New Zealand

Auckland Travel Blog

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What New Zealand lacks in vicious wildlife that can kill you (it only has one type of spider that can give you a nasty nip) it makes up for in its geography. But New Zealanders aren't happy about only being able to boast about volcanoes and earthquakes - they want to live in the most dangerous country in the world - so they have created a myriad of barmy activities that bring you close to death. We sampled a few of them during our 2.5 weeks there, but more about that later. We may even boast about our heroic avoidance of the lahar - a lava flow that engulfed a section of the North Island only a week before we got there.

First impressions were that it is a very sparsely populated country. It is about the same size as Britain geographically, but has about one-fifteenth of the population. There are about 20 sheep to each human, a fact of which the New Zealanders are seemingly proud. We have never been to another country where you can play a virtual reality sheep-shearing arcade machine (it's at the national museum in Wellington).

Our first stop was Christchurch in the South Island. It's a pretty city with a River Avon and we were immediately struck by the friendliness of the Kiwis. We travelled up the coast to Kaikoura where we saw sperm whales. These enormous creatures grow up to 27m or so and when they surface, you can only see the top 10%. They are most impressive when diving as they display their huge tails and pose for the cameras as they go down. Shame they didn't perform somersaults, but the dolphins did!

On the way to the Franz Josef glacier, we decided to stop for the night in a hamlet called Hamner Springs to relax in the naturally heated thermal pools. Or so we thought. We arrived to a power cut and discovered that the pools were closed. It was after 5pm and everywhere else was shut. Fortunately, the neighbouring restaurant to our motel had a gas hob and opened its doors with an improvised menu. Despite the power cut which we thought was going to ruin our evening, we had a great night. The food was fantastic, especially considering the circumstances. We enjoyed chatting to the owner and his wife, a couple from Fulham, during the meal and after turning away other customers, we joined them and the motel owners for a lock-in. The lady motel owner had to stop the male restaurant owner from topping up her glass, so that she didn't get "pussed". The New Zealand accent is very distinctive: "i" becomes "u"; "a" becomes "e"; and "e" becomes "i". Aussies have far too much fun mocking the kiwi fush end chups.

The scenery on the way to Franz Josef was simply breathtaking and some of the best we have ever seen. However, it was during this leg of the trip that we decided that we needed more to amuse ourselves during the long drives than the intermittent radio, which announced such exciting news as the retirement of a local headmaster. We had got a good deal on the car we hired, probably partially due to the fact that it was so old it had a cassette player. Fortunately, we discovered the delights of "Warehouse" (a cross between B&Q in terms of layout and an English supermarket) where we bought a "pop classics" cassette for just a few dollars. We didn't realise that it was full of bad cover versions, although the mix of "It's the Final Countdown" with the likes of "I should be so lucky..." kept us amused for a little while. The excitement that we experienced when approaching somewhere resembling civilization (with the prospect of getting radio reception again) speaks volumes. We wish we'd got more than 1 cassette as it only lasted 1 hour and we had to listen to it repeatedly.

Continuing with our type 1 Aussie aspirations (fitness freaks), we spent a full day hiking up a glacier in Franz Josef for some 15km. The landscape was incredible and it's one of the few glaciers in the world which is close to sea level. The following day, we were able to complete a heli-hike which provided a completely different perspective. We both flew in a helicopter for the first time which was good fun - you don't feel the take-off unlike in a conventional plane. We've now decided this is the only way to travel! The views were fantastic and we hiked further up the glacier than on the previous day, discovering more little caves in the ice. We then drove for 5 hours to Queenstown, the self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world.

So now back to those barmy activities that we referred to earlier....We didn't throw ourselves out of a plane or off a bridge attached to a bungy cord but signed up for white water rafting and canyoning. We weren't entirely sure what canyoning entailed and stood aghast as our personal guide threw herself off an 8m high rock face into a shallow creek below and then smiled and said to us both "your turn!" However, we probably had some of our most fun hours of the trip that day. We climbed, abseiled and slid headfirst down waterfalls in the canyon. We were especially proud of our jump from the same cliff face as our guide! Only one minor mishap. We were told that one of the last tasks would be to abseil down into the canyon from the middle of a zip-line running from one bank to another (a height of about 12m). Duncan went first and completed the exercise perfectly. Suzanne was having difficulty grasping the mechanics of the complicated abseil maneouvre but the guide assured her that it would all become clear. Suzanne can confirm that the law of gravity is indeed correct, as she undid the knot rather than using it to lower herself and plummetted the full 12m into the water below. As she emerged from the water, gasping for air, her first concern wasn't that she had dropped from a far higher height than expected but that she had "done it wrong." Ever the perfectionist!!!

Suzanne was also the only member of the rafting group to fall into the rapids. Clearly, the adrenalin rush from the planned activities isn't enough for her!

On our way back up to Christchurch, we saw a bizarre sight - a man cycling a penny farthing up a hill. He was at least 20km from the nearest town, and didn't seem to be struggling, despite the lack of gears. Despite its faults, we were glad we opted for the car!

So those were our highlights of New Zealand. We did visit other pretty places in the South Island including Mount Cook but we could go on forever! The North Island was very different geographically. It's more about hot springs and eggy smells than mountains and we enjoyed our time in the art-deco city of Napier and bathing in the spa at Rotorua. We even managed to soak in the 42 celcius pool, which Duncan thought was going to strip the skin off his legs but he emerged unboiled.

And so now we're back in Sydney, enjoying the Australian autumn. It certainly beats the British autumn weather-wise! More tales from our time in Oz to follow,

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photo by: Fulla