A Travellerspoint blog

Franz Josef and Wanaka

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Leaving Lake Mahinapua all a little worse for wear the next morning, we made a brief stop at the lake itself for some photos before continuing on towards Franz Josef in Westland National Park. That afternoon some of us went kayaking on Lake Mapourika and paddled the 7km across the lake to take advantage of the waterways on the opposite side where we navigated our way along the narrow channels amongst the rainforest. The lake itself has reflective qualities due to tannin in the water, this means that when the wind is gentle the black water is smooth and calm just like a mirror reflecting the nearby mountains and rainforest.
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The next day it was time to tackle the main attraction of Franz Josef, the glacier itself. Unfortunately parts of the glacier had been closed in recent weeks as a main ice bridge had melted and collapsed meaning that it was impossible to pass. So instead of doing a full day glacier hike as planned, we had to take a helicopter part way up the glacier past the ice bridge where we could then walk around the glacier for 3 hours before heading back down in the helicopter again. So we donned our crampons once up on the glacier and set off following our expert guide Sam. He began by cutting steps into the ice for us to climb and then led us in and around the ice caves, pinnacles and crevices as we climbed, squeezed and slid along the ice. After all our hard work up on the glacier we were able to relax in the natural hot pools back down in town where we stayed for the next 3 hours hopping from one pool to the next as the temperatures ranged from 36-40 degrees. Once we were suitably relaxed and wrinkly we spent the evening enjoying all you can eat pizza back in the hostel bar. This has to be the nicest place we have stayed on the whole trip. Each dorm room of 4 had an ensuite bathroom, tea making facilities, toiletries, and even Sky TV! Luxury compared to some of the others and we were sad to leave this behind.
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As we left Franz Josef early the next morning our driver noticed a TV crew filming nearby. He challenged those on board to flash as much flesh as possible to get their attention. Some people obliged, and it kind of back-fired on them as the coach got pulled over by the presenter and we all ended up making an appearance on breakfast TV (fully clothed)! Eventually leaving Franz Josef we stopped off at Curly Tree Whitebait shop to sample the local catch cooked in a traditional way as a whitebait pattie, served with garlic salt, lemon juice and mint sauce, yum! Next was Lake Matheson to catch the perfect mirror reflection of Mount Cook on the water giving picture postcard views. The scenery was stunning as we travelled further inland leaving the coastline behind along the Haast Pass following the Haast River, with so many bright blue lakes and gushing waterfalls. As we approached Wanaka we stopped at Lake Hawea which was just beautiful. The blue turquoise water and lush green fields framed by the nearby mountain ranges made the perfect backdrop for a skydive.
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Beth and Nicole and I had signed up in the morning and that afternoon as we came into Wanaka we were dropped off at the airfield and began to get kitted out ready for the jump. However, as we were waiting we were told that it had to be cancelled as the weather was changing over the drop zone and some grey clouds were moving in. We were naturally very disappointed as we had worked ourselves up to do it that day as we drove from Franz Josef. So we went to the hostel and checked in with the hope that we might be able to skydive the following morning before we left Wanaka. Morning came and we got excited again as the weather looked perfect, blue skies with only a few clouds. However, when we rang the company we were again told that the weather wasn’t right. Disappointed again, we got our bags together to check out of the hostel and make the drive to Queenstown. Just as we were about to leave we were told the real reason why we couldn’t skydive. Someone had died the day before around the time when we were waiting to jump. It was one of the cameramen who jump with the tandem skydivers to film them. Apparently his main parachute and his reserve chute had failed, he had panicked and not followed procedure and landed on a nearby golf course. We were a little shaken as this could have been one of our cameramen had we got there an hour earlier like we should have, but we had been delayed leaving Franz Josef by the TV crew. This played on our minds as we made the trip towards Queenstown and some of us questioned whether we would still want to skydive. However, determined not to be put off Beth, Nicole and I were sure we still wanted to try to do it in Queenstown.

Posted by slking 22:29 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

On to the South Island

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On to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand and here we had chance to just catch up on some sleep and relax for a day, taking in some of the sights and visiting Te Papa museum, before taking the ferry over to the South Island.

A short ferry ride later and we found ourselves on the South Island and the Marlborough region. Driving to Kaiteriteri through the wine growing region we passed through miles of vineyards and hops. Stopping at one of the vineyards there we were able to sample some of the local wines. Arriving in Kaiteriteri we all rushed to catch up on some washing, having been fooled by our bus driver that the ferry would offer free laundry during our crossing! A few beers in our room that night and up early the next morning we caught the sea shuttle ferry further up the coast to the Abel Tasman National Park, via Split Apple Rock. With just over an hour to make the most of the trails and lookouts, we raced along the tracks covering just a small corner of this great national park. In hindsight it would have been nice to have more time here to explore the park and be able to do some of the activities on offer here.
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The next few days were pretty quiet as far as activities went as we made our way down the West coast of the South Island along State Highway 6 that stretches 435km along the Tasman shoreline. On the way we stopped off at Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay for a short walk along the coast to one of New Zealand’s largest seal colonies. We also stopped off at Punakaiki famed for its Pancake Rocks and blowholes, named after the way the limestone rocks have formed what looks like piles of thick pancakes through a layering-weathering process.
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However, the evenings were certainly not quiet as we headed towards Lake Mahanipua and the Poo Pub. Stopping off in Greymouth to get some supplies and also to get kitted out for the legendary fancy dress party at Les’ pub. Every night is fancy dress night here with a different theme to get the imagination flowing. Our theme was P so we spent the next couple of hours wandering up and down the high street looking in all the charity shops and toy stores for inspiration. There were a few princesses, pirates and prisoners, as well as a couple of prostitutes, and even Jimmy Saville! I opted for Pixie, so spent the hour before dinner making myself a dress out of some material I had bought in town. I was quite impressed with the end result, despite getting carried away and managing to sew up the arms! The winner of the fancy dress was Peter Pan and he won a Canyon Swing in Queenstown which he promised to do dressed as Peter Pan.
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Posted by slking 22:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Taupo and River Valley

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Leaving Rotorua and the pungent air behind, our next port of call was Taupo. Enroute we stopped off at Huka Falls on the Waikato River where the water was so clear and ice blue it almost didn’t look real. As the water came crashing down the falls there was even a jet boat driving tourists as close to the falls as possible which reminded me of being at the Iguazu Falls and doing a similar thing there. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in Australasia and is so big that you could fit Singapore in it! Stopping at the top of Taupo to take in the views we waved off a few of our group who were just about to go and throw themselves out of a plane. I am looking forward to doing a skydive later on in the trip, but decided to wait until I get to Wanaka or Queenstown as the views there are meant to be much nicer than Taupo as the towns are surrounded by snow capped mountains and lakes. The skydivers returned from their trip looking a lot less nervous than when they left us and hearing their stories of how great it was makes me excited to do mine now.

A 5am start the next day saw Beth and I taking on the Tongariro Alpine crossing with a few others from our group. This is an 8 hour trek covering varied terrain and has been rated as the best one-day walk in New Zealand. Stepping off the coach into the freezing cold early morning weather we began the first part of the walk which was classed as an easy ascent. We started off walking along boardwalks and climbing up a few rocks under the gaze of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings) until we reached Mangatepopo Hut where we were to take on the difficult ascent up the Devil’s Staircase towards the summit. Clambering up steeper rocks and over boulders we slowly made our way up the mountain’s side. Going at what seemed like snail’s pace we quickly climbed in altitude as we hauled ourselves up steps and steep inclines. The climb to the top was exhausting. The terrain and weather changed without warning. One minute we were stripping off as we climbed the steep steps and then as we turned a corner and got higher up the mountain we found ourselves putting all our layers back on, and more, as we got caught in a snow blizzard huddling behind rocks to keep out of the icy wind. 18km later and having slipped and slided our way back down the mountain via an active crater, steaming vents and what was meant to be stunning emerald lakes but all we could see was a frozen over lake, we came out into the alpine terrain above Taupo. By this time the clouds had lifted and we had amazing views over the lake and town. The trek was extremely hard work but totally worth it, although not something I will be keen to repeat straight away! Having said that, as we left Taupo the next day our driver took us all to Tongariro National Park where we then had to walk a 2 hour loop to Taranaki Falls.

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Weaving around the country roads and through the hilly terrain enroute to our next destination, River Valley, it was clear to see why New Zealand had been chosen as the backdrop to Lord of the Rings. It’s unique and varied lush vegetation just seemed to go on for miles and the colours were so vivid it almost looked like it could have been created on a movie set. Arriving at River Valley Lodge we were treated to a roast dinner before playing card games into the evening. Surrounded by cliffs, gorges and bush-clad hills it was the perfect setting for our next day’s activity, white water rafting on the Rangitikei River. Donning our thermals and wetsuits we knew we would be in for some freezing cold water and a great way to start the day and blow away the cobwebs. On our 3 hour trip along the river back towards the lodge we rode rapids ranging from grade 3-5. Not as big as the rapids I had experienced in Rotorua, but an altogether different experience as we meandered through the gorges and valleys in and out of the raft. At one point our guide instructed us to all get on the right side of the raft and as the ones on the left flung themselves across just like we had been practising on dry land, our raft flipped over and we all came tumbling out into the ice cold river. I am not sure if our guide knew that this would happen and did it as a joke or not, but it was quite funny as we all fell, arms and legs everywhere!

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Posted by slking 01:47 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Rotorua

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Rotorua was our next stop and home of some very stinky geysers, boiling mud pools and hot springs. Known as Sulphur City, or the Maori Whangapipiro (evil-smelling place), the sulphur dioxide gas is created by the geothermal activity underneath the town. This afternoon I decided to take on the grade 5 rapids on the Kaituna River with a spot of white water rafting. Before setting off we paid respect to the river and the people of the river by way of a karakia, a traditional Maori prayer. Navigating the narrow canyons through 14 rapids ranging from grade 3-5, the big one was the 7m high Tutea Falls. Following a final briefing from our guide, we did a Maori chant of “ Kia Kaha!, Kia Toa!, Kia Manawanui!” meaning “be strong, be brave, be patient and take heart” before we took on the mighty Tutea Falls. We were told there would be 3 ways this could turn out. Option 1, we went over the vertical drop, bobbed under the water and came back up again all still in the boat. Option 2, you may fall out and end up being thrown around at the bottom of the waterfall before hopefully bobbing back up again a little disorientated. Option 3, the boat flips over and we all end up in the river, in which case we had to hold on to the ropes at the side of the raft or make our way out from under the raft before attempting to climb back in again. I am pleased to say that we ended up with option number 1!

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That night we all went to a traditional Maori village where we sampled a Maori cultural hangi (feast) and concert. We were able to witness to a Maori challenge, song and dance, weaponry displays and the haka. Whilst being able to take part in some traditional dancing, stick games and warrior training before seeing our hangi meal being lifted from an earthen pit where it had been cooking for several hours over hot stones. Learning about their traditional customs and history was a real eye opener and so nice to see that these traditions are being kept alive even in today’s modern life.

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Before leaving Rotorua the next day we just had time to visit Te Puia, a geothermal reserve where we learnt a little more about Maori traditions and arts and crafts, as well as seeing geysers and sampling an egg cooking in the near boiling waters, boiling mud pools and the nocturnal kiwi bird.

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Posted by slking 23:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Waitomo

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Moving on the next day we drove south over the Kopu Ranges. Enroute we stopped at the Karangahake Reserve for a walk along the river gorge, across two swing bridges, through a one kilometre gold mining tunnel system and into underground chambers. A quick drive through Paeroa where the famous L&P drink was invented, with its special blend of spices, lemon and Paeroa spring water, and it was on to Waitomo for another action packed day. Waitomo (wai meaning water and tomo meaning cave) is home to the famous black water rafting where our group decided to take up the challenge of the 5 hour Black Abyss tour which saw us abseiling down a 35m entrance to one of the caves, squeezing ourselves through tiny spaces as we went. This was followed by a flying fox zipline in the pitch black, tubing in freezing cold waters looking up at the glowworms as we went, caving and climbing our way through the tunnels, and finally ascending two waterfalls to exit the caves. All in all it was an amazing experience, and one which I will not forget in a long time.

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Posted by slking 23:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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