What Do Travellers Do All Day?: #20 – Looking Doubtful – Manapouri to Wellington, New Zealand

20: Looking Doubtful

11 October 2002
A trip on Doubtful Sound quickly fell under the doubtful category once the price was gauged, and so I moved from Manapouri up to Te Anau where I would find information on Milford Sound – for most, the highlight of the South Island.

I was quickly informed by the DOC office that the road leading up to Milford was closed due to avalanche warnings. With very little time to play with, I decided to drive as far as I could anyway, and that way I would not spend the rest of my life whining about how I had been “so near, yet so far”. So defiantly I drove onward to Milford in rain which got thicker and heavier, in cold that seemed to want to freeze you to the core, and in wind that bobbed Miss Daisy all over the roads. I stopped many times to see the amazing scenery. With all the elements against me, The Mirror Lakes, mirrored only the rain slashing against it and after a 30-minute walk to The Chasm, I was drenched through.

Miraculously, the roads were opened before I reached them. Somebody out there was clearly not having a lifetime of whinging from me! So I wound down into the sound through a long tunnel through a mountain, in the most spectacular scenery one could imagine. The bad weather didn’t upset me and only served to make me feel small, insignificant and vulnerable at the hands of mother nature. I even took a cruise on the Sound with some English girls to watch waterfalls blowing upwards and crash around with all those waves. Looking at the professional postcards of Milford, I don’t recognise the place and so we took a photo of us with nature in full force behind us and a postcard of serene Milford beauty resting on the window ledge of the boat to show the different moods of the Sound.

Rain, Snow, Ice & Rushing Wind
From Milford I made my way to Queenstown where for 2 days I got to stew over my pending 134m Nevis Highwire Bungy. Every time I remembered what I would be doing, my heart did the ‘lodge in your throat’ thing. On the first day I sat indoors like the rest of Queenstown, out of the freezing cold and rain. To keep myself from having a coronary thinking of my jump, I headed up The Remarkables to do some skiing on the second day.

I have only skied once before for 2 weeks in Bulgaria, and so I was a little rusty and without confidence. I watched others and picked up the gist of things pretty quickly, but my confidence returned only slowly. I was busy making a name for myself on the easy green slopes as I collided with one unsuspecting snowboarder after another, until I felt confident enough to go a little higher. I never progressed to the blue but still feel as though I came a long way. After a fresh dump of snow the night before and freezing cold weather to keep it nice and powdery, I had an absolutely brilliant day looking out over a breathtaking landscape.

To further distract me from my pending bungy, my Welsh and English roommates dragged me off for a night on the town. First stop Pog Mahones, which means “Kiss my arse” in Gaelic. I started off slowly, very conscious of how a tummy full of alcohol might bounce 134m! But everything went to pot as we sat in Chico’s downing Jagermeister. By 11pm we had gathered quite a crowd, including an Israeli guy who works at this cool bar called Winnie Bago’s – so skipping the very long queue we popped in there. Winnie’s is rather cool, especially when you think you might die from the heat of the open fire: the roof suddenly opens up and gives you a peak at the stars and cool night sky. I danced til well into the morning, and a quick nap before my alarm woke me for the big jump!

8am on the third day we wound our way into the valley of The Nevis Highwire. I adopted a little Canadian nervous wreck and told her how I never died on my two previous bungy’s in Zimbabwe, so she may well live – I am the peptalk queen! The experience of the cable car/gondola is designed to make you feel unsafe and edgy. Harnessed in, the rickety little car carries you over the sheer drop of 134m to ‘the mothership’. I had a few snowboarder dudes all psyched up on my left and a bunch of nervous indecisives on my right – I felt rather normal besides the slight inner tension that was making me wanting to hurl. By the time I got to jump I was glad to have this bloke on the one side left well behind as he did the wide-eyed, dreadlocked head jiggle and thumbs up thing to me for the fiftieth time, saying “Yeah – what a rush dude!” Of course I wanted more when I was reeled back up, but at prices like that, I would have to start getting my rushes elsewhere.

After Queenstown I headed for Wanaka and Puzzle World where I spent a greater part of the morning getting lost in a maze with evil kids sending me in completely wrong directions. I legged it up the West Coast to the glaciers, where I made the mistake of staying at a hostel where Kiwi Experience buses offloaded their clientele. I got the opportunity to cook only near midnight, and the next day climbed aboard the Franz Joseph glacier with crampons (spiked boots). Quite an experience!

From the glaciers I legged it up to Greymouth and grey it was, but I was lucky enough to find one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed at to date, Neptunes. I found out later that actually it used to be a mortuary – that’s not something they’re advertising freely to guests I see. But I shall remember it as the big homey place with no bunks, and clean baths with free bubbles! A bath whilst backpacking is a very rare treat indeed!

Passing the Punakaiki Blowholes – which with key timing of the tides, I saw one of the most amazing things here to date – I headed for Nelson. Shaz, a friend of mine from the West Coast of New Zealand, was at her folk’s deer farm after a round-the-world trip in the opposite direction. News of her engagement and impending wedding had reached me by now, and my surprise was registering every few minutes. (You have to know Shaz as the sheep-shearing hard-arse Kiwi who was always partying every night and challenging big men to arm wrestle her, to understand my surprise. I met her in Africa on my trip there, where I was relieved to have someone happy to kill our food so that I didn’t have to. And here she was a few years later, with a ring on her finger about to marry one of the nicest Irish blokes you could ever meet.

Hogie (husband to be) told me how when he got down on one knee to propose in Fiji, a sharp shell dug into his knee and he tried to get up to shift and she put her hands on his shoulders and pulled him down again and held him there until he had asked her what she knew he was going to ask.

Tramping & Lazing
So after a ride with Shaz’s dad on the back of the quad bike around the deer farm and a great homey night by the fire with the Hannah’s, Shaz’s family, I headed out to Abel Tasman National Park with Joanne, the sister. We started in Marahau on our walk, anything short of food and supplies and camped at Anchorage on the first night.

It wasn’t a long walk, but we managed to take our time with ample wine breaks and I was kind of toasty by the time I got there. But we arrived to find the cabin there doubly booked, and so we nabbed a spot on the kitchen floor with 20 other people. After a bit of help from the wine, we nodded off to sleep pretty early and rose at 5am to walk across the beach to the next bay at low tide. I sunk in to the mud ankle-deep whilst crossing ,and a few hours later at Bark Bay we hopped on a ferry taking us back home just before the rains came.

We got soaked on the way back to our car after being fed by some old-age pensioners aboard the ferry, and was glad of the warm shower at the Hannah’s place when we got back. Of course, we managed a couple of injuries along the way – possibly it was all the food and wine we were carrying. Joanne came back with blisters on both feet and I put my knee out – for only 2 days tramping, this was quite a sorry sight. Shaz’s mom decided that whilst in NZ one has to try lamb, and so we had a lovely roast lamb for dinner that night. I got kind of comfortable there over the next few days. I pried myself away from all this comfort, kiwi hospitality and comfort at some point, and headed to Picton to drop Miss Daisy off and cross over to Wellington on the ferry.