Published: February 5th 2012January 23rd 2012
The centre of New Zealand
To get to the South Island we had to get the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton which took about 3 hours which wasn't as bad as it sounds as the there are some nice views as you approach the south island through the Marlborough sounds and also we saw some dolphins up close along the way (in fact we were closer to them than when we went on a dolphin spotting cruise back in Australia!!)
Once we reached the South Island the weather was already much better than on the north island and it wasn't long into our drive to Nelson before we started seeing the even better scenery Fran had said to expect!!
We were in Nelson for just 2 nights and decided just to take it easy and just did a bit of walking up the hill to what is supposed to be the centre of NZ and gives a great view out over Nelson. More importantly we had arranged to pick up the footage of our cliffhanger swing from a hostel here because the bungy people in Taupo had failed to include it on our USB!!
Next stop was a place further down the
West coast called Greymouth which, despite being the biggest town on the west coast, was a pretty dreary place with not much to do so pleased we didn't plan to have any longer here. We get the feeling it was only really put on the itinerary as a stop to break up the journey from Nelson to Franz Josef which would have been a lot of ground to cover in one day.
So Franz Josef was our next stop and was one of the places we were most looking forward to seeing, last time Fran was here she had gone to a different part of the glacial region (Fox). Franz Josef is a very small village where only 300 people live but it is overlooked by the Franz Josef glacier which is pretty spectacular when the valley containing it isn't full of cloud.
They offer half day and full day hikes up the glacier so being the hardcore ramblers we are we opted for the helihike. This takes you straight up to the cleaner, more interesting ice features further up than you reach on the hikes on a helicopter then they give you a 2 hour hike around
the ice passing through whatever crevices and caves happen to be formed in the ice at that time. It was really amazing to be on such a different landscape especially when you can here ice creaking further up the valley as the glacier moves constantly (5cm per day at the moment they told us)
We did do some walking the day before when we hiked along the glacial valley to the edge of the glacier to the point where you can't go past without a guide (people have been killed by falling ice in the past)
The next day we went for a guided kayak tour of Lake Mapourika which is a mirror lake close to the village from which you can see the glaciers and the peak of Mount Cook (NZs highest mountain). We were lucky as there was very little wind so the water was especially still and therefore more reflective. Also we were the only people on the tour so we got to paddle further into the rainforest than most people get to. Apparently the rainforest we were paddling by is home to the rarest species of Kiwi but we still didn't even hear them
let alone see them. BUt a great experience to be in such a remote untouched environment.
The next morning we set off for Wanaka which is a slightly larger town than Franz Josef and is also very scenic in a different way. The main view is of the large lake. We didn't really plan to do much here other than relax and look around, however as the sun was out and we haven't done much drinking we decided to get ourselves down the pub for a beer or two. This ended up turning into quite a few after getting chatting to some Kiwi guys and then followed by a poker game which was being held in the bar with a prize of a $100. It was looking hopeful when Fran made it into the final round and was unlucky to lose with a straight against a full house on the last card.
Next morning we we set off to Queenstown where the last of our adrenalin activities were going to happen. This was our favourite place in NZ based on how beautiful the area is and the amount of things to do there. There is also a famous
burger place which has the most amazing burgers in the world so clearly that was the first place we visited. After that we headed up on the gondolas to see the great views over Queenstown and then ride the luges. The luges are a bit like go carting, but you basically get in a little cart and ride down the 2 tracks trying to race each other. Things started to get a little bit competitive when Andrew went head to head with an 8 year old kid!! Later that night we headed out to sample some of Queenstowns nightlife!!
Next day we had booked ourselves onto White Water Rafting. There are 2 rivers you can do this in Queenstown, the Kawarau River which is the gentler of the two, and the Shotover River. As there was nobody going out on the gentler river we had to take the option of the Shotover. As the river is about 8 degrees they kit you out with a very think wet suit and jacket. Trying to get that thing on was probably the hardest part.
They drove us out the start of the river so we could raft down to where
we started which would take about 2 hours or more on the actual river but ended up taking about 3. The water levels were pretty low as the rain fall had been low this year so it wasn't as rough as we had expected but still challenging for a boat full of newbies to rafting. Our raft leader had said we would probably get stuck on some rocks out there although we didn't expect to get stuck on most of the rapids. This turned out the be pretty funny and we both ended up in the drink at one point. Andrew had to abandon ship due to the boat filling with fast water and Fran got marooned on a rock in the middle of the river with only one escape which was jumping in. The whole thing is physically demanding so we were really tired by the end of this and ready for an early night.
We were up early the next morning for Milford Sound which is part of the Fiordland national park and one of the main attractions of the south island. We were taken by coach to the boat which took way too long but it
was worth it for the spectacular views once we got there.
We stopped at Dunedin and Lake Tekapo (just one night at each) on the way to our final NZ destination Christchurch. Nothing too much to report on these places as we did not do much, although Christchurch is in more of a state than we imagined due to the earthquake. We ended up staying slightly out of the centre as this is basically a destruction site which will take years to repair. The hostel we stayed at is an old prison which was closed down in 1999. Its really bizarre sleeping in an old cell but they have made it homely enough without changing the basic design of the prison and we have a TV and DVD player in our room. Probably very similar to how English prisons look today!!!
We are getting ready for our flight to LA now and we finally get to pick up the the precious.
There are more photos below