|During the mid-year break from uni in 2003, my friend Matt and I spent a week and a half in New Zealand where we met up with his mate Ross, Ross' girlfriend Clare, and Clare's friend Amy. The five of us travelled around the south island in a campervan and I was extremely lucky enough to be able to do and see everything I had wanted to.
Matt and I flew into Christchurch and when the others picked us up, we immediately started a four-hour drive all the way to Arthur's Pass. There is meant to be some good hiking there but unfortunately, I don't know whether that's true because it was snowing while we were there and so the hiking path was closed. It was not a good start to the trip. When we arrived, we spent ages driving around and around the small town looking for a powered campsite, but there wasn't one so we simply pulled up on the side of the road, had a few rums to warm us all up, then dressed ourselves in as many layers as possible before curling up for the night.
There was nowhere to wash up so we had to leave our dirty dinner plates in a bucket outside the van. We hadn't been in bed long when Clare thought she could hear someone wandering around outside. Perhaps they were trying to steal our dishes! So up jumped Ross with a kitchen knife and flung the door open, ready to attack our intruder...
There was no intruder. Instead, hopping around on the layer of snow was a kea - quite a big bird with brown feathers and red underwings, known as New Zealand's 'mountain parrot'. They're fearless, amusing and cheeky and are absolutely harmless but are well-known for eating windscreen wipers on cars.
The next day the road through Arthur's Pass was closed so our choices were to either turn back to Christchurch, or hope that the road opened later that day so that we could continue our journey west. The road did open and we were soon on our way to the small town of Fox on the country's west coast. During the couple of days we spent there, we wlaked around Mattheson Lake where we had an amazing view of Mount Cook, and went walking on the Franz Josef Glacier. That was pretty challenging. We wore special boots and carried metal sticks to lean on, but the ice was really slippery and the steps were steep, making it very easy to fall over. Still, it was a lot of fun and the scenery was spectacular.
Next, we were off to Queenstown. We all went on the Shotover Jet. The boys loved that one. Oh to see those facial expressions again! It was absolutely hilarious! I had taken my snowboard with me too and was dying to go for a ride so we spent a couple of days up at Coronet Peak. I taught Matt a little bit and I think I got him hooked because it wasn't long before he was talking about buying himself a board. The others seemed to enjoy it as well.
Our last destination was Milford Sound. It is said by some to be the most beautiful place on Earth. Unfortunately for us, it seemed to be the most miserable place on Earth. We went on a cruise but it rained the whole day we were there, so there were no spectacular views. Then in the afternoon, we couldn't leave Milford because we got snowed in. This was a worry because we needed to get back to Christchurch the following day so we could fly back to Australia. We spent the night in a campground where we paid $14 per person for the use of showers, and power that got cut off at 11pm. We weren't happy Vegemites that night, were we Ross? Until the late-night entertainment came along!
We were very, very lucky that the road opened the following day. In fact, the weather was just perfect and we were all annoyed that we hadn't done the Milford cruise that day instead. Matt and Ross took turns at driving all day and we finally got back to Christchurch where we hopped on a plane and flew back to Melbourne.