Travels without a Plan #4

Shitty Shitty Bang Bang – Christchurch to Queenstown
After a couple of days in Christchurch, looking at all the Rental options, we finally opted for the cheapest (yes, in the true backpacker style), and we were promised a 1982 Holden Commodore, which was delivered late, due to the owner claiming that the previous user had treated it like crap. This should have been a warning, but did we heed it? No…..

So off we headed, late, and without a clue of where we were going. After buying a map and being given directions, we set off for Lake Tekapo, on the edge of the southern alps. The driving in New Zealand is easy, they drive on the left, and the roads are deserted and very straight.

We arrived in Lake Tekapo, amazing views, clear night skies, and stayed a night at, Tailor Made Backpackers, ready for an early start the next day to arrive at Mount Cook Village for stunning views of New Zealand’s highest mountain, and do a 1 day walk around the Glaciers.

Trying to start the engine in the morning, the battery of the car was totally dead. All very odd, so we phoned the hire company who suggested calling the AA, who took an hour and half to arrive. Yup, the battery was dead and they did not know why it was. So off we set, after a few minutes all the dials totally died, no readings of any description, not the best of starts.

Knowing that there was nothing at Tekapo, we set off for a stressful journey to the next ‘major town’ Twizel, which we knew had an AA mechanic, stopping on the way for amazing scenery of Glacial Lakes and mountains, all topped off with considerable amounts of snow. The ski season is certainly on its way.

At Twizel we were informed that the battery was causing a short circuit that was cutting out all the power in the battery and in the process blowing fuses that controlled the dials, he also pointed out that the engine was very loosely attached to the car and was going to fall out sometime!! This really was not good.

It was getting late and the weather was getting worse so it was decided to keep going to Mount Cook village, before it was impossible to see anything. They say that New Zealand has a wet climate and it was proving it by raining solidly for 26 hours. Really not the best situation to be in when your car was playing up. We arrived in Mount Cook Village as it was getting dark and all the mountains were obscured by clouds, not what we had wanted to see.

Stayed at the only hostel in the area, my first YHA of my trip, YHA Mount Cook. Checking in it was easy to remember why I had stopped using them years ago, too many rules, and not enough atmosphere. Anyhow the evening was spent sheltering from the gales that had decided to start up.

Waking in the morning we decided to do the Hooker Track although the weather was not great. It was lucky we set off when we did, as the weather got worse and worse, with none of the views that were promised. Once we arrived at a lake that had mini icebergs floating in its clear blue waters we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hostel, where we sheltered from the worsening gales and lashing rain.

Everyone looked depressed as there is nothing to do in Cook Village apart from walk in the mountains, so it was an opportunity to exchange travel stories, and discuss what people where doing next. There is a real circuit in this area of New Zealand, after Mt. Cook, the place to head for is Queenstown, so we organised to meet up after we arrived.

As we set off the next morning the car started making the worst noises imaginable, so we phoned the hire company and organized a new car, which could be collected that day, a Mazda station wagon. What a difference! So we set off for Queenstown in a new improved car, again in the most amazingly bad weather. Driving in pounding rain is OK, but at one stage a notice stated that Snow Chains are required to get into Queenstown. Our hearts sank, but asking at a garage, it was suggested that if the police really did not want us to pass we would be turned back. In the end all was OK and we got through, just at a very low speed, surrounded by some real winter scenery.

Queenstown is geared up for Adventure activities, anything you can imagine, skydiving, bungy jumping, rafting and jetboating. If it involves any adrenaline, you are able to do it in this town, with the opportunities of buying T-Shirts, photos, etc to prove your feats of bravery all at inflated costs (they say once you arrive in Queenstown, all budgets disappear). Queenstown has some great scenery, nestled on the lakes of Lake Wakaipu and surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains, including the greatly named, The Remarkables.

First few nights stayed at the Alpine Lodge, a very cool laid back Hostel. Due to the season, half way between summer and the winter ski season, it was deserted. The weather improved so it was decided to do Jetboating on the Shotover River and the next day to do Whitewater Rafting (on Grade 5 water). The Jet Boating is amazing, tiny boats, travelling at 70 km/hour around the tightest canyons you can imagine, with your head only centimetres away from the walls, and at times doing 360 degree turns in the the tightest area possible. What a rush (cold though, all helped by heated hand rails!! Very kind!!)

The next day was an early start to do whitewater rafting, decked out in full neoprene wetsuits, splash jackets, boots and gloves, walking over frozen sand. What the hell were we doing here?? It was so bloody cold. So we set off, as usual I was put in the front of the boat, so all the cold water rushed over my head. Despite wetsuits, I failed to feel my feet after three minutes on the water.

The journey lasted for 1 hour 45 minutes of some great rapids, tunnels and great scenery. No one was lost overboard, but our boat very nearly flipped on the first set of rapids, doh!! Great fun, I would recommend it to anyone. We used Extreme Green Rafting who were great, friendly and highly amusing bunch. Even the journey we took to get to the rafting was done on some of the most hairaising mountain roads I’ve ever seen, made even more impressive by the amusing commentary given by the driver.

Just in case you are wondering, I saw the original Bungy bridge, I thought long and hard about it, but I decided against it. No thanks. However, after speaking to various people I’m promising that whilst on this trip I shall be doing a Freefall Skydive, it appeals to me far more.

After meeting up with some people from the Mt. Cook hostel, it was decided to move to where they we are staying. Now we’re staying in an apartment, overlooking the lake, with kitchen, showers, lounge, TV, all for NZ$12.50 a night. What a bargain. There are six of of us, four British, and a Dutch couple.

Tomorrow, five of us are setting off to do a three day trek on Milford Sound, so fingers crossed about the weather!! This is the first time I have done anything like this, carrying my own food, cooker etc, so it should be a real experience.