South Island, New Zealand – Part 1

So NZ got off to a tired start after a full 2 days travelling with little sleep – meant for a super grumpy Ronan and mixed with some “lovely” hostel friends equalled a 4am row and a happy 6am bus the hell out of there….

Our group of 20 (Gareth, Elisha, Laura, Pete, Olivia, Iona, Rachel, Bastian, Stefi B, Stefi H, Staci, Florian, Ole, Ed, Anna, Maraike, Sarah, Catharina, Cailin and me) headed south on the Cook Strait Ferry from Wellington to Picton.

Then it was on the bus to Motueka, a tiny town in Abel Tasman National Park on the Northwest corner of the South Island. No stopping the travel from there, we jumped in a water taxi and headed along the coast to an amazing cove and to our accommodation for the night,, a boat hostel run by Mark and Jayne that was just stunning – sorry Wellington, all is forgiven 🙈. Anddddd relax.

Few of the group jumped from the roof into the sea, freshened up and Mark fired up the bbq, Jayne provided a massive amount of mixed salads and we ate to the setting sun in the cove, standard dinner scenes. Bed was hit early with 2 7 bed bunks in each hull and a few rooms above – out like a light.

Morning was up to homemade pancakes, fruit salads and cereals for breakfast. Then it was a somewhat sad gear on for a quick skip on Marks dingy to Anchorage beach where we were picked up by our guides Tuam and Yuri from Canyoning Abel Tasman for what turned out to be an epic day and a perfect start to the trip….

After a 1 hour hike and some safety banter it was all pile into the Torrent River Canyon for an awesome day jumping, sliding, abseiling and zip lining our way down the canyon back to Anchorage. Even braved the 6m and 8m rock jumps, face planted some front flips, and just had a blast. Safe to say wee were knackered once we got back to Anchorage so a quick chill on the beach was needed.

Then we all jumped back on the water taxi to Marahua to check in for the next stop, Old Macs Farm surrounded by Al Pacas – epic burger at local haunt The Fat Tui then bed, exhausted and buzzing from the unreal start to what was just a taster of the fun to come.

The recurrent theme of early starts continued where it was on the bus and off to Westport – it’s a stunning drive to the coast with a stop to see a seal colony before landing in sleepy Westport. It’s a bit of a surfing Mecca in summer but early season at this stage so it was all pretty quiet. 5 of us went paddle boarding (continuing the ankle rehab from my Finale Ligure spill) on Buller River before fish and chips on the grey sand beach with the full crew, cold but great evening. Paddle boarding is definitely on the list to hit again – the physio in me reckons it’s the go to for core work, lower limb stability and coordination, but enough of the work shit, I’m not here for that.

6.30am start to make our way further south along the coast with a first stop at the stunning Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki.

The Wild West Coast not failing on endlessly epic views. Then in to Franz Josef with a quick check into the Rainforest Retreat, then off to do the Glacier Valley walk for few hours; was good to stretch the legs after the long trip and yet again, NZ didn’t drop the ball in the views. A soak in the Hot tub in the hostel felt good after long day in the bus then we had all you can eat pizza and an unplanned big night out….

Everyone was on top form after a few skydives, hikes and too much bus time – lookalikes came out – Mr Bean for me ffs – a “few” beers and then scavenger hunt…. Not the standard kind – consisted of me finishing the night in nothing but a pair of woman’s jeans, a bra and a coat, no shoes, 2 kisses (unfortunately male) better off, 6 shots in but a winner – I won a Fox Swing for Queenstown, but screw that, it ended up with Iona Chuck and Baby Rachel to split, I cant be having that fear on me! Bed was hit hard that night.

8 of us managed to scrape ourselves together for an early Kayak on Lake Mapourika the following day – thankfully the bra was dumped in favour of more appropriate gear. Started off paddling into the mist with Franz Josef glacier hidden in the clouds behind us. But once sun hit and the mist was burned away we were hit for mirror views of the rainforest and mountains – epic once again.

Hayley our guide took us on a bit of a paddle through the kiwi conservation park where the were everywhere, but just not anywhere we could see them. She advised going to the Kiwi Conservation centre in Franz to see some Kiwis for real but after a $40 drop and some pretty underwhelmed faces my option to head back to the Rainforest retreat for 4 hours sleep seemed a bargain. This scavenger hunt caper was catching up on me. Then it was drag myself up for a shower and roast pork dinner in Monsoon Bar, few pints and bed once again. The heli hike folks got screwed over by the weather unfortunately but it’s always an excuse to get back – cheers for a super stop Franz.

Up 6.30am yet again to hit the rainy road to Queenstown for 3 nights. Stopped at Lake Matheson for some mirror lake views, then through the Haast Pass and stopped at Thunder Creek falls for a wet picture before lunch; then on to Wanaka.

Something about Wanaka that really gets me, it’s like a mini Queenstown – got chatting to fella in bike shop (be rude not to nosey) who was telling me about the trails in the mountains around the town; half an hour stop just wasn’t enough to be itching the temptation to grab a bike and head off.

After an 8 hour journey it was finally in to Queenstown for a quick tour about town then checked in to Nomads hostel before a quick scrub up and out for group dinner and few drinks. Had a savage steak in Red Rock then round to Loco for a few. Most of the crew headed on to The World Bar and few more stops but it was early to bed for me – I had a biking itch to scratch.

And finally, I got my arse on a bike. 8am seemed like a lie in and off it was to pick up a Giant Glory from the super guys at Vertigo bikes and away off up the gondola to Queenstown Bike Park. They lads at. Vertigo were super chilled and sorted me with my full kit and gondola pass for the day – definitely recommend them for effortless service and general banter.

And off I went like a big excited child, up the Skyline Gondola to Queenstown Bike Park. It took about 5 runs to get the feel of a downhill bike and the trails, with a few runs in Hammy’s and Thundergoat and then it was all go – some flowy trails, some sniper roots and a few wrong turns down double blacks kept me on the go for an epic day. The trails all snakes down the mountain with over 30 to choose from, I barely scratched the surface – favourite had to be between Bubba and Single Track Sandwich – I was in my element.

I returned the bike to Vertigo a mucky, tired grinning mess. The trails were soaking but super fast, dry runs here must be savage! Then it was back to base for a sharpen up to meet a familiar local face for pizza and drinks…. Aoibh has been out 4 months already and was really good to catch her – totally in her element in Queenstown, being a physio geek, Pilates expert and generally having a ball. Bit sickened by her dodgy NZ accent though.

Day 2 in heaven and up for another active day – snowboarding in Cardrona. Seriously in love with Queenstown at this stage. Yet another epic day with 4 of us heading off to the slopes; a fresh dump of snow made for some super runs, stunning views and the odd fall. I left with a fat elbow and sore ass from all my dodgy heel turns, but what a day. Stefi, our resident pro decided it would be a good idea to take Olivia and me down a gun run of pure icy terror – one wrong turn and it was arse over tit for me, I grew a new elbow and suffered concussion from a heavy ass landing.

A tail between the legs hobble back for a coffee it was…. then time for a few more runs, but no board. After an hour of looking, freaking out and calculating how much I would have to pay the rental shop I spotted a lady taking off a familiar board; I asked her could I check it and after showing her MY NAME written on it she apologised and asked me where her board was – how the f**k would I know!!!

Anyways, broken as I was after 2 savage days activity I reckoned n she saved me serious humiliation/injury/further ass injury so no harm done. When it cleared the views were amazing too, from snow to green mountains in the distance. Back to town for a quick shower then met Aoibh the wannabe Kiwi for a standard Queenstown trip Fergburger and few drinks – tried to get her to tell me all the bad points of the place but the good points definitely outweighed then, a lot – perfect end to yet another unreal visit to Queenstown. It’s the second time I’ve signed off from this place and it definitely stung all the more to hit the road this time – until my third visit QT.

Cheers to Aoibheann for showing me the town and for the craic – if you’re headed that way her and a few friends have started the first GAA club in Queenstown so give them a shout if you’re interested in joining and for some local banter; Queenstown Gaels abú, good luck for the 7’s.

A sad wake up at our now standard 6.30am for the bus journey to Milford Sound with a stop at the Mirror Lakes and a toilet stop in Knobs Flat – placename fail/win.

Then it was on through Homers tunnel and out to the Fjordland. The journey down was beautiful again but the other side of the tunnel definitely cranked things up – the Fjordland National Park was breathtaking. Stunning views with sheer rock faces either side on the drive down to the bay to our boat. Endless waterfalls and crystal clear water in the rivers.

And then the boat through Milford Sound – and this is where my lack of descriptive words kicks in – the place is just stunning. I’ll try to let the pics do the talking here.

Stirling Falls waterfall was impressive but the scale was hard to take in until told it’s 3 times the height of Niagra at 450ft!

Harrison’s cove looking up to Mount Pembroke – glacier there supplies Stirling falls.

Bowen Falls – supplies all drinking water and electricity to Milford Sound.

Just an epic tour for 2 hours on the boat.

Then it was back on the bus to Te Anau for the night. Stopped at The Chasm in Milford road on way back – what looked like a standard flea water river dropped into a deep gorge with rock swirl formations and savage water flow.

Our hostel in Te Anau provided private rooms for the first time, a welcome change for everyone to get a sleep without torturing people with snoring. Most headed for a group dinner in town at The Moose then back to settle in for some needed rest.

A lie in – 8am start. The group were onto the water taxi to head up Te Anau Lake for a hike back to the hostel, about 2.5hr trip. Me, no. Here I am, sat in the Sandfly Cafe in beautiful Te Anau drinking coffee and eating super carrot cake – it’s been tough.

The past 11 days have been relentless – views, adventure, endless craic, and much needed rest today. Part of my reason for travelling has been to get a bit more of a clear head and this week seen World Mental Health day. While that’s a positive thing, it definitely grates that we have to have a day of awareness for it – I mean I sprained my ankle in Finale Ligure and there’s no World Day for that, why is mental health any different? So far I’ve definitely learned I need the odd rest, and shit sleep doesn’t help the stewing. Likewise, it’s been unreal meeting new people, making myself talk to folks I don’t know from Adam, be active and push myself in certain aspects. But a rest day today is welcome.

Here’s to the next 11 days – the east coast for Wedderburn, Christchurch and Kaikora and on for the North Island adventure.

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