New Zealand Week 2: Nelson -> Queenstown

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Saturday, April 8, 2006

Kia Ora! Week 2 in New Zealand has gone already and I'm afraid that means it's time for another momentus update.

I last updated from Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, where we spent a few days to have a break from the relentless pace of our coach tour around New Zealand. It was nice to relax and not have to rush around too much. Didn't last long though as we left our hostel far too late and ended up running to the YHA to catch our shuttle to the ferry. We made it though and even got to run past a few people still drinking champagne outside the pub they'd been in since the night before. You've got to love 24 hour drinking.

We met up with a few people from our bus that we'd left behind in Taupo and made our way to the ferry. Before settling down in the "reclining chair" section we decided to get some coffee and joined the huge queue at the cafe. We were all served quickly and told to wait at the end of the counter for our drinks. 20 minutes later we, along with at least 30 other passengers, were still waiting while one poor girl tried to get through the orders as quickly as possible. We were stood next to an old guy who had ordered a "long black" and frequently asked around if he'd have got his drink sooner if he'd only wanted a short one. I found this vaguely amusing to begin with but by the time he'd repeated it 15 or so times Dan didn't find it quite so funny.

The ferry took about 3 hours to get to Picton and we spent most of it listening the Ricky Gervais podcasts on our iPods and having a snooze. At one point about 15 dolphins swam and jumped alongside the ferry but unfortunately they managed to pick the one time Dan went to the toilet so he missed them. Shame I didn't get a photo, it was just brilliant fun to watch! The dolphins that is, not Dan going to the toilet.

We got picked up at the other side by a guy named Carl who announced as soon as we met him that once he'd dropped us off in Nelson he was on holiday so the sooner he got us there the better. He wasn't joking either and he put his foot down before the coach doors had even closed! We arrived in Nelson a few hours later, were dumped on the side of the road and then Carl burned off round the corner. We weren't too impressed! Still we all vaguely agreed we'd probably have done the same.

Nelson is called "The Sunshine Capital of New Zealand", which meant that it rained the entire time we were there. The town seemed nice though and we had a little walk around it before returning to our hostel with some incredibly cheap beer. Our room was inside a tiny little cottage in the hostel garden and had the smallest en suite I've ever seen. I found great amusement in having to stand on the toilet to have a shower. Despite this, it was actually one of the best showers we've had in a hostel, particularly because we hadn't even paid to have our own bathroom. We thought the hostel was nice but from what we hear from our friends it seems we were lucky. Apparently the dorms were full of bed bugs and the bathrooms were missing walls and no one got any sleep until 5am because of a load of noisy people in the sauna and spa. Thankfully we were oblivious to all of this and had a nice time.

The next day we got up at Ridiculous O'Clock and left for Abel Tasman National Park just after 7am. Our bus driver Bruce was a character and the complete opposite to silent Carl, insisting on telling us everything about what we were passing, mainly about the orchards who were having the 4th bad year in a row and were having to shut down. We did pass some random things though such as a 30 foot statue of a kiwi - the bird, rather than New Zealander! - and an alien inside a phone box next to his broken down spaceship! Bruce also explained New Zealand's good relationship with Australia, so good in fact that Australia had sent a load of their convincts over to build the road we were driving on. Some of them had come back and left their mark by carving a brilliant little koala into the rocks in the sea.

Despite the weather being ok when we left, by the time we arrived at the park it was pouring with rain. We got on a small boat which was supposedly a scenic cruise but instead became a refuge from the rain. We were dropped off at Torrent Bay and left to to walk back to Marahau where the coach would pick us up. We grouped together with a few friends and set off vaguely cheerfully for about 20 metres until we found the main pathway was covered by the high tide and would have to take a 4km / 2.5 mile detour. This meant the total walk back to Marahau where we were being picked up was 17km / 10.5 miles long!

The track was windy and initially very steep so I wasn't particularly happy to find after 2 1/2 hours of walking that we were only a third of the way there. The rain had quickly turned into a torrential downpour and what should have been an enjoyable visit to one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific became an endurance march full of misery. The paths turned into rivers and we realised there wasn't much point avoiding the "puddles" as we were soaked through and couldn't get any wetter. We didn't see any of the view as the rain was so heavy and we didn't have time to stop off at the beautiful beaches along the way in case we didn't make it back in time for the last coach home. As it happened the last 10km were much flatter and we made it back to Marahau after 4 hours 50 minutes. Considering the weather, terrain and how ridiculously unfit I am (shamefully so) it wasn't a bad time. There wasn't much room for feeling a sense of achievement though as it was quickly taken over by the pain from where my wet trousers chaffed against my skin and had rubbed most of it away. I had to walk as though I'd had an accident in my trousers!

This day out, by the way, was described by Magic as "a scenic cruise followed by an easy walk through the park". Had either of us known their idea of an easy walk was a 17km hike up and down cliffs we would have given it a miss and chosen something less... 'easy'. I'm sure it would have given some fabulous views in good weather but it still would have been a bloody long walk.

After a cookie and some hot chocolate with marshmallows in the cafe in Marahau we got on the coach and had a cold and wet 1 1/2 hour journey back to Nelson. I have never been happier to stand on a toilet to have a hot shower and soon I was lying in bed in pyjamas revelling in the warmth. We'd bought a bottle of sparkling wine the day before and drank it in bed to help forget the pain. Didn't take much effort to fall asleep!

We happily waved goodbye to Nelson and hopped on the bus to drive south along the coast road, considered in the Lonely Planet guide to be the 6th best coastal drive in the world. We stopped off at Paparoa National Park where we jumped/hobbled off to do a short walk down the Truman Track through dense rainforest to the rocky coast. The sea there was wild and raw, crashing against the cliffs and making an awesome roar. We drove on for another half an hour and visited a fur seal colony where there were a lot of newborn pups fast asleep on the rocks. I love zoos and places like Sea World but there's just nothing like being able to see animals in the wild. We stayed there for half an hour and pressed on stopping briefly at Punakaiki to see their "pancake rocks" and blowholes. Unfortunately no one was particularly impressed by them, many debating why they were actually called pancake rocks in the first place.

We arrived at Greymouth just in time to get changed and jump on a minibus to take us to the local brewery (Monteiths) for a tour and tasting session. For some reason, this seemed a popular excursion with the Magic Bus patrons. We're all obviously very interested in how beer is made. We were given a very quick and dull tour by someone who didn't even work there and were hurried onto the tasting session after an obnoxious German lady pointed out their bottles here are smaller than in Germany because "small country, small bottles!" The tasting session was, of course, carried out very scientifically and we made sure we were thorough. We tried 6 different types of the beer they made ranging from a stout-like one called Monteiths Black to one with lime called Monteiths Radler. The tour guide, obviously bored by now, announced we could go behind the bar and help ourselves. We didn't need asking twice. Organised chaos ensued as we all queued up to have a go at pulling a pint. I didn't think I was too bad but one of our friends Koen (pronounced "coon" but has to say it as "co-en" whilst in English speaking countries...) seemed to think my technique was hilarious. I happen to like a glass of foam now and again.

After half an hour of beer tasting, we got dropped off at a pub and given a free pint of whichever of the Monteiths beer we liked best. We had a free BBQ (if that's what you call a sausage, some onions and a slice of bread) and laid into the bar's supplies. After a few free shots of some weird tasting apple stuff (which later turned out to be melon) the night got rather surreal with a dwarf running around my legs playing hockey with a pool cue and the white ball. Drank loads of beer and a lot of sambucca and then walked back to our hostel. Dan went to bed and I stayed up quite late drinking tea with some Dutch people who kept asking me how I take my milk, to which I could only reply "with a bit of tea in it please".

I woke up the next day feeling surprisingly perky but got on the bus to find quite a few quiet people with pale looking faces. After a short drive we stopped in Hokitika and most of us escaped from a jade factory tour in favour of some breakfast at a cafe holding New Zealand's largest teapot collection. Rhod (one of our friends who walked through Abel Tasman with us) was rather disappointed by them though as he'd misheard and thought he was going to see New Zealand's largest teapot, which probably would have served him about enough tea to sober him up.

An hour or so later we arrived in Ross where we were given a gold panning demonstration and then left to hsng around in the rain. I did buy a sheep bag though (a bag in the shape of a sheep rather than a bag to carry one around in) so I was happy.

We got to Franz Josef nice and early and checked into our hostel. Our room was in a little shack with only one other room to share the kitchen, bathroom and tv lounge. We were so pleased with it we decided to extend our 1 night stay to 2 so we could sleep off our hangover. We borrowed a video from reception and fell asleep on the sofa for a few hours until our shackmate arrived. We'd woken up feeling a little better so headed up to the nearby bar for some food and a pineapple juice. Weirdly, not many of the Magic Bus were out that night!

The next day we got up fairly early considering we had no bus to catch. I'd booked a helicopter flight to take me on a scenic flight over the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier (yes ladies and gents - where the mints are named after!) before landing on the top to let us wander around and take some photos. I was really excited but was disappointed to find the weather was crap and the clouds so low that the helicopters weren't flying. I continuously re-booked myself on later flights in the hope that the weather would improve but alas it didn't. Instead I watched some bad tv and was happy to come across a few episodes of Neighbours. Dan had a much more successful day and went on a half day hike up the glacier and got some great photos for me to look at. I wish I could have gone with him but I still have no skin on my thighs and felt ill so would have made his trip miserable. I'm so jealous of him though, it sounded wonderful. Franz Josef is quite unique in the fact that it's in the middle of rainforest but still has a glacier running through it, which apparently doesn't happen very often. It's very beautiful, but no doubt even more stunning close up. I plan to come back one day to see it for myself.

We left Franz Josef and set off for Queenstown. It should have been an early morning but after setting the alarm for 6PM by mistake we got a bit of a lie-in! That day was a lot of driving, starting at 7.30am and finishing at 5.30pm. We did have a lot of stops though which broke it up a little but when you know you've got a long trip ahead of you sometimes you just want to get there.

First stop was at Lake Matheson where we took a walk to the lakeside and saw why it was often called the "Mirror Lake", reflecting the Southern Alps and Mount Cook from the skyline. We stopped nearby for lunch in a Wild West style saloon where I got a massive plateful of food from the buffet for a bargain $3.50 (about 1 pound 50). Not really sure why it was that price as it was advertised as over twice as much and if you piled your plate up high (which I did) they'd make you pay for the next size up. Instead they asked me if I wanted to pile on a bit more (wasn't sure if they were being sarcastic so said no) and when I didn't they reduced the price. Maybe I looked like I needed a good feed or something. Dan had one of their pies, which New Zealand seems to make a lot of, and passed up the opportunity to have their sandwich randomly titled "TWO JUICY FLAPS of ham AND A BIG KNOB of cheese". Not quite sure why it was called that, the rest of the food was rather boringly lacking in double entendres.

After some photo stops of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka, we dropped off a few people who wanted to break up the long day of driving. While they organised themselves we went down the road to Puzzling World which had a maze and a load of rooms with different kinds of optical illusions and tricks to look at. We were too stingy to pay to look around but had fun trying to re-create some trick photography using the slanted buildings outside. We were both quite crap at it (as you'll see in the photos) but I must say Dan was particularly awful and his first attempt of photographing me is hilarious. In the end I had to line it all up for him and put dents in the ground to show him where he had to stand and we did eventually get a fairly good photo.

We carried onto the Kawerau River to stop at the first commercial bungy site in the world where, after no one else volunteered, we watched our bus driver do a back flip off the ledge. It looked so much fun and was the only time in my life I could see why someone would actually jump off a cliff attached only to a rope. Got back on the coach (wasn't too sure I'd want someone with that much adrenaline pumping through them to be driving along some of these roads!) and eventually made it to Queenstown. Booked into yet another lovely hostel with a balcony outside our room overlooking the town and mountains. We had a shower, got ready and headed out with some other people from the bus. Didn't stay out for long as we had to get up early the next day but we had a few pints (cost $4.50 for 2 pints which is about 1 pound 80) and a free shot of the most disgusting drink I've ever had. Made me gag just smelling it and drinking it produced similar results. Left at about 11 and had an early night.

Another early morning as we caught a bus at 7am to take us to Milford Sound. The drive there (200 miles each way) is beautiful. We drove alongside Lakes Wakatipu and Te Anau where we stopped to get a drink and lunch for later on. I was starting to seriously suffer from a bug or something that morning and spent most of the time being sick in the toilets. At least I hadn't drunk much the night before (did have one pint) so no one could accuse me of being hungover! We carried on driving toward and into the World Heritage park (an honour shared by other sites such as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef) stopping occasionally to take photos and look at the breathtaking scenery. They'd had a lot of rain over the past few days and the cliff faces became home to hundreds of little waterfalls all along the roadside. We arrived in Milford Sound and took a cruise through the fjords where we saw glacier valleys, river valleys and hundreds more waterfalls, some of which we sailed right under. One, Maori legend decrees, has anti-aging properties for women and any that gets the water on her face will look 10 years younger. I figured it was worth a try. We passed some wild fur seals taking a nap (apparently a popular thing for them to do!) and sailed through waters so rocky that a lot of people thought the boat would roll over. The weather was typically awful and the rain poured down but I actually didn't mind that much. Without it, the waterfalls wouldn't have been so fierce or even there at all. The wind was really strong as well, so much so that one waterfall curled backwards where the wind picked up the spray and blew it back up onto the top of the cliff creating a circle of water. It was weird and wonderful.

We got back on the bus a little wet, but I'd learnt my lesson from Abel Tasman and had brought a dry change of clothes. We had a 4 hour drive back to Queenstown and spent half of it watching Finding Nemo in black and white because the DVD player wasn't working properly.

That brings us to today. We had a rest day today so we could check out a bit more of Queenstown and I could try to sleep off whatever flu or bug I've had for the past 5 days. We really love Queenstown and wish we could have a little longer here but after 3 days it's time to move on. Tomorrow we cross over to the east of the South Island to Dunedin where we'll be doing a tour of the Cadbury factory! We had the option of either that or another brewery tour but this time chocolate wins, particularly as apparently this factory has a chocolate waterfall and I'm hoping to catch sight of some oompa loompas.

Hope you're all happy and getting by without me. Glad to see my last guilt trip regarding emailing me worked - thanks to those of you who took the hint! I love hearing from you so keep them coming. By the way I've now had the chance to upload the photos onto last week's entry so please go and take a look.

If I don't get the chance to email before then, have a good Easter and enjoy your hard earned bank holidays. Hope you're having better weather than us!
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