Nelson

The biggest bus travel day was from Franz Josef Glacier to Nelson, a lovely town up on the north coast of the South Island. The 10.5 hour journey included several 30 minute stops, but for the most of the trip I was half unconscious in my snotty state, and on each stop came back to lie down on the bus pretty much straight after getting out. Great thing about the Intercity buses: they have never been so full that I would not have had the chance to take the last row to myself and actually lie down.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki
Pancake rocks, Punakaiki

On the way to Nelson, the main stops were at Hokitika, Greymouth (the start or end point for the Trans Alpine train) and the famous Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. I would have probably enjoyed all of the stops more had I been able to keep my eyes open without them getting watery within seconds. When we finally made our way to Nelson at 7.30, I was more than delighted to get a shuttle to the hostel.

Paradiso Backpackers is definitely an interesting accommodation option, that I can recommend to those traveling to Nelson. Besides free Wifi, you have a proper pool, sauna and what the Finns would call “palju”, also known as a spa tub, free breakfast and soup. The house looks like something from the tv show Charmed, and if you are lucky like I was you might find yourself sleeping almost on the roof. After the initial shock of climbing a fair long ladder to reach my mattress, I was rather content: way more privacy than on the bottom bunk!

Center of NZ.
Center of NZ.

Nelson is known as the gateway to the phenomenal Abel Tasman National Park, a wildlife wonderland offering secluded beaches, kayaking and hikes to the adventurous. Unfortunately, due to my condition (and lack of planning), I had to skip the national park, and opt for city sightseeing in stead. Nelson is a lovely small city, which is easily walked through in a short amount of time. I managed to find a Chinese garden, snapped some photos, and continued towards the centre point of New Zealand. When I saw the sign for “Centre of NZ, 50m” I got pretty excited – at that point I didn’t know the 50m either meant upwards or then to the start point of the track that went up the mountain where said point actually is. After a sweaty and sniffy hike, I finally made my way to the top, and truly felt like a champion. Beautiful views and gorgeous scenery tricked me to walking across the mountain to another, and make my way back down an hour later. After visiting a Japanese garden, I went back to relax by the pool for just long enough not to burn myself.

Endless green and blue, the standard New Zealand view.
Endless green and blue, the standard New Zealand colors.

I went to a second city stroll and in the evening did not go to the sauna or the pool, but tried to have a skype, poor attempt since seemed like at least 10 other people were trying to do the same. Early next morning to the next destination: over the Cook strait to Wellington!

Something random to finish off: tribute to David Bowie
Something random to finish off: tribute to David Bowie

I am writing this on a bus – going to Rotorua to spend some quality Valentine’s Day time with myself. There might be something special coming up. 🙂

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Weekend in Queenstown

Queenstown is also known as the activity capital of at least the South, if not whole of New Zealand. This lovely little village in the south-west of the South Island is nested by the lake Wakatipu and offers activities, tours and fun for backpackers as well as travellers with extra cash to spare. You can get your adrenaline fix from skydiving, bungee jumping, zip lining, jet boating, white water rafting and a myriad of other options guaranteed to make a dent in your budget, or if you are more into the scenery and not so keen on getting your heart rate up and pumping, options like wine trails, steam boat cruises, underwater marine observatory or soaking in the sun by a lakefront restaurant might be more your cup of tea.

Lakefront.
Lakefront.
Weird water flying activities.
Weird water flying activities.

I arrived in Queenstown on a Friday evening, not having any plans regarding the weekend (as per usual). On my scouting walk around town I randomly saw a poster in a restaurant window that caught my eye. Kidnap Kid, one of my favourite artists (especially for pre-service prep music), was playing a gig at a bar that same night. What are the odds, for me to randomly arrive in this small town on the other side of the world, the same day that an artist I highly respect, from the UK, is playing in said town – and for me to stumble across the ad? I overcome my doubts and fear of going to a bar alone, let alone sober, and ended up having a solid dance off for 3 hours straight. It was a lovely intimate setting, and I was within touching reach of the dj. After the gig I went to thank him, we had a nice chat and I went to bed happy, sweaty and tired. – Girls only dorm this time, no snoring, winner winner!

Market bustle.
Market bustle.

On Saturday I ventured around town, and went for an impromptu walk along the lake – a walk to Frankton, the village next to Queenstown, that turned out to be 15kms. Had I known I’d be going that far, I would have prepared myself better. After a refreshing shower and sushi lunch (I decided not to cook in Queenstown, since there’s plenty of cooking in limited conditions ahead) I met up with some new friends, an Estonian bus captain and his crew that has shrunk from 4 to just 1, an Italian guy who looks like Jesus. We hung out at the bus that has been converted into a self-contained motor home, cooked and listened to music. Eventually we got around to go to the dump station and supermarket outside of town, where I stocked on dry food for my Franz Josef experience next week. By the time we got back in town it was too late for me to go book a trip to Milford Sound, apparently the 8th wonder of the world, that would have taken the whole Sunday. Bummer. We ended up chilling out with the guys until I was so tired I could barely walk back home, it was a cold night! As soon as the sun sets, the coldness creeps in.

Mobile house.
Mobile house.
Bus cookery: My first bus cooked meal!
Bus cookery: My first bus cooked meal!

On Sunday I felt like the flu I might have caught from the sick people in my room in Christchurch was creeping in, and terrible for not doing the Milford Sound cruise, and I felt like some activity was in place. After wandering and wondering and ruling out options (anything involving heights), I decided to go for a 2.5hr horseback ride in the scenes of Lord of the Rings! It has been a while (read: years and years) since I was last on a horse, but hey, how hard can it be? Apparently so hard that my fellow rider fell off her horse, but that’s a different story. We did ride in some amazing scenery, but let’s be honest: so far all of New Zealand has been equally amazing, whether it appears in a movie or not. We did stop for a picture in front of Isengard, a spot where Taylor Swift also filmed her newest video. After heading back to town, I ate some quinoa sushi by the water, and watched the people and street performers. Later on I met up with a classmate I haven’t seen since…2012! Funny to encounter someone after such a long time, pretty much as far from home as possible. Somehow it was almost midnight before I got to bed, to the lovely snore-free haze of sleep and being awake. I wish I could have had one more day for Milford, but oh well, off to Wanaka in the morning.

Horseback riding in Isengard.
Horseback riding in Isengard.
Traveling in this scenery is surreal every time.
Traveling in this scenery is surreal every time.

Aoraki/Mount Cook

Aoraki, or Mount Cook, is the highest mountain of New Zealand, 3,724 meters above sea level. It is located in the middle of South Island, about 5hrs drive from Christchurch. The region is known for its’ clear blue lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, clear starry nights, helicopter glacier rides and…I suppose the general breathtaking views.

Pristine blue waters at Lake Tekapo.
Pristine blue waters at Lake Tekapo.

I left Christchurch early in the morning with no sleep, and found myself sitting in a tour bus with old couples and your quota of Asians. The bus was not full, allowing me to nap on both seats. Luxury! We had an elderly English gentleman as our tour guide, giving more or less important information about the areas we passed, New Zealand in general, and we even got 2 songs! I thought the whole trip was more hilarious than anything else, and I was pretty much dead tired and just dozed off every time the guide was quiet. We stopped a few times, to have a cup of tea, take pictures, all that. Soon enough we arrived in our mid-destination (the bus continued to Queenstown), and my need for a nap started to get unbearable.

Gloriuous snowy mountains.
Gloriuous snowy mountains.

Fun fact I learned on the bus: New Zealand sent 10th of its’ population to the 1st world war. Only a fraction of that returned home. A bit more uplifting fact: There are no predators in NZ. No snakes, bears, foxes, wolves, nada. This is truly a safe place!

Aoraki, as the locals call it, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
Aoraki, as the locals call it, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.

After I woke up from my nap in the most quiet room I have been so far (2 bunks, ensuite bathroom, even a balcony!), I went to take a walk to the Hermitage hotel and around the tiny village. No food options seemed affordable enough (though the dinner buffet, $69, looked like guaranteed food coma), so I opted for cooking my pre-purchased quinoa with tomato sauce. What luxury! The day was a bit rainy, and even at night it was cloudy. Breathtaking stargazing awaits still, luckily I’ve got 2 weeks and another glacier waiting down the road. After I woke up in the morning at the same time with my new Argentinian friend (whose name I never found out), I went for a wee bit of a walk towards the mountains, but didn’t venture on the whole 4hr trek. Next up: Queenstown, the activity capital!

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.

 

On the road again

I lived merrily in melbourne for good 3 months before I got the small itch in the back of my head, telling me to go see what else is there – if only just to realize that I was perfectly well off and happy the way I was living (despite the creeping cold that penetrated to the bones). Well, I’ve been on the road for a week now, first of which was pretty much constant rain in Sydney. Cozy and homey: I spent the week in Bondi beach, crashing on my cousin’s couch. It was weird to be amongst 4 Finns, in a house filled with Finnish crisp bread, candy, even coffee. I didn’t know there is Finnish ‘Temptation Island’, and I kinda wish I still didn’t know about that. Besides the rain, Sydney was nice. I liked the architecture and nature, but wasn’t such a big fan of the dozens and dozens of buses required to move around. I did find a place I wish melbourne had: About Life organic marketplace. That food, nommmmm!

Outdoor dining in autumn Sydney.
Outdoor dining in autumn Sydney.
Bondi beach, sunny when I was leaving
Bondi beach, sunny when I was leaving.

On Tuesday morning-ish we left on the road, towards Port macquairie. After 4 hours in the car we decided to keep on driving to Coffs Harbour to stay overnight. Travel tip: In Australia most roadside eateries are either mcdonalds or Subway, possibly Red Rooster (chicken things), and gas stations selling chips and frozen coca cola. I had my health expo goodie bag to keep me satisfied, thank god. Unfortunately we didn’t really see much of Coffs Harbour besides the shopping center where we had breakfast and bought drinks for the road the next day. In the arvo aka afternoon we stopped in the happy hempy hippie town of Nimbin, which I found a tad creepy. In Australia even regular hemp is not allowed to be digested (they think it’s cannabis!), and the legalization or decriminalization of weed is especially a big thing in Nimbin.

Pothead village.
Pothead village.

We were around for just a few hours, plenty of time for me to get anxious of all the glassy eyes and smoking paraphernalia and other stuffs. Hippieoverload, I must admit.

Cookie baking time?
Cookie baking time?

After Nimbin we headed to the outskirts of Brisbane, to a place my cousin and her friend had previously stayed. Nice and peaceful, warm and sunny. On the way to Ormiston we randomly met some friends who had left the day after us, in the parking lot of a random mcdonalds. Weird things happen.

Walking to an island, summer heat again!
Walking to an island, summer heat again!

Tomorrow morning I am off to Brisbane city, where I am not going to see Alt-J because I didn’t manage to get a ticket (Not bitter). On Saturday I’ll be flying solo again and Greyhound my way to Byron Bay, which has been my destination all along. No return ticket yet, nothing certain about anything. This qypsy life can be a bit rough every now and again, but it’s easier to endure in the sunshine.