A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Tekapo

sunny 8 °C
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It seems almost un-necessary to say that we were greeted by Mrs Swan on arrival. She had found some other poor souls from whom to grab a lift and was off to Christchurch. Sadly I didn't have my camera to hand and missed what was to be my last opportunity to capture her on film (well, memory card) as she disappeared off into the horizon.

The YHA was a lovely timber building right on the lake shore. Now armed with camera, I headed out to grab a couple of shots whilst the sun was shining.


What a place! It just seemed amazing to me after all that I had seen so far, that the South Island just kept on producing places and scenery that were even more beautiful and dramatic than before. Mind blowing.

To provide some scale, here's the science: Lake Tekapo covers an area of 83 square kilometres and is at an altitude of 700 metres above sea level (thanks Wiki). So, it's pretty damn huge and consequently dominates the little town bearing its name. This is good, as the town itself is somewhat ... uninspiring. This was not helped as we were visiting effectively slap bang in the middle of the summer and winter seasons and there was work underway modernising several shops and cafe's leaving not a lot of choice for places to eat and drink.

We found a nice spot for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the lake, but were not quite so fortunate for dinner. The place was kitted out in a sort of 'Wild West' stylee yet was serving sort of Italian food. Now, being practically winter, the evenings get pretty parky - a fact that any establishment in Lake Tekapo seems to have forgotten. The was a fire going in the restaurant, but it was nowhere near where people were sitting, so people were continually leaving their food to warm up a bit - and then sitting back down again. Also, as some bright spark had let the fire go out at the YHA and the person on duty had buggered off for the night without leaving any means to relight it. So everyone was sat in the lounge shivering under their duvets. Madness.

As a result, we scarpered early the next morning so as to return feeling to fingers and toes. Conclusion - a staggering beautiful backdrop marred by crappy facilities. Come on Kiwi's - sort it out!


Next stop: Christchurch

Posted by Slummin'_it 04:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


semi-overcast 8 °C
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Let's just say it: Queenstown is my favourite place in New Zealand. If you wanted to sum up everything about the country, but could only take someone to one place - this would be it. It's is jaw dropingly beautiful, has a great atmosphere whatever the season, has enough adrenaline junkie stylee activities to scare the bejesus out of you and yet has still retained enough character to appeal to pretty much everyone.

As per the now well established agenda, we checked into the YHA and our six berth dorm was occupied but just one other person - the fabulously named 'Jonnie Bigelow' (18 from Utah but living in Wellington with Ma & Pa). We liked him immediately.

The three of us headed out for morning coffee and discovered the 'Vudu Cafe' which was awesome - modern, lively and enough freshly baked goodies to give me yet more chins. Perfect. If Carlsberg did cafes...

Next on the agenda was the gondola ride to get some great views whilst there was a smidgen of sunshine and to have a butcher's at some of the activities that all start from the top of hill.


We decided to have a go at 'Lugeing' - think plastic tray with wheels and handlebars accompanied by rudimentary brakes. You park yourself aboard said tea tray and head down 800 metres of toboggan-like track with the token bends, tunnels and dips. You then get the ski lift back to the top and repeat. After taking the practice run like something akin to Miss Daisy and realising that it handled much better than the Toyota, I grew more adventurous on subsequent runs. Our Jason tackled the course with his usual North American subtlety and was nearly separated from his luge (and head) on several occasions, whilst our Jonnie did quite a graceful job all round. We gave Skydiving a miss (been there, done that) and gave the bungee jump a wide berth. Our Jonnie had conquered his fear and done the bungee the day before and there's not enough tea in China to persuade me to give that a go. The only other temptation was the paragliding but as the clouds had re-appeared with vengeance, visibility would have been 'poor' at best.

That left us with the only other sensible option - a visit to 'Fergburger' (www.fergburger.com). Reputed to be the best burger in the world, it seemed appropriate to check it out. We each ordered a 'Mr Big Stuff' (oh er, Mrs) "1/2 pound of prime New Zealand beef topped with melted cheddar cheese, American streaky bacon and bbq sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli". Best burger in the world is quite a claim, but I have to say not undeserved in this case. The freshest, tastiest burger style heart attack on-a-plate I've ever experienced. The only downside? Only one outlet in the world! We rolled out and headed back to base for a nanna nap with the paramedics on standby.

IMG_1369.jpg The burger was bigger than my hand...

The next day our Jonnie went out for a relaxing trip on the 'Shotover' jet boat. Essentially it flies along at an alarming rate of knots through tight canyons and does 360 degree spins. Not wanting to redecorate said canyons with my breakfast, I decided to revisit the Vudu cafe instead. Our Jason and I went out for an afternoon drive along Lake Wakatipu while our Jonnie recovered.
We decided to indulge as it was our last night in Queenstown and enjoyed a monster trough at a swanky Chinese restaurant. Sufficiently stuffed and swimming in enough Green Tea to sink a battleship, we headed back to base for the last time.

The following morning we dropped our Jonnie at the airport and had one last fix at the Vudu cafe. The Bakewell Tart was so good it nearly took top spot over my Aunty Margaret for the best Bakewell Tart in the world and I was almost inconsolable that I wouldn't be seeing this place again.

So, a tearful goodbye to this great place and a promise to be back someday - for the coffee and cake if nothing else.


Next stop: Lake Tekapo

Posted by Slummin'_it 10:29 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Te Anau

A Sound Experience

overcast 10 °C
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The Honda was once again pointed South and we headed away from Wanaka stopping only for coffee in Queenstown before continuing on to Te Anau. As usual, we checked we'd got everything we needed making a mental note that petrol would be required for the second part of the journey. However, as we left Queenstown, we were engrossed in some conversation or other and merrily sailed past the BP and Shell service stations and only realised that there was 'trouble at mill' when the little orange light appeared on the dashboard. We passed several villages without a whiff of a petrol station and when we resorted to the iPhone to find us the nearest purveyor of unleaded, the news was bleak - 80kms. Frugal as the Honda was (even when being subjected to the heavy right foot of our Jason), that wasn't going to happen. We stopped at a shop that was pretty much the sole content of one village and a friendly farmer saved the day. He had a few litres back at his gaff for his quad bike which we were welcome to. We thanked our lucky stars and followed him to the barn where the golden nectar was duly dispensed - along with a big sigh of relief. We made a mental note to not repeat that school boy error.

Whilst Te Anau itself is... how shall we say... not very exciting, it is situated on the shores of Lake Te Anau which is stunning... apparently. It was so misty on our arrival that we could have been almost anywhere. The YHA was Mrs Swan free but oddness prevailed in the form of the owner. I'm not sure whether he was just 'vacant' or as the Germans would say 'behindert', but either way 'the lift wasn't going to the top floor'. Undeterred, we grabbed our bags and headed in.

I was in desperate need of a roast dinner and bearing in mind where we were, lamb seemed to be the only appropriate choice. Te Anau YHA was not really up to the mark kitchenwise with only one oven. I managed to get first dibbs before a hoard of Koreans invaded the kitchen and slammed in the lamb (after a token studding with garlic and rosemary). I don't think I've ever been in a kitchen this manic before - it was like Masterchef Seoul behind me. The odd thing was, come serving time, everyone was far more interested in what was going on in the UK corner. Mercifully, no daughters were offered as potential brides and we managed to escape into a corner and scoff in peace.

Keen to get onto our Doubtful Sound cruise, we merrily left Te Anau and headed for our 12.30 appointment with the boat. As we should have expected by now, the boat had already left as it was now on winter operating times - a small detail our travel agent had neglected to check... So, another night in the lovely Te Anau to look forward to along with the annoyance that the only day of the week where sunshine was forecast would pass us by. B'stards.

The following day we arrived at the correct time for the cruise and met up with our Bianca (German) and our Jacobina (Dutch). The weather was frankly grim, but the boat staff were amazing - I don't think I've ever seen such a co-ordinated team. They all worked together whatever the task - from dinner to water based activities - to get the job done. Quite inspiring - as indeed was the landscape. Hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides.


Despite or perhaps in spite of the rain, we queued up for either kayaking or a boat trip into some of the coves. Ma Nature has clearly been busy in this part of the world although no decisions appear to have been made about the weather, so you just some of everything thrown at you. Glimpses of sun tempted us, but the rain and mist prevailed. Back on the boat, some mad fools jumped into the not-so-warm water whilst the more sane had a nice cup of tea and one of the best muffins I've ever tasted.


The first of the photographs above is not black and white - the bleakness captured just before the clouds finally disappeared and we were treated to a lovely sunset. Back inside, a fabulous 3 course buffet awaited.
After a bottle of red and devoid of TV/t-interweb (thankfully), the four of us resorted to more simple activities - Cards and Scrabble.


By the morning the clouds were back in full force but at least when we emerged on terra firma, we did manage to get a view of the Sound from above which had been completely obscured by rain the previous day.


In for a penny, in for a pound, we headed away from the Doubtful Sound and onto the Milford Sound. Most people are rewarded with their first views as they come to the end of the four day tramp (hike) along the Milford Track - reputed to be one of the worlds' most amazing walks. Although I was seriously tempted to leave the car behind and do the trek, the weather was so grim that parts of it were flooded. So, we decided that four wheels would be the more sensible option.

Thankfully we didn't arrive too early as Milford makes Te Anau look like a big city. One bar, one restaurant and that's it. We retired to the backpackers for a nanna nap before the excitement of dinner. In fairness, the grub wasn't too bad but the place was pretty run down. A missed business opportunity perhaps?

Our afternoon Milford 'nature cruise' was a little disappointing - the only animal spotted was a solitary seal - and the trip was over in a couple of hours. It made us thankful that we'd explored the Doubtful Sound as well.


Next stop: Queenstown

Posted by Slummin'_it 08:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


sunny 14 °C
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Wanaka would be described by a lot of people as their favourite place in New Zealand. Much quieter than Queenstown yet still plenty of adrenaline based activities available, enveloped by stunningly beautiful snow-capped mountains and nestled on the southern shore of Lake Wanaka. Throw into the mix trendy shops and cafes plus a cinema where you can sit in a classic car or plane while you watch your chosen flick, Wanaka pretty much has all boxes ticked. Most come to escape the mid-season (winter and summer) madness in Queenstown. I'll have to reserve judgement until I get to Queenstown, but I can certainly see the appeal.

The dramatic drive from Franz Josef via the Haast Pass cuts through the Southern Alps and leaves you in no doubt what to expect on arrival.



We managed to get upgraded to a 'suite' at the YHA (can you imagine such decadence?) so were separated from the riff-raff. Obviously you-know-who appeared and, for a change, was not wearing blue trackies but was clutching a freshly laundered bra. Best not to ask I thought.

Feeling the need to have some home cooked grub, sweet and sour chicken was the order of the day. So after a somewhat chilly sunset at the lakefront, I donned the proverbial apron and got cooking. We were introduced to the lovely Ursula from Ireland and we ended up making good use of a bottle of Nelson Pinot Gris and chatted the night away.


The following morning we had a stroll about the place and our Jason, back on the job hunt, went to quiz the local i-sight (tourist information) on where he might find building companies doing their thing. Uncharacteristically, they were about as useful as ice cream in Alaska, so we went exploring on our own. We didn't find much evidence of building activity, but did find some amazing houses surrounding the lake. By accident we stumbled upon a small industrial area and, after the obligatory coffee, spotted a potential employer for our Jason. Some good contacts later, we escaped back into town.

The afternoon's options were a) chill or b) visit 'Puzzle World'. Everyone we'd met advised the latter, but option 'a' was far more appealing, so I decided to check out the merits of an afternoon nanna nap.

With our Jason on call for dinner, I took the art of doing very little to a new level and loafed until I was fed, then loafed some more.

As for Wanaka - well, it certainly is beautiful and for me, pretty damned relaxing too. I can see why so many people love it. After the adventures in Franz Josef, it was just what the doctor ordered. Apologies to Puzzle World, I'm sure you would have been great...


Next stop: Te Anau

Posted by Slummin'_it 08:15 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Franz Joseph

sunny 12 °C
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Those of you who are paying attention will have noted that this entry should have been entitled "Arthur's Pass". This is indeed true, however, arriving mid-afternoon and realising that it's a 'one horse town' (even the guy at the YHA said there was nothing to do but hike and it was too late in the day for that), we decided to press on to Franz Joseph. Seven hours total driving from Christchurch - no mean feat for our Jason.

When we checked in at the YHA, not only did we spot Mrs Swan (still in the blue trackies) but we were advised that the best day for activities would be the following day. I was really keen on the Heli-hike (heli flight up Franz Joseph and then walkies on said glacier before flying back down again) and our Jason wanted to do the Skydive. I booked the former and took a rain check on the latter.

Dinner was a strange affair - fish and chips sounds sensible enough, but proceedings started with a free 'shot' (something blue and not very potent). If you're out to party, a shot or two is fine. When you're out for food and the place has less than five people in it, it seemed somewhat random. We decided to escape as soon as possible.

When I emerged for breakfast the following morning, I was greeted with the following casual remark: "I've booked you on the skydive by the way". Well, you know who your friends are don't you? Muttering a few indelicacies in response, I skulked off to ready myself for the day's activities and take the necessary brave pills.

We turned up ready for the Heli-hike about 20 minutes early - and were promptly sent away again as we were 'too early'. Slightly bemused, we grabbed an additional caffeine shot and re-appeared 15 seconds late fully expecting to be told we were too late. The less than cheerful women decided to accept our cash and grunted at us as we passed. Someone obviously full of the joys of wintertime.

Once in the helicopter and kitted out in exploration stylee clothing, we headed up onto the glacier ready to explore the icefall terrain. De-camping from the chopper was a slippery experience until we managed to get a safe distance from the whirling blades and fit the crampons to our shoes. I was amazed at how well I could now walk on the ice (easily impressed I know) and began diving into the ice caves and progressing up the glacier. The guide (our Ben) was extremely patient as the Korean contingent duly ignored his advice on how to walk safely and just looked petrified. All in all, we had about 2 hours exploring before the chopper returned to collect us.



Once on terra firma, my attention was turned to the afternoon's activity. I grabbed a sandwich wondering when I would see it again and made my way to the Skydive centre. Luckily for me, the normal 18,000ft skydive had a winter special - an extra thousand feet thrown in for free making it the world's highest tandem skydive. What a bonus. As we headed for the airfield, my stomach was questioning my plans as was my brain. The wait was made worse as we were the second batch to jump, so we had to wait for the others to return before getting on with it. Then, as I embraced the romper suit and got to know my instructor somewhat more intimately, the nerves completely disappeared. When I did this last in South Africa, my heart nearly gave out in the plane on the way up, but this time I was as cool as a cucumber. Admittedly, the scenery was absolutely epic - Mount Cook on one side and the sea on the other. But even when it was time for the oxygen masks as we passed the 11,000 feet mark, I was still relaxed. I was nearest the door and as it opened and feet over the edge I was still thinking 'well, this is pretty awesome isn't it?' I may have uttered a small expletive as I began to fall, but then I think this is forgivable as 0-180kph is somewhat dramatic, covering 1000ft in just over six seconds.

From 19,000ft, you free fall for 90 seconds before the parachute is requested and this is when various parts of your anatomy are shoved upwards briskly. I'm not a fan of being spun around wildly (some instructors do this) so the lovely Lei just gave the 'controls' so I could control the amount of spin and only took them back as we came into land.


So, definitely the most expensive day so far but also the best. I can't describe the feeling, but I was grateful to our Jason for the peer pressure. I would have been very disappointed had I a) not done it at all or b) gone for the 12,000 ft option.

Somewhat elated, we treated ourselves to a nice meal out and a celebratory beer to two. Well deserved even if I do say so myself.

Next stop: Wanaka

Posted by Slummin'_it 07:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

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