Saturday 6th October
Today was a long day travelling, starting early we caught the ferry South to Picton, where we picked up our new bus, strangely as our group got smaller, the bus got bigger. We also took on board a Stray Trainee Driver/Guide called Forrest. Bus fully loaded, we then made our way West to the Abel Tasman National Park, passing through the Marlborough wine region where we stopped to do some tasting and to see the Pelorus River at the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, which was used as one of the film locations for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (The Hobbit Barrel Run). We then stopped in Nelson for a short while, then headed to Motueka where we did a supermarket stop, I bought new fleece in readiness for the colder South and a replacement hat for the one I left at Blue Duck Station. We eventually reached our accommodation at the Barn Backpackers Hostel at Marahau and after checking in we had a barbecue dinner before finishing off the night with a fun ‘Trivia’ quiz competition.
Sunday 7th October
Today I decided to take a hike through the park, I took an Aqua Taxi to Torrent Bay, seeing the famous Split Apple Rock, once off the Aqua Taxi, I trekked to Anchorage Bay, before coming back by Aqua Taxi. The trek was very good and relatively easy, but I did have some problems with the descents, but at least I was able to complete my journey. The time I spent on the beach waiting for the boat was very relaxing and enjoyable.
In the evening we went to the Fat Tui cafe for what is considered by many as one of the best burgers in New Zealand, this was a great place in a great location, loads of native birds flying around. I had a lamb burger, it was very tasty and as big as my head. We then returned to the accommodation another game of trivia, as a fun way to end the day.
Monday 8th October
Today more of our original group left the bus, leaving only Justine, Martha, Julia, Astrid, Katie, Oggy and me from the original group, we were joined by a young guy from China called Michael, but it was sad to see Dan and Rolf leaving us.
On our way to Westport, we stopped for lunch in a town called Murchison, at Beechwoods cafe, which is renowned for their toasted sandwiches and I had a fabby bacon, egg and mushroom special. We took a walk along the coastal track at Cape Foulwind that took us past a seal colony and a lighthouse and provided panoramic views of the spectacular west coast.
Tuesday 9th October
Westport, a nice town on the West Coast, is a former gold and coal mining town, which now relies on tourism, our accommodation was in the town’s YHA hostel, a quaint old 2 story villa with plenty of character. I discovered that there was an excellent craft brewery in town but I was disappointed to find that they wouldn’t run the tour for only 2 people, only Michael & I chose to go on it, and that they couldn’t serve beer over the counter, so we had to find a local pub. In the evening we drove along to nearby Carters Beach to see a nice sunset, it was fun watching a bunch of kids being dragged along the beach behind a 4×4.
Leaving Westport we cruised, as Nat would say, down the West Coast towards Punakaiki where we saw a series of rock formations on the coast that looked like stacks of pancakes, hence the Pancake Rocks Cafe famous for it’s, you’ve guessed it, stacks of pancakes, we then went to see the rocks and the blow-holes.
We then headed South for Greymouth to pick up a couple of other passengers, and while there I went to the newspaper office to enquire after an old shipmate, Garry Stone, they knew right away who I was speaking about, but unfortunately he sadly passed away in 2013, they did, however, put me in touch with his daughter who I contacted later. I found Greymouth interesting and decided to return later to see more of it.
On our way South we stopped off in Hokitika, a cool little town with a driftwood strewn beach – the water practically laps the main street! The girls in the group went searching for Greenstone jewellery in one of the many shops and galleries, while I went searching for the memorial to the many shipwrecks on the wild coast.
We continued our journey South towards Frank Josef to our accommodation in the Rain Forest hostel, where I hoped to take a helicopter flight in the morning to the top of the glacier. As it was a wet evening we spent most of our in the accommodation’s bar having a great time.
Wednesday 10th October
In the morning I was disappointed to see that it was still raining heavily, I visited the company office to be told that they didn’t think that there would be any flights that day, and as I was leaving the next morning, it didn’t look like I would get a chance to go up to the glacier.
Spent. Boring day in Frank Josef where there is very little to do in the rain, as I didn’t feel like trekking 2km in the rain. It was a good chance to sit back and relax and recharge my batteries. The only thing to look forward to is the Pizza Fest in the bar/restaurant that night, which coincidentally is called Monsoon, we had another great night and the steady supply of pizza and beer kept us all going. It was quite apt that their catchphrase was “it rains…..we pour”
Thursday 11th October
Today we left a wet and miserable Franz Josef behind and headed South to Wanaka, through the Haast Valley and Mount Aspiring National Park. On the way, we made a few stops at viewpoints to see spectacular waterfalls, such as the one at Thunder Creek, which provides an optical illusion where the rock wall at the side of the fall appears to move. I was able to indulge in some stone stacking on the wild beach at Haast despite the best efforts of the strong winds.
I did eventually manage to see the Fox glacier through the mist as we made our way to Wanaka which sits on the shores of a stunning lake, We also took some really good photographs of the mirror effect of the lake at a point called the Neck.
On arriving in Wanaka a few of us, myself included, went to the airport to learn how to fly a plane, which made up for my disappointment at missing the helicopter flight, it was great fun and something I never expected to do, I took Oggy along as a passenger and he thoroughly enjoyed himself except for the little acrobatic parts. The lesson was in a Piper Cherokee plane where I was taught how to take off, fly the plane then land safely, it was great fun and very exciting seeing the mountains and lakes from the sky.
Wanaka itself is a lovely town on the lake, which famous for the tree that grows in the lake, and as Graeme would say, “a great little cinema”. The accommodation there was very good, I really loved the old retro tourist posters on the walls.
Friday 12th October
Stopping en route at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka we had great fun with the optical illusions and in the great 3-d Super Maze, another stop en route was at the spectacular Blue Pools, it was worth taking the short walk over the suspension bridges, to the azure blue waters. We all had great fun, I joined in with previous visitors and started stacking rocks while some of the group had a stone skimming competition with the flat stones over the very flat water.
We continued on to Queenstown where we visited AJ Hackett’s, Kawarau Bungy Centre to see one of our drivers, a trainee, taking a jump (part of the tour company’s rules, no jump, no job), it was fun to watch, but not for me, I’m too much of a fearty for that. Queenstown is the adrenaline capital so I was sure I would find something to do during my 2 night stop.
We arrived in Queenstown in the afternoon which gave us enough time for a stroll/around town and to see some of the sights. Justine, one of the Dutch girls had a birthday on the 13th, the next day, so, as many of us were up early in the morning for activities, we decided to celebrate her birthday early in a few of the bars around town, we started in the Cow restaurant for an Italian meal before hitting the World Bar the Cowboys, where Michael our Chinese boy rode the bucking bronco bull for quite some time.
Saturday 13th October
As this was a non-travel day, it was good to get a bit of a lie-in this morning, after breakfast I had a walk around town taking a few photographs, then Oggy and I took a gondola ride up the mountain to get a better view, I decided that my adrenaline rush would come from a Luge run back down the track they have built there, it was great fun and I would certainly do it again, Oggy chickened out unfortunately.
Once back down in town we went to Fergburger for lunch, then I had a long walk around the lake.
As the original group was splitting up here and because we are getting on a new bus with a new driver, we all went out for our final meal together in the World Bar, it was a nice way to say goodbye to Nat, Forrest and the gang that we are leaving behind.