After a very LONG absence, coming to you from the Nelson region of New Zealand where we are incredibly fortunate to be staying in a large and stunning lodge situated on an olive grove right by the estuary. It’s fascinating to watch the tides, within a couple of hours it turns from an enormous mud pit to glistening turquoise waters.
So…what have we been up to? A lot, as in A LOT of driving around NZ watching the pretty gorgeous scenery of this country go by us as well as towns that are missed if you blink. If I had to describe NZ I’d say it’s a mixture of the Scottish Highlands, Lake District in the UK and a hugely scaled down – sorry Kiwi friends, but there’s no way it can even pretend to be as spectacular – Himalayas all rolled into one.
Of course we’ve had some stops on the way, where besides the photographic opportunities, we’ve done some pretty cool stuff like swimming with dusky dolphins…
We did this on the south island in Kaikoura and though Michael has spent quite a bit of time swimming with dolphins in the Bahamas, for me it was a first. After the heat and humidity in Bali followed by a few weeks of Sydney summer, I was struggling with NZ’s summer temperatures not even attempting to get into the ocean yet. Thankfully we were kitted out with a full bodied wetsuit, including hood, which I really needed as let me tell you that first jump into the water took your breath away – I can’t imagine what else might have been taken away if it weren’t for the wetsuit.
Truthfully we were incredibly fortunate to have near perfect conditions of sunshine and very calm waters, topped off with an astounding amount of dolphins to swim with that even the people from the tour company couldn’t believe. The way it worked is that they’d drop us off at the front of the pod, we’d then have an incredible time amongst the 500 or so dolphins swimming past us, leaping up out of the water and getting very close. At some points the strength of so many swimming past in such close proximity sent a truly powerful current through the water it felt like I was in a washing machine. They are incredible animals, sometimes I was certain that one would bump into me just because of the huge numbers that were weaving in and out, swimming in all directions but not once was I even brushed. They navigated themselves around with only millimetres to spare – it was magical!
We did this ritual of being dropped in front of the pod about 4 times and had a total of 45mins dolphin swimming – definitely got our money’s worth as generally they told us it averages out at 20mins. As if that wasn’t good enough we also had the privilege of a rare sighting of two of the smallest dolphins – Hector’s dolphins – who came swimming right up to our boat. I think all the stars, planets and moons must have been aligned for us that day as we spoke to other tourists and no one else had the same huge numbers in their pods when they swam, nor the perfect weather and Hector sightings too!
Our next big tourist destination was Milford Sound which unfortunately didn’t leave as much of an impression on us as the sand flies in the area did. The whole west coast of the South Island is known for them and let me tell you, they’re not kidding! Despite the warm sunshine, the only way to survive was to be exposing as little flesh as possible as we walked through swarms of the beasts. Tiny as they are, believe me they’re beasts!
Milford Sound was also quite a momentous occasion as I realised just how much of an impact our Nepal trek had on me. Wanting to stay in Milford Sound for the night the only accommodation there is a lodge which has nice, private rooms and then the backpacker section. With the only availability being a 4 bed dorm room in the backpacker section, I think Michael was well and truly stunned when I said that would be fine for a night as long as we paid to have the room to ourselves. And so it was, in the admittedly very well kept backpackers lodge, I survived the shared bathrooms and kitchen plus got a chance to revisit my bunk bed days – my how far I’ve come ;).
Queenstown, we found to be a really beautiful town by the lake, surrounded by mountains and reminding us very much of Pokhara in Nepal. Though Queenstown has the added perks of lovely houses, shops, cafes and general western comfort and infrastructure.
We fitted a lot into the short time we were there, checking out this ‘adventure capital of the world.’ As an aside Michael has come to the conclusion that they REALLY like to big up pretty much everything here and the delivery can very often be a bit on the disappointing side – but that could be a blog in itself.
Back to Queenstown: We got the skyline gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak to enjoy the vista views but more importantly to have a go (or 5) on the luge. Oh what fun! So much fun that Michael got a little over enthusiastic, convinced they couldn’t possibly be capsized he did a great job of proving himself wrong. So there went that theory he was trying to persuade me was correct – right out the window I’d say! Poor guy did a nice job of badly grazing his right arm and even leg through his trousers but thankfully not bad enough to warrant a hospital visit. There was not a single tear, nor did it deter him from jumping back on for a final go.
We couldn’t get enough of Bob’s Peak and were up there again that same evening for a spot of stargazing. Both a bit sceptical about how good it would be, the main point was for Michael to learn how to tell where the southern equivalent of the North Star is (it’s a photography thing), but we were very nicely surprised!
Our guide started off pointing to the stars which was pretty useless but it was all part of an act as she then pulled out a green laser light that reached all the way to the stars – well maybe not all the way but you know what I mean. It was a fantastic and informative evening as we gazed through the telescope at the various stars – walking away feeling a lot more knowledgeable about the incredible stars one can see if fortunate enough to be in a place with minimal light pollution.
The evening in some ways wasn’t ideal for stargazing because of the bright light coming from the almost full moon however, we did get to look at the moon through the telescope which was pretty wild. It’s so eye piercingly bright that we had to approach the telescope slowly and then once finished observing, it took a good few minutes for the black dots and kaleidoscopic effect to disappear and eyesight to return to normal.
So 4 weeks in NZ and not a single drop of rain…I’d say that’s pretty remarkable given its reputation of horizontal rain on a very regular basis. Not even in Milford Sound where it rains 2 in every 3 days did we have anything other than blue skies. We will continue to enjoy the weather and hopefully bring some of it with us back for our brief UK visit.