AKA New Zealand, most definitely one of my favorite places in the world.
Out of our 6.5 months in NZ, we spent about 4 over the summer on the South island enjoying the beautiful scenery and doing some tramping (= trekking + camping = hiking). The last 2.5 were spent discovering the North Island which is poles apart. It’s like comparing chocolate and cheese, a saying we’ve heard Kiwi’s use frequently. (Kiwi= New Zealander) We’ve experienced this country in every single way possible and walked (or rather flew) away very satisfied and with, what we feel is, a correct view on a very isolated and enormously beautiful, friendly place on this planet. A country that has a very green image, but we know now that is not completely true.. When you hitchhike and stay with the locals, conversations are very enlightening . We had a blast traveling around this country, making new friends, meeting up with old friends, NZ will always keep a special place in my heart.
Hitchhiking, helpXing, couchsurfing and tramping… is all (you need) we needed to get a real insight into what New Zealand is all about. We’ve stayed and worked on farms, climbed some mountains and saddles, did the real touristy bit when my dad came over for three weeks, cruising around the country showing him all the good stuff. We know Maori names for plants, trees and birds…We can tell the difference between a Kauri and a Puriri tree. We know how to recognize the call of the Kiwi bird at night (if it’s a male or a female – not a Morepork , which is a small owl who makes a similar sound) and how to spot one. A 85-year old Maori woman named Jean taught me how to weave different kind of flowers with flax, a native plant with big strong leaves of which they use the fiber it produces off for just about anything. Unlike Australia, where the possum is cute, well loved and considered to be a protected species, it is an all-around pest in NZ. The debates heat up massively at times for what the best method is to get rid of them humanely. It suffices to say that we’ve been offered to shoot some at many different occasions (which Connor successfully did a few times) and have been shown how to set up traps. It surprises me sometimes, when I think back, how much NZ actually has taught us. No need to say, it has left a huge impression on me. I loved the country, it’s amazing wild nature and especially the extremely helpful and friendly people. Basically I wish I could go back already..
It’s the perfect country for the keen hunter or fisherman. Many pests to get rid of including deer (you can shoot as many as you like basically). So many unspoiled waters for fishing. I, myself caught a 15 pound snapper just of off the coast in the Far North (top of the North island), which a lot of kiwi’s have complimented me for as they themselves had never caught one that big before.
Here’s a little itinerary so you’d have a good idea of what we’ve done and where we’ve been during our time in NZ.
December, we arrived in Auckland made good friends with the Davis family (located on the North shore) and scooted in hurry over to the South Island, because the summer had arrived and the tramping season had officially begun. We wanted to take advantage of the good weather and start taking in that elusive grandeur that the Southern alps and Fiordland are famous for. Made a little stopover in Nelson to get ourselves sorted (where we exactly were going to start our exploring). We then decided on Arthur’s Pass for Christmas and New Year as there is always snow to be found on the mountain tops there and we hadn’t seen snow in ages! (It still feels weird being in the Southern hemisphere when it actually is summer when I’m used to seeing snow and ice for Christmas). So we worked in the Bealey Hotel for a couple of weeks, helping in the kitchen, working behind the bar, changing sheets. Not the most glamorous job in the universe but it had some fun folks to hang out with day in and day out (wink to our Argentinian friends, who are living it up for the snow season in Queenstown right now). Being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, immense wild braided river flowing right underneath your window, most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, admitted it was pretty awesome.. I’m trying not to forget to mention the local wildlife which pretty much only consisted of sandflies and Kea’s due to the altitude. Sandflies must be NZ best well kept secret. You don’t really hear about them until you actually encounter them. They are tiny little black flies that bite kind of like a mosquito. The bites are nasty and itchy though. Fortunately once you know about them and get used to them, you’d be able to outsmart them by covering up and spraying wrists and ankles especially (as they like those the best). Kea’s are the NZ’s ONLY alpine parrots. They are pretty looking and extremely inquisitive. They tried to fly off with one of my hiking boots one day at one of the campsites. They’re quite big and have very colorful wings (mainly green and a bit of red). We encountered them while tramping quite often. Terrorizing the neighborhood in packs, you have to watch out for leaving food out and they have been known to break into tents and cars… You’re asking me how? Very sharp beak and very smart, that’s how…
January, we said goodbye to Arthur’s pass and went more south. Through the Canterbury plains, through the Southern Lakes region, Lake Tekapo, Twizel, Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. Some glaciers and hitchhiking rides later we made it to Wanaka and really started to get a feel for the South Island. Queenstown was next and we stayed in this area for about a month. Working on a farm just outside of Glenorchy 45 minutes north from Queenstown at the top of the lake there is an substantial amount of South Island beauty to be found. Anyone ever going to Queenstown should rent a car for the day and explore more north. Much better than only a visit to the super famous action capital of the country. Seriously, don’t stop at Queenstown, get your ass up there. Until this day this is still one of my favorite places in NZ. Riding horses (who almost guaranteed were in the Lord of The Rings movies, as they were all filmed in this area), tramping the different valleys and mountains are still part of my most memorable accomplished activities. This region borders Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Park which are world famous for their great walks. We did some 5 day tramps and they are indeed Great… It’s a magical place.
February, we met up with friends and went to Abel Tasman national park for my 30th birthday. Did some sightseeing and camping at Golden bay and tramping.. Success! After a very fun week hanging out with our American friends from home, we needed to get down to the more Southern part of the South Island as summer was threatening to disappear on us soon. Made our way down the east coast, saw some penguins and seals and weird looking boulders on a random beach. Crossed through more dairy farm country and landed in Invercargill for a while. Worked at a very hilarious hostel, waiting out the rain. Got to Te Anau and realized how immensely beautiful and wild this country is.. again. Did some tramping around Lake Manapouri and got on a very successful Doubtful Sound day cruise. Oh my…. That was an incredible experience. Dolphins came by and said hi… waterfalls were plenty..there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the water was quite calm and we were able to get out into the Tasman Sea in our little boat to have a look back onto Fiordland…. One Word: Breathtaking.
March, we finished our time down south and made our way back up to Christchurch (6.5 months in NZ and I did not feel ONE earthquake, which is very rare, as going to CHCH basically guarantees you one…. It was earthquake central for the last 5 months and will be for another while they say.) We spent a marvelous time on the Banks Peninsula, learning how to look for Paua (abalone) and huge green lip mussels for dinner. Learned a bit more about Maori culture and took my dad later back there to go camping on the beach in one of the spectacular looking bays. Flew out to Auckland to go get my dad from the airport, jumped in a little cheap campervan and started a 5000km adventure on both the North and South Island showing him, what we thought was, the best NZ had to offer… in about 3 weeks. It felt like a success afterwards… but in comparison to the way we normally travel, it was way too fast and not enough time. The glowworm caves in Waitomo stick out in my memory though and Rotorua’s smell! Should have spent more time in Kaikoura as the dolphins and seals and tramping opportunities were plentiful! Our Milford Sound trip turned out to be the most divers one we could have ever hoped for. We had rain, snow and hundreds of thousands of waterfalls in every shape and form to admire during the first half of the day driving from Te Anau towards Milford Sound. That road is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Once we got on the boat, the sun decided to come through so we had a good view of the very famous and picturesque Mitre Peak before encountering more dolphins, seals and an amazing amount of rainbows. What good karma us three must have, cause good god.. for a minute there before we got on the boat the outlook didn’t look very positive.
April, we dropped Dad off in Auckland and put him safely back on a plane to Belgium and had a good rest at our favorite family’s place. Stayed on the North island from now on. A fishing trip to Coromandel got us some yummy fish dishes for a while.. the amount of fish we caught fed us for a week! Northland was next on the list and we really lived the good life up there… Digging up Kumara (sweet potatoes), went fishing some more and looking for seafood almost every day. Had a good night out with some local Maori boys in Hokianga (who picked us up hitchhiking and in return we picked up little bit of the local dialect – chur brew!). Went looking to catch a ride on a boat to one of the pacific islands in Whangarei and in the Bay of Islands, but decided we weren’t done yet with NZ.
May, Hawkes Bay and Napier is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. Drove a quad on the beach at low tide to go see Cape Kidnappers from up close. It was starting to get real cold now. Not cold like European standards for winter but frosts started occurring overnight and frequent Southerlies (wind) made it chilly. It was no longer comfortable camping, so we were getting excited about leaving on a jet plane to Fiji! Finished off some tramping in the centre of the North island in the shadows of the mystical three volcanoes who by now had very snowy tops, which made for exceptional picture taking. Got a good view of Mount Taranaki and enjoyed a steep tramp halfway up the mountain. Too much rain and cold weather made us go up north again.
June, ending our NZ adventure with one of the best helpX experiences we’ve had so far. Between Thames and Paeroa, in the Maratoto Valley (bordering Coromandel peninsula) we planted heaps of little native trees and had spiritual bushwalks hugging some Kauri trees. Learning how to correctly do Light Clay wall stuffing and talk to fantails. My wisdom tooth started to act up and it was decided that it had to be surgically removed (I’m writing this 10 days after this has been done and it still hurts! My jawbone was drilled into… trust me when I say mind-blowingly painful). Then after saying bye to the Davis’s and getting a new tattoo, we finally jumped on a plane to Fiji.
It’s warm and coconutty here…. And I miss kiwiland.. (fail) Smiles!