TOM & ZARA'S TRAVELS

New Zealand South Island
It’s suddenly dawned on my that we’ve been so busy having such a great time that we haven’t told you about any of the activities we have done yet. Sorry! Where to start….
1. After spending a few nights in Peel Forrest, we drove South to Lake Tekapo. The drive in was beautiful, lots of long windy roads. As we turned a bend we spotted Mount Cook in the distance and it was covered in snow, our first sighting on snow on this trip. We raced down the road until there was a bay where we were able to pull over. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the sky was clear so we got out our camp chairs, made a brew and a bite to eat, and sat on the grass by the side of the road gazing at the mountain. As camper vans and coaches loaded with tourists drove past us, they often honked their horns and gave us the thumbs up - this is the life!
Once settled in Lake Tekapo, we found a beautiful camp spot by Lake McGregor for just $5 each ran by a really nice Kiwi chap called Graham, in his late 50s who spends his days fishing on the lake. 
The purity of the atmosphere above Lake Tekapo is excellent so Canterbury University have an observatory at the top of Mount Cook making Lake Tekapo a perfect location for Star Gazing tours. We booked ourselves onto a tour which started at 11pm - “wear as many layers as possible” was the advice given. Wearing 7 layers on top, 3 on the bottom (including thermals), hats and gloves we waddled into the village where we were driven to the top of Mount John with the lights dipped to protect our eyes from light pollution. We were greeted by our guide and invited to sit down on some chairs in the field with the stars glistening brightly above us. We were given an introduction to the Southern Hemisphere and some constellations were pointed out to us although being from the Northern Hemisphere, it took me a while to get my head around some of the constellations being upside down.
As the guide chatted some more, we all sat creaking our necks to look at the stars but it was worth it because the sky was pollution free so the Milky Way was clearly visible. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shooting star whizzing across the sky. It looked amazing, it was so bright and as clear as could be so, imagine my reaction when the guide told me it wasn’t a shooting star. Well, it was but they’re technically a meteoroid - some rock or ice coming into our atmosphere. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it?!
We looked through the outdoor telescopes at some of the star clusters then moved into the observatory to look at some planets through larger telescopes. We ended the tour looking at Saturn which looked incredible. It was vertically “sat” as opposed to horizontal but the ring was so clear to see, it almost didn’t seem real, it looked like it could have been a silver sticker in the sky. Aside from the cold, we had a great hour and a half star gazing, learning about the stars, planets and constellations in the Southern Hemisphere.
2. Aoraki/ Mount Cook. We’d spoken to a few people who spoke of the hike to the top of Mount Cook - a 7 hour return trip with the option to stay in Mueller Hut at the top of the mountain overnight for $35 each. Being the enthusiast that he is, Tom decided we were doing the hike. Tomorrow morning. Oh bugger. 
We spotted a couple who had just completed the hike (decked out in full walking gear, complete with hiking sticks) so we got chatting to them to ask for advise. “It’s really difficult, especially the first hour and a half as the steps are really steep…we completed it in 6 hours”. They both looked super fit and sporty, I’m definitely neither of these things so this did nothing to help settle my nerves.
We camped up at White Horse Hill Campground, a DOC site at the bottom of Mount Cook. Through the night we could heard the rumble of the avalanches several times - quite magical really but did nothing for my nerves “yes, I know you’re still there and I have to attempt to climb you tomorrow morning”.
We woke up at 7am the follow morning, had a big bowl of porridge to set ourselves up for the climb and made a packed lunch consisting of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, pretzels and sweets to help keep our sugar levels up. By 8am we were on our way. We followed the Sealy Tarns Track and the couple were right, the steps were hard work but I was out of breath before we even got to the steps! They were small, steep, gravel steps, there was no hand rail, the track was windy and the steps would vary in shape and size. I was stumbling all over the place, huffing and puffing, stopping at every chance I could get “Don’t keep stopping after every 5 steps Zara”. My legs felt like lead after an hour, how the hell was I supposed to manage 7 hours?! To add salt to the wound, 3 German guys in their late teens appeared from nowhere, they hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and smugly over took us. I’m pretty sure I was wheezing by this stage. We were over 2 hours into our climb when we past a guy who was on his way down. He had stayed in Mueller Hut last night and said how great it was. When we told him we’d never done any climbing before he said ‘oh wow, talk about throwing yourselves in at the deep end’ (thanks Tom) but encouraged us on “You’re almost a 3rd of the way to the top and the steps end in 30 minutes or so”. I felt deflated urgh. Just a third of the way there. We powered on and made it to Sealy Tarns rest area where we sat down, got out our food and had a rest and took in the stunning views around us. We had climbed 1250 metres, quite an achievement in my eyes.
As we sat, we watched groups of people struggle further ahead. A group of men and women in their mid 60s sat by us and had also spent the night in Mueller Hut. They’re all members of local tramping clubs so hike regularly and had all the gear too (hiking sticks, funny leg cover things, head bands, hats etc). The women said the next part of the climb was more difficult as it was really steep, there are no steps  and the rocks and gravel are loose so you really have to watch where you put your footing. We only had an additional 450 metres to climb to reach Mueller Hut at the top where we could see Mueller Glacier - this should have been motivation in itself but as I stood up, my legs seemed to have froze up, I could barely move them. There’s no way I was going up to the top. I really wanted Tom to continue on because he’s a doer, if he says he’s going to do something he will do it and I didn’t want to be the one to hold him back. I couldn’t persuade him though so after a few hugs ‘almost’ at the top of the mountain, we made our descend. Needless to say, this was a breeze compared to the climb up. My legs were shaking from what I had put them through but they just wanted to go, to get me down to the bottom as quickly as possible, I was laughing and giggling like a child, it felt very strange.
In total, it took us over 3 hours to do the return hike to Sealy Tarn rest area. It felt good to have attempted the climb and to have challenged ourselves nor did I feel disappointed that we weren’t able to make it to the top either. In honesty, I’d much prefer to take a nice stroll along a beach or through a forrest over this any day.  
3. We were deliberating whether or not to go to Milford Sound because we had a few days of thick fog and the Milford Road stops at Milford Sound and is a 5 hour return journey. With time on our side, we decided to go for it and drove the 3 and a quarter hour scenic route from Invercargill. We drove as far as Lake Gunn, the last D.O.C (Department of Conservation) campsite on the Mailford Road. We parked up by the lake, went for a walk through the forrest and kept our fingers and toes crossed that the fog would clear before tomorrow morning. The following morning, 7th April, we woke up bright and early at 7am to clear skies and sunshine (hurray) so we sped along through Cleddau Valley, through Homer Tunnel - all 1,200 metres of it and arrived at Milford Sound by 8:15am with plenty of time to spare before our 9am cruise. We booked our cruise with Go Orange for just $49/£25 each and boarded the Milford Haven. By 9am, we were cruising through the fiords with a complimentary BLT in our hands - cue a very happy Tom! 
As we cruised along we saw fiords, mountains, waterfalls, tonnes of fur seals lazing around on the rocks and out of the corner of my eye I spotted some dolphins. I pointed at them as I jumped up and down and the Captain drove towards them “Good spot lady” and they soon began showing off jumping in and out of the water and followed us for a good 15 minutes. There was roughly 6 of them, including a baby, and they swam so close to the side of the boat, I was desperate to reach out and touch them (not possible from the top deck). They were beautiful, so captivating to watch.
We cruised out as far as the Tasman Sea then did a 180 and made our way back. On the return journey, we were driven to the Bowen Falls where the Captain parked up with the nose of the boat underneath the 530 foot drop as we braced ourselves whilst we got sprayed with water. It was fun - I caught this moment on our GoPro and will eventually get round to adding those videos on to our blog when I have edited all of the videos (most likely to be when we leave New Zealand). 
The cruise lasted 2 hours and I can honestly say it was the highlight of our New Zealand trip so far. After the cruise, we headed back towards Te-Anu and stopped at Henry’s Creek, the closest DOC site to Te-Anu. We set up camp by Lake Te-Anu, hidden away in the forrest and sat on the rocks by the lake, reflecting on our day whilst watching the sunset over the mirrors lake. As the sun set behind the mountains, the sky turned all shades of colours from yellow to orange, red and pink. It was stunning. A beautiful end to a perfect day. We liked it here so much that we stayed on for 3 nights. It was then that we realised we had to move on because we hadn’t showered for 6 days otherwise, we would have happily stayed longer.
4. On the 12th April, we spent a night in Queenstown, a beautiful resort town built around Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains. Queenstown is flagged as New Zealand’s top adventure tourism destination due to the array of adrenaline-pumping sports on offer in and around the town. So, when in Rome, we booked onto the Shotover Jet on the recommendation of the Harvey’s (thanks you lovely pair) and drove ourselves to Arthurs Pass to the Shotover Lake, nestled in a valley underneath a tall bridge.  
We adopted the very unflattering waterproof dresses and life jackets (I declined the ugly welding glasses), got our safety briefing from Andy our driver then he revved up the engine and we were on our way. Propeller-less power boats took us around the Shotover Lake at breakneck speeds, down narrow canyons driving scarily close to sharp rocks, along shallow waters and would whirl us 360 degrees at frighteningly narrow points of the river - soaking you as a result. It was SO much fun. I think I was smiling and screaming too much because my mouth was so dry and teeth really sensitive at the end of it.
You may have noticed that the Royals visited New Zealand recently and being the fun seeking pair that Wills and Kate are they are, they too did the Shotover Jet so you may have seen it in the news. If not, take a peak at the video on line here (www.shotoverjet.co.nz). We were unable to take our cameras on to the jet so we couldn’t take any pictures but we managed to pull some from their website. Doesn’t it look fun! 
We have lots more exciting things in the pipeline so we promise to update you as and when they happen. Until next time….
ZG

Some pictures from our cruise through Milford Sound 7th April

More images from our cruise through Milford Sound

UPDATE. 
Travelled almost another 1000km since the last update. We are now in Fox Glacier and it’s chucking it down and looks like it will be for a week : ( so we are productively updating the blog! Yeay. 
I know from experience that other peoples holiday snaps can get pretty tedious.  Each of the photos from the 10,000 on my laptop evoke some great feelings so it’s difficult choosing what to put on here and so I hope the pictures of mountains and roads don’t all look same same to you. 
Words are soon to follow by Zaz. 
https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zfgKWoVjS6bI.k13fOS0j1g7c

UPDATE. 

Travelled almost another 1000km since the last update. We are now in Fox Glacier and it’s chucking it down and looks like it will be for a week : ( so we are productively updating the blog! Yeay. 

I know from experience that other peoples holiday snaps can get pretty tedious.  Each of the photos from the 10,000 on my laptop evoke some great feelings so it’s difficult choosing what to put on here and so I hope the pictures of mountains and roads don’t all look same same to you. 

Words are soon to follow by Zaz. 

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zfgKWoVjS6bI.k13fOS0j1g7c

So, how is life in a camper van?

Life is great! We had some slight reservations about Barnaby, our Toyota HiAce camper mainly down to his age (he has a 1988 reg, almost as old as me) so we took him into a garage to get a few checks done and get the oil changed yesterday. We watched on from the side lines as Barnaby was driven over the narrow opening in the ground and worked on by 5 men at lightning speed. As we listened in, a few of their comments made us a little nervous “Ey Jason, have you ever seen a 4mm washer on an engine of this size/age”, “It looks like somebody has taken a stone hammer to the side of this engine to loosen it up” “Ey, it doesn’t look like the oil has ever been changed on this thing” (this ‘thing’ had done over 370,000km when we bought it). They were fascinating to watch and so professional. Oil Changers in Invercargill, highly recommended. In spite of this, our minds were put to ease as we paid the bill ($80/40 quid) and Jason, the manager, told us we have a good little runner. Phew.

We’ve been on the road in our camper for exactly 2 weeks now and we’re both having a ball. As simple as it may sound, just having the freedom to stop whenever and where ever we like is such a good feeling. We drive (well Tom does, Barnaby is an old boy with the gears to the side of the steering wheel - not designed for girls) for as long or little as we like then when we feel like we should stop we do. Either by the side of the road, at a rest spots or come the end of the day, at a campground. We have found some stunning campgrounds - we’ve camped in a forest, by beautiful lakes, in open fields, on beaches, nestled in a valley and at the bottom of a mountain where we could hear the avalanches through the night.
The sky comes alive at night with stars and planets glistening so brightly and there is no air pollution so you can often see the Milky Way too. It’s beautiful. When the weather is nice i.e. not raining, we sleep with the back curtains open on the van so we can fall asleep under the stars, watching on in amazement at how quickly they move. Then we slowly wake up in the mornings as we feel the first few rays of sunlight to watch the sunrise over us. There hasn’t been one morning when I have woken without a smile on my face (well, perhaps there was one time when Tom dragged me on a 3 hour hike to climb Mount Cook).

Sheila, (financial controller extraordinaire for Malmaison and Hotel Du Vin) I know you will soon be asking me again “but surely it can’t all be fantastic?’. This next part is written with you in mind…..

Dinners are often fun. As we first started out on the trip, we were cooking fancy meals like Spaghetti Bolognese then we would turn them into a chilli the following night, we would cook thai chicken curry or a stir fry with some sort of meat glazed in a fancy sauce. We soon realised we were spending way too much money on food and gas (food is really expensive here) so gone are those fancy dinners. Nowadays, we mainly eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch (always peanut butter for Tom) and pasta with some sort of sauce from a jar for dinner. Dull I know but needs must. For a treat every now and again we will throw in a jar of sardines and some olives into our pasta. Or if we’re feeling REALLY adventurous, then we have a vegetable stir fry - 1 leek, 1 carrot, 2 peppers and some noodles. Meat is a luxury over here so we’re trying to limit ourselves to meat twice a week. If you think this is bad, we watched a group of Germans making dinner a few nights ago - pasta and butter! Bad times. Poor Tom throws a tantrum every other day and now hates food shopping. He walks around the supermarkets shouting and whining “BUT I WANT BACON”, “I WANT CHOCOLATE” “I WANT PIZZA”. Hungry boys can be hard work!

We mostly camp at D.O.C sites (Department of Conservation) which range from anything from $5 - $15 per person per night the latter offering more facilities such as a kitchen, laundry room, showers. However, after spending $4200 on our camper, we need to keep on track with our budgeting so we mostly stay at the cheap sites with a couple of nights freedom camping in between then stay at the $30 dollar sites twice per week.

A few days in to our trip I\we have come to realise that we take so much for granted in everyday life. Such things are luxuries when travelling around and living out of a camper van. Let’s see:

1. Running water - very rarely available, mostly only at the more expensive $30 sites. Even then, it is not always drinking water. Water can either be collected from a stream or from a tap and then boiled before drinking. On some occasions, we have camped where there is no water source at all. On these days, we keep driving until we find some water, fill up our 12L bottle and make this last for as long as possible. 12L goes very quickly; mostly on drinking water, washing up or on cups of coffee for TomTom. Washing up with cold water at night is no fun at all. The temperature really drops at night (as low as 5 degrees), mostly by 6pm so I’ve promised myself some marigolds on our next shopping trip to stop my hands from freezing. The few places that do have water from a tap very rarely have a hot water tap so things including my face, never really feel clean. The amount of times we’ve used toilets in an Information Centre just to take advantage of their hot water on tap to have a wash is shameful. But that clean feeling afterwards is worth it.

2. Toilets - Unfortunately, I just can’t get on with drop toilets and trust me, after travelling around Vietnam for 2 months using mostly squatter toilets, I have tried. I can’t stand the thought of weeing into something that you can’t see the bottom of. They stink, toilet roll is limited, flies and mosquitoes seem to love hovering around them - there is NO WAY I would ever sit on one of those things. Hand sanitiser is my best friend out here (note to self, must add more to the shopping list).

3. & 4. Showers & Personal Hygiene - Ahhhh hot showers or just any shower at all for that matter. We have a solar shower but can’t ever seem to warm the water up enough to take the chill off. Showers do not exit at DOC sites unless staying at $30 sites, so our personal hygiene is pretty horrendous. At the start of the trip we asked ourselves how often we think we could go in between showers. We both agreed that a shower every 3rd day would be just about do-able. I’m ashamed to say that if we are able to have a hot shower every 4th day then we’re winning. In between those days, we have to get by with baby wipes. We heard some places have public showers where you pay $2 for 5 minutes but we’ve only seen them in one place so far. Have you ever gone without showering for 4 days? The feeling when you then get underneath that hot shower is bliss. To feel the hot water on your manky skin, to be able to scrub away the layers of dirt and keep scrubbing until the shower gel has formed as many soap suds as humanly possible. I like to pretend that I’m in a human car wash (they should invent them here in New Zealand, they’d be perfect for us backpackers. They have car and dog(!) washes so why not?!) and only feel ready to get out when my fingers and toes are wrinkled and my skin feels squeaky clean. Those 10 minutes showering are up there with the highlights of each week.

5. Tea\Coffee - argumentally shouldn’t be on the list as these are definitely accessible to us but what I would do for a kettle! Imagine just being able to wake up on a morning, fill your kettle up from a tap with running water, boil some water and pour it into a cup and BINGO. Tea/Coffee is served. We bought a flask at the start of our trip. It was a fancy double Thermos thing with two cups, all the mod cons a flask should have. I was feeling quite smug showing it off to other campers “Yeah, look at us with our fancy flask. It’s great for storing hot water for tea\coffee and when we go on hikes we can make a big batch of soup. Oooh I know, it was a great idea wasn’t it”. It broke on the second day of our trip! The insides smashed, exploded. I was so disappointed.

6. Internet - Needless to say internet is most definitely a luxury. We’re currently sat in a library using their free wifi so we can keep up to do on the blog. It makes keeping in touch with loved ones, family an friends more difficult but it also makes those times when we do catch up even more fulfilling.

Would I change anything about travelling around and living out of a camper van? Would I heck. We’re in New Zealand for crying out loud and it feels good to be challenged and has made me realise a few more things about us humans.
For me, it’s not what you’ve got in life but who you have in your life that counts.

Z.G
5.4.14