After a relaxing couple of weeks on the North Island living off beer, wine and afghan’s (highly addictive New Zealand chocolate cookies), Jase and I were feeling the strain on our waistlines and energy levels. We knew it would be short lived however when we hit the South Island which was always planned to be a month of intense activity and new experiences.
Within minutes of driving off the Cook Strait ferry, we were bowled over by the landscape that awaited us. The north island was pretty nice but the south island is knock out. We’re completely dwarfed by nature here which is on steroids!!
It has everything - vast mountain ranges, glacial valleys, subtropical forests, rugged coastlines and best of all – sunshine.
Lakes and mountains:
Rivers and forests:
We spent our first few days in Motueka, a small coastal town on the fringe of Abel Tasman, a small but spectacular national park.
We decided the best way to explore the coast was from the water, so Jase hired us a double kayak and arranged for us to pick it up at 8:30am. A gentle paddle along the coast sounded lovely and we’d be back in time for lunch – perfect.
As always, I should have realised that Jase doesn’t do things by halves.
Our vessel was more like a car than a kayak, with storage compartments, steering peddles and a rudder. I mean, who ever heard of a rudder on a kayak!? We were kitted out with food, water, maps and flares and given training on what to do should we capsize or get hit by a giant wave.
We were shown the pick-up point where a tractor would meet us around 4pm to help get our kayak onto shore and back to the water sports centre.
Maps and flares? 8 hours!? Hauled out by a tractor? So much for a gentle paddle!
With our newly acquired aquatic skills and ample supplies, we set off out to sea. Jase was responsible for steering so sat at the back and I took the ‘navigating’ seat at the front (anyone who knows my shocking sense of direction will appreciate the irony).
Back seat driver:
It was hard work, but we had a great time kayaking between tiny deserted beaches, completely inaccessible to anyone on land. We stopped off at a little cove to take a well-earned break and enjoy a spot of lunch.
Our Robinson Crusoe lunch break:
After exploring the mainland coast we headed out to Adele Island to visit its resident seal colony. We were exhausted by the time we got there but were quickly rewarded when 2 seriously cute seal pups came to say hello. They were really inquisitive and played around our kayak for ages.
The conditions around the back of the island were pretty rough but we kayaked as close to the rocks as possible so we could photograph the seals. We spotted a rock pool full of little ones playing and started snapping away, completely oblivious to the fact that our kayak was being swept in dangerously close to some big rocks. We were thoroughly distracted until we heard a loud crunch beneath our kayak and realised we were no longer floating on the sea, but precariously positioned on top of a large bed of rock.
Distracted by cute seals:
The waves crashing over us made communicating with one another completely impossible. I was in a blind panic, frantically pushing the rocks with my paddle in every direction, which resulted in our kayak spinning around and becoming completely wedged in. Jase was screaming at me to calm down, telling me I was only making the situation worse. I was screaming back at Jase telling him to stop screaming at me and so it went on……. Not our finest hour.
A few minutes later we spotted a group of kayaks on a guided tour approaching – shit, how embarrassing was this! In a desperate bid to convince our fellow kayakers that we had intentionally marooned ourselves on the rocks, wedged ourselves in tight and were having an amazing time, we put on our best fake smiles, pretended to take photographs and tried to chat happily through the mouthfuls of sea water that we were swallowing (“Oh isn’t this wonderful darling!”)
We’re not sure if our charade was even mildly convincing but the group eventually moved on by which time we’d both calmed down. We timed a hefty shove perfectly with a big wave and managed to free ourselves.
Jase and I decided we’d had enough adventure for one day and paddled to the pick-up point whilst having a good giggle at getting ourselves into yet another scrape.
Friends again (sort of!):
After Motueka, we continued down the west coast of New Zealand to Glacier Country, travelling through the vast mountain range known as the Southern Alps. The drive took us 2 days as we stopped every few hundred metres to take in the magnificent views.
Cape Foulwind (aptly named believe us!):
Watch out for penguins!
Pancake Rocks and blow-holes:
We eventually reached Fox Glacier (apparently not at all related to the mints) and checked into our hostel for a couple of nights. The village was tiny and consisted of little more than a general store, petrol station and café. Surrounded by gargantuan mountains and glaciers we felt incredibly remote – it was fantastic.
We were only 30 minutes from Franz Josef glacier, which we wanted to explore first. The Franz Josef glacier is completely inaccessible by foot and can only be accessed via helicopter so we booked ourselves onto a ‘heli-hike’ for the following day.
After being kitted out with heavy duty jackets, over trousers, boots and crampons we hopped on board our chopper which took us on one of the most breath-taking flights we’ve ever experienced.
We were dropped off directly on the ice where our guide Alex was waiting for us. It’s hard to put into words just how mind blowing it was to be stood in the middle of this enormous glacier, with minty blue snow and ice surrounding us and loud cracking noises booming around the valley as the glacier shifted. Occasionally a big piece of ice would break away and fall into the valley below while we just stood and watched wide eyed. It was truly awesome.
Getting dropped off for the afternoon:
Cold but happy:
We were grateful for the kit they gave us as it was seriously cold up there. We found it surprisingly easy to move across the ice with the crampons, aided by Alex who carved steps out of the ice with his axe when we were walking up hill.
Crampons – a saviour on the ice:
Our guide Alex:
Be afraid, be very afraid!
We spent several hours exploring the glacier before the weather changed very quickly. The grey clouds were rolling into the valley rapidly, which meant we only had a small window before the choppers could no longer access the glacier. As lovely as it was, we didn’t much fancy spending the night up there so hiked to the pick-up point.
The helicopter ride back to town was a little hairy in the wind and rain, but a great experience to see the glacier in completely different conditions.
A less scenic ride home:
The following day we hiked up to a viewing platform to see the Fox Glacier, however having been spoiled with such a phenomenal experience at France Josef, we felt a little underwhelmed by it. We actually thought the scenery en route to Fox Glacier was more spectacular than the glacier itself.
Walk to Fox Glacier:
Fox Glacier – not quite Franz Josef is it?
Our next destination was Queenstown – the adrenaline capital of New Zealand. We took another 2 days to make the journey and were once again spoiled with stonking views the whole way.
It’s pretty easy to get distracted by your surroundings here, which Jase found out when he was pulled over by the police for speeding just outside of Wanaka. I couldn’t help but feel a little smug having landed us a $436 speeding fine in Australia. See Jase, it happens to the best of us!!
However it seems Jase attracts a different sort of treatment than I do. The friendly policeman couldn’t do enough for Jase starting with a reduction in his recorded speed so that he would pay the lowest fine possible – just 30 bucks (about £15!!). The policeman then gave Jase some helpful travel tips before wishing him a great holiday and waving him off like an old friend. Unbelievable!
50th photo stop of the day!:
Beautiful lakes around Wanaka:
As well as exploring the South Island by land and sea, we also wanted to see it from the air. We’d set aside a few days to squeeze in some skydiving however finding a drop zone that welcomed solo jumpers instead of just tandems (which to be fair, is a real money maker) was proving to be a challenge. We eventually found a drop zone that welcomed sports jumpers so we popped in to check it out.
The staff and facilities were top notch. The kit looked brand new, the plane was well maintained and it seemed like a very slick and professional operation. However we both shared the same big concern as soon as we stepped outside the hanger – the landing area was tiny.
My main worry was finding the bloody thing – it’s not that easy to spot a small drop zone at 13,000 feet, let alone when you’re plummeting towards earth at 140mph. Given my history with navigation under canopy (I rather embarrassingly landed in a petrol station car park previously and had to be picked up by a rescue truck!), I wasn’t feeling overly confident.
Jase on the other hand was more concerned about the high volume of obstacles – it was like the M25. People, planes, helicopters and gliders were criss-crossing the landing area which was flanked with buildings and trees. After face planting a tree and fracturing his spine whilst skydiving last year, Jase was also hoping for a little more wiggle room.
We’re basically the chuckle brothers of skydiving – and this wasn’t a drop zone for the inexperienced.
We both agreed that we’d knock it on the head this time – it just wasn’t worth the risk. We were a little disappointed but walked out of the drop zone feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves for making an unusually grown up and sensible decision.
Why risk our lives for a quick adrenaline kick? Plus we’d save ourselves a fair whack of cash. Tidy!
As we walked to the car a rather intriguing sign on the hanger opposite caught our eye……
We couldn’t really fly a stunt plane ourselves, that’s ridiculous!!......... Could we?
Hang on, what about our new risk aware attitude to dangerous and hazardous activities? What about the budget saving?
Oh sod it – WOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Yep – a few days later both Jase and I blew an entire 3 day skydiving budget for a single flight lesson in a stunt plane and the chance to perform our own aerobatics. It was probably the least sensible and most brilliant decision we’ve ever made!
We had a choice of planes and went straight for the bad-boy – a Pitts Special 2SB, the most powerful Pitts Special plane in production. It’s basically a 9 litre engine attached to wooden wings covered in fabric… and an absolute animal. Well if you’re going to do it, do it properly, right??
What an animal (the plane, not Jason):
Both Jase and I performed loops and rolls, while our instructor (2 times national aerobatics champion Ivan Krippner) removed his hands from the controls completely.
We won’t bother even trying to put into words what 3G’s of g-force at 200mph feels like. Just take our word for it – it’s INSANE!!!!!!
We did pretty well for first timers, although Ivan probably says that to everyone! We both stalled the engine while performing one of our loops which is pretty scary but Ivan taught us what to do and we both recovered it ourselves.
We’re still pinching ourselves now when we think about it. Seriously, how can we ever go back to our IT jobs now???!!!!
Me and Ivan – both relieved to have landed safely!
Here is the video evidence (The cheesy Top Gun music was added by Ivan. Not guilty!!):
(Thankfully you don’t see the bit where I get out of the plane and puke!)
We were smiling from ear to ear while adrenaline coursed through our veins for the rest of the day.
We probably should have taken it easy for a couple of days to let the adrenaline subside, however Jase had already made plans for us to jump out of a hire wire platform the following day with an elastic band attached to our ankles.
Sticking with our “Go Big or Go Home” ethos, Jase booked us onto the highest bungy jump in New Zealand and the third highest in the World – AJ Hackett’s Nevis Bungy. The high wire platform is suspended 134 metres above the Nevis River Valley and is a sight to behold.
We won’t lie – we were nervous. This omission has surprised a few people who know we’re skydivers but we’re control freaks and believe it or not, you do have some control when skydiving. When bungy jumping however, you’re completely at the mercy of a giant elastic band and a spotty teenager. It really ain’t the same.
We got geared up in our harnesses before stepping into what is basically a big shopping trolley which transported us from the valley edge to the hire wire platform via a pulley system. The platform is pretty small with a glass bottom in the waiting area (just to get you in the right frame of mind!) and bounces around with the wind which was picking up quickly – we just wanted to get it done. The jumps went in weight order, highest to lowest, which meant that Jase went first. Nice one, fatty!!
It all happened so quickly – he got his ankle straps on, was nudged to the edge of the platform, 3,2,1 and boom – he was gone! All I could hear was an almighty “WAAAAAY HAAAAAAAAY” as I watched him get smaller and smaller through the glass floor. When he was winched back up to the platform, Jase was absolutely buzzing.
I had to wait another 20 minutes for my turn, during which time I had the opportunity to take a really close look at the bungy set up, despite everyone telling me not to. I really should have listened as the dependency on a 2 inch wide fabric strap made my blood run cold. Still, my pride outweighed my better judgement and I got it done.
Neither of us ever really fancied bungy and were only doing it to tick it off the list, but we’re now complete converts. It was sensational!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The bounce is so smooth to the point we weren’t sure if we were going up or down. If you don’t want to be hoisted back to the platform upside down then you can pull a strap that’s tethered to your ankles really hard between bounces to release your feet and turn yourself upright.
We both did it, but crikey – pulling violently at strapping between your ankles mid-bungy when you’re completely disoriented, until it breaks away from your feet is quite disconcerting (he did say the green strap, right??).
Just as we were about to leave the platform, a young chubby lad arrived wearing a dressing gown - he was doing his bungy jump completely starkers! We asked him why, to which he replied 'why not?'. Good answer!
We can never un-see this:
The bungy was such overwhelming fun, we couldn’t resist trying the Nevis swing while we were there. Nevis is home to the World’s biggest swing – basically a giant trapeze, 160m above the canyon floor with a 300 metre arc.
It wasn’t running when we first arrived due to ‘technical issues’ but we heard it was fixed and signed up immediately. We didn’t consider the earlier issues until we walked across the suspension bridge just as the engineer was leaving – with a tube of mastic and roll of duck tape.
We queried the technical issue with the guys on the platform who replied “Well, we have a saying here - if you can’t duck it, then f*** it!”. Super, that was reassuring.
We put aside our safety concerns and decide to turn things up a notch by doing the swing as a tandem – backwards and upside down!
Again, words fail us both to describe it. It was simply nuts.
Here is a video of our bungy antics……
Our bravery was rewarded with some pretty stylish apparel.
Bungy Pro’s - Been there, done that, got the t-shirts!
So from adrenaline junkies to mountain goats….. Tomorrow we leave for our 5 day hike along the Milford track from Glade Wharf to the impressive Milford Sound.
It’s a bloody long way and we’re not quite as fit as we used to be - so wish us luck!!!!!
K & J
P.S. We were relieved to receive news from the family we stayed with in Vanuatu. They’re busy rebuilding their property following Cyclone Pam but are thankfully all safe and well :-)