Trip Start Sep 03, 2002
Trip End Sep 27, 2003

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Saturday, January 18, 2003

Seems like ages since our last update - (well I guess it was in 2002) Thankfully (for Mandy) we have no tales of death defying stunts this time, although the last few weeks have been noticeable for the many different reasons that Nick has come up with for donning wet rubber. As well as all these PHOTOS we have added a lot more to the LAST UPDATE so check them out.

On New Years Day we got up at 6am (ouch) to go and walk the "Grand Traverse" (a combination of the Greenstone and Routeburn tracks). With the DoC huts and campsites booked out years in advance, our only option to do one of the classic tramps was through a guided trip. The lads doing the guiding (Jeremy, Nick and Brad aka "Bungle") were great, but this was not a VFM experience - the operator clearly exploiting its monopoly of non-DoC accomodation. The Greenstone is a pleasant 3 day walk, very pretty scenery down in the valleys and we had fantastic weather. The next 3 days on the Routeburn are supposed to be far more spectacular but with torrential weather when up high we did not see much, although it gave us the authentic NZ tramping experience. Our overnight accomodation was in "lodges" (not huts!) which meant that we got booze and hot showers, neither of which are available in the DoC huts, so there was some up-side. The Boys also cooked dinner (look out Jamie Oliver) and entertained us in the evening. Entertainments included:

a) the night before we started the Routeburn - a slide show of the views that we would "normally" see .......We should probably have deduced something from this.

b) the traditional overhead tossing of the pancakes to be caught by the punters on plates. As the only poms on the tour Nick and I were up first and managed to uphold the honour of the Brits by landing our puds - maybe the England cricket team should consider this as training.

c) an evening of Trivial Pursuit. With Bungle (the PE student) in our team this nearly ended in homicide as we went for the 42nd orange pie piece question .........

d) an evening in the pub. As I watched Bungle throw a pint of beer over himself, Jeremy mentioned that Bungle's sister is also a guide and that Bungle was the brains of the family - it would almost be worth paying to go another trip just to meet this girl.

Overall a good (if expensive) trip - we definitely climbed every mountain ........

Finally leaving Queenstown we headed to Mt Cook village. There we had great mountain views - this time with no helicopter flight required. The dry eastern side of the mountains is a stark contrast to the lush rainforest on the west. We went kayaking on a glacial lake - definitely not the place to practice capsize drill. Check out the photos - the lumps of grey are ice, not rock.

From Mount Cook we went through "Arthurs Pass" to the West Coast. the pass is allegedly spectacular but as it was grey and rainy we were not that impressed.

Arriving at Greymouth we thought it looked a bit grim so made the mistake of carrying on to Westport - this town has now established our reference 'ground zero' level for all one horse towns where the horse died some years ago.... really dire. However from there we did go Blackwater Rafting at Charleston. The chance to wear more rubber and a hard hat whilst clutching an inflated inner tube - Nick was ecstatic. A relaxed mornings caving followed by a float down a subterranean river on inner tubes. In the pitch dark you lie on your back in your tube, float along and watch all the glow worms on the ceiling - absolutely magical. This was followed by a very gentle white water float (in the fresh air) back to our starting point. Excellent.

Also from Westport we drove up to Karamea to check out some huge limestone arches, reported to be deeply impressive. Indeed they were impressive but whether they were quite worth the 5 hrs driving on gravel roads was moot.

Our next port of call was Motueka on the North Coast of the South Island as we had booked to go Sea Kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park. After a weekend's torrential rain (are you spotting a pattern here?) we went off on our three day kayak and camping trip. As it was still pretty overcast the morning we started, someone was being decidedly sulky in the boat house as we packed the kayaks and had our safety briefing. Despite some of the landlubbers lack of enthusiasm we managed to get out on the water as the cloud lifted. There followed three fantastic days of sunshine, gentle paddling, checking out the seals and camping on the beach in stunning little bays.

The sea kayaks were large, rock steady two man jobs - by the time they were loaded with camping gear and two sprint kayakers they had the inertia of a supertanker. Nick, as junior cabin boy (soon to renamed Roger), had the privilege of sitting in the back and being engineer, engine room, helmsman and tactician. Cap'n Scott up front provided directions along the lines of:

- "Left"

- "Left!!"

- "LEFT!!!"

- "Errr - OTHER LEFT"

However serious collisions were avoided and on the final run back to base a following wind enabled all five kayaks to raft up and sail the last 3-4 miles at around 6 knots. Unfortunately no photos as Roger was busy holding up one of the masts.

We liked the Abel Tasman area so much that we decided to stay another day and go on a "swimming with seals" trip. With our silver bearded, singing, story telling guide John we donned wetsuits (yet again) and set off for the Tonga Island marine reserve in a fast boat. Whilst the rules on people approaching sea mammals are very strict, there are no such restrictions on mammals approaching people. The seals came incredibly close, swimming upside down centimetres away from us. At first its a bit freaky having a large wild animal (with sharp, not particularly clean, teeth) so close - at one point Mandy was so "excited" that she started pinching the guy next to her in the water - as he was not Nick this lead to questions in the House later. However as long as we were in the water the seals were completely chilled and just a bit curious about this group of strange creatures that were obviously totally crap at being in the water. A really fantastic experience and probably one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Pilgrimage: we stayed in Blenheim for a couple of days and hired bikes to do a tour of the Marlborough vineyards. Mandy wisely decided to start at Cloudy Bay, since by the end of the day taste buds were a little confused. We had one discovery - Mud River vineyard (owned by a bloke who was born in a pub on Cheapside). Excellent lightly oaked chardonnay and a stellar Merlot. The labels look awful but the wine is great. After 7 (or was it 8?) different vineyards the bike ride home was slightly wobbly........

And that was South Island. A great trip and we felt six weeks was just about the right time. Weather wasn't perfect - but I guess that what NZ is all about (and the local radio kept on about the 'ripper' of the summer they were having...errrrr). Time for North Island....
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