A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about light aircraft

Backpacking down South Island's West Coast

All aboard the party bus!

semi-overcast 17 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

Travelling alone with everything on my back and a lot of distance to cover, joining a backpacking tour felt the best way to get the essential NZ South Island experience. Having settled into my hostel in Greymouth I wandered down for a tour of the local Monteith's Brewery whose Amber Ale I had developed a taste for. The tour itself made me sad with the brewing now done in a large plant elsewhere with the micro brewery that remained only used for researching new beers. However at the beer tasting afterwards I met and joined for dinner 4 lovely ladies already on the Magic Bus I was joining who gave me the lowdown on what life on the bus with our driver "Soap" was like; the next 9 days were going to be fun!

YHA Queenstown Lakefront - typical of the hostels I stayed in

YHA Queenstown Lakefront - typical of the hostels I stayed in


Example of a small hostel dormitory (from YHA Taronga on North Island)

Example of a small hostel dormitory (from YHA Taronga on North Island)


Inside Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth

Inside Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth


Our Magic Bus and crew outside the Haast Visitor Centre (I am kneeling at the front, 3rd from the left)

Our Magic Bus and crew outside the Haast Visitor Centre (I am kneeling at the front, 3rd from the left)

After a boisterous welcome aboard the bus the following morning we stopped at the Bushman Centre at Pukekara. Not a lot to see per se in the small museum but they did screen a humourous macho 20 minute video about deer hunting - NZ South Island West Coast style! Basically deer are an introduced species and with no predators bred like rabbits destroying everything. At first they were ruthlessly hunted but then it was realised profit could be made by capturing and farming them. Then the video gets fun because ultimately the way they are caught is by flying low in a helicopter and leaping on them with a net - maniacs!

The Bushman Centre at Pukekura

The Bushman Centre at Pukekura


Deer in the paddock by the Bushman's Centre

Deer in the paddock by the Bushman's Centre

The highlight of the day though was the afternoon heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, we were given coats, boots & crampons and flown on a short but spectacular helicopter flight to the start of the glacier. We were then taken on 2 hour hike across the ice, crossing & climbing crevasses and descending through ice tunnels. It was brilliant and very different from my previous glacial experience during my trip at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.

The view from the helicopter flying on to the Franz Josef Glacier

The view from the helicopter flying on to the Franz Josef Glacier

Hikers disembarking onto the ice from the helicopter

Hikers disembarking onto the ice from the helicopter


We wait while our guide makes sure the ice screws holding the safety line are still secure

We wait while our guide makes sure the ice screws holding the safety line are still secure


We make our down a crevasse on the Franz Josef Glacier

We make our down a crevasse on the Franz Josef Glacier


Me emerging from an ice tunnel on the Franz Josef Glacier

Me emerging from an ice tunnel on the Franz Josef Glacier


A helicopter taking off from the glacier returning hikers back to the village

A helicopter taking off from the glacier returning hikers back to the village

Early the next morning we reached Lake Matheson and after a short walk across a deliberately wobbly bridge reached the viewpoint where Mount Cook, Mount Tasman (the 2 highest mountains in NZ) and the Fox Glacier are famously reflected in the lake like a mirror. It turns out the connection between the glacier and the top UK selling Fox's Glacier Mints is a myth - one is named after an 1870s NZ prime minister while other is named after their Leicester based inventor in 1918!

I didn't know it at the time but the new data card I inserted into my camera after Franz Josef turned out to be a dud and I lost all the photos I took for the next couple of days. Fortunately I was with friends trying to take very similar photos to myself and they have helped out so these are "borrowed" photos until Milford Sound. Thanks again guys for helping out - you know who you are!

The wobbly bridge on the track down to Lake Matheson, every step and the whole bridge seems  to move to the left or right!

The wobbly bridge on the track down to Lake Matheson, every step and the whole bridge seems to move to the left or right!


The famous mirror reflection of the mountains on Lake Matheson; unfortunately it was not at its best while we there but still impressive none the less

The famous mirror reflection of the mountains on Lake Matheson; unfortunately it was not at its best while we there but still impressive none the less

We then had to cover a lot of miles from the relative flat of the West Coast snaking up through the mountains and dense forest of the Haast Pass to our next overnight stop at Wanaka. On the way up we stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls which Soap our driver said were "magic" and that if we stared at them for 30 seconds and then looked slightly away we'd know why. I'm not entirely sure I saw what was intended but as I stared I did see what looked like a warp in my vision in the trees next to the top of the falls which was pretty eerie!

Thunder Creek Falls (aka the Magic Waterfall)

Thunder Creek Falls (aka the Magic Waterfall)

Once we reached the summit it was relatively flat driving alongside Lakes Wanaka (26 miles - 43 kilometres, 70 square miles in size & 4th largest in NZ) and Hawea (21 miles - 35 kilometres long, 54 square miles in size). Our final stop before overnighting in Wanaka was at Puzzling World, a tourist attraction built around optical illusions and puzzles. It had a maze but it's signature attraction was its leaning tower outside, the idea was you took a photograph from an angle such that it looked like you were holding it up!

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka


The Leaning Tower at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka

The Leaning Tower at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka


Einstein is always watching you! Another optical illusion at Puzzling World

Einstein is always watching you! Another optical illusion at Puzzling World

The next day began with "Soap" our driver playing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" full blast, we were approaching Queenstown, "the adrenalin capital of the world". First stop was at the historic AJ Hacket Bridge over the Kawarau River, the home of the original bungy jump and nearly a quarter of the bus had signed up to have a go! Needless for me to say but with my fear of heights I wasn't one of them... although there was something gnawing away inside of me saying if I could just get enough courage (or madness) to do it for the couple of minutes it takes I'd love to be able to say I'd done it!

The historic AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge over the Kawarau River

The historic AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge over the Kawarau River


Bungy Jumper eye view of the river

Bungy Jumper eye view of the river


We have take-off... only 142 feet (43 metres) to the river below!

We have take-off... only 142 feet (43 metres) to the river below!


Ignoring the bungy jumping for a minute, it is actually quite a pretty gorge!

Ignoring the bungy jumping for a minute, it is actually quite a pretty gorge!

All fired up we had a lunch stop in Arrowtown and went in search of the meat pies from the local bakery. Hand-sized meat pies baked fresh daily from the local bakery in every small town are considered the national dish in New Zealand and although similar, invariably taste a lot better than the steak pies back home in the UK. Arrowtown itself is a quaint small town which has managed to retain more than 60 of its original wooden and stone buildings from its gold rush days of the 1860s.

Arrowtown

Arrowtown


The Arrowtown Bakery

The Arrowtown Bakery

It was then onwards to Queenstown - where most towns have chemists and supermarkets, Queenstown instead has agents for bungy jumping, jetboating and skydiving and a host of bars and clubs! Our Bus was in a party mood having won the "Battle of the Buses" bar games tournament against the rival tour bus companies the night before in Wanaka and we now enjoyed a few nights in the pubs, clubs and restaurants of Queenstown (and off course the meat pies from the world famous Fergbakery in Shotover Street).

Party time in Queenstown with my Magic Bus crew (I'm first on the left)

Party time in Queenstown with my Magic Bus crew (I'm first on the left)


All you can eat Pizza Night with my Magic Bus crew in Queenstown (I'm first on the left)

All you can eat Pizza Night with my Magic Bus crew in Queenstown (I'm first on the left)

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls lakes bridges animals snow museums food beer party glaciers tour theme_parks videos hostelling magic_bus helicopters breweries light_aircraft nz_south_island outdoor_pursuits frontier_towns Comments (0)

Onward from Queenstown

Gondola ride up to Bob's Peak, sailing across Lake Wakatipu and then onward to Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo

semi-overcast 17 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

Queenstown is proud of its "Global Adventure Capital" billing but I did manage to find a couple of less adrenaline fuelled things to do while I was there. For starters there is the 2,395 feet (730 metre) long and 1,590 feet (460 metre) high Gondola ride up to Bob's Peak with terrific views of Queenstown, Lake Watatipu and the surrounding mountains. Needless to say this being New Zealand (and Queenstown especially) you can also skydive and bungy jump (and a lot more besides) but I decided not surprisingly for those who know me to give these a miss!

The Skyline Gondola up to Bob's Peak at Queenstown

The Skyline Gondola up to Bob's Peak at Queenstown


View of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from the top of the Gondola

View of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from the top of the Gondola


Signpost high above Queenstown, London is only 18,946 kilometres (11,772 miles) away!

Signpost high above Queenstown, London is only 18,946 kilometres (11,772 miles) away!


The Gondola back down to Queenstown

The Gondola back down to Queenstown

Skydivers coming into land high above Shotover Street (note the shop names - only in Queenstown!)

Skydivers coming into land high above Shotover Street (note the shop names - only in Queenstown!)

Lake Watatipu at 52 miles (84 kilometres) is the second longest in New Zealand with Queenstown situated on the north shore of a s-bend about half way down its length. In the past the lake was the primary means of transport with 4 steamers plying for trade but today only the TSS Earnslaw (built in Dunedin in 1912 and transported in pieces overland) remains. She sails several times a day loaded with tourists on its popular 7 mile (11 kilometre) trip over to Walter Peak on the south side of the lake.

TSS Earnslaw berthed at its wharf on Queenstown Bay

TSS Earnslaw berthed at its wharf on Queenstown Bay


Queenstown as seen from the TSS Earnslaw

Queenstown as seen from the TSS Earnslaw


TSS Earnslaw at full steam across Lake Watatipu

TSS Earnslaw at full steam across Lake Watatipu


Looking back across Lake Watatipu towards Queenstown from Walter Peak

Looking back across Lake Watatipu towards Queenstown from Walter Peak

Having spent 5 nights in Queenstown it was time to make our way back north towards Christchurch overnighting in Lake Tekapo. Before we got there we passed through Twizel (a "temporary" town built for construction workers in 1968 with diggers on display on the way in - a bit bland!) but then stopped at Lake Pukaki on what turned out to be a perfect weather (and it apparently doesn't happen often) to see Mount Cook. The conditions were so good I tried to sign up for a "Grand Traverse" Flight in a small plane from one coast of South Island to the other over Mount Cook (Maori name is "Aoraki") but unfortunately by the time we reached the airstrip a quite serious weather front had arrived and the flight was called off.

Me with Mount Cook behind me at Lake Pukaki

Me with Mount Cook behind me at Lake Pukaki


Mount Cook

Mount Cook


My MagicBus Crew at Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook

My MagicBus Crew at Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook

We then carried on to Lake Tekapo where we were to stay overnight which like Lake Pukaki also has a milky turquoise colour created by the glacial rock sediment that feeds into both lakes. Here there was the small stone Church of the Good Shepherd built in 1935 which has an awesome view of the lake behind its alter which makes it a very popular (and therefore exceptionally expensive!) venue for weddings. Lake Tekapo is also well known for stargazing from the observatories on top of adjacent Mount John but by then I was feeling too tired and cold for the climb up to the summit.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo


The Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking Lake Tekapo

The Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking Lake Tekapo


The view behind the alter at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo

The view behind the alter at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo


The view from my where I did my blogging at Lake Tekapo YHA :-)

The view from my where I did my blogging at Lake Tekapo YHA :-)

The final leg of our trip back to Christchurch was across the endless Plains of Canterbury, the largest expanse of flat lands in New Zealand. Not too much to report here apart from the clever irrigation machinery on wheels that seemed to be ready to walk across nearly every field. Our final stop was at the factory shop at the "Cookie Time" Cookie Factory on the outskirts of Christchurch to try some of their chocolate chip biscuits which seem to have become almost cultural icon in New Zealand since it was opened in 1983.

Irrigation machinery on the Canterbury Plains

Irrigation machinery on the Canterbury Plains


The Cookie Time Factory in Christchurch

The Cookie Time Factory in Christchurch

Posted by FrancisRTW 03:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains lakes churches food cablecar videos hostelling magic_bus light_aircraft nz_south_island outdoor_pursuits Comments (0)

The Antarctic Experience & my unsuccessful search for Whales

My rides aboard hagglunds and planes to see ice, penguins, seals & dolphins (but unfortunately no sperm whales)

overcast 14 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

The supply bases for the New Zealand, US and Italian Bases on Antarctica are all located at Christchurch Airport and in addition to a separate terminal for Antarctica there is also a tourist attraction called the International Antartic Centre.

Having seen the state of the city after the quake I still wanted to see the Centre and went out to the airport and had a hair-raising ride in a Hagglund tracked vehicle (up & down steep slopes, across crevases & swimming a pond), walked into a room recreating an antarctic storm (-18 degrees C with wind chill) before finishing off in a 4D Cinema (3D plus your seat moves and you get sprayed with water!).

Hagglunds outside the International Antarctic Centre at Christchurch Airport

Hagglunds outside the International Antarctic Centre at Christchurch Airport


Me beside the Hagglund I had a ride in at the International Antarctic Centre

Me beside the Hagglund I had a ride in at the International Antarctic Centre


Me on a snow bike waiting for the storm to begin in the Storm Room at the Antarctic Centre

Me on a snow bike waiting for the storm to begin in the Storm Room at the Antarctic Centre


The Antarctic Terminal at Christchurch Airport

The Antarctic Terminal at Christchurch Airport

The International Antarctic Centre also looks after about two dozen New Zealand Blue Penguins that have been brought in injured by the public and have been certified by a vet as unlikely to survive if returned to the wild. NZ Blues are quite small and don't actually venture as far south as the Antarctic but their pool and vetinary unit added a wildlife element to the centre.

New Zealand Blue Penguins at the International Antarctic Centre

New Zealand Blue Penguins at the International Antarctic Centre


Penguin swimming underwater at the International Antarctic Centre

Penguin swimming underwater at the International Antarctic Centre


Penguin emerging from the water as seen from the glass window on their pool at the International Antarctic Centre

Penguin emerging from the water as seen from the glass window on their pool at the International Antarctic Centre


A sick penguin called Monty in the Vet's Room at the Antarctic Centre

A sick penguin called Monty in the Vet's Room at the Antarctic Centre

In addition to the experiences and penguins at the International Antarctic Centre there were also a number of historical artifacts from Antarctica on display at the Centre and a gallery at the Canterbury Museum in town. This included a Motor Tractor used by Shackleton's 1914-17 Antarctic expedition and a Ferguson Sno-Cat from 1958 which was the first motorised vehicle to reach the South Pole.

Display of various pieces of equipment used by Antarctic Explorers

Display of various pieces of equipment used by Antarctic Explorers


Display of artifacts from Captain Scott's ill-fated trip to the South Pole in Christchurch's Canterbury Museum

Display of artifacts from Captain Scott's ill-fated trip to the South Pole in Christchurch's Canterbury Museum


Antarctic Motor Tractor used by Shackleton's 1914-17 Antarctic expedition on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch

Antarctic Motor Tractor used by Shackleton's 1914-17 Antarctic expedition on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch


Ferguson Sno-Cat on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch

Ferguson Sno-Cat on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch

For my final day in Christchurch I travelled 3 hours north to Kaikoura, famous for its marine life. I had seen some seals on the sea shore here from the Coastal Pacific Train on the way down a couple of weeks previously and had popped into the visitor's centre for details of the whale watching trips Kaikoura is famous for during our brief stop at the railway station. Sure enough we saw lots of seals on the way up and stopped for a while at the seal colony just south of the town.

New Zealand Fur Seals at their Colony near Kaikoura

New Zealand Fur Seals at their Colony near Kaikoura


New Zealand Fur Seals at Kaikoura

New Zealand Fur Seals at Kaikoura

Kaikoura is particularly well known for sperm whales, so much so that the boats guarantee your money back if you don't see one while out with them, they are that confident. However the weather did not look good, the whale watching boats had broken down the day before and the day I went the sea was too rough for them to sail either. As a backup our tour operator arranged for us to go up in a small plane instead and while I enjoyed the flight over the ocean we unfortunately didn't fair much better and all we saw was a pod of dolphins migrating across the bay.

Our pilot scans the horizon looking for giant sperm whales

Our pilot scans the horizon looking for giant sperm whales


A small pod of dolphins seen from our light plane

A small pod of dolphins seen from our light plane


The Kaikoura peninsular from the air

The Kaikoura peninsular from the air

Coming into land at Kaikoura

Coming into land at Kaikoura


Me stood by the light plane we used to unsuccessfully search for whales off Kaikoura

Me stood by the light plane we used to unsuccessfully search for whales off Kaikoura

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged snow museums tour marine_life videos 4wd antarctica solo hostelling light_aircraft nz_south_island Comments (0)

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