.....Puttting ones best foot forward
Ooh New Zealand is so lovely. Knew it would be, not least because absolutely everyone I have met on my travels has said it's such a fabby place to travel and explore.
Christchurch was a nice place to spend a few days and get to grips with all things NZ. To say it's the biggest city in the south island it was hardly a hotbed of social activity or cosmopolitan culture, but it had a quiet charm, an armarda of New Zealand souvenir shops and loads of cheap Asian restaurants.
There was also a cool old-fashioned grocery store selling British and Irish imported food and drink, mainly of the confectionary variety, but still great fun to look around, and best of all, they sold Yorkshire Tea - awesome! Well I simply couldn't resist and am now the proud owner of a massive box of Harrogate's finest export. And belive me, tea drinking has become an increasingly crucial part of the day now I'm in cold climes. You'll hear me banging on about this throughout the trip I'm quite sure, but just for the record, it's bloody bitter....
But it is amazingly beautiful here. The first bus trip out of Christchurch to Kaikoura alone was enough to convince me that this place is going to blow me away in terms of scenery. Majestic mountains overlooking breathtaking coastlines and turquoise green seas, it's soooo pretty.
Not sure whether I've mentioned this but I'm using the Stray bus to get about the whole of New Zeland, it's rather a treat because it's like a cross between a tour and a hop-on/hop-off bus service. So basically it's more expensive than just getting the intercity coach services but you are with a group and the driver tells you stuff and picks you up/drops you off door to door, books rooms at hostels and activities etc.
So it was Kaikoura first stop, famous for dolphins and whales who hang out there in large numbers all year round. Some of us had planned to swim with the dolphs (in very thick wetsuits including hoods) but it was cancelled that day, typical, so we just went for a walk along the coast to the seal colony instead and I was suitably cuted out by the rather fat fellas sunbathing and wobbling along right by the side of the road - they're rather used to humans gawking at them.
Kaikoura is also famous for crayfish and we stumbled across a guy who cooks them al fresco at a makeshift cafe by the sea. Three of us shared a $40 beauty which was delicious (I did very well at cracking the meat out of its legs for someone who claims to be 'veggie').
It's a very different experience hostelling over here, firstly cos we are in a gang so the dorms feel like summer camp as we know each other and are going to bed and getting up at the same time, etc. And also cos most of the towns are so small and it's so cold outside that we retire to the hostel at about 5pm and just hang out reading, watching TV, discussing world politics (yeah right), or whatever, all wrapped up in our winter woolies which is quite nice really, or rather it is when the hostel is actually warm....
I have extended my stay here to five weeks but even then it's going to be a whirlwind tour with only one or two nights spent in each place then onto the next; the blog is going to struggle to keep up with every twist and turn I'm sure, but will do my best.
Anyway, next stop was Picton which was a drop-off for those getting the ferry to the North Island and only three of us stayed to do the South Island loop.
We stayed in a lovely hostel called the Villa, which felt like a real home - great kitchen and a big farmhouse style dining room complete with Aga and sitting room with log fire.
But before Fabian, Ellie and I indulged in the facilities, we set out on a walk to look out over the Marlborough Sound - a glacial area flooded by the sea and filled with islands and zig zaggy coastline, really pretty. Think walking in NZ will be the sunbathing of Auatralia, always readily available and free! Might even get back into a big of shape after the 'spread' aquired in Oz...
This particular walk was a wet and cold one and we could barely see anything for the mist, but satisfying to have braved the elements and there was a hot tub to leap into back at base - not great running across the yard in my bikini in near zero temps but very big brother type experience to hang out with my new mates in 40.c bubbles, in the rain!
The nice surrounds seemed a suitable occasion for breaking my cooking virginity (have been living on soup, snacks and the occasional meal out since SE Asia) and we whipped up nice (naturally pasta based) food followed by free crumble and custard courtesy of the
Villa and a game of Monopoly - nice.
Blimey this is going on a bit, but I know that at least my Dad and sister like to hear absolutley everything so will plough on.
After Picton was Abel Tasman National Park, another coastal picture postcard spot which after the road runs out at the place where you get dropped can only be accessed by boat or footpath. We had picked up a load of new Stray people from the North Island but rather antisocially booked into a separate hostel to them cos we had heard there was one which was loads nice than the other, and it was.
Fabian, Ellie, our new addition Jackie and I had the place to ourselves except for an American couple and it was so cool. Was a conveted barn with loads of character and a big log burning stove which I loved tending to as it reminded me of Ashgrove Cottage (home) .
We did half the Abel Tasman coastal path the next day which is one of the New Zealand 'great walks'. We got the water taxi to Bark By and hiked the 20K's back. It but was pretty challenging, but again, amazing coastline to oggle at. Didn't realise NZ was home to such stunning beaches. Will have to come back in summer. Although it was sunny this day so can't complain there.
Lots of nice food cooked and consumed over our two day stay here and not a little red wine sunk too. Am really enjoying this lots and lots.
Will bombard with a heap more info again when I've ticked off a few more places, possibly once I arrive in Queenstown where I plan to leap off the tour hang out for a few days, and hopefully ski!