Auckland & SkyJump

Today has been a day of great excitement for us. After packing up and happily leaving smelly Rotorua we head just out of town to some adventure place Simon and Ali have read about. They try to tempt me out of the car with the promise of a sheep show but I’m not having any of that in the drizzly rain. The plan is to have a look at the Zorbs and bungy and in the end Maisie decides she is going to have a go on the “Freefall Xtreme”. Not too sure why it was called that as rather than falling anywhere you get blown up in the air by a giant fan.

We pay the required 45 dollars and after a quick explanation Maisie gets into her suit and scrambles across the bouncy thing towards the blower. What a disaster! I don’t know whether she was too light but it seems she just can’t stay in the flying position and twists her neck when she falls. Tears all round and we get her out of the suit and Ali into it!

He thinks its great and we laughed so much watching him on it, his cheeks seemed to literally fill with air and were so blown out it looked liked his face would pop!

We stop for lunch in a place called Hamilton and then get back in the car for the rest of the journey to Auckland. We are going to be staying with Simon’s friend Nick and his wife Roni for a few days and I’m looking forward to meeting them and spending a few days at their place.

We get to Auckland and drive past the Skytower in the city centre. Ali has been obsessing about jumping off something tall here in NZ and we tell him it’s now or never. (Cut the talking about it) He decides he’s going for it and we park the car and head for the Skytower Experience desk. I think undoubtedly I’m more scared than he is. Its described as the worlds highest base wire jump (192 m) over 50 m higher than Nevis Highwire Bungy and while Simon gets him in his suit I run off to the toilet for a little cry. I’m proud of him though and I think it’s definitely the best thing to just do it and not spend hours agonising over whether it’s too scary or not.

I give him a quick hug and the fella takes him off. We can watch from a platform and I find I can hardly bear to look up. The tower seems so tall and I can only imagine how nerve wracking it must be standing there by the edge. Before we know it we hear 3, 2, 1 and down he comes, a terrific speed it looked awesome and he’s so thrilled and shaky. Thank god he’s down in one piece!

A pretty quick way to spend 145 dollars and Ali’s delighted when the fella asks him if he wants another go for free. He must be mad but virtually skips back up for another go!

We make our way to Nick and Roni’s house and stop on the way to buy some flowers, wine and beer(called Bowman’s Beer-how cool!). I also get some cashew nut popcorn which turns out to be a big mistake, whilst munching it down I realise the gritty “popcorn” is actually a tooth filling and further investigation reveals half my tooth has fallen off (presumably swallowed)- Shit. If there is one thing I hate more than heights its the dentist and it has taken me the past 7 years to get used to Dr Bram (Stoker) my dentist at home and be able to go there without becoming completely hysterical. On a positive note it’s not hurting much and we decide to think about it later.

At last we reach Nick and Roni’s house and its great to be there, it’s a lovely house, really big but cosy with the wood burner and cheeky dog Drum who has a nip at Maisie as if for fun! They are so welcoming and make us feel very at home straight away. We go to the pub for dinner and sit chatting for a couple of hours over a few beers before heading back and off to bed. Tomorrow Nick has taken the day off to show us around a bit and we’re looking forward to seeing a bit more of Auckland.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

We’ve had a really good day today, when I woke up about 9ish the first thing I noticed was the terrible smell. Due to the sulphuric pools the town of Rotorua absolutely stinks and although the evil eggy smells seem to come and go they definitely have come back with a vengeance this morning. Simon goes and buys some bacon and after having bacon sandwiches for breakfast we get in the car and head for town. First stop is the bookshop, having the time to read has been one of the best things about this trip and I have added joining a library to my list of things to do when we get home. As I enjoyed reading Wild Swans so much and also want to reread it again I am going to send it home in a few days and therefore have to swap Ali’s Alex Rider book instead. What I really want to buy is the latest Harry Potter book but we haven’t seen it on sale anywhere so far here.

We pay for a family ticket (57 dollars) for entrance to the Maori Village of Whakarewarewa. Try saying that when you’ve had a few shandies. The entrance price includes a guided tour of the village and a cultural show. The lady who shows us around is called Irenie and is very friendly and welcoming.

The Maori Village is built in a thermal area and the whole village is a mass of steaming holes, geysers, mud pools and hot water pools. Many of the pools are boiling and although it looks tempting to jump in she explains even the water in the bathing areas is upto 60 degrees and has to be cooled using a cold water hose. She shows us the food cooking areas which all have pots of various meals steaming away. In one of the pools is a big bag of corn cobs. Although I’m a bit dubious about trying these due to the stink Irenie assures us the smell doesn’t permeate the food and the steam is in fact good for you. Hmmm! I don’t know about that, how can anything that smells so vile be good for you!

We stand watching the geyser for a little while; it’s very impressive and can at times reach 30 feet into the air. We couldn’t go too close as apparently the NZ government own the land and themselves run guided tours of the area for a lot more money than we have paid. Irenie also shows us the local hall which is used for ceremonies and we have a wander around the souvenir shop.

At 2pm we watch the cultural show. The 8 Maori performers open the show with a traditional welcome and speech and to be honest in the cold drizzly afternoon air it did all seem a little bit strange. To my ignorant eyes it seemed a bit like a cross between a sort of South Pacific Hula and a gospel church worship. When they performed the famous Haka it did make us laugh as it does appear funny but despite this quite impressive and I can imagine very scary if there were more warriors doing it. I’m not too sure of the authenticity of all this and this wasn’t helped by seeing the “Maori Maidens” leaving afterwards in their jeans in a Landrover with their cigarettes in their mouths but despite all that we loved it. It was a great show performed with loads of enthusiasm by a really friendly group of people.

Volcanic Activity Centre & Craters of the Moon

We got up about 8am and after breakfast set off for the Volcanic Centre. Its seems that there could be no better place in the world for Ali and Maisie to learn about volcanoes than here and despite the fact that it is absolutely pissing down with rain we’re all looking forward to the day. The Volcanic Centre isn’t very big but has some good displays including a model of the worlds 8 tectonic plates which we build, a room where we experience a 6.1 (on the Richter Scale) earthquake, loads of information including explanations of magma, calderas, lava etc and a 20 minutes video showing footage of the eruption of Mt Ruapehu in 1995/6.

We buy a miniature table volcano to play with later and I get a face mask made from thermal mud. Next we stop at the Geothermal Walk area called Craters of the Moon. Although it’s raining very heavily we really want to get out and have a good look around. The kids aren’t as cheerful as earlier and the atmosphere as we make our way around the boardwalks isn’t very happy. Still it only takes us about an hour and is definitely one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The area is covered with steam vents and mud pools and it’s quite a strange experience listening to the steam pouring out of the earth in huge clouds. Although you weren’t supposed to go too near, we did and although expected it’s weird to feel the heat coming out of the ground.

Back in the car we’re fairly soaked and decide to drive to Rotorua about 40 minutes away. When we arrive we vote for pizza hut for lunch and spend an hour in there stuffing our faces which cheers the kids up no end. We book into a motel. It’s a nice place with a Jacuzzi out the back and we pour loads of bubble bath in before jumping in. Our own foam party! The kids have been concentrating on literacy for the past week and practicing their writing and spelling (Maisie!). They do some good work, researching famous volcanoes on the internet, making notes and then presenting the information to us. Ali presented Mt Vesuvius and Kilauea and Maisie presented Mt Fuji and Tambora. Well done kids.

We spent the evening watching a couple of films from the local video shop and eating sweets and chocolate for dinner. Tomorrow we’re going to the Maori Village in an effort to learn a bit about Maori Culture so looking forward to that.

Lake Taupo

We asked the fella if we could have a late check out this morning and he agrees so don’t get going until about 11.30. We are driving to Lake Taupo and I’m looking forward to getting there and admiring some of the scenery. If South Island is famous for the Southern Alps then the North Island is known for volcanoes, hot springs, mud pools and geysers.

We stop after about an hour and have some lunch in a caf� that�s attached to an indoor climbing centre. Maisie doesn’t want a go but Ali is straight up the wall. (I guess his fear of heights has now gone) It was really high and he had a good time trying the different walls although he said it was quite tiring.

We get to Lake Taupo and book into a motel with a lake view. Lake Taupo was the site of the world’s largest ever volcanic explosion and the lake fills the remaining crater. On the way we passed through Tongariro National Park and 3 volcanoes including Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. Mt Ruapehu is the highest and most active of the regions volcanoes. In 1995 and 1996 Ruapehu erupted showering volcanic rock high into the air and emitting massive clouds of ash and steam. (Ruined the ski season) Mt Ngauruhoe is famous as the mountain used in Lord of the Rings as Mt Doom, as well as being smaller than the other volcanoes it is also younger and the slopes to its summit are still perfectly symmetrical.

I spent the evening reading my book- Wild Swans by Jung Chang. It’s an amazing story and makes me want to go back to China. I wish I had read it before we went there as much of the author’s life was spent in Chengdu (One of the places we visited). I think it is giving me a bit more understanding of the Chinese people and I think I am realising more the true extent of the hardships experienced by the Chinese during the Mao years. Difficult for me to comprehend really.

North Island

We were up bright and early this morning as we have to catch the ferry at 9am. We were supposed to take the car back yesterday but Simon rang the company and we book it for another 5 days. He got this for 100 dollars which is good and we now plan to hand it back in Auckland.

The ferry is OK a big passenger ferry with shops, tv lounge and cinema etc. We sit reading for the majority of the three hour journey and it seems to go faster than I expected. When we get of the other end we head for a place called Palmerston North. There isn’t too much here but it’s halfway to Lake Taupo our next destination and there is the NZ Rugby Museum to have a wander round, which we do. It’s quite good, so much information about the All Blacks and I have to share the toilet with a huge cardboard cut out of Jonah Lomu. ( The only rugby player I had heard of until I met Simon)

We decide we will stay the night here and book into a smart looking motel. Its 140 dollars but the fella did knock 30 dollars off the price and we’re swayed by the free wifi and the lure of a Jacuzzi/Spa in the conservatory at the back of the apartment. – Yay! We all warm up and have a good soak, actually it’s too hot and we can only stick it for about 20 minutes. Probably enough for a spa anyway, I feel a bit dizzy afterwards!

We decide we’ll have pizza for dinner and Simon goes to get it, kids have just informed me tonights offering on Sky is Mr and Mrs Smith so guess we’ll be watching that. I am looking forward to getting to Fiji so we can start going out for dinner again at night. Because it’s cold here and the motels are quite pricey we tend to stay in, in an effort to save a bit of cash and keep warm!

Whale Watching

We’ve had a great day today. After checking out of our motel we drive down to the quay and check in at the Whale Watch reception desk for 10.30. We have time for a quick coffee and watch a short documentary about the Giant Sperm Whales we are hoping to see today. We couldn’t have picked a better day for it. Its beautiful, clear blue skies, nice and warm and lovely calm sea.

We catch a bus to the boat which is a large, fast catamaran called Tohora. Only one company offers trips to whale watch and although it keeps the prices quite high its good as it means the whales aren’t too harassed. There are several different types of whales, dolphins and seals found just off the coast here and the guide Emma explains that it’s due to a huge and very deep chasm in the seabed which is found just off the Kaikoura shoreline. In particular the Sperm Whales like to live in deep water scouring the bottom of the ocean for their favourite food of squid and there are resident and migratory whales in the area at the moment.

We motor out to sea doing around 26 knots and note the spotter plane overhead. As well as the planes the company uses equipment that pick up the echo location sounds the whales make. It’s really exciting, we’re only allowed on deck once a whale has been spotted and after about 10 minutes Emma excitedly urges us all on deck quickly. Four whales have been spotted on the surface and we head for two that are together. The whales come to the surface to breathe but have an amazing capacity for holding their breath (Over 2 hours). They usually lie on the surface of the water for about 10 minutes before diving again.

It is awesome! So amazing seeing them, they’re massive up to 25 metres long and I really feel so privileged to be able to share such a wonderful experience with Simon and the kids. When the whale decides to dive after 5 minutes the image of it tail flicking up in the air in the classic pose has everyone on the boat entranced.

We spend about an hour out on the water and we’re so lucky, we get to see at least 6 good and close sightings of the Sperm Whales with a lovely flick of their tail when diving on 3 occasions. We motor back to the shore and on the way view a Fur Seal colony sunning themselves on the rocks. It’s been a great trip, well worth the money and we’ve all loved it.

On the way back we listen to Emma giving some information about the threat to the whales including whaling, (Goes on in 23 countries – Japan, Norway and Iceland -worst offenders) global warming, accidental capture in nets, toxic wastes and plastic. She tells us some horror stories such as a whale found beached in Queensland in OZ a few years ago with 26 square metres of plastic in its stomach. A sad and sobering end to the morning.

We get back and have some lunch before buying a few books in a second hand bookstore, then its back in the car for another 2 and a half hour journey to Picton. We arrive around 6pm and book into a cheapo motel (100 dollars) before going shopping for dinner. I’m going to bed now I’ve been tired all day and need a good kip. Tomorrow we’re catching the ferry to the North Island and have to get up a little earlier.

Kaikoura

Today has been such a long day. Seven hours of almost solid driving from the South West coast to the North East. The weather was so bad, really heavy rain and mist and our views of lakes, mountains and rivers were only occasionally broken up by sheep. We arrived at Kaikoura around 6pm and having found a motel room book a trip to go whale watching tomorrow. Fairly expensive at $380 but it sounds cool and we’re all quite excited about going.

We go up the pub for dinner and have roast pork. Not as good as home but not bad. Back at the motel I go to bed leaving Simon writing yesterday’s blog about glacier walking. Early start tomorrow.

Walking on the Glacier

We don’t wake up this morning until 10 o’clock, how lazy is that? There’s no sign of Simon and he’s taken the car so I think he’s probably been up for ages. We bought some bacon yesterday-yum and had bacon, egg and mushroom muffins for breakfast to keep us going on our glacier walk this afternoon.

We spend the rest of the morning doing schoolwork. Maisie does some literacy, I read her a passage about glaciers and we then correct her spellings and look at sentence structure. Simon and Ali do some maths, I have no idea what type.

At 1.30 we change into warm clothes and get in the car. We’ve arranged a 4 hour glacier trip which will entail about 3 hours walking. As the weather is loads better today, no rain and quite warm I’m looking forward to get out and about. Getting out of the car, disaster strikes and I seem to twist my already painful knee a bit more. What a nightmare, straight away I know I won’t be able to go walking on the glacier and I’m so disappointed I could cry. I have been looking forward to doing this so much and due to time constraints we can’t postpone it for a few days. In the end we decide Simon will go with the kids and I go back to the motel.

Its 3pm now- feeling really pissed off and bored, I’ll get Simon to write about their experience on the ice later.

(My effort – Simon)

Having packed Charlotte off back to the motel with the car, we head into the boot room to get kitted out for our glacier walk. Once we’re ready we head off on an old Bedford coach for a 10 minute ride to as near as we can get to glacier terminal face. During the journey our guide, Sam, informs us of the detail of the walk we have ahead of us. This includes hour walk to near the face, then 1 hour up a narrow cliff edge hugging path with 500 steps, we then have an hour on the glacier and finally about an hour back down to bus. At this point Maisie is a little apprehensive as to how she will cope with this amount of exertion.

We arrive and our little group of 10 plus guide begin our trek towards the glacier. It’s fairly easy going at first and the kids are impressed with their first sighting of the Fox glacier. We stop for photos and Sam gives us some history about the glacier and points out where recent icefalls have closed the cave where the terminal river flowed through.

Next we head up around the almost vertical side of the Fox valley to get to the area where we can get onto the glacier. The going now was getting seriously tough and a little scary! Scary, especially when Sam stopped us and informed us that the next 50m is a major rockfall risk area (A major rockfall closed the track for repairs just last week!) and if he yells ‘Rock’ we have to leg-it along the track. Ali gets particularly excited by this and feels he’s in a real adventure now.

When we finally reach the glacier we stop to put on our crampons (spikes for the soles of your boots) and pick up our alpenstocks (Spiked walking sticks), we also get wrapped up with hats and gloves as its pretty chilly with all that ice around. Up close the glacier is seriously impressive and quite eerie looking. It a very strange landscape with all the peaks, crevasse’s and the strange blue glow from the ice. The kids absolutely love the ‘giant ice cube’ and can’t stop licking the glacier much to the amusement of the rest of our group.

Sam takes us to a small ice tunnel, after checking it out for safety he invites anyone to have a crawl through. Ali and I are up for it, I squeeze/wriggle/shuffle in first. It’s a pretty tight fit and I’m glad to emerge safely from the other end, Ali also makes it through with a big grin. We have great fun exploring around the glacier but no time at all, it seems, its time for start our journey back. Ali and Maisie have found this a great trip and we all wish Charlotte could have seen it too. However in hindsight there’s no way she could have coped with her injured knee.

We leave the ice and head off back down track. Maisie troops off in the middle of the group and I don’t catch up with her again until we’re nearly at the bottom. She tells me that she is definitely getting better at this ‘Walking stuff!’ That said we are all happy to get back on our bus for the short ride back Fox Glacier township. When we get back, Charlotte is waiting with the car and we head down to the motel with a much appreciated hot dinner ready and waiting for us.

Fox Glacier

Today we have travelled from Wanaka to Fox Glacier. The journey takes around 4 hours and the weather is shocking. It’s raining very heavily, the fog and mist is rolling in across the mountains and it’s still freezing cold. Simon and Ali took ages scraping the car before we left whilst Maisie and I sat shivering inside. We drive slowly as the roads are quite narrow and we have to go through a mountain pass to get there.

Once we get closer to the West Coast the landscape changes massively, from mountainous, sparse brown land to lush, tropical looking vegetation, almost like the jungle in Malaysia. We drive all along the coast and pass red sandy beaches, loads of boulder fields and creeks with nice names like Dismal Creek and Grave Creek. Seems quite appropriate for today.

We’re all feeling a bit achy today from our skiing or boarding and I’ve now got some pain in my left knee that’s causing me to limp a bit. Good job we’re not going walking on the glacier until tomorrow. We arrive at the backpackers we’ve booked and decide we will try a motel instead. For 120 dollars we get a lovely lodge style place with loads of space and two rooms.

Spent the afternoon watching the Discovery channel, after the past three days it’s good to crash out in front of the telly with cheese and biscuits and a few beers. This is the life.

Macdougalls Quad, Skyline & Weston Gap

Today we were hoping it would have snowed overnight but no such luck. On the way we pick up a girl called Jackie, another snowboard instructor, from Lake Tahoe in California. She chats away and gives Ali a few tips on the way- perfect. It’s cold again today but once we arrive on the mountain I’m pleased to see it’s a bit clearer and the sun is struggling to break through.

We sort Maisie out and Ali dashes off. I tell the instructor Steve that I want to go on the mountain but am shitting myself about the chairlift and he says he’ll come on with me and I’ll be ok. In the end it was, I was too concerned about the bitterly cold wind whistling around my throat and getting off the lift at the top to worry too much about the height and in the end managed to ski off the lift without falling over.

We start to make our way down the mountain, I keep doing my big turns and don’t go too fast until I hit some icy patches, it all goes a bit tits up at this point and I fall in spectacular fashion all arms and legs everywhere. Steve looks a bit concerned as I’m all screwed up like a broken doll but I’m ok, not hurt and it’s just a matter of unfolding myself and getting up which I manage to do unaided. At last we’re at the bottom and I really thrilled, I feel like I’ve achieved something good and although I never went that fast I’m ready to go again.

We ski down MacDougalls, Skyline and Western Gap again twice and in the afternoon I go down with Simon. He’s doing really well, more confident than me and has done some jumps and stuff. I’m not so confident with him and fall over again but not too hard and get up ok. I meet up with Maisie and we sit swapping fall stories and drinking green tea for a few hours. (Hoping those anti oxidants will limit the damage the sun and wind has done to my face over the past few days!) Ali comes back around 4 having thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon. He got really lucky again and had 2 more private lessons leaving him feeling really confident on his snowboard and doing jumps and turns.

It’s been a fantastic experience and we’ve all loved it, I found it much less tiring and a lot easier than I expected and I’m relieved we all escaped relatively unscathed with nothing more than a few bruises. I feel sorry that we can’t have any longer as I think we would all improve with more time. Definitely going to try snowboarding though next time. Still we’re moving on tomorrow and I’m looking forward to walking on the glacier. Tracey emailed and said she has just walked on it for 6 hours! Somehow I don’t think I need 6 hours to experience it. An hour will do.