When it comes to scenery we have to admit it; New Zealand South Island wins it hands down. Throughout the 8 or so months of our around the world backpacking trip we have been telling people that Scotland is arguably the most beautiful countries on earth. If it wasn’t for the weather it would be hard to beat. Now after our time traveling through NZ we have to eat humble pie about this. But whilst are on the subject of pie, though, that is one thing though that I’m afraid to say Kiwis have failed me in! NZ pies are legendary. Back home in the UK I don’t eat pie as I’m always watching my weight. So I was really looking forward to a nice cheddar cheese pie. But seriously – why no vegetarian, cheese pies? Mince and cheese, cheese with bacon but no cheese. Sort it out NZ!
A road trip to beat all others…
New Zealand came in two parts for us – volunteering, and a road trip that saw us drive about one and a half thousand miles from Auckland, down the North Island and round a fair amount of the South Island too. Before we went traveling its fair to say that NZ got the best reviews from people who have travelled. Most commonly they would say its like Scotland’s scenery (but better) and how England was 30 years ago. Pretty much everyone said they would have loved to have stayed if only it wasn’t so far away. Camper van is the only way we were told. So expectations were high. Did it live up the hype? Of course it did!
But rising prices in Asia and the seriously rubbish pound meant we were worried about how we would afford our camper van trip. But I never gave up hope always knowing something would come along. (As I type this we have now spent all our travel budget. But again I know something will come along). And it did. Whilst we were in Oz, a mate in Shipley posted a link on my facebook for a competition to win a free road-trip from Jucy Rentals. All we had to do was to email saying why we should get the road-trip. An entry was written. I explained about our trip, about this blog and how when Patrick turned 40 I asked him if we could go anywhere what would he want? “Waves and hills” came the reply; he got a trip to Cornwall. Whilst we would be in NZ, I explained, he would turn 45. How much better if he could get really big waves and hills this birthday!
Actually, I’m not a competition winning virgin. I once won a Ready Brek painting competition and came fourth in a Blue Peter competition to blow up a tower thanks to a limerick I wrote about Goldie the dog. (Pat remembers that actual competition as it would have been his dream to blow up a tower.) I used to always feel upset and sad that my many letters to Jim’ll Fix It never worked but with hindsight…… I also once won a competiton with my mates to meet the band Big Country. Only problem was they turned out to not be available, so we got to meet Kajagoogoo instead. Despite us all being goths and thinking we were dreadfully alternative I remember we loved meeting them and the gig, having hair styling conversations with them. Something’s never change 🙂
Anyway, this entry worked – the next day they emailed to confirm that we had won a trip in a Jucy camper called Coco the Cabana. All we had to do was promise to have ‘heaps of fun’, take photos and write a blog for their website. We would get a camera (which of course never worked), an iPad, a wifi connection (totally brilliant) and a dressing up box containing hats and wigs in Jucy colours (green and purple) so we could take pictures of us being whacky!!
What I’d didn’t say though was that it would have to be some story to beat the 40th trip. For his actual birthday we stayed in Tintagel in a mock Victorian castle hotel called Camelot Castle. Google it. That’s all I’m saying.
All aboard Auckland….
Our first taste of NZ was Auckland and luckily we had been warned to be totally under-whelmed. Which was how we felt. It’s a strange city – large (1/3 of the entire NZ population live there) yet its very quiet and to us had no spark or life. If we felt like Oz was British after 6 months in Asia, Auckland totally felt so. At the airport we had no new country sense; the same as we wandered the city centre and explored the suburbs. We both agreed it was like we were in a British city we didn’t know at all. It was so strange. Here we were, on the other side of the world, as far away from home as we could possibly get, and it felt exactly like being in the UK, but, you guessed it, about 30 years ago! It was a feeling that wouldn’t leave us for the whole of the NZ trip; Patrick often saying how it was like “a bloody great big lake district but more dramatic.” The total dark and the stars were a constant delight. At home it’s never really truly dark; it was in most parts of NZ. We would stare at the stars and discuss how different they are to those we see at home.
Oh, that common language
As soon as we landed, though, we realised one area where we thought it would be like Britian but we were so wrong – the lingo!! For us it’s going to be hard to beat Kiwi speak which delighted us on a daily basis and which we will miss so much. It’s not the Maori words, rather the English that tickled our fancy. Let’s put it this way, often listening to the radio which we adored we couldn’t understand what people were saying! Early on in one place a woman looked at our documentation and then said “have a good day, Piggy and Pitrick”.
So we tried to produce our own how to speak kiwi guide. Here goes:
- E is pronounced I. “cosmitics”, “sivern”
- I is U – “fush and chups”
- and A is I as well – “ipple” or your postal “idriss”, or “bickpicker” or sometimes ‘ee’
Add to that a really endearing way of including “eh” in sentences and it all gives some fab turns of phrase we adored:
- For ages we thought we were listening to a radio station called ‘The Idge‘. That tickelled us as Pat is always idging (I fancy a swimidge, time to get some sleepidge, etc). Turned out it’s The Edge!
- Whilst earwigging a woman’s conversation about taking a road trip round NZ during the recent drought she said her son was looking after her house but when she got back the garden had grown. “He must have used fertiliser eh, the grass was so thuck“
- We were driving in Coramandel, the only radio station we could get was “Corimindel If Im” (a station so perochial it made UK local radio seem national. Honestly the news headlines worked on the basis that everyone knows everyone else). Adverts would come on for shops and businesses in “Tims“. We couldn’t find Tims on the map till we arrived in Thames.
- Whilst getting instructions to find a boiling mud pool we were told “just keep driving till you get to the tivern (tavern) and turn there”. Patrick wondered if Alan Patridge when in NZ would stay at a Trivel Tivern.
- Our fav. Whilst volunteering one of the lads of the house and his mate decided to play football on the decking patio outside the house. Their mum shouted from inside to ask what was going on. “Sweet as mum. We’re just playing on the dick“.
- And then winner which sadly we didn’t hear but my mate Jan told me about. As her and her husband prepared to land in NZ they were more than a little confused when they were told about ‘the mystic chickens‘ on the plane tannoy. It was only after they landed they realised it was talking about “domestic check-in”.
All priceliss, eemd a bug peat of why we lived NZ so mich.
We’re all going on a winter holiday…..
So we set off to pick up our Jucy. The young bloke who gives us the camper is from Leeds; his colleague from Ireland. They dont rush the transaction; they like the pace of life in NZ.
We set off from Auckland on a road we’d previously driven on a trip to Hot Water Beach. This is the beach where at low tide you can dig holes and boiling water comes in which you sit in. We loved it, borrowing a spade and cheekily joining someone else’s hole. It was cold and getting dark which all added to the atmosphere. We were sitting in our hole and look up and see a young lad from Norwich who had been in the next bed to us in an Auckland hostel!
Mud, mud, glorious mud….
Then in the Jucy we headed south to Rotorua and our first night in the camper van. Not a success. As I write on Facebook the next day “Formula for the day: (Two bad tempered middle aged people in camper van that we haven’t worked out yet)+(rain)=arse money cheese.” But once we got used to the sulphur smell and managed to put our bed away without either of us threatening divorce the day vastly improved. It stayed pouring with rain but nothing could dent our excitement at seeing the boiling mud pools spluttering or the outside thermal baths we luxuriated in at the camping site we stayed on the following night. There we meet a young lovely Argentinean couple in NZ to work. They love it but say its so different to home. “Everyone is so friendly and polite, but they still keep themselves very distant”. Just like Britain comparisons we think, again.
The boiling, bubbling mud pools were seriously Dr Who and we just stood looking at them in amazement. Patrick loved, loved them. Click on the link to watch a little film of themMud, Mud, Glorious Mud We wanted to have a mud bath together but alas time did not allow. We had a south island to get to! 🙂
First though, next stop Napier, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to. I have a bit of an art deco thing going on and where better to indulge it than Napier, the worlds most art deco town. But … we actually find it a little disappointing and run down. Maybe in summer it would have been different. But still the rain doesn’t dampen my art deco spirits. I used to live in an art deco-ish house (actually my architectural historian mother said it was more moderne influenced but why split hairs) which I lovingly restored and did up in character. In Napier I was getting very nostalgic for it, wishing I still had it, till Patrick reminded me that it was mainly the sale of that house paying for our trip!! 🙂
We loved Wellington which is unlike any other large city we have visited. Built on a few hills at the tip of the North Island it has a reputation as NZ’s coolest, most happening city and we could see why. Its so hilly that we saw houses with private cable cars (or glorified stannah stair lifts as Pat called them).
But also we could not believe how just a few minutes drive from the city centre and we were on shoreline that felt totally remote; it was so quiet. Early in this trip I had a dream about standing on the shore in Wellington and it felt like I was stood at the end of the earth. The physical reality was different to the dream but the feeling not. We put a picture on our Global Adventure Facebook page and ask what other world famous city you could do that in? Edinburgh someone answered! Oh that Scottish connection again.
Wellington also gave us our first night of ‘freedom camping’,” but we eased in slowly, camping in the car park of the fabulous Ta Papa national museum. By this time we had sorted a routine between us for getting the camper ready for nighttime and had started sleeping fully dressed as it was so cold. Only problem – no toilets or showers. We were stymied at every turn. We found an address for public showers on the web. We roll up. “Closed for redevelopment.”. We park the camper for the night and ask where the nearest toilets are. “You can use the one in the garage across the road” we were told. We daren’t go out drinking lest we need the loo more often at night so decide to ‘stay in’ and watch a dvd. We head to the garage before the film. “Closed for refurbishment” it says. We ask in the local MacDonalds – they have toilets available till 10pm. At 9.50 I leave the cosy duvet and DVD and head to the McDs. They have closed the toilet early for cleaning. Luckily Wellington had other public toilets though walking 15 minutes at night to find them was not the best way to enjoy this city. Fear not, though, we still loved our time in Wellington.
Next morning we get the ferry to south Island and, as promised, the ferry ride is a tourist treat in itself. My brother posted on our Facebook page that they saw seals and dolphins when they did it. No such luck for us but the view was stunning. We arrive into a very sunny Picton, head for the ferry terminal to use the public showers advertised on their website. Guess what? C.F.R! Off we trundle a few miles down the coast where we are assured there are working showers.
So finally clean in Picton, on we go, heading down the west coast. Over the next week we will drive past enormous and some of the most beautiful mountains on earth. See lakes that are astonishing. We’ll drive on small windy roads that cross tiny creeks with names despite there being no settlements or habitation for miles and miles. We laugh at the brilliant road signs. My mate loves “Merge like zip”. We liked “Wise drivers drive on the left”. And those who don’t?
There’s very little traffic. We often have no radio signal so we take to playing silly games, graduating from the ridiculous “I spy with my little eye something beginning with M” to “Guess the next vehicle and what time we’ll pass us”. If a Jucy extra points! We always wave and flash at Jucys. Most others do the same but some of the South-East Asian looking drivers look at us quizzically!
We learn quickly that the towns in NZ are pretty rubbish to be fair, some well known places not much more than a few shops along a main road or on a grid. Nothing dinky-do. We accept forget the towns, just look at the scenery.
So we do. Through Greymouth and on to the fabulous Franz Jospeh Glacier which is the one of the worlds largest easily accessible glacier. Sadly it is melting a quite a vast rate but still immensely impressive. We take the Haast Pass, a road which was only opened in the 60s and only ‘sealed’ as a Tarmac road in 1995, loving the views and the drive along the lake side. We go to the Puzzling World attraction – just our thing as we try to get our heads round the puzzles there. Brilliant. The camper is a dream to drive and we are both keen to take our turns. We cook in her, watch DVDs, its bloody freezing so we snuggle up to keep warm and sleep really well. For a city lass like me I discover I actually love freedom camping. We often park up in deserted lay-bys when it’s dark with only the moonlight or total pitch black like we never see back in the UK; each morning brings a surprise view when we open the blinds. One morning out surprise was another Jucy!
A week later we finally arrive in a very cold Queenstown and instantly we think this is one place that does deserve the write ups. We love it – its character, atmosphere liveliness. But blimey it is cold, like proper English cold. A few days after we leave we see on the news that its totally covered in snow. We spent Christmas in Goa in India; in Queenstown, wrapped in many layers and scarves we collected from second hand shops after landing down under, we walk through streets lit with lights and see our breath in the air and I feel like I’m having My Christmas. I post a link to a song by the Kasier Chiefs who are from the same city as us – Leeds – on our Facebook page. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. I’ve never been this far away from home” it refrains! Me and Patrick have continually laughed throughout our antipodean adventure about how we haven’t fallen off yet!!
Almost everyone in Queenstown seems to be English or Irish. Loads of British travellers arrive here and never leave. We park in a camper ground which attracts the hostel crew. Sadly whilst eating our tea we encounter yet again something that was far too common for our liking in NZ hostels – young, English backpackers/travellers all trying to out-do themselves in who can be the most racist and right wing. Any thought that young English backpackers are all on some radical spiritual journey is long passed I think. As a mate said, basically they are out to get “*%$k*d and *%$k*d”. Me and Pat always have a joke between ourselves when we hear what we call CR as we find its the best way to deal with it. One day we were on our way to Portsmouth on a train for a friends wedding. On the next table were 2 women who got chatting to a man. The conversation took a predictable course. Now this particular train splits in half as it approaches the south coast so there are loads of announcements to make sure you are in the right carriage; we needed to be in carriages 5 to 8. The conversation at the next table gets worse, it moves on from polish plumbers. Patrick sends me a text “Carriages 5 to 8 for Casual Racism”. So back in Queenstown the young people who are clearly too young to have had full time jobs and actually pay tax themselves move on from people on benefits scrounging from the rest of us and how they should be forced to work (“like you then?” I mutter), to criminals. Patrick murmers under his breath “wait for it, hanging’s too good for them”. They don’t let us down. In the next breath: “You know that place in the USA where they chain them all together?” one says (Guantanamo? I suggest, quietly), well they should be forced to work, chained if needed, whilst someone stands with a shot gun behind them to make sure they work”.
Whilst we are in Queenstown a bar goes on fire and the whole town seems to be stood in the street watching the fire service try and put it out. Patrick is horrified that I want to watch. I am transfixed as it all reminded me of the house fire we had the December before we left home; one of the many things going badly which led us to this trip.
‘Closed’ remains a feature of our trip. Of course the highlight to our visit to the South Island would be a trip to and down Milford Sound. We plan to drive as we are told the road to it is amazing and then get a cruise. But guess what? True!!! There’s been a rock slide and the road is closed. The only way into Milford Sound is by air. For 2 people on a very tight budget the cost is beyond belief. We um and err, finally deciding to take the plunge and go for it. After all, it’s very unlikely we will ever be back here in our lives. We hear a story of a couple who came to NZ to do Milford Sound about 12 years ago and it was closed. They finally returned to do it the same time we were there. Talk about bad luck!
The plane ride is a little scary. The’s only 7 of us and the plane is very small and we can see everything the pilot Andy is doing. I’m reminded of a helicopter flight I took years ago across the Grand Canyon. Now when I used to be very large (size 22; even with my extra traveling weight I’m still only a size 12 now) I had a few fat mortification moments. One was on a fair ground ride when they couldn’t do up the safety bar (I was on a date – oh the shame); another at Elland Road football stadium when I got stuck in a turnstile. (I was flabbergasted – honestly you should see the beer and pie stomachs on some of the blokes who seem to get through them no problems.) The other was on the said helicopter ride. Like this plane ride we were all weighed before take-off. On the way out I sat in the middle of the chopper. On the return trip I went to sit by one of the windows. “Sorry no” said the pilot “to stabilise weight distribution you have to sit in the middle”. I was mortified but even that couldn’t take away the wonder of the journey.
As it was with the Milford Sound flight. A better decision we have never made. We have had some amazing, wonderful, fabulous times on our trip, and seen some wonderful things – the Taj Mahal and the foothills of the Himalayas a Shimla, Pammukale and Cappadocia in Turkey, Thai beaches, the Petronas Twin Towers in KL and best of all swimming in the rooftop infinity pool at night at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. But nothing could prepare us for the wonder and amazement of the 40 minute flight over the mountains and down across Milford Sound and the cruise we took, the Sound devoid of sound and people, it was almost like our own personal cruise. For the return journey we get to the small airstrip and there’s about 10 planes on the ground. Andy asks us which one we would like to go in and we get to choose. Another first!
A city quakes and aftershocks….
After that we thought nothing else in NZ could amaze us and so the two of us took a lovely couple of days to head back north, passing beaches and by Mount Somerset and Mount Hutt. Then we got to Christchurch. Of course we knew all about the devastation of the city centre but not much else. It’s fair to say we had no idea about how many quakes there had been and their effects on individuals who live here and their lives. We stayed with an old friend of mine who literally lived through it. He took us to see the empty space which used to be his office block, the one where he was on the 4th floor at the time of the big lunchtime quake. He gave us a tour. In the city centre almost all the buildings except a handful have either had to be demolished or currently empty awaiting renovation or decisions. Street after street of private homes by the river all condemned. Some houses have just been picked up and moved elsewhere leaving large gaps. The same for the Cathedral – should it stay or should it go? Or be re-built.
Now I have to say at no point during out trip did I think I could live in New Zealand. It’s too quiet for me, no buzz. And just too remote – not just from the rest of the world but also the places in NZ seem remote from each other as the distances as just huge. I stopped working full time in consultancy/regeneration/public sector a couple of years ago but suddenly, in Christchurch I was spell-bound. The challenges they face – physical and community development – are so huge. Once basic and emergency services are in place where do you start? How much should be state (local and national) and how much should you allow external companies in? Where does community ownership, decisions and delivery sit in your plan – can communities actually just be allowed to get on with things or should it be more planned? I could feel my old work juices flowing as for the first time I thought how I would love to be part of the solution. A friend of mine’s daughter works in the construction industry and she is. Lucky her!
I actually loved the Cathedral as it is now, beautiful and majestic with its open end, cracks and crumbling walls. Me? I’d definitely go for leaving it as it is, making it safer to get nearer, turning it into a permanent memorial to the quake. As my friend said, the quake is now part of the sorry and history of this city. Why try to pretend it didn’t happen?
And in the meantime temporary measures are all place – The famous Container Mall which is fabulous and so much nicer than homogenous shopping centres (maybe Bradford could learn something from this!) and the new temporary cathedral made from recycled cardboard.
Crossing the dateline….
So was with real sadness we left NZ. I don’t know if we will ever come back, but thanks to our free roadtrip we feel we really saw loads of it. But we are excited about the next stage, flying to Hawaii, doing the most extreme timezone change you can do on the globe. With a 4 hour stop over in Sydney we’ll arrive in Honolulu 5 hours before we left NZ!
It’s goodbye “In Zid”, and Aloha Hawaii!
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