After a late night chatting with other guests we had a fairly slow exit from Fairlie and were probably not on top form, as we drove 10km in the wrong direction before realising and turning back. We were headed to the town of Geraldine, where Caro was unreasonably excited about the dual attractions of a medieval mosaic and the world’s largest jumper, The Giant Jersey. You can imagine our disappointment when the shop hosting these two unlikely bedfellows was boarded up without so much as a tile or a loose thread in sight.
We battled through the subsequent depression and took ourselves on a tour of the town. We were there on the right day for the farmers’ market and for the second time found that there was live music alongside the small collection of stalls. This is something we would strongly encourage other markets to implement, there’s nothing quite like sampling strawberries whilst listening to the inevitable rendition of Hotel California.The town as a whole is actually really qui charming with lovely (though pricey) knick knack shops and cafes that looked good for a couple of hours of people watching. We were mainly there for the wifi, as per usual, but took 5 minutes to dip in to the town museum on the way back to the car. It’s a bit of a gem, full of the usual local museum stuff like bottles that someone found under their porch and the rowing team’s 3rd place trophy from 1962, all of which are great, but it also had some really lovely displays showing the town’s progress through the decades with maps of streets showing what had changed over time. It was all so well done and we found ourselves completely engrossed by it.We have also been hunting for kiwi bird salt and pepper shakers to add to our collection and pulled in to a likely looking souvenir shop that we had noticed on the way out of town. This turned out to be a truly fortuitous decision, not only did we come out with excellent salt and pepper shakers, we stumbled across the Giant Jersey in its new home.
It is always a delight to find such a fine example of time spectacularly well wasted.
We had a couple of days to spare before our last hurrah of the trip: white water rafting. We didn’t have much further to go until we hit Christchurch and the end of our adventure, so we decided to drive some of the inland scenic route and headed towards Peel Forest where we spent the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine and drinking tea. It was glorious.
That evening we found a cheap and cheerful campsite a Rakaia Gorge, which had beautiful views over the river but was rather busy with weekenders from Christchurch and permanent residents.We were told when we checked in that we could swim in the river but, when we actually explored down on the river bank and saw the massive current gushing downstream, we decided against it. We were surprised that so many people were braving the fast-flowing water, jumping off the rocks and letting the river carry them 50 metres or so before scrambling back to the sides.A few hours later we heard the sound of sirens and the tell-tale beat of the air ambulance chopper blades; two kids had been washed away by the river and managed to cling on to a tree in the middle a few hundred metres downstream. They were incredibly lucky that a boat was coming back upstream and rescued them. James later met the pilot of the boat, who was staying at our campsite, and he said that one of the kids had broken both of his legs upon impact with the tree, hence the need for the air ambulance. You just don’t mess around with water.
The next morning, we headed back to Peel Forest and set out to do a combination of the walks within the park. We started with a stomp to see a giant tree. As you may have noticed giant trees are a bit of theme with us and this one was impressive but nothing on the monsters we had seen north of the Cook Strait.We then ventured on to look at another waterfall, on the route we were suddenly surrounded by seven or eight fantails fluttering from tree to tree around us. We have become bug fans of the little bird and it was really cool to have them be so confident around us.We had planned to combine a number of tracks together to make a loop and after a relatively easy climb up to the waterfall we turned on to a tramping track which went up to and then along the ridge of the hill. It is very unlike us but it turned out that we were horribly underprepared, Caro had opted for trainers and we were carrying water bottles in our hands rather than in a backpack. The track turned out to be one of the more challenging hikes that we have tackled and we climbed and scrambled along for several kilometres cursing our poor judgement. Tip: Always over prepare for walks in New Zealand as the conditions can change rapidly, and the less walked tracks could easily have changed since last reported on. Despite the challenges, the track was an excellent one with some lovely views out across the fields.We made it off the tramping track and on to the fern walk leading back to the shit car. This was much easier going through the pleasant woodland floor. We camped for the night at the expensive DOC campsite we’d shunned the night before. As we were nearing the end of dry January we had become quite reliant on other treats and, upon realising we had run out of chocolate, took a 30-minute return journey out of our way to buy some. We also had our last excellent NZ sausages for dinner before hitting the hay early in preparation for our white water rafting the next day.
We had chosen to raft with Rangitata Rafting, partly because the location on the Rangitata River fitted perfectly with our plans, but also because you get to go down a couple of Grade 5 rapids, which few other companies seemed to offer. We arrived and were surprised to be fed lunch, which seemed a bit odd moments before being bounced down a river. We were then layered up in an absolute mountain of equipment, all of which we were grateful for once in the 12 degree water but, at the time, when it was in the high 20s outside, it all seemed a little OTT.
We were asked repeatedly not to “pee or poo” in the wetsuits, in fact we were told so many times that we began to suspect that this was based on a previous, very bad experience.
There were 13 people on the trip with us and we were, of course, in a boat with 3 other English people and a Kiwi living in London. One of them even worked for HSBC in Canary Wharf. We had an awesome guide, Hiro, who was absolutely hilarious on the bus ride and while we were rafting. Hiro the hero took us through all the commands and slowly built up the grade of the rapids until we reached the grade 5s. These were truly awesome fun and we are glad we opted for the wilder river, despite some pre-game nerves.
We also had a couple of opportunities to jump in and float down the river and enjoy the beauty of the gorge. Unfortunately, the photos cost a fair bit to buy, so we don’t have any for you, but give it a google, we’d definitely recommend it.
After a post raft BBQ, we set off to find a spot for our final night in the tent and our penultimate night in New Zealand. We found a couple of options, but the first appeared to be opposite a plastic factory, so we gave that a wide berth and drove on to Hakatere Reserve Camp. This place was much more what we had come to love in New Zealand, a spot with a few campsites overlooking the coast and run by some crazy well-meaning locals who live in the surrounding baches. At 5NZ$ each it was a real bargain as well.As we sat admiring our beautiful view, a lady from the neighbouring bach came walking down the road throwing food for a seagull, which begged the question: who willingly and intentionally feeds seagulls? As she walked back past us she told us that she had raised the seagull from a chick and he came back every day to be fed. This made the whole thing feel slightly less crazy until she said: “if he comes back, his name is Warren”, what on earth did she expected us to do with this piece of information we do not know.
We were so lucky that our final evening in the tent was accompanied by one last spectacular sunset. And because we are soft and stupid we took one last picture of the tent with its fairy lights on. Just before we went to sleep we opened the doors of the tent and laid staring at the stars, which were incredibly bright in this remote area. Sunset + stars = pretty awesome last evening in the tent.
The following morning we indulged in our final lot of camp pancakes and carefully cleaned and packed everything away, ready to be handed over to new owners later that day. Our last job before leaving the site was to find a place to leave the camping rock, which Caro had picked up on the shores of Lake Hawea and insisted that James keep as a present. The rock had turned out to be particularly useful when attempting to pitch the tent on hard ground and, because we are unhinged, we wanted to find it a nice resting place. We settled on a nice shady spot under a tree with a view of the sea. Our final day in NZ was hectic with us whizzing in and out of Christchurch, handing over our gear and returning the car. We didn’t really see enough of Christchurch to comment, although we did find the Irish bar, so that will have to wait for another trip. And there will be another trip, because New Zealand is a truly beautiful, fun and exciting country and there is so much left for us to do. We had done and seen so much in our 7 weeks that we truly feel that we did New Zealand justice, and did it right. We were still very sad to leave.
So, go to New Zealand, more specifically camp in New Zealand, drive around New Zealand and hike in New Zealand. These two islands are bursting at the seams with things to do and see, all you need to do is get there.