We arrived in Queenstown, New Zealand, to be welcomed with clear shoulder season weather. Light snow welcomed us on the pier, as did faint memories of Canadian winter and our warm clothes we left behind. Bundled in long underwear and many layers, we enjoyed walking around the town and planning our itinerary of activities.
The Nevis is New Zealand's highest bunjy jump at 134 metres off the ground. The pictures do not do justice of how high the jumping platform really is. The platform is held in between two mountains on two suspension cables. Jumpers use a mini gondola to arrive on the jumping platform. Before long our we are harnessed in and our ankles tied together. Without warning the jump master states "Okay your jumping" and proceeds to lightly apply pressure to your back towards the jumping area. A quick countdown leads to no time to re-think the poor decision most people paid for the previous day. The initial part of the jump is not so scary, however as the ground approaches so do the screams of terror. As tension is felt, the screams typically stop. Tyson conquered a fear and will never have to do this again.
The next day we decided to do a half day tour of the Skipper Canyon. Our tour guide was less interested in driving the bus and more interested in telling us the history of the gold rush which Tyson found quite interesting. It all started when a sheep farmer decided to bring 3000 merino sheep over to new zealand and settle in the Queenstown area. He brought over some helpers, of which were two guys aged around 18 years. One day their dog swam across the frigid glacier river and refused to swim back. One of the boys swam after the dog, which was unusual as most poeple did not learn to swim back in that time. Upon reaching the shore where the dog was, the boy struck it rich with gold. His friend followed the joyeous screams and they left that shore with over 20 pounds of gold nuggets in their pockets. Instead of keeping their new found wealth a secret, they told everybody they knew and as word spread, the gold rush began. Hundreds of people flooded the area which was unfortunate for many reasons. There was no abundant source of food, the weather is very cold and many people froze to death. Eventually the sheep farmer had to slaughter all of his animals to feed many starving gold seekers. Flooding also killed hundreds of people the first few years of the gold rush. Our trip also included half an hour jet boat ride along the Skipper Canyon river. We reached 80 km/hour and enjoyed doing 360's and coming within a foot from all sorts of rock formations in the canyon.
There is a saying that goes "You haven't been to Queenstown if you haven't tried a Ferg Burger" and this saying is true. This is a local burger shop selling delicious food to what seemed like half the inhabitants of Queenstown everyday. Nobody is ever dissappointed in Ferg burger and frequent visits are not unheard of.
Our last night included socializing with people from our hostel in a 'blind-fold pub crawl/walk'. Apperently the previous week somebody had chipped a tooth so we were all warned prior to partaking. The rule was to pair up, rotate blindfolding each other between walking to bars and the person not blindfolded would have to lead their partner to the next bar. This is a simple task, however there was a prize at every bar for the first couple there, so the race was on. There were some casualties during this event. Amanda's face had the unfortunate meeting of what she thought was a metal pole but was actually a big rock pillar, and the rock pillar won. After shaking it off like a champion, we were in the lead on the next race. I was blind-folded and Amanda forgot to tell me to jump as there was a step where it seemed like there should not be a step. Both my knee shins were bruised and bloody, but we trekked on. The next morning we saw many people with cut up lips, black eyes and random bruises. It appeared the blind-fold pubcrawl was a successful event.
Our journey changed from the luxury of sleeping in dorms to sleeping in our newly rented campervan! We drove to Te Anu which is halfway to Milford Sounds on the west coast. We slept in a Director of Conservatory (DOC) campgrounds and once again welcomed the relentless shoulder season rain. Early the next morning we drove to Milford Sounds for a tour of one of the most beautiful places we have seen on our trip. The rain created many waterfalls along the mountains all draining into the Milford Sounds inlet. Dolphins decided to join our boat tour, jumping in our wake and checking out the front of the boat as well.
After the boat we drove back through Queenstown to a little town called Arrowtown. Created by the gold rush, this was a popular place for the Chinese Settlement when they also seeked wealth from the frigid waters of New Zealand. Arrowtown main street has plenty of culture with local shops and rustic original buildings of the gold rush era. We enjoyed our evening walking around this area before taking refuge in our campervan.
The next day we drove into Wanaka and in passing, tried the famous 'chocolate beer' at Water Bar and watched some rugby. We continued along Haast Highway sleeping at DOC campgrounds utilizing the 'honor system' to pay $6 per person pere night. After several days we decided a shower was in order and had quite the experience. At a deserted campground we diceded to use a local tap in the middle of the camground to have a modified shower. The fun part was the water was ice cold, it was near a highway, and there were two Kiwi birds that would not leave us alone! Never again will we have the opportunity to have a hypothermic shower in the middle of nowhere with Kiwi birds!
Rain, rain and more rain during our approach to Arthur's Pass which was a big concern as elevation increases in this area and with this, snow accumulates. Local road flooding, surface highway flooding, river bank flooding and snow warnings were across the west coast and Arthur's Pass region. After speaking to a local information I-site, she did not seem concerned with the conditions stating "Just wait until tomorrow to go". The next day the sun was out, the roads were clear and water levels decreasing. There were several rock slides along the highway south of us during the relentless rain which meant we would have been stranded there had we not left when we did. We enjoyed sunshine, trekking Beally Spur and many local trails, and camping at free DOC campsites. This area did not have Kiwi birds but instead hahd Kea birds. These parrot-appearing birds are endangered and seem quite nice at first. They are, however, aggressive with foraging traveller's food. Were were cooking supper with a semi-broken stove in heavy wind and these birds were flying in on Amanda and I! Several rocks were thrown and they eventually left us alone after a few successful contacts. During the night, these birds also seemed to like the top of our campervan as we heard walking sporatically at all hours. We later read these birds dislike water and that is a 'legal' way to keep them away from food. I prefer my strategy.
Our time in the south island was nearing an end when we approached Christchurch. We decided it was time to do laundry after living out of a mini-van for 8 days. Unfortunately the coffee shop/laundromat closed prior to our clothes being dry so we hung them outside the back of the coffee shop and once again felt 'homeless'.
We couch surfed with Burton and his flatmates. They were all very nice and we shared supper, stories, and enjoyed talking about life over some glasses of scotch. The next day we wanted to experience downtown Christchurch. The last earthquake happened last February and we were still surprised when over half the downtown was still blockaded off due to dangerous buildings. At one point they contemplated tearing down the famous Cathedral but met much opposition, there are signs all over the city. We enjoyed the botanical gardens and the company of our couch surfers in the evening. Christchurch is a beautiful city even with most of downtown under construction.