New Zealand Part Uno!
09.10.2008 - 20.10.2008 16 °C
We flew from Sydney to Christchurch in New Zealand on that most wonderful of days - the 9th of October when i turned 26! We had almost forgotten all about it until the check in lady said it, she politely refused my request for an upgrade to 1st class though! We have flown so much in the past few months that against all rationality, i have somehow developed a fear of flying and was very very aware of the irony of crashing on my birthday....but thankfully we made it safe and sound! The scenery on the way in was breathtaking as we flew over the snow topped mountains and then descended over the fields. We couldn't help but be reminded of home with the green fields and heaps of sheep.
Now immigration in New Zealand is similar to Oz in that because its an isolated ecosystem they are very strict on what you can and cant bring into the country with sniffer dogs roaming the airports and also quarantine areas for your bags. This had Lorraine in a panicky humour (I thank the lovely Mrs Lynders for making Lorraine watch alll those episodes of 'Banged up Abroad'!) which i found hilarious. She was dropping the bags and stumbling her words declaring over and over "WE HAVE SHELLS! WE HAVE SHELLS!", they couldn't have cared less really and we got through fine.
Two of my old college buddys Cara and Maeve were there waiting for us in arrivals to whisk us to downtown Christchurch and settle into our hostel for a half hour before goin on a little session that night in the hostel bar, they even picked me up a birthday cake!
With Cara and Maeve in Christchurch for Robs birthday
We hung around in Christchurch for 3 nights planning the rest of our time in New Zealand. 3 nights is most definately enough time to spend there, there isnt all that much to do even if it is a decent place. Its a very English looking city in parts with punting on the canal and all! We finally managed to book our bus pass and were psyched to at last get out and see the New Zealand countryside that we'd been looking forward to since we'd booked this trip so long ago.
Christchurch cathedral and square outside our hostel
Christchurch mainly involved a whole lot of organising & booking stuff so we were both pretty excited about leaving it & starting our trip around New Zealand for real & what better way to start it than getting the Tranzapline Train from Christchurch to Greymouth (east to west coast basically). It was on this train that we got our first real sample of New Zealands stunning landscape & we were not disappointed. 10 minutes outside the city we were instantly struck by the green & yellow countryside with lush fields & dark pine trees. Spring was definitely in full force with hundreds of lambs jumping around in the fields. Another 10 minutes outside the city we were dumbstruck by our first glimpse of the southern alps ( Misty Mountain Range for any Lord of the Rings fans). They totally dominated the skyline with their impressive snow capped peaks. Myself & Rob were extremely excited by this & spent most our 4 hour trip out on the freezing cold viewing deck taking a ridiculous amount of photos. It was really cool because at times the train would be in tunnels under the alps or else it would be trudging over a rickety old wooden bridge with a large river below. It was a great way to start our travels of New Zealand.
The Tranzalpine Train
After the 4 hour train journey we arrived in the little town called Greymouth which is on the west coast of New Zealand. We arranged to stay here one night before being picked up by our bus (Stray Bus) the next day. We stayed in a lovely YHA Hostel which was a really lovely homely place.. apart from the smell of shell fish that a group of Koreans were cooking (you could smell it the next day ughhhh!) but apart from that we loved the hostel & we got to watch the Lord of the Rings part I on video
Greymouth is really just a stop over town & there is not a whole lot there just a couple of shops & cafes but we loved our little home away from home hostel
The following day we went to our pick up point to start our tour with the Stray Bus Tour company who quotes itself on 'taking you off the beaten track'.
So we didnt really know what to expect from the bus tour. Basically we had prepaid for our south island bus ticket. You can hop on & off the bus wherever you like & they pretty much take you to see all the main sights along the way stopping for pictures etc.. We got on the bus in Greymouth & squeezed to the only two available seats down the back. Straight away there was banter between the 5 irish down the back. As we drove along we gradually got to know more & more people on the bus & to be honest we were pretty lucky cause we got a really great bunch. The bus stopped at numerous lakes etc for us to take pic's & it also stopped at a place called Hokitika which is famous for its Green Stone (Jade) - Rob even bought me a little necklace from the Jade Factory - ahhhhh how sweet
Lorraine at one of the many amazing stops we had in the mountains. Waterfalls and stunning scenery abound here.
Our final stop of the day was in a place called Franz Josef which is famous for its gi-normous glacier that spreads half way down the mountain. We booked ourselves in for a Heli-Hike for the next day & we were both really excited about doing it. The Heli-Hike basically involves us getting a helicopter up to the top of the Glacier & hiking for two hours in the ice before getting the helicopter back down the mountain. The morning of the hike we were up bright & early with lunch packed the works & arrived at the heli-center only to be told that our trip was cancelled due to bad weather on the mountains. They did say however to keep an eye on the weather because if it clears up that the trip will go ahead at a later time. Myself, Rob & 3 girls (Kaley, Adrian & Utah - the crazy German) off the bus sat pretty much all day watching the mountain with constant hope that the weather would clear & we would be able to do it! And to our sheer delight the weather did actually clear up at around 3 pm so we all went back to the office to check again if it might be possible. But once again we were shot down This happened around 4 times during the day & i dont think anyone lost hope until it started to get dark.We spent our 2 days in Franz Josef relentlessly watching the clouds & i can honestly say we were emotionally drained from the constant disappointment. We decided to do it on Mount Cook instead the following week so no great loss
We had to laugh when we saw this sign! A Photo Op if ever there was one!
After the trauma and disappointment of our 2 nights in Franz Josef we hopped on the same bus and made our way to our next stop in a small town called Makarora. The West coast of New Zealand is almost completely cut off from the rest of the island by the huge mountain range cutting through the middle of the island so the towns are all fairly small and the roads are just plain crazy! They wind down and around the mountains and back up again with drops on one side and sheer cliff face on the other. At one corner some of the crew on the bus actually saw a car sitting in the trees below the road! Anyway it was good craic on the bus as we stopped in a couple of places along the way for photos and lunch and what not. We arrived in Makarora which is pretty much just a tavern and a petrol station with cabins out the back where we stayed and then ventured to the bar. At the first mention of Karaoke everyone was predictably anxious (apart from me!) and Lorraine kept insisting she wouldn't sing, no way, she wouldn't sing at all and no one can make her.........in the end we couldn't stop her! It was a great night and we belted out some tunes!
Lynmoo and 'posse' rapping some Gangstas Paradise!
The next day we were hungover and up early on the bus to Queenstown. Lorraine died on the bus and had no voice at all from the night before! We stopped in an absolutely stunning town called Wanaka for our lunch and a trip to Puzzle World (Optical illusions and mazes and stuff) which we just couldn't handle at all in our condition so we drank them out of tea with another ill Irish couple!
There was time for the obligatory photo though!
Queenstown is the extreme sports capital of the world, if you want to jump off, out, or into anything, this is the place. But alas we are both poor and cowardly! A bad combination when it comes to any extreme sports which are damn pricey. The bus stopped at one of the bungy jumps on the way into town where some of the crew did the jump and we randomly bumped into my college mate Cara there. We arrived into the town which is another beautiful place set on the banks of an enormous lake and surrounded by large mountain ranges. Its just an amazing gorgeous location and we fell in love with the place spending the following 4 nights there.
The only half extreme sport we could afford was the luge. It involved us getting a Gondola up the mountain with amazing scenic views of queenstown below after which we had to take a ski lift up to the luge track at the top. We had 7 turns going down 2 different luge tracks. It was excellent fun & pretty daunting at times (only when Rob flies by on two wheels) although you can't help racing each other - its half the fun. We did a little birthday video for Mammy Mooney while up the mountain aswell - she said Rob looked a little tubby in the video ha ha
Lorraine in the skilift up to the start of the luge track with Queenstown behind.
Queenstown is probably the best location in New Zealand for a good night out. There are literally reams of bars & clubs to choose from & we thoroughly enjoyed sampling the towns nightlife with some of Robs college buddies. We drank cocktails out of teapots in the world bar with Cara, Aileen & Daragh which led to some pretty cheesy Robot Dancing which Aileen cant remember doing ha ha!
Lorraine at Queenstown lake
The following night we met up with Maeve & some of her buddies in town & we ate our first Ferg Burger aswell. Ferg Burgers are famous in Queenstown & im assuming its because of their size. The burger was literally the size of my head which is pretty impressive although it was only a quarter of the size of Robs head... need i say more ha ha!
Milford Sound is a glacier valley which is now flooded by the sea & after hearing such good reports from everyone about it myself & Rob were quick to book our tickets to visit the area. The drive itself took about 4 hours from Queenstown which felt slighlty longer because our bus driver waffled the whole way.. on & on & on... New Zealanders just dont know when to shut the hell up! Anyway we did make some cool stops along the way stopping at the famous Mirror Lakes & The Chasm waterfall. We made our way up through the snow capped mountains through avalanche areas & also through the Homer tunnel to the beautiful coastal area of Milford Sound. We boarded a boat for our tour & spent two hours sailing around taking in all the stunning waterfalls, Dolphins & Seals.
Cruising around Milford Sound
It was a long day of travelling (8hours on a bus) however we thoroughly enjoyed it!