A Travellerspoint blog

December 2019

Day 22- 25 A Christmas Abroad!

Food glorious food and a it’s Dunedin Wrap!

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
Christmas Eve kicked off with lunch at a local coffee shop before Kirsty took us to Dunedin’s museum. They had a special exhibition; ‘Museum of Broken Relationships’, we were intrigued so thought we’d check it out. It turned out to be members of the public from all around the world donating things that reminded them of relationships that had broken down. There was a pregnancy test with the explanation simply reading ‘Thank you and fuck you’. There was a selection of mixed cds with the explanation of an affair with a guy 35 years younger than her and how he gave her the gift of music. Some were really strange such as: a woman had donated a pot of gallstones with an explanation of an affair of her husband and a co worker and a body vest with large breasts that her husband had bought her as he wanted her to have bigger boobs; unsurprisingly the start of the end of their relationship. Some were just sad; gifts that reminded people of their mothers who had passed away before they’d reconciled or of a friend who had relapsed and overdosed without confiding in them. (You know, a happy Christmas Eve activity).

We went up to the animal attic for a more lighthearted exhibition. The funnest animal was the stuffed ferret. All the other animals had been made to just look natural, the ferret however, being a pest in NZ, had been made to look savage. It stared out with wild red eyes while it pinned down a bird it had just killed with blood around its mouth, dripping from its chin. The goriness of it to prove how much they hated the animal.

We settled in to the evening with a quick visit from Elliots brother before subjecting Kirsty and Elliot to Jack Whitehall’s Christmas special, which although we’d already seen, was still as funny second time round. Although we feel a few references were missed by my Kiwi relatives. Although a pleasant evening and while I felt a little more Christmassy with the fire burning, we didn’t feel our usual levels of excitement.

Christmas Day
Christmas morning was uneventful and quiet compared to in the Wagstaff/Mitcham household! A very civilised breakfast with the rest of Elliot’s family. They love to over cater; a huge salmon, bacon and plenty of Eggs Benedict for everyone with fruit salad for seconds. The family had all bought their dogs with them so we were surrounded by six miniature schnauzers and a bigger dog- obviously we loved it, trying to grab as many cuddles as possible! After they’d departed to their respective Christmas lunches we got to Emma’s with a huge ham and pavlova to contribute. Not that they needed it, again there was so much food! BBQ going and kids running around, there was a lot to take in, but the volume was definitely more what we were used to. Surprised, while gifts were being handed around, we received two huge stockings over flowing with presents from the family filled with thoughtful NZ related goodies! We felt very thankful and overwhelmed by generosity, having not expected to receive anything let alone the amount we did. I tried to dance off some of the food, unsuccessfully, when everyone joined Millie, a cowgirl and a panda in a set routine (see the efforts below!).

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About to burst from eating so much we headed back for a nap... and a bit of quiet time. Once refreshed and recharged we made our made out was to Elliott's family for dinner (yes, more food). With a full roast dinner tucked (somehow) in to our (very full) belly’s we sat around chatting and drinking. Although a strange Christmas, it was a really lovely one. Neither of us have been away for Christmas before and although we’d only met some of the family a handful of times, and some we had never met at all, we felt incredibly welcome!

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Boxing Day
As if the previous day has been any other K&E took us to a beach; as for the first time all week it wasn’t raining! We thought we were going somewhere hot for summer! The beach had a small tunnel that had been built for a rich family who lived in a castle on the top of the hill so his daughters could get to the beach in private. Since the weather was so good one beach didn’t seem enough, so we headed to a different beach in town for ice cream. Sitting on the beach drinking milkshake and eating ice cream was a pretty great way of spending the day... although it was crazy this was Boxing Day! We decided to check out some Boxing Day sales and get a hair cut, except apparently this small town isn’t like London, so not much was open. We’re still having to get used to the fact things aren’t 24/7 or on our doorstep- I guess we’ve been too spoilt in London the last 6 years. The rain had held off for too long as was back with vengeance. Just as we were walking back home a huge thunderstorm commenced. Luckily Kirsty came to our rescue and picked us up while we were cowering under a shop front veranda, ‘waiting for it to all blow over’. Since the kiwi hosts had over catered we had a dinner compiled of left overs back at Danny and Sue's and another evening of drinking and playing ‘what do you meme’, coupled with lots of laughter! I won... you know because I’m so funny and all!

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27th December (25th Day)
Our final full day in Dunedin was spent repacking our bags with slightly heavy hearts, we were obviously excited for our next adventure but we had become quite comfortable in K&E’s lovely home. Having been able to wash and dry all our clothes is such a treat, it’s amazing when traveling that basic life chores seem like a luxury. We managed to watch Gavin and Stacey Christmas special which were both excited for. Andy managed to get a haircut, another simple life act that seems like a treat.

Diane came and met us for a drink and we had a tour of the Street art. It was quite a nice way of covering a large empty wall, we were surprised that there was no tasteless graffiti anywhere! Our next stop was a much anticipated one! One that we’d been hearing about since the O’Sullivans had been over in the UK summer 2018; Emerson's brewery. We’d managed to hold off trying it until we were in their company and now it was time to try the tap stuff! Having purchased the tasting platter of 6 beers we had yet to have already over Christmas, it was time to quench our thirst. As with all breweries there were some better beers than others with the 1861, the Pilsner and The Big Boss being highlights for Andy. I preferred the fruitier Orange Roughy.

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Satisfied with the experience we were taken to a pizza place on the sea front, which again our kind hosts refused to let us pay for despite our best efforts! Both of us love water so happily watching out the window at a cruise ship sailing in to the sunset while we nattered away over our last dinner with the family. We took a detour on the way home to Mount Cargill, the views were stunning, I love any view at night. Streetlights like fairy lights, everything so small below, people going about their life unbeknown of anyone else’s existence. However, Oogi (their dog) had run off and it was so cold from the wind we didn’t stay too long. We came across a hare on our drive home that was having a great time dancing in the headlights, hoping from left to right, right to left. We drove about 1.5km at snails pace while the hare entertained us until he got bored and finally hoped off the road.

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As quickly as our Dunedin stay had began, it was over. Tucked in bed ready to head for our bus to Queenstown in the morning for our flight back to Auckland for new year we thought over how great the last few days had been and reflected on our NZ as a whole as it starts to draw to an end. We really are so grateful to all of the family in Dunedin but especially Kirsty & Elliot who have given up so much of their time to show us the very best of Queenstown, Milford Sound and Dunedin while letting us crash their house and their family Christmas, while asking for nothing in return. We feel privileged to have had such knowledgeable, kind and awesome tour guides. We will certainly miss these guys and hope to see them all and another point in the future, whenever that may be. Until then we will always look back on the experiences and memories made over the past few weeks with fondness. If you are reading this THANK YOU AGAIN FOR EVERYTHING! YOU ARE THE BEST!

Posted by Bears on Tour 00:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 20 & 21- Our Dunedin Welcome & Penguin Party!

City Tour & Bird watching!

We waved farewell to our camper, it’s been a great way to travel around and see the country; particularly, the countryside. We wouldn’t have been able cruise around and see the things we have, it would’ve been too restricted by plane, train or bus.

On our way to Dunedin we had a few stop offs to see the sights. We drove up the remarkables, and then had a "short hike". Kiwi's have a different definition of short, plus Andy and I were not prepared for this wearing shorts, flip flops and a borrowed Christmas jumper. We got so high we found snow! It was like Christmas back home. However, flip flops would not be our shoe of choice there! They really are beautiful mountains.

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With our morning stroll over we hit the road for our 5 hour or so trip to Dunedin. We stopped for lunch and at a few wineries to stock up on Christmas booze, plus we got a sneaky tasting session. The wine here does live up to its international reputation. They even had a red that you serve chilled... If that doesn't demonstrate how differently they do Christmas here nothing will. We whack ours in a pan and heat it up, they put it in a 'chilly bin' (coolbox for those not in the know!). Once finally at our home for the next 6 days we relaxed with dinner, a beer and a Christmas film. Although it felt wrong watching a wintery classic here.

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After the best night sleep we had since Michaela's it was time to meet more of Izzy's family. Diane and Peter (Izzy's great aunt and uncle) showed up to take us on a whistle stop tour around Dunedin. We saw the beautiful city complete with railway station, university and every school any member of the family had attended. In addition we stopped off at Baldwin Street, arguably the world’s steepest street; although the Welsh are challenging this.

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There were two cruise ships in, which apparently meant town was busy... again I feel this is a point whereby our opinions on busy differ quite drastically. We ate lunch at a picturesque viewpoint over looking the harbour. It is weird that although Izzy had only met them a few times when a lot younger, you instantly felt comfortable. Plus we got a good history lesson of Dunedin from locals that had lived here over 25 years.

In the evening we had booked tickets to go and view the albatross and little blue penguins on the peninsula. This is something we both had on our NZ bucket list and we were very excited. The Otago Peninsula is the only place in the world you can get this close to the Royal Albatross, making it a unique experience. Usually these birds opt to lay their eggs high in the mountains which cannot easily be reached by humans.

Firstly we were given some of the history of peninsula and a range of facts about the birds and their lifecycle through a mix of a really passionate guide and a short video. Some of the astounding facts we heard were; their wingspan is up to 3 metres long, they can fly at speeds up to 75mph and they weigh between 8-10kg! We also learnt that after birth they spend 5 years purely at sea, only stepping foot back on the ground to find a mate and attempt to reproduce. They are also extremely affectionate birds and mate for life.

After was our chance to head to the observatory, but before we were even inside you could see 3 adolescent birds flying around. They were so graceful and majestic, not even flapping their huge wings just gliding through the air. It was a marvel to watch them swooping around. You could tell their impressive size when you saw them next to a seagull. Also on the cliffs you could witness a number of albatross sat on eggs and we were treated to a loving exchange between two partners, a rare site.

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I could have watched these beautiful birds all day but unfortunately our time was up and we had to vacate. While we waited for the penguin tour to start, Elliott and Kirsty had the great idea of enjoying some beers on the cliff face. This sounded idyllic, but what they didn't tell you was it involved a clamber through some difficult and questionable terrain. But you can't deny the view was worth it and it felt like we were the only people in the world as we looked out into the vast emptiness of the Pacific and watched birds hunt for their fishy dinner.

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Under the cover of dusk we wandered down to the viewing platform just in time to see the first wave of little blue penguins emerging from the sea to make their way back to their nests; after a busy day fishing. These little guys and gals were by no means graceful as they hopped, waddled and stumbled their way over rocks and up the beach but they were adorable! We spotted a seal hanging on the beach and we all had the same concern, but fortunately it was not an elephant seal and this fellow was just curious about the penguins instead of posing a threat. We stayed for around 2 hours watching in awe as wave after wave of penguins made their way home. The smile on Izzy’s face was a sign that we didn’t want to leave; but as the night got colder, the rain heavier and with the knowledge we had a 40 minute drive back, we decided it was time to say goodnight to the penguins. Although I wasn’t entirely convinced that Iz wouldn’t try and smuggle one back with us under her coat.

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Both the birds were captivating in their own way and we feel lucky to have been able to witness these natural spectacles. It is experiences like this that make travelling such a drug for us. These one-off encounters that you can only experience in certain parts of the world make all the getting lost and lack of home comforts worth it!

Posted by Bears on Tour 22:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 18 & 19- Queenstown & Milford Sound

The thrills of the luge to the natural wonders of Milford Sound!


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A morning spent wondering around Queenstown, one of the busiest places we’ve been to, even then it’s nothing compared to London. Finding ourselves deep in a souvenirs shop (we can’t stay away) we bought some more postcards to add to our collection.

After lunchtime we jumped on the gondola from town up the mountain. We were excited for the luge so got our helmets on and headed up the ski lift to even further up the top of the mountain. It was a very strange sensation that this felt like a festive activity and it was five days to Christmas except it felt nothing like Christmas (which we hate!!!).

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Everyone had to go down the baby track first to get the hang of it. It’s pretty simple push forward to go, pull back to stop. Considering there were some children as young as 7 doing this alone, it was pretty fast! At the end of the track we got the ski lift back up (we had 5 turns on the track). The next track was a steeper, longer, harder track, we had a race and I won (see video). On the way back to the top of the track after the second turn I said it was amazing how easy it would be to break an arm, almost as if we tempted fate, we crashed on the next turn. I took a corner too fast (possibly too competitive wanting to beat Andy), I put my left hand out to stop myself from tipping over, scraping the palm of my hand on the gravel. Andy, having seen I was having a mare, went as far right as he could to get past me without getting caught up however, In taking my left hand of the handle bars meant my right hand pulled the cart to the right. Andy’s left arm got stuck on my handle bars and almost dislocating he managed to keep going. He’s got a nice big black bruise for a souvenir (also see video).

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It was so much fun! We were enjoying Queenstown. Kirsty and Elliot got in to town early evening and we headed out to meet them. Obviously a catch up was due and how better to do that than over beer and wine!

Although as the crow flies Milfound Sound and Queenstown are very close indeed due to a number of pesky mountains that someone has put in the way it actually is around a 5 hour drive to circumnavigate them! Due to this it was an early start the next day for both us and Kirsty and Elliot. They had very kindly offered to drive us there to save us the extra time and money on the coach. They really are amazing and although we have only really met them a few times we feel super comfortable with them, which is kind of fortunate considering we are crashing their Christmas celebrations!

As I’ve highlighted numerous of times every drive in this place treats you to some truly breathtaking views and the drive to Milford was yet another example! As we got closer to our start point you slowly become encased by gigantic mountains on all sides. It made you feel so tiny and insignificant in comparison. We were so in awe, well Izzy had her eyes closed for larges parts of the journey to fight back the travel sickness induced by the winding roads. Then we reached a set of traffic lights outside of this colossal mountain and it dawned on us that the road ran directly through this beast via a tunnel that seemed the size of a pinprick. This was the only way in and out of this area. After the exciting yet anxious drive through a shoddy looking tunnel we were out the other side.

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As our ship sailed through the sound we were given a number of interesting facts about this fascinating landscape and the geographical process that had forged it. One of those facts informed us that Milford Sound had actually been misnamed as in fact it is not a sound at all and instead it is a fjord, with it being formed by a glacier and not a river. The route took around 2 hours and we split our time between the blustery top desk with 360 views, the slightly more sheltered back of the boat and the inside section where a cup of tea and some warmth was needed.

One of the most exciting and impressive sections of the tour was when the boat literally drove us into Stirling Falls; a natural permanent waterfall formed by a melting glacier. This waterfall is actually over 3 times the height of Niagara Falls standing at 151metres. This is difficult to believe as the height of the massive mountains either side (at 1,300metres) dwarf the waterfall. Iz and I opted to stand on the front of the boat for this section and got completely soaked... however Maori legend does states that anyone sprayed in the face by Stirling Falls will look 10 years younger in the morning. We however are still waiting for this to take shape. We were also informed that despite the glacier melting for over 14,000 years, there is only around 50 years remaining. This just seems crazy that some future generations may never get the opportunity to see this beauty and got us thinking about how many other nature marvels may also go the same way and how many that we, as humans, are responsible for their demise.

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You’d think by this point, and considering Milford was literally covered in temporary ones due to the rainfall, we would have had enough of waterfalls. However, it just seems to wet our appetite more. Due to this we took a pit stop at The Chasm before our long trip back. We felt guilty at not being able to help in the driving and being chauffeured around by Elliot and Kirsty. When finally back in Queenstown we quenched our hunger by ordering a huge mixed grill... which tasted as good as it looked (apologies for any of our Vegetarian or Vegan readers :) ).

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Also see a picture of a cheeky Kea that came to visit us:
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Posted by Bears on Tour 21:04 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 17- The Journey to Queenstown

Cardrona, Zipline, Arrowtown and campsite!


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We were pleasantly surprised to not wake up as stiff as we feared, which was fortunate as we had to hit the road early for to ensure we could fit in our planned stop points before we reached Queenstown. First stop was for breakfast at the Cardrona Hotel. We had heard this place mentioned a few times by a number of people so thought we would check it and its food out. This small town was established in the 1860s during the gold rush era and the hotel is a relic from that time and one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand. The whole place did feel stuck in time and definitely had a certain charm. The hotel itself was just gorgeous, both inside and out, and you can see why it is one of NZs most photographed buildings; although in summer it was lacking the Christmassy touch the famous wintery pictures had displayed.

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With breakfast and a cheeky pint down we got back in the camper to head to Kawarau bridge, the location of the first bungee jump. Although we toyed with the idea of doing a bungee we opted for the less nerve wracking zip-line. Although when stood in the queue and looking at the height and speed we began to question if even this was a wise choice, plus it was freeeeezing in the wind! But it was good fun and the views were amazing, although you cant really appreciate these on the below video. The view from the bridge is one that any LOTR fan should recognise as the location for the Pillars of the Kings, although unmistakable it does take a bit of imagination to picture the two huge statutes on either side of the river. After watching a few people defy death as their bungee ropes saved snapped into action we headed towards our next stop of Arrowtown.

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This quaint little town is also one time forgot set in the same era as Cardrona and famous during the gold rush period. You can still hire pans and try your luck in the river to find gold! We opted for some treats from the bakery (as recommended by Kirsty) and a little walk. As previously highlighted LOTR filming locations really are scattered all across New Zealand and another was just around the river bend, famous for the scene Arwen saves Frodo from the Ringwraith.

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We were both really looking forward to Queenstown, although there was one problem... the lack of campsites in the area. We both found this very suprising considering the waves of tourists that pass through this town. As far as we could see there were only two possibilities. We headed to the first option which was just various patches of concrete on different levels with very limited space. The only spots left were in undesirable locations either located a way from the toilets or in the middle in a massive puddle. Ruling this one out we headed to the second choice, which although was drastically more (a whole £15 more a night) did appear to have good facilities. We pulled up and it was heaving, but with little other option through gritted teeth we paid for our 3 nights in our most expensive campsite yet! It may seem strange that we appear to be scrimping after saving for this trip for so long; half of this is just out of habit from the last 3 years but the other half is because we have already spent well over our monthly budget for NZ (it is expensive here!) eeeekk!!

The pain of the cost was off-set by the facilities including; really lovely showers, toilets, a kitchen and running hot water! Plus the huge perk of being only around a 5 minute drive from them centre of Queenstown! Plus that view of the Remarkables is well.... Bloody remarkable! I think these mountains are my favourite, I could sit and stare at them all day; which we did during dinner that evening!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 15:36 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 15-16- Hiking & W(h)ining!

Rain, Roy's Peak & Wine!


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Today’s plan was a serious hike, one that’s been on my list pretty much since we decided to come to New Zealand. Having spent most of the night hearing the rain hammering on the roof of the van, our alarms startled us awake early. We abruptly decided this wasn’t hiking weather! Trying to decide what there was we could do for the day in Lake Wanaka that wasn’t out in the miserable wet, we decided to go play badminton in the leisure centre. This decision was largely made due to the promise of a free hot shower afterwards!

We came to New Zealand for Christmas to escape the English winter, yet it feels pretty wintery. We’ve really enjoyed camping; we’re used to Glastonbury style camping (cramped in a tent waking up to almost suffocation from the heat and a bad back from a deflated air mattress, with a mother of all hangovers) so in a van is quite a luxury for us. However, when it’s raining it quite quickly becomes a little claustrophobic.

After an hour of badminton, we enjoyed the novelty of a real shower and not a basic campground shower block. Back in the van hiding from the rain we had an hour to kill before our wine tasting so set up a quick game of banagrams, which ended up being a little longer than ‘quick’ and somehow having done nothing for the day we were late...as always.

Driving like a maniac to the vineyard we realised we’d booked the tour for yesterday and not today so we were more than a few minutes late. We were a whole day late! We rearranged it for the following day and head to a put to warm up and dry off a bit.

The rain finally stopped in the middle of the night and we woke up to clear skies.

Getting to the base of the mountain we consumed our croissants and hydrated on juice, packed a bag with a lot of water, snacks, pack lunch and some treats. Within a couple of minutes we were both silently reconsidering our decision, it was an instant incline which continued consistently the entire way; within five minutes I was wanted a stop. We took the wrong tactic of walking fast in short bursts, realistically we should’ve just ambled up.

The hike was 6km (3.7miles) up to 1,578meters, we cut it in to sections of thirds (1.3 miles) milestones- not that it made it any easier. Two and a half hours later (felt more like 10 hours) we were at the viewpoint. The view was incredible, felt like you were on top of the world. We had stopped hundreds of times on the way up and murmured how impressive the view was but being at the top was something else.

There was a queue to the best spot for a photo so we waiting in line. After snapping a few shots (standard, arms in the air) we found the perfect spot out of the wind for our pack up. We couldn’t believe the view and before we knew it we’d spent two hours at the top and it was time to head back down.

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As soon as we started the descent my knee twinged which wasn’t great for the distance we had to go. Towards the bottom my ankles and big toes were hurting and knee was agony. Due to the heavy rain there was a couple of super muddy spots that spanned the width of the path. Andy being the agile being he is managed to step in to the worst part and slipped off the path, due to the steep mountain side I panicked, Andy covered in mud and sliding further he managed to scramble back on to the path.

Take two for the wine tasting, we made it with enough time today and both excited to try some of this New Zealand wine we’ve both heard so much about. There was five different wines to try, an Osteiner was up first- a sparkling white wine, very sweet and easy drinking. A sauvignon Blanc, a rose, a Pinot noir and a Reisling. All very delicious, the host was telling as a lot of information about the vines, the weather, the different types of soil and how they affect the grapes. It was interesting. Having been on a wine tour before where we visited three vineyards, this half an hour was more informative then any of the others, plus it was free! The view wasn’t bad either I guess! We purchased a bottle of our favorite (the ostinger) to bring the family for Christmas and headed for a well deserved rest. Hoping we wouldn’t ache too much in the morning.

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On the way back we took a few photos at Puzzling World- another Wanaka attraction!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 15:15 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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