Thursday, 29 March 2007


I've just got back from my final NZ tramp, the 60k Kepler track. The dawn view of the valley from above the clouds was breathtaking. The second part over the ridgeline offered some absoutely stunning views along a long exposed ridge walk, probably the best views of the tramps I've done here.

At the end of a long 9 hours walking on my second day I was able to enjoy a really refreshing swim in the beautiful lake Manapouri. It was also really nice to start and finish the walk from Te Anau under my own steam. Next time I'll have to make it a bit more challenging.

Right now I'm back in Queenstown (black sheep, room 3) and am flying up to Christchurch today as I didnt particularly fancy 9 hours on the bus. Then its off to Oz on Sunday - will definitely be a little sad leaving NZ but sure I can always come back again in another 12 years.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Steward Island

Steward Island was amazing. For somewhere I only went to as an afterthought, I'd say its probably one of the highlights of my trip so far. The ferry over was something else, a real roller coaster of a ride, with the boat lurching everywhere and the 2 girls attending running up and down the isles changing peoples sick bags. It was brilliant. As soon as you land you can here the bird life that is everywhere, and feel the pace of life slow down - the locals know how to take things easy.

I booked into the Rakiura
track soon after arriving and picked up my rented stove and accessories from a lovely "office" in the middle of the forest. The walk was really beautiful, through forests of tree ferns and moss, with occasional beach views - a bit like the Abel Tasman trek on the mainland at times. I was on the lookout for the elusive Kiwi at all times, but only had clear sightings of deer, possum and various small birds, until the 3rd day when I got a glimpse of something disappearing into the bushes that might just have been one. Most of the fellow trampers were German/Dutch/Swiss/Kiwi and the huts were nice and cosy places to stay. Walking through the forests here you really do get the feeling that we have royally fcuked up the planet and that this is the way it should look and sound. Another 3 days of beautiful weather to boot. Ferry back was pretty calm - almost disappointingly so.

I jumped on the bottom bus back in Invercargill and regained my seat up front with Paul the driver, who seeme3d to love to quiz me about everything and anything, especially how I came to know Clare. He was a bit of a character. Arrived in Te Anau and decided to wait a day before starting the Kepler track so that the weather would be cleared, so we enjoyed a nice relaxing day doing nothing in particular.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007


OK, by now I'm supposed to be in Sydney, but instead I'm penning this from, of all places, Invercargill (eat your heart out Damian et all!) I've gotten quite attached to the place now, and am heading into the Frog and Firkin momentarily. I arrived here via a fairly circuitous route. In Queenstown I hung out with Clare who took over Damian's spot in my dorm at the black sheep, and decided to accompany her to Dunedin as I had pretty much done everything I wanted to in Queenstown - including finishing off the Thrilogy with easily the scariest bungy of the lot, the Nevis high wire, and doing the Rungway,

a Via Ferreta system normally used to move troops around the alps, but used here to give a good feel for rock climbing without having to get superman fingers and lose 10 kilos (it was really excellent) and also fly by wire, which involved flying a mini Aeroplane around while tethered to a length of cable - a bit gimmicky to be honest.

In Dunedin we went on a wildlife safari to see Penguins, Albatross, Seals and Sea-lions, which was really good even though this was my second time doing it, and I decided at this point I wanted to extend my time in NZ and see some of the Catlins and Steward Island, so I bought a ticket on the bottom bus and we headed off to the deep south.

The Catlins is one of the less touristy spots in the country, and also one of the least populated - the main town has 350 people - which can be a bit of a problem when you need to hitch to the nearest town which is 30k away (took 6 hours return, including meeting a crazy American, Tom, who had been hitching recently for 3 years, and was definitely on the run from something). Certainly an interesting day, and topped off with spotting more Penguins. Today I went surfing some really nice waves just outside our hostel, excellent until the wind picked up, at one stage it blew by board into the air and over my head, which I've never had happen before.
Tomorrow I'm off to Steward Island hopefully to see a Kiwi (bird) in the wild, and then I'm hoping to complete another of the NZ great walks from Te Anu, the Kepler track.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

A nice little walk

I've just gotten back to Queenstown after hiking (tramping) the Routeburn track, one of the great walks in New Zealand, and one of the most popular. This one and the more popular Milford track tend to get booked up months in advance, but I was able to get a cancellation so started out on Sunday with a very long bus trip and a failly long walk in pretty nice weather through nice varied scenery. Day two started off bright and sunny, despite weather predictions of rain and snow,

but after a couple of hours the rain did come, and continued to spill down as I was crossing the Harris Saddle, the highest (and most exposed) part of the trek. It wasnt all that bad though, and I managed to make it to the hut by 1pm so spent much of the day snoozing by the fire looking out at the rain. I even managed to finally finish "a long way down" - it only took 7 weeks, and made good stove fuel later.
At dinner I bumped into Cian and Kevin from Dublin and Galway, who insisted I helped them consume their whickey bottles as they were becoming heavy to carry. They had recently been to Tibet, and got me thinking I have to include that in my itinerary later, even though the whiole chinese thing there will be pretty annoying, its still supposed to be amazing. I'm starting to think that 6/7 months might not be long enough. Today was a beautiful walking day, I'm now back in Queenstown and its quite chilled and raining, a change from the normal 25 degrees and sun we have had pretty much throughout up to now.

Sunday I also bid farerwell to Sue and Damian, who are now in Thailand for some r&r, Damian's arm is now pinned and plastered and hopefully on the way to recovery, so should have a happy ending...

Friday, 9 March 2007

Dolphins, bungy jumps and broken bones

So Damian has a pretty badly banged up elbow. After much delays he was operated on in Invercargill this morning, not sure exactly what the latest is, but he was in good form afterwards. The problem is that the elbow was chipped, rather than a simple break, but fingers crossed all will be ok and he can get his flight with Sue on the 12th.

After Milford we dropped him in Invercargil and headed up to Queenstown for a quick visit and some Jetboating on the shotover river, which I found quite good but the others didnt think much of it - to be hoinest, it was the most commercial and impersonal activity so far, but I found speeding through the narrow canyons at high speed and narrowly avoiding the rocks on boat sides pretty cool.

I've now completed 2 of the 3 parts of the AJ Hackett bungy thrilogy, having done the "ledge" yesterday - reportably its the one most people chicken out of, but to be honest I thought it was pretty easy. Maybe I'm becoming immune:) On the long drive out of Queenstown (to Kaikora) a few days ago, we hadnt planned on any bungy related activities, but made a quick stop at the Kawarua bridge site just for a look. As tends to be the way of these things, Carl and I decided to do it, but had to wait for 30 mins for some "safety tests" which helped greatly in building the anticipation. It was a blast again to do, and we got nice dunkings in the river.

We made it to Kaikora around 1am and parked outside the Dolphin encounter center for our 8:30 swim. The experience was amazing, we were in a pod of 4 or 5 hundred dolphins, so we were all constantly surrounded by numerous curious playful (and 100% wild) dolphins, I really hadnt expected such close interaction. Definitely a highlight of the trip so far. For the afternoon we rented some surfboards but the rocky beach conditions meant I was the only one silly enough to go in for any length of time, and I only managed to catch a couple of waves on my 6' 10" board before giving up, but it was still a good laugh.

Next day we headed to Christchurch, and parted company with Betsy, a very sad affair, we had all become quite attached after the 2 weeks. We stopped off at Gore beach for a (pretty cold) swim en route. Damian's op had been postponed so he got sick of waiting in Invercargill and took a flight to Christchurch to meet us, and we all had a great Thai meal, I must admit the food here has improved greatly since 12 years ago.

Next morning we said goodbye to Coley Julie and Carl (who are now back home) and headed to the airport for our flights back to Queenstown - which promptly got cancelled due to fog, so we were on the road again in a rented ford - the 6 hour trip down felt like a breeze after driving the truck, what with cruise control and decent acceleration. We had a great night out in Queenstown, and spent yesterday up the mountain for the ledge and also some go-karting/lugeing.

Take care,

Friday, 2 March 2007

Champagne backpackers

Ray has given us this title after seeing the amount of gadgets and paraphenalia we were carrying leaving Aukland - iPods of all types, mobile phones, pdas, game boys, Garmin GPS, backup GPS, rugby balls and shirts, flags, dolls, barbeques, hair products and numerous other unnecessary luxuries like soap were all crammed into the van. And for the first while we always checked into nice places with electric hookups and nice hot showers. But for the last 3 nights, weve camped on the side of the road, sneaking into places for illegal showers and toliet usages, and the van is a total tip. Much better.

We are on our way back from Milford sounds, having spent a lovely day kayacking in absoutely beautiful scenery and being entertained by the local seal polulation.
All the scenery in NZ has been pretty amazing, but the fjords really are stunning, the only annoying thing being the rampant sandflies which are devouring us.

On our way here we stopped off in Greymouth to do some caving, which was pretty cool, including crawling through holes half submerged in water. We then headed for the Glaciers. The champagne 5 went for the heli hike on Franz Joseph, I spent a day on Fox Glacier ice climbing, which was brilliant but pretty tough.

Last night we had a pretty late night, spent in the local (only) pub in Milford with the guide, one of the guides from the ice climbing who happened to be here too, and some very drunken Kiwis. At the end of the night, Damian landed akwardly from a height on his elbow, so he is currently in Te Amau medical center awaiting the result of an x-ray. (Just heard its broken so were off to Invercargill to have it seen to - an unexpected side trip!)