Sunday, 21 July 2013

New Zealand

We've been meaning to go to New Zealand for a long time, and despite it being the closest foreign land to Australia we had never quite made it. Our originally planned December 2011 trip was postponed to make way for our wedding  (and fair enough), and a second attempt to go in December 2012 never really got off the ground because another UK Christmas beckoned. It finally took the ticking clock of pregnancy to force us to book the flights, and attempt to see the country that promised such great beauty as a couple rather than with a family in tow.

We needed to time the trip around Bulldogs' games and my busy seasons, which pretty much only left a small window at the end of May. It would be cold and quick, but never mind - we were finally going to the South Island!

Our itinerary planned to take us whale watching, glow worm hunting, sound sailing and cable car riding. In the end the unpredictable weather and off-peak timing of our trip meant that we successfully watched, didn't hunt, just about sailed but failed to ride - respectively. Two and a half out of four isn't bad, right?!

Tom had been to NZ several years ago as a backpacker, but this was my first trip, and first impressions were spectacular. No where else have I seen crystal blue seas, green rolling foothills and snow capped mountains all in one breathtaking vista. It may have been cold, but it was beautifully clear, and there was a silver lining to everything that didn't go to plan..
- A cancelled 45 minute flight meant a seven hour drive, but along the way we saw spectacular mountain views to which no photograph can do justice.
- The long drive meant cancelling our glow worm trip and two nights in Te Anau, but the upshot was an extra two nights in our smart Queenstown hotel, The Rees, which was pure luxury!
- A day of solid snow in Queenstown meant we couldn't leave the hotel, but I've never been happier to snuggle up in the warm with room service and a DVD box set!

Queenstown in the snow

I was amazed at just how different NZ is to Australia for a country so close. Not just the landscape and climate, but the differences in the economy really took me by surprise. Prices in NZ supermarkets were considerably cheaper than Melbourne, but petrol prices were high - meaning NZ appeared to bear more similarities to the UK than to Australia, in my opinion.

We were well entertained getting familiar with Kiwi accents. Five years ago when living in the UK I would have struggled to tell the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi. Now I can hardly find a similarity! Whilst on a day trip to see the whales, I was bemused to hear our bus driver announce we were visiting a 'silk colony'. I didn't realise NZ had silk worms, only glow worms. Anyway, turns out our destination was a 'seal colony'! If you think that was a case of baby brain on my part, try saying the words 'fashion shops' aloud... You've just ordered fish and chips in New Zealand!

It wasn't just the Kiwi accent that we seemed to struggle with, and it wasn't just me... Whilst eating in a smart restaurant to celebrate Tom's 30th, he asked the French waiter to explain one of the component parts of his main course. We just couldn't understand what type of ingredient 'sea-sam' was, so the waiter retreated to the kitchen to bring an example in its uncooked form. When we returned with a bowl of sesame seeds we were so embarrassed! It's obvious looking back...

We had a great time celebrating Toms big 3-0, and our Queenstown hotel was brilliant to upgrade us to a nicer room as a treat. They also left Tom a gift on the big day - some local fudge, only four months out of date! Hmmm...

Fergberger, a Queenstown institution

The highlight of our trip was to be a day trip to Milford Sound. Unfortunately it was jinxed from the get-go, with the road to Milford closed for maintenance during off season. Instead we joined what felt like every other tourist in the entire South Island to board a coach to Milfords big sister, Doubtful Sound. The tour company promised a taxi transfer to the bus, and thanks to some fellow passengers from our hotel who thought the 7am taxi call time was a good time to start breakfast, we were last to board. The only two remaining seats on the coach were right at the back - no recline, no leg room and the grumpiest Katie you've seen in a long time! Yes, I am that person that hates to be last on, to any mode of transport, and if it's someone else's fault, they will get tutted at low volume in my truest English way of displaying immense displeasure!

After the two-hour cramped coach ride, I queued for 20 minutes to collect our packed lunches, before we board an hour-long boat ride. Then we were packed onto what can only be described as a 1950s school bus to climb a treacherous mountain pass in heavy snow. We are truly in the middle of nowhere by this point, and I don't fancy getting stranded with the late-breakfasting family. Finally, we make it over the mountain pass and the beauty of Doubtful Sound awaits. Things start looking up when I'm early enough onto the boat to get a decent seat, but we quickly realise the hustle and bustle of 200 passengers is quite distracting from the outstanding natural beauty of the sound.

We also managed to sit behind possibly the most annoying man-with-Canon-dslr camera we have ever seen! He took literally thousands of images, many of exactly the same awful shot - the shutter went off every two seconds without fail.. and as we were behind him I could see every awful image displayed on the preview screen of his camera. Now I know I take a lot of photos, but this man will spend the rest of his life editing that day of shooting, and he didn't talk to his poor wife the entire time..

Where is the silver lining in all of this, you ask? Well, in amongst a 12.5 hour round trip, we had 90 seconds of tranquility, as the captain turned off the boats engines and asked everyone to be silent and take in the surroundings. It was heavenly, even if only for a moment.

 Doubtful Sound, doubtful weather conditions 

Amazing vistas, lots of sheep

If you get the chance to visit NZ, grab it with both hands. I was bowled over by the beauty of the South Island and can't wait to find a an opportunity to go to the North.. Perhaps a little trip for a young Baby Lister is on the cards!

Whale watching in Kaikoura and the SEAL colony