Climbing glaciers and chowing down on Fergburger's...
Christchurch Central, New Zealand
Still buzzing from the dizzyingly euphoric feeling of falling 12,000 feet out of a plane, a jelly legged me and the rest of the bus left the white knuckle town of Taupo to head to a place called River Valley. The River Valley Lodge is where we were staying, and it really was in the middle of no where. With no phone signal or wifi, and it being a good 45 minute drive to the nearest shop, I felt isolated from the world. At this point I hadn't blogged in a while and my Mum was convinced I'd died or something, so with yet another day of no contact I'm surprised my Mum didn't collapse with stress.
The lodge itself was huge and had a real homely feel. There was a pub/bar on site with a huge fire, and the rooms were, what can I say, intimidate. They were genuinely called the 'Orgy Rooms', as the beds were just mattresses lined up next to each other, meaning unless you were on the end, you were going to be sandwiched between two sweaty backpackers. I could lie and say I was in the middle of two hot ladies, but the truth is that I was tucked in between Dom and Colin.
Some people opted for the white water rafting ran by the lodge, others, like myself, decided to chill and save some cash. I had a nice time there. They had a guitar, so with Connor having his too, we were able to jam and start a sing a long around the fire. After a fun night of drinking and singing it was time to head back to the Orgy Room to my man sandwich. It was an interesting nights sleep to say the least.
The next day it was time to drive further south to New Zealand's capital city, Wellington. A vast majority of the bus were travelling on a tight schedule, meaning they were only staying here for one night. Opting to stay with the group, I changed my bus so that I left the following day too. Given that we didn't arrive in Wellington till about 6pm, and with the ferry the next morning at 8am, I didn't get to see much of the place. When I next come back to New Zealand (something I will make sure of), I want to spend a lot more time in windy Wellington.
It was Lousianne's birthday that night, so we all got drunk in the now-legendary room of 402. There must have been about 30 people crammed
in the 6 bed dorm. There's videos on Facebook documenting the debauchery, centred mainly on the Swedish version of Laurel and Hardy, David and André. We all had a great night, although I don't think I've ever had a hangover like it on the following morning.
Sleeping through most of the infamous North to South Island ferry, thereby averting the sea sickness caused by the 4 metre swells, we arrived in Picton in one piece. From here it was a picturesque drive to Kaiteriteri, a pretty beach town on the North West coast. Here a lot of the people were able to take a water taxi to the heralded Abel Tasman National Park. I blew the bulk of my budget almost soiling myself 12,000 feet in the air, so me and a few of the others decided to do very little and save some cash for the rest of the trip. Apparently in the summer there can be up to 10,000 people in Kaiteriteri. We were there during a shoulder season so it was very quiet. I'm sure when the weather is warmer it would be a much better place to visit. It's New Zealand, so the scenery was lovely, it's just the town seemed to lack a bit of life.
Westport was the next destination. On the way we stopped off for a coastal walk. I can't remember the name of it but it was beautiful. We got there late afternoon, and by the end of the walk it was dusk. I think everything looks prettier in twilight. We saw some wild seals and took lots of pictures. One of which is of all the boys with their bums out, behind a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. I await the Facebook tag with bated breath.
Westport was a pleasant enough town. Our driver organised a bonfire on the beach, and after almost being blinded by the smoke, and smelling like a furnace, we visited the local pub and made good use of their pool and darts facilities.
The following day was time for the legendary Poo Pub fancy dress party. Our driver, Mac, gave us the fancy dress theme of the 'P party'. So you can dress up as anything, so long as it begins with P. I had a few ideas up my sleeve. Pedophile was one of them. All I'd need was a shell suit, a scraggy grey wig and something that resembled a cigar. Settling on something a little more tasteful, I decided to go as Pinocchio. I'd just need a toilet roll cone for the nose, a bit of ribbon to make a bow tie, and a straw hat. Cheap as chips.
The Poo Pub was also in the middle of nowhere, and to be honest, the name was rather apt. It was a s*** hole. The fact we were all intoxicated and hyped by the fancy dress theme meant that this didn't matter though. Some of the other outfits were brilliant. André the chief went as a Pirate Princess and adopted the persona of Hyacinth Bouquet for the night with rip roaringly hilarious results. Stacey went as Pregnant, shoving a pillow underneath her dress and taping a baby doll in between her legs. The staff had to pick four finalists who they thought were the best dressed, with the overall winner being voted by the rest of the bus. The prize? A $200 Canyon Swing. A bit like a bungy, except instead of jumping you are catapulted across the gorge. And you know what? I came second!! The winner was dressed as a Puff. Clearly our bus was a little bit homophobic to vote for that to win. Me and the Canyon Swing were just not meant to be. Ah well, I'd have only just soiled my pants this time anyway.
After the shockingly unsociably early start of 7.15am the next morning, it was time to visit Frans Josef, home of the Frans Josef glacier. I'd say up until now this was the most visually impressive place we'd been to. The town is tiny. It's just one street, with a few streets off it where the various hotels and hostels are located. Our hostel was big and well equipped. Some of the rooms had Sky TV in them! The mountains offer a stunning backdrop. It reminded me of some of the places you'd see in the likes of Austria.
Hiking the Frans Josef glacier was an absolute must for me. In fact I think there were only two people who didn't opt to do it. We'd booked to do the hike on that day, and after being fitted into our hiking gear, we were escorted to the helipad. To get to the glacier you have to take a 5-10 minute helicopter ride through the mountains, and I'd never been in one before, so it was a bucket list experience to say the least. It was especially breathtaking when the pilot swooped down from the mountains onto the glacier floor for the landing. Rory wouldn't agree with me though. He was in the helicopter before me, and when it took off, the look on his face reminded me of someone in need of an industrial dosage of Senokot.
Climbing the glacier was so much fun. It was hard work though. Our guide, Cliff, had us climbing up nigh on vertical ice walls and squeezing through the tiniest of tunnels. He wore shorts too, the nutter. The views were breathtaking, and after three more hours of hardcore hiking it was time to get the helicopter ride back down to Frans Josef town, much to the dismay of Rory. I really enjoyed the glacier hike. It was something I'd never tried before, and not something you get to do often. If you are thinking of visiting the Frans Josef area of New Zealand, I recommend you climb the the glacier. You won't regret it.
After two nights of drinking we were now leaving Frans Josef and driving down the West coast to a place called Wanaka. On the way we stopped off at Lake Matheson, famed for its ability to produce a mirror image of the mountains in its reflection. Luckily for us the sun was out and the sky was blue, so the mirrored image of the mountains on the lakes surface worked a treat. I took my favourite photo of my travels so far at the lake. With the help of Instagram of course.
A short journey later and we were in Wanaka. In a similar situation to Wellington, we arrived late and were leaving early the next morning, so I don't really have much to write about the place itself, other than, like everywhere here, it looked pretty.
After Wanaka was Queenstown, the place that every backpacker in New Zealand seems to gravitate towards. Like Taupo is the adventure capital of the North island, Queenstown is the equivalent for the South. We left Wanaka early so we could get to see those who'd booked to bungy jump as soon as possible. Of those people jumping was Alex and Stacey. I was so nervous and I wasn't even the one flinging myself 43metres off a bridge. They completed it successfully, and were cheered on by the whole of the bus. The nutcase's.
A short drive later and we were in Queenstown, my home for the next 10 days. The majority of the group were staying for longer, as there's so much to do there. Our hostel was awesome too. The rooms were huge and the place was teaming with people, there was a cinema room, and there was even a sauna. The first place we paid a visit to was Fergburger, and my oh my. They are the best burgers I've ever tasted. In my ten days in Queenstown I managed to eat a whopping total of 7. There are all of the usual burgers on the menu, as well as more unusual ones such as the Lamb & Mint and the Venison with Thai Chutney. On my last day we all decided to get the Big Al. In that particular burger there's 1/2lb worth of burger meat, heaps of bacon, two eggs, all the salad and some really nice aioli relish on top. I polished it off in under 5 minutes, much to the amazement/disgust of everyone else. I'm going to miss that place. There was a Fergbakery next door too, selling all sorts of pies and cakes. As you can tell, I've been eating healthily since I've been here.
Over the week we got up to a few things. Mainly going out and getting drunk and waking up bleary eyed though. Me and Stacey took the gondola up to the top of Queenstown Hill on one of the sunnier days. The views from the top were out of this world, and if you went even further up there was the option of luging. We paid a little extra to go luging, and I'm so glad we did as it was great fun. I beat her, of course.
The weather took a turn for the worst near the end of my stay, and, in a cruel twist of fate, the main bar/club in Queenstown, World Bar, burnt down in a fire caused by a nearby kitchen. Forced to stay in, we resorted to playing cards. David knew a game called Yaniv, an Israeli game that he was taught on his travels. I won't go into the rules, but I'm now a complete and utter Yaniv addict. I've even downloaded a Yaniv app. I need help.
Last night was my last in Queenstown with the gang, and on my request we all watched Home Alone 2 together on Michelle's laptop. I think I infuriated everyone with my incessant quoting, but it was a great way to end my time there. My favourite film and my favourite people.We played a few games of Yaniv too. I wonder if there are Yanivoholic Anonymous groups out there.
Right now I'm on my final Kiwi Experience bus from Queenstown to Christchurch, an eight hour journey through the heart of New Zealand's South Island. The sort of travel time I thought I'd left behind on the Greyhound buses in Australia. I've lost the feeling in my arse already and we're only one hour in. Usually my large derriere acts as a permanent human cushion, but these seats seem to be the exception. As always though, the scenery has been awe inspiring. Icy blue lakes surrounded by snow topped mountains fill each coach window, and then, within what seems like minutes, you're in an entirely different landscape of lush green valleys and forests. The geographical diversity is why New Zealand is my favourite country I've had the pleasure to visit. That and the fact they make really, really tasty pies.
Scenery aside, my time here wouldn't have been half as brilliant if I hadn't have travelled with the Kiwi Experience, especially with the people I met along the way. I was so lucky in that the whole bus all got on so well. Stacey :), André & David, Alex aka Baguette, Rory, Ben, Dom, Sean, Connor & Colin, Ollie & Rob, Jake and the lads, Chris & Nat, Maddie, Rosie, Tilly, Michelle Funkmeister, Tasha, Ree and Becca, Lousianne, Beth & Bruce, and anyone else I have missed out, you each played a part in making this trip so much fun. There's already a Facebook group for us all to keep in contact, with talks of a reunion for St Paddys Day next year. Bring it on I say.
I guess now it's back to being the solo traveller again. After a couple of nights of recuperating and sorting things out in Auckland, I'm flying to Fiji, where I'll be staying for two weeks. From what I've seen and heard, Fiji is as close to paradise as you will find. Sunbathing and snorkelling on the Yasawa Islands will be a great way to round off what has been a life changing travelling experience. Unfortunately due to Australia and New Zealand being a lot more expensive than I had predicted, I'm having to cut short my trip to America. Where I had planned to stay for 4-5 weeks, I'm now going to stay 3 nights in LA and 3-4 nights in New York. I figured that I'd rather return home with no debt, safe in the knowledge I've had such a fantastic time in Oceania. I think the food in America would have pushed me over the edge anyway. I've eaten my body weight in pies and burgers here, and I have a suit to fit into for my sisters wedding in August, so maybe it's a bit of a blessing in disguise. I definitely don't fancy being the Rik Waller on all of the wedding photos.
Anyways, that's it for now New Zealand. I will make sure I return here one day, cause this place has been sweet as bro. Thanks for being awesome. Kia ora!