The Gay Adventures – New Zealand part 2/2

South Island

This is the second and last part of my New Zealand impressions post. I suggest you read the first part here, if you have not done that already. As the title suggests, our small group was characterised by cheerfulness and lighthearted excitement; we were the merry men.

Abel Tasman

The Bluebridge ferry took us across the Cook strait in comfort and we landed in Picton, from where we drove to Abel Tasman National Park.

Otto, Piggy, Angry Bird, Swiss guy and the English bloke were going to overnight at the Old MacDonalds farm, ee i ee i o, to regain our energy from the oh, so stressful night in the capital. And we needed a lot of energy as we were going to do a 15km hike. The plan was that we’d be taken on the Pirate Bay beach with a watertaxi and we’d have find our way back to the farm.

After numerous photostops and group photos later, we did find our farm again.

Punakaiki

There is a huge fur seal colony at the Cape Foulwind, the closest point to Australia in NZ.

We did not get any close encounters with the seals, but instead met weka, a wingless and flightless bird. The local wekas were very tame and one even tried to get on our bus. I wanted to ask if it was because of my hat, but apparently wekas have different dialect than angry birds. After this photostop, we continued our journey to Punakaiki. These limestone formations are stacked like pancakes, hence the name Pancake rocks.

Stormy weather and flood tide resulted in amazing photos of water blowing out from the blowholes.

Franz Josef Glacier

The highlight of all of my NZ trip was the hike on the Franz Josef glacier.

Our first hike was cancelled as the weather turned bad all of a sudden. We were the first group who did not get flown onto the ice, and luckily so, the previous groups spent there the whole day instead of three hours they had paid for. They were flown out for dinner and hence didn’t get the experience of spending a night in the safety of a container on the ice.

We did have to use our cutest puppy eyes as well as other negotiation techniques, to get Otto to phone his boss and amend our itinerary as we did want another try to make the hike. The next morning our luck had changed and the weather was just peachy.

Warm sunshine, clear sky and the helicopter had no problems flying as in and out and we spend a nice couple of hours on the ice.

Queenstown animal farm

Flashback to the second day of our trip; Raglan on the North Island. The Hawaiian dude had shown up for dinner in a cool Piggy hat. It made such a great impression on my attention seeking soul that the next day I bought myself an Angry Bird hat.

Back to Queenstown, on the South Island, where Piggy and I were getting a looooot of attention because of our warm and funny hats. So much, that the Swiss guy and English bloke also bought themselves hats. We presented also Otto with a hat so that he would be one with the team.

From now on, the Gay Adventures consisted of Piggy, Angry Bird, Dumbo, Pengu and Puss. This phenomena was getting lot of attention already. Random people on the street smiled and said compliments, one mom even stopped her car to show us to her children on the backseat. Two Australian real estate agents wanted to join our jolly group after we shared a table at the world famous Fergburger. The realtors stopped by to buy funny animal hats too.

I am sure even the gloomiest man left with a smile after meeting a group of young, handsome and sober men in their animal hats that usually are worn by six-year-olds. I know I would’ve.

Queenstown Animal Farm

Queenstown Animal Farm

I did not do bungy or skydive at all.

Let’s face it, I am not a seasoned adrenalin junkie, therefore I needed to build up my adrenalin doses gradually. I started my medications with a scenic boat ride. The lake was calm, weather was sunny and we stopped for tea and biscuits with my fellow passengers, three Irish girls, before heading back to port with full 40 knots speed. Wohoo!

Second day it was time to increase the adrenalin dose and do the Luge.

This NZ invention is a kart, a gravity-racer car, which you can steer or brake with the handle. Gravity will accelerate you to great speeds and off the veneer covered track if you don’t slow down for the chicanes. At the luge track were not many people during this cold afternoon and right after the introduction lap, the personnel encouraged us into racing. And I can tell you, when five animals race, it’s carnage!

On our very last lap, Dumbo wedged himself between Angry Bird and Pengu and as all physicians and Big Bang Theory fanatics know, no two particles can occupy same space at the same time. So Pengu was forced out of the track and onto the grass, head and hands first. After debriefing and replaying the GoPro video recordings, he washed the blood away and had some first aid beer and all worries and road rash were soon forgotten.

On the third day, I was ready for the ultimate thrill for me on this trip; the Big Red jetboat on the famous Shotover River. The same one, where one tourist was killed and 11 injured in an accident in 1999, another one killed in 2008 accident. During the thrilling ride the driver steers the 700 horsepower jetboat full speed in a narrow canyon, sliding towards the rocks and veering away at last minute, leaving only centimeters to spare. Another stunt is when the driver makes a 360 degree turn on the water.

I am sure skydiving and maybe even bungy is safer than jetboat, but I was rather enjoying the ride and not at all afraid. So strange is the human mind.

Doubtful Sound

Now, I am a man who likes complexity.

If I was a simple or smart man, I had visited a fjord in Norway, where I was living for four years. If I was sensible man, I would’ve come to New Zealand when the road to Milford Sound fiord was open. But no, I wanted the visit the Doubtful Sound fiord, which is one of the most remote places on earth. From Queenstown, it took three hours of driving, one hour boat trip and half an hour shuttle bus before we arrived in Deep Cove, the very end of the fjord.

No time to waste, we were soon wearing fancy kayaking skirts, walking barefoot on small pebbles, carrying the kayaks into the water. Those pebbles were not round and smooth as exemplary pebbles from the encyclopedia. No, they were sharp and pointy and hurt like hell. Add in the soup the aggressive sandflies who were trying to feast on the skin I could not cover, my feet and face, and you can imagine how focused I was in listening to our kayak instructor go through the safety briefing. All I could think of was why the hell aren’t we getting in the kayaks and paddle out of the reach of the sandflies. My rational mind was determined to deal with the killer waves, killer whales, killer dolphins, eskimo rolls or whatever when needed, if we could just start paddling away from the shore asap.

Away from the sandflies from HELL!

Kayaking in the fiord was quite boring and uneventful, although the scenery was breathtaking and even one seal came to say hello to us kayakers. Then the wind got very strong and we had to paddle hard to be able to get around the Elisabeth island and turn back. The return trip was much more leisurely, thanks to the sail we strung between the three kayaks.

The next morning when we were about to leave, a couple of bottlenose dolphins were playfully celebrating our departure in the fjord. Such a lovely place is Doubtful Sound, have no doubts about it.

While waiting to board the ferry back to the civilisation and the road network, the disembarking passengers were amused by our animal farm hats. We were constantly targeted by photographers and camera owners alike and one mother and her teenage daughter even wanted to pose with us. And we played the role of a mascot with pleasure.

The only thing missing was a welcome dance – and a hat on the ground to collect donations 🙂

The Otago Central Rail Trail

For those who like to ride (bicycle, horse or whatever), the Rail Trail is highly recommended and along its full 150km length through the rural New Zealand, there are numerous opportunities for refreshments, dining and overnighting in small villages and housing concentrations with a name.

St. Bethans, population 7, is an old gold mining town, where we had a beer at the haunted hotel. The barmaid was as vintage as was the hotel and gave us a challenge. Piggy accepted the local traditional manhood test and tried to go through a hole in the ceiling girder. No success, so Piggy remained Piggy instead of Piggy enjoying free drinks. Overnighting was arranged conveniently in a pub in Wedderburn, where we might have enjoyed our own drinks if not for the strict “no BYO” policy. Officially, we did not do anything that wasn’t allowed. Ever.

The second day we woke up early so that I could show off my skills at the Manioto curling ice rink. Curling is a curious wintersport combining the best parts of bowling and housekeeping. Turned out that I had forgotten most of my curling skills and after three rounds the score was tie between the two teams. Soon after the game we found ourselves in Oturehua, in a bar, sitting by the fireplace on a cold but sunny winter day and appreciating the goodness of life. We don’t always know how lucky we are.

My bike somewhere on the Otago Rail Trail

My bike somewhere on the Otago Rail Trail

The bikes arrived and we started making our way on the soft and moist track that once was a railway serving the gold mines and gold diggers. We biked in a cold fog and sometimes the visibility was almost null, but I enjoyed it and had many photostops. So many, that the rest of the animal farm had to wait for me several times and were complaining that my speed was slower than that of 19 year old girls. Nevertheless, 29.2 km later we called it a day at Omakau, the fifth village for us in the Otago region.

We treated our sore asses with orally consumed beer, or double espresso in my case, and were taken to jail.

Christchurch

“Christchurch is not a town, it’s a donut with a hole in the middle”

..said some random man at a gas station when Otto was refueling our bus. Self irony and black humour is a defence mechanism, and it was obvious that this Christchurchian was not happy with the destiny he and his town shared. Maybe he also had spent some time in the Jailhouse in the old days, before it was converted into a hostel.

The town experienced four tragic earthquakes with roughly six month intervals in 2010-2012, the second one killing nearly 200 people and reshaping the town totally. The once glorious cathedral was partly fallen down and surrounded by a huge construction site with many badly damaged buildings yet to be blown down for rebuild. The shopping mall was made of 40-foot long containers that usually are being hauled around the world on trucks, trains and ships. Although there is plenty of work to do, the donut is struggling to get enough resources as many have chosen to leave the town after the quake.

During my visit, Chch was a sad donut with sad looking people in it. However, I am sure time will heal the wounds and one day Chch will be described as a freshly baked and warm donut with tasty jam inside, like its antipodal city, A Coruña in Spain.

Kaikoura

We did our time in the jailhouse, were released and left Chch for Kaikoura, the city of whales in Maori language.

I kid, I kid. I don’t know what Kaikoura means in Maori, but my guess is justified as Kaikoura is one of the few places where it is extremely easy to see whales of all kinds. Whales enjoy swimming in the underwater canyons more than a kilometer deep and one happens to be extremely near the coast of Kaikoura. Josh, our whaling guide was making us feel privileged by saying that average tour sees two whales, whereas we saw seven over the course of the three hour tour. I can not find a word to describe the feeling of being next to one of the worlds biggest animals having a breather on the surface before majestically diving to continue his underwater games with his mates.

Oh wait, our animal sightings did not end with the whales. On our way to Picton ferry terminal, we stopped at a creek full of seal pups splashing in the water. All the water acrobatics are just fun for them but at the same time builds their swimming skills and prepares them for the hardships of the ocean life. The life among killer whales, sharks and other predators.

Wellington

Every NZ driver in the tourism business has a nickname.

It was Mittens, who picked us up from the ferry terminal in Wellington. We spent one night again in the capital, where the southbound G Adventures tour also had just arrived. One half of the newcomers was going to explore the South Island like we had two weeks earlier, the other half was returning to Auckland with us. As the newcomers had their celebration, we joined their dinner in an attempt to bond with them. Everyone had a good time and some mingling was witnessed between these two separate social groups. However, the non-success was obvious the next morning when the Gay Adventures occupied the front row seats on the bus and the newcomers the last rows, leaving one empty row as a separator. 🙂

A good reminder that the power of alcohol fades when the buzz fades.

The road trip to Auckland was long and uneventful. In Auckland, the Gay Adventures fellowship, consisting of all meat lovers and no vegetarians, had one last supper in a very nice steak house, departed each to their own and lived happily ever after.

Rainy days in Auckland

After the G Adventures tour, I spend some days in Auckland before heading back to Australia.

Auckland is a vanilla city. It is not because I spent a lot of my time at the local coffee club sipping vanilla latte, but because of the observations I made at the coffee club or strolling in the CBD, just watching people and the street life. There are lots of Asian people in Auckland, including the biggest Japanese community I’ve ever seen outside Japan. Beggars and street artists are mainly white people with the occasional Maori. I did not manage to see any ethnic immigrants begging.

One morning I was again having breakfast at the coffee club and my next table neighbour was a dilapidated blonde man dressed in a light blue hoodie enjoying three smoothies in a row. I was too shy to ask this gay-ish man if it was a magic smoothie, the ultimate hangover cure or something else.

Following the advice from the hostel staff, I managed to find a good sushi restaurant. So good in fact, that we had little bit of language barrier with the waitress, she spoke Engrish with a terrible Japanese accent that I could almost not understand. Luckily the good old “finger on the menu” technique worked, but that left no room for deeper discussions about the zen of sushi or meaning of life.

Auckland

Auckland

The last night I had Indian food for the first time after leaving India two months earlier. It was a nerve-wrecking experience as my memories were not associated with the spicy aromas pleasantly hitting my tastebuds but rather the nausea and Delhi Belly I managed to catch in Delhi during my last week in India. Anyways, I asked the waiter to make the lamb Rogan Josh spicy as it would be in India. The sikh smiled under his turban and replied to me in Hinglish “No worries, sir”.

Best of both cultures, aye?

Final observations

I wanted to write that all of NZ and Oz lacks new, expensive cars that are bought as status symbols to impress the Joneses.

But that is not true. What strikes me is that there are still plenty of 80’s Japanese cars in good condition still on the roads. These cars are now almost completely extinct in Scandinavia. Maybe the weather is more preserving here or maybe they are financially viable option still, I don’t know.

Coming back to Australia, it struck me how flat and dry it is in comparison with the mountainous, green and lush NZ. Also, Australia has only three different colours of 5 Seeds, whereas NZ has dozens of different cider brands, Rochdale pear being my new all time favourite. Both NZ and Oz suffer from the lack of tea. It is nearly impossible to find anything else than bagged Earl Grey in restaurants.

Abel Tasman Voyages

Abel Tasman Voyages

New Zealand was originally named Nieuw Zeeland, after the Zeeland province in the Netherlands, home country of the explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman. Australia was known as Nieuw Holland, later as Terra Australis, Southern Land, which then mutated into Australia in the mouths of the Englishmen.

-Elmo

Post scriptum

You who had the patience to read everything, and you who scrolled down here by accident, can enjoy more photos on my “Three a day, round the world gallery”

posted: 13 June 30
under: Lifestyle, Observation, Wildlife