Day #150 29.05.16

The weather was like this ALL day today. Much relaxing and sitting/laying around drinking sloe gin and elderflower (tremaze, new fave summer drink) and beer listening to music.

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Day #149 28.05.16

Empty tent = dancefloor to ourselves. Few beers, music, sunny weather, lots of dancing. Brilliant.

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Day #135 14.05.16

Eurovision party time where the gin and tonics come in a glass as big as your head. Much fun watching the Grape Escape’s live streaming of the year’s annual cheesepopfest (which every year reminds me of Rachel Crownshaw and the time as teenagers we watched it when her parents had gone away where we were screaming at the TV cheering on Katrina and the waves alongside ringing Rob Cooling at various points in the evening).

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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 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.