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Round the World

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.

Yellow Penguin, Dunedin, New Zealand

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.

Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand

Moving on……

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.

Stuart Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
A final image of Dunedin for my brother……
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Round the World

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.

Kawarau Suspension Bridge Bungy, New Zealand

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.

Pulling myself a pint, Speights Brewery, Dunedin, New Zealand
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Round the World

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.

Kaikoura Station, New Zealand with snow mountains in the background

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 :

  • Lawson’s Dry Hills : Nice small place with a nice Pinot Gris (1st purchase)
  • Villa Maria : Drink the stuff at home. Having done the tasting not sure if more expensive ranges worth the extra over their basic Private Bin range.
  • Fairhall Downs : I remember these as being a good range of wines that are worth looking out for.
  • Seresin Estate : Organic, hand picked grapes make for a price that is too high for the quality of the wine.
  • Bladen : Great little 20 acre winery. Lovely wines but most not exported to the UK. (2nd purchase)
  • Nautilus Estate : A good high quality range I have seen in the UK.
  • 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.

Stu’s Lookout on the Abel Tasmin track, New Zealand

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.

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Round the World

One of the things I had been looking forward to in New Zealand was doing some white water rafting. In Christchurch I found there was a good stretch of river nearby on the Rangitata and that the rafting company was willing to pick me up from the city and drop me back at the end of the day. For the 2nd time on the trip some of the world got to see the distressing sight of me in a wetsuit, though the worst was hidden by the bulk of a lifejacket. The good thing about this stretch of river is that the rapids build up in grade from easy little ones to much more challenging stuff. We didn’t loose anyone form our boat but a couple of people fell out of other rafts. At the end of a fun, exciting and wet run in the rafts we passed through a section of river where it narrows to the length of the boat. After shooting it in the raft you are invited to jump in for a swim. I’m 2nd man in, but the flows at the original landing point must have been higher than before since the first 3 people in couldn’t swim to the shore. It ended up with all 3 of us clinging to a rope and getting dragged to the side totally exhausted. All the people following us were brought out upsteam of where we had been sent.

Rafting on the Rangitata, New Zealand

I then caught the Stray bus to Kaikoura, a town famous for seal, whale & dolphin watching and dolphin swimming. Given the choice of standing on a boat looking at marine mammals or getting in amoungst them is an easy decision so I had to climb into the 2nd wetsuit in 3 days. We had been warned (after paying) that there was a bit of a swell at sea so I legged it to the nearest chemist for some drugs. The boats themselves were out of the water on trailers and we were to board the boats prior to them being floated. I’ve seen this done with smaller boats but never before with ones this big. Once out with the dolphins we jumped off the boat to snorkle with them 4 times, all of us making silly noises to get their attention. The one time a dolphin swam round and round me was when I was humming the notes from Close Encounters of the 3rd kind… coincidence????? It was good fun and unlike anything I’ve done before. We then hung around watching as dolphins leapt about showing off before heading to shore. Sorry, but I don’t have any pictures of the dolphins as my camera isn’t water proof.

Boat launch at Kaikoura, New Zealand

I’ve now got to plan through the next few weeks because if I catch a bus tour I’ll have to extend my stay in New Zealand. Whilst I’m really enjoying myself and there’s lot to do travel in NZ is almost too easy as its so like home. Think I’ll spend the next day in the Marlborough wine region………

PS was lucky enough to stumble across Michael Moore’s latest book, “Dude, where’s my country”, just after its release. Bought the book, thoroughly enjoyed it and left it to do the rounds at the Green Tortoise. I saw on the news yesterday that it has been release in the UK; I recommend reading it.

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Round the World

South Island New Zealand

Arrived yesterday in Christchurch and settled down in the Holy Grail sports bar to watch England win the Rugby World Cup in the last minute of extra time. Great atmosphere and it was interesting to note that whilst the England supporters were visible with team shirts and painted faces, you could only tell who most of the Aussie supporters were when the cheered. I’ll spend a day or two here sorting myself out and booking a bus tour around the island.

One annoyance of NZ’s cities is idiots who have bought fast Japanese cars, fitted them with loud exhausts & stereos and then parade around the streets. You never see any of these prats on NZ’s great driving roads, just around city streets showing off. I can’t understand how you can have a great drivers car and never take it for a run on a decent road but decide instead to cruise around cities at a time when any sensible person is in the pub.

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Top of North Island

Took a trip up to the very north of New Zealand passing up through Waipora Kauri Forest, stoping to see Tane Mahuta the largest tree & God of the Forest. It was probably the largest tree I have ever seen, certainly in terms of its girth (13.8m), and is about 2000 years old. Apparently much of NZ was covered by Kauri forests before the europeans arrived and found they made great ship building material.

Tane Mahuta, New Zealand

Further up the road we stopped at a visitors centre to hear the story of Opo, a dolphin that appeared in 1955 and would play with people at the beach. Whilst it is fairly amazing how friendly Opo became with the locals it is more incredible that the town is still able to trade on the memory almost 50 years later.

The next 3 nights were spent at Paihia, the tourist centre of the Bay of Islands. Normally touristy areas are a real turn off for me but the backpacker ghetto of Paihia had one of the friendliest social scenes of anywhere I’ve been so far and it was a struggle to persuade myself to leave. There were several Dutch girls in the hostel who were able to give me a lot of grief when their team whipped Scotland 6-0.

It was also the place where, at 3am, I fell trying to descend from my to go to the toilet. Somehow my foot got caught as I tried to jump from the ladder. I landed with a loud thump and I was worried about who I might have woken up. The sniggering from around the room told me several others and that they were more amused than annoyed. I limped off to the bathroom for the original purpose of the journey and to inspect my wounds; a large bruise across the top of my left foot and a grazed right knee. Quality pratfall.

Group at Paihia, New Zealand

I took a day trip from here up to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific in a swirl of currents. On the way there we passed through the Puketi forest, drove along most of 90 Mile Beach, up Te Paki Stream and went sand boarding on the dunes. Sand boarding was a laugh but a lot of hard work hiking up the dunes through soft sand. Cape Reinga is a special place to the Mauri as it is to a tree here that their spirits come for several days after they die, before moving on to their ancestoral home lands.

On the road back down we stopped at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a business that makes wooden decorations, tools and furniture from the preserved wood of buried 45,000 year old Kauri trees. Much of the work is stunning but most amazing of all is a section of trunk that has been carved into a spiral staircase between the 1st and 2nd floors.

Picture from ttnotes.com

After watching NZ win 3rd place in the Rugby World cup it was time to head south again. The plan was to fly from Auckland to Christchurch missing out the bottom part of North Island as I had done most of the activities in the central part in my 1st week here. It was in Auckland I had a couple of minor annoyances: first I left my credit card in a restaurant and wans’t able to get it before I had to catch a plane and second I found my hostel reservation in Sydney for the New Year period had fallen through and that everywhere I was trying now was fully booked. Minor irritations but they took the gloss off my last day in Auckland.

Some final thoughts about Auckland : all the nights I have spent here I have stayed at the ACB hostel, NZ’s biggest. Its size prevents it or its bar (the Globe) from being particularly friendly places where you might make friends. It is however, clean (except when the maids clean the wrong bed when someone leaves a dorm room), modern, efficient and a good place to plan further travel. It does have some bad planning though, with several bunks having their ladders up against walls. It also tends to have mixed dorms and on one night there were two girls sharing a single bunk in my room. I didn’t realise this until next morning, though this was just as well as I doubt I would have slept if I’d realised earlier.

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Round the World

Paid a quick visit to Kelly Tarlton’s Antartic Encounter an aquarium housed in old stormwater holding tanks. The aquarium is one where a moving walkway runs through a glass tunnel at the bottom of the tanks. It was great to see Manta Rays and sharks up close and from beneath. The attraction also has the Antartic Encounter where you walk through a replica of Scott’s 1911 Antartic hut before catching a heated snowcat ride through a colony of King Penguins housed in sub zero temperatures. Fresh snow is blown in every day and when I was there there were a fair number of small chicks being looked after by their parents.

Kelly Tarlton’s Antartic Encounter, Auckland, New Zealand

Congratulations to England on beating France last night. I am now booked on a Magic bus to spend 3 days seeing the very North of New Zealand.

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New Zealand North Island

Caught up with my mate Paul, who I met in Samoa. Paul only has a week before heading off to Oz (he plans to cycle from Perth to Sydney) so we hired a car and have raced round some of North Islands key sights. On Monday we went cave tubing through the Waitomo caves. A select few got to see the distressing sight of me in a wetsuit, but it was good fun doing some caving, seeing glow worms (weird lifecycle) and swimming underground.

We then drove to Rotorua and arrived late but in time to see England scrape through against Wales. Up next day to see the mud pools, hot springs (boiling hot) and geysers before heading south to National Park taking a quick look at the Huka Falls on the way there.

Cooking Pot, Rotorua, New Zealand
Boiling mud, Rotorua, New Zealand
Geyser, Rotorua, New Zealand

Up early next day to catch the bus to the start of the Tongariro crossing, a 17km walk through some volcanoes with an 800m climb at the start and a 1200m descent at the end. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t kind with low cloud making visibility very poor and with strong, cold winds. It meant we didn’t really get to see the key features at the top, but the weather cleared on the way down. It was almost surreal to be tramping through a snow field in one of the craters so soon after being on a tropical island.

Paul & I had cooked double portions of food last night so all we had to do was heat up some soup & bolognaise sauce for dinner and uncap a couple of beers. The next day we were fairly slow to get going so headed back up to Rotorua to soak sore muscles in the hot springs and to be ready for Thursdays activities.

Paul was determined to go Zorbing, which is basically being closed into a giant inflatable hamster ball with a few buckets of water and then rolled down a hill.

Paul in his Zorb, New Zealand
Paul in his Zorb

We then did an off road experience where you drive a little Suzuki 4×4 over a course, swapping between 2 drivers. There is one point where you come down a waterfall and have to take your foot off the brake for the 6 foot final plunge and another area where you skid down a 5 meter drop with you wheels sliding in metal channels. Adds a bit of adrenalin to the mix. I then went and raced a 1500cc buggy round a circuit in the pouring rain for a few laps setting the fastest time of the day so far.

We then headed back up to Auckland so that Paul could catch his flight early next day. We decided to stay in Parnell, a district to the east of the centre for a change. There are worse places to stay as a backpacker but I’ve yet to come across them. The problem is there is only one pub that isn’t a Bar / Restaurant and even that is prefab Irish place. In addition the only place that is suitable for eating alone, as I had to the next night, was a burger place (however Burger Fuel is an excellent burger joint) and the hostel was the dullest yet. A hint to all hostel owners, do not put a TV in the only common area with comfy seats as it means lot of guests sitting with the lights out and not talking to each other.

Click here to get Paul’s version of events. Paul’s webpage isn’t there any more. If I get an update I’ll relink.

On Saturday night I caught up with Marcel & Cam from the Green Tortoise trip. We headed back to their place with a few drinks to watch the New Zealand vs Australia semi final, which unfortunately the All Blacks lost without looking particularly threatening. Sunday I joined them at a Big Boys toys exhibition full of modified cars and electronic gadgets. It was good to be reminded that the Aussies continued the tradition of making good, basic, V8 engined, rear wheel drive cars of the type that the US used to excel in before they forgot how to make cars in the 70s.