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. 🙂

Wanaka and Franz Josef Glacier

From Queenstown I made my way to another lakeside town just few hours away, Wanaka, named conveniently after the lake Wanaka. Quite like Queenstown, Wanaka has some nice cafes and restaurants, but the activity offering is way lesser, which suited my sneezing and tired body rather well. Wanaka has grown exponentially in the recent years, and now it is a rather bustling little town, the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. Besides the gorgeous views (like everywhere), Wanaka offers options for water sports, skiing and scenic flights.

Le Wanaka beach.
Le Wanaka beach.

After checking in to my hostel (The Flying Kiwi, in case someone is looking to head that way) I took a little walk around town and sat by the lake for a bit, trying my best not to burn in the sun. In the afternoon I cooked some monster-resembling fish and fell asleep by the lake, deciding that maybe it was best I have an early night in. 8 people dorm and no snorers, WIN! The next morning after breakfast I dragged my overflowing backpack and bags to the bus towards Franz Josef.

Eager travelers waiting for their ride.
Eager travelers waiting for their ride.

The bus ride to Franz Josef took 6 hours, including two 30 minute breaks to a in-the-middle-of-nowhere-cafe and a salmon farm. Interesting stops, but not much to eat if you’re not into sandwiches and pies. In between appreciating the ever changing nature – from rough rocky terrain to lush rainforest to double tier forest to mountains, and the seaside with trees that grow in an angle – I dozed off between unconsciousness and the driver’s soft talk about why the trees grow in two layers and how it is not allowed to have the trees so close to the road as they at one point were. Beautiful drive, but I would have liked to have a pitstop in a place like Jones’ Fruit Farm, where we stopped on the way to Queenstown and to Wanaka.

New Zealanders wanted to save money way back when, and so the bridges are one lane only.
New Zealanders wanted to save money way back when, and so the bridges are one lane only.
Native bushes and trees living in harmony.
Native bushes and trees living in harmony.

I arrived in Franz Josef glacier town at 4, which left me plenty of time to find the hot pools I read about and have a proper soak. Franz Josef is way bigger than Mt. Cook, consisting of 1 main street and another street for mainly motels and backpackers’, several (pub/Asian) restaurants and glacier tour operators. I do kinda feel bad for not taking a helicopter ride (I’ve never been) to actually see the glacier, or do anything ice-related for that matter, but I didn’t feel like investing in such an experience, and opted for the pools in stead. 3 different pools, 36, 38 and 40C hot, just what one needs after a day on the bus sneezing. In the evening I went for a little walk to try and catch the sunset, but there was too much rainforest and mountains on my way. Another early night, luckily I fell asleep before the snoring begun. I woke up at 5, but managed to stay in bed for another few hours. Onwards to the longest leg of my journey, 10.5 hours on the bus! Apparently there’s one of the world’s most dramatic coastal roads on the way.

I expected to see him on the mountains.
I expected to see him on the mountains.

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).

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.

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.

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.