Back to Christchurch :)

After a really quiet time in Wellington it was time to head south one more time and go back to spend some more time with Charlotte 🙂 Me being me, of course I didn’t take the easy option of just flying there – instead I used all other means of transport!

Starting with what was one of the first buses of the day to leave the Airbnb, it was then on to the shuttle bus for the Interislander ferry. I had checked out the stop the day before so that I would know where to go and when. Once we got to the ferry terminal, we checked in our bags and I learned that because my ferry ticket was part of my train booking I would not have to worry about my bag until we got to Christchurch that evening. Nnnnnice! 🙂

The ferry journey was rather uneventful as for once it was not windy and the sea was very calm that day. Once we got to Picton, it was very easy to find the train station – a) Picton is rather small and b) there was a yellow line on the sidewalk 😛 At the train station, it was again very easy to check in and get the train ticket for the Coastal Pacific. Unfortunately there was no chance of choosing your seat, but as it was a scenic train, it had huge windows anyway and a viewing car which was all open.

The Coastal Pacific does what the name suggests – it travels down right by the coast before heading inland to Christchurch. There are headphones and a commentary on every seat and the above-mentioned huge windows. Also, the most leg space I ever had 😀 There’s also a cafe car. The viewing car was at the front of the train, imagine a normal train car, just with the windows and walls between the windows taken out. That would be my downfall later…

From traveling the same stretch twice on the bus, I had a quite good idea of when it was worth going to the viewing car for good pictures. What I didn’t think of was that the train was going at some speed and that it would be very windy there… So I took a lot of pictures along the coast towards Kaikoura, but after that I had to stay inside because my eyes were majorly irritated. A mix of the wind and a bout of hay fever (usually that doesn’t bother me in December 😛 ) made for a rather painful experience until everything finally calmed down. (Pictures to be added to the post and flickr at a later date!)

We came into Christchurch about half an hour late, but Charlotte was sitting in the waiting area and once I had my bag, we got to the car and she drove us home. There had been some changes since I was there last: She had taken in a little dog called Tui, a Bichon-poodle mix, but Tui had somehow scared off the black cat, Monti. He seems to still come eat in the garage at night, but hasn’t been seen since 😦 Marmi in turn seems quite happy to be the only cat now 😉 Both were very much happy to be cuddled and petted as much as I would want and Tui really showed her cleverness on more than one occasion 🙂

We had some dinner and then an early night – a full day of traveling is quite tiring 😉 The next day we took little Tui for a walk in a lovely dog park, Halswell Quarry, where she could run off leash and get lots of sniffing done 🙂 Diana was also with us that day, but later decided she wasn’t going to join us the next day.

So it was just the two of us heading towards Waipara, a part of the Marlborough wine region. Charlotte took me to the Pegasus Bay Winery, first for a small wine tasting (mmh, Pinot Noir!) and then for a lovely lunch! We shared a platter with all sorts of yummy things which left us pretty full and happy 🙂 Sitting outside in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind by a hedge, it was just a perfect day!

The next day I walked into the city and back – that hadn’t been the plan, but obviously my body wanted the movement! On Saturday, Charlotte had invited two of her friends for a roast dinner and we spent a wonderful evening together. Funny fact: As the ladies are of a certain age and the country itself not very old, they would know all the family connections in the area and know who married a daughter/son of whom and so on. I had no clue, but it was fun to listen to it 🙂

Of course the food was amazing and seeing what she could do in the time, it was even more amazing. I thought we’d have fresh berries with cream for dessert – the next thing I see when I get to the kitchen is Charlotte making a “little creme brulee” 😉 For starters we had crackers with cream cheese and salmon and the main course was a leg of lamb, complete with mince jelly, new potatoes, kumara, asparagus and carrots. So good that I didn’t even take a picture 😛

The day after it was time to say goodbye again and now I am in Auckland, my last night in New Zealand. It will be Sydney and then Melbourne and next week the walkabout will be over for this year – crazy!!!

Tongariro Crossing – epic (fail!)

Now I got your attention, right? 😉 The Tongariro Crossing is one of the must-dos in New Zealand and you may remember that I wasn’t really sure if I actually wanted to do it. After a few days with the same group and also learning that all the equipment can be borrowed from the operator in National Park, I was getting all stoked up and ready for it.

You’ll also remember that the weather on the afternoon in Blue Duck was made for relaxing and soaking up the sun, yes? And that it was only about an hour from National Park? So all sounded like the next day would be perfect for the Tongariro – until Lego came back at about 7 that evening after calling the operators. The weather forecast was really bad for the next day and they wouldn’t be doing the Tongariro in those conditions…

The only positive about that was the fact that we had a lot more food than expected and also didn’t have as early the next morning… And sure enough, when we got up, it was grey and raining and really not a nice day. We made our way back to National Park in this miserable weather, but of course it was too early to check into the hostel – especially as the other group had just left a few hours before.

So we went to the cafe for a little while and then Lego took us to Whakapapa (“wha” in Maori is pronounced “fa”, I leave it to you to figure out why that is a funny name…). There we could take a walk of about 2 hours which would take us to the Taranaki Falls or Gollum’s Pool. I set off with a few others, but somehow my stomach was not very happy and it was getting harder and harder to keep going. In the end, I did make it about halfway there and then turned back… to spend the rest of the time at the iSite and not in the cafe as I had left my money on the bus 😉

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Lego picked us up and we went to the hostel which we pretty much didn’t leave again until the next morning because the weather just got more and more miserable. They have good forecasts there it seems… 😉

Blue Duck Station – or the middle of Nowhere ;)

Our whānau then boarded the bus to go to Blue Duck Station for 2 nights. No internet, no mobile reception, no shops, just nature – can’t get more remote than that. And sure enough, it was an hour’s drive from Tongariro National Park, of which 40 minutes were on a gravel road 😉

We did stop in Taupo on the way and saw the Huka Falls as well as Lake Taupo, even got to go to some hot springs there. Also we did a small photo stop in the National Park as it was a beautiful clear day and all three peaks were in clear sight.

The supermarket stop meant of course getting everything for the two or even three days, main emphasis on drinks because Blue Duck has a reputation with Stray for the most epic partying. 😉 Once we got there, we got a big welcome in the cafe there and then got assigned to our rooms as well as the activities for the next day. They also offered some spaces in a tent and in a very spontaneous decision, I opted for that 🙂 It turned out to be a very big tent, comfortably sleeping six people on mattresses on camping beds 🙂

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We had a group meal that night, chicken fajitas and thanks to Hilary teaching me the secret to packing and rolling a wrap, I managed to eat it without any accidents 😉 Was quite funny to watch some of the others struggle though I have to admit! After that, straight on to party and drinking. Add good music (thanks Lego!) and a fireplace to the mix and you get what guarantees the reputation 😉

My activity was once again horse-trekking, starting at about 9 the next morning. The horse I got was called Crocket and he was very nice, just had the habit of throwing his head up and down a lot. The girl leading us had warned me about that, but it did take some getting used to. We took a nice track across some of the land that form the station and made our way gradually up the hill until we got to the highest point, aptly named “The end of the world” 🙂

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The horses got a bit of a rest and we some photos before it was back down, this time on a much steeper track and my dear Crocket liked to walk right on the edge of the cliffs… it was a little more excitement than I would have liked to be honest, but we made it down in one piece 😉 We stopped and got off and then waited for the “surprise” – which turned out to be meeting the other group of riders who took over the horses from us for their track.

Our group got to see the Blue Duck Falls, first from above and then from the pool below, which meant a very steep and muddy climb down. Guess who lost her balance and went down on her butt for a bit? YES… Down a the pool, a few kayaks were waiting for us and we were to go for a small trip to the next gorge. I had made it through almost all of NZ without a kayak, so this was my first time and I just didn’t get the hang of it… going around in circles and shoving water into the kayak was not really my idea of fun, so I got back out and had someone else take my place. Seems I can do big boats, but no small ones 😉

The next bit was much more fun though, we got to go on a 4WD and speeded around the farmland, stopping a few times for explanations about Oreo cows, Manuka honey and wild pigs before we got back to the Station 🙂 The day was beautiful, sunny and just made for a relaxed afternoon – so that was what I did 😉

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Whānau :)

We got picked up from Rotorua on the legendary Lego Bus and what I didn’t know at the time, I should stay on that same bus for the rest of my trip 🙂 Lego was my first female driver and just like her favourite song, she was awesome!

It was well after 1 pm by the time we left Rotorua and were on our way towards Lake Aniwhenua, our second cultural stay on this journey. We picked up our local guide somewhere along the way and first he took us into a part of the big forest there to show us some ancient carvings in the rocks there. They are said to have been done by the first Maori settlers there to represent their journey back home – which was impossible for them in real life. He also told us that this land belonged to his tribe and only by their permission were we allowed there. Without permission, it is an offence to be there.

With him on the bus, we explored the area a bit more and learned about the history of the farms and villages, the biggest settlement being Murupara. It is one of the poorest areas in all of New Zealand and had a bad reputation for gang crimes etc. We would learn later what our stay had to do with fighting this.

Our stay for the night was Kohutapu Lodge, a former hunting lodge, now owned by a Maori lady named Nadine or Nades and her husband. Their goal is it to keep the Maori traditions alive and at the same time helping the locals to get back on their feet by supporting tourism and so on. The rooms were really nice, overlooking the Lake Aniwhenua and a large garden. There was also a big kitchen and a bar, besides that a hole in the ground where soon a gas burner was blasting heat at some stones. Why? Because we were to get our “hangi” that night. Remember “hongi”? That was the nose-rubbing… “Hangi” however has to do with food 😉

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What happens at a hangi is that the stones are heated up as much as possible, then baskets with food are put in over them and the whole thing is covered and left for a few hours. For us, that meant that a basket with pork, a basket with whole chickens and a basket with potatoes, kumara (sweet potato) and pumpkin were stacked on top of each other – vegetables last – and put on those stones. Then the lads from the lodge put a tarp over it and covered that with sand so that no air from the pit could get out. In this cave under the tarp, the food gets cooked slowly by the heat from the stones and as the steam can only circulate, the flavours from the meat go into the veggies and the whole thing just is delicious!!

To make the most of the waiting for the hangi, there were several activities and I opted for the flax weaving. For that we received long stripes from flax leaves and made a bracelet for ourselves. It was good fun even though my bracelet wasn’t exactly pretty after 😉 We also started going to the bar for drinks and were pretty merry by the time the food was ready 🙂

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It was served buffet style and we had baskets made of flax instead of plates. There was also fried bread and cranberry sauce to go with the meat and the result was very much the same as a Thanksgiving meal – even though that was two days later 😉 There was also a quiz after dinner and dessert, we had two birthdays that day and got to sing them a song 🙂

After we were finished, Nadine explained a bit more about what they were doing to help the community there. Maori custom means that the guests should never be left hungry, so there’s always a lot of food left. We were to pack that up in portions in some styrofoam boxes they provided and it would be taken to the local school the next day. For some of the kids, that would be the only proper meal they get and the first time they’d ever meet people from abroad… Unfortunately, the next day was a special day at the school and we didn’t get to bring the food there in person like most of the other buses 😦 But Nades handed out some letters from the kids who had been receiving such meals and met others before and those were heart-warming as well as heart-breaking. These kids suddenly realised that there is a whole wide world out there and that they have chances in life 🙂

The evening concluded out by the bar with some storytelling and general Maori questions and we all went to bed happy I would say. We were a family that night, all of us – and that’s what whānau means 🙂 As in every good family, it was a rather emotional goodbye the next morning. But in Maori you don’t really say goodbye, you say something like “until the next time” 🙂 (Unfortunately I have forgotten the phrase…)

Touring the East Coast with the East Bros

From Rotorua, we got picked up in a smaller bus by Kelly or Kels who took us towards the East Coast of the North Island, first stop Gisborne. As I hopped off there, I didn’t partake in any of the activities like wine-tasting in a really cool-looking bar or stingray feeding the next morning, but that was ok.

I hopped back on a few days later, this time with Jason and a bunch of really cool people! This had been a bit of a worry because we would spend 3 days together in this small bus and small hostels in small places 😉 But I couldn’t have wished for better travel companions 🙂

From Gisborne we set out to Tolaga Bay first, with the longest pier in New Zealand. A few of us were crazy enough to jump into the sea from the end – I was told it was bloody freezing, especially walking back the whole length of it with just a towel 😉 Then we went on to Tokomaru Bay and our hostel for the night. This one was up on a hill, overlooking said Bay and aptly named Stranded in Paradise!

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It was one big house, with two dorms on the ground floor and a big living room and kitchen – the rest of the beds were mattresses up in three different attic bits. Very cosy and extremely comfy! 🙂 There were several activities on offer, but I opted for being lazy and staying in with some others and we had a quite cosy afternoon 🙂 Then we cooked together for all of us and enjoyed our dinner and the evening with card games, jigsaws and the like.

In the morning we set off for Te Araroa and the Manuka oil production there, where we learned about the plant and the product and got a taste of Manuka tae and ice tea 🙂 Refreshed like that we went to the East Cape and walked the 768 steps (something like that) up to the East Cape lighthouse. It was quite a walk, but the weather was perfect and the views from up there couldn’t have been better 🙂

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We also stopped at a church right by the sea with wild horses around it and then came to our next hostel at Maraehako Bay. It was directly by the sea and as it was a pretty windy day, the waves were quite spectacular 🙂 Again I opted for the lazy afternoon and spent some hours reading in the sunshine, getting splashed occasionally 🙂

In the evening, our host served a seafood meal for the ones that had signed up for it. Of course I had, mainly because it was my last chance to get fresh crayfish 😉 We got half a crayfish each (they’re like lobsters) and there was also potatoes, pumpkin and kumara (sweet potato), salad and two sorts of fish. No one went hungry there 😉 The outside fireplace was a perfect place to end the evening 🙂

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The next morning, the sea was all calm again and we had a beautiful light 🙂 But we had to set off early as we were coming back into Rotorua for some to catch the Stray Bus from there. After a coffee break in the Two Fish Cafe in Opotiki with the best muffins ever we got to Rotorua on time and I could go back to my nice hostel 🙂

Rotorua – a.k.a. the Smelly Place ;)

Rotorua has a lot of geothermal activity and therefore usually has a strong smell of sulphur all around the city. It’s not that pleasant and takes some getting used to, but I smelled worse. Also, I was going to stay 3 nights, so better not make a fuss about it 😉

We were supposed to come into Rotorua before 9 a.m., but because the sheet had taken forever to go around the bus and the office hours for Hobbiton were a bit silly, it meant that the people who wanted to do it and stay on the bus didn’t get to do it. That was of course pretty upsetting for them, but not really Luca’s fault if some people hog it for over an hour… Anyway, the alternative was Wai-O-Tapu with the geyser and we went there. I wasn’t really keen on the park and just hung out in the bus and the cafe because it was too early to go to the hostel.

Even when we came back into Rotorua, it was still too early, but at least I could leave my luggage there and got a map from the receptionist, pointing out a nice 2 hour walk around the town and the lakefront. So I grabbed my camera, money and my hat and walked. The day was beautiful and sunny, the walk very pleasant and because I was in no hurry, I stopped here and there and took about 3 hours to come back.

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However, on my way I had read the news about the terror attack in Paris that night and so went straight to the tv lounge with my computer after leaving my luggage in the room. Some more people were gathered there and together we watched the horrible news. This also was a main feature of the next days as the WiFi was free and the weather bad…

The next morning I had booked on the Hobbiton tour. They have a huge operation there now and two buses doing the tour daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It took about an hour to get there and the first stop was the shop. I didn’t find anything there though, most of the stuff was either tacky or too expensive 😉

The actual tour of the hobbit holes and the area was really nice and interesting! Even though we were under time pressure to get through it before the next group, there was enough time for photos and I think everyone was happy 🙂 The tour ended in the Green Dragon, where we got a free drink and could warm up in front of the fire. It was a grey day, but apparently we had missed the worst of the rain in the pub 🙂

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The rain continued for the rest of the day and all of the next, so I didn’t even leave the hostel 😛

Glow worms and Maori

On our way to the cultural stay in Mourea, we stopped at Waitomo for the famous glow worm caves. Most of the others went for the adrenaline version with abseiling and rafting and such – but if you’ve been following me for a while, you know how I feel about pitch-dark and tight places 😉 That’s why I went for the “senior” option with Spellbound, where we went into a glow worm cave on a private farm, first walking and then on a small rubber raft. After that we also got to see a limestone cave with stalactites and stalagmites, which was very interesting.

If you ever get to see glow worms, I learned this trick: If you make a loud noise (i.e. hitting the rubber raft with your flat hand), they will light up more – I forgot why though 😉 It’s an amazing experience seeing a cave full of those tiny beetles 🙂 I would like to show you some pictures… and I did bring my camera. But it had been switched on for a while in my bag and the battery was completely flat. Note to self: Always check battery the night before you go somewhere that you might want to take pictures 😉 It was pretty amusing though watching the others fiddle around with their camera settings… especially after the guide had told them to set the ISO very low 😛

After Waitomo, we headed towards Rotorua and met our guide and host for the night, Piwi. He showed us some nice waterfalls and then took us to the marae of is tribe, where we were to get dinner, learn some Maori dance and sleep in the actual marae – all 43 of us 🙂

We were welcomed by his sister and then exchanged “hongi” with everyone, the traditional greeting where you press your nose against that of your counterpart and say “Kia Ora”. That certainly led to a more relaxed atmosphere in the group and a lot of laughter 😉 After that, we girls were asked to go to the kitchen while the boys should prepare the mattresses and pillows for the night.

Dinner was a lot, very good and really tasty, I think everyone enjoyed it even more because it was cooked for us 😉 Then we got a cultural performance with songs and dancing by Piwi’s family and after that it was against the boys who had to leave. They were learning the Haka and we were learning the Poi – which meant twirling a ball on a string while performing certain movements and steps. I never thought that it could be so difficult to catch a ball on a string in one hand 😉
It was a lot of fun though and we got to perform it for the boys, then they did the Haka for us. They looked pretty fierce! (Again, there are no pics due to flat battery. I got a few from someone on the bus, but as they are not mine, I will not post them).

When we were done dancing, it was closing in on bedtime and we all got to snuggle up on our mattresses in our sleeping bags while Piwi took over the storytelling. Some gruesome stories he had there, but it was again a lot of fun 🙂
And if nobody out of 43 snores, that’s a guarantee for a good night’s sleep 😀

In the morning, we did get cereal and French toast for breakfast, again cooked by Piwi and his family, before we had to leave for Rotorua.