Day 3 - Golden Bay, Takaka
Right after a hearty breakfast, we headed to Takaka on a long journey. After about 102 km of travelling, we arrived at the Golden Bay i-Site Visitor Centre. New Zealand has got various i-Site Visitor Centres all around, so do check them out when you visit the country.
Unsure of what we wanted to do, we decided upon the receptionist's suggestion: Wharariki Beach. About an hour of driving including getting lost when the GPS lost connection, we managed to reach the start point of the track. It was actually lunch time but food was too far away for us to access so we decided to quickly choose a track to do and settled on a 3 km (1 hour) track: Wharariki Beach via Dune Lake and Nikau Lake.
I personally felt that we made a good choice to go on the track. The empty track was finally greeted with a fenced up land with sheep. Judging from the track marks, we climbed into the sheep land with the help of short steps. Stepping on sheep poo and chasing them around, we got ourselves to the end of the track. With waves hitting the beach, we enjoyed the ocean and nature's formations. Whilst enjoying, we explored and saw a small cave. The three of them explored the cave while I stood outside to take some photos. I was told that the cave had nothing so I didn't go in.
After taking our fair share of photographs, we decided to head back to our vehicle. Got up and drove back to Takaka to have a quick late lunch bite. We stopped by Domino's Pizza but decided to have fish and chips for takeaway and brought it back to our apartment.
After having the nice and cheap dinner, we got our rest after a long day.
Day 4 - Franz Josef
We left our Airbnb apartment for a 4-hour drive to Franz Josef. By the time we got to Franz Josef, it was already 1620 hrs due to the stops we took in between. Hungry and having not had any lunch, Xiu Ming bought a whole chicken and shared with us. As the restaurants around us were out of our budget, we settled on the remaining loaf of bread in our vehicle.
After visiting a souvenir shop, we hopped onto the vehicle and drove to the i-Site Visitor Centre. As we had planned to do the 15-minute part of Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, the receptionist told us that the entry for vehicles to the walk will be closed at 1800 hrs. With an hour left, we rushed down to catch a glimpse of the glaciers.
The colder temperature can be felt as we got off at the car park. While it was drizzling, we tracked quickly to the end of the walk. It was an amazing sight: to see the glacier's retreat path over the years and the snow-capped mountains surrounding it. We also saw some tourists doing the paid Glacier Valley Walk, which I felt would be worth the NZ$75. You get closer to the glacier than the 15-minute walk which most people did for free. However if you are feeling much more adventurous, you might want to consider taking the Ice Explorer or the Glacier Heli Hike.
After taking photos, we returned to our vehicle while the rain got heavier. We checked-in to the Chateau Franz Josef hostel right after exiting, got ourselves a cramped room with two double-decked beds and had a little rest. We were told that free soup will be served at 2000 hrs and with that down in our stomachs, we headed back to our room to sleep.
Day 5 - Queenstown
Breakfast was served at the hostel and we were a little late than scheduled, so we had a quick bite, checked-out and left for Queenstown. 350 km away from Franz Josef, we started the drive out and seeing signs of the Fox Glacier, I suggested that we take a look at it.
This time, we got slightly closer to the glacier. About 600 meters (according to the information board), we could see the glacier and once again, a couple of people on guided tour. I felt that we were not near enough to the glacier and wanted a view of the glacier from another angle. We drove off to look for the Glacier View Road car park but to our disappointment, it was closed for vehicle entry.
Doing a quick u-turn, we got back on the road. Halfway through the journey to Queenstown, I saw the sign for Blue Pools and stopped the vehicle. It was raining but I convinced the others to get off and check out the pools. After 15 minutes of walking to the bridge, all we saw was the rushing current of murky, gravel water. Disappointed, I apologized and we once again got back on track to Queenstown.
Due to the stops on the road for scenic photographs, we finally arrived at our destination near evening. Being the driver, I was not used to the congested traffic around in the town. We took a little while to find out where our hostel - Adventure Queenstown Hostel - was located and parked our vehicles a little too far. After checking-in, the receptionist (who happens to be a Singaporean) gave us a quick tour around the well-equipped hostel. There was a nice lounge to chill with other backpackers and watch movies on a huge television set, a good kitchen plus dining area, and a beautiful shared toilet with multiple showers.
Getting instructions on where we could park our vehicle, we went to park our vehicle at the Recreation Ground car park for NZ$2.50 per day. Unloading our luggage, we brought our belongings up to the hostel and decided to pay for the small BBQ dinner with the hostel.
Before the dinner was served, we walked to a nearby supermarket to get our breakfast: eggs and sausages. The weather was much colder than the other towns or cities we have been to. Most people on the streets had their hands in their pockets. Queenstown is known for their night life but we did not check out their bars, so we did our usual phone checking and stuff before sleeping.
Day 6 - Skydiving in Queenstown
We woke up on time, had our filling breakfast and headed over to the NZONE Skydive Center a short walk away from our hostel. As the online booking system had problems a week before we flew to New Zealand, we paid cash in the shop itself. After doing a quick survey and introducing their photography and video packages, they shuttled us to the Dropzone.
We were told that we were the first group to jump. After clearing my stomach at the toilet, I joined the group to put on our jumpsuit. I was introduced to my videographer and he did a quick interview before my tandem master brought me up to the plane. During the flight up, I remembered that the shop in Queenstown noted that we could ask for stunts from our tandem master. I asked politely for a stunt and the both of us decided that a back-flip would do.
At 12,000 feet high and the edge of the aircraft, I was trying hard to smile at the cameraman. The wind was hitting my face and legs really hard. Being the last to jump, time felt a little long but in a matter of seconds, my tandem master brought me out of the aircraft with the back-flip as agreed beforehand.
It was really cold up in the air and it was hard to breathe through the nose. Constantly, I tried smiling at the camera (the videographer jumped with us) and could not really maintain a smile due to the gushing wind. Despite all that, it was really fun to be dropping through the air at 200 km/h! I do wish to mention that throughout the skydive, the only painful thing was getting my ears blocked so if you are allowed to wear earplugs, it might benefit you. We were not provided with any earplugs.
My tandem master and I free-fell for about 45 seconds before the parachute was released. After releasing, the air felt still. I could finally hear myself shouting "woohoo" and mentioning to my tandem master how beautiful Queenstown was. I was amazed by the snow-capped mountains and the lake that surrounded us. Since I had a couple of minutes in the air, I looked around. The farms, the houses and a football field all looked really small from the top. But I still loved the snow-capped mountains that surrounded us.
I finally landed on grass, took a photo with my tandem master and headed back in for payment. The four of us got ourselves the USB photo and combo. Though it was expensive, I felt that it was worth the money paid as this would be part of our memories for life. Check out the video above that I edited from the footage given!
I am thankful that we were able to skydive as the low clouds came in while we were in the air. After the second group, the rest of the groups did not get to jump. New Zealand is notable for their constant changing weather, so do check with your skydiving company if the jump is still on before you arrive at the destination.
Leaving the beautiful scenery behind, we shuttled back to Shotover Street. After resting for two hours, we set off to look for the famous Fergburger. Thankfully the queue was not very long when we arrived. I got myself the Cock Cajun and my, was it huge! I have had Fatboy's burgers in Singapore before but this was slightly larger. It was good and I would recommend one to try the burgers when they visit Queenstown!
After lunch, we collected our skydiving photo books and USB sticks, and headed back to our hostel. Wanting to do the Luge, we were told by the receptionist (after making a call for us, thank you) that it was closed due to the rain. We then decided to walk around town, visited various souvenir shops, shared cookies from Cookie Time (they tasted good!) and bought our own takeaway dinner.
Done with dinner and the adrenaline-filled morning, we had our rest for another exciting day.