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Entry 7 - New Zealand (Queenstown to Oamaru)

The final farewell!

all seasons in one day 5 °C

I love Queenstown. I could happily spend an awful lot of time there, but unfortunately I had only one week. I say it's unfortunate, but for the sake of my health and bank balance, it was probably a good thing.

Some people may think it's strange for me to come to a place like this, the "Adventure Capital of the World™", and talk firstly about food. If you do think that, it's because you haven't been to Fergburger. If you have been there, you'll understand where I'm coming from. This legendary fast food outlet (I use that term loosely, as it takes a considerable amount of time to actually get your food) produces the most ridiculous, delicious, heart-attack inducing burgers you could think of. I don't know whether to be ashamed or proud to admit that in six days, I had four burgers from there (the first night was a little healthier, having all-you-can-eat pizza from World Bar), the highlight of which was undoubtedly the enormous Big Al. To quote the menu, "Al delivers a double serving of New Zealand beef (1/2lb), lashings of bacon, a whole lotta cheese, 2 eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish & a big wad of aioli." I actually had to take a nap after completing this monstrosity.*

When I wasn't eating, I found time to do one or two other things in Queenstown, such as leap off a platform 134m from the ground. I had always planned to jump the infamous Nevis Bungy**, but was glad to find that a five others on my bus - Keir, Jon, Becky, Gary and Sofia - were also preparing to take the leap of faith. In comparison to most Monday mornings, this one was quite surreal. Having survived a somewhat hairy bus ride through the mountains, we arrived at the jump site, where Sofia casually claimed "it's not that high." I don't know if all Swedes have this warped sense of perspective, but her calm demeanour was in stark contrast to my own. One of the promotional leaflets for the jump summed up my feelings in a quite poetic manner: "even my shit was scared."
Before long we were harnessed up and led outside. As the above picture demonstrates, the jump site is suspended above the Nevis River by a 380 metre long cable. To get there, you have to travel across in an open top metal cable car similar in size to a hot air balloon basket. Even this I found terrifying, and I was seriously questioning my sanity as it slowly made its way across. I clambered into the surprisingly large cabin to find a glass floor. Great. While everyone else tussled for the best viewing spot, I sat at the back and stared at the ceiling, talking to myself like a complete nut-job. After 3 or 4 people had jumped (and, happily, survived), my name was called. I sat down to be strapped in, pulled a deceivingly calm smile for the camera, while the bloke gave me final instructions. I didn't hear a word he said. As I shuffled towards to edge, I had little to no control over my limbs; my arms were all over the place, and my legs went all Bruce Grobbelaar on me***.

"Three, two, one..."

I jumped... ish.

What I actually did was bend my knees, lean forward, and fall over, allowing gravity to take over. It was not the most stylish bungy jump you will ever see, but it did the job. For the next 7 seconds or so I was free-falling towards the river. In most circumstances, I'd have been admiring the exquisite scenery around me. As it happens, I was too nervous to even scream; I reckon I'm one of the few people to do the jump in complete silence. Then, it was over. With adrenaline pumping through my veins, I almost forgot to pull the cord around my ankles that released the harness from your feet, meaning you are brought back up head-first rather than upside down. Thankfully I remembered, so was finally able to enjoy my surroundings while being inched up. Before I knew it, I was back in the cabin, and soon on the cable car back to solid land.
People often compare bungy jumping to skydiving, but for me they're chalk and cheese. I absolutely loved the skydive, it was immense fun, but not all that scary. The bungy jump, in contrast, was petrifying. Because of this, the burst of adrenaline keeps you buzzing for hours, even days, after. To get the best of both worlds, do both!

I slept well that night. This was thanks partly to the bungy, partly to Big Al, and partly to the obscene amount of Jägermeister I consumed that evening in order to win a t-shirt from the Buffalo Bar!

The next day we decided to get the Skyline Gondola to Bob's Peak for a spot of luging. We got to the top and were ski-lifted to the start of the track, and got ready to roll (not race, as that was against the rules. We would never break the rules). The term 'luge' is used rather loosely, it's more like go-karting without an engine, not at all like actual luging. It was good fun none-the-less, thanks in no small part to our Brazilian friend, Tiago, who was clearly of the opinion that breaking is for the weak, even for tight hairpins. This, admittedly, made him very quick. It also meant he was the only one of our group of nine to crash. Three times.

If you've read my other blogs from New Zealand, you'll notice a chap called Nick crops up a fair few times (if you haven't read them, why not?). We actually met on the Magic Bus from Auckland to Rotorua, and just so happened to have the same itinerary from there to Queenstown, so spent about 3 weeks travelling together. Luckily we got on, and have done an awful lot in those 3 weeks. Queenstown, however, is where we would go our separate ways, as Nick only had four nights, along with most of the others in the group. We therefore headed to our newly-Christened local, Buffalo (we had 2-for-1 drinks all week), for an emotional farewell; well, it wasn't actually that emotional, a manly handshake and not-so-manly hug, but you get the point. While travelling alone has a great many benefits, it was brilliant to have someone to travel with for that length of time; skydiving, camping and hiking, to name a few, would not have been quite so awesome had I done them by myself (or possibly not at all).

Anyhow, if there was one thing that decreased heavily in Queenstown, it was my money. If one thing increased, it was my weight. In an attempt to buck both of these trends, I spent most of the next day walking, spending hours exploring the east side of the lake. The fresh air and spectacular scenery must have gone to my head, because I had a strange urge to jog part of the way back. 15 minutes after acting upon this urge, my enthusiasm had vanished and I carried on walking. I'll just have to wait until Australia to lose the weight, as I wont be able to afford food there.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the ski and snowboarding dependent economies Wanaka and Queenstown have been badly hit by the lack of snow. Much to their relief, but my annoyance, the weather took a turn for the cold for my last few days in Queenstown, limiting what we could do. With the weather particularly bad, we killed time playing Yeniv, a brilliant Israeli card game (thanks to Nick for that one). When we dared venture outside, we had a couple of rounds of frisbee golf. I was worse than useless first time around, scoring well over 100, but fell in love with the game anyway. My second round was somewhat more respectable, as I carded an 88 (I have no idea if that is actually respectable, but I'd take that in normal golf).
We ventured to Buffalo for one final time that evening, before jumping on the bus the following morning. To sum up Queenstown: I spent too much, I ate too much, I drank too much. But I had a damn good time in the process!

The next stop was to the Edinburgh of New Zealand, Dunedin, where I would spend three nights. To be honest, following Queenstown, this made me more than a little depressed. My spirits were raised, however, with the knowledge that Dunedin had two particular attractions: Speight's Brewery and the Cadbury factory; if there's two things that can cheer me up, it's beer and chocolate.

I got to the hostel about 4, where I killed a couple of hours talking to the two Aussie lads in my room, before setting off for the brewery. The tour itself was entirely forgettable, but for the tasters at the end. Thankfully Ellen, who I'd met on the way to Wanaka, didn't like one or two of the beers, so I kindly "tasted" those for her as well, like a true gent. I got back to the hostel to find the aforementioned Aussies, as well as two other English lads, getting ready to head into town. They asked if I fancied it and, seeing as it was Saturday night, it would have been rude to say no.

I'd judged Dunedin to be boring, but, being a uni city, it came to life after dark, and was a surprisingly good night out. A particular highlight was attempting - and failing - to convince a local woman that I was not Irish, nor had I ever set foot in Ireland. She wasn't having any of it, so I called her Australian and left it at that.

The next day I met up with two of the Queenstown group, Jack and Tim, who had rented a camper. We found somewhere that served a Sunday roast for $10, which made us all very happy, before going on a road trip to the beach. In contrast to Dunedin's rather drab appearance, the beach was surprisingly nice, as was the weather. Once we got back we set about finding somewhere that would be showing the British Grand Prix that evening. As it was a Sunday, and the race didn't start until midnight local time, I was not confident of success. At around quarter to 12, we finally found a bar that was still open, and had televisions. The landlord agreed to put the F1 on and remain open, on the condition that we bought enough drinks to make it worth his while; a condition we were more than happy to comply with.

For our final day in Dunedin, we did the tour of the Cadbury factory. Much like the brewery, the tour itself was pretty forgettable (after all, it's just a working factory), but we got more than our fair share of samples, so everyone went away happy.
I've got a few extra days to kill, so rather than travel all the way to Lake Tekapo the next day, I decided to hop off at a place called Oamaru, where I'm sat right now. In a few hours I'm heading to the beach to see some penguins which, as those of you who know me personally may know, is quite exciting for me!****

I then have two more stops, Lake Tekapo and Kaikoura, before flying from Christchurch to Brisbane. Assuming this will be my last blog from New Zealand, I'd like to thank everyone - locals and fellow travellers - for making my stay here unbelievably brilliant. I have loved my time in this wonderful country; Australia has quite a job on its hands to match it.

  • * Re-reading my previous blogs, I realise I had earlier described the Pizza Burger I had in San Diego as "the greatest burger of all time, bar none." I can only apologise for this ignorant and uninformed statement, which now looks like meaningless hyperbole. I was young and naive. Again, sorry.
  • ** At 134 metres, The Nevis is the highest commercial bungy in Australasia, but not the world (it is, in fact, a lowly 8th). That title goes to the Macau Tower, in China. Near Hong Kong. The final stop on my trip. Just sayin'...
  • *** For those of you who don't know, Bruce Grobbelaar was a goalkeeper who would attempt to put off opposing penalty takers by doing 'spaghetti legs'. I'm sure it's on YouTube somewhere!
  • **** One of my earliest memories from my childhood was carrying around the imaginatively named Teddy and Penguin stuffed toys everywhere I went. Since then, penguins have always been my favourite animal.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 00:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged snow queenstown adventure ski bungy new_zealand dunedin jump oamaru luge thrill_seeking fergburger frisbee_golf Comments (0)

6th Installment - New Zealand (S. Island; Picton to Wanaka)

all seasons in one day 4 °C

Departing Wellington, it was time to jump aboard the ferry and head to the South Island. The idea is to get the ferry on either a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, as the Magic Bus will be ready and waiting at the terminal to head to Nelson. Simple. Nick and myself, however, managed to confuse ourselves and booked it for the Tuesday. As the tickets are non-refundable, it meant we had no choice but to spend a night in the tiny town of Picton. The idea of spending 24 hours there with absolutely nothing to do was not the most appealing, so we each forked out $35 and rented a car. By doing so, we were able to get off the beaten track and visit fascinating landmarks such as the Mussel Capital of the World™, Havelock, where we had lunch at a cafe that had daily supplies of fresh mussels. I had a burger. The roads in the area are the sort of ones Top Gear visit when searching for the best in the world, winding and weaving between the mountains. It was made all the more interesting by the dangerous and often hidden piles of rubble dotted around, caused by mud and rock slides.

Having got back in one piece, we caught up with the bus the following morning, and were finally heading to Nelson, where we would be spending three nights. Much to the shock of my travel buddies Nick and Annika, I have never once been camping. I can honestly say I've never found the idea of sleeping outside on a hard surface, with nothing but a bit of fabric protecting me from the elements, particularly appealing. Call me soft, but a nice comfy bed in a room with central heating is much more my cup of tea. Having said that, I'm willing to give anything a go once, so I agreed to spend the night at the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park.

Having spent the first night in Nelson, we set off at some early time to Marahau, where we boarded an Aqua Taxi to Awaroa. In contrast to its rather mundane name, the Aqua Taxi was an exciting experience in itself, with the speedboat regularly getting launched into the air by the violent waves thumping into it. It calmed down for five minutes to catch a glimpse of the extremely cute seal colony at Tonga Island, before continuing the bone crunching ride. With my internal organs re-arranged, we reached Awaroa, where we began a 23km hike to our camp for the night, Anchorage. Thanks in part to the wet and windy weather, the trek was pretty hard going. A particular lowlight was when my left foot, nice white trainer 'n' all, suddenly disappeared into the thick mud below. Nick found this very amusing for roughly 6 seconds, at which point his laughter was abruptly halted as his right foot went the same way. Karma.

We made it to the camp-site just before dark, set up the tent, and took shelter in a nearby hut. There was only one sensible thing to do at this point: get drunk and play cards, so we duly obliged.

After a surprisingly comfortable and warm(ish) night*, we packed our stuff and began the 11.5km walk back to Awaroa. Thankfully the weather was much kinder to us, with the clear blue sky and blazing sunshine enhancing the spectacular scenery around us. We made our way back to Nelson, where we jumped into the hot tub to soothe our aching muscles. From there, we heading to a pub that served excellent local beer, and could have fish and chips delivered to your table. In a word: Heaven!
The morning after it was time to visit a small town called Greymouth, a place pretty much as dull as the name suggests. It does, however, have one redeeming feature: Monteith's Brewery. As far as redeeming features go, that's not a bad one. For a mere $30 (roughly £15) you get a tour, a meal, and beer. Lots and lots of beer. As a result, I developed a certain affection for the place, and thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay there (what I remember of it, anyhow).

In a seemingly unrelated matter, when I was about 5 or 6 I had a bad reaction to washing powder. Since then, my clothes have been washed with a powder that is soft and kind to my sensitive skin, and I have long forgotten about this particular allergy. When I reached Franz Josef, I was reminded of it in a quite nasty fashion. Having done the excellent full-day hike of the glacier**, I returned back to the hostel to grab a quick shower. My arm had been itching, but I assumed it was just a bite; I was wrong. I don't wish to go into too much detail, but my body was not a pretty sight [Insert Joke About How My Body Is Never A Pretty Sight]. To make matters worse, the tiny town of Franz Josef doesn't have a pharmacy, so I had to make-do with some cream from the local corner shop. The next day we headed south to the nearby Fox Glacier, where I hand-washed every item of clothing I had with a chemical-free washing powder. Never have I been so grateful to be able to wear my own clothes!

With that drama over and done with Nick, Sofia and I awoke early to take on the Mt Fox Route, a (supposedly) 8 hour return trek, suitable for "fit, experienced and properly equipped people." I'm not sure as I completely fulfil any of that criteria, but it looked like fun none-the-less. It turned out to be the most technically challenging trek I've done thus far, the steep - sometimes vertical - terrain proving a worthy adversary. Once at the 4400ft high peak, our reward was a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding snow-tipped mountains and the Fox Glacier. After the most scenic lunch I've ever had, we began to make our way back. Due to the extreme gradient of the track, and the speed at which we were taking it, the descent was an absolute knee-killer. I fell over on more than one occasion, and nearly fell over on many more, until the terrain finally began to even out. We completed the journey in a respectable five and a half hours, much to the satisfaction of my competitive nature. As the light faded, we were treated to a magnificent multi-coloured sunset, nicely finishing off what had been a fine day.
The bus picked us up the next morning, stopping off at Lake Matheson, or Mirror Lake, supposedly one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand (how they figure that out, I do not know). As its nickname suggests, the lake mirrors the mountainous background, due to the water being extremely still. In my humble and usually disregarded opinion, it wasn't that impressive; I've seen a couple of other lakes here that use the same phenomenon to a much more spectacular effect. What I was impressed with was the delicious egg and bacon pie at the cafe, splendid!

Next stop was Wanaka, a town that could have been plucked straight from the Swiss Alps. At least, I think it could - I've never actually been to the Swiss Alps, but it definitely has that ski vibe to it. There was also a frustrated atmosphere around the town as, along with Queenstown, Wanaka should be covered in a blanket of snow by now. Unfortunately for the avid skiers and snowboarders, the snow is still yet to come. I, on the other hand, was delighted with the conditions, and took the opportunity to go for a scenic walk. I'd planned to rent a bike, cycle 50km to Mt Aspiring National Park, and take on a challenging looking hike. The guy at the bike shop talked me out of it though, as he reckoned it would be at least an 8 hour round trip on the bike, leaving no time for walking, and suggested I got the bus instead.

I took his advice, and stood outside for what seemed an eternity waiting for the non-existent bus. At this point, I was getting cold (it may not have been snowing, but it was by no means warm), so decided to begin walking and attempted to hitch-hike. Unfortunately, once out of Wanaka, none of the cars that went by stopped for me. When I say 'none', I mean 'neither', as only 2 cars passed in the hour and a half I walked. I was getting somewhat frustrated at this point, so gave up and wandered around Lake Wanaka for a few hours. It was nice, but not quite the mammoth hike I'd prepared myself for. On the plus side, it was completely deserted, so I was able to sing out loud to my music without being laughed at or beaten up. Every cloud...

That evening, shockingly, we went to the pub. Beer cost $4 rather than $7.50 that night if you worked in hospitality, which, as it happens, was exactly what we were doing with our 48 hours in Wanaka (*wink wink, nudge nudge*). I entered a killer pool competition***, and using some tactical positioning from myself Nick and Sofia, I beat some clearly superior players to claim second place, and a free pint!

We had the morning free before hopping back into the bus. Destination: Queenstown. For those of you not familiar with Queenstown, it is the "Adventure Capital of the World™", and I would be spending a week there. This could be dangerous...

  • * Mildly Amusing Anecdote #1: At about 2am, Nick quietly asked if anyone was awake. As it happened, all three of us were. I, however, had somehow managed to do a 180° turn. Nick asked me how this had happened, to which I tiredly responded "lost my bearings", quite some feat considering there was three of us in a two-man tent!
  • ** Mildly Amusing Anecdote #2: Being an idiot, I had promised Annika I'd take a picture of myself barefooted on the ice. I kept my word, as the below photo proves, also stripping down to shorts and t-shirt. It was, needless to say, cold.
  • *** For those of you not aware of the rules of killer pool, players (10 of us in this case) take it in turns to shoot, and can pot any ball on the table. If you miss, you lose one of your three lives. Pot the black and gain one life. Last man standing wins.


Posted by Daniel.J.B 23:01 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains snow beer trek walk ice ski snowboard glacier new_zealand hike fox_glacier picton wanaka nelson franz_josef abel_tasman_national_park queenston Comments (0)

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