Tag Archives: adventure

Hockey and Helicopters

When travelling all over the world one of the times you tend to really miss friends and family are the special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Since its July its an easy guess that its currently the latter that has left me thinking about home.

Last year my birthday in NZ was pretty pathetic to be brutally honest. Due to a combination of good friends leaving to continue their travels, people having plans and just not having that many friends in the country, my birthday essentially consisted of me sat at my desk in the office working late then getting Chinese food on the way home. Sad to say but that was about the top of the excitement factor for my 31st birthday. With that in mind I was determined not to have a repeat performance this year and, with the efforts of quite a few special people around me, that was certainly not the case this year.

Unusually for me my birthday celebrations started a few days early for me this year, on the Sunday before my actual birthday (on the Wednesday). Lisa’s parents were kind enough to invite us over for some afternoon tea and we had a mini bday celebration with some of her family and close family friends. Somehow the weather turned really nice in the afternoon even though we are currently in deepest winter, so for about 2 hours Lisa and I ran around the garden like idiots playing football with the kids while the real adults looked on shaking their heads. Fun was had by all and many a goal was scored even if some were by questionable means! Lisas Dad made an amazing apple cake and Lisa had also arranged for a custom chocolate cake from a local bakery so it was cake, cake and more cake. After dinner was boardgame time where I have to admit that I was beaten at chess by a child. A very good child mind you and we did win one each….but still, someone a third my age so maybe I am not as good as I used to think!

When the day of my actual birthday rolled around I made the decision that I didn’t want to work for the day so booked it off and instead just tried to enjoy myself for the day. The “relaxing” start to the day didn’t exactly happen though as somewhere along the way I had agreed to get up for the 6.30am boxing class at the gym followed by breakfast with Ellie. If you ever want to push yourself then a 6.30am boxing class is certainly the way to go. Pressups and skipping at that time will certainly wake you up! After milling about the house for a bit it was time to meet Lisa for walk by the beach and a nice lunch before heading home to go mountain biking.

…..and I didn’t go biking at all. Now I did have every intention to get out on my bike and hit the trails, I had ever laid out all of my biking clothes ready to go. What I wasn’t reckoning on though was our temporary cat returning and wanting to chill out with me. Over the last few weeks we have had a cat keep appearing at the house and just wandering in as we open the door. We haven’t fed it but it still seems happy enough to just come in and chill out for a while. The cat has been named Doggo since Luke wanted a dog instead of a cat and he/she seems pretty relaxed. Anyway, when I got back from lunch with a full stomach and a cat that wanted to cuddle the idea of biking in the cold seemed to take a back seat. There I laid on the sofa for the next 3 hours until I finally had to get up and get ready for the BJJ and MMA classes I had also decided to go to to round off my day of combat sports. Safe to say that I managed to get through the BJJ class ok, however I then got quite punished at the end of the MMA session with a Doghouse round where I had to go for 12 mins, taking on a new opponent every minute. It doesn’t sound that hard until after the 3rd minute when you are too gassed to move properly and these fresh faced people keep attacking you!

Once I picked myself up off the floor and had a quick shower it was time to head out for dinner with some friends to round off the evening and end a pretty awesome birthday.

…At this point the questions should be “This has got zero to do with Helicopters or Hockey” however if you are patient and keep reading we will get to that.

Unlike any other birthday that I have had this one managed to stretch its way out to a whole extra weekend of adventures, some planned, some spontaneous and some planned in secret for quite a while.

Saturday morning the was the start of the second weekend and even more birthday treats. Lisa and got up in the morning and drove out to Queenstown for the weekend to take part in the festivities of the winter festival. Arriving quite late in the afternoon we wondered about for a while before grabbing some food and the heading to the Hockey match that evening. It is the second Hockey match I’ve ever been to and Lisa’s parents bought us tickets for by bday gift which was awesome of them. Although the ice rink in QT is tiny, the fans are plenty rowdy and loud and there was quite an atmosphere going on given that it seemed like no one (including the players or refs) knew what was going on! ….maybe that was just me though. Hockey is a pretty fast paced game so its hard to tell the difference between an innocent penalty and a blatant one but I am still not sure how something didn’t get sent off for punching another guy in the face in front of the ref!

The rest of Saturday night was pretty chilled out with the rest of the fun happening on the action packed Sunday. After getting up and leaving the hotel as late as possible the original plan was to walk up to the top of the lookout hill and go for a ride on the luge before leaving to go for by bday surprise at 1pm. Arriving at the hill we thought better of the whole thing and instead got tickets to take the Gondola up and back down again which in hindsight was the best choice since we were a bit strapped for time in the end. Along with the Gondola up we also got tickets to go on the Luge at the top which I have never been on before but have always looked at every time I’ve been there. The Luge is definitely something I would do again in a heartbeat and was over far too quickly. The QT Luge is basically a 2 different tracks from the very top of the hill to the main Gondola station full of twists and turns and even the odd jump if you’re brave enough. You ride down it on little carts where you control the speed by pushing the controls forwards or pulling back and try your best not to spin out on sharp corners by going far to fast. Safe to say I failed this on my second run and ended up sideways. I was a little overzealous with my speed, trying to keep up with Lisa who had smashed me on the first run down the hill and left me for a gonner.

After the excitement of our first little mission it was time to go and finally find out what this bday surprise was going to be. It had been kept very well hidden for quite a while now and I was pretty excited, especially when Lisa told me that she had impressed herself with this one. Anyone who has ever met her will know that when it comes to gifts she has an unnatural talent to always get the right thing and find amazing things for people all the time. Not quite sure how she does it but she does just manage to get even the rarest little gifts that fit just right. When this girl gets excited then you know it is something you should be excited for too.

With instructions to drive towards Cromwell and make sure I was dressed in warm clothes we headed off on a 30 min drive. My brain was going for all of the potential things that it could be but nothing really added up with the information I had been given. I was told to wear good footwear as my feet might get wet, but when asked about the rest of me apparently that would be dry. The only thing in my mind that this could be would be snow… but we were driving away from it…

Finally an instruction, “turn right here”, and then I saw it Heliview Flights. We were going in a Helicopter!

Now obviously this makes sense when thinking of how I could get to snow from nowhere near the mountains but this was ruled out pretty quickly in my mind as I was aware that Lisa was scared of heights so never expected that to happen. She had decided to face her fear though and I couldn’t be prouder or happier as I have always wanted to go in a Helicopter so this was just a perfect birthday gift.

After having the safety briefing and waiting for the chopper to arrive we were underway in such a relaxed and smooth way. The best thing about it was that at no point was Lisa scared which made things even better. We could both look out of the window and take on the scenery while the pilot narrated away and told us what we were looking at. The bonus of the trip was that we also got an alpine landing as part of the trip and somehow got absolutely perfect weather for the whole experience. For a few weeks leading up to this the weather had been a bit hit and miss. The night before it had rained pretty hard but today the sky was clear with a few wispy clouds and the sun in the sky. The best bit though… SNOW! So much deep snow on the ground and we got time to run around and act like kids, jumping in the air and taking awesome pics of our best efforts. It eventually got a little chilly on the old hands but that was just an excuse to go back and take another drink of the provided hot chocolate that we had with us. As a bonus on top of all the other bonuses so far I also got to sit in the front on the way back and see the amazing view when you are in a completely open cockpit.

Things lined up perfectly on the trip to make for an eventful weekend and some memories that I will not quickly forget.

It is the times like this that I appreciate and cherish the most. The vivid memories of happy times and experiences that people always reach for. I am so lucky to have people around me who took the time to make my birthday a great one and thankful to all of them. Especially lucky to have a girlfriend who is so cunning and planning that she can pull off such an amazing surprise… my only issue now is that its her birthday soon! Best get planning!

Day 7: Sand Dunes

An air bed. Who would have thought that such a simple thing could bring so much pleasure to a grown man. Waking up in a tent and not feeling like a cripple is definitely the way to go and the way I will always camp in future if I have the option.

As had now become a tradition of the trip the first thing to do in the morning was to dive into the biggest body of water that we could find, which happened to be Golden Bay, right next to our camp site. With a little persuasion we managed to convince some of our new travel acquaintances to do it with us and live a little. The issue that we had today though wasn’t due to the temperature of the water, but rather the depth. The water in Golden bay was beautifully warm but that was due to the fact that it was only a few inches deep. The super shallow bay allowed the sun to warm the water really easily but didn’t do much for our plan of diving under for a wakeup. At first we thought we would just have to walk a little further out, but after about 200m we realised it wasn’t going to get muchDSC_2246 (1280x720) deeper so we all just had to dive in and lay down to get properly covered. As far as we are concerned this still counts towards our mission even if it felt more like a warm bath than a brutal wakeup.

After packing up and finally saying our goodbyes it was time to head up to the very top of the south island, our furthest point before starting our journey back down towards home of little old Dunedin. Our goal was to get to Wharariki beach at the top of the bay and chill out there for a while before making our way back down to Kaiteriteri where we wanted to go sea Kayaking.

The drive up the coast was scenic and beautiful and as always eventually lead us to a dirt track for us to drive along to get to our final destination. At the very end of the track was a packed car park and a little cafe that DSC_2244 (1280x720)seemed to be doing plenty of business on the warm summers day. Although we were apparently near the sea the carpark actually ended in a little grassy valley with signs showing that it was about a 20 min walk to get to the actual sea. We grabbed the essentials (Frisbee and water) and started making our way there over the hills. After about 10 mins we hit sand but still hadn’t yet seen the sea. Before us were huge dunes flowing as far as we could see. Luckily there was a signpost pointing us in the direction we needed to head to get to the main part of beach we were after so we followed the sign and stream of people down towards the water.

To say the sand was hot i
s an understatement. The white sand was somehow the temperature of fresh lava and made for an interesting walk. With each step the aim was to bury your feet as deep as possible to the cooler sand underneath to get away from the inferno on the surface. This actually made us move pretty quickly across the beach to get to the cooler sand at the waters edge where we could actually stand without getting 3rd degree burns.

Now was the time that I had been waiting for. The sun shining, the weather calm and a Frisbee to throw. DSC_2242 (1280x720)Life cant get much better than that. Even with maybe a hundred people on the beach, the area was so vast that there was no one anywhere near us. It wasn’t even an issue to just dump our stuff down and start wandering towards the sea throwing the Frisbee about. Craig even decided to take things a step
further and venture our into the sea for a bit of a swim to see how far he could get.

After relaxing for a while we took another wonder around the area so see what other hidden treasures the coast had to offer and managed to find a few more little enclosed bays with rocks towering around them, yet again more beautiful sights that none of my photos can do justice to. Our exploring ways were cut short again by the searing temperature of the white hot sand. Recently I was talking to Craig about this day and mentioned that this is what I was up to writing about and the first thing he said to me was “Do you remember how hot that sand was?!?”. Even 5 months on the first memory of that day is burnt feet.

After finally clearing off of the beachDSC_2247 (1280x720) and letting our feet cool off it was back to the car to continue the adventure. Earlier in the week we had been advised to visit a place called Te Waikoropupū Springs… or just Pupu springs for anyone like my that has trouble pronouncing full Māori place names correctly! Pupu springs is known for its amazing water clarity, for years being the clearest water in the world until it lost its title to Blue Lake in 2011 (which also happens to be in New Zealands South Island). Due to the way the water comes up from the springs and some other science that someone better than me has probably explained elsewhere, the water ends up looking crystal clear with an average viability of 60+ meters which is just phenomenal. After a bit of driving and a few wrong turns we made it to the springs just as it started to rain but that didn’t really dampen our spirits…. see what i did there! Bad jokes aside, the water was amazing. It is hard to really describe it as everyone has seen water before or been to a swimming pool where the water is clear. All I can really say though with this is that the water seemed almost completely calm, just shimmering on the surface from the fresh springs underneath, yet unlike a swimming pool it was there were plants and features under the surface to see. There is no swimming allowed in the springs for obvious reasons, as DSC_2248 (1280x720)im sure it would get hazy pretty quickly with everyone kicking up sediment from the surface, but that being said, even with the rain the water was some of the most inviting I have ever seen. I know a few people who hat the idea of swimming in lakes or oceans just because they are scared of what is under the water and I am sure those people wouldn’t have been scared here… if they were allowed of course

After leaving the springs we were on a mission to try and get some accommodation and not really having much luck looking online. Most places seem to be fully booked up but after a bit of ringing around we managed to find a place in Motueka, not too far from where we had planned to have our next adventure in Kaiteriteri. The accommodation was on a camp site, but rather than camping we ended up in what can only be described as a shed with bunk beds. Now to most people this would have been terrible but for us this was just perfect. A bed I didn’t have to blow up and a roof we didn’t have to construct seemed like a real win. To top it off we even had plugs to charge our phones while we slept, luxury or what! We are really moving up in the world now.

Day 4: Quad Adventure

I awoke from my slumber on the 4th day of our trip to the sound of Merle sneaking her way out of the room at about 7am. She wasn’t very loud, I just happened to be awake already given the hayfever induced coma I had slipped into early the evening before. Merle was on her way to do a skydive over the Frans Joseph Glacier but unfortunately returned about half an hour later as all the flights had been cancelled for the morning. The thing that I have not quite got over yet is how changeable the weather DSC_2182 (1280x720)can be here in New Zealand. One moment it can be sunny, the next cloudy with rain. In fact many of these different weather patterns can even happen in the same day! As it happened, on this day heavy fog and cloud had moved in during the early hours of the morning and was so thick that you couldn’t even see the mountains that were clearly visible out of our window the night before. Since this seems to be a bit of a common occurrence here they just moved her dive to the afternoon and rescheduled. The bonus of this was that it gave us all some time together in the morning to do something together so the general consensus was to do the 1 hour hike to the terminal face of the glacier.

The hike to the glacier turned out to be more of a “casual walk” than a hike but I suppose it was at the right level for us given what we did the day before. Yesterdays hike was a constant climb the entire way, mainly on single track and over tree roots. DSC_2186 (1280x720)Today it was almost completely flat ith a few rocks to get over. The reason for this was that the whole area was situated in the river delta and the flowing river had carved its way through the valley over the millennia to leave an arid landscape crushed rock, big and small, with the occasional driftwood tree looking like a little twig in the epic landscape.

At first we were a little disappointed that there was not a real hike to sink our teeth into but soon we all quickly agreed that a casual stroll was probably all we could muster anyway. The only issue with going on the free version of the glacier hike is knowing that you cant got anywhere near as close as the people that are paying for the guided tours. With the “turn up and go for a walk” version that we were doing the hike eventually ended about 500m from the actual face of the ice so nowhere near to really see it as well as we would have liked but that is all we could manage. Along the way there were large chunks of ice that had been brought down from the glacier and just sat by the side of the trail for DSC_2164 (1280x720)people to take pictures with but that is about as close as we got. Although it is a bit gutting it also makes total sense from a safety perspective. We may have been conscientious hikers but there were plenty of other people there that day that didn’t have a clue or even the right footwear to have gotten anywhere near actual ice and would probably have died if let loose near the top. A bit of a PR nightmare that I am sure the NZ tourist board want to avoid. Still, we managed to get some decent pics and Frankie came through for us all by being the one that snuck along a bag of ciders for the gang. It may have only been one little can each, but it was cold and well earned on a warm day and that is all you can ask for from a summer cider.

After our uneventful decent Merle headed off to do her skydive while the rest of us grabbed some lunch in a local cafe. We had only just finished eating by the time she was back. At first we thought it must have been cancelled again but it turns out that they are just stupidly efficient when it comes to throwing people out of aircraft in New Zealand. Within 40 mins she had DSC_2168 (1280x720)been briefed, gone up, jumped and been brought back to town. Job done! It wasn’t just the planes that were that efficient either, the helicopters had their timing down to an art while landing in town. In the town centre there are around 6 or 7 helipads, however at any given time there must be about 15 helicopters in the air at once. All these choppers are taking turns in taking the tourists on the various different flights on offer around the mountains, some even stopping and landing for the clients to get out and stand on the ice for a while. This means that there is a constant juggling act going on with choppers landing, refueling and taking on passengers in almost a constant cycle. Often they have their passengers swapped and are back up again with the space of a few minutes, not even bothering to power down their engines. It is quite a sight to see how precise the whole show is and to them imagine that they do this constantly, nearly every day of the year!

DSC_2195 (1280x720)
No Bikes. No Drones.

After lunch it was time for us all to start parting our ways. Craig and I had booked to go on a Quad tour but the others needed to start making way across to the other side of the island so were hitting the road a bit earlier than us. It was emotional saying goodbye as even though we intended on seeing each other again over the next few days there was a possibility we wouldn’t bump into each other and then all the cool kids were leaving the country leaving Craig and I left. The hardest thing about travelling so much that people never seem to mention is leaving the friends that you have met along the way. Yes travel helps you make new friends and experience things you never dreamed of but it is also sometimes crushing when you have to say goodbye to those amazing friends you have just made because your lives are going in different directions. I am happy to say that I have kept in contact with a lot of people I have
traveled with and met along the way and would certainly love to see them again, the only issue is that the world is a big place and when everyone returns home it suddenly becomes much harder to keep in touch. Yes we have the internet and Facebook which really helps but it is not substitute to sitting on a hill, talking crap and watching the sun go down with a like minded friend.

After our heartfelt goodbyes the dynamic duo headed off to the riverbed for our quading adventure. I hadn’t been on a quad bike in years so was really looking forwards to it, especially at the discounted rate that Craig managed to find online. At first we had to mess about proving our competency driving in circles and around a little track before we could head out into the wilderness but as soon as we did it was loads of fun. Smashing through puddles and muddy ditches it amazing and so much fun. It is certainly something I want to do more often, maybe even getting my own one day if I ever figure out where I could go to ride it. The view of the mountains as we got further away from town was amazing and the guides were really great, telling us a bit about the area when we had a little rest half way. They were both locals who had grown up in the area so knew it like the back of their hand. The most shocking thing for us though was that they used to have to commute 2 hours each way to get to school each day which completely blows my mind. Out in back country NZ there isn’t really that many people so it makes sense that they would have to go away to school, but doing that journey on a bus every day just seems like a bit of a nightmare. This is the cost of paradise though I guess.DSC_2205 (1280x720)

 

By the time we had finished our mini ATV adventure we were covered in dust from the rocky riverbed. It was all over our clothes, on our skin and (for Craig anyway) in our hair too. The worst part about this though was that we had nowhere to go that we could even get washed off. Our next spot for someone to stay was still a few hours away so we brushed off what we could, jumped into the car and headed on our way.

While we had been travelling about we had heard about all of the Department of Conservation camp grounds that there are all over NZ and so we decided to check one of them out. These camp grounds are owned by the government and are a bit more of a free for all than strictly organised plots, however if DSC_2197 (1280x720)everyone plays fair then it works out really well. The cost per night is $6 each (around £3) and you just fill in a little tag, put your money into a secure box and pop the tag on your tent. Simple as that. For that cost you end up with a basic camp site with toilets, an area to wash dishes and somewhere to get drinking water. It isn’t anything spectacular but it is all well maintained and in our case it was also next to a beautiful lake that was also a stones throw away from the ocean. It was time to make use of the BBQ’s that we had brought with us so we busted them out and and had ourselves some nice BBQ beef burgers while the sun slowly went down. The more I blog about this road trip the more it is going to sound like “Dan and Craig’s romantic getaway”, and yes we have been told a couple of times that it sounds like were a couple (especially after our evening walks on the beach!). Bellies full we went back to our tent, still dirty and covered in dust like the manly men we were with a plan to also wash the way manly men do, by jumping into a lake first things in the morning. With our simplistic plan drawn out it was time to hit the hay and get a good nights sleep and see what the next day has to bring.

Day 3: Rob Roy Glacier

One of the key points of the adventure that Craig and I had arranged was that we hadn’t really arranged much… or anything for that matter. Aside from the plan of spending Christmas Eve and night in Wakana we had exactly zero plans of what to do for the next chunk of days that we both had off of work. Our rough goal was at some point to go sea kayaking in the Able Tasman national park, however we hadn’t even put a date on this and didn’t really have anything planned any further than that. On Christmas day Frankie had suggested that we go and take a look at the Rob Roy Glacier that isn’t that far from Wanaka and so that’s what we did (we are very easily influenced).
DSC_2133 (1280x720)The start point of our hike was only about 35km away in a straight line but took us well over an hour to get there on the long and winding roads of back country New Zealand. Since the road doesn’t lead anywhere other than to the start of the track there isn’t seen to be much point in putting in a tarmac road which means suddenly at one point along the way you hit a gravel track and have to slow right down to avoid stone chips and huge pot holes. The other issue with driving on the gravel roads was the amount of dust that it all kicked up. It wasn’t even an option to have the windows down as the amount of dust that would come in through the windows would have suffocated us in an instant. Behind the car a huge dust cloud blew over the fields letting everyone within a few miles know that we were on our way. Passing other cars on this one lane road was also quite DSC_2138 (1280x720)interesting as after you manage to get past them you then have the issue of not being able to see anything for the next few minutes while you wait for the dust to settle around you, effectively driving along blind, hoping that there isn’t anything else coming to take you out! The constant dust was also broken up with other obstacles such as little streams or quite large fords that we had to cross. Luckily for us we had taken the 4×4 Outlander so got through without a hitch but I really wouldn’t have wanted to be in a small car given the size of some of the streams we had to cross. At least it made us feel like real wilderness warriors out to have ourselves a proper adventure.
DSC_2143 (1280x720)After the excitement of the drive we got to the car park at the start of the trail and were a little disheartened with our expeditionary efforts when we noticed all the standard, small, rental cars that filled most of the car park. It seems that no matter how much of an adventurer you think you are there is always a tourist on holiday with a rental car they don’t give a shit about that will go harder and further than you would dream!
After getting over our now deflated egos we all stopped to actually take in the scenery for a moment as we were all blown away by it. Just from the car park the view way amazing with mountains all around us and the river flowing by. After being cooped up in the car for so long the only thing that everyone wanted was to get out and start walking so it was bags packed, water topped up, sun cream on (yes even me) and Santa hats on heads and then onwards to glory!
DSC_2153 (1280x720)The beautiful thing that I will never quite get over about New Zealand is that whenever you think you have found the best view of the most perfect of scenes there is always one that is 10 times better around the next corner. On the way up on our hike none of us were really that well prepared or in the best of shape (given the night of drinking beforehand) and a few times we had almost said to ourselves “Ok this view is amazing, there is not point going any further.” Yet each time we had decided to just go for another 5 minutes and ended up seeing yet another amazing thing, be it the birds, rivers, waterfalls or mountains. As we eventually got to the top of the hike we were greeted by the terminal face of the Rob Roy Glacier at the other side of the valley to us, waterfalls cascading down the mountains as the snow and ice slowly melted. It was quite an awe inspiring moment as every now and again you could hear the whole mountain groan and crack as the ice slowly shifted and melted away. Pretty sure we got a few group selfies to commemorate our achievement, however it seems that none of them were on my camera so Frankie / Merle, I need those pics!
DSC_2157 (1280x720)Although the way up was quite a hard climb, the way down for me was personally the harder challenge. Ever since damaging my knee when I was 14 I have had problems walking down hills. The issue is that my knee on my right leg is weaker than my left meaning that when I go down on it I end up dropping quite hard and in a bit of a clunky manner. This becomes uncomfortable really quickly and makes walking down steep inclines quite annoying. To combat this though I have found that bizarrely running seems to not cause me a problem at all since the movement is different which means that whenever I walk up a big hill I end up running down it as its easier. This often makes me look like a bit of an idiot but I also actually quite like the challenge and it can be quite fun. On this occasion though it wasn’t as fun as I would have liked. To add to the knee problems I was also having a bit of a bad attack oDSC_2150 (1280x720)f hayfever, complete with blocked noes, runny eyes and difficulty breathing. This unfortunately is one of the downsides of having Christmas in the middle of summer. My hayfever was so bad at one point that I could hardly see and kept having to squint to even be able to see where I was going. This is not the best of combinations when running down a precarious mountain but needs must so I just went for it. With my rucksack straps pulled tight and my friends informed that I wasn’t being a dick and did need to run off I set off down the hill at pace, flying past other tourists both ascending and descending while still wearing my Santa hat. I admit I did get some strange looks along my way but also quite a few nods and smiles which evens it all out and although I could hardly breath or see I did have quite a lot of fun along the way.
DSC01914 (1024x768)One of the other motivations for my extra burst of speed was the call of nature. On my way down I had started to really need a wee but there was literally nowhere to go. Because the track was so steep into the side of the gorge there wasn’t really the ability to go off the track much and as there were so many people there was constantly someone around the next corner who could have seen if I stopped in the middle of the track to pee on a tree. The only option was to get all the way back to the car park and use the proper toilet down there. So on Boxing day while wearing a red Santa hat, sunglasses and a backpack I practically sprinted down a mountain with snot running out of my nose in order to go for a wee! All in all I must say this is one of my greatest accomplishments as I did put in a damn good pace. I had got down the track, to the toilet and was sitting by the river cooling off my feet for over 20 mins before everyone else finally joined me. As my friend Mr. Richardson once said “There is nothing better for a personal best than needing the toilet” and I don’t think a truer statement can be made.
DSC01927 (1024x768)After a little rest and relaxation it was time to make a move and start making our way to our next location for the evening, Frans Joseph. Due to the mountain ranges in Otago it can cause some issues when it comes to driving. Although we had driven an hour north of Wanaka we had to drive all the way back there in order to drive north again to get to Frans Joseph since it was the other side of the lake. Since we were doing this we had just taken the 1 car all the way to the track which did save fuel etc. but it did mean we had to get back to the car park and sort out the stuff in the cars before heading onwards on another 3+ hour drive. At this point the hayfever had won me over and I had to play passenger for a while and let Craig drive. For the next 3 hours I sat in the passenger seat with my eyes closed hoping for the stinging to stop so that I would be able to open my eyes. Unfortunately I had no such luck and by the time we got to Franz Joseph I just headed straight to bed to try and sleep while the other got dinner and made some plans for the next day.
Even though the hayfever did take me out of action and I deeply hate having it I am happy to say that it didn’t ruin my day and my memories of the day are still all positive. I am still so glad that I did it and got to share the experience with some great friends.

Day 2: Xmas in the Sun (Part 1)

Waking up on Christmas morning away from home for the first time in my life didn’t actually feel as awkward as you might have thought. As you get older Christmas starts to loose a little of its shine and growing up takes some of the childish excitement out of the day. Many reasons, including my Grandma passing away on Christmas day, have made me not the biggest fan of the holiday. I enjoy seeing family and watching everyone open their gifts but for me the worst part for the last few years has been those first few hours of the day when I wake up early as always yet there is no one about. Partners spending time with their parents, house mates returning home for a while and me alone in the house with nothing really to do. I don’t say this to try and get sympathy from anyone at all as I don’t wallow around the house and cry or anything, to me it is just another morning except I can’t do anything as the country has shut down.

For the last few years I have always tried to take the edge of this by doing a big challenge on Christmas day that is just for me. A few years ago I challenged myself to complete at 10km trail run on Christmas day by myself around some fields and rivers near where I used to live. Last year I upped my game to “20k Xmas day”, this time taking an easier option and opting to complete the distance as a 15km bike ride and only a smaller 5km run. The point of it was though that it took my mind away from the mundane and let me do something I wanted to do just for me. No one else really new or cared what I was up to on those early Christmas mornings and that’s the way I liked it. To be honest if I had told most people they would have looked at my like I was a fool for even thinking such a thing but this was the way I liked it. The best bit was that last year on my ride at 8am I was heading down a steep hill by the lakeside and as I looked out onto the water I spotted another adventurer after my own heart. Out on the water was a woman on a stand-up paddle board wearing a wetsuit and a Santa hat. We spotted each other and waved and I knew that I had made the right choice in the way I was spending my Christmas morning.

I don’t know why I have just rambled on so much and none of it is really relevant to the story of my road trip but I think it at least sets the scene and gives a little bit of understanding about what makes me tick early in the morning on days when most people want to be in bed. Anyway back to what actually happened this year on Christmas day.

Xmas HatWaking up in a dorm room is something that I am used to now. I crept out of bed, got dressed and headed out towards lake Wanaka, all while trying not to wake any of my room-mates. With my first mission successful it was time to call home and rub it in that I live in the future and was spending the day in the sun and having a BBQ while everyone at home froze and pigged out on Turkey. My calls home were well received with most people still awake and having a cheeky Christmas Eve drink. I even managed to catch my brother out with some of my cousins so got to have a chat to all of them and take part in the merriment. Many positive comments were made about my newly shaved head that I was still getting to grips with myself so they were all appreciated.

DSC_2111 (1280x720)After a hearty English breakfast cooked up by the tag team of Craig and Dan we got our gear together for our Christmas morning hike. This year I had managed to rope in willing recruits to my usual days stupidity, however out here it seemed like the right thing to do anyway. While on the calls home I had already seen dozens of people walking, running or biking about, enjoying their Christmas morning in the best of ways. The attitude over here is a much more active one with everyone taking the idea of “lets get a head start on this Christmas fat I’m going to put on!” and so everyone is active. Our challenge for the day was to climb up Mount Iron to sit there and take in the view. We grabbed our stuff and headed out for the short walk to the hill. From afar it doesn’t look too big but as you get closer it does start to look like a much bigger challenge than people who were drinking tequila shots a few hours before really needed to be engaging in. It is by no means a mountain as the name might suggest but is a steep hill that takes about 30 mins to walk to the top. As we started to ascend we all had a mix of regret and relief. Regret that we had decided to hike up the hill that morning but relief that we hadn’t decided that we should take on the 6 hour round trip of Roy’s peak!

DSC_2112 (1280x720)Thirty agonising minutes later we sat at the top and looked out over the town below. The view made us quickly forget about our aches, pains and hangovers as we stared out over the lake below softly lapping against the snow capped mountains in the distance. Just when everyone thought the moment could get any better Craig and I surprised Merle with our pièce de résistance, 3 bottles of chilled fruit cider that I had hauled up the hill in my backpack. With bottles in hand we sat there in silence, drinking our drinks and taking in the amazing view of our surroundings. Sometimes nothing needs to be said between friends enjoying a moment and this was one of those times.

..Initially I was going to write all about Christmas day in a single post, however it seems like it might be a better idea to split things up a bit and save some for later. I know my writing can end up rather long winded and drawn out at times but you know what, I don’t care. It’s not my profession and I’m not paid to get it perfect (hence not spell checking enough or proofreading ever!). I write to have a record to look back on for the friends who shared the time with me and those who wished they could, so hopefully everyone just appreciates that for what it is.

I hope everyone has a magical Christmas such as that in their lives. Simple yet spectacular.

Round 2: New Zealand Adventure

It seems like only yesterday that I snuck back to the UK to surprise everyone but it is now time to head back on my travels and leave the UK again. It was great to see loads of friends while I was back but also a shame that I didn’t get to see everyone that I wanted. It didn’t really help that I returned home smack bang in the middle of what is to me, Hayfever central! Struggling to breath and wheezing all of the time is not exactly what I would call an attractive quality and certainly didn’t help when it was time to socialise or go anywhere. Next time I am back I will be sure to avoid June like the plague as I am completely allergic to June in the UK. Its not for me so I’m not going to do it any more.

On Monday night I started my epic set of flights back to the New Zealand to bring me back here in the heart of winter (which seemed a good idea at the time!). Safe to say I knew mentally that it was going to be cold, however DSC_1690 (1280x720)physically my body was not quite prepared for the chills when I first landed in Queenstown. Dont worry though (mother) I am now wrapped up warm in my new winter clothes and with the sun shining on your face it isn’t actually that bad, a cool -2 today but feels comfortable.

The flights back to NZ were straight forwards enough on paper but proved to be slightly more problematic than usual which isn’t too much fun when you have only just done the same trip a few weeks before. It all started with issues in getting to Manchester Airport in the UK before I even managed to leave. My dad was able to give me a lift to the Airport which was great, however we had to leave at about 5pm in order to get there in time for the flight which put us bang in line for rush hour traffic. At first it wasnt too bad with us managing to get past the roadworks on the blocked up St. Georges Bridge to carry on our merry little way towards the M62… this is where it all started going a little wrong. There had been a “police incident” on the M62 westbound (the way we were going) causing the motorway to be completely closed for at least 2 hours. Luckily we had the radio on as we were setting off and heard the announcement before we got too stuck in the inevitable traffic jam and managed to divert across snakes pass and take the back way into Manchester. The trip took longer than expected but I still managed to get to the Airport in time so that was the first panic averted.

When I was booking all of my flights my travel agent said that she was able to get me some really good transfer times which on paper seemed great. In reality though it wasn’t quite as fun. When I arrived at Dubai Airport I found that I had about 1 hour until my next flight. “What is your issue then?” I hear you all mumble to yourselves while reading my first world complaints. Well the issue is that I was not flying from the same terminal as I have done on all my other flights or that I had just landed at. Instead I had to transfer to terminal C. Now for anyone who has not been to Dubai Airport please note: It is massive! Like super massive. Each terminal is huge in its own right, then there are all the gates that come with them. When I checked the board I was correct in thinking I had about 50 mins to get to my gate, but the question was…. “where is my gate?!”. After a 15 min walk and a 5 min shuttle train ride I made it to terminal C to discover that I was on gate number 53, another 10+ mins walk away. Now I know how to do maths and I know this amount of time is much less than the 50 mins that I had but remember these are airport times. Your flight time is not your boarding time as boarding closes 20 mins before takeoff meaning I started to panic and then rushed my way there, making it in time but feeling flustered. Down the ramp to the plane I went… only it wasn’t a plane… It was a bus. A big bus mind, but not quite big enough to take me the 8000km that I still needed to go. It turns out that for terminal C they have all the gates but the planes get parked in what seems like a massive, well, plane park. Scores of jets all stuck together like they have been abandoned there, yet all ready to go at a moments notice. The bus ride here took us about another 20 mins as we got stuck behind traffic (slow moving baggage car) and then it seemed for a while that the driver had misplaced our plane the same way you would do at a big shopping mall car park. Eventually we found it and manage to board it and finally I was able to relax… until I woke up.

On the plane from Dubai to Sydney I managed to fall asleep for a while, only waking up for the announcement that we were now coming in to land… In Bangkok! I have been to Thailand before. I enjoyed my time in Thailand… but i did not book a ticket to Thailand. *Insert Panic* At first I was worried that I had gotten on the wrong plane but realistically in this day and age with security checks and the like who could possibly do that. It would have to have been a monumental mistake on my part and the airlines so I calmed down a little and stayed quiet as I didn’t really want to be “that guy that got on the wrong plane” anyway. It turns out that I was on the correct plane, however there was a stop off in Bangkok that for some reason was not mentioned anywhere on any of my tickets. This then lead to what can only be described as bureaucratic airport fuckery as I then had to leave the plane, walk through the airport, queue for a while, go through security, walk back through the airport, go through more security, have my bag checked, go through boarding pass check and then sit in the gate room next to the plane I just got off for 20 mins before getting back onto the same plane…. In the same seat. I understand that they need everyone off to make sure someone does stow away or something and they also need to clean it for the new passengers that will be getting on, but why couldnt they have just looked at my boarding pass then and stuck me in the room to the side? How was a secretly going to get some sort of smuggled item onto the plane? Surely if I was an international criminal I would just have left my criminal stuff on the plane I was about to get back onto! Madness. Anyway onto the plane I got and the trip continued.

australia-v-europe (340x379)Not many people seem to understand how vast Australia is. For most of us it is at the other side of the world and we know it is big but since it doesn’t have anything near it on the map for reference we don’t really understand. Australia is bigger than Europe and takes hours to fly across. This meant that we were flying across Australia as the sun started to rise and got a beautiful view of the red sky stretching across the horizon to the East of us. This was the first time I have landed in Sydney in the day and I must say that our decent into Sydney was quite impressive, even though the weather was pretty poor at the time. It is possible to see many of the famous landmarks such as the harbour bridge and opera house as you come in to land which I suppose saves on getting a helicopter ride over the city. Unfortunately I didn’t have a window seat so couldn’t really get any photos so hopefully my memories last me for a while yet.

Sydney Airport transfer times were similar to all the others meaning I had to rush to get where I needed to be and didn’t have time to wonder around at all or get something to eat. Normally this would be a good thing but after you have been on the move for about 30 hours with minimal air plane food sometimes you just want to grab something to fill you up. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be on this little trip so I had to make do with what was available while dreaming of food on arrival in New Zealand. For some reason the flight from Sydney to Queenstown was actually pretty cold. Normally the flight has a little chill from the air conditioning but is still suitable for T-shirt and shorts. This one needed me to reach for my hoodie and zip on the bottom of my trousers to my shorts (because I am a prepared traveller now a days) just for me to keep warm.

DSC_1694 (1280x720)Arriving in Queenstown was when I got my first blast of the weather that was to come. In QT there are no big gates or fancy loading bridges, just a set of steps and a quick walk across the runway, the icy blast of air hitting you as you step out of the door of the plane. Safe to say I wrapped up tight and rushed into the terminal. Passport control wasn’t too bad even if they did want to ask me plenty of questions about why I was back and how I had managed to travel for 4 months without working (and I don’t think “because I’m awesome” was what they wanted to hear). After that was all done with luck was back on my side sending the daily bus from the Airport to Wanaka to the stop 10 mins after I got their so I could head straight across to Wanaka without having to mess about in QT for the night first. Just over an hour later I was sitting in Speights Bar in Wanaka, sipping a cup of coffee in the warmth and feeling happy with myself for my little life achievement.

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As I am sure none of you want to know, Wanaka is still beautiful and looks even better now with a nice dusting of snow on top of the mountains. Now is when the real works starts as I look for a job, then somewhere to live and possibly some transport as well.

As they say though one step at a time 🙂

 

Breathtaking Queenstown

I have been here for only a few hours but I am already slightly in love with Queenstown.

The chilled-out atmosphere and laid back surroundings just seem to fit me so much better than the hustle and bustle of the big city that was Auckland. Added to that is the fact that this place is incredibly beautiful! I mean “best place I have seen in my life” beautiful!

As I type this up right now I am sat on a fine pebble beach on the coast of the lake as the sun starts to set. The sun has gone down behind one of the mountains turning it a little chilly, but sat here looking across the lake everything is still so alive. The mountains are slowly turning golden as the sun wakatipustarts to set in the distance so even though we are in shadow the view is still amazing.

Everyone his gathered around to watch all of the para-gliders and hand-gliders come down from the top of the mountain. There are hundreds of people here sat relaxing and chilling out watching the show, drinking beer and having a good time. By the looks of it about every 5 mins another one seems to be jumping off the top and then making their decent, attempting to land on a floating platform out in the lake. So far at least 20 have come down so far with the para-gliders landing on the mark and the handgliders making a bit more of a scene and ditching in the water before being rescued by the boats. It is a bit hairier for them since they are completely strapped to the bit metal frame so when they hit the water it is a bit more of a rescue then for the para-gliders who just swim about for a bit.

As I have just written that last paragraph I have just witness something amazing and shocking that took by breath away! Firstly one of the para-gliders decided he didn’t want to land on the pad in the lake and instead came all the way in slowly and touched down right on the edge of the fully packed beach. The crowd went wild and it was a true show of skill… That wasnt the amazing thing. Just after he landed a hand-glider decided to come in and do the same. Now the worst case scenario with a para-glider is that DSC_0597 (1024x306)you get hit by a person attached to a big sheet. Hand-gliders are a bit different. With their massive metal frames, when one of those comes at you you take a moment to rethink your life! The pilot came in directly towards the beach which made everyone go silent and the smart people start to scatter a bit before suddenly she turned sharply to cut across the front of the beach by the shore. Please bear in mind that I am sat about 20ft from said shore typing away on a laptop when I hear silence fall and start to take note. After the sharp turn she rocketed across the shoreline about 5ft off the ground and unfortunately got a bit of wind under the wing causing her not to stop and head straight for boat that was pulled up onto the beach as well as a group of people who were sat on the beach in front of me. They didn’t even have time to run away and had to just lay flat on the beach and pray as the hand-glider came over their head and crashed into the beach a few seconds later. I have never seen 400 people collectively hold their breath before however this was certainly one of those times and a time I am not going to forget any time soon. Hopefully someone got it on camera and I will be able to find it online soon as that was seriously crazy stuff! I really don’t know how there weren’t any injuries or fatalities!

Everyone here seems to be here to have fun DSC_0600 (1024x576)in one form or another and you can almost feel it in the air. It has more of the community feel that was missing from Auckland but I guess that is what you get for a much smaller place that’s main this is tourism and action sports. Everyone seems to be into the same things so everyone can get along much easier. There are even a lot of Kiwi’s here who have moved from other parts of NZ so even the local people are not truly local.

Earlier as I was having a walk about I also saw a Jet walker in the bay that was also an amazing site. The woman riding it basically had 2 massive water jet attached to her feet kicking water out at the same sort of power as a fire hose with a big pipe coming down to a jet ski that’s motor and engine was providing the power for her to move about as she pleased. It was such a show to watch as she seemed almost weightless as she danced 15ft above the water, suspended by the jets coming from her feet. She was twisting and turning like it was the most natural thing in the world, while somehow seeming to hold perfect balance all the way through. Occasionally she would lean all the way forwards and dive into the water before flying back out again like a dolphin jumping through the water. I managed to get a video of it so I will get it uploaded as soon as I actually have a decent internet connection.

SunsetEven from the plane in the middle of the day this place seemed beautiful and now in the evening, as the sun starts to set that has been re-confirmed for me. The water is clear, the lake is stunning and the surroundings seem to be perfect. As I landed I text’d CB saying “Wow, I’m not even out of the airport yet and this place is beautiful”. He responded with “Yeah… and where I live is even better”. I really cant wait to see more of the real New Zealand. Auckland was just a stop over, somewhere to land and have a wander but it wasn’t really me. I had some time to relax there but it wasn’t somewhere I would have ever considered living. I could totally live somewhere like this though. Somewhere that I can relax in an evening and look out of the window at an amazing site.

Tomorrow it is onwards towards Milford Sound to see what that has in store. That is world renowned for being pretty so I’m sure we will see some beautiful sites. Honestly cant wait to get started with this adventure properly!