Part VIII: Banks Peninsula, Marlborough, Farewell Spit, Abel Tasman and Christchurch.

On Tuesday 4th December 2012 we woke up to more stunning Summer weather. Really love the climate here. It was a beautiful 110km drive to the gorgeous Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula.

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Banks Peninsula and its hills were formed by two giant volcanic eruptions. Small harbours such as Le Bons, Pigeon and Little Akaloa Bays radiate out from the peninsula’s centre, giving it a cogwheel shape.

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The historic town of Akaroa was the main highlight, as was the absurdly beautiful drive along Summit Rd around the edge of the original crater.

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Had to watch out for the sheep and lambs of course on the winding roads.

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Akaroa means ‘Long Harbour’ in Maori and is the site of the country’s first French settlement; descendants of the original French settlers still reside here. Located 83km from Christchurch, it’s a charming town that strives to re-create the feel of a French provincial village, even down to the names of its streets (rues Lavaud, Balguerie, Jolie) and houses (Langlois-Eteveneaux), plus a few choice eateries.

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The Gallic pretence can sometimes be a tad forced, but it’s still an undeniably picturesque spot, especially as we used it as a base for exploring the incredible landscapes and bays of the surrounding area.

We spotted many beautiful vineyards and more beautiful wildlife including the Takihi bird, pretty rare.

Had a lovely lunch at Lake Forsyth and saw loads of ducks and wild chickens.

The hills on the peninsula are stunning and we loved all the view points on Summit Rd. Because we have such freedom with the campervan we explored all the little bays.

We drove to Pigeon Bay which was amazing.


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Lovely colours in the water.

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Then it was onto Okains Bay, Le Bons Bay.

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This area is famous for dolphins which love these fresh and clean waters.

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As we drove to the main town Akoroa via Summit Rd the views of the town were simply spectacular.

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We stopped many times as we could see for miles, including the islands in the bay and out to the Pacific Ocean.

This view was one of my favourites in the whole of New Zealand.

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The landscape was beautiful.

The grass and hills all around were so green, with white sandy bays hidden around the peninsula. This area would be a holiday location in itself to explore, one of the reasons I guess why people from Christchurch come  here so often on their holidays.


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Captain James Cook, normally so meticulous with his mapping, had an off day here in 1769. He failed to circumnavigate what he mistook for an island, quickly named it after Sir Joseph Banks, and sailed on to Botany Bay.

In 1838 the French negotiated the purchase of Banks Peninsula from local Maori and returned to France to form a trading company. With French-government backing, 63 settlers headed for the peninsula in 1840. But only days before they arrived, panicked British officials sent their own warship to raise the flag at Akaroa, claiming British sovereignty under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Had the settlers arrived two years earlier, the entire South Island could have become a French colony, and NZ’s future may have been quite different!

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That night we stayed at Duvauchelle which had great views of the harbour.

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We left the next morning.

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We decided to drive over the Summit Rd again it was so spectacular.

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We loved it here, stopping many times again in awe of the scenery before us.

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It was then off to Lyttleton which had a nice bay close to Christchurch. We had decided to leave exploring Christchurch to our final days in New Zealand as we fly home to Scotland from here.

Although we weren’t in Christchurch City Centre we already started to notice the affects of the devastating earthquakes. The roads have caved in and buildings have rumbled to the ground creating very dangerous crevasses on the road which have been patched over.

We were putting things into the Sat Nav such as Woolworths supermarket, BP petrol station and New World supermarket and they simply were not there anymore. The Sat Nav would take us to flattened ground which was very sad.

Out of respect I have decided not to upload any photos from the devastation that has been caused in Chirstchurch or the surrounding area. I think it’s better to look at the future rather than the past.

That night we stayed at the pretty New Brighton beach which was also hit by the earthquake.

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Damage was evident at every corner and makeshift repairs on the roads proved an extreme hazard which tourists find difficult to drive around, including us.

We stayed right on the edge of the red zone, the area most damaged by the earthquake. It was a sobering experience. I chatted to the manager who was there at the time of the last earthquake.

As she was driving her car the earthquake struck and the road opened all around her. Her car fell into a crevasse but she safely managed to get out. The experience didn’t have much of an affect on her as she felt lucky compared to the hundreds who sadly lost their lives.

She told us the story of a local dog, a cute little Bichon Friese, which went missing for two weeks after the earthquake. The owner’s house collapsed and they thought the dog must have died in there. However, two weeks later the Bichon Friese came back, miraculously escaping the devastation of the house and probably running like hell for safety.

We left the area after lunch and witnessed more destruction all around us. Words can not describe the devastation and we can only hope nothing like this ever happens again.

We drove to beautiful Gore Bay.

On the way we seen the ‘Cathedral Cliffs’.

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 The beach was massive and we couldn’t see a soul on it.

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Had an excellent view from our conservatory.

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Loved it here.

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That evening a tornado struck Auckland and killed three people. We hoped the bad weather would not move South towards us.

On Friday 7th Decemeber 2012 we drove to Kaikoura where marine animals are abundant here due to ocean-current and continental-shelf conditions.

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The sea bed gradually slopes away from the land to a depth of about 90m, then plunges to more than 800m where warm and cold water converges.
 
It was a stunning drive.
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So close to the coast.

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We loved it here with all the unspoiled beaches and fantastic amount of wildlife. The seals were playing right beside us.

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There are few places in the world with such awesome mountains so close to the sea, and such a proliferation of wildlife so close at hand: whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, shearwaters, petrels and albatross.

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We saw about 500 seals and their pups in Kaikoura alone.

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They were loving it in these pristine conditions.

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Plenty of photo opportunities.

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We drove to the end of the peninsula to Point Kean Seal Colony. Loads more seals just sunbathing on the rocks.

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It was amazing here getting so close to the seals.

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Then it was onto Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region, one of the most famous wine regions on the planet. We took the SH1 and drove around the coast, backed by the snowcapped 2610m peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

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Along the roads were about about another 500 seals and an abundance of wildlife. They were having as much of a good time as we were.

Next stop was Marlborough and its famous wines.

The name of the genius who discovered that Marlborough’s cool, sunny climate is perfect for growing grapes has been lost to history, but the wine world is now toasting his (or her) legacy: Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough Wine Region is a world-class winner.

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Marlborough produces some of New Zealand’s finest wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, which is acclaimed throughout the world as the definitive benchmark style for the variety.

More than two thirds of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc vines are grown in the region. Wines made from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes are also highly acclaimed.

We loved it as we drove past hundreds of vineyards.

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Oyster Bay, Cloudy Bay and Wither Hills are just some of the world famous wines we seen.

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On Saturday 8th December 2012 we felt a slight earthquake which was a strange experience.

We decided to explore the grapes a bit more personally seeing as we were in the heart of the Marlborough region. So it was an easy choice where to go, non other than the Cloudy Bay cellar door. One of the most famous Sauvignon Blancs on the planet.

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We wanted to go the Oyster Bay cellar door but sadly they did not have one, which was a big shock to us.

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It was lovely to see the vineyards blossoming and looking beautiful.

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We loved the Cloudy Bay cellar door and it’s gorgeous vineyard.

We had planned on going to more vineyards, but instead we tried nearly every wine under their name, almost 12 different wines on the list *hic hic*

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We started off with sparkling of course. Tried the Pelorus Brut a chardonnay-predominant blend of selected vintages. A fresh, aperitif style sparkling wine with apple crisp flavours, underpinned by nutty yeast complexity derived from two years bottle maturation on lees.

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Then it was onto the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc regarded as the quintessential expression of the acclaimed Marlborough wine region, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is an international benchmark wine noted for its vibrant aromatics, layers of pure fruit flavours and fine structure.

Also tried the 2012 Chardonnay, 2012 Pinot Noir, 2009 Te Koko, 2011 Pinto Gris, 2007 Pelorus Vintage, 2012 Riesling and a 2007 Late Harvest Riesling to name just a few.

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We almost went for a siesta in the garden amongst the famous grapes….

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Loved the book about all the dogs which have helped this wine region as well. Love my four legged friends!!

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Incredible surroundings.

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Very pretty.

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Drove to the actual Cloudy Bay as well which was stunning.

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Next stop was lovely Picton and the sunken valleys of the Marlborugh Sounds.

Picton was very pretty, not like your usual port town. The ferry which connects with the north island was docked in the harbour.

We followed the ferry as we drove along spectacular scenery.

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Drove along a very winding road which provided breathtaking views of the mountains and sea.

Next stop was Nelson, a midsize city dotted with photogenic Victorian houses. It had many pubs, galleries and hip cafés which set the scene for creative discourse.

The Nelson region is the access point for tramping and kayaking in New Zealand’s most-visited national park, Abel Tasman. We couldn’t wait for the Abel Tasman coastal track which we would be walking over five days.

That night we found a gorgeous campsite by the beach at Mapua, beautiful Ruby Bay.

We could see Nelson in the distance.

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The next day we drove to the most northern point of the South Island: Farewell Spit.

It was an incredible drive. One of our favourites as we massed through huge mountain regions and hundreds of unspoiled beaches.

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We stopped at Moutere Inlet which was pretty with all the sand dunes on the way. It was then onto Motueka, a very famous area for cherries, apples, kiwi fruit and most orchards including boysenberries.

We then came very close to the start of the Abel Tasman track as we went to Kaiteriteri, one of NZ’s most alluring beaches.

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Loved the weather here and the golden sand beaches.

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We then drove over huge mountain regions which provided completely different scenery. At Takaka Hill we had a lovely view of where we just came from.

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We then followed the coast all the way to Farewell Spit.

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Stopped a couple of times at Collingwood which was just lovely, with so many nice beaches.

Finally as there was nowhere else to go, we got to this arc of sand which really is something quite spectacular.

Extending eastward into the Tasman Sea, it’s not some boring old bit of beach poking out from a solid land mass. Rather, this 35 kilometre spit is the longest natural sandbar in the world.

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Its huge dunes form a coastal barrier that protects an important staging area for migratory shore birds. A total of 83 species of wetland birds have been recorded at the spit, which is also a breeding ground for colonies of Australasian gannet. This significant location is now protected and considered a Wetland of International Importance.

We then went onto possibly the most beautiful beach we have ever seen: Wharariki beach. Wharariki blew us away. Everything at Wharariki is big. Big waves, big cliffs, big sand dunes and big caves.

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Part of the appeal to me is how remote it all feels.

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The archway islands were massive and looked quite surreal.

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We just couldn’t stop looking it, and wondered how on earth they have survived the ocean to this day.

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The sand all around us was so beautiful and untouched. Hardly anyone here. It felt so wild.

Further along the beach we bumped into some cute seals swimming with their pups in pools of water.

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It was amazing to watch and they didn’t mind us one bit. It was difficult to leave this gorgeous place.

We then drove to Cape Farewell an incredible arch out from the mainland into the sea.

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It was stunning.

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Loads of lambs and sheep also enjoying the beautiful Summer weather.

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On Monday 10th December 2012 it was all about getting ready for The Abel Tasman, one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand.

The most noticeable features of this walk are the golden sandy beaches, the fascinating rocky outcrops (mainly granite but with a scattering of limestone and marble) and the rich, unmodified estuaries and wildlife.

As we picked up our hut tickets from the DOC I was over the moon when I was told I could fish in the national park.

That day we sent our last postcard of 2012 to our family, so sad.

We stayed in Richmond that night praying the fantastic Summer weather would continue for at least the next five days, which was the amount of time we would take to complete the whole of The Abel Tasman walk.

On Tuesday 11th December 2012 our alarms went off at 6am. Quickly stuck our heads out the campervan and were delighted when we saw the big ball of fire above us without a cloud in the sky. We were even more happy when we checked the weather forecast and it was meant to be amazing for at least the next week.

We made sure our swimming gear was definitely packed, and my fishing rod of course!

Abel Tasman is a place of sweeping golden beaches, marine reefs and stunning islands.

We couldn’t wait to get going as we waited at our campsite in Richmond for the bus to the start of the track.

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It was then time to set off…

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The track begins with a causeway that crosses the estuary over the Marahau causeway. We then followed the track through opencountry to Tinline Bay. We were blown away already by the gorgeous beaches.

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We loved all the beaches we were coming across.

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Loads of photo opportunities.

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Plenty of side trips.

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Gorgeous coast line.

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Sometimes it was tough to move on.

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Spot the cute little quail chicks?

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The track then rounds Guilbert Point to Apple Tree Bay which was gorgeous.

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It was then through beech forest with large kanuka trees.

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In the short distance we could see two large islands, Adele and Fisherman Island.

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We then went to Yellow Point where the track turns inland, winding in and out of several little gullies before emerging in open country that overlooks beautiful Torrent Bay.

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We spotted a little blue penguin sloping into the water, so cute.

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We then descended to Anchorage Hut. There were loads of fresh mussels by the thousands, and other shell fish including oysters and clams, in a little beach just off the track.

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We then relaxed on the beach it was just beautiful.

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The sun was out and the water was so clear. So quiet and tranquil. Excellent swimming conditions.

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I did some fishing which was amazing.

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The water was so clear that all the fish looked as if they were floating in mid-air.

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Almost had the whole beach to ourselves.

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It was lovely and warm as we swam in the water as well. This walk is just completely different from anything we have seen before! Loved all the beaches.

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Enjoyed a bit of fishing in the evening and seen the biggest stingray I have ever seen, much bigger than the ones we seen in Malaysia and Indonesia.

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Had a lovely night sleep, it was just too hot for a sleeping bag. The tide was in the next morning so we couldn’t do our fist beach crossing.

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But we weren’t that bothered as we would have gone via the high tide track anyway as we wanted to do the side trip to Cleopatras Pool.

Just amazing weather!

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Far too deep to cross here.

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Orange discs show you the way.

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Too deep one thinks!

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Loved all the beaches we could spy through the bush.

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Today was one of our favourite days.

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The days weren’t as long as our ‘Great Walks’ in the Fiordlands so we could relax and enjoy.

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We did a lot of ascending and seen numerous more lovely beaches.

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After about an hour we came to Cleopatra’s Pool. This 1 metre pool is surrounded by smooth rocks that lend themselves to sunbathing. Great to cool off after a day in the sun.

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It was then onto Torrent Bay yet another gorgeous beach. We had seen so many beautiful beaches already.

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Crossed a 47m suspension bridge. Then enjoyed some lunch with spectacular views.

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We headed back towards the sea following the track to the hut at Bark Bay.

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Bark Bay was a beautiful beach.

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Spent the rest of the day sunbathing, relaxing, swimming and of course fishing.

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Bliss!

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We picked up loads of big mussels.

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Very fresh and tasty!

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This walk is out of this world!

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Loved all the sunbathing and swimming!

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On Thursday 13th December 2012 we woke up to more intense heat and the sun was very bright.

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Great wildlife along the route.

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And some nosy birds!

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We did a lot of ascending and descending along more amazing beaches. Just far too many to name. All gorgeous with clear water.

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We continued following a winding track which went over several inland ridges before it dropped even more sharply to Tonga Quarry and it’s gorgeous beach.

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A lovely day.

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We could see Tonga Island in the distance.

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We were now in a marine reserve so no fishing for the next few kilometres. The water was so clear and could see all the fish swimming beside us along the beach.

Soon it was time to attempt our first beach crossing at Onetahuti, which you can only do three hours either side of low tide. We planned to be there at 1pm as low tide was at 4pm.

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The beach is about 1km long and we followed the orange discs in the sand which mark the safest route.

We crossed the Richardson Stream where it was pretty shallow thankfully.

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It was then another ascent to Tonga Saddle and we got a glimpse of the gorgeous beaches ahead.

It wasn’t long until we passed the nice looking Awaroa Lodge with this very tempting sign for Pizza and Beer!

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We then walked beside an airstrip and had to do another river crossing.

As a gentleman I decided Cheryl shouldn’t get her feet wet again. So I took our bags across, then went back and gave Cheryl a piggy back across the crocodile infested river with man-eating monkeys waiting on either side!

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Half an hour later we went along the beach towards Awaroa Hut which was very pretty.

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This was one of the biggest beaches we had seen on the track,  completely unspoiled. We took a walk down trying to avoid the Oyster Catchers which make a racket when you approach them as they are very protective over their young.

Had some fantastic fresh cockles from the beach.

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The wildlife was also stunning.

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Gorgeous birds.

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Lush rainforest along the coast.

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Stunning.

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When we headed back to the hut the tide was still out and we studied the tidal crossings for the next day.

It’s a huge beach crossing here with no alternative route. Annoyingly you can only cross 1 and a half hours before low tide or two hours after.

Low tide the next day would be at 4:30am. It takes 45-60 min to cross so we would have to set off at 5:30am!

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I went fishing that night and couldn’t believe how fast the tide was coming in. The beach which stretched a couple of kilomotres away from the hut was submerged in water in no time.

We had been advised that we would also be unable to cross some beaches and part of the track the next day due to land slips which occurred four months ago. We would instead have to walk along the road for a couple of hours.

As I made my way back to the hut the DOC warden was there. He told us some very amazing news!

We would be the first to access the new track to Totaranui which was just opened a few minutes ago as he was working on it. We would also have an extra hour in bed and said we could leave as late at 8am as the tide can be slower to go out due to the moon and how early it was.

Fantastic we thought, we dreaded the walk on the road and were excited to be the first on the new track. The extra few hours in bed would be a welcome surprise also.

Woke up at 6:30 am on Friday 14th December and after our cappuccino with sprinkled chocolate (seriously!) we attempted the beach crossing.

The DOC ranger said not to leave any later than 8am, so we left at 7:45am to be on the safe side.

As we crossed the beach we could see the river and it looked much deeper than we thought. It was coming in fast and we got a bit worried.

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Again had to watch all the Oyster Catchers that can be quite aggressive.

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As we entered the river we were suddenly up to our groins in water and hoped it would not get any deeper.

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We just couldn’t believe it!

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If we had left at 8am the backpacks would have had to have gone over our heads and we would have got seriously wet.

It took just over half an hour to cross as we moved very fast.

We then had to dry our feet and continued on the track.

We crossed a low saddle and got to a beautiful Waiharakek Bay. The beach was so beautiful and long. Saw more beautiful fish, star-fish and numerous shell fish.

It was then onto Goat Bay, and from here any more beautiful beaches were all completely deserted. We were so lucky! A year ago nearly to the day, this area had some of the worst weather in history and got completely flooded which caused loads of destruction to the track and the surrounding areas.

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From Goat Bay it was a 20min walk over to Skinner Point with an amazing lookout.

We then got to Totaranui, a stunning beach.

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We climbed a low saddle and descended along a forested stream to Anapai Bay, which is split in two by unusual rocky outcrops. A very scenic beach.

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We had lunch here and enjoyed the scenery.

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The wildlife was incredible, the birds in NZ are so forthcoming.

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Amazing forests also.

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This was just a pleasure to walk.

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Incredible coastline.

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So quiet.

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The coastal track continues up the sandy beach, then we headed inland and got Mutton Cove, another gorgeous beach.

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Great beaches to fish on.

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We took another side trip to Separation Point where there is a sea colony and a lighthouse.

On the way we crossed a few beautiful beaches where seals were already present.

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Some of them relaxing in the sun.

Others very close to the stairs which we had to go up.

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Another view of the seal if you can spot how close it is to the stairs.

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We got to Separation Point after about an hour, and we could see a fur seal colony. Loads of them.

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Also a lighthouse.

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It was so clear we could see Farewell Spit in the distance, where we had been a few days ago. It was amazing to see the huge bit of sand going out into the sea.

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It was then on to one last beach of the day at Whariwharangi,  a beautiful curved beach.

We loved the hut where we stayed as it was a restored two-storey farm house built in 1897 and last impermanently occupied in 1926.

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We went to the beach where I of course did some fishing.

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We then found thousands of gigantic mussels which we took back to the hut to cook.

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They were everywhere along the beach and rocks.

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Very tasty!

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We awoke on Saturday 15th December 2012 after a mixed sleep as Cheryl said she heard a ‘friendly’ ghost upstairs. It was bizarre to see the entry in the log book that a week ago someone else had entered that they had also heard a ghost upstairs. How bizarre!

It was yet another beautiful day, we were so lucky with the weather.

It was a short final ascent up through bush and we climbed to a low saddle which had lovely views of beaches and Wainui Bay and its inlet.

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We then descended to the estuary with lovely views of coves and beaches.

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We followed the path along the beautiful shore to the Wainui Car park, the end of The Abel Tasman. It was one of the greatest walks we have ever done.

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Every corner provided a different beach completely different from the other. We had never done anything like this before. The wildlife and views were world-class.

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It was five days of beaching, relaxing, swimming, trekking, fishing and topping up our tan!

It was also a sad moment for our trainers which have been well-worn on our travels now. They have done well doing the West Highland Way, Everest Base Camp, Asia & Australia trekking and of course the Great Walks in New Zealand.

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We loved it.

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We got the bus all the way back to Richmond via the statue of Abel Tasman. Very nice.

The next couple of days was just more relaxation and enjoying this stunning Summer weather.

We also tried some famous New Zealand pavalova with fresh boysenberries and cream!

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On Sunday 16th December we drove up through the Marlbourough Sounds.

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It was a stunning long, winding drive on the Queen Charlotte Rd.

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Endless photo opportunities.

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The colour of the sea was fantastic.

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We loved it here, but a very winding road.

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We drove by stunning beaches with the Queen Charlotte Sound to the right and the Kenepuru Sound to our left.

Very beautiful and quiet.

On Monday 17th Decmeber 2012 we drove back towards Christchurch. We stopped for the night at Blenheim where we went to see the ‘Hobbit 3D’.

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It was an amazing feeling and incredible to see all the fantastic NZ scenery in the background which we have seen in the last three months. Especially loved the scenery from the Milford and Glenorchy. Without giving anything away, my trusted and beloved Kea birds made a surprise entry in the film. I always knew they were so intelligent as they saved the day, again!

Next stop, and sadly our final stop of 2012, was Christchurch.

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We found this a vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively with the aftermath of New Zealand’s second-biggest natural disaster (especially as tremors are still felt regularly).

Traditionally the most English of NZ cities, Christchurch is now adding a modern and innovative layer to its damaged heritage heart.

We weren’t allowed to enter the center of the city, and quite rightly so. We certainly wouldn’t want to as its sadly been completely destroyed!

As we entered the city it was still chaotic. This is the edge of the red zone.

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Most of the streets have been cornered off around the city centre and the roads are quite difficult to drive on as they have been destroyed.

So many buildings have been demolished, but as I mentioned earlier this should be about the future of Christchurch and not its past.

We loved how people of Christchurch are getting over the devastating earthquake. We went to re:Start where all the commerce companies have continued to trade from the shipping containers which they did after the earthquake.

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It’s now stayed like this, very cool!

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We also strolled for a few hours in the stunning gardens. We loved seeing the ‘Punts’ still gliding gently down the Avon River, and the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park were stunning.

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The gardens were among NZ’s finest public spaces.

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It was a huge garden and we loved the Rose Garden.

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Especially the beautiful canals.

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Loved the heather garden as well.

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Nowhere in New Zealand is changing and developing as fast as post-earthquake Christchurch.

New Zealand was amazing. Possibly the most beautiful place on this planet.

We will certainly miss this country and will be back.

This isn’t the right time for a blog entry about all our travels over the last year, as this entry should be about New Zealand.

New Zealand you were one of our favourite countries we have ever had the good fortune to explore. Thank you Kiwis!

It’s Christmas time, albeit in Summer here just now. Soon we will be in Scotland which I believe is still in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore it will be Winter.

*removes mankini and grabs down jacket*

It’s definitely time to pause for a bit and head home to our family and friends to enjoy Christmas and New Year.

Today we will be boarding a series of flights totaling 30 hours!

To help us celebrate our last night, what else would be better than a bottle of Oyster Bay bubbles from the vineyard up the road in the sun!

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So we both wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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Thanks for reading.

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

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New Zealand Part VII: Arthur’s Pass, Moeraki Boulders, Mt. Cook and Avalanche Peak

On Tuesday 27th November 2012 we left Greymouth to cross over to the East coast via Arthur’s Pass.

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We followed the route of the famous Tranzalpine railway line.

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In the heart of the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park has an incredible diversity of flora and landscape. We experienced a breathtaking journey winding  through the magnificent Waimakariri Gorge, valleys, villages and many other mountain features.

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We also got to see the Canterbury Plains and stunning scenery.

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We drove through tussock covered high country and started to see the Kea birds.

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They are so inquisitive.

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Just remember do not feed them!

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The Southern Alps were beautiful.

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It was easily one of the best drives we had been on in New Zealand. As we drove through massive valleys and crossed several bridges we stopped at loads of great view points.

We couldn’t believe it as we got to Arthur’s Pass village, NZ’s highest-altitude settlement, we bumped into our friends Boris and Caroline from the Kepler Track. It was a great surprise. They were hitch-hiking along the road.

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There is an exceptionally good day walk from Arthur’s Pass Village up to Avalanche Peak which we wanted to do, but if it is windy it is too dangerous because of the exposed tops. Unfortunately conditions were not right at this time.

We found a lovely free campsite at Lake Pearson and I enjoyed a bit of fishing. The views were amazing.

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On Wednesday 28th November 2012 we woke up to the beautiful Lake Pearson.

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We continued on our amazing journey through beautiful mountains and lakes. Some of the lakes are ice rinks in winter, such as pretty Lake Lyndow.

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The weather that day was phenomenal, you could tell it was almost summertime.

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We drove past numerous ski fields.

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We ascended and descended a few times amazed at the scenery, it was simply spectacular.

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Stopped at a nice village called Springfield for some well deserved Tip-Top Ice Cream.

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As we were savouring the delicious NZ ice cream the train went past, which was great timing.

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We absolutely loved it here.
 
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We had the roads to ourselves and the scenery surrounding us was breathtaking.

We then drove South passing through Mount Hutt, a huge mountain (2185m). It was then off to Methven, a nice village and a very popular place for hot air ballooning over beautiful rivers and bridges.

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We then drove to Geraldine very famous for chocolate and cheese. Cheryl slammed on the brakes as soon as I mentioned this to her.

On Thursday 29th November 2012 we headed to Timaru. The port city of Timaru is  halfway between Christchurch and Dunedin. The town’s name comes from the Maori name Te Maru, meaning ‘The Place of Shelter’.

We loved the bay and all the beautiful buildings, very pretty indeed. We went to Caroline Bay which was nice. It was of particular interest to Cheryl as her grandparents wanted to move here when they were young.

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A very pretty city beach.

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A quick stop at the Botanic Gardens before we left.

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We continued heading South to Oamuru which was a beautiful drive. Past a couple of nice villages including St Andrews and Glencoe. Lots of Scottish history around here.

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We would be going as far as Moeraki.
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 The Moeraki Boulders are a natural phenomenon that lay along a stretch of the Koekohe Beach on the Otago coast of New Zealand.

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They are located between Moeraki and Hampden on the South Island.

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Scientists claim that the Moeraki boulders were formed millions of years ago due to muddy sediments slowly forming from the boulders erosion, wave action and landslide.

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We thought they were fascinating.

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As we were taking photos we spotted half a dozen dolphins swimming by, they are so pretty. (The fins are in the middle of the photo.)

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The boulders are very unusual.

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A collection of large spherical boulders on a stunning stretch of beach.

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They were scattered about as if someone had just discarded marbles from the sky.

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Very mysterious.

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It was then off through a few other towns, one called Hampden which had a lovely beach. We took the coastal route going via Te Hakapureirei Beach, so beautiful. We were so close to the Pacific Ocean. Then drove past other nice beaches including Orore Point and Kakanui.

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It was then on to Oamaru where nothing moves very fast: tourists saunter, locals languish and penguins waddle. We loved all the Victorian architecture.

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Even the chosen forms of transportation – penny-farthings and steam trains – reflect an unhurried pace.

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There are loads of penguins here, a Blue Penguin colony and Yellow Eyed Penguin colony, seals and dolphins.

It was then time to drive inland westwards through Waitaki Valley. It was completely different scenery.

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Loads of mountains, valleys and rivers.

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We stopped to check out some ancient Maori rock paintings.

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Very interesting seeing them all in the rocks.

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Very well preserved. We saw charcoal and ochre paintings dating back several centuries, tracing everything from pre-European hunting to sailing ships.

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We then visited a very interesting place well off the road called Elephant Rocks.

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So unusual, sculpted by wind, rain and rivers over the years.

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The huge limestone boulders looked bizarrely out of place in this  landscape.

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It was here they recorded parts of ‘Narnia’.

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Took loads of good photos.

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Really enjoyed attempting to climb them, great fun.

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We then went past the ‘Vanished World’ where they have interesting displays of 25 million year old fossils of shark-toothed dolphins and Giant Penguins.

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We stayed the night at Lake Aviemore surrounded in beautiful scenery.

On Friday 30th November 2012 our first stop was Omarama, famous for its Rodeos and Merino Wool sheep.

We saw loads of sheep sporting top dollar coats. We buy a lot of Icebreaker gear, and it was nice to see where all our clothes come from.

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It was then onto the biggest mountain in Australasia: Mt Cook/ Aoraki (3755m).

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We were also entering a World Heritage Area.

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The scenery en route was something else.

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Of the 27 mountains over 3050m in NZ, 22 are in this park alone!

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We were surrounded by huge snow-topped peaks.

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We drove alongside lake Pukaki and stopped about 20 times with the beautiful views of the lake and for the fact that we could enjoy Mt. Cook without any clouds around it. A very rare sight indeed.

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Known to Maori as Aoraki (Cloud Piercer), after an ancestral deity in Maori mythology, the mountain was named after James Cook by Captain Stokes of the survey ship HMS Acheron.

We trekked on the Hooker Valley track (3 hours return) which took us pretty close to Mt. Cook.

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Walking up through the valley was amazing.


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We admired the great memorial for all the men and women who have lost their lives attempting to climb this giant mountain and others in the area.

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Very sobering.

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We crossed a couple of swing bridges to Stocking Stream and the terminus of the Hooker Glacier. Mt Cook totally dominates the valley.

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We got to Hooker Lake and were amazed by the views.

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It was incredible to be so close to Mt. Cook.

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We couldn’t believe our luck with the weather, hardly a cloud in the sky.

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We crossed a landslide and got closer to the massive glacier coming down from the mountain.

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It was a beautiful sight.

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The view of the lake was pretty, especially with all the icebergs.

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Loved the reflection on the lake.

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Very pretty.

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It was incredible, everyone was talking about how lucky we were to see the summit as it is usually always hidden by the clouds.

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We stopped here for a while admiring the views.

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We were so close to the glacier.


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Pretty.

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The summit was easily in view.

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Watching the icebergs floating about was awesome.

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Beautiful day.

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Iceberg.

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Some of the icebergs were melting.

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But it was the view of Mt. Cook we came for.

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Had a fantastic time, we can highly recommend this walk.

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Of course we enjoyed a celebratory beer after the walk, with stunning views from where we stayed for the night.

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Home to some cute little baby ducklings as well.

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The following day Saturday 1st December 2012 was the first day of NZ Summer. We are loving the weather in New Zealand.

We took a look at the DOC information centre and were impressed with all their informative displays. It was educating to learn about the mountaineering history in the region, and seeing all the equipment Sir Edmund Hilary used to climb to the summit in comparison to what we have nowadays.

Before…

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and now.

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We also got a photo of the statue of Sir Edmund Hillary before we left. An absolute legend!

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We sadly said goodbye to Mt. Cook Village then drove to the Tasman Lake via a terrible road for 8km which said ‘rental vehicles prohibited’.

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We ignored the warning.

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It was worth the risk as we saw the blue lakes.


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Further on we saw Tasman Lake and the Tasman Glacier.

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It was so cool. There were more icebergs here.

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We were actually about to do a u-turn on the road after 6km as the road was pretty bad, but thank goodness we carried on.

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The lake was so blue and the glacier was huge.

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We then drove all the way back along Lake Pukaki, just stunning.

We stopped at Mt. Cook lookout which provided stunning views of where we’d come from.

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The lookout at the bottom of the lake was gorgeous.

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It was then onto Lake Tekapo. This has to be one of my favourite lakes. We drove up to the top of Mt. John where there is an Observatory. Quite a steep narrow road but we were rewarded with a stunning panorama of the mountains and lake.

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We looked for the green martians. Check the sign below.

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Loved it here.

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Then we drove down to the village and visited the stunningly located ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’.

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The lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd was built of stone and oak in 1935, and is a firm favourite for weddings. In fact there was a wedding taking place when arrived.

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We loved the surrounding scenery of the lake and colourful flowers.
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This felt like one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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The views out to the lake were amazing. Such an fantastic colour in the water.

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Nearby is a statue of a collie dog, a tribute to the sheepdogs that have helped develop the Mackenzie Country sheep industry. I paid my respects to my four legged friends!

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On Sunday 2nd December the weather was just amazing and so we took a big risk. We decided to head back across Arthur’s Pass and attempt Avalanche Peak the next morning weather permitting.

Another beautiful drive.

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On the way we drove via Ashburton and crossed the longest bridge in New Zealand. Then to Darfield. We stayed at Lake Pearson again and prayed the clear skies and perfect weather would remain for the next day.

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Avalanche Peak has a few dangerous sections which are not advised if there is a wind as it is so exposed.

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The trek had been recommended by a few friends and is quoted in a few books as one of the best one day treks in New Zealand. We had to do this!

We woke up on Monday 3rd December 2012 to excellent weather. Not a cloud in the sky and the wind was calm. We were very happy so drove to Arthur’s Pass Village 30km away.

Popped in at the DOC to make sure everything was fine for the ascent. We got the go ahead but noticed the avalanche warning was  high! It’s not called Avalanche Peak for nothing!

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The DOC didn’t mention this to us however, we were just lucky we spotted the warning on the wall. They also said there should be little snow on the track, but nothing to worry about.

So off we went and started up Avalanche Peak Track.

It was a very steep tough climb, all of it.

After 10min you are looking down at the village amazed at how much you have ascended.
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It was relentless with tough scrambling for over 45min at the start.

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Very tough on the legs at times and we are pretty fit.

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It was a constant steep climb.

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After about an hour we broke out of the bush.

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We had amazing views, especially because the weather was good.

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We saw a large slip down the mountain and walked by a massive drop.

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We then ascended the ridge which was quite exposed. This rises between Avalanche Creek and Rough Creek catchments. It then took us another hour of tough ascent along the ridge.

It was amazing how much we had ascended in such little time. But it was pretty steep.

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We were so lucky with the weather.

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Thank God there was no wind. I spotted a Kea flying over my head, but didn’t have much time to look at it as it was concentration time.

We passed a couple of Cairns and it thankfully leveled out for about 20 minutes.

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The views we had were pretty spectacular, well worth the climb.

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As we came round a corner we saw a massive snow slope which looked dangerous and daunting considering we hadn’t brought any poles or walking axe.

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We didn’t expect anything like this on the route!
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It soon became clear that we would have to ascend this as we spotted other walkers tackling it the far distance.

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We were quite surprised at this stage that the DOC failed to mention that there was clearly a lot of snow on a very steep section and we had not brought our crampons or walking axes.

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Because the weather was so hot there was a possibility that it could melt and cause an avalanche as well.
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We took one step at a time and ascended very carefully for 45 min up the snow slope. It was relentless, often requiring us to use all fours just for stability.

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We were up to our thighs in snow at times and it was tough moving.

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Once we got out of the snow and onto the rocky ridge we felt very lucky and breathed a massive sigh of relief.

This gives you an idea of how steep it was.

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When we got to the top we were glad we wouldn’t have to descend that way as we would take an alternative descent route via Scott’s Track.

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So glad to be off the snow.

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The summit ridge was very narrow and exposed, and the wind had picked up.

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The views all around us were spectacular.

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We followed the ridge to the summit (1833m). It took us just under 3 hours.

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Yet another very exposed ridge.

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We had to be careful where we placed our feet.

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Patience was important.

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We could see for miles.

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But the ridge was not easy, far from it.

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This is us finally on the top.

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The views were very impressive and we could see for miles.

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There were spectacular snowy peaks and glaciers.

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Nice waterfalls as well.

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We had lunch in a sheltered spot a little bit down from the summit and we watched the train go by. It was so far below us it looked like a toy train.

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We crossed paths with a few other walkers who were also ill-prepared for the snow slope and also surprised that the DOC had failed to mention the massive sheet of snow we all had to ascend. Very dangerous considering the avalanche risk was at ‘high’.

We descended down another track thankfully called Scott’s Track. It had narrow areas and steep bits too but is meant to be an easier ascent route than Avalanche Peak Track. The wind really started to pick up and we were very thankful at this stage we were nowhere near the exposed ridge.

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We descended on terribly loose, uneven and rocky ground. Quite challenging on the tired legs. Finally we got down and took a look at Glasgow Bridge which was quite pretty.

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A Kea bird was at the campervan so I had to inspect the vehicle thoroughly as they love destroying cars. Thankfully it hadn’t touched ours.

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On a sore Tuesday morning we drove towards Christchurch where we would be flying out from on 20th December 2012 in 16 days. We followed the train all the way back.

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We wouldn’t be stopping long in Christchurch though as we would explore this city just before we depart. We looked forward to exploring the Banks Peninsula which is adjacent to the city. We would then travel up the East Coast towards Kaikoura, Marlbourough Wine Region, Picton, Nelson and as far as the Farewell Spit- the most Northern point of the South Island. In between all this we would also go on the last of our Great Walks, The Abel Tasman Coastal Walk- 5 days of immaculate remote beaches.

To be continued…

Thanks for reading.

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

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New Zealand Part VI: Queenstown, Bungy, Canyon Swing, Wanaka, Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers and West Coast.

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On Monday 19th November 2012 we found ourselves back in Queenstown, but this time we were going to explore it properly. After three great walks in two weeks, the only thing we wanted to do was relax and maybe experience a bit of the Queenstown lifestyle. We soon realised it wasn’t always relaxing, but definitely not in a bad way!

It was so good to be back to civilisation. Cheryl and I were very happy to be back with a reliable dealer of Whittaker’s Chocolate! By far the best chocolate we have had on our travels, if not in the world!

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Queenstown looks like a small town, but displays the energy of a small city. We had heard so many good things about Queenstown and what it offers. To name just a few: bungy-jumping, caving, rafting, sledging, mountain biking, jet boating, skiing, skydiving and hang gliding.

We loved it here and enjoyed the buzz from the atmospheric restaurants, laid-back cafés and bustling bars. The lake is beautiful and very clean.

As we were enjoying Queenstown it is hard not to notice everyone going around with their bragging rights displayed on baseball caps or t-shirts. Ever since I left Kawarau bridge and watched some crazy guy jump off it with an elastic band around both his ankles, feeling his fear and anxiety but also enjoying his celebration after he survived, I had been thinking that I could make my brain make me jump off the bridge also.

New Zealand is the home of the bungy and where it was invented. The Kawarau Bridge is an historic 1880 bridge where the first ever commercial jump took place in the world. A whopping 43 metre free fall and if you want you can ask to land in the river and dunk your body into the clear glacier flowing river on the way down.

On Tuesday 20th November 2012 I thought enough was enough and said I was going to do a bungy. We drove out to the bridge at 11am which was a spectacular drive in itself. I somehow managed to enter the building and walk up to the check-in desk.

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I was the only one, not a queue or anything. “Strange” I thought as outside there was about 100 people on the viewing deck waiting for the next person to jump.

I asked when I would jump, and she said straight away! I thought this would be a good thing, no messing about, let’s just get it over and done with. She asked me to sign my life away and declare that I or anyone else would not sue the company if I got injured or died from the jump.

I am pretty sure if I disagreed at this stage I would have been refused to jump so I took my chances. I was weighed and asked if I wanted to dunk my body into the water on the way down into the river. Of course I did I replied,  if I some how managed to throw my own body off a bridge, dunking into the water would be the least of my worries. I had to sign more disclaimers about drowning etc.

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In essence I was very happy there was no waiting about and I was escorted to the jumpers only section. I walked past about a hundred people who wanted to take photos and see what a bungy looked like. I would be their entertainment for the next 20min.

I saw Cheryl and she looked petrified. I told her everything would be fine, kissed and hugged her.

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I started walking onto the bridge.

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I could see the river flowing underneath me. This was my first glimpse of the height that I was actually at. I was obviously aware that I would be free falling 43metres but I didn’t realise how much of a drop it would be until I looked down.

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I was then handed over to the jump supervisors who clarified my weight and double checked that I was certain I wanted the head dunk into the river. I confidently answered them with a firm yes.

As I was about half way across the bridge, the radio went off with the jump supervisors. It did not sound good, the manager had called a ‘Safety break’.

This was torture! I was going through the motions knowing I was close to jumping when I was told I would need to wait 30min on the bridge until the safety break was finished. They have safety breaks every couple of hours so the jump supervisors are always 100% certain with everything they do.

I stood there looking down thinking this is going to be one hell of a 30 minute wait!

Then another announcement came over the radio saying, “let’s jump one more and that’s it!”

After some discussion on the radio it was agreed they would jump me there and then. By this time all the stages that I had mentally prepared had gone up in smoke. I was taken to about 2 feet away from the launch board, a bit of wood that sticks out of the bridge.

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I thought to myself I hope they won’t rush me as all the jump supervisors were now waiting for their ‘safety break’.

The weather was just immaculate, not a cloud in the sky nor a breeze. It felt lonely on top of the bridge. I could hear loads of people talking from the viewing deck in many languages, and I could see the odd face but not Cheryl’s.

I was asked to put on the harness which went round my waist.

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I was then asked how it felt, which felt good and secure from my climbing experiences. He said, “excellent, I wouldn’t worry about it too much anyway as it’s only Plan B!”

I laughed nervously.

He then guided me to the ledge.

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I could see a colossal drop in front of me. He sat me down as he tied a huge bungy cord around my ankles. It was all very calm as he told me that if I wanted to do the head dunk into the river he could only do so much. He had measured the bungy cord so it was long enough for it to happen but only if I took a big enough jump off the ledge.

Looking down at my ankles I could see the millions of elastic bands which make up the cord. As my feet were getting tied together, I could see a small yellow dingy in the river. This was the boat which would help me back onto land.

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I was told I would need to take a big jump head first, place both my hands out on either side to guide my fall which would last for 6 seconds, then in the last 2 seconds to place my hands in front of me so I could dive into the river. When my body entered the water the bungy cord would be at full length, then it would pull me back up and I should bounce about half a dozen times. That would be the plan anyway.

I was then asked what kind of music I would like to listen to. I instinctively asked for some Dr. Dre. He tried his best, but just found some other poor substitute rapper.

Everything was in place, I was asked to stand up. This was tough, as the ledge was less than 2 feet away. He asked me to move forward and stand as close to the edge as possible.

This was also tough, not just psychologically, but because both my feet were tied together. I had to waddle forward like a penguin right to the edge.

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He asked me to look down. So I did, and it looked far down. I wouldn’t consider myself to be scared of heights, far from it. I have climbed numerous mountains and always felt confident about it. But when the safety factors which you usually control in these situations are taken away from you, it’s a completely different ball game.

I was then told to look to my left and smile at the camera and wave to the crowd. I somehow managed to raise both my lips in an upright direction and focused on the crowd.

I spotted Cheryl, she was standing fixed looking at me with two cameras in her hands. I didn’t have much time to think and I didn’t have much to say at this stage. I heard loads of cheering from the crowd. The guy asked me if I had any questions, which I said no. I mean how hard could it be? All I needed to do was jump off a bridge!!!

Oh, and stick my hands out, count to 4 seconds then put my hands out as if I am going to dive and hope the bungy chord has worked!

The guy told me to look down again, so I did. He then said, ok now don’t look down again. He confirmed that I knew that I should be jumping straight ahead and not at an angle.

He then said it was down to me now to make this work.

You can’t be pushed off on a bungy as if anything happens the company would be deemed responsible, everything has to be of your own accord. I visioned myself about a hundred times, putting my toes at the edge of the ledge and just jumping off. It was almost as if it was an attempt at suicide. You need to make your brain tell your whole body to jump off a ledge that would instantly kill you if you were not tied to a bungy.

I raised both hands out in the air, I looked to my left once more where I could see many faces. I could see Cheryl’s, that’s all I wanted to see.

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I looked forward into the cloudless sky.

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I then jumped straight in front of me.

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The next thing I felt was the rush of the wind coming at my face as I was free falling.

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I was told I would free fall for 6 seconds and to count it. I lost count when I had my fourth heart attack falling towards the river.

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It was a strange feeling falling for so long by yourself. You are at the mercy of the Gods. The river is coming towards you and there is nothing that you can do but pray that everything goes to plan.

It was at this stage when I remembered that it’s probably best I stick my hands out into the dive position. I did this just in time. I held my breath and dived into the river up to my waist . All I could think of was I hope this river is deep enough if the bungy cord hasn’t worked.

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As the cold water soaked my upper body I felt a massive sense of relief as the bungy cord finally stretched and pulled me back out of the water and I bounced around half a dozen times.

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It was an amazing feeling, a feeling that is indescribable. The adrenaline was like nothing I had ever felt before.

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I came to a stop and was helped aboard the small boat I could see a minute before from the bridge.

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The guy in the boat asked me if it was my first bungy to which I replied to him and said it was. He welcomed me into the club. Then he told me to take a look up and see how far up the bridge was, it was so high up it hurt my neck looking.

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The feeling afterwards was sensational, and a moment I will never forget in my life.

I then walked back up the viewing platform to meet Cheryl. I think she was more nervous than I was. I guess we were both relieved it was over.

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I absolutely loved the bungy and wouldn’t want to have done it anywhere else. The Kawarau Bridge Bungy is the original and the best. The fact you can get a head dunk in the water as well is something special.

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After buying all the merchandise that goes with a bungy we drove back to beautiful Queenstown. It’s summertime here and the weather is just fantastic.

We went on the Skyline Gondola.

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It was great fun.

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As we ascended we enjoyed jaw dropping views of this beautiful area.

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We had fantastic views of Queenstown, the lake and the mountains.

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We could see all around us and everything was just gorgeous.

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This is probably the best town in the world!

Afterwards we went to Fergburger to attempt the famous Big Al. This massive burger features two larger beef patties (totaling 1/2 pound), two eggs, several rashers of bacon, grilled cheese, and beetroot, on top of other ingredients.

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I kid you not it was so big we both split our lips attempting to eat it.

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But it was worth it!!!

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We went for a stroll down Beach Street, the water is just so clear and clean!

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It’s easy to see how people just can’t leave Queenstown!

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Soon afterwards I nearly had an another heart attack as Cheryl said she might attempt the Nevis Swing the next day, the biggest swing in the world. She said she would sleep on it.

That night we met up with our lovely friends Sarah, Amy and Alex whom we’d met on the Milford Track. We had an amazing time drinking lovely New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

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On Wednesday 21st Novemeber 2012 we woke up to yet another beautiful day. Cheryl said she had thought long and hard about the Nevis Swing and…… after a long pause and a few outer body experiences, she said she was going to do it!

Very brave girl! So off we went on another nerve racking experience. We got Cheryl weighed in and checked into an experience of a lifetime.

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Cheryl had to sign her life away as I did.

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Just some of the conditions listed with caution required.

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We all boarded an off-road bus which would take us all the way to the Nevis Swing.

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We took the scenic drive out to the Nevis Canyon where the Nevis Swing is. It is not simply the biggest Queenstown swing but biggest swing in the whole world.

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The drive up to the launch pad was something else! It was a steep climb for the 4×4 converted bus and we had to hold on tight as we went up the steep hill.

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Cheryl seemed incredibly calm and was her usual cheerful self as she got weighed in again.

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We then took a long walk out to the release pod way above the canyon floor, 160 meters above it!

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It was quite funny waiting watching Cheryl getting strapped into the safety harness as she quadruple checked everything. But in all fairness she couldn’t help it with her experience in  climbing harnesses.

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It was then time for Cheryl to be hoisted out above the launch deck and she was suspended 160 metres above the canyon floor. You are given the choice on how you want to be released whether by countdown or surprise in a variety of positions.

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It was then time.

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A nervous smile for the camera.

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Cheryl chose to be released by surprise as she couldn’t face the countdown, and before she completed the word surprise she was suddenly released and was free falling for a whopping 70metres! She then found herself rushing towards the other side of the valley at 120km/h, eyes wide open in disbelief.

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It was almost too much for me to handle as I was trying to keep the camera steady.

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The speed she dropped at was unreal!

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As you can see from her body in this photo she is free falling at an incredible speed to create momentum for the biggest swing in the world.

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This photo gives a perspective of how enormous the swing is.

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A very brave girl.

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Cheryl swung back and forth across the canyon a few times, so far away she looked more like a small sandfly buzzing about the canyon floor. (She is in the photo below if you look hard enough.)

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After what seemed like forever she stopped swinging and was pulled all the way back up to safe grounds.

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It was also an experience of a lifetime and she did amazingly well. The speed she was swinging at was just scary and watching her drop nearly made me drop all the cameras!

It was an amazing experience, albeit very frightening.

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OH YEAH!!!

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We both agreed not to do any more scary stuff, for a while 😉

It was then back to beautiful Queenstown making sure we didn’t miss anything as we strolled around the beautiful streets.

We devoured a delicious pizza at Hell Pizza, where our friend Alex works.

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We both highly recommend the place as the food was amazing, especially the Kumara chips.

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Loved the t-shirts 🙂

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On Thursday 22nd Novemeber 2012 it was sadly time to say goodbye to Queenstown, but it certainly will not be for the last time. Next stop was Wanaka which we had also heard loads of good things about.

On the way was exceedingly quaint Arrowtown which sprang up in the 1860s following the discovery of gold in the Arrow River.

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We went to see some of the old Chinese settlements.

It also had loads of beautiful original wooden and stone buildings, and has pretty tree-lined avenues.

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Afterwards we drove to Wanaka which was a stunning drive.

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We went through many valleys and fantastic mountains.

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Wanaka shared similarities with Queenstown with its beautiful scenery.

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You can go tramping and skiing, and partake in an expanding roster of adrenaline-inducing activities which have all transformed the lakeside town of Wanaka into a year-round tourist destination.

We loved driving around the shore of Lake Wanaka.

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Lovely beaches all around it and it is so quiet.

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Bliss.

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The water is just so clear.

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We loved Wanaka’s lakefront area which has retained a laid-back, small-town feel.

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It’s definitely not a sleepy hamlet though, and new restaurants and bars are adding a veneer of sophistication.

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The views across Lake Wanaka were stunning and we loved the drive around it.

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We stayed the night here we loved it so much.

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The mountain ranges in the distance were equally impressive.

We then headed towards Mt. Aspiring (3035m) so we could get some photos of this massive mountain. We got some good views of one of the biggest mountains in New Zealand.

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We walked up to the Diamond Lake which was very pretty.

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The next day we drove along Lake Wanaka, stopping many times to take in the views of the area, just stunning.

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We then drove along Lake Hawia where there were equally good views.

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Nearly as beautiful as Loch Lomond.

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We drove all the way to Haast and saw the wild beaches of the west coast.

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It was then an interesting drive up the west coast with huge drops from the roadside that awarded us with stunning views, especially from Knights Point.

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We had a lovely stay at Lake Paringa.

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The only problem were the dreaded sandflies.

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On Saturday 24th November 2012 we drove to the first of the two glaciers we would see.

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The first one Fox Glacier falls 2600 metres on its 13 kilometre journey towards the coast.

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Named after an early New Zealand Prime Minister, William Fox.

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The glacier is 300 metres deep and its terminal face is just 5 kilometres from the township.

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It was an interesting drive along the road to the glacier which crosses ancient moraine from earlier advances and retreats.

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We loved the walk up to the glacier, and chose not to pay extra for the helicopter journey onto the glacier as we have been on glaciers before. The views were very pretty though.

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There are loads of warning signs on how dangerous the area is. It’s sad to hear of all the deaths with tourists who cross the fence and attempt to go onto the glacier unguided.

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We managed to get to 200m short of the glacier.

It was then off to Lake Matheson which was beautiful to walk around.

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Soon afterwards it was onto the village of Franz Josef and its glacier.

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It was a stunning walk to the terminal face, just a 40-minute walk from the car park over glacial moraine.

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Both Fox and Franz glacier faces are roped off to prevent people being caught in icefalls and river surges.

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The danger is very real, and in February 2007 two tourists were injured after being hit by falling ice when they ventured too close.

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At Fox two Australians died when the glacier caved in while they walked on it unguided about a year ago.

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This glacier is much bigger and it looked amazing.

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It’s so sad to see from pictures how much both glaciers have retracted in recent years.

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Unfortunately global warming is causing the glacier to retreat 2 metres every day!

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We got to the warning sign where we stopped to admire it.

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We had an amazing time!

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The next day we continued up the coast and drove to Ross where it is famous for gold mining. NZ’s largest gold nugget 2.772kg was found here in 1907.

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We watched loads of people gold panning before we headed off to Hokitika and took a drive out to Sunset Point which was quite pretty.

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This area is famous for fishing so we decided to try some fresh fish and chips.

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We had blue cod which is common in New Zealand, and it was very tasty indeed. But we have equally fresh and tasty fish in Scotland so it was difficult to choose which was better.

We then went for a nice drive out to the gorgeous Hokitika Gorge. Beautiful turquoise water from the glacial flows.

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On the way to this beautiful spot we stopped at Kowhitirangi, the scene of a massive 12 day manhunt involving the NZ Army in 1941. A crazy farmer shot dead four policemen, disappeared into the bush then returned to murder three others before eventually being killed, very sad.

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The desire for gold mining on the West Coast was evident the next day as we got to a place called Shantytown, an 1860s Gold Mining town. Gold mining has had a massive influence here.

We drove into Greymouth, the West Coast’s largest town which also has a proud gold-mining history, and a legacy of occasional river floods now somewhat alleviated by a flood wall.

Later in the afternoon we drove up to Punakaiki which was a great drive along the coast.

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We drove right along the cliff edge.

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Incredible rock formations all the way up the coast, quite dramatic with the grey skies.

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We stopped many times at huge cliff drops and enjoyed the views out to sea.

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Drove past many penguin colonies with warning signs by the road. I would hate to drive over a penguin!

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It was then onto Punakaiki where the Pancake Rocks are.

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These interesting rocks have been formed over the years in very unusual shapes.

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Very interesting.
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Then it was back to Greymouth to the Monteith Brewing Company which is easily one of my favourite beers.

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It was nice to go and see it and learn about its history.

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Next we would cross the Southern Alps over Arthur’s Pass to explore the East Coast, trek around the biggest mountain in New Zealand: Mt. Cook, and make our way up to our final great walk The Abel Tasman. In between all that are some of the most famous wine regions in the world in the Marlborough region, hopefully the grapes won’t hold us back for too long 🙂

To be continued…

Thanks for reading.

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

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New Zealand Part V: The Fiordland Great Walks: Kepler, Milford and Routeburn inc. Milford Sound Cruise.

We loved Te Anau straight away with the beautiful lake and mountain range around it.

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This would be our base for two weeks as we attempted three Great Walks: The Kepler, The Milford Track and The Routeburn with a couple of days rest in between them all.

Lake Te Anau was gouged out by a huge glacier, and has several arms that penetrate into the mountainous forested western shore. It’s deep too – it’s deepest point is 417m, or about twice the depth of Loch Ness, so take that Nessie!

Until the 4th of November we just recharged our batteries and prepared ourselves for our Great Walks. It was an ideal place to do so. Waking up to the lake and beautiful scenery each morning was stunning. So difficult to do anything else but just relax and admire the views.

We had to book the Great Walks well in advance because of their popularity, particularly The Milford trek, so we took a massive risk with the weather.

It was lovely weather as we woke up on Sunday 4th November 2012, not a cloud in the sky. Perfect. We packed our relatively heavy rucksacks the previous night so all we had to do was pick up our hut passes from the DOC.

The notice board didn’t have too many concerns for us, apart from the Milford which was still to come.

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The walk takes 4 days and is 60.1km long. We collected our tickets and jumped on the bus (15min) to the start off the track. The Kepler is a loop track which was handy. We had left the campervan at the campsite which we would come back to.

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On with the rucksacks and it was a nice walk along flat ground around Lake Te Anau.

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We were really looking forward to seeing all the wildlife on this track as well.

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We were then walking through an impressive forest with trees and ferns which continued to skirt the lake shore, and then over a footbridge.

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A few dangerous obstacles on the way.

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We stopped for a bit at Brod Bay, a beautiful sandy beach on the lake.

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So picturesque.

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Soon afterwards we began the steepest climb of the track and climbed steadily for 3km (2 hours) to towering limestone bluffs.

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It was a constant ascent.

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Within 1km the track broke out of the bush and we got our first glorious view, a panorama of Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri and the Takitimu, Snowdon and Earl Mountains.

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We could see Te Anau behind us where we left that morning.

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After an hour walking at a commanding elevation of 1085m we arrived at Luxmore Hut with its namesake peak behind it.

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It was beautiful up there.

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We dropped our rucksacks and muddy boots then checked the place out.

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We chose our bunk beds.

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We loved the view we had, priceless.

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The hut was okay with very basic amenities. Definitely not worth $50 each. But we had no choice, and like I said the view made up for it.

We then took a side trip to the Luxmore Caves (10min).

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You can view formations such as stalactites and stalagmites.

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We managed to complete the first day in just four hours when the proposed time was six hours.

As we went back to the hut a pretty rainbow was awaiting us.

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Thank goodness there was a log fire in the hut which warmed everyone up. There is no heating otherwise, and the only light is on from 7pm-10pm each night.

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But it was great banter with all the trekkers and we soon got chatting with two New Zealand women who had both done the West Highland Way. Out of 30 people in the hut there were three other people from Scotland.

Because of the long walks, altitude and length of time on the hills the weight you are carrying becomes very important. So we invested in dry frozen food which you just add hot water. This is what most people do.

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But to the credit of the two Scots they brought the creme de la creme of hill food which made everyone stop what they were doing!

They brought out huge big steaks and the works which they started frying in front of us. They had packed frying pans, nice oils and loads of veg. Good on them we thought, we were all extremely jealous.

It was lights out at 10pm so off we went to bed. It was freezing outside of the common area where the fire was. The temperature dropped to -7 deg C that night. It was so cold Cheryl had to get out her emergency blanket and use both our down jacket to keep warm.

We dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags the next morning after a pretty duff sleep with the cold temperature and a rather loud snorer.

We were told the night before it would be sunny with a slight chance of cloud the next day. As we set off at 8am the DOC warden wished us well and said it would be a good day.

Day 2 is the longest and toughest day. It came as a surprise to us when the clouds came in as we were setting off.

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They came in very quickly. We were above the clouds while leaving the hut.

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Soon after 20 minutes, it got very cloudy.

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It then started to snow after another 20min.

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It then got very bad.

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The visibility became so bad we could only see two feet in front of us.

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We had to put up with these conditions all day and not once did we see the sun. We had no idea what was around us apart from that we were on a massive ridge and we were ascending and descending trying to find the marker poles. It was exceptionally cold.

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We took a side trip to Mt. Luxmore (1472m) hoping to break through the clouds, but to no avail.

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It was a relief when we found the emergency shelters on the track which are strategically  positioned on the route on Day 2. In the emergency shelter we found our friends Boris, Caroline and Oscar. They also couldn’t believe how the weather had deteriorated. We all pondered what the views should’ve been like up there.

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The views should have been breathtaking and the route should’ve been a scenic alpine crossing. We were just very unlucky with the weather.

Snow was everywhere and thankfully we were very well prepared. We continued on the exposed ridge for about 4 hours in tough wintery conditions. The snow was heavy and we just prayed the wind would not pick up or we would be in a lot of trouble. Thankfully it never did!

We came to the second Emergency Shelter where we had some lunch and made sure we were going in the right direction on the map. More and more people were coming into the Emergency Shelter in complete amazement at how bad the weather had changed. Such a shame.

We put our GoreTex back on then braved the weather again. To be honest we thought we could have been on a ridge in Scotland and we wouldn’t have known any better, visibility was that terrible. This in return made the route even slower.

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As we braced the snow, the sharp ridge began to descend after about an hour. We dropped quickly and entered the forest which we hoped would provide shelter from the heavy snow.

It was a quick descent and we were pretty sore by this stage. We descended through the clouds and we could see again. We endured a seemingly endless number of  switchbacks before we finally spotted our next DOC Hut for the night: Iris Burn Hut. What a relief!

As we hung out all our wet stuff to dry we were surrounded by a trillion sand flies which wanted to taste Scottish blood. It was horrendous, we had to close all the windows and stay inside.

It was pretty cold and we got the fire on pronto, thanks to Oskar 🙂

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It was cozy.

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We were all in discussion about how sad we were that we missed the best part of this Great Walk- the high ridge traverse. We were one of the first to get to the hut and each person that arrived after us were in amazement at how we seen hardly anything.

A serious criticism of the DOC hut rangers is that they do not update the weather forecast earlier than 8.30am. We all know that the MET service is updated at 7am, which gives them plenty of time to update us before we set off in the morning.

We hid in the hut from the sand flies, legs aching after a 6 hour alpine crossing and getting battered by the snow on an a seemingly endless exposed ridge going up and down like a yo-yo. We were all chatting when Boris and Caroline crazily announced that if the weather was better the next day they were going back up to repeat the Alpine Crossing and perhaps this time enjoy the supposed spectacular views up there!

I nearly choked on my dry frozen 1% Beef curry and artificial rice! The idea sounded crazy, at the time…

Our group who we bonded with- Oskar, Lee, Boris and Caroline- would need to ascend the steep switchbacks again, then go all the way back over the challenging ridge the day after the same mammoth workout. We never took it into consideration, just laughed it off and went to bed very sore.

The morning of Tuesday 6th November 2012 came too quick and we were all up early for breakfast. Thankfully as we’d descended below the clouds the temperature had ‘only’ dropped to -4c.

I went out to see what the weather was doing. Not a cloud in the sky and I had to put my sunglasses on to be blown away by the beautiful scenery which I now realised was surrounding us. Typical I thought!

We were pondering the day ahead, a  6 hour track along the river on flat ground. Easy I thought, if we went at a steady pace we would probably do it in 4 hours.

Then Boris and Caroline asked if Cheryl and I wanted to come with them back up to the ridge. Then Oskar said he was going back up, as did Lee. I still thought the idea was crazy!

Cheryl and I went outside to look at the weather again. We wondered what to do, it would be a big risk because the weather might come in again and it would be a waste of energy and time.

But, we had missed the main reason why this is a Great Walk, the alpine crossing. Somehow we decided to go back up and do it all over again, but hopefully this time we would see what all the fuss is about on the ridge. So we headed back…

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It was tough going back up the endless switchbacks through the forest, we could hardly see anything but trees. But we knew the sun was out as the odd glimpse showed blue sky and a bright sun.

After about an hour climbing the steep switchbacks we finally reached the bush line.

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We viewed the track we walked yesterday in amazement.

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The weather couldn’t have been any better.

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Most of the snow from the day before had melted off the track.

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We were loving it.

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We had an incredible panoramic 360 view all around the mountain tops.

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We were back onto the ridge and couldn’t believe what we’d missed yesterday.

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Not a cloud in the sky and we had to go into our shorts and pile on the sun cream.

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The exceptionally good weather remained like this all day.

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We could see Manapouri and all the other mountains. It was just so beautiful.

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We all sat there at one stage in complete astonishment.

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Albeit one of the most difficult decisions we made, it was now worth it. We had an amazing time, we crossed the tight rope ridges and were in awe at the beauty all around us.

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It was very safe as there wasn’t a single gust of wind, and we could see as far as the eye could see.

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Beautiful Lakes, snow topped mountains it was amazing.

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The views of the South Fiord are spectacular.

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We carried on around sides off mountains, going up and down peaks.

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We were blown away by the scenery at every corner. We were well rewarded for our hard work.

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It was a massive risk, but it definitely paid off.

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We walked past the emergency shelters where we hid from the snow the previous day, and couldn’t believe how much the weather had changed in one day.

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We then ascended to the summit of Mt. Luxmore and sat up there for a long time sunbathing and loving the scenery.

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They were amazing views, the finest on the tramp, a 360 degree panorama that included the Darren Mountains 70km to the North. Lake Te Anau was also beautiful.

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We were exhausted by the time we got back to the Luxmore Hut, again. Thank goodness we went back! The views were amazing and we couldn’t believe we’d missed all that the day before. We slept well that night.

The next morning we woke up with clouds below us in the valley.

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A reminder of how you just need to have a bit of luck sometimes when tramping.

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The next day we descended all the way back to Te Anau through the clouds.

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A day which mostly involved walking in the bush.

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It was beautiful when we got down to the lake.

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So peaceful.

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I wished I’d brought my fishing rod.

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First thing we had when we got back to the campsite was an amazing pie. New Zealand are just brilliant at making pies!

The Kepler is indeed a great walk, we loved it and would highly recommend it.

But it’s so important that the weather is good on day 2 or it will be pretty horrible.

The next day we celebrated Cheryl’s birthday. The weather was amazing and we all sat down at the lake and had an amazing birthday party in the sun.

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Then I caught this massive fish for Cheryl’s birthday…

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On Saturday 10th November we woke up refreshed and very excited as we would start the Milford Track.

We booked this track a whopping four months in advance and this was the only available space.

This track is so popular and world famous. The obvious risk you take when booking the trek four months in advance is with the weather. To make matters worse it rains a lot in the Fiordlands. In fact it’s the third wettest place on the planet.

Fiordlands’ weather is dominated by frequent strong westerly winds, making it very changeable and often dramatic. Moisture laden air from the Tasman Sea is forced to rise quickly over the steep barrier of mountains where it cools quickly, creating heavy rain and snow.

Clearing weather often reveals thousands of waterfalls streaming from sheer-sided mountains. Annual rainfall is a whopping 8000mm in Milford Sound. Rain falls in Fiordland on over 200 days each year.

Our odds were not good. Most people on the Milford expect rain on most of the days. If it’s clear and sunny it’s a miracle.

The trek itself is well maintained and organised. They allow 40 independent walkers per day to set off on the track. You must do it over 4 days, staying at the allocated huts, in only one direction.

There are also guided walkers, again same set up with maximum 40 trampers a day, but they pay $1750 each. Why you would need a guide is beyond me. But people pay it so they can get on the track, but even getting onto the guided group is not guaranteed as they are also booked well in advance. And they enjoy luxury accommodation and food for that price too.

As independent walkers we also had to leave a helicopter rescue charge of $180 as there were huge avalanches falling onto the track at the Day 3 section.

We picked up the hottest tickets in town. The only downside was that it was forecast for rain on the first day. But in all honesty it didn’t really bother us as you only walk for one hour on day 1.

We caught the bus from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs which was a lovely drive for about 40 minutes.

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Then we boarded a small ferry just for trekkers which takes you to the start of the track.

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They are very strict in checking tickets against the list of names as you can only walk the Milford Trek in one direction and every bed is booked.

We sailed in between massive mountains and learned about the great history of this famous trek. The boat trip took about 1hr and 15 min and we enjoyed the lovely scenery despite the cloud.

The exact route which we were on is the original route that the founder of this great walk took. His name was Quintin MacKinnon from Scotland.

He found a way by crossing over the lake, then through lush valleys, nature, forests, alpine  crossings, waterfalls and another boat trip at the end to Milford Sound.

He then started showing people the route and eventually became a guide along with his dog which he had brought all the way from Scotland. This exact route attracts 15,000 people a year now.

Sadly one night his boat was found capsized on a small island, his body never to be found again.

We sailed past the small island where a crucifix lies there.

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As we sailed past, the famous mist and rain started. It made the scenery very dramatic.

We had to remind ourselves that we were so close to the Tasman Sea with only these mountainous peaks for protection now. We were well away from any kind of civilisation now.

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We were in awe of the scenery, just phenomenal. Enormous mountains passed by that just stuck out of the water.

It was then time to set foot on soil and continue the journey on land. This little quay was called  Glade Wharf.

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It would take 4 days and we would reach a height of 1100m. Everybody must walk it in this way and stay at the right hut. But you can take as long as you want each day.

The first day is only 5km, about an hour’s walk. The reason for this is that firstly it takes a bit of preparation and time to get here on day one before you start walking with the bus and the boat. Secondly the walkers who stayed in the first hut the previous night need to be given the time to leave accordingly so there is no overlap.

The scenery was beautiful as we walked beside the Clinton River and crossed a large swing bridge.

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The water is so clear.

The short walk is mostly through lovely forest.

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We soon arrived at our first hut, Clinton Hut.

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You have a lot of time on your hands on day one as you don’t feel tired and it’s quite a short day. So we enjoyed just chatting with all the trampers.

We soon realised that we had forgotten a very VERY important item on the trek. In fact, sorry let me change that to ‘I’ forgot something VERY important…  the chocolate.

I accidentally left a full block of the finest New Zealand Whittakers chocolate in the fridge and I was getting pelters all night from the most beautiful woman in the world! :-/

We made friends with Alex, Sarah and Amy that night who clearly felt sorry for us and kindly donated us half a bar of Whittakers chocolate.

At around 8 pm the DOC ranger gives a hut talk, something we have been loving on our walks. They have their own little jokes and very interesting stories. They also brief you on the weather, avalanche risks and fire safety etc.

It rained heavily for most of the night which would create spectacular waterfalls the next day, which the Milford Track is famous for.

We just hoped it wouldn’t rain the next day and went to bed with our fingers crossed.

On Sunday 11th November 2012 we woke up at 6:45 am, went straight outside and it wasn’t raining. Happy days!!!

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Before we set off we were amazed at how the weather had changed for the better. From the emergency helicopter pad it gave us a view of the gigantic valley we were in surrounded by massive mountains.

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We made friends with Jessie and Jarrod who we leap frogged on the route.

We walked through amazing bush. Alarmingly we could hear avalanches and rock falls around us.

It was easy to see why.

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As we continued along the river we saw a lot of dead trees emerging from the water after a major landslide in 1982.

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We soon started seeing loads and loads of waterfalls.

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There are always waterfalls on the route, hundreds of them.

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But when it rains the day before they are spectacular.

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A turn on the track gave us the first glimpse of MacKinnon Pass further up the valley.

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This is the highest point of the track and erected there is the memorial for Quintin MacKinnon, a very iconic image of the Milford Track which we hoped to see the next day.

The next stop was the ‘Hidden Lake’ which had towering waterfalls falling thousands of feet.

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It was also our first spotting of the very rare and endangered Blue Duck which we reported to the DOC Ranger and he was very pleased.

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The waterfalls were spectacular on all sides of this gigantic valley.

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So beautiful and pretty.

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You end up watching one waterfall then another dozen come around the corner on both sides. The scenery is unreal.

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It was then time for lunch at the ‘Bus Shelter’ where a bus actually has never gone past.

Next we crossed a serious of bridges. We could see a lot of landslides which thankfully were a bit off the track.

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We loved every bit of the track so far.

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We then ascended gradually towards our next hut: Mintaro Hut. What a view we had that night as well.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the day and it was easy to see why people spoke so highly of this walk even at this early stage of the trek.

We were warned that night at the DOC ranger meeting to watch out for Kea birds as they will destroy your boots, clothes and cameras. Very inquisitive birds and I was desperate to see one. They are the only mountainous parrots in the world. Everyone then took their boots inside.

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We couldn’t see any outside that night but hoped we would see some on the mountain the next day. We did however see a couple of Weka birds, also very inquisitive.

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We heard a lot of rock falls and avalanches around us. The DOC ranger advised us he didn’t think it should pose a risk but we should move quickly through a couple of sections before MacKinnon Pass where the helicopter had been used numerous times this season.

The ranger left us with incredible news before we went to bed that tomorrow’s weather would be even better and we should have a good day up at MacKinnon Pass.

That day Monday 12th November 2012 would be the most important day of the trek. We woke up bright and early and were over the moon with weather.

We loved the scenery as we continued ascending, stopping to admire the amazing views.

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We moved fast through some small sections of the track which posed an avalanche risk from above.

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It’s just so important for your own safety you continue as fast as possible through these sections.

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It was a continuous stiff climb as we came out of the bush.

Amazing vegetation and flowers at this altitude.

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We reached the top of the zig-zags after about an hour.

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We could see all the way back where we came from. The valley was stunning and the mountains on either side were very daunting.

Soon we reached the large memorial cairn which honours the discovery of this scenic place by Quintin MacKinnon.

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A big round stoney dome with a cross on the top, built by the Gaelic Society of NZ.

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It was so quiet on the pass for such a popular expedition, they really have managed the route well. We enjoyed this special place almost to ourselves.

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We were in awe of the beauty which surrounded us. It was stunning scenery at it’s best.

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Huge drops all around us and on either side were massive mountains, Mt. Hart (1782m) and Mt. Ballan (1853m).

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In the far distance were all the other majestic peaks. It was brilliant weather, we were so lucky!

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We were over the moon, not only had we reached one of the most significant stages on the greatest trek in the world, but we also had amazing weather.

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We then continued to the highest point of the track 1154m and got to MacKinnon Pass Shelter.

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This also has probably the most scenic toilet in the world!

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This incredible location looks all the way down the valley where we came from over the last couple of days, simply stunning.

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Wow!

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We then descended all the way to our next hut: Dumpling Hut. We went past many beautiful waterfalls and rapids.

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The water was so clear.

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As we continued we could see how much we’d descended as the views from the pass were becoming visible. This walk is just a dream.

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Dudley Falls was pretty, but even more spectacular was the biggest waterfall in New Zealand, the Sutherland Falls. Unfortunately the side track to the falls was closed due to a huge rock fall, but we admired it from the main track.

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When we got to the hut we were so happy with the weather and the heat we decided to cool off in the swimming hole.

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Why not I thought, this was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

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Bliss!

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We then sunbathed in our garden. It was just amazing.

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Great banter that night with all the walkers over a game of cards.

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That evening during the DOC ranger meeting we were warned again to watch out for the Kea Bird as they are about here.

I didn’t see any before we went to bed but I sure did in the morning!

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He wouldn’t stop following me!

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These mountain parrots have massive claws and love destroying things.

I could see it watching me as I got ready for my final day on the Milford Track, probably keeping its eye on something it wanted to steal.

We had amazing weather again and were rewarded with more stunning views.


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It was yet another amazing day. We crossed loads more beautiful swing bridges and followed the Arthur River, so beautiful.

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The water was so clear.

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We loved MacKay Falls, just stunning.

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We stopped at Bell Rock, water has eroded a space underneath big enough to stand in.

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Very cool.

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The views along the river were amazing.

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We then followed the gorgeous river again through stunning forest.

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We could see phenomenal views through breaks in the foliage.

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As we walked along the historic track which was cut out of the limestone by prisoners and then actual labourers, we spotted some very old graffiti dating back to 1898. Amazing stuff.

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We then got to Giant’s Gate falls beside a big swing bridge where we had lunch.

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Loved it here.

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We just didn’t want to leave.

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What a spot it was too.

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The water was so clear and we couldn’t have asked for better weather, we were so lucky. Walking along the track we were just blown away by the scenery around every corner. We found ourselves saying “wow!” every 2 minutes!

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All too soon we arrived at Sandfly Point, the end of the Milford track. The view across Milford Sound was out of this world. World class scenery!

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Got our photo at the famous sign-post.

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We absolutely loved it.

The fresh water river we had followed merges with the Tasman Sea here, and you can see massive mountains in the distance. We got loads of good photos, nearly as much as our trip to Everest Base Camp!

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It was then onto a small boat which took us back to civilisation at Milford. It was a stunning boat trip in itself as we could see into the Milford Sound.

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New Zealand truly is beautiful.

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It was then back to civilisation.

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Walking the Milford Track was an adventure of a lifetime, in a breathtaking wilderness far from civilisation. Was it the ‘Finest Walk in the World’ as a lot of people claim? Yes, it certainly was!

This is truly the “region of the perpendicular”.

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Located amidst unbelievable mountains and temperate rain forest- as filmed in Lord of the Rings – this is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world.

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When we got to Milford we took a cruise out the Milford Sound, something else we had to book many months in advance. Thank goodness the weather was amazing!

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This was the best cruise we have ever been on.

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To be surrounded by this beauty was something special.

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We were so lucky with the weather.

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We cruised the Sound right out to the Tasman Sea through massive mountains rising from the sea. Hundreds of waterfalls at either side.

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They start so high up it hurts your neck to look up.

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This was incredible and overwhelmingly beautiful.

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The towering cliffs and peaks were something else.

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We also enjoyed looking at the much photographed and iconic Mitre Peak that rises more than a kilometre straight out of the sea.

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Waterfalls cascade into the fiord and luxuriant rain forest clings to sheer rock faces in this exceptional place.

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As we got out to the Tasman Sea we realised just how close we were to the wild seas.

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The wildlife was great too with beautiful seals lounging around on the rocks.

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What a way to finish our trek!

Once it was over we caught the 5pm bus back to Te Anau which was a stunning 2 hour drive winding through amazing cliff drops and jaw-dropping scenery. This place has it all.

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We also saw the gigantic landslide that closed the road a few weeks ago for nearly a week.

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This being the only road in and out of Milford caused a lot of problems for the unlucky tourists. We caught the last bus out of the town at 5pm, and thank goodness as they were closing the road at 6pm in fear of another landslide.

I write this still in disbelief… That evening there was a further landslide that closed off the road for 3 days. This resulted in people being stranded up in Milford, some without accommodation, money or food. If we had booked the Milford a day later, or decided to stay the night at the Milford as many do, we would not have got back to Te Anau and would have been stuck up there for 3 days. This sadly would have meant we would also have to cancel our next Great Walk : The Routeburn.

We were very happy to have made it back to the campervan that night!

The next couple of days involved rest and relaxation, still amazed by the trek and how lucky we were to escape from Milford in the nick of time.

During our relaxation days we went to the small Fiordland cinema to see a sensational film called ‘Shadowland’ which we highly regard. I believe you can see it on YouTube, it’s only 30 minutes long but it takes you on a helicopter trip over many of the places we have been in the surrounding national parks. It was amazing, a must watch if you like world-class scenery.

Also got our photo by the statue of great man himself Quintin MacKinnon

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Legend.

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On Friday 16th November 2012 the alarms went off at 7am, quite early for us.

We were still a bit sore, but that was to be expected after completing two ‘great walks’ in such quick succession. We went down to the DOC to pick up our tickets for the huts. Sadly the Milford Road had still not been opened and there was a queue out the door with people stuck here wanting to go up. It was sad to see this, especially after people had booked it months in advance. It was clear people were just distraught. This could easily have been us.

However we happily collected our refund of $180 for the helicopter rescue we did not require.

So we did our final check before setting off on The Routeburn, we quadruple checked that the chocolate was there this time, and off we went on the bus for 1hr 15min to a place called The Divide from Te Anau.

We had heard great things about the Routeburn trek and it is now showing up on many people’s lists as a superior experience. While it is difficult to obtain permits for the Milford Trek, it is somewhat easier to schedule a hike along the Routeburn.

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The question is often asked “which trek is the best in Fiordland?” It was time to find out!

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It was an initial ascent all the way to Key Summit. We went on a very interesting nature walk from Key Summit and were rewarded with spectacular views of all the peaks and lake Marian in the distance.

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Very pretty, amazing how much we had ascended and we had only been going for just over an hour.

We then descended a little bit to Lake Howden, a beautiful lake where we had lunch. Completely different scenery from anything else we had been on, we really liked it so far.

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We then ascended through bush and forest and witnessed a few land slides.

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We came out of the tree line and seen the very impressive Earland Falls (174m high). Took loads of good photos but got a bit wet as we came very close to it.

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If you are planning this walk just now, please bring a waterproof cover for you digital equipment as it is inevitable you will get wet due to the track being so close.

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The path turned a few times giving very different views.

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We then continued ascending, had impressive views of loads of summits. Then came to a place called ‘The Orchard’ an open grassy area dotted with ribbon wood trees. It was then a descent all the way to the very picturesque Lake MacKenzie where our hut was positioned. We got in just as the rain was coming on.

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It was an amazing place to stay the night at, so beautiful.

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After a good night’s sleep we had to say goodbye to Lake MacKenzie. But from speaking to some of the trekkers going the opposite way, we would see another more beautiful lake that day. We found that difficult to believe.

We continued ascending all the way to the Harris Saddle where we had lovely views of the Darren Mountains and seen an impressive array of alpine plants. Along the way were more impressive waterfalls.

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The view back down at Lake Mackenzie was amazing, although it was cloudy.

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We were soon ascending through the clouds and there was some snow.

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We arrived at the hut at Harris Saddle, the highest point of the trek at 1255m, where we were welcomed by seven inquisitive Kea birds.

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They followed us around which was pretty cool.

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We then stopped for quite a while at Lake Harris, it was one of the most beautiful places we have seen. Fantastic scenery and the lake was stunning. We couldn’t believe the blue sky that appeared after walking through cloud on the ascent.

The water was so clear you could see your reflection, and that of the snowy mountains all around.

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We were hypnotised by the scenery all around us and could see for miles.

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It was so difficult to leave at this point.

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The previous trampers were right, this lake was particularly special.

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It might actually be the most beautiful lake we have ever seen.

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We then descended through the valleys, wetlands and tussock covered flats. Continued descending further into the bush and seen some more beautiful waterfalls.

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The terrain changed quickly the more we descended amidst the rugged sub-alpine landscape.

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We got to our hut after about 5 hours: the Routeburn Falls Hut. We had a lovely time here with jaw dropping views of the valley on one side and the beautiful Routeburn Falls on the other side.

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We got chatting to three New Zealanders who had been to the Isle of Lewis, it was great chatting to them and comparing the similar scenery we have in Scotland.

On Sunday 18th November 2012 we woke up to more beautiful skies. We were in no rush that day as it was only a 4 hour trek and the bus didn’t leave from the end until 2pm. So we just took our time admiring the scenery and this special part of the world we were in.

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We descended for most of the morning, some parts of the track were pretty rocky and not the best terrain for tired legs.

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But the stunning scenery made up for it.

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We seen a massive land slip that occurred a few years ago and were advised by signs to move quickly as it was still dangerous.

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Crossed over some cool swing bridges sometimes only allowing 3 people on them at a time.

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The views at the Routeburn Flats hut lower down which we would not be staying at were also impressive.

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All the giant snowy peaks were visible around us.

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We then followed the Routeburn Gorge which was stunning.

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The river was crystal clear and we took loads of nice photos.

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We had lunch here watching people canyoning, very entertaining. Who wouldn’t want to be in that clear and clean water?

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We soon came out of the forest and went on a nature trail which was very educating.

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The ‘ribbon trees’ were pretty cool.

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We arrived at the Routeburn Shelter at 1:30pm and waited for the bus which would take us back to Te Anau, via Glenorchy and Queenstown. This is a photo of us at the end looking back at the valleys and mountains we came from.

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The Routeburn was incredible, completely different from the other walks. The views were equally spectacular and it’s so hard to say in what order I preferred them. What I would say is that the Milford Trek might just edge it if I had to choose a favourite one.

On the way home, we got chatting with the bus driver. There were only 4 of us on the bus including Cheryl and I. We found out that she is also the guide for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ tours.

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So she kindly gave us a free tour around the place and stopped at a few amazing places from the film. The scenery on the way back was stunning enough, she just made it even more interesting.

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Glenorchy itself was stunning, set in achingly beautiful surroundings. Glenorchy lies at the head of Lake Wakatipu and we loved the scenic 40-minute (68km) drive back to Queenstown.

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In the distance is the mountains where Frodo falls to his knees when he realises Gandalf has died.

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Also in this photo is where the ‘lighting of the beacons’ occurs in Lord of the Rings.

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Soon we were back in picturesque Queenstown and boarded another bus to Te Anau which took about 2 hours. Thankfully we had time for a rewarding pint of Monteiths.

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In less than 24hrs we would come back to explore Queenstown properly and I would make a decision on whether or not I should jump off a bridge with an elastic band around my ankles. Oh and if you think that’s scary, Cheryl is contemplating doing the biggest Swing in the world- the Nevis Swing- at 160 metres above the canyon floor traveling at a whopping 120kph!!!

To be continued…

Thanks for reading

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

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New Zealand Part IV: Dunedin, Otago Peninsula, Southland and Te Anau.

1On Sunday 28th October 2012, as we were flying over at 37000 feet, we realised that the South Island was going to be completely different to the North Island.

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We could see Mt. Cook (3755m) and its neighbouring peaks covered in snow, with massive glaciers in between.

It was a beautiful day. We could see the Tasman sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. The land looked rugged, but we could also see stunning beaches and incredibly clear turquoise lakes scattered about.

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We started descending towards Queenstown surrounded by the soaring indigo heights of the Remarkables, crowned by Coronet Peak, and framed by the meandering coves of Lake Wakatipu. It’s of little wonder that Queenstown is a show-off.

The 1hr 20 min flight from Auckland was one of the most scenic flights I have ever been on. To say we were blown away by the scenery would be an under statement.

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We picked up our new wheels, got a free upgrade without asking. Very happy.

We took a short drive into Queenstown which was spectacular with all the mountains around us. The lake was equally stunning, so clean, clear and turquoise.

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Queenstown looks like a small town but displays the energy of a small city.

We were hungry and where else can you satisfy your hunger so easily in Queenstown than the legendary Fergburger.

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Queenstown’s iconic Fergburger has now become a tourist attraction in itself, forcing a few locals to look elsewhere for their regular gourmet burger fix. It’s so popular there is always a queue outside, seriously.

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We had a double cheeseburger each and it was mammoth. I have never seen a burger so big.

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This place is famous for its quality NZ beef and has won numerous awards for the best burgers on the planet.

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We were lucky to get seats with the queue. Hands down though it was the best burger we have ever had! The accompanying pint of Summit Heights was nice too.

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We enjoyed a quick stroll down Shotover Street to ease the digestion, then walked along Beach Steet. We had fallen in love with Queenstown already.

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Queenstown is surrounded by mountains, soaring into the sky. We immersed ourselves with a beautiful sunset in one of NZ’s most beautiful views with a few celebratory drinks.

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Could this be the best town in the world?

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We left Queenstown the following day as we would be returning in a couple of weeks to indulge in this gorgeous town properly.

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Sunset was pretty special.

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We had booked four of the Great Walks in the South Island: Kepler, Milford, Routeburn and the Abel Tasman. Due to its popularity you usually need to book the Milford Track six months in advance.

So we planned to explore the South-East from Dunedin to Te Anau by Friday 2nd November 2012. We would use Te Anau as a base for the first three Great Walks before returning to Queenstown.

It was yet another beautiful Spring day, not a cloud in the sky. We moved East initially to the lovely town of Dunedin.

On the way we stopped at one of AJ Hackett’s bungees. The name AJ Hackett is synonymous with bungy jumping as he is the original.

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This exact bridge is where the first ever commercial bungy took place in the world.

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We watched in awe as brave men and women took the plunge off the bridge.

A strange thought came into my mind that I could do it. I quickly gave myself a slap, or Cheryl did, and I snapped out of the crazy idea!

A question that would annoy my conscience for the next week: “Should I jump, or shouldn’t I?”

We drove away from the crazy thrill seekers, but I had a sneaky suspicion I might be back.

The drive through the valleys was amazing.

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We stopped at a Goldfield just before Cromwell.

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We loved learning of the old gold rush era.

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We followed the road by a stunning river for a couple of hours through amazing scenery.

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Soon we got to Bannockburn.

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Such a Scottish influence here. We stopped at a beautiful vineyard called Carrick Wines.

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This is a very famous area for wine, especially for Pinot Noir.

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Home to some of the world’s finest wines.

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On the banks of the emerald-green Clutha River, the little village of Clyde was next.

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It had loads of lovely buildings and was a great place to chill out.

We drove south from Alexandra winding along rugged, rock-strewn hills. The weather was just fantastic.

It was then onto Roxburgh which had beautiful orchards. We stopped on Scotland Street and bought a very tasty pie at the iconic Jimmy’s Pies.

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I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, New Zealand and Australia are amazing at making pies!

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We drove through stunning countryside with loads of orchards, winding valleys, emerald lakes and snowy high-peaked mountains.

We decided to stay on the Otago Peninsula as it was good timing for all the penguins coming home for their well deserved sleep.

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There is a wide diversity of wildlife on this peninsula which interested us.

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Albatross, penguins, fur seals and sea lions were just some of the highlights.

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We went to a beach called Sandfly Bay which was empty.

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We had an amazing time taking in the beauty of the sand dunes and cliffs.

Soon we spotted sea lions and then fur seals.

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They were having the time of their lives, as we were too.

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It was amazing how comfortable the seals were in our presence.

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As the sun came down we knew who would be coming out of the water soon.

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Some of them obviously had a long day.

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We wanted to see the penguins,  especially the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguins.

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We had seen loads of wild penguins in Australia so we knew what conditions they required to come ashore.

The conditions were perfect: nearly sunset so little predators and no annoying humans with big cameras and flashes to scare them.

We waited patiently and it was Cheryl who spotted the first one.

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She is very good at spotting animals in the wild before anyone else on every excursion we go on, very impressive!

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It was so cute as it came out of the water.

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Then a few more came ashore and climbed the tall sand dunes to find their burrows.

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They are so cute as they run along the beach.

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We were delighted with what we seen.

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It was then bedtime for us too.

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On Tuesday 30th October 2012 we went to see the Royal Albatross at the peninsula’s eastern tip.

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Here is the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony. The drive to it was beautiful.

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The breeding area is closed off and you need to enter the Centre at $40 per person. Even on entry you are not guaranteed to see an albatross.

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We took a peek around the corner as far as we could see but didn’t spot any.

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So picture the moment: Cheryl and I scratching our heads wondering if a bird is worth $80 to watch…

Then… half a dozen albatross started flying overhead in circles. We couldn’t believe it 🙂

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Huge birds.

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So off we went exploring the little bays, beaches and beautiful hills that made this peninsula amazing.

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It was then on to Dunedin, which is Scots Gaelic for Edinburgh, and its also a hybrid of ‘Dun’dee and ‘Edin’burgh to make the city where the city founders were from.

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Dunedin was a firm favourite for one of our best towns in NZ. We loved the compact town centre, how it blends the historic and the contemporary- reflected in its alluring museums and tempting bars, cafes and restaurants.

This is also where the country’s oldest university is. It’s architecture is brilliant with Victorian buildings which punctuate the town centre.

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There is a massive Scottish influence all throughout New Zealand, but none more so than in Dunedin.

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The first permanent settlers were from Scotland in 1848, and included the nephew of the patron saint of Scottish poetry, Robbie Burns.

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That the city’s founders were Scottish is a source of fierce pride today. A statue of Robbie still frowns down upon the city centre.

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We loved how all the streets are Scottish as well: Leith St, Glasgow St, Clyde St, Edinburgh St etc.

The nephew of Robbie Burns was a minister and founder of the Presbyterian Church.

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Dunedin has a lot of breweries. We loved Emersons, especially the Pilsner.

The Pilsner is the quintessential Dunedin brew. Its a twist on the classic German Pilsner, and features that distinctive NZ ‘sauvignon blanc’ hop flavour.

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Started off with some tasty Mac beers at Art and Craft. Very tasty and refreshing.

Went to Albar next, a fantastic Scottish pub.

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Loved all the different Emersons.

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Fell in love with their cheese-board which, was a good excuse for a second.

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Interesting selection of other food available as well.

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Then onto Mou Very, one of the world’s smallest bars – it’s only 1.8m wide!

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There are just six bar stools so Mou Very’s boho regulars spill out into an adjacent laneway.

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It was super cool!

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Just enough room for the two of us and our pints 🙂

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Then it was across the road to The Robbie Burns. Loads of cool Scottish history on the walls, the beers were just as compelling.

Finally went to Brew on Stuart Street to try another different type of Mac beer.

It was really cool trying out all the different types of micro-breweries.

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Dunedin was amazing!

The next morning fresh as a daisy we headed to Invercargill. But before we left we took a stroll down the beach at St. Clair, it was gorgeous.

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The beach was deserted.

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It was a beautiful drive along the coast also. We entered an area called The Catlins where we were enchanted by lush farmland, native forest, rugged bays and amazing wildlife.

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We stopped at Kaka Point, a white sandy unspoiled beach.

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We passed too many beautiful deserted beaches to name here before we got to Nugget Point.

I went out on some of the rocks at the beach to collect some fresh mussels for lunch, as you do.

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Could have had a big juicy crab if it hadn’t nearly bitten off my finger!

I found the biggest mussel I have ever seen, it was enormous.

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We drove up to the lighthouse at the end.

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The drops on either side side were breathtaking.

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The view of wave-thrashed vertical rock formations from the end was great too.

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We saw fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals. Spot the cute little cubs below:

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Amazing wildlife.

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Really rugged.

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It was then time to face possibly the biggest mussel the human race has ever seen.

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They were very tasty but not quite as good as the mussels on the Island of Lewis, Scotland 😉

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The giant mussel did taste nice though, albeit so big it could have made a main course!

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We stopped at Curio Bay where fossilised Jurassic age trees are visible. Very interesting.

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Then off to Florence Hill Lookout which had spectacular views of the arc at Tautuku Bay.

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On Thursday 1st November we explored Invercargill, found by a Scotsman.

All the streets are named after rivers in Scotland.

We then drove to Bluff, Invercargill’s port. The main reasons to come here are to catch the ferry to Stewart Island, pose for photos beside the Stirling Point signpost or buy famous Bluff oysters.

We didn’t really fancy the trip to Stewart Island so we posed for photos at the signpost of the southernmost point of the South Island.

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We had read that the oysters were famous here. I for one wanted to see what the fuss was all about as being from the Outer Hebrides I’ve been spoiled with fresh sea food.

We looked for them everywhere but there was nothing to be seen, nowhere was open. It looked quite sad, it was almost like a ghost town.

It was then off to the Fiordlands which we were very exited about.

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We drove to Manapouri which was also a lovely drive. Had a nice view at McCracken’s Rest where we enjoyed the beautiful sweep of Te Waewae Bay where you can spot dolphins and whales.

On Friday 2nd November we drove the short trip to Te Anau, a town we have been researching hard for the least couple of months. This would be our base for the next 2 weeks. We woke up to this view every morning that we were not on a ‘great walk’.

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This place was absolutely stunning. This is scenery that travelers dream of but cameras fail to capture.

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Fiordland National Park has jagged misty peaks, glistening lakes and a remote and pristine stillness. In this beautiful isolation is the world famous Milford Track, one of the various trails that meander through dense forest and past spectacular mountains and glacier-sculpted canyons.

The Milford track was the second of the three Great Walks we had booked. First was the Kepler- a 4 day trek taking in lakes, rivers, gorges, steep and breathtaking ridges, beech forest and glacier-carved valleys.

And thirdly the Routeburn- a 3 day trek taking in beech-forested valleys alongside clear green rivers, glistening alpine lakes and breathtaking views from a mountain pass.

We also planned on cruising the Milford Sound after completing the Milford Trek.

People are drawn from all over the world by the spectacular sights of  the Milford Sound because of the waterfalls cascading from sheer rock faces rising 1,200 metres or more from the sea, lush rain forests clinging precariously to the cliffs, and the seals, penguins and dolphins that frequent the waters.

You get to sail alongside the iconic Mitre Peak that rises more than a kilometre straight out of the sea.

We were excited that we would be lucky enough to enjoy the Milford Track, the alleged ‘finest walk in the world’. We would soon find out.

It’s a tough task to do three Great Walks with two days rest in between them. We just hoped everything would go as planned.

To be continued…

Thanks for reading.

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

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New Zealand Part III : Waitomo Caves, Lake Taupo, Tongariro and Auckland

On Sunday 21st October 2012 we left Tongariro the background with loads of volcanic steam coming from its crater.

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It’s not just the cone that is dangerous, most volcanoes have different bits erupting all over the place.

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We hoped it would be safe to go up when we returned.

As we headed North we were soon met again with terrible driving and ridiculous overtaking maneuvers on the road.

I have mentioned before on Twitter and on the blog that drivers in the North Island of New Zealand are awful. Even going round corners is a challenge as oncoming drivers decide to edge across the middle of the road as you are going towards them. Something else that is laughable is that a lot of people in New Zealand are incapable of overtaking if you don’t move far enough off the road to let them go past.

The next stop was the Waitomo Caves. Even if damp, dark tunnels sound like your idea of hell, take a chill pill as this place is amazing!

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The limestone caves and glowing bugs are one of the premier highlights of the North Island.

They were however quite expensive, I still can’t believe how much I paid to see some worms!

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We got a guided tour of the Glowworm Cave. It had impressive stalactites and stalagmites in a large cavern known as the Cathedral.

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The acoustics are so good that Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the Vienna Boys Choir have given concerts here.

We descended far into the cave wondering how deep we would go. Each corner led to more and more spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. All were in fantastic condition. It made us wonder how incredible it must have been to stumble upon this cave as an explorer.

But the best was yet to come. The highlight comes at the tour’s end when you board a boat many feet below the surface now on a river.

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It is complete darkness and you can’t hear a single thing in this almost secret river cave.

As our eyes grew accustomed to the dark we were simply amazed at the display the Glowworms put on.

We could see a Milky Way of little lights surrounding us, these were the incredible glowworms.

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The conditions for these amazing creatures to grow here are prefect so we saw a remarkable number of them.

It was spectacular watching the light show they put on for us. The reason they glow as they do is to attract insects and catch them in their sticky trap.

That night we stayed at Otorohanga, one of several nondescript North Island towns to adopt a gimmick. In this town the main street is festooned with images of cherished  Kiwiana icons: sheep, gumboots, jandals, No 8 write, All Blacks, Pavlova…

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But gimmicks aside, the Kiwi House is well worth a visit. To see a Kiwi Bird in the wild is exceptionally rare.

Most New Zealanders have never seen one in the wild and it’s of no wonder. First of all they are nocturnal. Secondly they sleep for 20hrs a day. Thirdly they are pretty fast when they want to be during their 4 hours of movement. Fourthly they are completely non-approachable. If they see you they will run a mile, any noise will scare them and they do not like being disturbed.

We decided to visit the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. The bird barn has a nocturnal enclosure where we could see active kiwi energetically digging with their long beaks, searching for food.

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We had a great time watching the kiwi birds. They can’t fly and have terrible eyes so they are easy prey which is a big concern due to reducing numbers.

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This is the national bird of New Zealand. We got to see the Great Spotted Kiwi, the biggest of the three kiwi birds. This is the only place you can see the Great Spotted Kiwi as well.

We continued towards Hamilton and if the colour green had a homeland, this would be it. Here, verdant fields and rolling hills line New Zealand’s mightiest river.

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We stayed a while in Hamilton exploring the area. Landlocked cities in an island nation will never have the glamorous appeal of their coastal cousins.

Rotorua compensates with boiling mud and Taupo has its lake, but Hamilton despite its river is left clutching straws.

However, something strange has happened in Hamilton recently. It’s now got a fantastic main street which we recommend with sophisticated and vibrant bars and eateries. On the weekend Hood and Victoria Streets leave Auckland Viaduct Harbour for dead in the boozy fun stakes.

Then it was onto Cambridge a small town almost like an English country village.

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The name basically says it all with village greens, avenues of deciduous trees, faux-Tudor houses… Even the public toilet looks like a Victorian cottage.

This village is very famous for breeding and  training thoroughbred horses, you can almost smell the wealth along the main street. Equine references are rife in public sculpture, and plaques boast of Melbourne Cup Winners.

It was then onto the East side of Lake Taupo where we stopped for the night.

We stayed right beside a beautiful waterfall called Huka Falls.

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These falls mark the spot where NZ’s longest river, the Waikato, is slammed into a narrow chasm making a dramatic drop into a surging pool.

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It was spectacular, especially as we crossed the footbridge we could see the full force of this torrent that the Maori called Hukanui (Great Body of Spray).

The water was crystal clear and we got loads of great photos.

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In terms of the weather we were very pleased with the intensity of the heat, and headed to the information centre the next morning for an update on Tongariro aka Mordor. It certainly looked better than the last time we saw it.

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However the news was mixed. They still strongly advised against it and we had to hold back. A recent climber only got so far as the ice that’d formed over the past few weeks was still bullet proof.

The volcanic activity was degraded one notch to a category 1 volcano. It was still active, but had not erupted in excess of 4 weeks.

The weather for the next couple of days looked good with more sun, so we hoped this would soften and melt the ice.

So we just hoped that come Friday everything will fall into the right place for us and we would get the thumbs up. We just couldn’t leave it any later as we flew out early on Sunday morning from Auckland. This also meant we would have a very long drive ahead of us the day after the climb.

Whilst waiting we did a lot of relaxing and exploring around Lake Taupo.

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New Zealand’s largest lake sits in the caldera of a volcano that began erupting 300,000 years ago.

We loved the town of Taupo with a postcard-perfect setting on the north-eastern shores of the lake.

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We had a lovely time at the Honey Hive. We have enjoyed loads of Manuka honey in NZ as it is much cheaper here compared to the UK.

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It’s so interesting how doctors and scientists have found it so beneficial to humans. It’s just a shame how ridiculously expensive it is.

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They had a glass-enclosed viewing hive where we learned the wonders of the Queen Bee and the loyalty of the worker Bees provide for her until their death. It takes 1000 bees to produce just 1 teaspoon of honey!

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The abundance of honey tasting they had was also impressive. They sold all manner of bee products – edible, medicinal and cosmetic.

There was a particularly lovely Scottish honey whiskey. Another item we hope we can get back home.

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We then headed right down to the lake where the water is famously chilly, but in several places such as Hot Water Beach it’s thermally active.

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There are thermal springs just below the surface which created a lovely heat.

It was then off to Acacia Bay a particularly pleasant spot.

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Even better and quieter was Whakaipo Bay. So beautiful.

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The next place was even more amazing. We loved the Spa Park Hot Springs.

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The hot thermal waters of the Otumuheke Steam meet the bracing Waikato River creating a free natural spa bath.

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It was lovely and warm with loads of places you could just hop in if you liked.

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A hidden gem.

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We then retreated to the campervan to enjoy the most excellent NZ Chocolate, Whittakers, we tried the one with Kiwi Fruit.

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Can’t forget the excellent New Zealand beers as well, this time Steinlager.

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On Wednesday 24th October 2012 we woke up to some of the best weather we’d had in NZ.

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Not a cloud in the sky and the sun was very hot. We had fantastic views over the lake spotting the active volcanoes.

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We decided to set off for Tongariro again and see the volcanoes up close for ourselves. It was early when we set off in the hope we could at least go for a walk in the national park.

As we continued towards the area the whole mountain region was visible. It was stunning!

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The drive was breathtaking as we went the whole way to Whakapapa Village. Watching the volcanoes getting closer and closer was unreal. It was also obvious that they were active.

A few weeks ago they’d destroyed a DOC hut, sent boulders the size of cars flying all around the area, miraculously not killing anyone.

We loved the beautiful hotel in Whakapapa Village, known as the Grand Chateau.

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We were officially in the Tongariro National Park. Established in 1887, Tongariro was NZ’s first, and the world’s fourth national park, and is one of NZ’s three World Heritage Sites.

Its three towering active volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro – rise from a scrub covered alpine plateau, making this one of the nation’s most spectacular locations.

This is also a popular skiing area where you can ski down the active volcano Ruapehu, 2797m!

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We were desperate to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but it’s so difficult to have all the natural elements on your side on the day.

They say the Milford Track is ‘the world’s finest walk’ (which we had to book 4 months in advance due to its popularity) but the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is fast becoming New Zealand’s most popular tramp of any length.

Because most of Tongariro is mountainous, it has its own unpredictable weather patterns. Not only do you need to worry about the weather but the volcanoes are continually erupting.

The first stop was the Department of Conservation (DOC) for an update on the conditions. We got encouraging news, all their reports indicated that Friday might have the go ahead for the first crossing this season!

As a warm up we decided to do the Tama Lakes Track, another very popular track.

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It was breathtaking, edging ever closer to the volcano.

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There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the conditions were prefect. It turned out to be one of the best walks we have ever done.

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Starting at Whakapapa Village, this 17 km track leads up to the Tama Lakes on the Tama Saddle between two active volcanoes: Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.

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It took just under 6 hours and the views were fabulous.

When we left the beech forest after about an hour we could see all the surrounding peaks.

We passed the Taranaki Falls where people were abseiling.

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We edged closer and closer to the volcanoes. Ngauruhoe’s prefect cone was on one side and Ruapehu’s snow-capped summit was on the other side.

We were so high up and so lucky with the weather that we could see Mt. Taranaki in the distance.

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The track then gently rose to the Tama Saddle, between the two volcanoes, and we soon viewed the first of the gorgeous emerald coloured lakes.

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We were in awe of the scenery.

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It was then another 45 min along an exposed ridge to the upper lake which was amazing.

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The colour was stunning.

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We were blown away by the panoramic view we got.

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Enjoying the views of the two gigantic volcanoes on either side of us, with the beautiful emerald lakes below made this one of our favourite walks ever!

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We had lunch up there it was so peaceful and calm.

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We didn’t want to leave.

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Sadly it was time to continue and we knew we were so lucky with the day we’d had. Not a cloud, breeze or eruption in sight.

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We enjoyed a couple of beers at the local with the volcano in the distance.

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Then a few more to celebrate obviously. 🙂

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Without a shadow of a doubt, if the Tongariro trek on Friday was called off we would still be happy as it would take a lot to beat that Tama Lakes walk.

On Thursday 25th October 2012 we did very little. It was another hot day and we prayed the ice would melt.

I called a guide who works with the DOC and he was 90% confident we would get the go ahead for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next day.

He was up himself that day and was confident the conditions underfoot were much better. He was equally impressed with our patience 🙂 There are numerous dangerous parts to the track. One of  them is you need to walk along two frozen lakes but he said they looked safe.

The volcano hadn’t erupted in the last 24hrs and it was to be sunny the next day. The last thing he was waiting for was the wind report and final approval from the DOC which would be called at midday that day.

Things were looking good. We just conserved our energy.

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Then at midday we got the go ahead! We would be the first group of the 2012 season to attempt the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We were over the moon. Extremely excited!

On the morning of Friday 26th October 2012 the alarm on my Suunto watch woke us up at 6am!

We were hit with the familiar sulphurous smells from the active volcanoes around us. The only difference that morning was that we would go and stand on top of one of its craters, closer than we had ever been before.

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More importantly the weather was excellent and all our hard work researching, and of course our patience, would hopefully pay off.

There were 20 of us who were the first of the season to set out for Tongariro without a guide.

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Since we were the first of the season the shuttle company did not set a finishing time for the trek, and hence their pick up time was flexible.

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The track isn’t a loop so therefore you need to use the local shuttle bus company to drop you off at one end of the track and then pick you up from the other end to take you back to Whakapapa Village.

We were the guinea pigs to see how long it would take in the current snowy alpine conditions. We were advised it could take anywhere between 7-10 hours. Thankfully the bus driver was going to drive all the way to and from the end of the track every hour after the 7th hour to pick people up.

It was a sensational 45 minute drive to the start of the track. The driver made sure everyone was well equipped with appropriate clothing, plenty of water etc.

The safety briefing was respected and we were all aware of the risks and what to do.

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So off we went…

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The long journey begins with an easy tramp up Mangatepopo valley and over a succession of old lava flows.

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The walk through the valley is breathtaking. You can see hundreds of huge boulders that have been blown out of the volcanoes. At the back of our minds was the possibility of it erupting right now!

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We quickly began the climb to the saddle between Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

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The ascent among the lava rocks is steep, and we marveled at the amazing volcanic scenery.

We passed a few danger signs.

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We could see steam escaping from every orephus, it was surreal.

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The sky was so clear we could see Mt. Taranaki again in the far distance.

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We then had to negotiate ‘South Crater’ which was covered with a sheet of ice, and cross as safely and as quickly as we could.

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This was an eerie place, at times almost like a huge walled amphitheater. We were amazed as we looked at the slopes of Ngauruhoe to the right and the Tongariro summit to the left.

We crossed the crater safely always carefully placing our feet before applying pressure, or as in our case I was led out first to check the ice was strong enough to hold us.

Before long we started climbing the ridge that separates the two craters, sidling around some huge rocks.

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We could see the steam escaping as we climbed carefully.

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Looking back down the route we’d just come from.

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It started to get very cold due to the altitude and  exposed areas. After a tough couple of hours of steep ascent we got to the steaming ‘Red Crater’, with a name that comes from the colour of its sides.

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This is the highest point on the track (1886m).

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The weather was still very good and we knew we were exceptionally lucky. The view was just breathtaking.

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We were surprised to find we started to heat up at the top. But then we remembered we were standing on a very active volcano and the hot steam was rising from beneath us!

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You need to be fully aware of your surroundings. Cheryl melted a bit of her boots as hot steam escaped from under a rock we were standing on!

I would not like to fall into this crater, it looked very angry. If you stand too close to the ridge looking down the heat is just too much and you need to back away quickly.

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We loved being up there, a moment we will never forget.

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But we were only half way.

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The next stage was to descend along the side of the crater. The terrain was dreadfully loose here and pretty dangerous.

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With massive drops at either side of the crater ridge we had to to descend slowly and carefully.

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The track began as loose scree but soon became a hard packed surface with loose stones that acted like marbles.

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We could see the beautiful Emerald Lakes. These three old explosion pits feature brilliant colouring, thanks to minerals washing down from Red Crater.

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Two of the craters were still thawing out when we were there.

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This was a perfect spot for lunch. We loved admiring the lakes and realising how lucky we were.

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It was then time to cross another frozen lake.

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Then move quickly through 5km of very dangerous volcanic and avalanche activity.

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This we did as fast as possible hoping lava or a huge boulder didn’t fly out from the volcano.

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It was clear which parts of the track were hot because of the snow melt from the volcano.

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It was stunning looking behind us as we continued.

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We knew this particular area was more dangerous due to the destruction of the volcano a couple of months ago.

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Huge boulders the size of cars were still on the track. One boulder landed on a DOC Camping hut. The fact no one was in the hut or hurt on the track is nothing short of a miracle.

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We had to go through some deep snow at times.

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It was an incredible experience.

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The damaged Ketetahi Hut at 1450 m has spectacular views from the front door.

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We had to walk quickly through active volcanic areas.

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Pretty tough going when you volunteer to be the pack-horse.

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We got so close to some exceptionally dangerous parts of this world.

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When the sign tells you to keep going, you should do so for your own safety!

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A giant rock thrown from the volcano caused this hole on the track.

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The last part of the track was also damaged by the volcano a couple of weeks before. The eruption created a natural dam of rocks to a large body of water which had formed, then this fell away in a huge landslide and created a new river!

So where the track used to be is now a massive river.

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It was then a gradual descent through lush podocarp forest.

We were very relieved to be safely down together in one piece.

Incredibly we were one of the first to complete the track, and were over the moon we were the first group to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing of the 2012/13 season.

We went to bed very sore, it was a tough day and we managed to complete the 19.4km crossing in just less than 7 hours.

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That evening they cancelled any further crossings for the near future due to strong winds and adverse weather conditions. This point proved to us how lucky we were with that day.

Unfortunately you can wait weeks for perfect conditions in the mountains. It’s not so bad if you have loads of time, but we were due to fly out in 36 hours so we were even luckier.

As I write this blog (about a month onwards) Tongariro decided to blow its top again a few days ago! We can’t believe it!

It blew ash and rock a whopping 2km into the sky causing major problems. Miraculously no one was hurt. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is still very much closed today and is absolutely the greatest one day walk we have ever done. We were so lucky to have had that window of opportunity.

On Saturday 27th October 2012 we woke up to a few aches and pains, crawled out of bed and somehow managed to get ready for a whopping 350 km drive all the way to Auckland.

The drive out of Tongariro National Park with the volcano in the rear view mirror was something else!

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Tongariro, you were amazing!

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Thankfully the weather was lovely and Cheryl insisted on a coffee and chocolate break every 30 min 🙂

It took us just less than 5 hours to get to Auckland, a city we wanted to explore before we flew out the next day.

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Well we loved Auckland and can easily see why it is rated as third in offering the best quality of life in any major city on this planet.

We drove across Auckland Harbour Bridge, which is beautiful.

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Had fantastic views straight from the bridge.

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Auckland is a city of volcanoes, with the ridges of lava flows forming its main thoroughfares and its many cones providing islands of green within the sea of suburbs.

Auckland is incredibly built on 50 volcanoes and, no, they’re not all extinct. No one can predict when the next eruption will occur.

Auckland’s quite literally a hot spot – with a reservoir of magma 100km below, waiting to bubble to the surface.

Thankfully this has only happened 19 times in the last 20,000 years.

So with those odds in mind off we went to the top of Auckland’s highest volcanic cone (196m) and its symmetrical crater is 50m deep.

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We had an amazing 360° view of Auckland from the top of this cone.

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Auckland looked very pretty from above from all angles.

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So it was time to go into the city to explore a bit further. We stayed at the very posh Ruemera suburb and started our ramble from the top of Queen Street.

We walked down the street all the way to the harbour. We found it very nice and clean.

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We seen the Town Hall and Aotea Sq. the civic heart of the city.

On the next corner was the wonderful Civic Theatre. We then headed down to the Chancery precinct, an upmarket area of designer stores and cafes.

We strolled down Vulcan Lane, lined with historic pubs, and had a lovely pint of Monteiths in Auckland’s oldest pub.

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It was then onto the harbour past Britomart Train Station, a beautiful Victorian building.

We walked past beautiful wharfs; Queens Wharf, Princess Wharf, Hobson Wharf and Wynyard Wharf. Numerous amounts of luxurious yachts and boats.

Then it was onto Quay St and Viaduct Harbour, bustling with bars and cafes.

It was stunning and gave us the chance to gawk at millionaire yachts.

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The promenade across Wynyard Quarter and its bridge is  stunning.

Before we retired for the night it was back to the oldest bar in Auckland to try the recently voted “best fish and chips in Auckland”.

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It was stunningly good. So fresh and tasty, the batter was also made using Monteiths Beer. Amazing!

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Auckland was brilliant!

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On Sunday 28th October 2012 we dropped off the campervan and boarded a flight to the South Island where we will spend about two months.

We adored the North Island. The scenery, wildlife and weather was world class.

Incredibly everyone says the South Island is a hundred times better with bigger mountains, more beautiful unspoiled beaches, greener fields, spectacular wildlife and the best trek and cruise in the world at the Milford… to name just a few things.

It’s time to find out.

To be continued…

Thanks for reading,

Norman and Cheryl

xxx

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New Zealand Part II: Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Wanganui and Taranaki.

After a lovely sleep only 49 km away from Whakani (White Island) New Zealand’s most active volcano we headed to the East of the North Island.

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What an epic drive it was, for all 120km of it. We said goodbye to the North East and headed to Gisborne further down the coast.

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We followed numerous rivers and fell in love with the scenery.

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So many high hills, lakes, rivers and gorgeous green grass. Loads of horses, sheep, cows and deer also.

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It’s almost like driving through Glencoe back and forth, but better! Simply stunning countryside.

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On the way we were introduced to the absolutely delicious Tip-Top ice cream which is very famous in NZ. We loved it, so creamy with lovely fresh fruit. I hope they sell this in the UK.

We admired the vineyards too.

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The fruit was also beautiful.

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We then got to very pretty Gisborne squeezed between surf beaches and a sea of chardonnay. It proudly claims to be the first city on Earth to see the sun, and once it does it hogs it and heads to the seaside.

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We drove to Cook Monument- the spot where Cook first got NZ dirt on his boots.

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We also saw the obelisk erected for him.

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There was also a statue of ‘Young Nick’.

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It wasn’t actually Captain Cook who first sighted NZ from The Endeavour, but Nicholas Young, Cook’s cabin boy, whose eagle eyes were the first to spot the white cliffs at Young Nick’s Head. Also nearby is a statute of the Captain himself erected upon a globe etched with his roaming routes.

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We then drove high upon Kaiti Hill. From the summit were stunning views of the bay.

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There is another statute of Captain Cook here but due to a cock-up of historic proportions, the Cook statute here looks nothing like Cap’n Jim! A plaque proclaims, ‘Who was he? We have no idea!’ The statute has completely the wrong uniform and looks nothing like him!

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On the summit of this hill with breathtaking views was a tree planted by the beautiful late Princess of Wales; Princess Diana in 1983. The tree is pretty big now and it’s flowers are blooming, so sad.

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We could have stayed up here all day it was so beautiful.

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We found a stunning campsite that night at Mahia Beach on the Mahia Peninsula.

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With eroded hills, sandy beaches and vivid blue sea, the Mahia Peninsula is a mini-version of the Coromandel but without the tourist hordes and fancy subdivisions, and with the added bonus of dramatic Dover-ish cliffs.

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We loved our stay here and couldn’t get enough of the beach and all the stunning views.

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Loads of friendly dolphins like to come into the bay and play with the bathers in Summer. We can’t wait to experience this in the South Island in a few weeks time. The place was so quiet and unspoiled we just didn’t want to move on.

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Next stop was the famous Hawke’s Bay. This place has it all. Food, wine and architecture are the shared obsessions.

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It’s smugly comfortable but thoroughly appealing, and is best viewed through a rose-tinted wineglass.

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We got to the biggest town Napier which was rebuilt after the deadly 1931 earthquake. It has a unique concentration of art-deco buildings which we loved.

Architecture obsessives flock here from all over the world. Don’t expect the Chrysler Building – Napier’s art-deco is resolutely low-rise, for safety reasons. For the layperson it’s a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent British seaside resort about it.

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We took a drive up to Bluff Hill Lookout which took us up a steep circuitous route to the top. But we were rewarded with expansive views if this gigantic bay.

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Hawke’s Bay used to be mostly famous for it’s orchards. Today it’s wines that have top billing. We had some lovely chardonnay and excellent Bordeaux-style reds and syrah.

Next stop was Hastings positioned at the centre of the Hawke’s Bay fruit bowl.

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Hastings is the commercial hub of the region. On Saturday 13th October 2012 the weather took a turn for the worse. Severe winds came from nowhere bringing torrential rain with them. Very surprising considering the excellent weather we had been getting.

On the radio we heard that the South Island got it worst. A massive landslide caused the Milford Road to close causing chaos for travellers as it’s the only road in and out of this very popular destination.

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Boulders weighing over 500 tonnes each had to be blown up and removed. It took nearly five days to clear and re-open.  We would soon be enjoying this scenic road en route to and from the Fiordland Great Walks and Milford Sound itself.

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We continued our journey in the direction of Wellington via a very interesting place called Norsewood, a cool village with loads of Viking history. So where should we spend our day when the weather gets worse? You guessed it- the local brewery!

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We loved the Tui Brewery.

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We then proceeded to Upper Hutt, about 50km from Wellington. We soon began to notice places and areas which featured in the film ‘Lord of the Rings’.

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Here in the Hutt Valley was where they filmed scenes from Rivendell, an elf outpost in Middle Earth.

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We loved having the freedom to walk around these film locations. Soon afterwards we explored another famous wine region; Martinborough. This is a world-renowned wine area.

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This area in particular draws in visitors to nose the excellent pinot. It was beautiful driving around the countryside with all the wineries scattered around.

The next day we went to Lower Hutt, a town about 20km outside Wellington. We could see Wellington in the distance from the esplanade and it looked very pretty.

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Wellington appeared much smaller than Auckland, but it’s a small city with a big reputation. We found an excellent campsite, right in the city centre, literally!

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This is the capital of New Zealand, but it didn’t feel like it, not in a bad way though.

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It was a wonderful city and last year (2011) it was voted ‘the coolest little capital in the world’.

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It was a city which was lovely to look at- draped around bushy hillsides, golden sand on the prom and spectacular craggy shores along the south coast.

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Downtown we loved the compact and vibrant city, buoyed by a surprising number of museums, theatres, galleries and boutiques. The cocktail and caffeine-fuelled  hospitality was also fantastic.

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We especially loved all the bars and restaurants along the marina and the very cool Cuba Street. We found a lovely Irish pub as well which served a rather nice pint of Guinness.

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It went down well with an exceptionally tasty NZ steak. On Monday 15th October 2012 we lost track of time and spent most of the day in Te Papa Museum.

This is the city’s ‘must see’attraction, and for reasons well beyond the fact that it’s NZ’s national museum. It’s highly interactive, fun and full of surprises.

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We learned a lot about earthquakes as we went into simulators and experienced different strengths of tremors. Quite frightening!

NZ sits on two massive fault lines. Straddling the boundary of two great colliding slabs of earth’s crust- the Pacific plate and the Indian/Australian plate -to this day NZ remains the plaything of nature’s strongest forces.

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One good thing about this however is that it has produced one of the most varied and spectacular landscapes in the world, ranging from snow-dusted mountains and drowned glacial valleys to rainforests, dunelands and an otherworldly volcanic plateau. It is a diversity of landforms you would expect to find across an entire continent rather than a small archipelago in the South Pacific.

In the museum we were also impressed with it’s wildlife section witnessing the biggest squid in the world which was enormous!

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It was fascinating learning all about the Kiwi bird. We have yet to see one in the wild, but have heard both male and female Kiwi birds calling to each other.

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The Maori history was also interesting with loads of Maori artefacts.

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We were shocked to learn about the amount of nuclear testing the UK, USA and France are conducting in the South Pacific.

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We learned about the history and friendship in the Commonwealth between NZ and the UK. Scotland in particular has a massive influence in NZ which I will touch on a later stage.

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Before we left to go up the West Coast we enjoyed one last stroll down the fabulous harbour.

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Had a beautiful time exploring the pretty dunes of Queen Elizabeth Park.

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Yet more beautiful unspoiled beaches. In the distance was a huge island called Kapiti Island.

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Got a few good photos of Waikane Beach.

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It was a lovely drive taking in numerous gorgeous unspoiled beaches.

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The road came very close to both the beach and the sea which made for a fantastic drive.

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On Tuesday 16th October 2012 we got to Whanganui a raggedy historic town on the banks of the wide Whanganui River.

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We enjoyed learning about more Scottish history and settlers here. We also came across another Glasgow St. nearly in double figures now. We did a lot of research about this area as we’d planned on doing the Whanganui Great Walk here. It actually isn’t even a walk, it’s a river trip that can last about 5 days in a kayak.

We have done a lot of kayaking in Scotland and are spoiled for choice with stunning rivers back home. So we decided just to do a one day trip. Rather than exploring all of Whanganui we decided to explore the incredible Whanganui River Road.

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We had to drive very carefully with all the wildlife and huge drops at the sides of the road.

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The scenery along the road is very camera conductive- stark, wet mountain slopes plunge into lazy stretches of the Whanganui River.

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We went past the picture-perfect, red and mustard spire of St Josephs Church which stands tall on a spur of land.

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We stopped loads along the river as there were so many picturesque spots.

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Loads of photo opportunities along the way.

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It was a very scenic 80km road trip following the river.

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We reached quite high heights at stages on the road and could see fossilised oysters in the cliff face.

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Evidence that the valley once lay at the bottom of the sea. Incredible!

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We finally stopped at the village of Pipiriki where we would refresh for our river boat, trek and kayak adventure.

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Pipiriki is a riverside town without much going on nowadays, but was once a humming holiday spot serviced by river steamers and paddleboats. Seemingly cursed, we found the remains of the old hotel. The Pipiriki Hotel, formerly a glamorous resort full of international tourists, burned to the ground twice. The following day we set off with our guide who would sail us up the river on a very powerful speedboat.

1 It was a lovely trip upstream. We observed loads of beautiful waterfalls and wildlife.

2 Going up this part in the jetboat gave us the chance to see parts of the river that would take days to paddle through.

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Standing in mute testimony to the optimism of the early settlers is the Bridge to Nowhere built in 1936. This is a place we really wanted to see as the bridge is very much photographed. It wasn’t cheap though and not that easy to get to. Once we were dropped off on land at the Mangapurua Landing it was an hour walk through dense forest to reach the Bridge to Nowhere.

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We enjoyed a nice lunch stop here with the bridge to ourselves. It is in pristine condition and we loved reading all about its history.

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We then backtracked to where we were dropped off by the boat. We were soon in a Canadian canoe which we paddled downstream to where our campervan was.

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It took us just under two hours paddling on the Whanganui River. It was amazing.

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We saw loads of gorges, beautiful plantations and old historic buildings.

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It was a shame to learn that when the railway line was installed the river didn’t attract the same number of tourists and the steamer companies went out of business.

There were some strong rapids and we got thrown about in the canoe.

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But we are well experienced.

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It was loads of fun and we got to appreciate the waterfalls up close.

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On Thursday 18th October 2012 we headed back to the town of Whanganui. We appreciated the history much more when we saw all the big boats that were used on the river.

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It was nice to see the local arts community thriving here: old port buildings are being turned into glass art studios, and the town centre has been rejuvenated. We loved all the glass blowing and glass studios.

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Loads of beautiful creations.

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On Friday 19th October 2012 we did a full circle drive around an active volcano: Mount Taranaki.

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The drive is called Surf Highway 45, perhaps as the road took us along numerous beaches with gigantic waves. It was pretty cool driving around a massive volcano while the coast provided us with alternative scenery.

Mt Taranaki is a classic 2518m volcanic cone which dominates the landscape. It is a magnet to all who catch his eye. This volcano according to geologists and experts is well overdue to blow its top with the last eruption over 350 years ago, and lies over a massive fault line.

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We drove past too many beaches to name here. We stopped at Cape Egmomt Lighthouse. The sea here was very wild. Amazingly this lighthouse was built in London in the mid 1800’s and then segments were shipped to NZ where it was re-built in 1865!

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We then visited Stent Rd, a legendary shallow reef break suitable for experienced surfers. It’s so famous the street sign  keeps on being stolen and is now a permanent painted-boulder sign.

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There are loads of places to surf around this area and plenty of black sand beaches. We soon got to Oakura where we spotted the wreck of the SS Gairloch at the shoreline.

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The ship ran aground on Timaru Reef on the 5th January 1903 and has been slowly rusting away in the Tasman Sea.

Then we got to New Plymouth the biggest town in the area. We saw the looming form of Paritutu Park standing sentinel above Ngamutu and Black Beaches. A remnant of the region’s volcanic past.

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Dominated by Mt Taranaki, New Plymouth is a pretty city with a bubbling arts scene, some fab cafes and an outdoorsy focus, with good beaches and the incredible Egmont National Park only a short hop away.

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We were able to see parts of the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway and it looked excellent. We stayed at the legendary Fitzroy Beach. One of the best mid-city surf spots in the world.

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That evening as it doesn’t get dark until 9.30pm in NZ (sunrise is usually before 6am) we drove as close and as far up to Mt Taranaki as we could. It is an incredibly dangerous volcano and numerous people have died on it. The weather got worse very quickly and incredibly started to snow because of the altitude we had driven up.

We were more than happy to admire it from the comfort of our campervan rather than hiring crampons, axes and a guide. The clouds started to come in as well so we decided to drive back down to sea level. The next morning we were delighted that the weather improved greatly.

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We drove close to Mt. Taranaki again and had excellent views of this incredible volcano. We then drove to Inglewood and found an amazing shop selling pies. OZ and NZ are so good at making them.

We drove along the ‘Forgotten World Highway’. In the rear view mirror we had incredible views of Mt. Taranaki.

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Stopped a few times for photos.

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Next stop was Stratford, home to a beautiful glockenspiel clock tower. The streets of this town are named after Shakespearean bardic characters, pretty cool.

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Then it was towards the Strathmore Saddle which had more spectacular views of Mt. Taranaki. We enjoyed ascending and descending through the beautiful valleys.

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We then drove to Whangamomona Scenic Reserve along beautiful gorges. Next stop was onto Tahora where we drove though a single lane long tunnel in the dark called the Hobbits Hole. Extremely dangerous without any passing places or electric lights for about 800m. Full beam required all the way. Made me feel a bit proud of the Clyde Tunnel for a bit!

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It was then onto Nevis Lookout with panoramic views of the Central North Island. We stayed the night at Turangi the ‘trout fishing capital of the world’.

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Strangely enough my fishing gear went missing and I was fed loads of beer instead by the gorgeous Cheryl.

We had come to this area to primarily attempt ‘The greatest day walk in the world’. This is none other than the world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, also where Mordor was recorded in Lord of the Rings.

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But time, weather and volcanic activity was not on our side. We had a flight in 7 days from Auckland (about 350km away), but still so much to see in the Central Plateau, it was still wintry conditions at the summit with dangerous frozen lake crossings and the volcano had decided to blow its top a few weeks earlier destroying a lot of the route and the emergency shelter.

So things didn’t look to be in our favour. Especially when I called up one of the guides and he said it was highly unlikely there would be an alpine crossing any time soon. The only positive thing he said was that the volcanic activity would need to reduce and get loads of sun as it had snowed a lot on the volcano. It would be in the hands of the Gods. No one had completed the alpine crossing at Tongariro this season.

It certainly didn’t look like it was going to happen any time soon. So we took a GIGANTIC risk. We decided to explore the last places in the North Island for five days then return to Tongariro 48 hours before our flight to the South Island, and hope we would get the go ahead.

We could see the summit from where we were and it looked angry. Loads and loads of steam still coming from the volcano. Its not called Mordor for nothing!

We had to respect where we were as this is one of the most active volcanic areas on this planet. We left that morning with our fingers crossed that when we returned in about a week the weather would get better, the ice would thaw and more importantly Tongariro would stop erupting!

We left with an excellent view of the volcano.

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To be continued…

Thanks for reading.

Norman and Cheryl xxx

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New Zealand Part I: Northland, Coromandel, Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty.

On Monday 1st of October we landed in New Zealand, our last country on this amazing holiday!

We were so looking forward to exploring New Zealand, especially as it has been compared to Scotland not only because of its rich Scottish history and culture, but also its picture-perfect scenery.

It’s a country where you shouldn’t encounter too many on-the-road frustrations: roads are in good nick; ATMs proliferate; pickpockets and scam merchants are few and far between. There are no snakes, and only one poisonous spider – the rare katipo – sightings of which are considered lucky. Unfortunately, however, the  drivers in the North Island are some of the worst we have ever seen, and we’ve been to Nepal!

There are just 4.36 million New Zealanders, scattered across 268,680 sq km: bigger than the UK with one-fourteenth the population.

Filling in the gaps are the sublime forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fiords that have made NZ one of the best hiking destinations on the planet.

We also looked forward to embracing the Maori culture and experiencing some rugby. The All Blacks, NZ’s national team, who would never have become world-beaters without their awesome Maori players.

We landed in Auckland at 2:30pm after a very luxurious flight on Emirates new A380 plane from Sydney.

It was tough saying our goodbyes to all our friends in Australia. We will be back.

Our first task after landing at Auckland International Airport was to pick up our campervan. Easily the best way to explore NZ’s photogenic country is with a campervan.

To our surprise when we reached the office of our campervan hire company it wasn’t the same as the one we expected. Albeit slightly bigger, it was a different car manufacturer and nothing like what we asked for. As we got to our first campsite we were soon to find a few things that were wrong with the van. Being jet lagged we hit the hay and tackled the problems the next morning.

That morning after a strong coffee we headed back to the campervan office. We left
with a free upgrade and a shiny new campervan.

Overall we are very lucky with time, having three months to explore this country is perfect. We planned on doing a full circle of the North Island for a month, returning to Auckland. Then we would fly to Queenstown to explore the South Island for two months before departing on a very long journey back to Scotland from Christchurch.

We had decided to leave exploring Auckland until we departed the North Island after one month. But it looked good as we drove past it.

So on Wednesday 3rd October 2012 we started our adventure heading for the Bay of Islands and Northland.

As we left Auckland we popped in to visit old friends of Cheryl’s, Campbell and Marjory.

It was a fabulous drive up the East coast, beautiful beaches and already much different landscape to Australia.

So much more grass, and much greener with many more mountains and fields.

We almost felt as if we were back in Scotland.

We drove past Milford Bay, Castor Bay and then onto Brown’s Bay. Gorgeous beaches
with stunning coastlines. It was great to meet up with a familiar face and enjoy a thoroughly good cup of coffee.

Many New Zealanders head ‘up north’ as it conjures up sepia-toned images of family fun in the sun and dolphins frolicking in pretty bays.

Beaches are the main drawcard, and they are beautiful.

But we also loved the history in this area.

We then got to Orewa where the locals fear that it’s turning into NZ’s equivalent of Queensland’s Gold Coast. But until they start exporting retirees and replacing them with bikini-clad parking wardens that’s unlikely to happen. It is, however, very built-up and high-rise apartment towers have begun to sprout.

The next day, Thursday 4th October 2012 we continued North driving through an abundance of pretty vineyards.

The best was Matakana which suffers from reverse alcoholism- the more wine that gets poured into it, the more genteel it becomes.

As we continued on the long and winding road a very bizarre screeching noise started coming from the campervan and we had to get it looked at.

Thankfully it was nothing too serious, just a stone jammed between the break pad and the wheel, so we were soon back on the road again.

The next stop was Leigh which had a picturesque harbour dotted with fishing boats, and very pretty beaches.

It was then a short drive to Goat Island Marine Reserve. This 547 hectare aquatic area was established in 1975 as the country’s first marine reserve. In less than 40 years the sea has reverted to a giant aquarium, giving an impression of what the NZ coast must have been like before humans arrived.

We managed to find some lovely fresh seaweed in the water which almost tasted as good as the seaweed on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Spotted a few juicy crabs too but didn’t taste them.

We were soon off to pretty Pakiri, a blissful beach about 12km away. A stunning unspoilt expanse of white sand and rolling surf.

Before the day was over we drove through Mangawhai where various Maori tribes inhabit the area.

We loved Mangawhai Heads, a narrow spit of powdery white sand stretching for kilometres to form the harbour’s south head.

This would be our first encounter of the earthquake warning sirens they have in New Zealand. It certainly wouldn’t be the last. They go off if an earthquake occurs in the vicinity, a serious warning to prepare yourself in a safe place and position.

Just before we stopped for the night we visited Waipu which was a bonnie wee place. Bream Bay almost next door to the beach was equally lovely.

This area has a rich Scottish history with nearly a thousand Scots settling at this beach town between 1853 and 1860. There are miles of blissfully deserted beach and incredible amount of Scottish street names ranging from Glasgow St to Erskine Rd. On the 1st day of the year they have the Highland Games established in 1871, taking place at Caledonia Park.

We finally found a stunning place to stay the night at Ruakaka. What a view we had before going to sleep and repeated the stunning view the next morning with some nice fresh coffee.

On Friday 5th October 2012 we drove to Whangarei which was surrounded by natural beauty. We also visited  Whangarei Heads with a stunning harbour, passing mangroves and picturesque bays.

We then followed the road northeast of Whangarei, we came across a sweet village called Ngunguru near the mouth of a lovely broad river.

It was then off to Tutukaka with yet another beautiful marine and stunning sand dunes.

Then we stopped by the golden sands of Matapouri. We were already blown away by the beautiful coastal scenery and we had seen so little of this country.

Continuing North we came to the beautiful wide expanse of Sandy Bay, one of Northland’s premier surf beaches. Loads of long-boarding competitions are held here.

Then it was onto Paihia in the centre of the Bay of Islands. It was a lovely campsite with pretty views. The sea is beautiful with loads of islands (150 off them) all around us.

We loved the surrounding beach and the many kiwi fruits which the campsite manager gave us. Just lovely.

The next day with Kiwi fruit practically coming out of our ears we continued heading up North.

We planned to go swimming with dolphins that day but it was too windy for the boat trip. But we would have loads of other opportunities to do this in NZ.

We stopped 5 min along the road to see the ‘Treaty House’. This is where the treaty of Waitangi was first signed between the Maori chiefs and the British Crown.

This is the birthplace of New Zealand establishing British sovereignty or something a bit like it, depending on whether you’re reading the English or Maori version of the document.

We were surprised by the abundance of fruit grown here. We spotted oranges, limes, apples and kiwi fruit growing in Kerikeri.

Then we followed more of the stunning coast to Matauri on an exceptionally scenic loop leading to these awesome beaches.

It had a stunning bay and long sandy surf beach. Tauranga bay was equally stunning, so picturesque.

Off the coast is the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior.

On the morning of 10 July 1985 New Zealanders awoke to news reporting that a terrorist attack had killed a man in Auckland Harbour. The Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior had been sunk at its anchorage where it was preparing to protest against French nuclear testing.

A tip-off lead to the arrest of two French foreign intelligence service agents, posing as tourists. The arrested agents pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Incredibly, in response the French government threatened to embargo NZ goods from entering the European Economic Community – which would have crippled NZ’s economy.

A deal was struck therefore whereby France paid $13 million to NZ and apologised in return for its agents to be released.

Quite an incredible story.

Nuclear testing continues close to NZ by the UK, USA and France today.
Nuclear bombs which are 100 times more powerful than Hiroshima.

New Zealand is very anti-nuclear. So much so they refuse to allow American Nuclear ships into its harbours, or any nuclear warhead for that matter. Much to the annoyance of the yanks they fell out with NZ and are no longer allies but ‘friends’ with NZ. I found the following cartoon very funny.

Onwards with our journey North took us to Doubtless Bay. The bay gets its unusual name from an entry in Cook’s logbook, where he wrote that the body of water was ‘doubtless a bay’. No kidding, Cap’n. It’s a bloody big bay at that, with a stream of pretty beaches especially Coopers Beach heading towards the Karikari Peninsula.

It was then off to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom north all the way to Cape Reinga one of the most northerly points on mainland New Zealand, just as the weather picked up.

Maori consider Cape Reinga the jumping-off point for souls as they depart on the journey to their spiritual homeland.

That makes the Aupouri Peninsula a giant diving board, it even resembles one as it reaches 108km to form NZ’s northern extremity.

We stopped a few times in awe at the size of its west coast beach. Ninety Mile Beach is a continuous stretch of sand lined with high sand dunes, flanked by the Aupoiri Forest.

We drove as far north as we possibly could on mainland New Zealand then walked the last 20 minutes out to Cape Reinga.

Standing there at windswept is Cape Reinga Lighthouse and looking out over the ocean engenders a real end-of-the-world feeling.

This is where the waters of the Tasman sea and Pacific Ocean meet, breaking together into waves up to 10m high. It was an amazing spectacle. Tufts of cloud cling to the ridges, giving spooky chills.

In the far distance on either side of the tip of the peninsula were gorgeous beaches. Spirits Bay is one of NZ’s most beautiful beaches.

Loved the iconic sign post as well.

We stayed at a nearby beach that night, Tapotupotu.

So beautiful and peaceful.

A brilliant place to have a beer.

On Sunday 7th October 2012 we woke up to stunning hot weather. We drove back down the peninsula enjoying the  picturesque scenery.

We travelled through lush green fields and countryside, very similar to Scotland. Lots of animals to be seen grazing; cows, sheep, lambs, pigs and horses to name a few.

We drove all the way down to Ahipara. All good things must come to an end, and Ninety Mile Beach does so at this beach town.

We got yet another view of Ninety Mile Beach, it would be impossible to see the other end of this beach from here. One of the biggest beaches I have seen in my life!

Then we drove along to Shipwreck Bay, so named for the shipwrecks that are visible at low tide. A gorgeous beach.

As we continued our way back south, this time exploring the west coast of the Northlands we were blown away by the green hills, trees and beautiful valleys.

We caught a small ferry at Kohukohu and visited the Victorian village which was well preserved.

The short ferry to Rawene led us to Omapere. Another stunning part of the drive. Beautiful coastal views, beaches then through more green valleys.

I don’t think I have ever seen so many sheep or cows.

We then drove through the Waipoua Forest. A very scenic drive through deep rain forest and all sorts of vegetation.

We passed by some enormous trees in the ancient kauri forest. A kauri tree can reach 60m in height and have a trunk more than 5m in diameter.

Near the end of the park stands mighty Tane Mahuta, named the Maori forest God.

I couldn’t stop looking at this monster of a tree. At 51.5m, with a 13.8m girth he’s the largest kauri alive.

You don’t so much look at Tane Mahuta; it’s as if you’re granted an audience to his hushed presence. He’s been holding court here for about 2000 years! Very sacred indeed.

We found our campsite at Helensville. The last bit of the drive through Ruawai, Maungaturoto and Wellsford was nothing short of spectacular. The valleys are so beautiful and the grass is so very green. Lakes, beaches, rivers and mountains come at you after each corner. They even say the South Island is the most beautiful, I can’t wait to find out.

The next day it was off to the Coromamdel Peninsula. We drove along fantastic coastline roads.

We were so close to the numerous beaches and the sea as we did a circle of this beautiful peninsula. A place where New Zealanders come on holiday, I can see why.

It was just one stunning beach after another as we drove along the coast to Coromamdel Town which is famous for all it’s fresh mussels.

Then as if we haven’t seen enough beaches we went to Whitianga. Beautiful white sandy beaches and lovely harbours.

Justifiably famous, Hot Water Beach was next and it was quite extraordinary. The weather changed a bit again for the worse so we decided to look for the hot pools in the beach to warm us up.

It’s not a normal beach because it’s got something special on it, or rather underneath it.

Hot water oozes up from beneath the surface. It was amazing as we dug a hole we got our own personal spa pool.

The lovely hot water was therapeutic, especially as it was getting late and the sun was going down.

Soon we were on the road again through the bush-lined ramparts of the Karangahake Gorge, one of the best short drives in the country.

We followed a beautiful gorge through the rainforest. We crossed a number of bridges also, ones which were becoming quite a common sight in NZ now, single lane bridges.

Because there are so many rivers, streams and uneven ground in NZ. Little bridges are erected, all big enough for one lane. So you need to be careful all the time as to whose right of way it is. Not to mention watching out for the atrocious driving we had seen so far.

On Tuesday 9th October 2012 we drove to Paeroa the birthplace of Lemon & Paeroa (L&P). I had never tried this drink nor heard of it. So where else should we try it but here right beside the giant L&P bottle.

It was very tasty and we both loved it. I really hope you can get this drink in the UK.

The next stop was Tauranga, NZ’s busiest port. We tried to hire a boat to go swimming with dolphins here but we were told we’d need to wait a few more days as it’s too windy, and perhaps also a little early in the season. Shame but still loads more places we can do it.

The beaches here were just stunning as well. There is a gigantic bay here called The Bay of Plenty. This area really is a beachy haven and one of NZ’s sunniest regions.

After buying a stove and sleeping bags for some of the Great Walks we’re going to do in NZ we then headed to Rotorua.

The first thing we smelled before we got into Rotorua was a whiff of the sulphur-rich, asthmatic airs caused by the dynamic thermal area.

We then started to see loads of steam coming from random places in the ground.

Then we spotted random cracks in the ground and a few active thermal areas. We knew
we were in Rotorua.

This is NZ’s most dynamic thermal area, home to spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mud pools.

Despite the pervasive eggy odour, ‘Sulphur City’ is one of the most touristed spots on the North Island.

We drove very close to Lake Rotorua – underneath all that water is a spent volcano. Sitting in the lake is an island which for centuries has been occupied by various tribes.

Watching all the hot steam coming from the side of the road, gardens and bushes really is something you find difficult to get used to.

We decided to take a walk in the park: Kuirau Park. It turned out this was also extremely active!

It’s probably best for our insurance companies to stop reading at this point.

I had to check if it was safe for Cheryl first!

Half the park is closed off with extreme warning signs everywhere! Quite rightly so as well this place is seriously dangerous and lives unfortunately have been lost.

But this is just a way of life for these people and a dangerously evolving place to live in.

We saw loads of hot pools, crater lakes, pools of boiling mud and plenty of huffing steam.

In 2003 an eruption covered much of this area in mud.

I would not like to fall in here!

We then dipped our feet into the natural hot mineral pools. It was awesome, very
relaxing indeed.

That night we jumped into an even more relaxing jacuzzi pool using the thermal water and all those good minerals. It was truly bliss.

The next mooning we felt lovely and refreshed. It’s strange to think all these people live here around all these dangers.

We drove off to a large thermally active area called ‘Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland’. This was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life.

The first thing we went to see was the famous Lady Knox Geyser. Every day she gushes up to 20m for about an hour.

We had front row tickets.

But on this occasion I wish we hadn’t as we got a little bit wet. It was worth it though. It explodes once every 24-36 hrs.

Initially we could just see steam coming out.

Then it started bubbling.

All of a sudden it started blowing water into the air.

Incredibly it reached 20m!

We had such good fun watching it, albeit a bit wet.

We then went off to explore the rest of the park. It was very interesting, including the boiling, multi-hued Champagne Pool, bubbling mud pool and the stunning mineral terraces.

It was so dangerous and important to watch the warning signs and where you put your feet.

In the middle of the park was Artist’s Pallet, so called with all the amazing colours.

It was huge and just extraordinary.

Fantastic colours everywhere.

Super hot!

Very unusual colours with all the natural minerals.

Not the greatest of smells here!

Loads of steam!

The bubbling mud pools really gave a sense of how hot this area is.

Like a witch’s cauldron!

Don’t fancy swimming here.

At the end of the evening we set back up the coast towards Otiki. A nice sense of relief being away from all these dangerous things all around us.

We then realised that New Zealand’s most active volcano Whakaari (White Island) was just in the distance!

Watching all the steam coming out was pretty awesome as we relaxed on the beach. We loved our spot for the campervan as well.

Next stop was the East Coast.

To be continued…

Thanks for reading,

Norman and Cheryl xxx

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OZ Road Trip. Part VI: Return to NSW feat. Canberra, Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and Sydney

It was quite unbelievable that four months in Australia had nearly come and gone. Time has gone past so fast for us here, even faster than six months in Asia. Australia has been truly fantastic.

On Friday 7th September 2012 we woke up in a beautiful rainforest then drove to Eden on the Sapphire Coast in New South Wales. Eden, situated on the deep harbour of Twofold Bay, is rich in fishing and whaling history. Whilst it remains a fishing town, whaling has now become ‘whale-watching’!

Eden is such a quiet picturesque town and offers a wide variety of waterway, forest and mountain attractions.

The beaches and bays are also in pristine condition.

Twofolds Bay is a very famous place for whale watching. Although the actual whaling industry was abandoned many years ago, we learned about it at Eden’s fascinating Killer Whale Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t see the wondrous sight of these whales frolicking off the shores.

We had now seen a lot of whales off the coast and up close. We were pleasantly surprised at how good the Killer Whale Museum was.

We learned about the amazing relationship between killer whales and humans, particularly of the killer whale ‘Old Tom’ who used to swim towards the blue whales, splash around and alert the whale catchers that a whale was present.

His tail was distinctive and they all knew him. Faithfully they would follow Old Tom to the whale, surround and kill it. As a thank you to Old Tom they would give him the tongue, a delicacy which he would eat. There is ample amounts of videos and photos on the net showing Old Tom, it really is an amazing story.

Old Tom was continually mentioned as if part of the family and it was a very sad day when he died, almost at the same time the whaling industry in Australia died, thankfully.

The story of Old Tom is amazing, yet tells the truth. It is hard to believe the things Tom and the other Orcas (Killer Whales) did for the whalers. It is said Old Tom lived for 50-80 years. Whales have only one set of teeth for life, so scientists took one tooth out of Old Tom’s jaw and it showed the tooth was only 35 years old. They also realized that Tom’s bottom jaw was worn away to gum level, and found teeth showing marks where harpoon lines have worn holes.

So many amazing stories told here including this one below. Unbelievable!

We also went to another whale watching view point, but unfortunately didn’t see any.

We are so used to beaches now it’s hard to define them. They are all basically amazing in Australia. We went a lovely drive to Merimbula, Tahtra and Bermagui.

Each beach as beautiful as the next: big, white, clean and pretty for miles upon miles.

The following day was stunning weather again. We have just been so lucky with the weather since we set off from Scotland. Unfortunately our friends and family from back home have not had the same luck!

We continued up the coast which was just a dream. We went past so many beaches it was just amazing.

So many, just too many to list. We got all the way to Batemans Bay, a large town where all the people from Canberra tend to come and relax along the beach, and no wonder!

It was lovely here too, a stunning coastline of beaches, river estuaries and craggy headlands, not to forget the River Clyde!

After driving along the coast taking in all the different beaches and beautiful properties, we soon got to the point where we would take a course direct away from the coast and head West. Reason being we wanted to go to the capital of Australia, Canberra.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was born of a dispute between Sydney and Melbourne, each competing to become the capital of the newly independent and federated Australia. Neither could bear for the other to triumph, so when a compromise was reached, a small chunk was carved out of New South Wales’ Limestone Plains 280km southwest of Sydney. This became the site for Canberra, and the country’s smallest self-governing territory (a completely different state).

We found Canberra historically educating, its urban landscape expertly designed to show off the nation’s democratic and cultural institutions. The city is an excellent destination for museum addicts, with wonderful fine art and historical collections.

Canberra is the nation’s political heart, its restaurants buzz with power-lunchers hammering out strategy, while at the city’s bars political reporters hang about hoping for a bit of gossip or a wine-fuelled indiscretion.

The ACT is known for its liberal politics, becoming the first jurisdiction to vote a woman its head of government and enacting progressive legislation on everything from gay unions and women’s rights to porn and marijuana.

Australia’s almost too-tidy capital is cradled by mountain ranges and hills covered in bushland, beyond which are several charming villages and a growing number of cold-climate wineries. Half of the territory is protected as national park or reserve, with plenty to attract hikers, campers and nature-lovers of all kinds.

What we loved the most was the Australian War Museum.

In a stately position, overlooking Anzac Parade and Lake Burley Griffin, the magnificent war memorial is Australia’s most visited museum, and one of the finest in the country.

This genuinely moving memorial provides a fascinating insight into how battle forged Australia’s national identity, with an enormous collection of pictures, dioramas, relics and exhibitions that detail and humanise wartime events.

For military-history fans, there’s also plenty of weaponry and uniforms – most of the heavy machinery is arrayed in Anzac Hall, which features an impressive sound-and-light show. Entombed among the mosaics of the Hall of Memory is the Unknown Australian Soldier, whose remains were returned from a WWI battlefield in 1993 and who symbolises all Australian war casualties. Even if you’re not a history buff, the engaging and affecting contents of this massive edifice are sufficient for two full days of exploration.

Along Anzac Pde, which is Canberra’s broad commemorative way, there are 11 poignant memorials to various campaigns and campaigners.

The next stop was the Australian Parliament. Parliament House is the meeting facility of the Parliament of Australia located in Canberra.

The building was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola Architects and opened on 9 May 1988 by Queen Elizabeth II.

The main foyer contains a marble staircase and leads to the Great Hall which has a large tapestry on display. The House of Representatives chamber is decorated green while the Senate chamber has a red colour scheme.

Between the two chambers is the Members’ Hall which has a water feature and is not open to the public. The Ministerial Wing houses the office of the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

It is a fantastic building and a credit to the Government to let the general public get so close and engage this modern parliament.

On Sunday 9th September we left the capital and had a lovely drive to Kangaroo Valley, passing through Moss Vale and Goulburn. We drove through beautiful countryside again, so similar to Scotland but just so much hotter and sunnier. I’ve said it before and I will probably say it again: Australia is amazing.

We soon arrived at a beautiful waterfall called Fitzroy falls.

The walk to the waterfall was well worth it.

This small village is best known for the waterfall that plunges spectacularly into the thick eucalypt forests of the valley beneath the escarpment.

We walked through the forest stopping at all the different viewpoints of this spectacular waterfall.

Next stop was lunch, and where better to have it than at the World’s Best Pie shop in Bargarry!

We had been told of this place and when we had the pie it was absolutely clear that this was special.

Not too far away was an impeccable campsite right beside the river with loads of open ground at Bendeela. This was one of our favourite free campsites in Australia!

It was scorching so we just sunbathed and relaxed for most of the time.

To our delight a wombat decided to come out and bulldoze about. They are just adorable.