If I read another sign with the word ‘CRAZY’ in it, or here the dulcet tones of a visiting Aussie telling a group of pretending-to-be-impressed bystanders how ‘MAD’ and ‘RADICAL’ some activity is in Queenstown, I will do something…‘wrong’. Queenstown is indeed the adventure capital of New Zealand. The choice of adrenaline junkie activities here includes a 130-metre(!) bungee jump, white water rafting, skiing, luge, and helicopter rides. It is a bit like the opening scene of The Beach, when Dicaprio is offered the opportunity to drink snake’s blood in Bangkok on the first day of his world trip. Yeah, you can pretty much do anything you want here, as long as you have got bags of cash and the constitution for speed and heights. I, unfortunately, haven’t. And that is a great shame because I am sure jumping 130 metres from a crane to what must feel like your certain death probably brings you many insights in those few terrifying seconds as you hurtle towards the river bed below. But I personally get my adrenaline release from travelling to places that I perhaps shouldn’t like Tajikistan and Guatemala, as well as through playing and watching sport, and I guess if we were all the same in this regard, the world would be a boring place. But why, oh why, must they market this stuff like they are talking to a bunch of Bill and Ted type characters? ‘This is the most MAD experience you will ever have in your life, bro’ one poster reads. ‘Are you CRAZEEE enough to try the world’s most AWESOME skycar ride?’
And what is it with the girls here calling other girls ‘guys’? ‘You guys should try out the awesome bungee. It is mad, hey’, said by an Irish girl with an accent that betrays the fact that she has been here many months, to a bunch of girls from Brazil. They are not guys luv, they are girls. And, by the way, Galway mixed with Auckland just sounds wrong.
Queenstown is a gorgeous place, but everything is just so bloody mad, crazy and wooooo! here.
RWC Daily September 15
Just sat on a bus on the five-hour journey down to Dunedin from Christchurch, catching up with some writing, ahead of tonight’s opening match between England and Argentina. It is a funny scene really. The bus reminds me of the bus I used to go to school on when I was 12: a ‘Midland Red’, I think they used to be called. While millions of rugby fans back home will be waking up soon with a buzz of excitement that today is the day the world cup begins for England, I find myself accompanied by about 10 england fans, half a dozen Argentines, a couple of farmers, and a weirdo with a baby, on a journey which feels more akin to going off to watch another sheep shearing show.
RWC Daily September 10
The world is full of special places as it is full of hell holes where life is one constant struggle. My New Zealand odyssey has begun in a place called Kaikoura on the north east coast of the country’s south island. Logistically, this seemed like the perfect place to spend a few days ahead of the first matches in the rugby world cup, but it is also the place I most wanted to see here. I have no idea quite how beautiful the rest of New Zealand is but Kaikoura rates highly anywhere in the world.
Green pastures full of grazing cows and bleating lambs are surrounded by dozens of snow-capped mountains that tumble into the sea. This is one of the few locations on the planet where you can surf and then snowboard a little over an hour later. You can also watch whales, hike along coastal paths and observe sea lion and seal colonies. And best of all, perhaps, you can swim with dolphins.
I have just got back to the gorgeous Dusky Lodge backpackers having experienced one of the most amazing mornings of my life. I was going to enjoy a long stroll along the coast but Welsh Jenny and English Rebecca convinced me at breakfast to join them on a dolphin swimming trip. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time but, to be honest, I am such an appallingly bad swimmer that I have always bottled out of the prospect of swimming in open ocean.
Anyway, I just thought ‘what the hell’ and decided to go; I could always change my mind and not swim once I was out in the Pacific. The warm waters of the Pacific and the cold currents of the Antarctic meet here, just off the coast of Kaikoura. The result is mineral and sea life rich waters that attract whales, dolphins and many other sea creatures.
Once out in the open sea, the captain of our catamaran gets word from a fishing vessel of a large pod of dolphins to the south. It takes us 30 minutes to track them down, but once we near the pod we spot 200 dolphins. It is a truly wonderful sight with an unreal almost cartoon-like backdrop of snow-capped mountains and the incredible albatross swooping above our boat with its 3.5 metre wing span. But it gets better still. The captain cuts the engines and one by one we begin to dive into the ocean. As bad a swimmer as I am, the buoyancy of my wet suit makes it almost impossible for me to drown and despite some swell, I start to get some confidence. Another few minutes of choking on sea water, as I struggle to get used to my snorkel, and finally I get the hang of swimming in the open sea with my head below the waves.
And then the most incredible thing happens. First one, then three, then seven or eight dolphins begin to swim around me, the more inquisitive almost touching the glass of my mask with their cute noses. The guides encourage us to sing to the dolphins to attract their company. Don’t ask me why but I am taken by the idea of singing the 80’s band Bros’s ‘when will I be famous’. I just get the feeling that it is a song that will work well under water and appeal to dolphins (clearly mental issues). The dolphins keep coming and I have to surface as an over enthusiastic ‘Oh my God’ causes me to swallow a load of sea water that stings my throat and comes up through my nose.
I am not sure how long this experience even goes on for as I get lost in the moment.
As the catamaran speeds back to land, leapfrogging the waves, and we all strip out of our wetsuits, I sit with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies, warming up and taking in the remarkable sight of the 200-strong pod putting on a show for us all with their backflips and twizzles. We all know that these creatures are incredibly intelligent and friendly but it is only when you are privileged to do something like this that you truly realise just how wonderful they are.
Strangely, while a good half dozen of the others on the trip are sea sick and many more are shivering and struggling to keep warm, I feel fantastic. It was just 10 degrees in the water but I actually felt warm in the suit. Maybe I was so distracted with the idea of whether I could actually manage to swim in the open ocean that my mind freed me of any other potential stress.
Now back at the hostel I sit in an armchair on the open terrace, drink some coffee and reflect upon one of the most amazing experiences of my life. This is a very special place.