Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The South Island

Picton to Abel Tasmen National Park



The ferry ride over was relatively quiet, with some great views as we approached Picton. After several coffees on board, we returned to the car after several hours ready to continue our journey. After our stay in Wellington, we were both keen to get camping again, mainly to save money, so we decided to head north to the Abel Tasman National park, as we had heard great things.

The location of Abel Tasmen


The drive itself to the park was not too dissimilar those we had done previously, although the weather was exceptionally good as we arrived in the park. As we began to pack our bags for our walk into the park, as there was no car access, I realised how the car had become a cluttered mess, as throughout our time in the north the carefully planned organisation of the boot had first become merged, before mixed and the result was a free for all including everything not essential for living in the city spread all over the place.

After packing everything we thought we might need, it became apparent, especially in my case, that we were going to have to carry a lot of the camping gear by hand. The only access to the park from the car park is by foot so our plan was to leave the car, pitch the tent at one of the camp sites along the route, leave it the next day while we walk around the park before staying the following night and then moving the following day. However, there were several complications.

We bought a camping pass for the park, the proceeds going to the parks upkeep, which is a huge task considering its size, and while in the office asked the assistant how long the walk to the first camp site was. She said it was about 15 minutes, but highly recommended the second site along the trail, about a 40 minute walk, as it was on a beach, so we decided to take her advice and headed back to the car to grab the stuff. 

Just after passing through the first campsite, I realised why the ‘briefcase’ style camping cooker we had bought was so cheap, as the handle had started digging into my hand. I spent the following half an hour switching rapidly between admiring the sun setting along the scenic cliff line which the path followed and changing hands between my sleeping bag, roll mat and the cooker.  Unfortunately my bag had all my clothes in as, due to the anticipated cold night in my poorly insulated sleeping bag I had pretty much packed all the clothes I could find in the boot of the car, along with several cans of food. As you may imagine, this, accompanied by a terrible hat led to disapproving looks from many returning walkers.

The walk was well worth the location



After arriving, however, the memory of the pain soon left me as we put up the tent just before sunset on the beach. The weather was great when we put up the tent, so we chose a scenic pitch over a potentially more sheltered area along the wetland behind the dune of the beach. 

Then the storm came. 

It was a combination of  heavy wind and rain which led to us having to get up in the middle of the night and drag the tent from our original spot to a new pitch under a nearby tree. The wind had also stopped us cooking as the flame on the stove couldn't handle the winds which had built up gradually and had led to us eating a dinner of tinned salmon and salad, which was actually surprisingly tasty, although by that stage I was quite hungry so I have chosen not to repeat it since. 

Luckily, the next morning the rain had gone and it was sunny again, and we spent the day walking up the coast into the park, which was full of wildlife and great views.

A view from the cliff top trail


Due to the weather conditions, and an extended walk to make the most of the park, we returned to the tent later than anticipated, ready to eat dinner. Pasta and pesto was the allocated meal, but disaster struck when, due to the prolonged attempt to boil some water the night before, the gas canister for the cooker ran out. 

Unfortunately I had decided, after a lengthy debate while packing the night before, that there was plenty of gas, and that there was no need to bring a spare. This left the choice of returning 40 minutes each way to the car, or eating an alternative meal. We chose the latter, and after a questionable meal of cold baked beans and pesto decided to call it a night at 7.30.

We left the beach early the next day. After trying to pack the tent with minimal sand inside it, we returned to the car, which was right next to a cafe where we both destroyed two large fried breakfasts in record time. It was glorious.

I would highly recommend anyone who has some spare time on a trip around the country to make a stop in the park as although it wasn't initially meant to be a key part of our journey, I am very glad to have added it in and my only regret is that I couldn't go on one of the longer trails. If I ever return I would definitely put try to spend three or four days here to really appreciate the whole area.

Our original idea had been to head to the northern most tip of the south island, but after reading more on the subject and talking to other travelers we decided to head for highway 6 which would lead us south down the west side of the island and towards the mountains.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Wellington

The capital and the end of the north island

We arrived in Wellington following a night camping in the national park both in dire need of showers, so, selecting a hostel from a very out dated Lonely Planet we headed to X-Base. This decision was largely down to the fact that it said it had the most rooms, but also largely due to a map reading error upon entering the city and spotting the logo on a large building on the street we were driving down.

We booked in for three nights so we could see what it was like and then either stay longer or move onto another hostel. While there was free parking for guests, unfortunately it was already taken for the first night so after unpacking the car we drove out to a suburb, Brooklyn, and walked back into the city which turned out to be quite a bit further than expected.

After showering and cooking dinner, we headed down the docks to get a feel for the city. The first thing we noticed was the amount of runners around the decking of the bay area. After a misunderstood joke by Jon at the bar, I had ordered us a jug of low carb beer which we were drinking on a table outside when we both first noticed the sheer traffic of runners passing us by. Again, this made me feel pretty unhealthy, following a short attempt to start running before leaving the UK, and fuelled my desire to take it up again.

We headed back to the hostel where there was a basement bar, for a night full of cheap drinks, with what seemed like an all night happy hour, games (which led me to win a $50 bar tab and a bad headache in the morning) and meeting loads of people from the 6 floors of the hostel.

Over the next few days, we explored the city, heading up Mount Wellington, where the ‘get off the road’ scene was filmed in Lord of the Rings, with rewarding views both from the top and a huge rope swing someone had put up on the mountain side. The walk up was quite easy and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a great perspective on the city.

Although I’m not usually the biggest fan of museums, the Te Papa on the harbour side is well worth a visit. While the interactive elements are probably great for kids, we both had a fun experience, especially on the earthquake simulator where I gave an old lady quite a shock with a high Richter jump. There are different sections on different topics, all of which have a lot to offer and don’t easily lead to boredom so I would also highly recommend a visit here.

After a few nights at X-Base, we decided to move to a different hostel. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy our stay, but more the fact that most of the other backpackers were on the Kiwi experience or stray bus which came for one night and left the next day, so after a night of making friends they had left most days before you woke up. We looked in the guide and found the Wellywood backpackers, which was described as a busy, lively and social hostel, still in the city centre and sounded perfect for the rest of our stay. While we did meet some great people after moving in, the first thing we noticed was the silence in the big empty spaces. It felt like a ghost town, with a huge kitchen and enough room for about a hundred people, but only about 20 residents. However, the staff where very friendly and we soon made friends followed by a couple of nights out which really showed us why it was the capital, with everything being open late into the night in stark contrast with the other towns which we’d been to on our way there.

Our last night out was to take in what we originally thought was a house party, but turned out to be a small scale rave with live bands and great people. It was great to meet people out of a bar/club environment and all locals rather than the tourist scene that we were used to. Before long it was 6 in the morning and I decided that it was probably best to get some sleep, leading to a complete write off in bed the following day. I didn’t really mind as I’d had a great time here and felt like I’d really got the most out of my stay.

The following day we departed early for our ferry. Jason, our roommate, also needed to catch the ferry so we all bundled in the car and headed down to the dock. Somehow I ended up being directed to be first in line to drive on, and after a huge rev or the engine, where I had forgotten to take it out of park, I crawled up the ramp onto the ferry, accompanied by an awkward explanation to the traffic director.

The Ferry would take us from Wellington to Picton, where we would head on our way round the south island.

(Unfortunately we both left our cameras in the car in Brooklyn for the duration of our stay, which is the reason for the absence of photographic footage. Apologies)

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Life below Auckland

Lake Taupo

We headed south on the highway with Lake Taupo as our goal. After our initial stay in the city, we were still keen to see life in the country, so rather than making another stop, we continued through Auckland and Hamilton before finally arriving in Taupo. Here we were greeted by the looming image of a vast lake with mountains in the background, exactly the kind of sights I had imagined when I thought of New Zealand back home.

Lake Taupo

On the way down we had gone about buying a tent, some role mats and some food ready to hit some camp sites. Our plan was to save money in the less busy towns by camping, and then to go to hostels in the larger towns and cities where there was a more active night life. This was all well and good until I realised on the first night that I had packed the wrong sleeping bag in my hasty exit from the UK. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't feel my legs, so in desperation I put on another two layers and saw out the night. Luckily, Jon, who had no problems with sleeping, had bought an extra sleeping bag liner which, accompanied with some newly purchased thermal socks, made each following night much more comfortable.

At the camp site we were surprised to see Olympian Jonny Brownlee fresh from the triathlon in Auckland where he had come second in the men’s main event. Luckily Jon recognised him and had a chat, congratulating him on his performance, which was had been in torrential rain. I didn't really know what to say so I just sat in the background wearing my hat and drinking some tea.

In Taupo we did our first mountain biking, with a variety of well made, different skill level tracks in the surrounding forests which I would highly recommend for all abilities. After several crashes on my part, and nearly falling over a small cliff, I decided to stick to the beginner level tracks as the inevitable injuries would probably stopped me from enjoying the trip as much. 

Jon Davies enjoying some river rapids - with bike

The following day we hit Tongariro the national park for some hiking, which even though we didn't do a multiple day trip was really enjoyable with great views and a much more involved feeling than driving through the park. While I didn't pay much attention to the lava zone warning signs at the time, a few weeks after we left the volcano erupted so our timing worked out pretty well!

Tongariro National Park



Napier

After several days in Taupo we headed east towards Napier. Upon our arrival it was not as lively as I had expected. We met quite a strange character in the hostel, a local forty something courier driver who, after arguing that we were stupid to go travelling during the recession for about an hour, asked if he could use our car to tear it up round the town. He wasn't best pleased when we said no so we bailed out and had an early night. The next morning, Jon competed in a Triathlon that he’d been invited to with the local club, where I met some of his previous club members from Norwich, Ian, Kate and her family. After an enjoyable pub lunch with them at the awards ceremony, we bid them farewell and hit the road again. We headed south towards Wellington.

On our way, we had our first experience of one of the free basic camp sites in a national park. When I say basic, I mean clearing in a forest with a long drop, but as far as the price is concerned, free, I can’t complain at all. If anything, it was warmer than our previous camp site as the trees provided good shelter from the wind.

We had hit the edge of the north island, and after being out of towns for some time we were ready to re-join society, so we headed into Wellington to have showers and see what the capital had to offer.