New Zealand; Between games in Dunedin

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Oceania » New Zealand
September 11th 2011
Published: December 4th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

With a week and a day before England’s next game it seems that all the English fans have the same itinerary planned… head over to Queenstown and Wanaka, then down to Milford Sound and back. To avoid the masses of the English Saga-lout supporters (they mostly seem to be of a certain age!) in their luxury campers, we decide to do the route in reverse. Coincidently this is the same route James and Claire (J&C) are planning to take so we make a plan to meet in Te Anou (the last town before the remote drive to Milford Sound).

We spend the day lounging in a bar watching rugby and catching up on the net. In trying to save some money, I opt for a lime cordial, thinking it would be about 20p (as per Wetherspoon prices), however I am shocked when I have to pay $5 and even more so when it tastes just like water! I think it’s at this point that James realises that we are on quite a budget and begins to wax lyrical about the wonders of freedom camping. We decide to give it a go that night in tandem with J&C to help offset the cost of the following day’s kayaking trip on Milford Sound. Without a campsite there is no kitchen and we have to make-do cooking on our gas stove out of the boot of the van in a car parking space next to the lake. Typically it starts raining and the limitations of the Hippy Camper start to show. It also doesn’t help that we are getting mocked by J&C in the next parking bay from their Hi-topped, en-suite, open plan studio campervan complete with a fully-equipped kitchenette (excluding oven). Please note that there is no sense of envy in that last sentence. Anyway… they eventually took pity on us and invited us in to eat in their little piece of paradise; little did they know that this will be the start of a beautiful relationship, in which we use their van as our mobile refreshment unit. To give them their dues, they are not such bad company either! We pick a camping spot for the night (it’s somewhat aptly called “Knobs Creek”) and make our moonlit drive into the wilderness. We rock up to what is simply an open section in the trees with a long drop and no one else in sight. We now realise why James may have wanted some company... another man to protect them from the Orcs and Goblins of Mordor.

After a very quiet night’s sleep, we carry on down the winding and hilly pass to Milford Sound. The road itself is an adventure and with such contrasting scenery; snow covered mountain passes, to deep green river valleys all in the space of about 50km. We make our way safely through the avalanche zone and get ready for the kayaking for which we have to change into their special, somewhat stripy, thermal clothing (no cotton allowed, excluding pants!). We squeeze into our double kayak, pull on our spray decks and are pushed into the Sound. We paddle around getting used to the steering peddles and taking in the awe-inspiring surroundings. Then we set off into the main part of the Sound and the next few hours on the water seem timeless. We follow Fjordland penguins, marvel at huge waterfalls and soak up the endless unspoiled beauty of the environment. We are also kept amused by the erratic paddling by J&C who find it difficult to keep a straight line; these double kayaks are known as “divorce kayaks” in the industry, but luckily they aren’t married yet! After the trip, we steal a shower from the local hostel and make our way back to Te Anou. On the way we visit an unusual cascading waterfall and the mirror lakes, where James is shocked that someone has thrown the “Mirror Lakes” sign into the water. It is only on reflection (boom, boom!) that he notices that it has been put there purposely. We decide to push on into the evening towards Queenstown and end up sleeping in a roadside rest.

We are woken abruptly by the honks of passing Lorries and make a quick exit. The drive to Queenstown is again filled with amazing lakes and mountains and when we finally arrive the place is like a picture postcard. The town is akin to an Alpine village, but on speed. People aren’t happy with just skiing or snowboarding, they want to throw themselves off everything, raft or jet-boat along every stretch of dangerous water and bike or slide down what’s left. We decide to save some money for activities and freedom camp just a few miles around the lake. The entrance to the DOC (Department of Conservation) site was quite steep and we maybe came in a little hot (literally a few kilometres over the 10kph limit), however the roasting that J&C got from the camp warden was a little undeserved. Police were threatened if this happened again! We instantly took a dislike to this fellow and it turned to hatred when he woke us up the next morning at 6am to collect the nightly fee. I made a polite little protest (well I didn’t swear) about his timing and manners, but he showed no remorse whatsoever. I heard James grovelling when he accosted their van as I think he was worried about committing a second offence. With J&C on a white water trip that morning, we headed for a swim (and mainly for a wash) at the local leisure centre where, by chance, the England squad were training. After the squad had spent some time admiring my swimming technique, I got out and tried to take a picture of Jonny Wilkinson on the bike (for Cat of course!). Moments later I was being questioned by a member of the leisure centre staff who reminded me that you are not allowed to take pictures in swimming pools because of the children around (fair enough). Then I was approached by a member of the England team entourage who asked me to delete the photo as the England squad didn’t like having pictures taken without them knowing and especially when they were training (or hanging around with blondes and dwarves in bars). I was then invited to a meet and greet after their session, but I left quickly and quietly feeling like some kind of stalker or like I was going to end up on some kind of register!

To cheer ourselves up, we went for a Fergburger (an awesome burger in the same name of the famous eatery in Queenstown). It was even more amusing to watch Cat try and order her ‘Furburger’ as James had told her it was called (Extra hairy please!?). After lunch we rode up the Gondola and spent the afternoon racing karts down the luge track (which is biased towards the heavier competitor and has nothing to do with driving skill! i.e. I didn’t beat James) and watching people bungee from the overhanging platform. We tried encouraging the visiting Romanian team to take the plunge as they were England’s next but one opponents.

The next morning we set off for a game of Frisbee golf in the local park next to the lake. Most people have probably played this on the Wii, and in real life it’s just as fun. It took a while to get used to the ‘putting’ which involves throwing the Frisbee into a basket with dangling chains, but after a few holes we were managing to par most of the holes. It was also sweet revenge as we took the matchplay victory against J&C. We kept bumping into England players around town tucking into pies, burgers and chips, and we didn’t know it at the time, but this was after the Mike Tindall “Midgetgate” scandal (where Tindall had been spotted kissing a mystery blond and throwing midgets in a contest at a bar in Queenstown the night before). At the time I thought it was just good banter as long as it helped them bond and play better as a team and hopefully propel them to the final. However, in hindsight, what a bunch of idiots!

That afternoon we struggled over the very steep and impressive Crowne Range pass in the campers towards Wanaka, which is like a mini Queenstown. We went on a late afternoon hike up Mount Iron that had great views over Lake Wanaka. Then we treated ourselves to the cinema in the rather quirky “Cinema Paradiso” which had an array of different seating (a car, lazyboy’s etc) and we managed to get a couple of old armchairs. Dinner was served mid-way through the film (Horrible bosses) and we finished it off with some free cookies and ice cream.

After another cold night freedom camping in a reserve out of town, we went for another swim/wash in the local baths. We then did what was probably our most tacky tourist attraction on our trip and visited Puzzle World. It was as expected, rather rubbish, however it made us chuckle in places and reminded us of some of the tacky seaside attractions back home in Blighty.

After a quick lunch of pizza bread and bit of impromptu clothes drying by the lake in Cromwell, we started the long journey back to Dunedin. The sun was setting as we arrived and we had made plans to stay on the Otago peninsular just outside the city. The drive along the coast of the peninsular was a mixture of serenity, due to the setting sun across the water, and danger, as the road was walled along one side and the other had an unprotected drop into the sea. We eventually came across our home for the night and drove our vans around the large mound on the side of the road out of view. We cooked up and then headed to the local pub to cheer on Japan against the All Blacks.

No fee charging campsite could offer up the panoramic views we were treated to in the morning from our little nook on the peninsular. We spent the rest of the morning driving around it and then made our way back to our regular Dunedin campsite in anticipation of England’s second game against Georgia. We whiled away the rest of the day lazily watching rugby in the TV room and had a barbeque in the rain.

The next day I roped James into joining me on the annual race up the worlds steepest street (Baldwin Street), which luckily was in Dunedin about 2km from our campsite. We drove there to save our legs and signed ourselves in for the fun run part of the race. Five minutes before the elite athletes were meant to start we were surprisingly called to the front. I was kitted out in my walking shoes and hiking shorts with James in slightly more sporty attire. In front of us were a line of lean, slender men in Lycra and in front of them rose the steepest road I have ever witnessed (obviously!). Before we knew it, the gun had sounded and we were off. I took it steady at first and was just behind James at the back of the pack. As the adrenaline kicked in I felt strong and started to overtake some of the kids. I could see the top of the street and the turning point (yes the race was up and down) and increased my effort. I was near the front and then I realised it wasn’t the top, just a dip in the gradient. I had blown my load too early and had to resort to walking up the rest of the hill with hands on knees reminiscent of the dance move in the Thriller music video. Surprisingly though I was not overtaken as everyone else was also walking behind me. I reached the top and turned for the downward descent thinking the race was over. It was only then that I realised that without working thigh muscles there was nothing to stop me from literally falling down the street. Nevertheless I slowly knee buckled my way down and came in an unexpected 8th, just over a minute behind the winner. I turned to see James get overtaken by a young boy as he crossed the line in some distress. We were both totally exhausted and spent the rest of the afternoon coughing and trying to recover in time for our walk to the stadium.

We made our way to the game hopeful that England would show a little more creativity and purpose, and were rewarded quickly when Hape fell over the try line a couple of times. The Georgians however played tremendously and stopped England from gaining any momentum. We also realised why we couldn’t find any England flags in Dunedin as they had all been bought by the Kiwi’s and bastardised into the Georgian Flag using red electrical tape (St George’s Cross with smaller red crosses in each quadrant). Anyway, another win is another win, and we walked away pleased with the victory but also disappointed to be saying goodbye to our new friends James and Claire as they set off for their late night drive towards the west coast and their own adventures ahead.

Beard Update: (Week 2) With my increasingly unkempt hair that I haven’t cut since June, and the beard getting scruffy, I am starting to look a little French (as guessed by a worker in an electronics shop before our conversation).

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