Published: December 5th 2009December 5th 2009
Centre of the Earth?
Nope just New Zealand
Well the ferry ride was a bit of a precursor to a phrase that will be well used in the next few days “Bet that’s a lovely view when it’s sunny”. Yep summer in New Zealand is proving the same as summer in England, fantastic sunshine for a few days to tease the shorts out then torrential downpours, fog and mist just when you’d left the wellies in your room. The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton was nice, but misty, every now and again a spectacular view appeared long enough to give a sense of the beauty but quickly retreated into the rain.
At Picton we were once again ensconced on the Magic bus, but on a Southern Discovery ticket now (at the grand cost of 1 NZD!!!!). We set off to Nelson, stopping at a boutique winery for long enough to sample 3 or 4 decent varieties, suitably lubricated a lovely Pinot Noir was purchased at about half the price of Tescos. We travelled on to Nelson, described as the “sunniest place in New Zealand” and sure enough as we arrived out it popped. Nelson is also the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park, named in honour
Pretty as a picture
Worth the walk up a very steep hill.
of the Dutch explorer who gave New Zealand its name. But old AT didn’t actually set foot on land here, as he and his landing party were coming ashore the local Maori’s thought they were invaders so attacked them and slaughtered most, the lucky explorer escaped back to his vessel by the skin of his teeth. This land was then called ‘Murderers Point’ for a long time. I guess the NZ Tourist Board thought this might not be the best advert for its charms so it was renamed after the bloke that never made it there. Well it’s Saturday night so we decided to venture out to sample the delights of this small city. We found a great Italian and as luck would have it bumped into some youngsters from the bus so enjoyed a very pleasant pizza and NZ vino, given that most of them were Matt’s age, it felt a bit like Ma and Pa taking the kids out, oh well. Dinner over we packed the kids off to bed and went in search of the nightlife. A few clubs offering DJ Garagy Trance Meister or 5 for the price of one brain numbing shots were empty so
Nature can still inspire even when its raining
we followed the sound of live music and found a pub with a good band, finally a good NZ beer and a very drunk Rugby team practicing for their next gay pride festival. Just like Saturday night in Dorchester really, but quieter.
Sunday morning was great, no alarm clock, anywhere to be and the sun was beating down - marvellous. What to do when you are looking for a relaxing day, walk up to the top of the highest hill that you can see - obviously. Actually there was a point to this ‘tramp’, the hill was called the ‘Centre of New Zealand”, the claim is that this is the surveyed centre of the country as a whole when both islands are taken into account. Whatever the truth of that, it’s certainly a spectacular view, both down over Nelson, out into the surrounding countryside and across the water to the Abel Tasman National Park. We spent the rest of that lovely sunny day just exploring and chillin. We had booked a rental car for Monday to go out to the Abel Tasman and explore for the day but, yep, we opened the windows and it was tipping down. Never
Does anyone else think this looks like a transformer?
mind, us intrepid Brits never let a bit of rain stop us, we picked up a couple of ladies, Melissa and Julia, we had met on our travels and headed off for the National Park. The journey to the park was uneventful, a few small pretty towns and lots of agriculture, (lovely eating NZ Braeburns that haven’t travelled halfway round the world) but soon the road and view changed. The road went straight up and the view straight down but yep, “Bet that’s a lovely view when it’s sunny”. It was at this point with the car struggling on the mountain roads that you realised a ‘super saver’ car means one whose engine, clutch and brakes have been subjected to years of abuse by adrenaline junkies and as it slid on the mud towards the edge we understood those same chemical terrors. One of the girls spotted Wanahui Falls on the map so off we trotted in the wet, a 40 minute hike up into the hills brought us to a spectacular waterfall, the hike itself was great including a swing bridge a la “I’m a celebrity”, but the falls were beautiful. For once the rain enhanced our day. Back
We were lucky enough to see the first steps of the new addition
at the car we finished off at Totaranui, at the northern end of the National Park, but as the weather still hadn’t relented there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm for a hike. Back to town via Golden Bay and it’s beautiful beaches, even through the mist and rain they are lovely, and the sea also provides your tea with oodles of large green mussels just waiting to be plucked off the rocks. Mmmm. Back in Nelson the other reason behind “super saver” becomes apparent because after dropping the car off at Nelson Rentals we have to walk 6km back to Nelson, oh well got our hike after all.
December arrives and we are back on the bus for the journey down the dramatic West coast of the south Island and following the theme, “Bet that’s a lovely view when it’s sunny”. The low cloud & drizzle offered only glimpses of the dramatic landscape. Stopping off en-route we walked along a cliff path to view a seal colony and were lucky enough to arrive minutes after 2 baby seals had been born and mum was encouraging them to take their first steps. What a fantastic bonus, don’t see this
From the air the size of the glacier becomes apparent.
at Sea World. We also stopped off at a rock formation called the Pancake Rocks, lovely, wild but I guess we’ve been spoilt by easy access to the wonders of Durdle Door and Portland Bill.
Our final destination for the evening soon came into sight - Greymouth. If there was any place that suited its name it was here - a grey mining town - although it is named because the town sits on the mouth of the River Grey. Saying that, the welcome by the hostel owner was the best we had. We had the option of being checked in straight away or waiting for five minutes while he went to the local cake shop and picked up free pies and cream cakes for us. Well that choice was easy and, reminiscent of a pride of starving lions, we fell on the free food when he came back. Only one night here and with the driver’s recommendation to do the Monteith’s Brewery visit and beer tasting, we braved the foul weather in search of cheap beer. What can we say - disappointing really. The tour of the brewery was interesting as far as it went, but the guide
Lisa's team about to set out
was obviously on some kind of promise as the beer tasting was a quick rush through. With Chris preferring the dark beer and Lisa the Apple Cider off we went to the pub down the road for a cheap meal, (as part of the price of the tasting). The only saving grace was the good company.
The following day was off to Franz Josef Glacier, through some stunning scenery, and a gold mining town where we could pan for gold if we wanted to. Apparently the gold mining company want to buy the residents out and move the town a little way away in order that they can get to the gold which lies underneath the town, but the locals are holding out - one up for the little people! The next stop was a strange bush place where the colourful, and politically incorrect, owner showed us how some New Zealanders made their livings before tourism became so popular. This mainly focussed on killing deer, which had been introduced to the country and within a few years had decimated the vegetation. Many were killed and exported but as venison became more popular the very cunning Kiwi’s then came up
Not me this time !!
with the idea of catching live deer in order to breed them in farms. The short video showed how these adrenaline junkies jumped out of twisting helicopters onto the backs of deer fleeing for their lives and wrestling them to the ground. Makes the adrenaline junkies we know and love today seem a bit tame! The road kill possum pies were quite tempting, but we settled instead for venison pies - yummy. We have decided that we are going to be stopped for speeding in every country we visit, lucky for us Chris wasn’t driving this time, but Carl our driver was very embarrassed as he received his $30 fine, or it could have been a bus load of people shouting for the copper to handcuff him and throw him over the bonnet of the police car - not sure which, but we all got loads of photos just to torment him.
The destination for this part of the trip was Franz Josef Glacier and we arrived at lunch time in order that we could do some activities in the afternoon. Unfortunately ice and Chris’ bad knee don’t mix too well, so he decided to do a climb and
Sherpa or Burpa
Ready to conquer the Glacier
hike up the side of the mountain overlooking the glacier, great trek along river beds & around waterfalls, thanks Gortex, but it really pales into the dark when compared to Lisa’s adventure, opting to do the heli-hike on to the glacier. It is difficult to describe how exciting this was. After gearing up and getting a safety talk we were divided into groups to get onto the tiny helicopter and to my delight I was by the window. We were all very excited especially when the pilot did a few stomach churning moves - I have to admit I did wonder a few times how tightly the door was secured. It is difficult to conceive actually how big the glacier is, measurements mean so little, it looked big from the ground and even when we were in the air, but it wasn’t until our pilot told us where he would be dropping us off at a spot mid way up the glacier, and pointed out a helicopter that was flying down the other side of the glacier, which looked the size of a bird, that the enormity of it strikes homes. Mother nature at its best, keeps on reminding us
how insignificant we are. Our guide was a great bloke called Tai, who obviously loved his job, and as we were in the advanced group we set off to conquer the mountain before the other group did. As most of our group were from the Magic Bus we already knew each other, which made the trip even more fun. We started off easy trekking across the glacier just getting used to our crampons, but soon we were traversing freezing small rivers, climbing steep glacial ridges where our guide had to cut steps into them with his pick axe, picking our way through narrow walkways and climbing and sliding through small ice caves and pulling ourselves through narrow openings. The landscape was totally alien and the silence profound. The formations made by the moving glacier were astounding, humbling and ever-changing as the glacier continues to move and some of which were such a beautiful blue - no not white. These beautiful creations are even more astounding when you think of the powerful events that formed them and just how dangerous such a place is was brought home when part of the rocks quite away from us started to break away and
Amazing views, twice.
our guide pointed out a number of formations that were dangerously close to collapsing; he even created a small avalanche for us. Nothing could dampen our enthusiasm, even the persistent rain didn’t put us off and after two hours we were soaked through to our underwear and some were a bit scratched but it was so exhilarating that no one noticed or complained and could have gone on for another two hours. To finish off a truly unbelievable experience I got to sit in the front with the pilot on the way back. I never stopped smiling from the time I got into the helicopter until well after I landed, for $370 some might consider it expensive, but it was worth every penny and more. The photos don’t do it justice but the memory will definitely remain with me forever.
The following day we departed Franz Josef for Queenstown. It was to be a long day with a few stops on the way, the first being Lake Matheson, known as the ‘Mirror Lake’ famous for reflecting the Southern Alps - and it does. It was a lovely brief stop for some lovely photos. We also made a brief stop
Another nutter jumping from the original home of he bungy. Why?
at Lake Wanaka which turned out to consist of a very picturesque small town with a small beach on the lake surrounded by beautiful mountains - just what we have come to expect here. Our final stop before Queenstown was at the home of the bungy - the Kawarau River - where we watched several total nutters throwing themselves off and getting a hair wash at the bottom. Finally we made it to Queenstown and on first inspection it seemed very very nice, but more about that in part 2.
There are more photos below