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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Back to the Backpack

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Kia Ora and G’Day mates! The dual backpacking trip has begun; wherein I stop to use the toilet/buy groceries every twelve minutes and Curtis seeks the shade like a vampire. It’s a fool-proof plan! We’re six days in already, I cannot believe it. We left the shoebox with a view behind to jump over the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. This country is Oz 2.0: everything I love about Australia, which is a lot, minus everything I don’t like, namely its slithery fauna. And arachnids. And occasionally oppressive sun.  That being said I am missing Sydney very much at the moment; it was a wonderful temporary home. I’m so thankful for the people we met there, the experiences we had (job, scenic and otherwise), and our time together as a two-person milk crate bed family. Minus a few tough job periods, it was an easy, positive lifestyle. Well, ridiculously expensive, like bonkers, but so worth it. I’d like to go back to visit again! There are a few beaches and secret bars left to discover with pals in tow.

But so, moving forward. Curtis and I discussed our goals for this trip as it’s the first time we’ve ever really traveled long-term with each other, or otherwise. Curtis’ goals (in descending order) are: to enjoy quality time with me; explore new places and cultures; be healthful while doing so (i.e. don’t get malaria, eat simple local foods); and take bad arse photos the whole time. Mine (in descending order) are: to enjoy quality time with Curtis; travel as actively as possible; eat all the SE Asian food/drink all the Kiwi and Oz wine; and use this as an opportunity to find some clarity in what I want to do moving forward.

That about takes us up to tonight, with C & I spending the night in a jail cell. Quite literally! We’re in a repurposed jail house in Christchurch tonight and tomorrow we will be having our first Couchsurfing experience. Here’s to successful interactions with strangers! As well a few photos of Wellington and the South Island thus far.

Much love from afar.

Doing and seeing

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Holy Hannah! It is December 20th already! Only a few days to go until the Summer Solstice (and Christmas!) here in the Southern Hemisphere so I suppose I should update the ol’ blog. I managed to travel to five more areas in New Zealand before hopping over the Tasman Sea to find a certain red-haired gentleman. It’s amazing how a few hundred kilometres can make such a world of difference!

The Coromandel Peninsula is where this decidedly more Huck Finn-y portion of my journey began. White sandy beaches, craggy bays and untamed bush made for splendid isolation. Mind you, isolation isn’t quite as delightful when the bus drops you off in a field of cows with no ocean in sight. Not to knock the Naked Bus coach line too much, but let’s just say they make up for their lack of washrooms with their friendly customer service. It sounded like this:

“Get Out.”

“What here? With the cows?”

“The campground is just down the road.”

“How far? You can’t drive a little further? I just don’t see anything…at all.”

“Not my problem. Get out.”

Thank you sir for your chummy cajoling. Anyhow, once I did find out where I was going (only 1.5 kilometres down the “road”) I was met with beautiful Pohutukawa lined cliffs and soaring Kauri trees. Hot Water Beach was incredible! An underground river of geothermic (up to 64 degrees Celcius…hot indeed) water flows to the surface of the Pacific Ocean and for two hours on either side of the low tide you can dig your own personal hot pool. Cue Dark Side of the Moon’s “Dig that hole, forget the sun/ And when at last the work is done/ Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.” Wise words Pink Floyd, wise words. Digging holes in the sand and then sitting in them, wine in hand, is awesome. I also made the uphill trek by bike to Cathedral Cove, where this scene from the Chronicles of Narnia was filmed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39xnFVV4IpQ

Breath taking! Just like everything else in this beautiful country. Well, pretty much.

I did not love Tauranga, my next stop after the Coromandel. When I got off the bus in a crusty industrial area I found a lot of drunk hostel people, and….that’s about it. So not amazing overall, though the beach at Mount Maunganui was full of shells and surfers and plenty of beach volleyball which was fun. The Bay of Plenty has plenty to offer I am sure, I just seemed to miss it somehow. I’ll have to get a mulligan for another time!

Arriving in Taupo after beer pong and slimy floors was a welcome change. This vibrant town was small, but was full of things to do! It is situated on Lake Taupo, the second largest freshwater lake in the Oceania. With a surface area of over 600 square kilometres it sits in the caldera of yet another North Island volcano. Those volcanos certainly know how to erupt and leave beautiful landscapes thousands of years later! Some even know how to erupt days before my arriving in Taupo thus closing the close by Tongariro National Park. The National Park is one of three UNESCO sites in New Zealand, and I would have loved to hike the Tongariro Crossing, had it not been covered in a giant ash plume and lava. No big deal though, I spent my time here kayaking to Maori rock carvings on the lake, off-road biking and finding apiaries. And when my ankle said to me “You are pushing your luck on these bananas steep trails young lady” I would walk around town and find the amazing graffiti art from the yearly graffiti competition. What a fantastic use of public space! New Zealand in general rocks the Casbah for its innovative use of public space.

Napier city. Art deco, art deco, art deco. Parapets, lightning bolts, greyhounds, geometric shapes, garish greens and pinks, awesome. For someone who loves the post-Great Depression era for its design, fashion and music this is the place to go. (Check out http://www.artdeconapier.com/ for a more in depth description).

Hawke’s Bay. Wine, wine wine, wine. I now know exactly how little I know about these delicious grapes, but I had so much fun touring around vineyards all day! Who knew there was so much finesse to this industry? My super local host did, and I will try my best to remember everything I learned, over a glass of Bordeaux Blend.

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch-or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.” I couldn’t agree more. Someone told me before I came to Wellington that you can be whoever you want to be in this city. The person you want to be probably wears thick rim glasses and hangs out in places like “Meow” or “Hummingbird”. The person you want to be can spend all day at Te Papa museum or Cuba Street and rides the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens. The person you want to be is impervious to rain and wind and compensates for said weather by being creative and welcoming. Yes, this city is amazing and was a fantastic end to my trek around New Zealand. Farewell for now Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. I’ll be back soon!

(Merry Christmas everyone!!!)

Flying solo

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Kia Ora once again! Well it has been two weeks since my mom flew home and I still haven’t finished my first book. Partially because I am the world’s slowest reader, but mostly because I am busy checking off my list of places to go. (Though it is a great book and you should read it too. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is an auto-biography about a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail by herself from the Mohave Desert all the way to Washington State. It is an amazing story and is also great for putting my very short-lived pleasure trip in perspective. If I feel like my bag is too heavy and don’t want to walk 1 km to the hostel where I can take a hot shower I just think about this woman hiking 17 miles a day with a backpack so heavy she has to lie down to put it on, roll onto all fours and then preferably prop it up against something while attempting to stand upright. So basically, traveling solo has been a little tricky sometimes but mostly a real treat.) And so far, on several occasions, I have had the great fortune of wonderful people welcoming me into their homes, allowing me to do laundry and use the Internet. The backpackers dream! It was so relaxing to sleep in, take someone’s dog for a walk down the beach and check out the more suburban areas in and around Auckland.

My first venture away from Auckland-homebase was on a Stray Bus tour to the Northern tip of the North Island. Paihia, Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga and 90 mile Beach. Ironically I am the oldest person on this tour at the ripe old age of 28. It seems that in hostel land people are either 18-25ish or 40+….mostly. I am in this odd middle ground: one foot in both the “young” drinking games and hot tubing group; one foot in the “old” does not show swimsuit areas in public and will not eat Mr. Noodle all day because I have had a career type job and am thus unwilling to eat poorly group. (And thankfully don’t have to…yet.) Either way, Stray is a fantastic tour company and I would like to do another one soon. Their slogan is “off the beaten track” and they do not disappoint! On our way to Paihia we stopped at the only place in New Zealand where you can actually touch a kiwi bird, so cool! The nicest man in the world works at this bird sanctuary and if you show up at the right time, you can pet Sparky the one-legged kiwi.

From here it was on to Paihia and progressively louder card games with new friends. One brutal headache later and we are watching the Tasman Sea crash into the Pacific Ocean at Cape Reinga. It is here, the Maori people believe, where spirits enter the afterworld and I don’t doubt it. The energy is infinite and electric as the bodies of water blend together. Before we call it a day, we are off to throw ourselves down sand dunes 40 metres high on sand boards. This was by far the best tobogan ride I have ever had! Face first, bikini clad, sand in mouth tobogganing. And, because we are in a bus with giant wheels and surface area, we drive along 90 Mile Beach while the tide is out. Our bus driver explained that this is key as people will often drive along the ocean in smaller vehicles, stop for photos, and then get hopelessly stranded as their cars sink into the quick-sand beach beneath them. With no cell phone reception and no one around for literally miles, I would be terrified! To make it worse, he informed us of the posted sign at the entrance of the beach stating very clearly that driving along it is dangerous and not encouraged. Thus, if you do get stuck, insurance won’t cover any damages or lost property i.e. an entire van. Just to prove his point, we round a bend and see a van hopelessly stuck in quick-sandy sand. Idiots! he complains repeatedly as he helps them pull their van free. Clickity click! our cameras refrain as 50 tourists take photos of their misfortune. Ha ha ha. But I would take embarrassment over dehydration and peeing my pants out of fear any day. Last thing to be done before we return to Auckland-homebase and my second batch of generous hosts is swim with the dolphins! Well, almost. The weather was dodgy and the dolphins were swimming relentlessly without pausing for breath (consciously because they are the neatest), so we didn’t make it into the water. They were so beautiful though, just to see them in the wild was enough. Bucket list #452 checked off.

About the only thing I am not enjoying is having to depend on buses to get me from A to B. I am tired of feeling nauseated all the time as the bus (without a washroom) zigs and zags along rural roads. I am tired of not eating hours before a trip to try to avoid motion sickness, but then getting sick anyway and feeling hungry too. I don’t know why I get motion sick so easily in cars and boats but don’t on roller coasters and jet boat rides, but I always do and it is always awful. Especially when I have to pee on top of everything as those who have traveled with me know all too well…my bladder is a tea cup. A doll’s tea cup, for a smaller doll…who is the size of an ant. I can’t see any way around this issue though, so I will just have to muster through. It will be a real triumph of the will story one day, starring Dame Judy Dench and Matthew Perry. It will be called “Road Warrior” and it will be the underdog story of the year. At least before I get sick and close my eyes, I do appreciate the beauty that goes hand in hand with windy country roads.

Hope you are all going well! X

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.