Edit Blog Post
Published: April 20th 2013
Blog 8th - 20th April. New Zealand Part II
"Fush an chups"
As we neared the end of our South Island adventure we made time for one last excursion or two before moving on. Following a wonderful evening with Jo's family friend Jessy in Christchurch we headed north. The van was packed with damp but freshly clean clothes hanging on make shift dental floss lines in the back - I knew that stuff would finally be useful for something! We were driving north in search of whales and wine.
Given the whales were away on a mini break abroad we cracked on up the road to Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough wine region. Hopping on our bicycles for the day we navigated our way around six vineyards and a micro brewery on a 20km round trip. We were blessed with free tastings at most cellar doors and, with each starting with a fizz and finishing on a dessert wine four or five later, it made for a rather wobbly but hilarious ride home.
We then boarded the ferry at Picton and waved goodbye to the South Island. Four hours later we arrived in windy Wellington.
The nation's capital certainly lived up to its nickname and for the next couple of days we were on the receiving end of torrential rain and howling gales, what a welcome.Fortunately we hunkered down in the amazing Te Papa national museum and filled our wee brains with all things geological and anthropological. For a country with such a short history they know how to pack a lot in - building towns on top of active volcanoes certainly adds some flavour!
From here we dropped in on some old friends from my previous gap year 10 years ago. We had a cracking day following the hounds with the Wairarapa Hunt and were treated to a fabulous home cooked (& killed) venison supper with Mike O'Leary. It was a fabulous trip down memory lane for me and a bit of a surprise for Jo to see life 'up close' in the kennels.
We then headed north and got a big surprise as we passed the Tui Beer factory. With cars pulling in from all directions we decided to follow suit and see what all the fuss was about. It turned out the brewery was putting on a "drought shout" -
a sponsored free day out for local farmers struggling with the dry summer and drought. In a polar opposite to the UK, New Zealand has had one of the driest summers in years and they are praying for rain. The countryside is so dusty and parched, we have likened much of it to sand dunes in places, and with no grass left farmers have lost a lot. The brewery was doing its bit to put a smile on everyone's faces and we thought it would be rude not to take them up on their generosity. Trying our luck we couldn't have looked more out of place, two poms dressed in townie clothes with not a welly boot in sight, but it wasn't long before we were supping on large bottles of beer and chowing down on BBQ burgers and lamb chops - delicious! I wonder if you would ever find the good people at Carling or John Smiths doing the same thing for farmers in the UK? Sadly I doubt it.
What better way to spend your birthday than by climbing an active volcano? Waking up in the middle of a remote national park, Jo surprised me with candles
in my muesli and a van decorated with balloons - Daisy Kitten has never looked so good! Feeling adventurous (and a little mad) we set about to conquer the Tongariro Crossing, sadly with the weather acting against us. Pushing against howling winds and dense fog we climbed our way up passed Mount Ngauruhoe (most famous for its cameo as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings) to the southern and red craters of Tongariro. Since its last eruption was as recent as last year we were only able to walk in halfway before turning back. It was amazing to reach the emerald lake and see the crater venting volcanic steam and gas in the distance, although it was so cold I lost feeling in my hands and some poor soul got blown over as they offered to take our photo. We quickly made our decent as the weather turned sour and carried on up the road to Taupo. We were praying that the next day would bring sunshine....
Following an anxious call first thing with Taupo Tandem Sky Dive, we received the all clear that blue skies were on the way and we had the green light for
our sky dive! Not wanting to chicken around we opted to go straight for the big jump at 15,000 feet, offering a full minute of free fall followed by 5 minutes of parachuting back to land. Since our nervy bungy and swing antics down south Jo appeared transformed and was buzzing from start to finish. Was I more nervous than her? We were incredibly well looked after and our tandem dudes put us both at ease right from the start. Together with our flight team we were all crammed into this tiny plane and we each nestled back into the laps of our tandems - a little awkward for the chaps and we received lots of compromising banter. The plane spiralled its way up to altitude, dropping the chickens off at 12000 feet before we ascended up to 15000. My nerves kicked in when we were offered O2 masks to cope with the thin air. Anyone who says chivalry is dead I beg to differ, I kindly let my lady go first and would have gladly held the door open had there been one. Next thing I know Jo was shuffling to the back of the plane, I heard one
last shriek of excitement before she jumped and like that she had vanished! There was no going back now and I duly followed. The rush as you hit the air is like no other. That initial feeling of weightlessness is suddenly reversed as you quickly pick up speed and start plummeting back to earth. The scenery of NZ's largest lake, the mountains and town below was amazing. Our shoots were pulled as we went through the clouds and we were hauled back up into the sky. Following some fairground-like spirals (scream if you want to go faster) we leisurely sauntered our way down. Jo's textbook running landing put everyone to shame whilst I came sliding in less gracefully on my bottom. We quickly kissed the grass and thanked our lucky stars to still be alive!
That evening we celebrated in style. Taking advantage of Taupo's thermal hot springs we popped to the park for a steamy soak before hitting the town. We met up with a good friend Jake Morice and had a cracking evening of live music and danced away the night into the wee hours.
Next on the list was Rotorua, aka Sulphur City. Its easy
to see why this geothermal hotspot is one of the North Island's most visited places, though you wouldn't want to stick around for long because the whole town stinks. The powerful eggy scent hits you from a mile out and stings the nostrils. That said its a remarkable spot - the city is oozing with steamy pools, hot springs, bubbling mud holes and spurting geysers. It's also a place of rich Maori history and culture. We visited the Whaka village, and saw how tribal communities continue to make use of these volcanic riches in every day life from cooking to bathing.
Not wanting to stink out the van for too long we quickly made tracks and headed up to Hamilton to catch up with Northumbrian friends Sally & Jack Lamb. Jack had just turned 30 and we had a lovely supper out celebrating two birthdays, before cheekily hiding our camper round the back of their motel - we know how to live the high life.
With only a few days left we ventured up into the far north of the country, into the Bay of Islands. Thanks to some horrific weather our three hour journey took nearly seven
- although like magic we did get a small glimmer of sunshine (very small) when we drove through Warkworth town and stopped on Alnwick street! We finally reached the small town of Paihia and explored the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi - it was here in 1840 when Maori tribes and the British came together to form a constitution type agreement. The birthplace of modern New Zealand is a highly revered site, although the Treaty itself has brought much controversy due to slight discrepancies between the English and Maori translations. We also hopped on the ferry over to Russell - this old whaling port and the country's first capital was once described as the 'hell hole of the pacific' full of the refuse of society. Though the brothels and debauchery are now long gone, we did encounter a gang of seagulls in need of an ASBO when they nicked our Fush 'n' chups!
We finished our Kiwi tour in Aukland. We were lucky to spend a couple of nights with Jo's family friends and were spoiled rotten with delicious food and a fully laundered wardrobe. It was an emotional moment saying goodbye to Daisy Kitten and a shock to the
system repacking our bags.
We are now officially backpacking again and next stop Latin America. Good job we are both fluent in Spanish ay? Oh wait a tick....
Tot: 2.388s; Tpl: 0.084s; cc: 11; qc: 51; dbt: 0.0691s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb