NZ Week 5: Nelson Lakes and Skydiving 

We’d spent several weeks down South and it was a welcome change of scenery to arrive into Nelson Lakes National Park.

It was a long drive up but well worth it, with the landscape being considerably more lush. The first thing we did was to head up to a mountain to get a perspective of the landscape. We chose Roberts Peak, which was great fun and an awesome climb. 

The next few days were fairly strange as I had booked myself up for a skydive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. 

It has now been several weeks since I’ve done the skydive, and I still don’t know how to describe it or put it into words. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

I’ll never forget the feeling of the plane door sliding open at 13,000ft, my first thought being ‘this isn’t normal’. Before I had time to process it, I was out the plane and accelerating towards the ground. Was it fear, was it excitement that I experienced? I’m still not sure, but after the first 10 seconds or so of screaming I relaxed and the feeling was like no other. 

Someone asked me in Australia what was one thing you have done that you would recommend everybody else to do. My answer now would be a skydive! 

NZ Week 4: Milford Sound – Catlins – Mount Cook

Whenever you look at pictures of New Zealand, usually Milford Sound springs up. This was an area we had earmarked as a must do. 

We hadn’t quite realised that the drive to get there would be so intense. It’s a 240 km round trip with no petrol stations in between. 

It was an early start to get to our 8am kayak  tour and it had rained heavily all night. Feeling groggy and with the rain still bucketing it down it was a slow drive in the dark. 

The road was so steep and twisty and there was no one else around. We questioned ourselves if we should be here. Whilst driving amongst mammoth mountains we realised that there was loads of snow around, but upon closer inspection and with the break of dawn we realised they were in fact hundreds of waterfalls! 

As if this wasn’t scary enough we arrived at Homer Tunnel a 1km long tunnel through a mountain only wide enough for one lane of traffic. As we sat at the traffic lights waiting a sign popped up giving us a countdown and told us to ensure our lights were on. 

Then we were off into what I can only describe as a steep downhill rollercoaster. There was water dripping from the ceiling and the tunnel looked like it was literally chipped out the rock. I was thankful when we got through to the other side. 

Unfortunately due to the high volume of rain, that had seen people being evacuated from the mountains, our kayak trip was cancelled after a quick paddle out. Some things just aren’t meant to be and we definitely felt like Milford Sound did not want anyone there that day.

The Catlins was a much more relaxing affair I am pleased to say. It was relieving to see the beach again and go for long strolls along the windswept coast collecting seashells.

Next up was the highest peak in New Zealand, Mount Cook. He was definitely playing games on the drive there, hiding behind the clouds, but we did catch a few glimpses of the giant. 

The next day we went out on the Hooker Valley walk, winding our way amongst the mountains and across swing bridges. Every so often you would hear a huge rumble of an avalanche in the distance – a stark reminder of nature. 

The view at Hooker Lake was amazing, there before us was the a huge Glacier and icebergs, yes icebergs floating in the lake. It was breathtaking and so mesmerising, at times it felt like a polar bear or penguin might appear alongside the bergs.

It was another great week in NZ with some highs and lows but it was memorable and a great experience.

NZ Week 3: Meg’s Hut – Arrowtown – Glenorchy 

One thing that we always hoped to do before visiting New Zealand was to walk to one of the huts and stay a night. Once our bags were packed with food supplies and warm clothes we started the 3 hour walk to Meg’s Hut. 

The walk was challenging at times but I think that’s because our legs were still aching from Roy’s Peak two days earlier. Finally in the distance the little hut appeared and our pace picked up speed as we got closer. 

We opened the door to find that we were the only ones there for the night, it was exciting. Unfortunately however we had forgotten to pack matches to light a fire and realised that we were in for a cold one. 

Then suddenly whilst lay in the bunk beds getting used to our new surroundings we both heard a few crackles. We rushed to the fire place and saw that there were embers still glowing from the previous night. Edd managed to get the fire roaring and we frantically spent the last hour of daylight collecting wood to keep us warm as darkness descended. 

It was quite an eerie but amazing experience being totally alone in the middle of the wilderness. I can’t say it was the best nights sleep but it was definitely an experience I am glad that we did together.

We couldn’t wait to get to Arrowtown to see the autumn colours and for a shower, Edd said we stunk after a night in the Hut, not being able to smell sometimes has its advantages. It was so lovely to walk around the little town with the colourful leaves crunching beneath our feet.

We passed through Queenstown quickly it was so busy and trying to find a parking space to explore was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

 The road to Glenorchy was windy and had amazing views, we were in Lord of the Rings country now. The drive is quiet, punctuated only by the odd near death experience as apparent maniacs fly by on the other side of the road.

We camped for two nights along Lake Wakatipu waking to fresh snow on the top of the mountains, quite a sight and a reminder that winter was on the way. 

Excited by the fresh powder we went for a three hour walk amongst the mountains to a day hut to take a closer look at the snowy peaks.

It had been an amazing week and one which fulfilled some of our pre-travel wanderlust. 

NZ Week 2: Arthur’s Pass – Hokitika – Wanaka 

It was so nice to wake up the first morning in the van and have our own space. It was initially foggy but soon it burnt off and we had clear skies. 

We had porridge for breakfast before heading out for an explore of Castle Hill. It consists of some really odd shaped limestone mounds scattered across the landscape. 

We continued along Arthur’s Pass which was unbelievably tight, steep and winding, with hairpin bends thrown in for good measure. The surrounding scenery was pretty mind blowing too.

Our next stop was Hokitika, a small seaside town. That evening we headed to a cave which was dripping in glow worms, it was magical to see.

The  next day we headed to Hokitika Gorge, it was breathtaking. Once we’d crossed a swing bridge we were surrounded by the bluest glacial water that we have ever seen.

Later that day we had our first glimpse of Franz Josef Glacier, which was unreal. It was amazing to walk towards the face of the glacier and look at this mass of ice. 

That evening feeling pretty blown away by the days events we headed to Gillespies Beach to camp. We finally saw the magnificent Mount Cook looming over the skyline, a sight that we won’t forget anytime soon.

Our final drive of the week was to Lake Wanaka, a place we had read so much about. It was a super chilled out town surrounded by mountains and the famous Roy’s Peak. 

We started out on the hike up to Roys peak early the next morning before dawn. It was quite a climb taking us 6 hours return. The views of the lake were just breathtaking in the early morning orange light, but I was getting alarmed at how much my fingers were starting to swell with every step we climbed.

We were so satisfied to reach the top, but I was also really happy to get back down,take my walking boots off and watch my fingers return to their normal size. 

As a reward that evening we watched the sunset by the famous Wanaka tree whilst eating calzone. Walking the next day was a bit of a struggle.

NZ Week 1: Auckland – Mount Maunganui – Christchurch

It was quite a shock for both of us landing into Auckland, the 36 degree days had been replaced with 16 degree days! Once we landed and found our hostel we headed for an explore of Auckland for the night.

The next day we took a four hour bus journey to visit some friends who live in Mount Maunganui. This was our first real insight into the landscape, which is extremely reminiscent of Wales, quite freaky at first. 

Mount Maunganui was great fun, strolling on the beach and soaking in the hot pools, whilst catching up with friends. The next day we headed to a Gorge for a walk. But the weather had a different idea deciding that it was time we experienced a cyclone. We had a quick walk around the Gorge but our clothes were soaked through to our skin. 

The next day we sat and patiently waited for the cyclone to hit, it was very wet and windy. We took a look at the beach and the waves were huge and messy and to our surprise there were people out surfing!

On our final morning the sun was out and we headed for a stroll up the ‘Mount’ before getting the bus back to Auckland, ready for our flight to Christchurch.

It was interesting walking around Christchurch, in places it was so evident that the devastating 2011 earthquake had taken place, there were buildings just empty and lots of brand new ones that were appearing in their place. 

We used the couple of days here to get things in place ready for picking up our campervan. Trying to think of where to head first, where to stay and easy meals that could be cooked on a camping stove.

It was so exciting to finally pick up ‘Byron’ the campervan, as we have affectionately named him. After all it was one of our favourite places in Australia, so any reminder is a good one. 

It finally felt like we could now explore and start our road trip! 

Australia you’ve been cruisey!

How do you ever sum up a place that has exceeded expectations to such a huge extend…with a list of course! 

So here it goes:

> We have gone through over 2 litres of factor 50 suncream

> Seen 7 snakes between us

> Spent endless hours sunbaking on beaches

> Drank a ridiculous amount of coffee – Australia knows how to make a good cup!

> Taken 14 bus journeys some over 12 hours in length!

> Found our new favourite beer

> Realised the importance of surrounding yourself with people that make you feel good

> Surfed countless right hand point breaks 

> Encountered a thunderstorm that shook the whole house and defeaned us

> Travelled over 7000km 

> Broken or lost 3 pairs of sunglasses 

> Seen Red Back and White Tail spiders. 

> Drove our first Landcruiser 

> Learnt some Aussie slang – far out!

> Fed cockatoos 

> Narrowly avoided a tropical cyclone

> Met and made friends with people from all over the world. 
The list could go on and on, words simpler can’t describe our feelings and love towards this place. Our time down under has been filled with exploring new places, meeting new people and heaps of laughter – it’s been amazing. 

We leave Australia with a different outlook on life. The vastness of the landscape and attitude of the people has offered us a new perspective. Our appreciation for the small things that make us happy is stronger than ever and we will never be scared to chase our dreams.

We will definitely be back soon. 

The Glorious Grampians

We arrived back to Melbourne after our trip up the East Coast and seeing my Aussie family again felt like coming home.

The next morning we made our way to The Grampians. It is a rugged mountain range that rises abruptly from the surrounding plains. It certainly looked impressive as we approached on the drive. 

Throughout our travels we have been shocked to find out the stories of the aboriginal past. Our first stop was a beautiful park that celebrates the aboriginal culture and tells stories of the past and hopes for the future, it was super positive. That afternoon we headed up into the mountains and had some incredible views, Edd decided to take a seat on the edge too. 

The next morning we were up super early, it was Jem and Edd’s idea to see sunrise over the mountains. A bit blurry eyed we headed to the balconies, which is a cool lookout over the national park. Watching the sun rise across the mountains was stunning and really special to share with the family.

Mackenzie Falls was the next stop. After a short walk we reached the base of the fall, it was spectacular. Edd decided to take a swim, despite the cold water temperature. He managed to get under the falling water and was battered by the downpour. He started quite a trend and lots more guys decided to go in!

We had heard that it was possible to feed local cockatoos by hand at the property we were staying at, however after several attempts at leaving food out nothing had appeared yet. Then all of a sudden my uncle called us and there were several  cockatoos munching away on the food we had left for them. The next thing we knew we were outside and the birds were eating out of our hands, they were so gentle despite their huge sharp looking beaks. All was going well until a kookaburra arrived and the cockatoos flew off.

Our final stop was to see some aboriginal cave paintings. The rock formation was incredible with natural caves, I could so imagine aboriginal tribes sat up their watching out across the land. 

The cave paintings we saw were the hand prints of 8 year old aboriginal children. It was quite amazing and quite eerie at the same time. It is thought the prints dated back to between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, incredible! 

It was an amazing few days and super special to spend it with the Australian family. Jem, Kate, Thalia, Maya and Indi – you have been the most welcoming hosts, myself and Edd thank you so much for making our travels in Australia the best three months of our lives.