Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Kaikoura - Feb '15

The next day we were back to the early start routine. This time we were off to Kaikoura where we had an afternoon of sea kayaking planned. We arrived with just enough time to dump our stuff at the Dolphin Backpackers and do the all important claiming of beds thing before we headed to the kayaking office to get sorted. Since there were three of us big brother and his wife risked their marriage by sharing a kayak leaving me to share with a random Canadian (I think). It turned out he really knew his kayaking and after a a few quick instructions and demonstrations by out instructors we were out on the water and looking for seals. We soon learned that if we did as instructed and waited, nearby seals would come to us for a nosy. I made sure to keep my hands out of the water when they were close by after seeing the teeth on the first one we had a close encounter with. I’m sure they are not interested in humans as food but I didn’t want my fingers to be mistaken for fish! As well as paddling out in the sea we also kayaked close to their resting ground where I managed to get a photo of Zack on the kayak during one of our rests. I am sure my kayaking companion was most confused but it made my day.

That evening there was only one real choice of food for dinner and that was seafood. Kaikoura means “meal of crayfish” and is known for its seafood. It lived up to its expectations and it was nice to have a more relaxed not to mention cheaper meal for once. As well as trying the famous Kaikoura seafood we finally tried the equally famous L&P. We were very confused, it tastes like lemonade. I'm not sure what I was expecting but lemonade wasn't it. Still it was very nice lemonade.

As usual we opted for a fairly early night. We did stop for a few drinks n the way back to the hostel as well as enjoying one or two on our return but we had yet another early start the next day. We had a 6:45am slot booked for some whale watching. As always the early start was worth it. We were barely out of the bay when we saw our first whale. We were lucky enough to see two more though one of them disappeared back underwater before we could get close. Too soon it was time to head back to dry land but the trip wasn’t quite over. On the way back we had some dusky dolphins for company which was an exciting end to a successful whale watching tour.

Since we had had such an early start and it was my birthday I indulged in pancakes for breakfast (any excuse really) and we took our time enjoying our holiday that seemed to be going much too fast. Too soon we were back on the road heading to our final South Island stop. At least we knew there'd be some good wine at the end of our journey though as we were heading to Blenheim.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Timaru & Foos - Feb '15

After Queenstown we headed to our next stop over town, Timaru. We stayed at a lovely B&B run by a a very nice lady who as well as recommending a few places to eat told us we could see penguins in the evening down by the shore. It was too early to eat so we explored the town which was turned out to be a pleasant change from our previous stops. As lovely as Taupo, Franz Josef, Milford Sound and Queenstown it is obvious in all of them that their main trade is tourism where as Timaru felt like a normal town. The landlady's recommendation for dinner was spot on. As well as good food we were able to sit outside and enjoy the last of the days sun. As much as we would have like to see the penguins after dinner our last few days caught up with us and it was to be an early night. After all the next day we had the Foo Fighters to look forward to!

We only had one night in Christchurch. We were there for one reason and one reason only, to see the Foo Fighters on their first night of their world tour. We had originally planned to do a loop of the island but everything was re-arranged on the announcement that the Foos would be playing in Christchurch right in the middle of big brother and sister in laws visit. It was 100% worth it. We got to the gig early and enjoyed the support groups as well as buying the must have gig t-shirt. By the time the Foos came on we were at the front of the walk way from the main stage. I could only see the band clearly if I jumped up and down a lot but since I would be doing that anyway it wasn’t a problem and it was worth it. During the gig the band moved from the main stage to the centre of the walk way to the end and I was the closest I have ever been to the amazing Dave Grohl when they played in the centre of it. Safe to say it was bloody brilliant.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Queenstown - Feb '15

This time I made sure to email Bumbles Backpackers in Queenstown to double check they had us as an out of hours arrival. They did gave clear instructions on how to find our keys. As well asour keys and the wifi codes there was a lovely note welcoming to us the hostel and giving us important information such as how to find our room and check in/out information. We weren’t as late as the previous evening but I was so tired that it was straight to bed for me. Big brother and his wife went in search of food and ended up at the famous Fergburger. They were less than impressed with the chaotic service and said the burger, though good, wasn’t worth the forty minute wait. I was glad I had elected to choose sleep over food.

The next morning we were up early as we had a long bus trip to Milford Sound to see the fjords’. The trip went past very quickly for a four hour journey and Milford sound was worth it. The boat took us out and round so we could see it in all its beauty and, yup you guessed it the camera got a major work out. The packed lunch provided was simple but exactly suited to the type of trip and again we were blessed with good guides. I would definitely recommend Awesome NZ to anyone considering doing the same trip, they are aptly named.

The journey back was a lot quieter with much snoozing going on which meant by the time we got home we were well rested and ready to eat. Being high season it is advisable to book everything in advance, including dinner. We discovered this by going out for dinner without booking. Fortune was smiling on us though as we were lucky to get a table at a great steak house thanks to a party of four not turning up. The portions were generous and the steak was cooked to perfection. It was another brilliant end to a fabulous day.

The next day dawned bright and clear which was good news for us as we were heading up Ben Lomond. We drove up the to chair lift and took the fast route up the boring bits. As before brother and his wife made sure we were well prepared and I made sure both camera batteries were fully charged. This was one of my favourite days on the South Island. The weather was gorgeous and the walk fairly easy going for the most part. The final hike to the top was a little hard going but absolutely worth it once we got there. This is my kind of hill walking; beautiful sunshine, gorgeous views and a fully charged camera. The company wasn’t half bad either though they did seem to be under the impression that I took too many photos. The walk took up the best part of the day but there was plenty of time to play on the luge before we got the chair life back down. I was a bit wary of going fast on the luge at first but soon I was determined to beat the others and even managed to over take some slow people a few times. A brilliantly fun and to another lovely day.

Since we had yet again failed to book dinner we settled on a rather tasty pizza before heading to one of Queenstowns ice bars. If you’ve never been they are exactly what they say they are, bars where everything is made from ice. We went in, took some photos, admired the sculptures then when I thought I my toes might freeze off we left. Across the street from the ice bar was a chilled bar of a different kind; chilled music and service but most importantly and nice warm log fire to help us thaw out. I had expected the days of our journey to be full and exciting but I hadn’t counted on the evenings being such a large part of our trip. By this point though we were used to nice meals out and rehashing the days events over a few drinks. We truly had the holiday thing sussed.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Franz Josef Glacier - Feb '15

The following day we had reserved for our glacier hike though somehow we had forgotten to actually book a spot on any of the hikes. We um’d and ah’d over the heli-hike vs glacier walk and finally decided once in a life time trip n all that and why not we’ll go large and heli-hike it only to discover it books out weeks in advance, oops. Luckily they had a few spots left on a hike later that day. We killed time by exploring the few shops and having lunch and before long it was time to report in and get kitted up in our trendy glacier hiking gear. Go to Franz Josef and you’ll see many groups of people wearing bulk blue jackets and funky red bum bags being herded along. Soon we were one of them and on our way to the heli pad for our short helicopter trip up to the glacier.

Once up there the views took my breath away. To be honest I’m surprised I had much breath left as this was fast becoming a recurring theme on the South Island. It was saddening to hear how much the glacier has retreated over the last few years. I feel privileged that I was able to stand on it and explore it on the safe tracks dug out by our guides. The scale of it is impossible to describe and though I thought I knew what I would be seeing I really didn’t. Our guide was both entertaining and interesting and the walk didn’t have a dull moment, well I did have my camera so every moment we stood still I took twenty photos of the ice of course. Once again I was glad for the lighter camera. Though I was still missing the comfort of my familiar Canon the advantages of the Fuji were outweighing the shortcomings and I was glad I had purchased it when I did.

After a few hours on the ice we were back in the helicopter and soon back to the village to collect the car and move on to our next destination, Queenstown.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Franz Josef Skydive - Feb '15

The sun was blazing when we arrived in Franz Josef and it looked beautiful. We were so early we couldn’t book into our hostel but we could leave our car and get rid of some unnecessary layers. Big brother suggested we go straight to the skydive office in case there was anything we needed to know or bring that we didn’t have on us. There wasn’t but they did say we could fill in the paper work. Whilst we were busy remembering difficult things like our names and dates of birth the lovely Scottish lady in the office checked and told us we could jump right then instead of later if we wanted to, which of course we did. We debated on different photo packages with me going for everything and the others settling for the next package down. Now one of the things I love about my first skydive is that I have it all caught on camera so on arrival at the drop zone I suggested to sister-in-law that she should have the full package and I’d be happy with just the photos and free fall video. After some convincing she agreed and I am so glad she did. I was excited but I don’t think anything and compare to your first jump. I’m pretty sure I looked just like her on the day I jumped at Taupo. The plane at Franz Josef was smaller than the one used at Taupo and the three of us with our tandem masters and camera men all just about fitted in. It was fun on the way up to see the excitement build and the views were stunning. I thought I’d get nervous since we were jumping from higher up but I was simply excited that soon I’d be falling through the air again. Sister-in-law got to go first and it was something seeing someone disappear out of sight as they fell from the open door. Then big brother went then it was my turn. Ninety seconds of free fall and I can’t begin to explain the feeling though I’m sure once again I did scream rather a lot. I really hope those guys wear earplugs. It was amazing and this time I managed to clear my ears so no pain, woo! Post free fall the gliding wasn’t as much fun as the first time as I had difficulty understanding my tandem master which I am sure didn’t help, Mainly we practiced me lifting my legs and this time I landed on my bum, which was a little disappointing but in the scheme of things, well I’d just jumped out of a plane at 19,000ft!!! I think I can live with a bum landing. I even managed to get up in time to gatecrash the end of sister-in-laws video.

Post jump we had to wait for the next load before getting a ride in to town so we got some cups  of tea and gave the new camera a work out whilst we waited. It seemed like it took the other guys a lot longer than it had taken us but I’m sure that was more to due with the adrenaline still running through my system than actual real time. Eventually they landed and it was time to head to our hostel to check in. We were in a 6 person dorm with three beds already occupied so once again I was in the dreaded top bunk, which actually I have come not to mind. I think as long as the ceiling isn’t too low I’m good up there these days. I must be chilling out in my old age. Big brother had asked our bus driver on the way back to town about the best places to eat and I checked out trip advisor. I was in the mood for curry and big brother assured us the first place we tried was a fusion place but I still say he got it mixed up with the place we actually went to as there wasn’t much curry on the menu of the first place. The important thing is that I did get my curry and it was delicious. The wine that went with it wasn’t bad either though we decided to find a pub on the way home for the second glass which proved harder than you’d think. The bars seemed to fall in to two categories: young backpacker or family friendly and we wanted something in between. In the end we settled on a bigger backpacker pub which had outdoor seating but with the all important outdoor heating as well and it wasn’t half bad.

South Island Arrival - Feb '15

A late start meant a late finish. We arrived on the South Island at Picton but had chosen to drive to Greymouth for an overnight stop so we would have more time at Franz Josef the following day. This was the least fun part of our holiday. Most of the driving was in the dark and I did miss having my driving music as there was not audio jack in the car so we made do with our phones on speaker. It was a long day and not made easier by my phone reception being patchy so that I missed the call from our hostel asking where we were.

I had booked through the BBH website and stated that we would be arriving after hours however this information had not been passed on to the hostel owner. I immediately called him back and attempted to sort it out. He was understandably less than happy but once he had sister-in-laws credit card details agreed to call back and leave a message with the door codes. All sorted we were off again only to get diverted at the last bridge. I had checked and was under the impression the diversion was the following week but obviously I had miss read the information, great. So in the middle of the night we kept driving hoping we'd get there eventually. I must admit I was stressed but mostly because I knew it wasn’t just me but my brother and sister-in-law who were affected by all this. This would be why when we arrived and my phone had no signal it took me a good ten minutes and a bit of a tantrum to think to turn it off and turn it on again. Of course that worked. Full signal, message on how to get in waiting for me and finally we were in! I used the living room to sort through my bag so as not to wake the others in our room, the others had sorted themselves in the car, and finally it was bed time.

We were so successful in being quiet the others in the room got quiet a shock at seeing us there the next morning. I went downstairs to apologise to the hostel owner who was much more pleasant once he realised it had been a genuine misunderstanding. He even recommended a place for breakfast that was unfortunately closed so we made do with a decent chain place then we were on our way. Within hours we were due to jump out of a plane so we didn’t want  be late, again!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Wellington Stopover - Feb '15

Having accomplished our goal of completing the Tongiriro Crossing on our first day in Taupo we decided to head back to Wellington the next day so my family could meet my friends. We arranged to meet them for dinner and headed off after a leisurely. We decided to take a detour to Mt Ruapehu and have lunch at the highest cafe in New Zealand. We did contemplate doing one of the shorter walks but fortunately sister-in-law noticed the time and we realised we would already be pushed for time if we wanted to get back to Wellington in time for dinner. It was a long but pleasant drive but we were indeed late in to the city. I dropped the family off at their motel and updated my friends only to be told the place we planned to meet was full. We had tried to reserve but they don’t take them. Finally later than planned and at a different place we all met up. It’s a rare occasion that I have so many important people in one place so I enjoyed the brief experience of being surrounded by friends and family. Of course for my friends it was a work night so they soon headed off, we however were on holiday. Despite a hectic work life I have managed to ind a few good pubs in Wellington and so we finished our evening with a few drinks in a nearby bar before heading home.

The flowing day I was up and getting the washing started and to return our rental car. Since our ferry wasn’t due to leave until after 2pm the others took the time to explore without the worry of lost luggage. I on the other hand got on with the more mundane afore mentioned washing as well as going hunting for a spare camera battery. I had just about managed the Tongariro Crossing on one battery but knew I’d need a spare for all the spectacular scenery on the South Island. There is a lot to be said for internet shopping but sometimes you can’t beat a store. I had bought my camera from a store I had visited many times. I had spoken with the staff there on numerous occasions and was happy to spend my money there when purchasing my new camera. At no point did I regret not going online to look for a cheaper deal. I therefore made the same store my first stop when looking for a spare battery. They didn;t have any and informed me that I would be unlikely to find one anywhere. They did have some due in later in the week but that was no good to me. This is when I really learned the value of buying in person. The guy serving me remembered me, (well he had sold me a rather expensive camera) and sold me a battery from another camera. Now that is good customer service, good salesmanship and being a good person all in one. Having made my day I was soon back to the washing and waiting for the others to return for their exploring. On their return we were off to the ferry and it felt like my holiday was well and truly underway.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Taupo and the Tongariro Crossing - Feb '15

Monday morning I was on the first bus to Taupo. Thanks to the wonders of technology I was able to inform my brother that I was on my way as well as booking a whale watching trip for the morning of my birthday. I did try and read but I was to excited and used up a lot of battery and data on my phone researching our trip. This was fortunate as the whale watching was fast filling up so we only just managed to book the first trip out for day as the later ones were all full. I had recently purchased a new camera and so my faithful canon was left behind replaced with a smaller and lighter mirrorless camera. I decided to use some of my bus time to acquaint myself with my fuji. The lightness of it was disconcerting but I was soon happily working out what all the dials and buttons could do.

Once in Taupo I was reunited with my brother and sister-in-law who had come to meet me with the car. Yay, we had a car! We had lunch in a favourite cafe of mine which happened to be conveniently located across the road from the bus stop meaning we didn’t have far to go. Big brother informed me that the weather as looking good for our trek tomorrow so after lunch it was time to do some shopping so I could kit myself out for some proper hill walking gear before checking in to our hostel. I was delighted to find that as well as being a nice as I remembered from my last stay our hostel had acquired a cat. I immediately attempted to adopt said cat who at first seemed happy to make himself at home on my bed but soon lost interest and wandered off.

The following day we were up before the sun and waiting outside our hostel for our shuttle to the famous Tongariro Crossing. We decided on the trip up to give Mt Doom a miss and instead walk to the top of Mt Tongariro. There was a lot of cloud cover higher up but we were hopeful it would clear as the day went on. As we started the crossing I was amused to see a steady stream of people ahead and as the day continued behind us as well. Being so famous the crossing is a popular trail and it was difficult to get a photo without a trail of people in it. At one point in my life this may have annoyed me for on this day I liked it. As well as giving a sense of scale this is what the Tongariro Crossing is: a beautiful and at times challenging walk with dozens of other people. We made it to the peak in haze of cloud. I am sure the view from the top is beautiful but at no point was the cloud accommodating enough to move and let us judge for ourselves. Despite this I was glad for the rest. I am on my feet all day 5 or 6 days a week and therefore quite fit for someone who has forgotten where her gym is. I thought I knew that this would be a challenging day but only once I was on the trail did I realise that I was using muscles I’d forgotten I owned. It was worth it though and my companions were very patient with both my inexperience and my desire to stop and take a photo every two minutes. Whilst I was still adjusting to the weirdness of my new camera I came to really appreciate the how much more convenient it was to carry. Only at the top of the trail when I had t scramble a little did I feel that I had to put it away for safety. The rest of the day I left it around my neck, something that would not have been possible with my canon.

The end of the rail was a gentle but long walk downwards and by the end of it we were all glad to see the car park. I must admit I was afraid to sit down in case I wasn't able to get up again but my legs got the final say and the ground has never felt so comfortable! After a lovely rest were back on the bus and heading back to Taupo. after some much needed showering and resting we headed to Dixie Browns, a restaurant I had been to previously and enjoyed and I am glad to say they didn't disappoint. Thier large portions were exactly what we required to help us recover from our day and they were as tasty as they were filling. Often I travel alone and I am happy to do so but it was really nice to sit down with my big brother and sister-in-law and discuss the days adventures over good food and wine. It was a brilliant start to our trip and more than ever I was looking forward to our South Island adventures.