Blogs in February 2007

Swimming in NZ

Date: 26/02/2007 | Author: Ella

There are lots of places to swim in NZ but while we were in Taupo and Rotarua we went to three very different places.
The first one we went to was next to the place we were staying De Bretts Resort in Taupo. It was a water adventure park but it was heated by the hot thermal water coming from underground. There were four different pools (all different temperatures) and a kids play area and a great water slide. We went there every day and really liked it. Unfortunately, one of the times I was hurtling down the slide I cut my foot in the plunge pool at the bottom of the slide on a sharp piece of gravel so now I have a nasty cut and a blood blister.
We also went to Kerosene Creek, which is a hot creek (again heated by the thermal activity) and waterfall near Wai-O-Tapu. Mummy and Daddy really liked it but Florence and I couldn't get too deep because we found it too hot. It was a boiling hot day and really I wanted to swim in cold water rather than hot!
The other place we swam was in the Waikato river which is New Zealand's longest river. The river was very clear and very cold - I really enjoyed swimming in it. It cooled us down loads but best of all it had a rope to swing on. I was jumping in the water off a tree but I needed to stick with daddy because the current was very strong and if I had missed the rope I would have been carried off!!

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Thermal Wonderlands

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: Dave

We stayed two nights in Taupo and two nights in Rotorua. in between these towns is a grab bag of tourist spots where one can witness the earths inner heat letting off steam and boiling a some mud. We were lucky with the order that we visited our choice of attractions. The awe and wonder ramped up steeply over these thermal themed days.
Craters of the Moon impressed us, but was actually the new kid on the block. The following day Orakei Korako did truly amaze us. Especially the cave. On a negative note. Toward the end of our walk I saw a chap from Europe with a dyed red mullet sticking his finger through a one inch thick colourful skin just below the Diamond Geyser and pulling at it. How long did nature take to form this? He was over 40 and behaving like a 4 year old. These badly dressed vandals are getting on my goat.
Back tracking the next day from Rotorua, to visit Wai-O-Tapu, turned out to be a real treat. Greg had mentioned it as the best thermal activity in the area. Stunning stuff indeed. You could not make it up. Phenomenal.
We were tipped off that there was a good creek for a swim just half an hour from here. We found Kerosine Creek just to the North. It has a nice pool below a waterfall. With a water temperature of about 40 degrees celsius, it was more of a bath then a swim but an appropriate full stop to a day that was literally not of this world.

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Thermal wonderlands

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: Ella

The crust of the earth is nothing like the skin of an apple. Instead it is more like a jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces are called tectonic plates.
New Zealand is a very young country. About 130 million years ago New Zealand broke away from Gondwanaland (which included Africa, Australia, Antarctica and South America) but has only been it's present shape for 10,000 years!! New Zealand sits where the Pacific and IndoAustralian plates meet which causes Earthquakes, Volcanic eruptions and thermal areas - but never mind those the only thing I worry about is tsunamis!
We went on three walks to different thermal areas. The first one we visited was called the 'Craters of the Moon' walk because it did look rather like the moon with all the steam coming from underground and the craters that looked like they belonged to a different planet. The second thermal area was called Orakei Korako. The most interesting thing we saw on this walk was a very big cave with a nice pool of warm water at the bottom of it. It is very special to Maoris because Maori women used to use the pool as a mirror seeing as it was so still. Apparently, you can make a wish if you dip your left hand in to the water at the same time as wishing and your wish is guaranteed to come true if you don't tell anybody. I made my wish but I've wished it for the future so I'm not quite sure it will come true yet. Another interesting thing we saw on the Orakei Korako walk was seeing the 'diamond geyser'. It is called this because if it erupts water spurts out into many different droplets that look like diamonds shooting in to the air. The last thermal area was called Wai-O-Tapu which means 'Sacred Waters' in Maori. My two favourite features were the devil's bath which looked like the devil's bath - it was bright green, not a very nice green, it looked like the devil had been bathing in it. My other favourite one was the 'Champagne Pool', it is called this because it has bubble of carbon dioxide in it, like champagne. The champagne pool was 80 metres deep and was a bright blue colour! My mummy would have really liked it if it was real champagne!!
The thermal areas were amazing - there aren't many things like that in England!

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Thermal Wonderlands

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: florence

The crust of the earth is not one piece like the skin of an apple. Instead it is made up of many pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. These pieces are called tectonic plates. New Zealand is located where 2 plates meet, one is called IndoAustralian and the other is called Pacific. Because of this there are lots of volcanoes and mud pools. We went to a place called Wai-O-Tapu where there was a lovely green thermal pool. It was called Devil's Bath and these are some facts about it. The Devil's Bath is a large crater. It smells of rotten eggs!! But It is a beautiful green-yellow colour.
When we went back to our cabin at our campsite we played in the playground, then we had a swim. The water in the pools was heated from the land and earth. I went on a great slide, it was the biggest slide I have ever been on. First it was very scary but then I got used to it. Once I turned and turned and turned. I had a lot of fun on that slide. Another thermal pool we went to was a waterfall. It was too hot to sit down. I had just got used to it when we had to go.
Mummy was going to do a bungy jump but changed her mind so we just went swimming in the river instead. I think that was a much better idea. I went snorkelling and I saw wood, seaweed, logs and lots of other things under the water. We were swimming by an island called Cherry Island, it was a private island and someone lived there. There weren't many people there.
One evening we went to a special Maori show and dinner. The food wasn't very nice but I had a very good time. We saw some Maori dances called the Haka and a Poi dance.

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Jumping out of Planes

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

I never used to have a problem with heights. Like wrinkles, vertigo is one of those things that seems to develop with age. When we were in Queenstown, I rather flippantly said to Dave that I'd like to do a skydive. I have always maintained you'd never get me on the end of a bungy cord. The thought of chucking myself off a platform at great height has never appealed, but I didn't feel too daunted at the prospect of strapping myself to a man and being thrown off the plane with him. We didn't manage it in Queenstown but we knew Taupo, on the north island, was another popular place for skydiving, with views that surpassed anywhere else in New Zealand. On the way there, I made a few calls to the many skydiving operators and was advised to book at least a day ahead. Our first morning and we woke to cloud and wind - 2 things that hamper the chances of a jump. I called Taupo Tandem Skydiving and was informed there were no jumps today but we could be fitted at 1pm the following day, weather permitting. I booked the slot for Dave and myself. We couldn't go on the same flight as one of us had to be with the kids but we could go one after the other.
We woke to perfect skydiving conditions - I didn't seem to have the appetite for breakfast. We arrived at Taupo airport and I insisted that I wanted to jump from the lower altitude option of 12000ft. Dave, of course, wanted to jump from right at the top - 15000ft - and thought I should do the same. An extra 15 seconds of freefalling at an additional cost of $75NZ, I just didn't see the point! A lovely Irish girl, Catherine, checked us in and spotting gullible written all over me, not only persuaded me to jump from 15000ft but book the all singing, all dancing camera crew (well one extra guy) to record the experience. Of course I wanted the event recorded, what's the point in just doing it. I needed the proof so I could show off to my mates!
Looking at the information and photos of all of the tandem pilots, I was hoping to get the biggest man possible (like that's going to save me if the 'chute fails!) who'd done the largest number of jumps (most had done at least 5000, some as many as 15000). In the end I was given Mike. He wasn't tall, but quickly scrutinising his certificate I saw that he had completed over 8000 jumps and was FA1 World Record Holder (I never asked him what that meant). He was, obviously, very competent but was really lacking in the humour department which didn't help my nerves. I was with about 8 other people and their pilots on the plane. As we were approaching 12000 feet it was clear that everyone else on the plane had decided to jump from that altitude. I was tempted to tell Mike we should get off there. Being the only jumper on the plane for the final 3000 feet ascent was pretty scary. We were so high up I could see both east and west coast coasts of the north island: we were above the clouds and I could see the curvature of the earth - bloody hell, no going back now! At 15000ft, the straps between Mike and myself had been tripled checked and tightened as far as they could go with my arse pushed firmly in to Mike's crotch - all completely necessary of course! We shimmied our way to the plane door where I had to dangle my legs out of the plane and smile to the camera for the exit photo. The only thought on my mind at this stage was DON'T LOOK DOWN! Before I knew it Mike told me to look upwards, gave me a shove and we were out - a quick spin and then looking downwards, hurtling towards the earth at 200km/h. It's a strange feeling - although we were travelling at such speed we didn't getting any closer to the ground - I think's that's because we were so high up! After the initial few seconds of freefalling I spread my arms and really start to enjoy the feeling and the experience. It was an incredible view - huge lake Taupo as well as the 3 volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngaurahoe and Ruapehu thousands of feet below. About a minute later, I was almost disappointed when the parachute was opened, forcing us to decelerate rapidly. Of course there was relief too! The parachute ride down was almost as enjoyable as the freefalling and certainly a lot more relaxing. It was lovely to see the girls waving up at me as I approached the landing area - Dave was already in the sky, about to experience the same. Huge relief as I hit the ground, my ears were blocked and my eyes were watering but it had been amazing.
All things said, I still can't bring myself to bungy jump!

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The Mighty Waikato

Date: 24/02/2007 | Author: Dave

Nice to stay at the flying fox for two more nights. Still my favourite accommodation on our journey so far.
Taupo next stop for a spot of skydiving. (see 'Gabby' for details) A lovely view and an exciting way to spend 60 seconds. Don't need to do it again. One of those, must do in life things. Box ticked. My lovely wife may have followed it up with a bungy jump. In fact we drove straight there but with several people hanging around that that were decidedly bungy-negative it ended up a no thanks. One good thing about our visit to the bungy platform was spotting some youth swimming, by an island, a short distance upstream, in the clear green Waikato River. The river here is fast flowing and up to 100m across. The Waikato flows out of Lake Taupo a little way upstream from here. Taupo is the largest lake in the country and was formed as a result of the worlds largest recorded volcanic eruption nearly 2000 years ago. That was pre the Maori but it was heard as far away as China. Ella and I spend some time jumping into the river from a tree. This is a great swimming spot. There is a rope to grab, hanging into the water from a branch. Just beyond this rope the current is too strong to swim in but Ella is a confident swimmer and her aim for the rope is true. Florence snorkels in a back eddy. Several kilometres down stream from here is the Huka Falls, where the Waikato funnels through a 15m wide gorge. It is spectacular here and on this hot, sunny, Sunday afternoon we are only sharing this spot with about ten other people. The phrase 'if this was in the UK...' pops up for the umpteenth time since we arrived in New Zealand.

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Thermal Activity

Date: 24/02/2007 | Author: gabby

We are all learning loads about volcanoes and plate tectonics in New Zealand. The country is at the point where the IndoAustralian and Pacific plates meet, hence the mountains, glaciers, fiords, earthquakes and thermal activity. Heading for the Taupo and Rotarua region we were looking forward to bathing in a few thermal pools and experiencing other elements of this fascinating country.
During our time there we went to 3 thermal areas, each more interesting than the last. The 2 biggest, Orakei Korako and Wai-o-tapu were absolutely fascinating. Huge areas covered with collapsed craters, geysers, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. The rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulphide everywhere (for some bizarre reason Ella quite liked the pong!). I had never seen anything like this in my life. The pools of water full of so many different mineral elements they were all different colours and very beautiful in very unnatural ways.
Obviously, being new Zealand, plenty of spa like premises have been developed to take advantage of the healing qualities of the mineral rich and naturally heated waters. There was one next door to our campsite in Taupo, complete with a kids play area and giant slide, which the girls loved.
By far the best 'spa' for me was Kerosene Creek - about 15km south of Rotarua. It's probably one of the few thermal pools in the area where you can bathe for free and is completely natural. The drive down an unsealed road off the main highway takes you to a small river. Walking for a few hundred metres you arrive at a small waterfall with lovely pool for swimming. The only difference to the other waterfalls is that the water is a gorgeous temperature - maybe 40 degrees C - slightly too hot for your average bath but lovely once you get used to it. The girls weren't quite as keen - it really was too hot for them and they wanted a pool to cool down in rather than heat up in. I loved it and could have spent all day there. Once again, as is so common in New Zealand, there were just a handful of people enjoying this amazing, natural delight. It was just lovely.............

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Back to the Flying Fox

Date: 22/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Fewwie, it was great to be back at the Flying Fox with it's green hills, stunning views and Billy the dog. Oh, how great it was to play with Billy again. he's only a little dog, a cross between a Jack Russell and a Fox Terrier. I'm not so fond of small, yappy dogs like that but he was just sooooo cute!
We didn't do much there except walking Billy, playing by the Whanganui River and playing fashion shows with the posh hats from the bedrooms. Like the last time we visited the Flying Fox we enjoyed playing vinyl records. We mostly listened to Abba, Supertramp and the Small Faces which are records mummy and daddy used to listen to when they were younger.
When we left the Flying Fox we popped up to Pipiriki to visit Bobby Grey again. This time his little coffee shop was very busy so we didn't have a very long chat with him but he remembered us!

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Back to the Flying Fox

Date: 22/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went back to the the flying fox and saw Billy the dog (he likes the smell of Daddy). First we unpacked, second we went on a walk with Billy, then we did a little bit of our scrap books. After that we did a fashion show for Mummy and Daddy. We dressed up as different people from different countries and we used the hats from Mummy's and Daddy's bedroom. We made up funny names for ourselves. It was lovely to be back at the Flying Fox - I really liked it there! Billy is the best!

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Special People and Places

Date: 22/02/2007 | Author: gabby

I felt very sad leaving the South Island. It's an amazing, beautiful part of the world with jaw dropping sights as well as a feeling of remoteness that makes you feel like you're at the end of the world.
However, we were looking forward to going back to the North island. We'd loved it when we first arrived in NZ so we were sure that wasn't going to change. One of our favourite places in the whole of New Zealand was the the flying fox on the Whanganui River Road so we booked a couple of nights there as our first stop back on the North Island. It was as lovely as we remembered. The remoteness of the place ensures you relax and do nothing. We spent our time there reading, listening to old vinyl records and helping the kids with their scrapbooks and school work. Waking up to the sound of birds was magical and the starry night sky encouraged a blissful night's sleep. It's all music for the soul. We were very sad to leave there. We hear the largely unsealed Whanganui River Road is going to be tarmaced for it's entire 100km or so length which will definitely change the character of the area.
Another reason to head back to the Whanganui River Road was to go to the Pipiriki Coffee Bar and reacquaint ourselves with Bobby Grey, the lovely 70 year old Maori man we met on our last visit there over a month before. He had created a lasting impression on all of us. The girls know him as Koro (Maori for Grandfather) and over the previous month had often spoken of him.
As we walked in to the coffee shop I warned the girls that he might not remember us, but I need not have worried because he did and despite the fact that he was busy he still made some special time for all of us.
I don't know what it was about him that made him so special. Sometimes in life, you have fleeting meetings with people but they leave permanent footprints in your heart. Koro is one of these people. Perhaps it was his wisdom, he certainly shared a lot of his wise thoughts with us, maybe it was because he found the time to talk and listen to all of us, I'm really not sure. I was incredibly sad to leave him and hope that if I ever return to this beautiful country I will still find him making capuccinos at the Pipiriki Coffee Bar......

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Leaving the South Island

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: Dave

Sitting on the ferry back to the North Island is a good time to recap. We have been on the South Island for one amazing month and I couldn't imagine doing it in less time. As it was we did not go to the far south. I wanted to eat oysters in Bluff and explore the Catlins but somewhere had to give when trying to do justice to the places we were visiting. As we leave the South Island I have only one small regret. When in Queenstown I wanted to do two drives. One along the Skippers Canyon, a road carved out of the cliff-side by Chinese gold prospectors and the second was the road up to Mace Town. This is an old gold-mining town and the track to it crosses the creek 22 times on the way up. Apparently all you need to do is keep looking for the correct spot to leave the creek each time you enter it. i.e. keep to the well beaten path so as to avoid driving into a pond and filling the car with water. Unfortunately just the thought of Skippers Canyon road ruffled Gabby's sense of vertigo and she never really explained properly why she would not go to Mace Town. I could, however, go if I could find the time and some alternate company for the drive. I can recall her using the word 'macho' in the sentence but the rest escapes me. I may have mentioned damp carpet at one stage. Don't understand the 'macho' bit, I am definitely the only person on this ferry wearing a lilac Ben Sherman polo shirt. I think that sometimes just the journey there is enough reason to go. Don't get me wrong we are getting on amazingly.

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Why are adults so obsessed with wine?

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: ella

I can't believe that as soon as we got to Blenheim my mum and dad dragged me and Florence through the Marlborough Valley on a bike just to go to one stupid winery. That's why I keep asking, "Why are adults so obsessed with wine?". Mummy keeps saying it's just because they all taste different and it depends on the type of grape, the type of soil the grape grows in, how much sunshine the grape gets, blah, blah blah. She compares it to drinking my favourite juices but I think juice is completely different compared to wine.
I don't completely like the smell of wine but if you breathe really deeply while your nose is in the glass, you can smell lots of different fruits, like passion fruit, lemon, pears and grapes (obviously!). I think I might try wine when I'm older because Mum says it tastes very nice but I'll have to try it for myself first. I am 100% sure I am not going to drink beer or vodka and tonic or yucky things like that and I know I'm not going to smoke so that's a good start isn't it?

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Wine

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: florence

Today I learnt " A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine". I read this at Highfield Estate Winery and mummy told me it was true. We got there by bike, I was on a tag-a-long with mummy she said I was really fast!
Ella and I looked at all the different rows of grapes and we played races down the vines.I wanted to eat some!
I learnt about Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines. I smelt lots of wines and I could smell lemons and passion fruits and pear. But I didn't taste any wine because I didn't think they would taste very nice.

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Blenheim and the Wine Country

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

Talk about cramming a lot in.......
We left Kaikoura fairly late in the morning - it was difficult dragging the girls away from their new found friends. On the road between Kaikoura and Blenheim there are fur seal colonies to look at as well as a fabulous eatery with amazing views over the Pacific Ocean called the Store at Kekerengu - we had to stop there for a spot of lunch!
Anyway - we were an hour from Blenheim, a town in the heart of the Marlborough Valley - New Zealand's most prolific wine growing region. We'd only briefly stopped in a couple of wineries so far on our travels through NZ (Wooing Tree in central Otago for it's Pinot Noir being a favourite) so I felt I had to make an effort in this region. If we'd been travelling without kids, I'm sure I would have scheduled a good 3 or 4 days in this area. As it was, we had the afternoon, with maybe a couple of hours the following morning, before we had to get the ferry back to the North Island. By the time we reached Blenheim I had booked some bikes for all of us (Florence on a tag-along) and earmarked about 6 vineyards I wanted us to visit. I know one of my short comings is to try and cram too much in to a short space of time but this was the Marlborough Valley and I wanted to discover if there was more to this region that Sauvignon Blanc. I was being a tad optimistic but thought we might manage 4 if we were lucky........
I hadn't banked on several factors:
1.The bike hire location was about 5km from the nearest winery and along quite a busy road.
2. Ella hadn't ridden a bike for nearly 3 months and has never ridden more than 1 or 2km at any one time and that would have been at Center Parcs (ie no cars)
3. Florence's experience on a tag-along is very limited.
4. It was bloody hot - about 30 degrees!
In the end we managed to get to one winery. I wasn't disappointed though. We didn't stop at the one with the finest wines, Highfield Estate, but the building itself was lovely and the views outstanding - even the girls had a great time there. We could have possibly squeezed one more in that afternoon but didn't want to push it!
It was great to cycle through this lovely region and it's a fabulous way to get around because the area is so flat. Ella did brilliantly on her bike and Florence really helped me on the journey back with her great pedalling.
We did squeeze in 2 wineries the next morning: Seresin, where I discovered the delights of Pinot Gris, a grape I have previously turned my nose up at. Also, a delicious Reisling at Te Whare Ra.
The only thing that slightly marred the morning was Dave being booked by failing to stop at a stop sign. A friendly caution and $150 fine later we were finally on our away to Picton to get the ferry.
I was very sad to leave the South Island, a month there has whizzed by..............

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Wine

Date: 20/02/2007 | Author: dave

Well, there is only one way to get to the ferry at Picton from here and that is through the very dangerous Marlborough Valley. Running the gauntlet of some of the worlds top wineries. We have a map with 46 marked but given only half an afternoon and the handicap of riding bicycles (Florence on a tag-along) we manage to visit only one. Highfield Estate. We are staying in Blenheim for the night at another Top 10. It is our fourth night in a row in a basic cabin. Can't actually fit all of our luggage into one of these. The load in the back of the Pajero seems to have increased a little in volume and seems to clink more than it did at the start of the South Island. Central Otago, the home of the Wooing Tree winery, is only a few days behind us and we have a few bottles of our new favourite Pinot Noir in store from there.
The following morning we pack up quickly and with a more sensible mode of transport manage to reach two more wineries. Seresin and Te Whare Ra. At Seresin the girls tasted the olive oils while Gabby and I concentrated on the wines. At Te Whare Ra we received a real education from the affable wine maker, Jason, and left there with a new found appreciation (and two bottles) of Reisling. Our short stay in Blenheim not only confirmed that there is more to the Marlborough Valley than Sauvignon Blanc but also that Ella can ride a bike 10km in the heat.
Bodes well for the school run this summer in the UK.

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Dolphins and New Friends

Date: 18/02/2007 | Author: Ella

We went to Kaikoura to go swimming with dolphins. The experience of swimming with dusky dolphins was amazing. I had to wear 2 wetsuits and a hood because the water was so cold. At first I felt I couldn't breathe but I soon got rid of the feeling of being uncomfortable. As soon as I got in the water I held Mum's hand and we were soon surrounded by dusky dolphins coming from in front of us, behind us, under us and above us!! We went in for 4 swims with the pod of dolphins - it was brilliant to be so close to them.
In Kaikoura we were staying in a cabin on a campsite where there was a swimming pool and a jumping pillow. We made some new friends at our campsite, their names were Emily, Orlando and Ben Murphy and they are from Bristol. Emily is also in year 4 at school and I gave her some of the books I have already read. She even came to our cabin for a sleepover on our last night. It was good to play with some new friends!

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Swimming with Dolphins

Date: 18/02/2007 | Author: Florence

Mummy and Ella went swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura. I couldn't go because I was too young. They had to swim in the deep ocean without life jackets. I just had to stay on the boat and watch but I took lots of photos (this is one of mine!). We saw so many dusky dolphins. The dolphins jumped up and down and did lots of somersaults out of the water. A group of lots of dolphins is called a pod. It was a big big pod, it was more dolphins than I have ever seen before and more than my mummy and daddy have ever seen before too. There were lots of dolphins, they were surrounding the boat.
In Kaikoura we stayed in a Top 10 Holiday camp. We met some friends named Emily and Orlando (they had a big brother called Ben). There was a bouncy pillow we went on. It wasn't that bouncy, it was impossible to jump but it was great fun! Emily and Orlando are from Bristol. We have lots of other friends in Bristol. We liked them a lot. Emily even came for a sleepover to our deluxe room (cabin)!

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Up the East Coast.

Date: 17/02/2007 | Author: dave

Our last six days on the South Island slip by. The drive north-east from Twizel was fantastic thanks to Shaun's advice to detour along the shores of the two local lakes. Pukaki and Tekapo. They are so turquoise that the cloud above them this morning is infused with their colour. A short side road takes us up to the cafe at Mount John Observatory. Well worth the detour for some photos of the lakes. Beautiful. See photo page. The main difference between Australia and New Zealand scenically is that where Australia stays the same for hundreds of miles at a time, New Zealand seems to change routinely.
We wind our way down to Christchurch which was like a trip back to the 70's. We had two nights here for an internet connection in our room and a visit to the homeopath for the girls. Had to be done. I know neither of these things are 70's but the rest of Christchurch was. Maybe we didn't see the best bits.
Kaikoura, our next stop up the coast, was always a must do on our South Island list. Dolphin Encounter here runs a boat with limited spaces for swimming with dolphins. The local dusky dolphins love the deep canyons here, where their favourite foods come close to the surface every night. Ella and Gabby are still wait-listed as we drive into town. The limit on swimmers and boats for this trip is kept in check for the welfare of the dolphins. After arriving at the Kaikoura Top10 the phone rings and they are suddenly confirmed for the following morning. A big relief. Florence and I will be spectators. Jez had mentioned that it was amazing but I was not really expecting what we sailed into that morning. A pod of perhaps 300 dolphins of which you could at times see 100 or more at the surface. Ella had on two wet suits, a hood, mask, snorkel and fins. A bit for her to adjust to. Luckily, it was a lovely day with a low ocean swell over the 1600m deep canyon. Ella was a top snorkeller and they both had a time of their lives.

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Kaikoura and Dolphins

Date: 17/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

It's been my life's dream to swim with wild dolphins. I have often looked at the opportunities from the UK but they are very expensive and/or involve a lot of travel. When I read about the possibility of swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, I immediately put it on my list of 'must do' things to do while we were here. There's only one operator running Dolphin Encounter trips from Kaikoura and they are strictly limited by the Department of Conservation as to the number of trips they can do and the number of swimmers allowed in to the sea at any one time. As a consequence, when we tried to book the swimming trip, nearly 2 weeks beforehand, we were told we would have to go on the waitlist. Basically, if spaces come free you are called but if your answerphone comes on no message is left, the next person is called so I was told the list can be worked through pretty quickly. Not a problem, I thought. After Twizel, we spent a few days in Christchurch just to do chores so not worth writing about. By the time we were heading to Kaikoura we still hadn't received a call so I was beginning to get a little agitated. After all, we were only going to Kaikoura for the dolphins and although there there were plenty of other things to do I needed to swim with the dolphins! I needn't have worried because an hour after we reached the small coastal town we were called to say there was space for Ella and I to swim and Dave and Florence to watch (Florence was too young and Dave had done the heli hike in the glacial region after all!) at 8.30am the next morning...........
It was an amazing experience! I had been told there were literally hundreds of dolphins in the waters around Kaikoura. Of course the operators can't guarantee seeing any dolphins but as the earlier trip that day had seen some they were fairly optimistic that our trip would have a similar success. We'd only been out to sea for about 10 minutes when we witnessed the first dusky dolphins somersaulting out of the water behind us, there were maybe 4 or 5 we would see. About 5 minutes later, as I stood next to the skipper he pointed out a dark patch in the sea and said it looked like a pretty large pod. Once we were upon them we could see hundreds of them. You've never seen so many people get ready to get in to the ocean so quickly. The conditions were great, it was a lovely sunny day and there wasn't too much swell. Ella was a little nervous at first and felt very claustrophobic in her 2 wetsuits but as soon as we got in the water the discomfort was the last thing on her mind. She was a top snorkeller! As we held hands swimming through the massive pod of dusky dolphins we found ourselves surrounded - they were so close we could have touched them!
A lifetime's dream for me. Ella thought it was great but was very keen to get back to her friends at our holiday camp as soon as we got off the boat.............kids can be so fickle sometimes!

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Mount Cook

Date: 16/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Near Mount Cook is a town called Twizel. Just outside Twizel is a farm backpackers called Omahau Downs which is where we stayed for 2 nights. I didn't completely enjoy Twizel but we did do 2 quite cool things while we were there.
The first was swimming in the stream near to the farm. The water was really cold but Mummy and Daddy liked it so much they went skinny dipping. Unfortunately, Daddy still hadn't put his clothes back on when 2 elderly ladies arrived at the stream for a swim. He had to STRUGGLE to get his trunks back on without them seeing his bottom!
We also went on a walk on the Hooker Valley Track. It was such a hot day and there were no clouds around Mount Cook. On our walk we got hotter and hotter but fortunately at the end of the walk there was a big bit of shade next to the glacial lake. It was so amazing seeing icebergs the size of cars being pushed madly along by crazy rapids.

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Mount Cook

Date: 16/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went on a long long walk near Mount Cook. We bought some snacks so I didn't get hungry. On the way we saw a little hut and saw that lots of people had written their names all over the walls. We also met a little boy called Thomas. We walked over 2 swingbridges, we then walked past Thomas. We walked and walked and walked. At the end we met up with Thomas again and invited him to play with us. We made a little house while our mums and dads sat in the sun. We made some pretend food and invited our mums and dads over for dinner. We then walked back the same way.

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Aoraki/Mount Cook

Date: 16/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

A strange town, Twizel. it only came into existence in 1968, when it was built to service construction of the nearby hydroelectric power station. We decided to stay there because of it's location close to Mount Cook as well as the fact that a rural homestead on a working farm, Omahau Downs, about 2km north of the town, had been recommended. When we phoned to book, the only accommodation available was a room for 4 in the backpackers house........
It's not all bad news staying in a backpackers, you can meet an eclectic bunch of people and Omahau Downs was no exception: 2 eccentric elderly British women (we'd met them at the stream when Dave and I decided to go skinny dipping!), a couple of English girls taking a year out, 2 young medical students on their elective, a 50ish year old Chilean woman who had to flee Chile during the Pinochet regime, a group of German women who kept themselves to themselves as well as 2 shepherds who were working on the farm mustering the thousands of sheep kept there. We were the only residents drinking Pinot Noir.......
A gorgeous sunny day greeted us on our first morning, I hadn't slept that well because the walls were paper thin and one of the shepherd's in the room next to us was one of the loudest snorers I had ever heard! However, waking to the sight of Aoraki/Mount Cook not covered in it's usual shroud of cloud propelled us out of bed and in to the car to drive the 50km to the start of the Hooker Valley Track. It was a boiling hot day, yet snow capped mountains accompanied us the whole way. We crossed 2 swingbridges along the relatively flat path until we arrived at the Hooker Glacier terminal lake, a grey lake with huge clumps of ice floating around in it. We sat at the lake's edge for hours just gazing at the enormity of this country's tallest peak. Another great New Zealand tramp!

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Twizel Farm

Date: 14/02/2007 | Author: Dave

We stayed on a farm just north of Twizel for two nights. Backpacker accommodation with an amazing view of Mount Cook in the distance. We went for a swim in a stream on the modest 10,000 acre sheep farm. I did not realise that Shaun, the backpacker manager, would recommend the same spot to everyone and I managed to surprise an elderly English couple with my lack of swimming attire as they came teetering over the embankment. However, I made a quick recovery and they were happy to continue with their swim.
Another (ultimately pleasant) surprise at he farm were the two 'shepherds' in the room next to us. Mike and Dean were sitting on our communal deck, with blood splattered legs, as we arrived back from our swim. Nice enough looking gentlemen but too much blood on a chap does tends to colour your initial impression. The following night they took the girls to see their mustering dogs. Nice guys.
I woke up before dawn and took a few photos. The day continued to stay clear so we drove the 60km to the town of Mount Cook and set off on the Hooker Valley Walk. A stunning cloudless day to the end.
Keep running into people from our Doubtful sound trip. Complimentary about the kids, one and all. Nice.

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Overnight cruise

Date: 12/02/2007 | Author: Ella

After Queenstown we had one night on the Fiordland Navigator which is a large motor boat that cruises along the Doubtful Sound Fiord. It sleeps up to 70 people in the really nice cabins or smaller quad share cabins (we were in the quad share cabins)! All of the crew on the boat had multi-jobs, for example, the waiters were also boat drivers for the tender boats and even the captain got involved with the washing up.
The views of Doubtful Sound were absolutely amazing. As we headed along the fiord to the sea we saw some fur seals on the rocks. Then we had our dinner and soon after a gorgeous pod of dolphins started swimming with the boat. They jumped out of the water really high and had about 10 babies with them!
We also went swimming when the boat put it's anchor down. The water felt so freezing after being all snuggled up in a coat and that I wanted to get out as soon as I got in. You could jump off the boat from a higher level and I went up to do it but I stayed up there for too long and got a bit dizzy so didn't manage to do it.
I thought that it was a really exciting trip and very different from the other places we have been staying.
Highly recommended!

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Boats and Dolphins

Date: 12/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went on an overnight cruise to Doubtful Sound and slept in a cabin with 2 bunk beds. The top bunk beds were to high so Mummy and Daddy slept there :-( It was a lovely cruise, a kind lady gave us a lolly pop each. Then we did some great activities. First we went on the tender (the small boat used to carry people to and from the big boat) and we cruised around the fiord and were told some things about it. Then we went kayaking - mummy paddled and pulled me along. Next we went swimming off the back of the boat. Some people jumped off a high platform but I just went off the easy way. Ella tried to jump but she stood there for too long so she got a bit dizzy! We then went out to the open sea, it was very rough but we saw some seals on the rocks. Later on, after dinner, we saw some dolphins swimming around. They were bottle nosed dolphins and were jumping by the side of the boat. We then watched a slide show and learnt about kiwis and other New Zealand birds. Then we went to bed.
In the morning we saw some more dolphins and had breakfast. After breakfast the captain stopped the boat and turned everything off so it was really quiet and we could hear all the sounds of the birds - it was very peaceful.
We loved the cruise.

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Fiordland

Date: 12/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

We booked our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound over a week before we planned to go, as we knew this was a popular trip. This was another activity that was costing us rather more than we planned but it had been recommended by so many people and this is the trip of a lifetime. If a few nights without Pinot Noir is what it takes to experience the best of what this country has to offer so be it!
We left Queenstown early in the morning for the 3 hour drive to Pearl Harbour. Here a small boat took us across Lake Manapouri, then a short bus drive over Wilmott Pass before we reached our 70 berth boat the Fiordland Navigator. The scenery was stunning from the outset and as soon as we stepped on board the crew went out of their way to entertain the kids - they were the only little ones on board and initially they were a bit disappointed that there were no other kids to play with but quickly realised the 10 or so crew were going to make a special fuss of them. I cannot describe how amazing this trip was. We quickly felt at home on board our lovely boat as we cruised down the hidden waterways. A great hour kayaking was followed by a fantastic swim in the cool fiordland waters. Once again the weather was sublime, pretty rare for this area. The piece de resistance for everyone on board was the arrival of a pod of Bottlenose dolphins who came for a ride on the bow of the boat just after dinner (check out the video). You have never seen a restaurant full of people empty so quickly. The dolphins leapt so high and seemed to follow our boat for ages. They turned up again early the following morning, a great way to wake up. Another magical moment that morning came when everything on the boat, from the engine to the ovens, was turned off as we sat in Hall Arm. Lowering the noise floor immediately revealed the natural sounds of the fiord. We were all asked to sit still and silent for just 5 minutes. Ella particularly struggled with this but once the sound of kiwis, bellbirds and moreporks reached her ears she was able to resist the temptation of moving around the boat and just listen to the sounds of silence around her - it was a truly amazing experience. The crew on the boat - all of them - were brilliant. I love New Zealand!!

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Doubtful Sound

Date: 11/02/2007 | Author: Dave

My local contact described the Doubtful Sound cruise as the "The best one-day trip in the country". A massive boast in a country of such beauty. We decided to book on the overnight trip on a largish boat called the Fiordland Navigator. It sleeps about 70 but has a very personal touch, thanks mainly to the very knowledgable and enthusiastic crew. Lovely boat as well. Only about 6 years old. I think aside from the constant amazing scenery the highlight for all of us was probably the twice that the local bottle-nose dolphins appeared. They were with us just to amuse themselves in our boat's ample bow wave. These dolphin, this far south, grow typically up to 10 feet long and were definitely the most impressive I have ever seen. Great jumping. Doubtful Sound will usually have between 2m and 6m of tannin stained fresh water sitting on top of the sea water. Nice for a swim for us non-dolphins as well, from the stationary stern of the Navigator. A brilliant 24hours.

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More Queenstown Adventures

Date: 10/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Queenstown is a really adventurous place and these are some of the adventures. We all watched daddy do a bungy jump on the Nevis bungy high above a river. There was a glass floor in the cage that daddy jumped from. I was absolutely terrified of it but everyone made me lie on it (see the picture)!!!!! We have also been on a Shotover Jet Boat which is a boat that goes along the Shotover river. It was so fantastic. The boat driver could do some amazing tricks and one of them was spinning the boat round and round in circles. One of the most scary bits of the jet boat ride was the driver kept pretending to run the boat in to rocks (but narrowly miss them)!

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More adventures in Queenstown

Date: 10/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went to watch Daddy's bungy jump. We went in a flying fox to a cage high above the river. We went across in order from the heaviest to the lightest so I went last. I watched all the bungy jumpers through the glass floor in the cage. Everyone screamed except Daddy. He was very brave. Ella and I had harnesses on too - we clipped our harnesses to a rope and had a swing in the cage while everyone jumped off the cage!
That afternoon we went on a jet boat. We were twisting and turning around. It was very fast. We saw an old engine on the banks of the river, some people had found it in a tunnel. The man who was driving our driving our jet boat made a special sign before the boat turned so we knew it was going to turn!!!!!!! I was snuggled up with Mummy on one side and Daddy and Ella on the other side so I felt very safe.
After that I felt very hungry so we had dinner in a lovely Italian restaurant called Fat Catz. I had pasta, it was delicious. The restaurant was all about cats. We drew pictures of cats and we read books about cats too. We had a lot of fun in Queenstown.

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Queenstown adventures

Date: 10/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

A week in Queenstown, in an amazing house with a stunning view - it would have been easy to completely relax, kick back and do nothing except read and soak up the rays. However, we're in the adventure capital of the world and that would have seemed like a cop out. The girls did their tandem hang glide - I'm not sure who was the bravest, them, or me for letting them go! When had to sign the liability disclaimer I scrutinised it so carefully I almost didn't let them partake of this 'dangerous' activity. But they had an amazing flight and it was a great experience. Florence was particularly relaxed, but she did have rather a dishy pilot to cling on to and make her feel safe. She's definitely her mother's daughter ;0)!
Dave did his 134m bungy jump with great style and aplomb. We all insisted that we went along to watch, something I was quite regretting as we were being harnessed up just for the flying fox ride to the cage that was suspended nearly 200 metres above the gorge. I have never been good with heights and as I get older my vertigo seems to get even worse. I soon forgot my own fears as I watched the 20 or so people swallow dive off the small lofty ledge - you could smell their fear in the confined space of that cage! I was quite envious of the women jumping off (they were all a lot younger than me!), if only one of my feisty girlfriends had been with me to egg me on, I might have been tempted!
The other must do in Queenstown is the Shotover Jet Boat ride. Our house at Canyon Ridge looks over the Shotover river so we had to give this a go as we'd witnessed at least 30 boats a day careering past the house on the river below us. It was a great but terrifying experience. These incredibly fast boats fly over phenomenally shallow water (they only draw about 10cm), through narrow gorges and hurtle towards granite rock faces, missing them by a hair's breadth. I just kept wondering how many accidents there had been on this trip as a the margin for error seems minuscule (there aren't many at all apparently)! Dave and I had the girls sandwiched between us, with Florence next to me. She was white knuckled and screaming so loudly through it all, I wasn't sure if she was loving or hating it. Of course, when we jumped off the boat at the end of the 20 minute ride both the girls wanted to do it again but once was enough for me!
Needless to say there are more gentle activities to participate in when in Queenstown and we did a few of these too. The highlight for me was a trip to Lake Moke about 20 minutes out of town, the small campsite, lovely crystal clear water and the gorgeous sunny day made me wish we had had our tent with us - a wonderful, quiet spot not far from the madness and mayhem of this busy town.

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Queenstown Fun

Date: 09/02/2007 | Author: Dave

Morning
Was not too nervous. Deliberately booked on the 8a.m departure from town so that I would not dwell on it all day. Thoroughly enjoyed the jump to be honest. Time to think and look on the way down. Very smooth acceleration and very fast. The longer the bungy the smoother the ride apparently and at 134m drop they don't come any longer in NZ than the Nevis. The distance down to the river is 154m so it looks quite near as you turn at the bottom. Well, quite near, compared to the view from the jump pod.
The girls all had great fun out for a close look at my elegant dive. The only 'scary' part is the penguin like hobble out to the end of the dive plank. see video!
Afternoon
The Shotover Jet Boat ride is spectacular. Lots of 360 degree spins at full speed and passing rocks and cliffs with only a few inches to spare. This is said to be the most exciting jet boat ride in NZ and being on one of these beasts is much wilder than just watching them from our house, 100m above the river. Met some lovely folk in Queenstown and both Gabby and I could imagine living there for a while. It would improve my skiing.
From swimming in the warmer lakes to the luge to the steamboat trip across Lake Wakatipu we all had a great time in Queenstown.

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Extreme Adventure Capital of NZ

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Dave

A short drive across the Crown Ranges and we zig-zag down into Queenstown. We are staying a bit over budget on this one A week at a house called Canyon Ridge overlooking the Shotover River Canyon. This is Gabby's dream house and the web-site does not do either the house or the location justice.
To say there's a lot to do in this town is an understatement. I wasn't expecting the girls to want to hang glide but low and behold, day one, off they go on tandem flights from the top of the local ski-field, Coronet Peak.
I personally would like to do 'The Nevis' bungy. At 134m it is the highest bungy jump in the world, courtesy of AJ Hackett the originator of this bizarre act. To be honest, the girls are all insisting that I do it. My lovely family are paying to come out over the canyon as passengers. They want to experience the fear from as close as possible.

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Queenstown

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Straight after Puzzling World we went to Queenstown, where we are now staying. We are staying in a little cottage overlooking Shotover river. All the Shotover jet boats come past our house and make a lot of noise but we are getting used to them.
On 6th February we went hang gliding. My pilot's name was Toby, he took us high above the mountains. We got caught up in a thermal which was a bit bumpy. The most exciting bit was taking off because you had to jump off a cliff and we started going down and down until the wind caught the glider and we went up again. It was absolutey amazing soaring above the mountains like a bird!
On the 7th we went on a luge which is a funny go-cart, the luge was amazing but a bit scary. Our next trip was to a farm on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, we got there by a very old steamboat which was built at about the same time as the Titanic. It was wonderful and we even got to meet the captain, I also did a bit of steering because the captain was so nice. At the farm we saw the farmer sheering sheep and the dog rounding up the sheep.
We are staying in Queenstown for a week and so far it has been really exciting, I hope it carries on like this.

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Queenstown

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Florence

When we arrived in Queenstown we unpacked our bags (because we are staying a whole week) and had a lovely time looking around our house. We made a pretend cafe called Oasis and invited our Mum and Dad over. We also practised cartwheels and handstands on the grass. It's a really lovely house and Ella and I have got our own bedrooms.
The next day we looked around Queenstown to see what activities we could do because there are lots of exciting things to do here. We went to a cafe where Ella and I pretended we were called Pickled Onion and Tomato Ketchup - it was very funny!
We went Hang Gliding the next day. It was very funny but very scary at the same time. My pilot's name was Rick, he made me feel very safe. The most exciting thing was landing. The day after hang gliding we went on a luge (like a go cart). There was a choice of a scenic track and a fast track. We had to go on the scenic track because I was too small to go on my own and you can only go on the fast track if there is only one person in a luge. I went with Dad first (he goes really fast) then Mum. Then dad went on his own on the fast track - it was too fast. Then we went home and practised more cartwheels - Mum does the best.
Another trip we have done was to go to a farm. We got to the farm on an old steam ship. At the farm we saw a sheep dog rounding up the sheep. The man was whistling to the dog to make him stop and he whistled again to make the dog go to the right places. The sheep were really big as they had lots of wool. When they have lots of wool they don't run very fast. Then the dog rounded up some sheep who had their wool shorn off, they can run much faster so the dog has to run much faster. Next we saw sheep shearing. The sheep had lots of wool, the man held it between his legs. The sheep was on it's back so it couldn't run away. The wool he cut off was very dirty but it was very soft.

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Blowing the budget

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

I have developed seriously discerning taste for New Zealand Pinot Noir. Find a good one and it's absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the good ones generally cost at least $40NZ (about 15) and that, coupled with the fact that we are often spending more on accommodation than we should be (after our Havelock experience), means we are blowing the budget in a big way. At the moment we are spending a week in Queenstown in the most amazing house canyonridge - check out the view in the photo - so something has to give. Unfortunately, while we are staying in such opulent surroundings, it has to be the wine. Of course Dave and I have no intention of not drinking at all, so we have to find a cheaper alternative. Having said that, it is really difficult to go back to the farm once you have tasted Paris. Fortunately, NZ's neighbours (Australia) produce some great (cheaper) wines so we have found some reasonable alternatives. However, we have made an agreement that if we spend less than $100 (35) a night on accommodation we can once again treat ourselves to some delicious NZ Pinot Noir.
Naturally, I have booked a few backpackers and homestays for the rest of our stay on the South Island..........

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The Rob Roy

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Dave

A few more good walks and a circuit of the lovely Lake Matheson under our belt, we headed through the spectacular Hasst Pass eastward away from the certain promise of more torrential rain. Don't get me wrong, I think the weather has been kind to us.
Oh yes, and I dragged the girls into an old mining sluice tunnel before we left Franz Josef. Picture a dark tunnel, hand hewn from solid rock, maybe 100m long with icy water running along it's floor. We all stopped mid tunnel for a chat and I went ahead alone to see if it was worth while the others pushing on through the pitch black. As I was forging ahead, my family, sadly, turned around and waded back out. Mainly on Florence's advice... "in case Dad had been eaten by a monster" and they would be next. Ella, on the other hand was insisting Gabby go back in with a fresh torch to rescue me.
It's amazing.... the sky has recently changed colour to the deepest cobalt blue. It always looks big down in this part of the world but I am not sure I have ever seen it this deep a blue. All the hills and mountains are standing in stark relief in the foreground (like a movie blue screen). Driving around Lake Wanaka the view is impossibly beautiful. Queenstown, only an hours drive away, will look very similar in a few days time. I understand where the local rivalry comes from. Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu is 399.3m deep. The bottom is 90m below sea level.
I digress, we are in Wanaka to do the Rob Roy Walk. It turns out to be our favourite walk so far. A steep, 11.5km return track. The end of the walk was classic. It required sitting for an hour to soak it all in. Huge waterfalls, kea birds and ice breaking off the end of the Rob Roy glacier and falling down the valley toward us.
Not sure where my hat went.

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Wanaka

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Ella

In Wanaka, we did the most amazing walk. OK, it was long and tiring but we saw loads of Keas (birds that are only found in the mountains in this part of New Zealand) and they kept trying to steal our food. When we got to the top of the track we sat staring at the gigantic Rob Roy glacier. We watched a big block of ice fall off the glacier and break in to tiny pieces as it tumbled down the cliffs and rocks below it.
Before we left Wanaka, we went to a wonderful place called Puzzling World. It was really amazing and there were illusions everywhere you looked. There was a maze in which you had to go to the blue, green, yellow and red towers and then get back to the place you started from. They maze was very hard - it took us over half and hour to find all towers and then get to the exit! One of my favourite illusions was a room where if you went to one corner you would appear big and if you stood in the other you would appear small. I think Puzzling World is one of the best places I have ever been in my life!!!

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Wanaka

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Florence

When we arrived in Wanaka we went to a lovely house, it had a jacuzzi and a swimming pool. We were staying for just 2 nights. The first morning we had a jacuzzi then walked on the Rob Roy track. We walked a long long way to the glacier. My legs ached after that. We arrived home very late but we watched TV because we weren't tired. We watched a very nice film about a lady who had children. We watched it until the end and were so tired we went straight to bed. We were going to Queenstown the next day but before we left we went to Puzzling World. We went to a maze where you had to go to the red, blue, green and yellow corners but the hardest thing to do was find your way back to the start. There was also a room that made you look bigger and smaller. I loved Puzzling World.

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Wanaka

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

We weren't going to stop in Wanaka but several people we had met here (as well as a few people from home) had said Wanaka was one of their favourite places in NZ so we felt we had to check it out. The town was lovely but the stop was really worth it for the stunning walk on the Rob Roy track. The best walk yet! After crossing the Matukituki river on a great swing bridge the track climbs through a small gorge and finally takes you in to an area of dramatic alpine scenery: glaciers, sheer rock cliffs and countless waterfalls. Even the girls, who had struggled for the steep first half, found the final vista breathtaking and thought the effort was well worth it. There were plenty of playful and inquisitive Keas (NZ Alpine birds) at the top who kept us amused as they tried to take off with our rucksacks and food. Dave's hat went missing on that walk so if you are in the vicinity and spot a Kea in a Dickies baseball cap please let us know. We spent a good hour at the top of the track just staring at the huge (but rapidly retreating) Rob Roy glacier. We even saw a huge slab of ice break off and tumble down the cliff face - the sound of cracking ice thundering down the cliff will live with me for a long time.

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