New Zealand: Mahinapua | Franz Josef | Wanaka

Monday, 30 November 2015

Thursday morning was a sleepy one after a bad night's sleep, but we set off just after 9am and kickstarted the morning with a coastal walk around Cape Foulwind. It was composed of tropical rainforestry, hilly stone paths and windy wooden tracks. Flip flops might not have been the most appropriate attire but you live and you learn. Towards the end was a wooden direction sign which highlighted how many kilometres certain cities were. Realising that I was 18761km away from London kind of made me realise exactly how far away from home I was. Obviously I've always known I was on the other side of the world but when you see it written down in numbers it sinks in a little more. There was a wooden decking area and viewing platform that overlooked the Tauranga Bay seal colony which is one of the largest in New Zealand and is the closest point to Australia. There was a family of seals and while the baby one was super cute, we saw the parents kissing which was absolutely adorable. One of them was having a fab time in the water getting drenched by the waves and I've probably never loved seals as much as I did in that moment. The walk only took 45 minutes and it reminded me of the cliff top coastal walks we do in Cornwall every year, overlooking the beach. Our journey down to Mahinapua was entering West coast territory where it rains a lot, so we were pre-warned it would probably be raincoat weather for the entirety of the upcoming few days. 

We stopped again shortly after to complete a short 20 minute beautiful beach walk down to Truman Track Beach, which after 3 days straight of being on a bus, was a welcome change. It pretty much looked the same as the coastal walk we did, the only cool thing setting it apart being that the clouds were floating really low which gave it an eerie and mysterious feel. About 15 minutes down the road we stopped at Pancake Rocks Blowholes which is part of a national park. We walked down and found the track where the waves were violently bashing against the cliffs which kickstarts erosion. It had a bit of a Jurassic Park aura, especially when we heard this loud deep rumbling which was the sound of the blowhole. They're formed when water from the sea enters through the bottom and is forced up inside the gap and is released at the top, shooting out. It was one of the many physical elements I learned about during my A Levels so it was really cool to see it in action. After another short drive we arrived in a place called Greymouth which was probably one of the most miserable places I've ever visited. It was half industrial estate half crappy high street and is apparently grey and dull the majority of the time. Why would you ever choose to live in a place like that? We stopped there for the fancy dress shop to buy essentials for our spirit animal costumes - me as panda (I'll explain later), Abby as a flamingo, Kate as a turtle, Katey as a snake and Morgan as a bumble bee. After a quick mad dash we grabbed a McFlurry, bought some wine, had a wander and got back on the bus. 

The hostel for that night was called Mahinapua Hotel and the story behind it originates with a man called Lez who used to run a pub. The Kiwi bus used to stop there to have lunch and drinks but the passengers loved it so much they started staying over. It's renowned for legendary parties and had been going since start of Kiwi until Lez died around 4 years ago. We were told he was a real character and a legit West coast celeb. After his passing the Kiwi Experience stopped going and the pub closed down, opening up again last year. Since the reopening the drivers have started taking passengers there again because of its history of epic parties. It's a traditional New Zealand pub with cheap food, cheap drinks and costs 50 dollars per person (another bombshell Fish dropped on us 5 hours before rocking up) for the accommodation, a roast dinner, the party and a cooked breakfast in the morning which was pretty good going. When we arrived the manager Chrissy spoke to us all and welcomed us into her home and introduced us to her dog and pig. Yep, that's right. A big black hairy pig was roaming around the pub. The hotel was pretty cool as the main room was a pub with cabins surrounding. Chrissy was really enthusiastic and welcoming and we soon got into the swing of things. We all showered, took advantage of happy hour and ate. The meal on offer was a roast dinner and sadly it was pretty bang average. Although we did get homemade garlic bread as a starter which was tasty. 

After food we started getting ready for the fancy dress party ahead. The theme was spirit animals and we were in our element. We did a fancy dress bar crawl pretty much every Wednesday at Uni and after pining over Ocean since everybody went back in September, it was our time to shine. A spirit animal is known as something that relates to you and your character personally. This is why I decided to go as a panda - because I like to sleep, eat and I sit down at any given opportunity because I hate standing up. Pretty perfect, right? It also gave me the excuse to wear my hair in 2 cute little Miley Cyrus buns. I painted black all around my eyes, on my nose and on my lips, wore all white and cut out a black piece of card and stuck it on my tshirt to be the black belly of the panda. I twisted my hair up into high buns to make ears and Jake kindly found me a large twig from outside to be my food. I may have tried the leaf and I can confirm it tasted like perfume. Everyone looked really cool apart from Jake who decided to go as the jungle. Completely off the spirit animal track but he decided tinsel and animal paper plates would work. When he got bored of that outfit he took the bed sheet off and wrapped it around himself to be Jesus. On the plus side, it was one less person as competition for the prize. 

While I was a panda, Abs was a flamingo, Kate a turtle, Morgan a bee, Mike a tiger, Katey a snake and Maria a zebra. To be honest everyone made a good effort and it was such a good night. The drinks were cheap (especially when you keep popping back to your room to top up your glass with alcohol you've already bought), the music was good and it was one of the funnest nights I've had in a while. Highlights being Morgan attempting to crowd surf from on top of the bar and kind of just falling and the barman spraying Sprite up Katey's skirt. At half 2 tiredness got the better of me so I went to bed. I somehow managed to fall asleep with thumping loud music in the background and woke up just before 9 for breakfast - pancakes, bacon and maple syrup. Everyone was struggling a little bit but we managed to get our stuff together (I've never seen a room messier than ours) and get on the bus for 10am. It was absolutely chucking it down with rain, the sky was grey and miserable and the weather matched my hangover mood. We drove for a little bit and stopped at a cafe where everyone went crazy for the free wifi after not having it for 24 hours and got some hot food to warm up. After another hour of driving we arrived at our next destination where we would be staying for 2 nights - Franz Josef. When we were in Taupo we heard the news that a helicopter doing a Franz Josef glacier tour had crashed, killing the driver and all passengers - 4 Brits and 2 Aussies. At that point we were a week away from visiting and it was such a shock that something so devastating happened so close to our temporary home. 

The glacier tour is meant to be incredible and while it's expensive, I'm sure it's worth it. However due to the accident, Kiwi Experience were no longer offering the tours as they didn't want to be seen advocating the opportunity while the investigation was underway. It was obviously a freak accident but it makes you appreciate everything a little more, especially all your loved ones back home. In terms of the glacier, glacial movement has been recorded since 1893 and since then the glacier has advanced and retreated many times. One of the trips includes the guide hacking a path in the ice for the group to hike. A new path is hacked every day because the glacier moves 4-5 metres per day. Anyway, we arrived to the cutest ski lodge type accommodation which was ridiculously cosy. We checked in and went in New Zealand's biggest hot tub which fits 20 people which was bliss. When the heat finally got the better of us we had a well-deserved nap before getting dinner at the bar. I had spaghetti bolognese which was amazing and the perfect carby hangover cure. The entertainment that night was happy hour - which we took advantage of by bulk buying cocktails - followed by a horizontal bungy competition. Me and Jake paired up as it had to be a girl and a boy on each team. With my long legs and his fabulous drinking ability, I ran to the end (in a harness and hat - oh so glam) and grabbed the drink before pinging back and handing it to him to down. In front of about 100 people, might I add. Towards the end it was a bit of a struggle as the elastic was pulling me back while I was trying to force myself forward, but it was a lot of fun and I didn't do too bad if I do say so myself. 

We retired to bed at around 11 and enjoyed waking up naturally with no alarm. I managed to speak to my boyfriend for an hour which was lovely as it got me super excited for Christmas and to spend 10 days with him when I'm home. He's been a little hun and booked the whole week off when I'm home which means we'll get to spend some quality time together after 3 months apart. We spent the rest of the day doing laundry, hot tub and chilling and even made a sofa on the floor and watched The Interview in the dark. Me and Abs fell asleep during film club but it was nice and relaxing all the same. We managed to drag ourselves out of the room to shower and make dinner and decided it would be ladies night as none of the boys were going out. The night porter may have caught us drinking in our room but kindly decided to overlook it and we had a really nice pre drinks just us girls. When we got down to the bar it was absolutely dead and most of us decided to save ourselves and our money for Queenstown. Sunday morning was an early one and we were checked out and on the bus by 7.30. Our new bus was meant to be the pride of the fleet, and while it had seatbelts which is reassuring when you're sitting at the front of a bus Fish is driving, there was no possessions pocket, foot rest, curtain or recline facility. So instead of a nice new shiny bus, we got a crappy bus which was fabulous. 

After a slow start picking some of the group up from another hostel, we set off towards Wanaka. Although it was very cold, we were lucky enough to have bright blue skies which apparently doesn't happen very often this far down south. Our first stop was just before 9am which was at Lake Matheson which is the perfect location to catch the perfect mirror reflection of Mount Cook on the lake. We got some breakfast as fuel before the walk and I had the yummiest bacon, mushroom and Brie panini. At the till I saw a donation box for Fox Glacier Community Centre where you could buy Fox's Glacier mints and that's when it clicked. I used to have them all the time as a child at my grandparents house and this is where they must originate from seeing as there is a glacier called Fox Glacier. Something trivial but pretty cool. After food we headed out on the reflection walk and it was so lovely and warm in the sun. Walking through a covered rainforest path the air was fresh and crisp which was a gorgeous way to start the day and wake up. We arrived at the lake after about 15 minutes and the view was beautiful. The crystal clear reflection in the lake combined with the breathtaking scenery makes it my favourite walk and sight by a mile. 

Abby, Kate, Katey, Jake and I all got a picture in front of the lake which was a great Instagram opportunity, and the perfect time for me to tell you a little bit more about them. I've already explained that they're siblings from Essex (ginger, if you're trying to build an image in your head) and they live in Canvey Island - a place we'd never really heard of until now. They're probably 2 of the most outrageous yet hilarious people I've come across on this trip, but they're both lovely and we've loved spending a lot of time with them in New Zealand. They come out with some right stories and one liners, a couple of personal favourites being that Katey's straighteners work in space and that when she has a baby she wants to pull it out herself. Jake on the other hand is just permanently in a cycle of either being drunk or hungover and also has some, let's say unique, stories of his own. We're all so intrigued to visit Canvey because it sounds like the funniest but most bizarre place. Observing their relationship is entertainment in itself as they're always in competition to outdo each other. Katey put a tin of open tuna in Jake's bag as revenge for something naughty he did and being around them makes the dull moments brighter. They tell us stories about their friends babies called Princess Bliss and Dolly Diva (an image of a big fat gypsy wedding caravan site came to mind when she told us) and their family sounds as nutty as them. 

They describe Canvey as a trampy, fake friendly, drunken, materialistic, bitchy and incestuous shithole so we're all buzzing for our reunion there in the foreseeable future. They're definitely 2 of the loveliest people we've met and they've made our Kiwi Experience so much fun. Anyway, enough about the weird and wonderful-ness of Canvey, after we'd completed the walk we drove to Knights Point to visit the lookout point. It was a gorgeous day and it was just a brief leg stretcher and toilet break. About 10 minutes down the road we a stopped at Ship Creek which was a little beach. We were travelling in a World Heritage Highway which is part of State Highway 6 - the next part of our route. There was a little wooden lookout point we climbed up 2 ladders to get to and only fit about 7 people on, and spotted Jake sitting on a rock looking out to the river as if he was so at one with the world. We went and joined him for some rock posing and one of the Swedish boys came and copied us cocking his leg and putting his hand on his hip. The Swedish boys googled Lad Bible back home and found the phrase cheeky nandos which they find hilarious and try to slip into every sentence. It's become a bit of a running joke and now whenever we do anything or see them, we'll say cheeky in front of everything which they find really funny. They've actually grasped the concept of English banter which is pretty impressive. 

We carried on cruising and crossed the bridge at the Gates of Haast, went over the pass and into the Mount Aspiring National Park. It was used by the Maori people and is the lowest pass over the main divide, a mere 563 metres above sea level. It bridges the west and east coast and you can see huge cracks signifying the fault lines associated with the main divide. There are 2 tectonic plates in New Zealand - the Pacific and the Indo Australian. One subducts underneath the other which created the Sourhern Alps running down the middle of the South Island - a mountain range which would be 20km talk if erosion wasn't present. We were so lucky to be driving a beautifully scenic route on such a gorgeous day as we could really appreciate the views driving through the country. We stopped at a place called Makarora Tourist Centre and it was like an old people's home - the food, the smell, the decor. It was in a remote location and somewhere we decided would suit a horror film where the chefs lure people in and kill them. Happy thoughts, eh? We then continued driving and stopped at Lake Wanaka for a photo opportunity which is the 5th largest lake in New Zealand, before crossing over to Lake Hawea. Lake Wanaka is around 300m deep and the east coast experiences a lot less rainfall than the west where we came from. We arrived in Wanaka which was a beautifully scenic little town with a gorgeous twinkling lake in the sunlight. There was a supermarket, a shopping mall, and old-style cinema and a selection of different bars and restaurants and it's probably the nicest place I've visited in New Zealand. You know when you just visit a place and instantly like it? I had that feeling and was a little gutted we were only staying for 1 night. We wanted a chilled evening before a big one in Queenstown the following night so popped over to the old-style cinema and booked tickets for Legend at 8.30pm. 

We then bought food for fajitas, grabbed our bags, checked in (we were in the Sweet Suite which was a little nicer) and chilled before the cinema. We were in a 4 bed room with Katey with our private bathroom and it was nice to finally have some girly space. The old-style cinema was called Nuovo Cinema Paradiso and was across the road from Base. We bought snacks from New World and headed over for a relaxing evening. The inside was really cool with retro seating and dining areas. The waiting area had coach-style seats to sit on and the walls were covered in film posters ranging from classics to new films which was pretty unique and quirky. We all went over in slobby comfy clothes and I even sinned by wearing socks and sandals. But I didn't put them on until we were waiting to go in so it was totally acceptable. Don't judge. We grabbed a sofa at the back, got comfy and settled down to watch Legend which is the story of the Kray twins. The adverts were all pretty poor and looked as though they were homemade, but cute at the same time because they were all about making New Zealand cleaner and greener. You could also purchase homemade ice cream or warm chocolate chip cookies in the interval (yes, there was an interval which was a welcome change) which was a nice little homely touch. I was genuinely worried I'd fall asleep due to how tired I was but it was such an incredibly gripping film. The acting was amazing, especially seeing as Tom Hardy played both brothers, gritty and emotional in the right places, humourous in moderation and even offered a little bit of eye candy in the form of gangster Reggie Kray. Although parts were adapted for the screenplay, I like films that are based on true stories. It was one of the best films I've seen in a very long time and it even tugged on my heart strings as I spent a good few minutes crying. It was so nice to go and do something different for a change and I had such a nice night with the girls.

Monday morning was an early one and marked both 1 week until we flew to Fiji and 2 weeks until we flew home which was a bittersweet feeling. Our last stop before heading to Queenstown was Puzzling World which is a maze and illusion room. There is a free outside section or a paid inside bit with a variety of different puzzles to solve and rooms to explore. It's one of the top 10 attractions in Wanaka and we were really excited to go and do something silly and fun. It was a gorgeous day for it and once again the sun was shining over the lake which made the short drive even more enjoyable. Entrance was 17 dollars for the maze and illusion room and we started with the illusions. There was a corridor of holograms and then a slanted floor which was so hard to get up. It felt as though I was swaying on a boat and was the most surreal feeling. I had a go on a seat ride which started from the bottom and went up, even though it was going down, and there were steps which made you look as though you were standing slanted in a room. The next section was a wall of portraits which looked both 3D and inverted followed by a room with two doors. The person in the left door looked huge while the person in the right door looked tiny which was really bizarre but cool. The last section of the illusion room consisted of a range of different tricks and puzzles on the wall before we went into the outside maze. The aim was to find the 4 coloured corners and go up in the wooden huts. Although the completion time was 30 to 60 minutes we completed it in about 15 with our fab senses of direction. 

Outside was a really cool and colourful set of slanted houses with a picture opportunity bridge, as well as a leaning tower of Wanaka which looked as though you were holding it up while standing underneath. To finish off our visit we sat inside where tables were scattered with puzzles and games. I struggle to find the patience for things like that sometimes and gave up on a lot of them, although me and Abs did manage to complete 1 game between us. We couldn't have really spent any longer than 2 hours there but it was interesting to do something different we haven't done before. The normal illusions in places I've been before don't stretch much further than funny mirrors so hats off to Puzzling World for offering something unique. Wanaka is such a beautiful place and one that boasts a lot of impressive entertainment and hospitality. It's my favourite place I've visited in New Zealand so far, both aesthetics and activities wise, and I wouldn't hesitate to come back. You usually get an instant feel for a place and this time it was a good one - a really good one. Each and every day I discover more and more how beautiful this country is and I'm so grateful I've been lucky enough to explore it. We have 3 more stops to go before completing the South Island and flying back up to Aukland ready to bask in heat and luxury in Fiji. Queenstown is next and with promise of incredible nightlife and the best burger in the world (Ferg Burger - Google it), to say I'm excited would be an understatement. 

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