Whales, wine and heli-hikes
Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
32Trip End Jun 14, 2003
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To get around the South Island, we hired a car. The plan was to get a small run around but instead we got a Beast. A 94 Toyota Corolla which goes like merry stink (a problem where the speed limit is 100km/h) and is as big as a bus. Even with both our backpacks, the boot seems empty. The car gives us the freedom to do what we want and enjoy the amazing scenary at our own pace.
First stop was Kaikoura, a small costal town known for it's amazing sealife. The reason for this is the huge continental shelf found just off the coast which brings the food chain from plankton right up to sperm whales extremely close to the coastline. We had two trips out on the water. The first was to swim with dolphins. Dressed head to toe in a wetsuit, Simon swam with a huge pod of dolpins as they jumped and swam around him. Jo decided this was all better viewed from the boat. It was an amazing sensation swimming with them, making eye contact or just trying to keep up. We also saw huge sperm whales on a separate trip. These creatures grow to around 20m in length (much longer than the boat we were on) and 60 tonnes in weight. The only view you get is when they come up to surface for air (around every hour) and this view is only of the top 10%. More impressive is the return to the water and the sight of the tail as it enters the water. Well worth the long ride to search for the whales in the first place. We also saw plenty of seals around the area. We stayed at the excellent Bad Jelly Hostel where we were treated to freshly baked bread. Kaikoura is also known for its Crayfish, and we had to enjoy this, along with a large helping of chips.
Blenheim is the home of the world renowned Marlborough wine range and there is no better way to enjoy it than by bike
The beautiful Marlborough Sounds are close by. These stunning hills and valleys are set amongst crystal clear blue water. They are the perfect place to chill out (which we did at our aptly named hostel, The Chill Inn) and also explore. The famous Queen Charlotte track is a four day effort, with camping along the way. We managed a four hour effort but enjoyed it all the same. The steep drive at the hostel almost got the better of the car but we escaped in one piece.
Via Nelson and the rather good Shortbread Hostel (so named because of free shortbread biscuits - we are so easily pleased now), we headed to the Abel Tasman National Park. The smallest but busiest in NZ, we decided to explore it by sea kayak
The drive to the West Coast took us through the scenic Bullers Gorge and the longest swing bridge in NZ (which Jo made it about 10 foot on before turning back). We stayed a night at Beaconstone Hostel in the middle of nowhere. This eco-friendly place is solar powered and has composting toilets. Amazingly it does not smell at all and the owner plans to have good compost for his land in around two years - nice. We joined the owners on their weekly trip to the cinema to see the latest Harry Potter film (not bad) in the local Westport cinema. A bargain at only $7 (just over 2 pounds), the cinema only seemed to have about two staff and had a half time break!
Heading further south we passed through Greymouth (rather aptly named) and Arthurs Pass, a very scenic drive with extremely steep and windy roads which tested the Beast to the full. Our final stop on the West Coast was Franz Josef Glacier. We decided to see the glacier via a helihike, a combination of an amazing helicopter ride up the glacier, being dropped off on the ice and then a two hour hike. The glacier face is very uneven and making progress is slow, as the guide has to hack steps in the ice along the way. We made our way through narrow crevices and over steep gorges before heading back to the helicopter landing area. We had ice grips on our shoes, as well as an ice axe which was more for decoration and confidence. The trip was certainly one of the highlights so far.