We arrived in Christchurch (NZ) on the 15th Feb and headed out to pick up our new best friend, 'Alan' the Ford transit campervan. It was a rocky start with Alan as he was slightly older and less spangley than Mrs P envisaged but after a brief conversation with the despondent rental 'assistant' during which Mrs P informed him that his camper van was a "heap of @*$!" and that the former occupants body hair should not be part of the fixtures and fittings the young scallywag (the assistant, not Alan) went off with his tail between his legs and cleaned the van again!
So after about a three hour wait the P's and Alan were on the road. We spent the first morning in Christchurch mooching around and getting in the laid back New Zealand vibe before heading down the coast through the Catlin region to Invercargill where we got the ferry across to Stewart Island. No one warned us about the crossing to Stewart Island and when we were offered "E's" by the cabin crew we were a little shocked to say the least. It turned out "E's" was actually "Eaze" for motion sickness but with the rather strange NZ pronunciation of vowels it was all very confusing to begin with. Heading out towards the Antarctic we were soon bombarded by 3 metre high waves that completely covered the catamaran and made the ride extremely exciting and scary. In complete contrast when we stepped onto Stewart Island it was an oasis of absolute calm and tranquillity. We went on a bit of a cruise round the island and stopped of at Ulva Island for a bit of a nature walk then hopped back on the ferry for the journey home.
From Stewart we headed up the West coast to Te Anu which is the start of the Fiord land area. We headed out on a walk along the start of the Kepler track and went out into Doubtful sound on a cruise boat. It was stunningly beautiful and we were delighted to spot a pod of dolphins messing around.
Next day we headed out in Milford Sound on a 15k kayaking trip which was great fun. Because we were in the kayaks we got to creep up on seals and dolphins and get up really close - it made the hard slog of paddling for 6 hours worth while! Being glutens for punishment we then headed out on a 10 k walk up the Routeburn track to a beautiful lookout called Key Summit which looks over all the surrounding mountains. Feeling absolutely pooped after such an active day we pulled Alan up by the side of the road later that evening and made a very neat little camp by the river. Mr P set about building a very nifty campfire and we sat around with a nice bottle of NZ wine and soaked up the gorgeous atmosphere.
Next morning we drove through the mountains and out towards Queenstown (the Adrenalin Capital of NZ) for a spot of parachuting. We arrived in Queenstown and Mrs P was very hesitant about the possibility of skydiving. She'd been putting it off all down the East coast of Oz and was fast running out of excuses. So that afternoon when Mr P rang through to see if we could dive that day she was feeling a little worried but quietly confident that these things usually have to be booked in advance and there wouldn't be a cat in hells chance we get out. Tragedy struck when the booking office told Mr P they'd round to pick us up in 2 minutes!!!! We had a 45 minute drive to the airfield to get our heads round what was about to happen. Mrs P chose not to think about it at all. We got tot the airfield and kitted up and boarded our tiny plane which took us on a very scenic trip round (very close) to the mountains climbing to the 12,000ft drop height. Mr P was very quiet at this stage and Mrs P was gibbering on like an idiot as the nerves set in. Before we knew it the side door was opened and Mr P and his tandem jumper were shuffling towards the door, then ......he was gone!! Mrs P remarked with some expletives as the full extent of the situation suddenly hit her. The first few seconds when you fall out of the plane are without a doubt the scariest sensation ever experienced. Mrs P screamed and swore constantly and then noticed the photographer hovering and started posing. Within seconds the 200kph wind set a firm and permanent smile on her face and she set about catching serious amounts of flies!.. During our free fall we both had periods where our tandem guys spun us round and round until we nearly threw up and before we knew it we were back on the ground. A very strange experience that was over all too quickly.
Tomorrow we head out to the Franz Josef glacier for a full day ice hiking. Then after that we might just crawl into Alan, pull the curtains, and sleep for a few days. Thought NZ was supposed to be relaxing!
(See last two entries for new photos)