Auckland and out.

Last stop in New Zealand was Auckland in the North Island, which is the biggest city, but <boring fact alert> is NOT the capital (that’s Wellington).

I’d decided not to travel the North Island. Mainly because I found I couldn’t push my flights back (well, I could have, but it would have cost me a few hundred quid instead of being free) but also I’m not sure I really wanted to. I’m getting towards the end of my trip now, with only a few weeks to go and I’d done so much on the South Island I kind of felt done. So I decided to keep the North Island to do at another time, perhaps with someone else one day, maybe in a campervan and with more money.

So, I flew from Christchurch to spend a few days in Auckland before heading to San Francisco. Luckily I had somewhere to stay; with my friends Ross and Emma who I met in South East Asia. We all met in Laos at the start of the 2 day slow boat journey down the Mekong river. Unluckily for Emma (but luckily for us) she had been ill and they’d delayed their journey by a couple of days, meaning that we got to meet! Me and Nick then bumped into them (literally, while walking down the street) another 4 or 5 times after that throughout Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I then tried to arrange to meet up with them in Australia and the South Island but every time we tried to plan it we were always a few days out of being in the same place at the same time!

So what do you want to know about Auckland? It’s nice. Hmm, that’s one of those words that’s just a bit, well, shit isn’t it? But, it sums up Auckland perfectly for me. It’s a nice city. It’s got a good feel, there are some pretty areas, there’s beaches nearby and hills to climb up to get a good view. There’s a decent amount of shops and loads of places to eat. I could live there. But, I don’t feel strongly about it. I don’t feel passionate about it. There was nothing that really stood out as it being different or totally amazing. But, there’s nothing really bad about it either. I suppose I’d maybe say it’s a bit indifferent, I don’t really feel one was or another about it. Well, I’m more positive for sure. And, I did find that the longer I stayed there the more I liked it. So maybe I would love it, were I to stay a while.

I didn’t do the whole tourist thing. I wasn’t out and about every day, filling each second with something (I’ve been there, done that, and frankly after 11 months of it, it’s exhausting and quite often unnecessary). It was nice to stay with friends in their apartment and just hang out. It was like being back with my friends in the UK. Get up, chill out, watch TV (especially the Come Dine With Me omnibus – YES, just like a lazy weekend at my brother and sister-in-laws), surf the net, eat, chat and repeat. Interspersed with little trips out for a few hours. Oh, it was bliss, and a nice little chill out before my last leg of my travels in the USA.

But, I did go to Devonport and Takapuna, Mission Bay and Mount Eden. I did go and watch a rugby game at Eden Park (Auckland Blues vs Sydney Waratahs), I did go up the Skytower for cocktails. I did go for a stroll round the Viaduct and CBD. Oh, I actually did quite a bit really. The best of both worlds.

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And so Auckland marked the end of my New Zealand trip. Just under 2 months here, which has probably gone the quickest out of all of my travels. A magical wonderland with scenery that is so stunning it doesn’t look real, and skies and clouds so colourful, vivid and clear they could be a painting. A wonderland filled with lovely, kind people and hardly any traffic. A land where driving is a pleasure; something to be enjoyed. A land where the pace of life is slow and relaxed, not rushed. A land where life is lived, not viewed through a window because you’re too busy.

Thanks to everyone that I’ve met along the way who’s made it a trip to remember.

Now Dad, when do you want to go?

New Zealand road trip: part four.

Queenstown back to Christchurch, via the West Coast and North.

Another couple of nights in Christchurch where I had a “welcome back and cheer up” Thursday night with Marsha and a few Friday night drinks with Steffi. Leaving Queenstown for the very last time, I set off on the last leg of my road trip. I was sad to leave; it’s a beautiful place and I have many happy memories there (yes, the ones I can remember when alcohol wasn’t involved) and made a brilliant friend in Marsha. The last morning I was there she sat up in bed and said “don’t go, stay here and we’ll get a house and live in Queenstown”. Haha. I suspect she was still drunk from the night before but well, if I could have, I’d have been tempted. She’s a good friend and I miss her already 😦

I set off to drive up the West Coast, the first real stop to be the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. The drive through the Haast Pass was stunning, again all windy roads with mountains and lakes as the backdrop. This one was a little bit different though, and gave an idea how the landscape was going to be changing as I moved north. Lots of trees and green (and a bit of cloud and drizzle). The road was also full of Ferraris coming the other way, but I suspect this wasn’t an every day occurrence though. Looked like some kind of weekend cruise for an owners club. Reminded me of when I was part of the Lincs Mini Owners Club and we’d go out in convoy. A bunch of minis pootling along Lincolnshire country roads isn’t quite the same as a bunch of red (and the odd yellow) Ferraris racing (this is not an inaccurate description) around the winding roads of New Zealand, but, well, I know which car I’d rather be in (and it doesn’t begin with F).

After a day of stopping at waterfalls, beaches (with the most amazing driftwood), swamps and lagoons along the way I ended up at a DOC campsite somewhere on the West Coast (they all started to merge into one after a while, and just became somewhere to stop). Daylight savings had kicked in so it started getting dark at about 6:30pm. When you’re on your own in a tent with a torch that I don’t know how much battery was left, there’s not a lot to do at night so night’s were pretty uneventful after the previous week’s camping. I’d set my tent up, eat something then read for an hour or two before falling asleep. I’m pretty sure I was asleep by 8pm one night. Not a problem per se, until I kept waking up at about 10:30/11pm and thinking I’d had a full nights sleep. It was quite confusing. At least I wasn’t also waking up wondering where the hell I was, it’s quite clear when you’re in a tent.

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One slightly rainy night with loads of sand-flies later, I hit the road again to get to the glaciers. Just a word on sand-flies, in case I’ve not mentioned them before (can’t remember whether I have or not). I thought I didn’t like mosquitoes until I got here. Sand-flies are the only bad thing about New Zealand. They’re relentless and EVIL. Well, the female ones are, because they’re the ones that bite. If only they were different colours, you’d know which ones to swat away when a MILLION land on you and start chomping. The tiger balm I got in SE Asia that’s amazing for insect bites came out again. Because sand-fly bites itch. LIKE HELL. Camping is tricky, because they get into your tent and it’s hard to stop them. At least it gave me something to do that night after dark; find and get rid of the little bastards. I didn’t fancy them thinking they’d got a all-you-can-eat buffet for the next 8 hours or so I was in there.

The glaciers are pretty. They’re not quite as I pictured though. I expected nice shiny blue/white ice, all glistening and pretty. In reality, they’re covered in soil and rocks that have fallen on it from all the movement of the ice and mountains and you can’t get too close because they’re pretty darn dangerous. You can go ice climbing and walking on there and stuff, but it’s mega expensive and relies on the weather. The day I got there started well when I walked to Fox glacier but gradually turned cloudy and rainy. I walked to the Franz Josef glacier in pouring rain and got soaked, but there was no way that I wasn’t going to walk all the way to see it. Was it worth it? Yes, because I would have regretted it if I didn’t, but I did think that Fox was better. Both beautiful walks though, through the valleys where the glaciers used to be (not sure valleys is the right word but not sure what they’re actually called) with different coloured rock, waterfalls and a bit of a barren, stark beauty.

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Glaciers down and a cheeky drizzly walk around Lake Matheson. Then, another night, another pretty DOC campsite.

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The next morning I drove the short distance to a small town on the coast called Hokitika, where I spent the morning carving my own bone and shell pendant with Don King. Well, not actually Don King, but Steve, the shop owner, sure did look like him. A great way to spend a rainy morning, much fun and I’m pretty stoked with my piece of jewellery, which is actually supposed to be two bird wings in the shape of a heart. Whether you think that’s what it is is up for debate, but that’s what it started out as from a sketch by the lovely Dan.

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Unfortunately the rain didn’t really stop much, so I had a drizzly cloudy drive through Arthurs Pass, but it was still pretty amazing, even in the mist. The only thing not amazing was the crisps I bought in Arthurs Pass village for $5.50. Daylight robbery, they are $1.50 in the shops anywhere else! That’s what you get from a shop in the middle of a mountain pass I guess. And, I could have just not bought them, but I had a serious craving for salt and vinegar crisps and I just HAD to have them.

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Another night, another DOC site and a drive through Springfield (complete with pink doughnut) and I got to the seaside, whoop whoop! This time on the east coast in Kaikoura where I had an hour or two strolling along the top of the cliffs watching the sea, marvelling at the sky and the flocks of birds flying in the shape of a dolphin (yes, REALLY). Incredible. Followed by watching seal pups play in a waterfall and stream. Mum, again, you would have LOVED this.

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Another night, at a beachside DOC site this time. After a beautiful sunrise and being given breakfast from a lovely couple from the North Island in their campervan (which doesn’t sound like a lot but when your normal breakfast is a banana, or sometimes a banana and a cereal bar, a bowl of cereal and bit of warm toast with jaaaaaaam is like a veritable banquet fit for a king), I drove up to Picton and across along Queen Charlotte Drive towards Nelson through the Marlborough Sounds.

A beautiful drive but, like Arthurs Pass, a bit obscured by low cloud and drizzle. Still, it’s fun to drive round incredibly twisty blind roads in the mountains near the water (hmm, no wonder my injured arm is hurting). I was also kept amused by all the post boxes. As they’re all little boxes on the side of the road rather than letter boxes in doors, some people decide to go to town and have all sorts of stuff. Little houses, animals, stick men on horses, vehicles, fish, you name it, they had it. My favourite was the mini campervan. An exact replica, in mini size. Wasn’t able to stop and get a picture though unfortunately, you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

I stayed in Nelson for two nights, but didn’t really see anything. Two reasons. One, I had a load of admin to do, having not had internet for ages and two, it got stormy. Proper gale force winds, heavy rain and flooding. Luckily, I wasn’t camping, I’d treated myself to a hostel for a couple of nights. I couldn’t have timed it better, although looking back, I should have stayed another night, but I was getting cabin fever and needed to get back out on the road. It carried on raining and flooding on Good Friday and my plan was to drive up to Golden Bay and Farewell Spit (and Abel Tasman National Park), right at the north west corner of the North Island, but I didn’t manage it. It was raining and flooding so bad the roads were being washed away. And yes I had a ute, but I’m pretty sure Mike wouldn’t have appreciated me trying to go all Indiana Jones in his car. So, after about an hour and a half of driving and it getting worse and worse, I turned round and headed back, and ended up in a DOC campsite in Nelson Lakes National Park. It was still raining when I pitched up, so I spent the night in the back of the truck. There was no way I was pitching a tent in that. When I went to sleep I was the only vehicle in the whole campsite, but when I woke up there was a campervan right next to me. Like, about 2 feet away. The rest of the site was empty. Why? Strange people. That’s like blokes taking the next urinal when there’s other empty ones, or someone sitting right next to you on a bench when the other end is free. We Brits just don’t do that.

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The weather got better the next day. The rivers were still high but the rain had stopped and rainbows were out. The clouds started to lift and by the time I got to Hanmer Springs the sun was out and it was a beautiful Autumn day, perfect for scrunching all the leaves and climbing to the top of Conical Hill.

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And then, just as quick as it started, I was back in Christchurch and my road trip was over. Safely back in one piece, nearly 4000km later, I’d had the most amazing 6 weeks.

Incredible scenery and time out to spend by myself. To be at one with nature and the outdoors. Yes, I know it sounds wanky but it’s true. When I was at the top of Mount John or the Sealy Tarns with no one else around, it was so peaceful and so good for the soul. You should try it sometime. I’ve always liked and needed my own space, and loved the outdoors, but this was just something else. I’ve decided mountains are good for me, it’s just a shame we don’t have that many in the UK.

I met some truly brilliant people along the way, and had so much fun. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a while, and I’ve learnt so many things (mainly being that I just can’t drink on consecutive nights, or that if I’m going to drink shots I need to prepare myself for a hangover the next day, REGARDLESS of how much water I drink and how many burgers I eat at 3am).

I’ve experienced that kindness and generosity of strangers yet again, and been surrounded by people who are open, friendly, positive and enthusiastic. Whether I’m in a travellers bubble, or that’s just New Zealand, I’m not sure. Maybe a bit of both, Either way, I’m not complaining.

I can’t end of course without saying one last thank you to Mike, for the loan of his truck and Jennie, for her amazing hospitality. They’ve been the backbone and launching pad for my adventure and I’ll not forget it.

South Island, it’s been a total pleasure.

New Zealand road trip: part three.

Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again). Via Glenorchy.

After another night in Queenstown, recovering from the night before after a couple of beers turned into a Big Night Out, I finally headed out towards Glenorchy for the next bit of my roadtrip, this time with a bit of company with Johnny, the Irish guy I’d met in Wanaka and then again in Queenstown. Him in his campervan, me in the ute.

Driving to Glenorchy is pretty special. A road that hugs the side of the mountains along Lake Wakatipu, snaking in and out and round and round. You can’t go particularly fast, but you wouldn’t want to, because you’d miss it all. There was a bit of low cloud when we were driving up so we didn’t get the full in-your-face-blue of the lake, but I quite like it when the cloud hangs around the top of the mountains. It’s pretty and reminds me of my Dad telling me to make sure I take lots of pictures of the land of the long white cloud for him.

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Glenorchy itself is a tiny little village with not a lot there. People go there for all the walks around and nearby (it’s the start of the Routeburn track). We did the Glenorchy walkway to see the black swans (they seem so much more exotic than white swans), then spent a few hours just sat on a jetty in the sunshine staring out at the lake and the mountains. Just doing nothing but talking about everything and anything; like you do when you are getting to know someone. It was a most wonderful few hours and one of those moments where there was nowhere else I would have rather been.

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We headed up to a DOC campsite at Lake Sylvan. I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites before. If I have, then sorry. Great little places, cheap as chips (About $6 a night) and always in some of the most beautiful scenery going. Not a lot of facilities, but that kind of enhances the experience. Makes it more authentic. And really makes you appreciate the small things.

Like a shower.

This campsite was pretty cute, some great walks on the doorstep and of course, this being New Zealand, mountains in the background (forget land of the long white cloud, it should be called land of the many mountains).

After a little walk to the lake (renamed Dead Dog Lake due to a piece of wood that looked spookily like a, erm, dead dog) and making friends with a bird called Ray, we had the first night of cooking on the little stove that Johnny got in his campervan. Well, when I say cooking, I mean Johnny heating up a tin of beans and making a cup of tea for us. But, as it was more than either of us had done so far when on the road, I’d say it counts as cooking (pretty much like the time Marsha ‘cooked’ tea for me in Queenstown – definitely counts).

This was probably my favourite night of camping. I’m not sure why, but as I sat there eating my bowl of beans and drinking tea with no milk, it just felt like a pretty perfect evening.

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A lot of the area around Glenorchy was filmed for Lord of the Rings, and the area on the right as you drive up to Lake Sylvan is actually Isengard, not that I’d be able to recognise it mind you. But still, nice to know I’ve actually been there. After a sunset over the mountains, it was back for a night and a beer or two in Glenorchy then onwards to Te Anau to start the drive to Milford Sound.

It takes a couple of hours to drive along Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound but it’s recommended to take your time as there’s loads of places to stop, and DOC campsites galore. We had another perfect night at Henry’s Creek campsite where we played our made up game (sticks and stones) on the edge of the lake until the sun went down then laid and star gazed at the amazing New Zealand night sky for hours. Anyone that’s been to NZ will know about the stars. You can stare at them forever yes? One of life’s simple pleasures. This whole week was about enjoying the moment and the simple things in life. No wifi, no TV, not many other people. Wonderful.

Mirror Lakes, Mistletoe Lake, Lake Gunn nature walk, the three-tiered Humbolt Falls, the Homer Tunnel and The Chasm were all stop offs on Milford Road. Marvels of nature; more massive mountains, waterfalls, forests, weird rocks, and wildlife. The drive was just incredible, my favourite driving day for sure. It was just spectacular.

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The end of a days driving was Milford Sound, and the heart of Fiordland. The best way to see it is from the water, cruising through in between all the amazing mountains and sheer cliff faces, waterfalls metres high tumbling out of the rock to get out into the Tasman Sea and back again. We saw seal colonies sunning themselves on the rocks, and dolphins gave us a show a few times, even swimming along with us in front of the boat for a while, just 10 feet below us. A rare treat and it felt really special to have experienced it. Beautiful, beautiful creatures, I was close enough to be able to see all the different markings and how they glided along in the water, jumping out every now and then. Mum, you would have absolutely loved this.

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Another stop at the Totara DOC campsite on Milford Road (purely because it had my name in it) where we saw the most amazing sunset over the river that ran through it.

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A fitting end for the last night of our roadtrip together before Johnny went onto Wanaka and I went back to Queenstown for a few days before the last part of my roadtrip.

A bit of a ‘this is what we did, where we went and what we saw’ blog post but, well, this week has a lot of personal memories that I guess I don’t really want to write down and share. It was one of the best weeks on my road trip with a fab person to spend it with and I have a whole host of wonderful memories that I’ll cherish forever.

 

Runs around the world #19

Christchurch, New Zealand

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When I first got to Christchurch at the beginning of March I couldn’t run because of my broken rib. I was staying right next to Hagley Park, the massive bit of green space in the middle of the city which is a runners playground. I was sad. I watched everyone else with envy as they trotted round morning, noon and night. All at a great party that I wasn’t invited to.

But! Fear not! I had to come back to Christchurch, and when I did, I was healed! I could run again! So, first day back and out for a run I went. Well, probably more accurate to call it a jog. I’m not as fast as I once was (temporary glitch, when I can get back into proper training I’ll be back on it like a moth in a light box).

So I managed to do 5 wonderful miles in the early morning autumn sunshine. Easter Monday (yes, Easter in autumn, really quite odd), joining what seemed like half the population of Christchurch all burning off a day of chocolate. My favourite season, especially for running, I missed it in the UK last year so I’m so chuffed to experience it here. And, dare I say it, Autumn in NZ is a lot better than the UK! Amazing colours, lots of sunshine, not a lot of rain and crunchy leaves underfoot – perfect for running!

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I don’t feel fit at all any more. I’ve got a little layer of travelling fat and just not feeling mega healthy, so I actually surprised myself that I could do 5 miles. And it was 5 fairly easy miles really (at just under 10 mins per mile, so not too bad I guess) so I was pretty chuffed with it. Maybe I’m not so unfit after all. I’m pleased I’ve not lost it completely. It was never an option to give up running, I still can’t live without it, but I’m at ease a bit more now about not running so much (compared to the panic I felt in Africa when I thought I wouldn’t be able to run for a month). Maybe because I’d ramped it back up in Australia so I knew I still had passion for it, or maybe it’s because I know I’m not that far off coming home and will be ramping it up again then. But it’s been good to keep at it all year, even if it’s just once every couple of weeks. It’s still a run, and it’s still on my mind when I’m not doing it so much. The fact that I’m still able to run a 10K after all this travel, food, drink and transient lifestyle makes me very bloody happy.

People reading this who don’t run, you probably won’t understand. People reading this who do run (and love it) hopefully will know exactly what I mean.

And it’s amazing how good everything is after a run. How it makes me feel alive and just, well, great. Makes me happy and lifts my spirits. Reminds me that there’s nothing I like better than putting my trainers on and getting out there in the fresh air. I was so perky I nearly started high-fiving the other runners I kept passing, but they all looked a bit serious for that. Just went for a big grin instead.

The air was a little cold, just how I like it. My favourite condition to run in. The kind where you can feel it in your lungs when breathing (or at least to start with). Where you have little goosebumps until you get going but you don’t overheat. Where the air is fresh and when blinking it feels a bit like its cleaning your eyeballs. When the sun’s out but it’s not too hot (although this being NZ and no ozone layer means that it’s stronger than the World’s Strongest Man).

Sometimes when I run, especially after a little while, it’s like resetting myself and the world. Suddenly everything is all right again, even if things weren’t ‘wrong’ to start with. Running is good for me. Fact.

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New Zealand road trip: part two.

Queenstown and Wanaka. Two similar but wildly different places. Like they’d say in SE Asia, same same but different.

Legendary Queenstown. Home of everything adrenaline. Home to everything big. Big burgers, big mountains, big shots and big hangovers. In your face, busy and bustling.

Wanaka. Laid back, chilled and understated. A place to relax and enjoy and eat fresh cookies at the cinema.

In Queenstown I met up with Marsha again, who I’d first met in Christchurch through a mutual friend. What followed was a fuzzy week of friendship forming, non-stop alcohol, shots, hangovers, lots of laughter, hill climbing, grass sitting, food eating, film watching, sandwich cooking, men watching, life-sorting-out stuff. We met the delightful V from California too, who made us crack up laughing almost every minute with her crazy stories and theories.

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We made the rather fantastic bar Cowboys our local. It’s like the Wild West. The bar stools are saddles, there’s other table stools that have sides (perfect for me), the pumps are guns, there’s a good supply of cowboy hats to wear, a full size grizzly bear to meet you at the door and even a mechanical bull. Yep, a mechanical bull. I didn’t ride it because of my rib, but I spent many a time watching all the other drunkards have a go (when I say have a go, I mean spend ages trying to get ON the thing, only to be promptly bucked off in half a second. Especially if the guys controlling it were feeling mischievous – that happened a lot to cocky blokes who thought they’d be the one to give a good show. Fail.). It also played the same music all the time, although I only clocked onto this after a good few visits, when I realised there was only so many times I could watch Jessica Simpson strut around singing about boots made for walking and wondering what the relevance of her washing a car in a bikini was to the song.

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We drank a lot of shots and met a lot of people. Nearly every night in our hostel someone was drinking, pre-drinking or going out. Most of the nights just started innocently with a drink or two. None of our nights out were planned. The best way. An average bedtime was around 3am, after a legendary Fergburger, which, after a night out, is the BEST THING EVER. I’m sure it’s good sober too, but I never really experienced that. My hangover food of choice was Noodle Canteen.  They did wicked chicken fried rice in a little cardboard noodle takeaway box, great when eaten in the sun on the grass near the lake, chatting about life, the world and the size of men’s appendages.

I rediscovered jager bombs and tequila slammers, mainly thanks to Damien who would always buy a round of shots quite early on. And well, from then on, you’re committed.*

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It was in Queenstown (well firstly in Wanaka but again in QT) where I also met Johnny, an Irish guy I went on to travel with for a week. We all went out for a ‘few drinks’. Ended in a Big Night Out, lots of shots and not a lot of sleep. We all slept in hammocks in the garden in the sun the next day. He did the Nevis bungy jump. Poor bloke.

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But Queenstown wasn’t all about the drinking or nightlife (although, that’s a huge part of it for all travellers, and it sucks you in). I couldn’t do any of the adrenaline stuff (and you can do pretty much anything here. Bungy jumping, jet boats, paragliding, skydives, etc, etc) but I could appreciate the natural beauty of the place. It’s often described as one of the prettiest places to visit, and they’d be right. It’s in a great setting, on the edge of Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables and other mountain ranges surrounding it and the Queenstown Gardens jut out in the middle, full of trees. In autumn, they are all a glorious mix of red, yellows and greens and well, my eyes had a treat every day I was here. As anywhere in New Zealand, there’s a few walks dotted about, and the views from the top of Queenstown Hill and Bob’s Peak are pretty special, and worth the walk/climb (also helps sweat out the alcohol and burger from the previous night).

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Queenstown was also the place where I used a hairdryer for the first time in months. This might not sound a lot but, oh my, this was a Big Deal. Such a treat! Smooth straight hair for once. It’s the little things in life you know.

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Marsha and I also hopped across to Wanaka for a few days (pretty nice drive in/over the Crown Ranges) to have a bit of a chill out from the madness. Wanaka is like Queenstown’s more laid back cousin (and apparently is what QT was like 20 or so years ago). Just as pretty, just as many hills and mountains to climb but much less busy, less frenetic and much less drinking.

We both loved Wanaka. It was really nice and chilled and we spent a great few days walking, trundling around, eating, drinking $12 cider (Marsha), shopping (Marsha), being propositioned in the supermarket (Marsha) watching very random open mic/karaoke nights (Swedish/english rap anyone?) and visiting what is possibly the best cinema in the world (but possibly not the best film in the world – Pompeii). Cinema Paradiso is a small independent cinema, that has all kinds of seats. Couches, cinema seats, cars (yes, you can sit in a car), bus seats etc. They also sell homemade ice cream and bake cookies in the first half of the film, so at the intermission you can buy warm cookies (whose smell wafts into the cinema near to half time. Mmm freshly baked cookie smell.) for that cookie-induced sugar coma for the second half of the film. Oh, and they’re also licensed so you can buy wine and beer to take in with you, although at nearly $10 a glass it;s not cheap. Lincolnshire people, it’s like the Kinema in the Woods on steroids.

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If you’re visiting Wanaka and only do one walk, do Roy’s Peak. It’s 1578m, so just over 200m higher than Ben Nevis (1344m), the highest mountain in the British Isles. It’s a hard climb, very steep and tough, but, well, well worth it for the view. It’s just incredible. I did gasp when I saw THIS in front of me:

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Definitely a “f**k me” moment. It didn’t look real. The colours, the texture, the view. It was like a painting, stretched out in a technicolour 360 degree view. It’s the middle peak in this picture, by the way:

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We also walked to the Rob Roy Glacier (after a near miss with a cow on the way) and Mount Iron, as well as around the lake. Pretty active yet chilled out few days.

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Then of course we went back to Queenstown and hit it hard that night.

 

 

 

*Disclaimer/note to the parents, I was quite sensible and never got completely rip roaring drunk or put myself in dodgy situations. My rib is still intact and I didn’t fall over once. I think.

 

New Zealand road trip: part one.

I’m writing this in Christchurch, having finished my little drive around the South Island. I didn’t blog at all along the way, mainly due to either a) no electricity/internet b) being hungover c) didn’t have time d) no motivation. So it’s all in my head now, waiting to be written. I’ll get there. Handily, my trip naturally split itself into different parts:

  • Part one: Christchurch to Queenstown
  • Part two: Queenstown and Wanaka
  • Part three: Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again)
  • Part four: West coast to Christchurch, via the north

A total of nearly 4000 km (just over 3000 miles) in 5 weeks.

But before I start on part one, I’ll tell you about how it came about. I met a guy called Mike in Hong Kong last September. We first met when I insulted him by asking where in Australia he came from. Back then I couldn’t tell the difference in accent. Now I can. Luckily, he’s a laid back guy and didn’t get offended, and we hung out for a couple of days before I flew to Thailand and he moved on to China. I happened to mention to him that I was going to New Zealand in 2014 and he offered to lend me his ute to drive around in. At the time I thought what an awesome offer but it was a long time to go until I would be in NZ so lets see how things go. Fast forward and we kept in touch, and lo and behold, Mike was a star and not only lent me his truck but also camping stuff AND arranged for me to stay with his mum while in Christchurch. Amazeballs. Just one more example of how great and kind strangers, especially in the travelling world, can be. Restores your faith in humanity somewhat, especially because there is no agenda, no reason for it other that just be be bloody nice. Sometimes you can never pay these acts of kindness back, all you can do is pass it on. And pass it on I will.

So, after a few days of sorting the car out (getting it re-registered, warrant of fitness etc) and picking stuff up from Mike’s house (and scaring his cousin’s partner half to death by appearing to be, on the face of it, a burglar), I was ready to rock and roll.

I hadn’t driven in over a year.  For a fleeting moment I wondered whether I’d remember how to do it, but then reminded myself not to be so stupid, I’ve nearly been driving as long as I’ve not been driving so forgetting how to drive would be similar to forgetting how to speak or dress myself (although you’d maybe question these two things if you’ve seen me at 3am after a night of tequila). I did get confused with the handbrake in the ute though. It’s a pull out lever thing, not a stick. Luckily, I got shown where it was. Pretty sure I’d still be trying to figure it out now if I hadn’t.

So, one Monday morning, 5 weeks ago, I set out from Christchurch with the sun shining, music on the stereo, a map and the open road. Just me, the ute and a tent in the back. There’s something pretty special and liberating about travelling alone, but even more so for me when I was driving myself around. I could stop anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. I made my own route with no time scales, no dates to be anywhere, no pressure.

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The first bit of the drive was through countryside that looked fairly familiar to Lincolnshire. Yep, if I shut my eyes I could have pretended I was back at home. Obviously didn’t do this, what with driving and all. But it didn’t last long, we don’t have mountains in Lincolnshire, and it soon started to get a bit hilly, and the scenery started to look like what I’d imagined the South Island to look like. I still remember the first photo stop I did. I don’t know exactly where it was, but it was a river that was stunningly blue, flanked by hills and trees. I thought it was beautiful. I soon learnt I hadn’t seen anything yet.

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My first proper stop was Lake Tekapo, where I camped for a couple of nights. Lake Tekapo is beautiful. Hang on, before I go on, let me say this: the whole of the South Island is beautiful. It’s more than beautiful. It’s stunning, amazing, incredible, inspirational, breathtaking, varied, different, outstanding, welcoming, magnificent, awe-inspiring, exquisite and fascinating. I, and all of the people I met along the way, regularly ran out of words to describe it. On more than one occasion I was speechless (yep, it does happen occasionally). So, I’m just putting them all out there right now, in an attempt to not repeat myself in the rest of these posts. It’s safe to assume that all the places I’m going to write about are covered in one of the words above.

Lake Tekapo: a turquoise lake surrounded by mountains, with lots of walks. Which is pretty much how I spent a couple of days here. It was the first outing for my new tent, which I put up in the rain. Amazing how quick you learn what goes where for an unfamiliar tent when it’s raining and your bed for the night is in danger of being waterlogged (maybe a slight exaggeration, it was only drizzling).

I climbed to the top of Mount John, where the world famous observatory is (Lake Tekapo is said to be the clearest place in the world to see the stars. I didn’t go up there at night, but on my second night the sky did indeed put on a pretty good show), sitting at the top for over an hour just admiring the views. My first time being almost overwhelmed with what nature had laid out before me (and well worth the bloody hard slog up the hill as my rib was still pretty painful at that point, making breathing a little bit difficult). I saw the Church of the Good Shepherd (maybe the church with the most picturesque view in the world) and walked around the lake in the morning eerie mist, with clouds shrouding the whole mountains and lake, making me feel like the only person around for miles.

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On the morning I left, I chatted to an older chap called Anthony, an extremely well spoken older gentleman in the wine trade, who had just been for a chilly dip in the lake. It was a most pleasant conversation, only made slightly odd when he proceeded to change out of his swimming trunks into his shorts and t-shirt under a very small towel, all the while holding a conversation with me. Not forgetting the part where he’d got out of his trunks and said he’d ‘drip dry’ for a bit. Awkward? Not really, I’m starting to see it all while travelling. Literally.

I headed onward to Mount Cook National Park. A pretty spectacular drive along blue Lake Pukaki, snow capped mountains in the distance. This is what I imagined it to be like. This is what took my breath away.

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Another couple of days here, just walking this time. There’s not a lot here; a very basic DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite and that’s about it, but it’s all about the walking. I did the Hooker Valley glacier walk (so very pretty), and the Sealy Tarns walk, 2200 steps up the side of a mountain. Amazingly hard work as I was still suffering breathing issues due to my broken rib but totally worth it for the view and the chat with Tim from Shropshire. Lovely chap who had come to NZ on his own, his first solo trip and was loving it. One of those people that you can just chat with for ages, about all kinds of things, and I had a lovely dinner with him and Oliver from Germany that night. It beat the night before where I ended up packing my tent up at 2am in the rain and howling gale force winds because if I hadn’t, my tent wouldn’t have lasted much longer. I abandoned sleeping outside and slept in the back of the ute, which was swaying about in the wind all night. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve had, but, while travelling, I’ve not had a proper good nights sleep in over a year now. I can’t remember the last time I slept the whole way through since I’ve been away. Well, apart from any night where tequila’s been involved anyway. See, tequila has it’s uses. Good tequila.

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Mount Cook to Arrowtown. Probably two of the most different places I’ve been to. Mount Cook: remote national park with huge mountains and snow and stuff. Arrowtown: small historic mining town that’s straight out of a country and western movie. Honestly. It’s like a film set. I actually loved it here, and ended up staying 3 nights. Spent the days walking, eating and just lounging about. Lovely little place to do it, especially as the sun was out (although, bizarrely, I had my coldest nights in the tent here). I also nearly ate myself into a sugar-induced coma due to the creme brulee fudge they sold in the sweet shop. Also, anyone thinking of coming here, get a pie from the bakery. Del-ici-ous. Just maybe don’t follow it with a huge block of fudge. Although really, as I’m on holiday, there’s no calories right? No wonder I have a nice little layer of travelling fat. I did try and make up for it by going on a little jog.

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Arrowtown is only just down the road from Queenstown, home to all things adrenaline; all those things I couldn’t do thanks to that drinking session in Sydney. Queenstown deserves it’s own post as my time there was certainly adventurous, although not in the adrenaline sense. That’s part two.

Recovery in Christchurch.

My first stop in New Zealand was Christchurch, flying here in 3 hours from Sydney. You may remember I broke a rib while in Sydney, so I was still in quite a bit of pain and discomfort when I got to Christchurch. Mike, a guy I’d met while travelling in Hong Kong, had arranged for me to stay with his mum in ChCh which turned out to be the best thing EVER. She looked after me, gave me the comfiest bed in the world, cooked me food and helped my recovery no end. By the end of that week I was feeling loads better and ready to tackle the South Island in Mike’s ute.

I really enjoyed my week in Christchurch. I didn’t do a huge amount really, just relaxed and rested and caught up on some admin. I went for a few walks around the city, went out for lunch, went to the seaside and enjoyed the botanical gardens, felt like I got a bit of a feel for the city.

Like a lot of others, I’d heard about the 2011 earthquakes on the news, but it didn’t really register, mainly because back in the UK, New Zealand is so far away and I didn’t know anyone over here. It’s only when I got here that I could see the devastation for myself, 3 years on, and you realise how much of an effect on everything there has been. There’s roadworks everywhere, buildings being demolished or sitting empty, building still half in ruins, and business relocating to the suburbs making the city centre feel a bit like a ghost town. But, there’s also a huge sense of opportunity. Of people making the best of it. Of taking chances to make things better. The city is littered with art and tributes, in some of the strangest places. There’s a mall made out of shipping containers which I’m not sure whether it’s a long term thing, but I think it should be, it’s pretty ace.

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I was staying right next to Hagley Park, an ideal haven for runners but I couldn’t run because of my rib. So I had to be content with slow shuffles around it instead. Equally as lovely, it’s a massive park with the Botanical Gardens right in the middle of the city. I especially loved the rose garden, mainly because it smelled amazing, and it reminded me of the roses in my mum and dad’s garden back home.

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I feel a bit sad I never got to see Christchurch before the quakes, because by all accounts it was pretty immense. But, I’ve no doubt that it’s set to become even more incredible in the future. And I’m sure I’ll be back one day to see it.

I’m still here.

Just in case you were wondering. Yep, still here, just not had much internet. I’ve been in New Zealand about 5 and a half weeks now, and most of that has been on a road trip around the South Island. I’ve been spending a few weeks camping in remote spots, climbing mountains, getting drunk, eating Ferburgers, walking in the rainforest, being hungover, watching stars, driving a ute with my favourite tunes blasting out, making friends, making jewellery, enjoying a cuddle or two, playing sticks and stones, getting sprayed by waterfalls, cruising with dolphins, watching seal pups play in the river, sitting on the beach, seeing a glacier up close and getting soaked in the rain.

It’s been a blast, but there’s still a few days left of my road trip. I’ll blog in more detail when I get a bit of downtime, but in the meantime, here’s a few photos. I have many, many more where they come from. Seriously. I have about 3 million photos of mountains, lakes and streams.

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Runs around the world #18

Wanaka, New Zealand

Wanaka is a beautiful little place on the edge of Lake Wanaka, not far from Queenstown on the South Island. Surrounded by mountains, there’s a really nice feel here. I’ve heard it referred to as Queenstown’s laid back cousin. It’s true. It’s a lovely place to kick back and relax for a few days, do some walks and have a stroll around the town. There’s a great path around the lake so I decided to go for a little jog.

The lake is massive and it’s miles around it so I just did 2 miles out and turned round and came back. It’s flat and I didn’t want to push myself so it was fairly uninteresting as runs go, but the scenery more than makes up for it. Beautiful New Zealand mountains every way you look, including seeing them reflecting in the lake.

It was a good run, and it felt good to be back out there. Decent temperature, clear skies and no rain. Pretty perfect running conditions. Running at the moment seems less important. I’m doing lots of hikes and walks so I’m keeping active and getting out and about. I know when I get back home and in one place I’ll pick up the running again, and do it bigger, better and stronger. But until now, a few little jogs here and there will do me nicely.

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