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  • chania

#5// Glenn, seals and dolphins

After a night of coercing Nat into watching Bird Box with me (4/10), we hitch out of Queenstown the next morning with Rod (I don't THINK this is my father in disguise). Rod has a little dog called Francesca who loves to lick skin, so by the time Nat and I arrive in Wanaka we are quite sticky and smelly (hey, what's new). We have barely been in Wanaka for an hour before Nat is lathering on sun-cream (he averages seven applications a day) and telling me we need to climb a mountain. I've been feeling pretty invincible since completing the Kepler Track so naively agree and we head off to Roy's Peak.

Roy's Peak is a 2.5 hour winding slog and the site of a speed-walking related argument (if walking uphill for a steep two and a half hours isn't fun, then trying to keep up with Nat's semi-jog DEFINITELY isn't). It's baking hot and by the time we've reached the top we have run out of water (rewriting this is bringing on PTSD - parched throat stress disorder).

The views are beautiful - the summit is approximately 1,580m (I just googled that and also saw that it's apparently the most 'instagrammable hike in NZ' - no surprise seeing as people were queuing to take photos in certain spots. Nat and I did NOT queue. Can you imagine anything worse than climbing all that way only to join a queue?!). Wanaka is like a smaller, quieter version of Queenstown and I finally manage to find the courage to swim in the cold New Zealand lake water there! Nat's been a lot braver than I have and has made a point to swim in most of the lakes we've visited so far. Luckily he has had the sense not to enter any of the bright green sulphuric lakes you'll see in the next blog post, though I think it might have been quite amusing if he'd tried. Apart from those, all of the lakes we've seen in New Zealand have been very invitingly clear and blue, though pretty chilly. They're not salty so swimming in them is very refreshing - I really made the most of the clean-water sensation by gargling, drinking little bits, sticking my tongue out underwater, opening my eyes as wide as possible and scratching my sandfly bites to expose raw skin (no stinging! fantastic!).

We visit Wanaka Lavender farm which I'd really recommend - it's only £2.50 for entrance and the gardens are lovely (I can properly appreciate them post antihistamine tablet, two squirts of nasal spray and a few eye drops). They have life size games to play (exciting!) so we play some jenga (I lose), connect 4 (I lose), noughts and crosses (I lose) and bowls (I lose) and I have so much fun playing against Nat.

We hitch out of Wanaka after a couple of days and this is where I introduce you to Glenn. Glenn picks us up along with another hitch-hiker, Megan, a girl our age, just outside of Wanaka and we gladly climb into his pick up truck. I would say that Glenn looks a bit like an older, more scraggly, slightly plumper version of Bradley Cooper at this year's Oscars minus the suit (sorry Glenn but I've got to paint an honest picture) - basically he's a bearded man with slicked back hair and that's where the similarities end.

We are going through the usual hitch-hike chit chat when Glenn asks us if he can make a stop off. Nat and I look at each other a bit unsure and before any of us respond Glenn makes the turn off the road. For those uncertain, general hitch-hike protocol would be to: get in a safe-looking car, chat, get dropped off near/on the way to/at the desired destination. Getting driven by an unknown man to an unknown house in an unknown location is typically a no-no, but we're already there now so #YOLO . The house he pulls in at is quite remote (another worried glance) but very nice. He told us on the way there that he had two teenage children but when we enter the house I scour the walls for pictures of them (there are none that I can see) and notice a lot of toddler toys instead. 'AHA!' I think to myself. Glenn is a confirmed psychopath; he's taken us to a random house which isn't his and he's going to enslave us there. Glenn then tells us that actually this is his parents' house.

He offers us drinks (um NICE TRY GLENN! We won't WILLINGLY let ourselves be sedated so that you can lock us in your basement! Apart from Megan. Who accepts.) Turns out the drinks aren't drugged and Glenn doesn't want to keep us in the cellar. Although to this day I am still not clear why Glenn needed to stop off at his parents' house. The entire scenario went like this: we arrive - we get offered drinks - Glenn invites us to the garden where he relaxes on a recliner - Glenn sips black coffee whilst smoking a cigarette and gives us all unprompted life advice - Glenn makes me and Megan a small bouquet of flowers from the garden - we all get back into his car and leave his parents' house.

However, I feel like we learnt a lot - sitting there cross-legged on his parents' veranda, looking up at Glenn on his recliner, listening to his wise words. Here are his main tips for life -

  1. "Everyone says smoking is bad for you! It's gonna kill ya! But if you keep trying, eventually you actually start to enjoy it, so that's why I took it up two years ago. Yep. That's right! Forty eight years without smoking a single cigarette, and now I smoke about eighteen a day!"

  2. "The way to successfully run a business is to just bully everyone. Make your colleagues HATE you. Four days a week just flat out bully them, swear at them, shout at them, ignore them. Then - just for one day, be SUPER nice to them. You'll be controlling them in no time"

  3. "Actually works really well with your kids too"

  4. "The government only go after the big dogs like Amazon! They don't care about small businesses, we're just small fish! Tiny fish! Honestly you can get away with so much tax evasion, it's definitely worth a try!"

  5. "Yeah, always make sure you're just really open and unafraid of stuff. One day I saw Lenny Kravitz and his family in a bar. I actually invited Lenny and his family back to my house and they ended up staying there for three days! Three, yeah! Lenny sang a song on the third night, got all my friends round, and honestly - goose. bumps. Whatta man. What a man"

I am just as confused as you are about the surprise Lenny Kravitz cameo, but I think that just sums up the entire, utterly bizarre morning. Luckily, Nat and I later manage to hitch a ride in another car and make it all the way to Tekapo, where we spend the night in an AMAZING glamping tent (actually marketed as a 'Queen Glamping Tent'. It is seriously luxurious and even has a fake-fire heater). I have included pictures so that you can see the sorry downgrade we made the following night - swapping our queen glamping tee-pee for literally the most basic, inexpensive two person tent Argos has to offer. Absolutely tragic.

The stuff of camping dreams

I actually couldn't stop laughing when I took these photos. Later on families arrived on either side and set up their sprawling 8-10 man tents and our Argos purchase took on an even higher level of tragic. (Yes, the right hand picture shows that our tent was only a couple of sizes bigger than the nearby ROCK. We didn't have sleeping mats and Nat didn't even fit in length-ways).

Tekapo's main attraction is its ice-blue glacial lake (similar to the blue Lake Pukaki which we passed en route). We went on a couple of walks around the area and kayaked in the lake and set off for Christchurch after a couple of days. Within thirty seconds of putting our sign up Robin, a friendly Chinese man driving a minibus, pulls up and lets us in. He's driving the minibus back to Christchurch for another tour group and we're welcome to sleep across three seats if we want to! For three hours we nap alternatively and listen to Chinese pop (I'm actually quite a fan). We arrive in Christchurch and have a couple of days to explore.

First impressions are how quiet the city is and how spaced out everything is. The streets feel so wide and empty. We arrive on a Saturday and there's just nobody around. The roads are eerily quiet until we finally get into the small 'centre' where there are a few more people. We later find out that most of where we were walking through (just a three minute walk out of the 'centre') was one of the worst areas hit by the earthquake; tall office buildings which were completely demolished. Christchurch feels like such an oddly quiet city that Nat asks the woman at the Visitor's Centre whether it's always like this, especially on a Saturday afternoon (yes, it is).

We leave for Kaikoura after Christchurch, a small coastal town famous for its abundance of friendly wild dolphins. We swim with seals on the Tuesday - a VERY cold (and largely unrewarding) experience. The seals are very shy and only begin to get friendly just as our time is up. We are in a group with Simon, a man with an obnoxiously large underwater camera who looks like he is ready to film for Blue Planet. Simon is also a big splasher and should run masterclasses in how to scare seals.

DOLPHIN SWIMMING, HOWEVER, is a MUCH more successful experience. We hop into the water the next day with our snorkel kit from the back of the boat and swim amongst the pod of 150-200 wild dusky dolphins for what feels like hours (in a great way). The dolphins are SO friendly and curious, playing around us in the water, close enough that you can feel them moving past. It's one of the most magical things I've ever experienced, just INCREDIBLE. Apparently the dolphins like lots of noise so we were all told to sing as loudly through our snorkel as possible (still not sure if the tour guides were pranking us with this, we must have all looked pretty amusing from the surface). I went for the upbeat 'Sir Duke'. I kept telling myself that the dolphins loved it, that I might suddenly be discovered as the incredible human magnet for dolphins worldwide. Sadly it was not the case. I had also really hoped to make a special connection with the dolphins, looking into their eyes, but unfortunately my mask steamed up and every time I tried to dive down below the surface to join them the buoyancy on my wetsuit would force me to do an awkward flip - a lot of splashing - fins flailing in the air, and then all the dolphins would dart away. :( No best friend dolphins for me.

Tekapo (although the super blue lake in one of the photos is Pukaki)

Heading to Christchurch (we actually didn't take any pictures of Chch) / Kaikoura (mainly a selection of glamorous wetsuit portraits)

You can't hear much humming because Nat is recording and he didn't sing nearly as heartily as I did (although you can see me half way through the video!)

After swimming with the dolphins we waited a painful record of an hour and a half to get picked up out of Kaikoura, which was all the more stressful because we had to make it to Picton in time for our ferry. If you want to witness a snippet of the pain of 200 cars-worth of rejection then watch below. Otherwise that brings lengthy blog post number five to a close (phew)!