Arthur’s Pass is a small alpine village that is nestled between the Southern Alps. The drive into town was particularly scenic, the road snakes its way through the valley and around the mountains before passing over the Otira viaduct. We stopped off at Devil’s Punchbowl, an impressive 430ft waterfall, before heading to camp for the night. This was one of the wildest campsites that we’ve stayed at so far and once night fell, we had a great view of the milky way and the starry night’s sky.
Camping in the wilderness
The next morning we scrambled our way up to Avalanche Peak. Once we had climbed out of the tree line and edged our way past a few sheer drop offs, we we surrounded by mountains and snow capped peaks. We had a quick lunch stop at the top, before heading back down the mountain and driving to the west coast. The walk took us around 4.5 hours in total, it was a tough climb, but it was definitely worth it for the views!
View from Avalanche Peak
On the west coast we visited a glowworm dell and Hokitika Gorge before driving north, along the tropical coastline, to Punakaiki. Punakaiki is a popular stop off due to the famous Pancake Rocks. These limestone formations have been heavily eroded, by the Tasman sea, for thousands of years and the layers now resemble huge stacks of pancakes. There were also some impressive blowholes along the walkway that kept us entertained for a while!
Next stop: Abel Tasman, New Zealand
Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand standing at 3,724m and is snow capped all year round. The drive to Mount Cook is spectacular; the snow capped peak and surrounding mountain ranges encompass the beautifully blue Lake Pukaki. It took us around 2 hours to drive from Lake Tekapo with multiple stops for photos!
We walked the popular Hooker Valley track which took us around 3 hours. We crossed over several suspension bridges, passing tarns and vantage points until we reached the ice cold Hooker Lake at the base of Mount Cook. We spent the night camping in a beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains, at the starting point of the trail.
The next morning we headed south towards Queenstown and stopped off briefly at the Clay Cliffs. The sharp pinnacles and ravines have been formed by the natural erosion of the gravel and silt layers. It makes for quite a dramatic landscape and although the weather was a little gloomy we had fun scrambling around these towering cliffs.
Next stop: Queenstown, New Zealand
Vang Vieng is the heart of the backpacker party scene in Laos and has certainly had a troubled past, but it was the surrounding scenery and adventure sports that attracted us to the area. The town itself is an eye sore; it’s overdeveloped and has many incomplete buildings which stand empty. The local pizzeria displays an ‘alternative’ dessert menu which included ‘magic garlic bread’ and ‘1g of Opium’ and many backpackers party the night away and spend their days watching episodes of Friends and Family Guy that play on repeat in the restaurants. Instead, we rode a bike out of town and were soon rewarded with beautiful countryside.
The main activity in Vang Vieng is Tubing which involves floating down the river in an inner tube and stopping off at several riverside bars along the way. Many tourists have died over the years and as a result the rope swings, slides and zip lines have been dismantled and unlicensed bars have been forced to close. Tubing is a lot more subdued (and hopefully safer) than it used to be, but it was still good fun floating down the river for 2 hours.
Vang Vieng is one of the cheapest places in the world to go on a hot air balloon ride. This was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss, so we decided to treat ourselves to an early Christmas present. You can either fly at sunrise or sunset, we decided to book onto the sunset flight at 4:30pm. On arrival at the launch site we watched as our balloon was filled with air and started to take shape. The balloon was lifted into position and we climbed into the basket and waited with excitement and anticipation. After a few loud blasts of fire (which made us all jump) we slowly rose up and away from the Earth.
The views were spectacular and it was such an unusual sensation to be floating over the town and looking out above the mountains. We gradually climbed up to 600m and were surrounded by breathtaking views; even the town looked pretty from this height. The sun was setting as we slowly floated back down towards the ground skimming over treetops and watching as children from a nearby village chased after the balloon and waved to us. The 45 minute flight flew by and it wasn’t long before we were coming into land. There was a group of men ready to assist on landing and we soon noticed we were heading directly for their van. We were shouting to them and after a quick sprint to the van, getting his foot on the pedal and pulling off with the door flung wide open, he managed to move the van just in the nick of time. Nothing like adding a bit of excitement to an otherwise smooth landing.
On our last night in Vang Vieng (and our last night with Sam before he flew back to England) we went out on the town and ended up partying the night away with a lovely group of girls from Bangkok.
Next stop: 4000 Islands, Laos