- Skydiving in Franz Josef
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura
- The Lord of the Rings horseback tour
- Jet boating in Queenstown
- Weta Workshop in Wellington
...and too many more to count!
So without further ado: here's the journal of my epic adventure.
I left the country on Tuesday 2nd February for a thirty-one hour long haul flight. The first eight-hour part gave me plenty of time to work on my draft, and I wrote two chapters of my urban fantasy novel on my phone and watched some movies. Then I landed in Dubai on the Wednesday, where I ended up being randomly upgraded to business class for the second part of the flight. Since it was thirteen and a half hours to Melbourne, this was more than welcome! I got my own mini-booth, complete with a USB port and a fancy TV screen, and an amazing view of take-off from my window. And I managed to actually get some sleep.
I landed in Melbourne, very confused about the day of the week. As I was now 11 hours ahead of UK time, it was Thursday morning, and I watched the sun rise as I landed. I whiled away the three hour wait at the airport by using the free Wi-Fi, before boarding my final flight. I had a window seat this time, and the views were absolutely stunning.
My first sight of New Zealand. <3
Friday 5th February 2016
The trip started properly on Friday morning with an early morning to catch the ferry to South Island. I managed to get free Wi-Fi as well as working on my draft and chatting to the others in the group. After arriving in Picton, we drove for a few hours into one of New Zealand's most beautifully isolated areas: Abel Tasman National Park.
We had to catch a water taxi to properly reach the park and our accommodation for the night: a floating boat hostel. We stayed in tiny bunks down rickety ladders, which was an interesting experience, and the sunset from the deck was a glorious sight.
Saturday 6th February 2016
To start our second day, we returned to the mainland and the gorgeous beaches of the national park to begin a 12km hike. I'd forgotten how exhausting hiking through the rainforest is, with high humidity and the sun beating down on us, but the stunning scenery made it all worthwhile. We climbed steep slopes through pristine forest and walked across beautiful golden beaches.
Once at our accommodation, we went swimming in a nearby river. Paddling into the cool water was a relief! I couldn't believe the heat -- at home, it's absolutely freezing, so being thrown into the middle of a heatwave in the southern hemisphere took some adjusting to. In the evening, we sat out looking at the stars, and I knew I'd made the best decision possible in coming here.
Another driving day began with some more gorgeous scenery -- dense forests, gleaming rivers, and mountains. The sun was relentless, and in no time at all, I'd managed to burn across the back of my neck. I definitely didn't pack for the weather! Or the sand flies. The evil little creatures managed to get into my shoes and gnaw at my feet, even with insect repellent on. Apparently, nothing deters them...
We stopped en route to Punakaiki to visit a seal colony (or a colony of "gang members in sleeping bags", as our tour guide put it -- on account of seals being aggressive but slow-moving. :P). We walked around the Pancake Rocks and explored forested paths.
Our accommodation for the night was also in the middle of the rainforest, near a beautiful beach. We stayed up and watched the sun sink into the ocean.
Monday 8th February 2016
We packed up early and drove through more rainforest to our next destination: Franz Josef. I also signed up to do a skydive the following morning, being in the odd position of skydiving veteran seeing as I was the only person who'd done it before. We did some souvenir shopping in the pretty town of Franz Josef, which is near New Zealand's highest mountains. Obviously, I planned to jump out of a plane above them. :P
Tuesday 9th February 2016
So I dragged myself out of bed early to get to Fox Glacier, where we'd be skydiving. Luckily the skies were clear enough to jump, so we set off in the minibus. Once we were suited up and ready to board the plane, my second skydiving adventure began. The plane carried us up to the mountains -- New Zealand's highest peaks, Mt Tasman and Mt Cook -- above stunning hills and valleys. And then the plane stopped, on a level with the snow-capped mountains, at 13,000 feet.
There's nothing as surreal as floating, watching the activity below on the ground like part of a separate, tiny world. The parachute spun us, showing the patchwork fields of the surrounding countryside and the rivers carving paths beneath the glacier-topped mountains. I even had the chance to steer the parachute for a bit and walk through a cloud split by a stunning rainbow. But all too soon, we dropped through the air, gently bumping to a halt in a nearby field.
Second skydiving experience = awesome.
High on adrenaline, we went to explore Franz Josef from ground level and walked to the glacier. This took a little longer than anticipated, firstly because there were no buses, and secondly because we managed to get spectacularly lost in the rainforest. :P Still, we found a hidden lake, and once we were on the right track, things sped up. We hiked past forested hills and waterfalls to the point where we could see the blue-white glacier glowing under the sunlight. Another corner of beautiful New Zealand explored. On days like this, I wonder why I ever stopped travelling. <3
We left Franz Josef early in the morning for a long drive down to Queenstown. Firstly, we stopped for a walk around Lake Mathesen, New Zealand's most photographed lake.
We drove through rainforest and mountains, through rolling hills and winding roads. I can't get enough of the scenery!
We then stopped in the more touristy area of Lake Wanaka to explore and take pictures. And in the evening, we rolled into Queenstown.
Had my first lie-in for a while! I wandered around Queenstown for a bit, then returned to the hostel to get ready for today's activity: jet boating. It was so much fun, zooming around canyons and hanging on tight for 360 degree turns and twists.
Jet boating canyon!
An early start in the morning for one of the activities I'd looking forward to the most: the Ride of the Rings, a horseback tour of the settings from The Lord of the Rings. This was one of the reasons New Zealand was top of my destination list, so to say I was excited is an understatement! Firstly, we drove out of Queenstown to see scene locations from the movies like the Misty Mountains, Minas Tirith, Lothlorien, and various fields and forests that played a part in the films.
I love this country. <3
Another early start to leave Queenstown for a long drive south. We caught a ferry deep into the heart of Doubtful Sound -- a secluded area of forested islands and clear waters. Once we'd arrived at our jungle accommodation -- and evaded another swarm of sand flies -- we embarked on an intrepid walk up to Helena Falls. I climbed up some cliffs to get right up close to the waterfall, and wandered through the jungle and over rickety bridges. And stepping stones. I'm not a fan of stepping stones, but I'm also really stubborn, and I wanted a photo at the top. :P
I chilled out back at the lodge in the evening, writing the climactic chapters of my book. :)
As our kayaking trip started early, we were dragged from bed before the sun had fully risen. Typically, it chose to rain on the one day we actually went into the water. But the kayaking trip was fantastic. We paddled through the clear waters, exploring the beautiful forested islands and bays, and even saw a seal!
Then we returned to pack for another long drive. After getting the ferry back to the mainland again, we drove through the Otago Valley to Wedderburn. This time, green fields, hills and rivers surrounded us. If I love anything about New Zealand, it's that you can pass through vastly different scenery on the same day. I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this beautiful country!
Monday 15th February 2016
The Otago Rail Trail is New Zealand's longest bike path. I'm not an experienced cyclist, at all, so I did an abbreviated version of the trail.
I'd hit 6km before I fell off the bike while braking and sliced open my knee. A I was stuck in the middle of the trail, the only way out was to cycle. With an open wound. I felt like a badass urban fantasy heroine, cycling away with blood dripping down my knee. Our tour guide said, "You're a very determined individual, aren't you?" I said, "I work in publishing." Well, it's true. ;)
*Warning: gore alert. Muahaha.*
Luckily, it didn't hurt too much,,, until it was time to clean all the gravel out. With tweezers. Ouch. I managed not to pass out from the pain this time, at least! It's going to leave a scar, but at least it didn't stop me from continuing with my adventure. I spent the rest of the day reading Rebel of the Sands, which is crazily addictive! An awesome read.
Tuesday 16th February 2016
Up early again to drive up to our next stop, Christchurch, narrowly avoiding a minor earthquake which happened there only two days beforehand! We stopped on the way at the Moeraki Boulders, and Oamaru, a town with some really cool steampunk attractions.
In the afternoon, we arrived in Christchurch and went exploring and souvenir shopping. We also played a public and hilarious game of Twister. (Well, I watched, seeing as my knee was still in a fragile state.) And we spent the night in a converted jail. :P
Today, we drove to Kaikoura, the second-last stop of the tour, stopping at some cool lookout spots along the way. We saw seals up close, sleeping near the car park! Er, that's not a great place for a nap, Mr Seal. :P
Up at 4 am (!!!) for our final activity -- swimming with dolphins! At first, it was rainy and miserable, and the sun was barely up when we set off at 5.30. But once we were on the boat, clad in wet suits, the sun came out, and we reached a spot where hundreds of dolphins immediately swam up to the boat. It was surreal, sliding into the icy water and seeing dolphins leaping and somersaulting around us. <3
We had about half an hour to swim with the dolphins, then returned the boat to take pictures. The dolphins didn't want us to leave! This is possibly my favourite experience of the trip, certainly not one I'll forget in a hurry.
After a very bumpy ride back to shore, we began the final part of our journey. The bus took us back to Picton to get the ferry to Wellington, making a stop at a seal colony along the way. We even got to see baby seals! :)
Friday 19th February 2016
Almost the end, but not quite. As most of us weren't flying home until the evening, we booked ourselves onto the Weta Workshop tour, in which we learned from the people who did the special effects in loads of movies, including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Though we couldn't take any photos inside the actual room, they had the genuine armour, weapons, props and miniature models from the movies. It was a fascinating and incredible experience!
One very long flight later and I was safely back in England, jetlagged but happy. I've come to realise I need to travel, and not just because I spend too much time introverting in my room. ;) I need to explore, to wander new paths, to feel like the world's an open place of possibility rather than a stifling cage. It's like being able to breathe again after the epic hellfest that was 2015. I know publishing will try to slip a noose around my neck again, because that's what it does. But to me, travel represents freedom and possibility, as well as experiences I'll never forget.
Now... where shall I go next? ;)