Bitter Sweet Goodbyes: Blenheim, Picton, Wellington and Auckland

I can’t believe I leave for Australia in less than 48 hours, its bizarre. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave this wonderful country behind.

Not since Ghana have I been to a country where people not only really want you to have a good time, but will go out of their way to make sure this happens.

I’m sitting in my hostel room as I write this (and its completely empty – bliss – it *almost* feels like having my own room so it’s the perfect opportunity to get some writing done) and thinking about all the amazing people I’ve met – both travellers and locals – and all the great things I’ve done so far on this trip: hiked glaciers, swam in lakes, bathed in hot pools, took a boat trip through a cave lit by glow worms, watched the sunrise in the first place in the world, toured vineyards.  It’s so easy to take it all for granted; when you’re in the moment and tired and hungry and poor, but when you stop and take stock, it’s amazing to think about all the sights and places I have been to during my time in New Zealand. I have pretty much been everywhere. Sure, there are places I would like to go to – Milford Sound especially – and I unfortunately didn’t get to see – but it’s impossible to travel everywhere in two months. I guess I will just have to come back, right?

So as excited as I am to be jetting off to another country (and a teeny bit scared to start all over again when I’ve just got the hang of living somewhere) it’s so very bittersweet. Leaving New Zealand behind is going to be very difficult – it’s just such a beautiful place and I have loved my time here.

Tomorrow is my last full day and I intend to spend it buying souvenirs, washing clothes ready for the next leg of my trip and writing. I know that sounds like a boring way to spend my last bit of time here but I can’t wait to sit in Auckland Domain Park – maybe take a walk up to One Tree Hill – and work on writing my first draft. I’ve barely touched it since I’ve been travelling and the plan was always to spend quality time writing. I’m also at the very end of my New Zealand budget which helps the decision!

So what have I been up to since my last blog post?

The rain stopped in Kaikoura. Sort of. But unfortunately the seal swimming was cancelled. I walked along to the seal colony – about an hour out of the town centre – and found the lazy creatures sunning themselves on the rocks and, weirdly, sprawled out in the car park. The swim was cancelled because the sea was too choppy so obviously they’d taken the sensible option of basking in the sunshine! It was really strange as I was expecting the colony to be something to look at from a distance, but we could go up really close to them and take pictures. There were warning signs stating not to disturb the seals by getting to close which is understandable – would you want to be woken up when you were just trying to take a nice nap!?

I was leaving the next day for Blenheim, a small town on the east coast of the south island, so couldn’t book the seal swim again. I’m hoping I can do this in Australia as there seem to be a few places that offer this activity. Hopefully the sea is calmer and I don’t get my hopes up!

When I arrived in Blenheim, I wasn’t sure what to think. A small town full of brand names: New World, Burger King, McDonalds. I went straight to the I-site to book my wine tour and, as I walked through the industrial estate towards my accommodation, I was wondering if I’d made a huge mistake opting to stay two nights rather than one for the wine tour. My hostel, although strangely situated, was nice if a little bit quiet. I dumped my stuff (no locks on the door which I wasn’t impressed with especially for the price of the room) and wandered off to explore, returning a few hours later feeling like I had seen the town in its entirety. Although Blenheim is small there are a lot of travellers who go there to work for the grape picking season and I got talking to a few of them that evening. Over beers and wine we stayed up and chatted about all manner of things until the sun set over the river. It sounds cheesy but I had one of those moments that night where you think, “this is why I am travelling, to meet people like you and see views like this.” To top it all off, I ended up having the room to myself!

 

The wine tour was excellent. Picking me up from the hostel the next afternoon, my guide was a wine maker and happily chatted about the process as we drove to our first stop. The group wasn’t big and I was the only one travelling solo but that didn’t bother me – I actually felt pretty great with being on my own but that might have just been the wine giving me extra confidence – and everyone was very chatty. One couple from Australia even offered me a room in their house in Airlie Beach if I stop there on my travels. The day ended in a brewery tour for an extra $5 and we were all suitably squiffy when we dropped off at our hostels. My favourite vineyard we visited was run by a French family and the tasting house was in a church!

After Blenheim, I stayed a night in Picton (it rained) and took the ferry over to Wellington the next day where I met up with the Dutch girl I’d been travelling with on and off and, weirdly, a girl I had shared a room with in Kaikoura after telling her about nakedsleep.com (FYI if you’re thinking of travelling in NZ this is a great website offering dorm beds for between $15-20 a night – often in the bigger, more commercial hostels, but worth it for the price).

This time round Wellington certainly lived up to its windy reputation. Having already spent five nights in Wellington, I’d done quite a lot already so I mainly went to the beach, the galleries I missed the first time round, the Weta Caves where The Lord of the Rings was produced, and a night out for the dutch girl’s birthday ( I have zero pictures of nights out because I never take pictures when I’m drinking – I need to work on this in Australia!)

Now Wellington is a very fun night out but be warned: it’s a capital city so money will be spent. However, I did make some money back in the form of a free burger courtesy of two Kiwi lads who I’d been chatting to. They asked me to guard their beers while they grabbed food – they bought be back a burger as payment. See – nice country, awesome people.

And so here I am in Auckland, after an 11 hour bus journey from Wellington; it’s been pretty chilled and relaxing this time round. A visit to the Billy Apple exhibition at the art gallery, free music in the park, a walk up to Mount Eden, and a hilarious night out for St Patrick’s Day in a local Irish bar.

A perfect New Zealand send off, don’t you think!?

South Island, East Coast: Seals, Rain and 2 am Marshmallows

To pinch a phrase from the Kiwis, Queenstown was sweet as, but when the time came for me to get back on the bus and go somewhere else, I was kind of ready.

QTown took my cash, spirit and gave me a bruise the size of a fist that is showing no sign of shifting, actually, I think it might even be increasing in size.

The weather had been getting worse; the sun in Queenstown refusing to hang around, so I was more than happy when my new bus driver swooped by in the big orange bus to whisk me off to my next destination: Mount Cook. I was even more surprised when a whole host of people I knew from previous buses started taking their seats. Turns out, everyone stayed longer in Queenstown so I wouldn’t be starting all over with meeting people like I thought and I got to hang out with some great people.

First up, Mount Cook. Now I’ve been feeling pretty burnt out recently. Lack of decent sleep and early starts were starting to take their toll on this old lady so I decided that Mount Cook would be my rest evening.

And then the best thing happened, we got in our a room, put down our heavy bags and there it was: an en-suite bathroom with an actual bath. The thing I have been incessantly pining over since I left home. I turned down the opportunity to take a walk around the mountain to see the glaciers. I know that seems silly but I reasoned that I’d just been to Franz Joseph and actually climbed a glacier, it was time for some pampering. I just couldn’t take anymore walks.

Despite only having the dregs of a bottle of wine left (and no glass) and the big hole in the ceiling looking a) suspiciously like someone had stashed a camera in or b) like the ceiling might have caved in at any second, it was pretty luxurious! My roommates and a few others from the bus decided to have dinner in the bar (luxury x 2) and a few drinks (luxury x 3) and play the pub quiz (luxury x 4) which we ultimately won and scored $50 between four people. Of course this was a “resort” bar so $50 only really got us one nice drink each, but it was worth it to order something you really wanted and enjoy it over good conversation and victory.

The next day we moved on to Rangitata which is a rafting base. Now I don’t have much to say about this place. It’s one of the things that can become pretty hard when travelling with the Stray bus as occasionally some of the stops just don’t really interest you, or you’re not really sure what to do there. It wasn’t beautiful like Mount Cook, which was half the problem – with views like that we were spoilt so whatever followed wouldn’t impress as much, but if you’re into rafting then it’s supposed to be the best in NZ.

I didn’t raft, preferring to save my money and do it somewhere cheaper. I’ve already done a lot of activities so far in New Zealand and I think I should save some for other countries.

Instead we headed down to the river, caught some sun and went swimming in the coldest water I have ever experienced. Of course our driver decided it would be funny to completely splash us when we were taking pictures. Queue screaming, swearing and laughing drenched girls.

That night we had a BBQ (FYI if you do use Stray in New Zealand and have Lefty as a driver, say yes to the BBQ as his mashed potatoes are amazing) and a few drinks which was really nice and I felt like I’d been spoilt by eating real food and not just noodles and pasta to save money. We all went to bed happy and fat. The next day, however, was like something from The Craft. Bugs. Everywhere. I have never seen so many dead flies: all over the kitchen, all over the sink. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. I was glad to get out of there! As much as I am toughening up to the backpacking way of life, that was a whole other story!

After that it was on to Kaikoura which is where I am now. It absolutely poured it down for the whole journey and I was really starting to worry about spending two days/ three nights on my own in a small town with terrible weather. I’m usually OK with a bit of rain if there’s a museum or theatre nearby but Kaikoura is all about the marine life and activities such as swimming with dolphins and seals or whale watching. Cancellations do happen but I have a whole day tomorrow so hopefully there will be good weather.

However once we’d settled in and I’d booked into my room at a different hostel to the other Strays, it brightened up pretty quickly and got really hot. I met some girls I’d been travelling with and a new guy from England that we roped in to coming with us – and we went out for drinks. Now drinks is never just drinks and we ended up getting pretty drunk in an Irish bar and dancing to music before heading off to the beach where we found some people with a bonfire and stayed there roasting marshmallows until 2 am. Bliss. Well, except for falling over (again) and getting smoke in my eyes!

The bus left me and my hangover behind this morning and I woke to the sound of, you guessed it, rain. Luckily I haven’t booked my seal swim until tomorrow so *fingers crossed* the weather will be good to me now. I did brave the downpour and head to the isite in town with the purpose of getting a map to walk out to the seal colony but the weather was so bad, I had to go back to the hostel where I’ve just done my washing and some writing and uploaded a load of photos – all important things that I’ve been putting off to do other things – instead. Although I feel like I am wasting precious time.

It’s hard to remember when you’re travelling – particularly on a backpacker bus – that you need to take days off like this to sleep, or read, or rest or wash some pants because going commando has started to get a bit much. We feel like we should constantly be on the go and the thought of sitting in the hostel all day – even if it is pissing it down or you really have to do those important jobs – just seems absurd. I really need to learn to take a break!

So the sun has just come out (it’s 5pm) but I think it’s too late to walk to the seal colony today. I’m going to rest some more and get an early night before tomorrow’s swim. I’m just praying to all the NZ gods that the weather will be nice tomorrow and my trip doesn’t get cancelled. This is one of the things I want to do the most in New Zealand. That, and a wine tour in Blenheim which is my next stop so I better do some sort of anti-rain dance.

I am roughly a third of the way through my trip now which is a little scary and I’m starting to feel more at home with the travelling lifestyle and with being a solo traveller in particular. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s not awesome all the time. Some days you will miss home with a passion but you’ve just got to get passed it because the next day you’ll meet someone awesome and see something you’ve never seen before. Some people find being away from home easier than others and that’s fine. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I love being here but I do occasionally find myself missing home.
  • Hangovers are worse in another country. Oh. My. God. I hate hangovers and can’t handle them in general. I need my own bed, my DVD collection, a bottle of Diet Coke and a cuddle. These things and only these things sooth my hangover. Travelling sucks with a hangover but is brilliant drunk.
  • People are mostly brilliant. Most people will talk to you, will hang out with you if you put yourself out there.
  • Some people are just dicks. There’s not much you can do about that apart from revel in the fact that they will always be so. They steak your money and steal your stuff but, hey, Karmas a bitch, and the universe does not take kindly to those who take from others.
  • Your hair will look shit for the duration of your time spent travelling. Sneak in to the YHA and use the hair dryer but it wont help. Five minutes later you will be channelling Diana Ross
  • Approximately five weeks in to your trip you will 1) hate all of your clothes and want to set fire to them, 2) hate anyone who snore 3) start snoring 4) never want to eat pasta, noodles, jam sandwiches, cereal bars again 4) have that moment when you realise this trip has changed you infinitely for the better and you’re having the time of your life.
  • I am a short term traveller. Four – Five months suits me better than eight – twelve. That’s just me.
  • You can do things on your own like go to the cinema or dinner or for a drink and not feel uncomfortable, just awesome.
  • I really do fall over a lot.

South Island: Helicopters, Hiking and Hangovers

It’s true what they say: time really does fly when you’re having fun. Wellington seems like a lifetime ago, although in reality, it has only been about two weeks since I left the North.

It’s crazy how quickly my time in New Zealand is slipping away. In just 19 short days I will be on a plane to Melbourne! But like I said, it’s a sign of the fun, and I’ve certainly had that it my latest stop: Queenstown.

The adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere, Queenstown is full of travellers chucking themselves off buildings, bridges, out of planes, around on boats – it’s pretty fast paced. And so is the nightlife. Although I didn’t get chance to do a bungee – I’d have loved to but with great fun comes a pretty hefty price tag and I am on a budget with a few other activities in mind before I leave The Land of the Long White Cloud – I certainly sampled the nightlife. With my fellow traveller, Lucie, who I met in a lovely hostel in Nelson, we donned our finery (sort of) and did our hair and makeup (again, sort of) and hit the town. And boy, did we hit the town hard. Waddling back to the hostel and 4 am in flipflops that quacked with every step because of the rain (flipflops + wet floor + pouring rain = perilous btw. I have a huge bruise from where I fell on my arse) was not one of my finest holiday moments.

 

Queenstown for me has been more about stopping and relaxing somewhere beautiful. Yesterday was so warm. I was still with Lucie so we walked around the lake, went shopping, had a few drinks in the sun – such a lovely rest day.

 

 

Unfortunately,  today it is raining. And I mean English style raining. Pouring. Pissing it down. So I’m secreted away in the hostel writing blog posts, catching up with my novel (which I’ve not touched since I’ve been in New Zealand!) and planning the next couple of weeks.

But first, what have I been up to since wellington?

I spent a few days in Wellington exploring. Now, in comparison to European cities like London or Paris, Wellington is pretty small and doesn’t take that long to explore. I had five days. But what Wellington lacks in size (get your mind out of the gutter) it makes up for in personality. Dubbed the “coolest little capital” in the world by Lonely Planet, it’s a cute little pocket of coolness at the bottom of the north island. From Cuba Street and all its quirky shops and hipster bars, to Te Papa museum where you can easily get lost for hours, to the plethora of bars lining the waterside (and offering reasonably priced drinks if you go during happy hour) where you can sit and watch the kayakers.

I spent the days in Wellington making a plan. Well a sort-of plan. I booked my bus tickets for the south island, a ferry over the Cook Straight and a hostel in Nelson. As much as I wanted to stop and explore the surrounds of Wellington further, the hostels were really expensive so I had to keep moving. This trip is costing me some serious cash. I don’t think New Zealand is any more expensive than the UK but without a regular income, you become more aware – and terrified – of the price of things.

I made my own way over to Picton, booking the ferry and lugging all my crap to the ferry port at ridiculous o’clock. As I seem to have so many more days than most people using the Stray buses (two months in all) I decided to hop off at Nelson, a quaint town with a nice beach and some nice craft breweries. I only stayed here for one night but really enjoyed it and wish I’d stayed more – I think it had something to do with the beautiful sunshine.

 

Next up was the stunning Abel Tasman National Park. I bumped into some people I’d been travelling around with in the North Island and ended up hitting the beaches and nature walks with them. I didn’t pay for any of the activities here because the place was so beautiful, the walks and swimming in the sea was enough for me. If you ever get lucky enough to travel to this stunning country, make sure AT is on your list. It is breath-taking on a sunny day. The only un-lazy thing I seemed to do in AT was drag my bum to the local café (in the pitch dark) to the most hilarious open mic night with two Canadian girls and, Brenda, the Dutch girl I keep bumping into. I’ve never seen a Maori chef rap before.

Then it was on to Westport which is billed by Stray as just on the itinerary to break up the journey but I really liked it. I mean, there was NOTHING to do there but we ended up heading to a beer tasting that the majority of my bus opted for, and drank our body weight in yummy beer! In true me fashion, we did end up going out in Westport to a bar/club hybrid and the night ended with watching an old man do a rendition of the Haka with a snooker cue and give me 20 cent. Weird and hilarious.

The next stop is probably the highlight of my trip so far: Franz Joseph. Again, it’s a tiny town with not many shops but it boasts an amazing attraction: a glacier. Before I left home, I made a bucket list of things I wanted to do in NZ: a wine tour (or six), a trip to see dolphins, white water rafting and a glacier walk.

At $300 it is a really pricey activity but considering you get a return helicopter flight (which was AWESOME) and a 3 hour guided tour around the glaciers, I think it was money well spent. We flew over to the glacier (I didn’t get to sit in the front but the views were still stunning from the back seat) after picking up our hilarious looking get up of black boots, crampons, waterproof trousers and a jacket big enough to fit two people…oh and a little red bag to stash our snack and water. Sexy. Our guide ushered us out of the helicopter, showed us how to attach the crampons to our boots and started the walk pretty much straight away. I’m proud of doing the glacier walk. I know a lot of people do it and it’s not that difficult, but I’m a little afraid of heights and have never walked on ice before. Our guide was so good though, that I didn’t have any worries climbing through the tiny walkways or stepping over gaping crags, and by the end of the tour, I totally felt like an Ice Explorer! We were pretty tired by the end of the trip but luckily entry to the hot pools was included so we hot-footed it over there to warm up. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pics of the hot pools as I forgot my waterproof camera but they’re basically big hot tubs.

After Franz Joseph, I decided to take a few days to lounge around in the beautiful town of Wanaka on the South Island. It is so picturesque I just found myself sitting and staring out at the water and the mountains and thinking how lucky I was be there. All the stress (my hostel was a dive) and loneliness you get with solo travel just melted away with scenery like that, and I realised that this is why I came travelling. For days like that one, and views like Wanaka and the absolute peace I felt in that moment.

I’ve barely written a thing because I’ve been so busy. The thing about travelling with a backpacker bus is you’re never really alone (six bed dorms, 40 people in a bus) and usually there is too much fun to be had elsewhere. I’ve decided that although I have LOVED the fun of the bus and meeting lots of other travellers, I’m going to take my time travelling back up to Auckland and hop off a few times. I spent today – staring out the window, wishing the rain would back off before I go meet a friend for a drink in Queenstown centre (remember someone nicked my waterproof in Nomads in Auckland, well, I haven’t yet replaced it) – booking all my hostels, ferry ride over to the north and researching activities so I can just enjoy myself without having to count costs as much.

So what’s up next? I have another two nights and one day in Queenstown and I’m hoping for a return of yesterday’s lovely weather.

Then its on to Mount Cook and Rangitata for a night each with the Stray bus which will be fun as I get a new busload of people to hang out with for a couple of days before I leave again.

Then its Kaikoura to swim with seals (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek how exciting!) and hang out for two days, then Blenheim for a wine tour of the amazing Marlborough region (I’m going to wear real clothes and pretend I’m all sophisticated and stuff) for a few days, Picton, Ferry, Wellington – as there’s still so much I haven’t seen like the Red Rocks and the Weta Caves, before beginning the epic journey back up to Auckland. Unfortunately I have to spend five days in Auckland before my flight to Melbourne but I am determined to convert myself to liking the city. There are lots of suburbs I haven’t gone to and a few free touristy attractions – I’m sure I’ll come away loving Auckland.