Our last adventure of the South Island was a trip to the Fjordland National Park which is home to the famous Milford Sound. For only $150 bucks which is roughly only $120 US we booked a full day trip including the 4 hour bus ride to/from Milford Sound, a 2 hour boat cruise through the sound to the Tasman Sea, and an all-you-can-eat buffet! But this is an all day trip from 8am-8pm so if you plan to do the same cruise, schedule nothing but dinner for when you return to Queenstown. So you have a better understanding of why this place is so popular I’ll provide you with some facts, features, and pictures of this beautiful National Park. Fjordland National Park is the largest park in New Zealand and easily in the top 10 largest parks in the world. It consists of 13 different fjords, which are glacier carved rivers, and expands over much of the southern area of NZ’s South Island. There are many hiking trails and campsites throughout the park. The Milford Sound Hike is so popular that you would need to book it 6 months in advance just to trek the 4 day hike. However if you are a fan of hiking and are keen on doing this hike then you better bring your rain gear. Milford sound is also well known for its tremendous amounts of rainfall. For every two days of rain there is only one day of clear skies. With this being the case, it receives 30 metres(35 yards) of rain in one year!!! THIRTY MITRES!!! Just picture that right now…35 yards which is 105 feet. The NC State bell tower is 115 feet tall. That’s a lot of rain! One statistic also states the sound can rain more in a 12 HOUR period than London does in a ONE YEAR. However, because of our great planning skills and tactics when listening to local radio station’s weather forecast we caught an outstanding day where we gazed in amazement at the steep mountains protruding from the crisp, blue water of the fjord. Fjordland National Park is rated #1 in many magazines and even AAA’s Travel Guide as Best Places to See. And after experiencing it… I agree.
After our Glacier adventure we drove to the adrenaline pumping Queenstown. This town is known all over NZ for its crazy activities such as bungy jumping, luge, skiing, hang gliding, paragliding, skydiving, jet boating, quad biking(ATV’s), its zip lines, and mountain biking. Bungy jumping was invented in New Zealand so there was no way I wasn’t doing it without leaving. And it was so convenient that Queenstown has the highest bungy jump in all of NZ at 134 meters or roughly 146 yards. That’s a vertical drop of a football field and a half and a free fall of 8 seconds! As with every insane activity that you do, whether it is riding a rollercoaster, white water rafting, sky diving, or just biking down a steep hill there is always a moment that hits you the hardest. It could be the car ride there or right as soon as the plane door opens, but either way you feel those butterflies at some point. With this bungy it was the biggest hit ever. Tyler and I were pretty relaxed for most of the car ride, but as the bus slowly drove over this mountain top our mouths dropped. We peered down into this gigantic valley where the Nevis River lay 150 meters or higher from the large gondola hanging from a couple of steel wires. We were both extremely nervous from that point on, but there were other participants that were way more terrified. After putting on our gear we headed out for the gondola. Inside there was a space only accessible by the bungy staff and another by the jumpers. Glass windows surrounded the inside so you could get a full view, plus there was a window on the floor so you could look down at the bottom of the valley and watch the jumpers as they plummeted toward the ground. Tyler was jumping first and I watch him hop into the chair where they strapped his feet together to where he waddled to the edge of the plank. With one great roar he jumped out from the gondola into the canyon. Pretty much all that ran through my head was “Oh my god! Oh my god! oh my god!” I waited for them to pull him up from the valley below. When I could see him through the floor window I could see his face was one big smile. I knew then that I had to do it. When my name was called I sat in that chair, got all my feet strapped together and waddled over to the planks edge as well. They placed me so close to the edge that my toes were just hanging over. I gazed down into the deep valley below me. With one loud scream I dove toward the rolling rapids of the river below. It was the greatest feeling ever! I can’t even explain how amazing it feels to free fall from 134 meters. I was so excited that I couldn’t stop screaming and pumping my fists as I was hanging upside down. Also what surprised me is how smooth the drop was. There was no whip lash or dizziness or anything. Just smooth as butter! If I could have jumped again right then and there, I definitely would have. Along with sky diving, bungy jumping is beyond any feeling you will ever experience. Fully unexplainable and should be done by everyone!
Our first stop in the South Island was Christchurch. The second largest city in New Zealand and also the city devastated by a recent earthquake. We planned to stay but as we drove through the downtown area we saw all the damage we reconsidered. It was eerie driving past road blocks, looking at buildings with their walls collapsed on the sidewalks, and seeing that almost every church had its steeple lying in rubble. I felt much sorrow for the people living in Christchurch but on that note we did not stay long and headed on our six hour trip to Fox Glacier. One thing I do need to add is there are very few roads in New Zealand. Sometimes only one road connects towns and in pretty much every case there is not a direct route because of the steep terrain. For example if there was a direct route to Fox Glacier then it would probably take 3 hours, but instead it’s a 6-7 hour drive. The roads follow the flat landscape areas such as valleys, rivers, and coastlines that separate 10,000 foot mountain range of the Southern Alps. But what a drive it was! The scenery was gorgeous! It’s going to take me a month just to skim through all the photos I took. As we neared our destination we were fascinated at the first sight of the Franz Josef Glacier which lies only a few miles from Fox Glacier. It was a huge white mass of ice flowing down the valley of two gigantic peaks. The clouds were covering the tops of mountains but even a partial view of the glacier it was nothing like we had ever seen. Excited at the sight, we planned to hike on to the glaciers by ourselves, but we decided to ask the locals if it was appropriate…which it wasn’t, and for good reason. One lady we talked to asked us if we had experience climbing on ice and had boots with crampons(shoe spikes). Which all those things we had none of so we booked a tour with a guide. And WOW! Again! For so many good reasons!. First it only cost $100. Second you can’t even hike on the glacier unless you have a guide. Third, they provided us with all the gear: boots, crampons, waterproof jacket and pants, wool socks, and even an intense walking stick. The guide let us know that even though it was raining we caught a good day, since this region has 200 days of rain a year. One thing that surprised me is that we were on one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, moving at 6 meters a day! Because it moves so quickly the glacier’s features change and guides encounter new caves and routes every week. For instance, on our trip the guide led us through a cave he had never seen before and tested its sturdiness with his pick-ax as we went along. Another unique feature about the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are that they are the only two of the three-thousand glaciers in New Zealand with the beautiful view of a temperate rainforest lying above the glaciers themselves. Most glaciers only have snow or rock lying above them. Let me say that Tyler and I had a great time but if we didn’t have the rain gear, we would have been soaked, if we didn’t have boots we would have rolled an ankle, and, most importantly, if we didn’t have those crampons we probably would have died. The ice was so slick that even with spikes on our boots we slipped a few times. Many thanks to the lady at the hostel for saving our lives.
A day off…another adventure! There are several hikes that one can do in the Napier area. So far I have hiked to the Gannet Colony and to the top of Te Mata Peak. But the Shark’s Tooth hike is one I extremely recommend. It follows the whole coastline from the lowest area of a town called Te Awanga to the southern tip of Hawke’s Bay, which is known as the Shark’s Tooth, Cape Kidnappers, or the Gannet Colony. You actually walk on the beach below the 500ft cliffs of Cape Kidnappers Golf Course. My friend Wes Roberts and I did this hike in 5 hours round trip with many side adventures into Cliffside ravens and caves. If you were to walk to the Shark’s Tooth without stopping you could probably do it in 3 hours roundtrip. However, during our trip we had all day so we thought it was a good time to get the full experience. We climbed cliffs, squeezed through ravens, stood within feet of wild seals and gannets, got splashed by gigantic waves, and slid off a ledge(on accident) into the Pacific Ocean.
If there is one item you should pack when visiting New Zealand it is sunscreen. It can be very hot here, but more importantly the UV radiation is extremely high. In some cases it is 40% higher than a summer in North America. Based on the UV Index 0 – 11(eleven being extremely high UV radiation), I would say 95% of my days in New Zealand have been 11. I’ll even post a picture from the local paper of the UV radiation chart. I figured it was high because of the depletion of the Ozone, but that is only one cause. There are actually 3 reasons why the UV radiation is so high in New Zealand. The first is the depletion of the Ozone. The Second is caused from the sun being closer to the Earth. During December/January(which is NZ’s summer) the sun is closest to the Earth, while during June/July(America’s Summer) the Sun is furthest from the Earth. The last reason is one I never would have thought of, the lack of pollution. Because the air is so clean the UV radiation is able to penetrate into atmosphere more. Those are three very good reasons to bring your 30+ sunscreen to New Zealand.
One of the largest attended events of Hawke’s Bay is the Mission Concert. The Mission Winery has hosted this event for the past 18 years with previous artists including the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, and many other great musicians. Sting was the major artist this year featuring the famous New Zealand Symphony. My friends and I were all fortunate to meet the Lead Stage Director of the event and were given VIP tickets. We drove to Taradale, the town where it was located, and got to our seat just as the music began. The stage was setup perfect: white chairs were arranged for VIP seating in front of the stage; and behind the VIP section was a large hill for lawn seating. An estimate of 27,000 people attended the event and enjoyed listening to Sting’s songs. But one aspect of the concert made it very unique. The drinks they sold. They sold the normal concert beverages soda, water, and beer. However, they also sold wine. Not just glasses of wine…bottles of wine! You could buy a bottle of wine for $15NZ. I even purchased a bottle of Pinot Gris myself and enjoyed Sting’s beautiful music. I guess that’s what you get when you live in Hawke’s Bay, the Heart of New Zealand’s wine country.
For my entire life I have heard stories about sky diving. The adrenalin rush and excitement of freefalling. It’s on everyone’s wish list. Just think to yourself how many times you listened to your friends talk about going skydiving. But one, two, three years later they still haven’t taken that leap of faith. I even said it myself for the past 2 years or more. Now all that talk has ended and I have officially jumped 15,000 feet from a perfectly good airplane. Myself and three other guys from work all took a day off and decided if there was a time to skydive, then this was it, in beautiful New Zealand. On our 2 hour drive none of us could quite grasp what we were all about to do. There were a few moments of laughter when we would talk about opening the parachute to a bag full of spoons just get someone’s nerves going. The part of the trip where it really hit me was when the Sky Dive instructor had us watch a video of their dive. The stomach butterflies were then released! After the video we got dressed in our Top Gun jump suits and headed for the plane. We each had a sky diving professional we went tandem with who sat directly behind us in the plane. I watched as at 15,000 feet the side door of our pink aircraft opened and my friend sitting on the edge of the plane vanished! The next person walked up to the edge. Vanished! One person after the other, they were falling like flies. All 8 tandem jumpers must have been out of the plane in less than a minute. I walked up to the edge and looked down at the gigantic Lake Taupo. The next thing I remember is still starring down at the lake, but with nothing under me and the enormous amount of wind pushing into me. Within 8 seconds of my freefall I reached terminal velocity going roughly 200km or 120mph. The freefall only lasted about a minute, but surprisingly you can comprehend everything during the jump. I waved at the video camera that was taping my every move, gazed at the massive mountains surrounding us, and watched my fellow jumpers falling below me. Once the shute opened the instructor gave me the ropes to control the parachute and for the next 7 minutes we floated gently to the ground.
Nothing can prepare you for your first jump, but I have two recommendations. If you have the choice to do a 12,000 foot dive vs. a 15,000 foot dive then do the 15,000. It may be a bit more expensive but it is well worth it. With the 15,000 ft dive you freefall for a while and have time to comprehend and appreciate the view before the shute opens. While in a 12,000 ft dive you pretty much jump out of the plane and before you even know what’s happening the shute opens. The other recommendation is to not do anything involving effort after the dive. You will feel great an hour after the jump, but similar to drinking and energy beverage, the crash will come and you will be extremely tired. How do I know? Well we all planned a golf trip to Kinloch after our jump and it was pretty much walking 18 holes with a bag full of bricks.
This Skydive location was at Lake Taupo which is New Zealand’s biggest lake. The jump cost $500NZ which actually amounts to only $380 US and it includes pictures and a full video of the dive personalized with music of my choice. Hands Down! Best money I have ever spent! I encourage everyone who reads this to push back your desk chair, drop the pencil that is scribbling doodles on your homework, logout of your facebook account for a day and schedule a date with your skydive professional.
Coming to New Zealand I knew there were a few things I had to do I couldn’t do in the US or at least would be almost impossible to do. Two of those things were to attend a live Cricket and rugby match. When I searched for match dates I discovered the New Zealand Black Caps and Pakistan would be playing a cricket match at the McLean Stadium in Napier. I was extremely fortunate when my friends and I actually met a few of the athletes from the Black Caps Team and were invited to the game. I had watched cricket a few times on TV but still didn’t know much about how the game was played. However, only 15 minutes into watching it live in McLean Stadium did I know almost everything about the game. I found it really entertaining, fun, and quite similar to a baseball game. Maybe it’s not played like baseball, and the field is a circle instead of a diamond, but the stadium setting and atmosphere of the audience was the same. You sit down with a drink and socialize with your friends. And when there is a big hit or it’s a close game the crowd goes wild, and then 5 minutes later everyone is relaxing in their seats, still paying attention to the game, but mainly talking to their peers. Unfortunately New Zealand lost to Pakistan, but wow, what an experience! Below are some pictures of the stadium.
As I discussed in my previous blog, Napier is a fairly flat, but its surrounding landscape is hilly. There are many great trails and hiking paths which one can explore New Zealand’s natural wilderness. One hike I went on was to the Gannet Colony(which is a big tourist attraction for the Hawke’s Bay area) at the southern tip of Hawke’s Bay. This tip is also known as “the shark’s tooth,” for the shape of the limestone rock protruding from the water. For those whom are reading this and know exactly what a Gannet is then I’m proud of you. For those who don’t know, as I did, they are a rare species of bird which migrates between Australia and New Zealand. They are mostly white with black tipped wings with yellow/orange heads, about the size of a goose, and can have a wingspan of 6 feet,. The Gannet Colony I hiked to is the largest in the world and is quite a magnificent sight. I stood within feet of more than a thousand of these birds nesting on the edge of the Cape’s cliffs. Though it only takes about 1 ½ to walk to the Gannets from the Cape Kidnappers entrance, I went on an adventure which eventually concluded 7 hours later(about 3 hours longer than I had anticipated). I will not go into too much detail but during my journey I jumped fences, climbed up slopes where I probably should have used ropes, crept within 3 feet of a wild seal, had a scary encounter with a herd of cows, got stuck on a really really sketchy cliff, and got attacked by birds. Dangerous…Maybe. Worth it…Definitely! Take a look at the pictures and judge for yourself.
What’s better to do on a day off then to go on a hike. Two of the other workers staying with me had the same day off as I did so the three of us decided it was time to hike the famous Te Mata Peak in Havlock North. It’s not mountain by any means but it’s a very tall hill and one of the most scenic inland hills within a half hour drive. You have the option of either driving all the way up to the peak or there are several different hiking/biking paths you can take from the bottom of the hill. Personally, driving all the way up eliminates all the fun and experience out of reaching the peak so we parked at the bottom of the hill, strapped on our backpacks and hiked it. Approximately 45 minutes we reached the top and while also stopping to take pictures of extraordinary views. The hike was fairly easy but the wind was also blowing about 60 km or more. To the point where I could lean at almost a 45 degree angle and get held up. Te Mata Peak is also very popular for its mountain biking, which offers trails for any skill level biker. Overall, a great place to hike/bike and see the surrounding landscape of Southern Hawke’s Bay.