Our flight out of South America entailed a long flight to Auckland and then a little overnight stay in an airport hotel before an early morning flight to Melbourne the next day. Well that was the plan before we got to Buenos Aires airport to check in. When we got to the check in desk I was processed through fine but there seemed to be a little problem with Kat's. They kept saying there was a problem but not what it was. The check in staff asked whether we had a flight home, which we do not as we don't quite know the date we'll want to go back to the UK yet. The staff then went away to confer to each other. When they returned we were beginning to get a little worried. I happened to mention that we had a flight booked to Melbourne the following day. With that said, the staff then happily processed us both. We later deduced, but we're still not sure that apparently you need a flight booked back out of NZ now to go in on a tourist visa. To further complicate things, it transpired when we landed in Auckland that my working visa
(Tom) had been granted while we were on the way to the airport in Buenos Aires and that was why mine went through fine. Anyway so we got onto our plane which was an ancient old thing with only broken communal TVs and bolshy cabin crew for entertainment. Also on landing it transpired that the guy sitting next to us, an Australian, due to the international date line had missed his entire birthday! So we landed in Auckland and made our way to our airport hotel for the night and spent a boring day there before our flight the next morning. Again, more dramas there. This time when we went to check in we were told that now, like the States, that you need to apply for a permit to travel before you board your flight instead of just getting your visa on the border. So the helpful lady pointed us over to a little man who would let us use his computer for $10 and get our visas. So of course mine (Tom) went through instantly and all was good. Naturally then there was a problem with Kat's again as it wouldn't go through! We went back to the
check in desk and were told that her supervisor who 'should' be starting her shift 20 mins check in closed should be able to do it for us. So we spent another nail biting hour waiting for her to arrive and for $30 and minutes to spare somehow this supervisor managed to get it through! So all of this made us wonder what was wrong with Kat's name or passport that could make all this happen. Apart from the obvious that if it's going to happen to someone it will definitely be Kat.
We arrived in Melbourne and were met by Susanna and Ryan ( Kat's cousin and husband) and traveled back to Dandenong where we were to spend the next few weeks with the family. When we arrived in Dandenong we were greeted by a caravan in the driveway which was to be our home during our time there. Although small and containing two less than single beds its was great to have our own space and to unpack our backpacks. I never knew what pleasure hanging your clothes up in a wardrobe could bring.
During our time in Melbourne we enjoyed not doing a whole lot
and catching up with family and friends. The day after we arrived there we were invited to Susanna's 40th birthday party which was to be a 'pimps and hoes' fancy dress party. As you can imagine the contents of our backpacks didn't provide much that would fit this category of clothing so it was off to the opp ( charity) shops to put together an outfit. Amazingly with the help of a lady's fur coat and other suitable attire that was surprisingly easy to come by we were ready to go. The party was at Ryan's cricket club and Ryan's rather skimpy clothes (chosen by Susanna) shocked and went down rather well with his team mates. We also went to meet friends who live in Melbourne and went to a day at the tennis at the Melbourne Open. It was so hot, especially on the courts where there was no shade or breeze so we ended up spending as much time in the bar as we did watching the tennis but we had a great day. After a couple of weeks we took a flight to Sydney to see a couple of Tom's relations and do the touristy things. We
had some nice picnics and walks around the centre of Sydney and met Nina (Tom's Dad's cousin) and had some brilliant fish and chips in the sun overlooking the harbour in Watsons Bay. We returned for a few more days back in Dandenong and our little caravan before our flight out to Auckland.
We didn't plan to spend any time in Auckland as we've both been there before so after a few uncomfortable hours waiting for our bus out of the airport (our flight arrived around midnight) we set off for Taupo. With very little sleep we both slept ok on the way there. We planned to spend a couple of nights there and do a walk, the Tongariro crossing on the second day. Unfortunately soon after arriving, we were told that there would be no walk the following day as the wind was to be too high and they won't let you walk it, even though it is self-guided, in those conditions even though the weather was fine in Taupo. The walk takes you up over the crater of a volcano so we presumed the weather can be very different up there. We made do with a walk
around the lake for a few hours and although the weather was grey we had a good day. We left Taupo for a long bus trip all the way down to Wellington. Again we only spent the night as we've both been before before getting the spectacular ferry journey over to the South Island. The trip, which takes several hours, is uneventful to begin with but as it gets closer to the South Island and you come through Marlborough Sound the view is amazing and there were dolphins chasing the big ferry (which was oddly a former English Channel ferry, the now renamed Pride of Cherbourg). We arrived into Picton and caught our bus onto Nelson, in the top west corner of the South Island. Nelson was where Kat and i first met 5 years ago and we had booked to stay in the same hostel here we met so we were really looking forward to it. The hostel was pretty unchanged although a little bigger with an extension but still had the great atmosphere we remembered, even giving you free chocolate cake and ice cream every night. We spent a really nice couple of days in the sun in
Nelson before leaving for a walk along the Abel Tasman Track which takes three or four days along amazing coastal paths and staying at huts along the way. The huts were all full every night and the sand flies were a nightmare but the scenery is so amazing and its so peaceful out there that it is so worth the effort. We just carried our food with us and it was so good to be back out there doing some walking again. We returned to Nelson for a couple more days where we took some hostel bikes out and cycled out of town along past the sea which was a really nice day.
The next day we traveled further down the coast to Greymouth, which is a very unremarkable place, just a port but a logical place to stop for the night and coincidentally has a brewery tour which Kat and I also went to last time we were here. We went back to the brewery again for old time's sake and although it seemed to be much busier and more successful this time had also changed little.
From Greymouth we traveled south to Wanaka. Wanaka is set
on the banks of a huge blue lake and the weather was great when we arrived so people were swimming in the (freezing cold) waters and we sat outside a bar watching the sun go down. A really nice day. It was a shame to rush off but we had a walk planned from Queenstown in a couple of days so we caught a bus there the next day which was only an hour or so away. We checked into a hostel for a couple of days and got ready for our walk, the Milford Track (apparently one of the top ten walks in the world). We set off early for the walk which involved getting a bus to Te Anau and then a great boat journey from there to the start of the track. Because the track is so popular it gets booked up everyday and you have to walk in a certain direction so we were to share the walk and huts with the same 40 people every day. The first day was a very relaxed, with only about an hour and a half's walk to the hut and the rain held off which was lucky, as we
had heard rumours of a 'severe weather' warning on its way. Once we were settled into our hut and people had stopped bickering about which beds they had been left with (this was to become a constant thing over the next four days) the ranger came to talk to us in the mess hut. He said that there was to be a huge amount of rain falling over the next 24 hours (which had already begun by that point) and that there were three outcomes for the following day 1) We get stuck in the hut and aren't allowed to leave 2) He would escort us up the track until it was safe for us to continue on our own 3) We would get helicoptered above the flooded area and continue from there. Secretly although we were there to walk I was looking forward to a little helicopter ride so that was how it was left that night. We got up the next day to find a sign blocking our exit from the hut saying we were not to leave until told it was safe. Eventually at 9.30 the ranger led us out of the hut down the track, so
no helicopter 😞. A rather excentric guy (well you would be if you spent most of your life on your own in the middle of nowhere), the ranger was a skinny ginger bearded guy wearing a bright orange reflective DOC coat and best of all a Winnie the Pooh child's rucksack. So we followed him up the track in convoy with the rain falling hard. We began by trying to avoid the deep puddles on the track. The ranger told us in no uncertain terms that this was pointless as we would 'End up with wet feet by the end of the day anyway'. Not quite understanding what he meant as my boots were keeping my feet nice and dry and warm at that point we continued. After a couple of hours walking beside a river that had the previous day been a gently flowing stream that was now a raging torrent we discovered what he meant. Being only a few feet from the river bank the river had burst its bank and flooded the track. We descended into the water as it rose over the tops of our boots, our knees and eventually up to our waists at points.
There was no current and it was fairly warm so as long as we kept to the track and the marker poles we were in no danger. Once we were soaked anyway there was no point in complaining and we continued walking up and down in and out of the flood water all morning and once you resigned yourself to it it was quite fun really. The only problem was that the group was of all abilities and ages from a young couple in their early twenties to a group in their sixties and seventies so when we stopped for lunch (being some of the first to do so) Kat and I became really cold as we were not allowed to leave until the ranger said so and everyone had caught up and eaten. Eventually when we were really cold (and wet through of course) we set off again to much of the same. The track to this point had been mostly through thick forest along the river but it eventually opened up into a valley. All the rain had created amazing waterfalls down the rocky sides and if it hadn't been so wet we would have taken more photos
as it was spectacular. We trudged on through the water until we were met by the ranger from the next hut who relieved our ranger. She said it was safe to continue on our own which with some relief we did to the next hut where we tried in vain to dry our clothes and boots. We had a good night talking with people and getting warm next to the log fire.
We set off the next day in wet boots but the rain had stopped at least although it was still quite foggy. The track was to take us up high over McKinnon's Pass (the guy who originally discovered the route through) and back down the other side. We walked up the steep track hoping the mist would clear to allow us a great view back down the valley. It did not though and it was so bitterly cold and windy at the top that we didn't hang around much longer than to get a couple of photos and headed down. As we dropped over the other side though the mist began to clear and we could get great views back down the valley towards the mountains and
glaciers on the other side. We began to walk downwards through the open valley until we reached a side walk to New Zealand's highest waterfall which cascades over 500m down the rocks. We then only had another hour or so downhill to the third hut. Some tensions had begun to surface over the previous days, mainly involving the older group who had been grumbling about their choice of beds on the first night. It turned out that they were also horrendous snorers who had kept up all the people in their dorm the previous night and then woken them all by being none to quiet when packing early in the morning. When we had settled into our hut we discovered that they were in our room that night. We were also treated to the same cacophony of snoring, bag rustling, doors banging and talking that night and morning and there were few amongst us who were talking to the group by the last day.
That night however, the ranger came into the mess hut to say that she had heard over her radio that a serious earthquake had hit Christchurch. We had had no mobile coverage for the duration
of walk, nor were there any phones or anything of course out there. We were both worried what our family and friends would be thinking as neither of us had told anyone where we were exactly at that time but we hadn't even felt the quake and there was nothing we could do. We were in a better situation than many of our companions of course, many of whom directly had friends and family in Christchurch and had no way of knowing how they were. It wasn't to be for 24 hours when we finally drove back to the nearest town after the end of our walk that anyone could find out.
We set off the last day with the sun shining and only 5-6 hours of flat walking ahead of us. The walk was easier than it had been and we had beautiful views as we approached the end and Milford Sound. Kat and I had set off first and arrived at the end, the aptly named Sandfly Bay with no one else around. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and it was beautiful. Once we had covered ourselves in insect repellent (sandflies are the worse
biting insect either of us know) to repel the sandflies that were lying in wait for us we had some lunch and waited for the rest of the group and the boat that would take us out of there. We got onto the boat, tired but happy, and set off across Milford Sound with its incredible views to be met by our bus back to civilisation. As soon as we were within about 10kms of Te Anau phones began to go off all round the bus as worried texts came in. Fortunately none of our group got bad news about any of their relations and we quickly sent out texts back home to our families to say we were ok.
Once we were back in Queenstown and moved into a friend's house where we were crashing until we found our own place we began to hear the stories coming out of Christchurch. It was all over the news constantly and all very sad of course. New Zealand only has a small population and they stick together in things like this so I think they all feel it very personally. There have been lots of collections and free concerts to
raise money for those in Canterbury. Backpackers and others began to arrive as well, many losing all their possessions in condemned buildings and with amazing stories of near misses.
We began to look for a place to live and also for jobs. We signed up for several job agencies, none of whom showered us with jobs but at least our names were down. We looked round a few places, most of which reminded us too much of student living in dirty, dingy uncared for houses, not somewhere we wanted to go back to. We went to look at a place up Queenstown Hill, up a really steep road. We were really tired and almost decided to turn back because we didn't want to walk up this hill just to see another horrible flat. Fortunately we didn't as the flat (which we are now living in) has the most awesome views with a huge wide balcony and glass fronted living room so we very quickly decided to take it.
Jobs however were harder to come by. The imminent arrival of the quiet season along with more backpackers arriving from Christchurch looking for work made the job of finding a
job really hard work. We must have given CVs to dozens of places. Even reallt menial jobs would never phone us back, what we were supposed to do we didn't know. In the meantime we signed up with agencies but even these had little work. Tom got work at a bar at a large outdoor gig for aging crooners Dr Hook and Credence Clearwater Revisited which pretty easy, much of which involved standing around in the sun. We both got work cleaning an apartment block once a week which is pretty chilled out but only 6 hours a week, not enough to pay the bills. Tom also got work as a human traffic light on roadworks (standing with a stop-go sign for 12 hours a day, why they can't use electronic ones like at home I don't know) and putting up marquees. And all this for about £6 an hour! In Queenstown employers know that you need them more than they need you and definately take advantage of it. In the meantime our friends Steve and Clare who were in NZ on their honeymoon were in town so we had a great few days with them including going out on
the Shotover Jet Boat which pulls some rediculous turns at high speed in very shallow water (apparently as shallow as 4 inches) whizzing dangerously close to the canyon walls. Brilliant fun.
So while we've been looking for work we've been just trying to enjoy ourselves without spending too much money. Fortunately the weather has been warmer than before and sunny too a lot of the time so its been great just sitting out enjoying where we are and taking advantage of happy hours whereever we can!
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