New Zealand - Best Place in the World!
02.12.2010 - 06.01.2011 25 °C
In the early months of 2010, my trusted friend Tom Holyoak asked if I would like to visit him in the gorgeous but far-away Islands of New Zealand. I took him up on the offer, and subsequently booked the whole of December and the first week of January off work so I could make the most of what the Kiwis had to offer. I booked the flights with Emirates and a 16-day tour with Stray Travel but none of this prepared me for what would be the most life-changing experience of my life!
The departure flight would leave on the 30th November and I would not be arriving in New Zealand until the 2nd of December. I've done long-haul flights to America and Dominican Republic, but nothing to this scale before! A week before the flight was due to leave, the UK was experiencing some heavy snow in which major airports such as Edinburgh and Newcastle were forced to close! The omens were not good! However, the flights were not cancelled and my parents took me to the airport ready to embark on my latest adventure. We said our goodbyes, and I got seduced into the duty free zone where I bought a sports watch and a double cheeseburger to keep me warm! The flight was delayed by just half an hour in the end! The first part of my flight took me from Birmingham to Dubai, where I would have a 3 hour wait before catching a connection flight to Melbourne. For those of you who have not flown on an Emirates flight before, you will not believe the service. It is outstanding! The meals range from mixed grills to Sunday roast dinner! Free alcohol the whole flight too! Pretty useful to calm those flight-nerves! The airport at Dubai was tropical in conditions and tastefully done. However I felt over-awed by the sheer busy-ness and it felt like rush hour in the London Underground. No time for resting though, as I caught the connection flight to Melbourne which lasted for 13 hours! Nothing much to say about Melbourne airport, very small, but by now I was just 4 hours away from Auckland. Having not slept for 2 days, I was starting to feel weary, but very close to the promise land! Upon arrival at Auckland, Tom was waiting for me and he looked really healthy! It was pretty humid outside and my first impressions of Auckland were low-rise buildings, happy people and everything it was billed upto be! Its taken 47 hours and 45 minutes from the time I left my house and reached Toms, without any sleep, so understandably I had an early night! This is where the Blog really begins...
Friday 3rd December
I had slept in til 11.30am! Whoops! But strangely felt very awake and not jet lagged whatsoever! Tom had taken the day off work and the first priority was to tuck into some NZ lunch! An Auckland special, he took me to Burgerfuel! I had a 'Stilton Studnet' burger and it was delicious! We proceeded with our burger fueled energy onto a mini-golf course near Mission Bay where the winner would receive a pint of Mac's Gold at a nearby pub. Of course Tom cheated but I didn't have a care in the world as I was constantly surrounded with Sea and Volcanic views, amazing! A nice relaxing first day, and in the evening Stacy cooked us some lovely dinner. The main headlines on the news tonight was... Kid TOO FAT for go-karting... no I'm not joking this was a major headline for NZ and the story ran for a good 20 minutes! Now for the weekend...
Saturday 4th December
Went to a local shopping centre near Toms in the morning, got some right bargains! Went to one of Toms mates for a barbeque (a standard day in NZ) before walking around the Auckland Harbour. This was a very stylish area, with boats, apartments and bars, all really chilled out. These guys know how to live!
Sunday 5th December
I had incorrectly set the time on my alarm on my newly-purchased mobile, so when I woke up at 8.30, it was actually 6.45am. This would have been ok, but little did I know about the house alarm! I had set it off! Whoops! Interesting start to the day to say the least, but we had breakfast and then me Tom and Stacy (Toms fiance) set off to go to a beach. We bought some boards for the waves and set off to a place called Karekare beach. Just 45 minutes from Auckland, and it was gorgeous! We had to drive through a rainforest and mountains en route, but boy was it worth it! We went to a local waterfall that looked like something out of the movies, then went to the mountain-surrounded beach! If you ever go to Auckland, Karekare is worth the visit! In the evening I went to play for Toms 6-a-side football team in a mixed-sex football match.
Monday 6th December
Me and Tom went to Auckland city centre for the day. We had lamb-burgers at the Queensferry pub before going to Aucklands Skytower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere! Not only did I go there, but I decided to walk around the top of the tower on the outside of the building! No joke! There was a small 1 metre wide platform around the outside of the building which I walked around, with just a rope attached to a harness! Video to appear on my profile soon! We then went to see an outdoor photographic exhibition which was cool before we relaxed in the evening. Tomorrow was the day I will be starting my tour of New Zealand!
Tuesday 7th December
Said my goodbyes to Tom and joined the Stray tour where I got on a bus full of random but like minded people. I chatted to a couple called Stuart and Jenni who told me all about Stray and NZ. The first stop was Mount Eden for a spectacular view of Auckland. A lady called Ellie from Papua New Guinea then sat next to me on the bus and we got chatting along with a German lad called Tobias who gave me some stick for Englands 4-1 defeat in the world cup! We then stopped for a quick shop at Thames, a town surrounded by huge mountains, crazy place! We then went to Hahei beach where some people on the bus dug some pools in the sand (the water rises though the sand creating some unusual hot pools) before moving onto our beachside campsite. I said hello to Stefanie and Semi, two german ladies who were with the tour and walked with them to Covenant Cove, a hidden but beautiful beach where some unusual eroded rock formations were waiting to greet us! We then went back to a barbeque, cooked by the Stray tour bus driver! My first night in a hostel, a room which I shared with a spanish lad called Nick and two dutch ladies called Susanne and Janine. I can see why people travel now, not just to see wonderful places but also meet some awesome people too!
Wednesday 8th December
We left the campsite and stopped for breakfast in a local town. Moved onto Hamilton to collect some supplies before moving onto the gorgeous little town of Raglan. The hostel was in a forest on Mount Karioi just a few moments away from a beach. Me and Stefanie took the Mt Karioi bush walk which was really cool as we climbed some huge trees. We snuck down to the beach to watch some pro-surfers show how its done! After a mexican dinner cooked by the hostel owners, a few of us including a german girl called Carina and 2 Irish ladies called PJ and Dearbhla went to ''inspiration point'' to watch a gorgeous sun set over Mt Karioi before having a few beers with others on the Stray tour.
Thursday 9th December
We left the lodge at 8am and set off for Waitomo Caves. I booked in for the abseiling with a lad called James from Bristol (UK). We abseiled 100 metres down into a cave for a most breath-taking experience! Once off the ropes, we climbed through the caves and were met by an eel in the stream! We then sat down in a secluded part of the cave where the guide switched the lights off to reveal the stunning glow-worms! Now what goes down must come up! We needed to climb out of the caves! Some smart fella had built a 32 metre ladder which was less than a foot wide for us to climb out of the cave! Scary wasn't the word! After that, we had to climb some more rocks before the end of a truly amazing experience.
The day wasn't to end there, far from it! We moved onto Maketu, where we were to set foot on a Maori farm. 16 of us embarked on an evening we will never forget! We all settled into the first room, where I got talking to Stuart from Scotland and two dutch guys called Rene and Michael. An old fella called Uncle Boy then introduced us to some of the history of the Maori people before telling us what would happen for the evening. We had to greet the rest of the Maori tribe before being 'accepted' to stay the night. In order to do this, we had to select the oldest male in the room to be our 'cheif'! As we looked around, Uncle Boy pointed to me! I'm only 26!! But Uncle boy was a good spot and it was indeed I who was the eldest male of the stray tour group! So, after given this role, I had to learn what to do to ensure the tour group would be allowed to stay the night (if we were not accepted, we would have to turn around and leave... no pressure then!!) I had to lead my 'tribe' into the Maori room and be greeted by the Maori cheif, who spear-armed, was scary looking, wide eyed and tongue sticking out, looked like he wanted some blood spilt! He would then drop a token on the floor in front of me, in which I had to stare at him without smiling, in which I had to pick up to be accepted into the Maori tribe! I managed to pass the test, and we were welcomed in with the Kia Ora - a touch of noses. It wasn't finished there! Just when I thought it was over, the lads and ladies were separated! The lads had to learn the Haka! Being the Cheif, I had to learn all the words and lead the first few lines! Crikey! After learning this, we then had to perform in front of the ladies, shirts off and wearing some sort of threaded skirt!! I messed up a bit but the ''warriors'' did well behind me to impress the ladies! We were then treated to a show by the ladies where they showed us what they learned (cant remember the name) before we then had a few chilled out beers. Awesome night!
Friday 10th December
A lovely morning greeted us as we left the Maori farm, and set of for Rotorua. A few of us got off to do the Whitewater Rafting! I got put in a team with Stefanie, Stuart and a canadian couple called Nick and Jodi. We had to learn to push and pull the paddle as a team to ensure the raft would be steered correctly. First, we had a 1 metre fall to contend with, easy enough, but we were then greeted with a 7 metre vertical drop (co-incidentally the tallest commercially rafted drop in the WORLD!!). 3 boats went before us with no troubles. But this was never going to be trouble-free as I was in it! True to my word, as we reached the base of the waterfall the raft lifted on the left side meaning I was chucked out of the raft! I managed to grab the rope to the side of the raft in a natural reaction, but with 25 tonnes of water pouring over me, I eventually had to let go and curl into a ball so I would resurface safely. Pretty awesome experience!
We then headed off to Taupo where a few of us signed up for a skydive! Me, James, Stuart, Rene, David from Switzerland, a french lad whose name I cannot remember (sorry) and Tobias were to dare jumping out of a plane at 15,000 ft! Not something you do everyday to say the least! So off we went into a tiny pink plane (no joke it was bright pink!) and we were all high-fiving and feeling the adrenaline as the plane went upto 5,000 ft, 10,000 ft then finally at 15,000 ft !!! David and James jumped out first, I was next. As we jumped out the plane, the most exhilirating adrenaline pumped feeling experienced in my entire life occured and I was screaming WOWWWWWW all the way done during my 70 seconds of freefalling, incredible! Thankfully the parachute released and from being absolutely rush-of-blood-to-the-head to the most relaxing of feelings, it certainly was a crazy mix of emotions that I will never experience ever again! Incredible. In the evening, me and Stuart bought some creme cakes and ate them along with a duck whilst watching another gorgeous sunset over Lake Taupo. What a day!
Saturday 11th December
We got up to go Alpine trekking, but unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and this was cancelled. Instead, we took a 2 hour walk through some mountains and the rain produced a couple of stunning waterfalls! We got to the national park lodge which was awesome, complete with free spas and the best burger I have ever eaten in my life! Anyone going here must go for this!
Sunday 12th December
Out of the 30 passengers on the tour the previous day, 25 stayed at the lodge just leaving 5 of us on the bus! I finally spotted my first NZ sheep before we arrived in Wellington where my good friend Bernie from my Leicester City Supporters Football Club days had moved back to. He picked me up from my hostel where I had a lovely roast dinner with Bernie and Shirley at their house, which had stunning views over-looking Wellington! In the evening, I went back to my hostel where I went out for some drinks with a lad called Sebastian from Germany, Violet from China, a couple of English lads and a dutch girl. Wellington was a very 'English' city and the night felt as such.
Monday 13th December
We had to leave at 6.15am to catch a ferry to the south Island! We arrive in Picton after a long but picturesque journey and met up with a new but small group, there was now 8 of us! We went along to a wine-tasting session in Marlborough, in which i bought some deliscious home-made fudge! We then stayed in the Abel Tasman national park where I got chatting to a Swedish couple called Pernilla and Bjorn, a dutch lad called Nick a dutch lady called Yvette and an American lady called Maria. We had a barbeque which was pretty cool and we had Mussel tasting! I could quite happily live this lifestyle!
Tuesday 14th December
Me and Violet missed a sailing trip due to a mis-understanding of where we were being picked up. However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we went hangliding instead! Not a bad alternative, fly around the national parks 3,000 ft in the air! The views were breath-taking! We then went for some lunch before I took a walk around some beaches that Abel Tasman had to offer. Gorgeous area!
Wednesday 15th December
We had a long drive down the coastline in which most of us took a nap to re-charge our batteries! We arrived in Barrytown, a small town in which only 41 people live! I had a pint of Baz Vages, a home-made beer before me Violet, Marie and Nick set off for the beach to watch a sunset. I had another blonde moment, I dropped the camera into the sea, totally destroying it! But I managed to save the memory card! We found an old tree where we sat and watched the sun sleep, and we were surrounded by misty mountains which was quite a sight!
Thursday 16th December
A few of us went to bone carving lesson, where we selected a bone to carve into a mini-sculpture from a Maori design. It was a pretty cool experience as we had to cut, trim and polish the final product and I now have a pendant which I will keep forever, made by yours-truly! We then set off for Franz Josef where tomorrow we will be climbing an ice-glazier!
Friday 17th December
We woke up and spirits were dampened when we saw it was raining. However, we were not going to be put off and we set off for the Ice Glazier experience that we will never forget. We walked through a rainforest before being greeted by the glazier, an outrageous site! The group split up, but me Violet and Maria stuck together. We put our crampons on and started climbing the ice, full of wonderful blue colour and i fell over 3 times on the way up! Typical! The rain actually meant we saw stunning waterfalls both sides of the glazier. One time I actually fell into the ice as I missed a small crack! Oops! We all survived and took a well earnt hour in a hot tub before chilling out in the evening.
Saturday 18th December
We set off for Makarora where we stopped at Lake Matheson, dubbed the ''mirror lake''. Me Maria and Violet found a wobbly bridge which you can see a video on my profile! We then skimmed some stones with our crazy bus driver Python before settling at the 2-walled lodging in between mountains! There was also a pool which we just messed about despite it being freezing!!
Sunday 19th December
We set off for Wanaka where there was a gorgeous lake. Me Nick Yvette Maria and Violet went to Puzzle world which boggled the mind. You will see what I mean if you go there! It also included a labyrinth which was pretty cool! We stopped at the official Down Under - the 45th Parellel. We then headed to Queenstown where we went to a bar that had a barbeque!! Nothing new there then, but we went to another bar where they had teapots for cocktails! Awesome night!
Monday 20th December
I set off for a trip to Milford Sound, a stunning place. I took a scenic cruise and spotted some dolphins! As I got back to the hostel, a few of us went to the Fergburger, where we all had a Big Al (you will know what I mean by this if you go!). None of us could walk properly for a couple hours afterwards!!!
Tuesday 21st December
Waved goodbye to Nick and Violet and a new bus driver arrived with a coach load of new people! We set off for Mount Cook where we saw some quite stunning views (occuring theme now hey!) and drove past some lakes with pure blue colours! It was chucking it down at Mount Cook so we couldnt see it, but we went to the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre (the first chap to climb Everest! The staff were having a Christmas party which we joined in, and I beat a brazilian chef in a dance-off!! There was a live band and a transvestite chatted up Maria which was pretty funny!
Wednesday 22nd December
We set off and stopped at a lake for lunch which had the most awesome little church! Can't remember the name of it though! Then we set off for Christchurch where we would leave the tour. We stayed at a hostel right next to the Cathedral. Me and Maria checked out the nightlife and found the coolest allyway where 3 bars opened up with live music. We then beat a load of kiwis at pool and had a pretty cool night!
Thursday 23rd December
I didn't like the hostel, so I booked into a cool hotel that had a blue light under the bed!! I walked around Christchurch before me and Maria set off to a nearby beach town. We said our goodbyes and that was the last of my connections to the Stray Tour!
On Christmas Eve I took a flight from Christchurch to Auckland to spend the last two weeks with Tom and Stacy. Christmas day was pretty cool, was weird to eat dinner in 30 degree heat but Stacy cooked it perfectly and wouldn't let me leave the table til it was all gone!! No problemo as it was deliscious but it did take a while as there was so much (Tom gets fed well!) the following days we went to a beach where me and Tom played beach soccer with the locals, went to Snowplanet where I took up some skiing (rather unsuccessfully I might add!) and went to Auckland Museum which was very grand! On New Years Eve, we went to Goat Island where me and Tom swam to an Island just off the coastline... not something you do every day! That evening we went out in Auckland, had a lovely meal despite a mardy waitress and the fireworks display at midnight was sensational!
I spent a couple of days in Auckland in which I met up with Violet from the Stray trip. We checked out Devenport which was cool, and I took a trip to Waiheke in which I walked half the island over 6 hours. Good for the fitness!!! The beaches and mountains were just amazing! On the last full day, me Tom and Stacy headed upto the Bay of Islands. We went to a town called Paihia, where we loaned a couple of Kayaks. A seagull decided to attack me rather visciously for a few minutes, much to the amusement of Tom and Stacy. We then went along the Whangerei coatline and stopped at some stunning beaches for what was the perfect final day. The following day, I had to be dragged to the airport by Tom and Stacy as I really did not want to fly home. An end to the most perfect adventure. I met sooo many good people along the way, both the locals and travellers, and did things I thought I would never do in my lifetime. It has really changed my outlook on life and don't be surprised if I have something in the pipeline for the future! Thanks for reading this... Tom