Island Hopping

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One month in, four(ish) months to go. It’s an interesting time paradox when each day seems so long, but the weeks pass so quickly! I’m currently sitting in a cozy corner of the latest hostel listening to the din of one-upping liquor volumes in the background. One of my least favourite pastimes as it turns out. Followed closely by one-upping “This one time in Bali when I was high on…blackout” stories; etc. I mean I’m very happy that you’re enjoying your nightlife and young ladies and talking very loudly about it, but your enthusiasm was just as loud last night. But of course this is part of the hostel package: a spectrum of personalities; wafting spliff fumes; disgusting kitchen floors; stained elephant pants; 60% chance of eating pasta with canned sauce for dinner; constant foot and stale beer smell.  That being said, I love it. Curtis and I have actually met some great people as well; we’ll be reconnecting via couchsurfing soon.

From Christchurch, we hopped on the Tranz Alpine train and headed to the West Coast. It’s amazing that four hours will take you through the entire topography of Canada, or thereabouts. Coastal beaches, pallid yellow plains and rolling hills, deep gorges and mountains, then boom! Magical rainforest and land of mist and 1000 waterfalls. What’s that? Haven’t seen a waterfall in 12 seconds? Behold nature’s miracle, again. (Although strictly speaking it’s not a miracle, it’s most likely caused by a glacier, or a volcano, or being on the edge of two tectonic plates subducting like crazies.) Seriously though, I think we both got waterfall necktitis…from looking up constantly. We stayed in Franz Joseph and knocked a World Heritage site off Curtis’ New Zealand list (only subtropical rainforest in the world coupled with a glacier) then headed southeast to Queenstown. I don’t think I noticed when I was there with my mom last year, but Queenstown has a lot of “one-upping” stories to share. This isn’t surprising considering it’s the epicentre for adventure sports and adrenaline junkies. I only participated in a mild adventure, but it was really fun. Canyoning involved abseiling, rock climbing, cliff jumping and generally moving in and around rocks and water. Curtis clearly did not do this with me, but we enjoyed hikes and disc golf together as well.

The best part about Queenstown was definitely getting our sweet wheels: the campervan of awesome. It made our shoebox look like a palace, it was freezing at night when I literally wore five layers to bed, and it was the best. The last ten days of our New Zealand trip were spent driving hundreds of kilometres a day on narrow windy roads, sleeping in fields of sheep, and sitting in McDonalds cafes intermittently to abuse their free wifi. I’m so glad we chose to see the south this way, it allowed for many stops along the way. Our number one favourite place though, was definitely Fiordland National Park. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slartibartfast won an award for designing the Norwegian fiords, but I reckon these were just as outstanding. We spent five hours kayaking around the glassy, placid waters of Doubtful Sound (wrongly named as apparently it’s a fiord) and I would say it’s one of the highlights of my time away thus far. Basically, from the tip of the far north North Island to the south of the South Island, New Zealand is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Full stop. By our last day there however, it was snowing and that meant it was time to shuffle onto Australia’s sunshine once again. It’s great to be back here again, even as I sit doing constant spider-perimeter checks.

I hear the pussy willows have appeared back home. Enjoy the first whispers of spring everyone.

P.S. Curtis’ book count for this trip, thus far, is twenty. Twenty mother flipping books! This is infuriating to my four books, which includes two audio books that don’t really count because he also listened to them.  I should try reading a speed reading book next perhaps.

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Sweet as Lez & Hetha

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Kia Ora! Well here it is, my first blog post from New Zealand! It’s been over three weeks already and trying to absorb all the beauty of this remote little country has been quite a task. I had no idea that each region is so unique…or that there were so many to see. I will try to capture it the best that I can but will probably use words like stunning! lush! and amazing! a lot. First world problems.

PART ONE: It’s just over there Subtitle: Just a little bit further…oh I guess we walked 5 kms again.

My mom and arrived in Auckland on October 26th after a truly outstanding plane ride. Real cutlery, menu options and endless wine! What is this magical land and how did I find myself here? One of the many perks of traveling with my mom I suppose. Thanks mama bear! Once our jet lag wore off we set out to explore the city of sails. It definitely lives up to its name! One in four people here own a boat and most of them are found in the Waitemata Harbour. It’s also the largest city in New Zealand with a quartler of the population living amongst 48 dormant volcanos. So lots of things to see and do! Our four days together pre-bus tour consisted of lovely walks around Queen St., many flat whites and five dollar pastries that are actually worth two dollars, and lots of sight seeing. Ferry rides to sleepy beach side suburbs, climbing up volcanos, walkng through The Domain Park (which was a much longer walk than expected. Note: When using Google maps on your phone, make sure you have selected the “walking” option for accurate times. Unless your legs are actually a car.) and checking out the Auckland Museum. We also made our way to an underground aquarium that apparently used to be part of the sewer system. The piping is now see-through and full of sharks, sea turtles and sting rays! Stepping on a conveyor belt will take you through the tube so you are surrounded by ocean creatures on all sides. Neat stuff!

PART TWO: The Grand March Subtitle: Retirees are living the life.

Bet won, I am the youngest person on bus tour by about 30 years. But everyone is absolutely lovely and there to have a great time. From 6am to 9pm. Maybe 10pm, but that would be crazy! The bus zipped around the North Island for four days and we saw so many things! Geothermal activity and rotten egg smell in Rotorua, glow worms in Waitomo Caves, litle Hobbit holes and many many fields of sheep. Peter Jackson probably owns most o f them…We enjoyed a “cultural evening” in a Maori village which was interesting. It was very well done and we walked away with loads of facts and hangi-filled tummies. Since this dinner I have been learning about the Maori culture and it’s integration with the non-Maori population. It sounds like present day friction has been caused by the usual: European settlers trying to take advantage of a situation and assuming their way is better than whoever they come across. It is obviously more complicated, so this tourist will strive to learn more.

PART 3: Mountains, rainforests and coastlines. Oh my! Subtitle: A beautiful secret.

We crossed the Cook Strait on November 4th and arrived in Kaikoura for crayfish and vast stretches of coastline. The view is unadultered as there is basically nothing around for miles. No people, homes, dogs, cars even! Just the occasional tour bus stopped on the side of the road with hoards of Germans, Americans, South East Asians, Canadians and people from the UK taking photos of yet another stunning landscape. 500 photos into the trip and we make it the Southern Alps and Franz Josef glacier. To arrive at the base of the glacier you get to walk through the world’s only alpine rainforest. It’s just so darn surreal! And then of course there’s lakes, Keas and other rare birds, jade, limestone, etcetera and then some. Yawnsville really. The first real city we get to is Queenstown which was my favourite city of the trip so far, and I think my Mom’s too. It’s like Canmore on steroids with an 83km lake thrown in. From here we shot around on a jet boat, made a trip to Milford Sound and drank and ate with our lovely newfound bus pals. Milford Sound is the most amazing place I have ever been and I doubt if I will ever get that close to Antartica again. I don’t even know what else to say about it, the fiords are just endless and massive and, and, and. I can’t wait to go back with Curtis! Before we know it, Mom and I are back on a plane to Auckland. It was so hard to see her go back home. We had a wonderful time together as mom and daughter and as friends. It’s a good thing there is Skype!

Next up: I toodle about New Zealand solo with a backpack, food satchel and enormous camera.