Getting to Wellington took far longer than we thought, about 5 hours in the end, and we made the ferry with minutes to spare. I was fretting that we'd miss it and have to pay another 300 dollars to book another one, so Liam floored it and we white-knuckled it all the way, pots and pans sliding around in the back of the van, curtains flapping in the wind. This was to be the theme of the rest of our time in NZ, as we tried to race around the entire South Island in only 1 week.When I suggested we try to get about pretty quickly I think Liam took it a little too far and did about 120k's an hour around hairpin bends, up mountains and down valleys, with me clinging to the dashboard with my cheeks wobbling with the g-force, just like they had done on the skydive.
Extreme tourism was the name of the game - we'd mark our next destination on the map, race there, take a look and a few pics, then dive back in the van to get to the next town. We really needed another week to do it properly, but at the same time there's only so many hills, sheep and cows you can look at without losing the will to live. It's a beautiful country don't get me wrong, it reminded us of Wales only with sunshine - very green, well kept, but lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, dare I say... character. Every town looked brand new, as though it had been knocked up out of MDF a few year's ago. There were hardly any people about as the population is only about 5 million tops, so some of the smaller townships looked like ghosttowns, even on a Saturday afternoon. A few towns we drove through without even realising that was it as they were so tiny.
A brilliant place for relaxed sightseeing, but we actually preferred the buzz and excitement of South America. I can imagine New Zealand would be a great place to visit when you're a bit older - we saw loads of fifty-somethings rambling about to their heart's content.
Instead of hanging around the local park swigging strongbow, all the kids are playing tennis, kite-surfing and generally doing more wholesome persuits than in England, and we agreed it would be a good place to bring up children.
We went to the Malborough Sounds and ate some giant green-lipped mussels, as mussel-fishing is the main local industry.We were really looking forward to them, but when they arrived they were just a little too big and rubbery for our liking, as they squelched and slid their way down our throats.I'm actually gagging at the memory of Liam dissecting one of them, he was tearing the lips off the little blighters as they were too chewy..gross. The wine was good though, and the more we drank the less we minded their less-than-attractive appearance.
We visited a few other places on our journey south, before heading to the glaciers. There are 2 major glaciers in the South island, Fox and Franz Josef. We were doing our usual daily hack at break-neck speeds round winding mountain roads when we came across two sad-looking Dutch fellas sitting in a smashed-up Mitsubishi that they had just totalled taking the bends too fast. There but for the grace of God go I we thought so spun the van around and went to their rescue.
The driver was a cute young guy called Terry who had only recently passed his driving test, and a hitchiker he'd picked up called Tim. Terry and Tim, nice but dim,I said as we inspected the damage.
They said they'd been sitting there for over an hour, listening to Bob Marley on the cd player and tying to work out what to do as there was no phone signals up there in the mountains and hardly any passing traffic - well, none that had stopped to help anyway.We had to feel sorry for them as even their cd player had then broken as a result of the accident, and the hitchhiker probably wasn't feeling quite as grateful anymore.
When Liam announced he was a mechanic their little Dutch eyes lit up, and before they knew it he was getting their scissor-jack out of the boot and using it to prise the crumpled wing out of their nearside front wheel, which had been stopping the wheel from moving. My only contribution was to remove the mounds of grass and mud that were wedged in the front grill. Liam then got out his swiss army knife (knew that'd come in handy one day) to cut off part of the bumper and plastic wheel arch covers. A quick jump on the bonnet to straighten it out a bit and they were good to go, beaming from ear to ear as they thought it was a right-off. (To be fair, it probably should've been, but it would at least get them to where they were going).
Liam even fixed their stereo and Bob's dulcit tones filled the air one more.
We followed them to the next town where Liam then did a few more alterations involving some making tape and wires whilst I made them a cuppa in the back of our camper. Good service, eh?
Well, one good turn deserves another...beer, so they offered to buy us some drinks that night at Franz glacier.The glaciers are a pretty impressive sight,but it was absolutely freezing at night as we shivered in the back of our Toyota. At one point I think I woke up with my tongue stuck to the frozen metal of the back of the van.I don't know what we expected, sleeping in a camper at the foot of a humungous block of ice, and we both woke up with stiff necks and sore muscles. (not mussels, thank God).
Unfortunately the boys got a little cocky with their newly-repaired wagon and attempted to then drive it to the next glacier, where it protested by conking out. Cue another phonecall to Liam. They're taking the piss a bit now, but Liam the good shepherd once again comes to their rescue. Oh well, it's good karma, we thought as we wasted the entire day fixing them up, but unfortunately the karma fairy wasn't playing ball and just as we were pulling into Christchurch to drop the campervan off at the hire place, a stone sprang up from the road, putting a nice 20cm crack across our windscreen. Great.We then spent our lat day in NZ frantically trying to find a windscreen fitter who would replace the screen so that we wouldn't lose our 1500 dollar bond. Luckily we managed to get some old dude to sort it out for us in the nick of time, and it cost us 430 dollars. An exercise in damage limitation I guess so we were happy with that.
We just had time for a quick bender in Christchurch with some Maori guys before downing a kebab in the back of the van (classy) and catching a quick 3 hours shut-eye before going to the airport to catch our flight to Perth.
Unfortunately all did not go smoothly, as our flight was delayed which meant we then missed our connecting flight from Sydney to Perth. Qantus put us all up in a hotel overnight before putting us on a flight to Melbourne, then another flight to Perth. Ridiculously, it took us about 30 hours in the end to get from NZ to Oz, but we're finally here.Ding-ding,let the next round commence...