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Far South

How are you all doing back home? Nicky hopes the weather is lovely and cold and wet for you! Cameron hopes it's lovely... Well for those of you who were worried we might do some crazy things on holiday like leap from 120m high cliffs, go walking on glaciers, hurtle down raging rivers or take a helicopter through narrow valleys in mountain range or assured we did them all...and more...and survived to tell you all about it!

So South Island NZ has been our home for the past week and what a week it has been...

Day 42 GPS Cook Straight S41.2597 E174.4118 sea level
Motueka Campsite S41.1032 E173.0137 Alt 35m

We took the ferry to get our little selves and camper van over to South Island, a 3 hour trip through some stunning coastlines, not much of the trip was actually in open water. The sun came out for our arrival in to Picton, which was welcome as Nicky was already on her second change of clothes for the day having been drowned by a freak downpour whilst filling the van up with petrol (Cameron? yeah he was hiding inside the van!). We drove on through Nelson where we stopped for lunch in a quiet spot on the beach, and were immediatley surrounded by about 40 school kids on a day out at the beach - a perfect place to be eating lunch while the register was being taken! Anyway we arrived at Motueka, Gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park, and tucked our camper up for the night.

Day 43 GPS Katiritiri beach S41.0379 E173.0165 Sealevel
Franz Josef Campsite S43.3728 E170.1795 Alt 137m

Up nice and early for the 15min drive to Katiritiri beach, where we joined our skipper Nick for a "Gold Rush" tour of the Abel Tasman. We were in a small boat with a huge propellor with about 8 others that shot over the water, so we were able to make the most of our visit. We had a stop at the famous Split Apple rock (see piccies) and then raced on past hundreds of small secluded beaches to Golden Bay. Saw a few seals along the way, but most of them were sleeping on the rocks in the sunshine (we're spotting a theme with these animals!) As we passed Separation point the water became very choppy, and our little boat became airbourne bouncing off the waves, quite a wild ride we thought - but Captain Nick only rated it as a 3 out of 10. So i guess we were lucky! Trip ended we had another of our now trademark picnic lunches from the van's coolbox, and then headed off on our longest drive so far, 6 and a half hours down to the small town of Franz Josef on the edge of a glacier. We arrived just in time for sunset accompanied by the biggest rainbow ever! 3 on them inside each other! With a weird interference pattern - again there's a photo! Managed a fish and chip supper before bed - our first in NZ!

Day 44 GPS Lunch on Glacier S43.4496 E170.1760 Alt 509

Lovely clear blue skies and sunshine when we woke up this morning - just what we wanted for our hike on the Franz Josef Glacier. So off we set, complete with warm waterproof coat and thick leather hiking boots. After a short bus journey to the end of the Glacier river, we set off on a half hour trek along the river basin to reach the foot of the ice, due to recent rock falls this also involved a lot of scrambling over rocks, and up and down some ladders. Strapping on our crampons, we set off with Gabe our guide on to the ice, up some huge carved steps with ropes to help pull us up. We were soon surrounded by huge blue ice formations and deep crevasses, it was stunning to look at, and quite awe-inspiring to walk on. The going was tough and exhausting, but we enjoyed the climb. Lunch was a brief stop on the ice for a sandwich, but not for long as we quickly cooled down and got wet arses through the 'waterproof' bags we were given to sit on (meesfinks someone is having a laugh with us all!). Unfortunatley the weather had closed in, and on the way back down off the ice it was drizzling non-stop, which dampened our spirits during the long walk back to base, especially Nicky whose boots were now rubbing - and consequently produced a massive blister on the back of one foot, Ouch!

Day 45 GPS lunch S43.9556 E169.2436 Alt 56m
Queenstown top 10 S45.0250 E168.6599 Alt 325m

A welcome sleep-in this morning, and then we packed up and set off for Queenstown. Slow going at first as we wound our way along mountain passes, little camper was struggling up some steep hills. It made for some amazing viewpoints though! As we passed the town of Haast we turned inland, and made our way though lake and mountain landscapes that got more impressive the further we drove! Our picnic site today was exceptional, just a shame about the other travellers that thought our spot looked good and bloody drove into our spot! Minor panic on the mountain pass through Wanaka as our fuel guage quickly dropped, and we though we might be caught short, thankfully on the downhill run all the fuel went back to the correct place, and we made it to Queenstown with a litre or so to spare! The campsite is just a 5 min walk in to town which is great, but its really packed in, with hundreds of campers (mostly a lot bigger than ours!). Had a wander down to the lake shore before finding some food, very impressive setting with the Remarkable Mountain range surrounding the town bright and clear lit by the evening sunshine.

Day 46 GPS Canyon swing S44.9762 E168.6632 Alt 465m
Shotover jet and Rafting S44.9872 E168.6712 Alt 387m
Top of Gondola S45.0268 E168.6494 Alt 796m

This is the big one, adrenalin junkie day - we're booked on the Awesome Foursome! So thats canyon swing, jet boat, helicopter ride and white water rafting.

Canyon swing was up first - and what a way to start the day, a 60m freefall followed by a 200m swing, making an ultimate drop of 120m from the cliff face on which you started! Awesome and totally mad at the same time, - the worst bit was standing looking at the drop, and thinking what am i about to do? Once you'd 'gone' there was nothing to do but scream for the 4 seconds or so until the swing kicked in, and you felt secure(ish) once more, a fantastic feeling!! We have the DVD for each of us, as well as the photos recording our falls/jumps!

After a brief rest we were off on the World Famous Shotover Jetboat ride, this involves getting in a small impellor powered boat, and careering up and down a narrow canyon getting as close to the sheer walls as the driver could possibly get - without actually hitting anything. Very exhilarating stuff, and surprisingly we were not as wet as we thought we might get. The best bit, of course, was when the driver turned us a full 360 degrees within the length of the boat itself (not very long!).

From there it was on to rafting, we were suited and booted, and then taken to a helicopter pad where we took a 6 min ride to the rafting launch site. Wow! First time either of us had been in a helicopter and we loved it. The pilot took us straight up over the mountains and then down in to the canyon we were about to raft down, squeezing in between the narrow walls as he whizzed along banking at nearly 90 degrees to make the turns. All too soon it was over, and we had to jump in to our raft. 6 of us plus a Guide, 2 of our group were japanese with limited English which made the Guide's job a little harder ; but they seemed to be enjoying themselves? The first half hour or so was fairly calm water, with a few small rapids so that we could practice our paddling and evasive manouvers! After that came the first big test, we all negotiated it perfectly, and then turned around to see our Guide swimming behind us... VERY embarrassing for him, having given us so many instructions about holding on and how to stay on board! He was ribbed by the other staff all the way down, and we're sure for weeks to come! At a later rapid it was Nicky who left the boat for an unintentional swim. We rafted under the canyon swing platform where we had jumped earlier in the day, and watched another mad fool leap in to space. Quite impressive to see it from another angle, and no less scary! The end of the rafting took us down a 170m tunnel built by Gold miners to divert the river, and ended with a lovely rapid to drop us back in to the main river channel - we all stayed in the boat this time!

Back in Queenstown we took the Gondola (cable car) up to the top of the hill to see the view down over the town, lake and mountains, it was spectacular, and far better than anything we have seen so far. To end our day we took a trip into the Minus 5 vodka bar for celebratory cocktails, whilst wrapped up in parker jacket with fur hood and gloves! Sweet As!

Day 47 GPS Underwater Observatory S44.37'7280 E167.54'2583 Depth of water 21m
Te Anu s45.4108 E167.7109 Alt 218m
Boat on Milford S44.6054 E167.8475 sealevel
Milford Airport S44.6730 E167.9243 Alt 10m

Somewhat quieter day than yesterday, but no less spectacular, we took a coach trip out to Milford Sound. Why? because we didn't fancy a 4 hour drive each way in our little van! We let Kiwi Experience and our driver LJ take the strain while we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. We stopped several times along the way for food and photo opportunites, which just got better and better. Reaching Milford Sound after lunch we boarded our boat and set off on a 2 hour cruise along the Sound. The walls of the fjord rise up 800m+ from the water level, it's so very difficult to take in the scale of the place! We passed alongside waterfalls 150m high, whilst enjoying a lovely complimentary buffet on board the boat. We also took a stop at the Milford Underwater observatory, where we got to look at corals just 10m down that normally grow at vast depths due to the unique water interaction in the Sound. So now it was a 4 hour coach ride back to town, well it was supposed to be - but we opted to pay a bit extra and fly back! A little 8 seater Islander took us up over the mountains for a stunning 40 min flight back to town ; we managed to take off despite Cameron colliding with the back of the plane and cutting his face while walking out to the aircraft - D'oh. During the flight we went a little overboard with photos, as every turn we made gave us more breathtaking panoramas of Fiordland National Park, We also got back to town 3 hours earlier than the coach - bonus!

Day 48 GPS Lunch S45.1296 E169.3161 Alt 208m
Dunedin campsite S45.9051 E170.5155 Alt 8m

Our last morning in Queenstown, so we headed off up the Gondola again, and this time played on the Luge run at the top, this is an 800m long track that you hurtle down in a small sledge on wheels with just a brake and handlebars to control yourself! Excellent fun as we raced each other down, and then took a chairlift back to the top to do it all over again! All of this has the stunning backdrop of Queenstown spread out below as we race around. Leaving Queenstown about lunchtime we set off for Dunedin in the SE of NZ. Just a short 3 hour drive this time to the city known as the Edinburgh of the Southern Hemisphere. The street names are the same and they have suburbs named Portobello and Musselborough, yet no castle! Very strange! We arrived in time to have a wander around the city (which is nothing like Edinburgh in actual fact), and visit the World Famous Railway station which is said to be the most photgraphed building in NZ. Did i mention they also have a Cadbury factory here? Guess who's going on a tour there tomorrow!

Day 49 GPS Baldwin Street S45.8190 E170.5338 Alt 112

A great way to start the day. Speight's brewery tour were running a beer and chocolate special deal, so we signed up immediately. After a wander round the working brewery, one of only a handful left in the world operating a gravity-fed operation, it was off to the tasting room, 30mins of free reign at the pumps - so our Ozzie chums who were also on the trip piled in along with us to sample the 6 different beers on tap. Drunk at 11:30 - cheers! After that we had the munchies, so Cadbury World was the next stop, where we were guided around by a native Slovakian(?) Free samples all along the way were hoovered up far faster than any child could have operated in a sweet shop. They have some different bars over here, including Perky Nana, (chewy banana covered in Dairy milk), Pinkie - a pink marshmallow and caramel bar - covered in choc, and the Moro which is a Mars Bar by any other name, but made by Cadbury. (Apparently one is gobbled by a NZer every 2s! - although to be fair about half of these are people at the Cadbury tours getting given them for nowt!
Afternoon was a scoot around the Otago Peninsular, where we failed to see anything other than a fleeting glimpse of an Albatross before heading for our Penguin Encounter where we were guided by a native German around a warren of specially created tunnels, hides and trenches about the site. Saw Little Blue and Yellow Eyed penguins, and the obligatory lazy seal. Nicky obliged Cameron to eat Dominos pizza for tea.

Thats all folks!! x