Saturday 9 February 2019

Backpacking, Part 3 - New Zealand, The Most Beautiful Place in the World

We arrive, dear Readers, in New Zealand.  Now, as this is a personal account and blog, your hapless Blogger is giving it to you straight.  No hearts and flowers here…It’s confession time.  I’m sorry, but Australia just didn’t gel with me.  Perhaps it was because I “only” drove the East Coast, perhaps it was that most of my relatives live there.  I don’t know.  All I do know, however, is that I am extraordinarily glad that I did Oz before NZ.  Now, I’m going to stick my neck EVEN FURTHER than it already is, and say, from my own experience, please do North Island before you do South Island.

I did it the other way round, and this blog is all about giving you advice, especially from real experience.  So please, if you haven’t already been to NZ, please take mine:  do North Island first.  Get ready to be blown away.  Then do South Island, and get ready to be blown off the chart.

To get on with the story, we landed in Christchurch (before the earthquake so I think it looks a little different now), and stayed in a youth hostel.  It tended to be a requirement back then and I think now it is definitely the case that you need to have at least one night already booked somewhere before you go…it’s hard to remember, but I distinctly remember in the US that was the case.  Anyway, all was fine and Christchurch was beautiful.  Just beautiful.  Cold compared to Sydney.  So be warned.  It was also strange, because I went away in January, so by the time I got to NZ it was March/April time.  In the UK we would expect to see blossom arriving on the trees etc, but of course, the Seasons being round the other way in the Southern Hemisphere, the leaves on the trees were turning!  So weird!!  And, as another aside, it's true about the water flowing in the opposite direction down the plughole!

Having learnt from the whole “Arsehole Fiasco” I decided in my infinite wisdom to hire a car.  It was a teeny tiny little automatic, but it was the best possible thing we could have done.  No big campervan fees, but the freedom to stop in a youth hostel, motel or hotel as I pleased.  I can’t remember, dear Readers, if this car had a name, but she was a great little thing.  We shot out to Akaroa, and so to Timaru, then Dunedin, hitting Bluff for their famous Oyster Festival.  If you’re in that area, stay in Riverton…

Readers, I have no words to describe how beautiful it was.  Round every single turn there was an ever more beautiful view.  The air was fresher than I had ever breathed.  There were few people, and those you meet, they’re so friendly and so willing to talk to you about their Island.  One of the best photos (sorry, it’s an old-school photo which I haven’t scanned onto any device so I can’t show it to you) I have ever taken was from Riverton, looking South towards the Gateway to the Antarctic where Bluff is situated.

From there we went up, round the Island to Milford Sound.  Again, Google it, I can’t describe it, it’s too beautiful.  From there we retraced our steps to Queensland.  Home of the Bungee jump.  And no, I didn’t do the double bungee from one side to the other.  The approach to Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu is breath-taking.  And Queenstown itself is like Backpacker Central.  We checked into a hostel there (and watch out, because it can get extremely booked up) where my male companion was mistaken for a female…he soon had a haircut!  Queenstown is dedicated to extreme sports.  I just loved it, and enjoyed being hurtled round Lake Wakatipu on a jet-boat.  There are a million things to do, and lots of cool young things to hang out with.  On leaving Queenstown, I headed North to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier.  I will never, ever forget driving right through a double rainbow.

Interestingly enough, because of the high standard, I did actually stay mainly in youth hostels in New Zealand.  Everything was always spotlessly clean, and it seemed that the owners really took pride in them.  So I can absolutely recommend heading for youth hostels in South Island.

One thing you have to beware of, especially when you park in the carparks of Te Anau and Milford Sound are the Kiwi birds.  An angry Kiwi will puncture your tyres with its bill, no problem!

Basically, you cannot go wrong wherever you go in South Island.  It’s all so damn beautiful, you’ll never want to leave.  Honestly, with my hand on my heart, I would have stayed there forever.

This is where it goes slightly wonky…It was time to depart for Auckland.  On landing in Auckland (I can’t remember why we flew, as we could easily have taken the ferry from Blenheim to Wellington) we stayed a few days.  Out of the whole of NZ, I would say, at that stage at least, Auckland was the least backpacker-friendly place.  It’s a bustling city, and perhaps it’s improved by now.  Your intrepid Blogger took the ferry to Waiheke Island.  My relatives were living there at the time.  Now, this is a bit aside from the Travel Trends story, but thanks to my experiences with relatives in Oz and NZ, don’t stay with them (in fact, we haven’t heard from the Australian ones since…).  Certainly for not more than a week.  But the problem is, when you’re a young backpacker on a budget, it’s a welcome reprieve.   Also, because you’ve come all the way from good old Blighty, they want you to stay with them forever…My relatives on Waiheke were building the most enormous house, and consequently staying a very small one.  Which was fine…And they were very welcoming and kind.  Smoked a lot of weed.  Which was fine…Weed features a lot in NZ…But I warn you now, it’s not easy.  Also, it’s very normal in NZ to go without shoes…which is fine…but their feet (my relatives, obviously not all Kiwis) were sooooooo dirty! 

A highlight was going Red Snapper fishing which was amazing…and I thoroughly recommend visiting Waiheke…my relatives are no longer there.  I would tell you what happened to them, but you wouldn’t believe me…

They sent us off with an enormous bag of weed, which I had no idea about, as your hapless Blogger was extremely innocent in those days, but her companion seemed to get through it…Anyway, back on North Island and another cheap hire car, go to the Bay of Islands.  I will never forget seeing Whales for the first time.  Just right out in the ocean.  North of the Bay of Islands is 90 Mile Beach, which isn’t.  But anyway, be a bit careful when you get to the top as the locals don’t like tourists driving through their land…even if it’s a main road…and DON’T ASK THEM what they’re growing.

Now, having said that North Island isn’t as beautiful as South Island, does not mean that it is not beautiful.  It is.  It’s stunning.  There are some amazing places.  Your Blogger got very, very drunk in Taupo (you have to go there, Lake Taupo is so beautiful) then in her infinite wisdom, drove to Rotorua.  Rotorua is famous for its water and it’s SULPHUR.  If you feel sick and hungover, DO NOT go to Rotorua.  However, it is beautiful (of course) and we visited a traditional Mauri village.  Here we were taught how they cooked over the hot springs and most interestingly gave a real performance of the Haka…I will never forget, until the end of my days, how the men of the village likened the Kiwi Rugby team’s Haka to a bunch of girls doing aerobics!!!

The food in NZ is amazing as there are so many different influences.  Not being squeamish (see sea cucumbers in Singapore), I tried everything I could.  Smoothies were a big thing over there, before they were popular here.  And everyone’s really healthy, as the lifestyle is outdoor.  There’s a lot of lamb, of course, but there’s a huge Asian influence.  Their fish and seafood is amazing.  It was also the first place I ever tried sweet potato fries, although now they’re mainstream, it was most unusual back then.

Their accent is so funny:  fush and chops anyone?!  Also, I had a small disagreement with a native as I couldn’t understand what he was talking about:  “tin pigs” turned out to be “tent pegs” but there you go…

Now, dear Readers, it is time for us to depart NZ’s fair shores.  “Travel weary” is a thing.  And a lot of the time, at the time, you don’t appreciate a place, and its people as much as you should.  In the years since my visit I wish I had stayed longer than the 4 months I was there, but hindsight’s a great thing.

So, get your bikinis out, it’s time to go to Fiji!



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