The North Island

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks travelling the North Island with a friend from Australia. She’s returned home and I’ve come down to Wellington.

Exhibition in the Te Papa Museum, figures of the soldiers made by Weta Workshop
Toasted marshmallows at Haikai

We started off in Wellington; visiting the Weta Studios, the Te Papa Museum and Zealandia Ecosanctuary. We also found a Wellington Craft Beer map in the first pub we headed to, which kept us busy. There’s the show ‘The Final Table’ on Netflix, showcasing chefs from around the world. One of the contestants runs the restaurant Haikai, focusing more on indigenous ingredients. We had the ten course menu there which was amongst the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Following Wellington, we stopped off at Napier for a night. It wasn’t really anywhere too exciting, just a nice little town, then off to Taupo. The main stop was the 19.4km Tongariro Crossing, where the scenes for Mt. Doom were filmed in Lord of the Rings.

It’s actually quite possibly a really dangerous walk, starting with what’s called ‘the Devil’s Staircase.’ Living up to both the Names ‘Devil’s Staircase,’ and ‘Mt. Doom.’ I suggested the rule for first person to fall over had to buy the first beer afterwards, and I fell over. Three times. By the time we thought we had ten or so minutes or so left, we saw a sign saying that we in fact had 45. It’s by far the hardest hike I’ve done, and apparently in the world’s top five most challenging day hikes – according to the fitbit, it was the equivalent of 330-odd flights of stairs at 25,000 steps. I can’t find any trustworthy information ranking it, but I’m hoping it’s more like #2 or #3, rather than #5.

Looks like I’m looking out into the distance. Actually looking for the next lot of toilets on the map.
Fall #2

Following Taupo was Rotorua, where we went to the Glowworm caves. We chose a package that included two tours; the first was excellent with a really enthusiastic guide, but the second wasn’t too great. It was a boatride with a kind of tour through a cave, but you couldn’t hear the guide as there were too many people and children. Hiking Mt. Doom left us both sore for days, but conveniently the area is well known for having geothermal mineral springs.

From Rouorua we also went to Hobbiton, the filmset of the Shire in Lord of the Rings which was brilliant. We could see the layout to make the hobbits appear a lot smaller than Gandalf in the movies, and had the location of parts of the movies pointed out to us. They also provided a beer at the end, which was needed as it was so hot. The only downside is that we didn’t see the resident cat.

At Bag End, Bilbo’s house

Our last stop was Auckland. We took the ferry to Waiheke Island for a wine tasting which was great, though a bit pissed by the end of it. We stopped off at three different vineyards and an olive oil tasting place.

On Sunday I returned to Wellington and have a busy week with interviews, trials and flat viewings, as well as all the fun stuff like setting up a bank account, filing for a tax number etc.

Kaikoura

Most of the previous couple of weeks I’d booked and planned whilst back in the UK in December. It left me with a few days in the Christchurch area before either flying or getting the bus up to the North Island, probably via a detour.

When I first landed and spent the day there I didn’t think much of Christchurch in terms of things to do. It’s still quite clearly recovering from the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. Nothing really appealed to me in the area apart from going to the Antarctic Center next to the airport. I wanted a day off my feet so I caffeinated myself up and watched Mary Queen of Scots at the cinema.

The hostel I was staying at was affected by the Earthquake, but was hoping to be fully refurbished by 2016. The ceiling was starting to fall apart and the room was branded as a “Flashpacker Dorm” – the only thing flash about it was the speed I would expect someone to fall through the ceiling at.

The main reason I went to Kaikoura was to go kayaking around the seal colonies; there’s also the option to go swimming there. For me I’d rather give the seals an option of whether or not to approach, plus I can’t swim. Originally I’d booked for a sunset tour though it was cancelled due to weather – the company, Levi’s Seal Kayaking, were kind enough to re-arrange around the bus timetable to allow me to join.

The tour was great, probably the highlight of the South Island. We had a blue penguin chill next to us on the water and some dolphins jumped up from under one of the kayaks which was great to see. Our guides didn’t think the penguin was injured, but they took pictures to send to a blue penguin research center. We also saw seals getting in/out of the water and chilling on the rocks. The kayaks we were travelling on were controlled by pedals, which was a lot easier on the body.

Yesterday morning I managed to book a ticket to go whale watching during the evening. I wasn’t expecting to go on the tour as the evening kayaking was cancelled, but Kaikoura is supposedly the best place in the country to do so. The morning tour managed to see Orcas, but the evening tour did get cancelled. I could’ve gone first thing this morning but it would be cutting it fine with being able to get up to Wellington tonight. With that said, I think Kaikoura is a place that I would like to spend a few more days in. In a few weeks time I’ll have to commit to grown up responsibilities by getting a job, but it’s easy to get in and out of.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up with a friend to travel the North Island with for a couple of weeks. I probably won’t post that much. We’re starting in Wellington for a few nights and will end up in Auckland. I’ll be spending tonight finding some food and either binge-watching the Peep Show on Netflix or reading Lord of the Rings.

Hokitika

After the heli hike on Fox Glacier was cancelled I drove up to Hokitika, stopping off at the Gorge. For most of the drive it had rained, but stopped whilst at the Gorge. There’ a lot of hype around it, but I think it’s just a nice Instagram photo.

Moving on, I checked into my own private room in the hostel. It’s so great to close the door, press the lock and not deal with people. Even better with a double bed. The sunset in Hokitika is supposed to be great, but you couldn’t see down the road, yet alone a sunset, so I starfished on the double bed.

Yesterday morning I drove to the Pancake Rocks. The weather was still terrible, but I hadn’t gone to the other side of the world and paid for a hire car to lay in bed. I could’ve gone there from Greymouth, my next stop, but I had a mix up of the dates for the car. It stopped raining whilst I was there and started again after my coffee before leaving. During the evening I made it to the beach for the sunset.

There isn’t much to do in Hokitika. It’s an area where you can find the Jade stone washed up on the beach. It has connections to the Indigenous culture and a lot of shops aimed at the tourists.  I went for a walk along the beach, then off to the animal sanctuary. There were tuataras which are reptiles, snake neck turtles, fish and kiwis. On the internet I’ve seen a video of a chicken running around wearing trousers, which the kiwis reminded me of hopping around their enclosure.

I left Hokitika this morning early to give the rental car back, and haven’t done a lot. I’m soon off to Christchurch, then up towards the North Island, arriving there on Saturday.

Fox Glacier

On the way to Fox Glacier I stopped off at the Blue Pools walk and a waterfall that I forgot the name of, but looked like something out of Lord of the Rings.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived in Fox Glacier so I went for a walk as I’d been sat down driving for a few hours, but did nothing special. There was a glowworm forest nearby that lights up when it’s dark outside. When getting to the forest and realising that it’s next to the highway filled with people and no lighting allowed, it does feel pretty sketchy, so I went back to the hostel. In a couple of weeks I’ll be visiting glowworm caves so I don’t feel as though I missed out.

Bunk graffiti

I’d booked up to go for a heli hike on the glaciers yesterday which ended up getting cancelled because of the weather. Obviously safety is the main priority so I walked there instead, taking about an hour through the forest to get to the start of the trail, then 45 minutes to the glacier.

More graffiti

The tour of the glaciers that I rebooked for this morning was cancelled too, so I continued the journey going north.

Wanaka

I chose to leave Te Anau at 7am as I’d Googled the route up to Wanaka and had a section of the highway named “Devils Staircase” to get through. It was perhaps for the best to do that with less traffic on the road. Most people would’ve stopped off at and stayed in Queenstown for a couple of nights or so, but I don’t really fancy sharing space with people who have done activities such as skydiving and the Nevis Swing. Nothing against people who do those things; I just don’t want to be around several high-energy people.

My first stop was the Lavender Farm, around ten minutes from the hostel. They have farm animals including Donkeys (one I named after Bill the donkey from Lord of the Rings), Alpacas (should’ve named one Tina, after the one in Napoleon Dynamite), Sheep (can’t remember what I named them), and chickens (I’d run out of names by then.)

The thought of being on a farm since my farm work in Australia did make my skin crawl a bit, but I went with high expectations which were met. I spent maybe 45 minutes or so walking around until the lavender got the better of me, popped inside and had some lavender and manuka honey ice cream, then drove into Wanaka. I went into town to see the Wanaka Tree (#thatwanakatree on social media), which really is just a tree, and back to the hostel to do not a lot, as I was planning what is a pretty big hike for me.

I left the hostel at around 6.15am to drive to the starting point of Roy’s Peak, the most popular track in and around the area. When I did the ski season in France, one of the runs was known as the ‘extreme vertical’ because it was extremely vertical, and this hiking track could’ve qualified for that name. There were only a few flat areas, and took around three hours to climb up, then an hour and a half on the way down. There is infamously a social media line half hour from the top which I may have joined. By this point, I could feel my knees and hips hurting, and some of the knock on effects from the drama with my back last year, so I didn’t make it right to the top, but I was happy making it up to the lookout point.

Panoramic from the lookout point

This afternoon, after being extremely horizontal for a few hours I went to a farmers market. My plans are to let my legs relax and put my Netflix subscription to use. I’m off to Fox Glacier in the morning, and there’s a couple of places I want to stop off at on the way. One is a short walking track so hopefully my legs won’t be too sore.

Te Anau and Doubtful Sound

The drive from Dunedin to Te Anau turned out to be around four hours in the car. There’s nowhere really worth stopping at besides designated rest stops, though I did stop off at the bird sanctuary on the way to the hostel.

Here, it usually rains so was stuck inside on Sunday – I have clothes for rain but it wasn’t worth me going out in. Yesterday, I had the hostel organise for me to go to Doubtful Sound in the Fiordland. The more famous, and therefore more popular fiords here are Milford Sound so with me being me, I went for the one with less people.

After being picked up by the bus, it was a drive to the lake, a boat ride across the lake, then back in a bus for half hour, then onto another boat to go around Doubtful Sound. The scenery was awesome, with temporary waterfalls from the recent rain – when it stops raining, most of the waterfalls stop. I’d been expecting a bit more wildlife than seeing just one seal, having heard that there’s penguins and seals in the area.

This morning I set off early to drive some of the road up to Milford Sound. I wanted to go hiking, but also there’s the Mirror Lakes on the way to the Key Summit, which is a 3 hour long hike. The Mirror Lakes are best viewed on a clear, sunny day which it usually isn’t, but were still nice nonetheless.

NZ traffic
Mirror Lakes

Along the Key Summit

View from the Key Summit

 

Arriving in New Zealand, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsular

Before coming to New Zealand I went to Melbourne mainly for a catch up, but also to enjoy the hot weather. I very much felt I deserved it after enduring around a months worth of winter since July. We saw some of the Australian Open, went out for wine and cheese, adulted, and stayed in because it was 36 degrees outside.

The journey to Australia had a layover in China. 22 hours in the air in total, and I was looking to have a proper Chinese meal in China to get me through it. By now, I’ve had my fair share of airport layovers and normally you just simply transfer. But no. Landing in Chongqing, the 40 or so of us continuing to Australia were directed to a desk to check in, then we spent around four hours waiting, sat on the floor of the arrivals corridor, for someone to come into a security booth and check our passports, stamp them, then go through security again. With an hour to spare and no real choice of food, the Chinese I was rather looking forward to ended up being a small portion of Starbucks cashew nuts.

Arriving in Christchurch, I’d had about an hour and a halfs worth of sleep and was allowed to check in straight away. My intentions were to do a little more research on the first half of the next month of travel, to nap, and to get a phone to replace the one I smashed then smashed even more. As I arrived early I did try to go out and see the city, but I’ll be back soon anyway – thought I’d save it for a day where I’m a bit less pooped.

My intention was to start the trip properly in Dunedin – six hours on a bus. I’d caught an early one so didn’t really want to book anything for the afternoon as I have no first hand experience of what New Zealand traffic is like. Google Maps stated that my journey from the bus stop to hostel would be 15 minutes walking, and it looked more like 10. Uber wouldn’t work so I thought I’d walk. It turns out Dunedin is extremely vertical, and I’m glad I have a hire car now which I picked up yesterday morning.

Never in my life have I been refused to purchase alcohol (my first drink, anyway) and whilst in the supermarket I put a beer in my basket. I know New Zealand are strict about ID’ing people and they ID you if you look under 25. My driving license was refused as ID and was not allowed to buy the beer. In Australia you just argue a little with the person behind the till and they let you buy it on the condition that you “bring your passport next time.” The farmers market was over the road so I just bought one there instead.

Yesterday the weather was pretty poor. Here, there are plenty of murals to help prevent the city from being so badly vandalised. As I didn’t really fancy being out in the rain all day, I went past the ones I’d seen, but didn’t majorly go out of my way to see any of them.

During the afternoon I went with Elm Wildlife Tours to see some animals, some are very endangered. I’d seen a lot of great things online about them. I knew that the tour was on private property but didn’t know that the property was privately owned by the tour company. They’re building the landscape as it would be in a native, untouched by humans, environment to help the penguins thrive, with small additions such as nest cameras and safe lookout spots.

First stop was to see some seals on rocks, where there were smaller ones learning how to swim, which was super cute. We then went to the beach where there’s yellow eyed penguins and sea lions, and on the way down we bumped into a couple of them, causing us to go back and through to the beach a different way. We sat in a few lookout spots on the beach just watching the animals. I took a few pictures, but ultimately I just wanted to watch them. The penguins share the beach with sea lions who eat them; no one can really do anything to “save the penguins” as the sea lions are also endangered.

Afterwards, we went to an albatross centre for a bit of bird watching, which isn’t really my thing, but still a nice area nonetheless. We were only there for a short period of time, and then back to Dunedin.

When I went to Africa, it was great to see the animals, but the animals have adapted to being near roads. Some lions have learnt that giraffes can’t run on tarmac roads, so they chase the giraffes onto the roads so they fall over. We also did a night tour where we shined lights onto the animals, which seemed very unfair. Whilst it was great seeing the animals in the safari environment, I probably at that time should’ve looked into how what I was paying for was helping to conserve the wildlife. Yesterday on this tour I could see how some of the £60 or so I paid was helping the wildlife in the area, which I’m super happy about.

This morning the weathers nice for now, and I’m off to drive to the west.