New Zealand – A Land in HD

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Our arrival in New Zealand was somewhat a longwinded affair. We flew from Easter Island to Santiago and Santiago to Aukland. A journey of some sixteen hours and a day missed completely due to passing the international dateline.

We landed at Auckland airport around 4am, a little jaded but in pretty good shape considering the journey. Going through the airport we noticed that it was lined with Maori references and South Sea island cultural icons which was a nice connection to Easter Island. There also seemed a very heartfelt welcome home to returning Kiwis.

However, it was interesting to note all of the messages and advertising aimed at Chinese people. Everything from slick advertising for banks and cars in Mandarin to “do not spit here” signs.

Before we picked up our baggage I thought it best to get some NZ money. Task completed, we headed towards immigration control. Just as I was about to go to one of the booths I received a call. Very strange I thought – who could this be? It turned out to be my bank asking if i had just taken some money out in New Zealand. Bloody hell, that was quick and not something I was ready for this early on in the day.

Having made our way through customs our first job was to hire a car – not easy when it’s still only 4:30am. However, we eventually picked up our hot rod from Budget Rentals, the Toyota Corolla in majestic silver. We headed out of the airport and were fortunately in advance of the rush hour so no traffic. It wasn’t long before we were heading into the countryside.

ROTORUA

From Aukland we headed South to Rotorua. First thing we did when we arrived was try to find a place to stay. However, time after time our enquires were met with, ‘sorry, we don’t have any rooms”. We felt like Mary and Joseph wandering around Rotorua. Mary and Joseph eventually found a barn to stay in and it probably wasn’t much better than the Quality Inn that we eventually settled on. Our room, however, didn’t smell of farmyard animals, no, ours smelled of eggs due to the huge amounts of sulphur deposits in the region of Rotorua. Our Quality Inn was one of those generic motel jobs, resplendent in brown and beige. If it could be painted in brown or beige, then it probably was.

The following morning we headed to the sulphur springs at Whakarnewarewa. However, before that we had a coffee in the hotel’s reception where we met Warren and Trevor. These were two grizzled old truck drivers. Trevor was a behemoth of a man with an easy going demeanour and dry wit whilst Warren adopted the role of sidekick who could swear like a sailor and had no teeth. They had an opinion on almost any subject you could care to mention. Both were retired truck drivers but kept coming out of retirement to take to the wheel just “one last time” because they loved driving so much.

It turns out that the reason we couldn’t get a room in Rotorua was because there was a movie being filmed locally and Warren and Trevor were lugging equipment around for it. They were part of a team of nearly three hundred people in total. So they were the reason we spent half a day wandering around Rotorua trying to find a room for the night. We told them that and they just laughed. Some time later we arrived at Whakarnewarewa. Weirdly, it actually smelt eggier in our hotel room than next to the hot sulphur pools – very strange!

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Sulphur pools of Whakarnewarewa
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Sulphur pools of Whakarnewarewa
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Sulphur pools of Whakarnewarewa
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Sulphur pools of Whakarnewarewa

Over the next few days we continued to head south: firstly to the glowworm caves at Waitamo and then through the beautiful undulating countryside towards Wellington. The landscape looked so lush, detailed and vibrant – a landscape in HD. It really was incredibly clear with a type of light that adds to the feeling.

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

The next day we arrived at the Tongariro National Park.  We booked ourselves into small holiday park, but nothing like the crappy parks that I have visited in the UK. They really know how to look after trekkers and travellers in this country. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for us: as I turned on the TV it was showing a fierce debate about the latest news topic -“Dangerous Foreign Drivers”. Oops! Hopefully i wasn’t going to be a conturing factor.

Apparently, ‘foreigners’ have been responsible for a number of accidents and some deaths. It seemed as though Asian (Chinese) drivers were the principle target of Kiwi ire and there were stories of locals pulling over foreign drivers who were driving badly, taking their keys and throwing them into rivers to stop them from driving any further. Then the locals would report the car whose keys had been thrown into the river as abandoned.  However, it turned out that the although some foreign drivers were responsible for some pretty crappy driving and even some deaths, like many media campaigns the facts didn’t bare much scrutiny and foreigners were, in fact, only responsible for 1 in 10 incidents dating back a number of years. Admittedly, the number of foreign drivers has increase significantly over this time but, in percentage terms, the stats have remained the same.

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The start of our trek – Beautiful weather that was not going to last. Mount Ngauruhoe is in the distance

We woke up early the next morning and were greeted with a beautiful day with clear skies and no wind. We headed out to the Tongariro National Park to trek along the Alpine Crossing. This is home to the volcano of Mount Doom in the Peter Jackson movie Lord of the rings. The actual name of the volcano is Mount Ngauruhoe. The trek is reputed to be one of the best 1 day treks in the world so we were looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. It’s about 20km long in total and should take anywhere between 7 and 9 hours including time for to stop for a sandwich and drink etc. The trek starts fairly leisurely from the bottom of the valley and then after an hour or so it starts to get steeper and steeper. The scenery would be familiar to anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings – steep sides all around with huge rocks made of granite.

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After the initial beautiful weather, things start to take a turn for the worse
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Alpine Crossing toilets

At the start of the trek we followed a trail which always had Mount Ngauruhoe in view. The volcano is a perfect representation of what you would think a volcano should look like – a mighty pyramid shape with a perfect conical top to it – a little bit like Mt Cotopaxi in Ecuador. We stopped for a few moments to grab our breath and to take a drink before we decided to head up to the pass which stands at 1,200m high.

As we made our way up we could see the landscape changing: there was less greenery and also less large sized boulders. It also happened to get cloudier and cooler. The weather was changing very quickly and made me think about the gear we had, or rather hadn’t, packed. Each year a couple of people die on this trek due to inclement weather. It’s a sobering thought, particularly when you realise that you haven’t packed things like a Gortex jacket!!  It was my ridiculous attempt to keep the weight go my rucksack down and I had come out with shorts, walking boots, a fleece top and a cheap plastic poncho in case it rains. I’m was now starting to wonder about the sanity of not packing gloves, a waterproof jacket and a thermal hat!

As we ascended, the wind began to pick up and as we got nearer to the top, it must have  been 50 -60 kph. It also started to rain, so I decided to put on my high tech bit of climbing gear – my plastic poncho – not an easy thing to do when the wind is blowing.  Louise had her waterproof jacket, so no problems for her. The weather was now miserable – it must have been 2-3 degrees celsius by the time we approached the summit. The wind picked up even more and the terrain was so steep that parts of it had steel cables attached to the rock to help heave yourself up. Unfortunately for me, my poncho was acting like a sail or parachute and there was a real danger of being blown off the side of the mountain. So we took our time and every few minutes tried to find a large rock to hide behind to get some respite from the driving wind and rain and to give our hands a chance to thaw out, although these rocks became few  and far between and therefore there was no sanctuary.

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Another reminder of how dangerous it is
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Another reminder of how dangerous it is

The weather continued like this for another hour and a half and which gave me enough time to become really annoyed with myself for not being better prepared. The visibility was poor which not only made it easier to get lost but also defeated the object of the trek which was to see the beautiful views at the top of the volcano. We needed to be especially careful as we reached the top of the volcano because you have to walk around the cone to get to the other side which, in this weather, was not so easy and was also a little dangerous due to the very narrow and steep trail –  particularly the side which goes into the volcano. We attempted to make one non stop effort to walk until we reached our first stopping off point. The rain was now lashing down almost horizontally and Louise started to lag behind a bit. I didn’t want to lose sight of her so I sent a few words of encouragement her way: “GET A FUCKING MOVE ON!”  I recall shouting this several times as I started to lose my rag.

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At the top of the climb. Very little visibility but thankfully the wind had died down at this point

Eventually, we made it around to the other side and started to descend. At last we were out of the driving wind and rain! Hoorah, what goes up must come down    although I must confess the down seemed to go on for ages. However, as the clouds cleared we started to see some of the sulphur pools and further down, the views of the lakes and valleys on the other side of the volcano. After about six hours we finally made it to the bottom – knackered, but glad we completed the trek. After about 40 minutes we made it to our lodge with just enough energy to knock up some food and take in a glass or two of wine and finally to bed. It’s fair to say we had a good night’s sleep that night.

WELLINGTON

We eventually arrived in the windy city of Wellington and checked into our lodgings for the night. We arranged to meet up with Martin, an old friend whom I had met travelling around the USA in 1991. I hadn’t seen Martin since 1995 so I was curious to see how he was. We met at his house and lucky him, he hadn’t changed a bit!  We headed into town for a few drinks. I liked Wellington: I thought it had a nice buzz without being too big and crowded.  After a few drinks and some food Martin invited us to join him at a friend’s party. All Martin had to hand to take to the party was bottle of rum of which the three of us had several swigs whilst walking to the party. It’s been a long time since I drank neat Rum, but as the saying goes, “When in Rome….”  We had a great night and it was nice to meet some of Martin’s friends and to see Martin after all these years – it was only a shame that Gary, another friend who also knew Martin, couldn’t make it to Wellington as well – that would have been the cherry on top.

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Louise, Martin and me out for a few drinks
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Boats in the port of Wellington
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Mirror on the quay at the port of Wellington
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The port of Wellington
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Out n’ about in Wellington

The following morning we caught the ferry to Picton. Picton is where we would be meeting Louise’s aunty and uncle – Denise and Bill –  who incidentally we also hadn’t seen for a few years.  Lucky for us the ferry journey from the North Island to the South Island was nice and smooth, which is not always the case. After a couple of hours we arrived at the port of Picton and headed to Bill and Denise’s home in the sunshine town of Blenheim.

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People enjoying the sun at the front of the ferry that crosses from Wellington to Picton

BlENHEIM AND KAIKOURA

We were looking forward to some proper home cooked food and some creature comforts. I was also looking forward to quizzing Bill about his time in the Police force – he seemed to have met everybody in his time there. A couple of days later Denise hosted a barbecue. Louise’s cousin Lloyd, along with his wife Nicki and their kids Ryan and Maddie, also joined us. It was really lovely to meet everyone and I was clearly enjoying myself a bit too much and drinking in the good cheer as I drank far too much for my own good. The next morning I woke up to a monumental hang-over. Groan!!! Just as well then that we were heading off for a wine tasting that morning. It’s a cruel world.

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Barrels of wine ageing
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Wine estate’s grounds

I must say that the wineries of Blenheim were fantastic. They were all beautifully designed and each had a great restaurant. Wineries in Europe could certainly learn a thing or two about how to present themselves.

Over the next few days we took a number of trips around the area and ate like kings. Denise kept saying to us “now, help yourself to whatever you want but remember I’m not going to wait on you”. Though, as it turned out that that was exactly what Denise did the whole time we were there! We were very grateful and they sure did make us feel welcome – they really couldn’t have done more for us.

After about four or five days it was time to head off. We could have stayed longer but we needed to explore the rest of the South Island. In order to do that we needed another hire car-  this time a Toyota Yaris. The first place we headed to was the seaside town of Kaikura.

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Small caravan parked on the side of the road north of Kaikura that only sells Crayfish
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Cormorant on the coast near to Kaikura

We decided to take the coast road south to Kaikura. It’s a beautiful drive: on one side you have the Pacific Ocean crashing onto the shore and on the other side there are steep mountains. The drive took three or four hours and we stopped twice along the way: once to walk to the water’s edge to watch the waves come in and the second time to watch a colony of sea-lions and their newly born pups. They were just to the side of the road, congregating beside the rocks whilst their pups frolicked in the rock pools which protected them from the full force of the Pacific Ocean that was crashing all around them. There were probably forty or fifty seals and their pups – it was quite a sight to take in.

We arrived at our chalet in Kaikura at around  5-30/6pm which gave us just enough time to mooch about the town and get a feel for the place before we looked for somewhere to eat. Eventually, we found a restaurant and ordered our food. You can never have enough green lipped mussels, so that’s exactly what I ordered followed by crayfish with spaghetti. Another fantastic meal, however, the wine was another matter. The wine was presented with the usual amount to test and usually all is good from thereon in, however this time was different. The wine had a slightly fizzy taste with a smell of mould – we let the waitress know. She apologised and said she’d find another bottle. She uncorked it and poured a small amount in my glass. Hmmm, something was not right again.  Louise had a taste and thought the same.  The waitress then tried some and agreed with us. She apologised and said she would get another bottle.  Again, she showed us the label, plunged the corkscrew in and pulled out the cork and as she did, there was a loud pop and a puff of steam. “Oh dear!” she said, “Perhaps you ought to have another wine because it looks as though the entire batch is off.” In the end, we decided to opt for a safer option and had a bottle of beer instead.”

The following day we wandered around the town and explored the area around it. We also decided to book a couple of tours. Kaikura is famous for its sea life and bird life, so we decided to book a whale watching excursion. It’s a bit touristy perhaps but if you want to see whales in or around New Zealand then this is the only way to do it. Eager, we booked the earliest trip they had which departed just before 7am the following day.  The following day arrived and with it came a storm strong enough to warrant postponing the tour to the day after.

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Beach at Kaikura the morning of the storm that cancelled our whale watching tour
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Driftwood with TV frame attached to it on deserted beach north of Kaikura
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Deserted beach north of Kaikura

Luckily, that day was a beautiful day.  The bay of Kaikura is very shallow until you get about 400/500 metres out – it then drops straight down just over a kilometre which is a weird feeling when you’re travelling over the top of it.   The area of sea around Kaikura is a place that juvenile Sperm whales come to eat and grow. It’s a kind of training ground for adult life before they head north as adults to mate with females. Whilst in the north they’ll also be in contact with other male Sperm whales and this will often lead to violent encounters because of mating rights.  Young Sperm whales often get beaten up so they will typically head south again to Kaikura to eat and train some more before they feel ready to go at it again. This process can take years – so thats a lot of eating!

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On board the whale boat tour

The boat headed out to sea at about 30 knots, which is really very fast. You don’t notice how big the sea swells are until you’re going very fast or stop. Every so often the boat came to a stop so that one of the crew could plunge a large pole, with a microphone attached at the end of it, into the water. They were attempting to locate the whales by listening to the sounds they make underwater.  After a couple of attempts they finally located what they believed to be a Sperm Whale. Excellent, after a Blue whale this is the whale that I would most like to see. This had something to do with two books I had read – “Moby Dick” and “In the Heart of the Sea”.

Sperm whales go through a pattern of breathing on the surface for 20-30 minutes and then dive for about an hour. They can reach depths of nearly 3,000m in their quest to find food such as squid which they stun by emitting a large sonar pulse that disables its prey. They are the deepest ocean dwellers that are toothed, so to see one of these mighty beasts was going to be very exciting.

During our journey out to sea we were accompanied by various birds: the most impressive however was the albatross. They glided past our stationary boat with their three metre wingspan and then landed on the water ten or twenty metres from our boat. Within about 30 minutes of our cruise the captain announced that they had found a Sperm Whale so we all rushed up the stairs to the viewing platform. And there it was! What a sight: jet black and cruising beside us at mere 3kph. You couldn’t see too much above the water but you could tell this was a mighty and majestic animal. Every once in a while the whale took a deep breath that you could easily hear and then shortly afterwards it let out a huge plume of water and air from its spout.

We must have followed the whale for about another ten minutes. Then with a huge intake of breath the whale began its dive into the ocean depths – straight down, though before it left it gave us a final view of its huge tail before it disappeared. I said it before but, oh, what a sight!   No sooner had we headed back to the harbour when noticed a sign, “Albatross Tours”. We made our enquiry at the kiosk and before we knew it we were heading out with our guide Alan in his small fishing boat heading towards deeper waters again.

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Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale

It took about forty minutes to get to our fist stop. In that time we discovered that Alan was a jovial chap, in his sixties and had only ever left New Zealand once and that was for an ale festival in London. It turned out that Alan has two loves: his sea life and ale. What’s not to like about that I say!

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View from the wheel of our boat

Once we had stopped, Alan prepared a line of bait that was wrapped by a wire cage. The bait contained a kind of pate which was basically catnip for birds and tossed it overboard.   In seconds the petrels that had been following us for the last few kilometres pounced on the bait, making a large clacking sound as they did so.  It took about 5 minutes for our first albatross to arrive and it turned out to be a Royal Albatross. He glided around our boat several times before he finally landed about 20 metres away. He sat there not getting involved in the melee and it turns out that the Royal Albatross is quite a shy bird.

The same could not be said for his colleague the Wandering Albatross. This bird landed a couple of minutes later. There was no ceremony with his arrival! He simply landed on top of the petrels and other small birds such as terns and gulls and used his enormous physical presence to bully the other birds out of the way. It wasn’t long before another couple of Wandering Albatross turned up as well. and it turned into a scene like something from one of those nature docs where the antelope (in our case the bait) was being devoured by a group of hyenas (the petrels) only to be usurped by the pride of lions (the albatross).

Wandering Albatross squabbling
Wandering Albatross squabbling
Wandering Albatross squabbling
Wandering Albatross squabbling

The Wandering Albatross is the largest of the species – it lives for up to fifty years and has a wing span of 3.5m. That’s enormous! Especially when viewed no more than a couple of meters away. It partners for life and breeds perhaps once every two years. During the two years the albatross will remain at sea, never touching dry land. When it does eventually hit dry land to mate, it can take a few days to adjust to standing and walking as it has only used its legs for paddling. The Albatross can apparently make quite a sight when it first lands and typically nose dives into the earth and then attempts to walk but has all the control of a drunken man.

Not before too long we were joined at different times by various other breeds of albatross. All in all,  we saw the Southern and Northern, Royal, Wandering, Gibson’s, Snowy, Antipodean, White Capped, Salvin’s and the Buller’s Albatross. We were also joined by sherewater’s, gannets, shags and towards the end of our cruise when we headed towards one of the local bays – theNorthern, Royal, Wandering, Gibson’s, Snowy, Antipodean, White Capped, Salvin’s and the Buller’s Albatross. However, nothing quite catches the imagination like the Albatross does for me. It’s simply majestic. It’s only found in the Galapagos, near Hawaii, the South Pacific and Antarctica and has the largest wing span on any bird on the planet.

It was a real pleasure to be taken around the coast of Kaikura with Alan, who clearly knew his stuff and to see the Albatross up close. Before we headed back to the harbour we spotted a pod dolphins and we sailed past a colony of sea-lions who sat on top of their rocks and stared at us whilst we floated past. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Well, perhaps apart from the concern about Orcas that occasionally visit this part of the world.

Anyway, back to dry land and a trip to the local restaurant for a beer and more tasty green lipped mussels.  Yum!

Green Lipped mussels
Green Lipped mussels

Following on from Kaikura we headed for Dunedin,  where we visited the beautiful Otago peninsula – home to an Albatross sanctuary. The town of Dunedin is well worth a visit with its laid back cafe culture and Victorian look.  After Dunedin we headed for Invercargill with the intention of visiting Stewart Island and one of the reasons for heading so far south. The town of Invercargill, unlike Dunedin, is probably not worth a visit unless you’re going to Stewart Island. Unfortunately, partly as a result of our lack of organisation and it being peak season, we couldn’t find any accommodation so we had to make a decision:  stay for a day or two in Invercargill or head of towards Te Anau and Milford Sound. Well, after taking a quick stroll around the run down and deserted town (which reminded me of one of those towns you see in Hollywood movies that has been ravaged by some kind of biological plague, like the movie Omega Man with Charlton Heston), we decided to move off early the next morning.

TE’ANAU

We arrived in Te’Anau in the early afternoon and recognised it as being a fairly typical NZ holiday town: safe, clean and very beautiful surroundings. It is the gateway to New Zealand’s southern fjord lands and you can easily access Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound from here. We immediately made plans to do just that and within 10 minutes that night’s accommodation was booked in Milford Sound along with some kayaking the following morning – all thanks to the excellent tourist information booth.

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We arrived at the Milford Sound Lodge and checked into our bijou cabin. We were told before we arrived that sandflies could be a problem and we were not disappointed or should that read we were really disappointed. We got out of the car and went to open the door to our cabin and immediately we could feel the presence of these pesky little buggers. There were so many it was almost biblical. As we finally made it into our cabin (quickly shutting the door) I took a look through the windows to the outside world. It looked like a bee keeper’s convention out there. Everyone who was walking around the compound was dressed head to toe in jackets, boots and trekking trousers and finished off with head attire that involved a mesh covered hat attached to their necks. I thought, “bloody hell!”  Needless to say, the following morning’s preparation to go kayaking consisted of the application of a huge dose of agent orange (DEET) to deter the mosquitos and sand flies. 

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We arrived at the kayaking departure point and went through the usual safety briefing. We were two of six people in total who were going to be taking the trip. It wasn’t long before we boarded the boat that took us to the drop off point some 20km or so away. Fortunately for us, it was a beautiful morning – warm, calm and without a cloud in the sky. Perfect conditions. 

We squeezed into our yellow tandem kayaks and it’s fair to say that Louise and I were not always in sync. As soon as we got going we were paddling in different rhythms and directions. This was going to take some getting used to! Louise, of course, wanted to assume the role of captain very quickly. Unlucky for her I had the pedal controls that steered the boat – ha! However, this wasn’t going to stop Louise bellowing her instructions from the front of the kayak. Eventually, we managed to coordinate our efforts which was just as well as the trip was about 20kms long.

We were so glad we decided to make the effort to kayak down the river because it offers such a different perspective than from the shore. It’s a stunning landscape which you really feel part of. One of the highlights was passing by the sea lion colony that was gathered on a set of rocks: the sea lions saw us and started to dart in and around our kayaks. It was wonderful to see.

After the seal lions we had the chance to kayak under one of the numerous waterfalls that exist in this area. The waterfall seemed quite small from a distance but once up close it was different proposition. First the water started to get choppy, then the wind and finally a deluge of rain created by the fall whisked up and into our faces. Up close the waterfall was enormous and it was difficult to paddle towards it because the wind was blowing us in the opposite direction. Eventually we made it right up to the mouth of the fall but didn’t hang around very long as we were being battered by the elements. So we turned the kayak around and headed out and as fast as we could away from the fall. It’s fair to say that it was much easier getting away than it was paddling towards it. However, we were glad we did it. Soaked, but glad.

As we got near to the end of the trip the river became shallower which really enhanced the crystal clear water of the river. All in all, it took about three hours to paddle down the sound before we made our last burst of energy to paddle the kayak onto dry land.

Having exerted ourselves for most of the day, we felt we deserved a good feed and luckily we found a really great place to eat: a caravan parked on the side of the road in the middle of town that was run by a Japanese man who served fresh seafood. My particular favourite was the barbecued green lipped mussels alongside a miso soup.

Japanese food kiosk
Japanese food kiosk

We spent the next few days touring around between Te Anau and Milford Sound dipping in and out of what is a beautiful area.

QUEENSTOWN

Heading north towards Christchurch we stopped off in the adventure sports town of Queenstown. This town appears to be the Mecca for “outdoors types” in New Zealand. It was also the place for extreme sports and in particular it’s the birth place of bungy jumping – more of that in a minute.

We took to the town immediately. The town is nestled amongst majestic mountains and crystal clear waters. It’s clean, well laid out and has some great restaurants – if you like seafood and…..… green lipped mussels. It also has a restaurant called Fergburger which we never tried but had a queue outside at all times of the day that seemed to disappear halfway up the road! (http://www.fergburger.com/fullscreen.html  just in case you’re going.)

Walking around the town, you can’t help but notice the outdoorsy feel and its young and energetic crowd. It was quite intoxicating. We, of course, would add nothing to that feel with my rickety old knees and advancing age, however, we would make one contribution to the lifestyle of the town and that would take the form of our one and only bungy jump.

I have a fear of heights and am possibly a control freak, so this would not be easy. The last time I tested my fear of heights was at the tree trekking course in Centre Parcs. The trek was some 20 to 30 metres high up in the trees and at the midway point of my trek I froze and clung to a tree. I was stuck and couldn’t look down. However, all of a sudden I heard a voice – “Hey mister, come on!” I looked over and there was a 9 or 10 year old girl looking straight at me. ‘Bloody hell’, I thought, but figured I’d better get a move on and thus continued.  The bungy jump, however, would be a different proposition altogether.

We booked our bungy jump through A J Hackett ( http://www.bungy.co.nz/ ). They had a number of options from jumping off a ledge to jumping off a bridge and all of them looked terrifying. However, we thought if we’re going to do one then we were going to have to do the Nevis jump. This is the highest jump that you can do. Some 135 meters above the river Nevis in-between a canyon. This was definitely the one for us!  We tentatively filled in the form and handed our money over. The jump would take place the next day, in the morning at around 10am, giving us plenty of time to think about it.

I woke up the next morning ready to get myself together for the big jump. Unfortunately for me it was only 4am. Ahh, the nerves were kicking in already! It’s fair to say that I didn’t sleep very much after waking up at 4am, however I did try to put things to the back of my mind.  We arrived at A J Hackett’s shop a bit early so decided to get a coffee and a pastry – nothing too heavy in case it  came back out through my mouth during the jump or through my pants in shear terror during the jump.  After 20 minutes or so we joined the queue for registration and signed the insurance indemnity forms – this was making our endeavour feel ever more real. After taking down all of our details and weighing us, we were finally ready to board the bus. The ride took about forty minutes which gave us enough time to think about what we were doing. Upon arrival we were fitted with our harness and weighed again.  Not long to go now!  A few minutes later we walked outside and headed to the cable car that would be taking us to the cabin off which we would be jumping. This cabin was suspended between either side of the cliffs above the Nevis river. Getting to the cabin was enough to set heart beats racing.

There were five people in our group: Louise and me, a couple from Australia and one woman from America. We tentatively made our way on board the cable car each attaching our safety lines.  When I say cable car, this really was just really a metal box with a side door travelling along a cable.  I thought I was terrified, however when I looked behind me I could see the lady from the States was in tears. We tried our best to calm her nerves but then we were all a little nervous ourselves. After a few minutes slowly crossing the ravine we arrived at the cabin. We were met by one of the team members of the jump team was very friendly and positive.  Our moment was drawing near.

I didn’t notice it at first as I was concentrating on not looking down, but they were playing some really loud bassy music and as it turned out and it was one of my favourite tracks: Backstreet Freestyle by Kendrick Lemar. Suddenly I was “back in the room” as they say.  At this point I was told to sit in a chair, a kind of dentists chair and this was where they attached my bungy cable. As they attached it and let it go you could feel the weight of it. I’m not sure if it made me feel good or bad, but I stood up and waddled over toward the jumping off point that was essentially a board the width of a swimming pool diving board but only about 30 inches long.

As I approached, the man in charge of last minute checks reminded me that they say “1,2, 3, bungy!” and it is at that point you need to go because if you don’t then hesitation and nerves will kick in even more. So with that in mind I stood on the board. I looked straight ahead and thought to myself, “Fuck, this is high!” and figured perhaps I should look down. No – bad move because looking down was even worse! I kept telling myself, jump when they say go, jump when they say go (I repeated this in my head more times than I can remember).

So at this point the man looks at me: “Are you ready?” – “Yes, I am!” I reply, but it was hardly an emphatic response. “Ok then,” he said – “Look at the camera and say goodbye.”  I murmured “Goodbye.”, wishing I could muster up something more purposeful. Then it came……….”1,2,3, BUNGY!!”

I leapt as far out as I could and fell into the wide open space below. There was an immediate counter intuitive feeling of why would I put myself in harms way. The feeling was so counter intuitive, I will never be able to fully sum it up as I flew through the air unhindered and heading at great speed towards the canyon floor. I remember my arms at the time flapping and flailing and thought – that’s a bit weird. Perhaps I was trying to fly, I’m not sure. I know I yelled as I left the platform above. A kind of guttural yell.

Eventually the rope tightened and I started to make my way back up accompanied by the cries of “Fuck me, fuck me!” (You’ll hear it in the video.) Well, fuck me, it was quite a rush. After the cord bounced up and down another time it finally dawned on me that I had done it. I was still saying the same well worn phrase, but I had done it. What a feeling! A real rush! 

After a time they winched me back up with a grin on my face the size of a Cheshire cat. I was greeted at the top by Louise who gave me a big kiss and that was it – ordeal completed! Cue lots of handshakes and high fives at the top. I normally hate high fives but in this case, fuck it! Wow!

Next up was Louise’s turn. She was far more composed than me and also jumped first time as well. Then as she was winched up and came into view she also had a broad grin on her face. The last person to go was the woman from the States, the one who cried going across the ravine in the cable car. She made her jump and cried all the way down and continued to cry as she got back to the cabin, however this time she had tears of joy. It was time for a beer of five!

The people of Queenstown were really friendly as were some of the people that we met who were also travelling. We met one couple, Nora and Arie, who were travelling around New Zealand in their camper van recording short stories of people they had met along the way.  They were conducting a series of one minute videos that they called “Human Postcards”. Check out the link to their great site here:  http://www.humanpostcards.com/

We stayed in Queenstown for a couple of days and must confess to really liking the town. If it wasn’t so far away (and I had a bit more money), I would be tempted to move there.  It was time, however, to move on from yet another town that could seemingly supply me with an inexhaustible amount of green lipped mussels. Next stop Methven.

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METHVEN

We took off early on the morning to make our way to Methven via the sleepy picture postcard town of Wanaka. Sometimes when you book your accommodation you don’t know quite what your going to get, however our accommodation at the Ski Time Lodge in Methven was fantastic. We were made to feel really welcome by the people there and as it turned out by the people of the town too.

The reason why we were there was because of Methven’s close proximity to a place in the middle of nowhere called, Mount Sunday in the Rangiatata Valley. You’ll recognise this place as the home of King Theoden of the Rohan people in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

As we drove up to this area (about 1 hour from Methven) we wondered if we were in the right place. Most of the journey was taken up by a gravel road that meandered on for an age. After a while, the road started to rise and as we approached a sharp left hand bend, there it was, Edoras town of the Rohan or should I say, Mount Sunday. The panorama that greeted us was truly stunning. The whole of New Zealand appeared to stretch out before our very eyes. The view is on a grand scale.

Mount Sunday
Mount Sunday
Louise walking along the path towards Mount Sunday
Louise walking along the path towards Mount Sunday

After taking the view in for a few minutes we headed back to the car and drove the final leg of this journey. After a while we arrived at a nondescript car park and got out. As we headed towards Mount Sunday (which is really just a big hill surrounded by a huge valley with mountains in the background) we wandered along a number of shale and rock trails, traversed a few streams and before starting the ascent of the hill.  After about twenty minutes we reached the top and took in the view and what a view it was. It’s easy to see why Peter Jackson felt compelled to shoot there.

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After taking a few pictures, as you do, we sat down and had a drink. Then, over Louise’s shoulder I noticed an old bloke with a long, bushy white beard and a pointy, broad brimmed grey hat. He was being followed by a small entourage. No, it cant be?!? Actually, no of course it wasn’t Gandalf from the movie – it was in fact a chap who was an extra in the film a few years back but who now had a job as a Lord of the Rings tourist guide. He took people to all of the movie locations and having spoken with him for a few minutes, he turned out to be somewhat of an authority on the movies. He was a really nice fella to boot.

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After our chat we headed back and stumbled upon Mount Potts Lodge: http://mtpotts.co.nz/ If you’re every going this way then stop here – I can’t think of many other more beautiful locations. We thought we’d pop in for a coffee although discovered they didn’t offer coffee to passers by. However, after meeting the manager there who was happy to discuss everything about the area and the lodge, he offered us free coffee, pastries and biscuits. What a result!

CHRISTCHURCH

We reached the town of Christchurch in the late afternoon. This is the town that was flattened by an earthquake in 2011 and I have never been to a town so bereft of feeling and pulse as Christchurch.  The earthquake seemed to take down the buildings but also the soul of the place. Locals told us it would be 20 or 30 years before Christchurch is back on its feet. There were a few signs of regeneration but on the whole it felt like a town that time forgot which is regrettable because I’m sure that before that fatal day in 2011, I would have loved it like all of the other places I had been to in New Zealand.

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Christchurch
Christchurch

One good thing about the trip to Christchurch was that we met up with Louise’s aunty and uncle, Denise and Bill, one last time.  Although, that also involved another goodbye!

The following morning we headed off to Fiji for a beach break, but not before we reflected on what a great time we had in New Zealand: a country filled with beautiful places, wonderful people and great food. It’s the one place to which we felt we could emigrate. A place with such happy memories.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. Fiji here we come!


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