The 8th Wonder of the World

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Apr 27, 2008

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The morning after our heli-hike we awoke early for a long drive South. Before we got going, we took a short detour to take a look at Lake Matheson early in the morning, famed for it's spectacular reflections. After a brisk 15 minute walk around the lake we arrived at the viewing point and were rewarded with amazing views of New Zealand's highest peak, Mt Cook, and a perfect reflection of it in the water below. The water was so still that it was like a mirror reflected everything around. We carried on driving for around 400km South to Wanaka, along a winding mountain pass, stopping at waterfalls and to take in the views along the way. Wanaka is a small town on the edge of Lake Wanaka with a stunning mountain backdrop. After parking up at the campsite we took a walk around town and that evening cooked up a barbecue for dinner out the back of the camper.

The following morning we took up the opportunity to take a break from driving and hiking and lazed around on the pebbly beach down by the lake. Ever since we arrived in New Zealand we've been blessed with amazing weather - there has barely been a cloud in the sky over the past seven days which is pretty rare, and the sun was more than hot enough to laze around in and have a read. Seeing as we're travelling in Middle Earth, I read The Hobbit and it reminded me of the Lord of the Rings films that have made the NZ scenery so famous - we're hoping to visit 'Hobbiton' in a few days time.

Later that afternoon we went to Cinema Paradiso in town, which is famous across the country. Cinema Paradiso is pretty unique - it mainly shows arty films and the cinema is quite small. Everyone sits around on sofas or armchairs (although they also have a car if you want to feel like you're in a drive-in movie) and there's a bar. They have a food menu too and you can order food before the meal to have in the intermission or after the movie has finished. We went and saw the Kite Runner which was about life in Afghanistan which was really well made but quite harrowing. Lotte and I are already formulating plans to build our own Cinema Paradiso in Harpenden.

The next day we took the short drive down to Queenstown along a really steep and winding mountain pass. We decided that after "roughing it" for a week in the camper we'd check in for a bit of luxury at a hostel. Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of NZ and if you can think of an adventure sport then they'll certainly offer it in this town. After driving through places seldom bigger than villages in the UK that the Kiwis refer to as their big towns, it was a refreshing change to get to bustling Queenstown. We spent the afternoon picking up leaflets and deciding which activities to try and getting booked in before heading to Winnie Bagoes for dinner - a quirky pizzeria which features an opening roof.

On Monday morning I woke up early to take the scenic flight to Milford Sound - one of the most famous natural sites in the country. The 30 minute flight to the sound was stunning, passing close over massive lakes, rugged mountains as far as the eye could see, and shiny glaciers. The landing approach was straight down the sound, offering amazing views of all the famous sights within. We jumped out of the plane and went for a walk around the shoreline (meanwhile trying to dodge the infamous sandflies). The weather in the Fjordland was closing in and so we had to leave Milford quickly, but not before the pilot gave us a close-up tour of the sound once more. The flight back took a different route and we got great views of the Milford Track (one of the most highly rated 3 day walks in the world) and also of Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand. Milford Sound was spectacular and was dubbed by Rudyard Kipling as the 8th Wonder of the World.

One of Queenstown's institutions is Fergburger. When talking to a girl in Sydney a fortnight ago we told her we were heading to Queenstown and she asked us if we were going to Fergburger and was stunned when we hadn't heard of it. There are Facebook groups dedicated to its appreciation. So we thought "when in Rome..." and headed to Ferg for lunch, and we weren't disappointed - they must do some of the World's biggest burgers. It was a mistake ordering fries aswell.

That afternoon I wanted to keep busy so decided to try out the Shotover Jet, billed as the World's most exciting jet boat experience. It was awesome fun - the boat was capable of speeds up to 80km/h and can travel in just 10cm of water, which was lucky seeing as the depth in parts of the river was barely more. The 30 minute ride took the boat through canyons and within inches of rocks and trees. It was until afterwards that I found out that just two weeks ago a boat had got a little too close to the rocks, and everybody on board was taken to hospital. Nevertheless, the trip I was on went well and we were treated to dozens of the trademark 360 degree Shotover spins - the boat can spin in the same distance as it's length...

That evening was St Patricks day and so we hit the town to celebrate.

On Tuesday I booked into to do canyoning and had another early start to try out a new adventure sport. Canyoning involves moving along a canyon using zipwires, abseils, swimming, sliding and jumping. After a ten minute drive we arrived at 12-Mile Delta Canyon and geared up - 2 layers of wetsuits. It seemed a little excessive but when we arrived at the river I found out why - the water was an icy 6 degrees. The two hours in the canyon flew by and it was great fun, I soon forgot about the cold. The best part was when we stopped in a pool and could do a series of progressively higher jumps into the water. The final jump was from 10m, into a pool only 1.5m deep. Getting up there was a mission but the 2 second jump was well worth it, hitting the water like a cannonball and bouncing back off the bottom.

It was so much fun that the following day I booked on to try out Rock Climbing. It was definitely a lot tougher than I was expecting, but that made it more rewarding. The cliff face that we climbed on was sheer - barely anywhere to grip onto. The guide introduced us to the techniques involved, so we tied ourselves onto the rope and helped eachother up by taking it in turns to be the b-lay (backup person who pulls the ropes). Two days on and I still have cuts all over my legs and my upper bodys aches, but it was well worth it!

That afternoon, our last in Queenstown, Lotte and I went to another cinema (just a normal one this time), to watch "The Bucket List" - a film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman about two terminally ill guys who want to make the best of their last few months. It had a killer ending - everyone in the cinema was reduced to an emotional wreck.

Yesterday we left Queenstown and drove to Lake Tekapo, which has the clearest skies in New Zealand which are amazing for star gazing, except when they clouded up last night, and then today we drove another 409km up to Kaikora on the East Coast. We're hoping to go swimming with dolphins in the open ocean tomorrow, but only if the weather holds out - there's a storm forecast to hit over night which might make things interesting.
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