Day 1 to 12 – Fiji

When our plane finally landed at Nadi airport, four hours later than scheduled because of a weather delay, we walked through immigration with our newly purchased duty free items into the main lobby and were greeted at the information desk. Soon afterwards we found ourselves sitting at a travel desk going through our options for the next few weeks. We had already told ourselves we wanted to go island hopping and the helpful lady talked us into a ‘Bula Pass’. Bula is a word you will never forget once you have been to Fiji! We booked our ticket there and then as we didn’t want to waste a day and as a result they gave us a free night in a hotel near the port.

At this stage we had no idea about the mosquitoes!

Soon after we reached the hotel but there were apparently some crossed wires somewhere along the line and we had to fork out an extra $8 for our room, it was a little under £3 but we did get upgraded to a family room with Air Con. After dinner we went back to our room to discover there was a power-cut, still they did have candles to hand and strangely the Air Con was still working. Before we forget to mention it, the ride from the airport was exceptional; the taxi couldn’t have completed the journey if a single extra part of the car broke, the lights on the dashboard were all showing signs of an impending breakdown and the ones that should have been on during a normal journey were not, even the rev counter was broken! The car needed to be traded to Mr S. McCann! (A fictional character)

The Siamese twins also had freakishly small heads!

In the morning Alex showed his quality, by locking the room key in the bedroom before breakfast. There was nobody at reception at all, not even a Gopher! Breakfast was then served next door at their sister hotel, but it might as well be called a ‘Hotel That Is Slightly Aware Of The Existence Of The Crap Hotel Next Door!’ Breakfast was, at the minimum, a hostile affair! Our coach was picking us up in about fifteen minutes or less and Claire was about to have Alex’s gut’s for garters! We impatiently waited for the staff to finally identify that nobody was able to get into the office for the spare key because that person had not not showed up for work the day previously! As a result, apparently that meant they most probably were not showing up that day either. When a stroke of genius hit one of the receptionists and she said she would open the door with a spoon. Realising this was our best chance so far, we followed with great keenness and suddenly we were inside before you could say ‘Excellent security!’ We grabbed our stuff and waited outside for the bus.

Proof that sharks don't eat whales!

We made it to the port in about half an hour and booked our first night at the northern most Yasawa Island. This had been recommended as a good starting point as you can have a peek at them all on the way and then decide where you want stay as you make your way south back to the mainland. Our first stop was Coral View on Tavewa Island; as we boarded the small boat that took us to shore and closed in on the beach we could hear the entire staff of the resort all singing a welcome song for us. We sat in the restaurant area after shaking hands and saying ‘Bula’ twenty five times and were given a welcome speech with all the details of the resort. We just wanted to relax and after lunch we left our luggage and slobbed. This continued for the next day two days with only meals breaks and sleeping getting in the way. The wind was quite breezy during those few days and at one point it rained so hard for about half an hour that our bedroom floor was flooded halfway across the room.

This photo was difficult to capture!

We left at about midday on the third morning for Korovou Eco Tour Resort on Naviti Island and bumped into a lovely couple from England while on the boat called Sam and Lauren. We found our room and sat out on the porch for a few Rum-n-Coke’s, pre mixed by ourselves from our duty-free supply. We had noticed the locally produced ‘Bounty Rum’ was on offer, two bottles for $49, which is cheap, then when you factor in that it is 58% Alc. It wasn’t long before we had offered our friends a drink and they offered to supply us with mixer as long as the rum was flowing. It was absolutely disgustingly strong but after a couple you didn’t notice any longer. The rest of the night was a blur, but we do recall being on the beach for hours by a bonfire talking to other travellers about each other’s tales until the crowd had finally dispersed. Breakfast was skipped, lunch was eaten by Alex but not Claire. As we starred at the sky through the trees while swaying in a hammock we contemplated whether or not we would ever touch a drop of ‘Bounty’ again!

To get the sharks to come closer we put some juicy bait in the water!

Several hours later we were dropped off at the Manta Ray Bay Island Resort on Nanuya Balavu. We liked the sound of this resort as it described itself as having tree houses and jungle houses, and we were intrigued to stay in one of the tree houses. As we arrived the resort looked slightly more modern than the others so far, and had comfy sofas and Sky TV which was a bonus, plus all the usual stuff we had become accustomed to such as hammocks and chair swings etc. We came to our hut, which to be honest was not in a tree, but on stilts, slightly disappointing but we made the best of it and in the end we had one of the best nights sleeps in our little hut. We had the beach directly in front of us, our own private hammock and swing chairs and it was pretty nice. The resort had an additional charge for food, rather than being included like the previous ones. However, we were impressed with the standard of food, and got a choice of what to have! Nice one!

The bait was working!

The evening’s entertainment consisted of some games including a crab race, $1 to purchase a crab, name and number it and place it back in the bucket. Our host had drawn a centre circle and a large circle about two metres in diameter around the outside, the bucket went upside down in the centre circle. The bucket was lifted and they were off; the fastest five would be entered into heat two and the fastest three would be entered into the final. Claire’s little soldier, number eighteen made it to the second heat, Alex’s was too lame and was released back into the sand; his racing days were over. Heat two started with little to no hope for Fred, number eighteen AKA Claire’s Little Soldier; he was living up to his reputation as a Hermit and remained inside his shell for about half of the race, when all of a sudden he gained a second wind after the first heat and emerged first place with a sprint that a more superior crustacean would have been proud of. Sadly Fred was spent and never stood a chance in the final; he had used all of his mojo in the second heat, we were still proud trainers with his silver medal and released him with number nineteen!

Says it all!

Alex woke up early to watch an outclassed Man United get whooped by Barcelona in the Champions League Final. Disappointed but not overly concerned with the loss he went back to find Claire all over his side of the bed as expected. It was breakfast time and we needed to check out soon, so once we were fed we packed and arranged a nice position on the beach for about six hours. Fiji has been really hard on us, there has been too much sitting in the sun and all that jazz! The boat collected us again and dropped us off at Naqalia lodge on Waya Lailai Island and we were presented with the now familiar problem of eating food and relaxing in any way we saw fit!

Claire's Starfish!

After our early night (mainly due to the bar not having any beer left) we had an early morning because the night before we had decided to take part in a shark feeding trip. It was only $30 and we had not seen any sharks yet except in tanks. The previous night we had a chat with the others going on the same trip about which sharks were present in the Pacific Ocean and whether they were man-eaters or not. Claire was uneasy on whether to jump in the water with the rest of the human bait or to follow her instincts and avoid the danger altogether, but Alex got her there; if the truth should be known, the boat trip out into the Ocean was more worrying than the sharks. We snorkelled up and jumped overboard. As soon as we were in the water we saw a shark, a reef shark that was about five feet long, lurking below us moving slowly in our direction. Their motion is efficient and effortless! They liked to keep their distance from the cumbersome oaf’s above and while we were hooked on the reefs and ocean floor looking for more of them our guide was spear fishing in the background amassing some fish to attract more of them in.

South Sea Island! Tiny!!

We found a coral cove and couple of sharks made several appearances. Alex dived down to get some close up photos, making it about two metres from them a few times. Our guide returned with some bait to feed them with and within a few minutes there were about four sharks in view at all times. The only problem was another boat of people had arrived and there were now loads of bloody idiots all around. Our guide dived down to the sea floor and hand fed a shark then grabbed it tight and brought it up to the surface; to be fair that makes it sound easy to do, but it isn’t! Our group tried to get close but all the new arrivals got in the way and only Alex managed to get in by barging through to touch it. Shortly afterwards our guide said it was time to go before the bigger sharks got the scent and found the cove for a feeding frenzy!

Another one bites the dust!

Later in the afternoon we joined our hosts for a Kava ceremony. Kava is a drink that has the appearance of muddy water and is widely drunk by Fijians all across their 333 islands. It is made from the root of a plant that is farmed on the wettest parts of Fiji; they smash it to pieces and grind it down in a large bowl with a massive pole. When it’s ready they strain it through a cloth with fresh water into a large bowl and hey presto; it’s served in a half coconut shell. The effect it has on you is a mild tingling in the mouth a bit like an anaesthetic, then you are supposed to just sit back and relax as it takes you into a sleepy feeling and enjoy what they call ‘FijiTime’ a bit like ‘MillerTime’ except the complete opposite. Claire had one cupful and decided it was not her thing; she would say it was gross. Alex did feel a tingling around the gums but no real sleepy effect after one cup, but the sixth or seventh cup he would agree that there was something to it; it did have an effect but nothing that impaired conscious thought or made him feel sleepy.

That said, the Fijians went on to explain about tribalism in Fiji and how it works, different tribes have different ways of doing the ceremony etc. the thing that came across the strongest was that they are all very happy living here and although they do work jobs they can quit whenever they want and not rely on their government to survive because they all know how to use the land and oceans to feed themselves and have the skills to not need money. Amazing really when you think about it, when your bank balance gets low you start to worry about money back home!

Our fav photo!

We boarded the boat for our final island, the smallest one we were going to stay on, South Sea Island! It really was tiny and they only had accommodation for up to about 35 people, maybe less, in a dorm room only. You could walk around the island at a fast pace in about three minutes but if you ran you could do it in less than sixty seconds and that was the attraction to us; not the running but the exclusivity. As it turned out the island was quite busy with day trippers from the mainland, being close to the mainland makes day trips more accessible for tourists, still it wasn’t overrun and we didn’t really notice anybody else until the meals were called by the banging of the drums.

Big up the Crabs! Go Hermits!

They had Crab Racing again in the evening after dinner, all the day trippers had gone and there were only about fifteen people in the race. Claire had carefully selected her crab; Alex was also in the race for a laugh calling his Crab 007! Claire was feeling confident about this one, no more second place for her and Fred II. The choice was a good’n and after three rounds Fred won! Claire and Alex had a lovely bottle of wine to enjoy as the prize for Fred’s efforts!

Snugs Immobilised!

The next morning we had to be up, out of the room and scoff breakfast before 8am, this was pretty tough. Afterwards the next 2 hours were spent doing “Hammock time” until the free boat trip and snorkelling to the outer reef. A quick 5 minute boat ride out and we were jumping into the reef all geared up. We have to say we were able to see such a diverse range of coral formations, fish and other sea life; it was a great place to snorkel. We saw loads of blue star fish, one, of which we were able to hold, we also saw a sea cucumber and the tiniest clown fish with their mummy and daddy, very cute. A good 25 minutes later the boat was waiting, ready to take everyone back to the Island. A bit more relaxing occurred before a yummy BBQ lunch was served with some singing and dancing as entertainment, which we have to say is the best we have seen so far in Fiji.

Kava ceromony in full swing!

The afternoon activities included some of our own snorkelling around the Island, which didn’t provide the range of sights as the outer reef, but was still fun. A submarine trip was also on the cards, the Island has its own “Yellow submarine” just on the outer reef. Deep into the vessel you go and sit yourself down ready for a 15 minute cruise underwater to see some sea life the easy and lazy way. Luckily there was some air conditioning, but it was still a bit claustrophobic and we were happy to see light again and go back to the Island.

Claire in full swing!

With only a couple of hours left until boarding the ferry we had some more chilling and relaxing to do. The ferry back to the mainland was quick and soon we were on the coach heading for our hostel for the night. We had a splurge and went for a private double room which was pretty nice, with TV, hot water, tea facilities, air con and a comfy bed, things we hadn’t seen on the Islands. We decided to also treat ourselves to a good meal at the restaurant downstairs and a beer or two.

Claire's Artistic Talent!

We waited for our transport to Malolo Island out the back of the hostel, not really sure what to expect we were greeted by the driver of the boat who gave us a ticket and asked us to wait for some others. At this point a master salesman saw his bait and headed to it, the bait was us! He gave us some schpeil about how great the English are, asking how we were enjoying Fiji and had we tried a green coconut, he led us to his stash of coconuts that he had just got from the tree by climbing it and chopped them into drinking containers for us, safe to say he made a nice $10 out of us for something we didn’t really want, but we guess after 32 years of doing it he was pretty good!

Cocktails on the Beach Resort!

Anyway soon after our boat was ready, a nippy little thing it was and soon we were being propelled by the 200bhp engine reaching speeds of about 40mph, with our hair blowing in all directions and water spray soaking us. The boat was full already, and to our amazement we stopped at Beachcomber Island to pick up 4 more people, somehow we made room for them. The bumpy journey continued, bad weather equals waves which equals lots of up and down motions, this then equals Claire feeling a bit seasick, at this time we had been travelling in the sea around an hour, we had to get to our Island soon before Claire ‘Ralphed’, and luckily it was the next stop. Phew!

The traditional welcome song was waiting for us, we checked into our cosy lodge and had lunch while the heavens opened, it continued to tip it down for the remainder of the night.

Miller!

Our time on Malolo Island was a relaxed affair, with the rain pouring down for the first two days followed by a couple of days of sunshine. The food was hearty and westernised with plenty of chips etc. We stayed at Wali Beach Resort in a lodge halfway up the hillside. They had a cool, freshwater swimming pool that was perfect for cooling off in when it got too hot. the biggest bummer about this part of our stay was the mosquitoes, they have torn us apart. It has been more like a massacre, with us being the target in evenings. At last count Alex had about fifty bites on his back alone with Claire a close second, but they have bitten us everywhere they can, arms, legs, neck, face, even fingers and toes. After research on Google we have learned that they do actually bite the people they find the most tasty, they float around until they make up their minds then they swoop. Oh, and it’s the women only that need a blood meal!

Hangover Cure! A girl with a massive pair of coconuts!

We will be on our way in the morning, back to England. Thank you for following our travel blog and don’t stop logging in, we will be posting an overall summary a few days after we have returned and reflected on our trip.

See you all soon!

Alex and Claire!

Day 18 to 22 – Auckland

To be honest, Auckland didn’t start well and we do not have any intention to return, other than for a major global sporting event. The main reason being, Auckland has nothing to offer in way of character or personality, especially when compared with the rest of the country. Things were more expensive because you were in a city, which is usual in our experience. The (unofficial) capitol of New Zealand was merely a port of entry for travellers and a useful port for business. If you are going to New Zealand, we recommend you get you camper van and move on ASAP! No disrespect, because Auckland is full of lovely people, but it is not a highlight!

Hobbits everywhere!

We had struggled to find a cheap campsite and settled, after much flapping, for a place near the airport. Not that this was helpful to our cause; we needed to drop the camper van near the airport and we were leaving from the airport, but Alex’s sister was nowhere near the airport. So our mission was to deal with the lies in between. By the way, we were meeting up with Sophie here as well!

Owharoa falls!

In all, we spent the next three nights/two days moaning about crap, watching ‘Family Guy’, cooking the remainder of the food from the van, cleaning the van and looking at the family of ducks/feeding those ducks bread. Sounds rubbish, but it was great! Alex loves Claire’s company and Claire puts up with Alex being annoying most of the time! We also spent loads of time on ‘Rubik’s Revenge’.

Claire was a sucker for feeding ducks!

We left our camper van with Tui Campers and were not penalised for any cleaning or damage, the guy also ran us down to the bus stop so we could get back into town. We arrived an hour later in the CBD, which is quite small and very hilly. Meeting up with Sophie was easy and we chatted about their first two weeks in the city. As it turned out they were struggling to get jobs that suited their backpacker lifestyle and were contemplating either moving on to another part of the country, possibly the south island or moving on to travel Asia. We think we may have inspired them on the latter!

What shall we call it? I know, New Zealand Lager!

We spent the night playing drinking games and making a lot of noise in their ‘No Party’ apartment block and on the second day we walked for an hour to the Crazy Golf place in town, only to find we had arrived after they closed. Back at the apartment we watched TV and then said our goodbyes again; who knows when we will see Sophie again, but we know one thing, our paths are destined to cross again!

Distance to Epsom 10,496 miles!

We made our way, in the morning to the airport via the shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes, it was only $14 each though our hostel instead of $16. We were feeling ready to leave New Zealand by this stage and another adventure awaited us on the shores of Fiji. We really enjoyed our time here but had exhausted our budget before the end had been reached, we would like to come back here again someday!

Claire lost the other half of the Hampster ball!

Day 16 to 17 – Rotorua

We do not know for sure, but we imagine the English translation for Rotorua is Ham ‘n’ Eggs! Well at least that is the only thing you can smell as you drive into town. The town is situated on New Zealand’s most active thermal area and is the most visited town on the North Island by tourists. The Ham ‘n’ Eggs smell is the sulphur that is released by the earth’s core and even though it is claimed that you get used to the smell quickly, it’s all lies; though the odour is not that unpleasant.

You were expecting a fart joke weren't you?

As we approached town we noticed a sign saying ‘Thermal Walk’ and decided to pay them a visit. It turned out to be a little house at the end of a rough road. A man was inside and explained we would need to part with $13 each before going on the self-guided walk. Separated from our money we were shown a door that led us to a man-made walking trail through some hills and over a river. We could see water vapour rising in the distance above the trees and bushes, and then, as we turned the corner, in came to view several hot springs feeding into the river.

A few low flying ducks around here!

The view was ’Steaming’ and we moved around looking at natures work. As we wandered around we noticed that the ground was warm to the touch even though the outside temperature was only about 10 degrees Celsius. We found a sign leading us to the Chocolate Pot and Porridge Bowl; intrigued we walked the path to its end and found what they were talking about. It was a muddy slop with air bubbles rapidly popping out, a bit crappy looking, but interesting!

After wandering around for half an hour and then spending a further ten minutes looking for Alex’s glasses, well done Claire for finding them, we made for the town centre. As the gas wafted into the cabin we continually checked that the other person hadn’t dropped one, but who could tell really? Our aim was clear; we wanted to book a ‘White Water Rafting’ trip for the following day. We homed in on an i-site and booked the ‘Hot Deal’ with Kaituna Cascades, 09:15 start with $10 dollars off a photo CD if we wanted one. It came to $82 each, which was quite reasonable we thought. We booked into a holiday park for the evening and found that they had a hot swimming pool, heated by the earth and had a dip; that was a really nice touch and while we were bathing there was a ‘Haka’ class going on in the main building, interesting to say the least with plenty of shouting!

Back Paddle! Back Paddle!

The next day our rafting adventure was awaiting us, we checked out and made our way to the Kaituna Cascades depot to meet our fellow rafters and guides. After signing our lives away on the paperwork we got suited and booted in the changing rooms. We were wearing our swimmers underneath our clothes, as we had been advised, then put on our wetsuits, thermal fleece and neoprene boots which were provided. We were then given our safety equipment a hard hat and life jacket, we were looking very cool at this stage.

What we have here is 'Faliure to Communicate!'

During our safety briefing they asked who would like to sit at the front of the raft! The rafting team was made up of all girls except Alex, so as you can imagine, there weren’t any takers straight away until Alex decided to put us both forward for the important role. We were given a short lesson and explanation on how to handle the next hour of rafting! Including all the do and don’ts if the raft flips over or you fall out, Gulp.

Wave to the camera!

We loaded the raft onto the transporter and then loaded ourselves into the van; the start of the rafting was just 2 minutes down the road and we watched as the raft was carried down to the river and then all jumped aboard, paddles in hand. The river was fast moving and we were all rowing according to our skipper’s instructions, forwards and backwards, whatever was required of us at the time. The main event of this particular river is the 7 foot waterfall which you raft down; it is at this moment in time the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, the King of falls!! In preparation for this humongous drop, we had a few rapids and a 3 metre waterfall drop, which seemed f**king scary at the time, shortly followed by a 1 ½ metre waterfall. Getting wet is part of the package and being right at the front you get totally soaked straight away. Just in case we were not soaked enough, our guide asked us if we wanted to get a closer view of a rapid we had just cascaded over; the unanimous reaction was ‘Yeah!’ so we were instructed to row into the rapid we had just slid over. The strength of the water was intense it almost flipped our raft over. We both managed to swallow enough water to count as our daily intake, mostly due to screaming so much.

Lets take a closer look then!

We had some bumps into rocks along the way and in one rapid one of the girls fell out, we rescued her quickly, then the guide said we could pop in for a quick swim, Alex threw himself in, the guide meant a really quick swim, and seconds later he said we were approaching rapids; Alex needed to get back in the raft sharpish. This was not easy, the girls needed to use all their strength to help him back into the raft, it was a close call and we went down the next rapid with Alex’s feet still in the air. The guide had seriously underestimated Alex’s fatness.

Don't go chasing waterfalls!

So after around 25 minutes of rafting, the big one was approaching us; we saw our two safety kayak guys both go over the fall in their vessels, and luckily come out alive on the other side. Our turn was next and we paddled forwards towards it then got into the “get down” “cover” position which was to get down onto your bum and hold on for dear life.

We found a Silver Fern!

Splosh! It was over in a flash, but relief was felt as the raft had stayed the right way up, somehow, and all passengers were accounted for. We had a breather, to catch our breaths and celebrate our achievement and look at the magnificent feat. We made our way through some more rapids and posed for some photos before heading out of the river. We had to carry the raft on our heads back to the Van and shivering and soaked headed back to base. The industrial strength heater was awesome and much needed as no one could feel their hands or feet. We had a quick look at the photo’s available to purchase on a CD and we partook in a copy on for $30 they; are usually $40 but we got it cheaper as part of a promotion.

High on adrenaline we fed ourselves and decided to take some of our own snaps of the river and falls before heading onwards to our next desination.

Day 13 to 15 – The Beginning of North Island

We awoke with little hangover from the wine tasting session, probably because we slept in. Our ferry to the North Island wasn’t until 12:30 and it was only half an hour away from where we were staying. Alex was unhappy to take his shower, not because he wanted to dodge it but because Claire had already identified that they were charging $1 for five minutes of hot water, the cheek of it! Then when his coin failed to activate the hot water flow he marched to reception scantily clad in his towel. Fortunately the man at reception was apologetic and fixed the matter and gave Alex an extra five minutes of water. Bonus!

Hug that sign post!

The drive to the ferry was not exciting to be honest and the wait at the port was even less exciting, except for the loud WWII sounding alarm that ran through the town. Nobody panicked so we remained calm and had our lunch. After a short delay of about 45 minutes we were allowed on board and quickly found the best seats in the house for movie watching and the next four hours whisked away.

Author Comment: This is a really exciting day! So move to the next post if you like!

Noisey river this one!

We exited the large boat with absolutely no idea what we were doing, we were a bit tired and sleepy from too much relaxing all day with mild signs of hangover, but we made it to a campsite that was about an hour’s drive from Wellington and made camp!

Our mission in the morning consisted of driving to ‘Mount Doom’ from Lord of the Rings and having a peak (No pun intended!), but the weather had not been favourable so far. Actually, so far it had been the worst weather imaginable without ice and snow. The heavens had opened and there was no stopping the rain from thundering down! The wind had also decided to join the party and with our vehicle the shape of a sail, it made driving more like a computer game. At least that’s what Alex told himself as he battled to destination Doom! Along the way we had a break for lunch and ventured into McDonalds for the free Wi-Fi, it was playing up and not working properly and we decided to carry on with our journey. It had stopped raining for a bit so Claire decided to give Alex a break from driving. Although it had stopped raining the wind was still very strong, and we had to take it easy with our speed to stay safe. Unfortunately not everyone was happy with the safety measure we took and we were soon pulled over by the police. The officer in question asked us why we were doing 60kmh in a 100kmh area, we hastily explained that the van couldn’t cope in the severe weather conditions and was swaying from side to side; he said ‘I don’t personally have a problem with you driving slowly’; he suddenly cheered up and suggested we pull over when cars were queuing behind us, so they could overtake us without as much risk. Lame! Alex took the helm as the weather had worsened and Claire was now angry with the ‘old bill’!

Mt. doom in the background, honest!

Eventually we arrived in the town of Ohakune, just on the outskirts of the Tongariro National Park. We found an i-site for information on the area and national park, they were great, or at least as good as they could have been; they went on to explain how the weather was shite and there was nothing to see for the next millennia. We found refuge for the night and made camp.

At the i-site they did divulge some information that we were about to take advantage of; they informed us that the local library had free internet, so in the morning we pitched up in the library car park ready for opening time at 8am. The weather was still appalling and so we made the most of the free internet and updated the blog for all the stuff we had done in New Zealand so far. It was a good mission indeed; from here we ventured up to the National park to hopefully catch a glimpse, of Mt Ngauruhoe AKA Mt doom in Lord of the Rings and the surrounding mountains and areas which also featured in the film. Unfortunately we were unable to see anything, the cloud cover was so thick and some roads were even closed because of the weather. There was no chance of seeing anything, we thought we would give it one chance in the morning to clear and headed to the campsite for the night.

Proof we were there!

The next morning we woke to a disappointing sight, shitty weather again, and no view at all. We couldn’t even go out and walk one of the trails due to the pouring rain. We gave up hope and headed to our next destination of Rotorua.

Day 11 to 12 – Marlborough Wine Region

Right on queue the stupid seagull woke us up early, around 1 hour before our alarm again. Oh well, at least we were up on time to move on to our next destination. It was going to take us around seven and a half hours to make it to Blenheim, a town central within the Wine Region. We took it in turn driving a few hours at a time each, we were concerned we may have had to stop for scenic views and whatnot like we have been previously but we found we were driving mainly through thick forest and all we could see were trees and mountains, this was ideal as we needed to get to the area before dark so we could find a suitable camping site. Alex had a not too proud moment when he was overtaken by a Hyundai Getz!

Our Camper Van has done 444444Kms!

We arrived in the area around 4.45pm located a camping ground on the outskirts of town and made our way there. Unfortunately the campsite was nowhere to be seen; we travelled up and down where it was situated on the map but to no avail. It was now starting to get dark and we had nowhere to park up for the night. We quickly choose an alternative which proved to be a mission to get to and find, especially in the dark, up and down very steep windy roads which were close to the edge of huge drops down the mountainside. It was also potentially going to cost us $12 if the warden came around and collected in the morning, damn. Happy we at least had somewhere to settle, we had diner and an early night. Up at the crack of dawn, well 7am, we had not been awoken by the site manager and scarpered quickly away to save us the $12, it worked again, we are getting good at this!

Claire sniffed out the cellar!

Our main aim of visiting this region, is probably clear by the title, we were here for the wine. Oyster Bay New Zealand Marlborogh Sauvignon Blanc white wine is one of our favourite tipples, and we were in search for some new wines to try. We enquired at the local information site for wine tasting tours and there was a range of companies offering full and half day tours at various prices. We went for a mid-range, just over half a day, almost a full day tour priced at $55 per head, with the Highlight Wine Tours Company. This was a tour from 11.30am-5.00pm and included transport, pick up and drop off at from your campsite/hotel. Ideal so you can get sossled! The company is owner operated and the guy is very knowledgeable about the region.

Alex the wine connoisseur!

We booked ourselves into the Spring Creek holiday park for the day/evening ($30) and waited there to get picked up. A small mini bus collected us, and we were part of a small group of 7 doing the tasting, plus the driver. Off we went and were driven only 10 minutes down the road to our first winery the Wither Hills. It was a posh looking place indeed with an elegant restaurant and roaring fire. We were greeted by our wine expert who led us to a table ready with wine glasses, water for rinsing out our pallets between wines and a spitting bowl, we both knew at this stage we weren’t going to be spitting out any of the wine, that would be an awful waste! We were provided with a list of the wines we would be tasting with a brief description of the flavours and aromas we would encounter, there were 8 to try in total, and unfortunately the tasters were only a fraction of the size of a normal glass of wine, although I guess we wouldn’t be standing at the end of the day if they did them any bigger! We tried a 2010 Sauvignor Blanc, 2010 ‘Rarangi’ Sauvignor Blanc, 2010 Pinot Gris, 2008 Riesling, 2010 Chardonnay, 2008 Gewurztraminer, 2009 Pinot Noir, and a 2003 Pinot Noir museum release. Lots of sticking noses into the glass, glass swishing, and slurping commenced. It was soon time to head onto the next winery Wairau River Wines; this is where we were to stop for lunch also. The wine tasting commenced and again we were able to taste around 6-8 wines of the same names as above, but obviously made by this particular winery. Alex swapped his Chardonnay for a try of the Viognier. We treated ourselves to a full glass of wine each to accompany our lunch, Claire went for a pizza, which was exquisite, and the envy of all other when it arrived, sized for one, but cramped with slices of beef, onion, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, and a side salad. Alex went for a pork schnitzel (bread crumbed pork) with chunky chips, coleslaw and homemade tomato sauce, truly scrumptious, all the food looked amazing as did the puddings, which we had to avoid, with great difficulty.

Za za za zaaaa!

Our party of seven consisted of us, three girls that had recently graduated as doctors from England and an older couple from Australia. By the time we reached the third winery, Bouldevines, we were all chatting away with each other and starting to make slightly less sense. We tried the same wines again and a few of us were opting to swap one for a variety we had not yet tried. The lady pouring the wines for us was full of knowledge and certainly liked a glass herself.

Yes, za za za za za!

The Marlborough Wine Region produces about three quarters of New Zealand’s wine and has approximately 24,000 hectares of vines planted across it, according to our guide book. There are almost 200 wineries here in the Waiaru Valley around the towns of Blenheim and Renwick, with even more dotted around the outskirts. Although not all of the wineries are open for tastings, there are about 40 that do welcome you into their doors, let you sample half a dozen of their various wines and allow you to buy a few bottles if you like what you taste!

Gintastic!

The next place we walked into was not a winery, in fact there wasn’t a grape in sight, it was a little shop that specialized in liquors and dipping oils. We first sampled the oils with pieces of bread, Claire really liked the Smoked Garlic variety and Alex enjoyed the Avocado style. We approached the counter for a sample of the alcohol and the first thing the lady served us was a Butterscotch Liquor with a Butterscotch Cream (a bit like Bailey’s) on top; it was delicious but we are not sure you could drink too much of it as it was a bit sickly sweet. The lady then recommended we try the Chocolate Orange Liquor, Mmmm, it was a good recommendation! It was also quite sickly sweet though.

Cloudy Judgment more like it!

Our driver had been banging on about the Gin from this shop, like it was to die for. So we thought it would be a shame to miss out on some award winning white spirit that called itself Gin and didn’t come from London! Apparently this variety called ‘Blenheim Gin’ made by ‘Pretzel’, we think we have got that right, was the best Gin in the world in 2007, as voted for at the ‘White Spirit Festival’ in Brussels or something like that! A small shot was poured for each of us and we all tried it neat at first, it was definitely Gin flavoured but perhaps we are not that into drinking Gin neat because it was a bit harsh. Then the lady added a small amount of tonic and a tiny bit of lemon liquor; that was more like it, it tasted divine or at least Alex though so, Claire was not massively impressed and does not find herself converted to the spirit.

Grape Vines!

The fourth winery we visited was Cloudy Bay, slightly smaller than the previous ones, again very posh looking with a nice roaring fire. We lined up against the bar and partook in some more wine tasting; behind the bar through a glass pane you could see numerous barrels of wine, some with snuggy red blankets on them, which we later found our were just for presentation purposes. We only got to sample five wine here, but they were all very nice and Cloudy Bay do export to the UK so we expect to buy some bottles when we return home.

A Saint or a sinner? You decide!

The last winery on the tour was named after Claire, it was called “Saint Clair” very fitting we thought! Again we tasted more wine and decided to purchase a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc which was on offer; they had a few offers on over that particular weekend as a half marathon was starting and finishing in their vineyard. Saint Clair Winery have also just acquired a contract with Waitrose in the UK, so you should be seeing their range of wines soon, if you are posh enough to shop in Waitrose of course!

Kids in a sweetie shop!

The last stop of the day was at chocolate factory, as you enter you can see the workers busy making delicious sweet treats and your greeted with a taster of nutty brittle stuff and chocolate peppermints. As you peruse the shop and all they have to offer you soon realise that you could quiet happily purchase a bit of everything, unfortunately the price is not cheap and you were looking at $25 for a 200gram box of chocolates. Anything you liked the look of you could try and we sampled a lemon truffle, vanilla truffle and some macadamia brittle. All were very nice, but we thought of the budget and decided to say goodbye to the chocolate factory and leave empty handed. Boohoo.

Tucking in to some lovely treats!

So back into the mini bus we got and we were dropped back to our campsite feeling very happy and jovial, here we spent the rest of the evening enjoying our wine purchases while watching films and very tasty the wine was! For those of you who have not discovered the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, we suggest you get yourself down to your local off-license and try some tonight!

Day 9 to 10 – Fox Glacier

Mints are the first thing that spring to mind when someone says the two words Fox and Glacier together, but they mean something completely different here in New Zealand. We were about to find out what it was like to walk on a glacier. These massive pieces of ice are constantly on the move and rely on fresh snow to keep them topped up. They are responsible for the massive lakes that can be found here all over the place; they slowly carve through the rocks and when there is an ice age they can be as high as 3,000 feet above the mountains. They are extremely unpredictable and it is sensible to go with a guided tour; a few years ago a couple of tourists died when they went off on their own.

Fantail Falls!

First we had to get there and book a tour. Our journey from Wanaka to Fox Glacier town took around 6 hours (should normally take around 4), this was mainly due to the number of stops we had along the way, which were loads. That’s because New Zealand has so much to offer in scenery and nature, and we wanted a piece of it, well a photo at least.

Don't get too close to the edge!

Our first mini roadside stop was at Lake Hawea, another awesomely big and beautiful lake and one that we could see from the air the day before, there are so many of them here. Our next pit stop was Fantail Falls, a flowing waterfall, with a crystal clear river below it. We had a few goes at skimming stones again with Alex triumphing and Claire failing badly. We drove for a while longer with Claire at the wheel when we crossed a bridge and from either side we could see down to a roaring river; making a quick stop at the halfway point to take a few snaps then we pulled into a layby and scaled down the manmade path to a better viewing position. Alex was keen to get closer and get some snaps, Claire was particularly scared at this stage of Alex going over the edge and sandflies were starting to attack so we headed back to the van sharpish.

Claire screeched to a halt for this photo!

The longest part of the journey was next with not much to do but read all of the names of the little creeks that we crossed and we crossed loads. There must have been one every three or four minutes for almost two and a half hours. We went over ‘Harris Creek’, even a ‘Dusty Millar Creek’, but the creek of the day was without a doubt ‘Gout Creek’. That one made us chuckle! We also stopped at one last waterfall called “Thunder Creek Falls” very spectacular, but we were again invaded by a swarm of Sandflies, and scarpered asap, they did however manage to get us on the hands and face a few times, little buggers. As we soldiered forwards we consulted our guide book, but it made us feel a bit concerned as it mentioned something about no fuel station for 120kms and we were about 80kms from town with just over a quarter of a tank. There was less and less chance of getting out of our destination without roadside assistance with every creek we crossed, but throwing care to the wind we pressed forwards. Fortunately as we rolled into town we could see the very familiar BP petrol station in the background and upon rereading the guide it was written as a warning to those leaving the area to fill up here.

Gout-tastic!

Panic over, we thought we’d fuel up and get a tour booked. Easily enough we found ‘Fox Glacier Guiding’ and parted with $150 each for ‘The Nimble Fox’ full day hike. They told us to come back the next day at 09:10 with three or four layers of clothes and our own lunch. With that bit sorted we were on the lookout for a DoC campsite and there was one about 20kms away on Gillespie’s Beach. The road was normal at first then it turned into a super-bendy nightmare, with sheep and deer all over the place. We took it slow and about half an hour later arrived at our tiny little site. We had noticed a small Salmon farm just outside of town before we arrived and had made a quick purchase, so we served ourselves another very tasty dinner and went to bed.

That's where we're going!

It wasn’t the alarm that got our attention at sunrise, but rather the irritating knob head of a seagull that was rattling around on the roof of the campervan. It had also decided to take an interest in one of our vents and we think it was pecking at it. This had to stop but no amount of shouting and banging would persuade it to stop. We were up, we had little choice, but alas we needed to be! We drove over to the town, along the mission of a road, taking extra care not to die and served ourselves some well needed breakfast. After making our packed lunch we went to check in for the hike and get kitted out with our gear.

Before the climb!

We were provided with some heavy duty, proper hiking boots for the trip, along with thick woollen socks, excellent for Claire’s toes, and some Crampons, which are metal covers for your boots, with spikes for gripping the ice. You also had the choice of selecting any of the following items to borrow for free, raincoat, waterproof trousers, backpack, warm clothes, gloves and hats. We both opted for raincoats, waterproof trousers and an extra backpack.

Ice staircase!

The bus journey was a ten minute drive and dropped us about a twenty minute walk from the ice. This distance is not the same every year, in fact some years they do not drop people off at the car park because the glacier has come down further than the car park or it is too high to scale from the bottom. They can access from climbing down the mountains to the halfway point. Anyway we moved closer along a manmade path, the incline was gentle and we weren’t fully clothed up yet and when we reached the ice we were quite warm from the climb. We had crossed several streams on the way, which you can drink from or top up your water bottle. We both grabbed a handful and looked up at the glacier. It looks very different to what we had imagined; it is a very uneven and there are lots and lots of rocks all over its topside.

Ever-changing ice shapes!

There were a couple of guys reforming the ice steps that led up onto the top layer. This is work that has to be constantly done and redone in new spots as the massive ice-lolly slides down the landscape at speeds of up to five metres per day. OK, it’s not going to get any speeding tickets at that rate, but when you walk over it for half a day and think that parts of it have moved over one metre just while you have been there. It sets your mind into thinking how easy it would have been for one to make a lake, especially when they can be 3,000 feet taller and stretch 175kms out into the sea. Yes there is evidence to suggest that they reached that far out into the Tasman Sea during the last ice age.

Careful Snug!

We were now up on top of the glacier being carefully guided up the ice, using a very different walking style. We had to kick the floor with every step, almost like dragging your feet when you were a child. We had been granted walking poles to help us keep our balance but they were more helpful with climbing rather than balancing. As we looked down to the floor we could see loads of tiny streams of water and some holes in the ice that went down to streams and eventually rivers beneath the ice; they help to lubricate the movement of the glacier, speeding it up.

How cool is this!

Further up the block of ice was a pretty crevice that was accessible with a bit of hard work from our guide, she had to cut some fresh ice steps for us to get down into the gap, but it was worth it. We glared into the hole, with ice cold fresh water dripping down all the walls, it looked amazing and you could see deep into some parts of the ice where it held less air bubbles. You could also make out hundreds of layers, some holding many bubbles and some with none; these layers would have been different snow dumps and temperatures over some 50 years ago that created each layer.

Ice climbing is great fun!

The next stop we made was just before lunch, when we bumped into a couple of ice climbers who had found a really cool ‘mulan’, which is a large hole created by water flowing down to the bottom. We had some lunch and then went down into the ‘mulan’. As we got further into the large crater we could see why the ice climbers had found this particular hole so attractive; there was a 6-7 metre tunnel about just over a metre wide going up at a slight angle, perfect for climbing up! They had left so we stood up inside it as far as we could go and got a few awesome pictures!

Baby it's cold outside!

We did a linear trek over to a massive boulder, which is being slowly carried down to meet up with some old friends at the bottom. It was huge however it looked powerless to crush the ice below it. The only thing it could do was to thaw out some of the surrounding ice, creating a nice little area underneath one of its massive sloped sides. Again we got a photo, but it was time to head back now.

He-Man!

The journey downhill required less energy and was much quicker, as we had expected, although it was much harder on our knees and ankles. That meant that by the time we reached the bottom we were exhausted and hungry. Boy, were we glad to see our camper van and made dinner as quick as we could. They gave us a certificate to say we had been up there and survived, great! Sleeping should have been easier than it was; there was a massive storm with high winds and lots of rain, the camper van kept shaking and wobbling. This kept Claire awake and scared and in turn kept Alex up!

Day 8 – Two Idiots Abroad

If we never have to hear the sound of that phone alarm ringing in our ears again it will be too soon. We peered outside only to be welcomed by bloody clouds again. Perhaps the sky diving school had different ideas on what was cloudy and what wasn’t? We didn’t know, so we called the 0800 number anyway to see if we could confirm our seats on the one way ticket to 15,000 feet!

Our new friend!

Arse, we had been postponed until 12:30 again. What to do now? We went for a walk along the lakeside. Lake Wanaka is supposed to be quite a scenic part of the south island but we didn’t get the impression we thought we would. It was pretty grey and cold, but at least it wasn’t windy. As we wandered up the path we admired the calm, undisturbed water and slowly found our way next to it. Before long Alex had seen an excellent stone for skimming across the surface and managed so many skims we lost count. Alex tried to teach the technique to Claire but after fifteen minutes we gave up and walked back with a new companion. A dog had seen us playing and wanted to join in; no owner to be seen and we like to play so a game of ‘Throw a Stick and Retrieve and Throw Another Stick so They Drop the First Stick’ commenced.

Waiting to see if the clouds would ever go away!

Lunch was a couple of Kiwi fruits for Alex as he was trying to keep the weight down for the possible dive, as Claire snacked onto some crisps. Our nerves were a bit on edge because the clouds were starting to break up and the call needed to be made in half an hour. The call was made, but they didn’t answer. Were they trying to make us more nervous than we had already made ourselves? It didn’t matter, Claire needed the loo while Alex waited by the phone patiently. He called again……… It was on!

Gulp, this is really happening! No excuses now!

We made the short drive to Wanaka Airport and found the “Sky Diving Lake Wanaka” office building; we entered and approached the desk. We booked in with the lady on reception and made our way into the video room for a quick 5 minute video brief on the do’s and don’ts plus information on the film and photo options on offer. During this time we filled in the paperwork and chose our soundtracks to accompany our Sky diving films, all the time wondering why they had not weighed Alex as he is clearly boarder line?!?

Small aircraft have a bad saftey record!

As we handed in our forms, it was time to be weighed. Oh no, will it all come to nothing? Was it going to be another wasted journey? Alex weighed in at 99.6 Kgs and Claire luckily just made it with her weight to. There was no turning back now, or we would have to forfeit our deposit.  It still hadn’t sunk into our minds and it didn’t seem real. This was actually happening! We didn’t fully believe it till we were suited up in our jumpsuits, harnesses fitted and we were heading to the plane with our underpants firmly wedged. We were followed by our jumpmasters and cameramen, as we had both paid for a DVD and photo package, as proof to show everyone on our return.

Earwig O!

So into the plane we climbed and quick as a flash we had taken off and were in the air. Oh my goodness, we were about to throw ourselves out of a plane that at least appeared to be in perfectly good working order. Had we thought this through? The view from the plane was amazing and you could see so much, Lake Wanaka, Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and national park, and so many other lakes, mountains, rivers and beautiful scenery. You can see why people have recommended us to sky dive here. We were quiet nervous but excited, as the dive masters did their best to keep us calm and distracted. Claire’s dive master was a right joker, saying how he had never skydived before and then went on to say that he hadn’t had any broken legs for a few days, just what you want to hear.

Mc Nuggets Away!!!!

When they told us we had reached 3000 feet, we didn’t believe them as it already felt so much higher, and we still had to go another 12000ft! They did a good job of informing us of what we could see out the windows and letting us know the progress of our ascent. During this time they also give us our additional gear to wear including gloves, hat and goggles and of course the most important part connecting themselves to us! By this stage there were about six million butterflies flying around in our stomachs.

Ground, here I come at 200kmph!

Two other jumpers were about to exit the plane first as they were only doing a 12,000ft dive. At this time we were provided with oxygen masks as a requirement if going up to the massive 15,000ft. It can get a bit disorientating and make you light headed with the air being so thin. The oxygen kept us alert and we both felt fine.

To Claire's Mum and Dad, sorry, it was all Alex's idea! This one's Claire!

The moment had come, 15,000ft had been reached, and Alex was first to go! His cameraman was already perched out of the plane and all eyes were on Alex! He slid along the bench seat and was asked to place both legs out of the plane. Holding onto his harness with dear life he stuck out his legs, he was now suspended in the air, only Mac, his best buddy in the world at that time, was attached to him. Behind him was Claire, eagerly looking at what was going on, but not really concerned with Alex’s wellbeing because it was all happening so fast. Then it was only Claire left! Where had Alex gone, he was there a second ago!

To Alex's Mum and Dad, you knew this day would come!

Before she knew it, Claire was sliding forward. Where was her cameraman? Was he already outside? Apparently! Claire was now a lemming, reporting for duty! As she poked her legs out of the plane the wind took her completely off guard, it was seriously cold and before she knew it she was tumbling outside in the 15,000 feet arena.  By this stage Alex had been tapped on the shoulder which meant he could free his hands and was probably about half way through his sixty second drop and would have reached maximum velocity, which is 200Kmph or 60 metres per second.

All I want is a little space around me!

Claire got the same tap on her shoulder and intended to set her arms free into the fast, ice cold breeze; however her arms involuntarily kept hold of the harness as she was frozen into position, almost scared to move. Suddenly there was a second tap to encourage her to release her hands and she did. Alex was in full swing with his mouth wide open, screaming and shouting all sorts of curses and realising that 200Kmph gives your mouth frostbite. His cameraman was dancing in the air around him and coming in for close ups, but all he got was Alex’s mouth moving at 200Kmph incoherently!

The view was breath-taking!

The only way to describe the view is to get you to imagine looking out of a jumbo jet window down to the ground and zoom in about halfway then add a panoramic wide angle. Except you are pumped full of a natural high! Absolutely first class!

Time to slow things down a bit!

The air was smashing fast into Claire’s face with ferocity while she was free falling. She was finding it hard to smile and make any sort of real facial pose for the camera. The wind was so strong, that it kept her body in the free fall position. Everything was happening so fast, and Claire was trying to absorb all the surroundings while looking at the camera and trying to act cool. All this was going on while Alex was about to be Chuted, and Chuted he was. The sudden tug at the inner-thigh was actually a relief, mainly because it missed the family jewels! To be honest, it has nothing to do with size; family jewels are always safe with ‘Sky-dive Lake Wanaka’!

Safe landing!

Mac, the man, showed Alex exactly where Claire was, about 1,000 feet above! Alex waved but it was all in vein! Claire was high! All of a sudden, Alex started spinning, round and round and round! Claire was also ‘Chuted’ and was relieved that it worked and she could now enjoy a slower pace of scenic viewing, she was blissfully looking around when suddenly she also started spinning. This spinning made Claire feel a bit nauseous but she put it to the back of her mind and enjoyed the rest of the ride down.

The Snugs, together again!

Landing was far easier than you could have imagined! The instructions given to us were, to just stick out your legs straight in front of you and feel your arse slide on the smooth green grass! No awkward landing and tumbling just refined and delicately glided onto the green grass. We collected our DVD’s and watched them on the TV they provide for customers; we look mental and Alex looks particularly chubby in his jump suit.

Turned out to be a lovely day!

With the adrenaline still flowing through our veins we went back to the campsite and felt a big weight had been lifted off our shoulders. We do not expect we will do a sky dive again in a hurry if ever! What will our parents say? Only time will tell! The rest of the day was slightly less action packed than the first half, we talked and chuckled about what had gone on and hit the pillow late after a few glasses of wine. We deserved a lay-in in the morning!