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!!!


A lot of fun – and long bus rides

Leaving Mt Cook, I got on the bus with Lantern, my fave driver so far! Back in the Loveshack we went to Lake Tekapo for the famous church and then on to Geraldine and Rangitata for the Peel Forest Horsetrekking and the rafting. Guess what I chose? Exactly, the horses! Once again I was the only one, but Freya, the German girl leading the trek and me had a great time 🙂 We went through forest, water, fields and more forest for about 2 hours in perfect sunshine!

When I got dropped off at the accommodation afterwards, it was the first time I saw triple dorm beds! Those were high, but thankfully no one had to actually sleep in the top bunks 🙂 When the rafters came back, they got their BBQ and afterwards we could get ours too, my first steak in NZ and it was all so good – might be because we were really hungry at that point 😉 After that, we went inside where a fire was warming us up and we had a rather drunk, but very fun game of Monopoly 😉 It got cut short though because we were getting up really early the next day – the Rugby World Cup final was on at 5 a.m. between the All Blacks and the Wallabies (for non-rugby speakers: between New Zealand and Australia).

So we did get up just in time for the haka and the game, which was really tight for a long time, but the All Blacks did it in the end 🙂 Breakfast was during the game as we were leaving right after it to make it to Christchurch in time for the pick-ups and drop-offs. The bus has never been so quiet as on that particular trip 😉 In Christchurch we said goodbye and hello and then we were off to Kaikoura. This was the bit of my trip that was a bit unplanned – as I had done that stretch already, I could not be confirmed as a passenger and had to hope for a space on the bus. Thankfully, there were plenty!

Kaikoura was therefore a quiet one, we got fish and chips at what is to be the best place in all of NZ (it was very good!) and took these up to a viewpoint before going to the seal colony. They are just too cute and silly, in my next life I want to be a seal 🙂 You get a fur, nobody calls you fat and all you have to do is look cute and move funny 😉  In the evening, we just sat out on the grass, having a great time!

From Kaikoura it was off to Picton for the ferry – only 4 of us and Lantern were actually taking it, the others were just starting their South Island trip. It was a very sunny, but also extremely windy day – the ferry moved A LOT! So much that the horizon line was no longer visible in the window at times… I got through it quite well though, though I hope it will be a bit calmer on the way back in December 😉

After the ferry it was off to the hostel and goodbye to the others, only Tabea, a German girl, and me were staying in the same hostel and for 3 nights – the others were off the next morning. We got into an all German-speaking 6-bed-dorm and got to relax a bit, very useful to have Domino’s pizza and the supermarket just around the corner 🙂

One day we took the cable car up the hill and walked back down through the Botanic Gardens, then around the city and finally back to the hostel – 13 km that day! The day after Tabea wanted to do Te Papa – which needs at least one full day because there is so much to see in that museum. I stayed in the hostel, catching up with my pictures (which aren’t up on flickr yet due to bad internet) and relaxing.

We met up for coffee at Te Papa in the afternoon and I wanted to make a start on it at least, so I went to see the special exhibition about the Anzac (Australia and New Zealand) troops at Gallipoli. Having just seen the TV series Anzac girls on Netflix while I was in Queenstown, I had a vague idea about the events. But the exhibition really made everything come to life, using huge statues of people to make them tell their personal story and a lot of interactive material. It said that Weta Workshop had been involved in making this and it was visible everywhere – the details on the statues were incredible, the wounded soldier was so realistic that I expected the blood to drop from his knee wound… It was a very good example of what war means and why we should never let it happen again! Lest we forget!

Today, we spent about 10 hours in the bus, going all the way from Wellington to Auckland. At least we stopped at National Park and saw the snow-capped Mt Doom 😉 My hostel is on the steepest street in all of Auckland (I thought the driver was joking…) and of course I came the wrong way, so I did walk UP said street, with all my luggage. Had to take some breaks and was quite short of breath once I reached reception, but at least I got a nice room – and by the looks of it I’m alone in it for tonight 🙂 A female 2-bed-dorm for the same price that the 6-bed somewhere else would have been – happy me 🙂 Tomorrow we set off early to go to the Bay of Islands – beaches!!!!

Queenstown if you’re not a party person ;)

Queenstown – party and adventure capital of New Zealand, or so they say. So why on earth did I want to stay here for 4 nights? Because a) I didn’t want to stay in a hostel and b) I wanted a break from the bus. So I had a look around AirBnb one night and found a very cosy looking place a little out of town with a very good price. And getting accepted within 3 minutes after requesting my dates, I thought that was a very good sign.

It was, my hostess Sarah was keeping in touch and even made sure that I got picked up by their housemate Charlie in the car when I stepped off the bus. Looking at the map, I thought, ah, it’s not far, I can walk that. What I hadn’t thought about was the fact that Queenstown is very much built on hills (and steep ones!) around the centre. So it was very good to be driven up there, as I noticed the next days – even walking up there with only my camera and some money was quite a challenge 😉

My room featured a big bed (with electric blankets! the joy after Gunns Camp!) and a built-in closet, meaning I could unpack my whole backpack for the first time in quite a while 🙂 I also had my own shower which I enjoyed immensely!

Talking to Charlie for a while in the living room, I was soon fixed for my 3 days of activities 🙂 Very good to have a local to talk to who knows what’s good and worth it and if he has a mate that does winery tours, even better 😉

So Sunday I went to the Gondola to get a view from the hill in glorious sunshine and some late breakfast/lunch. Then I went for a bit of a wander around the centre and discovered Chocolates Patagonia – the best ice cream I have had since Buenos Aires! (Now I found out that the owners are in fact from Argentina…) Dulce de Leche and Dark Chocolate Macadamia – a portion that was almost to big for me, and you know I love my ice cream!!! 🙂 Sitting on the grass, enjoying my treat, I got a text from Sarah inviting me to join them for a BBQ later. And that’s what I did, meeting some of their friends, having a good time 🙂

Monday was the day to call about the wine tour and I got a space! Before that, I wanted to get a good base and went for breakfast in one of the cafes. They had pancakes on the menu, but when I ordered them, she asked if I didn’t rather want the special – chocolate chip pancakes with fried banana. Of course I did and I couldn’t finish it 😉

Charlie’s mate Lance was driving us out to Gibbston Valley and we got to taste in 4 different wineries 🙂 Gibbston Valley was our starting point (and also the starting point of wines in this valley, thanks to a stubborn Irishman), then it was Mt Rosa (I loved that because it was a little different and rough), Kinross (where they sell the wine for smaller wineries who don’t have their own cellar door) and Amisfield (again one of the bigger ones) 🙂 . The specialty in Marlborough is Sauvignon Blanc, but the best wines down here are the Pinot Noirs! Unfortunately they are hard to find back home and sending some over was also a little bit too pricey…

There’s at least one more winemaking area on my schedule and then they have Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne… 😉 I actually met a couple from Melbourne on the tour and they gave me a lot of tips for what to do there and in Sydney!

After the wine I needed some food, so it was Devil Burger – see first Queenstown post for the review 😉 Unfortunately, it didn’t make the walk uphill easier to have a big burger just before 😛

Tuesday finally I started late and went for the empanadas I had seen before. It wasn’t the same thing as in Buenos Aires, but I had a very nice one with blue cheese and walnuts 🙂 It didn’t really suffice though, so it was a pie from the Fergbakery – which, in comparison to the burger, is a real food gem!

After all the food it was time to board the TSS Earnslaw, a steam ship operating on Lake Wakatipu, in former times bringing supplies and even sheep to remote stations – nowadays shepherding tourists to a station and bringing them back 😉 It was very interesting to look at the engine room and of course it also meant that it was nicely warm inside 😉 It had snowed on the mountains over night and there was a strong wind blowing outside.

After my boat, it was another ice cream at Patagonia and a coffee, very good choice. Thankfully, they are only around Queenstown and not all over the country – otherwise you’d have to roll me home I think 😉

Back at my room I finished up my pre-bookings for the rest of the trip, finding some quite nice-looking hostels and one which has you sleep in old train carriages 🙂 My hosts were watching tv next door and I decided to join them for a bit. I will never watch The Apprentice with the same eyes again 😉

The Deep South part 2

From Gunns Camp, we set off towards Te Anau again and then towards Invercargill. There was a walk to a waterfall not far from the camp, so we stopped there, but the motivation wasn’t really high… It did work as a warm-up though 😉

Te Anau was another trip to the supermarket and picking up some new people, then onwards via the scenic route to Invercargill. The weather was quite good for the scenery again, but once we got to the real South, it started raining. We went through Invercargill, past the hostel and then to Bluff where we took pictures at the signpost for the Southern end of Highway 1 and dropped off some people who wanted to take the ferry to Stewart Island.

The hostel was again a bit strange, an 8-bed-dorm that only had space for 6 people and free wifi that only worked on the ground floor… but we had a good laugh in the kitchen after dinner 🙂

Another late start, then we set off towards the Catlins, an area of rough coastline. Here we stopped at the lighthouse at Waipapa Point and at Curio Bay, where we did see a petrified forest – unfortunately though not the yellow-eyed penguin which lives there 😦

From there it was back to Bluff for Fish and Chips, the specialty being a sort of shark! It was very tasty and incredibly cheap! A very good meal before the express trip back to Queenstown after we picked up the Stewart Island people again. Funny fact: I went to buy a bottle of wine in the supermarket and actually got asked by the lady at the checkout if I was over 25. Thanks very much, but yes, I have been over 25 for a while… 😉

The Deep South part 1

We started very early in Queenstown, with a new driver, Lantern, to explore the Deep South. Heading towards Te Anau, we drove again through some pretty amazing scenery, stopping at the Mirror Lakes (not the same one as before!) for some pictures. Te Anau was where we picked up our cruise tickets and had a supermarket stop because after that there’s nothing – a lot of nature but not even a mobile signal 😉

We drove towards Milford Sound through mountains and past waterfalls, through the pretty scary Homer Tunnel and finally arrived at the cruise terminal. The weather was great, it was sunny and blue skies – the day before it had been raining heavily and the road had been closed. All that rain meant that we got to see plenty of waterfalls 🙂

I enjoyed the boat trip, however I had expected Milford Sound to be longer. The scenery was of course amazing, but I have now seen pictures from Doubtful Sound and am wondering if that had been the better choice… it wasn’t an option on the bus though.

From Milford Sound we drove back, met some cheeky Keas that wanted to ride with us and arrived at Gunns Camp, our stop for the night. Gunns Camp is an old workers’ camp from the days they built the tunnel and the owners are trying to keep the old ways. There are showers and toilets and a fully functioning kitchen, but no electricity other than between 6 pm and 10 pm when the generator is on and mostly fire to heat rooms or water. Back to basics 😉

I can see why it could be a nice place to stay on a holiday, away from everything, however I have never been so cold before… I just don’t do well with cold 😉

Wanaka to Queenstown

We had a late start in Wanaka and then the first stop just outside at Puzzling World. I don’t really do well with illusions and such, so I decided to skip this one and stay in the cafe instead 🙂

We drove towards Queenstown, stopping just outside Cromwell at Mrs Jones’ Fruit Stall. They had all sorts of dried fruit and nuts, but also tons of fresh fruit and the best frozen yoghurt fruit icecream ever! We worked our way through the tasting table and the shop and finished with the icecream – who needs lunch 😉

Our next stop was the AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawarau Bridge, the birthplace of bungee jumping. We even had one guy who wanted to do the jump there – but unfortunately the wind was so strong that nobody jumped that day. We walked out onto the bridge and it was shaking like crazy… Standing there I realised: nope, never will I bring myself to jump off a bridge like that! 😉

Arriving in Queenstown, it was pouring down and we couldn’t wait to get into the hostel. It was far from great, but at least we had a nice view and our own bathroom. As everyone had been talking about the famous Fergburger, we all went out to get one – at 4 in the afternoon the queue wasn’t that bad 😉

So how was it? Big! Best burger ever? No! A few days later I had the competition burger from Devil Burger and I liked that one much better! It was tastier, not as huge, but I didn’t have to stand in a queue and also could sit down – whereas for the Ferg we had to go back to the hostel kitchen.

After the burger I needed a walk and wandered a bit around the centre. Queenstown is not very big, 5 streets times 5 streets and you’re done, but it has a huge amount of restaurants, cafes and bars as well as souvenir shops and so on. Plenty to see, lots of money to be spent 😉

Mount Cook

What can I say? Mount Cook or Aoraki as the Maori call it is the highest peak in New Zealand and right now I am sitting in a hostel lounge looking at it and its surroundings in the sunshine 🙂

It’s very impressive and with the hanging glaciers and snow all over the tops a beautiful sight. When we got here, it was great weather and the most people from the bus followed our driver Pacman on a walk to Hooker Valley. I didn’t because I needed to do laundry and also was staying for 3 nights. Of course the weather wasn’t as good the next day when I did the walk – but it was still quite pleasant and I managed to get home before the big rain started.

Again, the hostel is not a big hit. When we checked in, we got into a room that had not been cleaned, beer bottles, used sheets etc. Housekeeping was still around though, so we hoped it’d be done later. It wasn’t… until I talked to one of the boys and begged them to clean out room too. It seems the room we have was not a dorm until rather recently and they don’t need to have good quality service – as they are the only place catering for backpackers here. One guy in reception is really nice and helpful, the rest of the staff there is also not really that welcoming.

I want to do a stargazing activity here because it is said to be the clearest sky, but the past two days that didn’t happen. First it was fully booked and then they cancelled it due to the weather – without telling me… Maybe I try again tonight, at least the weather might be better now.

After the big walk yesterday (18 km in just under 4 hours), my ankle is a bit annoyed with me and I decided to not do much today to rest it. Hence I’ve been writing blog posts like crazy about the past places we went to – they’ll be popping up over the next few days 🙂 The wifi here is not good enough for pic uploading, but at least up to my return to Queenstown you can see them on flickr. Again, facebook or instagram is your friend for small update pics in low quality 😉