Maroon Toyotas, Skydiving, Vineyards & Quakes

Trip Start Sep 16, 2012
Trip End Mar 03, 2013

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, December 2, 2012

After over 20 hours of travelling we arrived in Auckland, declaring the mud on our shoes and the Indonesian apples in our bag! Alasdair only just got let in the country, not because of our illegal mud and apples but the fact that England had beaten the Kiwis in the rugby that morning for the first time in ages!

We made our way to our hostel near ponsonby road, freshened up and went straight out to meet our good friend Aileen and her mum for dinner. It was so lovely to see friends from home after nearly 3 months away. We had a delicious dinner in the harbourside seafood restaurant, an early birthday celebration treat from Aileen and Ellie (thanks again guys!) followed by drinks overlooking Auckland's skyline. A great way to start our New Zealand adventure!

After a couple of nights in Auckland we flew on to Christchurch and hired a car to explore the south island. We thought we'd keep our travels mainly to the south island as Alasdair explored the north on his last visit! We picked up our beast of a car ... a maroon 'rustic' looking Toyota Starlet and hit the road. Our first stop was the Marlborough wine region, staying in a lovely hostel in Renwick. On the way there we also stopped for a walk and to see the seal colony in Kaikoura. From Renwick, we hired bicycles and set out on a tour of the vineyards. I'd imagined a lovely sunny day, cycling from vineyard to vineyard however unfortunately after about 10 minutes of us leaving, it decided to tip it down! The reality was power cycling to the first vineyard we saw and wandering in drenched through! One lady felt so sorry for us that she offered to lend us her car... but we decided to solider on with our bikes in typically British fashion! The wine tastings were great, we visited about 4 vineyards and tasted probably over 15 wines, we also treated ourselves to a cheese board for lunch. YUM. They don't really do cheese in Asia so we'd missed it.

Next stop was a days drive to the Abel Tasman National Park, stopping at Perlorus Bridge for a hike through native indigenous forest and another packed lunch! We arrived in Motueka early evening an found a nice hostel to spend the night, enjoying a few birthday drinks and dinner at the hostel. The next day, with our kayak packed up with lunch, suncream and a map we set off to explore the Abel Tasman. We planned to kayak up the coast in the morning and walk back in the afternoon and that's exactly what we did. We set out in lovely calm and sheltered sea but as we made our way to the other side of the island the sea got choppier and choppier to the point I almost wanted to turn back however, as we were midway we carried on paddling hard and made it round the headland in to the bay where we planned to leave the kayak. Our arms were exhausted and our hands blistered from the paddling but it was lovely and sunny so we sat and had our picnic before setting off on our 4 hour walk back. We certainly slept well that night after our 8 hours of paddling an walking!

From the Abel Tasman, we made our way to Franz Joseph via a short stop in Greymouth. Franz Joseph is most famous for its glacier however it is also voted the 2nd best place in the world to do a skydive. It's something we were both keen on doing so before we changed our minds, we booked it! Eeeeek! I think I was more nervous booking it, than I was jumping out the plane! We had to wait a little while for the right conditions but it was definitely worth it. It was such and amazing and surreal experience... jumping out of a perfectly good plane strapped to a complete stranger! We jumped from 15,000 feet so shortly after we reached 12/13,000 feet we had to put on oxygen masks. Before i'd had time to think about it, i'd shuffled to the edge and dangled my legs outside of the plane and my tandem master launched us both out in to Freefall! We fell freely for 60 seconds before pulling the parachute. It literally took my breath away. As the chute was pulled, all of a sudden I could see my feet which for me made my stomach flip! Bizarre I know.. but I think it was seeing my feet in relation to the ground and the realisation of how high I was that caused it. My tandem master Chris, gave me the controls of the chute and I had a go at directing us. It was an amazing view and a great feeling floating down to the ground to meet Alasdair who had jumped seconds after me. Later that morning, we walked up to see the Franz Joseph Glacier. It was a lovely walk but it wasn't as spectacular as we had imagined it to be. Interesting to see however! From there we made our way to Queenstown through stunning landscapes. The driving was very cars on the roads and always a great view!

In Queenstown we had a good walk, tried the obligatory Fergberger (which lived up to its famed expectations), did a spot of shopping and had a few vinos in the sunshine. Queenstown was our favourite town in New Zealand, it had a great feel to it. We also managed to get down to Milford Sounds to take a boat trip through fjordland, seeing fur seals, albatrosses, waterfalls, glaciers and spectacular scenery. The 3 hour drive there was fantastic too with lots to see on the way and plenty of stops to take in the views.

From Queenstown, we were to start making our journey back to Christchurch. We decided to drive through the centre on the south island, stopping off at Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo. We took a short walk up to see another glacier at Mt Cook, it was far more imposing than the glacier we'd seen at Franz Joseph. The glacial lake was beautiful and an unreal colour, a sort of opaque white/blue...apparently this is caused by the refraction of light through the glacial flour...(crushed up glacial rocks)... See! We are learning things whilst we're holidaying! Lake Tekapo was a small little town but in a beautiful setting. We had a great hostel with a view of the mountains and lake and had a relaxing evening there. The changing colours of the mountain range at sunset were beautiful! We had a good hike the next day before hopping back in to our little car to continue on the road to Christchurch.

As we approached Christchurch centre, we immediately noticed the massive cracks in the roads from the many earthquakes. The centre of town was completely shutdown and looked like a demolition site but we eventually found a hostel to stay in for a couple of nights. The next day we went for a walk around the city centre (the parts you could access!). It was sad to see such devastation however the locals seemed to be quite upbeat, they have just picked themselves up and got on with it! Im surprised anyone wants to live there after being struck by earthquakes so many times! We actually felt a small tremor whilst we were in our hostel. The building and furniture wobbled slightly as we both turned to each other and said "did you feel that?". We visited the temporary town centre that has been created from shipping containers, it's amazing what can be done and it actually looked very something you might see off the south bank in London. There was a great Christmassy feel, live street music and it was bustling with lots Christmas shoppers.

From Christchurch we set off on our next big flight to South America via Auckland.

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