Let me begin by saying that I never wanted to come to New Zealand. In fact, I was dead against it. An ex girlfriend of my brother almost took him to live in Pukekohe six years ago. I vividly remember her describing her home country – lots of sheep and you could walk for miles without seeing a single soul. Back then I was in full force London mode and the thought of not being squidged up against a random gentleman’s armpit during rush hour on the tube filled me with dread.
Fast forward six years and not only did I leave London in 2014 to live in Melbourne for fourteen long months, but I had landed on New Zealand shores with only a backpack and a wheelie case full of belongings to see me through the next six months of travelling back to London.
Having endured a stressful beginning to the trip with a mistaken detour to Wellington, flight delays, two overnight flights with no sleep and a four hour wait until check in at the hostel, day one of the tour felt like hard work and no holiday. And feeling skeptical about meeting people that I wasn’t sure I would get on with was taking its toll.
You see, I had never wanted to do a tour. My narrow mind told me that I would struggle with social anxiety and homesickness when I didn’t feel like I could join in with the group. But as I sit here now, I look back at the last three weeks of my life and recall moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Was it that I have just been driven around the most incredibly beautiful country that I have ever laid eyes on by a guide that perfectly struck the balance between boss, tour guide and friend; or could it be the warm, loving and hilarious strangers that became best friends that make me feel like this? Or could it be the fact that I have just taken part in some of the greatest adrenaline adventure activities available in the world. Or all of the above?
I salute you, G Adventures. You knew how to create memories to last a lifetime. You knew exactly where to take us to set our hearts racing and generate inspiration. You knew how to fill us with happiness and completely exhaust us so that we sleep peacefully at night. At times, I cursed you for making me rise from my slumber so early and for giving us an uncomfortable van for the south island, but you made up for it with your ability to provide insider knowledge about the most incredible country in the world.
I write this post with warmth in my heart, not only because I have made friends for life that I hope to travel with in the future, but because I truly believe that I may have found the perfect home for me. New Zealand, a magical and intensely inspiring country that I cannot wait to return to.
Tour hi lights:
Picking Fresh Oysters
I’m a self confessed oyster addict, so when we journeyed past a bed of oysters on a sea kayak expedition after a visit to an eel farm on the north island, I couldn’t help myself. Three of us peeled away from the pack and gathered enough oysters to feed the group when we arrived in Raglan that afternoon. Kayla and I spent a while shucking and providing little tasters for people who had never touched an oyster in their lives.
Surfing in Raglan – Raglan Surf School
Despite the pouring rain in Raglan and bruising my ribs during a group surf lesson, I loved this magical little surf town on the North Island. We stayed in a beautiful house for two nights and the second night is where the group really clicked after a delicious BBQ and salsa and African dance lessons from a North Island superstar, Heena and one of the surf school instructors.
Staying on a Hostel Boat in Abel Tasman – Aquapackers
I was dubious about the hostel boat in Abel Tasman, but I really shouldn’t have been. The whole experience was wonderful, from the taxi speed boat that took us to the hostel, to jumping off the roof into the sea and swimming back to the boat and playing a raucous game of Uno before bed time. I also managed to snag the Captain’s Quarters, which made for a sound sleep before waking and walking 13km out of the National Park, along the coast to Old MacDonald’s farm where we slept for the evening.
Handgliding with Tasman Sky Adventures
Handgliding was never on my list of things to do, but as the activity sheet circulated on the bus, I found myself ticking it. And I’m so glad I did. It’s as close to flying like a bird I have ever come – the instructor took me up 1,500ft above snow capped mountains and perfectly square fields. In the distance I could see the sea and bright coloured parachutes used by fellow group members that had opted for skydiving next to me. A magical experience for my first time flying.
Not included – $175
Jade Carving in Franz Josef – Te Koha Gallery
Jade carving in Franz Josef challenged my creative abilities. Having wished for better drawing abilities my whole life, I was stumped even drawing a simple mountain shape. Luckily Charlotte was around to help and had she not told the truth, I might have ended up with a stone that looked more like a Christmas tree! I spent an hour or so cutting my chosen piece of green stone, buffing and polishing it and I was soon left with my desired result. It is custom to give the stone as a present, so popped it on my boyfriend’s neck as soon as I met him at the airport.
Not included – $75
Nevis Bungy Jump in Queenstown
I like to face my fears and challenge myself and the Nevis bungy jump was no exception to this. The Nevis is the highest bungy in Australasia and stands proud over a beautiful canyon at 134m. I’m not sure what my fear is, but as soon as I was asked to sit in the chair for the guys to strap up my legs, I lost it. The bungy guide was incredible at calming me down by telling me that ‘you’re in a beautiful country with awesome people having a great time, this is just another part of it’. It worked and 2 minutes later I was catapulting down towards the ground at great speed.
Not included – $255
White Water Rafting – Shotover River, Queenstown
I didn’t even know that white water rafting was an option and my face lit up when I saw it. The trip started with an awesome but slightly scary coach trip into Skippers Canyon, famous for cliff edges (trust me, we we at the edge of some corkers!) and gold mining history. We had a dry lesson before meeting our guide and hopping into the boat. Despite it being grade 3-5 rapids, it was calm for the most part with just the amount of scare for a first timer. We were even allowed to jump off the boat a couple of times and try out hand at going downstream on our backs, feet first.
Not included – $219
Kayaking in Doubtful Sound with Go Orange
I don’t remember the last time I woke up so tired as I did in Doubtful Sound. Having not recovered from two adrenaline filled days in Queenstown, it was a 6am wake up call for a four hour kayak around the Sound. The idea didn’t fill me with joy, neither did the sand flies, or the fact that it was absolutely sheeting it down with rain. It only took a couple of paddles on the black water through misty fjords to change my mind, though. It didn’t feel like real life – I felt like I was paddling through the sea in a glass ball, or on a film set and that the Black Pearl was going to come along and scoop us up at any point.
Cycling the Central Otago Rail Trail
I had anticipated more mountain biking on the trip, but the only bike I sat on the entire time was on the Central Otago Rail Trail. We cycled a 35km stretch, ending on Wedderburn when we stayed for the night. A few of us cooked a roast, went to the local pub for a couple of beers and then proceeded to drink a whole bottle of rum and sing the night away.
Pilot a plane in Kaikoura – Air Kaikoura
Cockpit visits were still allowed when I was a kid and I always remember being thrust into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 on the way to a week long family holiday. I never even contemplated that I would be sitting in the drivers seat one day, but as soon as we arrived in Kaikoura I climbed into the tiny cockpit of a two seater plane and sat comfortable in the pilot seat for a 25 minute ride up along the coast, through to the mountains and back down again.
Not included – $110
Swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura
Never had I imagined being dropped off out at sea and told to slide off the boat and ‘have fun with the dolphins’. I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t swimming with 700-800 dolphins in the wild just after sunrise. What an incredible morning indeed. As I slid off the boat, my heart started racing and I placed my face into the water. As I swam further into the ocean, my head emerged in the water, dolphins started swimming around me, coming from all directions. An unforgettable experience and I’m so glad I have the GoPro footage to remember it.
Not included – $160
Finally, making friends that will last a lifetime. It’s hard spending so much time with even your best friends, let alone total strangers. But it was incredible just how close we got within the 3 weeks. We’re still in touch and we’re even planning another G Adventures tour together in South Africa at the end of the year!
Other activities along the way:
Haggas Honking Holes Caving and Abseiling with Waitomo Adventures – $195
Horse Trekking in Franz Josef – $100
Shotover Canyon Swing in Queenstown – $235
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Wow, I certainly have some things to add to the list for the next time I’m in NZ! Swimming with the dolphins sounds great.