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.

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