It was going to take a lot to make us leave our little slice of paradise we had found in Wanaka, but a week in and around Queenstown with friends and family was just enough to do it. We jumped on a bus for a couple of hours to reach the adrenalin capital of the world, Queenstown and checked into our hostel for the night, Southern Laughter, which got bonus points for giving us our own room and free popcorn. As we had not had a good ol’ big night out for a while we decided a few Sunday beers in Queenstown were in order, but not until we had grabbed a quick bite to eat at the world famous Ferg Baker (next door to the even more famous Ferg Burger). I chose a peppered steak pie and Caroline unsurprisingly had a steak and mushroom pie. To say they were sensational would have been an injustice, they were certainly a million times better than a Pride Park Pukka Pie. Stomachs now lined we went on our very own bar crawl around town and even acquired ourselves a couple of wristbands so we could get $5 drinks in lots of the bars. We warmed up with a few more games of pool which left me in a commanding 41-30 lead after 5 months away!!! The sun even began shinning for us so we went to another Monteiths pub to watch some guy play some pretty good live music. Our favourite bar we visited was probably Zepher’s which although pretty deserted was really cool inside with the walls being made of recycled floorboards from all the buildings that were destroyed in the Christchurch earthquake. The lad who owned it was from Norwich and had come out for a ski season never to return (this happens a lot in NZ!!). Fairly well oiled we decided it would be rude to not try out the number 1 activity on Trip Advisor, a burger from Ferg Burger!!! After a slightly guilty complex we decided to share a burger instead of completely pigging out. We get spoilt with great burgers in England from the likes of GBK, Haché and Byron, but it had to be said the burgers from Ferg Burger were undoubtably the best and most flavoursome we’d ever had. Yum City!! You can tell its poplar because whenever you walk past it there is always a pretty decent queue and loads of tourists all taking photos of it. It was a great first day in Queenstown.
We woke up the next day in pretty decent shape considering the random beers and ciders we’d had and went off to pick up our hire car from good old Hertz. I’d booked us a huge Toyota Jeep and it was awesome. When my brother (Wicky Waa Waa/ Fresh Prince/ Will Smith) had worked at Sky he had a good friend called Nathan who was from New Zealand and had moved back to live in Dunedin a good few years ago. As I’d met and got on with him and his wife Megan a few times I promised we’d come and see them whilst we were on the South Island. I told Nath we were heading to Queenstown first, to which he kindly mentioned their family had a holiday home just on the outskirts of Queenstown and we would be welcome to use it for pretty much free when we were there. We quickly agreed and that is where we headed to that morning. A quick 5 minute drive from town took us to our not so humble abode for the week. It was a beautiful three bedroom house over looking Lake Wakitipu with some of the best views you could ever imagine, Queenstown on the right and the snow capped Remarkables mountain range on the left. As we’ve been living in hostels, cheap hotels and boats for 5 months we went a little bit nuts when we arrived, we were actually going to have somewhere to call home for a week and it was absolutely stunning. It will be difficult to ever say thank you enough to Megan and Nathan for letting us stay at their family’s home. After deliriously spinning round in circles and opening every drawer and cupboard we went to the supermarket to stock up in time for our visitors the next day. That night we made a great home cooked meal, baked cakes and just relaxed on the sofas watching dvd’s like normal people do for once!!
The main reason we write this blog is for our family and friends to get a glimpse of what we are really up to during our 12 months away as you can never explain it well enough via an e-mail or Skype. It’s been really nice to hear how much people enjoy sharing our adventures and makes us realise just how much people care. For me it’s been great to see just how excited our parents are when we Skype them. One of the people who has been most enthralled with our worldwide adventure has been my father (Graham). As he said before we left it was going to be the trip of all our lifetimes as he would have loved to have done it, but had never had the chance to because life was different back then! Without his love and support it would have been a million times more difficult for us to have been brave enough to begin this journey so we were both absolutely delighted when he said a few months ago he was going to come out and visit us in New Zealand with his partner Judy. Just to top it off they were also going to be bringing my dear Nan out with them. She is without doubt one of the most incredible women you’ll ever meet. Unless I told you she was 87 (sorry for telling Nan!) you would never ever guess, she’s got more energy than Caroline and I put together. Since her husband Ken passed away 34 years ago my Dad and his sister Penny have been tremendous at looking after her, but she more than looks after them in return and I think Dad taking her on this once in a lifetime adventure was a beautiful way of saying thank you to her.
Today was the day when we were going to pick them up at Queenstown airport as they’d been in Hong Kong. After missing seeing them land from our balcony we jumped in the jeep and and said our emotional hellos after not seeing each other for 5 months. The trip so far has been phenomenal and we wouldn’t change anything but it was really great to see family again.
On our first day together in Queenstown we showed them around this most beautiful of towns, grabbed a ridiculously good coffee (a whole soup bowl of latte) and cake from the Vudu Café. Judy’s carrot cake was the biggest thing you’ve ever seen. That night we went for a few welcome beers to introduce them to our favourite new tipples and ate an incredible meal at a steak and ribs restaurant called Flame, even my Nan (legend) had half a rack of ribs. We of course washed it down with an obligatory couple of bottles of NZ red.
The following morning we were up early for our first road trip. I’d promised I’d take Dad some spectacular places and top of that list was the Fjordlands of Milford Sound. If you’ve ever seen postcards of New Zealand there’s a great chance they are pictures of Milford Sound. It’s a place where mountains tower almost vertically from the Tasman Sea to make a dramatic landscape. We decide to really do it justice we would do an overnight trip and spend the night on the Milford Mariner. Before we got there however there was a 5 hour drive to negotiate. With the Dad in the front, kids (Judy and Nan) in the back and dog (Caroline) in the boot we set off. A 5 hour drive would normally be a real pain, however this isn’t the case when you are in New Zealand as the scenery is so diverse and stunning that the time and distance just disappear. Once we got to Milford we bordered our boat which was far more luxurious than we’d ever expected and set sail into the Fjordlands. It was so peaceful and beautiful in there that we thought it couldn’t get much better, that was until some dolphins popped up alongside the boat and started to swim in front of the boat. These were much bigger than the Dusky Dolphins we had been lucky enough to swim with in Kaikora. The weather was perfect and the ship’s captain took us to see lots of waterfalls, which, because of the sunshine, created some amazing rainbows. We anchored in the middle of the Sound and Caroline, Judy and I went out in kayaks on our own little tour, whilst Dad and Nan had a tour on a smaller boat. We were all lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the penguins on the beach. Caroline and I even braved a quick dip in the chilly waters before dinner. Everything on the trip had been magnificent so far and the food completely surprised us too. After a gorgeous soup we were given one of the best buffets you could wish for. Just to top it off there was a desert table with 9 different choices on it. Full up and a bit tired we all went to bed happy and excited for the morning as it had been one of the best days of our whole trip. It was really great to be able to share some of our experiences with our families for once and it was brilliant to see how captivated my Nan was by every moment. She was excited because she’d never slept on a boat. Caroline was obviously just as excited because of her un-humane love of boats!!
Breakfast was served bright and early so that we could get out to the open ocean (Tasman Sea) before the swell picked up. It was another feast from the buffet. After a quick visit to the Ocean we headed back to the harbour. The previous day Judy had missed the Dolphins so we all had our fingers crossed we may get another glimpse of them on the way back in. Eagle eyed Caroline had spotted some splashing from about a mile away and we kept it quiet so as not to get her hopes up, but sure enough it was the dolphins again, only this time there were twice as many and they swam in front of the boat in groups of 5 or 6. It was a beautiful way to end a great trip. We broke the long drive home up with a few stops at some absolutely beautiful place like Gunn Lake, which was perfectly reflective, and The Chasm, which was a huge rocked area where the snow melt rivers came gushing through narrow holes in gigantic boulders.
The next morning Judy wasn’t feeling very well so the rest of us took a little day trip over to our favourite town, Lake Wanaka and some of the surrounding wineries. One of the highlights of the day was Nan demanding that we played baseball with sticks and stones from the lakeside. Nan was absolutely brilliant at this and her hand to eye co-ordination was scary, hopefully I’ve inherited some of that and some of her boundless energy.
On the way back we stopped at the vineyards of Peregrine and Amisfield and sampled some of their stunning wines. We nipped in to town for a couple of beers and insisted that Dad and Nan sampled a Ferg Burger. Dad loved his but Nan didn’t like all the ‘gunk’ on the top but still demolished the burger.
My Dad is a very keen golfer and fancied a round whilst he was in NZ, so he and I headed off to play at Millbrook in Arrowtown, which has hosted the NZ Open and was absolutely incredible. Having not played for at least a year due to saving my pennies and still carrying a pretty sore thumb I wasn’t that confident but was relived that I could still remember how to hit the ball and started off on fire. The course was beautiful and driving off the tees at the base of The Remarkables mountain range was awesome. After taking a commanding lead on the front nine holes the pressure all got too much for me and my father, the seasoned pro began to claw back the Stableford points!! By the end it worked out that I won by a single point, but whether that was just a Father being kind to his son is still unclear. Either way it was a brilliant day for both of us and a really great way of spending some quality time together.
Whilst we had been playing golf Caroline and Nan had been shopping for bikinis in Queenstown, although I think it was only Caroline who brought one!! In the evening we did a little bar crawl and Nan became an instant celebrity with the lads of Cowboys Bar who even brought her a shot, although we decided it was better if Caroline had it for her. She then impressed everyone with her new found pool skills!! That evenings dinner was a gorgeous steak in The Botswana Butchery.
As we had mentioned we had really struck gold with our accommodation thanks to my brother’s mate Nathan and his wife Megan, so I was desperate to drive over to see them to say hello and thank them in person. They now lived 300 km’s away in Dunedin, so Caroline, Nan and I went on another road trip through yet more stunning scenery. It was great to see them both after 12 years and they were just as warm, friendly and hospitable as I remembered. The only thing that had changed about them was the fact that they now had two amazing kids, Mana and Tui, that entertained us for the whole afternoon whilst Nathan russled up a wicked BBQ. Mana was definitely his father’s son and was heavily influenced by Bear Grylls and Dynamo making him an adventure magician I think.
Our last day with Dad, Nan and Judy turned out to be a blinder! After I had a little tantrum because I wanted us to do something to remember rather than sit on the Internet for the day Dad made an inspired call of wanting to go on a Jet Boat Tour on the Dart River. Before that though we took them out to see the home of the original Bungy Jump run by AJ Hackett, who were celebrating their 25th birthday that week. After watching a couple of jumps Caroline and I decided it wasn’t extreme enough for us anymore but was too much for the others. However Dad and Judy surprised us wih their bravery as they went on the massive zip wire over the canyon. This was a big thing for my Dad as he’s a bit afraid of heights! Judy was obviously feeling better as she did it twice. After they’d Calmed down a bit we headed to Glenorchy for the Jet Boating. Before we got to the water though we went on a fantastic little tour and saw some of The Lord of the Rings film sets where they had filmed the Isengard scenes and also a place they’d filmed some of Wolverine. We were then taken on a little half hour forest walk, where my Nan took it upon herself to ask lots of questions about everything. It was really sweet to see how interested she was about the plants and wildlife. The undoubted highlight was though when we were shown a giant wooden chair that was a piece of the original set from the film, The Hobbit. Most people has climbed up it and sat there to get a photo where they were made to look like a dwarf in the giant chair; not my Nan though she climbed up it and preceded to stand aloft on it, much to the delight if everyone on our tour group, who cheered with delight at this magnificent lady!
For the next hour and a half we were thrown around the Dart River in a jet powered boat at 70 km/h. It was a great experience as the driver sped through really narrow streams and inlets at super fast speeds and every now and then threw us into a huge 360 degree spin. Everyone loved it (even my Nan was screeming and smiling). It was really great to see my Dad just sitting there, shaking his head in disbelief at how amazing the experience was.
During our trip we’ve eaten very well and had some amazing food bit that night’s dinner at a restaurant called The Bunker was up there with the best meal a lot of us have ever had. It was a very small restaurant set up like an old fashioned Speak-Easy. I had beef carpaccio and venison and it was out of this world. Caroline had scallops and lamb which she loved.
So that was the end of a very special week together and we all agreed we had experienced things that we will remember forever. Caroline and I took them to the airport and said some pretty emotional goodbyes. I’m not sure if the tears in my Dad’s eyes were because we weren’t going to see each other for another 7 months or because he was going to miss New Zealand so much! I knew that they would be ok though because I had insisted that they went to Fiji on their way back to London, so they would be spending a few nights in the paradise we had already experienced. I had recommended them to go to Blue Lagoon Resort and from what I have heard they had an amazing time, even taking a sea plane back to Nadi on their last day!!
We had to say another emotional goodbye that day as well. This one was to the wonderful house we had spent the last week. We were really sad to leave our first proper ‘home’ after 5 months travelling but knew there were more adventures around the corner! The only way we could lift our ‘mini-depression’ was to book another epic trip. One experience we had been excited about since planning our trip was to be able to walk around one of New Zealand’s glaciers. So we booked an Ice Explorer trip on the Frans Josef Glacier. We set off on yet another long drive (standard 5 hours) and made a sneaky detour in Wanaka to see if Caroline’s donkey friends were there again, unfortunately they weren’t this time. The scenery was yet again breathtaking. We only managed to make it about halfway to Frans that day though as they had been closing the Haas Pass at night due to a huge landslide last month. So we slept a particularly weird place called Makarora. We did however stay in an awesome A frame bungalow.
We set off early that morning to ensure we got to Frans Josef in good time for our trip up the glacier. When we got there we were kitted up like Arctic explorers with crampons, boots and waterproofs. To get up to the glacier we were flown up in a little helicopter for a quick 5 minute ascent. That in itself was a phenomenal experience, but paled into insignificance once we got onto the ice of the glacier. After a brief lesson on how to walk in crampons and the dangers of the glaciers we began our three hour trek around one of the most insane places you’re ever likely to experience. Our American guide Matt was great and really insightful about how glaciers were formed, he promised we were in for a real treat today as it was going to be possible for us to visit a pretty rare blue cave on our trip. The walk itself actually felt really safe as the crampons gave you incredible grip, but we were constantly reminded and shown the dangers of Moulans (like ice water slides to your death!) and crevasses just off our path. After climbing up a really steep path we went into the blue cave, which was one of the most incredible places I think either of us are every likely to go. It was just a narrow gap in the ice which lead into a cave made entirely of ice. As Caroline said it was the bluest place in the world as the sunlight passed through the blue ice to create a stunning blue light in an enclosed blue cave. We were told to walk further in and wade through some icy water to see what was basically a well hole 10 feet back up to the sky, it was even more stunning than what we had just seen. It was everything we had hoped it would be and we got some photos that we will cherish forever up there. We stood in the middle of this alien land and waited for our helicopter to whip us back down to the town center, which was another beautiful and surreal experience in itself. It had been an amazing day and well worth the 10 hour drive.
On our drive back to Queenstown we had our last call in to see if Caroline’s donkeys were there. Much to her delight they were and we feed them lots of carrots and apples! I’m sure they got more food than me that day. Our last few days in Queenstown were spent in Bumbles Hostel, which a lovely place right in the centre of town. We celebrated our last real night in Queenstown with a fun bar crawl and I of course had a sneaky Ferg Baker Pie for my dinner!!
Unfortunately our two months in wonderful New Zealand had nearly come to an end and we will always look back fondly on this part of our trip as it had been magnificent. When planning our route we had asked for advice from lots of our friends and they had all unanimously said that New Zealand was amazing and we should give it a decent amount of time to explore it. So we gave it two months which is the longest amount of time we have dedicated to one single country. We were really glad we did because we absolutely loved every minute of the two months. The north Island was fascinating, but the South Island had stolen the show. I’m sure that if we wrote a list of our top 10 things we’ve seen and done in our incredible year at least 5 of them will come from New Zealand! We’ve swam with dolphins, jumped out a plane at 15,000 feet, slept on a boat in the middle of Fjordlands, jet boated along a river and walked on a glacier. The fact we got to share some of those experiences with friends and family just made it all the more incredible. From the bottom of our hearts we would like to say thank you to New Zealand for being so amazing and we hope to see you again one day.
As usual the photos on this blog are just a small selection of the ones we have taken and because of New Zealand’s incredibly un-natural natural beauty there are even more than normal. Please click this link to see some more photos.
Next stop for us will be Australia where we meet our friends Matt and Rel and begin our camper vanning from Cairns to Sydney via Melbourne!
Sending everyone all our best and love from the Southern Hempisphere.
Tommy and Caroline.