Pretty Good eh!
29/05/2012 18 °C
When it was announced on the plane that it was a good day in Christchurch at 12 degrees and cloudy we knew we would notice the 20 degrees plus temperature drop! After having my walking shoes cleaned at customs, as they just weren't clean enough to enter the country, we found the bus to take us into the city centre. A 15 minute ride and the driver told us we were at our stop and pointed us in the direction of our hostel. The hostel found, the first thing I did was check for a heater and blankets; rather than the usual air con and fan! We decided to take a walk into the city centre but found that it no longer existed. Whilst looking at a map a friendly local asked if he could help, and ended up giving us a quick tour of the area; pointing out buildings that are scheduled to be demolished and what used to be his city. We had no idea of the extent of the damage the earthquake and aftershocks had caused. Of the buildings still standing, the majority are scheduled to be torn down as most aren't structurally sound. He took us to the area called 'Re:Start' which is some shipping containers that have been turned into shops and cafes and are currently all Christchurch has as a city centre. We thought it is a great idea as it brings some business into the city and is somewhere for people to meet.
We walked to a shopping precinct a little out of the city centre and found a supermarket to buy dinner then headed back to the hostel to cook. Ramsey enjoyed cooking his first meal in a while (sausages, veg and sautéed pots), and the other guests enjoyed watching his chopping skills!
Next day we had a late start then headed to the Canterbury Museum to check out a photographic display they had on; unfortunately this building has also now been closed as they have found potential structural damage. As this was the remaining place of interest that was open we instead spent some time enjoying the autumn colours of the Botanic Gardens in the sunshine.
We then strolled to the Re:Start area for some good coffee. Later on we walked to a shopping mall a short walk from town in search of some rain jackets; didn't find any but picked up some food for dinner. Evening was spent chilling at the hostel.
Next day Ramsey headed off to pick up our rental car, I wasn't feeling too good so stayed at the hostel. He came back with our Nissan Sunny - complete with radio-cassette player; unfortunate as we had picked up some CDs in Cambodia to play in our car! We headed off towards Oamaru which was our next stop (250km). En-route we found an outlet mall where we picked up a couple of rain jackets - we were certain we would run into some rain and if not they would provide some extra warmth. I slept half the way as still wasn't feeling great, but as it was a grey day didn't miss out on too much scenery. We arrived at Oamaru around 5pm - just in time to go and see the Blue Penguins. As we waited in the shelter for the penguins to return back to their nesting site for the night we were given some information about the penguins and the staff had to tell the Japanese tourists several times that they really couldn't take photographs! The penguins starting coming in and over 50 were counted in the hour we were watching. We saw them washed in from the sea then waddle up the rocks to their homes. They are only small but were very cute - especially the one that got lost and came right onto the viewing platform. We then hunted down some accommodation and relaxed by the fire in the living room.
In the morning Ramsey got up early to go and see the Yellow-Eyed Penguins going out to sea. I still wasn't 100% so didn't join him, over to him... I woke up while it was still dark and made myself a flask of fresh coffee while reading the map to work out where I was going. It only took about 10 minutes to get to Bushy Beach where the colony was located. I set myself up on the viewing platform at the top of the cliffs where I was faced with maximum exposure to the morning breeze. With there being only six breeding pairs on average, I had my binoculars ready in case I was lucky enough to see a pair getting ready to go out fishing for the day. I struck lucky, within about 15 minutes of being there a pair woke up and popped out of their hole, literally 10 metres away from me. I did my best to stand still and not shiver and watched them for about 30 minutes while they went through their morning routine of squawking, nuzzling each other and waddling around in little circles. Once they were suitably warmed up they set off down the incredibly steep hill side to the sea. In addition to this pair I also saw a couple of penguins marching into the sea in the distance. Because they were so close and the sun started to rise I managed to get a few shots of them without using the flash and disturbing them. While the little blue penguins were cute and small (about 30cm tall), these guys looked like real penguins standing at about 65cm.
Next stop on our list was Te Anau (400km). We headed out around 10am and stopped for a coffee and several photo opportunities along the way before arriving at Te Anau early evening.
After checking into our hostel we headed out for the 7pm Glowworm Caves trip. We were taken by boat across the other side of Te Anau Lake, then a short walk into the cave and we got onto a small boat to take us deep into the cave to see the glowworms. There were lots of tiny lights and it was beautiful to see. Afterwards we warmed up with a coffee and were shown some pictures of and given some more information about glowworms before heading back across the lake on the boat. When we got back to the hostel, as head chef Ramsey cooked us some dinner which we enjoyed with a rum and coke.
Following morning we set off for Milford Sound. I again wasn't feeling fantastic so we skipped some of the longer walks but made lots of photo stops; the scenery was stunning, despite there being more cloud than we would have liked. The hills were snow capped and the lakes and waterfalls on the way added to it.
We eventually arrived in Milford late afternoon, and the weather had cleared. We headed straight to Milford Lodge - the only accommodation in town and found ourselves a shared room. Finding rooms hasn't been a problem as we are here completely out of season; before the ski season and out of the summer season. We headed down to the waterfront where there was a beautiful view over the lake.
After taking too long taking photos the offices for the boat cruises had closed so we couldn't book our boat trip for the following day; deciding they probably wouldn't be busy we weren't too concerned and headed back to the lodge to cook some dinner. Spent the evening in the lounge eating and reading.
Following morning we got down to the waterfront just after 9am and booked ourselves onto a boat trip. Unfortunately the weather had turned really overcast and drissley but this didn't prevent us from being impressed by the scenery, and the rain actually made the waterfalls better. The two hour boat trip showed us even more of the wonderful scenery New Zealand has to offer.
We left Milford and headed to Queenstown (290km). The weather slowly improved on our way and we were able to enjoy more of the autumnal sights during the drive.
We arrived in Queenstown late afternoon and found ourselves somewhere to stay. After heading to the supermarket to pick up some dinner and beer/wine Ramsey cooked up some food then we headed out into the town to a couple of bars. Queenstown definitely feels like a lively place and there were lots of travellers stopping there to work.
Next day Ramsey was feeling a little worse for wear and decided that his plans for mountain biking would need to be put on hold and instead a trip to Mc Donalds followed immediately by a trip to KFC were needed! We spent most of the day strolling round the town.
Later in the day we took a drive up to Coronet Peak, a skiing venue with excellent views.
In the evening we had a couple of happy hour beers - late hair of the dog - before going to Fergburger for dinner. Awesome burger place - Ramsey of course went with the double. The rest of the evening was spent at the hostel playing some board games before an early night.
The next day we had a relaxed start before we headed into town for Ramsey to rent a mountain bike to go downhill biking, over to him... The biking was awesome and seriously hardcore, I warmed up on the grade 3 runs (the easiest ones) and soon realised that even though I had some experience of downhill biking these runs were much more challenging than anything I had done before. I buddied up with a guy so that we could keep and eye on each other while flying down the tracks - he had much more experience than me and while trying to chase him down the easy run I misjudged a jump and face planted the hillside - nice. Good job I had a full face helmet on. After realising that falling off wouldn't actually hurt that much I stepped it up and moved on to the harder runs working up to a couple of runs down the expert tracks at the end of the day (I did ride them a bit like a Grandad and had to move over to let people past a couple of times, but I made it down without falling off or touching down(apart from once)). Overall it was a great buzz and I was happy that I managed to nail some sections of the easy and medium runs at full speed and gracefully took some of the cambered switchbacks. One of the best things about it was that you could take a cable car to the top with your bike so you could enjoy the downhill payoff without the hard work of peddling to the top. I want to go back and do it again!!!!
While Ramsey was off throwing himself down hills I took the opportunity to take the car for a drive to Arrowtown, a pretty little small town on a river. I had a walk round and enjoyed a very large helping of ice-cream before heading back to meet Ramsey, hoping there was nothing broken!
Luckily he walked into the coffee shop in one piece. After a quick coffee we headed to Wanaka, only an hour down the road (70km). On arrival in Wanaka we found some accommodation over-looking the lake, then the local supermarket to buy some dinner.
Following day we got on the road and headed to the glaciers (285km) . What started off as a sunny morning slowly turned into a wet and miserable day, so by the time we got to Fox Glacier the views from the viewpoint weren't fantastic so we carried onto Franz Joseph Glacier and checked into our accommodation. We decided to cross our fingers that the following day would bring some better weather and went to the local coffee shop then onto the local pub umbrellas in hand. Food and pool at the hostel finished off the evening.
We were awoken the following day with blue skies and sunshine so we hit the road and went back to Fox Glacier where we had a much improved view.
We decided against doing the walk to the face as we had a good view from the viewpoint and instead carried onto Franz Joseph Glacier. There we went to the viewpoint then walked part way to the glacier (it wasn't possible to walk all the way to the glacier without a guide) to get a better look.
We considered doing a helicopter/trekking trip which would have taken us to the blue ice, but as we weren't sure of the weather and it was fairly costly we decided against it. I think Ramsey found the glaciers more impressive than me, but then I was expecting to see penguins and polar bears playing on the ice - even though apparently they don't live together! Quick coffee stop and we hit the road to Punakaiki (224km). We briefly stopped in Hokitika for lunch and to scour the beach for jade - we are now carrying round a bag of stones, some of which may possibly be jade! After a beautiful start to the day it gradually clouded over and by the time we reached Punakaiki, which is a very small little town with one tavern and a few hostels/guesthouses, it was grey and raining. We found our hostel down a small track - it was a cosy wooden building with a fire and homemade muffins - although no heaters in the bedrooms which meant it was freezing! We went out to the tavern for a couple of beers and a game of pool then went back to the hostel to cook dinner and enjoy a bottle of red wine.
Next morning the clouds had gone so we jumped in the car (with freshly cooked warm chocolate muffins) and went to see Punakaiki's only tourist attractions - the Pancake Rocks (layered limestone) and blowholes. Both were very impressive and there were some excellent views of the coast.
With freezing cold hands we headed back to the hostel for some breakfast before getting back on the road for the long drive to Picton (335km). There were some nice costal views for the first part of the journey before the road took us inland. We headed towards Blenheim, just down the road from Picton so we could take a look at the Marlborough wine region and maybe buy a bottle - unfortunately we arrived a little late for purchasing wine but saw some beautiful views of the vines and coast.
We decided to take the 'costal road' to Picton, which on the map looked like it should be a regular road, but after we had driven to the top of the first steep hill it turned into a twisty dirt track with lots of up and down and tight hairpin bends. We decided to continue on the road (with our fuel gage looking a little low for comfort) and an hour later and in darkness we arrived in Picton. Ramsey enjoyed driving more than I enjoyed being a passenger, if I was driving we would probably still be there now! We found a nice warm hostel to spend our final night on the South Island.
Following morning we checked out early and caught the ferry across to Wellington on the North Island. A three hour, and slightly bumpy ride later we arrived in Wellington and caught a shuttle bus to the train station that was opposite our hostel. After checking in we went straight out to make the most of our short time in the city. We caught the cable car up to the botanical gardens to get a decent view of the city before heading back down to walk around the city to get a feel for the place.
Once it started getting dark we found a bar and ordered a jug of beer before having our first taste of fish and chips for a while - good fish, frozen chips!!! Disappointing (the fish was good though).
Early start the next day for our 12 train ride to Auckland. After checking in our bags we boarded the small three carriage train with a glass viewing section at the back of the rear carriage and enjoyed the views of the coast in the morning sunshine. In true New Zealand fashion the weather gradually got worse throughout the journey and the scenery was nice but what we saw wasn't as impressive as the South Island. We arrived at 19:20 in Auckland and we greeted at the train station by my cousins Muhaned and Ealaf. It was great to see Ealaf again and to meet Muhaned for the first time. We went back to my Uncle Dhia's house and received a very warm welcome from both him and my Auntie. Dhia cooked up some excellent 'Chalaby cuisine' for dinner, including a very tasty chilli sauce (Chi Cha sauce!). We spent the evening getting to know each other and enjoying the good food.
The morning of my birthday I was up early. I enjoyed breakfast with Muhaned and Dhia before talking with my parents on the phone - it was still the 18th back in the UK. After helping Muhaned and Kataber (Ealaf's husband)) fix a tile on the roof of the rented property they own (not your usual birthday activity but still good fun to get handy with something) we headed down into the centre of Auckland. First stop was One Tree Hill (but there is no tree there) where you get great 360 degree views of Auckland.
Seeing a shower heading our way we jumped in the car and headed down to the harbour. We enjoyed a gelato then jumped on a ferry across to Deveonport and had a tasty lunch in one of the many trendy cafes. Feeling full we headed back to my Auntie and Uncle's house to relax for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we all went out for a rubi that went down a treat (Indian hot - just how I like it). I was treated to the surprise of a birthday cake to top it off.
After the meal we headed back to to the centre of Auckland to check out the marina and skytower. We finished up the night playing pool until everyone was ready to drop - an enjoyable birthday.
After a sleep in the next day I got up and skyped my parents and Alex - still my birthday in the UK. It was great to see them (and Spike) after traveling for over three months. After a hearty breakfast I said an emotional 'see you later' to my Auntie and Uncle and we headed down to town with Muhaned to meet Ealaf.
We went out to North Shore to a picturesque memorial garden to get some more great views of Auckland, followed by fish and chips for lunch at the best place in Auckland which went down a treat. I said my goodbyes to Ealaf in town and Muhaned dropped us off at the airport. I am looking forward to seeing my family again when we stop of in Auckland after Auz.
The flight on to Sydney went without a hitch - the safety video from air New Zealand is a belter.
We both really enjoyed New Zealand and wish we could have allocated some more time to there. The scenery on the South Island is amazing - in one three hour drive it is like driving through all the national parks in the UK at once, and an extra week there would have meant we didn't have to rush around so much. Mountain biking in Queensland has to be one of the highlights of the whole trip for me. We both loved seeing the penguins in Oamaru and the scenery around Milford Sound. Seeing my family - my Uncle, Auntie and cousins (some of them for the first time) was an absolute pleasure. I can't think of a better and more memorable way to spend my birthday. I look forward to seeing them again soon.