I arrived in Sydney early on Feb 2nd after a nice, if slightly random, flight in with Qantas. They seem to be doing their bit to counter age discrimination…one air stewardess in particular looked like Madge from Dame Edna´s Neighbourhood watch...who´s now dead I hear. I did indeed have my concerns whether this lady was going to hold out for the flight… Anyway, they brought me plenty of food and drink so no complaints there. Stepping off the plane and encountering Australia for the first time, everything seemed so much easier - the first country in seven I'd been to where the first language was English. Things felt comfortable and familiar...
Stayed for five nights in Sydney with John King - an old school mate from way back - who lives in a houseshare in North Bondi. Good catching up with him and hearing about life in Sydney and was awesome being in the comforts of a house again. The weather for my whole time there was pretty sh*te, quite frankly. Some sort of cyclone system was stuck over Sydney, leading to frequent rain showers and more persistent rain towards the end of my time there. I did though manage to get out in what sunny periods there were, checking out Bondi Beach (a 15 minutes stroll from John's house) and the famed coastline down to Coogee beach. In my time there did the usual Sydney tourist stuff of course such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Also went to Hyde Park Barracks where the first convicts were held, learning a bit about Australia's past in the process. Took a one day tour to the Blue Mountains, a bit average though on a wet and misty day.
In the evenings introduced John to the delights of Captain Morgan's Spiced, went and saw Jules - an old uni mate - down at Bondi Beach and also had a night out in the city centre in the Rocks Region - where I got stung for $45 dollars for three singles and mixers! Australia, I found, isn't cheap, particularly so after being used to Asian prices. Even compared to prices back at home I found food and drink there expensive.
I cut my time down in Australia to just five days since I felt other countries on my trip would offer more culturally, besides which my budget wouldn't accommodate Oz for very long! My time there didn't leave me regretting that decision - however, what it did make me consider the possibility of going to work there at some point. I realised Oz does have a lot to offer, especially when you've got Aussie dollars coming in. It's generally more relaxed than the UK and is a very outdoors orientated nation which both appeal. Does it appeal more than working in London when I get home though? I´m not sure....
On Sunday 7th Feb I was up at 4am to get to the airport in time for my 6.30am flight to Auckland, and that was my brief time in Australia done and dusted.
Flew into Auckland on Sun 7th Feb and immediately caught a flight down to Queenstown on the South Island. It was probably the most picturesque flight I've been on to date - flying in over vast mountainous scenery, turquoise blue lakes and rivers illuminated brightly by the strong midday sun, sun reflecting off snowcapped mountain tops…it really was beautiful. It finished with probably my bumpiest landing to date…I thought the wings were going to touch down before the wheels! Either the terrain affecting wind etc, or the pilot had the shakes big-time.
Queenstown is a small, pretty town set by a lake and amongst lots of mountains towards the south of the south island. It's small yet with a lively nightlife, the low population swelled by tourists staying in the area. Took a while getting used to going it alone in dorms again after spending all of SE Asia with Lace and staying at John's in Oz - had a bit of a feel of first day at uni again when I went into the hostel, meeting everyone for the first time.
When I set off from the UK on my trip I had no intention of doing a skydive or bungee jump, viewing it then as a money-eating traveling cliché. Yes it's both of those…but after the event it's a siiiick adrenaline rush too! When I was in Sydney Isaw John's DVD of when he jumped in Queenstown that got me pretty keen. Then once I'd spoken to a few people in my hostel that had done it too - and since I was in the home of bungee jumping afterall (the first commercial bungee was in Q/T) - it just had to be done. I went for the big one - Nevis - at 134m the highest in Australasia and possibly the second biggest in the world (there's a lot of confusion about this), with 8.5 seconds of freefall. It felt completely unnatural and insecure just before I jumped - but it was f**king awesome after the first couple of seconds!
Seeing the scenery as I flew in I knew I was going to have to get out in the mountains at some point. The day after the bungee, Tues 9th, I stocked up on supplies and set off for the Ben Lomond summit, on a recommended 6-8 hour, hard graded trek. After an hour or so walking up steeply through a dark, wooded section the trail opened up to reveal increasingly better views the higher I got of Queenstown below and the surrounding vista. I guess I underestimated the climb a bit - at the time it seemed easily as hard, if not more so, than Scarfell Pyke or Snowdon back at home. It was hard work, but the 360 degree views at the top were epic and made for a pretty amazing spot for lunch. I made it back to town 5 ½ hours after setting off, feeling pretty weathered, which later transformed into very sunburnt!
Arrived in Dunedin about 10.30pm on Weds 10th Feb, after a scenic 5-6 hour bus journey from Queenstown. My trip across the South island reminded me of parts of the English countryside on steroids: a bit like the lake district but bigger and better. Oz, a friend from playing/watching football in Bournemouth, was waiting for me at the other end, and the snacks he had waiting for me on his passenger seat was the start of five days/nights of awesome hospitality. Had my own bedroom at his house, use of his car and access to his food cupboards - sweeeet! I should note also that it was probably the nicest student house I´ve ever stayed in - almost palatial.
Started Thurs 11th by having breakfast to Arsenal Vs. Liverpool, coming live from the Emirates, at 9.30am local time. Oz´s mates coming round for football and breakfast was a bit of a turnaround from beers and the evening kick-offs back home. Being an Englishman studying in New Zealand, Oz lives and socializes mostly with foreign students, which made my time there more interesting meeting people from all over the world. It also meant I was treated to some fine Indian cuisine again, courtesy of one of his housemate´s Mum who was staying also - bonus.
As well as checking out Dunedin town I borrowed Oz's wheels to see some local beaches. Oz also took me and a few of his friends on a tour of the coastline surrounding Dunedin, where we saw lots of seals (only some nifty footwork helping me escape one when I got too close), a few penguins and some albatross. Pretty cool to see them in the wild. Also went to a houseparty in a converted church, and continuing on the converted church theme, went clubbing in another in town later that evening. Church attendance is thriving in New Zealand at least. On my final night in Dunedin we went to the Chinese gardens for the Chinese New Year celebrations, culminating in a fireworks display. Being in Dunedin for five days and nights allowed for some welcome relaxation time too, an introduction to Flight of the Concords, and some quality time with Oz´s FourFourTwo magazines.
Could have easily stayed a while longer, but so it was that on the 15th Feb the Selby show rolled on…
Since distances were long and time in NZ was short, I flew to Wellington from Dunedin, catching a 2nd connection flight in Christchurch. Big Mike Robins, a quality dreadlocked Kiwi guy I met in India, was waiting for me as I stepped off the plane. On the way back to his family house on the edge of NZ's capital he showed me some of the sights, including the hub of Peter Jackson´s movie empire - his Wellington studios.
Mike's part of a small but thriving reggae scene in New Zealand, and a promoter friend of his was hosting a UK DJ, Earl Gateshead who'd been playing a few dates. Mike had agreed to show Earl around, so the three of us went us went out for the day, seeing some more of Wellington´s sights and the rugged coastline that surrounds it. On the way round the coastline we saw the studio where Fat Freddy´s Drop´s first album was recorded. Later that evening I met Mike's warm and hospitable Italian Mum, and had dinner with some Italian-NZ family friends. It was a bit random, I was in NZ but I felt like I was in a scene out of the Godfather - everyone looking very Sicilian/Italian. Sadly there was no talk of contract killings, but did have my first taste crayfish which was delicious.
The following day - Tues 16th Feb - visited a few of Welly´s famed coffee shops with Mike, including a wicked little Cuban place. Then I went and investigated a bit of NZ history at the Te Papa museum, before heading back to Mike's to help him move some of his stuff into storage (he's shortly setting off on a bicycle, riding from NZ through Australia and up through Asia to Europe over the course of a year and a half) and play a bit of street cricket. That evening we went round to Mike's promoter friend's house where a few people, including Earl, had gathered for a pot-luck night - was a cool experience being part of the Wellington reggae scene for a night.
Auckland and out…
Most of Weds 17th Feb was spent on the 12 hour bus from Wellington on the southern coast of the North Island, traveling all the way up to Auckland on the northern coast. Not much to report before flying out of Auckland airport the following afternoon. Although my time in NZ was brief I like to think I still got a good feel for the place. The people were very friendly - no attitude whatsoever that I noticed. Some Aussies I found could be pretty blunt at times but there was none of that in NZ. And of course there was lots of stunning scenery. It's a place I'd definitely like to go back to and explore in more depth over a longer time by traveling around in a campervan or on a bike or something…hopefully I'll be back.
And since then…
…i've been mostly avoiding earthquakes by a matter of hours, drinking vast amounts of very cheap red wine, eating a lot of good cheap steak, and losing lots of money courtesy of a Chilean who got hold of bank card. But all that is for next time! Until then, hope everyone's safe and sound at home and seen off the worst of the winter…