Monday 20th February. Landed in Christchurch this morning after a beautiful descent via the Southern Alps and Mount Cook. It seems almost impossible to remember that we have been in the air for over 24 hours; however I am reminded when the floor disappears from under my feet, and I feel the sensation of the turbulence as we left Australia and crossed the Tasman Sea. The views were incredible and their beauty is not done justice by these iPhone pictures.
Tuesday 22nd. Watched the blue eyed penguins come ashore in 'rafts' and make their way up the beach to their burrows. After an incredible nights sleep we are driving down the east coast via Dunedin to Te Anau. See you later! X
Arrived in Te Anau from Oamaru taking the coast road via Dunedin, Balclutha, the Catlins and Invergargill. Stopped at Moeraki to see the boulders (weird geology going on, similar to the Death Star). Drove on to Dunedin (feel good town) through to Balclutha to see the coolest curiosity shop, where the lost gypsy makes the most bonkers sculptures from literally anything. There's one of a dead sheep riding a bike, barbie doll heads that light up when you turn a handle and crazy mermaids made from bits of bikes.
Wednesday 22nd. Up early this morning after T woke with a numb hand, which is now ok. Phew. I love this time of day, everything is so still, plus no one else is using the net; meaning I can actually airdrop millions of pics. So for your viewing pleasure that is what I'm going to do. Something I am unable to capture is the vast unspoiled majesty of this country. It is equally difficult to demonstrate its quirky ness. Everything is a bit bonkers, unique, eclectic and completely random. The roads are like those in Scotland, but with American road signs, driving as we do in the UK. When you leave a 100k stretch, any hint of a town creeps up on you suddenly; massive billboards celebrating their existence appear out of nowhere and suddenly we are driving at 50k. The wide American roads are flanked by prefab bungalows with tin roofs, isolated petrol stations and the odd bakery, and that's it. That was the town; back to 100 kilometre speed restriction. Cities are just bigger versions of this. They host beautiful architecture and vibrant colours. Everyone is friendly and helpful. Within moments leaving a city we are suddenly immersed back into mountains, hills, sheep and cows. Everything is green. Everything is a complete surprise, from the lost gipsy sculpture curio shop, "teapot land" -someone's house and garden absolutely covered in all sorts of teapots (nailed to the roof and walls) to "old sods cottage" and waterfalls, penguins and tropical plants.
Arriving at the sound we met some Australians (Judy and Barry) from Melbourne and Americans Ron and Nancy from Wisconsin. That's a lie. Ron is actually named Ian, but I really wished he was called Ron, and I told him this, much to my wife's embarrassment. They were really good fun, and coped with my dry humour and random nonsense (just about), securing many photographs and cheers as i got soaked by a waterfall holding two coffees. The boat took us out to the stretch of sea known as the roaring forties; fierce by reputation, not so today despite T confiding in me that she felt sick.
Thursday 23rd February. Te Anau to Glenorchy and Queenstown.
I am particularly excited today. Glenorchy is the destination and personally a special place; T would tell me stories about it when we met. Somehow in my mind bit has become something iconic.
The drive to Glenorchy lived up to my expectations. It is the most amazing place.
Drove from Glenorchy to Queenstown - the extreme sports adventure seeking capital of the world. Arrived late afternoon and missed many of the attractions; however we have seen amazing pipers on the quay, eaten the best Thai food I have ever had and spoken about activities we would like to try. After much chatting about skydives, zip wires, paragliding, bungee jumping and rocket boats (travelling at 80k we hour before torpedo diving under water and then being fired backed out into the sky) we have concluded that we are either too unfit, sick, damaged or too scared to do any of these. Frankly, I'm disgusted with myself, because I want to skydive if my life and safety is 100% guaranteed. These are the fears born of being a mother. So skydiving is out. Bungee jumping out (2 prolapsed discs and a retina repair - can't afford the pain or the blindness). Rocket boat (Terry still in plaster with a broken arm, my back - need a physio as we speak). So... paragliding (I'm on my own for this - Ts arm - same for zip wiring like superman). We will see. The fun is doing it with the one you love. Aside from this, it is fair to say that I'm also a bloody terrified big fat gay.
Friday 24th February. Queenstown to Mount Cook with evening stopover at Twizel.
Left Queenstown on a three hour drive to Mount Cook. It's a really hot day, and our lovely bashed up old Nissan has no thermometer. Our guess is that the temperature is somewhere between "f****** hot" and 80F. The town quickly dissapears into enormous arid hills that go on for miles.
Arrival from Mount Cook to Twizel. Twizel is an odd place. Also boiling hot, it is in the middle of nowhere - literally. We are staying in a motel. Or is it a hotel? What is the difference? According to my wife; "a motel is where you have this situation, as opposed to hotel rooms". Well I'm glad we cleared that up.
After a bit of unpacking we decided to have a well earned lay down on some sheets impregnated with 50 years of sweat so pungent that I experienced immediate flashbacks of the headrests of a British rail train carriage. In order to erase the unwanted odour from our minds, we went out for dinner in Twizel town centre, navigating our way through a sea of Japanese motel guests en route. Twizel town centre is almost identical to a big car park with retail outlets - think Lakeside Thurrock but 10 times smaller. It has a handful of eateries and about five shops.
After enjoying a delicious burger, we headed back to our room catching a glimpse of four Japanese ladies in their ground floor room chatting and laughing. We both found this so heart warming. In fact it made a real impression on T, as she likened it to a scene from Saturday Night Fever. What????? "No, I mean Grease! You know when they are all sitting in Rizlas bedroom chatting and smoking fags" Eerr, no? I have no idea what you're talking about.
Saturday 25th February. The drive from nowhere to Haast.
And we're off after Terry's amusing encounter with the girls from 'Grease' at reception; they behave like schoolgirls and fizz with joy at chucking their keys on the desk before running to the coach that has patiently waited for them to get their backsides into gear.
Wanaka is a beautiful place; a lake town with some great shops and really great places to eat. Today we had breakfast at Kai; the choice place to eat of locals. It is here we shared a table with Stan and Ann and their Maori great grandson "little Stan". Big Stan and Ann are from Timaru (South of Christchurch), a place where Stan assured me "the kids have no manners", unlike Wanaka; where the kids are so polite and considerate to everyone. Big Stan and Ann speak with pride about their family, and inform me that their great grandchildren live in Japan for nine months of the year and are fluent in Japanese. Stan and I got chatting about politics and my increasing distain for small mindedness and the social strata. Stan summarised my unease by simply telling me that Kiwi's mostly believe that their abilities and opportunities are limitless. This says it all. He proudly told us that he is currently learning to be paraglider pilot and is on his fifth lesson, and that for his 70th birthday he did his first skydive. Last year he climbed Mount Fuji (apparently 72 metres higher than Mount Cook which is 3750 metres). I don't want to go home.
After breakfast, Stan's experience of polite kids is demonstrated by a group of kids playing on the jetty. They run up and down diving into the water laughing and squealing. Seven year old Marley introduces herself to me by offering me a haribo from her supply of favourites. I graciously accept and we get chatting about hometowns and school. If I did this in the UK I'd be accused of all sorts, especially as the kids end up in our photos.
From Wanaka we drove to Haast pass, stopping briefly at Fantail falls - a beautiful little waterfall in a secluded clearing. Strewn across the river bed were lots of cairns left by travellers; monuments of thousands of visitors during the dry spell. The falls were small but beautiful and fed the crystal clear glacial stream which on wading through was absolutely freezing.
There was an Argentinian, a German and an English woman......
On wading back through the river, the deserted riverbed now entertained two young travellers, Sebastian (German) and Francesca (Argentinian). After chatting for a matter of moments the three of us were semi naked and holding hands plunging ourselves under the icy cold glacial water. Apparently I am now Francesca's hero. Similarly, Sebastian thought it was Christmas.
Arrived at Top 10 - my favourite campsites! This one is an old aerodrome with a huge communal kitchen and our own shower room (it's true about the water going down the plug hole the opposite way)
We took a drive to Haast beach. A driftwood heaven for me.
Sunday 26th February - driving the west coast from Haast to Hokitika
Lots of driving today and a fair few stops, the first being Ship Creek - a beautiful stretch of coastline where we're lucky enough to see a pod of Hector dolphins. Again, masses of driftwood and again not enough room in my suitcase. We stayed briefly, as the sand flies were out in great numbers today.
Onward! After a fair drive, we stopped at Fox Glacier, but sadly it has it has shrunk since Terry climbed it over 10 years ago, so much so that avalanches are a regular hazard, preventing us from reaching it.
We continued North up the west coast after stopping for some hoki poki via Franz Josef glacier, taking in some amazing views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, this time from the west side. We are now in greenstone country - home to nephrite jade, much revered by the Maori settlers, which is only found in rivers to the west of the southern alps. Hokitika (our stop for the night) is where you need to be to lay your hands on some decent greenstone.
Whilst shopping here, we learned a bit more about the Maori designs; the fishhook, spiral, infinite knot and tiki. The shop owner was very knowledgable about such things. We got chatting about Terry being a kiwi from the north island. He confidently informed us that she is a jafa (just another fucking Aucklander) as opposed to himself who from the south is in fact 'feral' like a dirty old cat.
We are staying in a beach cabin with a verander - perfect place for a drink as the sun sets over the ocean, and chats about Morris minors with Darcy and Betty Lupton from next door, who are also jafa's but who are on a vintage car rally with their mates. They are a lovely friendly couple, and at 6pm Darcy is already pissed.
The beach is rugged and windswept with dunes, grasses and a sea of driftwood cairns and tipi's created by its visitors. I am completely seduced by this country, even more so upon the discovery of a fish and chip shop.
Back from fish and chips. Absolutely delicious chips and Hoki fillet, served by an irritated looking woman in a black baseball cap. Mrs baseball cap informed us she doesn't like Hoki, instead favouring elephant fish (not on the menu). We left with our order which was wrapped in proper newspaper to eat on a bench overlooking the sea at sunset. It seems Hoki comes complete with maurading seagulls standing inches from your eyes, in addition to a slightly pissed German backpacker who chose this perfect moment to practice his English with a bit too much eye contact for my liking. After watching a beautiful sunset, we are back at the cabin amusing ourselves by reading the obligatory folder of blurb supplied at every establishment.
I'm checking the sturdiness of the table as I type and wondering if I would recognise a foreshock. This thorough examination has briefly been interrupted by Darcy, who is still pissed but who has come to say goodbye on account of leaving early tomorrow to see his cousin in Greymouth. What a genuinely lovely guy and yet another fine day.
Monday 27th February - Hokitika - Westport
After an excellent nights sleep interrupted once by kiwi calls (seriously - yes! how lucky were we to hear it) the drive on the coast road from Holitika to Westport was stunning. Wild beaches covered with driftwood are unrelenting; as is the heat today - but I'm not complaining. We are repeatedly told by the kiwis that this is the first good week after a terrible summer.
We arrived in Westport! I am still shocked by the scale of everything in NZ. This town has a population of 6000 and is enormous. As a treat for me, Terry has booked us into a surfing lodge, complete with fit surf instructor, guitars for loan, amazing artwork on every surface, communal BBQ and dining area, cool blues music over the tannoy and Buddha shrine to complete my midlife crisis. The place is amazing and ticks all of my midlife crises hippy boxes. Surfs up at 6, and how lucky that I happen to be wearing my midlife crisis shirt to compliment this occasion.