Keen to do some more walking after our experiences in Abel Tasman we headed from the very West of the South Island at Greymouth then to the centre and Arthurs Pass National Park. The drive there yet again was a very scenic one especially when you travel through the actual pass itself and the enormous viaduct that was built to make access across the island much easier. At the viewpoint overlooking the viaduct we had our first Kea experience, these are large parrots that live in the snowy higher ground around the South Island. They are very inquisitive and cheeky and as soon as you turn your back on them they will be on your car trying to pull over whatever they can lay their beaks on... aerials, window rubber surrounds, windscreen wipers etc so you have to be careful.
We stayed a few days in the gorgous park doing a couple of short walks on the first day to waterfalls where we got soaked as it had rained so much, then on the second day Dale wanted to do a BIG walk so we decided to do one up to Avalance Peak along Scotts Path. This is graded as
a 'difficult' walk and boy oh boy was it difficult! The first part was steep up though the bush, then you came out the bush and had to climb the ridge for a further few km's to the top. Throughout the whole walk Sophie complained that this was clearly not a walk for inexperienced people (like her!) and she really felt they should turn back but Dale would not hear of this and pushed them onwards. The ridge walk was over slate rocks, some snow covered with 100ft sheers drops to one side so one slip and you'd be gone. We met some Keas on the top too and they followed us onwards for a while until they got bored and went to find some new friends. Eventually after 3.5 hours of hard trekking/climbing we did reach the top and Sophie had to admit that she was glad they had as the views all around of snow capped mountains was awesome. But as it goes.. what comes up must go down so we then had a 3 hour walk back which was even harder than going up because it was so steep and lots of it had to be done
on our bums. Our knees were done in by the time we reached the end.. the 3000 steps on the Inca Trail were nothing on this! The following few days Sophie was virtually unable to walk due to the sheer pain of pulled muscles!
With very sore legs we headed back to the wild west coast to encounter the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers we'd been looking forward to seeing. It was amazing to us just how accessible these glaciers were even without going on an organised tour. We were able to go right up to the terminal face of Franz Josef and were so glad we did because you really appreciate the size of it when you're standing right underneath it rather than a km or so back at the viewpoint.
Not contented with just seeing the glaciers and surrounding mountains from the ground, we decided that this would be the perfect place to do the skydiving we'd been longing to do ever since reaching New Zealand. We booked ourselves places for the following morning giving Sophie a bit of time to 'prepare' herself for what lay ahead! The following day we rolled up a few minutes
ahead of our booking time and were immediately shephered over to get in our jump suits, given a quick rundown on what we had to do.. hang over the edge... hands together.. hands apart.. banana position.. legs up.. would we really remember all this when we were careering to the ground at 200km/h??!!
After a quick practice on the ground for the hanging over the edge position we were soon bundled into the tiny plane and up we went. Sophie had been pretty nervous all morning and we'd decided that it would probably be best if Dale went first incase she backed out but this was taken out our hands when Dale was pushed in first leaving Sophie with the 'best' seat right next to the flimsy plastic door!
Up we went through the cloud covering the country and into the pure blue sky above. The view from up here was just amazing and we had a birds eye view of the glaciers below then virtually flew alongside the mighty Mt Cook & Mt Tasman as we reached our altitude of 12,000ft. Before we knew it Sophie was instructed to prepare to turn round for that dreaded hanging
position.. no time for nerves here but she did have to do one final double check with her partner Ron that she was properly attached in case he'd forgotten!
Dale then watched on as Sophie was twisted round, hung outside the door and off she went before she even had time to say bye, he did hear the scream as she went though! It was only a matter of seconds before he too was then lined up and thrown out the door. We both did 360 degree turns watching the plane swoop off as we were upside down and free fell for almost 50 seconds of pure adrenalin filled feeling... just amazing. The parachutes were open all too quickly but this only slowed down our journey to the rapidly advancing clouds and we got to take in those awesome views for quite a while before floating through the haze and then seeing the fields lined up below.
Sophie even had the added treat of being allowed to 'steer' her paracute and spiralled right then left so quickly it was like a rollacoaster ride. But as with most of the best things it was over too soon and we
Black Swans on Lake Rotorua
We had wanted to camp here but there were just too many sandflies!
were told to put our knees up and prepare for landing. These all went to plan with us and our tandem partners landing oh so softly on our bums spot on target. For both of us this experience is probably one of the best things we have ever done and was made all the better with the spectacular views we got to see throughout the journey. As soon as we'd landed we wanted to do it again so will be constantly looking out for another opportunity on our travels.
Pumped up from the jump we continued along the west coast of the South Island taking in all the views and adventures it had to offer before heading back inland to Wanaka where we celebrated Dale's big 30th birthday. In true NZ style it rained all day but this didn't hamper the fun we had at.. Puzzling World! Dale couldn't think of anywhere better to spend his birthday .. NOT, especially after all the adrenalin action this hardly lived up to his standards and he dreaded a day of Suduko and crosswords, but he was pleasently surprised when he found excellent mind bending rooms, holograms and a huge maze that
took us over and hour to complete.
All puzzled out we headed to the town centre and spent the remainder of the day watching the rugby in the pub and mooching around the shops. The evening was also great when we headed to the main Wanaka attraction of Cinema Paradiso, a small independent cinema with sofas, armchairs, a car! and beer.. and the film was pretty good too.
Whilst in Southland we also found our second favourite area in NZ, this being the area around the Catlins and South East of the island. Not for amazing views although the sea views were pretty nice, but for the wildlife and lovely beaches. Now in fairness to all the rest of the beach areas in the country we did have great weather for our South of the South Island tour so this probably helped but we really loved it here and spent a long time cruising along and stopping to look at all the waterfalls, wildlife, views and historic places along the way.
For all the good times though there has to be some that are not so good otherwise that just wouldn't be fair! These times for us
involved some long drives and rubbish weather meaning we didn't actually get to see what we'd planned at the other end! Unfortunately a few of these things were among the top rated tourist attractions in the country which is just our luck. The worst one was the Milford Sound where we drove the 115km scenic route there in pure sunshine, camped up beside the beautiful Lake Gunn overnight, then woke up to near ground level cloud and rain. This meant that although the 23km drive there was spectacular in it's own right with moody fog covering the high cliffs each complete with it's own waterfalls, we couldn't see the Sound or the Mitre Peak at the other end so abandoned the cruise we'd planned to do. It was a shame but we just have to put this in the box of things to do when we undoubtedly return to this fabulous country. Also in this box in the Bay of Islands (bad weather = bad tour) and Mt Cook National Park (yet again bad weather = no view of the mountains and no walking!)
One of the things we have loved doing the most while in the South Island
we did alone, for free and gave us the most enjoyment of our trip.... these things involved the amazing and accessible wildlife that surrounds the island, some of it being the rarest in the world. One of these days involved a small trek to a pebbly beach where a small colony of rare Fiordland Crested Penguins live. We thought we'd missed our opportunity to see them when a selfish tourist ignored all the signs and went up so close to get a photo that he chased it away. We were patient though and waited for a while and this soon paid off when 3 of them popped out the water and waddled their way to their nesting sites by the rocks.
The following day and a bit further along the coast we went for a morning walk on a beach and got to watch a pod of small Hectors Dolphins (again some of the rarest in the world) play in the surf right in front of us. We just wished it was a bit warmer that day as we would have got in and tried to have a swim with them!
Probably the most accessible wildlife though lives
in and around the coastline along the Catlins region and here we saw not only huge rare Hookers Sea Lions sleeping on the beach but more New Zealand Fur Seals relaxing too. Not having seeing sealions so close before we were surprised by how big they really are.. they are huge, much bigger than Dale and we certainly didn't get close enough to have them chase us down the beach like they are renowned for doing!
The best was saved for last though when we visited a 160 million year old tree forest, this in itself it quite a sight with petrified trees that old it's hard to take it in but also living here is the rarest penguin in the world, the Yellow Eyed Penguin and we got to see 3 of them walking up to their nests. It was so special to see them so close and in their natural environment and we hope you enjoy the waddling video we have put on for you to see.
In addition to all this we had hoped to see the little blue penguin who is also a local but they sleep in their nests during the day and
although we did see one fast asleep we didn't photograph it as it would have woken it up. To see all this wildlife as well as countless other things so really something for us both and it really was one of the many things we loved so much about this country. You can do things like this because millions of people haven't ruined it for all future visitors to enjoy and we really do hope it stays like that for our next visit.
There was however one part of the wildlife we didn't enjoy so much and it's typical that these followed us pretty much all across the South Island. For those of you who have visited New Zealand already you will know what we are talking about... the dreaded, annoying Sandflies. These small flies seem so innocent when you first encounter them. That is until they start to attack and you are left with red itchy spots all over any exposed flesh and if you start to scratch you will never stop. They are awful things and for many evenings we just sat in our van to try to hide from them which would be accompanied by the
regular sandfly swatting session every time you opened the door. The pleasure of sqashing them was immense when you knew that was one less to drain you of your blood!
We really can't describe how much we have loved our time here, New Zealand really does have everything you could ever ask for and we couldn't get enough of turning a corner (of which there were many on the never ending windy roads!) and getting a completely new experience virtually every day. Snow, beautiful beaches, forests, mountains, wildlife, friendly people... you name it New Zealand has it and we can now see why everyone we've ever met who has been here fell in love with it and raves about it so much.. because we will be part of those people now. We always got so jealous when we met any fellow Brits on our travels who have been lucky enough to emigrate here and now we really want to aswell but it's notoriously difficult so we need to hatch a plan...
With only 4 million people in a country a bit bigger than the UK you really do get to visit places where you can be alone and
just take it all in at your own pace, which is just what we've done in our fantastic camper.... all 8,400km of it! We now just wish we'd had longer to do it but we still have a lot of our trip ahead of us so will look forward to our next adventures ... hopefully with some sunshine in Australia and beyond...
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