Week 23-25- New Zealand...saving the best until last!!!

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June 13th 2013
Published: June 30th 2013
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On Sunday 19th May, we stepped off the plane into Auckland and from the word 'go', we quite literally found New Zealand to be an invigorating breath of fresh air. General living temperatures had dropped considerably for us and while everyone else voiced how sorry they were about this fact with faces of false concern and the ever-patronising "Ahhhhh, never mind", after five months of heat and flesh exposure, we welcomed a bite of fresh air to our cheeks and a few more layers of clothing.

What was most exciting for us all at this point was the prospect of transportation and while we had considered the 'Kiwi Experience', we decided to go with the masses, hire ourselves a campervan and make this final three weeks entirely our own, flitting from mountain to glacier as and when we pleased. Arriving to collect our campervan from the Britz centre, we were unaware of the treat which awaited. Struggling to stifle a smile at the ironic mockery she had so cleverly crafted, Miss Britz led us past the parade of shiny, white campers until we arrived at a limited edition, themed van, its exterior emblazoned with such original lines as "CRAZY ABOUT RUGBY" amidst a number of extremely unsubtle motifs; a van clearly designed, of course, with us four girls in mind. After showing us our 'All Blacks' duvet covers, Miss Britz cleared off with a smirk and we drove out into the great unknown of New Zealand, eager to flaunt to the world, our great new love for all things rugby.

What we came to realise in our first few days in New Zealand, was that if it was even possible to top the past five months, we had saved the best until last. You did not require delegated days, plans and agendas to go and catch a glimpse of this country's beauty, it quite simply surrounded you from all angles. Rolling hills melted into valleys, forests morphed into glaciers and waterfalls cascaded through the cliffs around us, a dramatically stunning backdrop following us relentlessly on our way. With three weeks in New Zealand and a different place to visit every day, I am going to dabble in this blog, with keeping it brief but focusing on the visual. A culture built around beauty, grandeur and visual splendour is what New Zealand is all about and it's a sensory vision I want to recreate for you as you read this. I want you to feel the wind knotting your hair, the cold snapping at your fingertips and the cleanest of air filling your lungs. In short, I want you to want to go there.

First stop after a night spent at Lake Karapiro, and something that we had been discussing for some time, was a trip to Hobbiton, a farm of rolling green hills on which 'Middle Earth' has been built and filmed for Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy and 'The Hobbit'. Brightly coloured, circular doors fronted the intricate hobbit houses built into the hillside at different scales, 'Bagg End' looking proudly down from the top over a beautiful lake, the party tree and the 'Green Dragon Inn' where we stopped for a cider before heading off on our unexpected journey. We arrived in Raglan that afternoon, a surfer's dream on the West Coast of the North island where we took a brisk walk along the estuary and settled down for the night in a pitch black field by the water's edge.

The following day, we visited Bridal Veil Falls, climbing through the lush, dense bush, palpable energy physically alive in the cool, damp air as we instinctively headed towards the sound of crashing water and emerged suddenly to a lookout over a vast clearing in the forest. To our immediate left, a tremendous body of thundering water cascaded over the clifftop, it's memory lost forever, in a single veil, plummeting to the depths below. The first and most spectacular of the waterfalls in New Zealand, the forceful energy vibrated through us as we made our way down to the bottom and gasped up in awe at this fantastical miracle of nature. Out to the coastal town of Kawhia that afternoon, we took a trip to the to Te Puia, intruiged at the prospect of a beach compsed entirely of black sand. Clambering over vast dunes of tarry sand which sparkled with volcanic ash, we came to a halt, a desolate, apocalyptic, black beach spread ominously before us. A coastal graveyard strewn with skeletal drfitwood and the imminence of imaginary vultures circling overhead gave us the signal to leave this striking landscape and we made our way to Waitomo where we spent an evening at Juno Hall Backpackers.

The following day was without doubtand eventful one that none of us could have predicted. After an early stop off at the immense limestone Mangapohue Natural Bridge we made a quick detour into a field so that we could turn around and make our way back down the winding road. This, of course, should have been a very straightforward task but regrettably, with us still not quite used to the weighty van and an unusual downpour of torrential rainfall the evening before, we headed very quickly in the opposite direction- towards certain DOOM!!!And so, on this glorious morning, four girls in a 'Crazy about rugby' van became hopelessly lodged in a water-logged field, refusing to believe that they were in fact stuck and managing, in the process, to take up nearly all the turf visible with gargantuan, clumsy wheels. Now as the general narrative here goes, a hunky, dirty farmer would appear from nowhere on a quad bike, rushing to the rescue of these four poor damsels in distress, and as fate would have it....that is exactly what happened. Ahhhhhhh Brent, how do I describe thee?....down the hill he came, his shiny locks blowing in the breeze, mud smeared across his finely chiselled torso and the morning sun glinting in his carnal, lusty eyes. Mouths agape, we pulled ourselves together and approached with caution, realising in fact that we had demolished one of his fields into a gory, horror scene. Brent, the upstanding young gentleman that he was, tried to ignore the embarassment of eight fluttering eyelids fixed pointedly in his direction, as he pulled us out of the mud with his sexy truck and sent us on our sexy way with a sexy grin. Many thanks to Brent the farmer and if you're ever reading this, while I really tried to keep it subtle in this serious travel blog...we find you extremely attractive!!!After a mental cold shower, on we fled to the eerie Piripiri Caves, natural limestone creations forming through the darkness as our eyes adjusted to the light. We continued that afternoon to Marakopa Falls, a sheet of water which skimmed down across the multi-tiered cliff face, a mist of spray emanating from the incredible force and casting a rainbow through the fine mist now coating us from head to toe.

After an overnight stop at Te Kuiti, we directed ourselves into the centre of the island and headed to Taupo where Rook would be skydiving over the serene lake that afternoon. The huge Lake Taupo- bigger in itself than the whole of Singapore- sits at the centre of this sweet town, the snowcapped mountains that surround, reflected in it's unflinching, mirrored surface. We stood in awe of this view from our overnight spot at the edge of the lake as dusk inched across the horizon, darkness creeping from one end to the other and shrouding the whole town in soft evening light. The following morning, we were not yet done with Taupo and took a walk to the spectacular Huka Falls, a shallow-tiered waterfall along the Waikato River, not nearly as aesthetically beautiful if we're thinking in guidebook regulation terms, but easily the most impressive, an unimaginable force of brutal energy crashing relentlessly across it every second. On our way back, came one of my favourite activities in the whole of New Zealand; the waterfalls and pools of hot, volcanic spring water which cascade on to meet the cold river a few metres ahead. In outdoor temperatures below 5 degrees, where four layers of clothing are required even on a brisk walk, taking all your clothes off doesn't seem logical, yet myself and Jess joined the crazed souls and took a breathless plunge, warming our chilled bones to the core as we enjoyed a cider and bathing in one of nature's invigorating hot springs.

New Zealand is a haven for walkers who come from across the globe to sample some of the most incomparable national parks in the world. In Tongariro, the park home to the famous 'Alpine Crossing' , we took in our first taste, trekking through valleys, across rivers and between snowy mountains to observe from above, the emerald waters of the Lower Tama Lake. Our time on the North island was running out and we spent an afternoon learning about giant squid, kiwis and earthquakes in Wellington's 'Te Papa Museum', commenting on the glorious weather and how lovely and calm the ferry crossing over to Picton would be the following afternoon.

We had, of course, jinxed ourselves on the highest possible level and warning bells began to sound as we woke to sturdy winds and made our way onto the ferry to the whispers of "I hope everyone's got their sea-legs on, it's not going to be pretty out there" and even better, "I'm glad this boat is still running, all the others have been cancelled due to extreme weather conditions". An hour from shore and the scene around us had descended from smiles, to nervous glances, to sick bags, to tears and finally to a place that I can only describe as HORRENDOUS!!!!My mind seems to have shredded certain things from my memory to preserve its sanity following this life-changing ordeal but I can remember downing gin and tonic, my hands shaking uncontrollably as the boat smashed into waves the size of large houses, creaking a horribly low, echoed moan and threatening to crack clean in half. Arriving in Picton, four hours later than expected, the green-faced staff shakily waved us off the boat and I thanked God for his kind decision to spare me on this occasion.

Pleased to be alive, we drove the next morning to the famous Abel Tasman National Park and walked along the coastal track from Marahau in the afternoon sun, looking out to the towering stacks; a permanent feature in the clear, serene waters lapping gently off shore. From this northern point of the island and with only just over a week before it was time to fly home, we made a quick succession down through the many highlights of the West Coast, looking out over the peaceful Lake Mahinapua before getting colder at our first glacier. Walking through the desolate landscape, we stumbled over asteroid-like rubble, immense black cliffs rising up around us and great streams of water thrust down them, emanating an otherworldly mood all around us. Just ahead, the mighty Franz Josef Glacier came into focus like a great stream of water, tricked down between two mountains and frozen solid. New Zealand's unpredictable weather came into play over the next few days, providing a barrage of constant rain and preventing us from getting a good look at Fox Glacier or the reflections of Mount Cook in Lake Matheson. So.... we did what any good tourists do on a rainy day and headed to a brewery. 'Wanaka Beerworks' proved an extremely successful excursion and by the time it came to the tour, we were all finding it slightly difficult to concentrate, ready to slip into a hop-induced coma.

Queenstown was the most southernly point of our entire trip and nestled beside a stunning lake between the mountains, we spent two days enjoying its civilised tourist charm. Famous not only for its heart-stopping bunjee jumps but also for 'Fergburger'; a burger joint we had heard more about in discussions of New Zealand than everything else combined. It did not let us down of course and a silence that can only be a result of amazing food descended as we chowed down on these meaty challengers, refusing to be beaten.

We made the drive up to our final destination, Christchurch from here and things got considerably colder and whiter as we continued further and further North-East. A dazzling blanket of pure white cloaked the uninhabited mountains we drove between for hours on end. It would have been a shame not to take all this glistening splendour up close, so on our way we made two stops, the first at Mount Cook where the walk up to views of New Zealand's highest summit left me speechless. Untouched snow quite literally sparkled from all angles, while an inpenetrable silence was cut only with the sound of snow crashing down into the lakes as it melted in the sun. We woke the next morning to a blinding, low morning sun rising up above Lake Tekapo and took our final walk together. What started out as a short stroll carried on and on and before we knew it, we had somehow reached the summit of Mount John and quite unsure of how to describe these views, I will let the pictures capture those final moments for you.

As we reached Christchurch, our trip came to a finale and I reach a sad point at the end of our story. New Zealand had been the perfect end to a truly special journey across two continents, ten countries and fifty-three places, filled with precious moments and loving memories that will remain with me forever. I cast my mind back to our first weeks in Thailand; fresh, pale babies just off the plane and while it truly feels like a lifetime ago, six months have passed us by in the blink of an eye. What started out as a little blog to keep our family and friends in the loop has turned into something bigger for me and I hope that you have enjoyed hearing this story as much as I have enjoyed telling it. I am filled with a mixture of emotion, basking somewhere between sadness thats it's over and huge appreciation that I had this opportunity to begin with. I hope that you take some part of this, however big, small, important or meanial as inspiration to begin your own adventure, mould your own experience and create your own definitions.


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