A Travellerspoint blog

Queenstown

sunny 22 °C

We drove back to Queenstown on a beautiful morning and managed to take in some of the wonderful heritage sites on the way.

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We planned to stay in Queenstown for four nights with E-J's friend Emily, who had three days off from work and had arranged a few days of adrenalin packed activities.

Emily, now renamed team leader had organised for both E-J and herself to do a paraglide in the morning of the first day and E-J not the best at flying in a plane (like her father) was dreading it. This was not helped by Sam repeatedly saying, I'll still love you even if something does happen to you and things similar like, "it was great knowing you". The guides also took it upon themselves to join in, saying that E-J's pilot had only just passed his test the day before...

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It was a beautiful crisp day and E-J and Emily were jumping from Coronet's Peak, which is about 3000m above sea level. E-J, knowing that her nerves were getting worse decided to go first and before she had time to think was told to run as fast as she could off the side of the cliff.

Suddenly, she was off with her guide paragliding along the mountain edge and above the tops of thousands of alpine trees.

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The views were incredible and she found herself absolutely loving it, although her hands were freezing too. The guide then asked her to hold onto the the two cords to steer the paraglide, but it wasn't long before she handed them back to him. EJ (always knowing best) also managed to tell the guide that she thought they were heading for the mountain edge! Her guide, one of the best paragliders in the world, reassured her that he knew what he was doing! As they landed, E-J's screams of terror could be heard echoing for miles as the guide sharply turned the paraglide around and down, adding a bit of a thrill to the end. E-J's landing was perfect and very smooth and as she sat comfortably on the grass she happily called out, "I'm alive!". Emily's landing wasn't quite so smooth and the poor girl could be seen tumbling on the floor as her guide tripped over her on landing.

The next part of the day was a wine tour. This was arranged with a group of other people. The guide took an immediate dislike to E-J, after E-J questioned her about something she was unsure about. From then on, whatever E-J said the guide would completely disagree, to the point that everyone started noticed. The vineyards we went to were ok, but not of the same quality that we had experienced in Mendoza and this made us realise just how spoiled we had been in South America. Also, there was no actual vineyard tour or explanation about the wineary and how it was produced. We were simply taken to one place, poured four tiny thimbles of wine to sample and then moved onto the next place. We did stop at one place to have a meal, but the portions were so small. The guide helped herself to a susbtantial amount of salmon, then made a point that everyone was only to have one piece as she saw E-J taking a second measly piece that had been left.

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Despite the guides strange ways, we had a fun time during the tour and enjoyed taking in all the stunning views around us.

When the guide finally dropped us back in Queenstown, she said to Sam, 'hopefully, you'll be rid of that one soon and I hope to see you again'. Sam wasn't quite sure how to respond...

That evening, Emily had organised for us to do a tour on an old vintage steamship called the Earnslaw, along the Lake Wakatipu from one end to the other. This gave us a fantastic view of the mountain range, The Remarkables.

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This was good fun with plenty more wine and on the way back E-J discovered the pianoist at the back of the boat and took it upon herself to accompany him on vocals. We're not sure if he actually appreciated it, but the rest of the boat seemed to find it rather amusing; particulary the Canadian toursist who zoomed his camera in on E-J singing away! Sam decided he felt more comfortable out on deck!

The following morning we woke to pouring rain. Emily had arranged for us to go river surfing, which involved dressing in a wetsuit and helmet and going down the river in grade 3 and 4 rapids on a body board. Madness really! On seeing the weather, Emily said she wasn't so keen to repeat it again, but E-J having not experienced anything like this before, was still determined to try it. Sam, also had to back out as his mosquito bite was starting to hurt again and he was worried that it may become infected.

The river itself was the Shotover river, but a different section to where people get taken in a speed boat. In fact in this section, you pass under the Kawarau bridge where you can see people bungy jumping off the original bungy site.

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The water was freezing and after a brief paddle E-J found herself being thrown into grade 3 rapids, which felt like she was being thrown around inside a washing machine. After a minute or so the rapids died down. The guides' controll of the group was incredibly professional and they took great care in making sure that everyone stuck together and if anyone needed any help or support they were there to give it to them. In another section of rapids the group was
then told to surf the rapids, which meant you had to approach the rapids backwards and then paddle like mad to reach the crest of the rapid. Once you had caught the surf, you stayed in one place not moving forward or back, just simply bouncing up and down over the swell of it. It was a very strange experience and E-J along with three others were the only ones who were able to catch the surf, out of the group of twelve.

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By the time the group reached the final rapid, E-J felt as though her lips were turning blue and having already swallowed a gallon of water asked the guide if he would help her down the last part. This made the experience far more enjoyable as she was able to sit back and enjoy the ride, while the guide found the perfect line to take her through, so that she wouldn't be pulled under and thrown around by the grade 4 rapids. It was a most exhiliarating experience.

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After the tour was over, the group gathered in a pub back in Queenstown to enjoy a hot dog and a few drinks, while watching the photos of the day. Sam was bitterly disappointed to have missed out on something that looked so much fun, so decided that instead he would do a bungy jump before we left Queenstown.

The next day Emily was back in charge of the tours and we started the day early with a bus ride over to Glenorchy where we would have a jet boat ride along the Dart river, followed by a kayak back down the river. This would be organised through Emily's employer who ran the tours. Sam, again was concerned about getting his foot wet, so was only able to join us on the jet boat before he headed back to Queenstown.

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The jet boat ride was good fun as we went zooming along the river and then by a signal of the drivers hand, we would suddenly be hurled around at 360 degrees, leaving our stomachs behind.

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It was brilliant fun, though Sam ended up getting completely soaked by sitting on the side, much to the E-J's and Emily's amusement!

After this part of the tour, Emily and E-J said goodbye to Sam and proceeded to blow up an inflatable kayak. Once set, E-J took the front position of paddling, while Emily sat in the back steering. It wasn't long before Emily worked out that E-J was pretty useless at paddling and if she wanted to get anywhere she would have to steer and paddle.

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The kayaking was great fun and at lunch time we stopped at the side and had a fantastic picnic of lots of delicious foods, while looking out at the incredible views around us. After lunch, we then got the opportunity to kayak inside some caves, which were fascinating and the water inside seemed to look like a glowing aquamarine.

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When we were almost at the end of the kayaking trip, when our guide heard on the radio that all the jet boat drivers were determined to splash their work colleague, Emily.

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Seeing the speed at which they went and the power of their splash, worried both Emily and E-J, so that each time a jet boat was on its way round, Emily and E-J would paddle like crazy to the side of the bank, get out of the boat as fast as they could and run out of the way of the spray. E-J and Emily were particularly pleased they did this, when on a final attempt to get them, one of the jet boats got so close to the kayak that the spray literally blasted the boat out of the river!

After this, we headed back to Emily's to shower and refresh ourselves, before we ended the evening by the lake with fish and chips from a local bar.

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The next day Emily was off to work, so we planned to move on from Queenstown, but before doing so E-J wanted to do one last adrenalin filled expericence and that was The Canyon Swing. The Canyon Swing, is a massive swing that sits within a canyon on the Shotover river and has a 60m free fall drop before a 300 metre swing, begins.

As we headed there, the guide started to make a few jokes and Sam, being as calm as ever, indulged in the banter. E-J just kept incredibly quite and petrified about what she was about to do.

There were six of us in our group and after the other four had gone, it was E-J's go. It took her forever to gain the courage to walk to the end of the platform and as she looked down at the canyon below, she realised just how far down it was. After several minutes of persuasion, the guide managed to coax E-J into stepping off the platform. He kindly told E-J that he would hold on to her before droping her. However, as soon as she stepped off, she suddenly found herself freefalling down and before she knew it, it was over!

Sam, on the other hand not at all phased by anything, took only a second before he confidently jumped feet first off the platform. This style of jumping was suppose to create maximum thrill.

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Both of us thoroughly enjoyed this and were tempted to do another, however, already stretching the budget we decided that once was enough.

The next thing we planned to do was collect our van from the Queenstown carpark and then drive to the bungy site for Sam to do his bungy before heading on. When we got to the car, we found it had a dead battery and not believing our luck, we had to take it to the garage down the road. The garage told us it wouldn't be ready until 5pm, so with no time for Sam to do his bungy, and make another rugby game in Dunedin we would have to stay another night.

The next morning, we were at the Kawarau Bridge at 9am, so that we could be on the road straight after Sam's jump. It was another beautiful, crisp day and E-J felt more nervous than Sam. The next few minutes all happened so quickly, as Sam was weighed, filled in the appropriate forms (the usual signing away of your life) and then made his way to the bridge.

Before E-J had a minute to blink, Sam jumped and all E-J could do was scream!

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After this, E-J started to wonder whether she wanted to try this experience too, but Sam persuaded her that she would hate it, so we headed off towards Doubtful Sound in the hope of either doing a tour that day or the following.

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When we reached the tour company for Doubtful Sound, we were shocked by how expensive it was. It was almost three times more than Milford Sound and after much consideration, decided to call it a miss as we really couldn't justify the money. Instead, we headed to Taupai, where we found a pub to enjoy a few drinks. Sam watched the 1st test match between England and New Zealand and E-J sat outside reading Cosmopolitan!

The evening was spent on a glow worm tour at one of the local caves. It was quite interesting to see the glow worms sparkling away in the pitch black of the cave, but having seen and done so many wonderful things, it didn't hit us with as much impact as we had hoped.

Also, having seen Sam do the bungy, E-J just couldn't stop talking about it and trying to understand his experience, much to Sam's annoyance. The more E-J talked about it, the more she was intrigued to do it.

The next day, Sam exhausted by E-J's constant questions about the bungy, asked her if she really wanted to do it and if so he would drive her back, cutting out the rest of the south of the South Island to head back up towards Queenstown. E-J being E-J, was desperate to do it by now, but wanted Sam to do a tandem with her. Sam decided there was absolutely no way he would do a tandem bungy with E-J. So, she would have to do it on her own (not quite how she had planned)!

Similar to Sam's experience, within seconds E-J found herself being weighed, filling in the necessary paper work and then waiting at the top of the bridge to jump.

The bungy seemed a lot more terrifying than The Canyon Swing, especially since one had to go head first, but without thinking E-J moved onto the top of the platform and dived off the bridge as though diving into a swimming pool. Her blood curdling scream was very loud!

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After the jump, we then spent the rest of the day in Queenstown before heading back up the East coast towards Mount Cook.

Sam's comments: A flat battery on the campervan really sums up our trip here. Disapointed to miss out on a trip to watch the rugby in Dunedin. However have experianced some challanges that I won't be in a hurry to do again!

E-J's comments: The last few days in Queenstown have been incredibly exhilarating. I think I've turned into an adrenalin junkie! It has been so much fun catching up with Emily and she has made our time in New Zealand simply brilliant!

Posted by E-J 14:02 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Milford Sound

semi-overcast 18 °C

Having stayed in another beautiful campsite just outside Wanaka, we arose early and headed for Queenstown to stay with E-J's friend Emily, for one night before heading down to Milford Sound. On the way there we briefly stopped at Wanaka and took in the sweet little town and it's sights. E-J also took great delight it fooling around with a sculpture by the side of the lake.

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When we reached Queenstown it was lovely for E-J to see her old friend Emily and after catching up over a good meal, E-J was already looking forward to coming back to spend some more time with her.

The 295 kilometre drive down to Milford Sound had breathtaking sights all the way there. Much to E-J's pleasure Sam did most of the driving so she was able to sit back and take in the incredible scenery. As we began our journey, the skies began to turn a miserable grey and by the time we reached Milford Sound the place was covered in a deep, low mist with torrential rain splashing down everywhere. This was surely the only reason why it was named after Milford Haven in Wales?

Rather than being disappointed by this, it added a greater depth to the place. Surrounded by tall, threatening mountains and steep gorges, everything look very haunting and eerie as they gloomily appeared from behind the low cloud and mist. The rain also caused an abundance of tiny waterfalls to cascade down the mountains, creating a constant sound of splashing water. This was the first time that we both felt totally awe struck by the magnificence of the place. It was very easy to see why Peter Jackson chose to do most of the filming of Lord of the Rings down here; it felt like another planet.

The town of Milford Sound consisted of one cafe, which was attached to one pub, a few buildings which housed staff, a petrol station and a fire station. Having spent all of 5 minutes understanding the lay out of the place, we looked into the best way of seeing this world heritage site. Deciding to avoid the huge tourist crowns aboard all the cruises, we booked a kayak tour for the following day and then made our way to the only lodgings / campsite area there. The place was of course booked up. Luckily, one staff member took pity on us (due to E-J providing him details of our unfortunate time in Wellington!) and found us literally, a hole in the hedge where we could park up and stay for the night.

The rain poured heavily all that night and E-J began to worry just how soaked she was going to be kayaking the next day! When we woke up the next morning, the skies were still a moody grey but the rain had stopped. There were only eight people kayaking in our group, which made it perfect, as it meant we had the place all to ourselves. E-J particularly felt this when Sam insisted on going on ahead of everyone!

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From the kayaks, the views were spectacular and we felt so helpless and small as we looked up to the most enormous mountains right above us, which are apparently three times as tall as the Empire State building.

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The kayaking was a good four hours and by the end of it we were all pretty tried and wet from the waves. E-J was relieved to have seen some seals on the rocks as the guides had told her that two weeks ago a great white had been spotted in these waters and all other sea life had disappeared. The thought of coming across a fifteen foot shark was something E-J desperately didn't want to experience.

After a quick lunch break we got back in the kayak for a second tour. This involved a walk along some of the famous Milford Sound hiking track. The kayak crossing was suppose to be simple, but by now the winds had picked up and it was almost impossible to get out into the water.

People call kayaks the divorce boats and after several angry words about each other's paddling and near miss of some rocks and trees in the lake, we could see why! Fortunately E-J managed to calm down and remember how to paddle!

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The walk itself was beautiful. The place is so full of rich, lush trees and vegetation. Our guide was incredibly informative, explaining a lot about the different plant species and wildlife that can be found there. He also showed us various plants and shrubbery that you can eat.

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After the forty minute walk we returned back to the main base of Milford Sound and were taken to the bottom of a most impressive waterfall. It was so powerful and incredible to be so close to it.

By now it was 8pm and we were on our knees from all the exertion of the day. We decided to end it with a delicious steak in the only pub in town! By now the skies had totally cleared up and we were able to experience a beautiful sunset among all these incredible mountains.

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Sam's comments: I can understand why Rudyard Kipling called this place the eighth Wonder of the World, amazing, best experiance of New Zealand. Altough E-J's tantrum in the Kayar nearly spoilt it!!

E-J's comments: This place is simply breathtaking. Photos can't do it justice. These mountains are just so enormous and as you stand at the foot of them, they literally go vertically up into the sky! It feels almost magical, a place I would highly recommend!

Posted by E-J 13:39 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

sunny 19 °C

After a busy morning of cleaning the old van and exchanging it for a new van and a newer model (much to E-J's pleasure) we decided to start heading towards the Glaciers. This was a long drive, and as we took in the incredible views we felt as though the past, sad days had finally left us. The landscapes were breathtaking, with rolling mountain ranges and the most crystal clear, blue lakes.

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As we drove along the deserted highway without a car in sight, we continually stopped to take in the most impressive views.

By 4pm, we were a comfortable distance from the Glaciers so decided to rest for a night in a beautiful little spot by Lake Lanthe.

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There were only a couple of tents at this place and one other campervan. After battling with the sand flies and covering ourselves in repellent, we enjoyed a good meal and a cold bottle of wine, while watching the sun go down over the lake. It was beautiful!

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Up early the next morning, we made our way to Franz Josef, which was about forty minutes away. On arriving, it was a little misty so we decided to wait around until it cleared. We then walked to the end of the pathway and crossed the restricted fence to get a bit closer to the glacier.

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The glacier was impressive to see, but looked incredibly dirty from the dust of the rocks around it. It was not as impressive as Perito Moreno in Patagonia, which had a magnificent angular structure formed from being in a lake. We took in the sights, appreciating them for what they were at ground level, though we're sure we would have found the views far more breathtaking had we seen them from a helicopter or small plane.

We then made our way to the Fox Glacier and walked up to the base of it. Again, we found it to be not as beautiful or as impressive as the one in Patagonia, but we feel that we have been rather spoiled by all the incredible views we saw in South America.

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As we walked back to our car, Sam suddenly shouted out to E-J, "Look!" and just at that moment a most enormous piece of ice broke away, causing an incredible crash and explosion into the small stream below. We were so lucky to see this, as it was such a massive amount to fall at that time.

Pleased to have experienced this, we set off towards Queenstown where we were meeting a friend of E-J's in a couple of days.

Sam's comments: Enjoying the new van, but not the sand flies they are everywhere

E-J's comments: The place we stayed at the night before we saw the glacier was how I had hoped our experiences would be like in the campervan. The view from the back of the van was incredible and it was so special to wake up to something like this. I am also pleased I saw the Glaciers, but I'm afraid they are nowhere near as magnificent as Perito Moreno in Patagonia.

Posted by E-J 21:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Kaikoura

sunny 23 °C

We arrived into Kaikoura to try and view some whales. Kaikoura attracts whales due to the depth of the water, less than 2 kilometres from the coast there is an underwater canyon over 1000 metres deep. This is an ideal place for whales to relax and eat lots of squid!

We arrived into Kaikoura with beautiful sunshine to be told that, all whale watching tours had been cancelled for the last few days, due to bad weather. Therefore there was a large backlog of bookings waiting to happen. Not expecting to get a chance to view any whales, we booked ourselves on a waitlist for the day and went off to explore a few of the views from the hilltops.

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The views were spectacular and there was just so much wildlife around, from seals, to albatrosses and various other sea birds, which names escape us.

Having taken in the beautiful views and the incredible blue colour of the sea, we made our way to the whale centre to find out whether we had made it on any of the tours. We stood in the waitlist queue, which felt like some kind of audition or interview as the lucky names were called out. Having been there since 12pm, we finally got our call up at 1.15pm.

We were then bused down to the port and transferred onto a massive speedboat, which took us out into the deep ocean where we would have the opportunity of seeing a few sperm whales. We were more than lucky and were able to site five sperm whales, which was quite unusual (or so they told us). It was incredible to be so close to these magnificent creatures swimming past the boat, squirting water into the air with a big blast and revealing just how enormous they were as the wave broke over them.

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When the whales have had enough of roaming the sea, they dive down, around sixty metres into the depths of the sea leaving spectators with a picture perfect flicker of a whale's tale. Once down, they will not resurface for a good few hours. On all five attempts, we kept trying to get the perfect whale tail picture, but failing each time, we resorted to videoing it instead.

Watching these massive whales was such an incredible experience and we were then taken over to a group of playful dolphins.

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There must have been about fifty to a hundred of them and they absolutely loved playing with the boat, chasing it and also jumping out of the sea numerous of times as though they were performing to the people watching them.

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They seemed so tranquil, yet at the same time having the best time, full of fun. We couldn't wait for our experience to swim with dolphins, having seen how playful this lot had behaved, but we would have to wait until near the end of the trip.

After a fantastic day we headed down to Christchurch for the night, after circling the city centre a few times we managed to find our accommodation for the night. This would be the final night in our perspex windowed van. After four days, the sticky tape seemed to have come away, leaving a terrible draught to sleep in. Also there were only so many nights we could tolerate sleeping on the remains of the shattered glass from the incident.

Sam's comments: Due to E-J's directions (or as E-J says "a bad map") I seem to know Christchurch city centre better than most! The whales were a joy to watch.

E-J's comments: Kaikoura is a very special place and I feel so privileged to have seen these mammals of such incredible size and grace. The dolphins were also just so happy and playful, making it a perfect day.

Posted by E-J 21:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Nelson & Collingwood

semi-overcast 20 °C

The next day, the reality of the robbery came back to E-J and she immediately became incredibly moody and angry, which wasn't helped by the hangover from the night before. Sam decided that the best thing would be, a new start on a new island, so off to the South Island we went.

The boat journey over to the South island took three and a half hours and luckily it was a sunny day with calm water. Sam enjoyed his book inside, while E-J spent the majority of the journey staring out to sea thinking about the robbery, what had been lost and how we could have prevented it. Repeatedly Sam would come out to see if E-J was alright, reminding her that the South was all about a new start, but E-J being typical E-J, could not stop thinking and talking about the robbery, changing from angry to sad and then angry again.

Finally, when we reached the South Island E-J was able to smile as we past the most beautiful scenery on our way into the harbour.

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We arrived into Picton and decided the best thing would be for us to travel across to Nelson to try to relax and enjoy the beaches around it, if not the quaint, little town.

The drive there was relatively pleasant, passing numerous vineyards and a vast mountain range covered in conafors. Sadly, as we drove into Nelson the weather started to go bad with the sky turning a moody, overcast grey. E-J thought how much this reflected her mood.

That night, we stayed in a campervan site in Nelson as we only had Perspex in place of the windows (the repair garage in Wellington hadn't had the glass to fit them). Over the top about security, E-J wanted to be somewhere enclosed, which was rather a shame as there were plenty of desolate camping places around. Without the proper security, we didn't want to lose anything else.

That night the rain poured down heavily and we awoke to pretty miserable weather. We then decided we would go to Collingwood to escape from people for a day or so and take in some of the beautiful beaches of the Golden Bay.

As we drove along, the weather started to brighten up and we talked about how things were going to improve. Just as we were both laughing together, a siren and flashing blue light suddenly appeared behind us and an undercover police cop pulled us over to the side. He told us that he had actually been hoping to get the guy in front, but since we were speeding too, he'd give us the ticket instead. E-J, in her usual calm and assuring state, started crying and going off on one at the policeman about what a terrible time we'd already had and why not give us a fine just to add to our troubles. With the policeman starting to soften to our story, Sam quickly advised E-J to be quiet and get back in the van (before she started to become too dramatic and irritate the policeman). Then as a schoolboy to a headmaster, in the politest most responsible way possible, Sam answered all his questions as best he could. To our luck the policeman let us off!

Once we were in Collingwood, we were relieved to finally make it there with no fine and finding it to be pretty deserted. Having found a campsite at the end of the town, we spent the rest of the evening in a local pub down the road. This pub was incredibly large, but also incredibly empty too.

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By the early hours of the next morning, the bad weather seemed to have followed us there, so with no chance of enjoying a gentle stroll on the beach, we resorted to returning to Nelson and possibly heading onto Kaikoura from there.

On the way back, we decided to enjoy some more of the scenic views and decided to make our way down a gravel track to a cave, which is suppose to be the biggest cave in New Zealand. Having travelled down it for a good ten minutes, we started to worry about just how far we had to go to get there. With the gravel road narrowing and an almighty, steep edge of a cliff on one side, we decided that luck hadn't really be on our side lately, so perhaps we ought to turn back. This was also influenced by the sight of the remains of an old campervan, which had previously taken a tumble off the edge. Sam skilfully manoeuvred the van round and we made our way back, passing the occasional car, which added more tension to the trip as we found ourselves practically hanging off the edge while passing them. Once off the uneventful track, we both made a packed not to do anything as stupid as that again!

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After a brief stop in Nelson, we continued our travels down the East Coast to the town of Kaikoura in the hope of booking a tour to see some Whales.

Sam's Comments: Glad my charm saved me from a speeding ticket. Good to know I have still got it!!

E-J's Comments: These last few days have been very difficult for me, as I am trying to enjoy New Zealand, but there is a part of me that can't let go of what happened in Wellington. I just hope that the next part of our journey has more good excitement.

Posted by E-J 18:54 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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