Well I've been in New Zealand exactly a week now and so my commitment to stay on top of my blog seems to be going ok so far...ish. If I can remember everything that's happened so far. It's all been a bit of a rush with lots of places, and stopping for only a night at a time, but I'll do my best. In Senegal I kept a journal so I didn't need to remember but here there's just no time as it is!
So yes, I arrived in Christchurch last Wednesday (23 April) and got to my hostel quite late. I was staying at Base hostel which is one of the nicer ones of the chain - right on the square and a great location. For those who haven't travelled around Oz and NZ, Base is a chain of hostels that loads of people stay at - they have loads of rooms, good bars, and tend to be the more sociable hostels to stay in. They also do a lovely 'girls only' section of dorms called the Sanctuary, where you get nice fluffy towels (a big deal when you're sick to death of a travel towel which resembles a chamois!), free toiletries and free champagne - worth the extra few dollars anyway! So I stayed there for a couple of nights anyway and met some really nice girls in my room who were also doing the same bus as me (the Kiwi Experience), albeit on different dates. I'm of the opinion that the people in your dorm tend to be the same type of 'travel people' as you - i.e. in the Sanctuary I tend to find that it's mostly girls travelling on their own who want to actually see things as opposed to just get wasted/laid. Whereas big mixed dorms tend to feature the aforementioned 'travellers'. Not that I think there's anything wrong with that - if you spend a lot of money going away you should definitely spend your time doing what you want to. But still, not my thing really!
I had one day in Christchurch to look around and managed to take in most of the major sights. It's a really nice town - not very big and very like England in a quaint and pretty way. It reminded me of places like Cambridge anyway. I had beautiful weather as well which made a welcome change. Faultless blue skies and though it was still a bit chilly, plenty of sunshine. I had a wander around the cathedral which was actually quite stunning. Then I followed a walking tour from my trusty New Zealand Lonely Planet book (LP books have been my lifeline the last few months!) around the city and saw the old tramlines and parks etc. - all the more lovely in the sunshine too. I then hit the Art Gallery which was nice and small, and had enough understandable art that I felt I got something out of it. A good way to kill a couple of hours anyway. Then I wandered through the Botanical Gardens which were lovely too. I then had just enough time to have a brief stop at the Canterbury museum (a bit average in my opinion) and then hit Starbucks to chill for a couple of hours, plan my next few days travel and speak to Barney for a while on my new shiny New Zealand sim-card. Which for the record is an absolute rip off! In Australia you can get a Vodafone sim for $2. In New Zealand, it costs $35! I asked how they could justify such a price difference but unfortunately the response was that since they're the only providers in the country they can charge what the hell they want. So fair play really. But it still sucks. If anyone fancies texting/calling me anyway, my number is +642102933094.
The next day I started my 'Kiwi Experience'(!) and had to catch the bus at 7:30am outside my hostel - hideously early. The bus was actually late as there was a dawn parade through the town for Anzac Day. Which in itself was actually quite cool as when I woke up at 6am, I could here hymns being sung outside - a bit random!
There were loads of people getting on my bus. Some had just already come round the South Island and were going on to the North Island in a couple of days, whereas some, like me, were just starting their trip and would be finishing in Auckland. I met a couple of nice people, but to be honest at this stage, everyone was going to different places for different amounts of time and so I haven't seen most of them since.
Our first overnight stop was Kaikoura, a town famous for whale and dolphin spotting along its coast. Sure enough I signed up for a dolphin watching tour, which for those who knew me when I was at school, was an absolute dream come true for me. I used to be obsessed with dolphins - posters, crappy keyrings and little model figures of them - the works. And we did see loads. We came across a pod of about 200 and for those who had paid the extra $100 odd to swim with them, it was a mostly amazing experience. However, as usual with my blog, there has to be some element of vomit involved... The sea was actually quite choppy and the journey out to the open waters was more like a theme park ride. Still, I'd been ok then and not being particularly susceptible to sea sickness that I was aware of, hadn't taken any prevention tablets beforehand. However once we were actually amongst the dolphins and the boat wasn't travelling anymore, just bobbing up and down in the same place, I began to feel the waves. I got one 30-second video of the most amazing dolphins, frolicking, jumping and playing with the swimmers, and then spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the bottom of a bucket. Pleasant. For the record I wasn't the only one who couldn't handle the movement though. By the end of the trip about a dozen had made friends with the buckets, and so I didn't feel too lame. Just a bit gutted that I'd missed out on such a good photo opportunity. Anyways, that was that.
The next day we travelled on through to Picton, where half of the bus changed over to get the ferry over to the North Island, and we were joined by the people who'd just done the North Island and were now heading south. So basically a whole new bus of people. On the way to Nelson, our overnight stop for the night, we stopped at a wine tasting place which was cool. The north of the South Island has loads of good vineyards and I'd planned to stop at some on my way back towards the North Island, so it was a good one of the stops they make on the bus. Some people hate the fact that the Kiwi bus takes twice as long to get to anywhere because of all the places it stops at along the way but I quite like the random stops.
Anyway, we got into Nelson quite late which was a shame as I only had one night there and so felt like I was just there to cook and sleep before moving on somewhere else - a bit of a waste of time in my opinion. I had wanted to stay there 2 nights to see the apparently beautiful Abel Tasman National Park nearby but because of the bus timetable, I had to either have 1 night or 3, the latter being too long for my tight schedule. Anyways, I had time to visit the local Warehouse store (like Primark) to stock up on a few warm clothes before cooking some dinner and having an early night - definitely a wasted stop but oh well.
The next day was on to Westport, which is pretty much a nothing town along the West coast that was once (semi)famous for being a gold miners town. We stopped on the way for a walk down to a seal colony along the coast towards the lighthouse. It was a really nice walk and had some stunning views - plenty of good 'New Zealand scenery photos' coming to Facebook soon, that's for certain.
When we got to Westport, the hostel was only ok in general, but myself and 7 other girls were lucky enough to be put into a huge dorm room that had it's own toilet, lounge area, kitchen and TV - very random! But quite cool. The best bit was the proper fire that we had to load up with coal every hour or so - quite good fun! Anyway, there wasn't really anything to do there so we just went out for pizza and a few drinks. From Westport right through to Queenstown is a sector on the bus so knowing that I'd be with the same people for the next week was more incentive to remember names and get to know people. Luckily I've got some really nice people with a good mix of characters, so we had a good night out.
After Westport we went further down the coast to the stop the Kiwi bus is most famous for - the Poo Pub. Which is actually shortened from the name of the nearby lake: Lake Mahinapua (Maa-he-na-poo-a). It's a completely random stopover down the coast to break up the schlepp from Westport to Franz Josef and is a great night. There's no mobile phone reception and nothing around for miles except the lake and beachfront (both of which were stunning at sunset). Anyway, you have a group meal there with your bus that the random elderly owner cooks for you with your driver, and then you have a themed party in the pub. Ours was themed 'bad taste' so we were given an hour and a half in the town of Greymouth on the way down, to stop off in the $2 shop and create a costume. It was definitely an awesome night, but one that ended with me realising that my alcohol tolerance has somewhat diminished since going travelling, and I can not drink like I did at uni - mortifying I assure you. Still, the girls in my dorm were great and made sure I was strategically close to the bin before collapsing on my bed (a lower bunk thank goodness). I'm just all about class...
The next morning we left early and started our journey to Franz Josef which hosts the fastest moving glacier in the world! It wasn't a particularly long journey, but nonetheless, was broken up with a stop at something called Pete's Bushman Centre: a tiny museum dedicated to the way people have lived on the West Coast and hunted. The West Coast of the South Island is famed for people with too much time and a slow approach to life, inbreeding, and a hell of a lot of rain. Though this was probably the stereotype exaggerated to us by our driver, it still made for some amusing commentary as we drove through.
The museum wasn't really my thing. After my heavy night the night before, the last thing I wanted to watch was the history of how dead animal carcasses have been transported from the mountainsides over the last 50 years. For anyone who's interested, apparently the Kiwis pioneered capturing and hunting with a nets and a helicopter - fascinating stuff. Anyway, the museum also hosted some possums which were actually quite cute, and a wild pig that provided many comedy moments when one of our group had to feed it (they're actually quite vicious animals)! Still, I was quite happy to leave and move on...!
We arrived in Franz Josef not long after 1pm, which was good as with previous stops we'd arrived later and not had much time to do anything. However, the weather was so awful that it made for a miserable day in general. The rain was unbelievable - if it stopped, it was only for a few minutes and then it would be hammering it down again - ick ick ick. Anyways, safe to say it put me off booking on to the glacier hike today, which I'm sure I'll do one day when it's not torrential rain. In fact, the day we arrived in Franz, the river had been too high with the rain to even get to the glacier - oh how I love kiwi weather.
I am actually quite disappointed about the weather here. Obviously I knew that it wasn't going to be fantastic, but little did I realise how much difference there is from going in February/March, as opposed to April/May. There's just so many activities that don't run or that you can't do. For example, there's loads of beautiful walks that you can stop off and do along the way with the Kiwi bus but we just haven't been able to because of weather. And lovely lakes to swim in. Gutted. Nonetheless, this just all points to the fact that I have to reurn to Australasia at some point. I already want to go back to Sydney and Melbourne for definite (though this time not as a backpacker), and so I'll just HAVE to add NZ on too. Maybe...
Anyway, so basically today has been my first day of nothing since Christchurch. Though at least there I did sightseeing I suppose. Here in Franz, there's 2 streets, 1 supermarket, and nothing to do really unless you're hiking the glacier. Which, like I said, isn't really my idea of fun in the pissing rain. So yes, I've nonetheless been productive. I did laundry (fun fun fun) and even managed to fix a few of my clothes (holes in my trouser pockets and hoodie shoulders - not ideal). That's right, I sewed - how cool/self-sufficient am I?! So yes, not much going on today. Tonight should be nice though as I'm going to cook for myself and some of the other girls in my dorm, which makes a change from cooking solo - easily the most annoying thing about travelling solo as you just waste so much! But yes, looking forward to a nice chilled evening before tomorrow's early start on the bus!
Tomorrow we head to Wanaka, just north of Queenstown, and in itself a reputedly good place for extreme sports (which everyone flocks to Queenstown for). There's supposed to be good views and walks there as well though, which should be nice (weather permitting though obviously)! Then in Queenstown I'm only staying a couple of nights, but long enough to get out to Milford Sound which is supposed to be stunning. Really looking forward to getting back round to the East side of the Island anyway where all the best weather appears to be! Hopefully blog again from Wellington when I get to the North Island anyway.
Hope everyone is well :)