Bravehearts to New Zealand Adventure Oct/Nov 2003

 

Well, in the end, only two of us made the journey, at our own expense.

 

We’ve done it!  And it was the adventure of a lifetime!

 

Despite inclement weather and a flu bug, we cycled a total of 330kms and (although some of the cash has still to be collected), we raised sponsorship for British Heart Foundation, of approximately £3000.

 

Thank you all so much for your fantastic support.

 

Mike & Leanne

PS. We took lots of piccies, so many if fact, that I’ve put them into different albums for you to look at.  
Here is the link; click here &here

 

We can still accept your donations  click here

 

    

 

DIARY

How it all started...
Leanne had sadly just lost her father to a heart attack, and she casually asked Mike one day, if he fancied doing something for the British Heart Foundation charity.

Mike typically immediately responded "Absolutely... and I'll tell you what; I quite like cycling, and I've never been to New Zealand... Let's do that"

Leanne had not anticipated such an audacious reply, and she guffawed "you can't do that!"
Of course, telling Mike that he can't do something, was a bit like waving a red flag in front of his face...

"Who says I can't? Of course we can!!  ...Let's Do It!"

PPS. Leanne wrote the first part of this and then Mike filled in some gaps (we had both made our own journal notes throughout... see if you can guess who wrote which parts  ;-))

SINGAPORE

Arrived in Singapore on 27th October, (Mikes 40th Birthday!  Took a long time to admit his age to anyone – imagine having to leave the country rather than face it!)

 

8am Singapore time. First thing that hit us was the heat! And it was only 8am! Wow!

 

From the airport we took the shuttle to the Hostel “Metropolitan YMCA”. Everyone was really friendly right from the start and we had a fab room with a view over the Swimming Pool (bearing in mind this was just a YMCA you get the idea of the standard of everything!). As soon as we got into the room we had to lie down for a couple of hours. We were very tired due to the overnight flight.  13 hour flight, Singapore is 8 hours ahead of UK time… what day is it again?

 

A couple of hours later we arose to begin our investigation of Singapore. Our first port of call – Orchard Road, the shopping epicentre of the world if you ask me! Amazing bargains to be had everywhere plus expensive designer shops such as Christian Dior and Gucci! Every girl’s dream!

 

The humidity in Singapore was quite something. The Island literally sits on the Equator (one degree North) and the rainfall is pretty heavy and frequent (it’s rainy season in November apparently).

 

We discovered that English is their first language, and the plug sockets are same as ours.  They drive on the same side of the road, and even at 8am, the road cleaners at hard at work.  The locals think nothing of working a seven day week and putting in 13-17 hours every day, just to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

 

We did the Tourist thing a little later on that first day and got a “Trishaw”. This was the only time we were ripped off in Singapore - $50 (approx £20) EACH for the privilege of being cycled around town! It didn’t particularly matter however as it was a new experience!  You’ve gotta larf.

 

That night we went down to the bustling (and v. touristy) “Clark Quay” and had some fabulous Thai cuisine.

 

28th October

We decided to go to the Island of Sentosa. Took the Gondola ride from Singapore and witnessed fantastic views of the city.

 

Singapore has a ‘mascot’ or symbol called the “Merlion” (half lion half fish) and there was an enormous statue of this symbol on the Island.

               

 

We took the monorail ride around the Island which had lots of interesting places including a lovely beach, bird aviaries and much more besides. Our first train stop was at the “Tree of Abundance” – which we hugged lots!! After this we went to “Dolphin Lagoon” and saw the amazing and very rare Pink Dolphins.  A Sea Eagle decided to swoop down for some fish after circling for a while – apparently he does this every day.

 

We crossed a rope bridge to a tiny wee island with great viewpoints.  This put us on “the Southern most point in Asia”. Eventually we decided to stop at the Beach front bar and have a cold drink. First time we had truly relaxed in ages!

 

At night time we watched an amazing lazer and fountain show and just managed to jump on the last Gondola back to the city.  Rogue taxi driver turned the meter off and charged us $20 (about £8 – it would certainly have cost more back home).  The government own all of the taxis, and he would have been in HUGE trouble.  Realistically, it would probably have cost around $6.

 

29th October

We visited “Suntec City” and the “Fountain of Wealth”. It is tradition to walk around the Fountain 3 times and make a wish which of course we did! Got some great piccies.

 

That evening we had dinner at “Boat Quay” after having had a tremendous day once again.

 

The following day, 30th October, we were very good and went to the gym at the YMCA in the morning followed by a nice relaxing sit by the pool!!!  We had it all to ourselves – lovely temperature.

   

 

Chinatown was also today’s port of call. Very interesting market stalls and “smells”.  One in particular caused by a specific type of fruit.  It’s so disgusting in smell that it is banned in hotel rooms and on the MRT (their Metro system). Mike caught a bag snatcher red-handed!  He shouted so loud at the gang of three (two girls), that everyone jumped and got the fright of their lives, he stopped the theft though!

 

The weather turned and we headed towards a café at Clark Quay. The owner, named Emily informed us we should visit less tourist – laden island of Puala Ubin on our final day where we could get “close to nature”. We would have to take a bumboat ride from the airport town of Changi. Great coffee in the pouring rain.

 

31st October 2003

Sounded like an adventure, so we took our bags to the airport, checked in for flight to NZ. Put change of clothes and some hand-luggage in safe storage, and taxi to the tiny port.

Had a taste of the “real” Singapore today in Puala Ubin. $2 for a ten minute bumboat ride across to theIsland.  About 10 of us on the boat, approx 50% tourists, the rest were locals, transporting food and drink.

 

Our first vision … a couple of cafes, and that same rank smelling fruit and bicycle hire. Hmmm…. interesting!

     

 

We hired a couple of bikes and headed off.  Only one road on this 3km by 6km island, and lots of off-road areas that looked highly dangerous. We DID get extremely close to nature – probably too close when Mike spotted the largest Lizard in the world which, apparently if so inclined would kill and eat man!  It was about the size of a crocodile, and obviously not too sure whether to attack or not, then Mike skidded the brakes, and it shot off into the water.

 

This island is riddled with crocodiles and other dangerous animals.  Mike did see a Kimono Dragon – about the size of a man, although by the time we got the camera out, it had gone! 

***Stop Press*** - it’s called a Komodo Dragon – see this page for details

 

We also saw a wild Dingo dog although we hadn’t realised it was wild at the time.  Dingos in Australia were originally brought in from these islands.  Every dog in the world originated from the Dingo.  We saw some pretty butterflies too.

 

On our way back to the port we met an old lady who looked as if she had never been off the island. Long toenails and no teeth…. No way could she ever wear shoes! You get the picture!  She was very curious of us.

 

We travelled straight back to the airport to catch our flight that evening. We had previously left our luggage and checked in earlier on that day, so paid $8 each for a shower at the airport.

 

 

NEW ZEALAND

Arrived in New Zealand Midday after another great 10 hour flight on Singapore Airlines. We took an easy shuttle ride to the centre of Christchurch to Stonehurst Accommodation – yet another spick and span hostel.

 

When we arrived, the room wasn’t quite ready so we went outside to the sun terrace. It was a beautiful day so falling asleep in the sunshine wasn’t too much of a hassle.

 

That afternoon we went to bed as we were again very tired from the long flight. We figured the sun would be out for the duration of our time in NZ so missing a little wouldn’t hurt…. little did we know what was to come!

 

The following day we took a walk around Christchurch. We had the most delicious lemon bagels topped with smoked salmon. Again the sun was shining brightly. During the afternoon we checked out the bike shop where we were to pick up the bikes the next day. We also visited some of the clothes shops where we scared ourselves with the prices… so expensive! Needless to say we didn’t do much in the way of clothes shopping after that.

   

 

On first impressions we weren’t too impressed with Christchurch. Everything seemed so “small town” and apparently all shut by 10pm! On saying that, we had already sampled the restaurants which were amazing. It’s true what they say about New Zealand Lamb being the best… what a flavour!

 

3rd November

We picked up the bikes, and within 15 mins of cycling on an alien bicycle, Leanne was shouting at Mike as he tried to give advice on dealing with city centre traffic “it wasn’t my idea to go cycling anyway!” – “oh great!This is gonna be a FUN time”

 

Successfully cycled back to the hostel and filled the pannier bags with all the necessities. We also had to pack our tent (which would prove invaluable later on).  Also shopped around for a good price on campervans, and reserved one for next week.  We hadn’t appreciated that it was the start of tourist season, and suddenly campervans were like gold-dust, so we were exceptionally pleased with our find (half the price of the competition (was that too good to be true?)

 

That afternoon Leanne wasn’t feeling too great (start of a flu bug) so she went to lie down. Meanwhile Mike set off on his first adventure with the bike – 33kms. That evening Mike returned and we went out for dinner. When we arrived back at the hostel at 9.30pm, we checked out the train times in order to travel to the west coast (Greymouth) to begin our cycling adventure. We realised that it would be a very early start as there was only one train a day (8am) which meant leaving the hostel at 6.45am!  oh joy!

 

The next morning Leanne jumped on the free shuttle bus to the train station. There wasn’t enough room for both of us on the bus so Mike had to follow in a taxi. Mike was in a bit of a panic as to whether he would make it on time but there was no problem. It was a freezing cold morning and there we were in our cycling shorts standing on the platform!

 

On the train we met a very pleasant couple on the train who were now living in the North Island. The guy originally was from Scotland and the lady from Australia!  He was a typical Scot (even though he’s been living in Auckland 13 years), chat, chat, chat.  He sells cars.  She was quite quiet throughout until 20 mins before we arrived (5 hour journey – and still sitting in our cycling shorts) –suddenly, she lit up and came to life. 

 

Turns out they are very much into property investment and informed us of the land and property situation inNew Zealand which sounds fantastic by their estimates. They’re modern day property tycoons and frightened to tell any of their friends, family or colleagues, so it was obviously a huge relief to finally talk to us and get it off their chests… how intriguing.

 

On the train we went through “Arthur’s Pass” and some beautiful scenery. We had our first real taste of New Zealand which appeared to be vast and unpopulated! All the places we passed through seemed to be about ten years behind the UK in terms of buildings and ideas.  Many of the villages had only two or three houses – beautiful scenery, but you wondered how they survived in relative loneliness.

 

Eventually we arrived one hour late into Greymouth. The train tracks were “too hot” so the train had to slow down in case it de-railed. We found this quite humorous!  And only one train per day!

 

From Greymouth we were straight on the bikes and started cycling up the coastal route of the west.

 

Beautiful is an understated word to describe the magnificence of the scenery we passed whilst cycling. Never before had we seen such clear seas which were of a “turquoise” colour rather than the blue-grey colour of theNorth Sea!

 

Finally we saw some life. We stopped for lunch at the “Rata Café” which was situated on a hillside just 100 yards away from the main road. (we hadn’t even passed a petrol station, or corner shop, or person for the last two hours). This place was beautiful, very fresh and newly built, quite different from some of the shacks that we’d passed en-route. Originally, we were the only customers, which seemed a real shame, then the guys we’d passed earlier digging up roads, came in for a beer or three… obviously regulars!  They even left their boots outside the door.

 

The cafe was opposite the first Ostrich farm that we had come across. We found out later on that “Rata” is a particular kind of flowering tree found only in NZ.

 

After lunch we carried on cycling towards “Punakaiki”. Leanne by this point was not feeling good, and she needed a little “push” up the bigger inclines from Mike! The road was getting much harder for cycling as the hills started to get longer and steeper.

 

At 6.20pm we arrived at Punakaiki Pankake” rocks and the BlowHoles – a popular tourist sight on the west coast.

   

 

Eventually (43kms) we found the campsite and set up our tent for the first time. Our first night camping was in pretty extreme weather. It was freezing cold and rained most of the night – to the point where we were fighting for the one-person mat underneath us to prevent us from getting cold from the ground underneath the tent! Ending up sleeping nose to tail.

 

The next day we treated ourselves to a great full breakfast to prepare ourselves for our onward journey. There was only one pub nearby (on campsite entrance), so the bar staff were delighted to chat to us nutters that were preparing to cycle UPHILL (North) in the rain.

 

With a bit of persuasion, Leanne realised we couldn’t just stay there for a few days. We eventually left at 11am and within a couple of hours had reached “Charleston”. This was a very pretty little town where streets were named like those in Edinburgh! We took our picture beside the sign for

Princes Street”!!!  hilarious, as it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

   

 

Just about 10 minutes outside of Charleston there was a “Goldmine” which we had a look in. We took a couple of photos sitting in the cart!  Quite intriguing rabbit warren of holes, with no apparent restrictions, visitors could roam wherever they liked (and keep whatever gold they find).  Obviously, even at only £2 each to get in, and winning a tourist attraction award, they don’t get many visitors.  Must admit, once you’ve seen one goldmine or coal mine, there does seem little point in spending more time or money visiting the others.

 

After the Goldmine we cycled on to the next town named “Westport”.  We’d done the hardest, steepest parts of the road, but nevertheless, there were some seriously long, steady inclines.  The big trucks had to change down gears to get up.

 

Of course, what goes up must come down, so we really enjoyed freewheeling downhill and looking at the marvellous scenery.  Our speedo hit 44kph at one stage… bit dangerous when your panniers are fully loaded.

 

We didn’t encounter too much traffic, but discovered that the main “A” roads were the only routes available, there were no cycle lanes, off-road tracks or even pavements alongside.  Mostly we managed fine, but some of those double-trucks (one truck pulling a trailer same size as itself, without the engine, obviously even bigger capacity), they were quite unforgiving, especially if there was traffic coming the other way.  The vicious slipstream created by these lorries meant we had to hold onto our handlebars for dear life. 

 

Mike was deliberately cycling behind Leanne.  a) to let her set the pace as she wasn’t well, otherwise he would’ve been too far ahead, and that can be quite depressing for the second rider b) to position his bike one foot further out towards the middle of the road, to ensure the vehicles had to take a wider berth and thus protect Leanne, as the less experienced cyclist.

  

 

Prior to visiting Westport we had wanted to visit the seal colony which was close by, but upon realising it was another 4 km in the opposite direction to the way we were wanting to head, we decided against this. It was getting a little cold, and time was moving on by this point.  That would’ve been an extra 8kms onto the day’s journey.

 

On our journey we passed lots of Deer farms. Never before had I seen deer so enormous. Apparently it’s not a good idea to get into a field with a stag so it was a good job we didn’t decide to pitch our tent in one of them!

 

Eventually we arrived at Westport (74kms today) It was very cold by this time and our hands were freezing. We didn’t much relish the thought of staying another night in a cold damp tent after the previous evening’s experience.

 

Not for the first time, we had to remind ourselves WHY we were doing this adventure.  Yes it was an experience of a lifetime, but truly we wanted to make a difference, raising money for British Heart Foundation to help those may never be able to enjoy the luxury of cycling... that’s why we’re here doing this!

 

Leanne mostly wished her dad was there to see the scenery, he would have loved it.

 

We did want to find a campsite but we couldn’t find it, our map was not detailed enough. As it happens we later discovered, we were only one street away, but we continued on for another LONG mile before turning back.

 

Now getting dark, we were tired and cold, and not so cheery, so we stopped off at a motel to check out prices. The owner realising he wasn’t likely to get any more business that eve, must have felt sorry for us as he gave us an $80 room for $50 with TV, two enormous bedrooms, kitchen and hot shower! Just what we were dreaming of!! It made us feel like we were getting ripped off at Stonehurst (the hostel in Christchurch) which prior to our visit to this motel, we thought was pretty good value!

 

It was 5th November, firework night.  We wanted to sleep, but needed sustenance, and reckoned the fireworks would be going off every few mins so would keep us awake anyway.  We went out immediately for some food, but food at 9.15pm was like finding gold-dust!  Only a couple of chip shops, and then finally we found it, our saving grace – a quiet pub called “Baileys”.  Leanne went to the bar and surprise, surprise, immediately caught the attention of the local “sheep-farmers”.  They discovered a tired and hungry woman who wasn’t much in the mood to play. (best stick to sheep, they don’t growl so loud)

 

The following day, Leanne was still quite poorly, we decided not to cycle all the way to Nelson (another 132kms) and instead went into town looking for alternative things to do and other accommodation. 

 

The kindly owner, Paul, took Leanne into his own home and offered to put us up there FREE for the next night if she didn’t feel up to cycling.  Leanne, being Leanne, wouldn’t take the “charitable” offer – ironically, if he’d offered us the room at say $20, we would’ve taken it!

 

Westport was a real “Ned” town, with the typical 40 year old cars and lots of kids with nothing to do. The houses were mainly wooden and a lot of them had cheap corrugated iron roofing! We weren’t too impressed!  

 

We later discovered that Dunedin is one of the few towns that doesn’t have earthquakes.  Bizarre as it may seem, the wooden shacks seem to be the only buildings that remain standing after an earthquake, because they are so flexible.  So a fair number of the lovely brick houses in Westport had actually fallen down in previous earthquakes.

 

We went to Tourist Information at Westport to ask about activities. We booked Jet Boating with a company down the road called “Buller Adventure Tours”. They asked us to come back later, and when we did, we discovered that they were too busy, so we confirmed our space for the following day.

 

Eventually we found the local campsite which was to be our accommodation for the night. We went to the supermarket for something for dinner and then chatted to a very seasoned cyclist (from York originally but now living in Spain) who cycled at least 100 kms per day! Our upper limit thus far had been 74kms, so now we were feeling pretty inadequate!!

 

The following morning we were picked up by “Buller Adventure Tours” to go Jet-Boating. It had already begun to rain but we figured we might as well get a little more wet! 

 

Jet boating was great fun. It was also extremely funny being taken to the river being pulled by tractor whilst we sat in the boat!  At only $65 each, this seemed much better value than the rides in Queenstown advertised at $145 each.

 

Jet boating in Queenstown is much more dangerous, as the gorges are much narrower. The rock faces are extremely steep and sharp and continue quite far down below the surface.  It is the tourist attraction town of the South Island.

 

The river we were on (the buller river), although much wider, could rise or fall more than two feet in a day. The drivers therefore need to be quite experienced as they deliberately get very close to the edge, to provide the biggest thrills.  Our driver obviously loved his job, and gave us some thrills with whirlpools and he put in a few 360s.

 

Very cold and wet, we were dropped off at “Baileys” pub, where we had some lunch and a drink. We stayed there for quite a while as the rain poured down outside, and I mean “chucking” it down!  We eventually braved the elements and ran along the main street where we found some interesting wee shops to waste some time (stay dry). Found a bicycle shop which doubled as an internet cafe, so naturally we took the opportunity to check our emails.

 

Choosing not continue North to Nelson, we decided we had to get back to Christchurch.  We’d already booked the campervan which would be available on Monday.  We reckoned it would take another 3 days to cycle to Nelson, and then we’d have to get another bus to Christchurch anyway (no trains from Westport or Nelson). 

 

If we’d started the journey cycling towards Nelson, we would have had no choice but to make it all the way as the only bus pick-up points were either where we were in Westport, or at our destination in Nelson.  There was only one option, the once-a-day bus which had only space for two bikes, so if someone else had booked their bike on, we would have to miss another day.

 

So next day we headed back to Christchurch and the East  Coast where it was apparently a little sunnier.

Mini bus left from Main street at 8am. Dismantling and packing soaking wet tent at 7.15am wasn’t to be relished, we nearly missed the mini-bus!

 

Scenery again on the journey was beautiful. Once in Christchurch we took to our bikes once again and cycled through the city and through “Mona Vale” park which was just the most picturesque park you could imagine, with beautiful little bridges, fabulous flowers and boat rides down the river. It was such a lovely warm day too – quite a change from our west-coast experience. We were so glad to see the sunshine.

   

 

We cycled 34 km to a Campsite, where after pitching the tent, we reluctantly decided to “upgrade” to a cabin rather than stay in a cold tent once again. When the sun went down it really was quite nippy (nobody else was camping) and Leanne still wasn’t well.  Still, we managed to get the tent aired and dried and packed away again. 

 

The cabins are very basic. Ours had a bunk bed on one wall and a double bed with single bunk above.  One very old fan heater that was ready to explode and whined noisily as if complaining that the fan was rattling against the plastic grid. We decided to leave that alone. Still, at least we could get the bikes in safely.  There were basic blankets, but we decided to sleep in our own sleeping bags.

 

Leanne went to bed around 7pm, whilst Mike went off again that evening to cycle the mountain bike trails around the campsite. In a couple of hours before it got too dark, he managed 8km and came back enthusing about how great the tracks were. These were the 1st off-road tracks we’d found.

Leanne figured she would give it a go in the morning! Mike went to watch the Scotland V Australia and New Zealand V South Africa rugby games before falling into bed at 1am!

      

 

The following morning we had breakfast before heading back towards Christchurch. It was a beautiful day again and we took the quieter coastal route, passing some amazing scenery. For the majority of our journey we were able to take the mountain bike trail which was great fun, and no traffic, although quite a number of families out enjoying the tracks (it was Sunday after all). We found and followed another off-road path close to the river, most of the way back to Christchurch and covered another 33kms. We returned the bikes to the bike shop just in time (4.40pm – again, it was Sunday after all) and we walked back towards Stonehurstaccommodation.  We’d checked in 1st and emptied our panniers, making sure we had everything to hand back to the bicycle hire shop, in good working order.

 

That evening we relaxed for a while in our expensive room, which we reckon, was prob the best room in the hostel! prior to going for Pizza at “Dux de Lux” which was the most amazing Pizza ever.

 

The following morning we took all of our belongings and picked up our campervan at around 11am. This was to be our home for the next five days before returning to Singapore.  

 

We returned to Stonehurst and cancelled our Friday evening reservation.  Our flight on Sat was 3pm and we had the camper until Sat, so we may as well save money and sleep in the camper on the Friday eve (because we’d shopped around and negotiated a “half normal price” deal with zero mileage costs, it worked out cheaper to sleep in the van than the hostel).

 

Leanne hadn’t taken her driving licence, so Mike was gonna have to do ALL of the driving, ALL of the days. We started heading South, down the Eastcoast towards Dunedin (or “Edinburgh” in Gaelic).

 

This was Monday 10th November. Mike found 5th gear on the van after 300kms!!!  That was exciting.  Mike’s old 1963 campervan at home has column-shift gears too, but not 5th gear, in fact granddad was so proud of the fact that his was one of the 1st to have a four-speed box.

 

We had wondered why it seemed to be consuming soooo much fuel!

 

We stopped off in a town for lunch.  We didn’t know at the time that it was a “penguin sanctuary”, regularly populated with two different types of penguins and also sea lions, that aren’t afraid to approach people, so there were signs warning not to venture too close.

    

 

We had a great lunch and met a woman who showed us around the back of her shop to see baby penguins hiding behind some corrugated iron sheets, waiting on mum returning that eve to feed them.  Apparently about half an hour after dusk, the wild penguins literally wander up the main street, sometimes getting quite lost. We’d have loved to have stayed for another 4 hours or so to see this, but we had to get on.

 

So we continued on to the Mouraki boulders.  These boulders are formed naturally over time by the sea eroding the sand. I’ve got some good piccies – take a look.

   

 

Finally we arrived in Dunedin, where we visited Mike’s ex-employee Gaelene and her husband Sam, cat Jim and what seemed like the largest and softest dog in the world, Zeus.  Sam showed us his dog-sledding piccies with Zeus pulling for all his worth.

 

Sam also showed us his gold-trenching photos.  He has been trained how to pan for gold, and realised that the gold-diggers in the olden days were limited to panning only up to their knees in the streams. Most people now seem to have considered that the gold-miners must have found all the gold there was to find, and have stopped looking.  Sam has got himself some new equipment including scuba gear, how intriguing.  He’sgonna be a rich man very soon.

 

They fed us well and took us to see the “little Blue Penguins” coming home from the sea on the beach atDunedin to feed their young. An amazing experience – one we will never forget. They got so close to us and we made sure we captured quite a bit of it on camera although it was dark by this time (after 9pm), Mike has infra-red on his Sony video camera, so we got some good footage.  

 

Sam then drove us to see the steepest road in the world and couldn’t get the car up in first gear!!!  Scarily we rolled back down backwards and then took another run at it, getting into second gear before having to drop to first, and finally we made it.  Guess what, there are houses all the way up on both sides of the street and a dead end (more houses) at the top, so we had to turn and drive back down – how scary.

 

What a great night. On Sam’s recommendation, we camped on a quiet road with a view over the sea. We enjoyed the most fantastic view in the morning!  Almost deserted beach, with the occasional jogger and three brave surfers.

   

 

Tuesday 11th November

We headed south west passing through Timaru and Alexandra and up towards Wanaka where it had been recommended we visit. Passing some bizarre massive stones in little clumps in the middle of nowhere, like lots of individual Stonehenge’s.  Indeed one farm was called “Stonefield”.  Leanne slept most of the way.

 

Extremely pleased we made the effort to visit Wanaka as it was a lovely little town right beside the most amazing lake. There were loads of cosmopolitan café bars and shops.

   

 

We headed further towards Millford Sound via Queenstown through the “shortcut” road. This road was closed to rental vehicles until three years ago. We found out why as we travelled further down the road!  The road was incredibly steep and twisting (we were on our way down) through the amazing mountains, passing ski slopes. The campervan brakes were smelling strongly of burnt rubber before we reached the bottom of “Devils Elbow”. That evening we had dinner at Frankton by a beautifully crystal clear turquoise-coloured lake.

 

Realising we still have a long drive ahead if we were going to make Millford Sound, we headed on into the dark… very dark, in fact never before have I seen roads so dark that I couldn’t tell where the sky was, or even distinguish a mountain or fence alongside us – very eerie.

 

Running short of fuel, we parked in a layby 10 mins past Te-Anu, enroute to Millford Sound. That was an extremely good choice as we found out the next day, as the roads were incredibly hazardous even in the daylight!

 

Wednesday 12th November

We needed to get fuel, but rather than turning and driving back 10mins, the next “town” on map was approx 15mins away – in the right direction. So we travelled on towards Millford to the next “town” on the map (some town, turned out to be one backpackers hostel called Grumpy’s, and a beautiful lake running some pleasure cruises). 

   

 

We parked by the lake and Leanne had a shower in the camper – there was only ever enough water capacity for one of us to shower.  Mike went for a wander and waited on a car to stop so that he could ask if there were any fuel stations further on.  We were now at critical stage, maybe enough fuel for another half hour driving max.

 

It was 25mins drive BACK the way we’d come, or 1.5 hrs on to Millford Sound.  Grumpys had the answer, back to Te-Anu!

 

Frustrated at having to waste an hour driving back to get fuel, just to get back to where we started, Mike nearly decided not to bother going on to Millford Sound, but instead to return to Queenstown as we had to go back through there anyway.  However it was still only 8.15am at this point (we’d started early), andMillford came highly recommended, so on we went.

 

This was quite a journey. Extremely mountainous once more and there were waterfalls like we never imagined. They seemed to be everywhere we looked.

 

Nothing could have prepared us for THE TUNNEL!!!

Nobody had mentioned this most fearful experience.  Perhaps if they did, less people would visit.  Nowhere was it printed, not even as a warning before entering the tunnel.  

 

The tunnel is totally unlit.  It is extremely narrow, but of course, having no lights at the side of you, means you can’t really see just how narrow it is. It’s rounded so all larger vehicles would have to sit more towards the middle of the road (we were in a camper, so fairly large – but what if something was coming the other way?  Would there be space to pass?)

Leanne was never so pleased that she wasn’t doing the driving, especially on this section.

 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we had a bus followed by a car in front of us, so we couldn’t see too much ahead.  Suddenly, we were heading DOWN at quite a steep angle!  What speed were we doing anyway? Whatever it was, it seemed too fast.

 

And then the bus in front STOPPED!  Oh my god, nowhere to go!  STAND on the brakes, hoping we didn’t skid (it was not only dark, but VERY wet, presumably from the melting snow – remember we had seen LOTS of waterfalls) – was the car behind going to stop in time?  What happens if two buses meet in the middle?  How long is this tunnel anyway?  Will it never end?

 

As it happens, the bus stopped because there WAS something coming the other way.  Thank god the bus was there in front of us… I can’t believe they let buses take this journey.  There was a couple of “passing areas” inside the tunnel, still unlit.  Very necessary it appears.  We later reckoned that Millford Sound probably have at least 30 BIG buses visiting per day, every day of the year.

 

We took a ferry ride around Millford Sound.  Well, we had made it this far, no point in just turning around and heading back (approx 5.5 hours to Queenstown).  The car park was colourfully lit up with around 20 HUGE Honda Goldwings with all of the toys (CB, stereo, lights, air-conditioning, radar detectors etc), one with a trailer and one trike.

 

The boat ride took us out to the sea, passing some sheer rock faces that move quite considerably during the year. They’d had 28 earthquakes in the last 6 weeks, some quite serious.  The pilot of the boat was very good at keeping us entertained throughout, and he found some wild seals and penguins basking on the rocks.  He managed to take the boat very close to let us all get some great piccies.

   

 

Turns out the only true “Sound” is Marlborough Sound. A sound is where the water comes back in from the sea to create an extremely picturesque experience.  A Fiord is where the glacier melts and runs out to sea, breaking up the land in its wake. All of the other “Sounds” in the South Island are Fiords.  This is one of the wettest places in New Zealand. They get approximately 9metres of rain each year. Imagine rain every day!

 

On the way back from Millford, at the top of the tunnel, we stopped for a picture in the snow. Yes, I had forgotten to mention the snow!! Just before getting back into the van Mike noticed a huge parrot-like bird landing on top of the van. This was a “Kea”, a native wild bird of New Zealand.

   

 

Leanne ran to get into the van whilst Mike took pictures.  Within seconds and as if from nowhere, there was more than one Kea sitting on the roof – in fact there were six!! These birds had no fear and reminded Leanne of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The Birds”.  We travelled back to Te Anau.

 

It was raining again. Te Anua, lovely as it is, “enjoys” around 5 metres of rain per annum.  I guess that’s why it’s so picturesque (but I wouldn’t wanna live there).  Mike had read about the glow-worm caves, and much to Leanne’s frustration, he booked the exploration for that eve (“but it’s raining, and cold, and it’ll be dark soon” – yup, but they only run the explorations in the evenings for some reason)

 

35 minute boat ride to the other side where the caves are.  Basically the waterfalls have found their own way underground and in 1948 an explorer found the caves and also a rare flightless bird, of which there are now around 300 in the world (protected species & kept in remote areas).  The visit was fantastic and well worth it.  We weren’t allowed to take piccies, but Mike took a couple without the flash so that we didn’t disturb the glow-worms and the environment.

 

Again, it seemed that the locals were setting themselves up without really thinking of the danger.  We were in PITCH DARK, approx 16 tourists per shallow boat, with hardly any sides, in what could have been very enclosed environment (we couldn’t tell as it was so dark), the boat (shall we call it a punt) was propelled by a guide who stood up front and pulled us along by a rope fixed above his head.  I very much doubt he could have consoled a panicking claustrophobic tourist. 

 

The environment was deliberately kept very quiet and moist. So quiet in fact, we couldn’t tell if everyone had gotten off the punt, or indeed if they were still alive… it really was that terrifying. And so moist that there were frequent drips on your head, or were they spiders?  Oh, scary. 

In all, a great experience and highly recommended.

 

We stopped for a drink when we got back onshore.  The pub was hosting one of their regular karaokes.  Mike decided that we should just park alongside the river in TeAnua, but we’d just stopped in a quiet wee carpark, when 3 kids came  screaming in to practice their handbrake turns.  Nope, this was no good. Just at that, another van pulled up and the driver flashed some important identity card at us, and warned that we cannot camp anywhere in the town except at the designated campsite. 

 

Mike being a true Scotsman decided we weren’t gonna pay $20 just to sleep. It’s not as though we were gonna use any of their facilities, except perhaps the showers (we’ve been stopping at campsites to use the facilities then driving on.  We discovered they’re always open and free).  So we tried to find a layby nearby, but kept on driving for probably another hour, before Mike spotted the 1st available space, which turned out to be perfect.

 

Thurs 13th Nov

Onto Queenstown to explore – wow, so glad we did.  Spent virtually all day here.  For most of the day, the weather was lovely, but boy can it change quickly.  We took the Gondola to see over the town – that was fantastic!  Mike decided to take the “daredevil’s Luge run” (there were two options, of course he opted for the FASTEST route).

 

On the way out, we passed “the bottle house”, a house with colourful bottles plastered on the outside, and also the site of the original bungee jump bridge.

      

 

Dinner by the lake at Frankton again, and then onwards towards Mount Cook.  We drove on into the dark, as had become the habit.

 

Friday 14th November, Mike’s mum’s 65th birthday

Only 1 vehicle passed before 8am. Leanne showered in the van again whilst Mike explored.  We had stopped by the side of another gorgeous quiet lake.  They had a Salmon farm at the next turning.

 

Travelling further onwards, only 5 mins later we stopped at Twizel for fuel. This was a lovely small town. We then had a fabulous drive to Mount Cook passing the most awesome lakes. We had some brunch and a short walk at Mount Cook, which is partially covered in snow all year round. We could almost sunbathe but it was a little blowy.

   

 

A huge harrier almost dared us to run him over as he sat in the middle of the road to eat a recently killed possum. Wish we’d got a piccie of that. 

 

Apparently possum was introduced around 100 years ago so that they would breed and give the hunters some fun.  Nowadays they are considered a real pest with around 100 million of them in New Zealand (total population of people is around 4 million).  Mike wanted to know who counts the possum? 

 

Gorse-like weed is another major challenge. Introduced by the Brits, it is threatening to kill all of the natural shrubbery, so there are frequent gorse burnings etc.

 

Had to keep stopping at the side of the road to take piccies as the scenery was just so fantastic and the colour of the water was unbelievable.  Leanne was now starting to get bored of hills and water.

      

 

Heading back to Christchurch (approx 300 kms away, we leave tomorrow), we passed more Ostrich farms atFairlie. We stopped briefly at a picturesque town called Geraldine to have a look around the craft fair and headed to Lyttleton for our final evening in New Zealand. It’s a wee village by Christchurch.

 

We packed our bags by the town’s not-so-picturesque Gondola, and went to the most bizarre “alternative” bar for pizza.

 

The next morning we took our last journey to the city centre to try and get a couple of souvenirs.  It was Saturday, so the street market stalls were selling all kinds of home made crafts, sunglasses and of course “Lord of the Rings” rings.  The sun was glorious, not a cloud in the sky, but within 10 mins, before we returned the van back to “Ascot Rentals” and headed for the airport, it was pissing down again – bizarre!

 

Billy Connolly says about Scotland “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 20 mins”, well in NZ it seems you only have to wait 10 mins.

 

 

BACK IN SINGAPORE

After another long flight we arrived back into Singapore for a final couple of days. There was a bit of a festival atmosphere when we arrived and we experienced the “World’s largest Duck race” at Clark Quay which was a big charity event. It was great fun. Quite funny when you consider there is very little natural “flow” to the river.  They propelled the ducks forward be means of a speed-boat  zooming at the ducks then turning at the last moment.  This provided the wake and the canoeists kept the ducks off the sides.

    

 

We had a look round some shops and both had our hair cut.  This was quite a new experience for Mike (normally cuts his own). After waiting 20mins for Leanne (we’d done enough walking in flipflops, sore feet), he noticed another guy coming out.. aha, so they also do guys”. Asking if it was possible to be seen immediately, the receptionist led him to a seat beside Leanne.  Two cups of tea and biscuits later, hair washed for no apparent reason, the haircut took less than 10 mins, but the total experience was nearly 2 hours – “no wonder I cut my own hair”

 

We then went to a restaurant called “Fish & Co” where we had the most amazing meal. (we had to sit outside – bizarre to think at 9pm, we’d rather have gone inside – to enjoy the air-conditioning!)

 

On our final day we left our bags in storage and went to The  Jurong Bird Park which was really interesting. There were so many different types of birds including the tiny humming birds. It’s heart beats 1260 times per minute. That’s 210 times per second… how do they know that?  Who counts?

   

 

Due to all of the trees both of us were eaten alive by the bugs!  Arriving home with huge mozzie bites.

 

We went back to the hostel for some dinner and a shower prior to jumping into a taxi to head for the airport.

 

This time we were in row 64 out of 66.  The leg room seems to get less and less for the plebs at the back. Fortunately we’re both short-arses and don’t need too much leg room. Also we were travelling overnight, so most people wanted to sleep including us. 

 

Can you believe they woke everyone to give us breakfast – at 2.30am UK time!!  No wonder we get tired on flights!  It’s not the jet-lag, it’s the lack of sleep!  If any of us only get 1.5 hours sleep per night, of course we’re gonna be tired the next day (jetlag symptoms).

 

10 mins before arrival at Heathrow the Head Stewardess came to advise us that we had to be moved to the front to get off early as we had an urgent further flight to catch to Edinburgh.  We were a bit surprised as we figured we had plenty time at Heathrow to change from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, however we were happy to follow her to the front and upstairs to “Raffles class”.  Of course Mike immediately had to play with the electric seats and find out what every button did – big kid!  Mike wanted to know (tongue in cheek as ever) “If they had these spare seats anyway, why didn’t they move us earlier?”

 

We didn’t get much help getting through the terminals, so after a brief jog-walk, we arrived in plenty time (20mins spare).

 

Of course when we got to Edinburgh, we realised that our luggage hadn’t manage to be transferred as quickly as we had.  Our luggage was delivered to the house about three hours later.  Went to rescue Max from almost four weeks in the kennels (phew he needed a bath! But we love him anyway)

 

 

 

Quite an adventure!!!!

 

 

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