travel

The adventure one year on…

Last Thursday made it exactly one year since I headed off on my travels and I think I may have mentioned just a couple of times before but I could never have imagined this trip turning out the way it did, I could never have imagined being where I am today (sat in a coffee shop in a sweltering Hanoi) or being who I am today.

A year ago when I jetted off I thought I would be out in New Zealand for the ski season then spend a few months travelling before heading back home and that would be it adventure over. But that bubbled in to this great big adventure which leads me over to Asia for a few weeks before back to New Zealand for a second ski season and then who knows. The travel bug really got me good and for the first time I have no need or desire to return home or to stop travelling. I have a visa that means I can make money to support my continued travels and when that runs out then I can get a visa for another country and essentially just keep on going until I want to go home.

And the thing is I really don’t want to. I have fallen so in love on this journey, with this place, with people, with the person I can feel myself becoming.

I am infinitely happier. I’ve always, I like to think, been a pretty positive person, I always try to see the best of things and enjoy all the little moments of life. But here I’ve found myself enjoying all the little moments without having to try. I’ve laughed so much more. I have become less self conscious and more open and comfortable in my own skin.

I truly believe (brace yourselves it’s about to get deep) travelling heals the soul. I felt this on my first big trip inter railing around Europe five years ago. I had been miserable that year following my mums death, and as happy as I tried to be and as good as the good moments were, honestly the bad ones were horrific and dark and consuming. Post university, living back in my childhood home on my own, working in a cafe and drifting I made the decision to tick one of those big items of my bucket list and make one of my dreams a reality, and so I booked flights and inter rail tickets and ordered a backpack and planned a whole trip. A trip that I genuinely believe saved me. I had always enjoyed travelling but here I stepped into a whirlwind of different cities and cultures, I met the most interesting people, did things I’d only dreamed of, ate delicious food and drank dangerously strong drinks and was just so completely happy. And that was the start of the travel addiction for me. I hadn’t even finished the trip before I was planning the next one, South America, a trip actually still to be taken. I came back a happier person ready for the amazing moments I now believed were still to be had. I also came back more confident ready to follow another dream and move to London.

Following trips came at different stages in my life but were always always life changing. When I returned from Australia I came back with the guts to ask for a promotion. When I returned from five weeks in South East Asia it had not just given me the distance and perspective to see that I’d gotten stuck in a not great situation with work but also helped me to get over a pretty intense yet one sided summer romance. And this trip, well I don’t know what I’ll be or do when I go back, I still don’t know where this trip will end up taking me. But I do know it seems to have removed the last of the darkness that was hanging over me from my mums death.

To some extent I will always be the person I was, I will always love theatre and film, I will always have at least 3 books on the go at once, I will always sing badly and loudly to musical soundtracks in the car and I will always take my Roo toy with me on all my travels. I will probably always desperately want people to like me, I will fall in love far too easily and then not be able to actually speak any real feelings out loud and I will always offer a cup of tea when I cannot find the words to comfort someone. I will always have this urge to create something lasting and probably this amazing ability to keep on procrastinating.

But I do care less what people think, I am me and if they don’t like me well there’s not too much I can do about that. But I’m Kate fucking Farmer and that’s their loss.

I am also more comfortable on a physical level. I will always be in the immortal words of Bridget Jones “just a little bit fat” don’t get me wrong I do my exercise and eat my fruits and veg but I love food and alcohol and sleep too damn much, and that coupled with a slow metabolism doesn’t a skinny person make. But you know what I kinda like my curves, and I love my nose and it’s freckles and my weird colour changing eyes and my crazy curly hair. It came from my mum and my dad and my grandparents and all those I love, it’s me and I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.

And yes I am happier. I know what I love, I know what makes me happy, I may not know exactly what I want to do with my life but I know what I could do and for now that’s enough.

And above all I know how insanely lucky I am. Yes there may have been a rough patch or two, I may have lost my best friend and I may have floundered around a lot, but I am really living a pretty damn good life.

It shocks people when I tell them now how long I’ve been away, they always ask me if I miss home if I want to go back tell me they couldn’t do it. I will always tell people to travel, for me it is an indescribable joy and will change you completely. But everyone has a different story finds their happiness in different ways so if it’s travelling for you then go for it! If not then that’s fine too, just enjoy the one life you have and squeeze every drop of happiness from it.

Travelling saved me and it made me. So yes I may miss my home comforts sometimes but I’m going to keep enjoying this crazy ride cause there ain’t no life like it.

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

Welcome to the South Island… Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman to Kaikoura

Gloriously sun drenched. Is exactly how I would describe my first couple of weeks in the South. My tan has been well and truly topped up, my hair has been bleached by the sun and sea water, my shower has been either a lake or the sea and everything is covered in sand. Welcome to the sunniest place in New Zealand!

(Just look how awesome my bath is!)

Granted when we first drove off the ferry the sky was looking a bit cloudy and we spent our first night in a campsite getting poured on and our first morning dodging the rain in the centre of Nelson. It wasn’t looking promising. But then as we pulled up in our camp, which was in fact a car park (welcome to freedom camping) the sun did a beautiful thing and came out. Then, not to be cheesy but, it just didn’t stop shining.

(Car parks = Freedom Camping at its finest)

From the car park we headed slightly inland to Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park, home to the most picturesque jetty for all your instagram needs! Fair warning however underneath the pretty jetty several rather large eels reside. So after dramatically and photogenically jumping into it some fast swimming is required to swim as far away from the eels as physically possible.

(I may have jumped in a few times to get the perfect shot. There was a lot of fast swimming away from eels)

We camped out here a night in one of the doc sites and it was so incredibly nice to be out of a packed car park and surrounded by nature. Not so incredibly nice though was our introduction to sand flies! These little bastards turn out to be everywhere during the New Zealand summer, and they bite like crazy. I now have some very scarred up ankles and feet to go along with my tanned beach life look. Life on the road turns out has its down sides.

Long drop toilets are another of the less appealing sides to the New Zealand roadie. And we got our first South Island one at our next campsite. But holding your breath whilst going for a pee was worth it because for a mere $5 a night we got a bed on the beach!

(Look at that view with my morning cup of coffee)

Just outside Abel Tasman National Park we found this cute little campsite owned by the loveliest of ladies and from here we spent our days venturing off into the National Park. Abel Tasman is all about the yellow sand beaches and the blue blue sea and oh my goodness did I fall in love with it, you can see easily see why the place is swarming with tourists.

Most of the National Park is accessible only by boat and from Kaiteriteri we took the water taxi to trek some of the coastal walk. Away from the township the crowds thinned out and it was idyllic walking the leafy track passing little near empty beaches along the way and getting some pretty cracking views of the National Park. We were living the dream people. Living the Dream!

(D.R.E.A.M.Y)

Heading off from Abel Tasman we took perhaps the longer and less economic, but so worth it route, of cris crossing across the country and drove ourselves over to stop number three Kaikoura on the east coast. This place was number one on my hit list because Dolphins!

They say Kaikoura is a haven for sea life and guys it really really is. As we drove along the coast line towards the town I may have done a little squealing as I spotted the seal colony living along the rocky shore. A whole stretch of rocks dotted with furry seals and their babies swimming, playing and mostly sleeping. Seals can also be spotted at the Kaikoura Peninsula, which you can walk around in a couple of hours, spy the seals, see some great views out across the ocean and spot heaps of native birds which for the life of me I can’t remember the name of. But it’s definitely a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Although the seals were cute and exciting, and the albatross sightings thrilling news for my sister who has some obsession with them, the real (and very expensive) reason we were here was for the dolphins! So on a bright sunny morning we took to the sea geared up in wetsuits, flippers and snorkels to swim alongside the dolphins. And when I say dolphins I mean first there was one, then five, then twenty, then hundreds! At one point I was looking down through the snorkel at the two swimming in circles underneath me, glanced up and was surrounded by fins. We were lucky enough to be swimming alongside a pod of up to 400 dolphins and I have never seen anything like it. Back on the boat we were supplied with cuppa soup and ginger biscuits, and could watch the dolphins swimming and flipping about all around us. It without doubt classifies as a best day ever.

Despite the mild sea sickness and the fact I lost my sunglasses (the third pair of those exact ones) it was worth every penny. And staying in a car park for free kind of made up the money lost (or so we told ourselves).

The other thing about Kaikoura was that it was hot. We quite literally melted on some days and the stony beaches (alas no more yellow sandy beaches of Abel Tasman) were like walking on fire to get to the refreshing sea. Turns out the best place to take refuge was in the pubs where a nice cold beer or even a pint of icy coke helped us to cool down. The strawberry tree was a particular favourite, a crooked old fashioned pub with a really delicious beer that goes by the same name.

Besides frequenting the pubs, some serious day drinking, befriending the local sea life and melting in the sunshine, Importantly this was the place I learnt how to successfully jump start my car. Having burnt the battery out charging our phones I awkwardly asked some, very young looking, German boys for a hand jump starting it and rapidly googled the instructions so I wouldn’t look quite so clueless! Nevertheless I did it and to celebrate my successful adulting headed out to take some photos of myself creeping at the nearby lavender farm.

(Tried to take the perfect insta pic just turned creepy)

With these three fantastic first stops South Island was well and truly off to a truly beautiful start and I could only imagine the good times to keep on coming. Stay tuned for more updates. I bloody love this country!

travel

What to do when you first move to New Zealand (besides killing your liver)…

If I’m quite honest with you I spent the first couple of weeks of my adventure, in Auckland consuming a whole lot of alcohol. So besides being able to tell you the best backpacker bar to hit up each night of the week I can’t really give you a very great guide to Auckland! What I can do though is tell you all about the actual process of getting ready to start work in New Zealand.

First things first, step off the plane and take a moment to breath. I was completely knackered, and insanely stressed from a ridiculous propeller plane ride across from Tasmania to mainland Australia in the early hours of the morning! After surviving that, my connecting flight to Auckland, the nerves of passport control (where I inexplicably was convinced they were going to tell me my visa was fake), the bus ride into the city and dragging my insane bags to the hostel I was just about ready to collapse and or cry. See Perth and Tasmania had kind of just been holidays and this, this was the big move. So I needed to gather myself for a moment, venture out into the city and get my bearings, find a McDonald’s and stuff my face with comfort food. Never, I have now discovered, underestimate the need for a breather.

I threw myself into Auckland pretty hard and fast. Night one after my McDonald’s I wound up in the hostel bar drinking beers and playing inappropriate bingo (yes this is hostel life), Day two hungover and soaked through from torrential rain I went to orientation where my travel company threw a whole heap of information at me and then gripping my piles of papers and leaflets I took myself off to see the city. Day three I desperately searched the city for a car to buy, took on the glass floor up the Sky Tower and drank all the alcohol on a pub crawl. Day four with a killer hangover I tackled early morning bank appointments and a ton of car paperwork, then again took to the alcohol and headed out to a silent disco. Day five… yeah you get the picture. I didn’t really stop or sleep which is how I found myself 10 days later horribly homesick curled up in the corner of Starbucks sobbing into my English breakfast tea! Seriously make sure you give yourself space for a breather!

On the practical side there a couple of absolute musts when you first land in the country. Number one get a bank appointment, they’ll set you up with your account, online banking, give you your card and it’ll be active within 15 minutes. It’s all pretty simple just take in copies of your documents and maybe don’t go with a horrific hangover! Once this is done you can transfer money across from your home account. Top tip guys use TransferWise, I love them, it takes a few hours for the money to transfer but they give you the best rates and you can transfer so easily via the app. You don’t have to do this of course, but it’s cheaper to pay with your NZ card of course, plus you need a few transactions on your account to get a bank statement to get your IRD number. This is number two of the musts. Again it’s all pretty easy you need your visa, passport, NZ bank statement and national insurance number and you can just apply online. It’s super quick, I had mine emailed to me within a couple of days, and once that’s through you’re all set to work yey!

The other big thing I had to sort was buying a car. This isn’t for everyone, there are plenty of bus companies that’ll take you all around New Zealand, but given that I was going to be working and living in a pretty isolated location for the winter I wanted a car for the first 6 months at least. So maybe for you it’ll be easier to just head into a travel company and buy yourself a travel pass. But if you do want to buy a car here’s the how to. Firstly I am not at all mechanical so I read every single thing I could find about what to look at when viewing a car because I’m really not so good at coping with a breakdown! Then I headed online there’s plenty of backpacker sites where people post cars and campers for sale so somewhere like backpackerboard is your best bet. I messaged a few posts and then trawled around the city checking them out until I found a cheap and pretty beat up car but one that was running well and most importantly had a valid warrant of fitness for another 6 months woohoo! Once you’ve found a car you need to do all the paperwork. It’s pretty simple but again best not to do it with a horrific hangover! Three things to do here. One; you and the person you’re buying it from need to fill out change of ownership forms. Head to a post office they have all the forms and you can hand them in and make the payments there on the spot. Two; whilst you’re at the post office get the car registered, this is essentially the road tax and crazy cheap. The forms are at the post office, pick how many months you want to register it for, pay your money and get the car registered straight away. Three; the car needs to have a valid warrant of fitness, depending on the age of the car it either needs to renewed every 6 months or every year. Luckily mine isn’t due for a while so I don’t need to worry about it for a few months (unless the car breaks down) and the magic car people helpfully send you a letter when it’s due. When it is due just take it to any garage and they’ll sort it for you pretty much like your standard MOT. And there you have it your car.

So with the paperwork out of the way and your transport around the country sorted grab your bags and get out of Auckland. It’s a great city for a day or two but it’s not New Zealand. (Plus it’ll give you a pretty wretched and constant hangover!) There’s a whole wide and beautiful country to explore so head off into it and get exploring!

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Tasmania in Photos…

From top to bottom: Priory Ridge Winery, Bonfire on North Cosys Beach, Sunset in the Bay of Fires, The Little Blue Lake, Pelicans at St. Helens, St. Helens Sand dunes, Wineglass Bay, Pyengana Falls, Honeymoon Bay, Roo at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary

travel

Tasmania is definitely one for the bucket list…

So few people who travel to Australia make the trip across the sea to the island off the south coast that is Australia’s eighth state, even most Australians I meet admit that they’ve never visited. So unlike anywhere else in Australia, Tasmania is rural, sparsely populated and stunningly beautiful.

Unfortunately for me I arrived as the state was on the brink of the worst storm in decades and so in a country where most of its attractions are outdoors we spent a lot of time indoors watching House Rules and Home and Away. Fortunately for me though, my sister lives in the little fishing town of St Helens right by the famous Bay of Fires and bonus she has a car so when the weather finally cleared I got myself a completely unique off the beaten track tour.

Our tour started with a 3 day road trip to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania and the largest city on the island, albeit still a small city. By Australian standards it is also an old city and has some beautiful old colonial buildings, a great waterfront and some pretty kickass pubs at Salamanca which you have to stop by for a beer or maybe two. Must dos in the city include Mount Wellington which if you don’t get blown off the top gives some awesome views across the city. As well as of course the infamous MONA, an art gallery like no other you will visit. I’m not really sure how to describe this place it’s kind of one of those you have to see it to understand. But to give you a taste it features a wall full of casts of vaginas, a light room which makes you lose all sense of space, a machine that gets fed and poos twice daily and a washing up bowl with a goldfish swimming around a kitchen knife. It is truly weird but truly not to be missed. Then to recover from the strangeness of MONA, take a venture just outside of the city to Bonorong, a little wildlife sanctuary where you can remove all memories of the wall of vaginas by making friends with the loveliest bunch of roos (because do you really go to Australia if you don’t hang out with the locals?!)

We spent much of the rest of my trip touring around the North East of the country which is home to some truly spectacular scenery. As I mentioned previously my sister lived on the doorstep of the famous Bay of Fires, beautiful white beaches, blue blue seas and orange tinged rocks that glow in the sunshine (hence the name). We went to a number of the beaches in the area but my favourite visit? North Cosys where we sat on the beach as the sun went down with a bonfire and a few beers to keep us warm. If that’s not an idyllic situation I don’t know what is.

Further south along the coast is the stunning Wineglass Bay, and no there’s no wine here but again some spectacular beaches and views, if you can take on the intense climb, or rather the 40 minute gently sloping track that nearly gave me a heart attack!

Speaking of wine though, all along the East coast sits the East Coast Wine Trail, with a whole array of winery’s, we of course took the time to visit a few and sample some of the wares. My favourite? Priory Wines, a tiny sheep farm turned winery right at the northern end of the trail where they managed to make a Chardonnay so good for the first time in my life I purchased a bottle!

You can’t take a trip to Tasmania without visiting The Little Blue Lake. It is as it says on the tin, a little blue lake, but oh my gosh is it stunning! It even managed to take my mind off the fact that the love of my life Prince Harry was marrying another woman that day! And well worth the car sickness inducing journey, that is also very picturesque if you aren’t focusing all your energy on not throwing up.

My final night in the country saw us heading to Launceston so that I could catch my early morning flight across to New Zealand. Honestly it’s not a very exciting city, there is very little to do here especially on a quiet weekday evening, however it is home to a 24 hour Kmart which is very exciting! And so that was how I spent my final evening in Australia wandering around Kmart and buying anything and everything I figured I could fit in my backpack!

I could wax lyrical about all the sights and views and wonders of Tasmania for hours, and the crazy thing is I didn’t even scratch the surface! Lucky for me my sister intends to stay there a while so I’m already planning a return trip, but even if you don’t have a relative living there make sure you take the time to visit this state on your tour of Aus I promise you won’t be disappointed (unless of course you go to Launceston!)