Auckland to Christchurch on the big green bus
01.02.2012 - 28.02.2012
Here are some highlights from my trip to the fun capital of the world.
After two days in Auckland (enough, really ... highlights included the awesome Auckland art gallery), I jumped back on a bus, but this time the 'Kiwi Experience', which offers again like Oz Experience, ruddy easy travel around New Zealand. It was so simple, again drivers helping with accommodation, leaving us just to have fun and terrify ourselves and our bank managers through various activities.
Stop one: Hot Water Beach. Very surreal experience - we headed down to the beach at sunset, torches and shovels in hand to find locals digging away on the beach. We joined in, and soon we found ourselves standing in pools of hot sandy water which was sometimes unbearably hot. As the ocean water rushed in, the pools were cooled to create little steaming baths in which we sat and soaked ... truly incredible!
Stop two: Waitomo. A sleepy little town, Waitomo is famous for its caving. I opted for the 'black water rafting'. Not as extreme as it sounds, this adventure involves floating through the cold and stunningly silent water filled caves in rubber donuts, jumping down little rapids and the highlight, watching the thousands of glow worms stuck to the roof of the cave. As we turned our headlamps off, they shone brightly and led our route as we floated through the caves following the star-like path set out above us. We later learnt that the bioluminescence from the glow worms (or maggots as they actually are) is actually their glowing poop, which even though took away some of the romance of the whole experience was still an incredible sight and certainly worth doing.
Stop 3: Rotorua. The Maori cultural experience. Enough time having fun - it was time to learn something and get cultured. This cultural experience involved spending an evening at a made-up Maori camp where we were greeted with traditional and intimidating Maori dance, workshops displaying various Maori ways of life and skills, a meaty feast cooked in traditional fashion in the ground (yummy lamb) and ofcourse a dancing display of the Hukka. It was great to learn about the Maori tradition and ways of life, and I would again definitely recommend this to anyone who is visiting NZ so to get a feeling for these proud people who are so central to NZ life and culture.
Stop 4: Taupo. SKYDIVE! I jumped out of bed in excitement and did a little dance ... the grey skies had cleared and the crisp blue skies meant that today I was able to cross off a dream of mine to jump out of a plane. A small group of us jumped into a mini-bus and headed off towards the skydive centre. Putting my best psychologist face on, I tried to calm my fellow jumpers who were starting to shake with anticipation.
After several hours of waiting for our slot, watching torrents of skydivers return to earth, and signing various disclaimers, it was our turn to head up to 15,000ft. I was greeted by my dive master and immediately asked him how many dives he had done. 6,000 he replied. I knew I was in good hands (well, chest i suppose). All geared up in a bright red one-piece suit and sturdy harness, we boarded our transport for the trip; a bright pink plane.
The trip up was incredible fun. 4 jumpers, together with their dive master tied to their back, as well as a camera man each who would jump out just before us and catch our gaping mouths on HD film. The flight was a beautiful experience in itself; soaring over the largest lake in NZ (the same size as Singapore) as well as stunning green forest and mountains. The view down would be sweet!
My dive master kept showing me his watch as we climbed the heights, until eventually we reached 15,000ft. Our oxygen masks came off, and the hatch opened to reveal the cold air and before we knew it, we were being chucked out of the plane. Watching my fellow jumpers was so strange - falling at a great speed before you knew it and disappearing in a flash.
My time came in last place, and after sitting on the edge of the place for a few seconds, I was out and falling. The freefall lasted 60 seconds before the parachute came out, but for me it seemed like 20. The feeling of falling was so incredible and difficult to explain, but one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I couldn't help but scream and just shout wooooooaaaaaaaaaa ... spinning in circles before our parachute opened and we began our scenic glide back to ground. For 5 minutes we glided down through the silence, alongside the stunning lake and over sunny fields. We landed with a bump and before I knew it, I was untied from the parachute and overwhelmed by the rush and amazement of the quickest 7 minutes! I gave my divemaster I big hug, as though he had just saved my life and smiles were all round from my fellow jumpers - all landed safe, and with all earlier doubts and fears ousted. A truly amazing experience which has to be experienced!
Stop 5: River Valley. A relaxing stop in a river side retreat (in a valley). Beautiful hostel set my a crisp and clear river which provided some great rock jumping and swimming. Following a pretty heavy night with the group of great people from the bus (and some 'drumming' on wine glasses and bottles from myself ... a smashing time...) we woke up early the next morning for a detox yoga session. With the sound of the river nearby, it was a pretty special experience. Three of us guys rolled in slightly late and began our class consisting of meditation and yoga, and by the end, we were new and looser men.
Stop 6: Wellington. One night here - didn't see much. Caught inter-island ferry early the next morning.
Stop 7: Kaiteriteri / Westport - Little town overlooked by beautiful mountain range. The scenery was getting more stunning.
Stop 8: Mahinapua - Beautiful lake. One crazy night in party hostel. Dressed up to theme of 'G'. Still having a dress in my bag from a previous fnacy dress night, I went as a 'glamorous girl' - and it looked great. One of the most liberating experiences of my trip.
Stop 9: Franz Josef. We rolled up to Franz Josef, a small town which acted as a base and was again in the shadow of some wicked mountains and glaciers. We headed out for the full day glacier hike; geared up with coats, boots and krampons, we set out on the glacier as the rain started, and it didn't stop. A truly soggy experience, but the glacier was stunning and walking among giant ice sheets was an amazing experience. I opted for the 'advanced' level group which headed to the peak of the glacier at a good pace, resulting in incredible views over the glacier, and walls of water falling around us created by the continuing downpour.
Stop 10: Wanaka. My third haircut of the trip. My good pal Joe and I headed off in search for Ali Barbars; chosen purely for its name and cheap cuts. Another successful trim and the mullet gone. Wanaka also had a stunning lake, surrounded by an imposing skyline of mountains. Beautiful place.
As it turned midnight, my 24th birthday and the penultimate stop of our trip came about; Queenstown. The two hour south to this 'adventure capital of the world' was broken up by a little stop to 'Puzzleworld'; a playground of illusions and mazes. The perfect way to start my birthday; brushing off some of those 24 years by getting lost in a maze and feeling sick from staring at too many illusions.
As we drove into Queenstown, the sense of excitement on the bus grew ... this would be our base for 10 days and arriving on my birthday was a real bonus as our bus driver organised a pub crawl. We were greeted in the hostel by a free room upgrade - to a 'king suite' (or the 'penthouse' as it became known) which consisted of a large balcony overlooking mountains and lake, as well as a nice big TV and sit down shower (?).
After some beers on the beach by the lake in the sun and the third best pizza of my travels (after NY and Chicago), we hit the town and explored this party town by night, with a highlight being a bar made entirely out of ice (including the glasses!)
I loved Queenstown - and we all soon settled into a flashpacker way of life - Fergburgers almost every day (the best burger I've ever had) as well as lounging on the beach with beers, all set in one of the most beautiful places I've stayed. The mountains were again, stunning, and the setting sun made them look awesome.
Other highlights included visiting Milford Sound (even though it again poured all day and we couldn't see much) and 'luging' - or the racing of little gravity powered go-carts down a hill which resulted in a friend breaking his finger. 12 boys racing down a hill - it was going to happen.
The highlight of Queenstown was however, another crazy experience ... the Nevis Bungy jump; the tallest bungy jump in Australasia, standing at 134m. Doing a bungy in NZ was on my list and I decided on a whim to upgrade to the Nevis from the smaller 46m jump which I'd planned on doing. After again signing various disclaimers and having our weights checked a couple of times, a small group of us boarded the minibus to the jump site 45 minutes out of Queenstown. As the journey went on, the terrain got increasingly bare and we eventually arrived at the rocky valley which homed the bungy. Similarly to the skydive, I was again wrapped up in a big harness and our group of 7 made our way to the bungy box, suspended above the valley. This involved getting a shaky little cable car over the valley which warmed us up for the dive.
As we off loaded from the cable car, we walked into the bungy box which had music blaring and an electric sense of energy in the air. As we went in weight order, I was the first to jump in my group. My ankles were strapped up and I was placed in a reclined chair and clipped to the bungy cord. After a hasty briefing, I was ushered over to the jumping platform and didn't look down.
After a countdown from 3 (or 4) I put my arms out like Jesus and pushed off. The first 2 seconds were completely bizzare - you're body and mind are telling you that this isn't right, and then the 8 second freefall towards a rocky valley sets in and it was incredible. The strange thing was that you couldn't feel the cord being pulled and bouncing up after the bungy stretches was a bizzare feeling. As instructed, after a few more bounces up and down, I pulled the cord on my ankle which flipped me upright and then began my ascent as the crew above pulled me up. I began laughing hysterically for some reason, and sat back and enjoyed the scenery. Utterly brilliant! Like the skydive, the adrenaline high lasted well into the afternoon, which was followed by a crash as it wore off.
After 10 days in Queenstown of flashpacking lifestyle, our livers and wallets needed a break.
So we left this little bubble of adrenaline and foodie delight and headed north to our final stop, Christchurch. Friends who had been to Christchurch had warned me that this city was still in a bad way following the devastating earthquake of last February. They were right; a year on, the centre of the city was still deserted and closed off. We arrived on a Sunday, which made it feel even more eery. It was fantastic to see however how the city was recovering ... there are beautiful botanical gardens, and an innovative shopping centre made out of shipping containers. This little hub had a wonderful energy about it, even though devastation was just around the corner. With my travelling companions Joe and John , we wondered about the city, soaking it in, and fell in love with a massive tree in the Botanical Gardens which was transformed into a memorial for the earthquake victims - the people of Christchurch are committed to get their city back on its feet.
This concluded my month in New Zealand - which was made so brilliant by increasingly beautiful scenery as we went further south, and dotted with various adrenaline rushes and amazing experiences. I said goodbye to Joe and John, two great travelling pals who made the trip great as they had guitars and a love of Alan Partridge, and continued my journey to the tough times and environment of Fiji.
New Zealand Top Three:
1. Skydive - the most fun you can have without dying ... truly awesome experience.
2. Fergburger - a Queenstown institution - has to be tried. Go for the 'Big Al' if you dare - 2 burgers, 2 eggs and a whole lot of mess.
3. Bungy Jump ... wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwicked