Seven Ali G impersonators about to go powerboating
Monday 22nd May
This morning I woke up ridiculously early after an awful sleep and went to Melbourne airport for my flight to Christchurch, for a month in New Zealand. I had been warned that the winters in New Zealand would be particularly harsh compared to the tropics, and as we landed in Christchurch I was welcomed by drizzle and temperatures that resembled England more than Australasia! I checked into accomodation and went for a bite to eat in town. I found a nice sports bar, which was pretty ideal and took full advantage of the 'Specials' board. I returned to the hostel, watched TV and had an early night.
Tuesday 23rd May
After a mammoth lie in I went about exploring Christchurch with all of the energy I could muster.
Stopping off to admire some of the scenery
Firstly, I had a look around the rather modest, yet charming Cathedral, which was slap-bang in the city centre. I then wandered over to the museum, which was much bigger than it appeared from the outside, and had very odd exhibits about Antarctic exploration (to think I was sunning it up in Oz only two days ago, and now I was being confronted with ice picks and huskies...). I went outside to warm up, but was again welcomed by a dreary Christchurch. I meandered through the botanical gardens and walked for miles until I reached a shopping complex where I stocked up on some thermals (it's amazing how much you buy when you're feeling cold at the time). I came out with enough woolies for an antarctic mission, and then contemplated how I could possibly fit my newly assembled winter wardrobe into my already bulging backpack.
The Pancake Rocks of Westport
A curry soon lightened my mood and I had another early night.
Wednesday 24th May
This morning I woke up early for my pick-up, having booked myself on the Kiwi Experience as a guide through New Zealand. In my infinite wisdom, last night I decided to leave the packing for this morning as I would have plenty of time with my new alarm clock I bought yesterday. My alarm clock kindly gave a very faint siren half an hour after I asked it to, causing slight panic and major frustration. Therefore, trying to pack the equivalent of a rhino into a mini was even more difficult to do in the pitch black room, when others are trying to sleep and when the bus was arriving in a matter of seconds. Nevertheless, after threatening my bag a la Basil Fawlty, I managed to stumble out of the hostel with my bruised bag and umpteen carrier bags with yesterday's shopping disasters.
The nearest point to Oz from New Zealand
From the hostel, we drove to Westport, via the Canterbury Plains. We had lunch in Arthurs Pass, which was basically 1900's England, complete with teahouses and specialist shops. The only thing missing from this barren land in the middle of the day was tumbleweed sweeping across the street. We arrived in Westport mid-afternoon and were encouraged to do some jet-boating, which basically involved speeding around a river, wearing a rubber 'shell suit', yellow glasses and a beanie hat... nice. So, there were about 20 people, all looking like Ali G, flying around on a river, doing 360 degree turns and shrieking every time we hit a ripple of water. It was a good activity though, and definitely a good start to New Zealand. Everyone was soaked through and welcomed the open fire and hot drinks when we got back on land.
An early morning walk en route to Wanaka
We arrived to our hostel and met each other properly over a few drinks in a nearby bar.
Thursday 25th May
This morning we got aboard the bus and soon stopped for a short walk in Cape Foulwind (I pity the guy it was named after), which was a pleasant walk, overlooking the sea. We saw some seals on nearby rocks and we were at the nearest point to Australia, although not worth the swim, I was told! We continued the drive to the Punakaika Pancake rocks, which I found to my horror, were not rocks made out of pancakes, but giant rocks with erosion patterns that looked [nothing] like layers of pancakes. There were also blowholes, which emitted large gusts of air formed when the tide came in and caused pressure in the rocks. After lunch we stopped in another old village called Greymouth, rich from goldmining and went shopping for items for our party tonight.
The Kiwi Experience crew partying in Franz Josef
It was a fancy dress party and it had to be one of your intials (JM for those who don't know me that well). After many rubbish ideas I settled on going as a Jester (shows how rubbish the others were)! We checked into Lake Mahinapua Hotel and had a BBQ, including steak and venison, which was pretty crap in all fairness. I went to get ready for the party, but wasn't feeling very well, so had a nap first. I managed to get ready and make an appearance, but had to go after a while and went to my very welcoming bed.
Friday 26th May
We left the hotel early in the morning and I was feeling rough. I had a sore throat and a throbbing headache and missed the enthralling possum museum (a blessing), opting for some fresh air instead. We then continued the drive to Franz Josef and settled into the hostel and I contemplated doing the hike through the glaciers tomorrow.
More stunning landscapes
After thinking about it, I rather stupidly agreed to it, banking on the assumption that I'd be feeling great the next day! I struggled with eating dinner and had a very early night. Although I did happen to get chatting to my roommates and found that not only were they in Koh Tao at the same time as me, but they were in the same dive school as well! Small world...
Saturday 27th May
I woke up this morning feeling worse than ever. If I was offered a million pounds I could not have hiked a glacier, so I got my refund from the tour operator and retired to my bed for the rest of the day. I made the occasional visit to the TV room, but generally doctored myself and lazed around. It was disappointing not to do a fairly major activity of New Zealand, but there wasn't much I could do about it.
Another welcome break to admire the typically breath-taking scenery of New Zealand
My friends returned and were exhausted from the hike, saying that the conditions were awful and very tough.
Sunday 28th May
This morning we left Franz Josef and made our way towards Wanaka. I was feeling quite a lot better this morning and improved considerably throughout the day. We stopped for a walk to Lake Matheson, which was very picturesque. We then drove a bit more and stopped for lunch, which I managed to gobble up with ease. The tour then left the coastline and went inland as we meandered though a myriad of mountains and tight, winding roads.
The view from our Hotel in Wanaka
We arrived in Wanaka and checked in to the Wanaka Hotel, which was an amazing hotel. I managed to get a room to myself, with a TV, fridge and ensuite with mountain views for 7 quid... 'yabba-dabba-do' is the expression that came to mind. I had an early night after a pretty exhausting day.
Monday 29th May
After a slow start to the day, the hotel was deserted as the rest of the bus went on to Queenstown, but I decided to stop and chill out with the friends I had met since Christchurch (Mark and Gemma from Essex and Vicki from London). Mark and I decided to go fishing and the girls went horse riding. Never having been fishing before I was looking forward to the prospect of bringing home a nice snapper or trout for dinner.
Mark with our prized catch of the day!
.. but I was in for a surprise! After walking for two hours to find a suitable area to fish (and being hounded by residents for 'walking through private property'), we eventually found a seemingly idyllic spot. Wrong! I tried casting the rod and nothing happened. Mark was wetting himself watching me hurling this big stick with string on around my ahead with no idea what was going on. I was expecting a scene from 'There's something about Mary', where the fish hook flies off and attacks an unsuspecting civilian. I eventually launched the lure and waited for a while before retrieving the empty hook. This process was repeated innumerable times until the lure got stuck on a rock. D'oh - every lure cost $4! After losing two lures in quick succession and still without even a sighting of a fish, we moved on.
A moment of contemplation at Puzzling World
More lost lures, more money in the river. We continued our search for the myhical sea creatures known as 'fish'. At 4pm, we saw a ripple in the water and jumped for joy at the thought of catching something other than vegetation or a rock. The moment of truth arrived and I launched my lure into the river, but to my dismay, I hadn't tied it on correctly and the lure went hurtling towards the river at a fair speed. Any fish in the vicinity would no doubt have been knocked out... another $4! Mark eventually caught a fish amid the excitement, a whopper of a fish, which was a staggering eight inch beast. The final straw was when the line snapped whilst Mark cast the lure, thus launching our final lure into the river. We started our long walk back in the daylight and arrived back well after sunset, dying to tell the girls of our epic day.
A superb sunset over Lake Wanaka
We celebrated the occasion by going to a Thai restaurant across from the hotel and unsurprisingly, I had fish! I went back to the hotel and worked out the cheapest mortgage I could get to pay for the lures.
Tuesday 30th May
Another familiar lie in was a great way to start the day. I met Mark and Gemma, went for a walk along Lake Wanaka and we collectively decided that today would be a lazy day (after yesterday's heroics I think we deserved it). I relaxed for the rest of the day, watching movies and reading my book overlooking the lake and mountains until sunset arrived. The evening was spent vegging out in front of the TV. What an exciting day!
Wednesday 31st May
Today we reluctantly left the tranquility of Wanaka and it's fantastic hotel and motored our way to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand.
The beautiful lake surrounding Queenstown
On the way there, we stopped at Puzzling World, a large complex of puzzles (surprisingly enough), mazes, brainteasers and mind-boggling images. Needless to say my brain packed in soon after I went in, but it was still nice to have a look around, nodding uncontrolably at the illusions I faced. The next stop on the coach was at Kawarau bridge, where we watched people (lunatics) jump off the bridge like lemmings, attached to a big elastic band known as a bungy. The concept eluded me, but it was fascinating to watch people hurling themselves to within a few inches of their lives and it cost me nothing! After a few near-misses, we headed into Queenstown with some people looking a little worse for wear, in their newly-browned trousers. Queenstown was instantly a major hit.
The untouchable Queenstown
It looked like a ski resort and the air was crisp and fresh. We checked in and went around a few bars to check the area out.
Thursday 1st June
This morning I got up reasonably early in the intention to go white-water rafting (despite the sub-zero temperatures of nearby water). I had been informed yesterday that today was the official first day of winter and therefore I had to get a helicopter to the start of the river, which grossly inflated the price of the trip. I arrived at the pick-up place only to be told that the rafting had been cancelled due to low demand. I was pretty annoyed as it meant that I could have done something else that morning, but never mind. Instead I spent the day doing what I do best - nothing! I wake around town, read my book by the lake again, watched TV and then in the evening went to the cinema and watched Poseidon, which was pretty good.
Catching the morning mist... stunning
Friday 2nd June
This morning was a very early start and it was freezing. If I had to guess, I would say it was something like -50 degrees. Something like that. We got aboard our coach which had no heating whatsoever and left Queenstown for a day trip to Milford Sound - widely accepted to be the most beautiful part of New Zealand. I wasn't prepared to miss this opportunity and so braved the cold and insane wake-up time. En route we stopped for plenty of photo shots, which were incredible. We were standing in the middle of clouds and the landscapes were unbelievable. We cruised around Milford Sound for about an hour-and-a-half before going to the underwater observatory.
Milford Sound - unparalleled beauty
We returned back to the port and started the return trip to Queenstown. It was a very long day, wtih loads of driving, but the scenery more than compensated for that.
Saturday 3rd June
This morning I got up nice and early to go hang gliding! Woohoo! For what reason, I still do not know, but at the time I thought it would be nice to fly around for a bit. So, as we were driving up into the mountains I was beginning to think what the hell I was thinking of when I booked this. After being decked out in a 'kwik-fit' overall and then covered with what can only be described as a massive green sheet of tarpoling, someone commented that I looked like a turtle, which I took as a compliment (I always wanted to be Michaelangelo or Donatello)! Anyway, as the guy was explaining what to do and what not to do, I was miles away, looking through him and down to the 650m drop I was about to launch myself into.
The calmness and tranquility of Milford Sound
So, as I was strapped on, smiling for the cameras, I heard him say '3,2,1' and he proceeded to run... much to my horror! I quickly accumulated odd words he had been saying earlier and managed to put them into some sort of meaningful description. Cue James Bond music... go! The mountain I was once so happily perched on quickly retreated from below me, leaving a memorable gap between me and the earth. The glider asked if I wanted to try the controls, which I duly accepted, which was good fun, both turning right and left and then dipping a bit (probably not the best idea I've ever had). I was taking in the views and trying to chill out when the glider asked me if I wanted to do some acrobatics. I went to say 'no', but my mouth said 'yes' and before I knew it we were flying all over the place, dropping at very steep inclines and taking very fast corners.
The mountainous terrain covering Milford Sound
At this point we were quickly approaching the landing field, which was full of unsuspecting cows looking at us very suspiciously, which I found very amusing. We missed a barbed wire fence by a matter of millimetres, dodged a few cows and landed on a nice cow pat, skidding to a stop some 30m later. After smearing cow turd half-way across Queenstown the cows were looking perplexed as I picked up my knee-caps and staggered away from the enlarged paper aeroplane. I waited for the other victims to land so we could empathise about the ordeal and returned back to base, with my knee-caps safely stored in a souvenir bag. Seriously though, it was excellent and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to be Superman for the day. In the afternoon I went luging with Mark and Gemma, which basically involves cruising around a track in a plastic tray with wheels on.
The waterfalls, resulting from melting glaciers trickle into Milford Sound
It was great fun and I managed to destroy most of the course and miraculously slipped my knees back into place after a rather big shunt! In the evening, I rested my battered body in the cinema and watched X-Men 3.
Sunday 4th June
This morning we left Queenstown and travelled to Christchurch, which was a very long drive. My aching bones were relieved at this prospect and it gave me ample opportunity to read and relax. We arrived in Christchurch late in the afternoon, much to everyone's relief after travelling for some nine hours. Christchurch was as boring as usual and was pouring it down to add to it's appeal. I drowned my sorrows with a curry, which again was well below par and had an early night, as tomorrow's pick-up was at 7.
Cruising around Milford Sound
Monday 5th June
This morning we travelled from Christchurch to Kaikoura, which was a short, scenic drive. Kaikoura is a small fishing village, famous for it's whales, dolphins, seals and crayfish (lobster). Being a fish-fanatic, I was soon in my element in the ultimate chill-out zone. We stopped for photo's on the lookout over the bay, and also for a cheeky few pictures of the seals. We arrived at a very nice hostel and looked around the derelict, yet charming main street. After returning to the hostel and having a more than satisfactory fish and chips, I decided to stay another couple of nights.
Preparing for my hang-gliding escapade
In the evening, I relaxed, reading and watching movies.
Tuesday 6th June
After a lovely lie in, I awoke to find a virtually empty hostel! Bliss! The hostel was a converted house, and so was very homely and comfortable. I read during the morning, overlooking the snow-capped mountains, facing the ocean. There was dead silence, and it was a beautiful morning. In the afternoon, Mark, Gemma and I went whale watching, which was pretty good. We saw three whales (although I suspect the captain was just following the one), which was more than the average of two. We also saw some huge albatross, which I certainly wouldn't like to be chased by! The sea was a bit choppy, causing a few people to hurl their guts out, whilst we were pushing our way through for photo's! It was a nice day out, and it was amazing to watch the whales, but it was a bit boring and a touch over-priced.
Enjoying the views of The Remarkables
We came back, had some more fish and chips and then went back to the hostel, and done something I certainly hadn't planned on doing on this trip - we made cakes! Gemma wanted to make cakes, and there wasn't much else to do, and given the fact we had the hostel to ourselves we made cakes; lots of them!! After dinner, we indulged in the forty (yes, forty) cakes and before long, were OD'd on sugar. Despite this feat, we also managed to have a stir fry whilst eating the cakes - a surprisingly brilliant combination!
Wednesday 7th June
After yesterday's gastronomic accomplishment, I had a chilled out morning, reading in the very peaceful hostel with an air of tranquility it was bliss compared to the action-packed hustle and bustle of Queenstown that I had just left.
The coastline of Kaikoura
In the afternoon, I met up with Mark and Gemma and went out for a bike ride through the Kaikouran countryside. Such is the beauty of this small town, that is positioned overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with a host of superb seaside bars and restaurants and stunning moutain views. As well as these attributes, it also benefits from an amazingly picturesque and cow-filled fields that consist of typical New Zealand countryside. After a few near-misses with the bike and suitable warnings from the cow's not to come back, we managed to find a pub. It came of a surprise to see that in the middle of a tiny village in rural New Zealand was a very Irish pub! Nevertheless, I embraced this surprise and experimented with the local tipple - Guinness! On our way back we managed to get chased by a few disgruntled cows after getting slightly lost.
A very chilly Kaikoura!
We dropped of the bikes and went back to the hostel and went out for the evening for another culinary treat... lobster! This had whetted our appetites since our arrival to Kaikoura and given the locality of the produce and the infamous crayfish caught only metres away from the restaurant, I went the whole hog and ordered a seafood platter consisting of crayfish, prawns, mussels and hake. Needless to say it was superb and went down a storm with everyone. We meandered back to the hostel and chilled out before the next leg of New Zealand.
Thursday 8th June
This morning we left Kaikoura and left for the North Island. There was a touch of reluctance as I boarded the coach as the South Island had been amazing... the scenery, action and good company had made it a memorable start to New Zealand, so there was a lot of pressure for the North Island to match it's twin.
A seal of approval from the locals!
Soon after leaving Kaikoura we stopped by a waterfall where there was a small colony of seals, which had recently given birth to a litter of baby seals. It was a brilliant sight as the fascinated creatures came up to the strangers much to our astonishment. We returned to the coach and passed the vineyards near Picton, before boarding the ferry that would take us to the North Island. Upon arrival to the North Island the weather had turned rather foggy and damp, which was very unpleasant compared to the endless sunshine encountered on the South Island. I checked in to the hostel and went for a wonder around Wellington
, the capital of New Zealand. Despite it's popularity and relative size I was generally unimpressed and uninspired.
The heavenly Kaikoura
I visited the large and modern Te Papa museum, which catalogued all of the recent earthquakes to strike New Zealand. Just what I wanted to hear! Despite my instinctual urge to explore a city, I wasn't motivated to do so, and with the evening fast approaching I opted to watch a DVD instead after some lovely fajita's.
Friday 9th June
This morning I left Wellington and bid farewell to Mark and Gemma, who had decided to see a bit more of Wellington, as they weren't as time-pressured as I was. The drive to Taupo was notably special, after a scenic drive out of the smog-ridden city of Wellington through the Tongariro National Park and then onto the much-anticipated Taupo.
The view from the hostel!
After checking in to the neglected and disappointing 'Urban Retreat' hostel, I befriended my roommates and went on a walk with them to get acquainted with the area. It was the general consensus to visit a wine tasting shop, but we fell victim once again to the Kiwi's imprudent sense of distance. The walk was very pleasant and covered the hot springs and a considerably rustic walk to the Huka falls before tantalising our tastebuds at 'The Beehive', a shop that specialised in honey-based products. They also produced some interesting wine derived from the likes of wilderberry and gooseberry amonst some other nondescript concotions, but with darkness looming and without even so much as a sniff of a nice cabernet sauvignon or merlot, we cut our losses and returned to the hostel. As we returned I managed a sufficiently British scowl at the staff who had recommended the short walk to the winery.
Letting off some steam...
Nevertheless, it was BBQ time at the hostel and after getting changed I was astounded at the incompetence of the staff once more at managing to give my pre-ordered dinner to someone else. After another stern 'I'm going to kill you soon' look, the hostel became very apologetic and managed to slaughter another calf in the knick of time. After a few bevvies, I went to the local pub (Mulligans) with the coach driver and the rest of the bus and was introduced to another coach driver who, by everyone's accounts bore a striking resemblance to Mr Bean, which I found hilarious. We then drifted on to the Holy Cow, which was aptly named considering the general scruffiness of the surroundings and it's punters. I then returned to the hostel, walking through the side door so I wouldn't maim the concierge.
One of the whales going under
Saturday 10th June
This morning I woke up without much enthusiasm or energy and wondered around the pleasant town. Taupo is a wonderful place and hosts a wonderful lake; one of the most scenic in New Zealand, which is testament to it's popularity and reputation. I had breakfast overlooking the lake, reading the local paper and admiring the bustle of the cafe on the weekend. After walking through town I returned to the hostel and met up with Mark and Gemma, who had arrived from Wellington. They were not too impressed with Wellington, which was of some relief to me as I hate missed opportunities. In the evening, we went into town, sampled the local Pizza Hut and after sufficient visits to the buffet and ice cream parlour we wobbled to the pub and watched the New Zealand v.
A river running through Taupo
Ireland rugby match. In a bar full of Kiwi's I made a conscious decision to be a complete neutral. The thoroughly enjoyable game ended 34-23 to New Zealand, much to the delight of the crowd and Mark and I celebrated by playing a few games of pool. We then stayed went to another pub and stayed to watch the England game. This pub was yet another Irish bar and was deserted after the drubbing from New Zealand. The pub was similar to it's neighbouring bars with it's lack of cleanliness, dark interiors and a barrage of rats running through the bar. At such early hours of the morning and with this being the only pub nearby with the match on, there was little choice but to sit back and keep the feet off the floor! The game started off very well, an early goal calmed the initial nerves, but a typically fruitless performance from England soon followed and Paraguay were an equal match during the second half.
The mud bath wasn't very tempting in Rotorua!
Nevertheless we somehow managed to keep the score at 1-0 until full time, much to the delight of the small army of fans gathered around the TV at 4am.
Sunday 11th June
This morning I awoke with the intention of performing the perfectly natural act of hurling myself out of a plane at 12,000 feet, but due to bad weather (thank you God) the skydive was called off. I had phoned the skydive company, as instructed at about 7am after a sleep of 2 hours! I returned back to bed and slept in until a more reasonable hour in the afternoon. After my second wake-up, I was fully charged and left the hostel and its incompetent and very annoying staff and went around closer into town to stay at a much more pleasant and spacious hostel called 'Go Global'.
The incredible Geysers of Rotorua
After a hearty fry up in town (after painstakingly selecting the one bar that had brown sauce) and watching the very entertaining French Open re-run, I returned to the new, clean hostel. In the afternoon, we went to the Hot Springs, which are ideally situated under a bridge. They are intensely hot as the mineral spring water from the volcanic zone of Lake Taupo
flows through small pools into a much cooler river. The cleansing natural water was very therapeutic and after a while I dragged myself back onto land, thankful that no-one had ran off with my clothes and floated back to the hostel and fell asleep, missing dinner and everything else!
Monday 12th June
Another early morning, another bad day for the weather, another cancelled sky dive.
Oh, the smell!
The weather was very overcast, which limited the activities today, so I succumbed to the laborious yet necessary chore of laundry work and other domestics. I spent the day pottering around town and looking in shops for nothing in particular. In the evening we went to the cinema, but having seen almost everything available whilst in Queenstown, we settled for 'The Break-up', which was predictably average. We returned to the hostel and had some lovely steak in red wine sauce.
Tuesday 13th June
Another early morning, another bad day for the weather, another cancelled sky dive. After convincing myself it wasn't groundhog day, I acknowledged the fact that maybe man wasn't destined to test gravity out to the extremes and reluctantly got on the coach for the next stop in New Zealand.
Try saying this after a night on the drink...
I was sad to leave Taupo without doing (or at least attempting to do) a sky dive, as it is by far the most economical place to do a sky dive in the whole of Australasia. I bid farewell to Mark and Gemma for the second time and travelled to Rotorua
. After checking in to a very pleasant hostel, I went on my usual wander and walked for miles, following the sulphuric smells that paved the way to the Te Puia geothermal parks. This fascinating area was home to the the Te Puia fortress, a stronghold of Maori warriors that was never taken in battle. The sulphuric atmosphere is due to the main attraction; a uniquely thin part of the earth's crust where geyser's erupt, mud pools bubble and the rain is warm.
Karaoke classics, Maori style!
It was worth the visit, but the day was bleak and cold, so I headed back to base. Just as I was almost back to the hostel, I bumped into Mike Howe again, which was great. He was with Tom and Gareth and we briefly caught up on the past few months. In the evening I went to the Tamaki Maori village for a haka concert and dinner (hangi). The concert was amazing and the food (which had been cooked with hot coals underground) was delicious. Everyone was stuffed, but had a great time. Another notably enjoyable part of the evening was the mulitlingual bus driver who was able to greet the various international visitors in 44 different languages, which was incredible. I returned to the hostel and had an early night.
Wednesday 14th June
This morning I woke up very early for a visit to the Waitomo caves to go Black Water Rafting.
The 'A' Team, pre-hypothermia.
It had been a major intention of mine to go White Water Rafting at some point on this trip, and Rotorua is infamous for it, but due to the winter, Black Water Rafting replaces it. I was quite intrigued as to what I had actually signed up for, as the brochure showed people floating aimlessly around caves with torches. It all looked very adventurous, so I gamely played along with some friends I made yesterday evening at dinner. I was so tired on the way, that I fell asleep in the front seat of the minivan, swaying onto the drivers shoulder, much to the amusement of everyone else on the bus. At the Waitomo caves, I was reluctant to do anything too strenuous as I was nursing the foot injury sustained in Thailand that, due to its obsure position never managed to properly heal.
A sensational view over Auckland harbour from the Sky Tower.
Despite this, I agreed to do the five-hour 'Abyss', which was by far the most challenging activity they offered. I donned on my outfit; a fleece undergarment, thick wetsuit, gum boots, climbling equipment and headtorch and went into the unknown. After a brief abseling course, I hesitatingly abseiled down 35m into the blackened cave, and became acquainted with the water-filled abyss that welcomed me. With only the half-dozen headtorches for light, we individually went on a zip line and flew through the air onto a lower platform. I was starting to realise what I had agreed to by now and was thinking how 5 hours of this would feel. The light from our headtorches allowed us our first glimpse of the glow worms. We were all given rubber rings (tubes) and jumped about 3m into the coldest water I have ever felt.
The infamous haka in all it's glory!
The sudden change from relative warmth to sub-zero temperatures is so shocking that the body cannot adapt quickly enough. I was stunned for a few seconds before I could shout 'Aaaagggghhhh'! After this outburst, we all went through the caves and stopped at a wall which was caked in mud. Our guide suggested we use this to paint each others faces, which was bemusing, but entertaining nonetheless. We continued through the caves and went up close to the glow worms, which surrounded the entire cave. The guide picked up one of the tubes and slammed it onto the water, making a very loud noise. This shocked the worms and as a result, they glowed (part of the bioluminesence occurs when the glow worms crap themselves), which allowed us to see the innumerable worms scattered throughout the caves.
Mental note: bring waterproofs!
After that, we swam back to where we started and continued our way through another passage. We stopped for some refreshments, namely hot juice and chocolate and continued wading our way through the rocky terrain below that caused a few heart-wrenching moments. I was so cold that I opened my wetsuit and poured my hot drink over myself, but barely felt a thing. Despite the fierce cold, my anxiety and taste for adventure rejuvenated me, spurring me on to continue through the brilliant caves. The atmosphere amongst the group was very buoyant and the sense of teamwork was very apparent as we helped each other through some difficult patches, fighting the current of the water, the treacherous terrain and the freezing temperatures. After swimming through some very low caves I finally made it to shallow water where we faced another obstacle; climbing through a waterfall. This waterfall was 4m high and had a very strong current, which didn't help matters. By carefully placing my feet on either side of the waterfall, I climbed through the icy waters and reached a very welcome crevice that I used to haul myself up onto the higher level. This was very narrow and low; a nightmare for any claustrophobes. Another narrow gauge led to the final waterfall, which was even more powerful than the last and after throwing myself into that, I finally reached the surface and was reunited with daylight. Walking back to the base, I felt a huge sense of achievement and was awe-struck with the last few hours. After a very welcome hot shower we sat round a fire and had soup and a bagel. I was even more exhausted on the bus ride back, but still buzzing with the excitement of the day's events. When I returned to the hostel after a well-deserved Indian takeaway I went to bed, still freezing!
Thursday 15th June
After numerous cancelled skydives, I was a little taken aback and appalled to learn that the weather was clear in Rotorua and that it would be okay to skydive. It was still dark at this point and I tried to convince myself that clouds must be about to cover the sky, but to no avail. The morning was indeed clear and the air crisp and the sky a little higher than I remembered it. I got picked up from the skydive people and was amazed to find that one of them was a geordie! Upon arrival at the jump zone I was sickened with what I was about to do. I then looked at the cost of the whole thing and nearly choked. I watched a video that was supposed to 'ease you into it'. It was like watching a horror movie. Nevertheless, with time getting on I donned on my outfit and crawled into the plane. As the guy was explaining what to do, I saw my childhood pass before me and by the time I had finished we were about 11,000 ft in the air and was being told '60 seconds to go'. Before I could say 'geronimo' my feet were outside of the plane, dangling 12,000 ft and another guy was hanging on to the wing or something taking photo's of me. Needless to say, they weren't my best photo's and after dangling for a sufficient amount of time we rolled forward into freefall. After the initial awe-struck reality of what was going on around me, I was stunned at how amazing it felt to be in complete limbo. Travelling at 130mph straight to earth was a superlative feat that will be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. As earth was rapidly approaching and the photographer hovering all around me, I was surprised when the chute (mainly due to the excessive force felt on the very tight safety harness around my crotch... not a pleasant memory). We drifted back to earth in no time. Back on the ground it was smiles all around and a quick look at the photo's before I paid most of my Fiji budget on memorabilia of the jump. I arranged for the photo's to be sent home and decided it would be much more entertaining not to tell my parents until they opened the post! The race was then on to get back to the hostel and to the bus stop. As I got on the bus I saw Mark and Gemma arriving in Rotorua. They explained how their skydives were cancelled for the next two days back in Taupo, amking me a very relieved, satsfied and skint man! The coach dropped me off at my final stop in New Zealand - Auckland. I checked in to a lovely hostel, still full of adrenaline after the two most energetic days of my life and had an early night.
Friday 16th June
This morning I woke up early to watch the England v. Trinidad & Tobago game, but slept in for the first 80 minutes, but did manage to see all of the goals in the remaining 10 minutes! Result! I decided I had to tell someone back home about my skydive and thought who better than my grandmother... her reaction was predictable yet timeless. At first she couldn't understand why I would jump out of a plane and her closing remarks were '...and don't go and do anything stupid like jumping out of things again...!' Brilliant! She made the promise of not telling anyone else until the photo's arrived. I then went on to the computer (this was still about 5am local time - so much for a good nights sleep!) and spoke to Carl and Wayne (my travel companions in USA) over the webcam. We arranged a few last minute things and I left the hostel for a wonder around town. I went to the travel agents and managed to change my flights both to and from Fiji that would allow me to 1) stay a bit longer in Auckland, 2) watch the New Zealand v. Ireland rugby match and 3) spend more time in Fiji when I got there. In the evening my roommates and I went to the bar downstairs for a few bevvies. I reluctantly joined the pool competition given my recent athleticism and played for most of the night. I got into the final, against a guy who had won it in five consecutive nights. Most people in the bar hated this guy, not only because the winner received a $50 bar tab, but also because he had a head that looked like a massive pie. Anyway, me and piehead in the final, I was in the lead throughout, he was sweating like a pig at the thought of going thirsty and I missed a pot-able shot allowing him to clear up. I was mortified at the prospect of not winning $50 of beer as well as losing to piehead himself. I never even got a consolatory drink off him! Pompous fat oaf...
Saturday 17th June
After a wonderful lie in I finally got up in time for lunch with my roommates at a diner in town. We then went up to the top of the skytower overlooking the harbour and for miles around. We were fortunate enough to see a rainbow nearby, at a similar altitude to where we were, which was pretty impressive. In the evening we went to watch the rugby. It was the much-awaited New Zealand v. Ireland game that was a sell-out. I was unable to free some time earlier in the trip when the same fixture was being played in Hamilton. Nevertheless a large group of us descended onto the terraces in a soaking stadium. The atmosphere was very good, but nothing like back home, The game was very good, both teams fighting to the end and New Zealand came out victors 27-17. We were drenched with only beer and chips for company and headed back to the hostel to dry off.
Sunday 18th June
Today was a leisurely day; my last in New Zealand. I browsed around town, picked up my revised plane tickets and went to the airport. There were so many familiar faces at the airport, it was hilarious. I arrived in Nadi in the evening and was welcomed with a friendly 'Bula!' and a necklace made from shells. Groovy. I checked into the apartment (I think I had been the first guest there for a number of years, as they weren't quite sure what to do with me...). Anyway I left to get some food, but was too late for a substantial meal, so instead opted for a liquid dinner. I got chatting to a former professional Fijian Rugby League player who had came back to Fiji to visit family. After a number of these wonderful 'Fiji Bitters' I was particularly merry and stumbled back to my apartment. Mental note; don't drink with professional rugby players.