Monday, 23 May 2011

Our holiday during the Easter break…

Hitchhiking down the West coast, Wanaka, Queenstown and the Bach at Arthur’s Pass, our first earthquake experience, our first glacier experience and lots of walking up mountains, all in the space of 10 glorious days.

Our first hitchhiking experience was inspired by the many positive stories we have heard about it from other travellers here in New Zealand. It is relatively safe and as it turned out, it was a great way to see the UNESCO World Heritage site of the West Coast of the country in super quick time. It also afforded us the opportunity to meet some truly unique and generous people, all of whom gave up their time and the petrol money to help us on their way. ‘It would never have happened in the UK’ I hear you cry – and you’d be right! That first day, we had to wait 3 hours for a lift as we waited next to the sign on the outskirts of Richmond which simply reads ‘HOPE’ as that is the name of the next town. Ngaire Warner had given us a lift, suggesting that anyone going passed that sign would almost certainly be heading south, and so it proved.

Our first hitch-host was a guy who lived in Christchurch and was on his way home. He drove us a bloody long way, through Murchison to Springs Junction. He was an interesting guy, with some harrowing tales of the great February earthquake to tell. On the way we stopped in Murchison so he could get something to eat from a café there. Mel and I went to the Supermarket and bought bread roles and crisps, enough to keep us going. He even stopped at Mariua Falls for us to see the beautiful waterfall that appeared after an earthquake 50 – 60 years ago.

At Springs Junction we only had to wait for a further 5 minutes before 2 of the most terrifying men you would ever want to pick you up offered us a ride to Reefton. One of the guys in the front of the car had a possum for a hat, complete with tail and only one arm. Him and the driver, who Mel and I think was his dad, driving chatted on to us about all sorts of stuff, none of which we could understand as they were both so stoned. We had no mobile phone reception out there in the wilderness either; it was proper horror movie type stuff. How we laughed!

20 minutes on the side of the road in Reefton and we were picked up by another very stoned guy who was on his way to Greymouth for a cup of tea from Blenheim. I think that’s like driving from Manchester to Norwich for a pie. Hmmm.

Once in Greymouth, another lady offered us a lift to the YHA. As it turned out, she is the director of a local gallery there and she once studied ceramics in Brighton. Small world. As it turned out, Greymouth had a very clean YHA which we checked into for the night. We were both very tired by the time we arrived there, so we treated ourselves to a curry at a local place. It turned out to be brilliant food and very reasonable – 2 curries, 2 rice and a couple of rotis for $35. So, day 1: 5 lifts, great times!

Day 2 turned out to be another great day of travel for us. We waited unsuccessfully for a ride just down the road from the YHA.
It was raining a little bit and lots of really lovely classic cars kept driving passed no good for us though. We made our way up to a local BP garage to use the facilities and whilst I was outside waiting for Mel, a little kid came up and offered us a lift with him and his dad to Kumera Junction, roughly 30 kms further on. We weren’t even thumbing a lift at the time!

At Kumera Junction, a couple of New Yorkers in a hired car picked us up and drove us to the Franz Joseph Glacier. It was a great ride, sharing travel stories and getting the inside gossip on life in Brooklyn, New York. We stopped in Hokitika on the way to visit the ‘Sock-Making Machine Museum’. This amazing establishment houses the largest collection of vintage sock making makers in the world. I can smell your excitement!!

At Franz - Joseph Glacier junction we had a crisp sandwich and managed to get a photo of the Glacier or at least a little of it, as it was behind some mountains.
We had decided already to hitch on to Fox Glacier as we felt it would be a little less touristy there, and so it proved. We were picked up after a short wait by an emigration expert and he left us with his card in the small township of Fox Glacier. We decided it must be where the mints come from (although it seems they don’t sell them in NZ…. Also no polar bears to be seen!). We checked into the only back-packers in town and headed off on foot to visit the glacier. It was a long 6 km through rainforest to get there, but it was worth it for the experience. The scale of the glacier and the surrounding valleys is extraordinary.
We even saw some glow worms on the way back into the town, as it was nearly dark at that point in the evening. We enjoyed a hot-tub, a movie on our complementary DVD player and had an early night. We needed to be up early in the morning to keep an eye on how Norwich City were doing against our bitter rivals Ipswich Town. We beat them 5-1 incidentally and we have subsequently been promoted to the Premier league of English Football. So how does it feel Ipswich Town?? (I don’t expect anyone to actually reply to this blog as they haven’t yet learned how to read and write down there)

2 German lads picked us up in the drizzle that morning and as luck would have it, they were going all the way to Wanaka, which is where we wanted to go. It was such a good trip. They were great hitch-hosts, with great music and funny stories, including one about their own hitching experience which I don’t feel is appropriate to divulge here. Let’s just say it involved a very, very lonely truck driver who got the wrong idea.

Once in Wanaka, it felt as if our holiday had really begun in a lot of ways. We checked into yet another YHA and set off to Mount Iron.
View from Mount Iron down towards Wanaka
Not the longest of walks, but you get a good view over the area. It was lovely. We reserved the big one for the next day.

View from Roy's Peak down to the lake
We were up early, enjoyed a good breakfast and headed off on what would eventually be a 25 km walk – 6 km just to the base of Roy’s Peak – then 12 km up and down the 1600 metre high peak - before the walk back via the lake which makes up the rest. Magnificent views, unrivalled by anything I have experienced at home in the UK. Although the landscape is very Scottish all over that area.
That evening we went ‘Cinema Paradiso’. It is a lovely little novelty cinema with sofas and even an old Morris which you can sit in and have hot food delivered to you as you watch the movie. We saw ‘Black Swan’ which I thought was excellent.

The next morning was Easter Sunday. We got a lift to Queenstown from a lovely couple who even took the time to drive us through neighbouring Arrowtown. We were staying with some Couch Surf hosts at their place in Fern Hill. Laila and John, from Scotland and Ireland respectively were simply the best hosts. So generous and welcoming. It was a shame we couldn’t have spent more time with them in the end. But we did have time to pick up some very intriguing tips on travelling through Borneo, learned a new board game called ‘The Settlers of Cazar’ and went for dinner with them to a really good Thai restaurant which has
 lunch for $10 deals.

We climbed up Ben Lomond Mountain whilst we were there, more epic views and self-satisfaction a-plenty.

On the summit of Ben Lomond
I tried ice-skating for the first time (Mel is so good by the way), we learnt how to play Frisbee golf, had nice pub food, ate the best ice-cream and sampled some of John’s really nice single-malt whiskey; Talisker, incidentally the name of their cat! Cool name.

In order to get back to Nelson we were going to have to drive. Mel had managed to find a website which lists car rental companies in need of cars and campervans being returned to their bases up and down the country. It just so happened that a 2-birth campervan did indeed need re-locating from Queenstown to Nelson. We offered our services and were duly sent to pick it up from an American couple who were staying at a nearby hotel. 2 perfect fake-white Californian smiles later and we were on our way. It was a long, long night drive to Arthur’s Pass, where would be spending the next couple of days. I ended up driving us the entire way, which I enjoyed, but we didn’t arrive until 12:20am.

We were staying at Ngarie and Tom’s place, the same generous people who let us house-sit the Beverly Hills place back in the New Zealand summer. Tom’s family, the Morton’s, have a stunning bach (a bach is Kiwi for Holiday Home – oven describing one that can be as little as a shed with no power, right up to a mansion-type second home) there, simply called ‘The Beeches’. We spent an idyllic few days there. It was freezing, but the bach is brilliant – see the pics on Flickr – we did more walking to ‘Avalanche Peak’ and the ‘Devil’s Punch Bowl’. We even saw some Keas, a type of mountain parrot. On our final morning, just for good measure, we experienced our first ever earthquake. It measured 5.3 and hit the house pretty hard. Nothing and nobody was hurt.

We arrived back in Nelson last weekend to house-sit at Sue and John’s place again. It’s been yet another amazing chapter in our travels. Onwards!!

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