A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand Volume 2

South Island and back again

We took the ferry towards the south island from Wellington and were greeted by unbelievably breathtaking views as the boat meandered its way through the Queen Charlotte Sound towards Picton – it was so beautiful that the photos look faked! We regrouped with the group from the bus and drove on to our first South Island stop - Kaiteriteri in the Able Tasman National Park. The next morning we woke up all excited and ready to go Sea Kayaking along the coast only to step outside into the driving rain…

The trip was going ahead regardless so we gritted our teeth and went and got kitted out, repeating the mantra that we WOULD have a good day. By the time we got in the boats we were soaked to the skin and had to put our hands in the sea to try to warm them up. By lunch time our spirits were waning and we were struggling to maintain that we were having fun. We pulled up in a deserted cove for lunch looking like frozen drowned rats and you can imagine our joy as the sky finally began to clear. The afternoon was beautiful and after a last stop to visit the seals on a small island we completed our 14kms and picked up a water taxi to take us back to base for a hot shower and a well-deserved good dinner.

The scenery as we picked our way along the West coast was magnificent and it is hard to pick out anything as more impressive than the rest. We had the chance to walk around a fair few places and our overnight stops included watching the Rugby world cup final in a pub in Westport, and a rather bizarre place known as the ‘Poo Pub’ (a pub in the middle of nowhere run by 80-year-old Les who does a fantastic bbq dinner) where we won the fancy dress competition and a 200 dollar canyon swing in Queenstown so we were pretty chuffed!

Soon after we made it to Franz Josef Glacier and spent a couple of nights in a rainforest retreat and a full day glacier walking. Having never been on a glacier before, it was a great experience and knowing my clumsiness I was pleased to finish the day without stabbing myself in the leg with my crampons or falling down a crevice. Soaking in the hot pools back in the town later that evening was the perfect end to the day.

We had one day in Wanaka relaxing by the lake and a trip to Puzzling World (my inner child was very excited about this) before cruising into Queenstown where the group of people we’d been travelling with started to split up. Having not made too many plans in advance and being pleasantly surprised upon our arrival, we ended up spending a week in Queenstown. Despite being a big tourist spot the town retains it provincial feel and is an easy place to while away a good few days. We tried a fair few bars, played Frisbee golf in the park, sampled the world famous ‘Fergburger’ (it really is that good), Nico spent an afternoon mountain biking and I jumped off a cliff (see Facebook for the video)…

We squeezed in a day trip to Milford Sound – a Fjord on the South West coast where thousand-metre-high mountains drop dramatically into the sea. The journey there in itself is spectacular (if not a little long for a one day trip) and then we took a boat trip through the sound to see the waterfalls coming down the cliff faces.

Eventually though, we realised we had to make a move and so off to Christchurch it was to end our bus ticket. Despite the fact nearly 8 months had passed since the earthquake last year, we were surprised to learn that the heart of the city centre remains closed to the public. We had heard lots about Christchurch before the earthquake but with the situation as it was there was nothing to make us stay more than one night on route back up north.

Having heard there was work to be had in the Marlborough vineyards we took a bus up to Blenheim and checked into a place specialising in work for travellers. However when we arrived, it soon became apparent that the season was late this year and that we would probably be waiting around for quite a while before anything came up. With this in mind we walked into a travel agent’s ‘just to get an idea’ and walked out again with a ticket to Thailand for two weeks later!

So with only two weeks left in New Zealand, we hot-footed it back to Wellington where we spent a few days enjoying the excellent Te Papa museum (and especially their ASEAN film screenings), and a lot of good food, before booking another bus to Waipukurau in Hawkes bay.

Why Waipukurau you may ask? A long story, but basically the parents of a friend we’d met at Ayer’s Rock had invited us to stay when I met them at while they were staying at the resort. We weren’t sure what to expect and felt a little rude just showing up after only meeting them so briefly, but we were welcomed whole-heartedly and spent the best part of a week having an amazing time on the farm. It was a fascinating experience and very instructive; we were able to help out with the lambs, explore the farm at our leisure, learn a lot about farming, New Zealand and Golf amongst other things, and were generally treated as part of the family. Once again Tracy and Alastair – we cannot thank you enough.

And there you have it – our two months in New Zealand were finished already and we were soon back in Auckland ready to fly off on our next adventure!

Posted by Sydnico 01:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

News from New Zealand North Island

A 15-hour-long, overnight bus ride resulted in us feeling a little less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we arrived in Sydney from Brisbane early one Saturday morning. But the weather pulled through and we spent a wonderful sunny last week in Australia with our fantastic hosts, James and Julia. Good beaches, good weather, good city vibe, good food and great company – who could ask for anything more!

But it did mean that, excited as we were to head to New Zealand, it wasn’t an easy thing to say goodbye to Sydney so soon after arriving. Having said that, say goodbye we did, and a few hours later we were standing in Auckland airport and the immigration officer had already given away the score from the France - New Zealand match which had been played whilst we were in the air. What with the World Cup on, we were extremely lucky to be offered a place to stay by a friend of Mum’s and his family (Thanks again Chris and Julie!) and the next two weeks were spent mainly relaxing/exploring Auckland/writing thousands of CVs and cover letters looking for work.

The job hunt was long and slow (well two weeks isn’t that long but it started to feel it) and being the fickle travellers we are, as soon as we were offered interviews it dawned on us that we didn’t really want to get bogged down working in a call centre in Auckland straight away so we decided to head off to explore the rest of the country first!

Despite having read bad things about the ‘Kiwi Experience’ tours, we had good feedback from Sarah and Stéphan (who we spent some time with in Auckland) , and having done some research and finding some of their passes were less than half price, we booked and joined the trip less than a week later, after a quick but very fun trip to visit Kelley and Brent (who we met in Africa last year) in Hamilton for a couple of days. Thank you guys!

Kiwi Experience is basically a collection of big green buses that go around the country each with a driver guide and that you can ‘hop on, hop off’ as you please. This was our initial plan, but inevitably we soon found ourselves attached to the people on the bus and ended up staying with them all the way through. It turned out to be a bit of a whirlwind tour, but every minute was packed with stuff to do and it was so nice just to relax and go with the flow for a few weeks.

Feeling a little apprehensive that everyone seemed a lot younger than us (in reality they weren’t at all – but at least you all look young!), our first day on the bus down to the Coromandel region was fairly quiet, but once checked in to the hostel at Hot Water Beach we started to get to know a few of our bus-mates. The geothermal activity in this spot means that at low tide you can take a spade and dig a hole in the beach that will fill with natural hot spring water. Sounds blissful, no? The reality is that the springs are quite small and if you dig too close you get a burnt bum and if you dig too far away you just get cold water. The end result being hundreds of people crowded like seals in a tiny area of the beach desperately trying to get a piece of the action for themselves. In any case – very good for a laugh!

Next it was onwards to Waitomo caves (after a stop at the beautiful Cathedral Cove) for black water rafting (AMAZING) which was nearly cancelled due to high water. 5 hours in the caves including an abseil to get in, a zip line, tubing and climbing up a couple of very fast-flowing waterfalls with fun guides, glowworms all around and plenty of snacks to keep you going in the freezing cold water – it gets my recommendation.

Then it was Rotorua for the geysers and mud-pools before a couple of days in Taupo where we were hoping to do the Tongariro crossing – a full day hike across the volcano in the national park. Unluckily for us though, the weather was against us and the crossing was closed, so instead we went for a shorter, two-hour ascent on a smaller mountain which still had spectacular views, and spend a large part of two days sitting in the fabulous free hot springs along the Waikato river getting wrinkly fingers and toes.

From there we only had one night in River Valley – an eco lodge in the middle of nowhere before getting into Wellington. As we planned on coming back to Wellington later we only spent one night and the next morning were on the Interislander ferry heading through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds to the South Island already.

Posted by Sydnico 17:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

East Coast adventures

Queensland

After our first abortive attempt to leave Yulara we were a little more subdued and apprehensive at the airport when we flew to Cairns, but luckily things went more smoothly this time and we were soon checked in to a gorgeous, extremely welcoming little hostel called ‘Tropic Days’ and even better – we were just in time for their amazing Monday night Aussie BBQ. It was a relief to be somewhere new after being in the same small place for such a long time so we didn’t hang around and on our first day were out exploring the town.

Cairns is clearly geared towards backpackers so we were glad to actually be staying outside the centre where things were a bit quieter. Having said that, it was great to hit the shops (even if we couldn’t buy too much), go to the cinema and to wander around just soaking it all up. Particularly impressive was the ‘Lagoon’ – a huge, beautiful, FREE public swimming pool right in the centre of town. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite warm enough yet for us to get in…

For our first trip out of town, the hostel had recommended a tour to the rainforest with ‘Uncle Brian’. We were a little dubious about the whole thing when ‘cousin Brad’ showed up with ‘Wally the Wonderbus’ to welcome us to ‘the Family’ at 8 in the morning but in the end it turned out to be one of the most fabulous tours I’ve ever been on. Cousin Brad kept up a tremendous level of enthusiasm for the entire day, he fed us continually, took us swimming in a plethora of (still icy) waterfalls on a full stomach – including the one Peter Andre danced in for the ‘Mysterious Girl’ video, impressed on us the importance of U-turns in Australia, and was extremely knowledgeable about anything we questioned him on. I even licked a green ant’s bum on his instructions and was surprised to find it really does taste of citrus! So if ever you are in Cairns I recommend you look up Uncle Brian.

The next day was also full of adventure, as we went for the obligatory snorkelling trip on the Great Barrier Reef. Once wet-suited and flippered up it was in the water and straight amongst the fish. Despite the recent windy conditions the visibility was still fairly good and the colours were mind-blowing - though the highlight had to be seeing an anemone full of Nemos and the White Tipped Reef Sharks!

After Van Diesel’s untimely and unfortunate demise, we’d taken the decision to treat ourselves a little to buck our spirits and as such had booked a slightly more luxurious campervan for the next leg of the journey. We picked it up in Cairns and first stop; the beautiful Daintree region just north for one night before taking the car ferry across the river and heading up as far as Cape Tribulation. This is as far north as we could go with a conventional vehicle and is already fairly rugged. The scenery was fantastic. The sand-flies weren’t. All my limbs were coated in bites and the top of my arms looked like I had some sort of infectious disease which, I have to admit, wasn’t a particularly good look in a bikini.

On our way back down towards Cairns we stopped in at Port Douglas where we happened to bump into a couple of guys from our trip in Africa last year. I know it’s a cliché, but what a small world!

From Cairns heading south we took it fairly slowly. We stopped in at Mission Beach quickly and were shocked to see that so much damage from Cyclone Yasi was still visible six months on. We spent a night in Paluma National Park, camped out by the most beautiful little creek, and soon we found ourselves in Airlie Beach – gateway to the Whitsunday islands.

The Whitsundays to me meant spending long blissful days on beautiful sandy beaches, cocktail in hand. But alas, the weather wasn’t with us and although it couldn’t be described as cold, it wasn’t really suitable for sunbathing. After much deliberation and some discussion with the campsite owner we booked to go sailing with ‘Reg’ on his 45 foot yacht – Domino. We had a great day – there were only four of us and our skipper – and we sailed out to a beautiful secluded little island for lunch and a light bit of snorkelling. Nico even had a go at sailing the boat on the way back and was surprisingly good at it for a novice.

The next day we also decided to treat ourselves and went Jet skiing. Wow. The skis we took out have bigger engines than my car and by the time we arrived at the island my arms were locked in place from gripping the handlebars so tightly. Nico took the wheel, so to speak, for the return and was blessed with calmer water so he let rip, nearly losing me off the back on more than one occasion!

We made a few more stops along the coast, often camping near the beach and walking for miles along the coastline to keep warm in the chilly wind. The towns were all lovely but soon started to blur into one another. One place that is worth a mention though is the hinterlands behind Brisbane. Not taking up much space in the guide book, we didn’t expect much when we drove over but went anyway as we were too early to give the van back yet. Some of the vistas are just breathtaking – you can see out to the sea and all the valleys in between and then all the way back to the Great Dividing Range. There are also some really cute little towns dotted around – we in particular liked Maleny, but unfortunately had to cut our stay a little short after a run in between our hired campervan and some concrete above the exit ramp of a local car park… (Needless to say – the concrete won, the van didn’t look in great shape, and we definitely got our money’s worth out of the extra insurance cover.)

So there you have it for Queensland. We soon found ourselves in Brisbane, watching the light show on the river, admiring the excellent South Bank development, enjoying a few drinks and dinner with some friends from earlier on in our travels (thanks so much again for letting us stay Brad!), and packing our bags again for the long bus journey down into New South Wales.

Posted by Sydnico 02:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Life at the Rock

Living and working at Uluru

Upon arrival in the Northern Territory we headed straight for that iconic monolith in the desert, Ayer’s Rock, stopping only once on route at a free camp area an hour’s drive away (where we spent the night overrun with mice!). We arrived at the park in perfect time to join the free tour given by the Rangers every morning which was a great introduction to the area. We walked all the way round (10km give or take) and then headed back to the resort which is 30km away to book into the campsite. After fending off the mice for a second night, the next day we went to look at the Olgas – effectively a lesser-known ‘sister’ rock, called Kata-Tjuta in the local Pitjantjatjara language.

Uluru may be iconic but Kata Tjuta just takes your breath away. We spent the morning walking through the rock formation and got back to the van ready to go and get some lunch when disaster struck… We had a flat battery, which meant that the immobiliser wouldn’t work. No problem you would think, except that when we tried the key in the door in turned out not to fit. So we found ourselves in the desert, with no phone signal, no money, no vehicle, pretty much no nothing! Things were looking pretty bad until three Australians from Adelaide took pity on us and gave us a lift back to the resort so we could phone the breakdown service. They bought us coffee and distracted us for a couple of hours while we waited for news on a breakdown truck (it was a bank holiday so the local garage was closed) and even gave us some money so we could eat that evening. We eventually heard from the breakdown company about 8 hours later and managed to get back into the park and break into the van after dark.

It had been a long, stressful day, but while we were wandering around killing all that time we realised that there were a lot of people working in the resort so maybe there might be work going. We duly made inquiries and the next day (Tuesday) we were handing CV’s into HR along with another couple, Siobhan and Lee, who were also staying at the campsite. On Wednesday the four of us were having breakfast in the camp kitchen when we were all called and offered interviews and by the next day we had started work and were all holed up in one hotel room!

Nico was given a job as a kitchen steward in one of the top end restaurants. To begin with he was stuck in the kitchen washing dishes all night but soon he was put on day shifts where he was trusted to drive the Ute out into the desert amongst other things which made things more interesting for him. He also lived on a permanent diet of 5* food which didn’t go down too badly! I was waitressing in the cheap(ish) restaurant called Gecko’s café. It was also pretty much the busiest so at times was fairly intense.

The work obviously wasn’t the most exciting in the world but living at Ayer’s Rock for nearly 4 months was an experience in itself. The resort is based around 5 hotels and a campground for visitors, but what the guests don’t see is that there is also housing for somewhere around 800-1000 people, a primary school, library, sports facilities and everything else you need to live somewhere. I say everything – all the basics at least. To get anything beyond that required a 5 hour coach journey to Alice Springs or clever use of the internet! All in all we met some good people, we had some good times, and the simple fact that to get to work we walked over a sand dune and saw Uluru in the distance was fantastic. Getting to go on a helicopter ride was also a bonus…

We stayed for nearly 4 months in the end (right through winter) and looking back it seems to have flown by. That’s not to say that we weren’t excited when we packed up the van and got ready to leave towards the end of August. With two new tyres, a new battery, a full tank of fuel and a full box of food we set off towards Kings Canyon on our merry way to the East coast. Until about a 130 km from Yulara things were going swimmingly and then suddenly we had smoke coming from the engine. We pulled over to give Van a rest in the vain hope he had just overheated but he refused to start again and there we were, stuck in the desert, AGAIN. This time we managed to hitch a lift with some Italians to a cattle station from where we phoned the breakdown service. The news of our ungainly return preceded us to Yulara and people were bemused, and in general very amused, to see us back so soon with our tails between our legs.

The next day we got the prognosis and things weren’t looking good: Van Diesel needed a full engine transplant and the only donor was in Melbourne and he wanted 2000 dollars. It was a sad day but we laid van to rest among the other backpacker vans in the yard behind the mechanics where he was left to Rust in Peace. At this point we booked flights to Cairns and tried to enjoy our involuntary 5-day stay as tourists in Yulara as much as possible!

Posted by Sydnico 01:51 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

SA to NT (a bit of a delay on this one!)

Adelaide may have been a beautiful city, but nothing prepared me for how stunning the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley would be. We drove through on our way out of the city and I was completely blown away by the views. The area is full of vineyards and produces most of Australia’s wine (we went past Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass to name a couple), and with autumn in full swing the trees were a fabulous spectrum of reds and oranges and the sun hung low but warm and made the fields glow. Unfortunately we don’t have the funds to book into a B&B and go on wine tours for a couple of weeks, and we missed the fruit picking season there, so in the end we just camped overnight and then headed on, much to my disappointment.

A quick stop at Port Augusta to stock up and fill up with water and we were soon on the Stuart Highway which carves its way north through the Bush all the way to Darwin. Our first night was at Pimba, 6km from Woomera – famous for being a nuclear weapons testing centre, first for the British and now for the Australian government. Needless to say we didn’t hang around there too long…

The next day we made it as far as Coober Pedy – one of the most random places I think I have ever been. Hundreds of kilometres from anywhere, this is a thriving opal mining town which is simply swarming with tourists. We were told different figures, but apparently somewhere between 90 and 98% of all the worlds precious opal is mined Coober Pedy and it is also Australia’s most ethnically diverse town because of all the people who travelled here to prospect. The place looks like a moonscape – it is flat and barren, but covered with perfect little cone-shaped piles of dirt which are pumped up from the mines below. Because of the landscape it has been used as a set for a number of films – Mad Max 3 was the only one we’d heard of. We went on a tour of one mine, where an old Scottish guy told us how he went about looking for opal. He also told me that the idea you should only wear opal if it’s your birthstone is a myth, invented by the guy who first tried to market diamonds as a precious stone for jewellery and who incidentally funded the production of ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’.

We spent the night, watched the wedding with some old English ladies at the campsite, and then it was back on the road for another two days driving across the border into the Northern Territory and to the turn off to Ayers Rock.

Posted by Sydnico 15:52 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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