and trying to stay upright walking downhill on scree whilst following yellow plastic bags marking an non-existent pathway which had been recently felled, we realised that we had completely missed the wording on the map that said the 2nd half of the route was recommended for experienced hikers only! Oooops! :o)
But the spa was like heaven after that... We started off soaking in the hot pools followed by a back massage each, and then I treated myself to an edible chocolate facial which literally was pure 90% melted cocoa painted onto my face (and lips, yummm) - I'm not sure what good it did to my skin but it sure was the yummiest facial I've ever had in my life!!
We left Hanmer Springs the next day after another smaller and easy walk to a viewpoint and drove south to Akaroa, a very pretty small town south of Christchurch on the coast.
It was really quite shocking to see quite how far out of Christchurch the devastation of the earthquake 2 years ago has reached, and the state of the roads (they're like mini rollercoasters) driving around the outskirts.
Once there we went to the Giant's house, a house and gardens full of huge mosaic sculptures which you have to see to believe, then had some more girly time drinking cocktails on the beach front and eating the best BBQ'd fresh fish sandwiches available (freshly caught and cooked by Murph 008) whilst people watching all the posh rich tourists coming in off the cruise ships and flashing their cash... you really can spot a cruise ship tourist a mile off!
The girly trip had to come to an end and we drove back up to Christchurch where I left mum (and unfortunately a pair of my sexy travel undies too which I had left to dry on the parcel shelf in the car and forgotten to pick up again, which I'm sure gave the guys at the rental place something to talk about!), and got ready to start my next adventure... 5 days of cycling around Otago. I'm still not sure what came over me, signing up for a 5 day cycle trip when the most cycling I've ever done before is cycling 5 kms to work and back, and that feeling only got worse when I got picked up the following morning and the rest of the people on the cycle tour were obviously people that do a hell of a lot more than that!!
Standing in my baggy travel pants with a specially picked out semi sporty looking t-shirt next to 7 cyclists clad head to toe in lycra, with their own saddles and peddles ready to customise the hire bikes, I felt more than a little out of place and out of my comfort zone. The trip started really well with an easy morning ride and a lunch stop at a winery where we were treated to an amazing lunch platter and complimentary wine tasting, but went rapidly downhill with an uphill climb that immediately followed lunch (wine sampling was starting to feel like a bad decision by this point!).
At the end of the second day I was practically in tears with pain and really wondering what the hell I was doing there, but after the addition of a gel cushioned saddle cover and changing the angle of my saddle and a very helpful and motivating tour guide, the next 3 days were brilliant and I discovered I have a new found love of cycling (I knew I was enjoying it when I started getting competitive and trying to race the pros on the last 2 days!). Even more amazing was that I managed to get through the whole trip without falling off!!
The route we did was pretty spectacular - they are building a 312km cycle route from Mt Cook village to the coast (called the Alps2Ocean trail) which takes you from NZ's highest peak, Mount Cook, past the lakes and hydrodams which power the whole of NZ with electricity, and ended at the arty sandstone town of Oamaru on the coast where we got to go and see the blue penguins colony coming home for the evening.
I'm not sure anyone could watch the penguins being washed onto the rocks on their bellies and trying to waddle their way over the land without grinning like a loony! The route isn't yet fully opened so we only did parts of it and made the other parts up on roads going around lakes and climbing up alongside the dams, and up through a pretty gorge.
The whole trip was fully supported as well which basically meant our guide, Bas, followed us around everyone in a van where he could load and unload our bikes if we got tired of cycling, and he also drove ahead of us to mark the road with chalk arrows directing us where to go, setting up erfreshment breaks, and even lovely lunch time picnics - a pretty cushty way to do it!!
Luckily the end of the cycle trip at Christchurch also coincided with the annual International Buskers Festival, so the 3 of us single girls on the trip had a good excuse to spend the last night being entertained in an open air park whilst sat on the steps of a portable wine bar getting sloshed and eating pizza... a perfect ending to brilliant and hard week of cycling!
Now, now being much of a thinker and anticipating any aches and pains that 5 days of cycling might bring along, I had already arranged to only give myself one day off after the cycling before starting a 71km hike on one of NZ's great walks, the Queen Charlotte Track, which also meant the day after finishing cycling I sat on a bus in one position for several hours to get from Christchurch to Picton and couldn't straighten my legs when it came to the time to get off! Fortunately I had a hot tub waiting for me at my next hostel which soothed out my muscles, and my overnight stop in Picton also coincided with a Maritime festival so I got to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening being entertained by pirates singing see shanty's and even a little firework display followed by some Kings of Leon impersonation band, not a bad effort for a tiny town! Also I had luckily planned to do the walk over 4 days instead of 3, which meant the first 2 days of the hike was pretty comfortable with only about 3 hours of walking each day, and ending up at beautiful lodges next to the sea to relax at with a good book and glass or two if cider afterwards.
On the second night there I had booked a homestay with a lady called Noeline. Not knowing anything else in advance, I turned up at this house with the most stunning views from every room, to be welcomed by an 80 year old lady with the kettle on and a batch of fresh scones cooking in the oven - what a welcome! Looking around her house I noticed a recent photo of her with a lemur on her shoulder so I asked where she had that taken. It turned out that it was from her holiday to Madagascar last year, and that since she started renting her rooms out to hikers on that trail 17 years ago to keep her company after losing her husband, she had been inspired by tales of the travellers she hosted, so at the age of 67 started using the money from the lodgings to go on holiday for 3 months every winter, to under-developed 3rd world countries, ON HER OWN! She's a pretty amazing and inspirational lady!! The 3rd and 4th days were slightly more challenging with a few more ups and downs to hike, and longer distances of 25km's, but the views of the sounds were pretty stunning and up until the last day I had glorious sunshine which made everything glisten and sparkle even more.
Even the drizzle on the last day was a nice welcome change as gave me a different view and was nice to walk without being blazing hot! One word of warning for anyone planning to go and do this walk one day.... if you are admiring the views, stop walking and just take them in. Otherwise there are a whole host of tree roots and boulders that will jump out of the ground and grab your foot and trip you over - I can vouch for this!! (and the bruise lasted a good 3 weeks!) For anyone that isn't ever planning to make this trip and wants to know what the Malborough Sounds (that make up a fifth of the NZ coastline) look like, the Moari legend of how it was formed should give you an idea.... According to legend, they were formed when Kupe, a great Maori warrior, was chasing a giant octopus and finally caught it in Cook Strait. The battle that ensued formed the waterways and headlands of the Sounds - so imagine lots of finger like and octopus leg sections being clawed out hilly land next to crystal clear waters and you should get a pretty good idea!
Leaving Kaikoura, I took the bus down to Christchurch to meet up with my Mum who had decided to come and join me for a long girly weekend away in the South Island. We picked up a hire car we ventured out to Hanmer Springs for a couple of nights where we treated ourselves to massages and facials in the spa and soaks in the thermal hot pools under a blazing sun, all earnt after lots of hiking of course! The first hike we did was meant to be an moderate 3 hour return to a waterfall... looking at the map at the end of the hike after climbing over fallen logs, roller skating down narrow paths on layers of fir cones,