Queenstown was over and Wanaka was round the corner. Not quite round the corner but at just a 90 minute drive it was the shortest drive yet. We arrived in Wanaka at lunch time and spent the rest of the afternoon mountain-biking around Lake Wanaka - beautiful lake by the way, its definitely becoming a common theme. Tired and hungry, I arrived back at the hostel and got chatting with the other guys in our dorm room who were just about to go out for a game of footy and invited us to join them. I couldn't turn down a game of footy when I hadn't played for months, so I was out on possibly the best pitch I've ever played on, surrounded by mountains on two sides and a lake on another. 2 hours later I was back at the hostel with just enough time for a shower, a quick beer and some blue cod and chips before heading to the Cinema Paradiso. This wasn't just your run of the mill cinema but a tourist attraction in it's own right. The place is made up of loads of old furniture, some of it donated by residents including old worn out, but comfy, sofas, some Chinese airline seats and a morris minor that you can sit in to watch the film. You can also drink beer while watching the film and even take food from the adjacent restaurant and eat it on your lap. Cool place and the film was good too, American Gangster with Russel Crowe and Denzel Washington.
Following day we went to puzzle world in Wanaka which is a neat place to while away a few hours. There are lots of puzzles and optical illusions in the main building and outside there is a maze. The main task here is to get to the four corner towers which I found easy enough by using the logic of dis-logic. I then spent the same amount of time again trying to find my way out which I was completely hopeless at - 90 minutes of my life were lost frustratingly to that maze. We then left Wanaka and traveled north for 5 and half hours to the Foz Glacier. A few photographs here and then we moved on to Franz Josef Glacier where we were to spend the night. We spent the rest of Sunday night at the very cosy, log fire bar called Monsson where we met up with Madeleaine, the Norweigen girl we met in the outback.
Monday morning and after brunch we were going hiking up the Franz Josef. Armed with all manner of cold weather gear and ice hiking equipment we were soon climbing up the steep steps formed in the ice to get us onto the glacier. It was very cold up here with lots of ice tunnels to climb through and tight passages to navigate - a good experience. We spent that night at the Franz Josef again before embarking on another 5 hour drive north to Abel Tasman. On the way we stopped of at a cafe which served possom pie - this was eatable but pretty minging and I wont be making an effort to search out for possom meat again. We also stopped at a place called the pancake rocks, which had some cool blowholes created by the sea and where I managed to buy another pie to get rid of the flavour of the last one out of my mouth.
We eventually got to Marahau (a small village on the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park), early evening and stayed at a place called Old McDonalds Farm. I was really looking forward to a Big Mac here but they didn't do any food whatsoever, unless you wanted to kill the friendly sheep, hyena or peacock. There wasn't much to do round here at night or people to converse with either so an early night was on the cards. The following morning we hired kayaks and after a rather intense briefing session, went kayaking around some of Abel Tasman. The place gets its name incidentally from the Dutch explorer who found and navigated his way around New Zealand but didn't set foot on the Island - a bit like going to Disney Land and not trying to pull Mickey Mouse's head off if you ask me. The kayaking was great with regular stops of at the various beaches. The weather was warm too which was a first while I'd been in New Zealand.
While navigating our way around Fishermans Island I caught sight of what looked like a penguin and sure enough on closer inspection it was. At last the elusive penguin had been found, what had become the holy grail of New Zealand for me was finally discovered nestling among a bunch of rocks. After this we realised that we had to get back pretty sharpish as our pick up was at 4-30 and we had a great distance to cover, so with a mammoth rowing session in which I was convinced my shoulder was going to fall off, we managed to cover the 2 kilometers or so in 15 minutes and meet our tractor bloke to haul our kayak back to the main road. I'd gone from very little exercise to the equivalent of doing an iron man contest in the last week with all the swimming, biking, rowing, climbing and running, and my muscles were getting the shock of their life.
Next morning we were out of there and after a brief stop at the town of Nelson to get our bearings together, we then ventured inland again and through the middle of South Island. We stopped very briefly at St Arnauds where there was a beautiful lake (surprise, surprise) and then carried on south to a place called Hanmer Springs. Nice little place, famous for its hot springs and thermal pools but it sounded a bit too relaxed for the now energy monster, so I went to the pub instead. The other nice thing about Hanmer was that it looked very Autumnal and I bet it looks even better in the snow.
Next day saw a 4 hour journey back to the east coast and to Akaroa, a small sea town with a very very distinct French flavour to it, with many tricolor's about and the street signs were all rue's. Our main reason for being here though was to swim with the dolphins since we'd missed the opportunity earlier in the trip in Kaikoura, and we were swimming with the rare hector dolphins and this was the only place on the planet where you can do this. After donning a wet-suit again and coming to the conclusion that I look like a ninja in a wet-suit, we had a speedy boat ride out of the harbour to where we soon saw dolphins and were told to get into the water. The guides stressed to us that we were there for the dolphins entertainment and not vise versa, and they instructed us to use our snorkels to sing, blow bubbles, make ga ga noises or whatever else we'd feel necessary to do to entertain. You can imagine the scene with 7 of us all making prats of ourselves in the water to attract dolphins. Luckily enough a dolphin cruise ship pulled up to us too so that everyone on the boat could watch us making idiots of ourselves. Actually I found this quite fun and I'm sure I was the best at attracting dolphins with my snorkel versions of the strokes and the beatles yellow submarine
Didn't do too much after that as Akaroa is quite a small and quiet town, but did have a great slab of fish for my dinner - I've found out that I'm magnetically drawn to fish and chip shops if I'm anywhere near the coast. On Saturday morning it was back to Christchurch to drop our car off having done 3,700 km in 16 days, the same distance as Manchester to Tel Aviv, a road trip I may well do one day if anyones interested in tagging along. From here it was the plane back to Auckland - the plane with virgin pacific blue cost just $50 and took an hour and a half while overland costs over $200 and takes over a day - no brainer that one.
Back in Auckland we got there just in time to catch happy hour at our hostel and then get on the hostel tour bus to go to the rugby. Auckland Blues were playing at home to the Brumbies from Canberra and I was interested to see what the rugby experience was like. My highlights of the night consisted of A)
the royal navy helicopter that landed on the pitch at the start of the game to deliver the match ball - I think there needs to be a war or somet as I think they're really struggling for things to do, B)
sexy cheerleaders - woohoo, C)
match food including pie and a battered hot dog on a stick, D)
discovering the beer belt which was a great invention, a belt with 4 loops on it to but beers into E)
when there was an injury they'd play all manner of cheesy, irrelevant music including Inner Circles 'Girl I'm gunna make you sweat' and Peter Andres 'Mysterious Girl'. I couldn't actually tell you what the score was but think the Blues lost. So that was my first and very possibly last rugby game.
And that was it for New Zealand. After a bit of a worryingly boring start the place turned out great. The scenery is fantastic (did I mention the lakes?), I've had some of the best experiences of my life (best was skydiving, but bungy, river boarding, glacier hiking and kayaking Abel tasman were all great) and the people are all cool, I didn't meet a single idiot in 4 weeks. And the other great thing about New Zealand, and Australia for that matter, is the populations are low and restricted so this means the roads are a joy to drive on. In four and a half months I've been in one traffic jam and that was rush hour in Sydney. If you're going to New Zealand I'd highly recommend it but make sure you get a car or campervan, you'll not regret the extra cost.
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