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Published: April 1st 2008
Flying into Christchurch was amazing in itself with fabulous views of the Southern Alps beneath us. This was going to be good.
We only had 1 night in Christchurch when we first arrived as the next day we were bound for Methven in the Canterbury Plains where we stayed in a great YHA and woke up at 5am the next morning to go up in a hot air balloon! This was a wedding gift from Roger and Diane, and was absolutely brilliant! Thank to David's lucky round face (well, that's what he was told in India!) we had the perfect weather, a clear day with not a cloud in sight. It was absolutely breathtaking floating silently above a patchwork of fields with the Southern Alps and the snow covered top of Mount Cook in the distance. The flight lasted about an hour and we reached over a mile high before our pilot chose our landing site and we bumped to ground, finally landing on our sides! We were then served champagne and croissants in the field we had landed in before being annointed "balloonatics"! Thank you so much Roger and Diane, we loved it!
Our next bud journey took
us to Kaikoura popular for it's whale watching and dolphin swimming trips, but we were thereto swim with New Zealand fur seals. This was another great present, from Barbara and Andrew Swinn. We were prepared for disappointment by our guide as it's not guaranteed that the seals will join you in the water and there was even mention of a refund if we didn't see any, but as soon as we pulled up to the island and jumped in the water we were surrounded by over a dozen playful seals. They were much larger than we'd expected with huge eyes and some of the youngsters swam right up to us bearing their teeth, but only to play. Despite the freezing water we spent a full hour with them - it was a super experience. Our hostel here was great too and we spent one evening soaking in the outdoor hot tub in the rain.
It was then back to Christchurch to wait for les parents (the Sheldons). After 6 months away it was an exciting reunion, even for David! We spent the following day in sub zeero temperatures ate the Antarctic Centre and that evening we introduced them to
life as a backpacker with a fancy 2 for 2 early-bird stonegrill dinner which luckily coincided with half price pudding Tuesday!
After picking up the car the next morning we headed south to Oamaru, stopping briefly at the Moearki Boulders for a photo or 2. This was the Sheldon's first night in a backpackers hostel but it gave a completely false impression as it was absolutely stunning with lovely views of the sea and was also spotless! Our sole purpose for being in Oamaru was penguins. First we walked to a hut overlooking the beach to watch very rare yellow-eyed penguins waddle ashore and with our new found intolerance of rule-breakers (!), David told off a couple of tourists for ignoring the signs saying not to go on the beach as this can stop the penguins coming ashore. Ruth's hero! Thewn it was on to the main event, thanks to Nikki and Paul, to watch the little blue penguins . 89 came ashore that night in several rafts (ie groups...we learnt this!). It was a magical sight, spotting them swimming in the sea then emerging from the surf to clamber up the rocks to their nests, whilst simultaneously running
the gaunlet of the hungry, rugby-tackling chicks! Thanks Berrys!
The following day we drove, fulled by minstrels (thanks mum M!) to Te Anau. where Mum and Dad S went on an evening boat trip to see gloworms. In the morning we set off to Milford Sound, stopping en route for umpteen photos to be taken, where we'd booked a boat trip. The weather was awful but apparently this makes it all the more dramatic due to the number of waterfalls. The return journey ws pretty dramatic too as one of the tour coaches had burst into flames on the side of the road leaving a group of Chinese tourists stranded. We had a bit of space so gave one woman a lift back with us, and she proved very useful when we got stuck trying to "name 10 films with George Clooney in"!
Our next stop was Queenstown where Dad/Colin had excelled in accommodation booking! We had a gorgeous apartment with fantastic views of the lake and town below us. Making the most of the sunny afternoon the 2 Millsys had a drenching, white knuckles and loads of fun on the Shotover Jet, many thanks to Mum and
Dad Mills for this present. Mum and Dad S went up in the cable car to a coffee with amazing views. We stopped at the Shotover River on the way to Arrowtown the next morning and the 3 of us managed to talk Dad S into getting in a boat. And judging from the grin on hisface in the photo, he loved it! After a nosey round Arrowtown the 4 of us went for a longer walk before the girls left the boys to it and went and found a nice pub garden!
And then it was on to Franz Josef, stopping in Manaka for a coffee and to feed the ducks. Mum and Dad S went for a long walk round Lake Matheson while we donned much needed waterproofs and crampons for a guided walk on the glacier, another great gift from Mum and Dad M, thank you! Apparently we weren't that unlucky to have a rainy day as they get 8m of rain a year! An excited Mum and a slightly nervous Dad S were far luckier the next day though when they took a helicopter up to the glacier which they thoroughly enjoyed.
then time to leave Franz Josefand drive Arthur's Pass. The scenery in New Zealand's South Island is amazing and even the journeys become day trips in themselves and so constantly warrant photo stops. We stayed at the friendly Springfield YHA that night before heading to Hanmer Springs the next morning for a very welcome relaxing dip in a series of hot to really hot thermal pools, the hottest being 41 degrees and very smelly. We then drove through Kaikoura, stopping to see the seal colony, and on to Picton.
We had one night together in Picton before the Millsys caught a boat out to Furneaux Lodge to walk 2 days of the Queen Charlotte Track, thanks to Ali and Andy for this pressie. The boat trip was lovely and took us via a floating salmon farm which is also home to a group of clever (amd thieving!) seals. In the past some of the seals had become such pains that they were taken down the coast to Kaikoura, only for the farmer to find them back the next morning. So the group were then taken much further south to Oamaru and Dunedin, but they returned again, only this time
it took them a couple of weeks. It was left to our imagination what happened to them after that.... We were also really lucky to seea group of rare Hector dolphins, a small, shy breed, swimming really close to our boat.
On the 1st day we walked about 12km to Noelene's homsetay for the night, Noelene is an amazing 77 year old who has travelled to 45 countries and has loads of great stories, one of her favourites being about riding around Cambodia on the back of a motorbike. The next day was a hilly but rewarding 24km with some fantastic views of the bays below. We were chuffed to have completed it in 5 and a half hours, spurred on by the knowledge of the bar and cold beer at the end. We finished at Portage Bay resort, a gorgeously situated hotel which luckily for us had backpacker bunks too. One of the great things about the Queen Charlotte Track is that you don't have to carry all your gear with you as the water taxi picks it up each morning and takes it to your next night's accommodation!
We met back up with the Sheldon's the
next day and with a lunch stop in Havelock, the green lipped mussel capital of the world!, we drove to Nelson for a couple of nights. Here we had a realxing day on the beach, playing frisbeem french cricket and eating ice cream.
The ferry crossing to Wellington was on a lovely calm day and we were welcomed to the North Island by several pods of dolphins playing in the boat's wake. Incidentally, the ferry was the old "Pride of Cherbourg" which the Sheldon family had been on to cross the English Channel about 20 years ago! We didn't stay in Wellington but stayed a night in Masterton en route to art deco Napier. After a picnic lunch Mum S - the non golfer among us - put us all to shame with her superior crazy golf skills. Unfortunately for the boys we weren't there to watch the cricket so the next day we moved on to Rotorua.
As dates and days become irrelevant when away we'd forgotten that it was Easter weekend and so we were only able to get a motel for one more night together, which meant going our seperate ways earlier than planned. We
made the most of our last night with a dip in the hot tub and by letting David cook us a lovely NZ lamb dinner before yet another game of contract whist, a regular nightly feature. We had good fun the next day at the Thermal Village where we had a tour round the geysers, fumeroles and mud pools before seeing a great Maori performance in which we had to do a Maori version of the hokey cokey. We also got to have a tradtional hangi lunch, cooked in the steam from the thermal pools etc. After a couple more rounds of cards by the lake it was finally time for the parents to drop us at our hostel and for them to head north. It was really sad to see them go but we're glad they came out to join us for a couple of weeks, we both really enjoyed it.
We then moved on to Lake Taupo for 3 nights where the following day we were booked in to jump out of a plane. The sun came out in the afternoon and before we knew it we were being flown up to 15,000 feet! A terrified Ruth
was first to go, followed swiftly by a very calm David, although we somehow landed the other way round. Never have we spent so much money on something that is over so quickly, but it was worth every cent and we would both definitely do it again. Do it!
The next day we walked to the Huka Falls then to The Craters of the Moon and finally went for a dip in the river at a spot where a thermal stream flows into it.
After Taupo it was on to Waitomo where we donned wetsuits, helmets and white slaughter house wellies, sat in tyre innertubes and floated through caves in the pitch black admiring glow worms. With a backwards fall and a water slide included it was good fun. As was the guide with his usual banter, 'If you feel something rub against your bum, it's not my hand, it'll be an eel!' That evening we met Ruth's school friend Abi and baby Zoe for dinner and were cooked for by Abi's other half, head chef Andy.
Next stop was pretty Mount Maunganui for 1 night. Then onto Whitianga on the Coromandel Penisula for 3 nights. We
had a great little cabin tucked away from the hoards of Kiwi Experience youngsters who were shepherded in every evening. One day we hired a car to visit Hot Water Beach where at low tide you can dig yourself a hot tub on the beach which fills up from thermal springs from beneath. We got there at 8am, armed with spades, but alas a larger than normal swell meant low tide wasn't low enough!
So here we are now in Auckland hungover after celebrating the end of Australasia and the beginning of South America....Hasta luego!
Hope everyone's well
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