New Zealand North Island Contiki

New Zealand North Island Contiki

After a near 12 hour travelling day by coach and boat we arrived at the North island in Wellington. This was without a doubt the busiest place I had been in New Zealand. That might sound strange but even Christchurch seemed really quiet and empty, and felt more like a suburb due to the terrible earthquake damage. After a long day we had a meal and bid farewell to some of our group and welcome a couple of newbies. To put in in context at this stage our group went down from about 50 to 25 so definitely a big change!

We had a full day in Wellington so I made maximum use of the opportunity to see some of the Lord of the Rings locations. This wasn’t Hobbiton but was sold as for LOTR nerds only… Of which I am definitely one. I pulled some funny looking faces in seemingly normal woodland locations and found out some great stories about the films. We went to the first filming location where the ‘get off the road’ scene was filmed, unfortunately a lot of CGI used here but it was cool none the less. A few other interesting stories included how sounds for the Orc army at Isengard was actually 25,000 drunk cricket fans Peter Jackson enrolled for some help, completely by surprise to them all at the interval. Also we saw Sean Beans favourite Irish Bar which unfortunately went bankrupt two days before St Paddies day, as well as leaning Liv Tyler got confused by Wellingtons roads, drove the wrong way down the one way system, then got so freaked out she had to get Orlando Bloom to drive her everywhere from then on. We also went to the Weta studios where the props and special effects were made for a tour. This was awesome and unfortunately in the actual studio itself we couldn’t take pictures, but saw Sauron’s armour, held guns from District 9 and learnt how weapons etc are actually mostly silicon or plastic and the process and complexity that goes into the detail of these films really is fascinating. A funny highlight was seeing one of the studios private commissions which was a bunch of Guinea pigs themed like Lord of the rings characters a client had ordered to put in his garden like gnomes… The amount this must have cost doesn’t bear thinking about! I then spent the afternoon exploring the Te Papa museum andgetting to visit the Gallipoli exhibition with giant life like models made by the studio. These were INCREDIBLE, and if the pictures don’t do it justice apparently one eyebrow took two months… That’s the kind of detail that went in.

The next day we travelled up to Lake Taupo (stopping for lunch at a farm with some very Rastafarian looking llamas). Lake Taupo is where I had planned for my skydive which fingers crossed was going to go ahead. Third time lucky it did, much to our surprise as most of us either slightly forgot or had been napping. Anyway we arrived at the site and got all of our gear on before meeting our tandem divers. So when you skydive you essentially do none of the work and have an expert attached to you. They talk you through the whole process and when the moment comes to fall out of the plane you don’t really have much of a choice in the matter as they make you both fall out! Probably a good thing really. We jumped at 15,000ft which is high enough they give you oxygen masks on the ascent, and after the cloud cleared free falled for over a minute before the parachute came out and I even got to the chance to steer. It was definitely the most enjoyable of the extreme sports I did as you actually get enough time to enjoy not only the experience but the incredible scenery all around. In the evening we went on a boat cruise on Lake Taupo where the crew helped us catch a rainbow trout which they then prepared alongside a great meal for us.

Next it was on to Rotorua which is home to a lot of geothermal activity, so natural hot pools, geisers, and unfortunately a constant eggy smell caused by all the sulphur… Although I haven’t exactly sold it that well it’s full of beautiful scenery and also a lot of Maori culture due to the large population of Maori historically in the area. Oh and also the Hobbiton set is an hour away!! On our way in we stopped by a few sites and learnt about the area and our first bit of Maori history and culture, before we had a show in the evening where I had a go at the haka…

The next day was to be a busy one, in the morning we were climbing a volcano and in the afternoon it was time to go to Hobbiton! So we got picked up by a couple of guys in a massive off road mini bus and then travelled for about an hour to the start point of our hike in the volcano. We hiked to the summit stopping at a few points along the way before shist running down into the crater. This was running down a pretty steep face that feels like sand picking up a lot of speed along the way. The trip was not only super fun but a great way to see some beautiful sights around Rotorua.

Now onto Hobbiton! So after a brief lunch we all hopped onto the Hobbiton branded bus before another hour long trip to get to the set. Now the film set is located on a farm that Peter Jackson scouted for the original Lord of the Rings films. Now the first set was deconstructed but because the site became so popular with people visiting they then built a permanent version that would last 50 years plus. You get to tour around the 44 or so different hobbit holes as well as the rest of Hobbiton finishing off with a beer at the Green Dragon. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but the set really is brilliant and it’s great to feel like you’re really in a little place where hobbits might live.

On the final full day in the morning I got to try Ogo, or zorbing as it is more commonly known. Essentially rolling down a hill in a giant human inflatable hamster ball, loads of fun! Also they had hot tubs at the top and bottom so you didn’t get cold at any point! We then went to see the glow worm caves at Waitomo, unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed here but you go in a little boat through caves to thousands of glow worms looking really mystical in the pitch black! If you haven’t seen them before they look like little blue/green LEDs. Unfortunately I was pretty ill on the last night and then the tour ended far too quickly in Auckland lunch the next day. My final couple of days in New Zealand I was lucky enough to stay with Joe (who I had met on my Asia Contiki earlier on in the trip and lives in Auckland), he showed me around the sights of the city and generally was an absolutely fantastic host spoiling me rotten! I also got to spend some much needed time on the sofa relaxing.

So next is on to Africa… I’m about as prepared as I can be but still not entirely sure what to expect. A 17 hour and 9 hour flight later I’ll be landing in Cape Town before spending 40 days travelling up towards my final final destination Nairobi, Kenya.

New Zealand South Island Contiki

New Zealand South Island Contiki

So on to my second Contiki! This trip started in Christchurch and for just over two weeks would take me all around the south and north island. We’d be spending a decent amount of time in Queenstown, or as some know it the extreme sports capital of the world, so I’d planned to do a fair few along the way.

After we met our tour manager Josh and the group, we had a short tour around Christchurch and then all hopped in the coach and headed down past Lake Takepo to our first stay which was a lodge by Lake Ohau. This was (although cloudy) still really pretty and a great chance as a first night to have some beers and get to know each other over a few drinks! 

We then proceeded down to Dunedin, home of the steepest street in the world (exciting right), but more importantly a Cadbury factory and Speights brewery, both of which we were due to have a tour of that day! I didn’t realise that visiting a chocolate factory would be happening so I was super excited… Although we didn’t actually go in the factory floor itself we were taken around and shown processes and some pretty cool stuff. The highlight was probably getting to pour (yes I said pour) your own choice of warm melty pure Cadbury chocolate into cups and top it up with a choice of toppings. I even had second helpings and felt like a kid who’d eaten too many Easter eggs. Overall the tour was really fun and for 20 dollars great value as we probably got that value back in free chocolate freebies along the way anyway! Following this we headed to the Speights brewery for a tour and sample. By sample we had 45 minutes to get our fill in the bar downstairs and there was plenty to be consumed. I called it an early night in preparation for the next day which was to be my first extreme sport and first time bungee jumping.

After a morning driving through some great scenery and grabbing some lunch it was time for my bungee jump. Now I had picked one off a bridge on the way into Queenstown with the option of being dunked in the water at the bottom. I decided while in Rome, so without too much thought (for fear I would back out) I lined up and got my harness attached as well as the main bungee support around my ankle then stepped forward. After jumping the sensation of falling really surprised me (sounds stupid I know!) but I forgot I had a bungee attached so started waving my arms around in fear I was falling towards the ground and imminent doom, before the bungee quickly came into effect I remembered it was a bungee jump and I enjoyed myself a bit more. Having done it I don’t know if I would be more of less scared doing another one… But the main good feelings come from having been able to say I’ve done it. 

That night we arrived in Queenstown and headed up the gondola for an all you can eat buffet with incredible views over the town. We then had a few drinks in a few bars and made the most of Queenstown’s nightlife. As a group the first morning we had a jet boat ride which entails going up to 90kmph inches from rocks across Rapids etc, also doing the occasional 360. This was cold but super fun! Unfortunately my skydive in the afternoon was cancelled due to weather, however this meant I got to go on the boat trip with horse riding.

Now I wasn’t expecting too much as the trip had been sold as going on an old boat and riding extremely slowly on some horses… However I hadn’t ridden a horse so thought why not! It turned out to be possibly one of the best things I’ve done on my entire trip. The boat itself was beautiful and the only steam operated commercial boat in the Southern Hemisphere, we cruised across the lake seeing breathtaking scenery throughout (a common theme for the afternoon) before arriving at Walter Peak Farm. We met a man in very short shorts holding a ‘horses’ sign and followed him through seeing llamas, highland cattle, sheep (of course) and even a group of puppies! After an intro to how horses work (this sounds silly but I had no idea so it was very informative) we each got on our horse and proceeded to ride along up a hill surrounded by what was probably hands down some of the most beautiful surrounds on my entire trip. 360 degrees of absolutely incredible beauty, mountains, lakes, valleys. The photos, as taken on horseback, (yes I’m almost a pro now) don’t do it justice. We then came back for some tea and scones before the boat back across the lake.

After the pleasant afternoon the day before I went up the gondola again for a couple of rides on the luge before coming back down for my canyon swing. Having done the bungy I was definitely more nervous about this… We arrived at the site and there were various ways you can basically fall off a cliff 60 metres then swinging near the bottom. Some of these include cycling off on a tricycle, being kicked off ‘this is Sparta’ style, having a rope cut to fall, etc etc. I decided on falling backwards, while sitting on a chair. By ‘I decided’, I mean I was called a wuss by the Kiwi guide for chosing a ‘tame’ way of falling off a cliff… So if you remember when you were in school leaning back on your chair, this was like that but then you fall 60 metres. After realising to my peril I was wearing an England shirt and the instructor was a Scot, he proceeded to mess with me a lot! This included telling me to lean back to fall before pulling me back in, at least 4 times… Then making some fantastic small talk about candy crush before eventually I fell pretty terrified off the edge on my chair. It was fun once I’d done it but I think I’ll be leaving it a while before I do it again…

Unfortunately the next day the weather meant that having driven to the site, got my jumpsuit on and then sat in the hangar my skydive was cancelled. It did mean I saved the extortionate amount of money they charge for the dive and photos in Queenstown (the cheapest photo option was $180 so the equivalent of about £100…). I used the rest of the day to explore around town a bit more and relax before our final night here and a group dinner. After some awesome pizza we had the option to go to the ‘fear factory’ which was a horror maze in Queenstown. After being a bit dubious on whether it would be worth it it turned out to be loads of fun, you can tell by the photo that my group were pretty terrified by all the antics in the pitch black such as men in chains wearing hockey masks, creepy actors laughing and chasing you all while in the dark having to feel your way around. 

We had a long drive to Franz Josef the next day, where weather permitting we would get the chance to take a helicopter over the Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately fitting in with the trend the weather didn’t play ball, however we did get to hike to see the glacier (which was a little bit damp), but it got my inner geographer excited as I ran the final bit of the path to see it. We also got to explore an old mining shaft that had a bunch of glow worms in it. Looking like green LEDs without a torch on them and like translucent sticks of slime without unfortunately we couldn’t get good pictures but they were great to see just the same. After a couple of big driving days stopping at points along the way it was time to get the ferry over to Wellington on the north island where our adventure was to continue.

A week solo road tripping around New Zealand 

A week solo road tripping around New Zealand 

Hello New Zealand! So I’ve wanted to visit NZ for a long time, not just because they love rugby and Lord of the rings was filmed here. I’ve got a month in NZ and started off by flying into Christchurch for a couple of nights before I picked up my car to explore a bit on my own for a week.

Now I landed in the late afternoon so that day was a bit of a write off. The next day I had a bit of an explore myself, got a much needed haircut, and then went to a walking tour of the city from outside the Canterbury museum (right next to my hostel). Now the city centre here is small anyway but my first impressions were how calm and laid back it all feels, granted my time here was on the weekend but still there are a lot of open spaces and not really any heavy traffic about. Also the city has lovely backdrops of hills which are actually part of an old volcano crater. The walking tour was actually really interesting and we got to learn loads about not only Christchurch but the history of NZ, for example the first four boats of Europeans came over to Christchurch to settle landing in 1850, which was a lot more recently than I thought!

So after we walked around the museum with our guide (by we it was me and a Korean couple) and learnt about the history we then went on to see the city. Now there is a lot of character and different architecture seen here and you really wouldn’t guess it’s less than 200 years old. They still have old gentlemen’s clubs with oil lamps and hitching posts for you horse outside. Obviously the biggest thing to note is the earthquake that happened here and destroyed a lot of the city, strangely some buildings had no damage and others had lots. So the city is a mixture of empty plots of land (many being used as car parks), empty buildings awaiting a verdict, buildings under construction and of course the buildings undamaged or now repaired. The biggest evidence of the destruction is the cathedral and cathedral square area you can see pictured, this used to be the centre of the city with building all around and a big tourist spot, however the two earthquakes that happened here really destroyed the building. The cathedral is still unrepaired as there are arguments as to whether they repair it or demolish and build anew (it’s likely these will continue unfortunately). However there are still lots of people about going around on the old tram, busking or playing chess on some of the boards around.

A couple of bits definitely worth mentioning in regards to the reaction to the devastating earthquake here that killed 185 people. Firstly as I’ve mentioned the cathedral was significantly damaged, when deciding what to do a Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was contacted. So this architect specialised in post disaster buildings and designing buildings using cheap resources that were available that could provide a temporary purpose. Long story short the result was the ‘cardboard cathedral’ you can see pictured. Yes that’s right the place is predominantly built from cardboard, now this was meant to be temporary but the venue was so popular it will now revert to a local church once the cathedral (whatever they decide) has be rebuilt, and they even made additions and reinforcements so it would last over 50 years. Another example of ingenuity after the disaster is the ‘ReStart Mall’, not this is a shopping area where all of the shops are in old shipping containers. It actually looks really cool and if I didn’t know there was an earthquake here I would have thought it was just a cool hipster idea. Once again it’s been so popular it’s likely to stay or move site once permanent buildings return. I wanted to mention these as yes Christchurch is still under repair and suffered huge losses in the earthquake, however there are lots of really ingenuitive things happening a lot of which I haven’t mentioned to rebuild the city that are really great to see.

After my couple of nights in Christchurch I went to pick up my car for what was going to be my first ever solo road trip. The rough plan was to stay on the East coast for a couple of nights then explore the north of the South Island, basically the area my Contiki wasn’t going. After picking up my little red suburu I arrived in Kaikoura and settled in to my lovely and homey hostel filled with guitars and even had a piano. I spent my full day here exploring the town and local coastline managing to spot a lot of seals! In the afternoon the sun came out from the clouds and I suddenly spotted the incredible mountain backdrop which had been hiding most of the day. After my time exploring here it was on to my next location which I had decided was to be Abel Tasman national park right at the top of the South Island. Some of the best bit about this time was the long drives through stunning scenery, also New Zealand is SO green!!! The greenest place I have been without a doubt, and there are indeed a hell of a lot of sheep as stereotype would suggest.

I was actually staying just south of the park in a place called Motueka, the hostel was called White Elephant for reasons I’m not too sure but was absolutely lovely and really homely feeling, the owners were an older couple who had been there around a year and lived on site and they also had a piano! Not to mention the extremely friendly black cat. This was a great base for exploring Abel Tasman national park and the pictures show you how beautiful it is. Now the beaches were golden and waters so blue, I felt like I was back on a tropical island. Also just having a car here is essential, my first day I followed tracks as far as they could go and probably drove five hours or so exploring around. Luckily my little Suburu which had already done 250,000km, made it successfully through little streams and very rugged terrain probably suited for heavy duty 4×4’s as opposed to the cheapest rental car available… Anyway as a lot of my time here I explored and hiked around to see some of the best that the area had to offer and it really did feel like an adventure!

After my three nights I decided to stay in Arthur’s Pass in the mountains not too far from Christchurch (where my car was to be dropped off) but far from my current location. My reason for this was it looked pretty different to where I had stayed so far and was handy for my drop off. So after a long days driving and a lot of beautiful scenery I arrived and settled in. I spent my full day here hiking the local trails and catching up on some boring life admin with laundry and such. I didn’t see too many Kea’s, the bird you can see above but luckily saw one on my way up without knowing what it was. They are as the signs suggest extremely inquisitive and not afraid of humans at all, also kind of cute! I hiked around the valleys and saw the best of what the area had to offer as you can see above.

So as my solo road trip comes to an end and after many hours on the road, probably an average of 3/4 a day I’ve actually really enjoyed it. Yes it would have been better with some company certainly but it’s amazing what some music and an audiobook or three will do to keep you from feeling too isolated. Also having a car in New Zealand is needed to explore, the freedom in going where you want when you want is great, driving along and seeing a sign post for somewhere that looks interesting so you go, or only planning your next destination based on advice from other travellers. It’s been really enjoyable and good to mix up the travelling style for a while. So tomorrow I drop off my car back in Christchurch before beginning my 16 day Contiki where I hope to bungee jump, skydive and do all sorts of crazy things! Bring it on