So we are now in Queenstown at the final station of our journey together before the group starts making their own way to their respective homes. It has been oh too easy to be swept up on this trip with each place offering new experiences and thus a severe neglect of blogging duties...sorry. Here's an attempt to capture the last 2 and a half weeks into a read worthy blog and before the money runs out on the internet! A challenge indeed.
From our island of Urupukapuka we headed back to Auckland for a couple of nights to reaquaint with city life 'NZ' style. This included a trip to the Otara markets, the biggest Polynesian markets in the world, where we managed to bump into none other than the leader of New Zealand, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark. Jeremy even managed to squeeze into a photo with her, not hard when there were no bodyguards to ward off onlookers.
Then we got into our week of outdoor adventuring. First stop was at the Waitomo caves. The guided trip through the cave including rappels, waterways, stalactites, and the climb up an arduous 6 waterfalls to finish will probably never be forgotten by the group. It was amazing to be in the caves and after a hard climb out, there was a huge amount of pride and well deserved sense of achievement that followed. Congratulations team! It's true shared experiences build relationships. We then travelled on to somewhere that offered a little more luxury and a little less effort - Castle Rock close to Wharepapa South. We took over the accommodation and the hot tub and very quickly it felt like our home. And just across the road were rocks waiting to be climbed. Two days of climbing, mountain biking, movie watching and general unwinding, not to forget a very memorable game of Cranium with a STARE PERFORMER! Once more it was time to drive on.
En route to Taupo we stopped at a mainland island, Maungatautari. Set up mostly by the local community it is an area surrounded by a predator-proof fence in the aims of restoring the area to it's native, pest free environment. We spent a couple of hours experiencing the area before we ended up at the Kaituna River. This was where the group decided it was a good day to raft the highest graded waterfall, that is commercially rafted, in the world! A huge 7m (20 foot) drop was waiting around the corner as we dropped over rapids in quick sucession. You should ask the other participants how they enjoyed it and the surfing in the waves. And to end this big day we drove on to Taupo, stopping at Kerosine Creek to soak in the natural, free, springs.
From Taupo we drove south to Wellington where we once again sampled NZ's city scene. Wellington is NZ's capital and houses the parliament buildings known as the beehive and Te Papa our incredible national museum. We meet political Pat and rambling Richard who took us through each place and shared their depth of knowledge and passion about their places of work. In cities in NZ there is also a fair amount of night life so some danced, some sang, some watched movies and the two tour guides combined all of the above and went to Mama Mia!
The next day it was time to get up, check out of our great hostel and head on to the Kaitaki ferry. It took us over the Cook Strait to the Marlborough Sounds, beautiful even when it's raining. From there it was a couple of hours to drive to Nelson where we to spend the next week of conservation work. Roger the ranger and his colleague Ross spent the week taking us to different sites in the Nelson region where we greatly contributed to their efforts in restoring natural habitats by continually getting our hands really dirty! Every day we ended up in a reasonably different environment and planted trees. On the first day we were out by the coast and estuary of Motueka. We added to the efforts of previous groups and planted lots of natives. Then after lunch a bunch of us disappeared to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane. And really the plane was fine but I think the flight up was the most nerve racking part of the who sky dive expereince. Up we flew to 13000 feet before our tandem jump masters shuffled us to the doors, asked us to smile and then launched us out into thin air. Fifty seconds of free fall later the parachute pulls and we glide down swirling and turning safely back to earth. Amazing!
We also worked at a very special place called Kokorua on the coast. Only accessible with permission this was the place we planted a rare type of grass on the dunes, hoping to restore it in it's natural habitat and help prevent dune erosion. It was a beautiful clear day and as we ate our lunch off the bbq fire and watched surfers playing the waves in the background the snow covered mountains finally showed through.
The week in Nelson whipped past and included some great mountain / stream biking, squash games, card games, a fair bit of rain, meeting some of the friendly locals, movies in the hostel and a wonderful dinner at the home of Pacific Discovery with Rachel, Scott and Kahu. Kahu certainly warmed to the group and they to him.
Finally it was time to head back into the van for the last road trip south to Queenstown. Along the way we stayed at Punakaiki, home to the pancake rocks, Franz Josef, home to a glacier and not far from the home of the NZ's rare and beautiful white herons and we stopped in at Wanaka, a small town by a lake surrounded by mountains. Queenstown too is a small town by a lake surrounded by mountains but is the most international of towns in NZ. It's hard to find any kiwis that live here but lots of people drawn to the place from all over the world by it's snow and adventure activities. And it has been participating in those things that has occupied the group for their remaining days in NZ. A beautiful day on the Remarkables and a chilly jump off the legendary Kawarau bridge birthplace of the bungee jump.
Tomorrow most of the group will fly home taking themselves a few added extras in their luggage and their memories of a FABULOUS four weeks in NZ seeing almost all of what we have to offer and getting many inside glimpses of life in NZ that most tourists would never get a chance to take part in. Thanks for a great trip guys we hope to see you back here and maybe you'll convince me that jumping off a bridge with a rubber band velcroed around my feet is something I actually really do want to try! Or maybe I'll just have a Speights with you and muster some sheep.