Category Archives: New Zealand

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Auckland

Our accommodation for Auckland is a bit unusual. We are staying in someone’s house but we do not know them and they are not here. We found the house through AirBnB because most of Auckland is full this weekend because of India vs Zimbabwe in the cricket world cup. Arriving at the house based on the address sent to us, the key was under the mat and we let ourselves in. We were greeted by Puccini the cat but no people.

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The house is extremely nice. It is in a quiet street close to the trendy Ponsonby area. We have a private room and use of the living space that is all very well finished. Normally the host Tanya would be here to meet us however she had to go away this weekend, as such we have the run of her home instead. Very trusting indeed!

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After a busy day at the thermal site and then Hobbiton we didn’t do much on our first evening here. Just a quick walk to the main street where we had a delicious and plentiful Turkish meal, a wander to look at the local nightlife (no sampling as we were tired and have an early start) then home to bed. Exploring Auckland begins properly tomorrow.

Saturday 14th March

Another Saturday morning and another parkrun! Today we were at Cornwall Park. This is a big park next to ‘One Tree Hill’. This was on our list of sites to see so a run combined with sightseeing seems an efficient use of time! The run was good but hard work – surprisingly hilly, and hot considering it was only 8am. One run not being enough, Rich then decided to run up One Tree Hill to look at the view. The view was very impessive, and gave us a good impression of Auckland, but by the time we got to the top we were distinctly hot and sweaty.

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As always with parkrun, we stopped by the local cafe for a quick bit of breakfast, and got talking to 2 expats who spent the entire time telling us how easy it would be to move to New Zealand. Very tempting based on what we have seen over the last 2 weeks.

Given that it had turned into a lovely hot sunny day, we decided to go a drive along the coast, past some of Auckland’s priciest houses to Mission Bay. It was good to cool off in the sea (which was still freezing) before heading back to Ponsonby for lunch.

We had allocated the afternoon to seeing the central sites of Auckland, and covered a fair bit of ground walking around, despite the fact that there isn’t very much to see in the centre of Auckland.

It turns out that another reason that all the hotels were booked up in Auckland is that we have arrived at the same time as the Volvo Ocean sailing race. This meant all by the harbour front was packed with crews, boats and spectators, which was interesting, but as we know very little about sailing, a little bit lost on us.

Once we had nosed around the harbour (including checking out the biggest private yacht in the world, yours for only $5 million a week) we went on an ice cream hunt, and ended up with some of the most extravagant ice creams I have ever seen. The shop doesn’t let you see the flavours but lets you try them all so that you make a decision based on taste alone – and then adds loads of toppings and extras (mine had gold glittery nuts and a meringue that the waitress toasted with a blow torch). They were amazing!

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Ice creams eaten we headed up the Skytower for sunset, which was a great way to finish off our sightseeing in Auckland before heading back up to Ponsonby, and a mound of Mexican food and margaritas.

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Sunday 15th March

Happy birthday (Vicki’s) Dad & Rob!

Our flight to Tahiti was at 4pm, and so what with dropping off the car and getting to the airport, we didn’t have chance to do a lot on our final day. We did manage to fit in a run around the local area, which is ridiculously hilly, and have a nice brunch at a local cafe. We may not have explored extensively on our last morning but it did make us feel like Auckland locals.

We are sad to say goodbye to New Zealand, as we have really enjoyed ourselves here, but we are looking forward to the next bit of our trip, Tahiti and Easter Island.

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Goblin caves, Elven woods and Hobbit holes

Thursday 11th March – Waitomo Caves

Happy Birthday (Rich’s) Mum!

One of our highlights for the not just the North Island, but the whole of New Zealand was to be the Waitomo Caves. They did not disappoint! We went for a trip called TumuTumuToobing. This was to involve climbing into a cave, then walking, crawling, swimming and tubing to get through to the exit. As we entered the cave we immediately got an idea of how cramped it was going to be in parts as we had to squeeze into the cave entry hole.

The caves were great fun. When we switched off our torches we got a fabulous view of the glowworms on the cave ceiling. Shuffling through the darkness or floating through on tubes allowed us to see the roof covered in specs of lights. Imagine a net of Christmas lights and that gives you an idea of how many green specs covered the ceiling. They could easily have been LEDs rather than glowworms however turning back on your torchlight allowed you to see the webs and worms that were providing the illumination.

The glowworms weren’t the only treat. The cave formations were also great to be up close to. We had stalagites (tights come down says Vicki) and stalagmites plus columns and angel wings. This was our first real caving experience and great to be able to explore. The water was a bit cold at times but the wetsuits provided kept us mostly warm. This trip lived up to expectations as a real highlight.

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Leaving the caves we drove on to Rotorua. A brief stop on the way for another bakery and another set of pies meant we arrived in time to see a thermal area just outside Rotorua. The area is known for its thermal activity with mudpools, geysers and thermal springs galore. This means the town is quite smelly due to the sulphur given off from the pools. The geysers we saw at Te Puia were impressive but the rest of the site was underwhelming. As an expensive attraction (£22.50 each) we were vastly underwhelmed and disappointed. I would have wanted to pay less to just see the geysers which were worthwhile and then skip the attached arts and crafts village. We don’t feel these offered much except to feed the gift shop.

Our evening was spent in Rotorua having a meal with Graham and his parents. He has already sent his new wife home after the wedding in Australia and was doing a tour of NZ. We enjoyed a pizza and a catch up before going our separate ways as they head back to Australia then home while we go on round the world.

Wednesday 12th March – Rotorua

This morning we had a lazy start as we haven’t had a break for a number of days. This was welcome as it was raining outside anyway. A brief run was still in order though which allowed us to see the central thermal sites, Rotorua lake and the impressive Rotorua museum. Although wet this was a good way to spend our morning.

Our afternoon was devoted to a canopy tour. This involved ziplining through a forest. Once again this activity did not disappoint and was good fun sweeping from tree to tree as well as leaning about the wildlife in the forest. This was mainly focussed on the attempts to remove predators (rats, stoats and possums) that are a threat to the native birds. NZ birds really aren’t helping themselves as a lot are flightless and generally very tame so are easy pickings for the predators that have been introduced by humans over the last few hundred years.

Although a different activity and a lot of fun, I think I prefer the GoApe experiences we have done at home. In these you are responsible for your own harness and have to clip in and out yourself. On this canopy tour everything was done for you. This took a bit of the edge of it as you did feel a little bit like you were being babysat as the group was herded from point to point. The actual ziplining was great through and the guides were good company. All in all well worth doing.

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We are on another busy day so only had an hour back at the YHA to recover before heading out again. We are back in with the backpackers and their love of bolognaise here, YHAs seem to have a constant aroma of it which is good here because it partially covers the prevailing Rotorua rotten eggs aroma. Recovered, we were picked up to be taken to our evening at Tanaki Maori Village. We were unsure about this activity as we often come back from evening cultural experiences thinking that they are just a bit touristy and disappointing. Hopefully this would be better…

Turns out they got it just right. There was a good balance of demonstration of traditional skills/crafts, interactivity and Maori performance, including the Haka. Although it is clearly designed to shift the tourist through efficiently with 3 shows a night we did not feel rushed and the experience still felt quite personal. The food was good too and our shared table didn’t work out too badly as we had a nice chat with an Italian girl, Roberta, who has been living and working in Wellington since November.

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Our Maori experience continued back in town. As the night market had been cancelled due to earlier rain we opted for a local craft beer instead. No sooner had we sat down and started to look at arranging plans for tomorrow than we were surrounded by a Maori family. They shared our table and we ended up chatting to the matriarch who was very happy to know we were enjoying New Zealand and wanted to tell us about her family and introduce her daughter who lives in London to us. No so much the traditional Maori family this time but thoroughly modern as it was a reunion of a family spread around the word.

Friday 13th March – Wai-O Tapu and Hobbiton

After the disappointment of our last thermal area in Rotorua we decided to give it one more shot. This time we were up early to check out and head south to the Wai-O Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The early start was needed to ensure we were there at 10:15 when they have a daily eruption of a geyser. You wonder how they can predict the eruption so well, the answer is they cheat. They introduce a mix (similar to soap) that stimulates the eruption of the geyser. This is a much more tourist friendly option than waiting for the pressure to build. While somewhat artificial we did feel the preceding talk to be informative and we still go to experience the power of the eruption.

Following this demonstration we then explored the thermal wonderland. The park was now busy with tourists but no so much that we did not have an enjoyable walk. We explored more mud pools, thermal springs and lakes. The array of colours on display here was very different to what we had seen before. The different minerals here give very unusual, other worldly spectacles.

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Overall, even though with some touristy aspects this was so much better than the previous thermal area we visited at Te Puia. We are very glad that wasn’t our only experience on what Rotorua had to offer. Vicki was pleased that this was our last display too, while visually stunning the associated smell is far less pleasing. We were happy to escape it, even the car where I had left my running kit to air on the back seat was a better option.

On our way to Auckland we had one more stop. This was at the Hobbiton movie set. This is the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins as used in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Movies. We were quite excited about seeing this by the time we arrived and were happily doing our Gollum impressions on the drive up (“Nasty hobbitses”).

The tour takes you onto a working sheep farm where they built the Hobbiton set. You get to explore this corner of the Shire, seeing many hobbit holes. Unfortunately there are no indoor sets but you do get to enjoy a beer in the recreated Green Dragon pub at the end of the tour.

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The tour lived up to expectations as seeing the sets really brought the hobbit world to life. Even with an unenthusiastic and surly teenager as our guide we had great fun exploring the hobbit village.

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Island Swapping

Monday 9th March – Nelson to Wellington

South to North we go on the Interislander ferry. This is a 3 hour scenic crossing that we spent on a covered part of the deck as although a fine day there was still a strong sea breeze as we sailed across the Cook Straights.

The ferry leaves the South Island from Picton, exiting the Queen Charlotte Sound. We have already explored part of this and the Marlborough sounds in the morning on our way over from Nelson. The Queen Charlotte drive is billed as a must do scenic drive so we had pushed back our ferry crossing to early afternoon to make sure we would see it. In the end this was a bit of a let down. We went for a short walk at a place called Pelorus Bridge. Other than seeing a river and suspension bridge in the first 5 minutes this walk was uninspiring but ate up 40 minutes. We then proceeded along and had a look at the bay from where the Queen Charlotte Track starts. In an ideal world we would have had time to walk part of this but our ferry was calling. Instead we went to Governors Bay (not the one in Christchurch as the lady in our previous hotel insisted it was) which was billed as an ideal swimming beach. We found it less than ideal with wasps, jellyfish and stones. I went for a wade but Vicki declined (Vicki – way too many sting-y, bite-y type things about). Instead we used our last half hour on the south island wandering around Picton which is a nice port town but nothing special. So although the drive was very scenic and sounds very impressive, without chance to go on a serious walk we didn’t really need much more time that it took to drive it as we could easily have just done a few lookouts on the way.

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Arriving late afternoon in Wellington we once again opted to head out to explore straight away. You are probably getting the idea by now that we find a run is an ideal to explore a new area. Like yesterday we managed to find the biggest hill and run up it. There is a cable car that goes up to the botanic gardens so instead of getting the cable car we ran up. You get a good view of the city from up there which although not a classic skyline gave us the lay of the land. Running down through the botanic garden (the fragrant garden and sculpture gardens were our favourites) we headed back to the city for a run past the government buildings and part way along the harbour. Although it involved a tough hill again the run was good. There seem to be a lot of good runs around Wellington that would definitely give you a good work out, shame we don’t have more time here to explore.

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Dinner was a curry. Very tasty food even if the special beer was special in price (not in the good way) more than anything else, would have been much cheaper back home at Prithi. After our credit card was declined as we may have hit our credit limit (oops, easily sorted with a call to the bank though), Vicki decided I should not spend any more on beer so we headed home to bed.

Tuesday 10th March – Wellington to Waitomo

An evening in Wellington was nowhere near enough. As such we dedicated the morning to it as well. An early start meant our priority was on breakfast. Cuba Street came as a surprise as nearly all the bars/cafes had a cuban theme to them. The previous evening we had seen it and written it off as a shopping street however we were very glad to explore further in the morning. Breakfast at Fidels was delicious in a very relaxed atmosphere. Best breakfast of the trip so far.

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A walk along the harbour front filled in what we had not walked along the previous evening. They have dedicated a part of the civic square to a village green for the cricket world cup. It seems to us the New Zealanders are taking the cricket much more seriously than they did over in Oz and are a lot more excited about this. With the black caps doing very well we will now support them as we have been frequently reminded that England went out last night after another thrashing.

Final stop before leaving Wellington was the Museum of New Zealand. We had to move the car so paid to park there but otherwise the museum was free. It was worth every penny. This is a great museum and well worth a visit. Our favourites were the natural history (we now know the difference between a Kea and a Kaka) and the Maori history. We did get stuck in an antiques shop at one point showing an history of NZ by video and highlighting artefacts. As the only people in this terrible exhibit we spent our time trying to find the way out and fortunately succeeded. Go to the museum, but pass on Golden Days.

Leaving the museum we set off on an epic drive. This was to be our longest of the trip. As the left the GPS gave us 5 hours 49 minutes to go. We did break this up a bit (bakery lunch by beach, mini golf, national park views) but it was still quite a slog. Fortunately a large part (say 3 hours) was through national park  which made it scenic and much more bearable but getting stuck behind a lorry in the last hour really stretched my patience. I was enjoying the open road before that.

In any case, the are now in Waitomo safe and sound and checked into our 1930’s chintzy hotel (Vicki says faded glamour). We have had a burger, I have had two beers and now intend to get another now I have finished writing and a long day driving. At least the long trips are now done. From here on in we have activities galore on our run in to Auckland.

Time travel

It is now Saturday 14th March (again) at 11pm and we have arrived in Tahiti. You will notice my last update was done on Sunday 15th March at 9:30am. Seems we have travelled in time. Best be off to bed and hope the rain that is currently falling stops soon.

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A short drive around the South Island

This is a combination blog. As such we will need to colour code. Vicki will be purple. Rich will be this red colour. Good luck keeping track…I will add switch over clues to help.

[Vicki] Actually, it turns out, it won’t be such a short drive. Whilst planning our trip, we didn’t really appreciate the distances involved, and so we will end up with some fairly big driving days – never mind, I’ve heard the scenery is quite impressive!

Thursday 5th March – Queenstown to Franz Josef

Whilst sitting watching the sunset the previous evening, it had occurred to us that due to the time difference,when we were picking up the car in the morning, many of 26.2 rrc would be getting ready to run the monthly handicap race. Given that we had wanted to fit in a run, it seemed quite fitting to do it at the same time. I have to say that running along the edge of lake Wakatipu as the sun came up was infinitely more enjoyable than 2 laps around Berrylands. However, at the end of the run we found ourselves running alongside a state highway (an NZ equivalent of a motor way – still only 2 lanes wide) and then through industrial estates. We really felt that we had then got to see bits of Queenstown that most tourists don’t. 

Car and bags collected we headed out of Queenstown towards our end point for the day – the Franz Josef Glacier.

[Rich] The first leg of the drive was to Lake Wanaka. As we left Queenstown we soon found ourselves on a very steep and windy road. This didn’t fill Vicki with confidence for the several days of driving ahead as she isn’t a fan of roads like this, especially not the way that I drive them. There was nothing to worry about though as this only lasted for a few miles and was by far the worst section of the drive. From then on it was highway passing between lakes and through forests. The only thing we needed to worry about was getting stuck behind campervans. You don’t want a Wicked or Jucy van spoiling your view.

After a lunch stop (pies and sandwiches from Wanaka eaten by the lake), Vicki took a turn at driving. She took us through Mount Aspiring National Park. I am currently getting her to work on her scenic driving as on several occasions she failed to stop at lookouts or passed by car parks to interesting features. Often we would end up a few hundred metres past them as she hadn’t noticed them straight away (Vicki – or Rich hadn’t decided if he wanted to stop until we had passed them!). Fortunately we got back to all the key ones, a particular highlight were the Blue Pools. Although the sand-fly were biting it was still worth the walk down to see them.

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As we left the national park it started to rain and I took over driving. We did a fairly long run up to the Glacier region with no stops, partly because it was raining but also as there didn’t seem to be anything worth stopping for. The drive was still scenic but partially obscured by the rain.

We made it to Fox Glacier as the rain was beginning to die off. Seeing a road advertising a glacier view we followed it. Unfortunately all we could see was cloud so really not worth the detour. Returning to the Fox Glacier village we considered our options. We could go straight to Franz Josef but we really wanted to see a glacier since we had come this far. As the weather was steadily improving we decided to give Fox another chance and headed to the car park to walk to the base. We figured we would at least see what the visibility was like and try and get a glimpse of the glacier. We were very glad we did as it stopped raining entirely and cleared just in time for us. A walk up the hill gave us great views of the glacier now the cloud had dissipated.

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In recent years our views of glaciers have been while skiing over them. Seeing the glacier in summer was a very different experience as you can see how it is melting away and the valley that it is carving through. There were options to take trips onto the glacier however we were happy having been able to see this one so passed on the expensive glacier walking options available.

[Vicki] Having legged it down from the glacier, we made it to our accommodation just in time to squeeze in a dip at the Hot Springs in Franz Josef – there are 3 pools, at 36c, 38c and 40c and at twilight, we almost had them to ourselves. I found the 36 and 38c both very comfortable,but the 40c a little too warm, but Rich was happy to float around the 36c and after an initial dip avoided the other 2. It was very strange to be sitting in basically a large jacuzzi without bubbles, but it was a lovely end to the day.

Friday 6th March – Franz Josef to Christchurch

When we arrived at our accommodation the night before, the man at reception had mentioned (quite cheerily) that he was expecting ‘rain like you have never seen’ over the next couple of days. Given our experience in Brisbane we didn’t think this would be true however the thought didn’t exactly fill us with joy. When we woke up to heavy rain, we decided to hightail it over to the other side of the island. Apparently if it is raining on the west, it is unlikely to be raining on the east, and so that guided our decision to drive to Christchurch. Well, that and the fact that they have a parkrun.

Destination decided, we set off, and made our first stop of the day in a little seaside town called Hokitika. It was still raining, and so we decided that the only thing to do was to go inside somewhere – the choice here was the Sock Museum, or the National Kiwi Centre. The Kiwi centre didn’t just offer Kiwis (in fact, there were only 2), there were also captive Eels, some up to 100 years old. Luckily, we had arrived just at feeding time and so got to watch a mass of Eels being fed. For someone who is snake averse, when the offer to feed the Eels was made, Rich was straight in there (however, he did decline the offer to stroke one). Apparently they are an endangered species, but as they are not cute and cuddly like to Kiwi there is less support for their protection. I thought they weren’t as ugly close us, and surprisingly gentle when taking the food from you, but I can see why people would choose a Kiwi over an Eel to protect.

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The Kiwis were definitely shyer than the Eels – the fact that they are nocturnal doesn’t help with the viewing but combined with their aversion to noise and people, meant that they were mostly content to hide at the back of their enclosure. The female did dart out for some food, and I have to say, they are very cute – little balls of fluff (apparently their feathers are more like fur) that trot about, with a huge pointy beak.

The final attraction at the National Kiwi Centre was Crayfish (nope, we had no idea why either). In particular, you could fish for your own crayfish, as long as you put them back afterwards (rather than taking them for your lunch). The staff had left some meat on table, and in a similar way to crabbing, you had to dangle it in the water and wait for a bite. However, these were smart Crayfish. As soon as they felt you tugging on the piece of meat they had started to nibble, they would let go. We assume that they had learnt that moving meat means a trip in a net and a bucket, and wanted to avoid this. However, we did eventually catch one, much to the excitement of the German family that was also trying. Mission accomplished, we left them to take photos and throw our little friend back.

All the fishing and seafood had made us hungry, and as the thing to eat in the area is Whitebait patties, we opted to pick up some lunch and have a picnic on the beach (well, in the car, as it was pretty chilly and still threatening to rain). I have to say Rich’s Whitebait Pattie Sandwich did not look appealing, but I am assured it tasted good.

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[Rich] As we drove on from Hokita it was raining off and on. This was not ideal as we were about to drive along the scenic road through Arthurs Pass. There isn’t much point doing a scenic drive if you can’t see it due to clouds and rain. Fortunately the weather gods smiled on us again and as we arrived at the pass the weather cleared. As we admired the rainforest along the road we even found a friendly Kea (the alpine parrot) and were pleased to check this off our list of sights to see.

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Further along the pass the landscape and weather changed dramatically. Passing through the high mountains trapped the rain that had been following us. This is a regular occurrence as we went from rain forest to much drier grassy plains along a river that was far from full flow. The contrast between the scenery at the two ends of the pass was huge and the change happens extremely quickly. We weren’t complaining though as it meant we had left the rain behind us.

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Completing our drive we arrived in Christchurch. When we got there we wondered where everyone was. It had been a struggle to find a hotel (we ended up in a central hotel where we would rather have been in a Motel) but when we got into the city it was not the large number of visitors that made finding rooms hard, it was the lack of hotels. Since the earthquakes in 2010/2011 the city has been devastated. There are many free car parks in the centre which are empty lots that were former buildings. Shops have been destroyed and replaced with container crates forming makeshift bars, restaurants and shopping malls. Wandering around a city centre on a Friday night you would expect to see many people however there were not. It was almost desserted. The earthquakes really did take their toll which you can only really appreciate when you see it.

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We did manage to find food in a pop up market (since there are few restaurants left) and then life in a container bar and on one of the few remaining retail streets. While you can see the damage easily, you have to search a little harder to find the revival that is underway. Once you find it though you can see the spirit of the locals has not been broken and we look forwards to seeing how the city will be reborn in the future.

Saturday 7th March – Christchurch to Nelson

[Vicki] Being Saturday, it was of course, parkrunday. This time a lovely figure of eight loop around the central park in Christchurch. We did very well posting our best times since last October. Clearly being on holiday is not taking too much of a toll. The run was followed by coffee and a chat with some of the runners, including a lovely chap called Dan, who had knocked over 10 minutes off his time in 11 appearances.

We left Christchurch quite content, and ready for another day behind the wheel. It was always going to be a long day of driving, but with bad weather pretty much all the way from Christchurch to Nelson (around 400km) we were pretty tired when we arrived into Nelson, a pretty little town at the centre of the craft beer and wine making areas of New Zealand (and incidentally, the place where the Lord of the Rings ‘One Ring’ was made).

As a treat for driving through all the bad weather, we headed out for a nice dinner. Hopgoods provided us with lovely food (more fab steak) and a lovely bottle of wine, which went down very nicely and meant that we were more than ready to hit the hay when we got back to our motel.

Sunday 8th March – Abel Tasman National Park

[Rich] No serious driving today as we have reached the top of the South Island. Instead we did a short drive to Kaiteriteri beach on the edge of the Abel Tasman national park. Here there were many different options for what to do, sea kayaking, boat trips into the national park or just relaxing on the beach. We decided to go for a trip into the park by boat. It would have been good to kayak in however having arrived late in the day after a leisurely start we didn’t have enough time for this, and having kayak’ed a few days ago, we didn’t feel we were missing out too much.

We cruised in to the park instead aboard the Sea Shuttle, seeing a few fur seals on the way. Along the coast of the park are sandy beaches in coves along a more rugged yet extremely green coast line. The water in the coves was spectacularly blue and very inviting. It turned out when we went in later that is was very refreshing (read cold) but a welcome dip on a warm sunny day. While in the park we took time out to take a walk into the woods and see some viewpoints. At a secluded bay I found some rocks to clamber onto and promptly fell off. With a wet foot and scratches on my leg Vicki was disappointed that she couldn’t say I told you so as for once she had not warned me off these rocks.

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Rich on the rocks, soon to be in the water.

From Abel Tasman to Nelson is a cycle/tasting trail. The idea is you ride along and sample the local delights over several days. Not having bikes didn’t stop us and one the way home we stopped for a brewery tasting and fresh cherry ice cream. After an afternoon toasting in the sun, both were very welcome.

Our evening back in Nelson started with a run to the centre of New Zealand. This is a monument and lookout at the geographical centre of NZ. We didn’t consider that it being a lookout would mean it would be up hill. We soon found it was a serious hill too as we struggled up for over 1km of paths to the top. We recovered back in our suite hotel with our first proper home cooked meal of the trip (seafood pasta) which was a welcome change from eating out and allowed me to get stuck into my session IPA that I got from the brewery.

Leaving New Zealand

It is 09:30 on 15th March (Happy Birthday Vicki’s Dad!) and we are preparing ourselves to leave New Zealand. We have updated our blog with the posts we have been writing here in NZ but didn’t have the time or the wifi to upload. You should see these appear automatically each day at 09:00 GMT.

As soon as we get the motivation we will be packing and heading for the airport. Our next stop is brief in Tahiti before moving on to Easter Island. Quite an exciting step in the trip as we move from the familiar of Australia/New Zealand to something very different on out Polynesian island leg of the trip.

Enjoy the New Zealand posts and we look forwards to telling you about our Island Adventures soon.

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Sounds like Milford

Tuesday 3rd March – Milford Sound

Milford Sound is the highlight of the South Island of New Zealand for many people. For me (Rich) I couldn’t say it was just the sound that was spectacular. The combination of Queenstown, the scenic drive down to Te Anau and then along the Milford Highway before completing your journey at the Milford Sound really do make this one of the most spectacular trips you could take.

Based on recommendations from a number of people we opted for an overnight cruise on Milford Sound. This meant a bus ride down one day, overnight cruise then a return bus ride the next. For those that like to see the disasters strike our otherwise perfect (ha!) trips our bus broke down before we even made it to the Milford highway. This was quite a setback as we had been travelling in a fine scenic bus with seats pointing outwards and viewing windows in the roof. Sadly the replacement minibus wasn’t quite the same standard and did mean we couldn’t quite appreciate the drive in the same way. Real Journeys, our tour operator did make good in the end though by refunding the cost of the bus. Having enjoyed our TSS Earshaw dinner cruise and the Milford Sound overnight, even with set backs of rattily old buses we find it hard to fault them.

Despite our less than salubrious transport down to Milford Sound, the scenery is just outstanding – towering cliffs, fabulous valleys and atmospheric clouds combine to make a scene that is distinctly other-worldly. Due to our unscheduled bus related stop, we did have to speed through some of the stopping points, but we did get a chance to do a couple of short walks to check out the scenery up close.

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(Vicki has taken over writing…)

Once at Milford, we hopped aboard our home for the night – the Milford Wanderer. This was a 36-person boat, and provided us with a very cosy cabin that would have been all to easy to get settled in. However, there were activities on offer and Rich was (surprise surprise) keen to get involved. He had already become acquainted with the sound when he stepped out to take a photo shortly after leaving the harbour and got drenched head to foot by spray.

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Carrying on the watery theme we opted for Kayaks in order to get a closer view of the cliffs, and spent a very enjoyable hour of so paddling about. Richard was then keen to see exactly how cold swimming in the fjord was, and so we both went in for a very quick swim. Refreshing would be one word for it. After a surprisingly good dinner and lots more photo taking we retired to our cabin, surprised at how tiring it was sitting on a bus for most of the day.

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Wednesday 4th March – Back again

After an early breakfast, our boat went on a scenic drive out to the Tasman sea, and then back along the sound, which gave more opportunities to admire the stunning scenery, and even the opportunity to see fur seals basking on rocks along the coast line. It was a shame to get off the boat when we got back to Milford, especially given that our bus had not been repaired and we had to take the dodgy little mini bus all the way back to Queenstown. On the way back we did have time for a few walking stops, which broke up the 6 hours or so journey. However, I think we were all glad to be able to finally unfold ourselves from the minibus back in Queenstown.

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The rest of the afternoon involved a walk up the hill in Queenstown. Now, most people would just get the gondola up to the top to admire the view, but not us, we decided it would be fun to walk it. About 10 minutes in, whilst almost on hands and knees scaling a particularly tough bit, we (well, me at least) were ruing our decision to walk. However, the views at the top were worth it, and as the mountain/hill is shared with Mountain Bikers (on separate paths) we got to see some hair raising bike rides whilst climbing.

At the top of the hill is also a ‘luge’ run where you get to race mini karts around a track whilst looking at the view. There are 2 tracks and we decided to have a go at each – kamikaze Rich won both, although in my defence I would like to add that I at least kept all of the wheels of my kart on the ground during the run.

(Back to Rich…)

One thing that we missed so far on our trip were Kea. These are a parrot that are meant to be incredibly mischievous. We had heard stories of them stealing food and pulling the rubber seals from cars. They are also the only alpine parrot for those more interested in the ornithological perspective, and look like a cross between a parrot and a bird of prey. In any case we did not see any. To make up for this I was drinking a fine IPA called Mischievous Kea this evening. It went down very well. That combined with the sunset over the lake and a delicious rump steak in the Atlas Beer Cafe made a memorable evening in Queenstown (even if we did have to alternate dashing away to complete various stages of laundry). We have enjoyed our time here and can see why the town appeals to many tourists. There really is something for everyone here. Tomorrow we pick up our hire car to move on and are looking forwards to more adventures.

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New Country…New Zealand

We hopped across the Tasman Sea (I think, or was it the Southern Ocean, surely not the Pacific yet, as you can tell my Southern hemisphere geography is not great) and we are now in the stunning scenery of New Zealand. People associate the tropical islands with paradise but I would much rather take rugged landscapes like this any day. Just landing at Queenstown airport was like a ‘best of’ the Lake District and  Scotland. You are immediately faced with the mountains (The Remarkables) surrounding the lakes around Queenstown. New Zealand was always going to be a highlight of the trip for me (hi, Rich here in case you were in doubt) as it is a place that has been on my bucket list for some time. The first impression was breathtaking and a good omen for things to come.

Sunday 1st March – Queenstown

We are staying in the Central YHA and it really is central. We are right were you want to be, close to bars, restaurants, shops and the wharf area in this very touristy but still charming town. To be honest you are never far from anything in Queenstown. Vicki was expecting a big city but clearly hadn’t read the guidebooks (Vicki – I never said big…I said bigger. Seriously, Queentown makes Surbiton look like a metropolis). New Zealand doesn’t seem to do big in terms of populations except for sheep (they outnumber the people 10:1). As the adventure capital of NZ probably, you can see there are many tourists and a lot of activities to keep them entertained (Vicki – and part them with their cash). I heard somewhere that the place is 40% tourists/visitors. That is a fair chunk but wandering around it seems to be short, all the “locals” seem to be foreigners backpacking and choosing to stay for a year or so.

Our first afternoon (arriving in town at 2pm) consisted of a delicious pie for lunch from Fergbakery then a wander. We thought we might have time to go up the hill but after confirming our coming trips (the first of which was the same day at 6pm) we decided it would be too much of a rush. Instead we settled on mini-golf. As it was a fine afternoon we went outdoor and Rich was victorious by a clear margin (10 shots).

Our evening trip was a ride of the TSS Earnslaw. This is a Twin Screw Steamer (hence TSS) that goes several times a day across the lake to a farm. We opted for their gourmet BBQ dinner cruise. The weather was ideal giving us great views out and a beautiful skies after sunset. We had an excellent meal, the BBQ meat and seafood were delicious and we would have happily eaten for hours. Our only gripe was that with such a large number of people disembarking at once we had quite a wait for food where we could have wandered outside while we waited instead of twiddling our thumbs at the table. In any case we had wine to occupy us. At the end of the meal we found ourselves outside with leftover wine enjoying a sheep dog / sheep shearing display. This was a new way to experience after dinner drinks and an impressive display. No doubt these won’t be the last sheep we see this trip.

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We were probably the youngest guests on the  boat if you exclude the children who wouldn’t have been given the choice to go. Clearly a dinner cruise isn’t the backpacker trip of choice. We couldn’t turn it down though as we had a discount after booking another trip. In the end we were very glad we didn’t. The boat ride was incredibly scenic and it was fun to be on the old steamer (we did feel sorry for the coal stoker), dinner was first class, and last but not least, the sing along on the way home was great fun. The reason I mentioned the ages is that the sing along wasn’t exactly the current top 40 but more 1940s. It seemed we had the WI singers with us for some songs as a core of ladies took the lead but most of the tour groups with us did seemed to know some of the songs. The one year age difference I have on Vicki is clearly important as I knew a lot more songs and was happy to get stuck in. Perhaps it was just I had a bit more wine as I still don’t believe that she didn’t know the words/tune to Waltzing Matilda. She did however do a fine rendition of Amazing Grace, a leftover from hymns at cathedral school I guess. In any case we happily disembarked singing “It’s a small world” to ourselves.

Monday 2nd March –  White-water Rafting on Shotover River

This morning we had very different boat to yesterday. Vicki has been dreading this as I was dragging her out White-water Rafting on the Shotover River. Having done white-water kayaking before this was something I was looking forwards to. In the end Vicki had nothing to worry about, the bus ride out along ledges bordering sheer drops was more frightening that the rafting. Don’t get me wrong, the rafting was very exciting but thanks to a fine guide (Swiss) we felt safe and controlled throughout. We cruised through some great scenery and felt the thrill of descending the rapids. The worst off we came was getting stuck on a rock in a calm section. Basically we beached ourselves which was more embarrassing than scary. We did get wet still with a few voluntary swims and a lot of splashing. The rafting was well worth doing and Vicki even enjoyed it when she realised it wouldn’t be as scary as she first expected. We will have to try something more extreme in the future, maybe a bungee jump or sky diving!

Our afternoon was spent chilling out in the hotel room with a round of golf to break it up. As it had started to rain we headed for the indoor golf. We both agreed that this was the best mini golf we have ever done. Really some pictures are the best way to show what it was like…

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Not that anyone is counting but Vicki came out victorious this time with a 2 shot lead. I thought I had her until a disastrous route choice on the second to last hole meant I dropped 3 shots. Poor form from me but at least we both got a free lollypop at the end.

The rain didn’t deter us from going out for an early evening run. It seemed that we stopped the rain as the last few drops fell as we set out and we were left running on a clear crisp evening. Views of the lake were stunning as we ran round the Queenstown gardens and along the lakeside.

Our evening continued with a call to our optometrists (thanks M&D) and a visit to the pharmacy to get Vicki’s gammy eye sorted. A few local craft beers numbed the pain (of listening to Vicki complain Smile with tongue out) before a late pie for dinner. The reason for the late pie for tea is that we had a huge burger for lunch. Queenstown’s most famous burger joint is Fergburger. You have to queue and wait a while for your burger at nearly all times of the day but the result is delicious. The burgers are huge, juicy and accompanied by mouth-watering fillings. They are well worth the wait and you can see why they have such a good reputation. Next door to Fergburger is Fergbakery where we had our pies yesterday. Having had a pie for breakfast, burger for lunch and then another pie for dinner I must be one of their best customers. It is safe to say the pies are just as good as the burgers.