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Published: April 12th 2008
My grand exploration of New Zealand is finally over! Our tour ended today with a meal here in Christchurch, and now I have a week to explore this city before heading home to England. From what I've seen I'm really going to like it here, although I can't wait to get back now and see everyone again.
You may have seen my pictures of Fox Glacier which I linked to from my last post. I spent an amazing morning on the upper ice, having flown up there in a helicopter with five other people from my group. We strapped crampons to our feet, learned how to walk in them and then spent two hours tramping about on the ice finding tunnels, holes and crevasses. The first twenty minutes were quite scary as I learned how to walk downhill without worrying about slipping, but after that we all got the hang of it and powered round the ice. Our guide was impressed with how well we did and took us quite far away from the landing site, to some formations that he hadn't seen before. The ice changes every day as caves are formed and collapse with the movement of the glacier, so there's no guarantee of the formations that you'll be able to see, but we found a tunnel that we could walk right through and lots of crevasses to jump over which was great. It was so quiet up there and definitely worth the extra money to fly up higher. Those who didn't go for this option had to walk for an hour just to reach the ice!
After Fox we drove to Queenstown and spent two nights in this beautiful town. Queensland is known as the adrenaline capital of New Zealand and is famous for its bungy jumps, skydives etc, but the reason all the extreme sports have grown up there is that the area is so amazingly beautiful and I was blown away by Lake Wakatipu and its surroundings. We had a free day there, and I spent the morning on the Dart River Safari. We drove up to Glenorchy at the very top of the lake, about 45 minutes from Queenstown, and then had a 4-wheel drive tour of the area from a really interesting guide who's lived there on a farm for her whole life. After a half hour walk in a beech forest, we then went back the way we'd come on a jet boat down the river. The views were just stunning! We stopped at a farm where the landowner is paid $1000 for every day that a film crew uses his land - on average two adverts per month are filmed there for four days each, and when The Lord of the Rings came they stayed for 18 months! He's certainly not making his money from his cows. We saw the land that was used as the backdrop for Eisengard, the forest where the Ents lived and the mountain where Gandalf fought the Balrog. I can't describe how gorgeous it was!
In the afternoon I did something I never thought I'd do in a million years - I hooked myself up to a hang glider and allowed a crazy Argentinian to run off a cliff with me! I've been challenging myself all tour and decided that the adventure capital was the perfect place to do something a bit mad. While the takeoff was really scary, the flight itself was incredible, with amazing views of the rivers and mountains of Queenstown. My pilot let my fly the glider for a minute or so, and then did some crazy tricks involving plunging towards the ground and twisting through the sky - so scary but so much fun at the same time! When I landed I was on such a high and immediately bought a photo CD to prove to you all that I did it. At some point I'll see if I can upload the pictures. It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done, but amazing fun at the same time!
The next day was altogether more sedate - we drove to Milford Sound and had an overnight cruise on what is actually a fjord. I went out on a small boat for a quick look at the shoreline where we dropped anchor, and then we spent a fun night eating yummy food, drinking gin and port and playing card games. Waking up in the morning it was so quiet and clear, and I braved the freezing cold to watch the sun rise over the mountains as we sailed into the Tasman Sea. The New Zealand government is brilliant at conserving its natural wonders, so the coastline here looks exactly as it would have done when Captain Cook first charted it in 1769. It was brilliant to have this experience at the end of our tour.
Yesterday we drove to Lake Ohau which is a convenient stop on the way to Christchurch. In the evening we celebrated with a P party where everyone had to dress up as something beginning with P. I went as a postbox, all in red with envelopes sewn to myself. It was a really fun night and pictures can be found on Facebook!
Today was our last day on tour. We stopped at Mount Cook on the way to Christchurch, and had yet more good weather and amazing views. Tonight we went out for dinner after checking in to our accommodation. I've had such a great time on this tour and met so many fun people, so it's sad that I won't be seeing them again. I'm looking forward to exploring Christchurch though, from the great location of this hostel which is right on the Cathedral Square. Right now I'm especially looking forward to my first real lie-in in two weeks!
Photos of Milford Sound are here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=47353&l=c7d8a&id=503895728
P Party: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=47356&l=27e75&id=503895728
Last day: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=47357&l=bad93&id=503895728
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