Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Van Part 2 – more wonderful visitors!

Being away from home for a year means that we are missing a lot of lovely friends and family, so it has been awesome to have a few visitors in New Zealand – first mum and dad, then Jon and now Rachel and her friend Anika, with whom we have just spent a brilliant few days in Queenstown and Wanaka.

But before meeting the girls, and whilst they were enjoying many many vineyards in the north island, we got ourselves and the van from the Catlins to the southern Alps, via the amazing Milford Sound.

After leaving the penguins and dolphins we drove to the (sort of) most southerly point in New Zealand. Bluff is pretty much the Lands End of NZ, complete with Japanese tourists and an obligatory cheesy photo op.

Bluff - the very bottom of New Zealand

Bluff – the very bottom of New Zealand

The views were pretty cool though and we can now officially say we’ve been from the top to the bottom of the country – from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

We then headed up the Southern Scenic Route, stopping off to buy famous sausages in Tuatapere (because Lonely Planet told us to) before spending a night in the lovely sunny lakeside town of Te Anau.

Te Anau in the sunshine

Te Anau in the sunshine

When we woke up it was absolutely chucking it down with rain, so the famous drive to Milford was at its most ‘atmospheric’ – we couldn’t see the views or the tops of the mountains, but there were hundreds of waterfalls coming down the hills and the misty atmosphere was pretty cool.

Driving to Milford in the rain

Driving to Milford in the rain

Luckily the next day was beautifully sunny and our mini-cruise on the fjord was incredible. The size of the mountains and waterfalls is so difficult to comprehend and another few hundred photos were snapped.

The magical Milford Sound

The magical Milford Sound

On the way back we stopped for an awesome walk up to the Key Summit – also the start/end of one of the “Great Walks”, The Routeburn Track – and had some wonderful views of the snow capped mountains and lakes.

The Key Summit

The Key Summit

After leaving Milford we drove through some more incredible mountainous scenery to Wanaka to meet up with Rachel and Anika. It’s strange how normal it is to be meeting across the other side of the world, but we were very quickly catching up on the goss over tea and wine – just like normal! We had a great dinner and drinks before planning our time together.

Catching up over wine

Catching up over wine

The first activity was skydiving. Not for Rachel and I though – we sensibly stayed on the ground while Sam and Anika strapped themselves to two strangers and jumped out of a plane at 15,000 feet.

Ready to go

Ready to go

The plane!

The plane!

Providing moral support, safely on the ground

Providing moral support, safely on the ground

It looked amazing from the ground and it sounded like it was a pretty awesome experience, especially over the Wanaka mountains and lakes.

Sam and Anika’s graceful landings video – http://youtu.be/XJhZfx-syHg

We then headed to Queenstown and were hit by the party town, in full swing for St Patricks day. Rachel and Anika had a day trip to Milford, so Sam and I visited Arrowtown, before getting together again on the evening for more lovely New Zealand wine.

On our last day together we headed up the Queenstown gondola to enjoy the views of the town and Lake Wakatipu and did some lugeing at the top. Queenstown is all about the adventure activities!

Cable car fun

Cable car fun

The view of Queenstown

The view of Queenstown

Luge fun

Luge fun

After a famous and delicious Fergburger we had to say goodbye to the girlies.

Best burger ever

Best burger ever

It’s been awesome having them to visit!

Cheeeeese!

Cheeeeese!

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The Van – Part 1

Not long after arriving in New Zealand, somewhere around day 2 of being stuck at a motel in Kawerau, we realised that having a car here is quite useful. You can drive and stop and where you want, and they use the proper side of the road. So, for the last week or so, we’ve been roadtripping around the South Island, driving and stopping where we want, in a camper van.

Our new home

Our new home

We picked up our van in Christchurch, and just as the city’s worst floods in years were hitting we drove away across the Canterbury Plains. They are beautiful wide open spaces apparently, but I was too busy wrestling to stay on the road through the wind and rain to notice! The weather calmed down as we got inland though, and for our first stop we drove over a cheeky few kilometres of gravel roads to reach Mount Potts Station.

New Zealand roads...

New Zealand roads…

There were no other tourists around, and the place is quite off the beaten track. It also happens to be home to Mount Sunday, the location used as Edoras, capital of Rohan in The Two Towers. It is one of the more iconic locations of the trilogy, and required very little CGI. So when we rounded the last bend, we saw the flat valley, ringed by snow capped mountains and the smallish, stump of a hill in the middle, exactly like the films, I worried the trip had peaked too soon! We walked from our campsite to the hill and climbed, and were the only people in sight. We didn’t get to use replica swords like the official tours, but having Edoras to ourselves was pretty magical.

Edoras, Rohan, Middle-Earth

Edoras, Rohan, Middle-Earth

Enjoying some privacy in Edoras

Enjoying some privacy in Edoras

The next day we moved on to Lake Tekapo, camping at the base of Mount John. The lake is stunning, amazingly blue and green and reflects the mountains around it. That night was nice and clear, and the area is famous for its big sky and lack of light pollution – the stars were amazing, even if the lack of cloud cover meant it was a bit chilly in the van! We got up early the next day and hiked quickly up to the top of Mount John for the 360 degree views of the lakes and mountains, and then were rewarded with a half price trip to the hot springs!

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

From Tekapo we drove to Aoraki/Mount Cook, the tallest peak in Australasia. We camped right near the base of Mount Sefton, and spent the next couple of days tramping and walking around the mountains, rivers and glaciers in the area. At the end of one walk, we reached a lake formed by a glacier retreating. Mount Cook was right in front of us, and at the far end of the lake the glacier was slowly breaking off into icebergs which we sat and watched float around. It was stupefyingly awesome.

Mt Cook

Mt Cook

Mini icebergs, glacier, Mount Cook. Whatever.

Mini icebergs, glacier, Mount Cook. Whatever.

After filling a memory card with photos that will never do justice to the views, we headed off back to the east coast, going against the tourist traffic, and drove all the way southeast to Oamaru. After being in the wild for a few days it was nice to be in a coastal town, especially one famous for its cheese factory (we had a few samples), it’s very Victorian architecture, and most bizarrely for steampunk. We also visited Dunedin, a really cool university city which we will definitely try and get back to, where we did some learning of our own at the excellent Settlers Museum, all about the early Scottish colonists who founded the city.

To end our first full week, we spent a couple of days driving around the Catlins National Park, way down in the southeast. It feels pretty end of the worldy in many ways, and there are very few other tourists (or even people) down there. Law found us an awesome little campsite to park at in a place called Curio Bay, where we were in an enclosed area of flax grass right on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. Curio Bay is on one side of the headland, and is famous for its 180 million year old petrified forest of fossilised tree stumps (amazing), and even more amazing, it’s Yellow-eyed Penguin colony! Wrapped up warm against the roaring 40’s wind, we watched for a couple of hours as penguins got out of the sea and waddled inland to their nests.

#PenguinSelfie

#PenguinSelfie

On the other side of the headland is Porpoise Bay, a perfect sandy, half-moon crescent beach which gets it’s name from the Hector Dolphins that play around in the surf. We watched them jump and swim for a while, before I decided to brave the cold (it’s not that far from Antarctica here) and go for a dip. I swam around for a bit and two of the dolphins got gradually closer, until I could see them about 5 metres or so away. I was the only person in the sea. It was amazing.

Me and the camera-shy dolphins

Me and the camera-shy dolphins

Basically, in just over a week we’ve seen and done loads, way more than I can fit in here. The scenery is stunning everywhere, literally every bend in the road is photo-worthy, our bed is nice and comfy, cooking on the gas stove or in the camp kitchens is fun, we climbed Edoras, saw glaciers and icebergs, saw penguins, swam with dolphins, climbed around at Aslan’s Camp, visited the very end of the country and we still have two weeks left in this van.

Elephant Rocks AKA Aslan's Camp

Elephant Rocks AKA Aslan’s Camp

Lunchtime

Lunchtime

Van with a view

Van with a view

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A week of serious Hobbity fun

This week we became a mini fellowship and were joined by our awesome friend Jon, who has come to visit Middle Earth. He definitely joins Sam in The Lord of the Rings super-fan category and we have had a brilliant week travelling from Auckland to Christchurch via some of the best film locations.

Auckland reunion

Auckland reunion

After meeting in Auckland we went to the mother of all Rings spots; Hobbiton. For the recent Hobbit films, the set was rebuilt and you can now walk around the whole of the Shire, see more 40 hobbit holes including Bag End, and have a pint of ale in the Green Dragon. It was amazing! The attention to detail is incredible and it really does look like the films.

Bilbo's gaf

Bilbo’s gaf

That afternoon, we drove south towards Waitomo and had a non-LOTR, but equally geeky time for Jon’s birthday surprise, by sleeping in the cockpit of a real Vietnam bomber plane! Bizarre, but very funny!

Broadsword calling Dannyboy

Broadsword calling Dannyboy

Happy birthday Jon!

Happy birthday Jon!

On Wednesday we took on Mordor and Mount Doom, which is actually the Tongariro Crossing and Mount Ngauruhoe. This 22km day hike was exhausting, but amazing to walk through the volcanic landscape that does actually look like Mordor.

Mount Doom!!

Mount Doom!!

There was a lot of steep uphill climbing, with Mount Doom right next to us, then an optional extra detour to the top of Mount Tongariro for some awesome views, we passed volcanic craters, steaming vents, and finally walked the really steep descent. It took us about 7 hours and my legs were killing by the end but it was definitely worth it!

Mount Doom selfie

Mount Doom selfie

We ended our week in Wellington where Jon went on an epic full day tour to lots of different film locations and we joined him in the Weta Cave in the afternoon. This is where they made a lot of the prosthetics and special effects for the films and we had a tour of their studios to see how lots of stuff was made. Apparently two guys took two years to hand-make all of the chain mail for LOTR and they actually rubbed off their own fingerprints looping them all together.

Gandalf selfie

Gandalf selfie

The shop and mini museum were so good we had to go back the next day!

What a babe

What a babe

To finish our north island adventure we went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in the Embassy Theatre, a beautiful building where all of the film premiers were held.

Now we are in Christchurch after taking the inter island ,ferry yesterday and are staying with some lovely, very distant relatives. Tonight we say goodbye to Jon who is heading off to continue his LOTR quest and we pick up a campervan to explore the South Island for three weeks.

It’s been lovely having a visitor! Safe travels Jon.

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