Had a very different Christmas to normal. The hostel put on a Champagne breakfast before we all grabbed our beers and headed down to Bondi beach. The sky was totally blue, not a wisp of cloud in sight and the beach was full of revellers. Most fun was watching a couple of guys in Santa suits attempting to surf. Got slightly sunburnt in a couple of places I didn’t sunscreen properly, but thankfully not too badly.
It really doesn’t feel like Christmas out here as the days are long, the weather is hot (31 deg C) and the Aussies are lower key on the Christmas theme than back at home. In fact I still haven’t had a turkey dinner or a hint of stuffing.
Spent yesterday afternoon with a couple of pals from the hostel checking out sites to base ourselves on New Year and walking across the harbour bridge. Matt & Joanne live just down the road from me in Solihull……..
After a few too many nights of listening to cheesy music in backpacker bars I plan to head to Home tonight for some decent dance music and then tomorrow a group from the hostel is going to watch the 3rd Lord of the Rings film.
Sydney has been fun but I am looking forward to getting back on the road again, seeing new places and a bit of countryside.
Found somewhere better to stay though did not have a lot of choice by now. Its a big place but has a fairly friendly crowd. After a few months of continually moving I’m going to base myself in one place for a couple of weeks.
Been on the ferry out to Manly, checked out Kings Cross, the Rocks & the city centre. Still have to head out to Bondi, walk across the bridge and visit the Opera House.
For the first time I’m in Oz. Landed this afternoon and caught the train into town, heading to the hostel I’ve already booked for the Christmas period. I thought I may as well check it out and on first impressions I am glad I did as this is not where I want to be stuck for a week. Its in the middle of nowhere, has no kitchen available to the guests, is full of kids and doesn’t have a bar. Tomorrows plan is to find anywhere, and I do mean anywhere, else to spend the festive period.
Crossed the Sydney harbour bridge and saw the Opera house on the way here so that was cool.
Spent a couple of days in Dunedin but didn’t manage to catch up with Janna as her work arrangements clashed with when I had to leave to fly to Sydney. Did manage to go and see the blue and yellow penguins at the tip of the Otago peninsula but didn’t see any albatrosses returning to the nest.
Dunedin itself is a nice enough town to be in but was a little quiet when I was there as all the students were on holiday. Caught the Stray bus from Dunedin up to Christchurch yesterday and had a last night out in New Zealand.
Catching a flight out to Sydney this afternoon so here are a few last thoughts on New Zealand :
Its awfully familiar to a Briton that has spent time in the quieter parts of our country. The scenery is similar, the people speak English without a strong accent, they drive on the proper side of the road, you can get a decent cup of tea….. it makes it nice and easy to visit, it just doesn’t feel like you’ve come far.
There is a staggering amount of stuff to see and do here from incredible walks round the coast and over volcanoes, sub tropical to sub antartic flora & fauna and all sorts of silly activities like bungee, zorbing, river rafting, skiing….. The place is fantastically well set up for backpackers with a huge range of cheap hostels, bus tours and activities. I highly enjoyed my time on the Stray bus and want to thank Spike the driver, plus John, Ola & Pia for making it such a laugh.
Cheap food here is good, especially the gourmet burgers and asian food, but more expensive restaurants have disappointed. Good wine is cheap here and it nice to see a country drinking it own brands of beer, brewed locally, even if they are a little sweet.
I’ve had a great time here and could easily have stayed for much longer, but its not challenging enough, there is a world to see so its time to move on. I suspect I’ll be back.
Having looked at the glacier from a distance it looked just like stuff I had skied in Europe. Decided there were better ways of spending a day & a hundred bucks than hiking over stuff I’d prefer to slide over. As there were an extensive range of local hiking trails that could be done for nowt I did that instead.
One of my short walks in Franz Josef took me down a set of tunnels, wading through cold water. It was spooky doing it on my own as the tunnels magnified any sound and I kept checking back to see if I could see the light at the start of the tunnel. At the time I didn’t know what they were or where they went but it turns out they were aquaducts for gold sluicing and then hydroelectricity before being abandoned. All was good until I cracked my head on the roof on the way back. It brought me to a halt and I found I was leaking blood. Made my way back to town OK but there was no doctor so had to wait until Queenstown a day later to have it checked out. Doctor said I was OK.
Spent that night in Haast before driving on to Queenstown. We went out for a big night on the town and I didn’t get to bed until gone 4am so not a lot happened the next day. The day after was an early start as the bus was due to leave at 7am. Spike had made it perfectly clear that this was the one day he didn’t leave late and if you weren’t up you had missed the bus. At 7:30 John & I went to his room and woke him up. To say that Spike copped a some flack that day is an understatement.
We drove down through Te Anau to get to the spectacular scenery of Milford Sound. As we emerged from the Homer Tunnel it tooked bad as low cloud was obscuring the view, however half way through the cruise in the fjord the sun broke through and we got to see the Sound in all its glory. That night was spent in Te Anau and a general level of exhaustion meant an early night for all.
Next day we headed to Invercargil where Pia, Ola and myself caught a flight out to Stewart Island. On arrival we took a water taxi to Ulva Island for a bit of bird spotting (saw Fantails, Kakapos, Tuis & Wekas but no Kiwis) before a guided tour of the inhabited section of the island by Sam. Stewart Island only has 20km of roads, one town, Oban with a single pub and shop. A pint was had in one of the worlds most southern pubs, 47 degrees south.
I had already crossed the equator on the way to Samoa, the dateline on the way to New Zealand and I had now come as far south as I would go. My travels will now take me north and west in the direction of home, however having only taken 3 months to get this far the 2nd half, distance wise, will take 9 months.
We flew back that evening to Invercargil, grabbed a takeaway curry and watched a dreadful british film. The excitement of travel.
Yesterday was a drive through the Catlins to Dunedin. The Catlins coastline is incredible and populated by seals (saw them), sealions (and them) and penguins (too early). We also stopped for photos at Slope Point, the most southerly place on the two main islands, carrying a Christmas tree and with Spike dressed as Santa and visited the petrified trees. That is one weird aspect being here at this time, Christmas is almost here but it doesn’t feel right as its light and summery. It still seems strange to see Christmassy stuff around the place.
On arriving in Dunedin we went for a brewery tour at Speights, with a half hour free bar session at the end. It was a good way to say goodbye to the group as I am staying on in Dunedin for a few days to catch up with Janna from the Green Tortoise. After here its up to Christchurch to catch my flight to Sydney on the 14th.
I caught the train from Kaikoura up to Blenheim. It takes a spectacular route up the east coast between snow capped mountains and the sea, passing the local salt mines with their red evapouration beds. It was something to realise that right at the end of spring I was stood at sea level looking at snow.
I was met at Blenheim station by Barry from Barry’s Wine tours and set off on tour of 7 wineries with another British couple. My summary of the wines :
Mudhouse : Place is done up too much for tourists and almost feels like a theme park. Strange but good Merlots with lots of tannin. (3rd purchase)
Ended up with 3 bottles of wine and nicely drunk by the time I was back at the hostel. A great way to spend the afternoon drinking and increasing your knowledge of wine. Next day caught the stray bus up to Picton and stayed in a great little hostel called the Villa. Unfortunately in 1 hour got around 30 bites on my feet from sandflies before realising and they still look a mess several days later. Cooked a joint meal with Pia and Ola, a Swedish couple from the bus and shared the Bladen wine. We then joined up with the Stray bus group that had come down through North Island and headed to the Abel Tasmin national park, stopping for a quick wine tasting. From here you can do a 4 day walking tour but I don’t have the time so headed on a shorter hike on my free day.
We spent two nights here before we headed south where we did white water rafting on in the Buller Gorge. Fun, but tame compared with the Rangitata I did before. Sandflies proved to be a pain again whenever we stopped but a couple of big whitewater slashes would get rid of them. We had good weather for our rafting but the rest of the bus had gone hiking in the rain. As we regrouped the rafters were nice and dry, whilst the hikers were cold & wet.
Stayed the night in a small place called Barrytown which has one hostel including pub and 6 houses. Our team won the pub quiz so that covered the night drinks tab. Up next day to see the Pancake rocks, do some gold panning in Ross before arriving in Franz Josef and having a quick look at the glacier.