Let’s head South…Then North and then a bit East

Its been a while since I last posted back up in the North island and so much has happened that I couldn’t even have wished for. Stunning scenery, walks galore, swimming with dolphins, BBQ, beach fires, swimming with dolphins and over coming fears of horses. In the style of my NZ blog here is the run down.
I travelled across the stunning Cook Strait to the seaside town of Picton, then on to Kaiteriteri where the beautiful golden sand beach Was just on our doorstep. What a way to spend Xmas eve sailing across the Strait through the Marlborough sounds. Normally I’d be working out how to get back from work. Travelling is such a tough life :).

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Kaiteriteri at the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. On Xmas day I began my adventure by bike into Abel Tasman National Park. Nothing else was open or working so this was my only option. A 10k cycle on very windy steep hills nearly killed me but totally worth it. Swimming in the sea and the only one on the beach. A taste of Paradise! I walked 20k and then cycled back before the next kiwi bus arrived. It was an improvised meal of salmon encroute with Mach and veg and of course a bottle of the local Marlborough Sauvignon blanc. Perfect! The next bus arrived and then it was BBQ and party time. Such a different Xmas but just what I needed…a bit of reflection time with sandy beaches, beautiful blue clear water and sun.

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The following day we headed to Westport via This the iconic Nelson Lakes on the way to Westport. I had a few days here to relax post Xmas. There was meant to be a horse race on but we just missed it so we headed to the local bar where there was a live band and a party vibe. It was a little bit of a spot the inbreds but it made for an entertaining evening. It was a 5.30am start ready for my surf lesson so drinking was moderate! I’m suited up in my second wet suite on the side of the road and ready for the lesson. I found it hard to concentrate as my feet got nibbled by sand flies…bloody things. Lesson done and now time to wade into the water and put into practice what I’ve learnt. I hunk I learnt that it is hard work and very tiring with some serious arm ache the next day. I had a great time and managed to just about stand up but quickly fell off. I did managed to stump my big toe quite badly which made walking interesting for the next few days but did it stop me…did it heck. I had a bit of a rest and checked out the local reserve walk and beach….more sand flies. Got to love them.

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Today we headed down spectacular State Highway 6, that stretches 435 kilometres along the rugged Tasman shoreline. The road winds through a diverse series of landscapes. Highlights today included the Cape Foulwind seal colony walk, rugged beaches, and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Man those seals really stink but it was cool to see the pups play. Tonights accommodation was the legendary Poo pub where we had the chance to enjoy a delicious group meal and dress in bin bags. The least said the better but it was boozy and hot, especially when you are dressed as a Tui thanks to my costume designers and stage hands. Bird dance was my speciality. I also had the chance here to design and make my own greenstone which I will gift to my mum. The area is well known for greenstone and later gold mining. Gifting greenstone is a Maori tradition and hope that my mum likes it and treasures it. It took a while to make but I was really pleased with what I managed to achieve.

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After breakfast at Lake Mahinapua we hit the road on our way to Franz Josef. Franz Josef is the northern gateway to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area. The region includes Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring, the Fiordland National Parks, and surrounding conservation lands. It was cloudy when we woke up but the clouds burnt away as we entered franz Joseph town. Perfect time to try my hand at Kyaking with beautiful views of mount cook and mount Tasman. I was a bit of a natural and me and Elodie ploughed through the water at quite some speed. Unfortunately the weather turned to custard the following day resulting in all activities being cancelled. I did a 8 hr walk to a summit of a hill but it was just cloudy although coming down we sneaked a view of the glacier down the valley. The weather had started to clear so I walked a further 1.5 hrs to the terminal of the glacier. It was worth it although nothing compared to those I saw in South America. It was scary to note how far the glaciers had receded in such a short time. It was in Franz where I met a girl who was from Bidford on Avon but had been living in NZ for 4 years. Very small world.

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We started out early in order to catch the perfect mirror reflection of Mt Cook and the Southern Alps on Lake Matheson. The weather was just perfect and I got some great shots that I posted on FB. We then travelled down the last stretch of Highway 6, stopping at popular scenic spots along the way. Then it’s into Mount Aspiring National Park, arriving in our new year spot of Wanaka in the afternoon. We checked into the hostel and did a booze run before having a BBQ and jumping on a boat. The sun was out and we cruised to a remote beach where we jumped off the boat and swam and generally had a merry old time of it. Back on the boat and a few free drinks before we headed off to the lake front for live music and fireworks. We did a count down but we were either late or the fireworks were early. Either way I saw it before most of the people reading this, which felt quite weird where it was 1pm the following day when I was in Arrowtown that the uk saw in the new year. It wad nice to briefly chat to my relatives even though it was brief.

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After Arrowtown it was on to the world’s first commercial bungy site – the Kawarau Bridge. Only the brave will sign themselves up for this iconic NZ activity…and I’m not one of them. I got the sweats just watching the video. Some signed up for the Nevis, a 135m drop off a cable car. Crazy! On arrival in Queenstown we headed down to the waterfront. I didn’t do anything to crazy but did some more walks up past the gondolas for a 8 hr hard hike to the summit. Stunning 360 views. Who could go to QT and not have a Fergburger. I opted for the cod father and ate it by the lake front. Delicious! The following day I went luging. Think Marino cart down a tar caked hill track. It was great fun with great views and no queues as the weather had turned bitterly cold (it’s all relative) but I did have a jumper and trousers on. Now down to the Deep South.

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We head towards the east coast via the massive Clyde Hydro Dam and the Central Otago fruit growing basin. Dunedin is famous for its student activity, being home to 20,000 plus students at Otago University, the city is also well known for its Scottish heritage (means Edinburgh). On arrival we did a city tour including a visit to Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street and man is it steep. I looked around the city but unfortunately it was very quiet due to holiday time. It was certainly very different from most of the other cities and towns in NZ with an older more British feel ( bricks and stone). The train station tiles were quite impressive.

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It was then on through the Catlins…as far south as you may ever go in NZ. We went through awesome native forest, sandy beaches and saw rare wildlife. The Weather turned and we went on the hunt for New Zealand sea-lions (New Zealand’s largest native mammal). We saw one in the water but it is usual for them to be basking in the sand. The weather improved though as we headed to a 180 million year-old fossilised forest where we were lucky enough to see the world’s rarest penguin (Yellow-eyed penguin) returning from a hard days fishing. The night was spent in Invercargill, home of the world’s fastest Indian and Henry the tuatara! It was also nice to catch up with a friend I’d made in South America who lived there. A quick coffee with him before we head off to the famous Milford Sound.

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A long day of travelling but Milford Sound has amazing scenery. The day included a 1 hour 45min boat cruise through the sound exploring soaring peaks over 1 mile high, towering waterfalls and New Zealand nature at its best. The Homer Tunnel that cuts through the mountains was incredible especially as much of it was done by hand and saved a 12 day trip to get to see this magnificent place. Then it was back to Queenstown before heading up on the east of the South Island.

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We headed out of Queenstown, through the Lindis Pass ‘Lord of the Rings’ territory. After stopping to admire Mt Cook at Lake Pukaki, we traveled to Lake Tekapo with its amazing location by snow-capped alps and clear starry skies situated in the Macenzie basin. I opted for the star gazing as this one of the few gold rated night sky reserves in the world. A 12.45am start and we gathered to be told the wind had become too strong to head up onto mount John. In fact a guy was stranded up there I heard on the news, unable to get his car down due to 170 km/he winds. All was not lost though as the sky was clear and we were able to go up to the sister observatory. It was incredible and made me feel so insignificant on the scale of the world. Space is an understatement. I looked at tarantula nebula in the closest galaxy to ours and areas where stars are born. It was simply mind blowing. This is the scene you see on NZ TV Chanel one. The good shepherd church and a clear starry sky. It was odd to see the night sky in the south but also fascinating. I had decided however that before lake Tekapo I would head to Mt Cook…NZs tallest mountain. If booked into the YHA and got my transfer from Twizel to MT Cook village. The weather looked as though it would turn so I headed out and did a few hour walk of the hooker valley and views of Mt Cook. It was getting quite cloudy and started to rain so got wet coming back but kept my fingers crossed for the following day. That evening I met a guy called James (from Shropshire) whilst watching LOTR..as you do. We decided to check the weather in th morning and try and do the 8 hr Müller hut treck. Low and behold the weather cleared at about 10am the following day so we jumped in the car and started on our merry way. TThe wind picked up on the way up preventing us from getting past the ridge yo the hut bug the views were incredible with glaciers all around. It was incredibly exposed though and sheer drops down so we headed back behind a rock to grab some good before making the decent though snow, holders and alpine tracks. I was keen on doing Arthers pass as was James so we booked into the YHA and travelled from Mt cook through the pass stopping off at some rock formations on the way and tunnelling through water filled caves ( well James did). We walked to a waterfall called the Devils punch bowl then crashed at the local bar called the wobbly kea and watched the crazy Kea hop across the road ( the worlds only Alpine parrot). The following day was an early start to make our way to Christchurch to drop the car off.  A great little adventure and nice to get off the bus for a bit.

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Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and the 3rd largest in New Zealand. It was interesting witnessing a city rebuilding and flourishing in the wake of the 2011 earthquakes with funky Re:Start Mall, street art and pop-up bars around the city. I stayed with an old school friend Patrick and his wife who I don’t think I’d seen for about 10 years plus. It was great to catch up and see him doing so well. As he is working in construction it was fascinating to hear the situation with building plans and the politics involved. If all the plans are pulled off Christchurch will be the destination city in NZ. The free walking tour was inspirational although I did shed a tear when an extract was read from a book written by a Japaneese student who was trapped the building that collapsed and killed 115 people of the 185 who lost their lives that day. I really enjoyed Christchurch and could see the potential for the future. I just hope they speed it up a bit for the sake of the locals and future prosperity.

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Departing Christchurch bright and early, we arrived in Kaikoura. The weather had turned again so I opted for a walk along the peninsular via the seal colony. I got soaked and saw nothing as the sea just spat in my eyes against the torrid winds. I headed back to the YHA and dried off before cooking dinner and grabbing a beer. The guys in my dorm were great so we pulled a maters onto the floor and watched divergent 2. Bag packed and ready for 4.30am start to swim with Dusky dolphines. We got knitted out in our wet suites ( I’m getting good at this) and headed out onto the boat in search of the Dolphines. Suddenly everybody becomes a spotter. After about 45 minutes we see a pod swimming and we get the all clear to jump in and start entertaining them with our weird and wonderful clicks and noises. The Dolphines were fast so we jumped back in and gave chase. They were all around us as two pods joined together ( over 200) and we jumped in. They swam around us and under us jumping over our heads. Incredible to think these are wild Dolphines. A wonderful experience. I spent the rest of the day repeating the walk I’d attempted the day before. Thus time though the weather was perfect and I couldn’t resist a crayfish pattie sandwich. After all Kaikoura means eat crayfish. Just what the weary traveller ordered!

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From here it was back up to Picton for a ferry to Wellington. I had found out that my visa had been approved so I stayed a few extra days in picton doing some walks and cruising around the coast line with Naomi. I’d met her in tombstone hostel and she was keen to meet people and give her car a spin. We headed to Havlock the green muscle capital of the world where I ate a muscle pie. We then ventured to Palorus bridge where more LOTR action took place. We headed back via queen charlottes drive before being dropped at my new hostel- jugglers rest. Here I met a guy who was cousins with a family who lives in Harvington and owned the Mill hotel. A fab hostel with an organic garden where you can help yourself, no bunk beds and circus toys to play with. Perfect!

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I headed back to Wellington on the ferry and picked up my visa the following day but not before checking out the Weta caves studio and surrounding beaches. In the evening I caught up with my friend Greg and then hopped on the bus up to Taupo where I was to be picked up to head on my East coast adventure.

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My East coast trip ended up being me and my driver Q. There had been a miss understanding and resulted in just me being booked on. I wasn’t complaining but it made for a very personalised trip around the East coast. We shared food and I got stories from the local area. We stopped in Napier the 1920s town of NZ. It was struck by an earthquake back in the 70s and rebuilt in 2 years with a 1920s theme. Incredible what can be done when you put your mind to it. I was invited to go onto a double bowed Waka, one of 10 in the world and thought to be what the polanisians travelled over in.We headed around to Gisborne via Hawkes bay where I did some wine tasting and later watched the sunrise on the beach. The first place in the world to see the sun. Later in the morning a headed out in waders to feed sting ray. They are like a Hoover and the short tailed Ray actually mounted the guides trouser and punctured a hole in his waders. Some were pregnant and others were ready shown by their blue spots. A really unique experience. We continued around the coast and were invited for a drink by one of Qs friends which turned into  a BBQ and a few more beers. Amazing hearing local stories and how the local mountain was thought to be the first bit of the north island that was pulled out by Maui. Quite a special place in Maori believes and culture. After my first proper Hongi ( greeting) we headed to the farm where we were staying. In the morning I had signed up for the horse trek. I am terrified of horses but tried to hide it, badly apparently as Reg could smell my fear. First thing was to hug the horse….Jesus! I did it and after a lesson mounted it and slowly got to grips with the reigns. Off we go…a two hour trek across the beach, through rivers and up the mountain ridge. Little did I know my horse liked to roll on the sand so had to consantly keep it moving. Viking (the horse) was great and I even managed to stand up on the stirrups and hold his mane running up the hill. Horses are weird but think I have  overcome my fear. We continued to head around the coast seeing where captain cook arrived in cooks cove after having no success in poverty bay due to a miss understanding where his men killed some Maori. We swam in the sea and saw the longest pier in NZ (600m plus). We headed further around the coast to where the Maori iwi (tribe) that didn’t sign the treaty live. I was welcomed warmly and swam in the sea with the view of the White Island ( a crater of an active volcano that pokes up out of the sea). A quick wash off then I to the hot tub before wine and food. Another Hongi and sing song and we headed back towards Rotorura. I had a wicked time and feel privileged to see an area where many do not get to see and is 50% Maori.

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From Rotorura I headed back up to Aukcland and picked up a life to Coromandel town where I did a few walks, bought smoked fish and took a trip to New Chums beach, one of the top 20 beaches in the world. I will be sad to leave the lions den hostel where I have managed to catch up with blogs and chill out by the sea before heading back to Auckland airport and on a flight to the big busy city of Hong Kong. I don’t think it could get any different but let’s see. Hostel booked and visas all a go go before Chinese New Year kicks in and I try my skills at Chinese to head on my next adventure up towards Beijing.

Things lost:

A lock due to having to have it cut off as the code changed in my bag.

A hat but managed to get one in a charity shop.

Gained:

An ever expanding Facebook friends group

A wealth of info and experiences I could only have dreamt of

A tan

A hobo beard

A two page list ( and growing) of things to consider if running a good hostel.

Bye for now. China here I come!