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Waiheke wine

Waiheke wine

February to May in Auckland was not exciting enough to warrant its own blog post, and that's not just me being lazy. While there were a few highlights, such as rugby games, a cyclone, more floods, Florence and the Machine, an embarrassing high ropes course, drinking wine on Waiheke Island, trips to Orewa and Matakana, it was mostly filled with work and fairly boring weekends.

I finished up with Siemens for the second time in my life in mid-May, and then headed to Wellington for some fun times with the gang gang. While there I also visited Wētā Workshop, which is most famous for doing the props and visual effects for the Lord of the Rings films. That was pretty cool to see (although slightly expensive).

Before it all went wrong

Before it all went wrong

Back in Auckland I went to the opening night of Hamilton the musical, cos I'm a cultured queen. Auckland is a very happening place, on occasion.

Then on 1st June, I headed to Melbourne to see if I liked it before committing to another stint at Siemens there (just can't stay away). I also needed to activate my Australian visa so that I wouldn't have to renew my passport for another few months. It was winter there, so not the most recommended time to visit Melbourne, but it gave me a chance to wear my new Michelin man coat. I went to the Queen Vic markets and marvelled at the low low prices of fruit and veg compared to New Zealand. I will tell you now that I have gone back to complaining about how high they are...

My friend Jordan was there too, and we crammed a lot of touristy stuff into a week. Melbourne culture consists of museums, food and footy, so that is what we did. Ok I will concede that their culture also includes coffee, but that ain't me. I can only imagine how much poorer I'd be if I was a coffee drinker. Thank God I didn't get that gene from my dad.

En route to Queenstown

En route to Queenstown

We did a day trip to the Great Ocean Road - a group trip with a bus driver who thought that he had to provide audio commentary for the whole journey, including details of upcoming road works, through the speaker, when he's just picked us up at 5:30am and we are way more interested in sleep. In fact I'm not sure there is any time of day where I'd rather hear about traffic management than be asleep. Jordan's a civil engineer so maybe it was more exciting for him :P

The Great Ocean Road was, dare I say it, great. Although the day was very long and it was a very rushed way to see everything properly. I definitely want to go back and spend a few days travelling around it.

After deciding that Melbourne would be a sufficient place to live in the future, I made my way downtown, to Queenstown, NZ. I had some insane views on the way, flying over snowy mountains for miles and miles. This is why I think I'll always be a window seat gal at heart, no matter how many times I get confined to my seat, desperate for the toilet.

I decided to treat myself to two nights in a hotel before returning to hostel life, cos I'm a bougie backpacker now (a.k.a. I've just finished working and think I've got all the moneysss). I'd been to Queenstown in summer, but seeing it in winter was amazing too, although incredibly cold! My first evening there, I got an ice cream and ate it by the lake in -2 °C weather. Nothing will keep me from my one true love. I also went for a lil hike but it started to get dark pretty quickly so I didn't go too far.

Quad goals

Quad goals

The best thing I did in Queenstown the second time round was undoubtedly the quad bike tour. We got to roam around in the mountains and enjoy the incredible views at fun speeds. The instructor put me at the back of the group because I was the fastest, so I kept trying to leave massive gaps in between me and the next person, so I could see just how fast I could go. Very fun!

Another expensive but impressive day out (Queenstown is full of these) was to Doubtful Sound. Having visited the beautiful but very touristy Milford Sound in summer, I thought it would be cool to experience Doubtful Sound in winter.

Instead of one long bus journey from Queenstown, it was a bus, then a boat, then another bus, before we got on the main boat to cruise the Sounds.

Personally I preferred Doubtful to Milford. There were faaarr fewer boats and people around, making it super peaceful and serene. At one point the captain turned off all the engines and got everyone to shut up for a full 2 minutes, and it was pretty incredible to just hear the sounds of nature. The water is so still, so the reflections really add to the beauty of the landscape.

Doubtful you'll find somewhere better

Doubtful you'll find somewhere better

To continue with the summer/winter comparisons, enter Wanaka. You may remember Wanaka from such blog posts as, 'Van Life with my Van Wife'. I got some photos of #ThatWanakaTree in the same spot as before, this time at sunset rather than sunrise. God I'm so arty. When is tumblr coming back as a thing?!

Self-explanatory

Self-explanatory

There's not a whole lot to do in Wanaka in winter, as beautiful as it is, so I spent a lot of time walking around the lake, debating if, when and where I should go skiing. A few years back I'd initially planned to come to New Zealand to do a ski season, despite never having skied before. I thought it only right that I tried it here, but just for a day as I didn't have the time, money or skillset to do an actual season. Not sure what I was thinking before... Oh to be young and naïve again...

So I booked a day of ski lessons, some rental equipment, and a bus to take me up there. It was the very beginning of the season, and there wasn't as much snow as they were hoping for (bloody climate change, ruining my fancy plans). I chose Cardrona as it was open, and nervously arrived surrounded by professionals who clearly knew what they were doing.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

I got all my expensive gear on, and marched heel to toe outside onto the slopes to find my instructor. Side note, are ski boots meant to be that uncomfortable?! And people pay to wear these for weeks?!

First we learnt how to move around on a flat surface, and how to sidle uphill in our skis. Then we progressed onto going downhill, and it all went downhill from there! I'm kidding, I actually did ok for most of it. I didn't fall over the whole day, which I'm pretty happy with, namely because I saw some people reallllly struggle to get up again, and I definitely think that would've been me. It took a while for my brain to get around the leaning the opposite direction thing to turn, but eventually I got it. I am definitely no natural, but would love to go skiing again if I could get some supportive insoles and a gift of a few thousand dollars in cash.

Ski master

Ski master

My feet and calves hurt for days, so what better way to spend the next day than on a coach to Franz Josef. I rocked up to the pick up point in the morning, and there was me, one other girl, a bus driver, and a coach to fit 40 people. What's the etiquette in that situation for how far back to sit?

Because we were basically on a private tour, the driver stopped at some scenic spots so we could take photos, and also at another spot so he could pick up a piece of driftwood that he'd been eyeing up for a few days. He'd bought some rope from a service station and enlisted us to help tie it to the trailer on the bus. Probably not insured for a large log coming untied and smashing through the window, but thankfully we all (log included) made it.

The hostels in Franz Josef weren't really doing it for me, so I had booked myself something a little more upmarket (notice I'm still near the beginning of my trip). But when I got there, I got upgraded to something even bougier. Damn, sometimes spending a little more really does pay off!

It was kind of a treehouse/lodge thing set in the middle of the rainforest, with views of the mountains behind. Here I did a few hikes and went to the Wildlife Centre to learn all about kiwis. The birds, not the fruit or the people, funnily enough. It was quite cloudy the whole time but they finally left the same morning I did.

Next, another coach up the West Coast with just me, the driver, and the same girl as before... Honestly would have made more sense for us to hire a car together rather than have a 40-seater coach and a private driver. We were both staying in the same hostel when we got to Greymouth too, and getting the same train across to Christchurch... where we also had booked the same hostel!

There was some stunning scenery between Franz Josef and Greymouth, but Greymouth itself was not terribly exciting. The hostel owner told us there might be dolphins to spot, but even after two visits, one on foot and one by dodgy bike, I was not lucky enough to see any.

To get to Christchurch and continue with my bougie travelling, I took the TranzAlpine train through Arthur's Pass. While it was pretty cool to travel through the mountains, I definitely think it would be better in summer, as the last 2 or 3 hours were pretty much in the dark, meaning we couldn't see the surrounding landscapes.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking

The highlight in Christchurch was definitely our musical dinner. A poster outside a pub/restaurant read "live music tonight" so we went in and ordered food, and then saw what looked like a school teacher on stage setting stuff up with some kids. Around 15 children of varying ages then proceeded to get up on stage one by one for their music recitals. We looked around and realised we were the only table there that didn't have a child participating, but with our food on the way it was too late for us to leave. While some of the kids were quite talented, others were... less so, and it was possible the most awkward dinner ever, as we couldn't even talk through it. A truly unforgettable experience.

Considering I've been skydiving (twice), bungy jumping, caving and swung across a 300m canyon, you wouldn't think that the downhill mountain biking I did with Alisha would come out top of the scary list for me. It was supposedly a beginners lesson, but everyone else had experience so I don't know why they signed up for it.

The "lesson" part of it consisted of going in circles on flat ground to show you can stand up and brake etc. Then we went up a tiny hill and I fell off my bike in the slowest motion possible at the bottom, as I got stuck in the mud and lost balance. I had the smallest adult bike and it was slightly bigger than I would have liked, so I blame that of course. Not the best start! The downhill bit was fine.

We got on a special chairlift up the mountain with our bikes, and I thought the teaching element would continue at the top, but it was basically - now go down the steep mountain and stop at the next checkpoint. Any questions? Well we don't know what there is to ask about yet so no.

Turns out hairpin bends on a cliffside while (what feels like) hurtling down a mountain with no specific skills is a bit scary. Oh don't forget it's super muddy, cloudy and there's tree roots and rocks jutting out everywhere. Way scarier than bungy jumping because you're the only one in control of yourself.

After the first section one of the guys asked for advice how to navigate those steep bends, and I couldn't help but think it would have been useful to know that before setting off. It was very fun although I definitely was not a natural. We came away absolutely covered in mud which was not ideal as I had not time for laundry before picking up my car/campervan for the next part of my adventure. The freezing cold part.

I had my first campervan adventure back in September 2022, and some nights were cold. Then in January 2023 which probably had a couple of chilly nights. However they were nothing compared to sleeping in a car on my own in the middle of winter! My first night was a rainy one at New Brighton Beach. There were plenty of other freedom campers but it was right by a main road and maybe a 3 minute walk to the bathroom. I should have got more organised in the daylight.

Artsy mountain shot

Artsy mountain shot

I decided to make the drive to Hanmer Springs before Kaikoura. It was a stressful few hours as it was raining soo heavily the whole way and visibility was very poor. I found a place to camp and after a freezing nights sleep, visited the thermal springs to warm up. That was well needed. They have 22 pools naturally heated by the earth. And of course they have showers. Dreamy.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman

After some nice little hikes and another night in the area, I drove to Kaikoura to meet Ellie. Another place I'd been in summer, but it was really cool to see in winter too. We did some walks, found loaddss of seals, and spent many hours in the pub.

Last time I was here I swam with dolphins, but this visit was all about the whales. We got a scenic flight to spot them from above, and then later on, a boat trip to catch them more on their level. We definitely saw sperm whales and humpback whales, and possibly also southern right whales and fin whales. We might have seen more from the plane too if there wasn't a deranged woman on the plane with us (not Ellie)!

The next stop on my tour was Picton and the Marlborough Sounds, which involved some boats, some hiking and some great views.

When we got to Nelson there was a cool light show around the city, but we were disappointed to find that there was no alcohol or even hot drinks on offer anywhere. As Brits this is not normal to us.

McDonalds plane

McDonalds plane

From here it was an early start to get to Abel Tasman National Park. We were supposed to get a boat and do a day of walking to reach the pick up point, but we were told the wrong information about tide times, so it was lucky the boat captain was there to tell us what was really what. It did mean that our day of walking turned into a lot of spare time. We did all the off-piste walks from the main path to try to kill time. The beaches and coastal scenery were beautiful. If it was summer you could definitely spend a lot longer here.

A couple of days later, I left Ellie in Nelson to catch the ferry to the North Island, where there was yet more rain. I had one night in Wellington with some friends, and although it was still pouring the next morning, I drove to Hawkes Bay via an overnight stop in the middle of nowhere, to a little town called Frimley, and it's neighbouring town, Camberley. (For anyone not aware, these are the where I live back in the UK).

The region had recently been devastated by the cyclone and flooding, and it showed on the roads. There was destruction and potholes everywhere. And still the rain continued. There wasn't much to do except go to the farmers market. So I made my way up to Napier next.

Final night views

Final night views

With even more rain, there wasn't loads to do here, but I did visit the museum and walk around the art deco-inspired city.

The penultimate stop was Taupo. There was another light show here (New Zealand does love a light show), although not as good as the Nelson one. I had a really good gelato while wandering around, and there was live music and other activities on too. I had time for a visit to the official world's coolest McDonalds, which is inside a plane, plus one more boat trip, across the lake and to see the Maori rock carvings. I always thought these were really old but they were literally done in the 1970s!

I spent my final night at an absolutely beautiful campsite next to Lake Whakamaru. The rain had finally stopped in Taupo so it was a great last few days of the trip. Getting back to Auckland was exactly the anticlimax that returning from a holiday always is.

I had plenty of laundry and sleeping to do before my next adventure would start just a few days later - volunteering for the media team at the Fifa Women's World Cup! See you next time. Who knows when that will be...

This featured blog entry was written by EMCAT from the blog Kiwi Go Again.
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By EMCAT

Posted Fri, May 03, 2024 | New Zealand | Comments