My Kiwi Experience

I landed in Christchurch in the beginning of February, also known as Peak Season when everything is booked out (which I of course was completely unaware of, and just going with the flow with no premade plans). After booking a required flight out of the country back to Australia in Melbourne airport, I had 20 days to get me from the South Island to the North, with a plan to see as much as possible and to spend as little money as I could (yet still going black water rafting in a glow worm cave etc).

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Best seat of the flight.

 

Even though New Zealand is known for its’ hospitality, I decided not to opt for hitchhiking, but to travel around the South Island and across the strait to the North by bus. The famous backpacker hop on hop off travel company Kiwi Experience caught my eye with their Trans-Alpine Dog Leg, combining the bus experience with the scenic train ride across the Southern Alps. Cheap ass like I am, I decided not to book the buss pass (valid for 12 months on your chosen route) in advance from their website, as I was hoping for some sweet deals in NZ. Well…lucky me, since there was no special deals and after waiting 45 minutes on the queue on the phone, I also found out that there would be no way I could complete the journey to Auckland in time, since all the buses were already fully booked. Trashing my dreams of the train, I also rang up a more “off the beaten path” bus company, Stray, to hear the same news: no can do.

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For a while I thought I’d get stuck in Christchurch.

At this point I had been in New Zealand for 15 hours, eaten two protein bars I smuggled to the country, and spent the night trying not to breathe too heavily in the direction of my very sick German roommates who coughed the whole night. A little desperation was crawling in my gut, but with the strong will and dedication from the travel lady in the hostel (All Stars in Christchurch, unlimited wifi!), we decided to build a trip on my own, no backpacker groups no nothing (which is probably a good thing, I didn’t want to share rides with 20 year old Germans anyway, and I am not that into tours in general, with my Mekong Delta experience in mind).

After 2 hours of looking pictures of places online and trying to suss out what I actually wanted to see, this is what my itinerary looks like, with bus durations in brackets:

4.2. Christchurch – Mount Cook (5:30)
5.2. Mt Cook – Queenstown (4:05)
8.2. Queenstown – Wanaka (1:40)
9.2. Wanaka – Franz Joseph (6:25)
10.2. Franz Joseph – Nelson (10:15)
12.2. Nelson – Picton Picton – Wellington (5:50, Ferry)
14.2. Wellington – Rototua (7:05)
16.2. Rotorua – Waitomo (4:01)
17.2. Waitomo – Auckland (3:23)

I bought a 50hr Intercity Flexi bus pass for $379 NZD, leaving me 1 extra hour to use and the possibility to buy additional hours to use to go North of Auckland for a night. I also conveniently booked 10 nights at Base hostels for $269 with a Base Jumping card, and the rest were done via hostelworld. All in all, I paid $648 NZ dollars for 10 nights accommodation and all the buses. In comparison, the cheapest Kiwi Experience pass costs $772 NZD, not including accommodation. On average, the passes are well over $1000, so I am pretty happy with how things turned out.

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After sorting out my February, exploring time!

After actually starting my trip I can give more insight on how the travels actually went. Intercity buses don’t do pick-ups from hostels unlike the Kiwi Experience, but most of the places I am visiting are apparently so small that you can walk anywhere and everywhere.

Things to keep in mind when traveling to NZ: Have a ticket out. Don’t bring along any fruit or anything that has had fruit in it. Exchange money in advance. Prepare for hospitality and loads of Germans. Note that supermarket food is so expensive it might be on par with eating out (at least if you make 2 meals out of one portion). Everything a tad interesting will cost money. Heaps of money. But she’ll be alright.

 

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Year away

A year ago I packed my stuff in boxes and showed them to my dad’s tiny attic, piled all that I thought necessary in my old backpack, and left for a trip that was intended to be 2 months of yoga in Bali, then a bit of Vietnam and back home. A year later I did not do yoga but instead started surfing, ended up going to Cambodia too, and have been living and working in melbourne for 8 months, and a myriad of unexpected things have happened.

New skills learned: Surfing, driving a scooter, scuba diving, selecting cacao beans for chocolate production, letting go of things, proper headstands, knife skills, how to survive alone in tight situations (ie you’re not allowed to enter a foreign country and you find that out at the airport, or how to escape a motor vehicle accident situation in another…or how to change the scuba diving BCD vest in pitch black darkness in the middle of the sea)

Gili Trawangan, Christmas with friends.
Gili Trawangan, Christmas with friends.

Appreciation for things: Sunshine and warmth, fresh fruit pretty much straight from the trees, sea and marine life, nature, bicycles, people’s help, good company, trial periods at yoga studios and gyms, exercising, work, having the opportunity to do basically whatever, learning new and growing. New friends!

Bali style breakfast by the pool.
Bali style breakfast by the pool.

Best foods: Crate cafe breakfasts, Gado Gado and fresh mangos in Bali, tuna steak at Christmas dinner in Gili, rice paper rolls in Vietnam, the delicious meals at Hariharalaya in Cambodia. Smashed avo and poached eggs at Organica cafe in melbourne, Hummus from South melbourne market. Drinkwise: Fresh coconut water and coffee coffee coffee.

All the (vegan) rolls.
All the (vegan) rolls.

Accommodation: 3 Bungalows in Bali, one private villa. One month in the same hostel in Canggu. Hostel in Vietnam, one night in a “family stay” in the mekong Delta, and another one in a border town hotel. 4 hostels in Cambodia, one night in a bus, 10 nights on a retreat. (Luckily) I’ve only spent time in 1 hostel in Australia, and times of homelessness I was able to rely on the help of 5 friends.

Pretty much deserted island in Cambodia
Pretty much deserted island in Cambodia.

Love life: I learned that the Finnish word for love, rakkaus, apparently sounds like “crack house”. Fair enough. I’ve had more action this past year than ever before, mostly because I’ve been open-minded and just gone out. I have definitely learnt more than I thought I would have, and even though I got sick of dating and lost my faith in finding “the one” (or even someone I could imagine spending a whole weekend with), I am now closer than ever to realizing my feelings and where I stand in life. Winning!

I made someone popcorn for their flight.
I made someone popcorn for their flight.

Dealing with health: Eating probiotics, eating local. 2 Doctor visits, one dentist. In Cambodia I got bitten by a mosquito in the eyelid on the day I was supposed to go on a scuba diving trip to a remote island. Early trip and waking up the only doctor of the hospital to get cream I didn’t end up using, luckily that was nothing more serious. In melbourne I went to a GP to see if I have sinus infection (I didn’t), and had my wisdom tooth pulled.

Holidaying in Byron Bay.
Holidaying in Byron Bay.

Public holidays: I have pretty much skipped every holiday; Christmas I spent on a beach having a barbecue, New Years I was at another beach, Easter I only hid eggs for my housemates but that was it…I have enjoyed the Queen’s Birthday, and I understand why Anzac day exists, but having a public holiday for football and horse races is a bit strange to me. Nevertheless, I’ll take any reason to have a special day!

Halloween pumpkin at work.
Halloween pumpkin at work.

In the last year I have had more experiences I would never have had if I had stayed home, and going out of my comfort zone has proven worth it and beyond. I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring along! And in the sad poor pictures front, by the end of the month things will look brighter and I will be able to write my hometown with a capital letter again! YAY!

I love love love that animal suit.
I love love love that animal suit.

Kampot’s most wanted

I left Vietnam’s turf in Ha Tien at 7am, after filling 3 forms and paying 36USD to the travel agency for my Cambodian visa. Me and a Korean guy had no idea what was going on when our passports were ushered between 2 countries at the border. Within 15 minutes we were cruising down the potentially 4 lane road in Cambodia (only 1 lane with pavement, otherwise just dusty red sand). I was surprised that it took only 2 hrs altogether to get to Kampot, “the place to be” in the south coast. I had reserved a bunk at Arcadia Backpackers, located by the river some 10km outside of town. Arcadia offers its’ guests plenty of activities fro tubing to kayaking, beer pong and all the usual fun.

Water fun.
Water fun.

 

I rented an old bicycle, and biked the long wide road to Kampot downtown, had some delicious dumplings (12pcs 2USD, highly recommended), and just cruised around until he hit me. One local guy was driving his scooter, talking on a phone, and going way too fast. Luckily I was able to stay on my bicycle so I didn’t get injured, but he fell of his bike. Luckily I had 3 Western witnesses, who stood on my side and helped me out when the police came asking for money. I managed to pinch out a few tears, though the whole situation was very ridiculous, with police spray-painting the ground and looking all serious: no questions were asked from me, however, not even my information details. It was fairly easy to just leave the scene, an Italian girl took me to “the hospital” aka my accommodation. Only the bike was left behind, I still need to figure out how to get it back from where ever it is. Welcome to Cambodia!