka after a really nice walk up a hill which gave amazing views of Wanaka and beyond. Being autumn in NZ, the trees were all a gorgeous orange colour and the temperature was perfect! we got some great photos of all the little colourful houses from the top of the hill before getting back in the van and driving to Fox Township.
Fox Township is the jump off point for treks on the fox glacier
. However, when we arrived there and tried to book the glacier for the next day, we learnt that the other glacier on the west coast, Franz Josef, had been closed recently and so Fox tours were extra popular. We had to wait an extra day before we could do the tour, so we booked it anyway and wondered what we could find to do in the tiny town to occupy a whole day!? After a night in a campsite, we filled in our spare day by going for a walk up a track that led to a viewing point for the glacier, which took a good few hours, then just chilled out in the camper and watched a movie on the tiny iPod screen! Our tour the next morning started at half 8, when we arrived at the offices and got kitted out with all our equipment - socks, boots, ice crampons, etc. A bus then took us to the start point, and after being introduced to our hilarious Nepalese guide we were off. The first part of the walk was flat, across the stones at the base of the glacier, but before long we were strapping on our crampons to tackle the steeper ice steps up onto the glacier itself. Walking across the glacier was incredible, the enormity of it was impressive and all over it were little ice tunnels we could walk through which were pretty cool. Being a half day tour, it wasn't long before we were making our way back down, which was a lot slippier than going up, thankfully we had picked up proper climber sticks (more to look the part than because they were necessary) and we got to the bottom fine.
That evening, glad to be escaping tiny boring Fox Town, we drove to the east coast, to Kaikora, intending on doing some swimming with dolphins, however it turned out a lot more expensive than we expected, so we decided to give it a miss and hopefully do something like it in USA
. After this there wasn't much more to see in Kaikora other than expensive whale watching tours, so we left pretty much straight away which was a bit annoying due to the massive detour we had took to get there! However, it meant extra time in Nelson which was good! On the drive up to Nelson, gore was driving when a duck flew full speed into the side of the van, making a horrible thud noise, quite nasty. Snellers was looking the other way and missed the whole thing!
I immediately liked Nelson, being at the very top of south island it has a reputation for lovely beaches, namely in the Abel Tasman national park. Needing to get to north island within the next couple of days, we didnt get chance to find out for ourselves, but what we did see of nelson we liked very much. Luckily for me, we arrived on a Saturday right in time for the famous saturday markets, supposedly the best in NZ! The market pretty good, we've definitely been to better on the trip but there was lots of local produce there and lots of random peanuts and things for the guys to taste test! We ended up being talked into buying a bag of spicy garlic seasoning, which only ended up stinking out our kitchen cupboard to the extent we had to scrub it out with washing up liquid before returning the van! After the market, gore went for a walk but not being able to face yet another walk, me and Snellers pulled up our camp chairs by a local football match and had a very enjoyable afternoon watching the game! When gore returned, being a Saturday, we fancied a few drinks and so went to the supermarket to stock up, and as usual had some wine in the camper before walking a pretty long way down a dark country road to find the town centre. Nelson was actually a pretty good night out, we found a nice bar/club with a packed dance floor with a stage for gore to bust his moves (and believe me, he did!). After possibly one too many Gore stumbled off home leaving me and Snellers to enjoy the sticky dance floor, and I think we stayed out a while longer before we left in search of a McDonald's
. Next morning, Snellers and I woke up early and drove to a coffee shop in search of wifi (I think there was a Douglas result we want to check up on) with gore still half asleep rolling around in his roof bed haha. He didn't even wake up when we went inside to get coffees, eventually traipsing in around an hour later looking like pure death, having just walked to pizza hut and ordered a large pizza he no longer wanted. We convinced him a coffee would help and the three of us stayed stinking out the cafe for a few hours browsing the Internet. When we felt a bit more human we left nelson to head up to Pitcon, which was where we would be catching the north island ferry the following day. The drive north was interesting, with the hangover really kicking in for all three of us, so we had to pull over into a rest stop to have an hours nap before continuing on, even then it was a chore just sitting upright in the van! Finally we got to Picton, heading straight for a chippy to get some greasy beige food. We ate by the harbour, finding that Picton was actually really nice not the hellhole we had anticipated in expecting the place to be similar to ferry ports like heysham. Our campsite was alright by what we could tell after arriving in the dark and leaving in the dark. We left at 6.30 to catch the 7am ferry, which was a lot more expensive than we expected, around 50quid each for one way, actually making the steam packet look quite reasonable! The journey to Wellington was quite nice, despite our sadness at leaving beautiful south island.. the ferry was a lot nicer than we are used to, with a big tv room where me and Snellgrove watched rubbish films like The Mummy Returns while gore napped.
And so the North island adventure began, and after an incredible 2.5 weeks in South island, we weren't sure now north could be much better! Highlights included Queenstown, still probably our favourite town to date, the beautiful scenic drives to and from Milford sound, some of the most amazing views I have ever seen including the many lakes we passed en route as well as the unforgettable mount cook, and the gorgeous rocky coastlines where you can spot penguins, seals and dolphins (even though we were quite unlucky on the penguin and dolphin front.. Saw more than our fair share of seals though!). We will for sure be back here some day!
North island definitely had a lot to live up to.