North and South Island

Trip Start Jan 27, 2006
Trip End Sep 09, 2006

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Tuesday, June 6, 2006

After a hectic 2 weeks in Tokyo we thought we would give our livers a rest. Wrong, collected at the airport by Kerri and Keith Riley, those infamous beer monsters, ex Burton, now happily living in Aukland..... umm, 4 more days of lovely partying!

Keith and Kerri left the UK in April after uncle Coors gave them some nice cheques too, what a benevolent company we all worked for..... They have been very industrious and already have a lovely house that they are renting, 2 new cars and Keith (mad fool) has got himself a job already. Kerri is being much more cautious, there is loads to see, organise and shop for in Aukland, and a steady stream of guests to take care of between now and the year end before she could even contemplate working for anyone, we think this is a very wise decision.

Kerri and her friend Nicky (from Burton) picked us up after another gruelling night of Singapore Airlines entertainment, food and gin and tonic. It was lovely to be collected, arriving in a country is probably the worst bit of travelling, you are tired, disorientated and can't decided whether to splash out on a cab, take the cheap bus or whatever else is on offer and you are completely at the mercy of all touts. Having a smiley face on the other side of the barrier was just great.

We headed back to Keith and Kerri's new pad for a much needed shower and a cup of lovely English Tea. We also did a huge load of washing and after a bit of downtime felt human again. Just as well because Keith was on a mission to find a local and there was no time for jet lag. We donned our glad (ish) rags and got a taxi to the Thoroughbred. Red Rum it was not, more Cleethorpes donkey. The pub was huge, brightly lit by strip lights, included an inhouse betting shop and apart from us, empty. But you have to start somewhere with your new local. So we settled in, we kept our coats on, not because we were not in the for the night, but because it was absolutely, bloody freezing! A great night was had by all and we decided to head back the next night and do the pub quiz.

The next morning, feeling like we had been run over, Kerri, Nicky, Phil and I, sat on the sofa daring each other to eat toast, whilst poor Keith was slaving away at the office. We eventually got ourselves together and Kerri drove skillfully into Auckland.

Kiwis are the worst drivers we have encountered on the left hand side of the road. Rude, tailgating lunatics with less road sense than a cow in India. They also have a stupid rule that if you are turning right you have priority over the person turning left - Kerri dealt with all of this, whilst we made a mental note that the campervan may need fully comprehensive insurance!

Auckland was lovely, a great harbour, boats to die for (just for you, Julie and Geoff), a massive and really impressive aquarium and great tourist information, who helped us arrange our campervan. We had been looking forward to this part of the trip and were very excited about getting our van and heading off into the sunset like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. All was arranged for Friday 19th May, so all we had to do was survive 2 more nights drinking with Keith! Oh and a stunning 2nd place in the pub quiz by the way. We also met Keith and Kerri's new neighbours, from HULL, and that is all you need to know, thank god they are only renting.

We ate and drank ourselves stupid for 2 more days, one of which was Nicky's Birthday so had to be celebrated with a huge cavery type meal - we really must stop seeing "eat as much as you like" as a licence to make ourselves sick..... but the roast beef and lamb were to die for. We also had chocolate cake, don't look too closely on the photos, I think the benefits of the Indian diet have been lost forever.

So the day finally arrived, Kerri and Nicky dropped us off in Auckland and we waited for Eurocampers to collect us. When Damian arrived we hopped into his transit and started the usual small talk, where you from, blah, blah, blah.... in New Zealand you don't need to start with England, that is bloody obvious, so you can go a bit more regional. It did not take long to find out that Damian has managed a farm in Tatenhill, after spending 2 years sharing a house at Harper Adams College with one of Phil's friends, Charlotte. Small world huh!

So to our lovely campervan, umm, more Darby and Joan than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is a licence to stop on any hard shoulder, or piece of wasteland and have a "nice cup of tea". We were sooooo excited when we first picked it up that we bought loads of food and have been cooking our way around New Zealand, it is amazing what you can do with 2 rings, a grill and a microwave! But campers we are not.... we have had a few disasters. Apparently the door knobs in a camper are locks, if you push them in, which stop the cupboards opening when you are driving. How ingenious, wish someone had said - we found this out when we went around a rather steep bend and 2 drawers of crockery flew across the van. We nearly died of shock, but this was quickly replaced by total embarrassment! Managed to break 1 indestructable plate, 1 cup and sheer the handle off a pan, not bad considering the pile of stuff on the floor. We have superglued the pan handle and confessed the other breakages to the guy who owns the van. The scratches on the inside of the cupboard where the sheer force of the drawers hitting the inside of them caused them to fly open, well, they look like wear and tear!!!! The second thing you need to know about campervans is that you should not put lamb cutlet fat down the sink. It took us 3 hours to clear the system and we had to get pretty creative with a piece of hose, some washing up liquid and quite a lot of swear words. As I said, we are not naturals, but we are surviving and have not broken anything for quite a few days now. Phil did lose the keys for about 40 mins the other day which was a bit of scare, but apart from that, plain sailing!

There are 2 other things that Damian did not tell us about campervans in the winter. 1) when it rains it is like being Topcat in the dustbin when officer Dibble calls, 2)it is absolutely freezing at night. Fortunately we have a heater and an electric blanket (Pam would be proud), we have read the instructions and it says you can leave it on low all night, so we have been huddled under the covers and if you ignore the huge fight in the morning to see who gets out to make the tea, it is all cosy and lovely. Check out the picture of Phil, sitting huddled in his coat, the heater is on, the gas burners are on and he has a hot water bottle down his coat and his is still shivering - character forming stuff this world travel, just look at what you are all missing.....

So what have we been seeing? Absolutely amazing scenery, deserted beaches, wildlife and the inside of the odd bar and cafe. We started in the North Island, at Goat Island, with a trip on a glass bottom boat, there were only 5 of us on the boat - this is the advantage of coming in the winter, there is absolutely no one here. Further north we took a boat trip out to see the Dolphins. There were 6 people on this trip, which meant that you could stay on the front of the boat and get fantastic views. We did not find any dolphins to begin with, the reason for this was that there were 2 Orca Whales in the bay !! It was spectacular, we followed the pair for about an hour and were fortunate enough to be the only boat out, so we had them all to ourselves. Orca's eat Dolphins, which explains the lack of them, so we moved bays for the final part of the trip and a pod of bottle nose dolphins joined us. They are just beautiful, graceful and take your breath away. It was a the most brilliant 3 hours.

We also took a bus trip to 90 mile beach (literally), the campervan companies will not insure you to go on the beach, and quite frankly with our track record we would not have risked it. There are cars and even buses stranded there regularly, infact there was a lovely Mercedes rotting in the sand as a sage reminder.

On this trip we also went sandboarding. It was "awesome", I think that is what the young people say...... actually terrifying, I went once, dug my toes in so hard (they are the brakes!) that I nearly got to England, and had a fast but controlled descent. The girl behind me landed in a bush, minus her board and with a nasty burn up her arm and sand up her nostrils, so that was my retirement announced and I went back to the bus for the camera. This meant I could video Phil coming down like a bat out of hell, there is a slight waivering in the filming as I jump out of his way, but apart from that and the editing required for the swearing, it is piece of footage that Peter Jackson would be proud of.

After a week of pretty wet weather we decided to speed up our journey south and try and find the sun. This took us to Bayleys beach, which we thought we would visit in Andrew Bailey's honour. Umm, don't add it to your list if you come to NZ, we were checked into our campervan site by a pissed bloke from HULL, and that was only the start, Bayleys beach is famous for quad biking in the summer..... in the winter it is populated by 2 scruffy locals, an even scruffier labrador and a dead seal. We drove out of there quicker than Phil on a sandboard.

Rotorua was a different story, a volcanic wonderland with hot springs and geisers and the view from our campsite across the lake was to die for. We stayed a couple of nights and actually got some sun. We visited Hell's Gate, a bubbling, steaming volcanic park, where you can see the hottest waterfall in the southern hemisphere and watch water at 120 degrees boiling away. Fact, you can cook a whole pig in 2 hours in one of the pools there, it is really impressive, but it does smell a bit eggy!

On the way out of Rotorua, Phil convinced me to do a small walk, up Rainbow Mountain. It may sound a bit naive to say that the word "mountain" should have given it away. It took us 1.5 hours, UP HILL, to get to the summit, which rewarded us with 360 degrees views of rolling hills and mountains and, once I had controlled my heart rate, got my vision back and eaten the emergency liquorice, it was worth it....... I think it is fair to say, I am not the outdoor type!!!

From Rotorua we drove to Hawkes Bay for some well deserved wine tasting. This is the most picturesque part of the North Island and is lovely, hot and sunny. We booked a wine tour and when Grant arrived with his minibus to collect us he apologised because there was only us on the tour that afternoon...........Yipee, he soon worked out that we were up for fun and would not be needing a spitoon. Our absolute favourite was Moana Park, were we sat outside, looking out across the vines, tasted some of the best wine we had come across, and scoffed cheese and biscuits - what a great way to spend an afternoon. Grant dropped us off at 5pm, pissed!

The next day we saw Napier, which was flattened by an earthquake in 1931 and all rebuilt in an Art Deco style, we did some valuable coffee shop research and then decided to put our toe down to Wellington.

On the way we travelled through some amazing scenery, NZ has the biggest views we have ever seen, and because there are no houses, or anything really, in the way, you can see for absolutely miles, a camera just can not do it justice, it is totally amazing. We tried to find some of the Lord of the Rings film locations, which are on the map, but have no brown tourist signs and are impossible to track down. We found out later that this is because the NZ conservation society made the crew return every site to its former glory, bloody greenies, they tore down Rivendell and turned it back into a quarry, they must be mad.

Wellington delighted us, it is a funky city, with a mass of restaurants, bars and coffee shops, it is really easy to get around and we loved every minute we were there. We ate, drank and were very merry indeed. We also spent 2 days at the Te Papa Museum, which was the best museum we have seen so far on our travels, hey, it must be good if we went back for a second day. The first day we did The Lord of the Rings Exhibition, absolutely outstanding, we spent 3 hours there and it is a must for all LOTR nuts (that's you Sam Griffiths!!). The we went to look at the history of New Zealand, there were film clips of settlers from the UK and one was about GRIMSBY!!!! This included video footage of Ernie Becketts Fish and Chip Shop in Cleethorpes. This is of no interest to anyone except the Davis clan. This is where my Mum and Dad buy us fish and chips when we go home and these are eaten on the sea front, washed down with a flask of tea. If Dad has his way a sticky bun of some description follows - it is tradition and is high on the list of priorities for September. So Cath, here we are on the otherside of the world and there is "loads of Grimsby and absolutely no Newcastle!!!"

From Wellington it was time to say goodbye to the North Island and get the ferry to the South. This is a famous crossing reknowned for its natural beauty. Unfortunately it was freezing, so we had a quick look then sat inside and read the paper and ate crisps ..... you can't be an enthusiastic tourist all the time!!

From Picton to Nelson via the Queen Charlotte drive, a set of hairpins that run along the waters edge and tested Phil's driving and our nerves. The joy of the van is that you can stop anywhere and take in the view, have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and in NZ, this means you could literally stop every minute, the scenery is breathtaking.

We drove to Nelson, for one night, in Tiff's honour (our travel buddy from Cambodia) but the rain continued to fall, according to the paper the further you headed East the better, so thats what we did. The Lonely Planet had listed an English Pub with a log fire blazing in a tiny place called Renwick, and so that is where we went. Sounds cheesy, laugh if you want, but drinking beer by a log fire, while the rain hits the windows, your nuts are well and truly frozen and you only have a night of thermal underwear and bed socks to look forward to.... see all of a sudden sounds attractive. We had too many rounds, read the entire display of beer mats from around the world, ate pork pie and fell into bed too drunk to feel the cold.

The next morning the sun was out!!!!! We drove through the vineyards of Blenhiem, stopped off at Cloudy Bay for a wine tasting session and then drove to Kiakoura down the most spectacular piece of road you could imagine - when we say coastal, we mean the spray can hit the windows, there was a seal on the road, that is how rough the sea can get (dead of course, not trying to cross to get away from the waves!). Kiakoura is quite simply the most beautiful place we have visited in New Zealand so far, it has it all, beautiful blue sky, snow capped mountains, the ocean and a rugged coast line with loads of walking and picnic opportunities and the wildlife is outstanding.

Kiakoura has several seal colonies, which was fantastic, they sunbath on the rocks trying to look uninterested in the papparatzi, yawning and snoring. We were being really cautious, staying the designated 10m away, when we nearly fell over one in the carpark - thing they are pretty used to the attention. We also went Whale watching, which was amazing, we (actually read Sam here) saw 3 sperm whales which was breathtaking, they are huge, huge, huge. Phil saw the inside of 3, or may have been 4, sickbags. I did not know he got motion sickness, but he was really sick and a funny shade of grey/green for 12 hours afterwards.

We loved Kiakoura, from our campervan bed we could sit looking out over snowcapped mountains with the electric blanket on, drinking tea - totally amazing, without the bedsocks and thermals it would have been pretty romantic.

Tiff - what are you doing in Newcastle, come home, it is beautiful!

Whilst wandering the streets of Kiakoura we bumped into Kate, who was on the 90 mile beach trip (she is the one of sand filled nostrils fame! Sand burn had improved and since then she had been skydiving, so it obviously had not dampened her spirits). We had a really nice dinner with her and it turns out she is from Tamworth..... time for that "small world" phrase again, but literally 15 minutes away, bizarre. Actually it was a lovely dinner, but now I think about it, it was before the Whalewatching, so Phil's was a bit of a waste of money!

Next was Christchurch, which is Little Britain without John Pertwee. You can punt on the River Avon, drink beer in a mock tudor pub - The Bard of Avon, ride on a tram or sit in the town square and watch live bands play, eat street food, or play chess. It is just charming.

We found a backpackers, in the centre of Christchurch, which had powersites as well as rooms, which is pretty unusual, last time we used a backpackers we were literally parked on someone's drive with electricity coming out of their garage - and they charged us a tenner for the priviledge! Anyway Stonehurst turned out to be a complete gem, with hot showers and great cooking facilities, it even had a heated outdoor pool for the brave (not us). Backpackers are actually pretty swish in New Zealand, and whilst we would not have risked them in India, they are much cheaper than hotels or motels and being able to cook rather than eat out makes them really reasonable too.

We spent our days wandering around craft fairs, art galleries and doing lots of coffee research, there are hundreds of coffee shops in Christchurch and we tested quite a few sitting around reading the newspaper and watching the world go by. At the outdoor market we finally found Phil a birthday present and, as is fitting of New Zealand, we bought him a silver ring, he is now Lord of the Rings!

We spent two more nights in the van and then had to say goodbye to her and check in to Stonehurst as official backpackers - at our age, it is just not right..... The very next day Christchurch and the entire east coast was hit by a blizzard and 20cm of snow fell overnight - weren't we the smug ones tucked up in our warm backpackers!

This brings us to 10th June and world cup fever..... the time difference is an absolute bugger. The game kicked off at 1am, so, after a huge plate of pasta, we headed to The Bard of Avon at 10.30pm to get a seat - no chance, it was heaving with Brits, so we stood for 3.5 hours, nursing our pints. Eventually after all the hype, all the jostling for position in the pub, it was time for kick-off. Gosh were we glad we had stayed up until 3.45am to witness such a fine performance from England! But no one seemed to mind too much, and the pub stayed open all night so that we could celebrate the own goal that gave us 3 points.

The snow turned out to not be so much fun on Monday 12th June when we got up at 6am for a bus to Dunedin only to find that all buses were cancelled due to the snow. We spent a 5th night at the backpackers and a low-key day dodging the snow and hoping for a thaw.

Next day we managed to get the bus and headed south. The snow was unbelievable, some towns are without power and roads were really pretty awful. The Kiwis are laidback to put it mildly so as we boarded the but at 6.45am no-one could confirm whether or not we were going to get through to Dunedin - we are not sure what the contingency plan would have been, but actually once we got past the black spot it was Ok and we sailed on through to Little Edinburgh.

Dunedin is a beautiful town, exactly like Edinburgh, even has a statue of Robbie Burns, cathedrals, churches and English architecture abounds and the streets are just as steep, infact Dunedin boasts the steepest street in the world - very good for the thighs. It is also a student town, so has fantastic bars and cheap restaurants, oh and a Cadbury's chocolate factory, which does tours with a bag that you fill with chocolate on your way round. Infact, Dunedin had everything and if I had to live anywhere in New Zealand it would be here.

On our second day in Dunedin, we did a wildlife tour which was absolutely brilliant. There were only 10 of us on the tour and 2 guides. We saw Albatros out at sea, fur seals playing in shallow rock pools and then we had a 30 minute walk down to a protected beach. When we got we watched a colony of Sea Lions, they are massive creatures and pretty scary - they were joisting on the beach with each other. Our guide took us right down onto the beach and we stood only a few feet away. The guide said that the Sea Lions would not bother us, as they are not scared of anything and could kill us with one swipe - very reassuring....... Then we headed to a hide and watched the penguins come home from a hard days fishing, jumping out of the ocean one by one and making their way up a cliff edge to their nests - fantastic stuff. All topped off by one of New Zealands finest sunsets. It was a wonderful day.

After the beauty and tranquility of Dunedin it was time to hit Queenstown the adrenaline junkie capital of New Zealand and probably the world! We got really lucky with our accommodation, a lovely warm chalet right in the centre of town. Originally we booked in for 2 nights, but stayed 5 - think that says it all..... Queenstown is something else..... we are convinced that they put something in the water, somehow you can't just sit there and do nothing, so it is just about what you do.

The decision making went along the lines of:-

1) Snowboarding - too dangerous and didnot want to spend our fortnight in the Cook
Islands in a plaster cast
2) White water rafting - hate water and did not want to get my hair wet
3) Mountain Biking down a mountain - too strenuous

Umm, choices, choices, after much diliberation, a discussion with Taff, our Chalet owner, and a stiff drink, we chose sky diving.... which was on special offer, so also within budget!

Once you have made the decision, you don't want anything to make you hesitate, so we went straight to Taff to book. He took one look at the weather forecast and said "better wait until the morning to book". It was our worst nightmare, now we had another 14 hours to think about the fact that we are about to throw ourselves out of a plane. We prayed for more snow and went to bed.

Next morning was absolutely beautiful, WE COULD NOT BELIEVE OUR LUCK! At 11.30 we were collected by a dude in a campervan who drove us to the airstrip. That is pretty much all it was, a strip of grass, a caravan and a plane. We met our tandem instructors, were hooked up to various bits of equipment, and very quickly it was time to go, just aswell or the Imodium would have come back into play! The plane was the smallest thing I have ever seen. There was 1 seat for the pilot and then the four of us squeezed in on the floor and only just fitted. I was closest to the door as I wanted to jump first. The plane climbed to the top of the mountains, 2000 ft and then continued until the ground was just a distant blob out of the window. Next time you fly, watch the counter at take off and when you hit 12,000ft have a look out of the window and think "Shit". At 12,000ft, Peter opened the door, the noise and cold were unbelievable, about -12oc, I shuffled backwards on my bum with Peter behind me and was instructed to put my legs out of the plane - ummm, no way back now, we rocked backwards and forward and got perilously close to the edge and then we just fell face down out of the plane. I think I screamed for pretty much all of the 45 second free fall, it was so cold that my teeth were jangling and my face was wobbling with the g-force. The scenery was breathtaking, but as I was literally struggling to breath, it is not my most vivid memory of the free falling experience, mainly gasping and yelling "Oh my god"!!

Eventually the shoot opened and you go from falling face down to standing upright, this sensation is just amazing, we floated down through the snow capped mountains and it probably only took about 3-4 minutes, but was the most exhilirating feeling in the world. I was really sorry when it was time to land.

Words can't describe the sensations of fear, exhiliaration and sheer pleasure, so if you ever get the chance, ignore all your sense and say yes, you will not regret it!

When we got back to the chalet we collapsed in a heap of exhaustion and slept off the adrenaline. Everytime we woke up for the next two days it was at that very moment when we were falling out of the plane and feeling the sensation of free falling - wow, wow, wow.

Phil enjoyed the free fall bit more than me, although he forgot what position he was supposed to be in, so his instructor had to battle with him to sort it out, the first part of his descend was feet first - eeek, but they soon got into position and after a while came into sight so that we could actually wave at each other as we plummetted to earth...the only bit that disturbed him was when I left the plane and he was sat there alone, he said that was really wierd watching me fall out and not knowing what was going to happen, I am really glad I went first.

We had a quiet Sunday after our antics the day before, sitting in an Irish bar reading the papers and drinking red wine by the fire, just what a thirty something body in shock required.

On our final full day in Queenstown we took a Dart River Safari, which is a combination of 4x4 and jet boat, the tour lasts about 5 hours and there was the grand total of the two of us on the tour. It was brilliant, Stu started the tour on the 4x4 through some of the awesome scenery of Glenorcy, showed us some of the Lord of the Ring sites, including Isengard. Stu was actually an Ork in the movie! We did a forest walk for about 1/2 hour then we had 1.5 hours on the jetboat with Ashley, who thought he may as well show us what he could do - we travelled upstream and through the mountains and snow at warp speed, with a few 360 turns thrown in for good measure. It was freezing, but exhilarating stuff, then we travelled 30km back to Glenorchy, swirving around rocks and through canyons, amazing.

So that was Queenstown, the most beautiful, mad and bad place in New Zealand and we absolutely loved it. We don't have the stamina to live there, but if we win the lottery we will be back, it is quite simply toytown for grown up. Both Griff (nextdoor neighbour) and Peter Grzonka, have claimed it to be their favourite place on earth and it is not difficult to see why. The experiences will stay with us forever.

Our final few days in New Zealand will be spent with Kerri and Keith, back in Auckland, so don't expect much sense out of us during this phase of the journey. Keith has stocked the fridge and is ready to have some playmates back. Kerri has just returned from 10 days in the UK for 2 weddings and poor Keith has been alone and working for too long - oh god I can feel my liver aching already.

We fly to the Cook Islands on Monday 26th June, just as England kick off against Ecuador, great adminstration skills at our end! Hopefully we can get the first half before we take off, and if this mornings game (7am here) is anything to go by, we can only concentrate for 45 mins anyway, so we should get the good bits.

So it is goodbye to New Zealand, a land of extraordinary scenery, campervans and high adrenaline sports, we are knackered and ready to get some sun and just chill on the beach - it is hard work having this much fun!
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