TRAVEL: Solo backpacking around New Zealand
AFTER all my hang-gliding and bungee jumping antics in Queenstown, my bank balance told me I'd best move on from wild rides to wildlife - it was time to hop back on the Stray tour bus and head further south to check out some of nature's (free) gifts.
Perhaps I was still on a bit of a high from all the adrenaline but the South Island landscape appeared stunning whatever the weather, so I wasn't too worried about the murky skies over Milford Sound as I embarked on a cruise through this pristine corner of Fiordland.
In fact, the cloud hugging the mountains in the glacier-carved valley created an unearthly effect. From the mist above my head emerged long narrow waterfalls that streaked down lush green walls of rainforest and sent spray over my face.
I'll have to admit to never having watched the Lord of the Rings movies, but I'd say the location scouts had an easy time of it with this kind of scenery on offer.
Afterwards, all the passengers disembarking the various cruise boats engaged in excited banter over whose photos had earned bragging rights.
I see your dolphins ... and I raise you southern fur seals!
Next on the itinerary was a destination even further south - New Zealand's southernmost island, where you can well and truly feel the icy breath of Antarctica.
If you're a fan of rollercoasters you'll love the ferry ride across to Stewart Island (and I'd thought I was done with wild rides).
Still in wildlife mode I headed to the wharf to see if I could spot any little blue penguins coming in to nest for the night.
I felt a little guilty that I saw them within 10 minutes of rocking up when some poor folk had been waiting in the cold for an hour.
Tip: It seems these slippery little fellas make the most of every bit of sunlight before retiring to bed.
As night fell, a group of my backpacker buddies announced they were venturing off into the darkness to try to spot the elusive kiwi.
Rating their chances of spotting this incredibly rare bird at zero, I left them to it. Plus, I couldn't resist the opportunity to settle down early for a good night's sleep in a non-squeaky non-bunk bed for the first time in days.
Sure enough the adventurers returned triumphant.
I see your kiwi and I raise you little blue peng-
Oh, bugger, I'm out.
Stewart Island is one spot where it is definitely worth hopping off the Stray tour for a few more days of exploration. The bush, beaches and birdlife will have nature lovers in heaven.
And you might just see that kiwi.
The final stop on Stray's deep south tour is Christchurch Airport and with a few hours to kill before my flight home I bused it into the city.
I'm ashamed to say I had no idea of the level of destruction the 2011 earthquakes had caused. Scaffolding and demolished blocks were everywhere I looked. Beginning to feel equally dejected, I turned a corner to discover the city's heart was still well and truly pumping.
The Re:Start Mall is a temporary CBD built from shipping containers. This funky little collection of shops and eateries, with its buskers, sculptures and buzzing crowd, was a great reminder of the strength of human spirit.
It was also the perfect end to my whirlwind tour, which had proved that even if you set off solo, you won't be alone for long.
The writer travelled at her own (modest) expense.