I’m sat on a flight from Queenstown to Auckland en route to Fiji with a huge smile on my face. It’s 0545 and I’ve not slept a wink. I’m hungover as hell, and severely dehydrated after doing an all-nighter with a cute British barman I met. Plum wine, sake, Japanese whiskey and cab sav. Yup I mixed them all and several glasses of each. It was such a fun night it was worth the agony I feel now. My date walked me back to my digs, waited while I packed my bags and helped me get a cab to the airport
The last twelve days have been incredible and I’m sad to leave New Zealand. I was a little anxious when I set off from London. I think travelling solo in the developing world is a lot easier than hitting big cosmopolitan cities which can be lonesome. I think it’s harder to meet single travellers and most people are coupled up or in families. You do get looked at with a mixture of curiosity, sympathy and surprise when you dine out alone. But after finding my travel mojo, I knew I’d packed it, so far it’s been a fantastic bag of hiking, scoffing, adrenaline and sheer wonder.
Nothing has prepared me for the beauty the New Zealand landscape has to offer. I want to go back and explore more. The mountains and forests remind me of so many exotic continents I have visited over the last few years, Chile, The Himalayas, Montana and Tanzania with the added bonus of zero predators or nasty creepy crawlies. But it ain’t cheap. Jeezus thank God I’m going to an island.
Auckland is a city that’s jammed with hip, cool bars and a buzzy harbour area. The hills rival San Francisco and it’s impossible to get a bad coffee anywhere. Oh happy days!! Unless you live in a remote part of the world or on a desert island, is there really any need for instant frickin coffee in the 21st Century?
I’ve been super impressed with the food and breakfast has knocked the ball well and truly out of the park compared to anything I’ve eaten or been offered in the UK. There’s a real variety for all dietary needs plus imagination using ingredients like quinoa, kale, chargrilled shoulder of pork, poached eggs, avocados, green tomatoes, chilli, salsa verde and fruits thrown beautifully together with coconut yoghurt and Makuna honey.
After a day of pounding the Auckland streets you do feel it’s time to hit the water. The ferry offers the perfect day trips to escape from the city. Within an hour you can visit Rongitoto a lovely volcanic island so similar to Hawaii and Easter Island. Lush and green despite the charcoal coloured rocks. And there’s also a beach with a lighthouse view point.
Glenorchy – middle earth – is where I spent New Years for three days. Not by choice I might add. Queenstown was jammed and it was the only place I could get a room. It has a population of about 12. I stayed at Kinloch Lodge a small bed and breakfast. For the first time since I was seven years old I had to share a room and sleep in a dorm. I’ve no privacy issues but snoring is a big no-no.
Unfortunately for me my worst nightmare was realised with a husband and wife combo delivered a concerto in Dolby surround sound. After two nights with my headphones in I decided to relocate to the TV room and slept on the sofa. There is bugger all to do in Kinloch if you don’t enjoy walking the trails. But the forests are pretty special and aglow with lichen. Huge waterfalls can be found round most corners and countless crystal clear streams run freely downhill through the thick forests. New Years for me was extremely low key. I was in bed by 1030pm and woke up before 9am without feeling like I’d gargled with sand all night.
The start of January began in the best possible way. A fantastic breakfast and then a 17km hike with a fun couple I met from California who asked me to join them. Post Glenorchy I finally had a few days in Queenstown. I ate at one of the best restaurants in town….Rata. After securing a seat for one at the bar for food. I had one of the best eel dishes I have ever eaten. This is where I met my cute barman who was the best dinner companion I could have asked for. Fab eye-candy and great conversation. All the staff were so sweet and kept me entertained. At the end of the night my and barman swapped numbers and said we’d try to meet on my return.
Queenstown definitely deserves it name as the adrenaline capital. Sky diving and bungee are just the tip of the iceberg for thrill seekers. I managed to sign up to The Routeburn Track which is a 40km hike through some stunning landscape over two and a half days. Experts have said it’s better than the Milford Sound because of the variety of scenery you pass through. It did not disappoint. I did it with Ultimate Hikes and it was worth every penny. The three course meals were ridiculously good and there was a pay bar every night. After 6 hours of carrying your own pack and hiking uphill a hot shower, a comfy bed were the perfect tonic. There’s also excellent and washing facilities which means both you and your clothes are clean for the next day. I loved this part of my trip because I met so many different nationalities and age groups. There were 32 of us and it was great fun getting to know people and the guides were young, keen, knowledge and extremely professional.
Straight off the Routeburn I booked a bungee. I know, I know, I’m mad right? I think I’m having a premature midlife crisis. I’m fitter and healthier than I have ever been and more capable of pushing myself to go out of my comfort zone than ever.
You get weighed several times before even getting into the harness to check there is uniformity with staff and no one is hungover or not paying attention. Twice at registration, and then again before you jump. The whole operation is taken very seriously. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a great business model if people were dying frequently (are you reading this mother?!). Staff are randomly drugs and alcohol tested to ensure they are keeping the public safe. All the staff are so full of beans it’s a little hard not to have the enthusiasm rub off on you.
The actual lead up to the jump is far more nerve wracking. The bridge I jumped off is the original bungee surrounded by incredible scenery and the colour of the water is bright turquoise. While I was waiting on the bridge I was nudged forward.
“Come over here sweetie,” cooed the girl doing the weighing.
I was placed alongside a 12 year old girl, we were the same weight. Not sure what that says but she was stunned to find a 40 year old woman stood next to her.
Just before leaving Blighty I fell off the climbing wall in Vauxhall. My spankle still hasn’t healed properly, and I guess walking 40km on it wasn’t the best thing. But hey ho there’s a surprise. I flagged it up and the bungee staff went through health and safety with me and then gave me the all clear. So that was good enough for me.
The best and worse part of the jump is when your ankles are wrapped tightly while your sit on a ledge suspended off the bridge. There’s some small talk by the crew to help you relax but you know your turn is eminent.
“Anyone watching you today Asha?” asked the beefcake binding my feet tight like a Geisha. His muscles flexing as he clipped the metal hooks together.
“Nope.” I replied, heart rate normal.
“What about waiting for you inside?” He said tying my feet without looking up.
“Nope, I’m flying solo.” I answered heart rate slightly increasing after seeing his job was almost done.
“Good girl,” he encouraged, glancing up and giving me a wink. He moved back, and said: “Now stand up and walk like a penguin until just your toes are off the ledge.
Waddling slowly and carefully I got to the edge and looked down.
“Wow this is what walking the plank must feel like.”
“Asha look to the camera ahead of you and wave, now look to your left and the second camera and wave when you’re ready girl it’s all yours…” said my beefcake handler.
I took a deep breath and leapt into the sky. The rush of air hit me hard and I spread my arms like a bird and swan dived towards the water. I was flying it was exhilarating and liberating. The speed of the fall was fast and I tried to keep my legs locked and tight as possible breathing deeply through my nostrils. I wanted to be streamline. My damn spankle though had other ideas and as i dipped and bounced up and then back down before eventually swinging by my feet I felt the pain. It came fast with no messing about.
“ASHA TANNA THIS IS NOT PART OF THE REST, ICE, COMPRESS AND ELEVATE PROCESS!! YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS.”
The blood felt warm around my ankle and then a sensation like pins and needles – a prickly heat.
I grabbed the metal pole the crew in the dingy below held out to me while I was suspended upside down like a fruit bat; and they gently pulled me in and lowered me slowly down. At the shore a medic was waiting for me as I helped out of the boat.
“Oh boy, diving in Fiji is gonna be interesting with only one fully functioning leg,” i thought as I hobbled up the stairs. Despite the pain I was delighted I had smashed and survived a bungee at 40 years old and tonight I was planning to celebrate it, I just didn’t know who with….at least not at the moment.