Tuesday, 22 March 2016

NZ: A wee Southern roadtrip with Ben

If I am honest I was freaking out a bit about being by myself for a weekend in Picton, having not been alone for over a month I was wondering if I had forgotten how to do it!!  However I need not have worried…

The first day I was incredibly anti-social and spent the day glued to my laptop doing my blog….but at dinner in the evening I made friends with a guy who invited me along for a sunrise walk the following day and I roped in a further 2 girls who were on my dinner table at the hostel.

The next day we woke bright and early and met in the kitchen at 6.15am….and waited…and waited a little while longer and the guy who originally suggested the walk never showed!!!  So we left without him, hiked up a hill and missed the sunrise because it rose in the opposite direction……however it did mean I had completed my daily step target by 7.30am so all was not lost!

an unimpressive sunrise....but who knew Picton was that big!

I had a wee nap when I got back to the hostel then one of the girls I had hiked with suggested we went wine tasting as Picton is in the Marlborough region, known for their wines.  I felt slightly guilty as Ben had wanted to go wine tasting but he had abandoned me for Wellington so….

Lien, Denise and I drove to the first winery we came across and chilled out in their garden until they started their wine tasting and cellar tour.  We tried a variety of wines which for once I actually liked and had a look in the cellar where they mature the wines.  

The following day we recruited another team member, Elliot from Leeds (haha when I read this in my head, I say ‘Elliot from Leeds’ in the voice of Paddy from Take Me Out), and headed off to do a 4 hour return section of the Queen Charlotte Track.  The weather was beautiful and it was a pretty walk.  

The QCT team with added randomers

We came back and cheekily used the hostel’s hot tub (disappointingly just a hot tub, no bubbles, and when we questioned the receptionist to see if it was working, she looked at us like we were stupid and re-iterated it was called a hot tub…) before Elliot and I headed off to a DOC campsite 20 mins outside of Picton to save some cash ($6 compared to the $30 of a warm bed).  Here we met another couple from the UK so we drank beer with them under the stars and had a very pleasant evening overall.

The next morning I headed into town to pick up Ben from the ferry, and we started the long old drive down to Fairlie, 514km!  Ben only had a week to see the South Island, so I drew up an itinerary to include my top 3 spots - Mount Cook, Wanaka and Queenstown. 

The drive was long but beautiful, and we arrived in Fairlie in the late afternoon.  I had opted to stay at the same campsite I had been at with the Dutch guys a week before, and the owners remembered us and asked after them all which was nice of them! 

The following day the weather was pretty miserable – and it was our Mount Cook day.  I really wanted Ben to do the Mueller hut track as I think he would have loved it – but the weather just wasn’t playing ball.  The clouds were low and filled with rain and you couldn’t even see Mount Cook so we decided it wasn’t worth him doing the walk when you wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway.  

Moody Mount Cook

However he was still blown away by Lake Pukaki – as was I – even though I have seen it already, this was the first time in miserable weather, and even though the clouds and sky are grey and drab, the lake glows! It’s really spectacular, it almost creates its own light.  So I was, in a way, quite pleased to see it in horrible weather too, as it reaffirms how beautiful it is! 

Glowing Lake Pukaki

We took a look round the Visitor Information Centre which was really interesting and had loads of random facts about the Southern Alps, and decided to stretch our legs on a walk to the Blue Lakes and the Tasman Glacier look out point.  The blue lakes were actually green, which was a bit confusing until we found a sign later on which told us that before the glacier retreated, the lakes were fed by glacial water which made them blue, but now they’re just lakes fed by rain water which are now green from the algae.  They also weren’t very impressive so the walk was slightly rubbish….even more so when we walked up loads of steps to the glacial look out and could see nothing but cloud….but it was nice to get out of the car and breathe in fresh air.

My unimpressed face

Not fancying putting up the tent in the rain, we booked the only hostel we could find in Wanaka, which actually wasn’t in Wanaka but instead on Lake Hawea 25 minutes drive away, but it was incredibly beautiful so we didn’t mind.  It also turned out to be a pretty nice hostel – it was joined to a hotel of which you could use their bar, so we spent the evening playing pool and enjoying happy hour. 

View from our hostel...not bad aye!

The following day we drove into Wanaka and hiked up Roy’s Peak, 1578m above sea level.  When we started the weather in Wanaka was beautiful but there were ominous grey clouds covering the mountains half way up…according to the weatherman the clouds were due to clear at 2pm, so we walked at a leisurely pace (haha, that’s the excuse I am giving for being slow walking up the mountain!) to give the clouds a chance to clear.  It was fairly strenuous – you follow a tractor track up the mountain so the terrain is fine, but it’s very steep.  Going through the cloud was pretty immense – you could see it looming in front of you for a while and then suddenly you’re engulfed in it and can barely see in front of you, and the temperature plummets and you breathe dragon’s breath. 

approaching the cloud line

in the clouds

sheer drops

As we reached the top I squealed in excitement as I could see blue sky, and at the top was a misty blue haze of swirling clouds and expectant people hoping for them to clear.  We chilled out for a bit and were treated to glimpses of clear mountain tops before the cloud swirled in again, but eventually the sun won out and the cloud disappeared, leaving us feeling like we were on top of the world.  Mountains peaked through the blanket of cloud below us, so we couldn’t see Wanaka or the surrounds but we could see the Southern Alps surrounding us.  It was an amazing experience and one that makes you feel very small indeed!

there's a wee bit of blue....

at the top

hmm the clouds could be clearing....

just a little bit more....

and the waiting paid off!!!

On the way back down we shared poo stories (sorry mum) of which Ben has MANY and had me in stitches….boys are so gross!! 

We stopped off at ‘that tree in Wanaka’ which is basically a really famous pretty tree that grows a little off shore in the lake, took some photos, lost my car keys and nearly had a heart attack, found them again, went to New World, bought a whole chicken and had a lovely picnic by the lake. How awfully romantic. 

The following day Ben jumped out of a plane at 8am so we had to be up really early.   I managed to get some photos of him landing, except turns out I was snapping away at the wrong person, whoops! We’re just going to pretend it’s him…then we went to the thing that we had travelled to Wanaka for if we are being totally honest…Puzzling World!!! Daan and Wouter had been a few weeks previously and told us it was immense, so we were very much looking forward to it….

One of these is Ben

We drove past this and it was so pretty I had to take a photo

We started with the great maze, which I just ended up getting a bit annoyed with as it’s really bloody hard and frustrating!!!! I also had to keep using the emergency exit to go for a pee which was most inconvenient.   We completed the maze in about an hour which is the recommended time, so we didn’t turn out to be maze geniuses unfortunately. 

We then headed into the illusion rooms – argh oh my gosh they were amazing, so amazing.  The first room had our heads spinning with confusion and amusement and also made me feel really sick…..the floor is slanted upwards but everything on the walls is horizontal, and you feel like you’re going to fall over and it’s hilarious as everyone looks like they’re wasted.  You sit on a sliding chair that’s actually sliding down but looks like it’s sliding up, there’s a pool table where the balls roll upwards (except they’re going down) and a water fountain where it looks like the water is flowing upwards.  It’s pretty insane and really hurts your brain!!!

There’s also a room that makes you either look tiny or huge, a room full of moving heads, and other crazy illusions. It was BRILLIANT!

BUT afterwards we were totally exhausted and we had to nap on the beach for an hour because our eyes and brains ached.  The sound of a pig woke me up before I realised it was actually me snoring….embarrassing….

After our naps we headed to Queenstown, I showed Ben around and we had a few drinks in my favourite bar, Searle Lane.  They had giant jenga so we busied ourselves with that for a while and headed back to the tent vaguely tipsy. 

I would like to point out this is Ben and he has better legs than me

The following day we hired bikes and cycled part of the Queenstown Trail.  The original plan of cycling to the wineries was foiled when we realised they were 66km round trip and we didn’t fancy a ride that long, instead we cycled round Lake Wakatipu to the golf course, had a cider and cycled back, doing a good 30km.  

That evening we met up with Toria and had a few drinks and a Devil Burger which is Fergburger’s rival – I have to say it was pretty damned good! Good bun, good sauce, good patty….not much wrong there!  However I haven’t had a simple Fergburger yet so I will have to go back to make a full comparison!

We were going to stand up paddleboard the next day but it turns out you can only do it in a tiny section of the lake and it was quite expensive, so instead we used that money to go to the Queenstown food and wine festival!!! I wasn’t overly enamoured by the idea but I ended up having a really nice time, if only because I ate LOADS of cheese! And there was this company exhibiting that did amazing jams and chutneys including a delicious apricot and ginger jam which was yummy and I am now drooling thinking about them….we then went swimming at the local pool to burn it all off. We had intended to go on the slides at the pool but a kid had pooped in them so they were closed, dammit.

Pretty Queenstown gardens
That evening Ben treated me to delicious meal at Lone Star – the portions were enormous and we couldn’t finish it, then we went to the casino as we got free $5 match bet tokens at the festival, then saw Toria again for a quick drink and to say bye.

So that was Ben’s whirlwind tour of the South Island! I think he enjoyed it….and hopefully he didn’t mind my company for 2 weeks either!!

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