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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

New Zealand II

NEW ZEALAND | Wednesday, 19 March 2008 | Views [3037]

Kia ora!

So after an entertaining day of card games in the backpackers in Marahau while it rained cats and dogs, the next day in Abel Tasman was a mixture of showers and sunshine, and I went for a 'tramp' along another section of coast.

Then back for a night in Nelson before heading South down the West Coast. One of the Magic Bus stops was to see the Pancake Rocks, where erosion had caused stacks of these rocks to take on bizarre shapes.

Then on to Greymouth, where not a huge amount seemed to go on, except for the brewing of Monteiths beer. We all took a tour of the brewery, followed by extended tasting their beer varieties, then an all you can eat BBQ, where none of us came close to beating a record, apparently set by a Japanese tourist, of 37 sausage sandwiches!

Mmmm, beer!

Next, on the way to Franz Joseph, we stopped at the Bushmuseum. Before Brett, Will and others get too excited, it was a museum celebrating the old ways of New Zealand, before things got all namby-pamby, latte sippin', politics discussin', and full of JAFAs (to paraphrase the no-nonsense-talkin' guy from the museum).

Here the main attraction, apart from possum pie and stuffed weasels that dropped down from doorways, was a video about red deer. After people began to realise the level of damage that the beasts (introduced from Scotland just over 100 years ago for stalking but multiplying like crazy), were doing to the pristine native environment, the decision was taken to do a mass cull. A market for the venison was soon found in Germany, and the deer were shot in huge numbers, first by traditional stalking, then by riflemen from helicopters.

But sales of venison were going so well that people decided to try catching the animals alive to farm them. The video had amazing footage of mad Kiwis jumping from the landing rails of swooshing helicopters on to the backs of panicking stags, then wrestling them to the ground in a mess of antlers, hooves and human. This developed into an art of firing nets to stop the running deer, then jumping down to force them onto the ground.

The bushman at the museum concluded that the bungy jumpin' and skydivin' that folk call 'extreme' is in fact for sissies, vegiterians and meterosexuals!

The next few days I stayed by the Franz Joseph and then Fox glaciers, unusual because the glaciers flow down straight into rainforest. Also here is Lake Matheson, famous for its mirror-like reflections... I went there four times trying to get the conditions right, but was totally out-done with my digital camera and wee tripod by a German guy with a huge field camera on rails, supported by a monster industrial tripod.

By the way, it's incredible how many German tourists there seem to be in NZ, and every single one I've met has said they come from 'the middle bit... you won't have heard of it... somewhere between Frankfurt and Cologne'. I'm starting to wonder if this is some kind of organised German joke - they can't all come from the same, unheard of place! Either way, they do have an interesting sense of humour!

Then on to Wanaka, a quiet but alternative-trendy town set beautifully on the side of the massive lake. Here I shared a cabin with five others, all Germans (guess which area they were from!), and had a nice time walking up nearby hills - I left the huge mountains to the pros - and went on my second cinema trip since leaving Scotland in August.

The Wanaka cinema is an experience in itself, featuring a seating choice of old airliner seats, whole vintage cars, and second hand sofas. Halfway through there's an intermission for warm cookies and homemade ice cream, then the projectionist wanders around to ask when people want to start the next reel. We watched Sweeny Todd (which I hadn't realised was a musical), which I thought was a bit underwhelming. It had so much positive hype that I thought it was a bit of a letdown. Entertaining enough though.

Then on to Queenstown, known as the extreme sports capital of the world, which has the party town atmosphere of a ski resort (which it is for half of the year), and seems to be full of adrenaline junkies from all over the world. There's no shortage of things to do - skydiving, jet boating, paragliding, lugeing, canyoning, fly-by-wireing and lots more, including most famously, bungy jumping.

It would be very easy to believe that AJ Hackett, (the man who, with Henry van Asch set up bungy jumping in Queenstown), invented the sport, especially since that's what's claimed by most of the guidebooks and busdrivers etc. They all concede that the modern sport was inspired by the people of Pentecost Island in the Pacific, who build towers and jump off them tied to vines, quite often to their death or serious injury.

But none of them mention the fact that modern bungy jumping was actually invented by a group of Brits, the Dangerous Sports Club, who - amongst other mad things such as trying to hang glide from active volcanoes and take double decker buses down the slopes of St Moritz - did a bungy jump from Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1979, and then from the Golden Gate bridge, seven years before AJ Hackett famously jumped from the Eiffel tower before setting up the world's first commercial jump in Queenstown.


Anyway, a couple of nights in Queenstown, then I was off to Milford Sound for a too quick cruise along the Fiord, then to Te Anau.


From there I started a great overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound, which is less accessible, and much less busy than Milford. Doubtful Sound got it's name because Captain Cook (actually then only Lieutenant Cook) had a major disagreement with his botanist, who was desperate to anchor in the fiord to investigate things, but Cook said that he thought it doubtful that there would be enough wind in the sheltered waters to get their ship out.

And it was easy to see why - we headed out to the Tasman Sea (apparently on a relatively calm day) and could see why the seals looked a bit peeved, it was cold and windy with big crashing waves all over the place. But inside Doubtful Sound, things were a lot more tranquil and cosy, and mirror calm in the morning.

We went kayaking, and also swimming, which was very strange, because - with the area having one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, around 7 meters a year, the surface water is mostly fresh water, dark brown since it's full of tannin washed out of the rainforest that clings to all the cliffs. So under a level of that is seawater which gets very little light, meaning that deep sea creatures live in the fiords in much more shallow water than they could normally. So the water under the surface was baltic, and diving in off the boat I tried not to think about the deep sea monsters that could be lurking under the coca-cola coloured surface.

Apparently they do get sharks, but we didn't see any, though we did keep bumping into a pod of bottlenose dolphins, which decided to put on an amazing high jumping show for us on one pass.

Then back to Te Anau for one night, and back to Queenstown.

By the way, it seems that the further south you go on the South Island, the more Scottish things get - burns are called 'burns' rather than streams, people say 'wee bit' of this and 'wee bit' of that, and most of the kiwis, Maoris and Europeans seem to have at least one Scottish grandparent. It's a wonder they didn't introduce haggis as well as red deer from Scotland - they probably couldn't round them up!

Back in Queenstown, I had a few goes on the 'luge', where you take a gondola up a big hill that overlooks the town, then race a go-cart which down a banked concrete track.

It was brilliant to meet up with Henny and John on their holiday, on what happened to be St Patricks Day, and we had a great night out sampling the eating and drinking on offer, and eventually a casino where Henny turned into a money making machine on the roulette table, wherever she put her chips was where the ball landed!

Having decided that I'd do a bungy jump in QT, I changed my mind when I was told that they're a bit tame compared to other things available (this is my excuse and I'm sticking with it!)... apparently with a bungy, very soon after you jump off, you start slowing down as the elastic starts stretching out.

So instead, James, a chap I'd met in Doubtful Sound and I did a canyon swing, where you jump off a cliff and freefall vertically for 60 metres, then you catch up with the length of the cable and swing hundreds of meters across the canyon, over the Shotover river. Definitely best to wear brown pants!

They have a bunch of different ways to jump, each rated for scariness. I was going to do the forward jump, like a dive off the platform (rated 3/5), but the jumpmaster said it wasn't that great, but that if I did the 'pindrop' (rated 5/5) I'd get an 'awesome ground-rush'.

So, with getting an awesome ground-rush obviously being topmost in my mind(!), they got me set up and showed me the posture - feet together, leaning forward, looking down with hands clasped behind the back, and kindly let me know that if I bottled it and leant back, I'd smack my head on the rock ledge, about 15 metres below. Nice!

But then came the moment when I realised all the safety stuff, photos etc had been done, and they were ready for me to jump. The guy wouldn't count me down... 'sorry mate, I can't count!', so I decided not to make it worse by prolonging the agony of looking down to the cliffs and river far down below and hopped off the ledge... it was pretty amazing hooning through the air and eventually swinging way over across to the cliff on the other side of the canyon and back enough times to start breathing normally again before being winched all the way back up to the platform.

James out xtreme'd me by a mile though, doing a backward fall first, then one where he was suspended upside down before being released to go headfirst.

After that, met up with John and Henny again and we went for a choice (Kiwi for 'very good') BBQ with an old friend of John's who's moved to Queenstown.

Another good Kiwi expression that you hear a lot is 'Sweet As!', meaning 'cool/sorted/excellent' and I think it was a smart bit of marketing to call the diet version of the fizzy drink Lemon & Paeroa (L&P - it has the same cult status and popularity here as Iron Bru has in Scotland) 'Sweet As L&P'. Only trouble is that L&P is lovely, but the diet version tastes awful... another similarity with Iron Bru!

Tags: fiordland, new zealand, queenstown



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