The South Island!
All through the first two months of our travels, everytime we met someone who has visited or lived in New Zealand told us to forget about he North Island because the South was so much better so changed our plans to spend more time there. Unfortunately that just made our expectations super high for our visit there!
We started in Christchurch which was a bit of a ghost town. Unsurprising really considering the earthquake that devastated the city was only a couple of years ago. The entire city is basically a building site. The locals have been really inventive in getting things back on track, building long term temporary shops and restaurants out of shipping containers which I thought was pretty cool.
We only stayed a night at the Thomas hotel before joining a Stray bus tour. Well it was supposed to be anyway but that first leg out of Christchurch to Greymouth was run by Atomic Shuttles who drive the most old school buses I’ve ever seen… So no surprise then that we had a very rickety first five hours on the bus!
On reaching Greymouth, we joined an actual Stray bus (they’re the bright orange ones) which drove straight onto Franz Josef, our first stop for the night. Now with these buses, the drivers (same as the Kiwi buses) are also your guide and booking agent and our driver Ricky was pretty good at convincing us to do lots of he optional activities. Which explains why we found ourselves jumping out of a plane that evening!
We did the Fox Glacier 16000ft skydive and it was AMAZING!!! According to Ricky, this is the second best sky dive spot in the world, second only to Mt Everest. I’m glad we didn’t have time to think about what we were getting ourselves into before we launched out of the plane because there was no time to panic at all. One minute you’re in the plane, the next you’re free falling for over a minute looking over the beautiful glaciers on one side and the glistening sea on the other. It was pretty special. Plus my video of it was hilarious.
The next day saw us attempting to get onto the Franz Josef glacier but the weather turned against us. The cyclone from the north was making it a little breezy on top of the glacier so our trip was cancelled! (Darn cyclones!). It saved us $300 but didn’t leave us with much else to do. It was a real shame though and if we had longer on the island I would’ve stayed or gone back when the weather was better in order to do the trip (it involved a helicopter ride and 3 hours on the ice) since wit he rate these glaciers are shrinking, they may not even be there whenever I visit New Zealand next!
After two nights in Franz, the bus drove to Wanaka with a short stop at Lake Matheson where we walked around the reflection lake. Though the cyclone ruined that too- the lake wasn’t still enough to be a true reflection lake… So onto Wanaka we went, through the Otago plains. The one fun thing about being in New Zealand is the constant Lord of the Rings references- like here’s where they filmed this, that and the other. Here in the plains, they filmed all the Rohan bits which was pretty cool. I don’t know how true all these LotR facts are but it helps to break up the long bus journeys!
Wanaka was a pretty town on the edge of her lake but we didn’t really get he chance to appreciate it as the rain from the cyclone finally reached us. It ended up being a day to eat and sleep early!
The following day we hit Queenstown but not before a short pitstop at the Karawau Bridge, home of the first commercial bungy. And oh how we wish we’d decided to bungy there! The setting is beautiful- all craggy cliffs and bright turquoise water and dozens of people throwing themselves into it. Looked like serious fun. But unfortunately we’d already made plans to save the money and bungy in Macau which is the world’s tallest bunny jump… Totally regretting that decision!
On to Queesntown where we were to stay for a couple of nights, we found we’d stumbled straight into Ireland! Of course it was St. Patricks day! Which meant there was absolute mayhem over the next 24 hours. Cat and I decided to skip it after one drink and headed out for sushi instead… (If you want beautiful sushi too, go to Hiraki!).
Our plans for our only full day in Queenstown involved only two things- a giant swing and burgers. The Nevis Swing is meant to be the largest swing in the world so of course we hopped straight onto that bandwagon. After watching a whole bunch of our fellow bus travellers through themselves off a 100m bungy, we took our turns swinging across the massive canyon. Honestly, it’s not all that. It’s about 5 seconds of exhilaration and then poof, nothing, maybe even a tad dull… But it’s quite funny watching as the staff like to take you by surprise and dropping you when you least expect it, so people pull some funny faces!
On the way back to the hostel we stopped for a Fergburger of course! We’d been hearing people talking about these burgers for a while and were dying to try them out. They’re meant to be these amazingly tasty massive burgers that you can’t get anywhere else in the world… People need to stop raising my expectations because waiting 45 minutes for that burger was so not worth it…
Our last night in Queenstown was spent doing a pub quiz! Which I’m proud to say we did pretty well in. (Well for us usually means not coming last but this time we were third out of a whole bunch of teams!).
We left Queenstown with a different Stray bus and joined Anna on her first solo driver trip. It was a bit worrying when she told us her nickname was ‘Lostie’. As in she gets lost a lot. But she was funny and enthusiastic which made up for a lot! Even when he bus broke down in the middle of nowhere and a Kiwi Experience bus had to pull over and help us out! That night we stayed at the base of Mount Cook. Though again the weather was working against us and you could barely see Mount Cook through the thick clouds.
That evening we tried our luck again at the pub quiz! And then failed miserably… We were so out of our depth and about two decades too young for this quiz! Needless to say we did not do well… But it’s the participation that counts right?
Our last full day on the bus was spent heading to Rangitata where Anna convinced us to go white water rafting. And it was awesome! Since we were gonna get soaked anyway, it didn’t matter that it was raining so we all donned our wetsuits and headed out into the grade 5 rapids. It was a testament to how good our rafting guide was that there were not mishaps cause boy, could we not keep time, paddle well or listen to instructions! It was all a good laugh though and I only nearly lost a contact lens twice!
The next morning we were dropped off at Christchurch airport and headed back to the city. Since there wasn’t much to do there we planned a day trip to Kaikoura to go whale and dolphin watching!
In Kaikoura, the whales and dolphins are there pretty much year round. We chose to do the boat based whale watching tour which takes you out onto the water for about two hours. We only saw one whale- a sperm whale which is apparently the most photographed whale in the world because of the sheer number of people who go there and the fact he’s chased out the other whales in the area… The dusky dolphins were plentiful- hundreds of them flipping and jumping through the air. I think it’s a proven fact that dolphins make people happy because as soon as they were spotted the whole crowd were on their feet laughing, pointing and rushing for their cameras. You pretty much forget you came out to see whales…
So that pretty much concludes New Zealand for us. We managed to cover a fair bit in the time we had there. The only thing I think we really missed out on was seeing a kiwi bird…