Sunday, 20 February 2011
We went with a guided group so that we could actually get up on the glacier itself. After a walk up to the first section of ice, we stuck crampons on our walking boots and started climbing up a stairway that had been cut into the ice. The glacier is always moving and parts gradually fall away into chasms, so the guides are always having to find new routes through it. Our guide went ahead of us, scouting a route through and hacking at the ice with a pick axe to create footholds.
It was a really amazing day, and a very memorable experience. Plus we had some silly moments too:
After the glacier trip we headed to Wanaka, which is set in the middle of some of the most beautiful lakes and mountains I've ever seen:
We all really enjoyed Wanaka: it had really nice cafes, a great ice cream parlour, lovely walks, and a brilliant little independent cinema full of sofas where you can get a pizza in the interval! (We went there to see 127 Hours - not for the faint-hearted!) We started our first day in Wanaka with a walk around Mt Iron, and we also spent a couple of evenings swimming in Wanaka lake:
The next day we went to 'Puzzle World' - brilliant fun! It's just outside Wanaka, and they have a two-storey maze with towers and a bridge which was genuinely difficult to figure out:
They also have a sitting area where you can while away hours doing puzzles, and they have whole set of illusion rooms, including this one (demonstrated by Stu and Dan):
We really could have stayed longer in Wanaka, but we are on a schedule so we pushed on to Queenstown. (On the way we stopped for tea at quaint Arrowtown, a lovely old gold mining town which reminded me of Lewes back home.) Queenstown is most famous for being the adrenaline-junky capital of New Zealand - you can do pretty much any variation of throwing yourself off bridges and out of planes. We had already done a bit of that sort of thing and, since it's quite pricey, we gave it a miss. Luckily, Queenstown has lots more to offer. It's a really nice little town to walk around, with lovely lake and mountain views and plenty to see. Stu and I had had a hankering for mini-golf for a while now, and we spent a happy hour or two on a very elaborate mini-golf course, complete with electronic 'effects' that lit up/played music/took your golf ball up a ski lift. Here is Stu making like King Kong at the golf course:
We also made sure we had a burger at 'Fergburger', which is something of an institution in Queenstown, and it totally lived up to the hype. I think I'll stop there and leave you with the above image, because I like the idea of it lingering in the minds of our friends and family across the globe...
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
We are now on New Zealand's South Island. The four of us have elected to spend slightly more time here than on the North Island, following advice from friends and other travellers. So far I've enjoyed the whole thing, it's hard to choose a favourite place!
Our last stop on the North Island was Wellington, the capital city. We didn't spend a huge amount of time in the city for one reason or another, but I liked it! We stayed one night in a very odd campsite just minutes from the inter-island ferry. I say odd, because it wasn't bad, it was just basically a car park with some clean toilets and showers. It was weird though, sleeping in a van, right in the city centre.
So our stand-out experiences of Wellington were: 1) a weird place to sleep; 2) a nice South Indian meal (we treated ourselves to a rare trip to a restaurant); and 3) best of all: the Weta Cave! Weta (named after a native NZ bug) is the home of the company who do all the amazing models, weaponry, special effects and other digital awesomeness for such films as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, District 9, Avatar, King Kong and ooh, loads of others! The Cave is basically a tiny museum and shop with lots of collectables for sale. I was in heaven seeing all of the LOTR paraphinalia, especially this guy: Ania also met this fighting Uruk-hai: a massive orc from LOTR! This is the actual outfit and actual size. The guy playing Lurtz (for that is his name) would apparently sleep while this make-up was put on him, before filming for up to twelve hours a day!
The staff were all really enthusiastic and let Ania and I pose for some photos with the alien weaponry from District 9! Wow! Whilst in Wellington we also checked out a more traditional kind of museum called Te Papa, which had some fun exhibits.
On 8th February we caught the inter-island ferry. It's a three-hour ride from Wellington to Picton on the South Island. We spent a night at a campsite near Picton and did their 'farm walk' the next morning, finishing up at a spectacular waterfall.
Our next stop was the nearby Marlborough Wine Region. 75% of NZ's wine is made here, according to our guidebook. I can now testify that it's gooood! The area's huge number of wineries are mainly found in two towns: Renwick and Blenheim. We arrived in Renwick in the afternoon and drove to four wineries, taking advantage of the free tastings (Dan drove, he's not so keen on wine: lucky for me, Ania and Sarah!). The next day the four of us hired bikes and spent the day cycling around different wineries, tasting as we went! We made it to five cellar doors and a brewery. For some reason it got harder to pedal as the day went on! At home Ania and I are usually red wine drinkers, but it's been the whites that have impressed us here. We've had some really nice Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris. Yum!
Cheers! Outside Mahi winery, with their vines in the background:
After saying goodbye to Marlborough, we drove to the Abel Tasman area, in the north west of the South Island. We stayed for two nights on the driveway of Sarah's friend Fiona (in our campervan!). There's a National Park in the Abel Tasman and the whole area is really beautiful. We stayed in a town called Motueka with Fiona and packed a few activities into our short stay.
On 12th we got up early and went sea kayaking! We set off in a group of six: us four plus our guide Caitlyn and another traveller called Mitch. They were both from Canada. Within the first few minutes of setting off we saw an island with lots of seals basking on the rocks and playing in the water. There were adults and also pups, they were very cute!
After a morning of kayaking, we had a beach picnic and then the four of us parted ways from Caitlyn and Mitch and did a two-hour coastal walk. It was incredibly beautiful. We could have been in Thailand on one of the islands!
Picnicing on the beach, with a nosy, unusual-looking duck:One of the many amazing views from our coastal walk:
A gorgeous beach where we chilled out and had a swim, whilst waiting for our water taxi:
In the evening we did a skydive! Fiona works for Skydive Abel Tasman and organised some jumps for us. We went in twos: Ania and I first, Dan and Sarah second. I paid to have a DVD made of my jump, so we had five people in our little plane: me and Evan (my tandem guy); Ania and John (her tandem guy); and Kev (my cameraman!). We climbed and climbed to 16,500 feet, taking in the amazing views on the way up. The five of us were squashed in sitting on the floor of our tiny plane, right next to the door that we would soon leap out of! And leap we did! I will never forget the sight of Ania saying, 'I love you!' and then just... falling! Amazing! Kev was out next and stood on the side of the plane as me and Evan got ready. A few photos for the camera mounted on the wing and we leapt! I'm grinning as I remember it now. What a feeling! We were free-falling for a whole minute, which was great. Kev was with us, taking photos and video as we rushed towards the ground. Then suddenly, Evan pulled the cord and we were floating gracefully towards the ground. We could see fields, the sea, mountains and the sun: all below us (or so it seemed when it comes to the sun!). I'm really pleased with my DVD too, they did a great job! I'd recommend it to most people, it really was one of the best days of my life!
Monday, 7 February 2011
Judy and John kindly showed us around Wanganui the next day, and we were all exhausted and incredibly grateful to them for giving us such a relaxing day. They have a traditional Kiwi 'bach' (beach house) which they let us stay in. It was wonderful to relax and just read a book with a gorgeous view of the sea. And that brings us up to date! Phew!
We arrived in Auckland on 25th January and Ania and I spent a pleasant few days at a lovely hostel called City Garden Lodge, in a posh bit of the city called Parnell. We ventured into the city centre a few times and saw some sights including the famous Sky Tower, which looks a bit like a massive syringe. And talking of doing drugs, if you are on them you can bungee jump off this thing! We are in the country that invented a lot of extreme sports after all!
The Sky Tower. Want to jump off it? You can! Clean underwear not included.
We're doing another campervan road trip around New Zealand with our friends Dan and Sarah, who we met in Australia. They were both arriving in NZ a few days after us, so Ania and I spent a few days relaxing in Auckland. We got ourselves to the cinema a couple of times, to see The Kings Speech and Black Swan, both of which were excellent (I especially loved TKS).
On the 29th the four of us picked up our new van! We've got another Jucy (same company Ania and I hired from in Australia, recognisable from their *ahem* tasteful green and purple exterior)! This time we've gone for a much bigger vehicle called the 'Condo'. It's really good! We've got a proper fridge, a two-ring gas stove, a TV/DVD player and two double beds!