Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wanna come to Wanaka?

We have enjoyed another fabulous week in the best country in the world. After seeing the Franz Josef glacier, we drove down the road (well, snailed along its twists and turns) to Fox glacier, which was equally impressive. The town itself was smaller than Franz but had a great laid-back feel to it, despite there being lots to do. We spent our first day walking around the beautiful Lake Matheson (2 hour return loop) which gave us reflective views of Mt Cook (highest mountain in NZ at 3754m) and Mt Tasman. The thing I really love about NZ is the diverse landscape on offer all the time; you can spend a morning viewing a glacier surrounded by a rainforest, then drive down the road to the beach and then turn around to see a lake with mountain vistas. It really does have it all.
Last Friday we made the epic journey from the glacier country down to Wanaka. It was the most stunning drive of my life, just beating the Coromandel drive. Although it took us nearly 5 hours, the scenery was breathtaking and we had to stop every 10 minutes to take another photograph. We encountered the region’s beautiful twin lakes (Wanaka and Hawea), Mt Aspiring National Park, dramatic valley views and rugged costal backdrops. By the time we reached Wanaka, we were seriously excited!
Wanaka is at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, 100km north of Queenstown. It is much quieter than Queenstown, but still has a lot to offer travellers, and I decided after 2 hours here that it is my favourite destination so far. There isn’t much in the way of history or culture and the bar-hopping party animal would be bored senseless, but for those who love the outdoors, great walking and cycling, scenery and adrenaline fuelled activities, you need to come to Wanaka.
We found a wonderful campsite by the lake and have parked ourselves here for the past week. The site (which I remember visiting 4 years ago), has a log fire, underfloor heating, free internet, a spa and sauna and sky TV. Luxury indeed! Whilst we have been here, we have made friends with some of the locals and become well acquainted with the hiking trails around the lake and in the mountains. We have spotted wild deer and moose (although Philip thinks they were elk) and some huge birds. We have been spending our days mainly cycling and walking which has been fantastic, especially as the weather has been glorious. We have had pure sunshine for a week! The days have been bitterly cold though, with frost on the ground for most of the day and snow in the mountains. Despite that, the ski fields still haven’t opened so we are crossing our fingers that it is going to dump soon so we can get some snowboarding in.
Last night we treated ourselves to an evening at the cinema, although this was no ordinary cinema. A national treasure, cinema Paradiso is a small place in town that puts on arty flicks as well as blockbusters, but the seating is in the form of sofas, beanbags and even a converted car! We were allowed to take drinks and delicious food in with us, and the film stopped at half time for pizza and warm cookies. It was amazing! It was even cheaper than most normal cinemas so the evening was a real bonus. We need things like that in the UK!
I will be leaving Wanaka with a very sad face tomorrow. I have loved our stay here and I kind of wish that I was staying here for the whole winter ski season. It is a truly fabulous place. However, we will be on our way to Queenstown tomorrow to experience the end of ‘winterfest’. Philip will be in his element as we will be going to watch a snowboarding competition on Sunday and the whole festival is dedicated to snow and winter activities. We won’t be spending long there though, as we will be returning there for a week at the end of our trip when we will be meeting up with Phil’s parents. So on Monday, we will be heading south towards Milford sound and then on to Dunedin.
Have I whet your appetite for a trip to New Zealand? We have heard from people that tourism is down 20% here at the moment due to the Christchuch earthquakes, and people are a little worried that it won’t pick up in time for the world cup. So if you were thinking about visiting NZ, please do come now!
That is all for now.
Over and out,

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Towards the wild west...

Well, we have had yet another exciting week. We finished our WWOOFing stint at the Hague’s home last Monday, and were very sad to have to leave our en-suite and fabulous views of the sounds! Unfortunately everybody caught a stomach bug over the weekend and so we left feeling a bit dodgy. By the time we arrived in Nelson (2 hours later), I was very poorly so we had to hole up in a motel for the next 2 nights. Needless to say, Monday and Tuesday were slightly wasted as I was in bed, and Philip, my wonderful nurse, was waiting on me hand and foot. Luckily, by Wednesday morning I was much better and we were able to continue with our journey as planned.
Nelson was an attractive city with an art-deco, hippie feel. It has more sunny days than anywhere else in the country and is hailed as one of NZ’s most ‘liveable’ cities. It was a pleasant enough place, but other than a modern and architecturally fascinating cathedral, there wasn’t much in the town itself to keep us there for more than a few days, so on Wednesday afternoon, we drove to Moteuka.
Motueka is a fruit growing town lying in the heart of green-tea, hop, apple, grape and kiwifruit orchards. The area surrounding the town was beautiful, and we used the campsite there as our base for a few nights. On Thursday we were up early and picked up by a local tour company to have a day in the Abel Tasman National Park (NZ’s most visited park).  We took a water taxi up the east coast, spotting funny rock formations and seals en route. It was like a travel brochure come to life! We were dropped off halfway up the 51km track and instructed to walk back! We walked from 10am until 3pm with a young German girl called Lisa. The walk was stunning – the water was so clear and we had fantastic views of the limestone hills, caves and waterfalls. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the only populated part of the park and were then picked up by our skipper at a beach further down the track. It was a great day out.
On Friday we had a slightly lazier day and drove up Takaka hill (where a lot of LOTR was filmed) and down into Golden Bay. Just below the summit was a dramatic lookout over Tasman Bay and Abel Tasman, so we could admire the route we walked the day before. The small town of Takaka is the only service town in the area, and there seemed to be a strong local community of artists, the dreadlocked types, crusty fishermen and hardened farmers. We really loved the main street, which served plenty of vegetarian food and had some appealing galleries.
We had a drearier day on Saturday as the rain came in and the whole of the South Island was issued with an extreme weather warning. We spent the day driving back across the hills and on to the West coast, which is where we will now be for a while. Over the weekend we passed through the rather depressing towns of Westport and Greymouth...New Zealand is beautiful but there are certainly some towns that I want to escape from quickly! I guess a lot of new development and building happened in a time when not much attention and/or money were paid to the appearance of these service hubs. Nonetheless, there was some exciting scenery to be explored around Westport, and we enjoyed a long stroll into the wind along the well-named ‘Cape Foulwind’. We also saw a large seal colony there and took photos of the remarkable ‘Pancake Rocks’ (they literally looked like piles of pancakes).
Philip decided that we have done enough wine tasting in New Zealand, so on Sunday night we did a brewery tour. Montieths brewery in Greymouth is one of NZ’s oldest and biggest makers and exporters of beer, so seeing as the HQ was down the road from our campsite, we indulged ourselves with an evening tour and meal. The tour itself was fascinating (I previously had no idea how beer was made being a wine drinker) and we were allowed to try as many varieties as we wished at the end. It is worth pointing out that on all of these alcohol tasting tours that we have done, the majority of other people also on the tour are English...a coincidence?! Maybe not.
And so we are now firmly on the West coast of the South Island. This area was my favourite part of the country when I visited 4 years ago, so I am glad to be back. This coastline has less than 1% of the population scattered amid 9% of the country’s area but they are a very friendly bunch! I think it is crammed with tourists during the summer months, but we seem to have the place to ourselves at the moment, which is the advantage of travelling in winter. Today we are in Franz Josef, 5km from the glacier (named after the Austrian emperor in 1865). This afternoon we walked to the terminal face for a great glacier view and tomorrow we intend to explore further walking tracks and routes around the glacier. This evening we have been chilling out in the hot pools (yes, more!) and watching the rain, which we are hoping will turn into snow overnight. It is now extremely cold at night time and there is more snow falling as we head towards July, so we are grateful for our little heater in the van!
Over the next week we will be stopping at Fox Glacier, driving the Haast pass and heading towards Wanaka. I will try to update you with more news at the beginning of next week. This blog is now on paperblog, so check it out:
Lots of love to all,
Hana and Phil 

Friday, 10 June 2011

Finishing the North Island and Marlborough

Hi everyone!

What's news? We haven't heard from quite a few people for a while, so do please keep in touch.

We have been having a great time in NZ. It is still my favourite country...despite the rain!! My last blog left off in Napier, where we thoroughly enjoyed the wine region in Hawkes Bay, but not the art-deco! From there, we drove South to a lovely little area called Martinborough. It is becoming very popular for it's Pinot Noir wines, so we had to check them out and see what all the fuss was about. Martinborough itself is only a small village but it is surrounded by boutique vineyards, so it was an idyllic place to wonder around and do some tasting. We also visited the first inland town to be built in NZ, and it was colonial. Greytown was also a fantastic place to buy chocolate as they had an incredible outlet called 'Schocolate' there...yummy!

Our final destination in the North Island was the capital, Wellington, which is windy and sophisticated. However, it is pretty small for a capital city so we enjoyed our two days there walking around and soaking in some culture. Obviously NZ doesn't have many cities, and it was rather nice to be back in civilization for a while! We managed to fit in a visit to the museum of NZ; Te Papa (our place), which was huge and took all day! Well worth it though.

Last Friday we took the ferry from Wellington to Picton, on NZ's South Island. It took 3.5 hours and was extremely expensive! Nonetheless, we arrived in a very cold Marlborough on Friday night and were excited to be on the South Island, as Phil has wanted to come here for ages. On Saturday we did a wine tour around the Marlborough region, which is famous for Sauvignon Blancs (which you must know if you have ever spent time with my Mum or I!) Because it is my top tipple, Phil drove me around hundreds of vineyards, which was wonderful!! Some of the wines I tasted which you may of heard of include Montanna, Villa Maria, Dry Hills, Wither Hills, Cloudy Bay. I tell you....I think we are going to be wine experts by the time we leave NZ!

On Sunday we arrived at our next WWOOFing stint. We are staying with the Hague family at their stunning home in the Marlborough sounds, between Havelock and Picton. They built the house themselves and it sits on the top of a hill overlooking the sounds and Queen Charlotte Drive. The family are great; Ian and Mandy run a boat-building business and their children, Sam, Ritchie and Becca are in their early twenties and live at home. There is also another English WWOOFer, called Zoe, here so there are heaps of people around! It has been wonderful to have so much company after it being just the 2 of us for so long. We also all have our own room (with an ensuite and dressing room) so that gives you an idea of how monstrous the house is!

During the past week we have helped to clean the warehouse where Ian works, we have pruned the vines they have growing, dismantled their swimming pool, fed the chickens and collected eggs daily, kept the fire going and done basic house-hold chores. They have been hugely generous with feeding us and providing wine and stimulating conversation on a daily basis. Also, the weather has been pretty awful during our stay so we have done lots of TV watching, reading and chatting with Zoe, who is lovely. We will be staying here until at least Monday, and we will see how it goes from there.

Our other news is that we will be cutting our world trip short. Unfortunately our funds are starting to dry up  pretty quickly, and we realised that our plans for seeing South America were completely unrealistic. We have bought our flights forward and will now be flying out of Rio de Janeiro on 19th August. The purpose of this trip was to see Aussie and NZ properly and we will definitely have achieved that! We will still have 3 weeks in Argentina and the South of Brazil on our way home, and we will then be moving to Edinburgh as soon as we return to the UK. I have been offered a place to study on the Creative Writing masters course at Edinburgh Uni, starting this September. Although we are sad that we have to cut the trip short, we are over the moon that I was accepted on to the course and will be living in a new country! Ha ha. And like Jess rightly said, South America and the world are not going anywhere (hopefully) so we have promised ourselves that we will be returning to Chile, Peru and Bolivia as soon as we are solvent again.

Well, that is all for now. Please please send us your news.

Loads of love,
Hana and Phil xxxxxxx