3,481.54279 Miles Later

(March 6th 2007)

Well that’s it. It’s practically over. We’ve driven over 3,400 miles and seen some amazing sights and had a fantastic time, but it had to come to an end. Today was our last full day and we had to hand back the car. Happily the International Antarctic Centre is literally round the corner from the car hire place so we drove there this morning. Just outside is a roundabout and in front of us a car decided that he didn’t want to go all the way around and so he went the wrong way around it so he could get there sooner…amazing.The photo above is a Hagglund which is an amphibious vehicle used in Antarctica and which we took a ride in, thankfully driven by an experienced driver. He takes you over a special course to show you what it can do, including being able to climb 45 degree hills, 35 degree tilts and travel over 1.9m crevasses oh and it can swim. It was an amazing experience and we have put an order in for one of our own. All we have to do now is try and figure out how to pay for it ($250,000) hehe. The rest of the centre is equally as good and for part of it you dress up in over-shoes and warm jacket (it was 26C outside) and experience an Antarctic storm. To say it was cold is an understatement but I’m glad I wasn’t wearing a skirt and flip-flops like Amanda. Also there was some rescue penguins which were very cute and a lot of info about this huge continent.

Once we’d finished that we had to hand back the car, there was no delaying it any longer. Thankfully, there was no problems and it was a quick exchange. We’re going to miss it terribly and we’re already working out how we can afford something similar at home.

We’ve bought 2 day passes for the trams here in Christchurch, so we’ll have something to do tomorrow and this evening. Our flight isn’t until 8:45pm so we’ll check-out at midday and use the passes to go and visit the modern art museum and just potter for the rest of the day until it’s time to depart.

So that’s it! The last entry. We’ve enjoyed writing it and hope you enjoyed reading it. See you back in the UK soon.

Ian & Amanda

One more thing we forgot.

Burnt bags…not good. It was so hot when we were sat on a little beach just outside Queenstown that the sun, going through my camera eyepiece and through the lens, burnt Amandas handbag. It was lucky she smelled it burning as it might have burst into flames. Needless to say, that was my fault and it was all the justification she needed to buy a new bag yesterday in Christchurch.


The Last Leg

(March 5th 2007)

It’s a bit of a drive to Christchurch from Mt Cook but we had all day so we had a nice breakfast in the hotel and made a few stops along the way. First for a view across the amazing blue lake towards Mt Cook, and then in Lake Tekapo (pic above). We’d gotten a bit jaded about lakes and more lakes but yesterday and today changed our minds. The glaciers grind down minerals as they move and deposit them in the rivers which end up in the lakes turning them amazing colours which no photograph can do justice. After grabbing coffee (of course) and filling up with petrol for the last time, we headed towards Christchurch.

Getting to Christchurch wasn’t a problem, finding the hotel was another matter. There are one-way systems and lots of traffic, by New Zealand standards, but we got there in the end. Not a bad hotel and in a great location, but boy it’s hot today (30C), so we cranked up the air conditioning ready for when we came back and went out for a walk. Amanda cheered herself up (thinking about the long, long flight home) with some retail therapy by buying a new handbag, which put a smile on her face and we went and grabbed a couple of beers to cool me down.

We wanted to eat in the hotel restaurant as it meant that we didn’t have far to walk. However, when we turned up at 7pm we were told that no orders could be taken until 8pm as they just had 50 people booked in from a coach party which brings up another bug bear of ours. COACH PARTIES! We both think it’s great that older people travel the world these days, much more than used to happen, however we pay to stay in hotels (and probably pay more than those on package deals) and always seem to come second to the coach parties. If a large party is booked then stuff everyone else as the kitchen is too busy with that big order to deal with anyone else. I don’t think anything can be done about it but it still stinks. Everytime we stopped at a particular place on the ‘tourist route’ we’d be fighting with the ‘tick boxers’ to see whatever was there to see. OK rant over.

Tomorrow we hand back our lovely car. We’re both going to miss it, especially me and I’m going to find it hard to go back to a manual gearbox. Oh well, if anyone is thinking of buying one, I can highly recommend the Mitsubishi Overlander.

Boulders and Mountains

(March 4th 2007)

We enjoyed Dunedin, it’s a no nonsense, proper town with no real tourist traps, but at the same time it has lots to do and see. Nevertheless Sunday was time to move on north and then inland to Mt Cook. On the way we paused at the famous (so we found out) Moeraki Boulders (pic above). These are giant perfectly round boulders on a beach and look fantastic. So what started as a little detour ended as a load of photos and a nice walk on the beach. Amanda collected more shells, as she’s been doing as we tour around, and I’m sure if we get an excess baggage charge it’ll be because of the new shell collection. We grabbed a couple of our favourite coffees and off we went.

Going inland, away from the beautiful coast, the mountains started appearing in the distance, and after a few hours they started getting pretty big. When you first see it, Aoraki Mt Cook looks pretty spectacular and as you get closer it gets better and better. As you get real close you see the lake that the glaciers feed, and you can’t help but gawp at the colour which is a perfect turquoise. The hotel is in a fantastic location right at the foot of the mountain and we pushed the boat out a little by booking the most expensive room so we got an amazing view. However, the room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we left the bags in the car and headed back down to our helicopter ride. There was a distinct pattern appearing as that wasn’t ready either and we had to hang on for an hour before we could have our flight. Amanda wasn’t looking forward to it (an understatement if ever there was) but we both ended up really enjoying it. The pilot dropped us off at the top of a nearby mountain on snow, so we had 5 minutes to take loads more photos of Mt Cook and amazing views. Then it was back down and also back to the hotel. Our room was now ready and the view was worth waiting and paying for. You could sit in the seat near the window for hours just watching the mountain and how it changes as the clouds move and the light altered. Needless to say there was a lot more photos taken of that.

Most hotel restaurants are so-so, this is an exception. The meal was excellent and the wine really good vfm. The highlight was watching the moon rise over the mountains, the lowlight was listening to the stupid American tourist party yee-haa-ing and crowding around our table as we were trying eat just so they could get a better view, despite the nice waitress offering to open the doors so they could go outside to see better.

Tomorrow we leave Mt Cook and head to our final destination, Christchurch.

Penguins, Albatrosses and Beer

(March 3rd 2007)

Last night we drove north to Oamaru to watch the nightly parade of blue penguins. Each night at dusk the penguins return to their chicks to feed them and we sat in darkness, and silence, to enjoy the spectacle. I can say with all confidence that it has been the highlight of the trip for Amanda, as we saw chicks mob adults for food whether they were their parents or not, and the tiny adults preening themselves just yards from where we were sitting. It was a late drive back through drizzle and heavy mist but it was worth it.

This morning we took our time getting up and drove to the Otago peninsula, home of the only mainland albatross colony in the world (see pic above). We saw three chicks (huge) and several adults, and then what we had all been waiting for, two flying around the colony. These birds are massive, with a three metre wingspan and you only appreciate it when you see one, relatively, close-up.

After that we rushed back to town to join the 2 o’clock Speights brewery tour. We’ve done brewery tours in Halifax (Canada) and Dublin (Ireland) and they’re always good fun, and this was no exception. The free beer at the end helps too.

An early night tonight as we have a long-ish drive in the morning to Mt Cook.

Pt 2 of things we’d forgotten.

The flat white
I think we’ve already mentioned this but we’re going to really miss NZs favourite brew. It’s almost a latte, almost a cappuchino but with more of a coffee hit and always delicious, so long as you get it from a decent coffee shop. We’ve had some dodgy ones, but not many, and when you get a good one….Mmmmmmm. Best one so far? Te Papa museum in Wellington. There must be enough Kiwis in the UK to get these on the menu at Starbucks or Caffe Nero.

Breakfast New Zealand style
No I’m not talking about bacon and eggs, but the morning tv show. I know I said tv was awful here but Breakfast is an exception. The hosts are sarcastic and opinionated and the guy, Paul, makes me laugh. I always switch the tv on each morning to get my fix and it’s another thing I’m going to miss when I get home.

Move on, Nothing to see here

(March 2nd 2007)

This was quite honestly the most boring day of the trip so far (it will get better later) which is why you are treated to another photo of Milford Sound up top. Mostly driving loooong straight roads from Te Anau to Dunedin and then trying to find the motel. Once here, (the motel is lovely by the way, and in a good location) we dropped the bags off and went out for a stroll. Just down the road we noticed a large building with a huge Cadbury sign…aha…Cadbury World. Well we had some time to kill, so we went. We’d been to Cadbury World in Birmingham years ago, and this was as good. Highly recommended for any chocolate lovers (I never touch the stuff myself…I get Amanda to feed me, hehe). So, why will the day get better? Tonight we are off to the blue penguin colony in Oamaru, to watch the little cuties come ashore for the night. No photography is allowed sadly so it’s a night off for the photographer. Tomorrow we’ll explore Dunedin a bit more and hopefully visit the Speights Brewery for a tour.

I promised some things we’d forgotten so here we go….
Eating early
At home we eat early, we always have. When we go out in the evening we want to eat at 7pm. Back in the UK we’re usually the only ones in the restaurant apart from some pensioners hoping for an ‘earlybird special’. Here in NZ everyone eats early, and a lot of restaurants close the kitchen at 9pm. Fantastic, we’re not freaks here.
Radio and TV
Sorry New Zealand, your radio is awful (if you can get reception that is). Every station seems to be 80’s, 90’s and current hits, heavy on the 80’s and 90’s. I’m fed up to the back teeth of Pat Benatar and Split Enz. The adverts are enough to make you crash the car so you don’t have to listen to them anymore. Then, when you get to your hotel/motel you hope to whichever deity you pray to that they have full Sky (they don’t, well not in the ones we’ve stayed in anyway, Picton and Auckland not included). Otherwise you have interference on most channels which consists of TVNZ One, Two and Three, Sky Movies One, Sky Sports One and maybe, just maybe CNN. Now that may sound ok, but sometimes the interference is so bad that you can only watch a couple of those channels and then they tease you by giving each room a copy of the Sky guide showing all the channels, but not the TVNZ ones. Arghhh!
Cadburys Chocolate
I have a big bone to pick with Cadburys. They make chocolate here that stays here. It needs to be shared with the world, especially Rocky Road Dairy Milk, Turkish Delight pebbles, Black Forest Dairy Milk, chocolate coated marshmallow fish, Perkynana and Moro (a Cadbury version of Mars bars, but nicer). On the other hand, we’re both glad they don’t as we would both be huuuuge.
Disabled Parking
The Crippled Childrens Society (yes it’s really called that) were nice enough to provide us with a NZ disabled parking badge for use during our stay. The problem is that parking is a local issue and nobody seems to know where you can park and for how long. Each town is different and every time I’ve asked a traffic warden I get a different answer. The best one? In Queenstown I asked a warden how much time we get if we display the badge and she said ‘heaps’.

More to come, maybe tomorrow..

Not Just another bloody Lake

(March 1st 2007 – Amanda)

I would like to start by wishing all my fellow countryman a happy St Davids Day. It seemed strange not to see a single Daffodil.

Today we travelled up to the fiord land and Milford Sound (named after Milford Haven as it was discovered by a Welshman, quite appropriate for the day). I have to say that we were getting a bit lake fatigued until we saw the scenery around the sounds, which are really fiords. It felt like we were discovering new worlds with the clouds covering low and the rain it was very dramatic. Ian took some really awesome pictures yet again. You know we will bore you all with them when we come back. The total to date is 1,042 I’m sure with penguins and Mt Cook to come the total will be well into 1,500’s by the time we get home.

The journey to the Sound was a mixed one at one point we were on very boring straight roads and the next thing we’re going up really high we felt we could just reach out and touch the snow. To get through the mountains and reach the fiords we had to travel through a one way tunnel, that is blasted through the side of the mountain. You have to wait at the traffic lights and then you have 15 mins to make it through. It was really dark inside and really steep, downhill on the way there. It is called Homer Tunnel and I think the Simpsons built it!

As part of our cruise we booked a stop off at the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory. It was really cool, you go down stairs into a sunken capsule with 20 windows, each one 12 cms thick which you need as it’s 30ft under water. The fish and coral just carry on their lives without even noticing you. It was much more like we were the animals in the aquarium with fish looking at us.

After our return tunnel adventure we exited to a sight Ian has been waiting for since we arrived, wild Kea’s! We pulled over to observe the cheeky little birds (actually they’re quite big). Whilst there I also spotted a car that had fallen down the side of the ravine, luckily there was no-one inside but I would love to see that insurance claim.

On our return journey we also thought of some more things we forgot to mention earlier. Now we’ve made notes and we’ll fill in the gaps tomorrow. Right now we’re both hungry and need sustenance.

A Day of Nothingness

(February 28th 2007)

After the sheer beauty of the Queenstown area, the drive to Te Anau was a bit of a let-down. The roads were long and straight, and we’re kind of getting used to huge mountains, so I guess you could say it was a boring couple of hours or so. Te Anau is a sleepy little place, more of a stopover for Milford and Doubtful Sounds than a destination in itself. Tomorrow is the Milford trip and we’re both really looking forward to that. I hope it lives up to expectations, although I’m sure it will.

We did make a side trip to Lake Manapouri (see pic above) which was very beautiful (as well as NZs second deepest lake don’t you know) but at the end of the day it’s just another lake.

Now I’m back writing this I can tell you dear readers that the Shotover Jetboat ride was fantastic, and regardless of what Amanda tells you privately, I wasn’t gripping the hand grip THAT hard. My knuckles are always white and I think the bright sunlight showed it up more than normal.

We’re still getting fed very well, but Kiwis have no clue about portion control. They’re always massive, but the food is so nice and I’m so polite that I still clear my plate.

So far we’ve taken 895 photos (not all will make the cut however) so we should have fun when we get back sorting them out as I have neglected making notes on where each one was taken……..ooops!

One thing we forgot to mention that made Amandas evening while we were in Taupo was that she was complimented on her hair. We were eating dinner and an elderly couple had just finished and were leaving their table. The woman approached us and said that she doesn’t normally accost strangers, but she just had to tell Amanda how shiny and lovely her hair was. Damn! You know what that means? Expensive hair dresser visits and getting ripped off for over priced conditioners (‘products’ as they are known in our house) will continue ad infinitum.

A Thrilling Morning on the Jet Boat

(February 27th 2007)

This morning we left, early of course, for the jetboat and got bumped up to the earlier ride. I have to say Ian was quite nervous as we waited our turn to get our life jackets and board the boat. We sat in the front and you can see some of the quality pics I took in the photos. I have to say that the boat ride was very very cool!! Ian and I enjoyed it so much we wanted to do another one and we even bought the CD and photo pack of the trip. If you’re in Queenstown you have to do this!

After the thrill of the morning we decided to head up around lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy, or as far as the road goes. As we left the crowds of Queenstown behind us the scenery got better and better. The lake looked so blue it didn’t seem real. We stopped off for a bit at a little cove/beachy inlet (not sure what the right term is on a lake). The water was so clear that the pebbles in the pictures are actually in the water, I took the photo with the underwater camera. As we continued around the lake the view improved and improved. The picture above is of Mt Alfred in the background of the lake. Ian took some really awesome pictures. I have to say the more we see of NZ the more we wonder why anyone would want to leave the country. I suppose the grass is always greener.

In the late afternoon we headed back to Queenstown and Ian did some retail therapy. He bought another cap and a rugby shirt. I have to say we nearly didn’t get out of the shop, when the guy in the shop found out we were welsh he started talking rugby and 20 mins later we still there talking.

Tomorrow we’re off to Te Anau and will visit Milford Sound, it looks really nice.

No Helicopter ride so Hello Sky Line

(February 26th 2007 – Amanda)

As you know we didn’t get to go in the helicopter over Franz Josef Glacier so instead we had to settle for the Skyline chair lift above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. As you can see the view is quite good. I should also admit i didn’t see anything as we went up, that’s when Ian took this photo, as I had my eyes shut concentrating on my breathing and keeping calm. (I’m so looking forward to the planned heli trip on Mt Cook!!!!).

Queenstown is really pretty and as we’re here for 2 nights we have some time to catch our breath and chill. We have a suite at the Copthorne, not the best accommodation but the lake view is worth it.

The drive here was very hairy and if i thought the bends and twists were tight before they were nothing on this mountain road. We kept passing signs saying TEST YOUR BRAKES NOW on the way down and once again, being the chicken that I am, I’m glad Ian was driving. I have to say though it was again pretty spectacular.

Apart from going up the Skyline we spent the rest of the day chilling (drinking a bottle of lovely wine purchased in the Marlborough region) and doing laundry. Tonight we are just walking into town and drinking some more no doubt, as Ian is plucking up the courage for tomorrow’s Shotover jetboat trip. I’ll let you know how he got on.

The clouds came in and nothing to see

(February 25th 2007)

The helicopter flight that was not. As you can see from the picture we woke up in Franz Josef to rain and low cloud so we couldn’t go up in the helicopter 😦 We have booked another flight when we are in Mt Cook so fingers crossed.

We left Franz Josef after purchasing a flat white (our new fav coffee in the world! I’m thinking of setting up a NZ coffee shop with my redundancy, ha ha I wish, I should say it’s Amanda typing this). The young punk girl, with numerous piercings, one in her cheek ewww! was soo impressed we were traveling NZ as she had only ever been to Oz and NZ and found it funny we were jealous of her.

The drive to Wanaka from Franz Josef was spectacular again in some ways even more so by the low cloud. We kept going up and up and at some points we were above the clouds. I’m glad Ian was driving as the roads were really bendy and twisty. We stupidly stopped on the way for lunch and had left the back pack in the boot which meant Ian had to get out in the rain and let all the midges in so we spent the next hour midge killing in the car and I got bit a lot! (Ian’s fault of course for putting the bag in the boot.)

We arrived in Wanka to sunshine, the rain was behind us. The views of both Lake Hawea and Wanaka were gorgeous as we came down from the climb (in the car). The accommodation was also good we got upgraded to a house on the hill overlooking the lake, it seemed strange having stairs. We ate well again, I have to say the standard and quality of food in NZ is a lot better than UK. It seems no matter where we go we get good fresh ingredients at such reasonable prices no tourist areas rip you off with high prices and low quality. We also had a few beers with our lovely meal. If you ever see any beer at home from the Monteiths Brewery, I highly recommend you buy it and taste! We’re off to Queenstown tomorrow morning, it’s not far so we hope to spend some time chilling by the lake.