My first impressions of New Zealand was of how cold it is. Of course that is a totally unfair view, and not at all true, it's simply that since leaving California six months ago I have not had to wear anything other than T shirts and shorts. When I arrived in Auckland the temperature was about 14 C and I had to wrap up like I was in Antarctica! I immediately got another cold, and really did not feel like doing much except for buying some warmer clothes.
When in Auckland I was staying at Auckland Central Backpackers, a rather large and impersonal hostel. It did have the advantage of being close to the center and having a good travel shop on site, also a bar on the seventh floor. I spent a few days there, and my only bit of sightseeing was to go down to the intended site of the Americas Cup Village (which will house the sailing event to be held from November 1999). It was embarrassing to see that there was going to be no British entry.
My original plan was to travel around the north island and then to go south but I found out that something called the Winterfest starts in Queenstown on the 10th July and I decided I wanted to be down there for that. I flew down to Wellington and stayed there a few days, visiting the botanic gardens in the rain, before catching the Interislander ferry to Picton. The weather was bad and it was the roughest ferry journey I have ever made.
I arrived in Picton, a pleasant small town nestling in the valleys in the Marlborough Sound, and stayed at The Villa, a place I really can't praise enough. The rooms were comfortable and warm, in the winter there is all you can eat vegetable soup for $2, and there is free apple crumble and ice cream in the evening! I spent three days in Picton, doing a couple of walks, before moving down to Christchurch for an overnight stop.
Then it was down to Queenstown, the trip down by bus was very scenic, travelling through the snow covered mountains during the morning of 9 July. I arrived in Queenstown just after lunch and checked into McFees Waterfront Hotel. As I expected due to the Winterfestival the town is busy and the hostel was full. The town itself is in a lovely position, on a lake and surrounded by hills which at this time of year are covered in snow.
The 11 July was my birthday and I spent it skiing at Cardrona, a ski field an hour from Queenstown. I had done a little skiing about seventeen years ago and expected therefore that I would have forgotten the little that I had learnt. I therefore booked a beginners lesson for two hours, but was surprised how much I had remembered. I had a good days skiing on nice slopes and in good weather, a very pleasant way to spend my birthday, and very different from any I have had before.
The next week I stayed in Queenstown, enjoying the activities of the festival and doing a few days more skiing, this time at Coronet Peak, which is closer to Queenstown than Cardrona.
I've just come back from Fiordland, where I spent the last four days. I hired a car and drove to Tea Anau on Tuesday, arriving about lunchtime, then went on a boat trip on the lake and then visited some caves , which weren't all that good. Then I drove to Milford on Wednesday, through lovely scenery, lakes backed by snow capped mountains, through the Homer tunnel to Milford. The weather was a mixture of overcast and drizzle so not the best day to visit Milford sound, but as they get over 7 metres of rain a year it was to be expected. I took a 3 hour boat trip on the sound, including a half hour visit to an underwater observatory on the sound. One advantage of the weather was that many narrow waterfalls were cascading down the sides of the mountains, and despite the overcast day the scenery was beautiful.
I stayed in Milford overnight and then drove back to Te Anau. I took the drive slowly stopping off at a few places along the way for some short walks. Then did a two hour walk on part of the Kepler track near Te Anau. On Friday I did an all day trip to Doubtful Sound. We started at 9.30am with a 45 minute boat trip across lake Te Anau, then had a half hour coach trip through the mountains to Doubtful sound. The next boat trip was for three hours in glorious weather, nice blue skies, the scenery was really nice and we saw some bottle-nose dolphins and some fur seals as well. In one of the side arms to the main sound the air was so still that there was hardly a ripple on the water and the mountains and sky made an almost perfect reflection on the water. On the coach trip back to Te Anau we stopped off at the Manapouri hydro electric power station for a trip to the turbine hall 250m under the hills. It was then back to the boat for the trip across Lake Te Anau.
Last monday there was again some snow, about 40cm, The Remarkables was closed the next day, but Coronet was still open. So off to Coronet we went, had an excellent days skiing, the snow was great, the weather good, and I felt that my technique (such as it is) was coming together, also today I had company on the slopes, as James and Claire who I had both met in McFees hostel were also skiing. The next day I was persuaded to go skiing again, this time at The Remarkables. The snow wasn't so great to start with, and half way through the day I realised that two days of skiing in a row was a little more than my leg muscles could happily tolerate. I knew what I wanted my skis to do, but they didn't always go where I wanted.
Although I could have stayed in Queenstown much longer I decided that I had to leave as there was so much more of New Zealand that I wanted to see, so on 30th July I travelled back to Christchurch. I spent three days there, staying at Warners on the Square, right in the center of the city. I visited the museum, the Antarctic Experience (which was reasonably good, particularly some of the videos and films), and also New Brighton beach and its pier. I also visited the Casino on two occasions, but I was not lucky, it was amazing to see how much money some people were spending though. It's amazing how, without planning to, I keep running across people that I have met before, all travellers doing roughly the same route. It was whilst in Christchurch that I realised how well the Kiwis cook chips (for any US readers I mean "fries"), the quality is so much better than anywhere else I have been.
On the afternoon of 4 August I took a shuttle bus up to Kaikoura. I went to Kaikoura to go whale watching, but the two days I was there the weather was bad and we couldn't go out. I left and went up to Blenheim, stayed a few days and went on a winery tour, with free samples. Then I travelled up to Picton and caught the Magic Bus which I shall now be using to travel round New Zealand.
Our first stop was an overnighter at Nelson, and then it was down to Greymouth, where I stayed at Noahs Ark Backpackers. Each room there is decorated in a different animal theme, I was in the "tiger room". I stayed there for a few days, going to Monteith's brewery for their tour with free samples of most of their range of beers. Whilst In Greymouth I went to Shantytown, a replica goldmining town, where I did a little panning for gold, getting probably about $3 worth.
Since leaving Greymouth on Wednesday I have been to Hokitika for a day, I went on a Jade carving course and carved myself a whales tail. Then I caught the Magic Bus again to stop overnight at Franz Joseph, where I did a half day walk on the glacier , which was tiring but a good experience. Now I'm back in Queenstown, where I'll stay a few days. I had wanted to stay a few days at Wanaka but couldn't find any accommodation, the first time I have had a problem since starting travelling.
It was good to get back to Queenstown, and again I stayed at McFees Waterfront hotel. On the first night in town we had a bit of luck as we met a Kiwi who was holidaying down here, he had a camper van and offered us a lift to Arrowtown the next day. The town is a site of an old goldmining settlement and was a pleasant place to spend a few hours, walking around seeing the old one room cottages where the Chinese community used to live, and browsing through the various shops in town. On Tuesday Mark again offered to drive us around and we went to the Shotover river where I took a ride in a jet boat. The half hour trip up and down the river was exhilarating, we passed within inches of the rock sides of the canyon, skipped over water only inches deep and did 360 degree turns. Afterwards Mark drove us to the Kawarau bridge, which is the site of the world's first commercial bungy jump. It was interesting to watch, but I did not really feel like jumping 34 metres off the bridge, I had done a bungy a few years before in England and saw no reason to repeat the experience.
On Wednesday Mark was kind enough to drive us to Coronet Peak for a day of skiing. I had a good day, and with a few tips from Mark felt that I was progressing. Katrina, who is also on the Magic Bus did her first ever day on the slopes, and managed to get through the day still smiling and with no broken bones.
On Thursday I went horse riding, I had never really been on a horse before and whilst it is something I could do back home the chance to ride amongst such nice scenery was too good to pass up. I was collected from my hotel and driven fifty kilometres to Glenorchy, where High Country Horses are based. I had almost two hours riding in a group in the morning along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a rest over lunch time, and then an hour and a half ride in the afternoon. We crossed the Rees river a number of times and went cantering along the grass flats. After a very enjoyable day I was returned to my hostel feeling rather saddle sore. Not put off by the experience I will try and learn more when I get back to the UK.
The next day I was reasonably stiff, and a combination of this and the fact that the weather was not good meant I did very little, in any case after a nearly a week in Queenstown it was time to do some chores before boarding the bus the following day for the trip to Dunedin. Arriving in mid-afternoon I had a little time to walk around the city center, but found nothing of great excitement. The following day I hired a car and we drove out to the Otago Peninsular. We wanted to do some walking, but the weather was not great. We did do a one hour walk, down some sand dunes and over to a small seal colony, but the walk back directly into the wind was hard. We returned to Dunedin and I drove up what is reported to be the steepest street in the world.
On the Tuesday it was back on the bus for the trip to Christchurch, which having visited twice before, I decided to make only an overnight stop. It was then back to Kaikoura for a second chance at whale watching, but again, despite staying a day and a half, the weather was against me. Instead I took a four hour walk to another seal colony , and then walked along the coast. On 27 August we left Kaikoura and drove to Picton where we caught the Interislander ferry to Wellington. After nearly two months on the south island it was time to move on.
I just spent the night in Wellington before taking a long bus journey up to Taupo. We stopped for a few hours in Napier, and arrived in Taupo late in the afternoon. It was out to a bar in the evening, with other people from the Magic Bus, to watch the New Zealand v Australia rugby match. The following day, Sunday, I had a lazy day, short walks near Lake Taupo interspersed with regular coffees, and reading the newspaper. The next day I went on a tour of two thermal parks in the area, the Craters of the Moon area and Orakei Korako.
Tuesday was cancelled due to the weather, well not the whole day, but just the activity I had booked, namely a tandem parachute jump from 12,000ft. We had a bit of waiting around, and did actually go out to the airfield and get kitted up, but the jump was cancelled. Instead I went for a walk along the shores of Lake Taupo. Wednesday the weather was much better, clear blue skies and not much wind. Off to Taupo airfield we went, to the base of Taupo Tandem Skydiving, within a short while we had on our jump suits and harness and were waiting to board the plane with our jumpmaster and five other pairs. The climb to 12,000ft took twenty minutes, plenty of time to contemplate what we were about to do, during the climb my jumpmaster attached his harness to mine. I was fifth out of the plane, and had seen the other pairs drop from sight as they exited. It's difficult to describe the experience, but I will try. We moved on our knees to the edge of the door, a quick check, and a pause for an exit photo, and the jumpmaster asked if I was ready, next I knew we were out the plane and heading down at 200 kmh. We were in freefall for 45 seconds, the wind buffeting us as we went. Suddenly there was a snatching sensation and the canopy had opened at 5,000ft. We floated for another four and a half minutes, plenty of time to view the snow capped mountains in the background, Taupo lake and the surrounding scenery, before landing right on target. The buzz and sense of achievement were amazing, I must do another!
The next day was much more sedate as we left Taupo and headed north to Mount Manganui, arriving in the late afternoon. There was just enough time to check in to Pacific Coast Backpackers before a group of us, led by our Magic Bus driver, set off to climb Mount Manganui itself. The short climb gave us excellent views of the surrounding area and the Bay of Plenty. After a meal it was then down to the saltwater pool for a quick soak. Next day we headed north again, stopping briefly just outside Mount Manganui, at Papamoa, to go karting. These were engineless karts, pushed off from on top of a hill, down a winding track to the bottom. Of the six of us participating I was judged to have the fastest time! Then we left for a fairly unexciting drive into Auckland. I checked into Albert Park Backpackers, which seems far nicer than the much larger Auckland Central Backpackers which is where I stayed last time I was in the city. I stayed for two days, and took a the ferry to Devonport, to look around that area.
It was then back on the Magic Bus for the trip to Rotorua. I stayed at Cactus Jacks hostel, a friendly place near the center of town, for four nights, walking round a number of park areas in the town looking at all the thermal activity. It was strange to see steam coming from drains in the roads, and thermal pools so close to houses and other buildings. I also visited the museum and the Polynesian Spa, where I soaked in various pools of mineral waters (it took some days for the smell to totally wash out my hair).
On Friday it was back on the bus, just outside Rotorua we stopped to see the Lady Knox Geyser blow at 10.15am, then on to the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Reserve to see the mud pools and terraces. We then went on to Taupo where I did my second tandem jump. I enjoyed the jump much better than the first. On leaving the plane my tandem master gave a slight backwards roll and for a few seconds I was on my back looking up! Also I guess I was a lot less nervous, and was able to take in more of my surroundings. We stopped overnight at Turangi, and then left to go to Wellington along the Desert Road to admire the scenery of the Tongariro National Park, with views of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu. Arriving in Wellington we went up Mt Davidson for a view over the city, and then down to the city to check back in to Downtown Backpackers.
After a day in Wellington I flew back to Auckland to again stay at Albert Park Backpackers for an overnight stay before catching the bus to Pahia, where I had decided to spend the last week or so before I fly to Australia. On the way we stopped at Pakiri beach where I went quad biking. For the first few days in Pahia the weather was mixed, sunshine interspersed with showers, and I did not venture far from the hostel. The weather improved and I took a tour to Cape Reinga with Northern Exposure Tours. We drove along ninety mile beach, and then stopped at some sand dunes where we climbed to the top and then boarded down them. We then stopped at a beach for lunch before moving on to Cape Reinga, the most northerly point in New Zealand which can be reached by car. Then it was on to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a workshop and display rooms for woodcarvings made from trees which were living 30,000-50,000 years ago and which have remained buried since then. The next day a few of us from the hostel took the short walk to Waitangi, the site where the Treaty between the Maori's and the British was signed in 1840. After visiting there for a while two of us then took a walk along the river for a few hours, and then stopped at a bar which brewed their own very good ale. Another day I took the short ferry journey to Russell and walked around the town, climbed a hill for some great views across the Bay of Islands, and spent some time on a beach. On 22 September I left Pahia to go back to Auckland, on the way we stopped to see Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest), the largest Kauri tree in the world which is approximately 1,250 years old, 4.4 metres in diameter and it's first branch is 17.7 metres from the ground.
I had one day in Auckland, in which I did not do a great deal, though I was finally able to reduce the weight of my backpack when I sent some warm clothes, which I had purchased on arrival in New Zealand, back home. In the evening I had some time to waste as my flight was at six thirty in the morning, so I went to the Casino.
Of all the places I have so far visited I am saddest to leave New Zealand, I had really enjoyed my time there and felt quite at home.