Sunday, 30 November 2014

New Zealand, week two

New Zealand continues to amaze me daily, with the stunning views and the brilliant variety of things to do. We've just finished our second week travelling around this beautiful country on the Kiwi Experience bus. You can read about my first week of New Zealand adventures here

We travelling from Taupo early on Monday morning, stopping at several places along the way, before finally arriving in River Valley at around 6pm. We stopped for a walk en route to River Valley to enjoy the incredible sight of Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings and we also saw the spot where Gollum found the ring. I loved the views, despite not having watched the Lord of the Rings films! We stopped at the base of an impressive waterfall for a picnic lunch, before continuing our drive to River Valley.

Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom

This is where Gollum found the ring [apparently]

Perfect place for a picnic 

We stayed at the River Valley Lodge, which is nestled between huge cliffs in the valley. The lodge has a huge 32-bed dorm room, some private rooms, a big bar/dining/common area, along with White Water Rafting and Horse Trekking facilities. We cooked a delicious curry dinner and enjoyed the happy hour deals on bottles of red wine and drank a little too much, in the very homely and cosy lodge. I woke up early with a fuzzy head in the morning, and quickly packed my bag, ready to go White Water Rafting. I had been looking forward to this for ages, so was really excited, despite feeling a little worse for wear! 

Dinner with Emily, Alyssia and Jon

We were given a wetsuit and loads of other gear to wear, including a life jacket and helmet, before being driven around 30-minutes in a minibus to the starting point on the river. We were given a safety briefing before jumping into a boat and starting the initially gentle ride down the river. There were six of us in our boat including our guide, who was a funny guy and great at showing and explaining to us how to navigate ourselves through the rapids safely. We stopped part way down the river to jump off a six-metre rock, which was fun but quite scary! I'm such a wuss. The river got increasingly gnarly and fun, before getting gradually more gentle as we travelled closer to the lodge. White Water Rafting was loads of fun, however I sadly I don't have any photos to show for it. Photos were charged per boat and would have been super expensive as only three out of the five people on our boat wanted them. Emily and I both really want to go again! 

Road block - New Zealand style!

Our Kiwi Experience bus was waiting for us after we'd finished and we started the journey towards Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. We thought it was hilarious that the road was completely blocked by sheep not far from the River Valley Lodge and once we got past them in the bus, there was a farmer on a quad bike ambling along behind them. Only in New Zealand. 

We decided to add an extra day to our stay in Wellington, otherwise we would have had literally 12-hour in the city before being picked up the next morning, so would have missed out on seeing much of the area. Emily and I headed out into town with our friends Alyssia and Jon the next morning and went for coffee at a really cool coffee shop called Fidell's, which is on one end of Cuba Street - hipster central. Our guide book said the old fashioned Wellington Cable Car was worth checking out, so we paid for one-way trip, which took us in a straight line up a steep hill, which had an incredible view of Wellington at the top. There was a lovely walk down from the top through the Botanic Gardens, and then continuing on down past the New Zealand Parliament buildings [the main one is aptly named The Beehive] and back into town. 

Wellington Cable Car

Wellington views

'The Beehive' - New Zealand Parliament Building 

I really like taking photos of different Fire Stations around the world, no idea why! 

We decided to check out the Harbourside and were really excited to stumble upon the Sam Simon Sea Shepherd ship. Sea Shepherd are a conservation group who run campaigns to help stop illegal marine activities in our oceans, such as whaling. Sam Simon is one of the co-creators of The Simpsons, who donated the money to buy this particular ship. We were given a free tour of the ship by two of the crew and shown a video in the ship's lounge. I also got to sit in the captain's chair which was pretty cool! We were told that the organisation had bought the ship from the Japanese government, who used to use it for whaling. They had to set up a fake company with carefully named bank accounts etc to buy the ship - what an amazing story! This organisation is great and I have loads of respect for the amazing work they do. I also bought a Sea Shepherd t-shirt :)

Standing alongside the incredible Sam Simon Sea Shepherd ship with Emily

Sat in the Sam Simon Captain's chair!

We also visited the Te Papa Museum in the centre of Wellington, which is essentially a display of all-things New Zealand. The museum had lots of interesting information about earthquakes and volcano activity in the country and had a pretty cool dinosaur exhibition too. It was a nice place to browse and was completely free of charge.

We heard about free beer tasting at the local Parrotdog Brewery, in our copy of 'Neat Places' we picked up in our hostel. A friendly local guy gave us free samples of several of the brewery's beers and explained all the flavours and stories behind them. The brewery had recently done a collaboration with the Te Papa museum, brewing a special beer called Jurassic Ale to coincide with their dinosaur exhibition. This brewery is well worth a visit if you're in the area!

Beer tasting at the Parrotdog Brewery in Wellington with Emily, Alyssia and Jon

Later in the evening we headed back into town for pizza and beer and for drinks at a swanky cocktail bar called Motel with Alyssia and Jon. Emily and I were so excited to be served our delicious gin cocktails in parrots! We love a good gimmick.

Cocktails in parrots at Motel with Emily!

Our day started very early the next morning to get back on the Kiwi Experience bus to travel the short distance to the ferry port. We boarded the ferry here to take the three-hour trip across the Cook Strait from Wellington in the North island to Picton on the South island. The views from the ship were really pretty and we were lucky to have a fairly calm crossing. The Cook Strait is notoriously choppy and despite there being swells of up to a metre during our crossing, it mostly felt very flat. The ferry was 20-minutes late leaving Wellington and it took 45-minutes getting off, so it was a pretty unorganized journey. Something went wrong with the ramp as we tried to disembark, so the foot passengers were left waiting for ages to get off, before being sent through a different gate. Car passengers were stuck on for much longer while they waited for the ramp issue to be fixed.

Views from the Interislander Ferry on the Cook Strait 

We met our new driver Jared in Picton, who stopped at the Marlborough Winery after driving for not much more than half an hour. We paid two dollars each to try four different wines in a small bar and we enjoyed the lovely scenery in the area. 

Marlborough Winery Vineyard

Our first overnight stop on the South island was a tiny place called Kaiteriteri, where we stayed at Kaiteri Lodge. We thought this stop was a bit random, as there was very little to do in this tiny place, where there was the lodge with a bar attached and a mediocre beach. The local town of Nelson seemed like a much more logical choice, but our stops have mostly been really good, so we can't complain too much.

The following morning we got back on the bus to start the journey to Westport, a small beach town further down the coast. We stopped at the Nelson Lakes National Park on the way, where we're told that jumping off the jetty into the lake for a great photo opportunity is popular. The weather wasn't great and the HUGE eels in the water put everyone off swimming, but the views were impressive. A few people tried to get close-up photos of the eels, but I kept well away! 

Nelson Lakes 

Scary eels at Nelson Lakes

On Friday we arrived in Westport after a few quick photo-stops along the way. Westport is a sleepy little coastal town, which is a popular place to surf, with huge waves at the local beach. We stayed at Bazil's Hostel, where one of the owners was the New Zealand surf champion a while back. He runs surf lessons, but we decided to give these a miss as we arrived so late in the day. 

Emily, Alyssia, Lian, Jenna and Charlotte toasting marshmallows on the beach

Our driver Jared drove us to the beach for a bonfire later in the evening, which was awesome of him, as it was in his own time and not part of his work schedule. We enjoyed a few drinks on the beach and most people toasted marshmallows too. It was a bit strange and creepy seeing loads of sketchy looking cars driving fast up and down the waterfront and appearing to slow down to see what we're doing. Just local drag racers basically. We decided that they weren't actually trying to cause us any trouble, but were just curious as very little happens in their tiny town!

"We're a long way from Kansas, Toto"

The next morning we stopped after a very short bus journey go on a VERY windy 45-minute walk along a coastal trail, which passes a Seal Sanctuary on the way. I didn't manage to get any decent photos of the seals, but they looked really cute sliding over the rocks with their little flippers. We stopped a bit further along the coast after another drive at a place called Pancake Rocks, aptly named due to their appearance. This was a pretty little area and there was a big cafe opposite where we stopped for lunch. 

Pancake Rocks

We made a few more stops along the way, whilst travelling the relatively long distance to Franz Joseph.  We arrived in this glacier town late in the afternoon and checked into a place called the Glow Worm Cottages. We pre-booked a double room here, with Alyssia and Jon doing the same. Kiwi Experience are great and guarantee you a room at every stop, but as we found in Wellington, often the hostels can't offer you a second night and have limited availability on private rooms, as they have to keep the rooms available for the Kiwi buses arriving the following day. This hostel turned out to be great, as it was much cheaper than other places we have stayed in New Zealand [70 NZD for a double room] and has free soup available every day at 6pm, free breakfast, free popcorn in reception and a hot tub outside in a little shed, free to use too!

The main activity to do in Franz Joseph is hiking on the glacier, which is only accessible by taking a short helicopter ride each way. Emily and I had already decided not to do this, as although we thought it would be amazing, we had only recently booked a snowboarding holiday for March next year, so used this as a good excuse to not do this relatively expensive glacier trip. Frustratingly for a lot of people on our bus, most of the scheduled flights were cancelled due to bad weather, which is apparently very common. In fax, most of the flights for the last three weeks have been cancelled. A few of our group got lucky with their flight times and managed to go on this incredible trip inside windows of good weather on Sunday afternoon.

Walking along the river to view the Franz Joseph Glacier

Emily standing pretty much as close as you can get to the Franz Joseph Glacier without a helicopter!

Emily and I went hiking along several of the very well signposted and maintained tracks in the town. One of the tracks takes you very close to the glacier, after walking alongside an impressive river. Emily and I aren't that keen on walking usually, but we really enjoyed the walk, despite it hailing during the afternoon! We warmed up when we got back by visiting the local Hot Pools, which is a posh little complex with three hot pools, one at 36 degrees, one at 38 degrees and another at 40 degrees. 

Tomorrow we're travelling from Franz Joseph to Wanaka, where we're meeting up with our friends Harvey and Rachel who we met earlier in the year whilst working in Verbier, Switzerland. We're then heading to Queenstown for three days, before a quick visit to Lake Tekapo and onwards to Christchurch. From Christchurch we fly to Melbourne in Australia in just over a week, which has come around so quickly! I'll post about our third and final week in New Zealand next week. Thanks for reading!

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