Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Farewell New country in the world

It will be with heavy hearts that we leave New Zealand on Sunday. Our three and a half months here has been an incredible journey; we have met some fantastic people, seen jaw-dropping scenery, tried adrenaline fuelled activities and sampled some of the world’s best food and wine. I can safely say that it is the best country on earth. You can’t beat that!
The past week has been spent in Queenstown with Philip’s parents (Moira and Ian). It has been so lovely catching up and enjoying their holiday with them. During the week we have done some more wine and cheese tasting, been ice-skating, driven to Wanaka and walked around the lake, tried cross-country skiing, and experienced Queenstown’s best restaurants and bars! They have also very kindly put us up in a fantastic room in the Sofitel hotel, so we have been living it up in pure luxury! We all enjoyed Nordic skiing, which was extremely hard work, but worth it! I was terrible at ice-skating but very good at the wine tasting!
To celebrate our final few days in New Zealand, my birthday and Ian’s birthday, we have been skiing today and will also be going tomorrow. The snow has been falling heavily over the last few weeks so the conditions are perfect. The sun was shining today and it is nowhere near as busy as the European or Canadian resorts so we had a fab time whizzing down the slopes. I cheated on my poor snowboard and hired skis’ to see if I could still do it...luckily I could just about keep up with Philip! I am really looking forward to my birthday tomorrow which will be spent skiing, followed by drinks in the hotel and then a posh meal in a very swanky French restaurant. Perfect!
Unfortunately, Moira and Ian fly home on Thursday, and Philip and I will begin our trip back up to Auckland. We have 3 days to drive the entire length of both islands in the snow, so wish us luck! We will have to say a tearful goodbye to our trusty steed, Daryll. He has been an awesome campervan! We then fly to Argentina on Sunday afternoon, where we will spend the final 3 weeks of our round-the-world trip (as well as in Brazil).
So, this will be the final blog for New Zealand. I don’t need to repeat what an incredible country I think it is, but I do urge you to come here as soon as you can! The Kiwi’s are just as friendly as the Aussies, you simply cannot top the scenery, everything is priced fairly reasonably, there is heaps to do and the wine is unbeatable. As they say here, “Pretty choice eh?!”
Marks out of 10 for New Zealand:  11
Please let me stay!!!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

In search of sun in the Southland....

We have been having an interesting time since we left our beloved Wanaka. First, we went to Queenstown to check it out before meeting Philip’s parents there next week. We had a great time walking beside the lake, eating Fergburgers and enjoying the lively evening scene during our 2 days there. However, we didn’t visit any of the attractions or do any adrenaline-fuelled stuff as we will do that next week with the Brierley’s.
Our next stop was Te Anau, which is the gateway to Milford Sound. It is a really small and quiet town with not much going on, but the drive from there to Milford was absolutely stunning. We stopped off at many lakes, gorges, waterfalls and scenic reserves, making our journey a long but enjoyable one. It rains most of the time on the West coast but we were lucky and saw the sound whilst it was dry, although there wasn’t much sun! We didn’t do a boat trip on the water because I did one 4 years ago and they are very expensive, but other people we met told us that we didn’t miss much due to the rain. We had a fabulous day there and it was interesting to compare the area to the Marlborough sounds, where we spent our time with the Hague family. I’m still not sure which one I would give my vote to.
After Te Anau we sauntered slowly down the coast to Riverton, which was a sweet coastal village. We found a small campsite run by a lovely elderly lady and plonked ourselves there for 2 nights. The shared lounge had a large log fire which we had mainly to ourselves, and we were situated at the end of a scenic reserve that offered fantastic views over the sea. The only downside was that the rain began to chase us again, so that by the time we left Riverton, we nearly had to build ourselves an ark.
We drove (nearly sailed) to Invercargill which was a complete dive. It made Southampton look glorious by comparison! Seriously, there was nothing to do there and it poured  and poured, so the less said about that day, the better. Unfortunately the rain followed us from Invercargill through the Catlins, which we were told was an area that would impress us. It didn’t. I’m sure that it is pretty on a sunny day, but as we were nearly drowning in blanket rain, we continued driving until we found Dunedin. And there we had some luck...
According to my Mum, Dunedin is the Celtic word for Edinburgh, so we were delighted to find Princes Street and George Street in the large hilly town. The place was full of Scots, whisky bars, Scottish place names and galleries. We had a very enjoyable day visiting the public art gallery (one of the best I have been to), the central museum, the cathedral, watching a Labour protest and doing a brewery tour. Speight’s (NZ’s oldest brewing company) is based in Dunedin, so we did a guided tour around the factory with tastings at the end. It was fascinating, but I preferred the Montieths beer (which apparently can be bought in Waitrose so try it!). Dunedin was refreshing and cultured and gave us a deserved break from the rain.
On Sunday we looped around and headed north to Oamaru, which is another coastal town. We were surprised to find a historical precinct there, complete with its own Victorian settlement. We loved wandering around the old buildings which now house arts, crafts and second-hand bookshops. It is the first historical place we have seen for a long time! We also visited the cheese factory and later that evening, we were lucky enough to see yellow-eyed penguins arriving ‘home’ for the night whilst we walked along the cliffs. They are lovely animals and made us laugh with their funny antics. They take forever to come ashore, surfing the waves until they are able to stand and right themselves on the sand. They then waddle slowly across the beach and into the shrubbery protecting the cliff face. They come in one-by-one so we were watching them for nearly an hour. Fabulous!
We left Oamaru this morning and came inland to Mount Cook. We saw NZ’s biggest mountain from Fox Glacier a few weeks ago, but there is no road connecting the two, so we have finally made it to this side of the mountain range. The rain has eased off over the past few days, to be replaced with snow. Lots of it. We had to attach our snow chains for the last 50km of our journey, but Philip took it slowly and we arrived safe and sound. It is absolutely freezing! There is only an unpowered camping site in the village so we are in a YHA tonight, which is an amazing change. We love Darryl but it is becoming extremely cold and living in a van for 5 months has started to take its toll....
We will be in the Mt Cook national park until Thursday, when we will head to Lake Tekapo. This area is simply stunning with snowy fields hiding beneath enormous, white mountains that are reflected in turquoise lakes. The lakes around here have large amounts of rock sediment in them, giving them an amazing blue/green appearance. We feel extremely lucky to be snowed in here!
Although our experience of the southland was pretty murky and bleak, we have had a fun week and I still love NZ more than ever. Nothing can put me off!
Until next time...