travel

The final South Island Stops… Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo

The final items on my South Island bucket list were Mount Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo, both of which I missed out on when I was here three years ago and both of which I was desperate to see. So with a flight booked out of Auckland and a car full of crap to be deposited back in National Park ready for the ski season, I finished work a few days earlier than planned to fit these final stops in on my long journey north.

Despite it being icy cold overnight camping in the shadows of the snow capped mountains, and despite the Hooker Valley track being closed to storm damage, The two days I spend in this area were magical. Everything from the drive, to the stars, to the frosty morning to the over swarmed tourist spots just took my breath away. I can’t really put into words the beauty of these mountains and lakes, so I think for once I’ll just shut up and let the pictures do the talking.

Let me just say this though, New Zealand completely and utterly stole my heart. From the first drive to this long last one in the six months of road tripping around the islands, it has been a truly magical and extraordinary adventure!

(Mount Cook from Kea point)

(White Horse Campground at sun down nestled amongst the mountains)

(Looking across towards Mount Sefton from Mueller Lake lookout)

(Looking across Lake Pukaki towards Mount Cook)

(The Church of the Good Shepherd on the edge of Lake Tekapo)

travel

Two Days in Dunedin…

To my surprise Dunedin turned out to be the place in the South Island I felt most at home, a university city that despite its size feels surprisingly small and inviting. The centre is full of gorgeous old buildings, dangerously pretty vintage shops, my favourite of all buildings theatres and so many cute coffee shops I was shaking from all the caffeine by the time I left. It only took 24 hours but I fell in love.

My visit was a flying one on my two days off, and I debated whether to go or not several times over with myself, but in the end I woke up early on my first day off to gorgeous weather and decided to get on the road and pack as much into the two days as I could. And boy am I glad I did.

My first stop were the beaches, and there are some damn good ones here. Although the wind made it far too cold for swimming St Clair’s beach was still a great place for a wander along the golden sand and a risky dip of my toes in the icy water. St Clair’s is the classic long stretch of gold sand and blue blue sea and skies that are all you ever want from a beach.

(Pretty, pretty, pretty!)

Tunnel beach is a little further out of the city and is about a 20 minute walk down (and a gruelling climb back up) to the large tunnel rock formation that gives the beach its name. When the tide is out there’s a set of stairs down through a tunnel carved into the cliff side that brings you out onto the beach. A sheltered little cove full of large boulders, not quite so classic, but definitely the coolest beach.

(And of course perfect for a photo opportunity in my new hat!)

With the sun starting to set I headed to my camp for the night, a car park next to the railway station, not very glamorous but hey free and within easy walking distance of the city centre. The Octagon is in the middle of the city, as it’s name suggests, a pretty octagonal plaza surrounded by old buildings and bars, all of which, despite being Monday, were gently buzzing.

Wandering down a few more streets I found the buildings and walls covered with some awesome graffiti. You can apparently follow a street art trail and discover all the works, some of which are done by famous street artists, I wouldn’t know about that but they did look cool, pretty much like the vibe of this whole city!

(The closest I got to penguins this trip.)

I also discovered a whole heap of vintage and coffee shops which I eagerly returned to the next morning, and whilst I almost completely managed to restrain myself in the vintage shops I can’t say the same about the coffee shops and I may have sampled a fair few over the course of the morning. Believe me I was buzzing!

Finally dragging myself away from the city centre I made my way to one of Dunedin’s most popular attractions, Baldwin Street, or as it’s more commonly known the world’s steepest street. And after a brisk walk up I can confirm that yep it’s bloody steep! And of course it is swarmed with tourists trying to take the best Instagram picture of the seemingly sinking houses or their climbing attempts, me of course being one of them!

(Just has to have a quick sit down in the road once I managed to reach the top!)

With the sun still beaming down I headed out to the Otago Peninsula, yet another of this country’s beautiful drives and towards Lanarch Castle. Of course it’s not really a castle, not by British standards more of a stately home and gardens perched up on the hillside. But it is pretty.

(Umm yep I’ll move in!)

And when New Zealand does castles it apparently fills the grounds with (slightly creepy) Alice in Wonderland statues, allegedly including a Cheshire Cat which I could not for the life of me find!

(I’m sorry but that Alice has got some issues!)

Right out on the tip of the peninsula is the Royal Albatross Centre. Here there is a penguin colony on one of the beaches but you do have to book a tour and go at dusk to catch a sight of them, neither of which I did. There are also, surprise surprise, Albatross. The centre has a pretty interesting little exhibition about the birds and does also offer tours, however there is really no need to join them. If you walk down to the cliff side viewing area you are more than likely to see them gliding on the wind around the cliff top, and bloody hell are they massive! It really made for the perfect end to this whirlwind trip stood on the cliff side in the gorgeous sunshine watching these majestic birds soaring overhead, plus it had the added bonus of making my sister extremely jealous, she has a long held obsession with albatross, and has yet to see one herself (haaaa)!

Dunedin really surprised me with how much I loved it, and I really wish I’d been able to spend more time there, as it completely captured my heart, and there are way too many things I didn’t get the chance to see. Although a little further south than most people venture, I’d definitely recommend to try and take the time to pay this city a visit, you may just fall in love.

travel

Queenstown, Queen of Towns…

I fell in love with this town the minute I stepped foot in it three years ago and it is a love, that like my love for Prince Harry has lasted. So it was with a excited hysteria that I finally arrived back into the town on a sunny Sunday evening. Flying high from having successfully scaled Roy’s peak, overexcited about not sleeping in a car for a couple of nights and giddy from the first wine had in ages I was ecstatic to be back. And through a few twists of fate those few days turned into eight glorious weeks of calling this place my home.

Yes, as you’ve probably been told, it is touristy and man is it expensive but it is also awesome. So as I haven’t done a list for a little while and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms here’s one for ya, all the reasons you can fall in love with Queenstown.

1. The Views. Sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by seriously dramatic mountains Queenstown is beautiful. I’ve been living and working on the edges in Frankton and when I get to wake up and come home to this view everyday you really can’t complain, even if I am still sleeping in the car!

(Never getting over this view right on my doorstop)

2. It is adrenaline headquarters. People come here for the thrills and they get them. You have your pick of the bungee jumps here and if you’re not quite as up for it then the canyon swings are also pretty terrifying. For me I absolutely hate the whole upside down thing, it’s really a chore to get me on a rollercoaster. So we opted for the Nevis Swing, although the morning of it I was seriously questioning why. Just the drive up the dusty road on the edge of a cliff got me sweating let alone the bridge across the canyon out to the jump point or the swing itself. But the heart stopping fear of dangling over a canyon and suddenly being dropped down into it is what makes it all the more exhilarating.

(That’s us just freefalling in to the canyon and not screaming at all!)

3. The lake. As mentioned in point number one it is stunning but it’s also great to get out on to. A lake cruise makes for a pretty gorgeous afternoon, especially if the weather is good, because as I also mentioned in point one the views!!! Or for a little more adrenaline the jet boats down the Shotover river are the most fun way to see the scenery, whizzing down the river at 80km an hour, doing 360 spins and getting so many knots in my hair it took me a whole 45 minutes in the shower to get them all out, is my new favourite way to sightsee.

(Fun fact I won this K Jet trip in a pub quiz way back when I first arrived in Auckland and drank solidly for several days straight, worth it though!)

4. It is a great base for day trips. Although it makes for a very long day with an eight hour round drive, Queenstown is the perfect place for a trip to the beautiful Milford Sound. Top of my list as last time I was in the country I was done in by travel sickness and couldn’t face yet another long coach journey, a decision I regretted so badly afterwards, BUT it turned out great, because the day we went it was magical. With my aunt and cousin in town for a couple of days the beautiful sunny weather gave in and torrential rain hit the south, turns out though when it rains Milford is at its best with hundreds of waterfalls pouring down the mountain sides. Driving in was without doubt the most spectacular drive of the South Island (which trust me is saying something). Ok so the rain did almost threaten the boat ride with cancellation and turned the normally blue waters dark and choppy as anything, but I can’t even begin to describe quite how spectacular it was.

(Milford is a seriously, seriously magical place)

5. Arrowtown. This little town is only 30 minutes down the road and it is so so pretty. It is a little trip into the past with the remnants of an early Chinese gold miners settlement and super quaint high street. And a sunny day wandering around the town is a perfect day off.

(How could you not get a crush looking at this cute little high street?)

6. The food! Namely Fergburger, incredibly hyped and always always with a queue but man is it a good burger. And don’t just go for the classic, the cock a doodle oink is an insanely good chicken burger and for breakfast (or any time of the day really) the morning glory gives breakfast burgers world over a run for their money. Aside from Fergburger the town is teeming with restaurants, most of which my broke ass tried not to sample, but Red Rock with it’s $10 full breakfast and Fat Badger with its supersized pizzas needed to be sampled, and I have no regrets!

(Yes baby a beautiful dinner with a beautiful view!)

7. The Luge. Another top Queenstown activity is to take the gondala up the hill and go for a few runs on the stupidly fun luge track. Racing down the hillside on little carts was a great way to indulge my inner kid, although my ten year old cousin kicked my ass good and proper. And it goes without saying really but the views are spectacular.

8. The nightlife. Queenstown is a good party. There are a whole heap of bars and clubs, some of which are surprisingly cheap, like 1876 with the cheapest beer in town. And as we were there for my friends birthday we definitely indulged. I’m not going to go into details but safe to say there were a lot of regrets the next day, and a complete refusal to move from our beds except to fetch a McDonald’s!

(Cowboys bar has beers as big as your face for $15 as well as a mechanical bull you can attempt to ride very very badly!)

So yes this place is going to sap you of money and probably energy, but it’s also exciting as hell and every day here I thanked all the stars that I got to live and play in this queen of towns!

travel

A whole lot of National Parks and Hikes…

The South of New Zealand is one glorious National Park after another and if you’re on a backpacker budget the best way to see all the beautiful NZ scenery is by hiking, lots and lots of hiking!

I should, having climbed Kilimanjaro (did I ever mention that before?!) be able to take on a hike or two reasonably easily but apparently I cannot and whilst every walk we did was worth it, I still seem to be the same unfit person I have always been. After the cruisey coastal walks in Abel Tasman and Kaikoura and a day or two wandering around Christchurch we headed off cross country to Arthur’s Pass and the hiking commenced.

The drive cross country through the pass is another of New Zealand’s idyllic routes (she just keeps chucking them at us)! And from here on it out it really got wild, showers of any kind were a thing of the past, my painted nails abandoned and for most of the west coast, phone signal is not a thing and WiFi hard to find. We were truly disconnected and at some points quite literally in the wilderness. Our first campsite at Arthur’s Pass was 6km down a gravel track in the middle of nowhere, there were perhaps 4 other campers there and a toilet shack that looked like something from a horror film. For a night there, I really thought we might be murdered!

(Creepy as hell but you can’t beat a bed with a sunset view)

But who cares about being murdered (!) because Arthur’s Pass is beautiful and full of hikes of all lengths. Whilst we didn’t take on the hardest we spent the day (after spending our first day in the car hiding from the rain) trekking our way through the pass to see great waterfalls and of course stunning views!

(And to be those cliche instagramming travellers who take this bloody travel photo!)

Once we hit the west coast Franz Josef was our first stop. And if you can’t quite splash out on the helicopter rides up onto the glacier you can take a 45 minute walk up to the face, or if you fancy a five hour hike up to Roberts Point for an even closer view. The sign heading into the hike warns that it is for experienced hikers only (which I’m not so sure I can be classed as) and I ended up taking this one on solo.

(This sign’s not daunting at all)

It was without a doubt the most fun of all the hikes. Crossing huge swing bridges and rivers, scrambling up rocks and taking on a narrow wooden staircase hanging on the side of a cliff is all part of the fun. And yes I was a little terrified that I was going to slip and smash all my bones but did I love every second of it? Hell yes I did! The walk ends at a platform which gives you a fantastic view of the glacier and you can eat lunch watching all the helicopters landing and taking off from the glacier as the slightly richer tourists go play on it. Absolutely killer and my legs paid the price, but absolutely recommend!

(So many fun swing bridges and rickety stairways)

As we made our way down the West Coast there were so many places to stop and take on a little hike. First up was Lake Matheson where you can walk around the lake and if you’re lucky get a perfect mirrored reflection of Mount Cook (we were not) but we did get some pretty good views of the mountain and the Fox Glacier. From there we made our way down the coast stopping at a few stunning beach walks along the way.

(I definitely recommend Ship Creek, just look how pretty it is)

Then we were heading through the Haast Pass which is waterfall paradise. Every few minutes we were stopping and making our way along little trails to view waterfalls and probably the bluest river I have ever seen!

(Seriously the most insanely blue, although a little freezing, water ever seen)

We took a little detour further down to Cromwell for a couple of days and found ourselves some more hills to climb, and a particular favourite stop of mine Bendigo ghost town. An abandoned gold mining town up the hairiest steep, winding dust track of a road that gave me a minor heart attack, but nearly deserted by all but us and a group of nudists we stumbled upon (New Zealand is just one fun story after another)! There are heaps of walking tracks up here and walking around this ghostly town was a great afternoon adventure not to mention the of course great views.

(Just hanging around on top of a hill as per usual)

Then we hit up Wanaka and with it Roy’s Peak which was the big one. It is at the top of the list of hikes to hit in New Zealand and you can see why. The highest peak in the area you can literally see for miles and miles, but it is HARD. A constant uphill slog and it was hot hot hot! Too in love with our sleep to try and a climb for sunrise and miss the heat of the day we started climbing mid morning and boy did we sweat! We took four litres of water each along with a speaker pounding out the motivational tunes, and I am so very glad we did, because we needed it. Reaching the top though I probably felt the most accomplished I had in the whole time I’d been in New Zealand! And that combined with the very welcome breeze and the killer views put it at the top of my list of recommendations.

(New Zealand just chucking them stunner views at us)

And thus ended our weeks of walking as we headed for Queenstown and all the thrills, food and alcohol it offers (seriously we deserve it)!

(Our happy hands atop Roy’s Peak for no more hikes)

Till next time xxx

travel

New Zealand… Best of the North

In the last few months we have driven up and down and round and round and zig zagged our way across the entire North Island and I think we can say that we have well and truly seen it.

As we embark on our tour of the South I figured I’d look back and make a little (or very long) list of the best of the North.

1) The Northlands. People tend to miss this as they head south out of Auckland but it really is a stunning part of the country.

(Think that proves my point!)

Paihia makes for a great base in the Bay of Islands. From here you can take the ferry over to pretty Russell, New Zealand’s first capital, and lounge on the beautiful beaches, go for a morning parasail, visit Waitangi, the site of the signing of the Waitangi Treaty, take a walk up the Opua forest lookout track or take a drive to Keri Keri where you can find New Zealand’s oldest building and then wander along the river to Rainbow Falls. Paihia is full of countless fun activities and at the weekend a couple of fun bars as well. It was here I made one of my best friends for the season when we bonded over heavy drinking in the backpackers Pipi Patch bar!

The northern most point of New Zealand is Cape Reinga. A lighthouse stands at the tip, from which you can view the place where two seas merge, and also see quite how far you are from home!

Although it’s a long journey all the way up north it’s also a fun one. The designated state highway from Cape Reinga along the top part of the west coast is Ninety mile beach, though you will need a four wheel drive for it, as my friends found out when they tried to drive down it in a dodgy Honda Odyssey and ended up getting towed off the beach by a tractor! There are also some impressive sand dunes to stop at on the way which armed with a boogie board I sandboarded down at a slightly alarming speed! Super hard work to climb up but super fun to come down.

Heading back towards Auckland we made a kind of accidental stop near Matakana for a few days, and despite it being an off plan stay I would definitely recommend a visit. This area is home to a fair amount of wineries, which we of course sampled but most importantly here you can find the best cinnamon bun I have ever tasted, at The Farmer’s Daughter!

(Seriously I still dream about this tasty bit of deliciousness)

2) Auckland is my least favourite of places, every time I wound up there I ended up getting drunk and getting sick. But if you do end up spending time there Waiheke Island is the place to be. This is the island of beaches and wineries. If you get yourself a hop on hop off bus pass you can crawl your way from one winery to the next, tasting some awesome New Zealand wines in the sunshine and then go and drunkenly flop onto a beach. My idea of a perfect day.

3) Coromandel. Everyone says to go there, and there is good reason! My god it is Pretty! And of course full of tourists. Hot Water Beach which at low tide is packed with people as everyone tries to find the best spot to dig a hole and relax in the warm water, and Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous tucked away beach, that was used for filming one of the Narnia films, are as touristy as it gets but still need to be paid a visit. My favourite part of the Coromandel though, is the drive along the coast from Thames up to the Coromandel Peninsula, it is the most beautiful drive I have so far done in New Zealand, and trust me I’ve done a lot of beautiful drives. In the afternoon sunshine with the windows down and a little bit of Oasis on the stereo, it is a dream road trip. And just make sure you arrive up there in time for sunset!

(I do love a good sunset me)

4) Coming down the east coast you reach the port city of Tauranga where the main attraction is a quick yet painful climb up Mount Maunganui. It’s worth the pain though for the stunning views and once down there’s a beauty of a beach to go for a cooling off swim!

Driving down the coast is pretty spectacular as you follow the seafront along. There’s a fair few camping spots here practically on the beach, which in good weather, would make for a pretty sweet stop off, we however just spent our night on the coast sheltering from non-stop rain under a makeshift tarpaulin shelter cooking soup and cheese toasties on our trusty camp stove!

Further down is Gisborne, which proudly proclaims itself the first place in the world to see the sun rise. Again in good weather it is a sight to be seen, we unfortunately missed out with rain, rain and more rain! In the shitty weather, Sunshine Brewery is a great place to spend the arvo, and ‘In There Like Swimwear’ is to date the best beer I’ve drunk in New Zealand. Gisborne’s other claim to fame is as the landing place of Captain Cook and there’s plenty of landmarks and statues to show you where to walk in their footsteps.

Another few hours south and you hit Napier. Perhaps my favourite spot of the North Island trip, it is the Art Deco city and I could quite happily spend hours wandering around looking at all the pretty buildings and playing Art Deco dress up in the free museum.

(Anyone else thinking Gatsby?!)

We spent a while near Napier as we were working on a farm for a few weeks and as one of the sunniest parts of New Zealand it offers up plenty of nearby beaches, harbour side bars and cycle routes along the sea front.

5) Heading in land and Rotorua is top of the list. Full of geothermal activity, the town smells like rotten eggs from all the sulphur and every so often you get a very potent whiff. I have returned to Rotorua a few times and still couldn’t get bored. The main draw of course are the thermal parks with their bubbling mud, multi coloured hot springs and dramatic geysers.

(And eeery mesmerising rivers)

The geothermal activity in the area was a draw for many Maori tribes, as they use the hot springs for bathing, heating and cooking, and there are several Maori villages here that have become tourist attractions. We went to Whakarewarewa (try saying that five times fast, in fact try saying it at all) and although not the most popular, definitely the most authentic as a village still very much in use.

(No she’s not fishing just cooking some corn)

Rotorua is also home to a whole host of other attractions. There’s the Thursday night street market and Eat Street for food and drink and we also occupied ourselves paying a visit to the cat cafe for coffee and cuddles. There’s Rotorua lake and the green lake and the blue lake and the Redwoods is a great place to undertake our favourite of all activities and go for a wander.

If you were made of money there’s a whole heap to do here and as long as you don’t mind the smell you could quite happily fill your days in this interesting city.

6) I’m a little biased but Tongariro National Park is amazing. This is where I lived and worked for five months on the ski field and although occasionally cabin fever would set in I just couldn’t tire of it. In the winter Whakapapa Ski Field is where it’s at and I could wax lyrical about how to fill a winter in the area, but I think I’ve already done that (A Ski Season in New Zealand’s North Island…) In summertime though it’s just as good, and the best way to see the beauty is to undertake the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Not short at 19.4km long with a devil of a climb but the pretty pretty view more than makes up for the pain.

It may be a little middle of nowhere but I love this place, and the fact I was basically living in Mordor (many scenes were filmed on Mount Ruapehu) and driving past Mount Doom every day (Mount Ngaruhoe was used as Mount Doom) was my thirteen year old self’s dream come true! I unashamedly have and always will be a huge Lord of the Rings fan!

(See still loving the sunset)

7) Speaking of Lord of the Rings, any fan cannot go to New Zealand without a visit to Hobbiton! Yes it is touristy and a little expensive but it is magical, I may have even gotten a little misty eyed as the bus drove us across to the set with music from the film playing us in. It’s cute and whimsy and the whole damn reason I ever wanted to come to New Zealand!

8) On the west coast of the island sits Raglan, the Byron Bay of New Zealand. I have a soft spot for this surf town, it was the first stop of our road trip after we left the ski field and the place where I celebrated my 28th birthday with a bloody good bunch of friends. (Yes I’m that old now.) Raglan is the place to surf, if that’s what takes your fancy. Or you can, if you’re me, accept that your surfing skills have peaked at standing up once, and instead just go along, watch all the more accomplished surfers, laugh as your friend falls fully clothed into the sea and horrendously sunburn your face and arms. There are other water sports on offer as well, we took to the estuary with our kayaks and despite a little rain had a jolly good time of it so we did! On land we hired bikes and cycled our way down to the wharf where Raglan Fish does some really excellent freshly caught “fush ‘n chips”! And then ditched the bikes and drove our lazy asses to Bridal Veil Falls. Where you can dick around and take photos like this.

I don’t know if I’m looking at Raglan through rose tinted glasses because of the great company and the many laughs and the fact this is the place I lost my skinny dipping virginity. But I really do love this hippy surf town and it’s black sand beaches and it’s grungy bar where bad drunken decisions are made in dark corners!

(And another sunset)

9) Last but not least is Wellington!

I love this little city a whole lot and if I could stay and work I probably would. It’s a quirky capital with plenty of vintage shops, dreamy houses and fun bars. It was here we let our drunkenness loose, celebrated Christmas with several shots and a horrific hangover and bar crawled our way into 2019. When we did let our livers rest we wandered around leisurely exploring the city. For a capital it’s quite compact and you can easily walk your way around it. The waterfront is the obvious place to start, heading from the city centre down to Oriental Parade is a great stroll in the sunshine and the little beaches along the front are always popular. There’s also a jumping platform where the crazy people can jump into the docks and the not so crazy just chill and watch. This is the home of Te Papa and if you go to one museum in New Zealand, make it this one, completely free and full of interesting exhibitions, for me it was the first place to hit. The cable car is iconic in Wellington and a mere $5 we took a ride up to Kelburn, from here we browsed around the cable car museum (it really is an icon of the city) and then made our way back down to the city through the botanical gardens.

As well as wandering our way around we also took the car a little further afield, and let me tell you fellow Lord of the Rings fans, you will love this place! All around Wellington are places used for filming, just North in Upper Hutt is Rivendell, we practically camped on the site of the Battle of Helms Deep and of course there is the Weta Workshop where most of the props were made and where you can make friends with some lovely trolls at the entrance.

This friendly city makes a great home for a couple of weeks and an ideal last stop in the North Island. And really, watching the sun set over the city from Mount Victoria could not have been a more perfect last evening in the North.

(I told you I really do love a sunset)

And there you have it in a (very big) nutshell, New Zealand’s North Island. There are of course countless other places and sights that I could ramble on about, and of course plenty of places I haven’t had the fortune to see but then we could be here all year and I’ve got a whole other island to be seeing! So I’ll be seeing ya on the other side folks xxx