It’s 9am and I’m sitting at a park table next to the van that I’ve been riding in the last 12 days and I’ve realized that I haven’t been able to post anything until now. Internet in New Zealand isn’t just hard to come by, but it is expensive, so sorry VicLiv, you’ve had to fall victim to the price. Oh well, I’m writing now, you should be happy, let’s move on.
These last 12 days have been full of ups and downs (not talking about skydiving, but I will), but thankfully the majority have been up! So far I’ve spent one night in an airport, one night in a hostel, and ten nights in a minivan. Gotta say, not too bad at all. Yeah, there isn’t a ton of room in the van, but it keeps us free from the rain, and with a sleeping bag, quite warm at night.
Here’s a rundown of where I’ve been since arriving into Christchurch (Chch):
- 1/9 (Christchurch) – Met up with Valentina, realized she wasn’t a murderer, and started our journey spending our first night near a beach town in New Brighton after going to the Chch Botanical Gardens.
- 1/10 (Hanmer Springs) – Woke up, went to the Chch Gondola, then took off towards the north to Hanmer Springs. Cute village town, didn’t go to the hot springs (expensive)
- 1/11 (Kaikoura) – Left the springs towards Kaikoura. Spent the day doing some hiking around the peninsula seeing seals, being attacked by birds, and having to climb our way up a 150 foot grassy wall back to the top – oh so much fun. We had dinner and some drinks at the Donegal House Irish Hotel where we ended up parking the van for the night.
- 1/12 (North Motueka) – Took off from the Kaikoura area and made our way up to Picton where we spent some time on a little hike that took us to Bob’s Bay. Nice little swimming spot near where all the boats came to/from the north island. We started chatting about wine and realized the region of Marlborough Sound was great for it so we took off in the direction of Nelson arriving just in time to go to one winery before it closed around 5:30pm. Bought some wine and moved on. Our night was finally spent next to a river north of Motueka. Though we were close to a river, we couldn’t get in due to how high up we were, but at least we had wine to end the night.
- 1/13 (South Motueka) – Got up early to get north for Abel Tasman National Park. This place is amazing and I definitely recommend everyone go here. We arrived in small town called Kaiteriteri which really only serves as a depot for boats taking people to the national park. Well, we decided to take a boat through Wilsons.
- They took Valentina and I to Anchorage Bay. Valentina had some friends in the area, so we walked to Cleopatra’s Pool to meet up with them. These guys were travelers from Italy (like Valentina) who were a lot of fun to chat with. Love there way of traveling (no cares in the world).
- After we met up, I wanted to do some hiking in the Abel Tasman park, so they went their way and I went mine. I took off north and hiked four hours to Barks Bay. I only got attacked by one seal while spending my last 500 meters or so going on big rocks between two bays. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but it was a lot of fun at least.
- The boat picked me up at Barks Bay and then picked up Valentina and Anchorage Bay and we made our way back to the small town which we left and arrived for a night in the country hills south of Motueka.
- 1/14 (North Greymouth Beach) – Another early morning we got our things together and went back towards Nelson and then south to St. Anaud.
- We went here for the Nelson Lakes, but we arrived with it being cold and windy. The lake was nice though.
- We left and stopped at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge. This is the longest swingbridge in New Zealand. Not sure how it compares to the rest of the world, but it was pretty long at 110 meters. I spent the $5 to get access to the bridge and the land beyond where I spent around 45 minutes walking around the area. They have options to zipline back instead of taking the bridge, but prices were between $30-45 to do it and it looked pretty lame, so I passed.
- Continued on to the west coast of NZ to Punakaika. This place had two things of interest: glowworms and “pancake rocks”. Sadly, we never saw the glowworms, but we did get a nice helping of pancake rocks. I thought these rocks were pretty cool and though there were supposed to be blowholes around them, tide wasn’t up and we didn’t want to stick around until 11pm to see em.
- So we made our way south past Greymouth to a beach are where we crashed the night. There were supposed to be penguins here, but no dice, at least the sunset was pretty.
- 1/15 (Fox Glacier) – We continued south on the west coast road to Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. These were two huge glaciers that people spend lots of money to taking hiking trips on. I wanted to do one myself, but spending $400 in the Franz Josef area to do a four hour hike didn’t seem worth it (though it did include a helicopter ride to the glacier as its the only way to get onto it safely). Instead, we did an hour and a half hike to view the glacier. It was a bit grey, but still had a nice blue color.
- We left Franz Josef Glacier to Fox Glacier where we chose to spend our first night in a hostel. We needed to clean clothe and sleep in a real bed for a change.
- After hearing that this place was one of the best places for skydiving around NZ, we decided to go check it out for the next day. We talked to the guys at Skydive Fox Glacier about the weather, I decided that I’d go. Sadly, Valentina wasn’t feeling up for it this evening.
- I chose to go the 16,000 foot option ($399) and boy was I pleased. It was amazing. 65 seconds of free fall and even chose the photo package after being talked into it ($95). It was my first skydive so I went through with it. Though not all the photos came out, I had some killer shots, but it still didn’t show what it was really like. The guys were great to skydive with and recommend them for sure. I met back up with Valentina with a permanent smile on my face and told her about it before going to my hostel for the night.
- 1/16 (Wanaka) – The next day was spent getting to Wanaka. It was pouring down rain when we left the glacier area, and had some issues with Valentina’s van and its oil, but once we added some more, things got better. Also, as we got closer to Wanaka, the rain stopped! I’m so glad it did, cause the lakes getting to and around Wanaka were stunning. Wanaka is said to be a laid back version of Queenstown and it definitely isn’t the busiest place out there, but it has a lot of character that I really enjoyed. If there was a city I’d live in here in South NZ, it’d be Wanaka.
- Valentina and I spent some time around the lake watching kite surfers and sail boarders before going on a hike to the top of Mt. Iron (not really a mountain). It had some killer views of the surrounding area and lakes. After finishing up we found a good spot to park the van for the night and went out for dinner and drinks. Valentina had a friend from Fox Glacier that we met up with along with his friend who is living in Wanaka. Patrick (her friend) and I got to talking about flying and it brought back a lot of memories and really made me excited to get back in the cockpit! We wrapped up the night and crashed.
- 1/17 (Queenstown) – I was sad to leave Wanaka, but it had to be done, so we headed out towards Queenstown. I’m not sure I really got Queenstown. It’s a cool place, but don’t know if I could spend every waking moment here unless I worked for one of these adventure companies here. They do have a cool park where they place live music on Fridays that we enjoyed, but other than that, it’s expensive without a ton to do otherwise than spend money I felt. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that this is where Bungy Jumping was born, but it’s a cash trap.
- Even though everything is expensive here, I decided to do something and went on the “World’s Biggest Swing” through AJ Hackett Bungy. This thing was huge. 300m arc! Crazy. I had a lot of fun going on it, but juts like bungy for me (I went to the highest jump in the US around 70m), it goes to quickly for the price (NZ dollars – $180 for swinging, $260 for bungy @ 134meters (awesome!)). Yes, I know, I did spend over $400 to do skydiving, but at least it last for a number of minutes! Bungy, even at the 134m lasts only 8.5 seconds. Oh well, to each his own, I’ll stick with skydiving for the money. Actually, I’ll stick with flying airplanes for the money. Much cheaper and as much the thrill!
- We spent the evening eating some grub and watching some live music in the park. We left QT proper to head out of town to find a place to park for the night and stumbled across a nice hill side view of the lake.
- 1/18 (South Milford Sound) – We decided we couldn’t leave Queenstown without doing a hike, so we did the hike around Lake Hayes. Perhaps you need to do this hike on a day with blue skies, cause our overcast day didn’t make this lake shine. It was pretty dark and not the cleanest from what we could see, but it did make for a decent morning two hour hike which was quickly followed by us taking off to Te Anau.
- We checked the small town of Te Anau out a bit before signing up with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks to do some kayaking in Milford Sound. Valentina really wanted to try out kayaking after seeing it done in Abel Tasman, so we signed up knowing that it may rain the next day ($149 for the Sunriser Classic). We left Te Anau to the last camping spot before getting into Milford Sound where there were no more and after some beer and wine and conversing with some fun germans, we went to sleep.
- 1/19 (Gore Park) – I was woken up early this morning by the thunderous rain on the roof of the van. Already, I was hoping for strong winds to cause use to cancel our tour. Well, after getting outside and ready to go, we realized there was no wind, just a ton of water. We got things together, and took off around 5:30am towards Milford Sound Lodge where we waited for our tour.
- Our tour was led by a BC Canadian named Tanner. He had an awesome attitude that kept us excited about going kayaking. We had a total of eight kayakers including Tanner. The nice thing about this company is they provide you with all you need to wear for the trip. We geared up and got into the kayaks to go around the mouth of the Milford Sound. Even though it was pouring down rain, I had an amazing time. You start to ignore the rain and realize just how beautiful this place is because of it. The mountains that were above us created thousands of waterfalls due to the rain where usually there is just two. Best times to go I’ve been told in the area – clear sky beautiful days and days like ours which were completely flooded. Thankfully we got one of them (might have chosen the sunny day option though)
- We cleaned ourselves up after kayaking and took off out of the rainy Milford Sound area towards Dunedin. We made it about half way to a town called Gore before taking time to rest and sleep.
And now it’s the 20th. I can’t believe how quickly things have gone by so far. In just 7 days it’ll be four months that I’ve been gone. I’ve been to nine new countries so far with just Fiji left to go before heading back to the states (in Hawaii). I’ve got all my flights taken care of to get me back to Australia for Australia Day, then to Fiji, back to Sydney, then off to Hawaii before returning back to Portland. Not long left, but I’m sure it’ll be amazing.