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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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!

Holiday in Western Australia

It is self evident that I am an advocate of traveling. Having spent over half a year within the borders of Victoria (although there is heaps to see in the state alone), I figured that it would be nice to get around to see Australia a bit more, and most of all take a selfie with the world’s happiest animal, the quokka, who inhabits Rottnest Island just outside of Perth in Western Australia. Not too bad way of spending Christmas!

Quokkas having a sneaky snack.
Quokkas having a sneaky snack.

During my one week long getaway to Western Australia I learned that one should not travel during holiday season, if it is any way possible to be avoided. Somehow I did not think it would be that different, but as it turns out, rental car prices were triple to normal, and the accommodation availability everywhere south of Perth was non-existent. As one could imagine, having to pay extra for things and having a bit of a struggle to organise things doesn’t allow you to relax as you should on holidays. Therefore, from now on if I travel on holiday periods (which is very likely), I will try to book as much as possible in advance, and try not to move around as much. I shall embrace the fact that everything is closed on Christmas Day, and prepare myself to eating only nuts and crackers for a day.

Sunset at the Pinnacles
Sunset at the Pinnacles

The magnificent stone formations in Nambung National Park just a few hours drive North from Perth are rather magical for sunset, sunrise, full moon and any time it is not packed with tourists (go late or early and get the park for yourself!). These limestones that now poke out in the sandy desert were once seashells in the water, which were broken into sand and blown inland, forming oddly dunes. Since the 1960s, these rocks attract over 250 thousand tourists a year. The pinnacles are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ghostly small towns, but if you want to get them at their best, you should sacrifice one night for the trip. On the way to the pinnacles from Perth, Yanchep National Park makes a good pit stop.

Fremantle, or Freo, looks quite like New Orleans.
Fremantle, or Freo, looks quite like New Orleans.

I fell in love with the relaxed seaside small town atmosphere of Fremantle, just twenty minutes outside of Perth. The architecture is beautiful, there are loads of restaurants and small shops, and the weekend market is lovely. When visiting Freo, I would recommend eating seafood at Kailas fish and chips, right by the pier. And of course Rottnest island and aforementioned quokkas are a must!

Like being on a tropical island
Rottnest, like a tropical island
Busselton jetty at dawm, when the tourists are gone and the fishermen are enjoying the peace and quiet.
Busselton jetty at dawm, when the tourists are gone and the fishermen are enjoying the peace and quiet.

When going south of Perth, there are plenty of small towns, beaches, and all kinds of (mostly marine life) activities along the way to Margaret River, the promised land of wine, local delicacies and products. Busselton, with the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere (whoa!), is a nice town to stop and take a stroll 2kms out to the sea and maybe a sneaky plunge in to the water, too.

A jetty so long it has a train.
A jetty so long it has a train.

Margaret River is rather nice, if you like wineries, beaches and such (who doesn’t?), but during the holiday season it is crammed and the atmosphere is very touristic. On another occasion it might show a completely different side, but for now I can say that I am glad I went, and I was glad to be back in Melbourne.