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Published: December 14th 2011
We arrived in Picton on the south island in the early afternoon and had a drive of about 140km down the west coast to reach our campsite for that evening, just outside of Blenheim. It was a DOC campsite called Robin Hood Bay, which like all DOC campsites was a further 4000kms (I may be exaggerating here but it felt like it) down a dusty, gravel road up and down a mountain range. This is the first RWD vehicle I have owned, so I took this opportunity to try hone up my power sliding skills, which I don’t have, and neither does the van. A slow and boring drive this was indeed. We spent that evening skimming stones in the bay and then I went for a jog while Tina made the dinner. She makes a cracking bowl of Watties Spaghetti con queso, proper gourmet.
The following day we drove to Kaikoura where we booked a whale watching tour with Whale Watch. Due to the time we arrived in Kaikoura we had to book it for the following day. The whale watching tour cost $290 for two adults ( £145). Free DOC campsite again this evening, this
time Puhi Puhi campsite just north of Kaikoura.
Whale watching day was upon us and I was quite excited. I had a haircut that morning so that I was looking sharp for the whales. We were soon heading out to sea in a very fast catamaran on a very rough sea. I don’t do so well with motion sickness and was warned that the front of the boat is considerably more uncomfortable than the rear but despite this I also wanted a good time, which I did, without throwing up anywhere. The guides on the catamaran would use one of those underwater boom microphone things to try and track the whales and soon found one, a Sperm Whale. The whale was at the surface for quite a while bobbing up and down taking a breather before diving again. After about ten minutes of watching this huge, amazing creature it eventually did dive and we witnessed a view nothing short of amazing, as its tail rose from under the waves and followed its big baw whale heed down to the depths below. Needless to say, I think it liked my haircut.
We spent the night at the Puhi Puhi
campsite again before heading cross country, west, to the other side of the island where we would continue our exploration south.
On the way we stopped at a place called Hamner Springs, a resort taking advantage of the nearby natural thermal hot springs in the area. The resort had created a number of different pools of varying temperatures for you to bathe yourself in, but strictly no dunking of your head under the water or the miserable old cow of a lifeguard would have a stern word. Apparently it’s not allowed, but I read the safety board and it says ‘not recommended’. More importantly they had three good size water chutes for children and adults alike. Tina and I spent a lot of time racing one another down them. Eventually most of the people went home and we got some time to ourselves in the thermal pools, they were very hot though, some 40 degrees Celsius and just made me feel dizzy. I guess that’s why you shouldn’t dunk your head and the lifeguard was right, although still a miserable cow, however.
The following day we headed to Murchison, where we were looking forward to trying our hand
at a little gold panning. We arrived in Murchison and did the following in about fifteen minutes...
• · Arrive in Murchison
• · Rent gold panning equipment from local information kiosk
• · Attempt to gold pan
• · It is shit
• · Take gold panning equipment back to local information kiosk
• · Hit the road to Greymouth
Nuggetless we headed to Greymouth where we had planned to spend the night at a DOC campsite and break up the long drive to Franz Josef Glacier. We ended up staying at a DOC campsite for two nights and spent a whole day doing nothing really. It was well deserved as we had been driving a lot for the past few days. We went for a few walks, spray painted some bits in the van to make it look a little nicer for selling and had showers in the makeshift camp shower I made out of the tarpaulin we got when we bought the van. We also made a friend, Stupid Bird, who would come and eat our meals with us when we had food on the go. Everyone else would just chase it around the campsite shooing it away. We
felt a little sorry for it. Not sure what kind of bird it was, a big bird that couldn’t seem to fly and wasn’t yellow.
We then drove to Franz Josef. I was looking forward to the next few days as it was all about to get very exciting. Once we arrived in Franz Josef we immediately booked a ‘Heli-Hike’. The Heli-Hike would take us up to the Glacier by helicopter and drop us on it, where we would then spend two hours or so with a guide hiking on top of the Franz Josef Glacier. Another fantastic experience and highly recommended, although the guide was a nob. What wasn’t so fantastic was the price. The Heli-Hike set us back $798(£399) for the both of us, but that’s what we are here for I guess.
That evening we headed Gillespie’s Beach DOC campsite despite warnings on the dirt track leading to it advising of narrow roads not suitable for camper vans. The weather was foul this evening and being right next to the sea certainly didn’t help. Seeing as cooking had to be done outside of the van it’s obvious why I was selected for duty that night.
We had planned to Skydive that following day and had booked to meet a company at 10:30am in Fox Glacier. As the weather was so bad we didn’t think it would be happening as we were in need of clear skies.
The following morning we headed into Fox Glacier – not the home of Fox Glacier mints for those wondering, I already asked on your behalf and probably looked like an ass so you don’t have to – where thankfully we were greeted with mostly clear skies, and a little cloud. A quick call to the skydiving company and it was on.
We drove to where the company was based and got into our gear. Tina would be diving tandem with the owner of the business who had done 11,000+ jumps over something like 16 years, which I work out to be something close to about 2 jumps a day average. I got the bloke from Aberdeen. I know a couple of people from Aberdeen so I shat it, naturally.
In honesty I wasn’t that worried and neither was Tina. It all felt very safe and with the chap’s credentials already out in the air we
felt like we were in safe hands. That said, as soon as the green light came on in the plane I realised what was happening and shat it big time and the next thing I know I’m out the plane. There was no time to think about whether or not I wanted to do it, the guy was jumping and that was it, regardless. The whole thing was overwhelming. There was nothing around but sky and mountains for miles, nothing to give me perspective of how fast I was falling. I felt like I couldn’t breathe but my lungs were filling with air in a fraction of a second due to the sheer speed of the air going into them. By the time I came to my senses, calmed down and realised what the hell just happened the parachute was out and the freefall was over. I experienced about 5 seconds were my body wasn’t screaming “What the fuck!” of the 45 seconds total freefall. My advice to anyone who is going to skydive for the first is the following... Go as high as you can because by the time you start to enjoy the freefall it’s all over! I
was told this before I did it by the guy taking my money and just assumed he wanted to me to spend more, but he was totally right. I NEED to do it again now that I know what to expect, because those 5 seconds were quite simply amazing.
The parachute down couldn’t have been more of a contrast. It was calm, smooth and the views were beautiful. The 30 meter slide on my arse on landing was also excellent fun. I wanted another shot the second we hit the ground.
Tune in next time for another adrenalin fuelled blog.
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