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!