Published: February 11th 2009February 11th 2009
Our first stop in the South Island was Nelson which is apparently a busy and exciting town...not exactly. We'd planned to go out for a drink once we got there after a long days travelling but it was dead and we only managed to find 1 place open. The next morning Nelson was still dead but it did have a nice jewellers so Vanessa and I chose our engagement rings.
Later we drove to Abel Tasman National Park, famous for its amazing coastal scenery and walks. Still tired after the Tangoriro crossing we chose the shortest walk, which still took us nearly 6 hours! On the speedboat out to start the walk we saw our first wild penguin (blue eyed penguin).
The next morning we awoke in Murchison, again apparently an 'up and coming' town...and again a description that couldnt be further from the truth. Everywhere was made of wood and every moment we expected a tumble weed to roll through town. The only thing we found worth doing was Gold Panning. We hit 'gold' (or anything that looked remotely shiny) across NZ's largest swing bridge, but unfortunately not enough to retire, or even to make it worth all the sandfly bites we'd got. Exhausted from the Gold rush excitment we headed to Franzs Josef, stopping to see a seal colony, pancake rocks and blowholes along the way. We spent the night next to lake Ianthe and after a quick swim spent the rest of the night killing sandflies in the van.
The weather wasn't too great when we arrived in Franz Josef and we wanted to do a helihike (combined helicopter ride and hike on the glacier) so we booked 1 for 2 days later hoping the rain would stop. That night we relaxed in the holiday parks spa and finally found somewhere lively enough to warrant some drinks. The next day it was still raining, but inbetween downpours we saw both Franz Josef and Fox glaciers from various viewpoints. The day of the helihike and again more rain (so it was cancelled) so we did the 1/2 day (4hr) hike instead. The hike was incredible, it was completely surreal being on something so massive made completely of ice. The ice was so blue in parts, and with the backdrop of rainforst it felt as if it could only possibly be man made. During the hike we were followed by a NZ mountain parrot, or Kea, natures cheekiest bired that we'd encounter many times round the South island trying to steal peoples food.
That night we stayed by another lake, with more sandflies! They're far worse than mosquitos. They're tiny so you can't detect their presence until theyve bitten you and you're bleeding. At one point we had almost 200bites between us.
On our way to Wanaka we drove along Haast Pass, famous rode for its waterfalls, scenery and for us, the detour round a large rockslide. In Wanaka we bumped into the girls we'd met in Koh Phagnan (Thailand) and Vanessa took me out for a nice meal as a treat for being great, which included a Garlic bread bigger than my head, and ive got a particularly large head.
Next morning we walked up Mt Iron , I think Vanessa is really starting to hate travelling with me, for amazing panoramic views. After this we drove to Queenstown, which is a gorgeous little city, built on hills around a lake/harbour and home to NZ's biggest bungy (the 134m Nevis Highwire) where you throw yourself off a cable cart suspended over a gorge. Id been waiting to do this for a while so the next day we went and I did do it. It was amazing, the freefall was incredible and although you're only saved from crashing to earth by a glorified elastic band you still feel pretty safe.
Afterwards not content with the bungy we fancied some more high adrenaline action and so played frisbee golf in the park - we only had 1 frisbee and it was rubbish so we quickly got bored and the last straw was when I accidentally hit Vanessa in the arm.
After Queestown we headed down towards Milford Sound, with a short stop at Te Anau for some crazy golf. The drive was pretty long, but there was loads to see including lakes, waterfalls and loads of viewpoints of Fiordland (mountains etc.). We took our time and spent the night by Lake Gunn, battling yet more sandflies.
Next morning we took a cruise round Milford Sound, an inlet from the sea dugout 1000s of years ago by a glacier, complete with sheer cliffs descending into still water, with 100s waterfalls, seals and dolphins. The place was something special and we spent a few hours out on the sound, the highlight being the views, the dolphins and getting so close to a waterfall we could see a rainbow at the bottom.
Our next main stop was The Caitlins region, famous for its wildlife. The first resident we came across, or nearly didnt, was a huge sealion buried in the sand on the beach, we didnt notice it til we were almost upon it and it dived out of the sand and waddled towards the sea. It was about the size of Vanessa Feltz, possibly even bigger!
At various points round the Caitlins coast we saw more sealions and seals but the highlight was probably at Porpoise Bay where we saw Yellow Eyed penguins coming ashore in the evening. One came really close to us and Vanessa resisted the urge to chase it and put it in her bag.
Our next destination was mount cook. This place was amazing, we were camped right in frount of mount cook and the views were increddible. We did some more walks around the glaciers and the mountains and even saw the lake next to the mountain which had icebergs floating around. The other lakes around mount cook are an increddible blue colour. We have never seen any water so blue. Its the result of sediment left by the iceberg which created the lake, rock flour, i think it was called, maybe not. After Mt Cook we drove to Christchurch, stopping at Geraldine on the way to see the World's largest jumper and have a go at some puzzles the owners husband had created. They were huge geeks and he seemed a bit shocked when I completed 1 of his favourite puzzles. The rest were all to do with the Battle of Hastings and the Bayeux Tapestry which he'd re-created himself out of tiny bits of metal (told you he was a geek!).
Christchurch is a very English looking city, with a cathedral in the middle and nothing to do. Luckily it was the Annual World Buskers Festival, so for the 2 days we were there we got to watch some incredible busking acts e.g. juggling, acrobatics, magic, shoving your body through a tennis racket or into a tiny box etc. for free at random locations throughout the city. I say for free, we were meant to make a donation, but we're skint and the buskers were raking it in, with 2000+ people at the bigger shows.
Outside Chritchurch is a little spa town called Hanmer Springs, so we visited this on our way out. Some of the pools were at 41degrees, obviously only made for old people with leathery skin and hippos, but it was funny watching people get in, sit for a second and then dive out when the heat got them.
Pretty much the only animal we hadn't checked off our NZ list at this point (apart from a Kiwi) was a whale, so in Kaikora we went on the hunt for one. The tour was good with lots of whale presentations, but no one really cared, everyone was there to see the real thing and was excited when we pulled up next to a giant sperm whale. It was enormous, so large that apparently it couldnt muster the energy to move, so we sat in contemplative silent next to the huge animal for a good 10 minutes, then excitement again when it dived. Apart from the tail of a humpback whale diving, thats all we saw, we felt a bit cheated considering the money we'd paid, but I suppose its down to the whales, plus we did see a penguin, shark, huge albatross' and dolphins.
Thats about it for the South Island. It was very different to the North which seems to be about all the adrenaline sports, whilst the South Island is more about the wildlife and beautiful scenery. We loved it down there, and it went by far too quick.