Firstly, on behalf of all tourists I would like to apologies to the local kiwis – we aren’t all this bad at driving. I have had people go 40 KPH in 100 KPH zones, people park on bends, and people swerving off the road and straight back on without looking countless times. If I am getting this frustrated I do truly feel for the locals.
After our ‘luxury’ flight from Sydney (we flew Virgin when normally flying Jetstar) we arrived late at night in Christchurch. It was bloody freezing. We crashed overnight at the Jucy Snooze right next to Christchurch in little personal pods. These were pretty cool however unfortunately don’t block out the snoring of the pod along so it wasn’t a great night sleep!
The next morning we headed to Spaceships and picked up our home for the next few weeks – Gatchaman*. Despite being petrified at the idea of driving such a huge car after being away from the wheel for a few years I actually love being back behind the wheel. The size difference really makes no difference, and automatics are a breeze!
*Side note: all the cars have individual names, ours apparently is Gatchaman a team of ‘science Japanese ninjas’ I guess it has the Asian theme?
We were due to be heading north towards Kaikoura, however due to the recent Earthquake we headed south towards Queenstown. On the way downs to Queenstown we stopped a number of times to; look at view points (at one point almost getting stuck on a rocky beach!), get to know the car, and stay overnight to avoid driving for hours. New Zealand is out-of-this-world beautiful and our quick two hour journey tripled in length. As Duncan puts it – it’s the beauty of Wales… on steroids.
On the way to Queenstown we stopped at Waihi Gorge, our first camping spot. As we do not have a ‘self-containment vehicle’ (one with a toilet) we are unable to ‘Freedom Camp’ and have to stay in campsites. Though at around £6 a night we can’t complain. Our first campsite was in a little valley with a stream and a few toilets. Perfect and stunning. With only us and a couple of extra cars it was the perfect time for us to test out the car, awnings and all. We are loving our little camper – yes Mum and Dad I did just say that!
The next morning however, the honeymoon phase was abruptly over. The car wouldn’t start. Apparently leaving the car key in the door to open the electronic windows overnight kills the battery (I emphasise the car was not on, the lights etc were off, the key was just sitting in the ignition!) A few walks up the hill to get signal, a few hours waiting for the equivalent of AA and a substantial charge later we were back on the road…. Lesson well and truly learnt.
Danseys Pass was great fun, a dirt road through the mountains to a tiny campsite in the middle of nowhere. A true reminder of why we had the car after the morning, exquisite views of the mountains and countryside with a number of stops. Once more doubling our drive time and by the end of the pass, the car was filthy. Also, up in the mountains is freezing – Graham, can you please send us over a blanket?
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. And of course, Duncan and I weren’t going to stay here quietly; bring on the Canyon Swing and Sky Dive!
Shotover Canyon Swing was great fun. I didn’t really see the fun in a bungee jump, you only go up and down, so we decided to do this instead. Duncan was a lot more scared of this than the sky dive, in his words ‘if this goes wrong you will feel it, the sky dive you’ll be gone.’ Due the the heavy wind we only got one swing, however Duncan got ‘Spartaned’ which involved him shouting ‘This is blasphemy, this is madness’ and being kicked (quiet hard) of the ledge backwards. While I decided something a little less painful and slid of the ledge using a child’s playground slide.
Queenstown NZone Sky Dive Duncan was a lot more up for while I was terrified. I started this trip saying I would never skydive, however some how found myself in a small plane harnessed to someone with a parachute about to jump! The feeling of pure terror as you go over the edge and spin around is complete blown away during the free fall and then slow drop of stunning views. You may think New Zealand is gorgeous, but it’s nothing compared to looking at it from above. A number of people say not to go cheap on skydiving as the view is often reduced, we didn’t and I have to agree 100%.
The rest of our time in Queenstown was a little calmer. We rode up the gondola to the Queenstown Skyline viewing point. This was beautiful as Queenstown is a small town, surrounded up a giant lake and humongous snow topped mountains. We also rode the luge down – a little bit of fun!
We also managed to buy some waterproof and fleecy coats. This seems a bit daft as I’m currently sitting here in 18+ degrees but trust me, in the mornings and at night they are worth every penny. For those of you who laughed at my Facebook picture of me buying a jumper – it’s needed! Ha!
Our next stop after Queenstown was Milford Sound. Milford Sound is in the south west of New Zealand located in the Fiordland National Park and has a number of famous cruises that can take you right up to the giant mountains from sea level. The road took us a day to get there, as despite being not that far away you have to go down and round to get to from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The road also contains a number of spectacular spots which of course we stopped at.
After being stuck behind another slow driver we missed our original planned cruise and therefore upgraded ourselves to the next available cruise by a better company. Mitre Peak are famous for being the company that get closest to the mountains. The cruise was brilliant, we saw wild native Fiordland penguins (which are only the size of my hand) and seals, we got so close to the mountain you could almost touch it, and had a brief ride under a waterfall and got a bit wet. Being so close to the mountains from sea level was amazing, while Ha Long Bay in Vietnam was stunning, the was just magical.
After Milford Sound we drove back around the long bend and headed towards Wanaka, Queenstown’s little sister. As we had done most of the activities in Queenstown, Wanaka was due to be a quiet picnic around the lake and a visit to Puzzling World. To quote myself after the skydive on the phone to mum ‘this is where it all calms down’. Spoke too soon.
After a wonderful morning camped out by Wanaka Lake, I headed to ‘Learn to Fly’ and had a flying lessons. A small highlight of Wanaka is a family run business that allows newbies to fly a private plane for 20 minutes, this includes the customer taking off and flying around with full control (obviously under the eye of a qualified pilot) and landing with support. This was absolutely amazing, the only way I can describe it is similar to your first driving lesson, a mixed bag of; excitement, nerves and adrenalin. The lesson even counts towards my pilot’s licence if I choose to continue.
Before we left Wanaka we popped into Puzzling World after seeing it on HK2NY’s video. This small but crazy building messes with your mind through illusions, including a chair riding backwards, a straight room where you change height and a pool table where the ball rolls upwards. It’s hard to describe and even harder to photo…..
Our final trip before today took us to Fox Glacier on the way to Franz Joseph, of course we stopped a few times first….
As I am unable to hike the glacier I wanted to at least see it and Fox Glacier can be walked close to. Unfortunately I did only get to see the smallest end close, however our campsite ended up having a view of the top – a little bit of both. The glacier was impressive, but it’s sad to see how much it has shrunk over the years. Duncan is currently hiking Franz Joseph Glacier so should have a better update and photo for you for our next blog.
Finally, last night was spent in a campsite on the beach. The campsite is due to only hold 8 campers/tents etc however at last count we counted 30 with more still coming in! No camping etiquette here. We spent the evening watching the sunset on the beach, the first time we’ve had a completely clear sky. Honestly, I think I prefer it with clouds – a lot more to look at.
That pretty much sums up our last ten days (only ten?!) It’s been pretty crazy and has ticked a number off our bucket list items. Things should calm down now, I know I’ve said this before, and the next ten days will be spent exploring the gold coast of New Zealand and driving across mountain passes. Then off to the north island to spend some much needed time with family. New Zealand is simply amazing.
P.s. We have a Christmas tree!